By Aaron Zagrodnick in TrailGroove Blog 0I’ve dreamed about flyfishing for golden trout in the Wind River Range ever since I picked up a flyfishing magazine when I was about 13 years old that had a short article detailing a backcountry trip in pursuit of the elusive golden trout. Even at the time I was an avid fisherman, but what I read about in that article was the polar opposite of the type of fishing and the type of outdoor experience I was familiar with. While the magazine has long been misplaced, and internet searches to track down the article fruitless, the article planted a seed and somehow I’ve ended up with the range in my back yard and a few caught and released golden trout to my name.
As I became initiated with the Winds I collected and reviewed all the latest hiking guides, maps, and content that I could find. I soon found out that one thing that wasn’t included in my library was the trail guide published in 1975 by Finis Mitchell, who moved to Wyoming with his parents in 1906. I quickly located a copy online and the book was on its way.
In 1930, Finis and his wife started a fishing camp at the southern end of the range near the Big Sandy Trailhead. Finis states in the book that when they initially started the camp, only about 5 lakes contained gamefish. Over the course of time that they ran the camp, they stocked an additional 314 lakes with various species of trout by packing them in on teams of horses carrying the 5 gallon cans that contained the fish. He was also an avid climber and became very familiar with what the range has to offer other than just fishing and lakes. Before he passed away in 1995, he had climbed nearly every peak in the Winds.
At 142 pages, the book is fairly short and a quick and easy read. The book starts with a short autobiography and a section on hiking information, and is then broken down into 17 sections by entrance. Most of the modern day trailheads are covered. Within each entrance section Finis describes the trails within that general area, occasionally throwing in examples of his own personal experiences. Finis - a man who at 73 twisted his knee in a crevasse and hobbled 18 miles to safety on crutches whittled from a pine tree - writes in a matter of fact almost stream of consciousness type of style. At times it feels like you’re across the campfire from him listening to someone tell you everything they know about the Winds, while throwing in a few amusing stories for good measure. Finis was also an avid photographer, and many black and white photographs are included in the book, along with pencil-sketched maps. Some of my favorite parts are the quotes from Finis that are thrown in along the way.
Surprisingly, much of the trail and route information is still quite accurate. However, if it’s your first trip to the range, I wouldn’t suggest relying on this book. It’s better served as a supplemental information source or just a really interesting read if you like the area, and especially if you like fishing in the area. I did find myself wishing that the book would have expounded a bit more upon the personal experiences and stories that Finis experienced rather than mostly focusing on trail and route descriptions, but there is indeed a wealth of information in the book and more than enough personal input from Finis to keep things interesting. As I plan a trip and return from a trip within the Winds, I frequently find myself sitting down with the book just to see what Finis had to say about the area and I think it’s a must have for any Wind River Range enthusiast.
If you're interested in the book, you can buy Wind River Trails at Amazon.
By Aaron Zagrodnick in TrailGroove Blog 1Earlier this month, Justin Lichter (Also known by his trail name Trauma) released a collection of insights, tips, and stories detailed across more than 200 pages in his new book Trail Tested.
If you haven’t heard of Justin yet, he’s quite famous in the long distance backpacking and hiking community - Having hiked over 35,000 miles in his career. Not only has he completed the Triple Crown of the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide Trails - He’s done it twice. Throughout his travels his dog Yoni has often been a companion, and he’s no stranger to backpacking overseas either.
I received my copy of the book shortly after the release and at first was struck by just how visual Trail Tested is. Nearly every page is filled with great photos related to the subject at hand, and at the same time Justin’s descriptions are short and to the point – For a how to guide it’s everything that you need to know without being overdone. As such the book is easy to pick up and read in a relaxed manner, and the book doesn’t require too much commitment from the reader for Justin’s insight to come across. Trail Tested covers just about every backpacking and hiking topic that you can think of, ranging from gear to technique and general trail philosophy.
The book is broken down into 3 main sections, the first section titled “For Starters” focuses mainly on things like gear and food selection. The book then moves into the “Getting the Groove” section, (Obviously our favorite) which details more advanced topics ranging from winter camping to first aid and photography. “Stepping it up” is the last section in the book, where Justin details practices for making your own gear, hiking cross country, and much more. Along the way quick “Trauma Tips” are included that really highlight some of the strategies that you only find by spending time on the trail – The book will definitely save anyone who is just getting on their feet in the sport a lot of time, but is still a great read for the more experienced members of the community as well.
Even after finishing the book, I found that I kept pulling it off the shelf just to see what Trauma had to say about various categories of gear as I continually work to refine and perfect my own gear list and approach to life on the trail. I read straight through the book over the course of a few days, and it will continue to remain in my collection as a quick reference for all things that are hiking and backpacking related. Best of all, the book includes a great index to find what you need fast, and with all the pictures that are included, the book is sure to keep you motivated when you’re just not able to make it to the trailhead.
You can currently Buy Trail Tested at Amazon for $19.99. We're also currently giving away two signed copies of the book, a Harmony House Backpacking Kit, and signed copies of I Hike by Lawton Grinter. You can find all the details in This Blog Post. Good luck!
By Aaron Zagrodnick in TrailGroove Blog 5One thing that I seem to love are maps. When I’m not on the trail backpacking or hiking I’m most likely planning my next adventure, or when I head home from a trip I always seem to find myself staring at sets of maps to find out what the name of that peak that I saw in the distance was, or just where that other trail lead from a fork when I went right and the other trail went left.
Usually, this results in maps spread out across the house for days - Once I find out just what the name of that peak was, I’m spending my weeknights devising a weekend plan that could take me to the summit. Or I might be calculating mileage with a piece of string and a ruler to an off-trail lake I noticed on the map that might have some potential to hold a golden trout or two…
By my side throughout this process the computer screen would light the scene, as satellite views and various topographic map resources were evaluated. Even though it was definitely an enjoyable process, as maps were folded and unfolded dozens of times, and as the online map images started to become permanently burned into my computer screen I figured there had to be a better way. Since we’re located at the foot of the Wind River Range, the Winds are our go-to getaway for a weekend or anytime that a long drive isn’t feasible. The obvious and better method was obtaining the topo maps for the entire range, a few thumbtacks, and some map pins… After a few minutes with a measuring tape and a level a wall map of the entire range measuring over 4 x 3 feet in size now dominates our dining room wall. On top of that, Jen and I decided it would be great if we somehow documented every place where we’ve spent a night in the range, and as such a map pin now documents each camping spot - Evoking memories of the mostly good sites we’ve chosen (And a few more memorable not so good spots) over the years. We even assigned a different color for each trip, the rows of pins on the wall really give one a nice impression of just how far or not so far you went and a great picture of the overall route from a bird’s-eye view.
The great part is that when the curiosity bug strikes, or a route needs to be planned, the multiple maps don’t have to be unfolded and refolded, and the computer can lay idle… All we have to do is walk over to the wall, or simply come up with a quick plan over dinner. Best of all, I find that a huge map of your favorite backcountry destination provides serious inspiration to just get up and get out there, whether you’re planning an epic adventure or even if you only have a few hours to spare for a quick hike. And for those times when you just can't make it out to the trail, at least you can still (To some extent) bring the trail to you.
By Aaron Zagrodnick in TrailGroove Blog 5For the past year or so I’ve been testing out the H31w headlamp from ZebraLight, a company that makes a wide selection of higher-end LED flashlights and headlamps. Prior to picking up this light, I had always been a dedicated follower of a few of the more mainstream headlamps that are out there, and even though I had heard a lot of great things about ZebraLight, I had my doubts that it would end up making it to the #1 spot on my gear list for backpacking trips. But with all the good feedback that was out there, I had to at least give the brand a shot.
The light has a very compact form factor - At 2.57 inches long and a .9 inch diameter it’s not much larger than a foil pack of breath mints and is easily small enough to fit in a hand or pocket, especially if the light is used without its headband in flashlight-only mode. (You can remove the light itself from the headband strap) The case is aluminum and very sturdy, having an almost indestructible type quality about it. A single, soft-touch (Requires very little pressure to activate) button is the only control on the light.
The light has low, medium, and high modes – Each of which have 2 sublevels. The result is a total of 6 different light settings to choose from. One of the things I like most about the H31w is the range of output settings you have to choose from - The lowest mode is a moonlight-esque .4 lumens, with the brightest mode at an extremely bright 189 lumens. Here’s the complete level breakdown in lumens, along with the corresponding battery life:
Level / Lumens / Time
1 /.4 / 21 Days
2 / 4.3 / 3.7 Days
3/ 21 / 23 Hours
4 / 37 / 12 Hours
5 / 103 or Strobe / 2 Hours
6 / 189 / .9 Hours
The modes are all toggled using the single switch - Either by double clicking to select the desired mode or by holding the button down constantly. This cycles the light from low to high, releasing the button sets the mode. Once you’re in low, medium, or high, you can then double click to cycle between the two sublevels. It’s a little tricky to get used to at first, but with practice the light becomes easy to use. If you press the button quickly to turn the light on it defaults to high, and if you hold it down with a long press it defaults to low. This is great for either situation where you need a lot of light fast or for those times when you just need a little light but don’t want to blow your night vision by having to cycle through the high mode to get to low first. The light is also very lightweight - 2.5 oz. for the entire package including light (1.1 oz.), head strap (.8 oz.), and battery (.6 oz.). Once you've set your preferred level, a single click turns the light off.
The tail cap of the light unscrews to reveal the battery compartment and a single CR123A lithium battery is used to power the light. This is a bonus if you happen to use a Steripen with the same battery type - You’ll only have to carry 1 type of spare. Rechargeable batteries can also be used, but at the cost of battery life. Everything is sealed and the H31w is waterproof to an IPX8 standard. We tested this by accident one night when the light was dropped (While off) into water several feet deep. We chose to wait until daylight to attempt retrieval - Which was a success. No water had entered the light and it immediately worked fine and has continued to work great since. If you’d like a very similar light that uses a more convenient AA battery, take a look at the H51 series, though you’ll sacrifice just a bit of brightness and runtime compared to the H31 series.
The headband is elastic and adjustable, with the light sliding into a silicone holder which allows you to twist the lamp while you’re wearing it to find that perfect angle. Previously ZebraLight integrated a glow in the dark ring into the holder, but unfortunately this has been discontinued
ZebraLight also makes the H31 (No “w”) which possesses the same design but with a different LED. The normal H31 has a cool-white LED and offers a bit more brightness as well - Topping out at 220 lumens in its brightest mode. However, I decided to go with the H31w which uses an LED that offers a much warmer neutral light output. Whereas the normal H31 would emit a light not too dissimilar to a very white fluorescent light, the H31w has a nice warm / yellow tint not unlike a normal incandescent light bulb you might find in your home. In the field, the warm light made distinguishing terrain features at night much easier, and everything just had a much more natural look with colors appearing as you would expect them to. Another bonus that I didn’t expect was just how much “At home” I felt while on the trail or in camp at night. I’ve used a lot of headlamps in the past that emit that harsher whiter light - And it’s always just made me feel out of place.
The H31w casts a wide light with a brighter center hotspot in the middle of the beam. The hotspot casts a small, bright beam quite some distance (Depending on brightness mode) while the flood illuminates a wide area in tight. In practice this seemed to offer a good compromise. However, unlike some other headlamps on the market, you can’t switch between a full flood and spot-only mode. ZebraLight does offer an “F” model if a full flood-only light is desired.
In the field the light worked very well. On the downside no red LED or filter will be found to preserve your night vision, but the lowest level (At .4 lumens) is so low that it nearly made up for it. If you’re sharing your tent or staying in a shelter, you can still read a book without disturbing others around you and the light is low enough that you’ll still be able to see the stars after you turn it off.
With 6 total light levels to choose from, you can really dial the light in to your particular need. Medium 1 (At 37 lumens) was my pick for navigating unfamiliar trails at night - With enough light to get things done but saving a lot of juice compared to the high modes which I reserved for times when I needed a lot of light quickly, and not for long. The highest mode is very bright and really lights up a lot of terrain.
The light is regulated, so for the most part it will maintain its brightness level throughout the life of the battery compared to a non-regulated light that gradually dims as the battery is used. While the H31w has no low battery indicator, in my experience the light would begin to step down from high to medium after a couple seconds towards the end of battery life. At this point, about an hour of the brightest medium mode was left, after which the light would again step down from medium to low when turned on. Again, I found that at this stage approximately 1 more hour of light was left on the brighter low mode until the battery completely drained. At just .6 oz., packing along an extra battery isn't of much concern if needed.
The strap was comfortable and stable, but not quite as comfortable where the front of the light rests on your forehead compared to other headlamps I’ve used in the past. (It seems that the light was adapted for headlamp use vs. being built with that use in mind from the ground up) One thing that I found very helpful is to unscrew the tail cap just slightly to disengage the battery during the day while the light is in your pack - Otherwise the switch is easily activated by accident and you could end up with no juice left when darkness falls.
Overall the H31w has worked out very well in practice and is at least for now, my go-to light. It’s very compact, very lightweight, and offers so much range between the dimmest and brightest modes that it seems to be just right for every situation. Additionally, that warm / neutral tint is so much more usable than a stark white light in the field - I never knew what I was missing in regards to tint until I gave the H31w a try.
Interested in the light? You can pick it up for about $64:
Check out the ZebraLight H31w at Amazon
CR123A Batteries at Amazon (Batteries aren't included with the light)
Editor's note: For our review of the never Zebralight H52w see this post.
By Aaron Zagrodnick in TrailGroove Blog 0In the spring of 2011, and after leaving his life as a corporate lawyer, Tyler Coulson set off from the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware coastline to undertake a western journey across the United States with Mabel, his adopted dog and companion. Destination: Pacific Ocean. Method of travel: Foot. After 3500 miles and millions of footsteps, Tyler recounted the journey in By Men or By the Earth. Of course, there’s a deeper story to most long walks, and Tyler dives into not only the day to day experiences of the walk itself but develops a story that shows the reader why exactly he undertook such an endeavor in the first place. We published an article by Tyler in Issue 4 of the magazine, where he highlights some of the hiking lessons and tips that he learned along the way. (Direct link to that article Here) Even before we published the article, I knew that the book detailing the journey was one I’d have to check out.
After ordering the book and upon arrival I have to admit that it was as bit thicker than I expected. Then I cracked open the cover – This isn’t a book with a large font and generously spaced lines, like you may have tried to get away with in school to meet a minimum page requirement for a report. No slacking here, the book comes in at just over 300 pages, and there’s quite a bit of text in those 300 pages. However, once I started reading the book I was hooked. I was actually reading a few other books at the time, but I found that they were soon pushed aside in favor of By Men or by the Earth. While it’s long and you get the sense that you’re following along for seemingly every step of the way, that obviously just can’t be the case in a 300 page book.
The book is written in an interesting arrangement over 3 individual “Books” all contained within one cover. The individual books are then broken down into individual chapters. Basically, Book 1 covers the day to day experiences while undertaking the walk, Book 2 covers the time period leading up to the walk, and Book 3 takes place after the conclusion of the walk. The books and chapters are not arranged chronologically. As an example, you might be reading about the walk in one chapter, while the next chapter goes back to the story of the author’s experiences prior to the walk while in law school. (Or later, a law firm) Then, back to the walk or beyond. In the end 3 separate stories are woven and while they are each unique, you begin to realize just how interconnected each story is and each book becomes intriguing in its own right. Tyler writes in a contemplative and at times conversational style, and isn’t afraid to share the personal and emotional intricacies that are always a factor on such a trip, but are often not touched upon in similar texts.
As you might imagine, a coast to coast hike doesn’t always have the wilderness opportunities that you might find on some of the other South to North / North to South running thruhikes you might think of like the PCT or CDT, especially when you consider the time-crunch to get over the Rockies before winter weather sets in. As such, Tyler and Mabel spend their fair share of time on everything from trails to back roads to highways, and spent the night in everything from bear-infested campsites to shady motels. In all situations however, I still found myself turning the page, waiting to see what happened next. And if you’ve ever travelled any type of distance with a pack or even just dreamed of a long hike, it becomes easy to relate. Even if you haven’t, it’s simply a good book that anyone who appreciates a good story should enjoy. And if you both like to hike and appreciate a good story…There’s not much more to ask for.
The book does require some commitment, and while not necessarily an “easy read” it’s well worth it. Even if you’re like me, who is at times plagued with a modern technology-induced short attention span, the book is still strangely addicting. It’s the story of a static corporate desk job juxtaposed against a cross-country journey on foot, something to which many of us can relate. You’ll read about the people that are met along the way – The good, the bad, and even the strange. You’ll follow along as relationships are forged and lost, and you’ll be left with a few things that keep you wondering. Overall, By Men or By the Earth is one of the best books I’ve read in quite some time and I think the book can simply and best be described in one word – Real.
If you’re interested in checking out the book, you can find By Men or By the Earth here at Amazon.