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How to Choose the Best Backpacking and Hiking Headlamp

A good light for backpacking and hiking is a required and essential safety item and a category for which there are no shortage of options available – and considering the convenience and hands-free operation provided, headlamps are the most popular option for your backcountry lighting needs. What follows is an overview of features to consider when selecting a headlamp for the outdoors and thoughts on lighting needs for the trail. A headlamp for backpacking and hiking should be lightwei

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Backpacking the Maroon Bells: A Shoulder Season Weekend

We shuffle off the bus and melt into a crowd of tourists, all headed for the perfectly framed view of the Maroon Bells surrounded by bright yellows and greens. Just a minute from the parking lot and we’re already sold on our three-day adventure. More commonly a four-day trip, the Four Pass Loop is one of the most popular – and most photographed – backpacking routes in the United States. The 28-mile trek takes hikers over four mountain passes, ascends and descends over 7,800 feet, and

SarahLynne

SarahLynne in Trips

Lightweight Photo Gear and Carrying a Backpacking Camera

Combining cameras with the outdoors and taking one along to document your hiking and backpacking trips introduces a few challenges that must be overcome to take your photos quickly and easily, while still being able to maintain and keep your camera safe from the elements. On the trail, a few key points are worth the most consideration and what follows is the setup that has worked best for me on trips where the hiking is a higher priority than, or at least on equal ground priority-wise, with the

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Hiking and Backpacking Gaiters: Selection and Utilization

For some reason gaiters were one of the “accessory” pieces of backpacking gear that I delayed purchasing far longer than I should have. Trekking poles likely would have fallen into the same category, but fortunately for my knees I received a pair as a gift early in my backpacking days. It was only after I moved to Montana and began adapting my backpacking to a different landscape – the Northern Rockies is quite different from the Southern Appalachians – that I bought my first pair of gaiters. Th

Mark Wetherington

Mark Wetherington in Gear

Hiking the Slough Creek-Buffalo Fork Loop in Yellowstone National Park

Wolves, Red Dogs, Grizzlies, & Outlaws A tiny “red dog” – a fuzzy, reddish bison calf – was all but glued to its mother’s side as she fought off a half dozen wolves near Yellowstone’s Slough Creek. The mother had strayed from the herd, and wolves were attacking from all sides in an attempt to separate her from her baby. The stiff-legged little calf wheeled and turned with its mother as best it could, but the outcome seemed inevitable. The standoff was visible to the naked eye

Barbara

Barbara in Trips

NEMO Fillo Elite Backpacking Pillow Review

After setting up the tent on a recent trip and after a long day, I heard an unwelcome sound the moment I laid my head on the pillow – the sound of air leaking from the previously trusty pillow I’d been packing along on trips for years. Luckily, this trip was quite warm for the mountains – lows in the high 40s plus having a double walled tent along meant I had a down jacket that I wasn’t wearing at night, and could roll up in a stuff sack to get me through the trip. However, for more normal

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

How to Keep Your Backpacking Gear Dry

While backpacking during an all-day rain presents its own challenges when it comes to staying dry – or as dry as possible – protecting your gear and the items in your pack that must stay dry comes with its own set of considerations. Having a dry jacket, clothes, and a dry sleep system at the end of a long rainy day is not only backpacking luxury, it’s also critical to our safety on the trail. And whether rain is in the forecast or not, in most backpacking locations we still need a strategy to ke

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Technique

Bear Country Backpacking: Tips for the Trail and in Camp

Whether it’s a trip along a National Scenic Trail or a quick weekend backpacking excursion into an obscure wilderness area – when the mountains are calling, our trips to many backpacking and hiking destinations will also take us into bear country. When hiking and camping in these areas an extra set of considerations will be added to our pre-trip planning process and a few extra gear items will need to be added to our gear list to approach bear country backpacking in the proper manner.

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Technique

Window Insulation Film / Polycro Groundsheets

Window insulation film, often referred to as polycro in the backpacking community is a thin, clear plastic heat shrink sheeting designed to insulate the windows in your house to save on energy costs – but this material also works very well as an ultralight backpacking groundsheet to help protect your tent floor or for use when cowboy camping or under a tarp. Window insulation film can be picked up on a budget and if needed, cut to size to fit your tent. The Window Insulation Film

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Hiking the Grand Enchantment Trail: GET Wet!

Whitecaps swirled in the ochre mixture of water and clay in the flooded wash at our feet. I never knew water so muddy could have whitecaps and now our route lay on the opposite bank of the torrent as it raged over unseen boulders and cut into the edge of its banks. Standing there at the two-track crossing in the middle of nowhere New Mexico, I wondered how many “do not enter when flooded” signs we passed on paved roads in the Southwest. It was late October and the third day in a row o

HikerBox

HikerBox in Trips

3 Season Backpacking Clothing List and Strategy

A clothing system for backpacking needs to be as lightweight as possible while still performing a variety of critical tasks in an ever-changing and varied wilderness environment. A clothing system must be comfortable, will act as our first line of defense to keep us warm, and should protect us from the sun, precipitation, biting insects, and bumps and scrapes on the trail to name a few concerns. While each of these tasks are easily obtainable with dedicated and specialized items of clothing, whe

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Backpacking Hydration Options: An Overview and Guide

As soon as we set foot on the trail, a way to carry one of the most essential ingredients for a successful hike – water – becomes essential. With a myriad of options available from bottles of nearly every variety to dedicated, and often complex, hydration systems on the market today, when choosing a way to carry your water while backpacking the shopping experience can become complicated quickly. What follows is an overview of options that are available for this task along with my preferences, an

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

ULA Circuit Backpack Review

The Circuit from ULA Equipment has been my go-to backpacking pack choice for nearly the last decade and upon review it’s easy to see why: the pack offers both versatility and durability and all at a reasonable price and weight. Thus, the ULA Circuit (or its close cousins) have become some of the most popular backpacking packs out there for lightweight and / or long distance backpacking and thru-hiking. The Circuit backpack offers comfort, adjustability, and efficient storage in a ligh

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Hiking in Sedona: A Sampler of 5 Scenic Day Hikes

“What are some of the more scenic trails in the area?” my friend Joan asked a local man at a hiking store in Sedona, Arizona. “All of them. They’re all scenic. Everywhere you look is scenic,” he said with a well-practiced manner, unable to hide his weariness with such questions. Even the trail map on display at the store was marked in bold black ink with exclamatory statements: “It’s scenic!!” “The views are amazing!” To say the least, it became apparent that we weren’t the first out-of-tow

Susan Dragoo

Susan Dragoo in Trips

How to Wash Your Down Jacket or Sleeping Bag by Hand

After a season of hiking, sleeping and sweating in your down jacket or sleeping bag things can get a little stinky. You might even notice a slight loss of loft as body oils compromise the fluffiness of the down feathers. Or, as in my case, the jacket is just grubby. Fortunately washing your jacket or sleeping bag is a lot easier than you may fear. In this article I’ll go step by step through washing one of my down jackets but the same process can be used for nearly all down sleeping bags. The on

HikerBox

HikerBox in Technique

How to Choose the Best Backpacking Tent Stakes

If you’re not thinking about your tent stakes on your next backpacking trip, it’s probably a good sign that you’ve chosen the right ones. If your stakes aren’t a good match for the ground and conditions at hand however, you could be in for a difficult shelter setup process and perhaps even for a long night. With a myriad of lightweight tent stakes on the market to choose from, there’s likely a specific tent stake for every condition you’ll encounter, as well as others that will perform well acro

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

How to Choose the Best Backpacking Stove

When it comes to backpacking stoves, there are several routes one can take and several different main categories of stoves exist – each with an array of pros and cons. Without a doubt however, no matter which way you go about it the backpacking stove is an important part of any overnight or multi-night gear ensemble. A backpacking stove provides hot meals and drinks, goes a long way towards keeping you warm on chilly mornings and evenings, and for backpacking and hiking a stove needs to be conve

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Western Mountaineering MegaLite Review

Western Mountaineering makes popular higher-end down sleeping bags in a wide range of temperature ratings and size configurations, and no matter the model it's likely to be at or near the top of the class when it comes to weight and packability for its corresponding temperature rating. These models from Western Mountaineering include the 20 degree Ultralight and Alpinlite we've also reviewed, as well as the Western Mountaineering MegaLite reviewed here. The MegaLite is a 30 degree rated down mum

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Walking in Circles: Hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail

“Looks like you’re going in circles” is a way to tell someone that they're wasting their time. Talking in circles generally isn’t a compliment either. However, walking in a circle can be a good thing for backpackers, provided they’re walking around something interesting. Think about it. Logistics become pretty easy. No ride back to the start is required. In the case of the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT), walking in a circle is a great experience. From high above, this spot on the Tahoe Rim Tra

JimR

JimR in Trips

Review: MSR Carbon Core Tent Stakes

Listed at just under 6 grams /.2 ounces per stake and costing around $40 for 4, the MSR Carbon Core stakes come in as some of the lightest and most expensive tent stakes on the market. After breaking a lot of different types of stakes, or having them fall apart, I’d come to rely on utilizing titanium shepherd’s hook stakes all around. They’re light, aren’t made up of multiple pieces that can come apart, and are generally reasonably priced. The drawbacks: They can be easy to lose, can bend, and d

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

How to Choose the Best Backpacking Sleeping Bag

Much like your bed at home, your sleeping bag is a place where you will be spending about one-third of your time in a 24-hour period. Making sure that your sleeping bag is comfortable, warm, and appropriate for the conditions is essential for getting a quality night’s rest so you can wake up the next day ready to crank out some miles, summit a peak, or simply soak up the natural scenery without dozing off. The good news is that there are plenty of options for high-quality sleeping bags, so

Mark Wetherington

Mark Wetherington in Gear

Backpacking Tent and Shelter Selection Guide

Of all the things we carry while backpacking, a tent or our backpacking shelter of choice is among the most important for a safe and enjoyable wilderness excursion. A shelter provides refuge from rain and snow, cuts down on wind exposure, and often will protect us from biting insects as well. While other shelter options are popular from hammocks to tarps to bivy sacks, the traditional backpacking tent, or perhaps some not so traditional modern tents on the market, remain the most popular shelter

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Backpacking Pillow Selection Guide and Overview

A good night of sleep is always important – but with the physical activity that goes along with backpacking, it becomes even more important on the trail. Getting a good rest after a long hiking day will only help things the next day – whether it’s the physical challenge of a high mileage day, or even a day that tests other things like your sharpness with navigational ability. Not to mention just our general mental outlook – being tired makes everything harder. With our at home pillow system (at

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

  • Blog Entries

    • Aaron Zagrodnick
      By Aaron Zagrodnick in TrailGroove Blog 0
      The gear list. It might be written on a piece of paper, typed into a spreadsheet, read from a book, or all in your head. But most of us probably have one somewhere. In its simplest form, a gear list can really help with those “I can’t believe I forgot that” moments when you’ve just hiked 20 miles from the trailhead and are setting up camp in dwindling evening light. In other forms, a list can help you identify things you really don’t need, help you reduce your pack weight, and help you identify items that could be replaced with something lighter or more functional. Sometimes, that involves buying new gear.

      Backpacking gear list and item weights
      The New Gear Process
      When it comes to the buying new gear part, I almost always immediately have a specific product in mind. But it never seems to be an easy decision. Whether it’s a backpack or a new regulated stove, before making a purchase I always seem to find myself endlessly researching that product as well as any and all potential alternatives. This involves weighing all the options – price, weight, durability, convenience, and the list goes on. Recently however, I found myself so entranced with the entire process on a specific piece of gear – a new pack – that I began to wonder if it was even worth the amount of time that I was putting into the decision.
      I think that’s when I realized that it had simply been too long since I’d hit the trail or enjoyed an indescribable view from a remote summit. While poring over specifications and considering factors like the durability of Dyneema X Gridstop fabric vs. the lightness of Dyneema Composite Fiber (Cuben Fiber), I began to wonder if all this research and time was just some type of substitute for the trail. In the end, after hours of research over several days I ended up getting the same pack that I had in mind when the whole process started in the first place. But was it a waste of time? I don’t think so.
      There are times when we just can’t get out there and things like reading, researching gear, looking at photos from past hikes, or dreaming of that next destination can get us through to the weekend and the trailhead that lays in wait. In regards to gear specifically, I’m satisfied with the setup I have now, and have been, but it still seems to be a constant work in progress. I thought of the following acronym the other day regarding the process that goes into my ever-evolving gear list:
      Tweak
      Refine
      Improve
      Perfect
      T.R.I.P.
      T.R.I.P. – in a way, it’s what I do when I’m not on one. But do we ever really achieve that last step – do we ever really perfect? I haven’t quite gotten there yet. I’ve thought I’ve been there a few times, but then I’m off to another destination where I encounter a new situation, or think of a new way to make something better. And I’m ok with not reaching that last step, and there’s definitely nothing wrong with making improvements at home to help you enjoy your next trip all that much more. It’s even part of what I enjoy about backpacking.
      The thing to be careful about is falling into the trap where the process starts to take the place of getting out there in the first place, or when gear turns into the focus of the trips themselves. I think we all get out there for slightly different reasons, while sharing a common thread. Whatever that reason is to us should always be a higher priority. These days, I’ve made things a bit simpler – my list is just a list. While I still have a spreadsheet hidden away somewhere, now I mostly just use a sheet of paper, perhaps with a few weights jotted down in a margin just so I won’t forget. This way, I still won’t forget anything (most of the time, at least…), and if I pack up for a trip and my pack is too heavy – then I know it’s too heavy. Best of all, with the gear set and the list taking up none of my time, I've found myself spending more time looking at maps and finding new places to add to the destination list (a more exciting list?) for those upcoming, future hikes.
    • Mark Wetherington
      By Mark Wetherington in TrailGroove Blog 0
      “Crowded” at trailheads in national forests in Montana typically just means more cars than you can count one hand, thus providing a degree of solitude that backpackers in states like Oregon or Washington would envy. If a solo experience is what you’re after, it doesn’t take much effort to find great hikes where the chances of you being the only hiker on the trail are north of 90%. Needless to say, by and large hiking in Montana provides one with a high chance at finding solitude.

      With snow hanging around at the lakes on my favorite in-state local hikes (living close to the Montana/Idaho border caused some consternation in regard to travel restrictions as I could have hiked into Idaho from many trailheads, but wasn’t allowed to do so) well into June, I was eager to find some lakes in adjacent Montana ranges that might’ve melted out sooner and would allow me to be casting dry flies to trout before July. I perused my map collection and guidebooks and finally settled on an outlying lake in the expansive Big Hole Valley. A blurb in a guidebook describing it as “a swimmable mountain lake with fine scenery and plenty of solitude…stocked with cutthroat trout and gets relatively light fishing pressure” was all the motivation I needed to take a Friday off work and make the short drive to the trailhead.
      The lake didn’t fit neatly into any mountain range – it wasn’t exactly in the Pioneer Mountains, but it wasn’t really in the Beaverhead Mountains either. It was somewhat of an anomaly. Making it even more intriguing was that when I called the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest for information, no one had any trail conditions to report or had been to the lake – some had never even heard of it. Its location outside of the major developed recreation areas of the forest and its location near the boundaries of three ranger districts made it understandable for me to receive answers of “I’m not really sure about that lake, maybe try calling the other ranger district?” and rather than finding such lack of information frustrating, I found it strangely appealing. With the trail only being four miles to the lake, I figured even if it was a mess of blowdowns and indistinct tread it wouldn’t be the worst way to spend an early summer day, especially with such a nice reward at the end.

      From mountain meadows to lakes and talus, the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Forest has it all.
      The Hike Begins
      When I arrived at the trailhead after six miles on a dirt road, I was pleased to see I was the only car there and my good fortune continued as I had the trail and the lake to myself for my Friday/Saturday overnight trip. Even with an ample amount of deadfall to contend with on the way up, some of which I cleared using a saw I had brought along (the Forest Service had relayed they’d appreciate any help clearing the trail), I made it to the lake in just over two hours. Other than a minor navigational mishap when the trail and cairns completely disappeared after crossing a large talus field, it was an exceedingly pleasant and uneventful hike in. Many wildflowers were just beginning to peak and it was a perfect temperature for hiking. The guidebook had cautioned that the rocky basin the lake was set in would make finding a spot for a tent difficult, so I set my pack down – exercising a lot of willpower to ignore the trout rising to the surface to snatch snacks of insects – and walked around the lake in search of a spot to camp. Finding the guidebook’s description to not be an exaggeration, I gave up on the notion of a lakeside camp and expanded my search area. After I climbed a few hundred feet above the lake to a small bench in a stand of whitebark pines, I finally found a decent campsite that had a view which exceeded my expectations. I set up camp hastily and then returned to the lake to filter water and fish.

      It took me less than a minute to set up my tenkara rod for fishing and in less than a minute of casting and I had a sizeable cutthroat on the line. The beginner’s luck wasn’t a fluke and I continued to catch fish every few minutes as I worked my way around the lake in the late afternoon sunshine. Before dinner, I took a break from fishing to summit the eponymous peak above the lake which was only 600 feet above my campsite. Its broad summit provided incredible views to the Pioneer Mountains, the Beaverheads, and the Anaconda-Pintlers as well as down into the Big Hole Valley.

      Although the mosquitoes made my dinner a more hurried affair than I would have liked, I tend to not complain about mosquitoes too much if the fish are rising and I’m having a good time catching them. It’s when the mosquitoes are vicious and the fish are lying low that it just doesn’t seem to be fair. I fished for another hour to allow my dinner to settle, then perched back on a rock with a good view and a good book while the sun set over the lake, which didn’t seem to fully occur until 10 p.m. Summer days are long in the Northern Rockies, which allows them to be filled with all the good things in life – hiking, fishing, mountaintops, dinners, and reading and relaxing.

      Beautiful mountain lake in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest
      The Last Day
      With no real hurry to return home the next day, I started my morning off with a brisk swim and some sunbathing. The fishing was also too good to resist and I caught several more trout – all beautiful Westslope Cutthroats over a foot long – before beginning my leisurely hike out on a trail that had fewer obstacles on it than it did the day before. My car was still the only one in the parking lot upon my return to the trailhead and other than a few cows that were grazing on the lower elevations of the trail it didn’t appear as if there had been any other visitors. Hopefully the cows appreciated the cleared trail, as I’m guessing they vastly outnumber the human travelers on this beautiful piece of public land.
      Information
      The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is located in southwest Montana and, as Montana's largest national forest at over 3 million acres, it contains an overwhelming amount of recreational opportunities. From cross-country skiing in the winter to backpacking, fishing, and paddling in the summer it is truly a paradise for those who enjoy human-powered recreation. Many great hikes in the forest are detailed in 100 Classic Hikes: Montana by Douglas Lorain and published by Mountaineers Books. Although none of the national forest could be considered crowded by most standards, the Pioneer and Beaverhead Mountain ranges are especially scenic and see relatively low to moderate recreational pressure. For getting to and from the trailhead and for finding obscure recreation opportunities in the area, the Montana Benchmark Recreation Atlas can be useful.
    • michaelswanbeck
      By michaelswanbeck in TrailGroove Blog 1
      Spacious silence and cool, dry air. The sun is always warm in California, even in the dead of winter. Winter time is the off season here in Death Valley National Park, but I can’t imagine why. Boasting the hottest recorded temperature on Earth, it seems funny that most of the park’s visitors come in the summer. If you want to feel some serious, otherworldly heat, then pay us a visit in July! However, if you come to explore at any other time of the year, California’s mild and pleasant weather can be almost guaranteed.

      Spring is especially nice in Death Valley, when the warm nights return, and the wildflowers occasionally bloom for miles. If you stop by in winter however, you will probably find ample solitude on the trails in the area. At higher elevations in winter, there will be snow and ice towards the top of the mountains, but usually not very much. Cold, crisp air awaits as you hike higher, complete silence, and most likely, isolation.

      The charcoal kilns
      The Panamint Range
      Starting from the charcoal kilns area, deep in the Panamint Mountains you will know when you’ve arrived, because these strange, stone, beehive-like structures will suddenly appear in the pinyon pine forest. They will certainly bring a moment of fascination. Most people don’t realize Death Valley has forests at the higher elevations. As the road winds higher into the mountain range, trees will suddenly appear. Any further up from here it becomes 4 wheel drive only. That road will lead to the trailhead for Telescope Peak, another great day hiking option.
      The charcoal kilns are a very cool landmark to check out. In the 1800s they would burn the pinyon pine forest here to make coal, and send it for fuel to the nearby mining boom-towns. I used to live in Death Valley and I fell in love with the park. The Panamint Mountains were my great backyard. When I would get some time to myself I’d wander up into them and enjoy their majestic silence. The hike here took place in January, and the conditions were icy, but without too much snow. The hike didn’t require any special gear, or any special permits. Just drive up into this lonely land and see what’s out there. The Wildrose Trail will generally have less snow on it than the Telescope Trail, so can be a good option in winter.

      I felt refreshed at the beginning of the hike as I left the charcoal kilns, taking my camera along and meandering around a few scenic corners, before heading straight up! This was the most challenging part of the day as I climbed through the forest, but was the perfect warm-up in the sharp, high desert air. The charcoal kilns are already at 6,800 feet of elevation. Coming from the bottom of Death Valley, I left the warm weather behind having driven literally from sea level, and would climb to over 9,000 feet high on this 4.2 mile, one way hike. It wasn’t too far before cresting the ridge, and I looked down to the first sweeping view of Badwater Basin in the valley. This, I could tell, is where the great scenery would begin. The rest of the hike was much easier than the first part of the ascent. Now I got to stroll along the ridgeline, taking in the view of Telescope Peak behind me. Telescope is Death Valley’s tallest mountain, and has an incredible ridgewalk as well. Trails in this area are great options for day hiking the Panamints.

      After the mellow ridgewalk, I encountered one final push to get to the summit. This is where the snow and ice began, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. I was actually wearing sandals as well! I wouldn’t completely recommend this, because my toes were getting cold, but I generally love sandals for desert hiking. Just don’t hit a cactus! Finally, the summit awaits.

      A few scattered trees provided shelter for a break at the top
      At the Summit
      I sat there and froze for a very long time, writing in my journal and wandering around that place which feels on top of the world. I took shelter in a pinyon pine tree to each some snacks, surveying the colorful, mirage-like desert all around. No matter the elevation, the sun always feels warm around here. Another great thing about Death Valley is you can hike in the bright moonlight, so I didn’t feel too rushed to get down knowing the moon would be showing up tonight. Still, it’s always a good idea to bring a flashlight or headlamp and the 10 essentials. Upon arriving back home in Death Valley later that evening, the warm air was a welcome greeting.

      Winter here can bring crisp hiking temperatures and generous views.
      Need to Know
      Information
      There is a free campground at the beginning of Emigrant Canyon Road, and at the junction of Wildrose/ Emigrant Canyon Road. They are reserved on a first come basis, and are often crowded or full most times of the year (except winter). Free camping can be found on the BLM land at the bottom of Wildrose Road in Panamint Valley, on many dirt side roads, and roadside camping/sleeping is acceptable there as well. Backcountry permits, day hiking or camping, are voluntary in Death Valley, and can be filled out at the two visitors centers – one in Lone Pine, CA, and one in Furnace Creek, CA. Check with a ranger about snow condition before attempting a hike, and be prepared with all your own water. It’s up to you how much water to carry because it is heavy, but 2-4 liters should be sufficient for a colder, shorter day hike. Of course if you bring more, you can always drink more!
      Books & Maps
      Hiking Death Valley: A Guide to its Natural Wonders and Mining Past by Michel Digonnet. This book is more than just a hiking guide, the author knows Death Valley very well and explains its rich and colorful history along with the descriptions of the hike. He will also tell you the many unique plants and animals found in the region, as well as more obscure hikes off the beaten path. This guide includes hidden gold mines to explore and descriptions of how to find them. This guidebook is one to constantly return to whenever planning a hike in Death Valley.

      Hiking Western Death Valley National Park: Panamint, Saline and Eureka Valleys by Michel Digonnet. This book provides a closer look at the trails on the west side (the best side) of the park.

      Death Valley and the Amargosa: A Land of Illusion by Richard E. Lingenfelter. A fascinating read for anyone interested in Death Valley, or who is familiar with the park, this book will convey all of its history. There are many stories, some grim and some funny. From the lost Mormon wagon train that accidentally discovered Death Valley and gave it the name... to the many prospectors and con-men who called the place home. It’s a long and highly informative read, and an excellent series of stories about this haunting land.
      Death Valley National Park Trails Illustrated map, National Geographic. This is the only map I have ever needed when exploring Death Valley. It has clear topography lines and the beautiful coloring of the map makes it fun to look at and easy to read. It has info on the side about trail suggestions and concerns about hiking in the park.
      Getting There
      If traveling from the east, take CA hwy 190, the main road through the park. After passing Stovepipe Wells village, drive 10 miles further and you will find Emigrant Canyon Road on your left. Take that turn, and drive for about 25 miles straight to the Wildrose trailhead at the charcoal kilns. The road will turn to dirt 5 miles before the kilns. These same directions can be used if traveling from the West on CA hwy 190. After you pass Panamint Springs village your turnoff is 22 miles away on the right. If traveling from Los Angeles area however, you will be coming into the park from the south. In this case you can take the back route in... After leaving the town of Trona and cresting the Slate Range Pass, you will drop into Panamint Valley. Take the right turn for Wildrose Road, 15 miles after Slate Range Pass. This will connect you to Emigrant Canyon Road, take a right turn there, and drive just 8 miles to the charcoal kilns. When exploring the region, it is fun to take both roads, Emigrant Canyon and Wildrose Road, to make a driving loop out of it.
      Best Time to Go
      Hiking the Panamint Mountains can be done any time of the year. My favorite time is December, because the air is very clear that time of the year, but the temperatures can be quite cold. The only time the hike should be avoided is immediately after a high altitude snowstorm or during one. This information should be found out at the visitor center, or at least by gazing up at the snow level on the peaks. Springtime snow is very possible in Death Valley. The best time to do the hike is on a rare cloudy day…In the summer, this hike is an excellent escape from the hot weather, and temperatures will still be mildly warm at the summit. In the spring, vast meadows of wildflowers sometimes bloom in the Panamint Mountains.
    • Mark Wetherington
      By Mark Wetherington in TrailGroove Blog 1
      As far as hiking gear goes, trekking poles are one of the most utilitarian and least flashy pieces of gear out there. Whereas sleeping bags, tents, backpacks, down jackets, and rain shells all seem to have copious amounts of energy and ink expended in marketing campaigns to promote them, trekking poles seem to have a much lower profile.

      Trekking poles can help with your hiking efficiency, and can often be used for shelter setup while backpacking as well.
      Trekking Poles and Backpacking
      There’s just something about these simple pieces of gear that doesn’t really inspire the enthusiasm and consumer-fever that gets people worked up about discussing fill power, hydrostatic head, Dyneema Composite Fabric construction, and the Holy Grail of true waterproof-breathability. Perhaps it is because trekking poles are relatively simple items and a quick substitute for them – a stick lying on the ground in the forest – has existed since humans began walking upright and found themselves needing a temporary extra appendage to add balance in certain situations. Whereas sleeping bags, down jackets, and rain jackets are more cutting-edge and, given the amazing benefits they provide, lead themselves to greater fandom than mere trekking poles. Add in the fact that most of the aforementioned pieces of gear are non-negotiable and absolutely necessary for most three-season backpacking trips, while trekking poles can easily be left behind without ruining a trip (try forgetting a sleeping bag and still having a good trip), and it is no wonder that trekking poles usually fade into the background in discussions and magazine articles about gear.
      Regardless of their lack of hype when compared to other items on the outdoor gear market, trekking poles provide significant benefits to hikers, especially those carrying the weight in food and gear needed for multi-day backpacking trips. Benefits range from stability on uneven terrain, reduced strain on knees, balance when crossing streams or when on snow, to somewhat less tangible ones like their ability to help hikers get in a better rhythm when moving on easier terrain to really crank out the miles (although this certainly varies from hiker to hiker, as some simply stow the trekking poles when the terrain mellows out). For backpackers using tarp shelters and certain models of tents, trekking poles serve as the support for the shelter and allow it to be pitched without needing separate poles that only serve one purpose.

      Granted, trekking poles aren’t something used by all backpackers or even all avid and experienced backpackers. One hiker I know, who has logged over 30,000 miles during four decades backpacking, doesn’t use trekking poles. Another avid backpacker who has explored the rugged terrain of Montana for over 50 years only uses them when snowshoeing. Some complain about the added piece of gear, that they can get in the way, the straps get tangled up in their hands, and so on and so forth. Others, including this author, couldn’t imagine a backpacking trip without using trekking poles and proselytize to novice hikers about their benefits at every opportunity. To quote the Red River Gorge guidebook author Jerrell Goodpaster, in regard to trekking poles “some swear by them, others swear at them.”
      Like all pieces of gear, not all trekking poles are created equal. Different locking mechanisms (the twist locks of the LT5s compared to the lever locks of REI's Flash Carbon poles), handle materials (cork vs. rubberized vs. foam), collapsibility (three-section, Black Diamond’s Z-poles method, etc.) all have certain benefits and drawbacks. Some of this boils down to personal preference, and some to the conditions where you plan to use the poles. For general three-season on-trail and easy cross-country hiking, models such as the Gossamer Gear LT5s – an update to the previous LT4 trekking pole – are popular for their excellent mix of compactness, minimal weight, comfortable handles, and suitability for most non-mountaineering hikes. The Gossamer Gear poles are not cheap – at $195 for the pair there is a lot of other gear that could be purchased – but their performance is commensurate with the price.

      Backpacking trekking poles should preferably adjust for storage and for shelter setup, and be light enough to not weigh you down without being fragile.
      The Gossamer Gear LT5 Trekking Poles
      The most striking thing about these poles is their minimal weight. At 5.3 ounces each (which includes the strap and mud/snow basket on the bottom; they are a scant 4.6 ounces without these), these poles truly are feather-weight. This low weight made my initial uses of them an exercise in suspension of disbelief, as the ability of such a light pole to fully support my weight with a backpack on rocky terrain and with all my force on one pole was astounding and amusing. It really was almost hard to “trust” these at first, as I was coming from using poles that were more than twice as heavy. After a few hikes and unexpected stumbles in which these poles saved me from a fall, I was totally converted.
      The low weight is a result of their carbon fiber construction, resulting in their top-tier price. From bicycle wheels to skis, carbon fiber has led to reduced weights without sacrificing performance in multiple categories of outdoor gear. Although carbon fiber can fail catastrophically and with little signs of warning (like the obvious cracks you would see in a steel bicycle frame when compared to a carbon fiber one), this shouldn’t dissuade you from using carbon fiber poles (the high price would be a more legitimate excuse). There is barely perceptible lateral flex on these poles when under extreme duress, and this seems to be the most likely way that these would fail in the field. The types of forces typically exerted on trekking poles, the consequences of failure (unlike a bike, you probably won’t be going 30+ mph if a trekking pole failed), and the improvements in quality and durability over the years mean you should feel secure in choosing and using carbon fiber poles. No warranty against breakage of the carbon fiber tubing is offered however, so if a section does end up breaking, you’ll need to purchase the fix (replacement sections are available) through Gossamer Gear.
      In addition to the minimal weight, the ability of these poles to be compacted to less than two feet (23.5”) when stowing them is a great feature. When needing to stow them to make both hands available when scrambling in Class 3 terrain or when they weren’t needed on easy terrain, it was great to be able to pack these away in those types of situations. And the added weight to my pack was barely over a half-pound. The max length is 51" when fully extended, so if you plan to use these for a shelter you will want to factor that in as well.
      Preference for handle material varies from user to user and I found the handles on these poles to be a great material in a variety of conditions. During the few months of testing, I didn’t see any noticeable deterioration in the materials despite exposure to a variety of conditions and lots of sweat. The handle material is preferable over rubberized handles, and these are some of the nicer handles I’ve used with superb handle comfort, one of the most comfortable handles I've ever had on a trekking pole. The strap is functional and not overly burdensome or inconvenient – it simply functions as it should with no remarkable characteristics. The included rubber tips and baskets are helpful for the conditions where they are appropriate and replacements can be easily ordered at a reasonable price from Gossamer Gear when they are worn out or go missing. The tip traction is great on a variety of surfaces and the snowbaskets are easy to add and remove.

      Perhaps the most important part of a trekking pole is having an absolutely solid locking mechanism to prevent the poles from unexpected slipping when loaded with weight, which often occurs during a slip or when bracing when climbing up or down something, or crossing a creek. While the vast majority of the time the changes in length of the pole as a result of slippage were microscopic over the course of a moderate backpacking trip, there were a few instances where significant slippage occurred. Both were when crossing creeks that were deep enough to cover the twist-locks and when I had to fully weight the poles to gain enough balance to not slip. The slippage didn’t result in injury, but it also did not inspire confidence in a situation where I needed it most. I will accept some role in perhaps not tightening them down as much as I should have after adjusting them prior to the crossings, but overall I think that this more an issue with the twist-lock mechanism and not solely user error.
      Conclusion
      While I've been pleased with poles and they've met my expectations, the price tag on them makes it difficult to unequivocally recommend them. Although I would be surprised if anyone purchased them and found them lacking, there are many other more affordable options out there for hikers just needing a pair of poles and not overly concerned about their weight. Aside from some limited slippage of the locking mechanism, there were no major issues of concern that I encountered when using these poles. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, I'm hopeful that these poles will be with me for as long as my previous pair of poles, which was nearly a decade.
      The Gossamer Gear LT5 Trekking Poles retail for $195. You can find them at here at Gossamer Gear.
    • Aaron Zagrodnick
      By Aaron Zagrodnick in TrailGroove Blog 8
      A few years ago and to follow up on a previous Utah hiking trip, Ted Ehrlich and I spent a few days backpacking in the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park. The Maze is frequently referred to as one of the most remote spots in the lower 48, and though I’m not sure how exactly it ranks on that scale, it did require some significant amounts of off-highway driving to reach.

      The Maze is located in southeastern Utah, west of the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers and bordered by the both to the east. Though bordered by water on one side, water is scarce. Springs are scattered to the south and within the canyons themselves, but can’t always be relied upon. We found the plateaus completely devoid of water, and found little water when dropping into the canyons / the Maze itself.



      Needless to say, views in the Maze don't disappoint.
      Getting to the Trailhead
      I’m no 4x4 enthusiast, so we elected to start our trip from the Golden Stairs Trailhead which avoids the roughest sections of 4 wheel drive roads in the Maze. A trail switchbacks down from this spot to the 4 wheel drive road that runs across the southern end of the area where we planned to hike, so a bit of road walking was involved. However, it’s definitely one of the best road walks I’ve ever encountered. From here we essentially route planned on the fly, including an out and back to the Chocolate Drops, a day hike loop past the Harvest Scene, and eventually made our way to the Doll House area and areas overlooking the Colorado River. If you’re carrying a lot of water like we were, the out and backs and day hike loops make things easy by allowing you to temporarily stash some of that weight, and with the way the trails / routes and the roads all seem to intersect in the Maze, many interesting routes can be devised.






      The Maze is desolate country – arrive prepared and with plenty of water.
      In the Maze
      The country is beautiful in a unique and desolate way. It’s also a land of contrasts. The plateaus – hot, windy, and dry, rarely a bird or rabbit to be seen. But the 12,000’ + peaks of the La Sal Mountains rise in the distance with snow-capped peaks and forests rising up their sides. Plunge into the canyons of the Maze and the winds die down, the sun disappears and you can feel the water in the air – but can’t always find it. Deer tracks run through the sand and each bend brings something new, and something ancient. Sunsets never seemed to disappoint and were some the best I can ever recall seeing. Rock holds it all together in an eclectic array of constantly unique shapes and colors. It’s definitely one of those spots that keeps calling you back – I can’t seem to put the map away and shake the idea of another trip. Or maybe it's the sand I'm still shaking out of my shoes that keeps reminding me. With summer heat on the way, hopefully that return trip happens soon.





      Things only get more interesting around sunset in the Maze.
      Need to Know
      Best Time to Go
      Spring and Fall. Winter can be quite cold and access difficult due to road closures / access. Summer brings very hot hiking and everything that goes with it.
      Getting There
      From Green River, Utah travel on Highway 24 south for 24 miles. Near the Goblin Valley turnoff you’ll see a signed dirt road leading East. Alternatively travel north from Hanskville. Travel on this 2wd road for 46 miles to the Hans Flat Ranger Station (open daily 8 AM – 4:30 PM). Continue 12 miles (High clearance 2WD / 4WD) to the top of the Flint Trail Switchbacks. Stop here at the overlook to ensure no vehicles are ascending the switchbacks; if any are wait until they get to the top. Uphill has the right of way and passing will be quite difficult on this section. From this point the roads will be high-clearance 4WD only. Descend the Flint Trail Switchbacks, travelling 3 miles to the fork and navigating 3 hairpin, multiple point turns where a spotter will be very helpful. Once at the bottom, taking the left fork will take you to the Maze Overlook (13 miles) or to the turn off for the Golden Stairs campsite / trailhead (1 mile to the turnoff, an additional mile to the parking area).
      From the base of the Flint Trail switchbacks, you can also take the right fork and drive directly to the Maze through Teapot Canyon, a much rougher route. One option is to park at the top of the Flint Trail Switchbacks and Hike in via Golden Stairs from there if you or your vehicle isn’t up for the rougher driving in the park. Trails can also be accessed via the Maze Overlook which may require some exposed climbing maneuvers / pack lowering via rope.
      An alternate dirt road leads north from Highway 95 at Hite. We didn’t explore this road, but at the time of this writing it’s reported to be smoother but requires a longer drive. From this road you can access the road into the Maze through Teapot Canyon or travel to the base of the Flint Trail Switchbacks / beyond. The Park Service has listed driving times here, and we found them to be surprisingly accurate in practice.
      Information
      Permits cost $30 and are required for camping and backpacking in the Maze. Check the calendar to reserve a spot. If backpacking permits are full, check for 4WD site availability – the sites are quite nice. Keep in mind however that visitors staying at 4WD sites are required to pack everything out, while those with backpacking permits are required to pack out T.P. only (and all other trash, of course). Cryptobiotic soil is prevalent in the Maze, avoid traveling across it and stick to established routes or slickrock / no impact areas. Check with the Hans Flat Ranger Station for water and road conditions prior to starting your trip. The area is remote, take extra water and leave extra in your vehicle. Take a filter and always carry enough water to get back to your last known source. The Colorado River can be accessed at Spanish Bottom if needed. We carried all the water we needed in a mix of everything from gallon jugs to Nalgene Cantenes, containers from Platypus, and MSR Dromedary Bags.
      Maps
      We used National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map 312 and 210. Delorme's Utah Atlas and Gazetteer and this overview map can also be helpful.




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