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ZPacks Triplex Review: Ultralight 3 Person Tent

The Zpacks Triplex Tent is a Dyneema Composite Fabric / Cuben Fiber tent that’s marketed as a 3 person shelter solution with a 90x60” floorplan and a generous 48” peak height – it’s essentially a larger version of the Zpacks Duplex, which is designed as 2 person tent with a smaller 45” wide floor. Featured in this review however, the only slightly heavier 24 ounce Zpacks Triplex requires a minimum of 8 stakes, and additional tieouts can be used at the head and foot ends for more wind stability a

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Choosing the Best Backpacking Sleeping Pad

A backpacking sleeping pad very importantly provides warmth by insulating us from the cold ground at night, and ideally a sleeping pad will also provide sufficient comfort to allow for a good night of rest. As an item that’s one of the heaviest and bulkiest core gear items you will carry on any backpacking trip, the sleeping pad requires some thought and consideration when it comes to selection and application. With a multitude of options available there's a sleeping pad to specifically sui

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Backpacking Pots and Cookware Selection Guide

Performing a few simple yet vital tasks, our choice of a backpacking pot is one item that the rest of our cooking gear will frequently revolve around, especially if you like to pack your entire cooking kit inside your pot. A backpacking pot serves as a vessel in which we can prepare our backcountry meals and heat or even sanitize water if needed – and despite being such a simple item it is not one easily replaced. In fact, if one were only allowed to take a few items of gear into the backco

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

2024 REI Reward / Dividend Release & Member Guide

The arrival of spring brings a lot of things for the outdoor enthusiast to get excited about, including longer days, warm temperatures, and melting snow for those of us in the north. However one additional perk that spring brings is the annual REI Member Reward (previously known as the REI Dividend) release. For REI members, this is the time of the year when REI Co-op members receive their rewards from REI purchases you made during the 2023 season. Gear-up with the help of REI Member

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Ursack Major Bear Resistant Food Bag Review

The Ursack is a bear-resistant backpacking food storage bag that's both light and more packable than typical hard sided bear canisters - like the BearVault BV450 we reviewed in Issue 30. The Ursack has been around a while, and the latest version, the Ursack Major (previously referred to as the Ursack Allwhite S29.3), features a tighter more tear-resistant weave than previous models and is IGBC certified. The Ursack Major offers lightweight backcountry food protection. The Ursack

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

The Sheltowee Trace: A Long Hike in Kentucky & Tennessee

Early every year avid backpackers and hikers turn to planning for their next big hiking trip – and frequently, long distance thru-hikes on classic trails will be focused on by many hikers planning trips for the year ahead. And rightfully so. Those trails like the Colorado Trail, John Muir Trail, and Long Trail (see Thru-Hiking: the Junior Version) will certainly get plenty of attention, but there are lesser known hikes, such as the Sheltowee Trace, worth considering for those looking for a longe

JimR

JimR in Trips

Feathered Friends Petrel UL 10 Degree Sleeping Bag Review

Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that a one-sized fits all approach to gear simply doesn’t work for me – whether it is a mountain bike or a sleeping bag. Finally in 2015, after many years of utilizing a men’s sleeping bag (which dominate the higher end sleeping bag market) I decided to learn from my mistakes, branch out from the mold, and purchase a down sleeping bag designed specifically for women from Seattle-based manufacturer Feathered Friends, who currently offer 9 different wome

Jen

Jen in Gear

How to Choose the Best Hiking Shoes or Boots

Both a prerequisite for the enjoyment of any day hike and critical for the success of any extended backpacking trip, our choice of a hiking shoe or boot is one of the most important gear related choices to make and dial in prior to any outdoor excursion. Not only does the best hiking boot or shoe depend on fit and our own individual preference, but the best options will also vary widely by season – although many options can also be workable across more than one season, or even with a few caveats

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

An Ode to the Snow Peak 450 Titanium Cup & Review

The Snow Peak 450 is an ultralight titanium backpacking mug weighing in at only a listed weight of 2.4 ounces for the lighter single wall version of the cup (2.1 measured), or 4.2 ounces for the more insulated double wall offering. This classic cup has a capacity of 450ml (just over 15 fluid ounces), and is available in your typical titanium grey as well as in a variety of colors to brighten up your morning coffee a bit if desired. The handles are collapsible for packing, and can work as a way t

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Exped Schnozzel Review: Funny Name, Serious Performance

One thing is for certain: we all need to keep our sleeping gear dry and we all need to be able to fit it all in our pack. Like many of us, in the past I’ve used everything from a set of individual dry bags to accomplish these goals to budget friendly trash compactor bags. All worked well and served the purpose of keeping my sleeping bag and clothing dry during rainy days on the trail while also offering some benefit in the way of compression. As a user of an inflatable Exped sleeping pad however

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Tips for Hiking in Mosquito and Tick Season

Every hiking season offers up its own set of challenges, and when it comes to the seasons of spring and summer the presence of flying and biting insects and other related concerns will need to be addressed in many locales. Dealing with insects such as mosquitoes, black flies, and ants along with other concerns like ticks to name a few is a top priority for any warmer weather outdoor excursion. These pests can be anything from just that – a simple pest, or they can even ruin a trip in short order

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Technique

Choosing the Best Wilderness Backpacking Campsite

If your next trip is taking you to a popular trail in a National Park or areas where campsites are available by obtaining a permit and making a backcountry reservation, often times there will be little to decide upon when it comes to choosing a campsite; if designated sites are all that’s available most of the deciding has already been done for you. When exploring more remote wilderness areas and in all areas where dispersed or zone camping is allowed or all that’s available however, when choosi

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Technique

10 Ways to Sleep Warmer on Your Next Backpacking Trip

It's always hard to enjoy a backpacking trip when you don't sleep well, and sleeplessly shivering throughout the night is one way to guarantee a rough next day. Here's a list of 10 tips, ideas, and considerations that should help the next time your backcountry trip coincides with those colder nights. On this frigid morning, my coffee froze in my cup before I could finish it. Luckily with the right gear I slept warm the night before. A Nalgene Bottle Trapping your heat utiliz

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Technique

Thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Lessons Learned

While any thru-hike will involve an uncountable number of steps, the biggest step of them all is the proverbial first step – making the decision to go hike the trail yourself. After you’ve watched the videos and read the articles, the inspiration is at its highest, and you finally decide to hike a long distance trail, the second major step into the world of long distance hiking is preparing to walk – up to 25 miles every day for up to 6 months straight. Is Hiking the PCT a Physical or Menta

jansenjournals

jansenjournals in Trips

Western Mountaineering Alpinlite Sleeping Bag Review

Among traditional sleeping bag brands, Western Mountaineering has long been one of the most revered for producing high quality lightweight down sleeping bags popular in backpacking and climbing circles, and the 20 degree bag has proven to be one of the most popular and versatile bags one can choose for use across 3 seasons in much of the continental United States. The 20 degree rated bag is still light enough for summer backpacking in the mountains, but still adequate warmth-wise for shoulder se

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

Originally published in 1968, Desert Solitaire is a work of non-fiction describing Edward Abbey’s experiences during a season while working as a park ranger – at what was then called Arches National Monument in Utah, before the Park and before the paved roads. The book is an American classic and is likely already on many bookshelves of those who appreciate the natural world, and I read the book for the first time many years ago. It had been long enough to read again however, and as we chang

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Reading

Nalgene Ultralight - Best Backpacking Water Bottle Ever?

When hitting the store for a backpacking water bottle we may be inclined to at first reach for our favorite color bottle or the bottle featuring the most appealing printed design on the side. While there’s nothing wrong with that when it comes to having a water bottle around the house or at work, when it comes to choosing a hiking or backpacking water bottle other performance factors should be considered. With weight being paramount in the backcountry, the prototypical standard, Tritan Nalgene b

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Best Canister Fuel for Backpacking Stoves

While the physical standardization of backpacking fuel canisters may lead one to believe they’re all the same, the actual contents of each canister vary greatly, and results in a multitude of liquefied fuel mixtures on the market. And if you’ve ever been in the situation – like I have – where you’re trying to boil water by the light of a headlamp on a chilly fall night only to watch the output of your stove steadily drop towards a heat level barely above off, you know it pays to know your stove

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Day Hiking the Ozarks: Exploring a Geological Wonder

The Ozarks of northwest Arkansas and southern Missouri are full of magical places, and thanks to the rest of the world’s inattention to this glorious natural area, solitude can often be easily found. Eye-catching geology abounds as a consequence of erosion of the high plateau that created the peaks and hollows characteristic of the area. Clear rivers and streams lace through limestone bluffs, interesting rock formations, over natural bridges and over waterfalls, making the Ozarks an outdoor

Susan Dragoo

Susan Dragoo in Trips

Backpacking and Hiking Water Treatment Guide

On any hiking or backpacking trip, the ability to procure safe drinking water during the hike is one of the most important logistical considerations for both pre-trip planning as well as while we’re on the trail. Finding the water is of course the first step, and having the necessary gear to properly process the water so it’s safe to drink is the second part of the equation. Here we’ll look at the main types of water filters and backcountry water treatment methods that are best suited for b

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

The Backpacking Mug: Choices and Considerations

A key component of any practical backpacking kitchen setup is a cup or mug suitable for morning coffee or your hot drink of choice, and of course we need something light and packable while still working well for the purpose at hand. While the best backpacking mug choice may vary a bit from hiker to hiker, like any other piece of gear there’s a few key points worth consideration. A selection of titanium backpacking mugs Backpacking Mug Materials & Features A multitude of

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Hiking Wind Shirts and Patagonia Houdini Review

In recent years the popularity and availability of wind shirts or ultralight wind jackets have both increased, and as many have found, these pieces often fit in very well with active outdoor pursuits including backpacking and hiking. These specialized jackets focus on light weight, simplicity, full or mostly single layer construction, and have a design focus on performance in a layering system and in the outdoors. The Patagonia Houdini offers ultralight wind protection combined with w

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew Light Cushion Socks

Keeping your feet comfortable in the backcountry is a big step towards an enjoyable trip, and after hiking and backpacking in various socks from Darn Tough for the past decade, they definitely deserve a closer look and review. I’d always heard good things about the Darn Tough brand – Made in the USA and with a lifetime warranty that you might not even need since they supposedly last forever. However, I never really expect socks to last quite that long, and other than that fact it was difficult t

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

  • Blog Entries

    • Aaron Zagrodnick
      By Aaron Zagrodnick in TrailGroove Blog 0
      The Soto WindMaster upright canister stove was released in 2013, and has become a popular stove in the upright backpacking canister stove market. Improving upon Soto’s now antiquated Micro Regulator OD-1R stove, the WindMaster was designed to be even lighter and was designed with wind resistance and efficiency in mind. Soto’s micro regulator valve system is utilized in the WindMaster, which Soto claims improves efficiency and operation during cold weather, where many canister stoves begin to falter. Since I’d always have to take along additional windscreens for my canister stoves in the past, the weight began to add up and before trying the WindMaster I had even been taking along an alcohol stove instead on many trips.

      Additionally, nights are almost always chilly here in the Rockies, so when using my canister stove I’d always have to toss the canister in my sleeping bag at night to ensure decent performance for coffee the next morning. With the release of the Soto WindMaster stove and its very light weight, I thought I might be able to leave additional windscreens behind, and the alcohol stove vs. canister stove weight gap was significantly narrowed. Additionally, with Soto’s cold weather performance claims, the WindMaster began to stack up on paper as a worry-free alternative to my standard alcohol setup with little to no weight penalty depending on trip length. Since picking up the stove in 2013, the Soto WindMaster has been my go-to stove for more than the past decade.

      The Soto WindMaster includes their (more stable) 4Flex pot support, which can be completely removed from the stove and has folding legs for easy packing.
      Soto WindMaster Design
      The WindMaster is an 11,000 BTU canister stove listed at 2.3 ounces. Instead of a folding design, the optional TriFlex pot support (about $17) is entirely removable for packing, with a clip that secures all arms together and flat when stowed. The optional TriFlex support is designed for pots with a diameter up to 5.5 inches. While the TriFlex was originally standard on the WindMaster, these days their 4Flex support with swing arms is included with the stove, allowing for the use of larger pots and / or greater stability. The 4Flex is spring-loaded, and can be removed for packing if desired. A long wire flip-down flame control handle keeps your hands away from the heat and keeps the handle itself cool when adjusting the flame.
      Internally Soto’s micro regulator valve system is utilized as opposed to a standard needle valve arrangement, and a push button piezo-electric igniter is neatly integrated into the stove. Soto doesn’t guarantee operation of the piezo above 10,000 feet, but hopefully you’re already carrying an alternate fire starting solution anyway. In practice, I've used the piezo without issue to 11,000 feet, although your mileage may vary. To gain the “WindMaster” distinction, the burner head is recessed slightly below the outer housing, and the low profile pot supports bring the bottom of your cookpot closer to the flame compared to many other stoves. These features combine to minimize the amount of flame exposed to wind.

      The 4Flex pot support arms folded in for storage and packing. The entire pot support can also be removed if desired.
      Impressions
      At first I was concerned about the TriFlex pot support (this option was the one included with my stove at the time) – would it offer enough stability and would it become a hassle to constantly remove and replace in the field? Additionally, I was quite curious regarding how well the stove would really perform in windy conditions by itself without the benefit of an additional windscreen. More on wind testing later, but upon receipt it became apparent that the stove is a well built and solid product, despite the very light 2.3 ounce weight specification as claimed by the manufacturer.

      WindMaster with TriFlex pot support
      In hand I measured 2.35 ounces including the TriFlex pot support. By itself the TriFlex support weighs a quarter ounce and the larger spring-loaded 4Flex support tips the scale at just under an ounce. The stove with the 4Flex support weighs 3.05 ounces. Operation of both pot supports is very easy and installation onto the burner head as well as removal takes just a second or two with practice. Just be absolutely sure that you read the manual and have the pot support securely installed prior to use. The optional TriFlex support packs up quite small and blends in surprisingly well with the ground on rocks and in grass, so you’ll definitely want to pack it somewhere secure. Of course, as I learned by experience, be mindful to allow the supports to sufficiently cool prior to removal. On the stove the TriFlex support offered good stability for smaller sized cookware, while the 4Flex support offers excellent stability for both smaller and larger sized pots. At 3.6” tall, the stove does sit fairly high off the canister however, but overall system stability was good on level ground even with the small 110 gram canisters and a 1.3 liter pot.

      4Flex pot support coverage example on the Evernew 1.3 liter titanium pot
      After you open the valve a bit and click the piezo ignition, the stove lights reliably with a single click or two and you don’t need a stopwatch to realize that the WindMaster heats things up really quickly. Turning up the heat results in a very quick boil – every time I started to think about multitasking while waiting the Soto seemed to beat me to a boil. You’re not out of luck if you need to simmer a meal, or even give lightweight baking a shot – the flame also dials down really low, so much that you can run the risk of the flame being extinguished by a light breeze, and with the micro regulator valve system, flame adjustment is very precise. On many other stoves the flame control is quite rough and it can be easy to accidentally turn the stove off when trying to dial down a small flame.

      Over the course of the past decade+, the piezo ignition has needed one replacement (Soto offers a replacement kit if you ever need it), but overall the piezo has proven to be fairly reliable (always carry a backup ignition source).
      The stove is on the long side, but packing hasn't been an issue with my cookware of choice. With the pot supports removed, the WindMaster will fit in both of the Ultralight Series Evernew pots I use, including with a 110 gram fuel canister in the 900ml pot, and with a 220 gram canister in an Evernew 1.3 liter pot (for more cookware detail see our 900ml and 1.3L Evernew review). In both cases this required either removal of the canister’s protective cap, or placing the canister with the cap installed inside the pot upside down. If you have trouble squeezing things in using the upside down canister method, place the stove in first. Cookware on the tall instead of wide side worked out too – the Soto fits with a small fuel canister in the Mountain Laurel Designs 850ml pot/mug (a taller, more mug-like design) without incident.

      Evernew 900 and Soto WindMaster with TriFlex pot support
      Performance Testing
      The Soto WindMaster is excellent across both mild conditions as well as in cold conditions and with chilly canisters. Boil times are excellent. Wind performance was also excellent for an upright canister stove without additional windscreening or protection. As expected however, the stove isn’t impervious to wind which still reduced both time and efficiency – but comparatively much less so than you might expect. I tested the Soto in a variety of conditions to measure both boil times and efficiency. For the 68 & 32 degree tests, the air temperature was as specified and the water, stove, pot, and fuel canister were brought to the testing temperature prior to starting each test. The stove was tested using new 220 gram Snow Peak fuel canisters on full power unless otherwise specified. 2 cups of water were used and the test ended when the water was brought to a rolling boil. An Evernew 900ml Ultralight titanium pot was used with the lid engaged. For each test, the TriFlex pot support was used on the stove. The elevation was just over 5000 feet at a barometric pressure of 24.45 inHg. Here are the results:
      Test 1: 68F, 0 Wind
      Temp: 68F
      Wind: 0
      Volume: 2 cups
      Boil Time: 2:13
      Fuel Used: 8 grams
      Test 2: 32F, 0 Wind
      Temp: 32F
      Wind: 0
      Volume: 2 cups
      Boil Time: 2:25
      Fuel Used: 9 grams
      Test 3: 68F, 10mph Wind
      Temp: 68F
      Wind: 10mph
      Volume: 2 cups
      Boil Time: 6:57
      Fuel Used: 21 grams
      Test 4: 68F, 20mph Wind
      Temp: 68F
      Wind: 20mph
      Volume: 2 cups
      Boil Time: N/A. 174F Max @ 30 Minutes
      Fuel Used: 100 grams
      Note: Test ended at 30 Minutes (water temp no longer rising)

      Boil times were very fast across both testing temperatures with no wind. On paper, the wind tests may look lackluster; however we also tested one of the most popular needle valve upright canister stoves on the market today in the same conditions, and used its optional windscreen. It wasn’t able to bring the water to a boil in the 10mph test after 30 minutes on full power, using 65 grams of fuel. It got close though, a maximum water temperature of 198 degrees was recorded at the 28:25 mark.
      Wind is still a factor with the Soto, but relatively speaking, performance was impressive. In the field, seek natural windbreaks like boulders, a large tree, and consider using your pack at a safe distance to help. While cooking, consider sitting directly upwind of the stove to help further, using your body as a shield. Using all these techniques, even if it’s very windy outside you should be able to cut out enough wind in the small area where the stove is operating to remain within the Soto’s performance envelope. Fuel usage for the Soto was good at full power, however I wanted to see if and how much efficiency would be affected by turning down the power at the expense of time.

      The WindMaster runs a bit hot to say the least, but while this may not be the stove for the advanced backcountry chef, with practice the flame can be dialed down for slower cooking techniques in a pinch.
      Test 5: 68F, 0 Wind
      (Stove set to approximately 1/3 of maximum)
      Temp: 68F
      Wind: 0
      Volume: 2 cups
      Boil Time: 3:03
      Fuel Used: 6 grams
      Turning the stove down to medium-low definitely helped efficiency, saving 25% compared to full power, and waiting around 3 minutes compared to 2 is no big deal. Over a long trip, this efficiency could really add up, especially if it saves you from having to bring another canister. Since dialing down the heat resulted in this large of an increase I wanted to take things a step further – running the same test but essentially boiling the water as slowly as possible. Watching the digital thermometer, I turned the heat control on the stove down as low as possible while still maintaining a rising water temperature (68 degree environment). After 12:03 the water was at a rolling boil, and again, 6 grams of fuel had been used. So after a certain point additional efficiency was not observed, but regardless of time, running the stove lower will save fuel.
      Test 6: 68F, 0 Wind, 0F Canister
      Temp: 68F
      Wind: 0mph
      Volume: 2 cups
      Canister Temp: 0F
      Boil Time: 2:08
      Fuel Used: 8 grams
      The Soto had already performed well in the 32 degree test with a chilly canister, bringing water from an ice bath to a rolling boil in just less than 2 and a half minutes, not much change from performance at 68 degrees. However, with the Soto’s micro regulator valve system and claims for improved cold weather performance, I took things a bit further and left 2 full 220 gram canisters in a freezer for 24 hours at a temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit. I then removed one canister to the 68 testing environment and immediately tested the WindMaster using the chilled canister. The stove lit easily without any impression of reduced performance. 2 cups of 68 degree water were boiled in 2:08 using 8 grams of fuel, virtually identical to the performance of the stove in a 68 degree environment with a 68 degree canister.

      I then took the second canister from the freezer and repeated the test with a popular canister stove utilizing a standard needle valve system. Compared to its normal 68 degree performance, its boil time was reduced from a 3:45 to 8:44. Fuel efficiency was however identical – the stove with the needle valve took a lot longer, but used the same amount of fuel as it did at room temperature (11 grams). I repeated this test informally again the next day, using the same canisters. Outside & water temperature was 72 degrees with a gentle breeze. The wind really made a difference on this one – the Soto was basically again unchanged, however the tested needle valve stove now took 12:20 using 18 grams of fuel.
      Test 7: 68F, 0 Wind, Canister 8 Grams from Empty
      Temp: 68F
      Wind: 0mph
      Volume: 2 cups
      Canister Volume: 8 grams
      Boil Time: 1:59
      Fuel Used: 7 grams
      Lastly, it remained to be seen how well the WindMaster would perform on nearly empty canisters (side note: see our backpacking fuel canister guide for more on the best options on the market). Would the design of the Soto and the micro regulator valve system work to maintain output and efficiency not only in the cold, but with canisters holding a low volume of fuel? I took a nearly empty 220 gram Snow Peak fuel canister and ran it down so that only 8 grams of fuel, or approximately one 2 cup boil at full output was left in the canister. That’s it. I then allowed the stove and canister to return to 68 degrees, and repeated the 68 degree 0 wind test as detailed above. The stove boiled in 1:59 and used 7 grams of fuel. With only 1 gram of fuel left in the canister, the Soto’s efficiency didn’t decline and the stove actually ended up using 1 less gram of fuel and boiled slightly faster than with a completely full canister.
      Only after I re-fired the stove on its very last gram of fuel did the flame begin to slowly fade until all fuel had been used over the course of approximately 30 seconds. One last weigh in – the Soto had used every bit of the 220 grams of fuel originally in the canister. Speaking of empty canisters (of which there were a few after all this testing!) Jetboil makes a nifty canister recycling tool to help with that process.

      Between the removable nature of the TriFlex pot support and the removable and / or folding arms of the 4Flex, I've been able to easily pack the Soto WindMaster inside whatever cookware I take on a trip.
      Field Notes
      After using the Soto WindMaster for the past decade plus field performance has been excellent across all conditions. Reliability wise the piezo igniter has required one replacement during this time, but otherwise the piezo has performed well in the field and even at altitude, although like any piezo system you'll want to carry a backup method of lighting the stove. Over time I've come to prefer to the 4Flex pot support – while the TriFex hasn't let me down, the 4Flex offers much more stability and I simply leave the 4Flex on all the time, and just fold the arms of the pot support and fold the control valve in and the stove is ready to be packed away. That said, if you only use solo-sized cookware and going ultralight is a priority, the TriFlex support may be a good option.
      Save for true winter conditions where I'll take my inverted canister WindPro II stove (you can read our WindPro II review in Issue 33) the Soto WindMaster has been without question the stove I pack along on all other trips. The WindMaster has performed well from low to high altitude and from cold mornings to windy evenings...and from the desert to the mountains on countless trips. And with a more stable burn rate and performance while cooking and while using from full to nearly empty canisters, the Soto WindMaster has offered impressive performance in nearly all field situations.

      The Soto WindMaster has proven to have excellent performance across a wide-range of conditions.
      Conclusion
      The Soto WindMaster lights up like a jet engine at full power yet remains surprisingly efficient – even in less than ideal weather conditions and under changing canister pressure. But it’s not just an on or off stove, the WindMaster allows you to dial down the flame to increase efficiency or for more complex cooking. Performance across a range of ambient and canister temperatures is excellent. Wind is still a factor, but by seeking windbreaks in high winds you’ll be fine without the weight, bulk, and fiddle factor of an additional windscreen.
      The removable pot supports are different, but they’re extremely user friendly and quick to attach and detach, and while you should always take a backup ignition source, the piezo igniter is cleanly integrated into the stove and makes things so easy. The price is higher than average in this category, but if fuel efficiency doesn’t quickly make up for the price difference, the performance will. At just 2.35 ounces with the TriFlex pot support, the WindMaster performed so well at times it had us shaking our heads, and is the current stove to beat in the upright canister stove category.
      The Soto WindMaster OD-1RX Micro Regulator stove retails for around $70. You can find it with the 4Flex pot support here at REI Co-op as well as here at Amazon.com. If you're looking to save a little weight and space, you can also pick up the TriFlex pot support as an add-on item, or for a WindMaster option with both supports included, take a look here at Zpacks. For more on stoves, you can also read our backpacking stove guide for additional information on all types of stoves and how to choose the right stove for your next backpacking trip.
      Editor’s Note: This review originally appeared in Issue 8 of TrailGroove Magazine. You can read the magazine article here featuring additional photos, pros and cons, and our star rating for the Soto WindMaster.
    • Aaron Zagrodnick
      By Aaron Zagrodnick in TrailGroove Blog 0
      When it comes to pre-made backpacking meals, manufacturers understandably often seem to be trying to come up with meals that are compatible with as many palates as possible. Right away, this typically leaves meals that should be spicy toned down and even perhaps, bland. Luckily, by packing a small bottle of hot sauce or hot sauce packets and / or bringing some spices, this can typically be easily remedied. That said, as someone who has never called a meal too spicy, having a meal check off this box right out of the gate can be nice, for the sake of convenience if nothing else.

      This option from Mountain House offers up 580 calories and 32 grams of protein.
      Making the Meal and Impressions
      New for 2024 Mountain House has released a meal I was hoping might be of interest to spicy food fans including myself – their Kung Pao Chicken. The meal is composed of basmati rice, chicken, vegetables including peppers and zucchini, as well as spices and a sauce complete with oyster extractives. The meal is marketed as a 2 serving option that contains 580 calories in total with 32 grams of protein and is gluten free.

      After adding 1.5 cups of boiling water, the meal is ready after 15 minutes of rehydration time with a stir at about the halfway mark. From the start, I was impressed with the sizable chunks of chicken Mountain House included in this meal – some other recent freeze-dried meals I’ve tried have had me doubting the meat listed on the ingredients was even included at all. As I’d hoped for, the spices level is a bit up there – nothing too extreme but it’s high enough where this meal is likely tolerable by most, but it could be more spicy than some would prefer. Myself, I wouldn’t mind adding even more spice, but that’s why I often carry habanero powder on backpacking trips.

      Spice and heat level aside the meal tastes pretty good, but while the chicken is noticeable as previously mentioned, I do wish both the chicken and vegetables were included in a greater quantity, as the meal comes across as mostly rice and sauce based. Speaking of the sauce, despite the oyster component I didn’t pick up on any particularly overboard seafood type of smells from the meal but would still store the used bag in an OPSak bag inside my Ursack Major along with other trash on trips. Although I typically shy away from rice-based freeze-dried meals where the rice is the main ingredient, on this meal the basmati rice used is larger and more toothsome than average.

      The meal rehydrates well and results in a solid backcountry dining option.
      Conclusion
      Overall the Mountain House Kung Pao Chicken meal is a solid option for those who like spicy food, but I do feel that the meal could use more chicken and vegetables, as well as more flavor in the spice department and potentially some more heat as well. That said, if you’re willing to bring along a few add-ons in your food bag many of these wish-list items can be taken care of quickly out on the trail.
      The Mountain House Kung Pao Chicken meal retails for $11.50. You can find it here at REI.com and search all of REI’s backpacking meals at this link (save 10% on 8 or more).
    • Karen Garmire
      By Karen Garmire in TrailGroove Blog 0
      A spur of the moment side trip landed us in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park with easy access to the tallest point in Texas. Guadalupe Peak looms over the surrounding desert flatlands at a respectable 8,751 feet, accessible only after paying the price of a grueling 8.4 mile round-trip, 3000-foot elevation gain trail. This is truly a spectacular not-to-be-missed hike that comes with bragging rights for ascending the highest peak in Texas.

      Located in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Guadalupe Peak offers a challenging hike with expansive, rewarding views.
      Hiking to the Summit of Guadalupe Peak
      There is nothing predictable about this trail; we hiked it in early April during unseasonably cool weather and were surprised with a wide range of weather conditions. Our hike started out sunny, with warm temperatures and calm winds that changed to light wind, cooler temperatures and even a few snow flurries as we ascended toward the peak. That being the said, it’s not unusual to start out in sweltering heat and arrive at the top needing some serious cold weather gear.
      We were lucky to have a break in the wind and clouds when we arrived at the top that allowed us to take time to enjoy the view of Texas and southern New Mexico to the north. This is a shoulder season hike, best hiked during the cooler months of the year. Peak seasons in the park are March through May and September through December when average high temperatures are less than 80 degrees.

      The trail is well maintained and a reasonable (but constant) grade. The steepest portion is in the first couple of miles. A few sheer drop offs are not for the faint of heart. However, the trail is wide with passing room along virtually the entire trail and the cliff side paths make for impressive photos. Many families make this hike with children. Sturdy hiking shoes or boots will make the mostly rock tread easier on your feet but are not required. We opted to use trekking poles, but most hikers went up fine without them (we like to use trekking poles so we can take in the scenery with less risk of stumbling).

      As you make your way up from the trailhead at roughly 5750’ to 8751’ elevation at the top you’ll notice the stark changes in your surroundings from the high desert to high elevation pinon tree forests. The progression offers a fascinating lesson on the adaptability of flora and fauna to these unique ecosystems. We didn’t see too much in the way of wildlife on the hike, except for a few lizards on the rocks and vultures and hawks flying overhead. An earlier start would likely provide a better chance to see some of the local animals (gray fox, skunks, porcupine, mule deer, snakes, etc.).

      Those that make the trek are rewarded with a 360-degree view for miles on end with mountain peaks rising from the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert. Guadalupe Mountains National Park is home to eight of the highest peaks in Texas including the impressive sheer limestone bluff, El Capitan, not to be confused with the similarly named and equally impressive rock formation in Yosemite National Park.
      There is no trail to the top of El Capitan, but the best view in the park is from atop Guadalupe Peak. Off in the distance, and barely visible are the 2,000-acre gypsum sand dunes on the west side of the park. The monument on Guadalupe Peak is a quirky pyramid that was put on the peak before it became a National Park and commemorates the transcontinental overland and air mail carriers. If you plan your trip during the spring, you’re likely to see spectacular blooms that may even include the rare Guadalupe Mountain violet!

      The hike starts out in the high desert and passes through high elevation pine forests. If you have an extra day, and don't mind carrying a backpack and extra water, you could camp overnight at the backcountry campsite one mile from the summit and enjoy star gazing before summiting the next morning and possibly catching sunrise from the peak. Guadalupe Mountains is sometimes described as the least visited national park, but it’s one not to be missed in our book.
      Need to Know
      Information
      The National Park Service advises carrying one gallon of water per day and turning back when half your water is gone. There are no water sources on this trail.
      No-fee backcountry wilderness permits are available at the visitor’s center up to one day in advance. The campground with five tent sites is one mile below the peak. All toilet paper and solid waste is required to be removed in a commercial toilet bag (Wag-Bag or the Restop 2, etc). One bag per person, per day is required for backpackers and you may be asked to show proof you have the required bags before obtaining your permit.
      Guadalupe Mountains is in the Mountain time zone although your smart phones and other devices may try to convince you otherwise since the nearest towers transmit from the Central time zone. The sparsely populated area makes Guadalupe an ideal location for dark sky viewing.
      Getting There
      Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located in west Texas about 2 hours east of El Paso. The trailhead parking lot holds only a few cars and fills up quickly even on weekdays. There is additional parking at the visitor center and the well maintained trail to the trailhead adds a bonus mile to your hike. A quick stop at the Pine Springs Visitor Center is highly recommended for the latest forecast and sage advice. If you are planning an overnight excursion you must get a backcountry permit here.
      Pine Springs Campground is located at the trailhead with 13 RV sites and 20 tent sites. These must be reserved in advance and the campground is often full. Chosa Primitive Camping Area, a much larger campground managed by the BLM is 29 miles to the northeast on the road to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It is suitable for both tents and RVs. Chosa is a dispersed, dry camping free area with no facilities.
      Best Time to Go
      The best time to hike would be spring and fall to avoid possible extreme summer heat. Start early in the day.
      Maps & Books
      The park is covered in the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Guadalupe Mountains National Park map. In addition, the Delorme Texas Atlas can help with getting to and from this and other destinations in the state. In regards to guidebooks, see Hiking Carlsbad Caverns & Guadalupe Mountains National Parks as well as Best Easy Day Hikes Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks.
    • Aaron Zagrodnick
      By Aaron Zagrodnick in TrailGroove Blog 0
      While some categories of backpacking gear have already gone from heavy to as light as possible and already cycled back to achieve a balance between weight and durability using currently available materials and technology, of all things the backpacking chair stills seems to be in the middle of this cycle. As lighter and more packable chair designs supersede previous models on a near yearly basis, one of the latest and lightest chairs to hit the market in the lightweight, somewhat contradictory to say ultralight chair market is the Flexlite Air from REI.

      The Flexlite Air Chair is one of the lightest backpacking chairs on the market.
      Flexlite Air Chair Design and Specifications
      While if you’re looking to hit the trail and go as light as possible no chair is the obvious choice, it is hard to deny the comfort that a lightweight chair can offer in camp, and if you’ll be spending more than one night at a location instead of continuously moving daily, a lightweight chair can start to make more and more sense. The Flexlite Air is a chair featuring a shock-corded aluminum frame with a removable ripstop nylon DWR seat. The poles are designed around 2 hubs, and when looked at against comparable chairs the Flexlite Air at first glance appears that it may offer more front to back stability, with a possible reduction in stability side to side. A stuff sack is included and the chair comes in several colors with a 250lb weight capacity. The chair is listed at 1lb, with our test chair weighing 15.65 ounces alone, with an oddly heavier than average stuff sack weighing an additional 1.1 ounces – in reality this can be left behind if you’re able to fit the chair inside your pack and by simply rolling the poles up inside the seat. Plus by doing so, we can always justify the extra weight of taking a chair by telling ourselves that it doesn’t even weigh a pound when it comes to the Flexlite Air Chair.

      Either way, fitting the shock-corded poles into the plastic hubs and further assembling or disassembling the chair only take about a minute. Once set the Flexlite Air offers a stable enough platform, although when you’re trying to get the chair positioned there can be some twisting / rocking of the chair as the poles seem to flex and the nylon fabric of the seat itself seemingly stretches. One interesting design choice / feature is that the two hubs are not permanently secured in alignment with one another as can be seen on many other chairs in this category, essentially the two plastic hubs can twist independently of one another. This makes setup slightly more interesting than on other chairs where each hub and the main cross pole is permanently set in alignment.

      The hub system and pole design allows for rotation and flex – which can increase comfort and is designed to move with your seating position.
      Stability and Comfort
      On the Flexlite Air, the tension of the seat itself is what keeps everything all aligned, and this may be a design feature that contributes to the flexy nature of the chair. Once in position – and as you’re getting set the chair will emit the occasional creak – the chair is stable, though like all chairs in this category front to back stability is still something to be aware of. If the back of the chair faces even a slight downhill slope and you lean back – hopefully you’re out solo so that no one else will witness the ensuing and somewhat embarrassing mishap that will likely result. This is easily remedied however by arranging the chair and facing yourself downhill on any slope for the most stability. Positioning the chair so that you’re inline left to right (as much as possible) to this slope also helps with side to side stability. Stability can be a further challenge on soft ground as the feet of the chair will indeed sink into the ground in these situations, so seeking out rocky or dry ground is helpful.

      The seating comfort of the chair is good, and the chair has a somewhat relaxed, less upright seating position when compared with one competitor, the slightly heavier Helinox Chair Zero (you can take a look at our previous Helinox Chair Zero review here). With the Flexlite Air, sitting with your knees bent or with legs crossed is most comfortable for me as the fabric seat is shaped such that it cradles your body compared to other chairs that you might sit more on top of. However with your legs out after a long day of hiking, this design causes the edge of the seat to put pressure on the back of your legs, and as a result if you like to sit with both legs straight out it’s possible, but is not the most comfortable way to sit in this chair (as opposed to a chair like the Helinox Ground Chair or the Alite Monarch).

      However, on the plus side the Flexlite Air is easy to get in and out of, and essentially serves as a chair best for sitting but perhaps not so much for lounging...a bit of a drawback for me as after a long day of hiking I find it easiest on my knees to stretch out my legs, but this obviously all comes down to personal preference. Back support is adequate, although the back is not quite as high as some other chairs and overall the entire seat of the chair is a bit smaller in width and height and as such, this is a chair that is best for those users that have a smaller to medium frame and build. It’s all a tradeoff – after all, to save this much weight and to end up with a chair less than a pound, some sacrifices will need to be made. The chair is listed with a 250lb weight capacity and despite the overall ultralight nature and feel of this chair, it’s held up to just under this weight in our testing.

      The Flexlite Air packs up well and doesn't take up much more space than the average backpacking water bottle.
      Conclusion
      Overall the Flexlite Air is an ideal choice for the backpacker who is looking to add comfort to their hikes and who also seeks out and appreciates the lightest gear. REI has developed an intriguing camp comfort solution here – although by pushing the limits on weight some stability has been sacrificed with the chair, perhaps true to its name it exhibits more flex than other, albeit heavier, chairs. However, once you’re in position the chair is quite comfortable in most seating positions, although it’s most comfortable when sitting in a knees bent or legs crossed position.
      Best of all for a class leading solution it also won’t break the bank – while the chair retails for $100, it is also discounted at intervals throughout the year making this price point more approachable during those times, or if not REI members can always put a percentage of a full price purchase towards next year’s dividend. Additionally after 5 years of use on every backpacking trip I've been on during that time, the Flexlite Air Chair has proven to be a good investment and other than a few scratches to the anodized coating and some dirt, durability has been great.
      The REI Flexlite Air Chair is currently available in a choice of 3 colors and retails for $100. You can find it here at REI.com, and you can view REI's full Flexlite backpacking and camp furniture line (including the lighter Flexlite Air Stool) on their camp furniture page.
      Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 43 of TrailGroove Magazine. You can read the magazine article here featuring additional photos, as well as our Flexlite Air Chair rating, pros and cons, and more.
    • Aaron Zagrodnick
      By Aaron Zagrodnick in TrailGroove Blog 10
      Although I resisted bringing technology in the backcountry for many years – whether that be a simple watch at one time to today’s smartphones – one trip that left me stranded on the side of the road for hours changed my mind. A simple call would have resulted in a quick ride, but on that day getting a ride after 5 days in the mountains resulted in a failure even with my best smile. My phone lay in the car back at the trailhead – on the other side of the Continental Divide, and that burger I'd been thinking about since the day before – still out of reach as I pulled another crushed granola bar out of my pocket. Since, I’ve taken my phone on most trips and have settled on a few obvious and perhaps not so obvious uses for this 21st century multitool in the backcountry. Here are a few of my favorite backpacking and hiking apps and types of apps that I may reach for when planning a trip or in the field.
      GPS Mapping Apps
      A smartphone GPS and mapping app has become a frequently used application both on and off the trail. While apps like Gaia GPS and CalTopo offer the ability to create and save tracks, work with gpx and kml files, and more, I don’t use the apps full time – both to save battery and because I find it much more preferable to navigate with a paper map. My main use for apps of this nature is the sheer amount of data that I’m able to download to my device in the form of USGS topographic maps and aerial imagery. For any destination that I might be interested in exploring, I’m able to download detailed topographic maps for the entire area and even aerial imagery if desired for offline use (higher detail will use more space). The physical equivalent to this would be a huge and unruly stack of paper – but these maps add not a gram to my 4 ounce phone. Combining this data with a larger overview map (Trails Illustrated maps or similar) which receives the most use while hiking makes for a nice blend of traveling with a bigger picture map where you’re on the same fold for miles at a time, while still having the ability to look up the fine details if you need to – or simply if you like maps and are curious.
         
      Mapping a route and distance with Gaia GPS
      Additionally, as long as you’ve done your map download homework prior to your trip, the app will of course pinpoint your position – usually in less than a minute even after a cold start for these types of apps. Obviously there are a lot of situations where this could be a benefit. I find this to be great on those days where you’ve perhaps been hiking off-trail, conditions were tougher than you expected, and you’re regretting the weight of that extra luxury item you threw into your pack at the last minute. Perhaps targeting a remote backcountry lake as a campsite that night…destination still out of view with light fading…you break out the map and compass to verify the correct direction of travel. But after making the determination, a quick spot check with the app offers a nice mental reassurance, and just in case you did make a mistake with your paper map and traditional navigation skills, it could even save you a lot of time if you do get a save – a good sign to practice more with that map and compass.
      A quick spot check can also simply be nice for those occasional "are we there yet" moments. However, I much prefer an app that does not automatically locate you as soon as you open the app – CalTopo is one that is great in this respect. This helps me locate myself using mapping skills to stay sharp, verifying only as a 2nd step.
      Navigation apps are also very useful for planning routes both on and off-trail whether online at home or in the field – with your finger you can measure point to point distances and calculate elevation gain or loss. No more sort-of accurately measuring with a stick or string against a scale or by eye. This feature is also really useful when you’ve found that perfect campsite and aren’t sure if it’s the required distance from a lake, river, or trails – you can measure a close to exact distance from your current location with a couple taps.

      USGS topographic map with slope angle shading in the CalTopo app.
      Both Gaia and CalTopo work very well for the way I use these types of apps – and I don't even utilize all the features here – just keep an eye on battery life. For occasional use, only as needed, and with the phone turned off between uses you won’t even need to pack that battery pack or solar panel unless you’re on quite an extensive trip without any opportunity to recharge. Remember, always use apps like this as a supplement, and not a substitute for real maps and navigation skills – I’ve woken up to phones that don’t work on more than one occasion (bitter cold, forgot to turn it off, airplane mode mysteriously turned itself off, etc.). If you’re out a lot, odds are your phone will eventually fail on you in some manner.
      Both of the apps mentioned here are a free download, but to use offline features you'll need to sign up for an upgraded membership in either case. For more on Gaia, you can read our Gaia GPS guide here and regarding CalTopo take a look at our CalTopo review in Issue 52. Note that a TrailGroove Premium Subscription includes a free year of Gaia Premium ($60 value) to use online or combined with the separate Gaia GPS smartphone app.
      An App on Knots
      Another favorite app is an app on knots. While I can honestly say that I’ve become a certified master of the half-hitch over the years, some of those other more obscure knots out there – infrequently used but highly effective in the rare case that you do need them, occasionally slip my mind. The free What Knot to Do app from Columbia is currently what I have installed, but there are a few choices out there and What Knot to Do appears to currently be on a hiatus. Whichever way you go, having an app that details the various knots that you might need in the outdoors, complete with step-by-step slides on how to tie each knot can be valuable when you need it. Suddenly in a situation for example where only a man-of-war sheepshank or an oysterman’s stopper knot will do the job? With the right app you're covered. Or for that matter – the more commonly needed bowline and clove hitch should be covered, as well.

         
      For knots that you don't have memorized quite yet, an app on the subject can be helpful in the field when half-hitches just won't do.
      Stock Apps
      And not the Nasdaq – many apps you probably already have by default may be of the most use. The photo quality from smartphone cameras just keeps getting better – along with actual dedicated cameras for that matter, and while I’m usually after better photos than what my iPhone can offer, it makes for a great backup. On a recent below zero degree trip, while fighting with frozen fog on my regular camera’s lens, I was at least still able to get a record of a great sunrise, for example. But if you’re interested in a photography-specific smartphone app list, check out David Cobb's great article covering his 13 Favorite Photography Apps. And in a pinch a camera’s flash / the phone’s flashlight could assist as a backup light…for a while.
      And on to more backups: the phone’s compass makes for a great backup or backup to a backup and of course – your stock maps or Google Maps app – you’ve gotta at least get to the trailhead right? Text messages, while not to be counted on in an emergency will sometimes make it out from a surprisingly isolated place (perhaps unfortunately), with phone calls working to a lesser extent. Where I’ve found the phone function (almost forgot it was a phone there for a minute) most useful is on bailouts, as previously described rides get a little easier.
      Winter solo with darkness rolling in at 5 p.m. and a long wait in the tent until first light? Download a movie or a few episodes of your favorite show at home and you’re covered. As someone who also writes about the trail on occasion but isn’t a paper and pen type of guy, any type of word processing app can be very handy. Apple’s Notepad app works in a pinch, but I usually like a word count and Apple’s Pages app is great when an idea for an article hits my mind in the tent at night, or while waiting out a cold and rainy shoulder-season morning…there’s no reason to hold that thought until the trip is over. If you’re more of a speaker than a writer, voice memos can easily be substituted here.


      On a rainy tent-bound day, a notepad or composition app can help to get your thoughts on (digital) paper.
      Files and Pages
      A great Apple feature set that lets you save PDF files directly to your phone, and with Android equivalents available – with these apps I’m now able to carry the complete user manual for anything from my camera to my watch to my water filter right on my phone.
         
      Quite helpful for those situations where you realized you forgot to set the declination on that digital compass and are tired of guessing at the right sequence of buttons, or maybe anything from your inReach to your SPOT to your Steripen is giving you a flashing LED sequence you’ve never seen before. And, considering I can store every issue of TrailGroove Magazine right on my phone, the app frequently helps with some great reading, too. Android? You probably already have a PDF app, but just in case here’s Google Play’s selection.
      Field Guide Apps
      One of the main reasons I like to hike is that I find nature itself compelling – from plants to birds and everything in between and I like to try to learn something new every trip. As such on my phone you'll always find some type of bird or plant, etc., identification app loaded and ready for reference on the trail.

      No more “Let’s remember to Google that when we get home” situations here – research right away in your tent that night. Or, I’ve even identified the owl above my tent that kept me up all night on one trip – some apps even have included recordings of bird calls to play back on your phone. Playing the owl’s song back through my phone’s speaker only served to intensify the noise above my head that night, however. I'd recommend a couple here, but the list of apps available when it comes to outdoor field guides seems to constantly be in flux. I had a favorite free mammals app that was then suddenly discontinued, and I had purchased a birding app that was then also disabled (and it wasn't cheap!). Thus, I'd suggest doing a current search for what you're most interested in – be it mammals, birds, plants, geology, etc. – and go from there. On top of any apps, this is one area I like to back up with Peterson's Field Guides that I keep at home.
      Google Earth
      I’ll occasionally use this one at home for trip planning purposes. If you’ve ever used the Google Earth app or its big screen equivalent prior to visiting the actual place you may have had your share of “wow…it didn’t look quite like this on Google Earth” moments, but nonetheless, combined with topo maps and other trip planning tools Google Earth is a good tool to have in the trip planning toolbox.


      Google Earth can really help when planning something like an off-trail backpacking route at home.
      In the Field
      While there are plethora of smartphone cases out there that will help with shock, dust, and moisture, I just use a small Ziploc bag to offer some additional protection for my phone on the trail and previously had good success with a small Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil dry sack. These solutions won't really help to keep your phone from breaking if you drop it, but it does help with scratches and dust. Obviously if headed out on a rafting trip I'd look for something with more waterproof protection, but stored inside the Ziploc (heavy duty freezer, double zip type), then placing that inside something like my waterproof hip belt pocket with water resistant zippers has done the job for me. Battery life is always your limiting factor, but I'm able to easily go on a week long trip or more without a recharge – even using the phone daily / nightly by starting my trip with a full charge, entering airplane mode, and setting the screen dimmer to the lowest possible level that I can still see. Although it's tempting to turn airplane mode off just to see if you do have signal in your tent – use with caution. I've had my battery suddenly take a large drop just from a quick cell signal search.
      Apple made things easier by allowing GPS use in airplane mode with a recent update, so thankfully no longer do I have to mess with removing my SIM card in an attempt to use GPS without the phone's cell radio. I have found my iPhone's battery to be poor in the cold – even stored in an outside pants pocket is not sufficient in single digit temperatures or below – it wants to be stored right against your body. If the phone does get too cold and displays the charge symbol when you know there's still juice left, you can wake it back up using body heat, hand warmers, etc. By staying in airplane mode, using the GPS sparingly, and keeping the phone turned off I rarely feel the need to consider bringing any type of recharging solution (even 30 minutes of video with sound uses just 5-6% of charge). If I did need to recharge I'd pack the PowerFilm Solar Charger we reviewed here in Issue 6, or the newer Solarpad Pro, and there are of course many rechargeable battery packs out there which do pack a punch if you're not into solar.

      In Conclusion
      Technology in the backcountry is a debatable topic, but at just a few ounces and taking up essentially no pack space, I’ve found a smartphone to be a great multipurpose tool on the trail – albeit with limitations. Any electronic device can fail and in some instances, all this information can start to creep its way into replacing skill and knowledge. If not managed well, it can even become a distraction for others or yourself…for a great read regarding many of these issues, see @PaulMags excellent article here in Issue 19. These limits with technology vary from hiker to hiker however, and can be dealt with...and of course luckily, you can turn a phone off. While I’ll never be that gentlemen I saw in the Bridger Wilderness last year jamming to heavy metal music (no disrespect to the genre) playing through a Bluetooth speaker attached to his pack, I’ve found that a smartphone, when used wisely, can indeed enhance my experience outdoors by making some things a little easier while learning a little more along the way.
      So, what are your favorite outdoor apps?



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