Category: Blog

How to backpacking on the Appalachian Trail on a budget
Scott Janz October 27, 2016 0

Budget Backpacking

One of the quickest ways to say “the hell with it”, when you attempt a long hike is by buying into the notion you must have the best gear.

If leaving the comforts of home, your Starbucks Latte, and a warm bed means breaking the bank, stay in bed! It’s not worth it.

Let’s face it, gear can be expensive. Here is some ideas to get out there on the cheap. One caveat: don’t be foolish. The outdoors isn’t your living room. Don’t think that reading about a hiking adventure in a book equals actual experience.

“Hey my love, wanna hike up to Dante’s Peak and have a few craft beers?” That will cost you alot more than the price of the micro brew. Don’t go out and invest in a huge trip without getting a feel for the backcountry first. A day hike requires little, just water and a good pair of hiking shoes. (Comfort is more important than name brand) Start slow.

Once you make your adventure plans, check out some gear forums and see what other people bring. Then GO DIRECTLY TO E-BAY. Or, a Facebook Page I really love, Backpacking Gear Flea Market. Gear does not have to be new to be effective.

Some gear buying tips: Walmart!

Biodegradable soap
Mosquito repellent
2 liter Camelback water platy
waterproof matches
spare tent steaks (aluminum)
Water tablets to purify water.
First Aid Kit

AND FOOD. I could blog about all the small little food items that are already packaged for me at Walmart. Be creative. A little cheese, pepperoni, and pita bread and you have food you don’t have to cook. Snacks, and tuna also make great meals to eat without breaking the bank. If you have to cook, buy some Ramon Noodles for heavens sake and throw some chopped onion and green pepper in there.

TIP: Re-Purpose your Mountain House Freeze Dried Bags. YES! don’t throw them away. Bring them home, wash them out, and now you have a new bag you can pour hot water in and put some Knorr foods in. Knorr foods are $1.00 per bag.

You should also have a map of the area, a compass, a flashlight and a first-aid kit. These items, along with matches and a pocket knife, are like American Express – don’t leave home without them.

Can’t afford an expensive tent?

For less than $100.00 you can buy a Equinox Tarp Tent. Boom! Done! OR, head over to REI Garage Sales. Stalk Online Gear sites like  They have deals everyday.

A good sleeping bag I recommend for the Summer and early Fall is the Aspen 40 Ultralight by Marmot bag. It cost’s approximately $99.00 at Dicks Sporting Goods.

See YOU on the trail.

Using Your Poncho as a Tarp
Scott Janz October 27, 2016 0

Poncho as Shelter and Rain Gear

The road to Ultralite backpacking is simple: carry the lightest gear possible and carry only what’s necessary.

Most backpackers who practice lightweight techniques have little problem with that statement; it only makes sense that if you reduce the weight of an item your pack will in return be lighter. This approach alone can reduce your pack weight enough to allow the use of lightweight packs GoLite (Rest in Peace) or Ultralight  Adventure Packs. The latter, however, proves to be more problematic. To know what is necessary requires judgment and practice:

So what are some techniques in packing lighter? What do you mean by “Judgment”. It simply means this: Multi-purpose your GEAR, and I mean almost all of it.  Let’s take your sleeping shelter for example. I use a Tarp. So, how could I make a tarp into a multi-purpose piece of gear?

Five Advantages of Poncho Tarping

  1. Can you use your Rain Poncho as a Tarp? Absolutely!

Keep in mind that there some some other things to consider. Like ground cloth and the fact you may not have a bug net. I haven’t had a bug net in years, however, I tend not to get eaten a live like others I’ve seen outdoors before.

2. Weight

The best Poncho’s I’ve seen out there are the Sil Nilon one’s. They are light, easy to use, and have made great shelters. The Ultra-Sil Nano Poncho weighs a little over 8 oz. That is an amazing lightweight shelter system.

3. Versatility

This is the best of the best when it comes to multi-purposing your gear. It really comes down to practice, practice, practice. Imagine it’s pouring.  You have your poncho on, and how you need to make camp. Your Poncho is your Tarp.  Are you going to be able to set up your Tarp when it’s your Poncho keeping you dry? Well, the bad news is, probably not. However, it’s not going to be too bad. With some practice, odds are you will be able to pitch your Poncho/Tarp pretty fast. Look at the Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape. It comes in at 12 oz and sleeps one very comfortably with some head room to boot.

4. Pack-ability

There is something beautiful about packing your shelter system in a nice little ball that fits in the side of your pack for easy access. Remember, this is your rain gear also, you may need to access it quickly for pop up thunderstorms.

5. Multi-Purpose Your Hiking Poles

Here is where you are going to look like a Backpacker Superhero. How many times have you set up camp and then leaned your hiking poles against a tree? Well now, use them to set up your Shelter. Congrats! You have multi-used 3 pieces of important gear. Rain Poncho, Tarp, and Hiking Poles.

TIP: Don’t try poncho tarps until you’ve mastered tarp camping with an 8 x 12′. Then maybe shoot down to 8 x 10′. There’s no margin for error with a small tarp. With larger tarps you can sleep in the center and be more or less insulated from blown rain and the splash factor. You’re about as close as you can get to the weather with a 5 x 8; learn the tricks of the trade before you push the envelope. I use a regular “Paint Plastic Tarp” you buy at the hardware store for my ground cloth. Why? Ground Clothes are expensive, and if they get a hole in it, get out your wallet. Regular paint plastic can just get cut into new pieces.

Also, make sure you always bring an extra large garbage bag with you. These are great to put  your empty pack in at night when it’s raining to keep your pack dry.

Guy lines are essential. A 5 x 8′ tarp gives maximum area when it’s pitched as flat as possible. Guy lines help to keep the fabric taut and water draining instead of pooling. Prop sticks can be used in a pinch; find them before you go to sleep.

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How to backpacking on the Appalachian Trail
Scott Janz October 25, 2016 0

The most important piece of gear a Backpacker will ever need

If I have learned one thing after 20 years of backpacking. It’s that everyone has their own gear preference. Every backpacker that I have ever met on the trail has their own system and has their favorites when it comes to gear. I mean, we can never get enough of gear talk right? But I would argue this: That most important piece of gear that you will ever carry isn’t in your pack.

For us that love backpacking, we hit the trail in some of the most remote places on earth, we are custom to the up’s and down’s of Mother Nature. We got the whole “plan and prepare” down at this point. For us, it makes no difference if it’s raining, snowing, sleeting, or whatever, we just go. Are we a bit crazy, of course we are. But for new people just getting started, or for people prepping for their first long distance hike, I say this.

The most important piece of gear a backpacker will ever need is a POSITIVE ATTITUDE. No piece of gear will ever help you embrace the trail and Mother Nature than a positive mental attitude will.

Let’s face it, sometimes there is a suck value to hiking in a cold rain storm that seems to last forever. But the one thing that you have going for yourself is your ability to be grateful for that suck value.  I mean really, you are out there! You are doing what you wanted to do! Of course it’s going to have suck value. All things worth while do. But it’s going to be your positive mental attitude that will make or break how you experience your hike.

In 2003 when I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, it was one of the wettest Springs on record for the AT. It rained, and rained, and then rained some more. In fact, it was almost an entire month before I realized it WASN’T raining. I never did see the Great Smokey Mountains. Fog, yes, lot’s of fog, but rarely did I see sun for the first month. Sometimes I had a hard time getting up and finding a reason to keep going. But the choice was simple, get going or get off the trail and quit. It really was my attitude that I needed to check, not the weather. The weather is going to the weather, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. It was then I started being exceedingly grateful for the rain. It changed hike going forward.

A positive mental attitude is going to get you where you want to be. Whether it’s in your personal life, or on the trail. Life happens, and sometimes it rains on your parade. Your attitude is what is going to get you through the rough times.  Let’s face it, backpacking is hard. If it was easy, everyone would be out on the trail. Hiking up a mountain, hiking down a mountain, hiking in the rain, the snow, the sleet, (we would make great mailperson’s by the way) hiking in the cold, and in the heat. Mother Nature doesn’t care about your thru-hike attempt. She certainly doesn’t care about your backpacking weekend. It’s going to be your positive mental attitude that will make your adventure on the trail amazing.

So next time the rain starts falling, or the cold wind blows, or the hot sun starts shining, just smile and whisper, “bring it on, I love this shit”. You are doing it.

TheBackPacker October 12, 2016 0

Scott Gauvin talks about Gear Forward

We love our backpacking community so when we get a chance to actually talk to a fellow backpacker, we jump at it. Recently Scott Gauvin from reached out to us about his passion for getting gear to our Youth.  Scott is the Executive Director for Gear Forward.  What is Gear Forward?

Gear Forward, simply is about providing the next generation of stewards, adventurers, Scoutmasters and Girl Scout Leaders the resources they need to get outdoors. No child should be denied access to all the outdoors has to offer because they don’t have the necessary equipment. Through the collection of gently used outdoor gear, Gear Forward will work with other worthwhile youth and outdoor focused organizations to get donated gear into the hands that need it.

In this interview Scott explains how you can help donate your un-used gear, or old gear to kids that perhaps want to go camping but don’t have the money or racecourses to go.

So, what can YOU do to Donate: First, clean out your gear closet. WE all have one, and we all have gear we don’t use. Then go to and click on the GET INVOLVED Link.

So when you donate your old gear, and maybe looking to buy some new gear. You can visit Teton Sports and purchase gear using the coupon code LHX2017 to get 15% off your order.

Scott Janz October 10, 2016 0

A Look Behind the Documentary UNBOUNDED

Recently we had the pleasure of touching base with Film Director Garrett Martin who is the brainstorm behind the project UNBOUNDED: Patagonia Documentary We were fascinated about how 4 people came together and said “yes” to trekking through Patagonia, not to mention trekking over 350 miles. We also wanted to know more about how to help promote his Kickstarter Project that is raising money for the Conservacion Patagonica, an organization that works to establish national parks in Patagonia for the protection and restoration of the environment and wildlife of the area

In this interview, Ariane Petrucci and Scott Janz discuss how he came up with the idea, when it starts, and how he got 4 people to participate in the film.

From the Unbounded Web Site:

‘Unbounded’ is an adventure-travel documentary following an unaided crew of four hailing from different corners of the globe as they hike and pack-raft over 1,500 km through the Patagonian region of South America. The expedition will take place from mid-December to mid-April, documenting the extreme and unique conditions of Patagonia and the surrounding area. The crew will base their trip along the “Greater Patagonian Trail,” (see below) trekking it in its entirety until their journey comes to an end in Patagonia National Park.

The interview that last’s about 15 minutes has some very cool moments as Garrett explains how he got the idea for the show. The film starts shooting in December of 2016. It was really fun to meet Garrett and we really hope that the whole team at Unbounded have a safe and exciting time on thier adventure.

To learn how you can help his project, please go visit his Kickstarter Project and help them raise some funds.


How to Pack your Backpack in the Winter
Scott Janz October 6, 2016 0

When should you pack your Winter Gear?

Backpacking in the late Fall, or early Winter is unlike any other season of the year, for obvious reasons. There are definitely some gear changes that need you need to be aware of. Not to mention, it’s COLDER. When I go backpacking in the Winter, temps can get down into the teens at night. That by definition is Winter? It’s important to understand that depending on  what region are you backpacking in, could be the difference in what gear you bring. The Southeast (where I am) is different than Northeast, or the Pacific Northwest. Is packing for a 20 degree night in the Southeast the same as packing for a 20 degree night in the Northeast? Probably not.  Why? In the Southeast, it maybe cold at night, but it certainly warms up during the day. So your layering system maybe a little different. Backpacking for Winter

Backpacking for Winter requires careful thought and planning. Weather and elevation are going to play key factors in how you pack for your trip. In the Southeast for example you are probably NOT going to run into 2 feet of snow. In the Northeast, I would makes sure I brought Snowshoes. Unlikely in the Southeast. Packing for cold nights and warm days can be tricky in of itself. Many times, it’s really cold in the morning. But once I get going, I’m pretty toasty warm

TIP: Learn the 3 layering system. This is essential when backpacking in cold temps.

I was quite warm under a tarp recently when the temps got down to 15 degrees at night. I had 3 layers and a 15 degree Marmot Adventurer sleeping bag with a 2mm ground cloth and a Long Thermarest underneath. However, during the day when temps reached a balmy 45 degrees, I had only 2 layers and never over heated.

My total pack weight was 28 pounds for two cold nights and 3 days in the 40’s. Having said that, I mixed Winter gear with Fall gear. In other words, I didn’t take snowshoes, snow stakes, a white gas stove, nor winter down snow pants.

Here is my clothing pack list for the Southeast:

Long sleeve base layer REI Midweight Polartec® Power Dry® Zip-T
Mid layer Delta AR Zip Men’s
Nail Driver Soft Shell Pants (these are excellent for cold nights and warm days) You will NOT need long johns with these.
First Ascent Downlight Jacket for camp. (I sleep in this and adds an extra R Value to my sleeping Bag. It’s also extremely packable) (look for a good deal on Ebay for this item)
Smart Wool Winter Socks
NorthFace Tent Bootie
Mountain Hardwear Balaclav
Wool Hat, and gloves.

One added piece of gear I brought but didn’t use, but I think is necessary is my Marmot Greenland Baffled Jacket. I bring this for two reasons. One, it makes a great pillow, and two, weather can change quickly in the mountains, so I bring an 800 fill jacket for the “just in case” scenario. If I don’t use it, my dog uses it as a sleeping bag.

And NEVER forget your Hardshell or Rain Jacket. I bring a Marmot Precip Jacket no matter what season it is. Your rain jacket works as a wind breaker and really stops the cold whipping wind from chilling you to the core. It also makes a great pillow.

This gear list would obviously change in high altitude conditions when snow and high winds would be prevalent. For Appalachian Trail Thru Hikers, who plan to start hiking early in the year, this gear list would work nicely for you.

Scott Janz October 4, 2016 1

How to pick backpacking hats, caps, and beanies

It’s that time of year again. We start dusting off our Fall and Winter gear and start thinking of cold weather hiking/backpacking. So many people overlook the importance of a good quality warm hat. Keeping your head warm in the cold weather is important, but it also depends on a number of other factors, including how thick your hair is and how much energy you use in the cold. In other words, your beanie hat is only a part of the equation in staying warm.

The ratio of the surface area of a child’s head relative to the child’s body surface area is much greater than that of an adult. Our young hikers, lose an even amount of heat through their heads (less hair). Hoods and hats are more important to children because of this.

Of course buying a good beanie is still a very important decision. Only us beanie fashionista’s understand this.

There are generally 3 types:

Traditional hand-knit beanies – This type goes into my personal fav list. There is nothing like a homemade beanie to wear proudly on the trail. The crazier the better.

Synthetics (Fleece, or Polyester) – These are great. Make sure you keep them dry however. Beanies made of fleece are generally great windblockers, and provide better insulation in breezy conditions. Polyester beanies are great for wicking moisture,  which helps perspiration evaporate during a hard hike up that mountain.

Merino Wool is usually the softer material and combines both the knit feel and the fleece feel. The nice thing about Merino Wool, is it can get moist and still keep it’s R-Value keeping your head warm. They are also a  bit cheaper of the other two options.

Of course, there are often times I wear a ball cap. On a rainy day (especially a down pour), I find wearing a ball cap keeps my rain jacket hood from falling on my face. Ball Caps are a good choice to wear when the rain really starts falling. The trade off is letting my Ball Cap get soaking wet, but keeping my beanies nice and dry. I often keep a beanie on when I sleep in cold temps.  So when picking a Ball Cap, I totally go Synthetic. This let’s my Ball Cap dry very fast. Even if it’s doesn’t dry right away, it still feels better putting it back on then a soaking wet beanie.

There are other options also.


Ear Muffs


All of these have their purpose. It comes down to what makes YOU feel comfortable and what you can live with when temps drop.

Picking the right beanie is important, but also knowing how to layer your clothing system is essential. Feeling comfortable on a cold rainy, snowy day, will make you a happy hiker.



Scott Janz September 30, 2016 6

PCT Method – Hanging a Bear Bag

Affectionately known by the lightweight hiking underground as the “PCT Method” (presumably because it was first used by long distance hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail), a bear bag hanging method exists that is lighter, requires less rope, offers the benefits of counterbalancing, is easier to set up, and offers simple and quick hanging and retrieval of your food.

You can make your own system quite easily by assembling the following components:

* Food storage bag
* 40 feet of hanging rope
* Keychain carabiner
* Small stuff sack for a rock (“rock sack”)
* Pencil-sized twig about 4-6 inches long.

Bryan DeLay has 30 years experience in the backcountry and shows us in this video produced by, the PCT method of properly hanging a bear bag. Bryan also is a lightweight backpacker and understands that the PCT method can sometimes be the most effective way. and quickest way when your looking for the perfect limb to hang your bag.

How do hand your food bag?

Wilderness camping ethics
Scott Janz September 30, 2016 0

Finding the Perfect Campsite

You’ve been trekking all day in the wilderness. Your tired, sore and ready to get into your sleeping bag. The campsite is a important part of your backpacking experience. A good campsite definitely contributes to a great trip…and a poor campsite can make your trip more difficult. The rule of thumb is to understand Leave No Trace principals to guide you in your decision.

First and foremost, (if your planning a backpacking trip in a National Park) you will have to fill out an Itinerary, or apply for a Backcountry Permit. In this case, your choice is made for you. However, in a designated Wilderness Area, backcountry sites can be subject to different rules and regulations depending on that designated area. Generally, backcountry camping is recommended at least 200 feet from Meadows, lakeshores, and streams. If you are in a designated Wilderness Area, here are some things to look for: TIPS from LNT

  • Practice low-impact camping.
  • Set your tent on a durable surface like rock, bare ground, sand, or gravel to protect fragile areas.
  • Camp at established campsites when possible.
  • Camp at least 200 feet away from water.
  • Good campsites are found, not made!!!
  • Always try and use and existing fire ring.

Sometimes however, a made campsite is ok, IF you understand that you have to clear all evidence that you have been there. This is the quintessential guide for Leave NO Trace.  There are sometimes when making your own camp area is necessarily if you just can’t make it to where you want to go.

There are other key things to remember also:

Water sources nearby? And, will it be easy to get water?

Disposing of waste. Make sure you have plenty of room and 200 feet from water sources.

Look for dead trees nearby. You don’t want to pitch your tent under a dead or dying limb

Speaking of tree limbs, are there adequete limbs to hang your Bear Bag?

Know the rules & regulations of the area that you will be backpacking in. ALL Wilderness Area’s have their own PDF sites to help you plan and prepare your trip.

Remember that practicing Leave No Trace makes a fun and safe trip for the next person who meanders into that camp area. It also protects the wildlife.

See you on the Trail.

Scott Janz September 27, 2016 0

Top 5 Fall Backpacking Destinations

Fall is when most hikers, backpackers, and campers really get motivated to get out into nature and soak in all the colors of the Season. So we put together the top 5 backpacking destination to see spectacular fall colors and hike some amazing trails. We stayed within the Midwest, and Southeast and judged on easy to park, trail head access, and fall views.

  • The Appalachian Trail – The Appalachian Trail is a National-Scenic Trail and the first one completed in the U.S. Finished in 1937, the trail starts atop tFall on the AThe suitably epic-sounding Mount Katahdin in Maine and terminates 2,175 miles later, on Springer Mountain in Georgia. Try the 104-mile section that winds through the Shenandoah Valley National Park in Virginia. With neither the humidity of Georgia nor the arduous climbs of New England, it’s gentle and addictive. The great thing about the AT, it covers 13 States, so almost anyone living in any one of them has no excuse to trek out on an adventure. You can backpack or just enjoy a day hike on the AT, as there are many trail heads and parking areas for easy access. The best resource for accessing these parking areas is the AT Trail Guide, used for Appalachian Thru-Hikers


  • Hoking Hills State Park  – Not everything in Ohio is flat. Hocking Hills, an hour south of Columbus, is every bit the equal of better-known parks, and threaded with waterfalls, towering hemlocks, and limestone gorges. Hike the plunging gorge of Conkle’s Hollow, opting for the Rim Trail for a thorough work out. Southern Ohio has some of the best backpacking around. Fall is one of the most beautiful times in Southern Ohio as the colors are brilliant and and scenery is stunning.  If you want to experience some beautiful scenery, and peak fall colors, this is the place to go in the Midwest. Unless you are in Ohio, you probably have never heard of this place. But once you do your research, we bet you make an effort to visit the Park. It’s one amazing hidden gem right smack in the Midwest. Hocking Hills State Park is located within the Zaleski State Forest. If you go backpacking, hike the Zaleski State Forest Backpack Trail which is a 23 mile loop hike.
  • Smoky Mountain National Park – Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the best places in the country for viewing fall colors. Due to the diversity of trees and its broad elevation range, leaf peepers and hikers can usually enjoy the beauty of fall colors for several weeks in the Smokies. Of course. you will be competing with large crowds in the month of October which is their busiest months of the year. Even though it’s hard to predict the exact dates of “peak” colors in advance. It’s a good bet that the middle of October is a good time to go. Get away from the crowds and camp at the Cosby Campground and hit the trail from there. Cosby Campground is high in elevation and smaller than the rest of the campgrounds.  Make Cosby your base camp and go on a 2 night backpacking trip, you won’t be dissapointed.
  • Porcupine Mountain Wilderness in the U.P of Michigan – This maybe one of our favorite places in the entire country to visit during Peak Fall. The Porkupine Mountain Wilderness covers 60,000 acres and is Michigan’s largest state park. Going backpacking in this wilderness is a real treat. With creeks, and stream crossings, along with remote cabins to rent, this is one amazing place to be outdoors. The cabins have no running water or electricity. The best part, is they are on your backpacking route if you choose the right trail. Backpack along the Lake Superior Trail and camp along Lake Superior to watch the sunset. This forest makes for some particularly attractive color during the fall. You can get some of the best fall color pictures in the Upper Peninsula. Visit the Lake of the Clouds overlook and see Fall colors forever.  Easy access to the Trail Heads by car.


  •  Charles Deam WildernessIf you are traveling or living in Illinois or Indiana, this is a MUST for Fall. Lots of trees make for great fall colors! The Charles C. Deam Wilderness is our top pick for underestimated Peak Fall hikes. This is a great place to hike in the Hoosier National Forest about an hour south of Indianapolis near Indiana University just outside of Bloomington. Top 5 Fall Backpacking destinations
    Enter the Wilderness and drive to Tower Ridge Road about five miles from Knightridge Road lies a fire tower, which is excellent for leaf viewing. Climb the fire tower and see reds and oranges visible to make the scenery spectacular. There is plenty of backpacking opportunities to take advantage of. Backpack on the many trails in Charles Deam and you won’t believe you are in Indiana.



Best North America Backpacking Trails
Scott Janz September 27, 2016 3

North America Top 10 Hikes

If you had to pick the best trail to go backpacking on, where would you pick? We pick the top 10 Backpacking experiences in North America. The criteria we to pick the top ten was simple. Views, the length of hike, and difficultly. First we looked at views. What would a backpacker experience in the Backcounty when hiking a specific trail? How long is the trail itself? We thought it best to stick with a trail that would take at least a weekend to complete. Of course, we looked at how difficult was the hike going to be. As an avid Backpacker, I tend to look for a more “strenuous” hike. So getting the blood pumping was the thought here.

Here is our TOP TEN LIST:

10: KAIBAB TRAIL – Grand Canyon, Arizona – South Rim to North Rim adventure, real risk of heat stroke! 3 days is ideal 20.6mi plus sidetrips. WHY WE LIKE THIS HIKE? This is the only trail in the Park, including Bright Angel, maintained consistently the hike crosses the only bridge spanning the Colorado River. Best time to hike is Spring, or Fall. Bring lots of water, and NEVER try backpacking this trail without the proper permits.

9: PARIA CANYON– Arizona/Utah, canyon walk in knee-deep water, some risk of flash floods, minimum 4 days, 3 nights, 37.5mi WHY WE LIKE THIS HIKE? High, colorful, sculpted red-rock walls, walking in knee deep water is fun, if you have good shoes, pictographs & historical artifacts. Better get your permit now because only 20 hikers are allowed in at any given time.

8: TETON CREST TRAIL-Wyoming. 3-5 days depending on route 31-40 mi depending on route WHY WE LIKE THIS HIKE? Grand views of the toothy Tetons, the most striking range in the Rockies, the challenge of several high passes, and good chance to see marmot, American Bison, Moose, Pronghorn, Wapiti (elk), or Mule Deer in the Park.

7: CHILKOOT TRAIL– Alaska. Just on the first day (Sheep to Happy) is long and exhausting! 5 days, 4 nights recommended, 33miles. WHY WE LIKE THIS HIKE? An astonishingly wide variety of terrain and scenery. Temperate rain forest to high alpine to boreal forest, and the hike is well managed with full-time maintenance

6: THE FLORIDA TRAIL Florida. Hit this Trail and a collection of loop and linear trails on public lands throughout Florida. 1,400 mile trail. WHY WE LIKE THIS HIKE?  Trail heads are all close to main roads, climate is good, although hot. Well maintained trail. Be prepared to hike a long distance in water.

5: Mt. WHITNEY TRAIL California – 3 days, 2 nights is ideal due to altitude 22mi round trip with an elevation gain of 6100ft WHY WE LIKE THIS HIKE? No climbing gear needed surprisingly easy if you get good weather it’s a beautiful and impressive peak. Permits are hard to get however, so apply early and be prepared.

4: COLORADO TRAIL Colorado.  Thru hikers should allow at least 4 – 6 weeks between late June and early September to cover the entire 483 miles. WHY WE LIKE THIS HIKE? CT offers a wide range of elevations and levels of difficulty, accommodating a variety of skill levels and hiking preferences. Awesome Views. Colorado is a awesome state to live in, let along hike through.

3: THE LONG TRAIL Vermont.  With its 270-mile footpath, 175 miles of side trails, and nearly 70 primitive shelters, the Long Trail offers endless hiking opportunities for the day hiker, weekend overnighter, and extended backpacker. Do this in the Fall, and  you may find yourself moving to Vermont.

2: APPALACHIAN TRAIL Georgia – Maine. After completing this  hike in 2003, there is no way this can be off our top 10 list. This 13 state trek is about is as close to finding a new family than actually being adopted by one. The community of this trail is a magical experience.  WHY WE LIKE THIS HIKE? The Appalachian Trail offers a variety of hikes. Day hikes, Thru-Hikes, Section Hikes, it has a different hike for everyone. It  makes no difference whether you are a pro hiker or a beginner. This is America’s Trail.

1: PACIFIC CREST TRAIL  Zigzagging its way from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) boasts the greatest elevation changes of any of America’s National Scenic Trails, allowing it to pass through six out of seven of North America’s ecozones including high and low desert, old-growth forest and artic-alpine country. Indeed, the PCT is a trail of diversity and extremes. WHY WE LIKE THIS HIKE? From scorching desert valleys in Southern California to rain forests in the Pacific Northwest, the PCT offers hikers a unique, varied experience.

If you have favorite trails that you think should be on our list, let us know. OR, wanna write your own favorite list? Apply to become a Trail Blogger with us.

Scott Janz September 12, 2016 0

How to Clean Your Brain by Hitting the Trail

As an outdoor Instructor and someone who has backpacked for a long time, I often hear a ton of excuses as to why people just can’t find the time to spend a weekend outdoors.  With the “healthy living” movement, you would think that people would be rushing outdoors to get their “hike on”. But actually, people are spending more time indoors than outdoors.

In a article published in the LA Times James Cambell wrote:

Are we as Americans actually losing our connection to the outdoors? Conservation ecologist Patricia Zaradic of the Environmental Leadership Program and conservation biologist Oliver Pergams of the University of Illinois at Chicago have documented a disturbing trend of declining per-capita visits to national parks and forests, drops in park attendance, and other sliding indicators of nature recreation since the late 1980s. They see at work a fundamental cultural shift away from nature.

But the Healthy Lifestyle is growing…

According to “People will spend hundreds of hard earned money each year to get healthy. In fact, one out of every five Americans are heading to the gym, or at least paying for a membership. Which puts the fitness industry in a pretty sweet spot: a largely unhealthy and overweight population is looking for ways to get in shape. Whether it’s pumping iron like our forefathers or the newest trampoline workout – there is an immense appetite for exercise. Over 54 million Americans paid gym membership fees in 2014, and for the second year in a row actual visits to the gyms exceeded 5 billion! The average member visited their club over 100 times, an all-time high. Memberships have grown 18.6% between 2008 and 2014, and the trend continued in 2015”

Going to the Gym is GREAT, and definitely a hand clap is appropriate here. (hands clapping). But where does your Vitamin D come from unless they have put treadmill outside? What about your psychological health? Your mental health? Isn’t that part of “the healthy lifestyle?” It doesn’t do anyone any good if we are in great psychical shape if our stress level at work is through the roof.

In an article written by PAUL G. MATTIUZZI, PH.D. he explains the need to “CLEAN YOUR BRAIN”. He writes:

“Psychological health is important with respect to how we function and adapt, and with respect to whether our lives are satisfying and productive. In the end, psychological health and well-being basically has to do with the question: “how are you doing?” 

If your answer is “Not Good”, then maybe a dose of extreme Nature is what you need.  This is why WE think that maybe you should take your workout on the Trail. (with a backpack on of course)

If you are spending time indoors and not out on the trail. New research say’s that is NOT OK.

In an Article published on Vitamin D fights disease. In addition to its primary benefits, research suggests that vitamin D may also play a role in:

  • reducing your risk of multiple sclerosis, according to a 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association
  • decreasing your chance of developing heart disease, according to 2008 findings published in Circulation
    helping to reduce your likelihood of developing the flu, according to 2010 research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

D fights depression

Research has shown that vitamin D might play an important role in regulating mood and warding off depression. In one study, scientists found that people with depression who received vitamin D supplements noticed an improvement in their symptoms.

Healthy Living is a balance between eating right, exercise and “cleaning your brain”.  The “trail” offers all those and much more. So next time you get that Gym Membership bill in the mail, or your feeling completely stressed out, or maybe even think you need to drop a few pounds. Remember, the trail is always near by, patiently waiting for you to partake. So tear up that bill, get your gear on, pack a pack, and get out there.


Scott Janz September 7, 2016 2

To Carry or Not to Carry the Bear Canister

Bear Canisters and the governing rule to carry them in some wilderness areas and on some parts of our National Park Trails has come to some debate recently. Are they working to keep Bears from associating people (backpackers) with food?  Each governing  agencies have different rules regarding their canister requirements in different parts of the backcountry. National Park Service, or Federal Wilderness Agencies each can post different requirements. For example: On some parts of the Appalachian Trail, Thru-Hikers are required to carry a Bear Canister IF you camp on that section of the AT. While in other Wilderness Area’s you are required to carry a Bear Canister at all times.

The question then is: Are Bear Canisters really necessary in order to protect your food, protect the bear, and protect the next backcountry user? In our opinion the answer is “NO”. We think we could make them obsolete if everyone practiced “wildlife avoidance” techniques and mastered the hanging your food bag the right way. Of course Bear Canisters were specially made so that novice backpackers could keep their food safe and have hopefully keeping a Bear alive.

Bear Canisters for obvious reasons are made and enforced to protect the BEAR, NOT YOU. After all, if a “problem Bear” get’s into your food or challenges you for your food, more than likely that bear is a dead bear. YOU on the other hand hike out hungry and probably a little scared, but alive.  All to often (especially in the Smokies) do we hear that Bears have been put down for being too aggressive for food. Which raises a different debate: Are Bears starting to learn that people in the backcountry equals food for THEM? YIKES!

The worst we witness for “wildlife avoidance” is seen on a regular basis at AT Trail Shelters. They are literally becoming a den of garbage with food everywhere. Which is why I NEVER camp in them anymore. Here are a few tips to practice “Wildlife Avoidance”.

We looked for some good tips on “wildlife/bear avoidance” and found a great article by Andrew Skurka:

Food protection techniques in bear country

“DON’T camp where you cook. Cook at least a few hundred yards away from your campsite, downwind, preferably in an airy area where there is a gentle breeze to disperse the scents.

DON’T camp in established sites or near popular trails. The bears live in the backcountry (duh!), and they know exactly where their “neighbors” live. And in heavy-use areas, it is more likely that a previous backcountry user has acted improperly and encouraged problem bear behavior (e.g. by leaving trash at their campsite, or leaving food unprotected on a log while they went to get water or watch the sunset). Bears are more likely to visit these areas regularly because they know their odds of obtaining an easy meal are better.

TRY and camp in un-designated, non-established sites. However, make sure you practice LNT and cover up your camp area when you pack up. When the bears make their evening “rounds,” they are less likely to come across you. If you are in an area where camping in designated areas is required (e.g. Glacier, the Smokies and Yellowstone National Parks), this is sometimes not possible, but thankfully there is usually good food-protection infrastructure at these sites.

CARRY food in odor-proof bags. These bags (such as the OP Sacks from Watchful Eye Designs) will help make me “invisible” to the bears.

DISPOSE YOUR TRASH ASAP. Bears have a great nose. Your trash smells and lingers odors. Again, having a Odor-proof bags for trash is a good idea also, and make sure you constantly are disposing trash regularly.”

DO NOT THINK that throwing your trash in the fire is preventing wildlife from eating your garbage. My domesticated Dog goes right to the fire pit every time we go backpacking. If my dog knows the smell of food in the fire pit so does every other wildlife that lives there. Burning your trash is bad for the environment and doesn’t work to deter bear encounters. I had a Bear right behind me one time savaging through another fire pit. Also, don’t think that just because you are caring a Bear Canister that you are safe from Bears getting into your stuff. If you are cooking next to your tent, with your Bear Canister right next to you, what difference does it make that you have a Bear Canister?  The Bear (who smells the food soaked into your nylon tent) will just make a grab for your tent. Sometimes with you in it. They’ll also (often) carry off your backpack also. But hey! your food will be safe I guess. 🙂

Having said all that: My take on canisters is this… They are heavy, bulky, expensive, and they are uncomfortable to carry their cylindrical shape that fits awkwardly in small packs. Andrew Skurka

We agree! Canisters would be unnecessary if everyone practiced the “wildlife avoidance” techniques described above and mastered the (video) PCT Bear Hang Method.

We need to be good stewards of our outdoor environment. Which means protecting wildlife from being put down because you were too lazy to cook away from a Shelter or Tent. We have it in our control to eliminate the need for Bear Canisters if we want to. Bears are usually the victims of the “food” issues. But practicing good habits, also protect your food from Mice, Raccoons, Marmot, and all other little pesky creatures lurking for YOUR food in the night.

Let us know what you think?

TheBackPacker June 17, 2016 1

Backpackers would survive the Zombie Apocalypse

Being a huge fan of AMC’s The Walking Dead, I often ask myself. “If things go bad, what outdoor gear in my closet do I have to survive the Zombie Apocalypse”? First let me say, I have a ton of gear! I can barely fit anymore into my closets.  But is it “survivable” gear? I say YES!  Backpackers would definitely be survivors, and we would survive well. Here are my top ten reasons backpackers would survive:


10: We are already packed and ready to go. Most of us have it all packed, compressed, and sorted out. We have closets dedicated to all the crap we’ve bought over the years.  If it all went bad in a hurry? Most people would be running around the house deciding what they would take. They would probably panic.  We would throw on our packs, like we do every weekend,  and BOOM, hit the door. Only difference, we would  be packing more food. But, we have a box of that stuff to.

9. The first night out, we have shelter, food, water, fire, maps and compass. Why? We are Bakpackers damn it! That’s just how we roll. Our first night we could assess where were and where we needed to go. To survive, we go live where we play. The Wilderness!

8. Clothing & Boots. Yep, that’s right! We have our synthetic, polyester, and down clothing to keep us warm and moderate our body heat. (we could be running…..a lot) AND, we can keep warm WITHOUT a fire. Fire could attract Zombies. Hypothermia alone could be fatal. We have our boots to cover long distance miles, and ford streams. Hopefully  you’ve invested into GoreTex.

7.  Weapons! What? Backpackers don’t carry weapons… Yes we do. The Swiss Army knife or hunting knife could be a key weapon. We may not have bullets. So in case one get’s close, we use the Rick Grimes Doctrine. “Save Your Bullets”. Not to mention the fact, we may have to cut bandages, make kindling for fire,  or the most important one: You may come across a bottle of good Micro Brew, gotta have a bottle opener.

6. Backcountry Roads: We have traveled every backcountry gravel road there is trying to find a trailhead. How many times have “maps” been a little off? A lot! So we know how to get there. While most people will be jammed up on expressways, we will be on a National Forest Road where clearly the road has changed names a dozen times. We know, how to drive the winding sometimes treacherous roads. At least when the Apoloypse is over, we know where are car will be.

5. Being Stinky:  We where the same clothes all weekend, sometimes longer if we are doing a thru hike. We don’t care about being stinky and  smelly. We are used to it.  It may even help us camouflage in.  I mean, dying human flesh is pretty stinky, but ever smell a thru hiker? I rest my case.

Backpackers survive the Zombie Apocalypse

4.  Duct Tape:  Six ways to use Duct Tape in a Zombie Apocalypse is a great article. But, Backpackers ALREADY know this. We’ve used Duct Tape for everything on the trail. We’ve used it to patch, hold, blisters, make hats’. We are the Duct Tape Guru’s of survival..

3. Water Filtration.  Who know’s what could happen to the water supply during a Zombie outbreak. But who care’s, we get our water from Mountain Springs. And we have a water filtration to at least get clean drinking water from streams.  That would suck after getting away from the Walking Dead, you have a cup of water and you die from Giardiasis.

2. Cooking Food. If there were ever a group of people that knew how to use cook Ramen Noodles, Rice, or Couscous, on the trail,  it’s us. We are miracle backcountry gourmet chefs when it comes to cooking in the Backcountry. Give me a Tortilla Shell, and I’m good.  Not to mention. We have eaten Freeze Dried Food for so  long, we don’t give it another thought. All of us probably has a box of Freeze Dried Food, noodles, rice, and other stuff ready to go at a moment notice. I mean, normal people don’t have that right?

1. Adapt. Backpackers can adapt better than anyone. Terrain, weather, hitching a ride. We use the outdoors as part of our gear. It’s a natural recourse that we have become to partner with instead of fight. That is our biggest advantage of surviving the Zombie Apocalypse. For many, they would run and hide, fight, and be eaten. For us, it would just be another backpacking trip. Well, minus the Walking Dead.

TheBackPacker June 12, 2016 1

Lightweight Backpacking doesn’t have to be expensive

If you are new to the outdoor backpacking scene you will quickly learn that gear can be expensive. Especially lightweight gear. One of the statements I get from new people I take out in the backcountry is “What if I need it”? So they tend to carry the kitchen sink until there first 15 mile hike and 2,000 feet elevation gain. The second statement I get when they decide to start really thinking about weight is: “That’s really expensive”.

It’s easy to get sucked into the hype of lightweight gear. Technology and good marketing can lead a new person to drop some serious cash building a lightweight system.

First, let’s define “lightweight”. Depending on weather and the time you expect to backpack in the wilderness, this can vary. I like to say it’s between 15 and 25 lbs. On a typical 2 day trip 23 lbs is usually my total pack weight. I like to cook gourmet :-). Having defined the weight, now how to we lighten the load on the cheap?

First, it’s the Big 4. Pack, Shelter, Pad, and Bag. This is where you can drop some big $$$. So here are my tips, or examples of how I did it on the cheap and still had quality gear.

The Pack:

I use the GoLite Jam 35L Pack. (GoLite is out of business however) I’ve had this pack for 5 years and it’s well tested. At $119.00 you can’t beat the price nor the weight.
It weighs in at 1 lb 11 oz. | 770 g


I use the Globe Skimmer Ultralite (10×12) Tarp by Equinox. It weighs in at 18 ounces and it has always kept me dry. The cost is $129.00 compared to one person tents that run well above $200 bucks. I would also recommend trying the 8×10 tarp for only $92.00 to save some money and weight.

Sleeping Bag

I totally recommend Marmot Aspen 40° F Minimalist Sleeping Bag for a Spring, Summer, and early Fall bag. At a total price of $70.00 and a weight of only 1 lbs 6oz you can’t go wrong. I did a review of this bag a few years ago with amazing feedback. They also make a 15 degree bag that is just as cheap and good. You can only find this bag at Dicks Sporting Goods.


Two choices here: I use either the Thermarest Pro Lite Plus (small) for $89.00. Weighs in at 150z.

Or go to Walmart and buy the J Fit Extra Thick Pilates Pad and pay only $19.00 bucks. Cut in half and you have a pad that weighs 140z. I use this pad in Warmer Spring, Summer, and Early Fall.

This makes you total pack weight for the Big 4 (assuming you go the Walmart Pad way) a little over 4 lbs. That also makes your total cost (assuming you go the Walmart Pad way) $337.00 bucks for the Big 4.

I dare you to beat THAT!!!

TheBackPacker May 10, 2016 0

A Simple Hike Goes Wrong

This last weekend I went up to Northern Georgia to scout out some campsites in the Chattahoochee National Forest.  There were a couple of Forest Roads that intersected with each other and looked as if they went along a few small rivers. One of which was the river that dumps at Amicalola State Park. Amicalola Falls. At 729 feet, Amicalola Falls is the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeast. Lot’s of hiking in and around the park. One of the most famous of course is the Approach Trail to the Appalachian Trail.  There are several parts of this Blue Blazed trail that leads up to Springer Mountain (The Southern Terminus of the AT). Most backpackers/Hikers that start on the Approach Trail start at the Visitors Center and trek up the 8 miles to the summit. The Approach Trail is a difficult trail and NOT to be taken lightly by novice backpackers.  However, there are other trail heads up towards the Falls that you can catch without starting at the bottom.

One of the other trails is a Lime Green Blazed Trail that leads to the Len Foote Hike Inn. This trail has it’s own trailhead and  is clearly marked. The trail is about 5 miles to the Hike Inn and is a moderate trail. Parking is at the trailhead above the Falls

So that’s the back story on the two trails. Ironically, both Blue Blazed and the Green Blazed Trails have a very close proximity on the upper part of the Falls where parking is available for the Len Foote Hike Inn guests.

As I was driving on a gravel Forest Road (High Shoals Rd), I saw two female (older women) backpackers walking along the road. They looked very much lost and in distress. They asked me where the Len Foote Hike Inn trail was? These two women weren’t even close. They had followed the Blue Blazed Trail (the AT Approach Trail) up to a Forest Road and were looking for a supply access road to the Hike Inn. One of the woman was having a diabetic issue and was clearly in distress. Her pack was extremely heavy and packed very wrong. She was way over her head with the trail she was attempting. Furthermore, they listened to another hiker who clearly didn’t know what they were talking about. They were lost. It was just by luck I was driving on a THAT Forest Road that I ran into them.

I picked them up obviously and drove them to the Visitors Center where the one lady could get some medical attention.

I had just read an article posted by Backpacker Magazine a day before about this very subject. Crazy!

To my point I guess. Please, please be prepared and know where you are going, what trail you are on, and always follow the blazes marked for you in most State Parks. If you have never backpacked before. DON”T do the hardest trail there is. Start with  flat trails with low mileage to practice. KNOW THY GEAR!  Have someone who is a seasoned backpacker look at your pack to make sure it’s fitted right. DON”T listen to other strangers tell you a “shortcut”. Stay on the TRAIL, and pre plan. These two ladies were part of a Georgia group. The group just said “meet us there”. No one from the group made sure these ladies even knew how to backpack. Trip leaders should always make sure people are accounted for, and have a Wilderness First Aid Certificate.  I’m glad it ended up well, but I hate seeing this. 

TheBackPacker March 18, 2012 0

Choosing the Best Gaiters

Hiking gaiters can be an essential piece of gear when your backpacking in the Spring or Winter. I find in early Spring when it’s still wet, muddy, and cold, gaiters can keep my boots and socks pretty dry.

Hiking Gaiters are normally a synthetic type material that covers the top of your boot and the lower part of your leg.  Gaiters can protect you in many ways:

  • Keeps your legs warm when hiking in snow (especially snowshoeing)
  • Keeping your feet warm and dry when crossing small streams, or hiking in really muddy conditions.
  • They are great when hiking in tall blade grass, or ferns.

Another big advantage is during tick season. Ticks generally leap onto your leg or sock. Gaiters can be a huge benefit to make sure you don’t bring those pesky guys into your tent. 

Hiking Gaiters come in two heights, low and high.

  • Low Gaiters, 8” to 12” tall, are designed to mainly keep debris and water out of your hiking boots. These are recommended for basic hiking conditions.
  • High Gaiters are 15” to 18” tall. These are the workhorse Gaiters. They protect you during more extreme conditions, like bushwacking, deep snow and bad weather.

What kind of Gaiters should I get?

What’s the Activity?

  • Mild-Weather Hiking Trips – Trail Gaiters are your best bet. These have basic protection against some rain, rocks and grit. These are normally breathable and lightweight.
  • All-around Hiking, Mountaineering and Snowshoeing – Alpine gaiters are what you need. These provide better abrasion and water protection than the Trail Gaiters.

Good Gaiters can be costly, but well worth the investment. Nobody likes hiking in wet socks. Look for Gaiters that are waterproof. Gaiters that have a waterproof and breathable material are going to cost a bit more, but can be worth it for comfort.

Durability is the key. Keeping your legs free of abrasions is of utmost importance. Make sure the material is strong.

I wear the Outdoor Research Gaiters. These guys have never let me down and have always kept my feet dry.

TheBackPacker February 16, 2012 0

Clean Water Everytime by UV Light

Bottled water is a bit of a fad and a strange thing to pay for, considering water makes up majority of our planet (yeah yeah, it’s purified and all that).

Wait a second – now you can get purification without having to fork out money for every little 250ml! Camelbak are bringing you a nifty little water bottle that will clean up your water in just 60 seconds. A brilliant innovation into purifying water, the All Clear bottle contains a UV light installed in the cap that’s proven to eradicate 99.9999% of bacteria, 99.99% of viruses and 99.9% of protozoa. That gives you a pretty good chance of not coming down with Delhi Belly if you ask me!

You can fill it from any stream, tap, or spigot and even has a pre-filter accessory to filter out sediments as you fill it up from a natural source. It would be great for a camping trip or if you’re travelling to a country where the water isn’t purified. It treats 80 cycles (16 gallons) with each charge (so if you drank three bottles a day, it would last about 25 days), and the cap is protected from wear and weather so that you can take it anywhere and everywhere. The bulb itself should last 10,000 cycles – that would be the equivalent of drinking 3 bottles a day for 9 years – so you’re unlikely going to need to change that. It’s powered by two lithium batteries, rechargeable via USB (that’s pretty cool).

The only thing that I think would make this bottle a super-green alternative to bottled water would be to include a solar panel to augment the lithium batteries and reduce energy expenditure. But all the same, a pretty darned nifty gadget. If anyone has tested this in the backcounty would love to hear about it.