Saturday, March 31, 2012

A brutal trek through Tibet

While most of those who watched The Way Back seemed to have loved it, I guess I spoiled it for myself by reading the book--The Long Walk--first. I have to admit the unbelievable true story of this escape from a Siberian Labor Camp to India is epic, while the acting is great, and the scenery is breathtaking. But to read the book is to feel the deprivation these survivors endured, while the movie lacks the grit that conveys the terrible hunger, dehydration, and physical exhaustion of this 4000 mile trip.

Maybe it was that the screenplay liberally detoured from many of the lesser details of the book and I couldn't get past it. Somehow the imagery and acting didn't capture what chapter after chapter of walking and starving, followed by walking and starving, mixed in with lots of freezing, exhaustion, and brutal temps was able to. Also there are cultural exchanges that just get left out in the movie. But regardless the movie is definitely worth the view as starts 400 miles above Lake Baikal, crosses the Mongolian border and Gobi Desert, into Tibet before going over the Himalayas; all without any maps!

Besides the moving scenery, one graphic take away I had was how brutal this trip was on the feet. In the book the author spent more time talking about making footwear multiple times out of different animal hides. But the movie repeatedly showed how beat up their feet got...definitely a more graphic view--and probably more accurate--than what I got from the book. When you see the brutal terrain in this part of the world it gives you an appreciation of how Lowa's Tibet Pro backpacking boots gets their name.

In the end this movie was one of the best anti-gear, minimalist survival triumphs of them all. What did you think of it?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Seeking a BIG YEAR...

There are not many true outdoor movies to review in what is essentially a hiking and backpacking gear blog, but I think  THE BIG YEAR qualifies.  Released on DVD seven weeks ago, I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend adding it to your movie queue.   I'll admit to being skeptical about a movie focused on "birding" and the reviews are mixed with true birders skewing the reviews in the positive direction.  (Although some got hung up by the artistic license necessary to recreate the recording breaking events of 1998.)  But I figured any movie with Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson couldn't be that bad. 

If you've been out in the wild long enough you've surely stumbled across one of the congregations of birders the movie portrays.  The movie merits watching as a window into the world of birders and the lengths they go in pursuit of the holy grail: the Big Year.  (One site I came across says birders can spend up to 270 days/year and travel 270,000 miles to view the 700 plus species needed to put them among the Big Year elite.)  It also merits watching for the beautiful scenery and locations birders encounter along the way.  What I loved about the Big Year was ultimately its inspirational message about the value (and costs) in pursuing something truly out of the ordinary in the outdoors...say a thru-hike of the AT or a summer of visiting as many National Parks as possible.  I left wanting--and planning--another year off to do some serious backpacking and exploring.  If you're interested in what serious birder watchers thought of THE BIG YEAR you'll want to read this article from Audubon Magazine.

Another great benefit for you hikers and backpackers out there is that you'll be reminded of those great wild places you've been: Alaska, the Rockies, the Pacific Northwest, Canyonlands, etc.  And you'll remember your great bird sighting stories.  In my case it was the Ptarmigan that scared the bejesus out of me when it flew right at my face in the mountains outside of Juneau when I failed to yield to it on the trail. 

It would sure be interesting to know how many hard-core backpackers are also serious birders.  Maybe someone will write a story about this one day.  (Or share a link here to info on this.) 

And one other note...this movie is truly PG and appropriate for the whole family.  Other than one quick use of "the bird",  the movie is profanity free and tamer than your typical Super Bowl Half-Time show. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Summer in Vermont?

With record breaking temps in the 70s and 80s for the past week, we seem to have quickly left winter and skipped right to summer in Vermont. I wanted to show you the funny picture from the front page of today's Burlington Free Press...but I didn't want to pay for it so just follow the link.  Apparently the college kids have foregone spring skiing and headed to the beach instead!  Apparently neighbors and the city are upset as the beach goers need some Leave No Trace training.  The city has hired security...but they could have brought in some port-a-lets just as easily.  It wasn't clear though if anyone actually went in Lake Champlain to cool off. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Working on your Gear List

If you are planning a big thru hike this season one of the most important pieces of preparation you have before you is filling out your gear list.  If you're stepping off soon you're probably well on your way, but if your trip isn't until after school gets out you might just be getting started.  While I've made my own gear lists and thought of posting them, I figure why repeat the effort when the experts at Backpacker Magazine have already done a thorough job of this.  They've created 13 customized gear lists for everything from an AT Thru-Hike gear list to a Swamp Trip gear list.

If you're looking to make a big impact in the area of pack weight and volume and haven't looked at new tents recently you'll be amazed by what's now out there in the world of 2 person backpacking tents.  I shaved almost 5 lbs out of my pack last year by finally ditching my 10 year old tent for a new one.  With Big Agnes tents now on sale @ 20-40% off and MSR tents going on sale tomorrow now is the right time to look in to getting a new tent for your next big trip. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Save the Bolton Backcountry

Those of us who love the Bolton Backcountry are fortunate that the Vermont Land Trust has stepped up to protect this land in perpetuity.  One of the best places to find fresh powder stashes, this land accesses trails and glades loved by nordic and telemark skiers alike.  According to the VLT's Press Release, they've "signed a contract to purchase the 1,161 acres that hosts the Bolton Valley Nordic and backcountry trails."  This keeps the land out of private hands and will insure its use by the public for years to come. 

To complete this deal the Land Trust needs to raise over $1M dollars.  That's where you come in.  Learn more about how you can be involved in the effort to Save the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry trail network.  If you like you can just send a donation to:

The Vermont Land Trust
8 Bailey Avenue
Montpelier, VT 05602

Please write "Bolton" in the subject line of your check. Thanks!!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Getting in Shape for a Long Distance Hike

A year ago I grabbed a life list opportunity to hike the final 50 miles of the John Muir Trail and finish on the summit of Mt. Whitney.  The only problem was I wasn't in shape to backpack those miles at that altitude with a heavy pack.  So the first thing I did was buy the airplane ticket; I was committed. 

And did it take commitment to get up early and make the time to get in shape.  I only had 12 weeks, but I figured if I started small I could build up.  I started the day after I bought my ticket with Monday morning 1 mile run before work!  And added a mile every week.  I kept a log, and somehow I managed to find over an hour every day to train.

I trained by hiking with increasingly heavy packs.  I snowshoed with weights in my pack.  I cross trained.  Then when I wasn't losing weight I went back to the last diet that worked for me: the South Beach Diet.  And I trained the muscle specific groups I'd be using on the trip by finding the longest, steepest local mountains to climb. 

While the trip didn't quite turn out as planned, I did lose 17 lbs, immensely increased my stamina and strength, packed 50 miles, and summited Whitney.  And I felt great doing it! 

Now's the time to get started...and I suggest you look for some real inspiration.  Someone who has done something you wouldn't think possible.  Check out how Andrew Skurka--reknowned long distance hiker--suggests training for long distance hikes

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sierra Designs Tents & Sleeping Bags

2012 Sierra Designs Tents & Sierra Designs sleeping bags embody the change we expect as the seasons change and our days get longer.  With the lengthening day comes the ability to travel longer, and Sierra Designs new lightweight Mojo Tents and Cloud sleeping bags will help you.  Both caught our attention at trade shows last summer, and the editors at Backpacker Magazine have taken notice.  Use of cutting edge new materials and technologies give you better performance and lighter weights.  You'll have to wait or hit the newstand to read what Backpacker's editors have written, or you can visit our website and follow our blog.  I expect you'll be hearing more in online forums and in social media as Spring 2012 moves on.  While the Sierra Designs brand itself has seen a lot of change of late, I think their Spring 2012 products reveal their long standing commitment to innovation and excellence

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Big Agnes it again.

Again this spring Big Agnes tents continue to whittle away at the amount of weight backpackers need to carry to shelter themselves on the trail.  Known for setting new standards in the ultralight tent category with its Fly Creek UL and Copper Spur UL tent series, Big Agnes unveils improvements in both series that you're sure to love.  Impressive new value 4 person tents and a two person tent with a monster vestibule round out the new options available to those looking for the "best".  And if you're looking for a bomb-proof base camp, Big Agnes still offers the ever popular Flying Diamond 4, 6, and 8 person tents.  Our Big Agnes tent brand page is fully loaded with the complete selection of 2012 tents so take a look around and get ready for our Spring 2012 Big Agnes Sale which will start on March 15th! 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

2012 Jetboil Update

Last year a Jetboil Stove graced the cover of the Backpacker Gear Guide and Jetboil received a nice review of their Sumo Cookpot.  This year Jetboil--without all the fanfare--combined the 1.8L Sumo pot with the all-weather Jetboil Sol burner to form the Jetboil Sumo Group Cooking System Camp Stove (what a mouthful).  I haven't tried out the Sumo Stove set-up yet but I'm guessing it will edge out the Jetboil Flash for those who usually share their camp stove.  And the Sumo will definitely have an edge over the Helios Group Cooking System for  its cold weather performance.   But as a fan of the Helios, its wide base and low center of gravity I have to wonder if the Sumo is going to feel too tippy to relax while cooking on uneven surfaces.  Shouldn't be too long before I find out; we'll get our first shipment within the next few weeks. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

No sign yet of the 2012 Backpacker Editor's Choice Awards on their website...I guess they want you to buy the Gear Guide at your local newstand or better yet get a subscription.  If you've followed our blog--and store--you know we like to feature the Backpacker testers picks.  Who else has such a cool job as being handed hot new products and then spending all that time in the outdoors putting them through their paces.  Check out Backpackers' 2012 Gear Guide Sweepstakes where they raffle off some of their used test product

Alas this year's picks feature a mix of proprietary product and lesser known brands or niche products.  So we've got our homework cut out for us trying to open up new channels for bringing in these cool items.  In the meantime we'll have some fun with some of the other products they reviewed that we've been able to put our hands on and have come to know and love.  

One of our favorites is the Selk Bag sleeping bag with arms and legs.  Maybe you've seen one of their ads... the walking sleeping bag in beautiful outdoor settings.  In my opinion there is no more comfortable way to sleep; albeit I like to sprawl out when I sleep.  It's bulky and no lightweight so its more of a campground novelty than a must-have for your next backpacking trip, but hey why not give it a try or give it as a gift.  In the interest of full disclosure, although I've been known to travel with 3.5 lbs of lux sleeping pad I've never backpacked with my Selk Bag.  In fact I've gotten more use of it as a Halloween costume, but it has been well used and worth every penny.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Backpacker's Sierra Designs Sleeping Bag Picks

That Sierra Designs Cloud 15 sleeping bag I reviewed a few weeks back was cited by Backpacker's Editors for being a "durable featherweight".  (page 86 of the 2012 Backpacker Gear Guide.)  One of their "ultralight zealots" raved "It scrunches down even smaller than my puffy jacket!" For comparison they noted that the Cloud is tighter than the Marmot Plasma, their 2011 Editor's Choice pick, but not as trim as the "minimalist" pick for 2012, the Mountain Hardwear Speed 32. 

Another innovative Sierra Designs Sleeping Bag, the Pyro Maniac 15/30 won accolades as the "most versatile" bag for its detachable quilt.  Just insert the extra 10 oz. layer of down and take your sleeping bag down to a solid 3 season bag.  At $319 for 2 lbs, 13 oz. of bag this is a great value when you consider you're getting two different warmth bags for the price of one.