Friday, October 7, 2011

Best Lightweight Alcohol Stove for Backpacking?

Looking for the most compact, simple, cheap, and lightweight alcohol stove on the market? Look no farther than Zelph Stoveworks' Starlyte Alcohol Stove. Here are the claimed specs from Zelph Stoveworks' website:

Weight: .6 oz
Dimensions: 2" x 2"
Boil Time: 6.5 minutes for 16oz water (1/2 oz of fuel)

Here's how it is supposed to work:

Measure out 1/2 oz of alcohol (HEET brand fuel line treatment).
Pour this into the base of the Starlyte Stove.
Light with a lighter.
Place the windscreen around the stove.
Set your pot on top to boil.
Have boiling water in 6.5 minutes.
The Starlyte (center front) in contrast to
all the various cooking gear in my set.

Why go with an ultralite alcohol stove?

They can weigh (in this case) 800% less than canister stoves. This is pretty considerable as far as weight savings go. No other piece of gear in your pack (probably) can be modified to get an 800% gain in weight savings.

Alcohol fuel can be carried in exact amounts. For example, if you're out for 3 days and know you'll need one fl oz of alcohol to boil your water per day, you can carry only 3 oz of alcohol. With a canister stove, you're stuck with whatever amount (and weight) of fuel that happens to be left in your canister.

Alcohol stoves don't have any moving parts (usually) and therefore are highly unlikely to malfunction in the field. The Starlyte stove has even less components than most alcohol stoves.

They're super cheap. You can make your own for free out of an old soda can. Or buy the Starlyte for $23. Opposed to lightweight canister stoves that will cost you $50-$100.

It's much easier to find alcohol fuel in many remote areas than it is to purchase canister fuel. This no longer holds true for the Appalachian Trail, however. There is now ample access to fuel canisters at various suppliers along the trail due to the high demand by hikers every year.

What it's like in the real world:

Alcohol stoves are generally much more vulnerable to physical damage than canister fuel stoves. If you accidentally step on, drop something on, or otherwise abuse your alcohol stove that weighs in at less than an ounce, you can expect it to not survive. Don't take this to mean that these stoves won't hold  a pot. Alcohol stoves are made to hold a heavy pot of boiling liquid, but they're not forgiving to damage.

Starlyte (front center) compared to the
Snow Peak Giga Power fuel canister
stove (background) and a mini Bic
Alcohol stoves must have a windscreen to use. These stoves don't burn with the intensity of compressed canister fuel. The flame is very vulnerable to wind gusts. Even in a perfectly calm environment, a windscreen is still necessary to conserve the heat energy of the stove. Alcohol stoves don't put out the BTU's that a canister stove can.

It's either on or off with an alcohol stove. There's no simmer setting. Once you light the flame, it's going to burn at the same intensity until it runs out of fuel.

Some alcohol stoves have the possibility to spill burning alcohol fuel everywhere if tipped over. The Starlyte stove avoids this by including a fiberglass-like material in the base to soak up the alcohol so that it cannot spill once on fire.

They can be very precarious to use. The Starlyte has a diameter somewhere around 2". Put a 6" diameter pot will of 16 oz of water on top of this tiny base and you've got a recipe for spilled pasta dinner if you're not on a very flat and stable surface.

What I've found with the Zelph Stoveworks' Starlyte Alcohol Stove:

Disclaimer: I've only done one test so far. Expect to see more results soon, as well as a video.

So is the Zelph Stoveworks' Starlyte Stove the best choice for going ultralight alcohol with your backpacking stove? Here's what I've got to say so far.

The let down:

I used 1oz of fuel (2x the suggested amount) to boil 16 oz (2 cups) of tap water. According to the manufacturer's specifications, 2 cups of water should boil in 6.5 minutes with only 1/2 oz of fuel. My findings?

With the windscreen securely in place, on a mildly breezy day (~8mph winds), my 1 oz of HEET denatured alcohol fuel burned for almost 11 minutes. In my Snowpeak Trek 900 titanium pot, 2 cups (16 oz) of water never reached a full boil. After about 8 minutes the water had developed fish-eyes (bubbles on the bottom of the pot) but by 10 minutes the water was still barely bubbling.

This was very disappointing as I used twice the suggest fuel and still never got a boil going in almost twice the time claimed by the manufacturer's specs.
Starlyte windscreen (right) and alcohol fuel (HEET)

Other lessons in alcohol stove use:

I also learned that (as stated earlier) it's very difficult to balance a pot full of water on a 2" diameter base. I can easily foresee spilled meals and boiling water in the future with the use of such a slim stove base. There's also nothing on the bottom of the Starlyte Stove to be able to grind into the soil to add stability (as the rim on the bottom of a fuel canister might be used to gain stability).

Furthermore, with my Trek 900 titanium pot, the handles had to be folded in to accommodate the wind screen. This leaves precious little to hold on to when opening the pot lid to stir contents, increasing the possibility of tipping your pot of boiling water over. The windscreen does its job well, blocking wind and holding heat in. Unfortunately all that heat gets channeled up to the pot handles and the pot lid, making it even more difficult to handle the stove while it's on the already unstable surface.


At this point I've found out the hard way (as usual) some of the more subtle intricacies of using an alcohol stove. Considering the extremely cheap investment in a piece of gear that I've been curious about for some time, I do not regret the purchase. I plan to paint on some black grill paint to increase the efficiency of my pot and to conduct more controlled and numerous tests with the Zelph Stoveworks Starlyte Stove before giving a final "yes or no" answer as to how I feel about using this stove. For now, however, my canister stove will be staying in the backpack.

Read Backpacking Light's review of the Zelph Stoveworks' Starlyte Ultralight Alcohol Stove.

BP Light Forum Article on the Starlyte Stove. forum discussion and development of the Starlyte Stove.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Social Media Jobs in the Outdoor Market

What is Social Media and how can you find a  job in the industry?

Social media is primarily an interactive method of communication through web-based platforms. From your perspective that's talking to friends on Facebook and tweeting you life away. From my perspective that's "how do I draw readers attention and loyalty through social platforms"?

Have you ever asked yourself "why does this web business have a Facebook page?" No? Well, let me explain it in simple terms.

Websites are, almost always, businesses. As a rule of economics, businesses must provide a good or service that consumers want or need. Social media is the outlet by which businesses connect with, build, and keep loyal followers.

While you might be excited to see the latest discount email come through from REI with the week's hottest deal, I guarantee that REI is much more excited to see you click on the link and buy their product. By connecting with audiences through social media, companies and individuals are assured a more loyal and active viewing audience.

Social media jobs in the outdoor industry are huge news! Don't believe me, just go look for yourself. Scroll to the bottom of The North Face's webpage and you'll see the links for Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. REI has Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.

The social media pages for these companies do not create, manage, and update themselves. Most outdoor companies also use blogging as a form of social media. It's not terribly difficult to imagine that, with the thousands of outdoor websites out there, that the job market might be quite nearly endless.

Communications majors will find themselves quite at home with this sort of work. Use my outdoor job hunting resources to help find communications and social media jobs. Or start your own blog like me... although that's a rough way to go. Let me tell you!

Happy Trails, Friends!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Top Five Ways to Land Outdoor Recreation Jobs

So you decided you want an outdoor job? You have forsaken the cubicle. Good job, that's step one.

This guide will help you land any outdoor recreation industry job. These include, but are not limited to, guiding services, outfitters, experiential education, outdoor education, etc. Want to know how to become an outdoor guide?

Ready? Okay here's the five most important steps. GO!

Experience is the key to landing an outdoor job. 

Why don't I list "get a degree" first? Because in the outdoor industry, unlike many modern settings, it's possible to win a high-standing position using *gasp* skill. 

Narrow down your preferred fields of work I.E. whitewater guiding, and retail sales, and get experience doing them. 

If you're looking for an outdoor guide job, then make sure you have "expedition" experience in the field. Trips lasting more than a week are industry standard requirements on a resume.

Get Certified You went out and got some experience in the field. Good. Now it's time to get industry recognized.

Take courses from industry leading groups in your discipline. Here are a few industry-recognized associations:

ACA       (American Camp Association)
AMGA   (American Mountain Guides Association)
ACCT    (Association for Challenge Course Technology)
AORE    (Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education)

Don't forget, these associations can be invaluable in networking, not just certifications. I personally have landed a job through the ACA.

You're almost guaranteed to need a WFR (Wilderness First Responder) certification so you might as well get that done, too. Be aware; most outdoor companies do not recognize Red Cross certifications as valid. You'll need to go through NOLS WMI or something similar.

Get a Degree You've got some experience and maybe a certification or two? Good, don't forget your certification instructor's name, it will come in handy for networking.

Now you can start applying for some entry level jobs, and while you're at it, scope out outdoor education and recreation degrees offered around the world. In the US, there are actually quite a lot of options for outdoor education degrees. A simple Google search will do you more good than I can by providing links, so get started looking.

Consider this, however, NOLS (The National Outdoor Leadership School) offers outdoor education and recreation degrees partnered with several colleges that not only offer you a degree, they also offer you expedition experience and certifications.

What!? That's three of my top five ways to land an outdoor job, in one fell stroke. Yup. Check it out.

Network with everyone you meet! Keep lists and add everyone on Facebook (keep your profile professional if you're going to use it for networking).

LinkedIn is a pretty big networking tool, also. You might want to give it a look.

For your most professional references (bosses, managers, instructors) keep a paper file list. You'll need addresses, phone numbers, emails, the usual stuff. When you're mass-applying for that perfect job, you'll thank me.

Don't be afraid to call up these people when looking for job prospects, they might have some helpful leads. Word of mouth is always the most effective way to land a job.

You did build up a professional looking resume to mail out with that job app, and all those hard earned references, right?

Start low when looking for a job. Don't be afraid to throw out apps to any job that interests you, but don't be unrealistic. If you're new to climbing, don't expect to land a job leading multi-pitch expeditions.

Look for internships, and don't think that jobs are "below your skill". You will most likely have to start yourself in the industry by taking low, entry level jobs at first while your network and skills grow.

Looking for outdoor jobs? Check out my list of outdoor job search resources!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Best Au Sable River Camping Spots

If you live in Michigan and play in the outdoors, then you've heard of the mighty Au Sable River. 120 miles, from Grayling to Oscoda, this river winds through endless stretches of the Huron National Forest and drops through 6 hydroelectric dams.

Whether you plan to canoe the entire river (as I did) or simply go out for an overnight, you'll love the Huron National Forest camp sites along the Au Sable River. Most of these sites require backcountry camp permits and reservations. If, however, you plan to camp in out-of-the-way spots on the side of the river (non-designated camp sites) then you won't need any reservations or permits.

The best camping areas on the Au Sable are Cook and Foote Dam Ponds. Each of these "ponds" (they're more like lakes especially when you're trying to canoe thru them) has a myriad of potential camp sites. Paddle 20 minutes and you're sure to pass by a camp site with impeccable views over the ponds, a rope swing, and a fire circle. The tall pine forests and sandy soil in the area make a beautiful combination.

If you can only pick on camp site to use, choose a primitive camping site on either Cook or Foote Dam Pond.

Want permits? Contact the Huron Shores Ranger Station: (989) 739-0728.

Did I mention that there's no mosquitoes? I traveled the length of the Au Sable from August 16-20th and got, maybe, five mosquito bites the entire time. Leave the tent and bring a tarp to sleep out under the stars with views over glassy calm waters.

Expect to see lots of Great Blue Herons, turtles, Whitetail Deer, and Bald Eagles.

If you're looking to camp on the Au Sable River, I would highly recommend avoiding the touristy campgrounds and instead, find yourself a little slice of paradise on a sandy island under the stars. No permits, reservations, or fees required.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Nature Macro Photography in Mid-Michigan

This is a guest post from Sue St. Charles, a Mid-Michigan photographer. Check out her website or email her.

I have loved nature photography for over 30 years and have found the subjects in mid-Michigan to be endless... Enjoy!


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Looking Glass Falls Pisgah National Forest

Well, as it turns out, apparently I didn't save any of my photos from Looking Glass Falls. This single drop 60ft fall is located just outside of Brevard, NC on US 276 in Pisgah National Forest. It's difficult, really, to comprehend the sheer amount of force coming over these falls. Don't get me wrong, I know it's not the largest or tallest waterfall in the world, but it really gives you a beating if you get up close.
The only remaining photo from Looking Glass Falls
Along US 276 coming out of Brevard, you'll pass the Ranger Station. A few more miles along and you'll come to a stretch of windy road (it's all windy) where, on the right hand side, cars are packed in like sardines (not if you get there early enough, though). During the afternoon, the close proximity of Looking Glass Falls to 276 makes is a ripe tourist stop-off. Get there before 11am on a weekday to avoid the crowds. Take the first parking spot you find as you may, like me, find that the spots closer up are all taken. Then you'll be screwed out of a parking spot.

There's probably a set of one hundred stone steps leading down to the falls which can easily be seen from the road. At the bottom you'll find a small stone viewing area from which very few people partake in the views. Instead there's a well worn path off the the left that brings you out directly into the river. And presently, into the spray-zone of the falls. This icy mountain water is refreshing on a hot day as the temperature by the falls is easily 10º-20º cooler than up by the road.

If you decide to rock-hop and/or swim (I suggest you bring a pair of Keens) then head around to your right hand side of the falls. Here you'll find that the water has carved out an infinitely deep plunge pool. There's a couple of good rocks to jump off on this side, straight into the freezing cold plunge pool. Just be careful of the waterfall's undercurrents and be sure to scout for rocks before jumping!

If, instead, you'd like to get out "behind" (you can't really make it all the way behind) the falls then go back up the stone stairs to where the first turn is in the switchback. There's a small trail here that goes off toward the waterfall over lots of strewn boulders and precarious angles on wet mossy stones dozens of feet above the ground. Like me, you probably think this sounds like fun. So pick your way around, over, across, and through these rocks until you're up and around behind the waterfall. You can jump in from here if you have the balls, or just pose for a good picture.

Here's my suggested trip itinerary
Common afternoon view from Black Balsam Knob
Head out from Brevard, NC early in the morning going north on US 276. Hit up Looking Glass Falls before the crowds arrive. From there continue north on 276 deeper into the national forest. You'll hit the Blue Ridge Parkway after another 20 minutes or so. Head west on the parkway from here. After another twenty minutes and scenic overlooks of Cold Mountain and Looking Glass Rock as well as passing the Mountains to Sea Trail you'll arrive at the Graveyard Fields trailhead and parking. Here you can check out the Lower Falls (yep, that's their name). There's a great plunge pool for swimming here, too. You can jump right off the falls if you climb the face, there's a good 6 foot drop. Then you can opt to either head up the MTS Trail to Skinny Dip Falls. Or go up Black Balsam Knob Road to Black Balsam Knob for an afternoon picnic and relaxation with beautiful views in 360º at over 6000ft.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Adventure Blog Redesign

Screenshot of the redesigned home page.
The (tentative) backpacking meal planner section.
That's right... The Adventure Lifestyle Blog is undergoing a massive overhaul. It won't be up in the next few days, but look for it in the coming weeks. We're talking about a much more professionally designed main site where you can learn how to get started backpacking from the ground up. Social networking integration is going to be a focus on the new ALB, as well. You'll be able to comment and link to Facebook with a simple click. Want a sneak preview?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mount Mitchell State Park

Bees on a Wild Purple Celery Flower
Summiting the highest peak east of the Mississippi and south of Canada makes me feel like a boss. The only drawback? The parking lot for the summit of Mt Mitchell is only about seventy five feet below the actual summit... disappointing really. Fortunately I knew this beforehand and therefore parked at a more remote parking lot and walked in on the Old Mitchell Trail to make my ascent of Mt Mitchell more rewarding. What follow is my summary of Mount Mitchell State Park and my experiences summiting Mt Mitchell as well as Mt Craig.

Restaurant with Mt Mitchell in background.
The visitors' center, the first building on the road when entering the park, is a clean little building. It was staffed by a friendly ranger willing to show me a map of the park and explain a few things. I took the legal size black and white print out map and folded it up to take with me (free). The map they have is quite detailed and very accurate so don't worry about needing to buy a fancy $10 map. I set off up the road to the next parking lot (I didn't feel like walking the Old Mitchell Trail from the ranger station). There's a nice little restaurant here (pricy!). I didn't try any of the food at the Mount Mitchell State Park restaurant since it was more than I wanted to pay for any of their food. A fish dinner special was priced at $16.

From here, I was able to set out on the Old Mitchell Trail heading towards Mount Mitchell, the highest peak on the east coast of America. From the restaurant the Old Mitchell Trail begins rather tamely and by increments becomes more and more sloppy and boulder strewn. There are commonly several foot drops from one boulder to the next along the trail, followed quite directly by or in combination with, large muddy pools directly in the trial. Judging by the summer weather in the North Carolina mountains, I would guess that the Old Mitchell trail is most likely always in this sloppy state. All of the boulders tend to be slippery with mud.

Trailside maps.
Two miles later, the Old Mitchell trail comes out at Mt. Mitchell having only crossed another trail one time and merging with the Mountains to Sea Trail. The trails are very well blazed and the map signs on the trails are color coded so it's quite impossible to get lost. The Old Mitchell Trail is not for the very out of shape. Do not attempt this trail if you're afraid to get muddy, scraped, or sweaty. The Old Mitchell Trail emerges onto the side of the paved path leading up Mount Mitchell from the parking lot. Here you will find a gift shop, concessions stand, and a lot of park visitors.

Summit marker.
Mount Mitchell's summit is capped with a low turret of concrete upon which is inset the USGS summit marker and a silhouette of North Carolina. It is disappointing in a way that the summit is defiled by the construction, but I find that I don't mind it too much. It makes it easier for the handicapped and feeble to make it to the top of the world. From the summit I headed into the gift shop and bought a few tourist pieces to take home as gifts.

Across the parking lot is the Deep Gap Trail which heads roughly north towards the second highest peak in North Carolina (and the east coast), Mount Craig. This trail is very well maintained with a crushed rock footbed for maybe a quarter mile. The Deep Gap Trail never becomes as bad as the Old Mitchell Trail between Mt Mitchell and Mt Craig, however it does become more wild as it progresses northward. Mt Craig offers some beautiful stony outcroppings at the summit and another of my now addicting finds: USGS summit markers. It really is amazing how fun it is to summit mountains and find those little copper plates in the rock.

Since Mount Mitchell State Park is a state park, camping and fires are only allowed in designated areas. This park contains several of the highest peaks on the east coast, maybe more. A weekend peakbagging trip would be well worth the time. Just be aware of getting overnight parking permits and backcountry camping permits, etc. Enjoy the highest points on the east coast, friends!

Happy Trails!

Look for Park Hours here.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Men's Pearl Izumi Peak XC Light Trail Running Shoe Review

I was privileged enough to receive a pair of Pearl Izumi's Peak XC Trail Running shoes this spring while living back in Michigan. I used them almost every time I ran, covering 5K distances right out of the box, comfortably. The first time I put them on, I could notice the incredible shock absorption and cushion, not just in the heel, but also on the balls of my feet. While my running schedule has been shot to pieces since taking my summer camp counselor job, I still love the shoes.

Pearl Izumi Peak XC on top of Cold Mtn, NC
The body of the shoe is made from extremely porous mesh of several layers. Even in a light rain, water easily splashes through to my socks from the smallest rain droplets. The mesh on my left shoe tore a little the other day as I was hiking the Cold Mountain Trail in NC and accidentally kicked a stick with the side of the shoe. The stick caught in the mesh material and tore a small hole in the outer layer. The hole has not widened or been a problem in any way, however.

The shoe has a lot of reflective material. Pearl Izumi made this shoe show up in the headlights, that's for sure. The PI logos show up pretty well in the light and a lot of the stitching and shoelace loop webbing is reflective. Even the fabric on the tongue of the shoe shines pretty brightly. Also the silver rubber piece that travels up the middle of the toe of the Peak XC shoe is reflective. There's a reflective PI on the heel of the shoe, as well.

My favorite part about the Pearl Izumi Peak XC Trail Runner? The tread on the shoe. The front half of the Peak XC has aggressive rear-facing teething that really bites into any surface. It makes these shoes great for running, trail running, or hiking. I use them for backpacking religiously down here in North Carolina. I can always rely on the Peak XC to grab whatever terrain I decide to plant my foot on.

One of the best parts about this shoe is that if (and when) it gets wet, you only need remove the insole and let dry. I have gotten this shoe soaked through from mountain biking, backpacking, and work. Every time I've removed the laces, opened up the shoe, removed the insole and let dry. It only takes 24 hours or less to be thoroughly air dried. Then I brush out whatever mud or dirt might be left dried in the shoe, lace it back up, and go. The Pearl Izumi Peak XC shoes are also very lightweight. Most of the time I don't even remember I've got them on. I love the lightweight mesh body because these shoes are still comfortable even on 90ºF mountain days when the humidity must be over 100%.

The Pearl Izumi Peak XC shoes receive a 5/5 stars from me. They are very supportive, lightweight, breathable, have great traction, comfortable, and look sweet. Look for a Pearl Izumi Iso Seek IV WRX review soon, also.

Happy Trails, friends!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Diamond Brand and Frugal Backpacker Stores

As a poor college student and summer camp councilor, I often find myself obsessing over prices of outdoor gear. In a market where profit margins must reach into the 500% range, outdoor gear is not cheap to invest in. I often find it mind blowing that the simplest of outdoor clothing: a breathable T-shirt, often run upwards of $50, advertising the newest wicking and quick dry technology. It's a tricky market to navigate and often the only way to become aware of what prices really are reasonable for what you're buying into is experience it yourself. I spend a lot of time in the stores, poking around online stores like, reviewing and reading reviews, and talking to others in the outdoor industry. I have developed a pretty intrinsic sense of what's about right price-wise for most pieces of gear. If you don't know your way around the outdoor market, though, you're in luck. The Diamond Brand Outdoors and Frugal Backpacker (sister stores) in Fletcher, NC have got you covered.

I've visited North Carolina many times throughout my life (most of which I've lived in Michigan). Each time I come down to do some backpacking in Pisgah National Forest, I make a foray in to Fletcher to stock up on gear at the Diamond Brand and Frugal Backpacker. The staff at both stores are always very helpful. I've been living in Hendersonville, NC for the summer, working as a camp councilor for Kanuga Conferences and thoroughly enjoying the benefits of staff discounts.

Diamond Brand carries a full line of backpacking, climbing, and kayaking gear and clothing. They have a great selection of footwear, dozens of varieties of Keens, Chacos, and Vibram Five Fingers. Webbing by the foot at reasonable prices. Staff are always happy to swap outdoor stories and will spend hours helping you try on every pack in the store until you find the one that fits you properly. They really know how to fit a pack, as well so it's easy to trust their opinions and choices. You can usually find some discounts weekly in the Diamond Brand store, but if you want really discounted gear you need to visit the Frugal Backpacker.

Literally located next door to Diamond Brand Outdoors is the Frugal Backpacker, a store specializing in (you guessed it) backpacking gear. They carry a lot of Deuter packs, Mountain Hardwear, and Osprey. You'll find the occasional Gregory, Mountainsmith, and Kelty pack as well. The backpacks at Frugal really are cheap. Often you'll find a pack with prices slashed twenty, forty, fifty dollars. Frugal Backpacker also carries footwear at low prices, usually overstock and last season's models left over from Diamond Brand's stock. You'll find cheap prices on sleeping bags, pads, and clothing. The selection here is a little more limited when looking for pads and tents, don't expect to find a Neo Air for $50. I recommend Frugal for backpacks and clothing, both of which they have in abundance and at low prices.

So far this season I've bought a pair of 5.10 rock shoes, some Keens, Suncloud sunglasses, a Snow Peak wind screen, a MHW 18L pack and some clothes. Using up that camp councilor discount while I've got it!

Pay them a visit at Diamond Brand Outdoors and Frugal Backpacker whenever you're in the area. Perfect staging area for any adventure into Western North Carolina.

Happy Trails and check out the YouTube Channel, new Cold Mountain video going up soon! Like us on Facebook!

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Shining Rock Wilderness: Cold Mountain Hike

I set off to summit Cold Mountain at 6pm on Friday, June 24th. After two and a half grueling hours of hauling my Osprey Aether 60 up from Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp (2650ft), I finally found Deep Gap (5000ft). I was concerned for a while that I had taken a wrong turn somehow since the Art Loeb trail (starting at the BS Camp) has no blazes. I camped for the night at 5000ft at Deep Gap. When the sun rose, I set off for the summit of Cold Mountain which would be 6030ft. It took me another hour and half from deep gap to the top of Cold Mountain, even though I left my pack and hammock at Deep Gap taking only some Mojo Bars, a GU Energy packet, my rain jacket, and the Nikon D3100 up the mountain with me.

Deep Gap
My primary goal was to summit Cold Mountain, while secondarily I was interested in searching for a crashed B-26 bomber from 1946. When I headed into Pisgah a few weekends back, I stopped in at the Ranger Station just outside of Brevard in order to pick up a map of Pisgah Ranger District. When I struck up a conversation about some of the best hikes in the area, one of the rangers got to talking about Cold Mountain. This lead to that and so on and eventually one of the rangers mentioned an old World War II bomber crash on Cold Mountain. He couldn't recall where the bomber had crashed, but called over an ancient looking park ranger. This ranger said he knew where the bomber lay and marked on my map, just a little east of the trail, just before the Cold Mountain trail turns sharply west to go to the summit. He claimed it was just about 200 yards off the trail, and I'd have to "crawl on hands and knees under the Rhododendrons to find it".

I got to Deep Gap around 9pm on Friday and initially didn't recognize it as the Gap. Taking off my pack, I found water dripping onto my shorts. I rifled through my pack to check my water bottles and found they were not leaking. That's when I realized my shirt had absorbed so much sweat it was dripping onto my pants. Needless to say I changed clothes, hung those out to dry, cooked dinner and ate it with my back against a tree as I was unusually paranoid about bears that night.

"COLD" Elevation
In the morning I made the hike up to Cold Mountain and passed two hikers coming down. They advised me to keep hiking up the trail until I found some good overlooks, saying that they had missed the summit on a previous trip because they didn't go up far enough. I found that there are several good camp sites just below the summit. Continuing through these, the trail narrows and is overgrown with raspberry bushes and low trees. It comes out about three times onto narrow rocky outcroppings providing unobstructed views to the south from 6000ft elevation before finally reaching the summit rock, marked with a USGS plaque. The plaque seems to indicate that the mountain is "COLD" feet high. I'm not sure why someone stamped "COLD" onto the plaque instead of the actual elevation (6030ft) but there you have it.

View from one of the Cold Mountain overlooks, facing south
When I got back down, I took off into the overgrown bush where the old park ranger had indicated the B-26 originally crashed. I searched for about an hour but gave up after tiring myself out bushwhacking on the side of Cold Mountain. I did some more research after I got back and found out there's a book published as "Cold Mountain Bomber Crash". Maybe this book would have the clues one needs to find the lost B-26, or maybe not. This Indiana Jones adventure will have to await another wild soul to find the lost B-26. All in all it took me over 7000 feet of vertical elevation change to yo-yo hike from Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp to Cold Mountain's summit and back again. This is not an easy hike, the trail takes ascents that are nearly hand over fist and the Art Loeb lacks blazes. The Cold Mountain trail is blazed with gold paint stripes but is easy to follow anyway. The trail is hard but the rewards are worth it. Are you up for a challenge?

Happy Trails!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Shining Rock Wilderness

The Author on top of Shining Rock
Finally, I made it out to Shining Rock in the Shining Rock Wilderness of Western North Carolina. Nestled within the huge Pisgah National Forest, the Shining Rock Wilderness surrounds the pinnacle of this attraction: Shining Rock. There are a couple of ways into this marble dome mountain, the route I chose and have walked before, was coming from Black Balsam's parking area where it's about a six mile hike one way into the wilderness. Or you could opt to park at the Ivestor Gap Trail parking area and walk the Ivestor Gap Trail until it meets the Art Loeb. The latter is the easier hike.

Looking down on Shining Rock from the top.
When you get to Shining Rock Gap, there is a series of confusing intersections of trails, of which, none are marked. You must take the north bound trail from here and you will find shining rock up a series of steep inclines, about five minutes away. The first signs are obvious, you'll pass a lot of marble rock scree once you enter the pine forest. The rock debris will increase in frequency until you finally arrive at a giant marble rock dome: Shining Rock. You can climb up from the bottom on the slippery marble, or you can follow the rock up from the bottom until you come across a few unmarked obscure trails that lead up through the trails to the top of the rock. Following the trails is, obviously, the easier route.

The view is amazing from the top of the rock. Well worth the hike. There's good camping spots around Shining Rock Gap where all the trails intersect. Not a lot of good water sources nearby, however. Just fill up on your way in though. This is a hike well worth your time and the Art Loeb, should you choose to follow it, has some great views from the top of Balsam Knob and Tennet Mountain.

Happy Trails

Friday, June 17, 2011

Working in the Outdoors

Somewhere between working seventy-hour weeks and hiking all weekend, I have been having trouble getting out blog articles lately. Really it’s not my fault, per-se, but more the fault of having so much beautiful land around me. Living just west of Hendersonville, NC I find my free time to be limited due to the siren song of the beautiful Appalachian Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the great gear stores that surround Western North Carolina. That being said, I have learned a lot, tested new gear, bought plenty more, and am still rolling through this wonderful dream of living and working in the outdoors.

It’s a dream that many have and few ever realize. To work without walls to hold one in, to live each day in harmony with the world around one, and to continually further one’s practical knowledge of outdoor skills. You might be asking, or have asked yourself at some point, “is it feasible for me to make a living by working outside doing things like canoeing, skiing, hiking, or teaching”. I’m here to tell you: yes it is possible and not hard to do. There are great rewards for those of us who labor through love to make our livings in the outdoors. There is something free out here in the mountains, teaching kids every day, living and working in the forest.

It’s not an extravagant life, no. Living and working in the great outdoors is not generally a well paying industry to find yourself in. Before you commit to pursuing a career or even a summer job in an outdoor setting, one must be fully prepared to face hardships and receive minimal tangible rewards for one’s efforts. The real rewards come in feeding the soul. There are those of us that simply cannot live life in a cubicle, and putting your feet on an outdoor educator or leadership career path will show your soul the path to freedom. It’s a busy crazy world we all live in today and it’s important to find time to seek our roots and calm the soul.

If this sounds like the goals you pursue in life then maybe you should pursue a career in outdoor education. There are many institutions that offer degrees in outdoor education or related fields and it is an intensely rewarding field of work. Imagine waking up every morning to lead a group of people on a hike up a cloud-covered mountain, or lead a multi-pitch route up your favorite rock. It’s easy to sleep well in this profession if not because of sheer physical exhaustion, the because of peace of mind. Each day is a privilege, not a right and to live life to its fullest is our duty. Get out there, find your passion, and live your dream.

Happy Trails!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Keeping You Posted

If you've been tuning in lately and not found much new content it's because my summer camp counselor job has started once again. Those of you in the industry are familiar with the 14 hour days and how precious little time one finds for themself. I've had a lot of great new experiences and used and tested a lot of great new gear. Expect to see updates coming out soon as I put the Adventure Lifestyle Blog back on my priorities along with great weekend hikes in Western North Carolina. I love you all, and stay tuned!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Free $50 Gift Card to Local Camping Outlet of Your Choosing!

You can win a fifty dollar gift certificate to any local camping outlet of your choosing through! All you have to do is leave a comment with this information:

  1. Find a related retailer on
  2. Tell us your Memorial Day Weekend outdoor plans
  3. Link to in your comment
  4. Be sure to include your personal email in your comment so that I can contact you if you win
  5. I will choose the winner based on the coolest outdoor plans!
"In order to be eligible to win, commenter must be at least 18 years old, reside in the U.S. and must not have won any Local Pages giveaways within the past 30 days. There is a one prize per household  limit per 30 day period."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How to Chose a Hydration Pack

Which hydration pack is right for me? That's the question I hear a lot. There are several factors to take into account and we will explore some basics of choosing a hydration pack. Our awesome sponsors Hydrapak will serve as our template for this discussion. We'll walk through a series of simple steps that will have you finding the right pack in not time at all.

1. What size hydration pack do I need?

    This is affected by a couple of variables. First is the intended purpose of the pack. For running shorter distances then you'll want to look at a light, small profile pack with a moderate water capacity. You're not going to be carrying much gear, and you don't want to carry extra water weight. If you're using it for day hikes then you will probably want a pack with a large capacity gear pocket and a large water reservoir. Choosing a pack for cycling will be dependent on how long you plan to spend in the saddle. For cycling, you probably won't need much or any gear space, so focus on a pure hydration pack the size of which is dependent on how much water you think you'll need to carry.

2. What features do I want?

The Reyes is a smaller pack
with straps to allow greater
flexibility for carrying gear.
    Hydration packs come in all ranges from a sling to hold the water reservoir to full featured backpacks. You might want to look for a pack with external straps if you want some flexibility for carrying gear. By having external straps you won't need to carry a rain shell in your pack (or an insulation layer as you strip down). This allows you to minimize the size of your pack but still carry a decent amount of layers for changing conditions.

3. Do I want a hip belt?

    My answer? Yes. This is up to you, though. Lighter smaller packs definitely don't need a hip belt. When you are carrying bigger hydration packs such as Hydrapak's Moro, which is a large day pack, you'll find that a hip belt to help support and stabilize is very necessary. Most come with sternum straps as well which is nice. Sternum straps keep the shoulder straps from slipping off and distribute the load more evenly on your shoulders.

4. Should I get an insulated tube?

Insulated Tube
    People often run into problems with water freezing in the drinking tube during cold conditions. I have been known to carry the hydration pack under my outer layer to prevent this freezing but obviously that only works with smaller, slimline, packs. At some point you will experience the issue of water actually freezing in the pack its self. When this happens then you're out of luck. However if you're having trouble with your tube freezing up then an insulated tube is a simple solution and a cheap investment. With Hydrapak it's easy to swap tubes with their Plug-N-Play adapter.

A few last notes:
    Remember your hydration pack will probably have lightly padded straps, you're not going to carry a lot of weight in it so don't worry. You can buy water reservoirs independently and put them in a pack that you already own, this might be a cheap flexible option for you. Look around for the cheapest pack that fits your needs, but I must recommend Hydrapak. I own both a Hydrapak (Moro) as well as a Camelbak and the Hydrapak is by far my favorite. It has become my primary day pack. Hydrapak's standard reservoir is also above and beyond easier to fill and use than Camelbak and their bite valves come with locking mechanisms so you don't accidentally leak water all over. It's a life saver.

Here's a review I did of the Hydrapak Moro.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

(Appalachian) Trails Days Damascus, Virginia

Today was my very first exposure to an exciting, chaotic hiking event known to the world as (supposedly) the largest hiking festival. Tails Days in Damascus Virginia is timed to fall each year right about when the majority of northward bound Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers migrate through Damascus. The majority of events take place on Saturday and include free showers (for stinky thru hikers), some free food (thanks to Jon from Ahnu Footwear), and a lot of backpacking vendors.

This is the event to attend if you want to sea all the best and newest in outdoor gear. Also most vendors are offering up to 50% off their gear. As you know I am frugal by nature with my purchasing of gear, but there were a lot of tempting offers. There were MSR Whisperlites for $40, Everyone has tents, sleeping bags, everything hiking on display and for use. I got to learn about a few new low-rep names in outdoor gear and I have to admit there were a lot of innovative and competitive designs by private companies. Big names like The North Face, Marmot, etc take a back seat here and instead you will see names like Hennessy Hammocks, Ahnu Footwear, Speer Hammock, Hyperlite Mountain Gear, Jacks R Better , and a lot of other great small names along with some big corporate names.
Vendor Booths

Apparently, and to my great surprise, the list of events for the day includes a town-wide water fight in which every resident and some couple of thousand visitors and hikers chuck water balloons and fire squirt guns incessantly through the streets with the Trail Days Parade. Luckily I was in the outfitter store when it all started because I had my Nikon with me (which I really didn't want to get wet) so I filmed some of the action. It will be posted as soon as I can upload the video.

Among the booty scored for the day was an Outdoor Research Swift hat that, for the day I've worn it, has been classy and comfortable. Also, a Hennessy Hammock Hyperlite Zip which will have its own article soon. Price of the backpacking hammock? $230. Would I pay $230 for it? That remains to be seen. However, true to the nature of Trail Days, Hennessy was offering 50% off all their products. That meant the cost came down to $115 and they paid tax. That's not all though, I got a stylin' Hennessy Hammocks T-shirt (why not?) and a SnakeSkin all for the $115. I couldn't pass up that deal!
Parade / Water Fight

If you want to hike the Appalachian Trail but still have some questions, or if you want to see and test some of the coolest backpacking gear then Trail Days in Damascus Virginia is the place to be. It's a great day of relaxing exploration right on the AT. By the way, Trail Days was officially the first time I've ever set foot on the Appalachian Trail. It won't be the last. Get there early to avoid parking traffic jams and park in the Food World parking lot about 1/4 mile from the event. From there you can easily walk in or bike in along the Virginia Creeper Trail and avoid the crowds.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Dual Survival" on Discovery, Funny and Informative...

This is a guest post by Daniel Beach of

Ok, so what is the big deal with just another survival show in the Discovery Channel? Can you really get any better then Man vs. Wild and SurvivorMan? Well, if you haven't had a chance to catch the show "Dual Survival" on the Discovery Channel you really need to put that on your list. Just ask your wife if she will let you stay up late one night this week. Before you think "yeah right" if you have seen one survival show you have seen them all, just people trying to start a fire with sticks and sleep in hand made shelters. Any self respecting survival show would no doubt include these outdoors men essentials, but this show has a little bit more.
A little run down of Dual Survival. The show has two stars, Cody Lundin and Dave Canterbury who tackle the great outdoors together as a team. These two guys are farther apart in their survival techniques and general lifestyle then you can imagine, but at the same time very good friends with plenty of humor. Cody Lundin is what you would call a minimalist and survival expert that uses primitive techniques. The best part of the show is that Cody actually attempts all situations without's very hilarious, especially when he walks on lava rock or on some cactus. It might sound mean, but trust me it's worth the watch. Dave Canterbury is more of your typical camo wearing American outdoors man. He's a tuff looking character with a big knife, what else do you want to know.

One thing I want to stress about this show is that it does seem to have a different tone then most other survival shows, and I watch them all. The two stars of this show have such a different view on survival with Cody wearing no shoes and Dave being so macho, that it is hard not to laugh at the situations and humor that comes through in every episodes. With all that said, this show is an awesome way to learn outdoor survival skills. Unlike other survival shows with just one person there is something about having two people working together and displaying techniques that seems to make the lessons come across clear, and make them easy to understand. I would recommend this show to any and every outdoors person, I think you will find it entertaining and informative. Have you seen this show? Do you like it, do you learn anything from it? How does it rate against all the rest of the survival shows out there?

Monday, May 2, 2011

RoadID Wrist ID Elite Review

If you're like me then you prefer the solitude of the wilderness to the life of the party. You would rather be planning your next backpacking trip and staying in shape on the off days running, cycling, and kayaking. Let's be honest, I know I'm not the most fanatical outdoors person out there. I'm sure a lot of you train harder and achieve more than I ever will. No matter your level of training or expertise in outdoor pursuits, we all acknowledge, at some level, the inherent risks.

RoadID Wrist ID Elite (orange)
People develop diabetes mellitus without ever having a history of it. Silent and unexpected myocardial infarctions are increasingly common occurrences. That's not even taking into account lost maps, freak thunderstorms, bear attacks, snake bites, broken ankles, and any of a million other wilderness mishaps.

According to Mike and Edward Wimmer, RoadID was born when Edward was run off the road by a pickup truck while training for a marathon. Without the proper identification, first responders cannot identify an unresponsive patient. As an EMT myself, I know how much of a set back it can be to not know anything at all about your patient. First responders rely heavily on a responsive patient's ability to relay pertinent medical history and specific details about how whatever current issues developed. A medic responding to the scene would have a completely different initial approach to an unresponsive patient with identification verifying a history of Type II Diabetes as compared to someone without identification whatsoever. Plus, ID allows the hospital staff to contact family. Useful in an emergency.
From RoadID's website

Now that we know why proper identification is a good idea, let's examine exactly how RoadID delivers ID to their consumers. You can either purchase identification that goes around your neck, wrist, ankle, or on your shoe.

I chose the Wrist ID Elite. It's an adjustable rubber wrist band that comes in eight colors. You are allowed six lines of space in which to customize what information your Wrist ID conveys. RoadID suggests several basic pieces of vital information to first responders, current medications and major medical history are two biggies! In order to adjust the size of the wrist band, you have to actually cut the band its self so don't cut too small or there's no going back.

The Wrist ID Sport is a fabric material.
I find that fabric wrist bands build up stink.
I have also lost velcro strapped watches
in the water, so I don't find velcro reliable.
I have worn my RoadID Wrist ID Elite for the last two months every day, all day. I've worn it in the shower, through the Red River Gorge, through Cumberland Mountain State Park, on miles of running, and during miles of cycling. The once shiny orange rubber wrist band now has developed what look like water spots but are barely noticeable. The stainless steel plate with engraved information looks like the day I bought it still, while the locking buckle on the underside has picked up a myriad of scratches (none of which impair its function). There has been no fading of lettering and I have no reason to believe that anything short of a belt sander would take off the laser etched words. The RoadID Wrist ID Elite is comfortable and classy, elegant yet subtle.

All in all, I like the RoadID Wrist ID Elite. It's a good failsafe to have and I like to wear bracelets anyway. It saves me from having to carry my wallet for identification purposes on long runs and day hikes. Probably a wise investment for anyone who often finds themselves in harms way intentionally or unintentionally. We all say "it won't happen to me" (I do!), but it's got to happen to somebody and the cold hard truth is that the world will still go on spinning even if that cold lifeless corpse goes unidentified. Don't let that be you.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wolverine iCS

What is iCS?

Fulcrum iCS (top)
Earlier model iCS (bottom)

If you've looked at Wolverine's boots this spring you've probably seen iCS. What does iCS stand for? Individual Comfort System. It's a soft rubber ring that fits into the heel of your boot and is slanted slightly on a gradient. This allows you to adjust how your boot feeds back into your foot. You can put the most heavily cushioned (thickest) part in any position (360º) to correct for pronation issues or cushion preferences.

What are my thoughts on this? I think it's wonderful! The Adventure Lifestyle Blog's partner Wolverine just sent me the 2011 Fulcrum boots (prototype) and man, are they nice! However I had an issue with some rubbing around the ankle cuff. A quick adjustment of the iCS wafer and the boots were wearing properly in no time. I don't know exactly how prone I will be to changing the cushioning setting from firm to soft on the fly, it just seems like a hassle that I won't bother with unless I really feel my feet screaming in pain. It's nice to have the flexibility of choosing exactly how your heel impacts the boot, though.

Notice that the iCS wafer is thick on one side and
 thin on the other, this is the principle by which it operates.
I gotta say I like the iCS idea and it seems to work to solve minor individual adjustment problems easily. I think Wolverine is really working to become a major contender in the hiking and trail shoe industry and the iCS system is definitely a 'step' in the right direction. Watch the video at the end to see exactly how the iCS works in your boots and how to adjust it for your personal comfort. Really it's just a matter of paying attention to how your foot is striking the sole.