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.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Outdoor Education VS Outdoor Recreation

Are you an outdoor educator? Or do you prefer outdoor recreation? See how you stack up against some of these criteria.

Outdoor Recreation:

You prefer to spend your day alone bagging peaks.
Prussik Knot

You can tackle a 5.10 route without breaking a sweat. You live for 5.11's.

You preferred gym classes in school and participated in a lot of competitive sports.

You travel and like to take rafting trips, visit major National Parks and spend time at beautiful landmarks.

You have organized groups of friends to join you on outdoor trips.

Outdoor Education & Leadership

You enjoy being in charge of groups who rely on you to lead them and provide for their overall wellbeing.

You prefer to share your experiences and help spread environmental awareness, appreciation, and understanding.

You liked natural sciences in school and stayed active in your own ways.

You hold certifications in wilderness medicine, have been a camp counselor, or guided tours.

What does it matter?

It really doesn't. However, as an outdoor educator and leader jobs like Naturalist and Nature Interpreter are right up your alley. You like to get into the biological and ecological aspects of nature and share your insight and knowledge with others. In Outdoor Recreation your focus is more on leading groups of people in technical wilderness settings such as mountaineering and whitewater excursions. 

Can there be an overlap? Absolutely. A lot of people (myself included) are proficient at, and enjoy, both educational and technical aspects of outdoor jobs. Usually, however, you'll find that each job focuses a little more on one or the other. Either your job will be more technical oriented, teaching climbing techniques and self arrest methods, or more educational, exploring natural ecosystems and habitats and their interactions. There is definitely a lot of crossing over in these two disciplines. As a trip leader or a guide it's helpful to have a feel for both disciplines as it makes you a more well rounded leader and educator.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Lightweight Backpacking Trend

The more time you spend reading about, writing about, and generally immersing yourself in outdoor culture, you will begin to see trends. I, for example, have noticed trends recently occurring in a couple of major directions. One major trend is a branch of running called Barefoot Running which I recently wrote about. Another trend is in the climbing world where Slacklining has taken fans by storm (it's fun, try it). The last trend I will mention here is Ultralight and Lightweight Backpacking which I will be discussing in some detail here.

In the last five years I have personally made a very rapid transition from hobbyist outdoor enthusiast to majoring in Outdoor Education, authoring a blog on outdoor activities, and testing all sorts of outdoor gear. As a poor college student I approach almost every situation weighing cost and benefit very closely. Something that seems to be a mystery to most outdoor consumers these days. My own perception of backpacking gear has been that a shift has taken place where people are more wrapped up in, and willing to invest in, new hyped up trends. Such as ultralight backpacking.

I've done some digging around and I think that you'll see these data trends reflecting some of my suspicions. Data for the following was taken from's Press Kit, as well as Outdoor Foundation's Research Participation Topline.

According to, "traditional backpackers" spend much less money on gear than ultralight hikers.

  • 62% of lightweight backpackers spend >$1000/year on gear
  • only 12% of traditional backpackers spend >$1000/year on gear
These ultralight backpackers also have a relatively high household income. Of lightweight backpackers, 58% have higher than $70,000 annual household income.'s research also suggests that lightweight backpackers influence other buyers by having a high participation in online gear reviews and being more likely to participate in face-to-face gear talk. Lightweight backpackers also have a tendency to shop at highly specialized retail stores. These stores (in my experience) have poor selection, biased staff, and highly inflated prices.

The recently released 2011 Outdoor Foundation's Research Participation Topline is rating hiking as the 5th most popular outdoor activity among people age 25+, with 22.8 million people participating in the US. With such staggeringly high participation, it's pretty obvious that outdoor lightweight specialty brands, products, and retailers have a lot to gain (your money) by keeping the newest, most expensive model of lightweight hiking gear hyped up for consumers to purchase.

Remember, do your homework before you buy. You can almost always find a better deal on gear online than you can if you walk into a store. Be careful who you talk to and what store employees suggest. Their interest is in your money, not your products. As a frugal shopper, and poor college student, trust me when I say it pays off to shop smart.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Barefoot Running Craze

What is Barefoot Running?

There is madness sweeping the nation. Can you feel it? What I'm talking about is the barefoot running craze that has taken hold of the running world and planted roots right into its face.

In the 60's, shoes started to get more padded. In the 60's, Abebe Bikila also set a world marathon record barefoot. It just so happens that the highly padded, technical shoes took the spotlight and became wildly popular. So, for the last fifty years, sports shoes have become more padded and more technical.

Now we have things like Sketcher's Shape Ups with wild amounts of padding and sole material pushing 2-3" of foam rubber between your foot and the ground. These shoes are supposed to be developed by careful scientific testing and studies to work in perfect harmony with your body so that walking doesn't inflict pain. I, personally, find them ridiculous.

In the last couple of years we've seen minimalist (barefoot) running come into the mainstream as well, though. Vibram's Five Finger shoes have exploded as a fad almost as popular among runners as Pokémon was among ten year olds. All of a sudden, really out of no where, barefoot running is being hailed as the running miracle. It's better for your body, healthier, less injurious, more back to earth, find your soul, be-one-with-the-earth kind of stuff. It really has the word "fad" written all over it.

So now we come to the crux. Where shoes padding is so extreme we get Sketcher's Shape Ups, but also so minimal that we get Vibram's Five Fingers. It's as if the silent battle between padded footwear and minimalist footwear has reached an peak of extreme differences. Now we just have to see which way the dice fall. Either we're going to see ultra-padded shoes lose popularity, or we'll see minimalist shoes take over the market as the new dominant footwear. I really don't think we'll see them coexist.

So how ridiculous is Barefoot Running?

It's actually a really cool idea. I totally support going "back to the roots" and running as our human ancestors must have hundreds of years ago when foam padded shoes didn't exist. A buddy of mine always used to walk around and run without shoes during the summer just to spite the "Man" and do something natural. I totally support that cause!

However, barefoot running today has become a marketing ticket. Barefoot running in today's craze means buying a pair of $80+ shoes (that's right, you need shoes to be a barefoot runner). The ultra-thin-soled Vibram Five Fingers (VFF) are hailed as the ultimate "barefoot" running shoe. I think you can all see the irony in that statement.

Why do people turn to barefoot running to change their running and health lifestyle, and then go buy a pair of shoes for it? I DON'T KNOW!!! I don't get it at all. From all the reading I've done, and all the recent articles and posts about barefoot running, everyone suggests starting slowly in your transition to barefoot running. Which means they suggest you wear VFF's for a year and slowly work up your distance and speed again as if you're learning to run all over.

Can I spoil this quaint little marketing scheme? Vibram is raking in millions of dollars off of "barefoot" runners who switch to VFFs. I love the VFF shoes, have a pair myself. However what I don't like is that people who want to barefoot run are going through these shoes. You don't need a pair of shoes to start barefoot running! In fact, it probably makes the transition take longer and be more drawn out then necessary.

Here's Casey's Barefoot Running Plan (that doesn't require you to buy and shoes, DUH!!!)

Week one:
Keep your normal running plan with normal shoes.
Add walking for twenty minutes a day on concrete barefoot.

Week two:
Continue normal running plan.
Fast walk for thirty minutes a day on concrete barefoot.

Week three:
Continue normal running plan.
Run 10 minutes a day on concrete barefoot.

Week four:
Continue normal running plan.
Run 15 minutes a day on concrete barefoot.

Get the idea? You might even want to just keep walking on concrete or asphalt, adding more miles every week for a few months until your feet build up the calluses. Oh, and by the way, don't get a pedicure and scrub off the calluses! They're there for a reason!!!

Disclaimer: My running plan was made up on the spot for the purpose of demonstrating the idea that slowly working up walking and running miles on concrete while barefoot in addition to your running plan can avoid the need for "barefoot" running shoes. Also, don't get pissed at me if your dumb self steps on a broken bottle. Yes, glass is harder than your feet ever will be.

What I'm really trying to say is: running barefoot doesn't require you to buy a shoe.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cumberland Mountain State Park

As of Friday, April 8th, 2011 I have visited Cumberland Mountain State Park. Once when I was too young to really take away any appreciation although I liked it enough to come back. Most recently, five days ago, I gave Cumberland Mountain State Park another visit as the beautiful first tendrils of spring unfurled at the tips of buds throughout the south. Heading toward the restaurant, you'll first encounter a beautiful arching bridge, damming up a river into Byrd Lake. The icy spring water spills out through these arches to continue away down the river.

In the park you'll find other amenities, typical pavilions and shelters, hiking trails, campsite, and a baseball diamond and tennis courts. You can read more about all of those here. All of this isn't much, though, in comparison with any other pretty park. What really sets Cumberland Mountain State Park apart from others is the rare restaurant.

It's not just another run down government parks building, this place is beautiful! Sitting high over Byrd Lake, the dining area provides a sweeping view of the natural area around you as you dine. Lunch and dinner can be had Tuesday through Thursday. On Friday one will find a delicious all-you-can-eat buffet of fried catfish, cinnamon apples, salad bar, banana cream pudding, ice cream, and every other delicacy one can imagine for less than $10. Saturday is the all-you-can-eat rib night.

 Want more information? Check the Cumberland Mountain State Park Website.

One of the more entertaining factors in the park is the pair of Canadian geese which have taken up residency and have a certain affinity for ice-cream cones. Of course it's ill-advised to feed geese ice cream cones, as these birds do not have the proper mouths for chewing such food... but sometimes you can't resist giving them just a bit! They will eat from your hand if you are gentle and unthreatening, a highly exciting experience for young and old alike.

The park has some nice hiking trails, as I mention. One of the trails even allows overnight camping, through it ranks among the shorter of overnight backpacking trails. You can find the trail map for Cumberland Mountain State Park here, though I think you'll find it of such poor resolution that it is essentially useless. Head into the restaurant and ask for a trail map. They've got some decent ones in there. The trails in Cumberland Mountain State Park are short, easy, and safe so feel free to toddle on out to the trail with the kids for an hour long loop around the lake to get that appetite ready for all-you-can-eat catfish!

This is really a great park to visit in the changes of season, spring and fall. It's beautiful to spend time wandering through the park before dinner and then watch the wildlife and beauty of nature as you dine over the water for an all-you-can-eat meal. And don't forget to find the side-trail that runs down next to the bridge where you can hop from rock to rock at the base of the short waterfalls.

Happy trails.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spring Buds in Michigan

I've always loved nature photography. At times in my past I've found myself required to photograph nature for various topics. Most recently I compiled a list of wild edible plants of Mid-Michigan in the summer. By no means comprehensive, but fun. At the time I shot with a Nikon CoolPix S550 point and shoot.

Recently I decided that my interest in photography and my unique opportunity to share my creative photography with my readers justified purchasing a Nikon DSLR D3100. I have loved this camera since I put my hands on it a month ago. Now I've had time to learn the camera a little and play around with post processing techniques, mostly in iPhoto, I feel it's time to start sharing with my readers. 

Expect some good shots coming up as I will be in Tennessee for the rest of the week enjoying the spring weather and running through the woods like a mad-man taking photographs of all the beautiful scenery. 
I hope to gather an organized assortment of my best shots in the Photo Gallery page soon. Due to recent technical errors, the pictures in there are all messed up currently. 
Stay tuned for more!

Click the images for full size view. You will be impressed.