When I was in high school, in New England, myself and my friends were outdoorsy. We sought out lakes, woods, and ocean shorelines instead of shopping malls and bars. For my 19th birthday, I wanted to camp. I asked my friends to drive to the beach, pitch a tent, and roast marshmallows over a Dura-log. For my 23rd birthday, I hiked the tallest mountain closest to my home state, instead of buying a new dress and club hopping. I didn’t know about Leave No Trace. Or about proper food storage. Or how to dress or what to pack to venture outside. I simply put on some tennis shoes and a pair of jeans, carried a plastic water bottle in my hand, or nothing at all, and went for a hike. All I knew was that I liked to be outside, and that was all I needed to know.
At the top of Mt. Alander in Copake Falls, New York, before my move to Colorado.
It wasn’t until I moved to Colorado that I was exposed to a particular lifestyle known as ‘outdoorsy.’ Most people move to Colorado for access to the mountains, rivers, and forests, so it’s no surprise that since I’ve moved to Colorado, I’ve become more active outdoors. You might say that I “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid” all the things I did in New England. And yeah, everything in Colorado is on a bigger scale, literally, than it is in Connecticut. My hikes are longer, higher in elevation, sometimes harder for this reason, my campsites more remote, the clothes I wear might be capilene instead of cotton. The reaction, “You’re so outdoorsy!” is now more and more common. So I’ve been thinking about this term a lot lately, and how we use it.
Pointing to Snowmass Mountain Pass in Colorado, the ridgeline I had just walked up and over that morning. Pointing with a trekking pole I borrowed from my wandering friend–first time using them!
Outdoorsy sounds…kind of cutesy by itself. But a lot of times, it’s imbued with a bit of awe or disbelief like when we express admiration for someone we think is adventurous or risky. We use it to describe people as part of the outdoor recreation culture or lifestyle too, like, “They’re a super outdoorsy family,” or to identify someone as not it, like “So-and-so isn’t exactly outdoorsy.” But I think this term can too easily create an illusion of experience, and even exclude those who are new to outdoor recreation, or have limited access to it. Unfortunately, “outdoorsy” has been seized by recreation consumer culture, crafted into a curated lifestyle that makes those of us who don’t own a Mountain Hardwear puffy, don’t live out of a van, and didn’t take a gap year in Patagonia, feel kind of left out.
For me, to be outdoorsy doesn’t mean that a person is fearless, or that she has the latest and greatest gear–or any “gear” at all. Outdoorsy definitely doesn’t substitute for actual skills like wilderness first response, ethical conduct like Leave No Trace, or years of training or experience. And finally, being outdoorsy doesn’t mean that any one person is inherently more likely to walk longer, try harder, or be open to new experiences–anyone can do these things. Too many times, I’ve heard someone turn down an outdoor experience, and say, “I’m not sure I’m outdoorsy enough.” This makes my heart hurt because I’d like to believe that being outdoorsy, at it’s most basic level, simply means that you enjoy being outside. We are all strong and capable, afraid and nervous, cautious and adventurous, and we can all be outdoorsy if we want to be.
In my book, you qualify as outdoorsy if you follow one of the pillars of Nick Offerman’s 10 Tips for a Prosperous Life:
In 2015, the 14ers in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains alone, endured the pounding feet of 72,000 hikers! Saturdays are the most popular peak bagging days by 30%. On a given summer Saturday, a popular peak like Grays or Torreys can experience up to 1,200 hikers between 6am and 2pm! We expect crowds at summertime amusement parks and beaches–it comes with the territory–but in the wilderness? Needless to say, people are surprised, grumpy even.
Check out this long line of hikers on a summer Saturday on Quandary Peak’s trail!
Everyone in pursuit of a peak summit wants an outdoor adventure, a break away from society, an experience with nature, and popular hikes can present challenges to that ideal experience. You can see how sharing the trail becomes a shared responsibility that requires the patience of everyone. For example, you might have to adopt a slower pace or stop more frequently to let uphill hikers pass. But should you have to tolerate the audible sound of music from fellow hikers’ portable speakers?
Last weekend, I did trail restoration work with the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative on Quandary Peak. I stopped working to move aside for hundreds of hikers throughout the day, many of them sporting backpacks with built-in speakers or portable speakers clipped to their packs. Their hike was soundtracked by their personal choice of jams. I heard Tim McGraw, Drake, and The Lumineers. Music can be a comforting and motivating companion on a hard climb to a summit. Who doesn’t want to get pumped up with their favorite song, or compile the perfect, epic playlist for your badass summit soundtrack? I definitely caught myself doing a little dance to someone who walked by playing a Chvrches song.
But some of my fellow volunteers balked. “Seriously?” they said, as these people partying on the mountain passed. On a summer day, in Colorado at least, your epic soundtrack is suddenly forced on the ears of hundreds of other people too, and while some of them might dance or sing along with you, others might view the jam session as bothersome noise. I’m not going to lie: I had this same thought.
Trails aren’t meant to be wide for a reason so it can get tight with so many people and their pups.
After thinking about this issue, I decided to ask other outdoorists their thoughts on Instagram: What’s your opinion of music on the trail?
I thought I’d receive a lot of negative feedback, but many people viewed music as a positive experience in the outdoors. Some even said that they’d rather someone use portable speakers than hike with headphones because it’s safer–using headphones, they said, could make you dangerously oblivious to your surroundings and to nearby wildlife. That’s an interesting perspective! I think it’s awesome we’re looking out for each other!
Here’s what some rad outdoor adventurers from all over the world had to say about the issue, on Instagram.
Portable Speakers on Hikes: An IG Survey
ImKathleenFrank I think it’s a tough call! I prefer to be surrounded by nature out on a trail. It’s where I go to get away from social media and the usual buzz, but if someone is having fun with their music out on the trail, I try to just of with the flow and enjoy it. Part of the adventure!
InternationalHobbyist It would annoy the hell out of me. Fortunately not a trend that’s hit Switzerland yet…
meredithgoesoutside I’m with the use headphones crew. I get out in nature to break away from the city and people and noise of everyday life. If you have to bring that with you and project it into nature I feel like you’re missing the point of being out there, or at least messing with my enjoyment of it. Music can be a great motivator when you’re working your body hard, and I understand that (I need it when I’m running hard and need to distract myself from how difficult it can be), but keeping it to yourself is more respectful!
Patrick_Bodnar I don’t mind people listening to music as long as it’s at a reasonable volume. If music helps you, use that, just don’t blast it and potentially ruin somebody else’s hike!
PrepareforAdventure On the other hand, I’d rather the speakers than thme listening to headphones and not be able to hear anything around them!
FeetontheMap Depends on the music. I love listening to Tibetan songs in the Himalayas.
The line of hikers look like a line of ants moving along the ridgeline at 13,500ft, almost to the summit of Quandary Peak!
Sound Off: What’s Your Opinion?
Overall, it seems the common consensus was: If you’re going to listen to music, please use headphones so as not to disturb the sounds of nature for others.
So, do you think broadcasted music could be considered noise pollution? Do you think it’s everyone’s right to hike the way they want? Could hiking with headphones be dangerous? Let’s continue the conversation! Leave a comment, and remember to be please be nice.
Does the scene of Chris McCandless picking the wrong potato plant haunt anyone else’s trail nightmares like it does mine? Each time my project crew leader, Marchand, plucked a plant from the side of the trail, I had to resist the Into the Wild urge to slap her hand away and yell, “Don’t do it!” Turns out, Marchand knows a lot about plants, way more than Chris McCandless probably did, and it was a relief to learn how to recognize edible plants for wilderness survival.
If you find yourself in need of some vitamin C, sunblock, or pain killer, you can actually find these trailside, in the flora at your feet!
This is me, with my boots strapped to my pack because they bruised my ankles. Here’s the post about the gear that was dead weight, and the gear I couldn’t have left home without.
On the third day into our trip, we hiked herbicide sprayers to Bar Meadows where the noxious weed, leafy spurge, had grown rampant, threatening the security of the soil and the habitat of other flora. As we hiked along, our companion, Mike, fell a bit behind, cursing under his breath. He had sliced his palm open on a rough edge of the sprayer. Without hesitation, Marchand picked a soft, fluffy, fern-like plant with clusters of tiny white flowers, from the side of the trail. She munched and chewed on it good, and then like a mama bird, spat it out, and pressed the wad of saliva-greens onto his bleeding palm, and said, “That should stop the bleeding soon.”
Sure enough, Mike’s cut had basically healed by the end of that day because yarrow is a first-aid hemostat; a powerful, fast-acting coagulant! Marchand is maybe less like a mama bird, and more like the Greek hero, Achilles (hence Achillea!). Achilles used yarrow to staunch the flow of his bleeding foot soldiers too.
This unsuspecting plant and its rough, sandpaper foliage will likely sting you if you happen to brush up against it. But! Stinging nettle is sometimes called “the starvation plant” because, once cooked, its leaves and roots are not only medicinal, but nutritional.
Forget the potato plant. Stem the heart-shaped leaves and cook them, and now you’ve got a delicious edible green, similar to spinach! You might even decide to add these cooked leaves to your green smoothie at home to provide a herbal remedy for allergy relief. If earthy-green smoothies aren’t your thing, you can easily brew some Nettle Tea instead, at home or on the trail.
Here is an excellent recipe and article about how to properly identify, harvest and brew nettle!
Subalpine Fir Tree
The Rocky Mountain fir is one of my favorite subalpine trees–I even have a tattoo of it! The needles of this fir are different from other pines because they are flat and soft, rather than round and sharp. At the tip of the narrow conic crown, you’ll find brand new, bright neon-green, baby needles. These contain a punch of Vitamin C, so if you’re feeling a little under the weather and need a boost, chew on some subalpine fir.
The inner bark, leaves, and buds of Aspen trees contain fair amounts of populin and salicin. These two natural ingredients are synthesized in your bottle of Tylenol at home. (Aspirin, Aspen. Populus, populin. See the connection?) To apply the Quaking Aspen’s healing properties: Steep the inner bark or leaves in hot water for a tea that works like an over-the-counter pain reliever.
Another unexpected benefit of the Aspen is the outer bark. Its white powder actually makes an effective emergency sunscreen! Super handy if you’re hiking through exposed areas.
Not a picture of an edible plant, just a pretty one in the meadow at base camp in the Danaher Valley.
Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of these edible plants, so this is by no means a comprehensive field guide. But I was excited to share these neat-oh nature facts about edible plants you can keep handy, or at your feet, in your wilderness survival kit. A fellow adventurer recently told me that she almost always overpacks her first aid kit, but I think, better safe than sorry, right?
About a week ago, I returned from a backpacking and backcountry volunteer service project in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex in Montana. This was my first backpacking experience ever, so I had a lot to learn! While I was on the trail, I wrote a list in my field notebook of the backpacking gear I wish I had packed, and the gear I could have afforded to leave at home. This list will come in handy when I prepare for my next trip, and hopefully it helps you too!
Backpacking Gear I Wish I Packed
Not going to lie, the image I have of handkerchiefs in my head are tucked in the jeans butt pocket of kind, old men who use them to wipe their nose or cover a sneeze. But I wish I had one of my own each time Marchand, my U.S. Forest Service crew leader, whipped out her handkerchief for these reasons:
- To dry off after a creek bath
- To wick the sweat from your brow, face, everywhere
- To soak in cold creek water and wrap around your neck when you’re walking in the hot sun
- Even as a nice, wait for it…pee towel. Yeah, you read that right. Drip drying is cool and all, but dabbing is faster, feels cleaner, and swipes up collateral spray from your legs–let’s not pretend this doesn’t happen.
Bonus: Handkerchiefs are the lightest version of a towel you could probably bring with you on a backpacking trip.
Besides the fact that you can use duct tape for anything and everything (Once, I used it to patch a tear in my ThermaRest sleeping pad), duct tape is an incredible tool to have in your first aid kit. Most people use moleskin to help treat inevitable backpacking blisters on your feet, but duct tape works just as well, if not better! Rather than treating blisters when they appear, it’s better to prevent them by taping sore spots–places where you can feel a blister forming–with duct tape. The duct tape creates a friction barrier between your skin and your boot so that it’s not chafing and provides support.
Lavender or Rosemary Herbal Oil
Okay, I know, you’re on the trail, you’re dirty, you smell, there’s no point in fighting it, and besides, you kind of like it. I left my deodorant at home too. BUT. There are other essential uses for this herbal perfume on the trail.
- Alleviate muscle and joint pain with its its analgesic and anti-inflammatory magic properties
- Increase circulation to your throbbing feet, cramping muscles, and swollen hands
- Treat tension and stress headaches by dabbing a bit on your temples
- Calm mental stress and anxiety from a long day’s journey
I actually brought a tiny tin of Tiger Balm to rub on my sore back and shoulders in the evenings, but rosemary oil does the work of Tiger Balm and more, so I might try it instead next time!
Base Layer Pants
July days in the Danaher Valley are hot. Sweat-salt-lines-in-the creases-of-your-arms-kinda-hot. The heat seems to radiate from the ground up, especially if, like me, you’re hiking a decent amount of miles through devastated, barren burn areas with no shade or sun protection. The nights though are lovely, an occasional thunderstorm cools down the air.
So, I packed for summer. I packed for July. Makes sense, right? I didn’t expect the first night to drop into the 30s, and even though my sweet Marmot sleeping bag can keep my body pretty toasty at those temps, I was hurting for some comfy base layer pants around camp. This goes without saying but: be familiar with the weather patterns for your trip’s wilderness area, and be sure your backpacking gear is for all conditions, because you never know!
Backpacking Gear I Wish I Left Behind
Okay, now for the embarrassing part of this post. Warning, backpacking newb status, right here.
Yupp, I committed the cardinal sin of backpacking gear. I wore boots that I had never worn before on this trip.
Why did I do this to myself?
Simple answer: I ran out of time to test them out, before I left for the trip. I bought my Merrell GoreTex hiking boots, used, at a consignment gear store in Denver that I love. The boots that I’ve been using for eight years have no ankle support, are not waterproof, not even water resistant, and well, they’re Cabela’s brand (no offense Cabela’s, but I think we all know that brands like Merrell make better boots). I hadn’t invested in a hiking boot upgrade because I’m broke, so I thought a used pair of boots, already broken in, was a decent compromise.
I didn’t give myself enough time to test them out, and on the second day of my backpacking trip, I was that person, limping on the trail with swollen, bruised ankles. Take my lesson well learned, and know your boots before you journey.
Non-Adjustable Sports Bra
Without even thinking, I packed my favorite sports bra, just one, you know, for my trip. It’s an UnderArmour top with adjustable shoulder straps. I had no idea that the weight of my pack on the tiny plastic adjustable clasps would dig into my shoulders while I hiked. This one is easy. Next time, I’ll wear a sports bra that is well-fitted and seamless–no adjustments needed.
DSLR Camera & Tripod
Yeah, I actually hauled a full DSLR setup, my Canon Mark II and 35mm L-series lens, plus two batteries, and a tripod–about 10lbs of extra weight!–on my back for a week through the wilderness. Believe it or not, I actually don’t regret this decision. I was able to capture the most amazing moments of my first backpacking experience that I can’t wait to share with you! But maybe next time, I’ll stick with a GoPro.
Surprisingly, this second list is shorter than I anticipated. For a greenie in the world of backpacking, I didn’t do a terrible job of packing. I actually used all the gear I packed!
I’d love to hear the backpacking gear you can’t leave at home. Your Chacos? Ultralight camp chair? Sarong? I’m so glad I took my Kindle!
Help a newbie out in the comments below!
Little known river rafting fact: Much of the rigging and packing process is focused on the accessibility, safety, and cool storage of The Beer. This process requires some real problem-solving because nothing’s better than a river-water-chilled beer when you’re sun-soaking like a salamander on your raft. Sure, sunglasses, sun hats, and screen are the Three ‘S’s of river rafting heat protection, but a good beer, or soda-pop in Mike’s case, is by far the best cool-down tactic.
This is not a sponsored post. This is real river culture, folks.
As I sipped on a crisp craft Odell’s APA, and floated on a quiet part of the Platte River in Wyoming, I started to think of all the river rafting terms that conjured up ambrosial brews in my imagination. It was a fun way to pass some of the time spent hard-rowing through afternoon headwind.
Hope you learn a little something about rafting lingo, and get a kick out of these as much as we did!
River Rafting Terms for Craft Beers
The Bootie Beer is an unofficial rule of the river: If you bail from your boat or flip your raft, you must chug a beer from a fellow rafter’s rank footwear. Why? Some say it’s punishment for risking the safety of yourself or others in your group. When you flip, you swim to safety, often through rough water. The members of your group, too, might need to jump in and chase down your boat and gear as it rushes away down river. Once everyone and everything is safely back on shore though, a fun way to shake off the swim is to cheer on your buddy as he chugs that beer from your boot.
The Drag Bag
This beer would be appropriately named after the river rafting beverage container: the drag bag. A drag bag is a drawstring net clipped by a carabiner to the side of the raft. You fill it with your favorite canned beverages and let it drag alongside the raft in the river. So the river water keeps the beverages naturally cool! When you’re ready, you plunge your hand into the river, pull up the bag, and pull out a can. Although, the drag bag comes with risks. Rocks in rough water can puncture precious beers, which means your beverages might sink or swim!
When the surface area of the water , it makes a series of waves that crest and break in quick succession. Sometimes, they’re big enough to be low-risk rapids. Wave trains are fun, navigable by a beginner oarswoman like myself, and provide decent splashes. I can imagine a red Maravia bouncing over a wave train on a label for a wheat craft beer. Can’t you?
What’s your favorite float beer or beverage to bring on a river rafting trip? How do you keep it cold or accessible on your raft? What are the best river rafting beverage accessories? I’ve seen some pretty inventive ones!
As always, pack out your cans, be responsible when having fun, and stay safe, friends!