How a Jogging Stroller Saved My Outdoor Life

Being a new parent is hard, but being able to share your favorite thing with your baby makes it a little easier.

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When I got pregnant, my parents warned me, “You won’t be able to do the outdoor activities you love anymore.” Maybe that was true for them in the ‘80s, but they didn’t have a Thule Chariot Cross.

Before we got our Chariot, when my son Sam was 8 months old, life in Missoula was somewhat housebound and isolated. I longed to get back into the wilds again—without the hassle of hiring a sitter or carrying a breast pump—to reconnect with the person I’d been before this Mom role took over my life.

Who knew a piece of parenting gear would answer my wish? From Sam’s first outing in the Chariot, I knew it was much more than a fancy kid-hauler. It was our ticket to escaping the treadmill of day-to-day baby care to get out on the trail again. It was freedom, pure and simple. No other method of child conveyance is as comfortable, tough, and capable as this stroller, which has attachments for running, cycling, and cross-country skiing modes.

The Chariot quickly became a central component of building meaningful family memories. One that stands out was a backcountry cabin trip in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest when Sam was 18 months old: We buckled him into the stroller, loaded the rest with food, and strapped a Pack ’n Play to the top for our ski in. After two days of mellow touring and snow angels, we woke to a foot of fresh snow. The Chariot plowed steadily through the powder—me pulling, my husband pushing—while Sam snoozed inside, wrapped in sleeping bags. The trip brought back all the familiar feelings of exhilaration and escape—but better, because I was sharing it with my son.

The Chariot facilitated navigating another new parent challenge, too. When Sam broke his femur, it was the only stroller wide enough to fit his body cast, or rugged enough to bump over the trail to a wildflower meadow that finally made him smile. Its burly suspension lets my husband mountain bike Sam up a 5,000-foot peak in town for a morning workout. And that’s on top of countless everyday farmers’ market jaunts, daycare drop-offs, and afternoon hikes in the hills.

Sam is 3 years old now, and ready for his own bike and skis. Just in time, too: Baby sister Eve is just about big enough to stake her own claim to the Chariot. Backpacker

The Massacre at Max Patch

After crowds of campers trashed one of the Appalachian Trail’s most popular camping spots, guides, educators, and social media influencers ponder how we can do better.

The scene at Max Patch, NC on a mid-September weekend

Last Friday, Benny Braden and his friends made the half-mile trek up to North Carolina’s Max Patch’s lower shelf expecting a peaceful night in one of their favorite spots on the Appalachian Trail. When they crested the 4,600-foot, treeless summit, they realized they weren’t the only ones with that idea.

According to Braden, who is a hiking influencer under the name Plug-It In Hikes, Max Patch usually has no more than five campers at its peak at a time. But this weekend, he counted 30 to 40 tents.

Campers had left the bald littered with whiskey bottles, doggy bags, and other waste. An aerial photograph of Max Patch went viral this week, depicting the tremendous crowds on its peak.

“I just started bagging up trash,” he said. “By the time it was over with, altogether we collected five bags of trash, four pillows, three blankets, and one wagon with a busted wheel.”

Such scenes are becoming more common in wild places across the country. Under pandemic conditions, crowded outdoor spaces have become the new reality. According to Leave No Trace’s Education Director Ben Lawhon, in Colorado state parks alone, visitation has increased 33 percent due in part to COVID. According to a study Lawhon conducted for nine weeks between March and June with researchers at Pennsylvania State University, 40 percent of respondents envision that trend continuing after the pandemic winds down.

If new, typically inexperienced visitors are here to stay, Leave No Trace and local land managers are having to reckon with managing the additional impact and ensuring places don’t get loved to death.

Leave No Trace partners with the five largest federal land management agencies in the United States, as well as local and municipal entities in almost every state, to educate visitors about environmentally conscious practices. The organization has spread its message for more than 25 years, but as more and more inexperienced visitors venture into natural spaces, says Lawhon, director of education and research at Leave No Trace. “We’re having to think outside the box. A lot of the traditional mechanisms we’ve used to reach park and protected-area visitors just aren’t working.”

Lawhon and Leave No Trace haven’t done any in-person training or outreach this year, thanks to COVID. Instead, they’re using social media, in-park messaging, and virtual platforms to get their message across, but there are still plenty of examples of these educational attempts not connecting with visitors. Reports from the Naches Ranger District in Washington describe substantial increases in trash, human waste, and erosion in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest since the beginning of the pandemic, even with Leave No Trace practices being accessible both online and in the parks themselves.

Steven Reinhold of The Appalachian Adventure Company, who resides near Max Patch, believes that another potential solution is to increase infrastructure and amenities in wild areas. According to Reinhold, natural spaces like Max Patch could benefit from more trash receptacles, restrooms, and parking space.

“I grew up an Edward Abbey fan, and I know he’s probably rolling over in his grave in the desert because I mentioned putting in a bathroom,” he joked. “But at this point, I don’t really see any other way.”

Reinhold is also the creator of #trashtag, a social media initiative encouraging users to snap photos of themselves picking up trash and post them on social media with the hashtag. According to Reinhold, #trashtag has seen more than 50 million uses across social media platforms.

Braden, the influencer who spent much of last weekend picking up trash on top of Max Patch, is also a vocal supporter of using social media to raise awareness of the ethical responsibility visitors have to parks and protected areas. He feels that influencers like him “should be doing more to show and educate Leave No Trace practices.”

Further, Lawhon emphasizes the importance of combining lots of different strategies to manage natural spaces. 

“Restroom facilities? Great idea. Trash bins, recycle bins? Certainly can help,” he explained. “Is it going to fix every problem? Probably not. Could it help with a lot of them? Sure, but it’s got to be coupled with education.”

Reinhold and Braden hear that message loud and clear. On Friday, the two plan on hosting a cleanup at Max Patch, where Reinhold will roll out his upcoming initiative “Save Our Summits.” The initiative calls upon outdoor enthusiasts to hike to their favorite summits, create videos explaining how they can be saved, and post those videos to social media. The idea is to use the “Save Our Summits” platform to encourage tangible action in parks and protected areas, incorporating both indirect and direct forms of land management.

Reinhold hopes that “Save Our Summits,” much like #trashtag, will inspire hikers to take action on their own to clean up their local trails.

“Every area has their own Max Patch,” he says. “You know which places those are. Protect them before they’re loved to death.”

Despite the new challenges posed by increased visitation to wild spaces, Lawhon emphasizes that “When we can pull more people into the fold and get more supporters of parks and protected areas, that’s good for all of us who have a stake in the outdoors.” Backpacker

LNT Confessional: I Swam Wearing Bug Spray

Taking a dip in a backcountry lake? Stop and think about what you’re wearing.

Like any backpacker, I’m a sucker for a nice swimming hole on a hot day. I’ve taken hundreds of dips over the years—often with sunscreen and bugspray on. A few spritzes of insect repellent can’t do much harm, right?
—Backstroking in Bozeman

Dear Backstroking,

Insect repellent, sunscreen, and lotion can, in fact, contaminate water sources even in small quantities. DEET is toxic to fish and insects that live in backcountry lakes and streams, and sunscreen containing oxybenzone has damaged coral reefs across the world. What’s bad for fish is bad for you, too, when you drink the water that they swim in.

Leaching all your sprays and creams into that lake means it’s less pristine for the next hikers looking to quench their thirst. But, relax: It’s still OK to go swimming. Just don’t take the lotion with you (solar shower, anyone?). Where fresh water is scarce, think twice before taking a dip.

Do the Right Thing

If you use sprays or lotions, treat yourself to an on-land bath at least 200 feet from shore before your next backcountry soak. And, if you’re a frequent ocean swimmer, invest in some reef-friendly sunscreen. You can’t scrub years’ worth of micro-contaminants from all those lakes and rivers, but you can set a good example to other hikers who take the plunge. Cannonball!

Got an LNT confession? Email

For more information about reducing your impact, visit Backpacker

Deal of the Week: Klymit KSB 0°F Down Sleeping Bag

A sweet deal on a spacious mummy bag

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Mummy bags aren’t known for their spaciousness, but the KSB 0°F offers plenty of room thanks to stretch-stitched baffles that can accommodate restless sleepers. Toggles on the bottom allow the bag to comfortably fit people both tall and short, which also makes it a good choice for kids hitting their growth spurt. And while buying a 0°F bag is usually an expensive proposition, the KSB is now on sale at Backcountry for $209.96, 30 percent off its retail price. 

Get gear reviews straight from readers like you with Gear 360. Backpacker

Decathlon Quechua 2 Second Easy Fresh & Black

This tent’s up-in-a-flash setup makes it a great car camping shelter.

Gear 360 gives consumers the best available product information all in one place, through independent editorial and reader reviews, and verified consumer ratings. Brands pay a fee to be included in the Gear 360 program but have no influence over the reviews or scores we publish. We may earn a commission on purchases made through our site.

BACKPACKER Gear 360 Review

Setting up your tent in couple of minutes is a feat to brag about. But a couple of seconds? That’s even more impressive. The 2 Second Easy Fresh & Black makes that distinction attainable with its unique pull-string design: The shelter comes pre-assembled and folded—yes, including poles—and all you have to do is pull two ripcords to stand it up (you will have to stake it out, though). “It took longer to unfold the tent from the bag and lay it on the ground than it did to set it upright,” one tester says. When you’re ready to take the tent down, simply push two buttons near the cords and the tent collapses. Instructions on how to properly fold the tent back up are straightforward, and you won’t break a sweat getting it back into the large stuffsack.

Don’t be fooled by the easy setup, though: This freestanding, double-wall, two-door tent is no gimmick. We found that the 2 Second can handle moderate rain and wind just fine thanks to a PU-coated polyester fly, and pop-out vents in the top kept the inside free from condensation on a 50°F night near Creede, Colorado. “It rained for most of the day, with wind gusts up to 15 mph, but no water got inside and there was no flapping material,” our tester reports.

Other smart features include a fly that’s white to prevent the tent from absorbing heat—it remained noticeably cool on a sunny, 80°F day in Colorado’s Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area—and a blackout interior that blocks sunlight for midday naps or late-morning starts. The 2 Second’s floor space (32 square feet) is on par with most two-person car camping tents and provides ample room for two sleepers, though you’ll likely have to keep gear in the two vestibules or your car. The shelter also has three interior mesh pockets and a small clothesline that comes pre-hung across the top; a 43-inch peak height meant we were able to sit up comfortably while changing clothes.

At a bit more than 10 pounds the 2 Second is definitely a car camping shelter, but its simplicity of setup and agreeable price point make it a great pick for frontcountry basecampers.

Consumer Reviews from Around the Web

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Bill Delvaux: At first glance, I was intrigued by the tagline of the two-second setup and the pull-cords that pop the tent up. On a trip to Tennessee’s Montgomery Bell State Park, I pulled it out of my truck as the dusk deepened and wondered if it really was as easy as it sounded. I felt a twinge of anxiety. But I quickly had the tent up and stakes in the ground. I not only felt relieved, I felt glad to be out camping again after a long hiatus.

I like that the instructions are simple and everything is included. The ease of setup is the reason to buy this tent: Once you see how it works, it is literally up in seconds and down almost as fast. For a two-person tent there is plenty of leg- and headroom, and helpful features include interior pockets and a roof clothesline. However, the zippers were a bit hard to use, and there are no tie-backs for the doors. I would still recommend this tent to someone who would like a car-camping tent that’s easy to set up and take down with plenty of room. Backpacker

For Members Only: Utah’s San Rafael Swell

An insider’s guide to San Rafael Swell, UT

A consensus on protecting any single plot of land in the west is a rare thing. But the San Rafael Swell—a 75-mile wide rock dome filled with ragged mesas, deep canyons, and soaring “reefs”—was beloved enough by every interest group to become one of the largest beneficiaries of 2019’s Dingle Conservation Act. Now pieced together by a slew of new wilderness areas and the just-established San Rafael Swell National Recreation Area, the oft-forgotten region is ready for the next generation of desert explorers. Here’s an exclusive look for Basecamp members. By Ryan Wichelns

The Insider

Mike Kelsey is a household name for Utah hikers—his guidebooks are near standard-issue for anyone exploring the state’s mountains, canyons, and rivers. Born and raised there, he began writing shortly after graduating from college and has now published 17 guide and history books for every corner of Utah, based almost entirely off his own experiences in each location—including four editions covering the San Rafael Swell. “I’ve got more words than I have space,” he said.

Into the Maze

“Little Wild Horse Canyon, Utah” by TRAILSOURCE.COM is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The soaring red reefs and scattered towers visible as you look across the Swell are only one small part of the area’s beauty. According to Kelsey, some of the most awe-inspiring parts of the Swell are hidden below the surface, in subterranean channels and slots. Bell Canyon and Little Wild Horse Canyon, linked together in an 8.1-mile loop, are some of the most spectacular, and an accessible option for budding canyoneers. Pay special attention to the forecast before heading into any of these canyons—flash floods can be deadly. Starting from the Little Wild Horse Trailhead, hike a half-mile north to where the canyons split. Kelsey recommends heading into Bell Canyon (the western of the two) first to make routefinding easier. Hike under tall cliffs and over a handful of short, nontechnical scrambles until reaching a dirt 4×4 road near mile 2.5. Turn right, following the road until you see a sign for Little Wildhorse Canyon on the right at mile 3.9. Little Wildhorse is narrower than Bell—“If you’re carrying a big pack through [the third and lowest slot], you might have to take it off and drag it,” said Kelsey—and features similar scrambley pouroffs while snaking through vertical waves of red Navajo sandstone. Follow Little Wildhorse back to its confluence with Bell and make a left to return to the trailhead at mile 8.1.

Hidden Splendor

From above, the canyon known as “Goblin’s Lair” or “Chamber of the Basilisk” might not look like much more than a 4 to 6 inch hole in the earth. But if you walk 1.2 miles (one-way) along the Carmel Canyon and Molly’s Castle Overlook Trails, the unique sealed slot opens up into a deep chamber with arched cathedral-like ceilings. The canyon floor is completely walkable, which Kelsey said makes it the perfect short hike for families. More experienced canyoneers can head southeast from the same trailhead to the other side of the cavern and make an 80 foot rappel into the abyss, climbing out via the hiking trail.

Ancient Art

“File:HuntSceneNMC.JPG” by Scott Catron is licensed under CC BY 2.5

Climb above the canyons and spend the night on Sids Mountain, in the northern part of the Swell. Kelsey recommends a 2-day loop to the mesa-like mountain’s highpoint to find a historical homestead, native rock art, and views across the Utah desert. Start from the trailhead off County Road 705 (39.0665, -110.8558) and follow an old road down to the confluence of Salt Wash and Saddle Horse Canyon. Head briefly north up the wash, looking for petroglyphs on the west side, before climbing out of the wash to the east (near mile 1.5) on an old horse trail. The trail gradually ascends Sids Mountain as it heads east-southeast, reaching the 80-plus-year-old Kofford Cabin at mile 5.7. From Swazy Point, an outcropping a mile to the east, take in a panorama stretching from the northern Swell to the La Sal Mountains. Drop from the point into a sandy drainage to the northwest, known as Long Hollow, and follow it to a consistently-filled pool. Kelsey says the spot is frequented by cattle, so filtering the water thoroughly is important. Spend the night in this area, near mile 8, to explore a collection of caves and rock art not far from camp. The next morning, continue down Long Hollow before climbing out at mile 11 and following the rim south and west back to the original horse trail, reaching your car at mile 14.8.

Watering Hole

“I don’t drink or buy hamburgers, but I will occasionally buy ice cream cones,” says Kelsey. Regardless of which you prefer, Kelsey recommends heading into either Hanksville (on the Swell’s southern end) for a cone or breakfast sandwich before a hike at Blondies, or to Green River’s Chow Hound drive-in for a quick bite after coming out of the canyons.

Trip Planner

SEASON March-May, September-November PERMIT Contact the local BLM office. (Regulations are changing frequently in the area, best to ask for the most up-to-date stuff) CONTACT San Rafael Swell Recreation Area

MAP Backpacker

How to Sharpen and Maintain your Knife

Take care of this essential piece of gear.

In the backcountry, your knife is your best friend. From gear repairs to peanut butter spreading, you never know when your blade will save your hike. But keeping your knife or multitool functioning like the day you got it takes work. Follow these tips to maintain your tools so you can slice and saw for years to come.

Keep it Clean. 

No one wants pepperoni morsels rotting in the crevices of their Leatherman. Give your multitool a bath in soapy water after every trip. Open every attachment and dry will with a towel to keep everything shiny and functioning properly. 

Keep it Lubricated. 

If hinges on your tool feel slow or stuck, clean and oil the joints. Products like WD-40 work well; if you prep meals with your multitool, be sure to choose a food-safe oil such as Victorinox Multi Tool Oil. 

Keep it Sharp. 

A well maintained blade handles cutting better than a dull one, and keeps you safer by promoting better slicing and chopping technique. But sharpening your own knife can be intimidating. Follow these tips to keep your blade sharp and in good condition:

1. Invest in a sharpening stone. There are numerous varieties of knife sharpeners. It’s best to research which is recommended for your particular knife, but here’s a rundown of the most common types:

  • Water stones allow you to produce a very sharp edge in a short amount of time, and are great for reviving especially dull or damaged knives. These should always be wet when used, and require some time and skill.
  • Oil stones take slightly longer than water stones and require oil for sharpening, but they’re often affordable and effective at sharpening well.
  • Diamond stones and plates are long lasting and simple to use, but can be less forgiving than whetstones since they remove more material at once from the knife blade at once. This also means they sharpen fast.
  •  Other options like pull-through sharpeners, rods, and others are out widely available. These are variable in terms of price and effectiveness—we’ll focus on whetstone sharpening for achieving best results.

Whetstones come with a range of coarse to fine surfaces. Coarse stones are best for very dull blades, and finer stones allow you to hone in on a razor-sharp edge. If you’re serious about knife care, invest in a few different stones, as each serves a different purpose.

2. Sharpen. If you’re using a stone that requires water or oil, start by wetting it according to its instructions. Then, follow these steps:

  • Lay the knife flat on the stone, then tilt until the edge, or bevel, is flush against the sharpening surface.
  • Keeping the bevel flat against stone, push the knife across the stone away from you 8 to 10 times (or until you feel material buildup—a burr—along the edge). Apply light pressure, as though making a thin slice, angling the blade as needed to get the whole length of the edge.
  • Turn the knife over and repeat, this time pulling the blade toward you. The burr will switch sides. Make sure to apply the same number of strokes on each edge.
  • To remove the burr and complete sharpening, alternate one stroke on each side of the blade until you have an even edge. You may switch to a finer stone at this point for extra sharpness.

3. Do your research. Some knives require special care or sharpening techniques. Read your owners manual or instructions on the manufacturer’s website for care tips specific to your knife or multitool. Backpacker