Ditch your stove, not your hot food, with these self-heating meals.
Going stoveless makes your trips much simpler, but it’s hard to resist hot food. OMEALS’ self-heating grub bridges that gap with this tasty dinner that don’t require you to bring a fuel canister. Simply drop the included chemical heating pouch and the ready-to-eat food pouch into the bag, pour in water, and seal; soon, you’ll see steam billowing out of the bag’s vent. Shortly after that, you’ll be chowing down on a toothsome vegetarian chili mixing corn, peppers, tortilla chips, and four kinds of beans. Downside: Because OMEALS are ready to eat, they’re on the heavier side. Buy OMEALS Vegetarian Chili now for $6 (25% off)
We know: You head into the wilderness to unplug and get away from your devices. But sometimes, having a way to stay in touch can keep you safer and let you venture out on solo adventures more confidently. This simple satellite messenger from SPOT is a great solution: A push of a button lets you call for rescue or notify a friend that you need help, while a tracking function (optional) lets you display your location for friends and family at home, but there’s no 2-way communication function, meaning you won’t feel obligated to check your texts. It can run for a whopping 17 days on four AAA batteries, and at just 4 ounces, it doesn’t add much to your pack. Buy the SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger now for $100 (33% off)
Good conditions and better timing make this Washington spot a gorgeous place for photographs.
What’s behind perfect light? Here, on Ptarmigan Ridge, it looks as if time and nature conspired to bring together just the right amount of mist and the exact angle of sunlight to make the magic happen. “As the sun started to set, a light breeze began blowing fog off the glacier over the ridge,” explains photographer Stephen Matera. Make your own magic here in midsummer, when the ridge should be snow-free. Leave Artist Point trailhead (recreation pass required to park; $30), trekking 7 miles on the Ptarmigan Ridge Trail to reach the alpine zone below the east face of Mt. Baker. Turn it into an overnight and post up at Camp Kiser (first-come, first-serve)—and you’ll have no excuse for missing the golden hour.
This rugged landscape is better than any treasure.
You won’t get rich going to the end of a rainbow, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find treasure. Like when it leads you to Mosquito Beach, a piece of rugged Michigan shoreline on Lake Superior. It’s accessible via the North Country Trail (near mile 12 from Munising Falls) or the 10-mile Chapel Loop (near mile 3), but no matter how you get there, plan to linger, says photographer Steve Perry. Spend the night (permit required; $5/person per night), and don’t miss the .9-mile spur to Mosquito Falls, which river otters and beavers frequent.
Never wrestle your pad again with these handy folding methods.
The Standard Roll
This method works best for most Sea to Summit, Therm-a-Rest, Exped, Nemo, and Klymit pads, plus other rectangular and mummy-shaped inflatables.
Step 1: Expel all air before folding. To do so, open the deflate valve, fold the mat into third crosswise, and use your bodyweight to push out the air. Be careful not to press your pad into anything that could puncture it.
Step 2: Unfold and flatten.
Step 3: Fold the mat into thirds* lengthwise and, beginning at the foot end, roll tightly. This squeezes out the air as you roll.
Step 4: Close the valve to seal out air and store in a stuff sack.
*Some pads should be folded into halves or even fourths (instead of thirds) lengthwise before rolling. The length of your stuff sack indicates how many folds are needed to fit it inside.
TIP: Use your wrist, fingers, or knee to squeeze out any residual air.
Step 1: After deflating, unroll and fold in 1/5 on each side.
Step 2: Fold in both sides again to the center before rolling.
TIP: Compress your pad’s foot pump by closing the valves and stepping on it.
The Big Agnes Fold
This method works for all Big Agnes inflatable pads, which feature a baffle design that’s best compressed through folding.
Step 1: Lay the pad face-down. Starting at the foot end, make a fold that’s a little shorter than the length of the stuff sack.
Step 2: Continue folding in this method, pressing out the air as you go.
Step 3: When your folds reach the head end, roll from the edge opposite the valve. Slide the roll into the stuff sack.
NOTE: Most brands recommend folding and storing their pads in a specific manner. Pay attention to how your pad is stored in its original packaging—if the manufacturer can get it that small, so can you.
Thru-hiking lingo isn’t just code, it’s a window into how people backpack.
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I was backpacking and ran into some thru-hikers who sounded like they were speaking another language. They were talking about “blue-blazers,” and “white-blazers,” and even “yellow-blazers.” What’s the deal with all these different color blazes?
Lost in Lingo
You aren’t alone in your struggle to understand thru-hiker jargon. Like any sport or subculture, long-distance backpacking is filled with a dictionary’s worth of terminology. But demystifying thru-hiker slang isn’t just about understanding words, it’s also about understanding the debate within the thru-hiking community over the “proper” way to hike.
The Appalachian Trail is marked with 6-inch-long by 2-inch-wide white paint marks on trees. These “white blazes” serve as markers to let hikers know they’re on the right track. In contrast, the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and other Western paths are usually not marked with painted blazes. Instead, they use metal emblems installed in trees and at intersections to keep hikers on track.
Blazes on the AT are carefully repainted every few years by the Appalachian Trail’s many volunteers. By some estimates, there are 165,000 white blazes along the entire Appalachian Trail.
When hikers talk about “white-blazers,” they’re talking about purists, people dedicated to thru-hiking or section-hiking past every white blaze on the trail. While a white blazing thru-hiker may leave the trail to resupply, they continue their hike by returning to the exact same spot. A white-blazing section hiker walks past every blaze over many years. When white-blazers finish the Appalachian Trail, they will have left their footsteps along the length of the entire, official AT.
When the white-blazed portions of the AT are closed, for example if there is a wildfire, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy designates an official detour. That is often considered to be the new “white blaze.” Even the ATC’s free Kennebec River Ferry has a white blaze painted on it. This means that hikers who canoe across the river (which is quite fun) are sticking to the white-blazed route.
In contrast, side trails and almost every other trail that connects with the AT are often marked with 6-inch by 2-inch wide blue paint marks on trees. These are called “blue blazes.” Blue-blazers are hikers that use side trails to go from one part of the AT to another, often as a shortcut or to avoid climbs. Sometimes, hikers choose to blue-blaze to catch up with friends they have been hiking with or because they need to reach a town by a certain date (for example, if they are meeting up with family or need to get to a Post Office before it closes for the weekend). Weather or snow conditions may be a factor, too.
Many white-blazers choose to walk blue-blazed trails as an out-and-back, such as spur to the top of Killington Peak in Vermont or one of the Presidential Range in New Hampshire. By returning to the same spot on the AT after climbing the peak (or visiting a waterfall or swimming hole), they still keep their purist cred.
Some white-blazers consider blue-blazers to be cheaters. Some blue-blazers consider white blazers to be uptight. This debate is part of the rich history of long-distance hiking culture. Regardless of whether a hiker white-blazes or blue-blazes, as long as they walk continuously from one terminus to the other, they still qualify for a Triple Crown Award given by the American Long Distance Association-West to hikers who have completed the entire length of the AT, PCT, and CDT.
Yellow-blazers, referring to the yellow median stripes on a paved road, is a term for hikers who hitch or get a ride. Sometimes, yellow-blazing is necessary (such as if a wildfire closes a large section of trail and there is no designated re-route). Sometimes, hikers just want a break. Like blue-blazing, some hikers will choose to yellow-blaze to catch up with friends or because they are running out of time and want to get ahead to a more scenic section of the long trail. Unlike blue-blazers, yellow-blazers don’t qualify for the Triple Crown unless they go back and hike the sections they skipped.
On trails in the West where painted blazes aren’t as common, you won’t hear the terms “white blazer” or “blue-blazer,” but “yellow-blazer” is still a common term. Less commonly, “yellow-blazing” may also refer to folks who walk a portion of a highway (marked by the yellow paint lines along a road). These folks are generally considered to still have continuous footsteps, though this kind of highway walking misses out on much of the adventure of a thru-hike (and is significantly less safe than walking trails).
Thru-hiker language is interesting and, like all aspects of culture, is always evolving. Sooner or later, you may find yourself platinum-blazing a flip-flop with an aqua-blaze in the middle.
As great as having a quiver of packs is, there’s a special place in our hearts for the do-everything pack: those Goldilocks packs that are big enough to haul weight, but light enough to make miles. That’s the Paragon 58 (women’s Maven 55) in a nutshell: Despite weighing in at less than four pounds, its hollowed-out aluminum frame and a hipbelt padded with 3D-molded EVA foam let it haul above its weight class. It’s durable, too. “I don’t baby packs,” one tester said. “I throw them on the ground, sit on them, overstuff them. After trips in the Rockies and Colombia, the Paragon looks like it will handle many more seasons of this kind of treatment.” Bonus: Use the hydration sleeve as a daypack. Buy the Gregory Paragon 58 now for $173 (25% off) / Buy the Gregory Maven 55 now for $196 (15% off)