Thursday, December 6, 2018

Gift Guide for Outdoor People

Here's my gift guide for outdoor people. I've used and tested all of these products while hiking, camping, backpacking, fishing or just hanging out. Some of the products like the hats or shoes might last me a season. Some of them like the fishing rod or pocket knife should last me a lifetime. These gifts range in price from about $250 to $10. Even though many of the items that I've shown are designed for males, almost all of the products have designs for females. So there is something for everyone.

So take a look and let me know what would make your list. Enjoy!

When I was a kid I learned to fish with a cane pole, line, hook and worm. It was such a simple way to fish, but also very effective. A trend in fishing that is bringing back simple fishing is the adoption of Tenkara fly fishing. Tenkara fly fishing is a style of fishing originally conducted primarily in mountain streams that only utilizes a pole, line and a single fly - so simple, so nostalgic. Anyone can do it and now novices and experts are rediscovering the joy of simple fishing. Any person that enjoys the outdoors would enjoy a Tenkara USA Sato Fly Rod Kit.

I've owned this Osprey Talon 44 backpack for a few years now. I've taken it on a thru-hike for 21 days on the John Muir Trail, backpacking in Big Bend NP and as a weekend hauler. The pack is made of lightweight ripstop fabric which strikes a nice balance between weight (2.4 lbs) and durability. It works great for loads under 30 lbs, but I'll admit that I've stuffed it up to 38 lbs. It is large enough to hold a bear canister, yet the compression straps allow it to be synched down for a weekend pack. What I really like about this pack is that the volume of 44 liters allows me to carry all that I need, while still being compliant as carry-on luggage with most airlines.

From day hikes to weekend adventures this Gregory Inertia 30 Liter Backpack carries a load. It has 30 liters of capacity which holds plenty of gear. If I'm traveling light, the side compression straps synch down the load to keep it controlled. There are a variety of internal and external pockets  for storing just about anything. To top it off, the backpack comes with a 3D 3 Liter hydration bladder. I like it because this pack weight less than 2 lbs., but can comfortably carry up to 30 lbs..

Run, hike, walk, relax? Altra Superior Trail Running Shoes are great for a variety of outdoor pursuits. These shoes are comfortable, light, supportive and offer excellent grip on a variety of surfaces. These shoes have a zero-drop and a natural footbed design which allow your feet to act and react in a natural way - similar to how your feet perform when walking barefoot.

Whether your adventures take you over land or water the Chaco Zcloud Sandals excel under any conditions. The Zcloud molded footbed is super comfortable. While the unique webbing design keeps  the sandals securely attached to your feet. In addition, the rubber and tread pattern provide secure footing over concrete, sand, dirt, mud, rocks and through water.

Relax. Enjoy a few minutes or a few hours kicking back in an Eno Sub 7 Hammock. This hammock weighs less than 7 ounces so it can be thrown into your backpack and taken anywhere. Find two trees or poles to set it up and you are ready to relax as if you were in a tropical paradise.

Go directly from the hotel lobby to the hotel pool in these shorts. The O'neil Hybrid Shorts look like traditional walking shorts, but they are also swim shorts. The material looks like cotton, feels like silk, dries like a synthetic and wears well. They look great as everyday shorts. They perform excellent as swim shorts.

Everyone needs a pocket knife. Whether you need to open a package, cut some string or file your fingernails this little pocket knife will get it done. In addition to a blade, file, screwdriver and scissor, this model includes a writing pen and a flashlight. If you're looking for an heirloom type of gift, this Victorinox Swiss Army Knife will be treasured for years.

Hoodies are no longer limited to urban street wear. They are now a staple of outdoorsmen. The Vapor Hoody Sunshirt's material is light for breathability, wicking for all climates, and the long sleeves and hood protect your skin from sun exposure and wind chaffing. Whether you are peak bagging, fishing the flats, hiking a long trail or simply spending time outside, this Vapor Hoody Sun Shirt got you covered.

Selfie sticks are out. Ultrapods are in. These little tripods are compact, lightweight, sturdy and utilitarian. They can support a mobile phone up to a mirrorless camera. For transport they easily fit into a pocket. They can be used alone for a ground level perspective. They can be strapped to a tree for an elevated shot. And yes, they can be attached to a hand held pole and used like a selfie stick.

Back in the day, if you thought that synthetic socks were a revolution; or more recently if you've been sporting merino wool socks; the evolution of socks marches on. Try a pair of Injinji wool toe socks. The merino wool keeps your feet warm when it is cold and cool when it is warm. The socks wick moisture, dry quickly and breath substantially,  In addition, each toe is encased which prevents blisters. Ok, if you are only grinding it out for a few hours you may not need these socks. But if you're thru-hiking the AT, or running an Ultra, or find yourself with soggy socks after a workout... you need these socks. Or if you enjoy wearing socks and sandals, these will surely irk a few of your friends.

What does wearing a trucker hat that cost $40 to $50 say about you. Does it say that you have style? Does it say that you have money? Or does it say that you are a little over concerned about your headwear? I like a hat that provides protection, breaths well and looks crisp. That's all. These Richardson Trucker Hats cover my needs, come in a variety of colors and cost less than $10.

Gear breaks, tears, rips and punctures, so you need something to hold it together. Tenacious Tape Gear Patches are the type of repair tape that duct tape uses when it finds itself in a bind. In other words, this tape is useful for repairs because it is super strong, adhesive and now even looks cool. You can find Tenacious Tape in rolls, stickers and these fun animal and outdoor shapes. Tore your tent, repair it with a pine treee. Punctured your puffy, repair it with a maple leaf. Snagged your shoe, repair it with a bigfoot.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

How to Find a Campsite at Any National Park - Frontcountry vs Backcountry and Reservable vs. Non-reservable

So, are you thinking of going camping in a U.S. National Park, but are confused about how to plan your awesome adventure and make a campsite reservation?

I'll try to explain some of the terminologies and policies in the following discussion. And I'll offer a special Troy Tip at the very end.

All of the U.S. National Parks have similar policies about camping, but there are often slight variations park to park. So, it is always a good idea to consult each park's website or call to speak with a Ranger.

In the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) there are typically Front Country (FC) campsites and Back Country (BC) campsites. Reservations may be made at

Frontcountry (FC) campsites are generally the sites where you drive-up in your vehicle (car, RV, etc), park in front of your campsite and camp in your tent or vehicle - often called car camping. Then you explore the nearby area. FC sites often have water, electricity and restrooms nearby, but not always. At FC sites you will almost always have neighbors (other campers) staying within plain sight (often only 50 feet away). Some people enjoy the community and amenities of FC campgrounds. Others seek more isolation from other campers and more rustic camping.

Backcountry (BC) campsites are generally the sites where you have to hike and carry all your gear, food and water to reach your campsite - often called backpacking. BC sites typically do not have any amenities except for a cleared piece of land and lots of wilderness. BC camping or backpacking requires a higher level of knowledge, skills and gear. For BC campsites there are sometimes specific campsites where you camp and sometimes there are just general areas where you camp - the wilderness. At BC sites you may not have any neighbors except the native animals and the stars at night. For BC camping you will almost always need to obtain a BC permit which you may obtain in person upon your arrival at the park at designated Ranger Stations. This BC permit is in addition to any campsite reservation that you may have made. The BC permit grants you temporary access to the wilderness and allows the NPS to manage access and resources. The Rangers will often speak with you for a short amount of time to inform you of current conditions such as weather, wildlife, water, resources, policies and Leave No Trace ethics. This is also an opportunity for you to ask questions and get some local knowledge. In many BC situations you may need to carry a "bear canister" to store your food and scented items. Bear canister policies help protect you and the animals (bears, pumas, coyotes, rodents, etc) from close encounters. You will likely need to carry in all of your supplies (food, water and gear) and carry out all your waste.

For FC and BC campsites there are often Reservable (R) and Non-reservable (NR) campsites. NR campsites are sometimes called "first-come-first-served" campsites.

For FC or BC sites, you should try to make reservations as soon as possible and up to 6 montes in advance. If you are able to make a reservation a campsite will be held for you up to 24 hours after the start of your reservation. If you do not show up with in 24 hours, your campsite may be given away. Sometimes a campground will hold your reservation for all the days that you reserve, but sometimes they will offer the site to other campers if you do not show up.

For Reservable (R) sites, when you arrive at the campground, you check into the Ranger station and will often be given a map and directions to your campsite. You will be given a receipt which you might need to place on your vehicle window or on a post at your campsite. If you arrive late or after office hours, there is typically an Information Kiosk (Announcement Board) where you will find your campsite reservation and location. You then find your campsite and set-up your equipment.

For Non-Reservable (NR) sites, when you arrive at the campground, you drive around the grounds and find an empty site. When you drive around you look for sites without tents and for posts without reservation signs or receipts. Then you either park your vehicle and/or set up your camp and/or have your camping partner stand at the site to temporarily hold it. Then you must find the Ranger station, Park Host or Information Kiosk where you fill out an envelop/form and pay with cash or check. Always bring cash in small denominations with you so that you have the ability to make change.  Once you fill out the proper form and pay you return to your campsite and place your receipt on a little post in front of your campsite.

For the Frontcountry NR sites you may stay at the site as long as you occupy the site or for the time period limit. Typically the time period limit is 2 weeks, but sometimes it is shorter. This is where the rules are sometimes different for different parks. If you are staying at a NR site you should leave your receipt on the campsite post. I sometimes leave my tent set-up or at least a camp chair at the site so that others may easily identify that the site is already occupied.

If you are staying at a Backcountry NR site the time limit is often 1 to 3 days. These time limit policies are designed to help manage the park resources and prevent long-term camping which often creates higher impact on the natural resources.

If you are new to "camping" I would suggest that you start with Frontcountry camping to learn and obtain some of the necessary skills and gear needed for Backcountry camping. Once you have more experience and the appropriate gear I definitely recommend trying Backcountry camping. I've always felt the best campsites, scenic views and natural beauty can be found in the backcountry.

You may also try a combination of FC and BC camping in which you stay a couple of days in the FC, then spend a few days in the BC.

If you are not able to obtain reservations at a National Park, consider staying at nearby facilities like private campgrounds, lodges, National Forests or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) properties and just visit the National Park during the day. Finally, if you expect to visit three or more parks during a calendar year you might consider buying an Annual National Park Pass for $80.

I hope that this information is helpful. Don't let a lack of a reservation prevent you from making plans. Get outside!

If you have read this far, thanks for your interest, you deserve a reward.

This is my Troy Tip...

If I am unable to obtain a campsite reservation at a National Park, this is the technique that I use to find a campsite. It has worked for me every time.

1. I travel light. Traveling light for me means that I travel solo or with one other person. This also means that I travel with "backpacking" gear - a backpack, small 2 person tent (or hammock), stove, food and water.

2. Show up early. National Park offices typically open at 8am. Show up early and be the first person in line to inquire if there are any last minute reservation cancelations that you can take over. If the office opens at 8am, I like to show up at least by 7am and wait in line. Also, Non-Reservable campsites are typically vacated at 10am or 11am. If you are not able to obtain a canceled reservation, you can drive around the campground and see which campers are packing up their sites. You may also look at the reservation receipts that are posted at each site to determine if a campsite is scheduled to be vacated. If you find a site that is to be vacated you can ask the current campers if they would mind if you leave a camp chair to reserve the site. Make sure that the campsite is a Non-Reservable campsite and not a Reservable campsite. Otherwise, the campers that have reserved the site may show up later and kick you off the site. Once you are certain that the campsite will be available, follow the proper procedure of filling out an envelope/form and pay for the campsite.

3. Show up late. Sometimes life happens and people do not show up for their reservation. Some parks maintain the reservation and the campsite will remain vacant. But sometimes the park host will know which sites will be vacant and make these sites available just prior to when the office closes (often 4pm or 5pm). Also, some campgrounds maintain one "special" campsite for people with disabilities, late arriving backpackers or emergencies. If you ask the park host nicely, they may offer you this special campsite.

4. Ask a dumb question. If I am not able to get a Reservable or Non-Reservable campsite I like to ask a dumb question. I will drive around a campground until I see a campsite with a single (solo camper) or a couple camping with a small tent. I park my car and slowly approach the campers with a smile on my face. I say something to the effect of, "Hello, can I ask you a dumb questions?" I wait for their response. Most people like to answer a dumb question because pychologically they feel that they will be able to answer it and most people like to help people. When they respond, "Sure!", I follow up with, "I've been driving a long distance and just arrived. I was hoping to find a campsite, but it appears that all of the campsites are taken. Would you consider sharing your campsite with me if I pay for your campsite fee for tonight? I just have a small two person tent that I could set up in a far corner." Be prepared and have cash. Most of the time the other camper will size me up and then respond, "Sure!". If they respond negatively, I just say, "thanks anyways" and continue to another campsite. If they respond positively I always show my gratitude with a big "thank you so much" and an expression of relief. Often helpful campers offer to share their site and decline any monetary compensation. After I've parked my car and set up my camp, I like to walk over to the kind campers and offer them a six pack of beers. And taa-dah I have a campsite and perhaps some new camping friends. Remember, this typically only works if you are traveling light and are friendly. Also, this does require that I am prepared with a six-pack of beer.

Best of luck and see you down the trail.

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Gift Guide for Outdoor People

Here's my gift guide for outdoor people. I've used and tested all of these products while hiking, camping, backpacking, fishing or ...