Holiday Gift Guide 2017

It's time again to start thinking about getting a gift for the outdoorsy person in your life! If you're at a loss for what to get the hikers you care about something unique, let my holiday guide help you.  

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GSI long-handled silicone spoon - VERY necessary for those who eat pre-made freeze-dried meals! This guy will get down into the nooks and crannies of even the longest bag meal. 
Hikertrash Stickers - I don't know a single hiker who doesn't love putting stickers on just about everything they own.  Help them rep their Hikertrash status proudly!
Sawyer Mini water filter - Being able to have clean water on the go is very necessary for anyone who spends any time outdoors.  These compact filters are super easy to use and easy to clean.
Klymit Pillow X - Makes a great pillow for backpackers and a good seat on a day hike too!
Therm-a-Rest Z seat - In case your hiker isn't a fan of things that can pop on the trail, consider this Z seat instead of the Klymit Pillow. 
MSR Piezo Ignitor - If your hiker uses a canister fuel stove, this thing is amazing! Lightweight and doesn't require fuel like a lighter.  Never worry about running out of fluid again. 

Under $30

Road ID - Have piece of mind when your hiking buddy is out solo. These bracelets (or shoe charms) can hold emergency info and some charms too. 
Darn Tough Socks - The only socks I've found that can keep up with the abuse I put them through - and that's saying a LOT! 
A Scratch-off Map of the US - for the hiker trying to hit every state (or every high point!) this fun multicolor map is a great way to keep track of your travels in the US. 
A US National Parks Scratch-off Map - Just in case you're trying to get all those parks in there too ;)
An Anker Portable Charger - A lightweight charger that won't break the bank. Great for those who use their phones to listen to music or podcasts in the tent at night. 
GSI Microflip Mug - This mug is vacuum sealed to keep your coffee or tea hot on the way to the trailhead on those early mornings. 

Under $50

MSR Pocket Rocket 2 - A new stove is never a bad thing! This guy can boil water in 3.5 minutes. 
Black Diamond Storm Headlamp - 350 lumens to keep the trail bright when you're night hiking or getting in those before dawn miles. 
A Mountain Ring - Let's face it, sometimes lady hikers want to look nice (and sometimes we even have to go to places in the "real world"). This ring will let her take the peaks wherever she goes. 
White Blaze Pendant - This unisex Appalachian Trail
pendant comes on polycord and is adjustable.  In fact, check out ALL of Tarma's jewelry. 
Dirty Girl Gaiters - Keep debris from your shoes and look good at the same time. 
Altra StashJack - A jacket that leaves room for your pack in the back, so you can put it on and take it off without stopping. Why hasn't this been thought of before?

Splurge Items

A Handmade Replica Trail Sign - Handmade to match nearly any sign, these will definitely make your favorite hiker's heart skip a beat. 
Suunto Traverse Series Watch - For the hiker who loves data and stats, this watch will leave a trail of breadcrumbs and show the trails in the area right on the wrist. 
Excalibur Food Dehydrator - For the hiker who loves eating well in the backcountry! This 9-tray dehydrator will make huge batches of jerky, meals, and more. 
Helinox Chair One - Because being comfortable shouldn't mean breaking your back trying to carry that chair to camp. 
Altra Wasatch Rain Jacket - A breathable rain jacket you can run in?! Yes, please!

These are just a few of the things I'd love to see as a holiday gift this year.  What are some of your favorite gifts to give? 



Distance Hiking and Body Image

Body image always seems to be in my social media feed - it seems like we're obsessed with it.  A new ad campaign promoting something regarding celebrating your body seems to pop up every month.  As someone who grew up in the age of Title IX but before crazy photoshopping, body image never really played into how I viewed myself.  Granted, like every teen girl on the planet, I learned to point out my flaws for a good 15 years or so.  Recently though, especially after hitting my 30s, I've learned to let a lot of that go.  While I think part of that comes with age, I think another part of it comes with my experience as a distance hiker.  In fact, distance hiking has helped me come to terms with my body more than any body-positive ad campaign ever could. 

When I first set out to thru hike the Appalachian Trail in 2012 I knew I had a few pounds to lose.  Not many, but a few.  When those few pounds came off in the first nine days I knew I still wasn't happy with my body.  In fact, there are still some photos from the trail that make me cringe when I see them.  Sure, I was (and still do) wearing Spandex.  Sure, I had a waist belt cinched tightly to carry the weight of my pack.  Sure, I had just finished camelling up (drinking a ton of water) at a water source so I wouldn't get more dehydrated.  To me though, these photos don't show me at my best.  In a highly curated world, these photos are sort of embarrassing to me even now.  I recently came across a photo like that, seen here:

My least favorite photo from the entire AT. 

My least favorite photo from the entire AT. 

I could nit-pick at this photo all day.  The way my waistband sits, the way my stomach sticks out, the way my hair is in that weird in-between growth stage.  When we took that photo it was just after we ate a ton of food (read - sugary snacks), drank even a ton more of water, and had hiked about 15 miles that day.  When I saw that tree, all I wanted to do was hop on and take a photo.  We camped that night and had an amazing time with our other fellow thru hikers.  It wasn't until months later, when I saw this photo on my Facebook feed (as I often uploaded without editing) that I was horrified at my appearance.  Weren't female thru hikers supposed to look strong?  All the other girls I hiked with looked so thin and confident.  They were all stronger than me, weren't they?  It really put a dark cloud over what I was actually out there accomplishing.  

The same day the photo above was taken, the photo below was taken... yes, the SAME DAY:

There's nothing wrong with this photo (in my eyes) and I remember feeling so great that day.  So, why do I feel so bad about the first one?  

In a world where our images are perfect, photoshopped, and manipulated and curated to fit a certain image, it's important to see our photos for what they are: a memory of a time we wanted to document.  I think people are truly never happy with their bodies, but the truth of the matter is our bodies can do amazing things.  For me, my body has carried me more than 7500 miles - through physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging terrain - and given me a career.  My body has carried me through an ultramarathon and a distance hike.  My body has been grimy, slimy, and scabby from months outdoors.  I've been covered in bruises and DEET.  I've been energized and exhausted all in the same day.  I've walked 30 miles and I've barely moved.  The fact of the matter is that none of this matters because my body is strong.  My body is beautiful.  My body can get out and climb that goddamn mountain.  

With this post, I'm issuing a challenge to all those outdoorsy folks - go ahead and post that photo.  Share the moments you're proud of.  Don't be distracted and disheartened by all those pretty white 20-somethings with colorful tattoos and John Muir quotes on Instagram.  Your experience outdoors is just as important.  Be proud of who you are and what your body has done for you.  I know I'm proud of mine. 

National Backpacker's Day

In the age of social media it seems we are more aware of the daily holidays that exist in our country.  When I saw there was a National Backpacker's Day I knew I had to get on board with this one!   I mean, how do you NOT celebrate National Backpacker's Day when you're basically a professional backpacker?!  I won't be able to spend the day backpacking, but I'll be out on the trail in just a few days.  In the meantime, I can actually reflect on what being a backpacker means to me. 

As someone who was never deemed athletic as a kid or an adolescent, becoming a backpacker in my mid 20s had such a positive change on my life.  In fact, I can honestly say I wouldn't be the person I am today without putting that pack on my back over Labor Day 2008.  I remember that trip incredibly vividly.  Not owning any gear of my own and the person I was with only having enough gear for one person we did the best we could.  Armed with a sleeping pad, a bag, and a liner, we decided one person could sleep in the sleeping bag and one person could use the pad and the liner.  I carried a day pack with some food, the liner, and the pad.  He carried the alcohol stove, sleeping bag, and some food.  We hiked in a whole 2 miles to the Kephart Prong shelter in the Smokies.  I remember thinking just before we got there just how hard this hike was and hoping it was going to be over soon.  Just before I asked the ubiquitous "are we there yet?!" we had arrived.  I hardly slept at all - I was freezing cold for one thing, and a mouse kept getting in the sleeping bag of the person above me in the shelter, so she was yelling periodically.  The next morning I was chased by bees at the fire pit.  Still, I was hooked.  

Since that trip nine years ago I've learned so much about hiking and backpacking.  In fact, I'm still learning things every single time I'm out on the trail with someone new.  I've gone from carrying a 29-pound pack to a 19-pound pack.  I've upgraded my gear and hiked closer to 10,000 miles than I ever thought I would.  I've learned I'm capable of making critical decisions and doing hard things.  I've discovered that my body is stronger than I ever gave it credit for.  I also discovered that the old adage "Garbage in, garbage out" is truer than you'll ever know. 

For me, backpacking isn't just a way of life.  Backpacking is my life.  I am so incredibly lucky to get the chance to teach people how to do it the proper way.  I get to share my love of distance hiking with wanna-be thru hikers.  I even get the chance to take people out into the forest for what could be their very first trail experience.  National Backpacker's Day, for me, is a way to honor the role it plays in my life. 

Does your favorite hobby or job have a national day? What does it mean to you and how do you celebrate?

So You Want to Be a Trail Guide?

When people find out I'm a trail guide I not only get a few questions, I also get to hear "Wow, that's the best job in the world! I'd love to do that!" followed by attempts to ask about getting hired at the company I work with or how they can start a hiking company on their own.  While working as a trail guide is a wonderful and enjoyable job, I always try to stress to people that working as a guide and hiking in general are not the same thing.  If you've ever thought about getting into the world of guiding, here's some practical advice to help you decide if you'd like to get into the guiding industry. 


My normal comfortable walking/hiking speed is between 3 and 3.5 miles per hour.  As a guide, however, my hiking speed is approximately 1 mile per hour.  Why the difference?  People hiring a guide are doing so to get out and enjoy nature - many of them for the first time ever.  When a mountain mile is approximately equivalent to walking 3 miles in a city on sidewalks, you can imagine people are DEFINITELY not going to be able to walk 3-3.5 miles per hour.  Not only will you be hiking slow, you'll be taking plenty of rest breaks and be reading the cues on your client's faces to make sure they're not exerting too much.  While it's enjoyable to work outdoors all the time, your comfort and abilities don't matter when you're a guide.  If you're a fast hiker, be prepared to slow it down considerably and be prepared to hurt A LOT when you do. 

You Are Responsible For Everyone's Safety

When you're out hiking with your friends, especially if they're adults, they're all responsible for their own decisions and safety.  When you're out with paying clients chances are you're the only one in the group with any first aid training and any first aid items in your pack.  While going out with friends it's a lot of fun to hop up on that giant rock and take photos, with clients it's important to watch their steps and check for rattlesnakes that could be under or around those rocks.  Keeping people safe not only keeps your hikes enjoyable, it also keeps your insurance rates low and your company's reputation high as well.  

You Will Carry a TON of Extra Gear

I don't know about you guys, but I don't carry ANYTHING extra in my pack I won't need on a backpacking trip.  When I'm out with clients though, this level of thinking goes right out the window.  On trips where I have a group of 8, I often am carrying two stoves (Jetboils) and extra fuel canisters, two water filters (Platypus Gravity with two 4-liter bags a piece), a tarp for rainy conditions, extra string, more first aid items, and even homemade baked goods (when you're working for tips, extra touches help!).  I can easily add an extra 10 pounds of stuff I'd never dream of carrying to my pack.  This doesn't include gear that your clients are unable to carry.  It doesn't always, but sometimes will, happen that a client is physically unable to walk with a pack on, but when it does be prepared to carry some of their gear as well.  

You are Working 24/7

If I'm on a trip and during the middle of the night a client needs me, I am on call.  If we are sitting around camp and an emergency arises, I am on call.  I am never not working on a trip.  While I do get some down time to relax with clients around a small campfire at the end of the day, I still need to make sure I'm doing my job and keeping people safe.  "Did she just take food into her tent? Did he just pour grey water into the creek?  Where is that guy's food bag now?" You are continuously monitoring camp and the people around you to make sure your group will be safe and enjoy their camping experience.  Working 24/7 on a trip can definitely be exhausting. 

You Will Meet Incredibly Inspiring People

Just like when you're hiking on your own, even with all the above-mentioned things you'll be doing, you're going to meet incredible people with incredible stories to tell.  I have met inspiring hopeful thru hikers, women leaving abusive relationships, men trying to reconnect with their kids, people celebrating their victory over cancer, and been a part of some incredible celebrations. On a trip I am their guide and afterward I am here to answer their questions if they're ready to get back out and try another trip.  Knowing that I helped people enjoy their trip into the backcountry, no matter their ability level or the trail conditions, is incredibly rewarding. 

While being a trail guide is a physical demanding and mentally exhausting job, it definitely has wonderful moments.  I work incredibly hard on everything I do, be it an hour-long walk or a week-long hike.  Teaching people the right way to get out and enjoy nature and showing them how accessible it can be is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. 

Have you ever been on a guided hike or trip?  Do you think you'd enjoy being a hiking guide? 

Backpacking 101

If you've been thinking about jumping into the sport of backpacking chances are you've done quite a bit of research on gear to buy or rent; however, this isn't always the case.  As someone who works as a guide and has done a number of distance hikes I can tell you while many people are doing the research there are still huge numbers of people who do absolutely no research at all.  Don't let your first trip take you by surprise!  Here are some common beginner mistakes a lot of people make on their first few backpacking trips and some tips for how to avoid making them. 

Carrying the Wrong Gear

We have all seen people out on the trail for the weekend carrying that backpack their dad bought back in 1979.  While the gear manufactured back then was truly built to last, sitting in the basement unused since the 80's means that your gear has a tendency to fall apart the minute you try to put it through the rigors of a backpacking trip.  As a guide, I've repaired numerous pieces of "durable and built to last" backpacking gear out on a trip.  Avoid this happening to you by heading to an outfitter and buying a new pack, getting fitted properly and learning how to use it.  Can't afford a new pack for the once-a-year trip you're about to take? There are plenty of gear rental companies out there to help you out!  Try looking online for a local place where you're headed into the woods, or check out a website like Get Out Backpacking for ultralight gear rental you can do online.  

Carrying Too Much Gear

Just because you bought it doesn't mean it needs to come out on the trip with you!  While many outdoors aisles have lots of fun and cool-looking outdoor tools you don't necessarily need to bring them on a trip!  Carry a small Swiss Army knife instead of that Leatherman multitool.  Leave the hatchet and saw at home.  A solar charger is useless under most tree canopies.  Cosmetics and deodorants will melt.  A full camp kitchen isn't necessary.  And last, but not least, you aren't going to need a different set of hiking clothes every single day.  By going through your pack and eliminating extra items you'll be able to shave a few pounds off your pack's overall weight.  By carrying less weight you'll decrease your chance for injury and have a more enjoyable trip.  Remember - a pack should never be more than 20% of your total body weight!

Carrying Outdated Gear

Now, I'm not saying that the gear you bought in the late 90's isn't any good any more.  I'm sure it's great!  But, what I am saying is that it might be time to retire that heavy gear to your front country camping stash instead.  Over the last several years backpacking gear has become significantly lighter and more advanced.  While it was common for thru hikers to carry 30-40 pound packs back in the 90's it is no longer necessary for hikers to carry that kind of weight.  By updating your gear piece by piece you'll save yourself quite a few pounds.  One of my favorite switches is a water filtration system.  Commonly weighing a pound or more, the old-fashioned water pumps are no longer necessary with options out on the market today.  Consider switching to a Sawyer Mini or Squeeze system and ditch that Nalgene bottle for a Smartwater bottle and you've saved yourself nearly two pounds and only spent about $20.  

Take More Breaks

As a guide, I teach people not only how to update, replace, or even buy gear properly, I also teach people how to hike properly.  Just because you did a 15-mile hike the last time you went into the woods doesn't necessarily mean you can still do 15 miles without any training time again!  By taking a slower pace and taking a few snack and stretch breaks along the way you'll not only get to camp in one piece, you'll also wake up the next morning with fewer aches and pains.  I recommend taking a 5-minute break every hour to take off your pack and roll out your neck (because looking down at the ground for an hour can really do a number on you) and stretch out your legs.  Snack breaks, even if you're not hungry, can help your body recover before you can even tell that you need to.  Taking small sips of water throughout the day will also go a long way against preventing dehydration.  

These are just a few of many tips I could offer to help make your first (or first in a while) backpacking trip go successfully.  What are some mistakes you made when you first became a backpacker?  What advice would you give someone who wants to try to go out on their own for the first time? 

Black Toenails - A Rite of Passage... or is it?!

When I first got into hiking seriously back in 2008 I joined a Meetup Group.  Before becoming a backpacker, I spent a lot of time on front country camping trips doing day hikes.  On one such trip, I remember sitting around a campfire with some veteran hikers and I found myself in a conversation that was borderline horrifying to me.  In fact, many of you who are hiking have probably heard a conversation very similar to this one: "You don't want to see my feet! I've lost so many toenails I can't even count them all!" "Oh yeah, I have two black ones right now - both big ones!" "My first backpacking trip I lost seven nails!" "I get so many blisters I'm pretty sure my trail name should be bubble wrap!" "Yeah, I don't think I've had a solid set of nails in 10 years!"  As I listened to this in slight horror I realized that yes, indeed, I was not a real hiker yet.  And thanks to this conversation, I wasn't looking forward to being a hiker either! 

A few years down the line I did join the real hiker club.  Thanks to a long day of hiking in boots that were too heavy, I got to camp and immediately shed the footwear to walk barefoot in a cold mountain stream.  The stream was in fact so cold that when I banged my toe on a rock I didn't feel a thing.  Later that night, however, a small purple lump showed up directly in the middle of my toenail.  Six months later, that nail had to be surgically removed thanks to the fact that the bruise never healed, nor caused me to lose that nail.  Finally, I had become a real hiker.  Honestly though, does losing or bruising nails REALLY make us a real hiker?  I'm here to tell you guys that NO, LOSING TOENAILS ISN'T NORMAL OR A RITE OF PASSAGE!  This post will deal with some footwear myths and facts to help you avoid the most ridiculous Rite of Passage hikers hear about.  

MYTH: You should Always Buy Your Boots a Full Size Bigger Than Your Shoes

If you need to buy your boots a full size bigger than your normal shoes, this tells me you're not wearing the proper size shoe in the first place!  In fact, most Americans are not wearing the correct shoe size for their foot.  A proper hiking, trail running, or backpacking shoe should not only be long enough, it should also be wide enough to accomodate your feet in both their swollen and normal conditions.  To get properly fitted for a hiking, trail running, or backpacking shoe I HIGHLY recommend going to a running store and not an outdoor retailer first.  Running store employees are properly trained to watch your gait, measure your feet (both width and length) and look for wear patterns on your shoes to recommend a corrective insole if you need it.  They'll ask you your daily/weekly mileage, terrain you plan on traveling, and even what your long-term goals are.  THEN, they'll go in the back and find the brands and styles that will work best for you.  

MYTH: A Heavy Boot Will Solve All Your Foot Problems

Which of these sounds better for a foot in normal conditions: A heavy, inflexible, non-breathable shoe; or a lightweight, breathable, flexible shoe?  Now, add in the rocky, muddy, wet conditions of a mountain trail.  While hiking boots definitely have a place in the hiking world, a lightweight and breathable boot or shoe will do you much better in most conditions.  In the past several years, many running shoe companies have expanded into a line of trail shoes and some even offer a high topped shoe to rival many hiking boots.  Other outdoor companies make heavy duty, breathable shoes with moderate ankle support.  Whether you decide on a boot or a shoe, light and breathable with some flexibility, not heavy and solid, will keep your feet happy.  

MYTH: Always Wear A Sock Liner And You'll Never Get Blisters

Just like one shoe doesn't fit all, one sock solution doesn't work for everyone either!  Sock liners do help prevent friction in high pressure areas of the feet.  Injinji toe socks also make liners to help separate your toes and prevent between-the-toe blisters; however, sock liners aren't your "quick" fix for blisters or black toenails.  Getting a properly fitted, properly breathing, properly weighted shoe is the first line of defense.  Secondly, making sure you're wearing a wicking sock, like a wool or bamboo variety, will also help pull moisture away from your feet.  Third, determining if your blisters are caused by pressure on your foot or debris in your shoe also helps! Some people can solve their blister problems by wearing a gaiter to cover the tops of their shoes or boots and prevent debris from rubbing their feet.  

MYTH: Buy A Pair of Insoles And Never Have Foot Problems Again

Are you guys noticing a pattern yet?  Hikers often have a "one size fits all" solution for foot problems, but just like the other myths we've covered, an insole will not help all hikers solve their problems.  Many insole brands you can buy off the shelf in a store will tell you that being uncomfortable is all a part of the break-in process because your body doesn't know how to walk on it's own (I'm paraphrasing here).  Not every hiker needs an insole to help solve their blister or toenail problems.  In fact, many hikers can avoid the insole by getting a properly fitted, properly cushioned shoe or boot in the first place.  

Have you ever lost toenails or gotten severe blisters on a hike?  What did you do to help remedy the situation? 

The Post I've Been Putting Off...

Some of you may have noticed it's been quiet on my blog for a little while.  In fact, I've sat down to write posts several times, but never had the heart to finish them.  The short answer to my lack of posting is a simple one - I've been incredibly depressed the past few months.  For those of you following me on social media, you may have noticed I've really dropped the ball on basically all channels the past few months.  I've just not had the heart to do much posting.  In fact, I've only recently begun to start getting active on Twitter and Instagram again.  It's very  hard to curate images that are beautiful when you feel so heavy.  

I've been doing a lot less guiding at my job the past few months.  I love being a guide and teaching people how to see and explore the outdoors in new ways.  The wildfire that swept our region back in November has had devastating effects on area businesses.  Many local places are reporting being down between 20-45% from last year.  In fact, many people are still under the impression that the entire town of Gatlinburg and all of the Great Smoky Mountains are completely decimated.  The truth of the matter is that 1700 homes were lost, but many businesses reopened in the past few months or are rebuilding.  The Smokies only saw 2% of the park damaged by fire and the damage becomes less and less noticeable every day thanks to spring rejuvenating the burned ground.  Getting people to come back to the area, however, has been really, REALLY tough.  

The past few months haven't been all bad for me.  As usual, I focus my off-season months on running.  I ran a PR in both the half marathon (finally running a sub 2-hr half) and full marathon (4:05:30 - nearly 20 minutes off last year) events I entered this year.  I ran a trail marathon without ever having really gone trail running.  I ran my fastest ever mile.  I even decided to start focusing on more endurance and ultra events in 2018.  Physically, I'm in the best shape I've ever been in.  Mentally though, I'm not doing so hot. The past few months have brought up a lot of personal issues I need to deal with and I'm just now dragging myself out of the hole to do it.  It's been really heart-wrenching at times and, if any of you have ever dealt with depression, you know it's not an easy road to recovery.  Add to that the fact that I don't have health insurance and that means I'll be paying for all of this out-of-pocket and you've got an even tougher road ahead.  

For those of you still looking for trail advice and reading trail journals, I'm still reachable by email and by Facebook.  I'm still loving answering your questions and helping you plan your journey.  Just know that the posts will be coming back slowly and it might be a quick minute before I'm feeling up to the task.  For those of you who are regular readers, please note that I'm writing posts for you guys!  It's very hard to continue coming up with new ideas, graphics, and formatting that makes sense.  Drop a comment every once in a while and let me know you're reading.  It's very tough to continue writing if you feel like no one is out there!

I'll be back at it again soon.  Happy Trails!

Finding the Perfect Pack

Getting a backpack can be a daunting task - whether it's your very first ever backpack or a replacement to something you've beaten up to the point of no return.  It takes lots of research and testing before diving in and making the purchase.  If you're looking to purchase a new pack soon, here's my advice for you. 

Determine Your Needs

Not all packs are created equally.  Are you looking for something to take mostly on day hikes with an occasional overnight or two?  Do you need a pack that will last you the entirety of a long-distance hike?  By first determining exactly what you're looking for in a pack, you can immediately narrow down the field.  If you're new to hiking and want a pack that can do both overnights and day hikes, I recommend a pack in the 50-65 liter range for all uses.  A nearly empty 50+ liter pack can still serve you well on day hikes and carry the gear you'll need for overnighters.  

Start Reading Blogs

Many people who are new to backpacking will often just walk into a big box outfitter and start searching for a pack.  I highly, HIGHLY recommend you start reading blogs written by other hikers and pay attention to what type of gear they are carrying before you step foot into a store.  By seeing what packs other hikers doing the type of hiking you're looking to do are carrying, you'll get an idea of what brands might suit your needs best.  

Do Your Research

When it comes to backpacks, here are a few things I recommend you keep in mind while you're doing your research: 
- Does the pack have a lot of straps or pockets? Often times, packs with a lot of straps often come with a heavier weight.  Would you like to have a pack that weighs more than 4 lbs when it's empty?  The answer is no.  
- Does the pack come with interchangeable hip belts or shoulder straps? If you're looking to use the pack for a distance hike chances are you'll lose some weight and might need to change out some things.  If your pack doesn't have these options it might not be worth the investment
- Does the pack carry the load you've got?  If you're upgrading to an ultralight pack you might need to invest in some different gear.  Nothing will ruin a pack quicker than carrying a heavier load than it is designed to carry. 
- Do you need the features?  Some backpacks these days come with built in solar panels or have specially designed electronics pockets.  These are not often necessary for many people I've met.  Is it TRULY something you need?

Educate Yourself on How to Fit a Pack

I cannot recommend this step enough - watch this video and learn how to measure your torso. No backpack on earth is one size fits all.  Any big box store you shop in will try to convince you that an "adjustable" pack will fit you if you adjust it right.  As a small-framed female backpacker I can tell you this is absolutely not true.  Just because you're 6'5" doesn't mean you need a large pack either!  By taking this step into your own hands you can safely tell any store employee the size pack you want to try on. 

Try Out the Pack

This step is not always possible due to the numerous cottage industry pack makers out there these days.  If you've decided a commercially made pack is for you, I recommend you go to the store and try it on.  When you do this, they'll attempt to put weights or sand bags in the pack for you.  Refuse this option and go to the gear you'll actually be carrying.  Put ACTUAL GEAR inside the pack.  If you're buying a pack to replace one you already own, bring your gear into the store with you to try it on.  Not only will you see how the weight distributes, you will also see how the gear you already own will fit inside.  

Make the Purchase

If you're on the fence about a pack, I highly recommend you don't purchase it.  If something doesn't feel right, it won't magically feel right once you hit the trail - I know from experience! There are always other brands to try.  Again - nothing is one size fits all!  Many retailers have great return polices if you decide to try something from a website and it doesn't work for you.

Looking for recommendations?  Here are my favorite packs to recommend to people looking to buy their first overnight packs.  I highly recommend keeping your backpack's empty weight under 3 pounds if you can.  What is the point in carrying a pack that weighs more than this when it's empty?  It's just more weight you could be carrying in water or food!

Granite Gear Crown 60 or Crown 60 Ki for Women

Gossamer Gear Mariposa

ULA Circuit

These are the things I tell people who are looking to purchase a backpack.  What are some important things you think about when you're updating your gear?  


Gear Review: Legend Compression Wear

As many of you know by now I'm both a runner and a hiker - the running coming later than the hiking!  Since I've gotten more and more into running I've definitely started looking for products that can not only make the miles feel easier, but also can help me recover faster from my hiking. With my job as a guide and training to run my very first ultra in Decemeber, my legs need all the help they can get.  This is where Legend Compression comes in.  Through my partnership with BibRave as a BibRave Pro, I was given the opportunity to test out some compression gear on a few recent hikes and runs.  Here's my honest review: 

I recently learned Legend Compression had socks for both running and hiking and was super excited to be given the chance to test them both out.  The first thing I noticed when I received both pairs of socks is the fact that even though they're both compression, they aren't nearly as "stiff" or tight as a few other brands of compression socks I own.  The performance socks actually felt SOFT, which I have noticed is lacking in a few other brands.  From reading the letter they sent me, I could see there was a reason for this - these socks have much less compression than traditional socks, only 15-20 mmHg as compared to 20-30 mmHg for other brands.  This graduated compression is believed to be more therapeutic during performance.  I quickly decided to try these guys on. 

My new Legend Compression performance socks!

My new Legend Compression performance socks!

Putting them on wasn't difficult at all, which is something I have definitely noticed with other brands!  These socks were soft and slid on easily.  I also noticed I had room for my toes to spread out inside of them as well.  It turns out that this is by design.  By giving you room to move your toes you're not only less prone to blister, you've also still got your same gait, which is important for running and hiking.  That's why I'm such a huge fan of wearing shoes that give my toes room to spread out!  I also noticed that the arch of the foot felt nice and snug.  I really like this feature in a compression sock.  

The first time I tried out these socks was during a 12-mile hike with my buddy, Morgan.  We had to hike 6 miles up a mountain to bring some tents to a group of our co-workers.  Due to heavy fall leaf peeper traffic in the park and a long drive, we didn't get on trail until after 2 p.m.  We hiked our six miles in approximately 2 hours and got to camp to start setting up tents.  Less than 20 minutes later, we were on our way back down the 6 miles and made it out in a total of 4 hours and 20 minutes.  I noticed that despite climbing the huge hill my calf muscles still felt alright, which is definitely not always the case!  The real test, for me, is getting compression socks OFF after a long workout.  It's safe to say with a tough hike like this we definitely worked up a sweat and if you've ever taken off a pair of sweaty compression socks you know it can be an Olympic sport!  These socks came off just as easily as they went on!  Another win for me. 

Team Mo'Sprinkles stopping at an overlook to take in the view (and a few selfies!) on our way back down trail.  

Team Mo'Sprinkles stopping at an overlook to take in the view (and a few selfies!) on our way back down trail.  

As an athlete who does a lot of mountain hiking and running I consider myself someone who tries out a lot of gear and I'm super impressed with Legend Compression.  For those of you who aren't into the longer socks, they also make a hiking specific sock called Tuff made of Merino wool, which I can recommend just as highly.  

If you want to try Legend Compression I've got a 15% off code to share with all of you!  You can use the code "bibsave15" at!

Disclaimer: I received Legend Compression socks to review as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out to review find and write race reviews!

An Open Letter to the Hiker at the Back

Dear Hiker at the Back, 

I know you're back there, probably sweating a little more than most of us, probably struggling a little bit more.  When we started hiking you probably made some little joke about being the Caboose.  You also probably made the comment that we shouldn't wait for you, or that maybe you should start a few minutes before the rest of the group arrived so you wouldn't hold everyone up.  The group leader more than likely told you not to worry about it.  The group leader told you we would all hike together.  Yet, there you are, a few minutes behind.  

I've been you before.  I've been the person at the back wondering what the hell I've gotten myself into.  Second guessing my abilities.  Wishing I would have just sold my backpack on Craigslist last week like I threatened to.  Knowing that the WHOLE GROUP is just waiting on me.  Knowing I'm holding EVERYONE up from our destination.  Feeling like a failure.  KNOWING I'm a failure.  

Oh, dear hiker at the back, you're so very wrong.  No one in the group thinks you're hindering the experience.  Even though you feel like you're miles behind the group has only been waiting a few minutes.  Truth be told, we all wanted to wait and catch our breath too.  We all hiked up that hill just like you did.  It was hard - we all thought so.  All the complaining you did in your head?  Well, we all did it too, probably even out loud!  When you catch up we cheer because you look like you needed a boost and we're proud of you.  

The truth of the matter is someone is always bringing up the rear - they have to.  Someone always has to be first and someone always has to be last.  Your group leader who seems to be in such amazing shape was probably last once too.  More than likely every single person you're hiking with has been in your shoes.  Our excitement and enthusiasm to see you isn't faked or exaggerated - it's genuine joy that we get to share our experience with you.  The you're out here hiking with us and working every bit as hard as all of the group.  You're accomplishing something right now.  Your experiences aren't worth any less just because of your speed.  

If you stick with it chances are a few years down the road you'll be the one leading others up those hills and into the woods, climbing them with steady feet and a careful gait.  You'll be the one encouraging others with your stories of being the slow one.  You'll give the high fives and the hugs and celebrate the victories - large and small - with everyone you hike with.  I promise, you're doing an amazing job. 


The Hiker in the Front

My Favorite Views in the Smokies

As a hiking guide in the most visited national park in the country I am often asked about my favorite places to go for a hike.  While I do a lot of the same trails guiding people, since my hobby and my job coincide I often find myself looking for other less busy trails to hike when I'm out for myself.  One of the things the Smokies is known for would be the stunning views, many of which have mountain ridge lines for days.  Here are a few of my favorite views in the park. 

1) Mt. Cammmerer

Mt. Cammerer's Fire Tower is a unique shape and built right into the rocks with a cistern built in below.  I've never been in another tower like this one!

Mt. Cammerer's Fire Tower is a unique shape and built right into the rocks with a cistern built in below.  I've never been in another tower like this one!

Mt. Cammerer can be a long day hike and can be hiked in a few directions. You can make this a strenuous 10 mile out and back hike or you can make it a less difficult, but still long, 15.5 mile loop hike.  Regardless of how you decide to hike to this amazing mountaintop you'll be rewarded with views into the Cherokee National Forest, back into the Smokies and North Carolina, and views of the Appalachian Trail.  You'll also be seeing them from a really unique and gorgeous fire tower.  The views up here in the fall and winter cannot be beat!  If you're out doing a thru hike or section hike of the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies, the 1.2-mile round trip to the Mt. Cammerer fire tower is definitely worth it.  

2) Bradley View

The Bradley View is one I would highly recommend you see on a backpacking trip.  While you can see it on a day hike, to make it out and back in one day would be challenging and would require a nearly 17.5-mile out and back from Newfound Gap Road to visit.  I often get to see Bradley View on backpacking trips when I'm staying at the Peck's Corner Shelter or if I'm hiking down a side trail off of the Appalachian Trail.  Regardless of where you're camping, the Bradley View is one of my favorite in the park.  Usually when we get a view from a mountain top we are seeing other mountain ranges and some signs of towns in the valley below.  At Bradley View you're looking out onto a sea of mountains without a cell tower or road in sight.  With up to as many as nine different ridge lines present this view will definitely take your breath away.  This point is located approximately 1.5 miles Appalachian Trail "South" of the Peck's Corner shelter.  

3) Spence Field

Spence Field is another hike that can be done either in the daytime or you can camp up at the shelter nearby overnight.  You can hike this in a loop or as an out and back.  My favorite way to see Spence Field though is to camp at the Spence Field Shelter.  Less than a half a mile from the shelter round-trip you will head up to the field just before sunset for some stunning views with Fontana Lake below you.  If you head back to the shelter just before the sun drops in the sky you'll have enough daylight to make it back to the shelter without a headlamp.  To make this hike, you can hike up from Cades Cove picnic area via the Anthony Creek Trail, Bote Mountain Trail, and follow the AT to the field.  Return by the same route or you can continue "south" on the AT to the Russell Field Trail back down to the Anthony Creek Trail.  

4) Shuckstack 

The view looking toward Nantahala National Forest from Shuckstack in the fall.  It's easy to see why the mountains around us are called the Blue Ridge Mountains!

The view looking toward Nantahala National Forest from Shuckstack in the fall.  It's easy to see why the mountains around us are called the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Shuckstack Fire Tower is located only 0.1 miles off the Appalachian Trail at the "southern" end of the trail in the park.  This fire tower is notoriously rickety, but the climb is definitely worth heading up for!  Climbing up the flights of stairs on the tower you'll feel and hear the wind catching and then you'll come into the top of the tower - views of the Nantahala National Forest, Fontana Lake, the Smokies, and the largest undeveloped tract of wilderness left in the eastern United States will be your reward.  This hike can be done many different ways, but an out-and-back from Fontana Dam is the most popular route.  This 7-mile round trip hike also gives you the opportunity to see the largest hydroelectric dam east of the Mississippi River before your hike. 

5) Mt. Sterling

Looking at the AT from Mt. Sterling on a winter day - the highest point is Mt. Guyot and the AT follows the ridge line down and out of the park. 

Looking at the AT from Mt. Sterling on a winter day - the highest point is Mt. Guyot and the AT follows the ridge line down and out of the park. 

Of course I would save my favorite view for last!  Mt. Sterling boasts the highest backcountry campsite in the park as well as the highest point on the entire Benton MacKaye Trail.  Looking north from the top of the tower you'll have an epic view of the ridge line the Appalachian Trail follows.  You'll have views of Snowbird Mountain and Max Patch Mountain.  You can see the Blue Ridge Parkway cutting across the mountains in North Carolina.  Best of all, this hike rarely has others to share the view with.  You can make this hike as short as 4 miles round trip view the old NC 284 gravel road and the Mt. Sterling Trail.  You can also hike it as a 12.2 mile up and back on Baxter Creek Trail or you can make a 17.1 mile loop hike by taking Big Creek Trail to Swallow Fork Trail to the Mount Sterling Ridge Trail and finally hiking down the Baxter Creek Trail.  

These are just a few of the many, many places I like to hike to avoid the crowds.  Where are some of your favorite places in the Smokies?  Do you like to hike to a view?  

Join the Friday Five Link Up hosted by DC area bloggers Eat Pray Run DC, Mar on the Run and You Signed up for What?! Don't forget to visit all the hosts and a few other bloggers to spread the fun! 

Fuel 100 Electro-Bites: A Food Review


Update: Use code SPRINKLES at checkout for 25% off your order (not an affiliate link, feel free to share!) 

With the heat of summer in full swing I've been constantly attempting, and sometimes losing, a battle with my electrolyte balance.  Between my work outdoors as a full time hiking guide and helping my boyfriend train for his first half marathon, I've been spending a lot of time in the low elevations of East Tennessee - often times in sweltering heat and humidity with heat indexes in the high 90s and low 100s.  When I was offered the opportunity to try out Fuel 100 Electro-Bites I jumped at the chance to try something new.  Here are my thoughts on this product. 

After doing some research regarding Fuel 100 Electro-Bites I was excited to try them out for two reasons - the first being that they weren't fruit chews and the second being that they weren't sickly sweet.  While this product comes in five flavors, only three of them are flavors that sound sweet: pumpkin spice, apple cinnamon, and salty vanilla.  The other two flavors are simply salty and salty vinegar.  This immediately appealed to me because of recent I've been all sugared out and I've been on a quest for savory fueling options that are also easy to eat on the trails or on a run.  These tiny bites fit the bill!  The other thing that appealed to me was the fact these were a dry, baked product.  No sticky gels, chews, or sweet drink mixes.  Don't get me wrong, I love a sweet electrolyte tab after a hot and long run, but getting the chance to try something different was definitely a plus!

I took these out on a training run on a night when the heat index at sunset was 94 degrees.  Even though I ran an easy 3.5 miles I knew I had sweat more than I did on 10 mile runs back in the winter time.  If I don't replace electrolytes immediately I usually get dull and throbbing headaches so being able to grab them and go was a big plus for me.  I ripped the tab off the bag of the apple cinnamon bites and dug in!  The first thing I noticed was the fact that even though these bites were dry, they didn't make my mouth feel dry.  The crunchy little bites were actually fun to chew and were easy to swallow despite being hot and sweaty.  I was able to follow the bites by drinking down some cold water and felt great.  The apple cinnamon flavor was very mild and the hint of coconut oil was delicious as well. 

Easy to refuel after a long, hot run! 

Easy to refuel after a long, hot run! 

I also brought along the salty vinegar flavor on a longer day hike during a humid and hot June afternoon.  The vinegar flavor wasn't overpowering and again the coconut oil was very mild and present as well.  These bites stored well in a pack and since they're baked they don't melt the way an electrolyte chew would.  You also don't have to worry about adding a tab to water and waiting for it to mix before drinking.  All you have to do is rip the top off and start snacking!

I've got my fuel for after the hike! 

I've got my fuel for after the hike! 

Personally, I loved these little electro-bites and would definitely buy them again.  The fact that they're so much different from anything I've tried recently really sold me on this tasty and quick fuel for athletes.  They're formulated for distance athletes and have 100 calories per pack, including 190mg of Sodium, 55mg of Potassium and 46mg of Magnesium. Fuel 100 Electro-Bites will have a place in my pack for the rest of the season for sure!

A handful of baked electro bites - yum! 

A handful of baked electro bites - yum! 

Have you tried any new electrolyte replacement products recently?  What's your favorite way to refuel during a hot and humid summer run or hike?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received Fuel 100 Electro-Bites for free from Fuel 100 as coordinated by Outdoor PR in consideration for review publication.  All opinions, as always on this blog, are my own.

Five Things I Love About Being a Hiking Guide

With summer hiking season in full swing it seems like I'm hardly ever indoors anymore!  If I'm not out on the trails for work you can usually find me out in a state park or national forest with my dog and NoKey.  I recently had a client ask me what it's like to have your passion and your job be the exact same thing and if I found it hard to find a balance between the two.  For me the balance isn't tough because I do my guiding in the Smokies and I do my hiking for pleasure outside of the national park.  There are a few reasons for this - heavy traffic near the Smokies, the fact that no dogs are allowed on trails, and the fact that the trails I hike for work are usually incredibly popular day hikes are some of them.  For me though, being a guide feels like a natural thing and it feels like it is truly where I need to be in life right now.  I feel incredibly fortunate to be doing what I do for a living.  For today's Friday Five post, I'm going to tell you the five things I love about being a guide.  

1) Teaching 

It might sound cheesy, but there is something really incredibly satisfying about teaching someone how to find what they're looking to learn out in the woods.  Whether it's taking a one-hour  nature walk and showing someone they can chew on a particular leaf or taking someone out for a customized backpacking trip and seeing them become more confident with their gear, the fact that I've taught someone a lesson they will remember is incredibly satisfying. 

2) InTroducing People to Nature

Sometimes I'm guiding a nature walk for a hotel or resort.  While these nature walks aren't strenuous or even long, by taking these groups out on a gentle walk away from the hustle and bustle of gateway towns around the park I'm showing them something they've possibly never experienced in life - and something they may never experience again.  We often get people from flatter places in the midwest or from large cities like Chicago or New York who don't make it out to the woods often.  Showing to people how much beauty you can find just beyond the concrete jungle can be such a rewarding experience. 

3) The unpredictability

It's pretty fair to say the outdoor industry is incredibly unpredictable.  Over the winter several of my hikes had to be canceled altogether due to weather-related road closures.  Sometimes my high ridgeline day hikes have to be rescheduled or even moved to a low elevation route due to thunderstorms.  Living in the mountains of East Tennessee will definitely keep you on your toes weather-wise!  Some days I'll only be scheduled for a short 2.5-hour walk only to be working an additional 8 or 9 hours due to unscheduled hiker shuttles or last-minute getaway hikes.  The unpredictable nature of my job always keeps me on my toes!

4) The Unexpected

Like the weather isn't the only thing that can throw curveballs at me out in the woods!  Sometimes it can be difficult to predict how our clients will react outdoors as well.  Even though we are filling out waivers and doing health questionnaires the physical ability of our group on a hike can keep us on our toes.  I had a scheduled hike up a difficult mountain where the first two miles were faster than usual and the clients were laughing and having fun.  The next two miles up, while not any more difficult, quickly fell apart and turned into me having to decide to make the call to turn around.  It took me 11 hours to hike approximately 7.5 hours on that trip and we never did make it to the top.  The clients, however, were still happy with the hiking and the interpretation I provided during the walk so it at least helps you feel better about making a difficult call. 

5) The People

There is something incredibly satisfying about introducing yourself to a group of people you're going to see over the next several hours and knowing that you're going to be able to show them things they've never experienced before.  Even though my job relies heavily on being able to do interpretation on the things around me, I often get to know my hiking clients on a more personal level, especially on a longer day hike or an overnight trip of any length.  Getting to learn things about people on such a personal level and connect with someone on a trip is the single greatest thing about my job.  Building a close report during such a short period of time really can't be done in any other setting.  

These are just a few of the things I really love about being a hiking guide.  When I first got into guiding I had no idea what to expect but now I can honestly say that I have found where I need to be right now.  

Is your passion your career?  What is it you love about what you do?  Would you be able to work at a job that closely mirrors the hobbies you have?  

I'm linking up with CourtneyCynthia and Mar and some of the other folks who link up with us – and please don’t forget to link to your hosts if you are participating!

My Favorite Gear for Newbies

Backpacking gear can be daunting, especially for newbies!  When I first started backpacking several years ago it seemed like it was really difficult to discern what gear I wanted to buy and what could wait.  While I had many friends who were backpackers, not all of them were looking to get the same experiences out of a trip that I was.  While some backpackers are able to carry bigger packs and heavier weights, this was definitely not something I could do!  After a few years of trial and error with gear I've narrowed down what works best for me.  As a person who now leads guided backpacking trips for a living, helping people pick out some great essential pieces of gear is something I do on a constant basis.  Here are the five things I've picked as my favorite gear for new backpackers.  

1) Sawyer Mini Water Filter  This water filter is light, small, fast, and easy to use.  You can even use it inline on your Camelbak/Platypus/Osprey hydration pack to make water filtration fail proof!  I love using this filter inline while I'm hiking and I'll set it us as a gravity system for filtration in camp at night.  With filtration being this easy, you have no excuses to not filter water. 

2) JetBoil Flash Stove  While there are lighter stoves on the market, stoves don't get much easier to use than the JetBoil Flash.  This stove has a built in ignitor to make lighting the stove with a lighter/match/flint completely unnecessary.  Add to the fact that the pot has an integrated cosy, tight fighting lid, and a built on cup and you've got a pretty simple system that any newbie will appreciate!  I use this stove when I'm guiding trips due to the speed of the boiling and it's great when you've got hungry hikers to feed. 

3) Black Diamond Storm Headlamp  This headlamp has lots of neat features in a tiny package.  While you can definitely find lighter and cheaper ones out on the market, this one has all the features you've ever needed in a light.  The brightest setting is up to 250 lumens which makes it great for an impromptu night hike.  It also has the all important red light setting on it, which not only helps you keep your night vision but also keeps from waking up the entire shelter when you need to get up in the middle of the night.  My favorite feature of  all is the lock feature - you turn this feature on and your light won't turn on in your pack.  Stopping for lunch and discovering your headlamp has been on all morning is a real bummer - and battery killer!

4) Z Packs Cuben Fiber Stuff Sacks   Cuben fiber is expensive stuff, but great backpacking gear is an investment and take it from me, I wish I would have bought these a LONG time ago.  Cuben fiber is strong and light and practically indestructible stuff.  I currently have their food bag and a medium sized sack for my clothes.  They're great for keeping my stuff waterproofed, especially for those long rainy nights my food is hanging off my bear line.   

5) Thermarest Inflatable Sleeping Pad  I truly believe you'll get a better night's sleep on an inflatable mattress over one of the roll-up or accordion style foam pads.  After a while foam pads will start to break down whereas I've actually given away my old inflatables as hand-me-downs to other backpackers and they're still going strong.  In fact, the company I work for still has old Thermarest pads from the 1990s that we send out with clients today!  While there are many other brands on the market to chose from, I personally use a Thermarest and it's a brand I'd highly recommend to anyone.  

These are just a few of my favorite pieces of gear to recommend to newbie backpackers.  What is something you would add to this list?  What piece of gear was most beneficial to you when you were learning to backpack?

I'm linking up with CourtneyCynthia and Mar and some of the other folks who link up with us – and please don’t forget to link to your hosts if you are participating!

Five Things I Learned from Backpacking

Recently I realized that my life has changed so, SO much from becoming a distance hiker.  For those of you who knew me back before my 2012 Thru Hike you know that I was the kind of person who needed to be in control of a situation and liked to organize and plan out things.  Once I really gave that idea up, which took a LOOOOOONG time, and began to learn how to take things as they came to me I've noticed something strange - I'm usually at ease when plan A doesn't work.  I no longer freak out (at least, not on the outside) and I stop to think about what plan B could be.  Then, I go from there.  It turns out the more and more I thought about it I've learned quite a bit from becoming a distance backpacker, but many people learn these simple concepts from the first time they strap on a pack and hit the trail.  Here are five simple things I learned from backpacking. 

1) Simple is better.  The easier a piece of gear is to use the less stress I'll feel when assembling it in less than ideal conditions.  If it somehow gets dark when I get into camp, I'm 100% positive I could set up my tent, hang my bear bag, and climb into bed in less than 10 minutes.  My gear is always packed in the exact same way and I bet I could do all of my camp chores blindfolded!

2) Clutter = Chaos.  Remember the old adage "a place for everything and everything in it's place"?  Well, that couldn't be more true than it is for my backpack.  The stuff sacks are brightly colored and packed exactly the same every single time I put them back.  When I put gear in my tent it all goes in the same order.  With order comes calm.  It's very rare you'll ever find me digging for a piece of gear I've misplaced.  

3) Go with the flow. Sometime Plan A doesn't work out.  In fact, Plan A is usually ditched for me pretty early on.  As someone who used to preplan A-Z, it turns out that if you just wing it things will still turn out alright.  Learning to be flexible with things that come up as been such a valuable lesson for me and has even helped me with my anxiety issues.  It took me a long time to get here, but it's working out pretty well!

4) Everything happens for a reason.  This one is still tough for me sometimes.  It's hard to realize that even things that seem like they're terrible can turn out alright in the end.  This couldn't have been more true for us than it was on our Finger Lakes Trail thru hike attempt in the summer of 2015.  We walked through a section of New York with a long no camping zone.  The trail conservancy was rude to us and offered no help, but with a little help from some trail angels and some tips from people in the area we were able to find a restaurant off trail with people who lived right on the property we were aiming to stealth camp on that night.  Instead of us having to stealth camp on private property in the rain, they offered up a guest house with a shower and a freezer full of candy.  We slept out the thunderstorm that night in the glow of a satellite television.  

5) It always works out in the end.  It turns out the old saying is true - it truly isn't about the destination, but about the journey.  When I set out to do  my thru hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2012 I had a much different idea of how my journey would pan out.  It turns out that the journey I thought I wanted wasn't the one I needed.  It turns out the journey I took changed my life forever and in the best possible way.  Funny how the universe works, isn't it?

These are just a few of the life-changing, simple things I learned from backpacking.  Is there anything you agree with here?  What would you add to the list?  

I'm linking up with CourtneyCynthia and Mar and some of the other folks who link up with us – and please don’t forget to link to your hosts if you are participating!

Taking Your Dog on a Long Hike - Things to Consider Before Packing Up

Lots of us have four-legged companions who love to spend time with us.  For hikers, it's only natural to want to bring your pup out onto the trails with you.  In fact, more and more people are taking their dogs on long hikes every year.  Dogs, however, are just like humans when it comes to taking long hikes in the woods - it's not for everyone!  Not all dogs are equipped to handle the rigors of distance hiking or long, extended weekends in the woods.  If you've considered taking your dog out for their first long hike, here is a list of things to consider before buying the gear and taking the leap. 



First of all, make sure where you are going is DOG FRIENDLY!  Not all places will allow dogs on trails - most US National Parks are not dog friendly!  And also, don't be that guy who gets fake permits to say your dog is a service dog just to bring them hiking with you.  We all know someone who does it and it's not only illegal, it also gives hikers a bad name.  Plan a trip someplace where dogs are welcome. 


People need backpacks that fit properly and this is no different for your pup!  While there are several commercial brands out there - Ruffwear, Mountain Smith, there are also some customizable dog packs available as well.  Groundbird Gear makes many types of customizable packs for dogs as well.  Knowing the proper sizing is key to making sure your dog stays happy and doesn't carry to much weight for his or her body on trail.  Not only should you consider a backpack for your dog, you should also consider sleeping conditions.  Will your dog be more comfortable on a sleeping pad or wrapped up in a sleeping bag for cooler nights?  Does your dog have sensitive feet and will he need to wear boots?  Where you're going may also have leash requirements.  Even if your dog is well-trained off leash you may be required to keep him or her on a leash of a certain length the whole time you're hiking.  Again, requirements are in place for a REASON!  Don't be that guy and claim your dog is well-trained and the rules don't apply to you.  

Mileage and Training

Just like people, dogs need to build up their mileage gradually as well!  While dogs are commonly thought of to be strong runners and able to carry on for long distances, that doesn't always tend to be the case.  If you're taking your first backpacking trip with your furry friend, it's a great idea to treat it like you're taking out a complete beginner.  Try to limit hikes to the 5-8 mile range per day for your first trip out.  If you're a super awesome pet parent, you should train your dog for hiking much like the way you began training to do longer hikes - and if you need some ideas for training, see my post about training for a long-distance hike here!  Since my dog, Gracie, is getting older and can't quite do the mileage she used to anymore, we spend a week or so leading up to the hike by practicing with her backpack and gradually add a little weight to it to reintroduce her to backpacking.  

The Happiness Factor

Does your dog actually like hiking? Sure, most dogs love taking walks and might even enjoy an hour or two out on the trails during the day, but how does your dog sleep at night in the woods?  If you're planning to keep your dog in your tent with you at night do you know how he or she sleeps in one?  Is your dog hypersensitive to sounds at night?  Is he a natural guardian and feel the need to protect you all night?  If your dog is suffering from lack of sleep at night it can hinder their performance during the day, just like a person!  This is why I recommend short mileage days and limited nights in the woods when training with your dog.  Chances are you're an amazing pet parent and your dog loves you and would do anything to make you happy - including packing up and taking a hike of any distance for you.  If your dog isn't cut out for longer mileage days they may not eat well or sleep well in the woods but will hike as many miles as you ask of him.  Watching for change in mood or normal behavior is incredibly important for backpacking with a dog!  Dogs cannot speak to us.  They can't tell us when they're hurting or when they don't feel well and it is up to us to determine if they're suffering.  

The decision to take a long hiking trip with a dog is an incredibly personal one.  While I love my dog and know she loves to go hiking, I know that backpacking long distances day after day is definitely not for her and that is okay.  I was broken hearted missing her during all my thru hikes, but in the end I know leaving her at home was for the best - best for her health and well-being!  While I have seen many people backpacking or even thru hiking with dogs, at some point your dog's body will begin to break down just like yours will.  It is so critically important to be in tune with how your pup is feeling to ensure they're still happy and having fun. 

Do you take your dog backpacking or trail running?  Are you someone who once backpacked with a dog but maybe can no longer take your four-legged friend with you?  I'd love to hear how you feel about it!  Leave me a comment below or find me on Facebook or Twitter to get the conversation started!

Porters Creek Trail to Campsite #31 - A Tuesday Adventure

The Porters Creek Trail in the Smokies is well-known to locals and visitors alike in the springtime.  It's known as the wildflower hike and is popular among hikers and photographers from late winter until mid spring for the variety and beauty of the flowers growing alongside the trail.  I recently did a backpacking trip up to Campsite 31 for the night and got to enjoy all kinds of weather - from sunshine to rain to mist to sleet all in the span of about 30 hours!  Here's a recap of my recent hike on Porters Creek Trail. 

We arrived around 11 a.m. to a packed parking area at the end of the gravel road in Greenbrier.  While usually a packed trailhead means for busy hiking, we knew many hikers would be turning around before they reached our final destination for the evening.  It also was a good sign that the wildflowers were going to be extraordinary today!  Word tends to travel fast in this park about the flowers blooming, so busy trailheads mean pretty sights much of the time.  We began our walk gently uphill on the former roadbed that is the first mile of the Porters Creek Trail.  After reaching the old traffic circle, the literal end of the road, we took a detour over to the John Messer Barn and the old Smoky Mountains Hiking Club Cabin before continuing up trail.  

The flowers really look like snow covering the hillside! 

The flowers really look like snow covering the hillside! 

We got onto the more narrow foot path and kept climbing at our gentle grade, crossing a unique log bridge and walking into the section of this trail that contains the old growth forest.  Now our trees are bigger and more varied!  We turn the corner to switch back up the hill and the forest is now carpeted in gorgeous fringed phacelia!  As we are walking through and admiring the flowers we also see a few trout lillies that are just about to open.  It's been raining for a few minutes now, so the flowers are starting to wilt and close up a little.  We spot some spring beauties and continue up to the side trail to Fern Branch Falls. While here we begin to spot white trillium and even the makings of some yellow trillium.  We also spot a small patch of Dutchman's Britches.  

Fern Branch Falls in the rain. 

Fern Branch Falls in the rain. 

After a break at the waterfall most people are now turning around in the rain to head back down to their cars.  We, however, will continue uphill toward campsite 31.  We see the endemic (only found in this park) flower Fraiser's sedge along the way.  The sun begins to come out about 30 minutes from the campsite making for pleasant walking and happy campers!  We roll into the site around 5 p.m. with only two other people there for the night.  We are able to set up camp, collect water, and have dinner and a small campfire before finally calling it a night.  

Some white trillium along the trail. 

Some white trillium along the trail. 

We wake in the morning to a misty, nearly imperceptible rain falling.  We have coffee and breakfast together before finally breaking camp and heading back down trail.  The misty rainfall never stops and we even have a few periods of sleet.  At this time I sure am glad I have my new Swing liteflex umbrella keeping me dry!  I had been using it the whole trip and can even go hands-free if I need to since it attaches to the sternum strap on my pack! The rain finally let up as we reached the end of the trail and got back onto the old gravel roadbed.  We were all very happy to be close to the cars, meaning the relative warmth of our cars and hot showers at home awaited us!

The Porters Creek Trail and elevation profile

The Porters Creek Trail and elevation profile

If you want to try this hike for yourself, either as a day hike, trail run, or backpacking trip it's easy to find!  Get your campsite reservation at for campsite #31 if you want to backpack.  You'll drive to the Greenbrier entrance of the park and follow the road approximately four miles straight back to the Porter's Creek Trailhead.  Be prepared to walk a little ways if you're hiking on a weekend - parking tends to fill on beautiful weekends!  You'll follow the Porter's Creek Trail approximately 3.7 miles back to the campsite.  See the map and elevation profile below. 

What Do Thru Hikers Eat?!

Whenever I'm out on the trail, whether it's a short trip for work or a month long hike (or even longer!) people who have never done a backpacking trip often ask me how I eat on the trail when I'm staying in the woods.  I usually give them the short answer of "I carry food!" because many people just assume I forage or hunt or even carry tons of canned goods (yes, really!). Since I've been doing a lot of advice posts recently, this post is aimed at newer backpackers who are still confused as to what to bring to eat for longer distance hikes.  While there are so many wonderful options out there, here are the most common things people carry on thru hikes.  It should be noted that I dehydrated all our food from recipes for our hikes last summer, so more intensive backpacking "recipes" won't be covered here - stay tuned for future posts for people looking for recipe inspiration (as well as healthier options)!

Breakfast Ideas

Breakfast is a toughie because some people just don’t like breakfast.  If I don’t eat breakfast I crash and burn fairly quickly.  I also was never a coffee drinker until I hit the trail but once I really got into the routine, I found a warm cup of coffee was perfect for me most mornings. On hot summer mornings I often just made it with cold water for an "iced coffee"!  If you don’t think you’d like coffee, any warm liquid is often nice in the morning to get everything in your digestive tract “moving.”  Instead of hot chocolate, I really recommend Carnation Instant Breakfast packets.  They have a coffee flavor and two different chocolate flavors, as well as vanilla and strawberry.  There is at least SOME nutrition in this, as well as a LOT sugar to perk you up. My personal favorite for a breakfast drink is coffee with a pack of Carnation.  It’s like a hiker trash mocha, haha!  

-Two packets of instant oatmeal - two will at least give you calories. Interestingly enough if you look at a pack of instant oats you'll see something you probably never noticed before - a fill line. That's right, you can eat this stuff right out of the packs for easy clean up!  Just be careful with super hot water.  I often ate it cold on trail. 

-Two packets of instant grits or cream of wheat

-ProBars (340 calories - whole food energy)

-Little Debbie Cakes (sugar energy)

-Honey Buns (iced honey buns have the most caloric bang for your buck, often packing in close to 600 calories for only a few ounces of weight)

-Pop tarts

-Bagels with shelf-stable cheese (Laughing Cow will last up to 5 days in a pack) or peanut butter, cookie butter, or Nutella

-Peanut butter and granola bars (Nature Valley type)

Lunch Ideas:

I am a fan of stopping for a proper lunch.  I like to take breaks when I hike and I find a proper lunch break makes me feel better in the afternoon.  Lunch ideas are often the same as breakfast with a few tweaks. 

-Peanut butter and honey on a tortilla or the sandwich thin bread or bagels (I hate tortillas, so I opt for bread)

-Pepperoni/summer sausage and Laughing Cow Cheese (or regular cheese) on a bagel or bagel thin

-Pop tarts with peanut butter, eaten like a sandwich

-Tuna or salmon packets with tortillas or sandwich thins. I don't know if any of you have noticed, but they make so many flavors of tuna now and I even recently saw two different flavors of salmon!  Spam packets also are popular for lunches.

Dinner Ideas:

Dinner ideas can be crazy versatile.  There is really more food out there than you’d think, but if you don’t shop for processed food often it’s hard to figure this out.  Sometimes you just have to be creative and do without things and be good at improvising.  The only thing I recommend staying away from for trail dinners is quinoa - it takes 18 minutes to make and that’s active cooking time.  Fuel canisters can only last 60-75 minutes, so it burns up a lot of fuel on your stove!

-Near East CousCous (There are a TON of flavors and its fast!)

-Ramen - you can add peanut butter and dried veggies for a “pad thai”

-Mac and Cheese - even without butter and milk powder this works well!

-Knorr pasta sides or rice sides - these generally cook in 8-10 minutes, but can be done in as few as five active with 10 extra for sitting and soaking

-Instant mashed potatoes - they come in several different flavors

-Stovetop stuffing - surprisingly filling for a dinner or you can mix them with potatoes 

-El Paso Ready Rice - there are tons of precooked rice packs out there in lots of flavors. Unfortunately, these are heavy, but are great for a first day out of town

-Asia Kitchen makes Chinese food that is much like the ready rice - just heat for a few minutes and serve

-Taste of India makes Indian dishes that are heat and serve (and these make other hikers REALLY jealous when they smell them!)


I usually eat three meals a day and two snacks when I am hiking. I have breakfast around 7:30 a.m., a snack at 10 a.m., lunch around 12-1 p.m., a snack around 4 p.m., and dinner at camp.  This is my magic recipe for not feeling “hangry” during the day!

-Nature Valley Granola Bars, Clif Bars, Kind Bars - any kind of bar really!  I would AVOID anything labeled as a protein bar or body builder bar.  These bars have sugar alcohols as an ingredient and sugar alcohols are notorious for making you need to poop VERY badly. I made this mistake a few times on trail and it’s HORRIFYING. 

-Goldfish Crackers, Cheeze Its, Triscuits - most crackers like this hold up for a few days pretty well

-Fruit snacks

-Trail mix - can be heavy as most bags are an entire pound, but if you make a good dent in it each day it should be okay

-Cheesy Popcorn - holds up surprisingly well in a gallon sized freezer bag and is a personal favorite of mine

and of course, CANDY!  The mini candy bars are what I always went for. The packs of 8-10 are the best because it’s just enough of a snack, plus you can usually eat two per day. Sometimes I would have one with lunch and one with dinner as a dessert. 

I should also note that for people who don't often eat a lot of processed food products, it can be really hard on your stomach and body to immediately begin consuming large amounts of this stuff.  For me, by the time I got to Hot Springs, I constantly felt kind of queasy.  I picked up a package of Flintstones Chewable kids vitamins and took two of them every night before I brushed my teeth and they really helped me feel better.  Several others who noticed me doing this also reported good results.  Since then, they've come out with adult gummy multivitamins and NoKey does really well chewing those up every night.  I personally cannot take regular adult multivitamins because I get stomachaches from the iron content.  So, in short, if you start feeling run down and crappy fairly early on, consider adding a multivitamin to your diet!

And yes, I know I may have forgotten (insert whatever it is you think I forgot here).  There are so many different food choices out there and so many different dietary needs. Some people prefer to not even carry a backpacking stove, so this article doesn't even begin to touch on all of those things!  I'm just covering the bases for any new or wanna-be hikers who are looking for ideas that are cheaper than Mountain House type meals and will be cooking. 

Well, there you have it!  A quick and dirty list of foods I commonly see on the trail that long-distance hikers are eating.  Are you horrified at what thru hikers consume?! What do you normally eat on the trail? Are there any foods you love or foods that you can't even bear to look at after eating them so often on a hike? I'd love to hear your favorites! Leave me a comment below or find me on Facebook or Twitter to get the conversation started!

Transformation Tuesday - My Hiking Weight Loss Journey

While I normally do adventure recaps on Tuesdays, today I thought I'd do something a little different.  In the fitness community Transformation Tuesday is a big feature on social media across the internet.  Many of us like to share our journeys with each other if for no other reason than to say "life is never easy - I know it's hard and I got through."  It helps to inspire others to be their best selves.  I know for me that Tuesdays are always extremely motivational if for no other reason than I know this could be the story that changes someone's life!  For me personally, hiking saved me.  If it weren't for me finding this passion in my life I have no idea where I would be today.  Here is my story. 

This is me in June 2010, only 2 months after knee surgery and carrying more weight than I care to remember - both in my pack and on my body.  

This is me in June 2010, only 2 months after knee surgery and carrying more weight than I care to remember - both in my pack and on my body.  

After struggling through some personal issues in 2008 I had gained a few pounds.  My doctor was treating me for depression and the pills made me gain weight and slowed down my thyroid function.  The lower my thyroid functioned the more weight I put on and the more depressed I became.  It was a vicious cycle.  By early 2010 I was weighing close to 155 pounds. At 5'1" I was unhealthy and overweight.  Then, a slip and fall in a friend's kitchen caused major damage to my knee which required an easy surgery but required physical therapy to be able to walk and pedal a bike again.  I gained 25 more pounds due to the steroids and the physical inactivity.  I was absolutely miserable.  I had hired a personal trainer to help me lose the weight, but with my knee pain it was so hard to do many exercises without severe modification.  Weight training was helping me get stronger, but without cardio I knew I'd never lose the weight.  

Since I was in a lot of pain and walking was a skill I could manage I started hiking more seriously.  I could only do short day hikes, 3-4 miles, but since we live near a national park a lot of backpacking trips would fit this description.  I could do a round trip total of 6 or 8 or 10 miles in a weekend!  I started hiking as often as I could with a group I found on Meetup.Com that was local to my area.  I was often times the slowest person in the group, the one everyone took a break and waited for.  I was the one who didn't get a break ever because by the time I caught up to everyone they had been taking a break for a LONG time!  Sometimes I really got discouraged, but I had made some amazing friends in the group who helped support me and encourage me on those hard hikes. 

Me hiking through a rock quarry in August 2010 with my Meetup friends. 

Me hiking through a rock quarry in August 2010 with my Meetup friends. 

Little by little, my injured knee got stronger every day.  After about 6 months of working with a trainer and spending my weekends with the hiking group I was able to start doing light impact cardio at a gym - elliptical and bike training.  While the pain in my knee was still aggravating, it had lessened dramatically and I was able to work on my endurance.  Combined with the strength training, I knew I was getting stronger and was slowly starting to do a better job keeping up with my friends on our hiking trips!  By the time we rang in 2011 I had dropped more than 30 pounds, my thyroid began functioning better on it's own, and my depression was lessening.  Not only was the physical activity helping my moods, but being outside in the fresh air and sunshine with good company was helping lift my spirits.  While I was shedding weight, I was also shedding a dark cloud that had been built up in my soul for a long time.  

Hiking on the Appalachian Trail in the Spring of 2011 - thinking how hard it would be to go all the way to Maine one day!

Hiking on the Appalachian Trail in the Spring of 2011 - thinking how hard it would be to go all the way to Maine one day!

In the late spring of 2011 I met Jennifer Pharr Davis.  She was the female speed record holder for the Appalachian Trail.  She was going to try to (and did!) set the overall speed record during the summer.  I had already started throwing around the idea of doing a thru hike after spending some time with friends who had done large sections and, after meeting her and listening to how she spoke of the life changing experience of hiking the trail, I knew I had to do it... but how on earth would I manage something like that?!  That summer a friend of mine began a bucket list item - hiking the 900 miles of trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park before her next birthday.  She spent every single weekend out on the trails and by now I was one of the faster hikers.  I spent most of my weekends with Elise and other friends of hers doing obscure day hikes and combinations of trails that no one could ever even dream of!  With Elise at my side I took my first ever multi-day backpacking trip.  Because of all the hard work I put in with her, by the fall of 2011 I knew for sure I could not only start a thru hike but I also knew I would complete one!

Me at McAffee's Knob - the most photographed location on the entire Appalachian Trail.  May 2012. 

Me at McAffee's Knob - the most photographed location on the entire Appalachian Trail.  May 2012. 

By the time I left for Springer Mountain in Georgia on March 27th, 2012 I had lost 50 pounds.  I was a strong hiker who for the first month of the trail didn't spend more than a night or two with the same person because I usually completed more miles.  I was physically prepared for the trail and even dropped 8 more pounds throughout the length of my hike.  By the time I walked to Maine I was the strongest and fittest person I had ever been in my life (with the worst diet probably!).  After getting back home to Tennessee I wasn't walking 20+ miles every day and the weight started to come back - much to my horror.  Granted, some of those last 8 pounds were caused by dehydration and would be gained back... but it's hard to tell yourself that when you've worked so hard to lose so much weight in the first place.  Hand-in-hand with coming back into the real world from a thru hike comes post-trail depression.  The inactivity and depression started throwing me back into a spiral of sadness I remembered from years ago and it scared me.  

I started running about a month after I got home from the AT as a way to stay busy and fit when I couldn't go hiking every single day. I was running 5K's at Thanksgiving and New Year's and doing the miles started to feel normal to me. After moving to Millinocket in 2013, I made it a priority to take a walk nearly every night around town.  Sometimes I even ran a 5K by looping twice around the greenway they had at Millinocket Stream.  It wasn't until we moved to Syracuse that I started seriously thinking about running as a way to fill my time.  I ran my first half marathon in the spring of 2015 after training through the brutally cold winter outdoors before daylight.  For the first time since finishing my thru hike I truly felt accomplished and proud of the things I was doing.  Running went from something I really hated to something that kept me focused and sane.  By the time we left for the Benton MacKaye Trail in the late spring of 2015 I was in the best cardiovascular shape I had ever been in!

Crossing the finish line of the Syracuse Half Marathon with an official time of 2:05:45 - better than the goal time I trained for!

Crossing the finish line of the Syracuse Half Marathon with an official time of 2:05:45 - better than the goal time I trained for!

I now consider myself extremely lucky to call myself a hiking guide.  I now get paid to share my love of the trails and backpacking with people who are new to the sport.  In my free time now I've run a multitude of races, added two more long-distance trails to my hiking resume, and I am even training for my first full marathon in the spring of 2016.  If you were to ask me 5 years ago if I ever would have seen myself here I would have told you that you were crazy!  

The reason I'm sharing this story now is because I feel like it's important to tell people that small changes add up.  I get messages of people asking me how to start hiking with a group; people who are slow and overweight like I was and are afraid to make others wait on them.  The reason I'm sharing this is to tell you that we all have to start somewhere.  Hell, I even had to learn how to WALK again before I could hike.  We all start slow.  We all need time to ease into it.  If you want to start hiking - GO FOR IT!  Hiking changed my life.  It saved my life.  I'd hate to think where I could be today without it.  

Has hiking caused a positive change in your life?  I'd love to hear about it!  Please leave me a comment or find me over on Facebook to get the conversation started!

Women's Running Community

Backpacking Pillows - My Favorite Luxury Item

Every hiker carries at least one luxury item - the item they don't really need but cannot live without on the trail. For many hikers early on during a thru hike, this item is usually something like a solar charger or extra batteries or sleeping clothes. My luxury item on the AT was a plastic princess crown I took great pains to carry without breaking on the top of my pack. I've seen hikers going SoBo carrying jack-o-lantern buckets around Halloween.  NoKey carried a pink necktie and wore it in town and on Katahdin.  After getting a few more miles under my feet, this summer my luxury item changed.  I now carry a pillow. Yep, I know it sounds ridiculous, but I love my backpacking pillow!

 Many backpackers will use a bag filled with clothing as their pillow at night. I was in this camp for many years, carrying a Thermarest bag lined with fleece as my pillow.  The problem, however, is that 1) Your pillow really starts to smell when it's filled with dirty socks; 2) Your pillow isn't very comfy when the only thing in it is dirty socks.  This summer on the Finger Lakes Trail, NoKey bought himself a Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow. I loved stealing this pillow when he would get up early in the morning. I was determined to buy one every time we went into town,  but no outfitters seemed to stock them.  Finally, after our Long Trail hike, I bought a pillow of my own - the Klymit Pillow X.  The pillow changed the way I slept at night. I no longer wake up with a crick in my neck. I no longer fall asleep to the smell of wet, dirty socks at my head.  Being that I backpack for a living now, comfort and a good nights' rest are key to making both me and the clients I take on trips very happy!

The red pillow above is the Klymit Pillow X; the green pillow below is the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight. 

The red pillow above is the Klymit Pillow X; the green pillow below is the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight. 

Comparing the Pillows

Both of these pillows are incredibly small and lightweight - Klymit weighs 1.95 oz. packed and packs to a size of 3 x 1.25 inches. Sea to Summit weighs 2.1 oz. packed and packs to a size of 2 x 2.8 inches.  The real differences come in once you remove them from their stuff sacks. 

A dollar bill for scale of the size of the pillows in the stuff sacks - both pillows come with them. 

A dollar bill for scale of the size of the pillows in the stuff sacks - both pillows come with them. 

Inflating/Deflating Valves

The Sea to Summit has a unique valve system - it's a double valve that allows you to blow it up without losing any inside air. It takes me four breaths to blow it up completely.  If you want to deflate the pillow, you open the valve marked "deflate" and it will open right up and allows nearly all the air to escape instantaneously.  It's very quick to deflate. 

The Klymit pillow has a valve system similar to that on a blow up sleeping pad. You pull the valve to open it, blow it up with approximately 4 breaths, and then turn it to close it.  The real pain though is deflating this pillow - it fills up in four separate chambers, making deflating the pillow a job.  No matter how I've tried to deflate this pillow: pressing all the air out, rolling it, folding it, there is always air stuck inside and you have to be patient to let it all out. 

The top two photos show the double valve system of the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight - an easy and smart valve system.  The bottom photo is the valve on the Klymit Pillow X. 

The top two photos show the double valve system of the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight - an easy and smart valve system.  The bottom photo is the valve on the Klymit Pillow X. 

Comfort for Sleeping

The Sea to Summit pillow has a curved shape and a soft TPU covering.  This almost feels like microfiber on your skin.  The shape allows for you to sleep on either your sides or your back and still have support for your neck.  If you're a back sleeper, however, you will have to play around with how much you inflate this pillow for neck comfort.  It only took us a few nights to figure that out though.  Also, the soft covering might feel nice on your face, but it's not so forgiving when your oily skin rubs on it.  This pillow shows a lot of dirt and wear and needs a lot of cleaning. 

The Klymit Pillow X, as I mentioned before, fills the air in four chambers, making an X-shaped indentation right in the middle of the pillow.  This is great because you don't need to play around with inflation levels.  Your head is naturally cradled and comfortable if you're sleeping on your back or side.  It doesn't have that nice soft coating on it, so it's a bit sticky on your face on a hot night.  

A happy camper!

A happy camper!

NoKey and I both love our backpacking pillows and if you're hiking for a few weeks or months at a time, this is one luxury item I can definitely get behind!  They're light, small, and compact - I keep mine right in the stuff sack with my sleeping pad!  If you find yourself sleeping poorly on an overnight, I'd highly recommend trying the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight or the Klymit Pillow X for a better night's sleep!  Do you use a pillow in the backcountry? If you do, I'd love to hear about what you're carrying.  Leave me a comment below or connect with me on Facebook!

Disclaimer: Both of these pillows were purchased by us with our own money. We have no obligation to publish positive reviews of either brand and are doing so because we love both of the products.  Links in the post above are affiliate links.