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The Best Trail Town

The Milford Trail Junction
Written by: Bryan Wolf

What is a trail town? I found this definition online; “A Trail Town is a destination along a long-distance trail or adjacent to an extensive trail system. Whether the trail is a hiking trail, water trail or rail trail, users can venture from the path to explore the unique scenery, commerce and heritage that each trail town has to offer.”  (elcr.org)

Milford Ohio fits the above definition as well or better than any town could. We are in fact the epitome of a trail town. We are home to over 22,000 miles of long distance hiking trail as the biggest trail junction in the United States. We are home to a “rails to trails” program that connects cities more than 70 miles apart. We are home to a National Scenic River that has year-round recreational opportunities. Lastly, we are home to a city that dates back to 1788 and boast unique shopping and dining experiences.

As an outfitter we hope that RRT adds to the qualifications, that we bring additional excitement and attract and inspire more recreational use around the city and that we support users of our trails and river. But we cannot take credit for a single aspect that has built the outstanding resume that you see above. What we are proud of is that we settled in this city because we want to be part of this trail town, and because we recognized it’s potential.

Every year we are lucky to meet and share in the experience of people walking one of three trails across the country, or around the entire state of Ohio. Every day we are lucky to personally enjoy and be immersed in the abundant recreation provided by the Little Miami Scenic Trail and River. Be it by foot, wheels, paddle, or pogo stick, this city ties it all together.

Junction mapThere are a lot of cogs in the trail town system that make us who we are. The over half a dozen canoe and kayak liveries that operate in and around Milford are a big part of that machine. You see the Little Miami River isn’t a one shot or one season river. This is part of the reason why Cincinnati is the self-proclaimed paddle capital. This is why we have the largest and strongest paddling groups in the country. Not because we have short term destination whitewater, but because we have year round beauty and access that is beginner friendly and harnesses the passion of the sport.

One of these great canoe and kayak liveries is Loveland Canoe and Kayak, who operates both out of Loveland and Milford. Owner Mark Bersani had this to say about the Little Miami; “We are fortunate to have one of nature’s best playgrounds right in our backyard.  I love the Little Miami River because of its incredible beauty, rich history, abundant wildlife and accessibility.  It provides awesome recreational opportunities for paddlers, anglers, nature lovers and explorers alike.  When you spend time on the river you can feel the stress of the day melt away as you take in the inspiring scenery and fresh air.”

I reached out to Mark to get some facts, because what good is my nostalgia without facts? The numbers blew me away! In one year Mark will personally put about 16,000 people on the Little Miami River! This is local love right there, we aren’t talking about tourists from other cities. We are talking about a town and its love for the river. Furthermore he added that amongst the half dozen other liveries they would total about 100,000 people per year on the river!

089_LittleMiamiFellas_5-26-15With a healthy and frequented river, so grows the city. This isn’t your grandma’s Milford anymore, although Grandma is still welcome and we love her dearly. In the past five years we have seen the city transform from half empty to overflowing. From a shopping and dining perspective Milford is blowing up, and if you’ve not been here in sometime then you have been missing out. Downtown Milford hosts festivals, has a nature preserve, and even riverside camping. The city grows everyday making it more livable, more shop-able, and more fun.

This year Milford has the opportunity to be part of Outside Magazine’s “Best Towns” competition as we compete to be the best “River Town”. Just having the nomination puts us as one of only sixteen cities to be voted on! So I ask you to please share this, to please vote, and to please spread the word. But also be proud, because if Milford is your city than you should know that it goes toe to toe with cities of a much larger reputation; like that of Bend Oregon, St. Louis Missouri , Charlotte North Carolina, the Appalachian Trails Harpers Ferry in West Virginia, and even Portland Oregon.

Click here to vote now (open until 4/29/16)

If you are unfamiliar with the vast trail town resume I’ve mentioned please check it out. You can find the breakdown of all 22,000 miles of trails that cut right thru Milford on the cities website and the link provided at the end of the article. Special thanks to Mark, visit him in Loveland or Milford (lovelandcanoe.com // 513-683-4611).

Click here for Trail Junction details

Click here for Little Miami River Safety

Europe by Hostel: 10 Tips

By Kayla “Clover” McKinney

Hostels are one of the quintessential aspects of backpacking through Europe. Hostels are typically great because they are cheap, convenient, social, and specifically designed with the backpacker in mind.

I have recently moved to Austria to live and work as an au pair for a year giving me ample time to travel throughout Europe. I have three day weekends, ample holiday and paid time off, and live in the most centrally located country on the continent. Because of this, hostels are quickly becoming a regular scene in my weekend life.

This is an essential “consideration” list for what to look for in hostels. It is certainly not a one size fits all list and most of the time you won’t be able to check off every aspect for each stay. In order to ensure that you have a safe, comfortable, convenient, and fun time here are several things you should consider before booking a hostel:

LOCATION

Just like in real estate, location is certainly the most important thing to consider in hostel backpacking. Ideally, your hostel is close to the train station and the main sights that you want to see. However, if you must choose between one or the other, pick the hostel that is closer to the train station. It is harder and more stressful to walk a far distance to your hostel with your luggage when tired after a train ride and in a new environment than it is to have a farther distance to your sights once settled in. Typically, a farther hostel also has a bus or tram stop on the same street, as well as connection maps. Arrive at your hostel, unload your bags, look at the map, then go see your sights.

TIMING

This is something I just recently learned that was not obvious to me. Do a quick Google search of the holidays and major events that may be going on in the location of your upcoming trip. Oh, it’s the biggest holiday in the country that weekend? The hostels will all be booked in advance. When I stayed in Innsbruck for 4 days recently, I did not do my research. Turns out it was Fasching (think Mardi Gras) as well as the biggest snowboard competition of the year. All the good hostels were completely booked. Of course, this can work adversely as well if you’re looking to get some unique, authentic cultural experience. Either way, it is good to know what you’re getting into when traveling to a new town.

BOOK IN ADVANCE

Not only do you usually save some money, but it also ensures that you have a place to stay on your trip. I understand the appeal of just wandering into a new city and thinking you’ll stumble upon the perfect hostel, but this is a gamble that doesn’t always pan out. Also, some of the cooler locations aren’t as obvious from the street, so research upfront can help you have an amazing time.

LOCKERS

Important. Pay attention beforehand to these essential questions: are they free? Do you need to bring your own lock? Do they even have lockers? Lockers are nice because you can safely store your belongings (possibly everything you own!) while you leave and adventure for the day. I know it’s romantic to think that you’ll get super strong lugging your pack through the streets, but take it from me: it’s just awkward taking your pack into restaurants, bathrooms, book stores, etc.

SHOWERS

If you’re going on a long term backpacking tour you will eventually (hopefully) want to shower. Showers are almost never free and you either have to bring your own towel or pay extra to rent one. Also, the showers can be co-ed. Just a heads up.  unisex-bathroom-sign

WiFi

Some hostels offer free WiFi throughout the hostel, some only in the lounge, some for a fee, and some not at all. WiFi is crucial for looking up train connections, important travel information, or if you need to leave your hostel and find another one for whatever reason. It is a safety net in my opinion and is not up for compromise.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Go for the hostel that offers free breakfast and coffee. Dinner is awesome too. As mentioned, WiFi and lockers are crucial. Other accommodations to consider are whether or not your hostel accepts credit cards. I personally would prefer to pay with a card because I don’t feel comfortable carrying around lots of cash on my person. But if this is unavoidable, make sure there is an ATM close by or get the money out in advance. Pay attention if there is a different currency. Laundry is a huge bonus, but most likely it comes with fees.

Ensure that your hostel has linens included or be prepared in advance. Don’t be surprised if there’s a deposit for linens.

A note on the linens: everyone seems to be afraid of bed bugs in hostels. I have not encountered this. In fact, I have usually been required to take my linens to the front desk when checking out so that they can be washed. But if you’re worried, then use your own sleeping bag.

SOCIAL OPPORTUNITIES

Hostels with bars make it easier to meet people and possibly even new adventure buddies. At my hostel in Salzburg, I had dinner with a Korean girl, an Australian, and two girls who were from the same town as my grandparents in Pennsylvania. People are usually receptive to meeting new people in youth hostels; it seems to be an unwritten agreement. Don’t be shy. Take advantage of the social atmosphere. You’ll never know who you will meet!

PICK UP THE BROCHURES

I have learned about more hostels and cool opportunities around town, found coupons, and so on just from taking a moment to search the brochure rack at my hostels. This is free, relevant information – take advantage of it!

TYPES OF ROOMS

As a solo female traveler, this is very important to me. I prefer hostels that have female only dorm rooms. These rooms usually cost a little more than a co-ed dorm, but it is worth it for my sense of security. The all female rooms tend to be cleaner and smell better too. You can also request single rooms, two bedrooms, three bedrooms… it depends on the particular hostel.

Check out this link for good hostels:

http://www.famoushostels.com/

So, why not AirBnB? Why not a hotel or couch-surfing?

airbnbThis is mostly personal preference. For starters, AirBnB and hotels are more expensive than hostels. There are a few other things to consider as well, especially with AirBnB: AirBnB can sometimes actually be cheaper than a hostel because of the included accommodations. With AirBnB, you often times have access to a fully functional kitchen, which means that you can buy a few groceries instead of eating out for every meal, saving you lots of money (especially if you’re staying for a few days.) Also, an AirBnB host will often pick you up from the train station or airport if you arrange so in advance, which saves you a ticket. Showers and laundry are usually included as well. AirBnB is also comfortable and an adventure in itself. I recommend it if you’re looking for more privacy and personal space. To find a good AirBnB host, read the reviews. After the experience, always give your host a review for future guests.

I personally don’t see any reason why’d you get a hotel, but recognize that I have the particular bias of being pretty poor. Also, I am more interested in interacting with people who have a generally similar travel mindset as myself.

As for couch-surfing, it is certainly the cheapest (free), but is the least comfortable. You get what it advertises-a couch. But hey, it’s a free place to crash and another new way to meet people.

Overall, I recommend exploring multiple options to get an idea of what your preferences are. For example, for my upcoming trip to Amsterdam, I have learned that the hostels are a huge scene for party people and that, if you want any sleep, then you should pay for a single room. For this trip, I will likely stay one night in a hostel for the experience and the rest of the time in an AirBnB. I would rather be able to sleep soundly so that I can wake up early and have an adventurous, full day.

However, the places where you sleep on your grand adventure are not the most important aspect. Try not to spend too much time in your hostel. Go out and explore!

Oh, and if the movie Hostel has negatively influenced you in anyway, all I have to suggest is that you really should go out more.

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Return of the SLOBO: Really Good at Walking

Read the first article in the Return of the SLOBO series, 799 Zero Days Later

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least…sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absolutely free from all worldy engagements.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walking

When people ask me “What was it like hiking the Appalachian Trail?”, I normally space out for a few minutes, stare into the ever-deepening hole of my memory and watch as fleeting images pass of those free days in the hills, drinking fresh spring water, laughing with new friends around a rustic shelter at night, and sitting on a mountain summit, spirit emboldened, knowing that the day would bring only more beauty.

And then my brain kicks sentiment out on its butt and I recall the reality of chronically sore knees, swollen feet, cracked toenails, ravenous hunger, blood, sweat, mud, rain, rain, rain, and waking up in my own filth once again, knowing that the day would bring only more pain.

When I come out of my trance, if the person is still there, I answer with a smile and something like, “Well, I got really good at walking.”

It sounds snarky, but it’s true. When you start out to do a long distance hike, no matter what trailbald you are setting out on or how much past experience you have, your mind cannot help but to romanticize the prospect of spending all day, everyday trekking through the woods. It just sounds so peaceful, doesn’t it? As if blue birds should be greeting you every morning upon waking with a song and a pancake breakfast. On the other hand, when you are deep into it, caught up in making miles and pushing yourself to your limit, you might forget to stop and take in the view or to appreciate a gang of frogs burping out a back country symphony as you’re trying to sleep. There is, as in all things, a balance to be struck and despite hardship and despite joy, at the end of every day, there is one thing that is always true on a hike: You get really good at walking.

Walking all day, over rocks and roots, up and down mountains, through streams and over fields, is not a simple as it sounds. Unless you already live in a rugged area, most of us don’t spend our days staring at our feet, watching every step, and varying our gait to match the lay of the land, avoiding slippery roots and sharp rock edges. Most of us walk on nice even floors, convenient sidewalks, and maybe even nicely groomed trails in the local park and never have to think about where our feet are going to land. You can count your steps-per-day in the city, but this will not translate to steps on the AT. Not really. Not without a pack on your back, sweat in your eyes, sore feet, exhausted muscles, and no prospect of a clean bed for days.

I learned this the hard wamainey. In late 2012, knowing that I was to leave for the trail in 6 months, I began to train (without actually researching what training I should be doing.) So I started trail-running, climbing steps, doing squats and push-ups, and tried to walk everywhere I went. I went on shake-down hikes and made sure that my bag fit properly and that I had everything I needed (and more, it turned out.) When the time came to fly to Maine, I was feeling better than I had in years. I had lost some weight, gained some muscle, and saw my endurance more than double. When people noticed, I always told them, with pride in my voice, that I was training for the AT.

Skip to June and see me at Thoreau Springs, just having climbed to the tableland of Mt. Katahdin, only a short 4 miles in, with over a mile left to the summit and 5 more back to camp after that, sitting on a rock, waiting for my legs to start working again, hoping that they would come around before the lightning storms rolled in. As a south-bounder, you don’t technically start the AT until you reach the summit of Katahdin. I was beat and I was still on the approach hike.

Had I not trained hard enough? No doubt that I hadn’t. Did I know what I was getting myself into? Of course not. Was my body ready for the test of climbing mountains everyday? No. Not yet. Then came the most important moment on the trail for me: I snacked, I rested, I hydracrawlerted, and I got to my feet and I walked (slowly) the last mile to the summit. My lovely partner, Jubilee, was there waiting for me, having passed me up at some point. We took our customary summit photos, looked off into the wilderness below that was to be our new home, and started hiking back to camp before the weather turned. This would be the first of many of these moments – moments where I felt drained, out of my element, and daunted by the task ahead. Call it stubbornness or call it willpower, but there is something inside that does not listen to the aching of our bodies and ignores the cries of our emotions. This is what we must train, I have decided.

You’ll hear this “secret” spoken of in any reliable AT prep article, but it bears repeating: there is no true way to prepare for hiking everyday except for hiking everyday. For most of us, this is not easy to accomplish in our modern lives. However, the truth of the statement stands. This time around, I’m taking this advice to heart. And it won’t be easy, but neither is hiking the AT.

As I write this, I once again have 6 months until I leave for the trail to complete the final leg that I failed to hike the first time around: Shenandoah Nat’l Park, VA to Springer Mountain, GA. The time has come once again to get these bones ready for a long ramble. And I’m going to do it by hiking. I believe that one cannot truly learn by any method but doing, especially in the realm of the physical. This past weekend, I strapped on my pack, loaded in more weight than I will be carrying on the AT, headed out into the snow and frigid winds, and climbed some ridges at Red River Gorge. Not many, but it was a start. I felt the old, familiar pains and groans and with it came a sense of peace. It was like my body welcomed back the burden of the pack and my legs started to strengthen just bit at the mere hint of going back out on the trail.

So as I finish the longshotlast 900 odd miles of the AT, my goal is to hike 100 miles a week after the first few reconditioning weeks. For now, at home, I will start even slower to build up to this goal. I will hike, with my pack at or above trail weight, 30 miles per week, whether it be over a couple of long days or a series of short hikes, on top of the squats and exercises that are my routine. When this becomes easy, I will add miles.  And so on. At some point this summer, I will take 5 days and head off into the mountains to see the state of my legs.

From here on out, when I have the opportunity and the time, instead of settling for anything less, I will have my pack on and I will be moving. Let this be a warning to my friends: if you want to see me on my days off for the next few months, you might want to check out the local trails.

The time has come to get really good at walking again.

 

 

 

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10 Hacks for Winter Backpacking

So you’ve decided that your love of backpacking is so great that not even Old Man Winter himself can keep you cooped up when the temperatures drop. Good. Welcome to the club, fellow maniac. Whether it’s the beautiful, snowy vistas, the refreshing chill of the air, or the solitude of the trail during the winter that draws you out, here are a few things that you can do to make your excursion into the cold even more enjoyable (and safe!)

1. Flip your water bottle upside down.

Water at the top of a bottle freezes first (due to the fact that ice is less dense than liquid water) effectively shutting off your access to the water below. If you flip your bottle, the ice will then form at the top of the upside down bottle, meaning that when you go to drink it, and flip it right side up, you are still able to access the liquid, drinkable part of your water.

2. Keep snacks in a warm pocket

There’s not much liquid in most snack bars, but what little there is will freeze and become tooth-shatteringly hard to eat. Figure out your snacks before hand and keep anything that you plan on eating on the trail that day in a jacket/pant pocket. Your body heat will do the rest.

3. Less is more when it comes to  sleep wearDSC_0495

The best thing to wear to bed inside of your bag in the winter is a dry base layer. And that’s it. Wearing too much clothing is counter-effective in that the extra clothes can compress the insulation of your bag and cut off circulation to your extremities. A sleeping bag is designed to work as a single unit, the warm parts of your body heat up the cold parts of your body. If you wear your warmest coat then there is no passage of warm air to travel to your toes. Also, if you’re wearing damp clothes inside of your bag, this moisture will get trapped in your bag and make you colder.

4. Warm your clothes before getting out of your sleeping bag

If your hiking clothes are moist, take them off before bed and change into something dry. In the morning, your moist clothes will be cold if not frozen. You can avoid a chilly start to your morning by placing your hiking clothes in a plastic bag (to keep moisture out of your sleeping bag) and warming them up inside your bag before putting them on.

5. Don’t hold it all night

I won’t go too far into this, but having a full bladder impedes kidney function which is important in keeping your organs (and thus your whole body warm.) Added to this, if you can’t sleep because you have to go, then just go and get it over with! Being well rested is important on any hike. We won’t talk about the other option, but let’s just say that a wet bag is a cold bag.

6. Warm up before crawling into your bag

Right before you get into your bag, its good to have your blood flowing. This will help in creating heat for your bag to trap, which will make you warmer more quickly once inside. So go for a short walk or do some jumping jacks before turning in. Don’t get sweaty, of course, but get the heart pumping and the heater going.

7. Calories = Energy = Warmth

Most hikers don’t need the encouragement, but: don’t forget to eat! Keep in mind that you’re not just replacing lost calories from the hike, but that you are also adding fuel to your inner furnace. Bring extra snacks for the hike and make sure to eat something filling and warm in the evening (preferably not too long before lying down for the night.) Carbs and fat work best to keep the fire going. Plan on an extra 500 calories at least when the weather gets cold.

8. Bring an insulated buDSCN1601tt pad

Cutting a piece off of an old insulated foam pad to use as a seat in the winter will save you from a wet, cold bottom when you stop for a pack break halfway up the mountain, not to mention keeping you warm as you eat around camp in the evening. It can also double as extra insulation under your mat, pillow, or even as a sleeve to keep dehydrated meals warm as they cook inside of their bag.

 

9. Layer, layer, layer (and pack your layers intelligently)

If you’ve been backpacking in the cold before then you know that layering is the only way to go: a base layer under a mid fleece layer under an insulating layer under a wind/waterproof shell layer (or some combination that works for you.) As you warm up, you ditch layers. When you stop or when the weather turns, you put them back on. Just remember to pack your layers in a way that they are easily accessible while on the move . This includes, of course, hats and gloves.

10. Add traction to your shoes

You won’t always need full crampons, but on slippery, steep surfaces, some sort of after-market traction added to your boots can keep you moving vertically without ending up horizontal, face down in the snow (or, worse, creating a giant snowball by rolling down the side of a mountain.) This is obviously terrain dependent, but on any winter hike where the elevation changes, you can bet that the amount of ice and snow on the trail is also going to change.

So don’t let the weather keep you down! With proper gear and smart planning, you too can be pointed at by folks from the comfort of their cars as you head out on the trail into the beauty and serenity of the winter landscape.

 

 

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Return of the SLOBO: 799 Zero Days Later

Call me Goatman. In 2013, I flew to Maine with a friend and a backpack to attempt a southbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.

And failed.

We walked for 4 months through the mountains and across rivers, hitchhiked into town for food, slept in the woods most nights, and were beholden to no schedule but our own. When we got to Virginia, we were told that Shenandoah National Park was closed due to a government shutdown and that hikers found within the park were to be fined hundreds of dollars and escorted out. We didn’t have hundreds of dollars. In fact, we barely had any money left at all. So we came home. Got jobs. Got soft. Became norms again.

But the trail, she don’t stop calling.      roads

It’s 2016 and time for the Goat to return to the hills.

And I want you along for the journey this time. The whole journey. And that journey doesn’t start when my bag is all packed up and I see my first white blaze on a tree in the distance. The journey starts now.

This blog series, Return of the SLOBO*, will be an inside look at how I, a thru-hike hopeful turned LASHer (Long A$$ Section Hiker) gears up and prepares for three more months on the AT. Each section of the blog series will have a unique focus, ending with actual trip reports from the trail as I hike it.

When I flew to Maine to begin this journey, I was green to backpacking. I had been out for a few nights here and there, but had never spent a significant time in the wilderness unsupported by modern convenience. I loved hiking, but who doesn’t love hiking when you have a warm bed waiting for you at the end of a couple of days roughing it?rivers

This time will be different. I have done my homework. I have lived the life and have been anointed with the sweaty sword of destiny and dubbed Hiker Trash Extraordinaire, Knight of the Dirt. For the past two years, I have also been working at Roads, Rivers and Trails, studying gear innovations, talking to other long distance hikers from all over, and even helping hopeful AT thru-hikers prepare for their time on the trail. I’ve come a long way, you could say, on the trail and off.

In this blog, I will talk about training. I will talk about gear. I will talk about hopes and fears, food and sweat and feet and mud. Overall, I will talk about backpacking and the joy of hoofing it over hundreds of miles with everything you need on your back.

The series will be broken down into sections. Links to other articles in the series will be added at the bottom of the articles as they are written.

So please, join me as it all goes down and do feel free to comment below with any questions, concerns, or rambling diatribes on how I’m “going the wrong way.”

*An explanation of the term SLOBO: short for “slow south-bounder”. Even in the backwoods of Maine, one may not be able to avoid being categorized. My hiking partner, Jubilee, and I were known for three thingrockingouts at the start of our journey: “heavy” (40+ lb.) packs, sleeping until after sunrise (which was around 5 AM that far north in the summer), and taking afternoon swim breaks when we came to a beautiful lake. Such a lackadaisical attitude towards pushing miles was apparently frowned upon by other more Type A hikers.  Fortunately for us, we found fellow souls on the same pace that shared a similar philosophy concerning long distance hiking (a shout out to Phoenix, Blue Tick, Ado, and the Bartender. SLOBOs for life!) As it were, our packs got lighter, our legs got stronger, and we started to catch up to a lot of the hikers that had left us behind in Maine. I’m not sure who coined the term, but invariably we began to hear, “I never thought I’d see you SLOBOs again.” The name stuck, even when we started passing people who had burned out early. At this point, we’ve taken it as a name for our hiking tribe and proclaim it boldly, with honor.

 

RETURN OF THE SLOBO     Next Article

The Louie Knolle Bomb-Diggity Bootastic Award

To put it simply, I do not enjoy conventional footwear.  On the average day, you will find my toesies free from the confines of shoes, either in the nude or in very minimal sandals for when I need to get all dressed up for “The Man”.  I adhere to the belief that shoes were invented by people who hated everything and wanted to make mankind suffer by making our feet get all sweaty and stinky, trapped in laced-up boxes.  However, I know that when it comes time for a tough, long hike in the mountains that I need to give my feet some protection from the elements. That’s when I need to strap into my Salomon Quest 4D GTXs (plot twist!)

Now I know what you are thinking: Louie, you like being barefoot; could these boots really be that greatThe   answer is yes. Yes, they really are.  I have long been a fan of Salomon footwear for their comfortable and supportive trail running shoes and how they perform in the gnarliest of conditions. Having also made a name for themselves with skiing gear and clothing for everyone from day hiker to ultra-marathoner, Sabootslomon has quietly been building boots that have earned the Louie Knolle Bomb-Diggity Bootastic Award.  

Enough gobbledygook! Here is the nitty-gritty on these bad boys.  The Quests feature Salomon’s rock solid Contragrip outsole, a Gore-Tex waterproof membrane to keep the tootsies dry, and Salomon’s ever popular toothed lace eyelets so that when you tie your boots, they stay tied. The newly updated 2015 Quest 4D 2’s feature upgrades such as a more comfortable tongue on the shoe and laces that have a rougher surface so they stay tied better.  I have the first generation models and those were the two things I would say needed improving. Good thing Salomon already took care of that for the rest of you guys!  

So, these boots rock.  I have worn mine for over a year and a half now and they have given me no reason to even begin to look for new boots yet. It will be a long time before I retire them!  I have worn them in the desert in January, the Smokys in February, guiding in Vermont April through July, in the Adirondacks in November and about a million other places. They have been everywhere with me it seems.  Though these are the “heaviest” in the Salomon line of hiking footwear, they are still lighter than any traditional backpacking boot lou3in my opinion.  The Quest’s 4D chassis, which provides support throughout much of the mid-sole, offers unmatched firm yet supple rigidity to the boot which keeps my feet happy as I’m walking on countless roots and rocks.  The sole on these seems like they stick to just about everything! Mud, rocks, leaves, talus, you name it and they will keep you from slipping on it (well, except for ice.  Ask Kayla about the time I tried to hike uphill on ice while wearing the Quests). I have waded through water that was up to the tippy-top of these boots and my feet stayed dry.  After 18 months of use, there’s still no leaks in the waterproof membrane of these guys.  

As I stated earlier, normally I am a sandal/trail runner hiker on short trips, but when I’m going to be out and about for long periods of time, these are my favorite boots I have ever owned.  The roomy toe box allows ample room for my toes to splay naturally the way I like and the sole protects my feet from rough surfaces while still allowing me to be flexible enough when I am in the mood for some heel clicks and 360’s off of rocks and logs (which is about 99% of the time.)  The height of the boot is also something I’ve come to like, even though at first I thought I was opposed to it.  When on really deep, sketchy terrain, the ankle support is bomber and offers unparalleled protection for your ankles.  When I’m on an easier trip, I only will lace up to the second eyelet from the top so it’s a little more of a loosey-goosey feel and I can feel like I’m not as rigid in the ankles.  

So in summation, these boots stick to surfaces like glue, even on the grodiest of trail conditions. They will keep your feet dry, period. They made a boot believer out of a barefoot/minimalist shoe lover, and your feet will be happy and smiling in these boots whether you hike for an hour or a month.  Also, did I mentionlou2 that Salomon has a 2 year warranty on their footwear? They totally do!! I have had no reason to need it, but it’s always a good safety net to have and twice as long as most footwear warranties.  Salomon believes in their product, 100%. So whether you’re going to the Cincinnati Nature Center, on your first backpacking trip to Philmont, or tackling any of the beastly long distance trails such as the AT or PCT, these boots will treat you right or my name isn’t Louie “Lou-bear” “Sunshine” “American Pie” Knolle.  

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10 Things I Sent Home from my Thru-Hike

All hikers do it. They throw that extra [insert whatever] into their bag, just in case. On a weekend jaunt this is no big deal. A few extra pounds are good for you. They give your legs a better workout and justify the three packs of instant noodles you’re having for dinner again and the post-hike pizza and beers that are sure to happen in the nearest town on the way home. On a long-distance hike, however, you get pretty sick of every last ounce that you’re carrying and the time comes when you have to ask yourself, “Do I really need any of this?” The answer, of course, is yeah, you do. But not all of it.

I got to wondering what most hikers end up sending home after a little bit of time on the trail. So I got in touch with some of my hiker buddies, racked my brain for trail memories, and came up with a list of 10 things that seem perfectly sensible to take on a multi-month hike that, after a while, got sent back home in a stinky box to unsuspecting loved ones.

I’d like to thank Jubilee, Iceman, Tundra Wookie, Cincinnati Kid, Shinbone, Treegasm,  Sockless, Blazer, the Bartender, Blue Tick and Ado for their contributions. The following interpretation of their data is my fault, not theirs.

-Goatman

#1: Camera

What? Your camera? You’re hiking one of the most iconic trails in the world and you sent home your camera? What about the memories and the romantic sunset photos? What about proving to the world how cool you are by taking pictures of yourself standing in front of summit signs? Well, cameras are heavy. Even small cameras are heavy. It’s better to just let day-hikers take your pictures and send them to you when they get back into WiFi range. You’ve got hiking to do; delegate! Not to mention the fact that most phones have built-in cameras these days. Just put that sucker on airplane mode and snap away. (I was going to suggest sending your cellphone home as well, but didn’t want to put up with the backlash. That being said: send your cellphone home! No one wants to talk to dirty Hiker Trash anyway. What are you going to talk about, walking and eating?)

#2: Big Knife

It’s fun to think that you might need a 5-inch blade to pierce a bear’s heart or build an igloo with while in the woods. If you are hiking within the Arctic Circle, you are probably justified in your choice of blade. However, most of the long trails in the U.S. are near enough to roads and thus civilization that the likelihood that you will need a Bowie knife is slim to none. Now, if you plan on getting into a lot of knife fights at the local watering holes along the trail in defense of your honor, don’t let me tell you how to live your life. However, if you’re on the trail just to hike, your knife will get used more to clean your thumbnail before a tough hitch (gotta get that baby shining in the sun if you expect anyone to stop!) than it will anytime else. Toenail clippers are much more useful and, in a pinch, you can totally cut Trail Magic pizza into slices with the nail file they always have attached.

#3: Extra ClothesDSC_0610

And by extra, I mean any clothes that aren’t worn everyday. Think you’re gonna need a nice pair of town clothes to impress the locals? You can’t hide the stench of your filthy body with a clean shirt. If anything, they may not trust you if your garments don’t match your disheveled beard and noisome body odor. Extra socks are nice, especially a specially protected, sacred Clean Pair for the day you decide you would rather cut your feet off than put them into the same pair of wet socks for the 5th day in a row. A base-layer for unexpected chilly nights is a good idea. But both pants and shorts? Two shirts? A flowery dress for whimsical barn dances by the light of the harvest moon? Send ’em on back. The trail ain’t New York City. There’s no one to impress out there but me (and I will be impressed just to see you out there hiking, clothes or not.)

#4: Games and Toys

Grow up. You’re a hiker now. Think you might bring a pack of cards to while away a rainy day? You’ll be hiking. How about a frisbee to toss while waiting on a shuttle? You’ll be eating. A chess board to challenge opponents around the fire at night? You’ll be sleeping. You will pretty much be hiking, eating, and sleeping exclusively. Taking a zero day and thinking about getting a Magic: The Gathering tournament started at the hostel? Everyone else is at the bar eating, drinking, and sleeping. The others are hiking. Don’t worry. You won’t be bored. You’ll soon learn fun trail games like “Look at that Stick for a While” and “What’s that Noise in the Night” or my personal favorite “Am I Too Tired to Pee?”

#5: Books

Along the same lines of #4, books seem like a great way to relax before bed and get some education at the same timeDSC_0193. I read constantly at home. If I’m not working or actively involved in conversation, I’m probably reading. When I’m on the trail, however, I may get 3 pages read before I pass out. Are these few minutes of peace and quiet worth the pound of paper and glue? Probably not. Even the guidebook gets no love. I ripped out every page as I came to it. A lot of hikers end up sending entire sections home as mementos. Think a Kindle or other e-book is a better idea? Well, e-books pages don’t make good tinder for a fire in Maine when its been raining for two weeks.

#6: Stove

Any food that needs cooked can be packed up and sent home. Never had cold noodles soaked in stream water? Welcome to hiker cafe. I know what you’re thinking: what about the comfort of a nice, hot meal after a dreary day of socked out views and less than ideal stream crossings? There’s a nice, hot meal waiting for you in the next town. And the town after that. Imagine how good that cheeseburger is going to taste after eating barely rehydrated oatmeal and crumbling protein bars for a few days. You can’t have joy without sadness, you can’t have light without darkness, and  you never truly taste a well cooked meal until you’ve been eating partially frozen peanut butter with a tent stake for breakfast for a week.

#7: Stuff Sacks

So you’re gear is all nice and organized and you’re ready to hit the trail. You’ve got your toothbrush and soap separated from your sleeping mat and your rain fly is conveniently in its own bag to keep it from getting everything else wet. Good for you. Now dump all that stuff out of its tiny bags and shove it in your pack anyway you can that’s comfortable. Every time you get to a shelter, your bag is going to vomit all of its contents onto the ground anyway. Your toothbrush will be full of mud, everything will be slightly damp, and individual bags for everything will only stave off for so long the eventual mingling of smells that you will become.

#8: Maps

This one might be a bit AT specific, but unless you plan on bushwhacking down the sides of mountains or following strange creeks to their sources, you probably won’t need a map (the CDT is another story, of course.) Here’s how you find your way on the trail: You wake up. You look at the way you came into camp. You go the other way. If  you don’t see a blaze within a few hundred feet, you turn around and try again. You can also sniff the air and follow the scent of the early risers that have conveniently already cleared the spider webs out of your face. Want to see what exists along the side trails and blue blazes? Just keep in mind that every step off the trail is a step you have to do again. And it’s usually a climb.

#9: Back-Up Anything

Think you might use that extra tent stake? That’s what sticks are for. Have an ounce of iodine in case your water pump breaks? Giardia is for the weak. Just swish some dirt around in your mouth, you’ll be fine. Tent repair kit? Pole Splint? Mat patch? Shoe Goo? Duct tape. Duct tape might even clean your water. You never know until you try. Back-up food in case of emergency becomes extra snacks on the day before town. Anything you need while you’re on the trail can be traded for with hot sauce. Let others carry it for you. You just hang on to that hot sauce and everything will be fine.

#10: Tentgoatman 032

Shelters were built for a reason. Cowboy camping makes your soul tough and your ears sharp. Caught out in bad weather? That’s why night hiking was invented. Just walk to town, curl up under a train, and sleep like the hobo you have become. Like the privacy of your tent? You’re in the woods. Walk 30 feet in any direction that’s not the trail or a campsite and you’ll have all the privacy you could ever want. Besides, you can always curl up under someone’s vestibule in the middle of the night if you get cold or lonely. They will probably just think you’re a bear and start clanging stuff around to scare you away. If you refuse to move, they’ll pass out in fear and both of you will get a good night’s sleep.

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The Sleeping Bag Breakdown

by Goatman

So you want to sleep in the wide open world of nature without freezing to death over night. This is a rather typical human concern.

Based on my experience, folks gearing up for outdoor adventure often think of a sleeping bag before they think of anything else, even their footwear or their backpack. Quite understandable. I can walk a few miles in any shoe with some snacks and a water bottle in an old school bag and head out into the woods for the night. When I get to my camp, however, if I plan on sleeping, I am going to need something to keep me warm if I want to get any shut eye at all. Shivering and snoozing do not go hand in hand.

The sleeping bag, unlike much of backpacking’s more esoteric gear, is a common item to have lying around whether or not it has ever been used in the open air. You may have one sitting around from your childhood or have placed one in the trunk of your car for emergencies. But now you’ve gotten the itch for adventure and you’re wondering about wandering a bit. Is your old Batman sleeping bag going to cut it when the winds start whistling through the pines? To tell you the truth, probably not. If you want to get out and stay out, a good sleeping bag can be the difference between an enjoyable morning sunrise hike and a sleep-deprived slog back to car.

That being said, there are a lot of sleeping bags out there, made for different purposes, and at a variety of price levels. This blog will serve as a map to guide you to the correct bag for your situation.

EN Temperature Ratings

First off, let’s talk about ratings and standards. Understanding the modern method of rating sleeping bags for warmth will be important while choosing your new bag. You may have been in this situation before: you’ve borrowed a friend’s bag and the tag claims that it is a 0 degree bag, so you take it out when the temperature drops down to 20 degrees and end up clacking your teeth all night. Such a situation would leave a sour taste in anyone’s mouth concerning so called “ratings”. When it comes to survival, you need to know the capabilities of your gear. If companies are labeling their products with misleading information, how are you supposed to know what you are actually getting?

Enter the EN Rating, more accurately known as the European Norm 13537 Standardized Ratien_tested_templateng for Insulation. In 2005, a standard testing and rating system was established in Europe and, soon after, reputable sleeping bag companies across the world began to follow suite. Utilizing a standardized, third-party system to test the insulation of sleeping bags (involving metal dummies and such. Read more), the EN rating tests how a sleeping bag retains warmth while keeping in mind that different human bodies will produce different levels of heat while sleeping. Instead of a bag being rated with a simple number, such as 0 degrees, an EN rated bag will have a range of temperatures: Upper Limit, Comfort, Lower Limit, and Extreme.

Upper Limit refers to the temperature at which a standard man* can sleep without sweating.

Comfort refers to the temperature that a standard woman* can sleep comfortably, in a relaxed position, all night.

Lower Limit refers to the temperature that a standard man* can sleep for 8 hours without waking because of the cold.

Extreme is the minimum temperature that a standard woman* can remain at for 6 hours in the bag without incurring hypothermia.

*A standard man is described as 25 years old, 5’7″, and 160 lbs. A standard woman is described as 25 years old, 5’2″, and 130 lbs. Obviously, this does not describe everyone. The EN rating should be used as a guide more than a guarantee. If you sleep hotter or colder than others, adjust accordingly. As a general rule, the larger you are, the more heat you produce. They are assuming in these ratings that a standard man is larger than a standard woman and thus produces more heat as they sleep.

For example, my sleeping bag has an EN rating of 41 degree Comfort, 32 degree Lower Limit, and 5 degree Extreme (note: many bags do not include the Upper Limit. I guess they assume that you know when you are too hot and can unzip the bag and cool off in that case). I am a fairly hot sleeper, being 6′ and 215 lbs with huge muscles and a grizzly beard. The 32 degree Lower Limit is rather on the money for me, though I can stretch it a few degrees below freezing without suffering much sleep loss. The 0 degree bag mentioned before could have been marketed that way to advertise its extreme rating only, meaning its lower limit was probably more around the 25 degree range.

Keep in mind that this rating takes into account the user’s sleeping clothes, a ground mat, hydration levels, food intake, and even the few degrees of warmth a tent may provide.

Heat Flow and Bag Shape

While we are on the subject of insulation, let’s step back for a moment and consider how sleeping bags work in the first place. When you are out in the woods, away from your furnace and fireplace, you are your own heater. More specifically, the calories you eat metabolize into energy which is given off as heat.  Your body can’t help but heat the air around you. The nature of heat is to move. Without insulation, the heat you are giving off will move away from you to a colder place and will continue to do so as long as the air outside remains colder than your body. The goal of insulation like your sleeping bag is to trap this heat and form a buffer around you from the cold air. You produce heat, the bag catches it, and you feel like the air around you is warm.

talusDifferent bag shapes allow you to customize how efficient you are at capturing this warmth. In cold temperatures, you want as much of your body ensconced in your bag as possible. Enter the Mummy bag. The most efficient of the bags at retaining heat, many modern backpacking bags use this shape. With a mummy bag, you are able to cover all of your body except for your mouth and nose (which you don’t want covered. Breathing is nice. Not filling your bag with the liter of water you breathe out at night is even nicer). The Mummy Bag is a tight fit. This is a part of its design. The less air between your body and the bag, the less air you have to warm before it gets caught in the insulation. This can be uncomfortable for some. It takes some practice for most to sleep in a fetal position with little room to move inside of a bag. Despite this drawback, the Mummy Bag remains popular and this is why: unmatched heat retention.

You don’t see as many Rectangular bags in backpacking these days. The heat you loose from hamityliteving such a free, open style is enormous. That being said, when the nights aren’t so chilly and you simply need something to cover up with, a lightweight rectangular bag can be just the thing. Rectangular bags can also open up into a convenient blanket. Little to no restriction of movement is the big seller here. Some companies have begun the manufacture of insulated quilts that serve a similar function. If the Mummy style is so uncomfortable to you that you are not able to sleep, the loss of a bit of warmth may be worth it depending on the weather.

Luckily, people cSea-to-Summit-Trek-TkIIan be smart and inventive. There is a compromise between the two styles and it is called the Semi-Rectangular bag. With this style, the user can customize the bag depending on the temperature. The body of the bag is looser fitting than a mummy, allowing more room for movement within the bag. The top is open like a rectangular bag, but with a hood and drawstring, letting you “mummy up” in the middle of the night if the temperature drops. The ability to unzip the entire bag is also present for warm weather conditions. The Semi-Rectangular bag is the best of both worlds in many ways, though not as much a bag of extremes. A Mummy bag will be capable of greater warmth. A Rectangular bag will be looser and allow more movement. The Semi-Rectangular bag is a great compromise, however.

Big Agnes has bags that contain a sleeping mat sheath on the bottom, meaning that instead of the insulation on the bottom of the bag being compressed while you roll around on your mat at night, the mat fits down the back of the bag. They contain a hood like a mummy bag, but are more roomy in the middle to allow for movement. With this style, rolling off of your mat at night is not an option. However, this requires that you always use your sleeping mat (which is a good idea anyway).

Down v. Synthetic

The great argument rages: do you want a down insulated bag or synthetic? I have no answer for you, only information. Behold:

DOWNSYN comp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you might expect, people are divided on this subject and for good reason: both types of insulation are useful in certain situation. Guaranteed to be soaking wet? Synthetic might be a better choice. Going for fast and light? Go Down.

These days, a few companies are also utilizing Hydrophobic Down, which resists being saturated with water, retains its loft even when wet, and remains lighter and more compressible than synthetic. For more information on Hydrophobic Down, click here. To read more about down in general, including info on different fill weight, click here.

Liners

Say that you have a 30 degree bag which will be great for the first few days of your hike, but on your third day, you’ll be sleeping at elevation and are afraid that your bag won’t cut it when the temperature drops. Do you have to take two bags rated for different temperatures? No! Enter the sleeping bag liner. These are micro-fleece liners for your bag which come in a variety of weights. Liners can drop the temperature rating of your bag up to ~20 degrees and also help to keep your bag clean (which helps with the durability of the insulation and saves you a lot of effort). Read all about it.

Choosing the Right Bag

Now that you’re familiar with the way sleeping bags work, how they’re shaped, what they’re stuffed with, and how they’re rated, it’s time to choose your bag. When making your choice, consider the following: price, weight, packability, durability, comfort, and appropriate temperature range. Know what adventures you’re planning, what weather you can expect, how long you want your bag to last and how light and compressed you need the bag to be. There is no right bag for every adventure, unfortunately. If you are into winter camping in Alaska, your bag probably won’t do for an Appalachian Trail thru-hike and vice versa. At RRT, we carry a variety of different sleeping bags for a variety of purposes. To read more about the different styles of bags we offer, click on any of the links to the brand websites below. The best thing to do, of course, is to stop in the shop, talk to one of our knowledgeable staff members, and actually crawl into a few bags to see which one is right for you.

Big Agnes                   Sea to Summit                        Western Mountaineering                       Mountain Hardwear

 

 

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7 Halloween Costumes Every Backpacker Already Has Lying Around

October is my favorite month, no doubt. The long, humid days of summer shorten into chilly autumn nights. Campfires smell better. I get to wear my favorite fleece.  Every hike is lit up golden and red, reinventing familiar paths and making every viewpoint a visual spectacle. There’s pumpkin pie and pumpkin beer and pumpkins to carve and, at the end of the month, there’s my favorite day of all: Halloween!

I love Halloween as much as I love backpacking and being outdoors in the Fall. With all of the trips I go on this time of the year, I don’t have a lot of extra cash lying around and, to tell you truth, I’d rather spend the money I do have on gear and travel rather than a costume I may only use once.  Solution: raid the gear closet for anything I can use for a Halloween costume!

1. Jack Torrence/Brawny ManIMG_8923

We’ll start simple with a flexible costume. Grab a flannel, a pair of jeans, and some big stomping boots and you’re half way there. Have fabulous hair and a mustache? Then all you need is a roll of paper towels (which will come useful when people start spilling cider on the dance floor) and, behold: Brawny Man! Have more of a crazy look in your eyes and an axe in the shed? Here’s Johnny! You’ve got Jack from the Shining ready to go.

2. Attacked by a (Teddy) Bear

Throw on your normal hiking get-up and don’t forget the pack. Grab a teddy bear and have him secured to your pack and looking as fearsome as possible (vampire teeth?) as he leans over your shoulder to take a chunk from your neck. Obviously, you can get as gruesome as you’d like with your wound situation. Explain to others that you forgot to hang your candy bag.

3. Really, ReFullSizeRenderally Lost Hiker

Depending on your dedication, you can grow your beard out all year in anticipation of this costume. All you need are your most ragged clothes  and a hermit-worthy beard. Get creative with this one. The goal is to look like you’ve been in the woods for way too long. If you can train a squirrel to eat from your (real or fake) beard, you win!

4. Arctic Explorer

Every few years, Halloween in Ohio turns out cold. Not chilly or nippy. Cold. Snow and ice and freezing temperatures cold. When this happens, all the naughty nurses and skimpy Tarzans flirt with frostbite on their exposed skin. But not you! You’ve got a big, puffy down jacket, sunglasses, snow boots and a beanie. Maybe you even have a rope and an ice axe laying around. Throw some water in your (optional) beard and put it in the freezer for added effect. If people are hip to horror movies, you can even tell them you’re Carpenter’s The Thing in human form.

5. Ramboimage(6)

You know you have a knife so large as to be impractical for actual backpacking. You start looking at knives and suddenly you have a 7″ Ka-Bar in your hands and you feel its power. So you buy it and think that someday, when society finally collapses due to radioactive space zombies, you and your knife will be all you can trust. Until that day, however, at least you can dress as Rambo with a pair of army pants, a red headband, and your beloved, huge knife. Giant muscles are helpful, but optional.

6. Base Layer Ninja

You’ve got your base layer, whether Capilene or merino wool, and I bet it’s black, light weight and form fitting. Have a Buff? Then you probably already know how to make a ninja mask out of it. If you don’t, stop in RRT and I will personally show you. Slip on some black socks or a black pair of Vibram Fivefingers and you are ready to disappear into the shadows before the shogun’s guards ever know you were there.

7. Famous Hollywood “Thru-Hiker”IMG_8950

Hollywood has made a few movies over the past few years that bring backpacking, and thru-hiking in particular, into the spotlight. Forget all about your ultralight set up and grab your old, huge pack and stuff it full with goodies. Ladies, check out Wild for aesthetics and lace up your boots with bright, red laces to pose as Cheryl Strayed. The greener the pack, the better. Men, stuff your belly with a pillow, put on a floppy hat, and curse a lot for a perfect Katz from A Walk in the Woods.

 

Get creative! Ideas of your own? Share them in the comments. Get hiking and haunting and have a great October.

 

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Pisgah National Forest: Mt. Mitchell

 

Trip Report

Pisgah National Forest: Mt. Mitchell

By Kayla “Clover” McKinney

 

 

 

Trip Length: 3 days, 2 nights (includes driving time)

Total Mileage: ~23 miles

Date: Late September 2015

Conditions: Mix of cloudy and sunny during the day, foggy in the morning, highs in the mid-60s to low 70s and lows in the high 40s – low 50s at night. I hiked in a long sleeve synthetic shirt and pants mostly. I was warm and snug in my ~30 degree bag at night.

Highlights: Tallest summit in North Carolina and the tallest summit east of the Mississippi, stunning scenery, challenging trails, diverse forests, wildlife, Mountain to Sea Trail.

Distance from Cincinnati: Approximately 6.5 hours by vehicle. GPS directions to the Black Mountain Campground, Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina. The directions are straight forward.

Permits: There is a fee for camping at Black Mountain Campground and is first come, first serve. There is no permit required for camping at Deep Gap (also first come, first serve).

Description: The Black Mountains are the highest mountain chain east of the Mississippi river with Mt. Mitchell being the tallest summit at 6,684 feet above sea level. The entire ridge is mtmitchellapproximately 10 miles long and contains 14 peaks, all over 6,000 feet, and is known as the Black Mountain Crest.* A large portion of the hike coincides with the Mountain to Sea Trail. For our hike, we did not explore the entire Black Mountain Crest, but instead started from the Black Mountain Campground at the base of Mt. Mitchell and hiked to Deep Gap, a large established campground in Pisgah National Forest. Do not underestimate the Black Mountains! The hike from Black Mountain Campground along the Long Arm Ridge to the Mt. Mitchell summit gains approximately 3,700 feet in elevation over 5.6 miles and is steep and technical in many areas. For most of the hike, you are on an exposed, narrow ridge above the clouds. Once you’ve gained the majority of elevation, the elevation change between the 5 additional peaks is relatively small. The lowest elevation is Deep Gap, which is at approximately 5,800 feet. On this hike, you summit Mt. Mitchell (6,684ft), Mount Craig (6,647ft), Big Tom (6,580ft), Cattail Peak (6,584ft) and Potato Hill (6,475ft), all in one day.

Trip Breakdown:

Day One: Drive from Cincinnati to the Black Mountain Campground and stay there for the night. There are flush toilets and showers. Note: the trail head for Mt. Mitchell is located inside the Black Mountain Campground. There is a large Pisgah National Forest trail head across the street but it is NOT the correct way to go (trust me, because I ended up admitchellsignding ~3 miles to my trip by starting out at the wrong trail head).

Day Two: Start at the Black Mountain Campground and follow signs for Mt. Mitchell and immediately begin ascending for 5.6 miles. You will pass two junctions along the way, one for Higgin’s Bald, which is an alternative trail that will take you to the same place, and one for Commissary Ridge. Follow the signs for the Mt. Mitchell summit. You will eventually reach the paved and suddenly civilized summit of Mt. Mitchell.The summit was crowded and full of people who drove up for the view. Take the opportunity to fill up on water at the Mitchell summit area and enjoy the panoramic views. Continue from the summit to the Deep Gap trail head and to Mount Craig. From Mount Craig, follow the trail to Big Tom and down along the trail. At some point, you will transition from the Mt. Mitchell State Park to the Pisgah National Forest, right around Cattail Peak. At a few points in this area, there are a series of fixed ropes to assist in navigating down the steep terrain. The last peak of the day is Potato Hill (I still have no idea why this steep mountain was called a hill). You are exposed on a narrow ridge and high above the clouds. Continue downhill until you reach a large clearing with an established fire ring and set up camp for the night at Deep Gap. Be sure to hang your food for the night because you are in a bear sanctuary*.

Day Three: Start climbing up the way you came from Deep Gap, back up Potato Hill and Cattail Peak. You will re-enter Mt. Mitchell State Park (there will be signs posted on the trees) and shortly after you will arrive at a junction. Turn onto the trail marked 191A and continue on down. This part of the trail is very steep and rocky, but beautiful and exposed. You will come to another junction, and you’ll want to turn right onto Maple Camp Ridge. This trail is flat, open and easy. You’ll be able to move quickly along it until you meet up with the Long Arm Ridge once more. From here it will be a steep and steady descent. We refilled our water once more along the Long Arm Ridge. Consider doing the Higgin’s Bald side trail to add different scenery along your way back to Black Mountain Campground. The side trail only adds about .25 miles.

Water: I carried 3.5 L of water (a 2.5L reservoir and 1L Nalgene.) We filled up at the Black Mountain Campground, the Mt. Mitchell Summit, and at a stream located along the Long Arm Ridge Trail. There is a water source near Deep Gap, but it is a .5 mile hike away from the campsite.

Options: To save mileage on the second day, consider hiking up the Long Arm Ridge and staying the first night at the Commissary Ridge campsite approximately 4 miles up. Another option is to drive to the top of Mt. Mitchell and hike to Deep Gap from there. There is camping near the Mt. Mitchell summit as well, though you will need a permit for these spots.

*Additional Notes: As mentioned, part of the hike to Deep Gap is through a bear sanctuary. Please practice proper bear awareness through these areas such as properly hanging all of your food, food packaging, cooking equipment, and other scented items. Also, make a note to be somewhat loud when hiking, so as to potentially warn any nearby bears of your presence; simply raising your tone higher when talking should work. The occasional “HEY BEAR!” is a good idea, too. Additionally, these trails are steep and rocky and I highly encourage the use of trekking poles and boots with ankle support.

https://cloudman23.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/more-contrast5l1.jpg

*An image of the entire Black Mountain Crest.

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