Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Next steps - sailing

The last chapter of my book is called Next Steps.

It is a common phrase in the outdoor education world, and we use it to talk about what students should do next to advance their knowledge in a certain area. With the long term goal to be proficiency in an outdoor skill.

I am usually the person giving people their next steps, but today I am thinking about my next steps, in particular when it comes to sailing. Despite growing up on my fathers power boat, and spending most of my adult life working on the water in kayaks and for the last five years, stand up paddle boards, I am a complete novice when it comes to sailing.

I have already done a fair amount of reading, but I need to get out there, and spend time in boats. The amazing thing that has been occurring since my last post about sailing is the number of people who have offered up their time, experience and excitement to help me.

My friend Lisa - who I consider my SUP mentor - divulged that she got her start on the water as a sailor, I would very much like to sail with her, she is a great educator, and an amazing person.

My employer just hired a young woman who is a competitive sailor and US Sailing Instructor, I have already hit her up for some information, and hope to convince her to take me out on the water.

Beth, who you may know from the training chapter in my book as well as taking part in the AGAP trip, just brought a Laser sailboat back from he mountains, it needs some work but I am excited to help her get it on the water.

Finally, I hear through the grapevine that another friend, Ron, who moved away but is now coming back, learned to sail while he was gone.

These are all great opportunities and will make for fun experiences, and will be a boon to learning how to do this.

Part of this is my network of friends, most are interested in the outdoors, and jump at the chance to help people learn a new skill. The joy that I get out of this is new skills. Something I love.

On my last check in with my boss on the outdoor education side of things, he asked why I continue to teach. I told him a big part of it was selfishness. I love learning new things in the outdoors, and no matter how many times I have taught something, I always learn something new from new students. That is what I get out of it. This is a whole new world that I get to play in, and bring my experience from many other venues to play in this arena. Super exciting.

So, hey, follow along on this journey. I plan on doing more video through this process, and want to share it with you. Subscribe to the Adventure Otaku youtube channel, content is coming. In the meantime, Instagram is the pest place to follow this next adventure.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Hurricane Michael

About a month ago, central North Carolina went a little crazy preparing for Hurricane Florence. While Florence did severe damage tot he coast, it never really found its way to where I live in central North Carolina.

But this week we got hit - with little warning! - by Hurricane Michael. We got hit on Thursday around 11 am. We lost our power around 2:30pm. The storm was gone by 6:00pm, but the damage still remains. We got our power back on Saturday night around 9pm, which was surprising. We expected it to take longer. We were just getting into the grove of the silence. The AC and Fan kicking on and off. The sound of our ceiling fan when we are trying to go to sleep. And the never ending sound of our commercial refrigerator - you don't realize how loud a commercial refrigerator is until you put one in your kitchen. Comment below if you want to know why we went that route.

While it was inconvenient to not have power, it also wasn't that bad. We got lucky, as we are surrounded by large trees, and many fell, but nothing hit our house. I posted video of the storm at its worst on instagram.

Two things struck me during this exercise of no electricity.

First, as I mentioned, the silence. People have a hard time with silence. It is the reason your friend calls you when they are driving home from work. A lot of people have a hard time embracing the quiet, because when it is quiet, when there are no distractions, you hear the voice in your head. As a culture, we are bad at quieting that voice in our head and it makes people very uncomfortable. Part of why I like long kayak trips is there is plenty of time to quiet that voice in your head. It takes practice, and you can call it meditation, or deep breathing exercises or whatever you want. But it is a good skill to have, the ability to keep your wits when all is quiet. We have so many distractions to day that keep us from practicing that skill, and it really does scare people. Try this, go to have lunch with a friend, and put your phone on the table, face down. Don't look at it or pick it up during the meal. Just connect with the person across from you. You may find this difficult, but give it a shot, and invite the person opposite you to do the same.

I am really enjoying the new screen time app that is included with iOS 12. It gives me the ability to see where I am spending my time on my phone or my tablet. It is sort of a device separation detector. As I look at screen time now, I can see on Friday my usage ballooned, because I couldn't use my iPad or desktop. But when I look at the app on my iPad it was way down. I average about 45 minutes a day on my phone - which sounds like a lot, but I think it probably isn't. But on Friday it was right at around 2 hours.

Okay, the second thing that struck me was the storm itself. On Monday I looked at the weather radar and the Michael was a tropical storm and a poorly organized one at that. Meaning it didn't have a very pronounced circular motion. It just looked like a large storm, and I didn't think it would be that bad. On Tuesday I wasn't too surprised to see it was a Category 1 hurricane, but when it made land fall the next day it was a powerful category 4 hurricane. So how did a poorly formed tropical storm become a powerful cat 4 in two days? How did it do this in a location where storms rarely form, the Gulf of Mexico (most hurricanes form off the coast of Africa, and take their time moving slowly across the Atlantic picking up strength.) It is also surprising that the storm did this in October, the end of the hurricane season?

Well, the answer to all these questions is abnormally warm water. Warm water is what feeds hurricanes. The warmer the water, the more evaporation there is, the more moisture they carry. And while the wind from a hurricane is bad, it is the water that does the damage. As bad as the damage was it would have been far worse if it hadn't been going so fast. If this storm had lingered the way Florence did, thousands would be dead. They are actually thinking of changing the saffir-simpson hurricane scale, to reflect water content as well as wind. Because wind levels only tell part of the story. Honestly, we dodged a bullet with Michael. It could have been much worse.

But, abnormally warm water? Why? Simple. Take a guess? Climate change. The only way for a storm to form that fast, in October is the abnormally warm water from the changes to our climate.
Hurricane Michael, was the exclamation point added to last weeks IPCC report. Unless we take dramatic action to curtail greenhouses gases in the next 12 years, by 2040, storms like Michael will seem small. Ask someone who lives on the coast of Florida what they think of storms like Michael being small.

Climate change isn't a hoax, or a Chinese scam, or a ploy by money hungry scientists. It is a dire warning that this planet is done with us. If we don't make dramatic changes now, life as you know it will be very different in 20 years. Cities will be underwater, food shortages will be common - because  it will be harder to grow crops. (oh, and Michael killed millions of pigs, and hundreds of millions of chickens. it is starting already) Both of which will lead to devastating wars.

So when you put your phone down over breakfast, talk to your friend about climate change and what they are going to do about it. Because it is going to come down to all of us doing something. We can all do a little today, or a lot tomorrow. It is your call.

Monday, October 8, 2018

A big Weekend, both good and bad.

It was a big weekend, that took a long time to make happen. I spent Saturday taking an introduction to sailing course in Oriental, NC. My wife and myself spent four hours sailing a beautiful Catalina 42 with a highly experienced captain.

We had been trying to make this happen since last April, and the plan changed dramatically over that course of time. If you have read my latest book you know the dramatic plan I laid out in it. A new challenge for myself, and my wife that would take years to make happen. I am still not sure we can pull it off, but I am at least confident in the next steps. We both enjoyed our time on the boat, and with the process of sailing, and now want to start learning the finer details of moving a boat with nothing more than wind.

I was amazed how much of my kayaking experience translated to a sailing environment. Things like reading and understanding wind. The feel of a boat in a following sea, and the effects of the shape of the keep on tracking. All had direct comparisons in the sailing world.

Unfortunately I wasn't surprised with the people of the sailing community. I have to stress, everyone was very nice and welcoming, but it is a community with very little diversity, and it is a sport that - at least in my small exposure to it - seems designed to be exclusionary. Besides the entry cost of sailing - though if you look at youtube you will see that there are ways around that - the thing that struck me the most was the amount of jargon that was thrown around and that people - even novices - are expected to know it. Keep in mind that I have worked the past 20 years (almost) in the outdoors. I was a skilled climber and mountaineer. I teach navigation and stand up paddling. I am a very skilled and highly experienced kayaker, having paddled thousands of miles in remote locations and extreme conditions. None of that prepared me for the amount of vocabulary and terminology that is used even amongst people who have admitted that they know nothing, which was how we described ourselves.

As an outdoor educator I can say that isn't a good way to welcome people to a sport. Now, admittedly, if you are teaching myself (a long time outdoor educator) and my wife (a tenured professor in higher ed) we are harsh critics of people who teach. To a point where it may be unfair. Our captain was a highly skilled sailor, there is no question. But having a great deal of skill is not my first criteria when I am hiring an educator. It is having the ability to break down concepts, simply, and make them easy to understand. With this, I was not impressed.

But enough of my complaining, I had a great time, and look forward to taking my next steps into sailing. I was super excited that after posting video on instagram I had a number of close friends who work in the outdoors fess up that they got started in sailing and would love to take me out, and were happy to help pass on knowledge. I am excited to have something new to learn.

Now here is the bad. We were in Oriental, NC about 30 miles north of where Hurricane Florence made landfall a bit less than 3 weeks ago. The coast of North Carolina is still in pretty bad shape. Though spirits are high, and peoples energy is positive. All the campgrounds were closed due to damage and what hotels were open were full of displaced people and people working to repair the damage. We got to spend our second night in a Wal-mart parking lot, which is really no fun. We planned on spending Saturday night at the coast again, but couldn't find place to stay, and started back early. We were almost in Raleigh before we found a place to stay.

Then, Sunday morning we were greeted by the IPCC report that the environment is getting worse more rapidly than the worst estimates and we have a mere 12 years to make dramatic changes across all parts of our society - power, fuel, housing, farming - to keep our temperature rise below 1.5 degrees centigrade. We have already risen a full degree. I was not surprised to see this story fall off the front page of CNN less than 24 hours later. It seems with all the chaos in the world, no one cares that we are destroying our world. The current US administration simply doesn't care, which leaves it up to us to either change the administration or make the changes to our society ourselves. The whole thing is pretty depressing.

So, that is where I am. Excited for new challenges and dreading the next 5 years, waiting to see the impact of our neglect coming home to bite us. Head over to instagram to see the video and the most amazing photo of storm damage imaginable.

Stick around here to see what else happens! A lot is brewing!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Outdoor activity and decision making.

Do you consider yourself active in the outdoors? Do you care about the environment? Do you consider the outdoors when you are making a purchasing decision? I was thinking about this today, I was thinking about the actions of some people I know, and some decisions they made. Both are people who I would consider very active in the outdoors, but both made decisions that were extremely bad for the environment. I was curious if they considered the environment in their decision making? Which got me to thinking about, the gap between people who worry about the environment, and who also choose not to vote.

I learned in 2016 that there is a big disconnect between people who care about the environment and people who vote.

All these thoughts will eventually find there way into a blog post, but to help me get an idea as to what others think, take this quick 10 question survey. Thanks!

Outfitting for the Santa Cruz Trail in Peru

One of the things I enjoy having the opportunity to do is help people get outfitted for trips. If you follow my instagram you know that I recently consulted with Molly who is headed to Alaska. A week before that I consulted with Jim who is prepping for a thru hike in New Zealand on the Te Araroa. Jim and I were talking specifically about navigation and personal locator beacons.

But back in August I had a meeting with a guy named Jason who needed some help planning for something really special. Through a work situation he found himself in Peru with a day to kill. I should point out that Jason is an ultra-runner, but what he was planning was a little extreme.

His plan was to hike a the Santa Cruz Trail (also none as the Santa Cruz Trek) witch is a 30 mile stretch of trail that cuts through Peru's Cordillera Blanca. Thirty miles isn't that far, but this is a difficult trail, that tops out at 15,000 feet. People normally do the trail in 3 or 4 days, but Jason only had one. One day, to hike and run 30 miles, at altitude in an environment that offers some pretty extreme variation. He only had one day to complete it, but that wasn't - in my opinion - the biggest problem. The biggest problem was he had no time to acclimate to the altitude. The trek started at 11,200 feet, and he would only have one day at 10,000 feet prior to the run/hike.

Here are some things to know about altitude. It is the most researched aspect of wilderness medicine, and yet we don't know a whole lot about why people get altitude related illness. We used to think that there was a hydration factor, and while you should always make sure you are hydrated, particularly at elevation where there is far less moisture in the air, it doesn't seem that alone contributes to it.

The biggest problem is that you can go to altitude a dozen times with no problem, but then your next trip you can get Acute Mountain Sickness or worse, Hape (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) or Hace (High Altitude Cerebral Edema). That is the part we can't really figure out.

So Jason and I talked about signs and symptoms of Altitude related illness, medications he could take to help him acclimate, and what to do if he felt issues coming on. Secretly I suspected that if he could in fact do the trip in one day, he could get up and down before his body had a chance to object to the altitude. Well, object more than make it difficult to breath.

We talked at some length about the gear he would be carrying, the goal was of course to keep the weight low, but still have everything he needed in case it went bad. Looking at Jasons final gear list, he ended up going lighter than I would have, but he still felt was a little too heavy.

And that right there is the difference between consulting on a trip like this, and actually doing a trip like this. I would love to do the route, but I could never run/hike it all in a day. But as a consultant for his gear, I have to give him a cushion in case things go poorly. But as the athlete, he is more willing to stick it out there, because he knows what he is capable of. I didn't doubt he could accomplish this, but my concern was uncooperative weather, mixed with an altitude problem.

This is something that I write about in the opening chapters of GO! Sometimes you have to stick it out, and really extend yourself to get things done. I did it on the Inside Passage. Andrew - who I profile in the book - did it with his Motorcycle ride across the country to Alaska. Jason was already an accomplished ultra-runner, but here is his description of the first morning.

I headed out at 4:25am with my Black Diamond spot headlamp fully blazing and set out for what would either be a total disaster or an epic, once In a lifetime event.  I remember thinking as I ran the half mile dirt road to the trailhead, how crazy it was that I was doing this solo, self supported in a foreign country with very limited Spanish and photo copies of a route map made by a British guy.  I had no choice but to follow through as I had a friend waiting for me on the other side in what I predicted would be a 12 hour traverse.  

So how did he do? He completed the route in 9 hours and 50 minutes, which I think is just incredible. I was excited to have helped out, even if just a little bit. The biggest hurdle in making big trips happen is our self doubt. Hats off to Jason, he may have had a little in the beginning, but he knew deep down he could do it. What an amazing trip!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Want to see what paddling the Inside Passage is like?

I thought it was time to dust these off.

Paddle North - Episode 3 from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

I was reminded by watching the @paddlingnorth women on Instagram what an amazing paddle this was. Even with the bears. And the flu... And the cruise ships.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Who made it possible to predict storms and save lives.

As I write this hurricane Florence is dancing in a large circle around me. I am in central North Carolina and a few days ago it was predicted that this storm would race ashore and pass right over my head, dumping literally tons of water on the way. Then a couple of days ago meteorologists predicted a change. Florence would curve south, and head inland slowly, followed by a sweeping curve north. Her wind would also drop dramatically, causing less damage - though the slower movement meant she had more time to drop more water. Everything is a trade off. And guess what? That is exactly what happened. It looks like I won't see much more than her outer bands.

I spend a lot of time maligning meteorologists. I teach my students - unfairly - that meteorologist in English translates to liar. It always gets a laugh. I can't tell you how many times bad weather reports have ruined perfectly good plans. But the fact is, that particularly for events like a hurricane the predictions are better now than they have ever been, and ultimately it saves a lot of lives.

How does this happen? How do we have the ability to predict the actions of killer storms. There are three things that happen, to make this possible.

The first, is the advance of computer technology. Ever faster computers, make it possible to work with all the data sources and variables that make weather happen. Research in the 1960's and 1970's in chaos theory and supercomputers made it possible to figure out what was going on. Today we see the outcome of all this work with accurate weather system prediction and spaghetti models for how storms will move. This is chaos theory and supercomputers at their finest.

The other thing that occurs is people decide to dedicate their lives to scientific research. They go to work at research institutions, which are almost all publicly funded universities.

The by-product of all these things, studying an extremely abstract concept like chaos theory, working to make computers infinitely faster and more powerful, and students becoming scientists give us better understanding of weather, and how it effects us. Which means local governments have a better idea of what is going to happen and can better prepare themselves, their towns and their people for major weather events like a hurricane.

I want to apologize to every meteorologist I have used as a punchline. It won't happen again, and I appreciate the advances you have made in the field of weather prediction. The nature of my work - outdoor education - means that I rely on accurate weather information and tracking all of its changes. I have the ability - from my phone, while sitting in the cockpit of a kayak, or standing on a SUP - to see recent satellite photos, and predictions on wind and rain. The ability to do that is because of the hard work of the people mentioned above. I literally have in the palm of my hand significantly more computing power than was used to go to the moon, and I utilize it give people good, exciting (and safe) experiences in the outdoors.

Finally, the next time someone says to you they don't believe in global climate change, or global warming, explain to them that people have been working hard for decades to understand the incredibly complex system of weather and climate that we are surrounded by. We know, all too well, the effects of what we have done to our environment. All you have to do is open your eyes, and see those effects around you every day. If they don't listen, just walk away. They will understand when we run out of food, and their house is underwater. Just don't let them knock scientific research and publicly funded research. They do amazing work, and make the world a better place. We need more people taking up hard sciences like this, as a nation we are falling far behind other countries.

If you are interested, here are the apps I use for weather prediction. Dark Sky is a micro weather app that gives hyper-localized information. My Radar is just that, and while it is free I paid for the hurricane tracking update. Well worth it. Windy is an amazing weather app that gives a visual representation of direction and velocity of wind. I have started using Predict wind which is very popular in the sailing community but the free version of the app is rather limited.

Be safe out there people.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

I'm not your Billboard

Years ago, I was folding clean laundry when I made a startling realization. I had a pile of T-shirts, which is primarily what I wear, and I realized I hadn't paid for any of them. They were many different colors and all had garish logos or pithy sayings on the front or the back. All of them were shirts I had gotten from either my employer or product vendors for free. The unwritten understanding is this. You will give me a shirt to wear for free, and I will wear it. In doing so I am subtly implying an endorsement for your product. Over the years I have received many items for free from vendors. The company I work for has a policy that I can't receive a gift greater than $50. I have received a lifetime supply of stickers, key chains, beer cozies (and I don't drink beer!) and more bottle openers than I will ever need in a lifetime. (Seriously, the outdoor companies need to think outside the box. Bottle openers? Really? Yakima puts them on their car rack accessories. What does that say about the outdoor industry?) These days after a conversation with a vendor rep, when they dump out their bag of free goodies, I generally just walk away. There is rarely anything I would like in that bag. There is almost certainly nothing I need.

The agreement we are all making, is that you will give me a shirt (or some other giveaway) and I will be excited to use this free item. I will like it, because it makes me part of an exclusive club. But in reality I am unpaid marketing for you. I am a walking billboard, and I don't want to be a walking billboard. Particularly for free. In essence though, I am not doing it for free. I am getting paid, in the form of the free stuff I am receiving. The schwag is my payment. If you ask me, that is a lousy deal.

This was a big part of the reason I developed a "uniform" of a grey T-shirt and blue jeans for everyday wear. I started by recycling all those T-shirts. Some became rags, some went to good will. The old ones went right in the garbage. I simply don't want to be a billboard for your outdoor company. I wanted to get away from what I think of as an implied or "soft" product endorsement.

A big part of my job is recommending gear to people, and I am absolutely fine with that. I have no problem telling you what piece of gear works well and what piece of gear is a waste of time and money. It is one of the reasons I started doing product reviews on this website. None of those are sponsored by the manufacturer. If They are my sponsor, I am beholden to them. Gear Junkie used to give real reviews listing what worked and what didn't. Then they got popular and got a ton of sponsors and they could no longer be honest about products. I'm sorry Gear junkie but my dream truck isn't a diesel chevy pick up truck. Just because you got paid this month by chevy doesn't mean that is a piece of outdoor gear.  That said I still read GJ and understand what they do, and have to do. Business is business.

I understand how this happens in the outdoor industry, most of us who work in the outdoors don't make a lot of money and free clothes are awesome. What really upsets me is when I see this outside of the outdoor industry. I see yeti stickers on the back of cars and trucks. This makes my brain ache.  You just spent $30 on a coffee mug, and want to tell the world by putting the sticker on the back of your car? Or you decide to wear a Yeti hat? So after that purchase you feel you owe the company so you will wear their brand name? No coffee mug is that good. But that isn't actually what is happening though, is it? People put a yeti sticker on the back of their truck because it gets them entrance to a club. The cool outdoor club. I feel bad for these people because they desperately want entrance to a club that isn't that cool. You want to join a cool club? Go climb El Capitain. That's a cool club, and those people know how to party.

Here is another example. You spend $40K on a new car. On the back of that car is a sticker with the name of the dealer, and maybe even a license plate frame with the name of the dealer. So I spend all this money and I have to advertise for you? I just gave you $40K you should be advertising for me! I can also tell you from experience the stickers are supremely difficult to get off, without ruining the paint on your car.

To be honest though, I have to come clean. I have been sponsored in the past by gear companies. I was never asked to say anything specific about a product, but I have been given products for particular projects with the manufacturer fully aware that 10,000 people would see their product in a picture or a video. That I consider a fair trade. I am getting something I need - an actual piece of gear as opposed to a key chain or a T-shirt. They are getting something they need, exposure.

I also make exceptions if the product is the best option. I recently had to replace the long sleeve, sun protective shirt that I wear when I teach paddling. I grabbed every piece of clothing I could find that met my criteria and took them to a fitting room. I tried on 12 shirts from 5 brands, and was upset that the best option was actually made by Patagonia. Now, there is nothing wrong with Patagonia, they are a great company that make great products but the shirt that met my needs had a large Patagonia logo on the back. I would have rather a shirt without a big logo. The shirt is amazing though!

I have been saying for close to a decade, if you want to market a product, give it to the people who use it. If it is any good people will tell their friends. If you think outdoor instructors and guides don't sit around a campfire talking about products that work and products that don't you are crazy. GoPro exploded in 2008 because they offered a really good prodeal to outdoor professionals. They made a good product, everyone saw us using them, and we talked about how great the product was. I consider that a fair trade.

I still see a lot of people in my industry who will take anything if it is free. "if it's free, it's for me!" is a phrase I have heard in the past. By all means, go for it. But if you want me to represent your product, and tell people how great it is, Your going to have to give me more than a beer cozy.

Friday, September 7, 2018

GO! in paperback

For the first time I have written a book that doesn't require an E-reader. For the first time I have produced a physical book. I didn't think this would seem like a big deal, but it really seems like a big deal.

I am extremely excited to say that GO! Planning weekend trips to month long adventures is available on Amazon. Follow the kindle link on the right and there is an option to buy it in print.

I am extremely proud of this book, and hope you enjoy it. I hope it helps you bring outdoor trip plans to fruition. If you are one of the many people that have bought the book already it would be incredibly helpful if you could review it wherever you bought it.

Proof that I am getting somewhere, I have already found an illegal PDF version of it available online. Please don't buy it there. Thanks.


Tuesday, September 4, 2018


No, really.

I need three people who have a kindle (that can view color photos) and three people who have iPad's.

If you feel like helping me out with a project - some cash will be involved! - send me an email.


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The future of Yeti

Recently I was training new staff, people who would be working for the major outdoor retailer that I work for. A big part of their training is learning the multitude of products that we sell. When it was time to talk about Yeti - the expensive cooler company - I had us sit in a circle and talk about how we felt about the company.

For the record, I own a Yeti tundra 65 that lives in my van. I am very happy with it. My dog has already tried and failed to chew her way into it. If it is full, the ice lasts a very long time. If it is half full it is no better than a $40 cooler. But for what I need a cooler to do, I am very happy. My biggest complaint with cheap coolers is that I end up replacing them every 12 to 18 months because they can't hold up to the amount of abuse my work puts them through.

My sister has a theory. A toaster theory, that I think applies here. She thinks you can buy a $12 toaster, or a $300 Dualit toaster. If you buy the $12 toaster it will work fine, but you will replace it yearly. If you buy the Dualit, yeah it costs a lot more, and really they both just make toast, but for the rest of your life, you never have to go through the trouble of buying another toaster.. This is how I feel about Yeti coolers. At the end of the day it is just a cooler, but I will probably never have to buy another one.

So we were sitting in a circle, talking about Yeti and everyone agreed they were a good product, but pretty much everyone makes a Yeti style cooler, that costs less. The reason for this is that Yeti is a company owned by fisherman, who aren't great businessmen. How shall we say, they have had some patent issues. That is a story for another day.

What I said to these new hires was that I was curious to see how Yeti pivoted - which they would invariably have to do, to survive - and what markets they tried to slide into. My question was answered two short days later with the announcement of three new Yeti products.

First, the Yeti Boomer Dog bowl.

Built like a Yeti Rambler mug - and all the durability that goes with any Yeti product - this dog bowl will survive the perils of life with a dog that chews everything. Like mine. Oddly, I have an all metal dog bowl that has survived the perils of living with a dog that chews everything. It cost me $8. Which is $42 dollars less than the Yeti Boomer.

Next, The Tocayo Backpack.

A commuter backpack designed to shed water, and stand upright when you put it down on the ground. It also has rambler pockets - designed to hold their rambler mugs - and 360º protection for a laptop. It looks like a capable backpack. But at $249 it is almost double the price of other commuter packs with a similar feature set.

and finally. The Lowlands Blanket. This highly durable, and padded blanket is water proof, and designed with pets and rough ground in mind. But at a staggering $199, I think I will be skipping it.

Now admittedly I haven't used any of these products. I have no doubt they are impeccably manufactured, and work as designed. But I can't help but think that this is not the direction that is going to save this company. I think they were doing better in the duffel bag market - the Pangea bag is really impressive, admittedly the waterproof duffel market is pretty small.

As a paddler I would love an insulated dry bag from them, like a tin 15 liter hopper bag. I just don't think this is the way to go. Sorry Yeti.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Trip Planning Workshop

Next week I will be teaching the first workshop solely devoted to trip planning. Obviously in conjunction with the release of my trip planning book. I am teaching it at Piedmont Hiking and Outing Club, which is a very active outdoor group located here in central North Carolina. 

I am in the early stages of creating a web based workshop, which will probably have two different levels. A self guided video version, and a more interactive version with one on one time to fine tune your plan. (I am looking at as a host for both of these, but if anyone has any recommendations I am in - no pun intended - uncharted waters.) 

This is something I am excited to teach, because at the end of the day my goal is to get people actively, and safely having amazing experiences in the outdoors. For years I have been hearing the reasons why people can't do trips. There are a lot of reasons people give for not doing a big trip - keeping in mind that a week of backpacking could be considered a big trip to a lot of people. Here are some of the big ones:

  I don’t have the (Fill in the blank). It could be money, time, ability, or another big one: permission from a partner or family members. 
Money is a good one. A lot of people say they don't have the money to do a big trip, or they don’t have the time to take off from work, giving up that income to do a month long (or longer trip.) We all have bills to pay, right? Mortgages, car payments, phone bills. Life insurance. Health insurance. College debt. Not having enough money is a perfectly valid reason. 
Except, it isn't. Money should never be a reason not to do something. The truth is, that it doesn't really cost that much to do an outdoor trip. A month of time is nothing. If it means you live lean to put money aside to cover your bills for a month, isn't that worth it? Of course it is. 
The other part of money is related to the gear. I don't have the money to buy the gear I need to do an epic trip. Except, it's a lousy reason. Gear can be purchased slowly, over time, to help defray cost, but here is the best part - once you have the gear, you can keep doing trips. Yes, my expensive kayak set me back, in terms of cash reserves, but once I had it, I didn't worry about having the gear I needed to do trips. I bought my Delta Seventeen because it was fun to paddle when empty, but could easily handle a month worth of food and fuel. I bought a drysuit by redirecting the money from my daily cup of coffee. It took about 4 months to save the money I needed. Money isn't the reason people don't do epic. Or at least it shouldn’t be a reason. 
Time. You don't have the time. No one has the time. We are all way too busy. Right? Doing something big takes time. Time to plan, to train, time to just get your mind around the idea that for a month you will be paddling a kayak or hiking a trail or climbing a mountain. Start there. But really, having the time to take a month off isn't easy. 
Except, nonsense, this is completely doable, and I’m going to tell you how. The “time” excuse is really a permission problem. See #5. You have the time. It is making the time a priority that is difficult. 
What about skills? I don’t have the skills to do this. I can't ride a bike, I can’t hike 1000 miles. I can't paddle 500 miles in a month. Maybe I should work on my forward stroke and rescue skills, and paddling in surf, and wind and cold water. And cycling, maybe I need to be stronger to climb hills, and learn to descend big hills safely. Mountain biking definitely has a skill set that needs to be learned. As does rock climbing, and mountain climbing. Skills or the lack thereof will certainly keep you from doing an epic trip. 

Except, guess what? Skills can be learned. Skills are supposed to be learned. We can use the process of learning new skills to build the foundations we need to do amazing outdoor trips. It can become part of the training for your trip. You want to climb El Capitan? Spend a couple of days climbing Cathedral Wall in New Hampshire. You want to ride cross country? First ride across your state, and before that, ride across your county. Before that, ride across your town. By starting with small trips and building to bigger ones, you will learn all about your needs while performing. You will learn what your food and fuel requirements are. What kind of seat you like in your boat, or on your bike. You will make all sorts of mistakes and learn from them. Wouldn't you rather do that paddling on a lake near your home, than on the coast of Alaska? With some hard work, and honest judgement, skills will come. 
Permission. I don't have permission. From my partner, from my work, from my family, from my dog to take a month off. I simply have too many responsibilities. Guess what? Nonsense.
All of these reasons, time, money, responsibilities and skills are problems of insufficient resources. Insufficient resources can always be overcome by resourcefulness. Always. So what are the real reasons we don't do big trips? It isn't a lack of money. It isn't a lack of time. It is a lack of resourcefulness, partnered with fear. 
Fear. It is really that simple. I won't be able to do this. I will look stupid. I’ll be ridiculed. I will fail, and people will make fun of me. I don't have enough knowledge. Fear. Fear is real. It sounds counterintuitive, but don't be afraid of fear. Fear is a driver. Fear is a motivator. Fear will help you think through every detail for your trip. Fear will help you prepare. Fear will get you to take that wilderness medicine course, which almost guarantees that you wont need any of those wilderness medicine skills.
 Fear can be a motivator, if you allow it to be. But fear can also paralyze you, keeping you from doing that trip you always wanted to do. Embrace fear, and work through it. 
There is one other reason why people don't do epic trips. Age. Regardless of what age you are, age becomes a reason. You are an adult, and having the ability to take that kind of time off is only possible if you are a teen or not yet in your "real career." Unfortunately, when you are a young adult, done with high school perhaps, but not finished with college, you may have the time but you don't have the money, or the discipline to be careful with your money to do a trip like this. I used to work freelance, and when I had the time I didn't have the money and when I had the money I didn't have the time, or at least that was the excuse. 
All of the previously mentioned reasons for not doing a big or epic trip, can be beaten by doing one thing first. One simple thing. It is hard at first, but once you do this simple thing it makes all the other things easy. It is deciding that you are going to do an epic trip. That is it. It is having the realization that you can work through any problem put in front of you, to get to a goal. Once you decide you are going to do it, really decide, you will let nothing get in your way. 

For more information on how to make a big trip happen, check out my book. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Navigating by phone

I have written - in many venues - about my dislike of using a phone as our primary navigation tool. I have railed against the problems with this time and time again, so I won't do it one more time, but I recently got an email from Sarah. Sarah wrote the introduction to my latest book and paddled the inside passage with me. As an adventurer she is as good as it gets, and I would do any kind of trip with her. The gist of her email was that she willingly decided to use her phone as her primary navigation tool on a recent cycle packing trip. Here is what she wrote:

For the first time, we decided to navigate by phone. We have the Gaia App and input a GPX track into the app. This ended up being essential, because there were SO MANY additional tracks and forest service roads that had been created- it was really challenging to know if we were on the right track, unless we looked at the GPS track. 

Our back-up to our phone was a map, but it wasn't detailed enough and was missing the majority of these new roads and trails. However, we brought a charge external battery that would use to re-charge our phones. We also brought a solar panel. So, we felt that we had sufficient backup for this system. However, we had not factored in that our connecting cable may fail us! So, night 4 rolls around and we are at 21% battery on both phones. Steph goes to charge our phones and the adapter that she had just bought (and tested at home) no longer works. In the end, we got back to the car with 2% battery left (and the entire 4.5 days we had been ultra careful in how we were using our phones - one phone was always turned off). The navigation in the woods on that final day was hard, and we tried to use the phone as little as possible. Anyway, I had visions of us needing to get rescued because we were lost or ended up miles from the car and had no food left. And, this rescue would have been all due to stupid human error! Luckily, it all worked out. And, since we returned home, Steph has found a great website that allows us to print a much more detailed version of the route without it being 15 pages long! 

So, this really illustrates some of the problems with using our phones as our nav tool. But the fact is that they couldn't have done the trip without that GPX track - that I can only assume they got from someone else who had done the same route. That kind of sharing of information is amazing, and not really available in many other venues. A decade ago that information would have been hand written and maybe included notes on a map. It all would have been horrifically inaccurate. You could make the argument that the inaccuracies and the concern over the route is what makes it an adventure, but I would take the correct info any day.

So I am considering changing my viewpoint on the use of phones. I don't think we are there yet, but we are getting close. Phones need to be easier to charge, and water proof. But their ease of use, and ready data from literally millions of people opens up so many possibilities. I can't help but wonder if I did my Inside passage trip today how much more data I would have access to? 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Gear you have been told you need*

*but don't really need

We sell a lot of gear for use in the backcountry, and there is some pretty amazing stuff. Satellite trackers and beacons. Backpacks that feel weightless. Stoves that boil water in seconds, and HD cameras that weigh mere ounces. But the outdoor industry sells a lot of gear that just isn't necessary. I won't put a price on having a quality rain shell, or base layers. A good a pair of foot wear can make or break a trip. But here is a list of things that we put way to high of  a value on, that we can really do with out.

footprints for tents - A foot prints job is to protect the bottom of your tent. If you pitch your tent on something sharp - a rock, a stick - it will put a hole in the foot print instead of your tent. Foot prints don't add waterproofness to your tent. I use a ground cloth (which is a generic rectangle of material, whereas a footprint is designed to fit a specific tent.) from a tent I had 20 years ago. It works fine. Many people use a piece of tyvek or a thin painters drop cloth. A two person tents foot print can cost between $25 and $60. Spend your money elsewhere.

Pack covers - I am by far, in the minority here. Most people use pack covers. A pack cover is like a shower cap for your pack. It covers your pack leaving the support system accessible so you can wear it. The reasoning is that your pack isn't waterproof so this keeps your gear dry. My response, isn't your sleeping bag in something waterproof? Aren't your extra clothes? So what are you protecting? There is nothing else in your pack you need to worry about? The response from the masses, well, the pack itself will absorb moisture and your pack will get wet and heavy. This is nonsense. Your pack is made of nylon, which is really oil. How well do oil and water mix? exactly. Pack covers are so well engrained into the backpacking culture that I think I am the last person who doesn't use one.

Sporks - The argument is that they weigh less, and are more functional. I can't ever remember using the tines on the front of my snow peak spork. I use it more as a spoon. I love my titanium spork. It weighs .6 ounces. It is super light weight. It is super cool. I just went to my kitchen and grabbed a much larger standard kitchen spoon. It is what I grew up calling a table spoon. It weighs 1.2 ounces. I then grabbed a smaller kitchen spoon, what I grew up calling a teaspoon. It weighs .7 ounces. Sorry Snow Peak. You were a waste of ten bucks. Now, a long handled spoon for freeze dried meals is another story all together.

Multiple knives, hatchets and axes - I pack a single folding knife. I actually carry it every day. On very long trips I add a multi tool. You have zero knife needs beyond this. You don't need a hatchet or an axe because you should only be using dead and down wood for camp fires. The rest of this is "I like knives because they are cool." Get over it. Pack a knife that works for you.

1000 lumen flashlights - Ultra bright flashlights are tactical weapons. Not useful in campsite. I use a headlamp which leaves my hands free. My big first aid kit has a small flashlight for checking pupils. See above if you are packing them because they seem cool.

Suture kits, or other med devices you aren't trained for and will never really need - I have been teaching in the outdoors for 17 years. I have been teaching wilderness medicine for 10. You don't need a suture kit. You don't need quick clot (unless you work with a chain saw or other such devices in the back country). Normal people doing backcountry trips need band aids, mole skin and maybe 4x4's.

This one is photography specific. UV filters and Skylight filters on cameras. The reasons we are told we need these, they remove a blue cast from our images. The keep dust and dirt from getting on the lens, and they protect the lens from scratches and impacts. They removed a blue cast from lenses when we shot film. with digital this is no longer an issue. I have been carrying a camera for almost 40 years. I have never broken the front element of a lens. I am hard on gear, and this just doesn't happen. It is just a way to get you to spend more money.

I pride myself on telling people the things they need and the things they don't. The number of people that carry 3 or more knives but don't carry a first aid kit would surprise you. Learn to bring what you need. At the end of your trip make three piles. Gear you used. Gear you didn't use. And Gear you didn't use that still goes on your next trip (this includes First Aid Kits and rainwear.)

If you think you need it... Leave it home.

Bring only things you need.

Now I am sure that things on this list upset people because they like having something I mentioned in the backcountry. That's fine. Just don't live under the illusion that you need it. Call it what it is. You want it, and that's fine. Just don't complain about how much your pack weighs.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Say Hello to GO!

After a year and a half of work I am proud to announce the release of my next book. GO! Planning weekend trips to month long adventures.

Go! gives you a framework to plan adventures from a weekend in length to a month long monster trip. The book uses three trips to illustrate how to use the framework, a weekend hiking on the AT, a week long cycle packing trip on the blue ridge parkway, and a month long kayak trip in Alaska.

Use the skills I have mastered as an outdoor educator and guide to create your own adventures. Using the same process outdoor professionals use to have amazing experiences, while following a safe, logical progression to ever longer, and more complex trips. 

The book covers everything from how to come up with ideas for your trips, and what keeps people from doing big trips. To the details of gear needs, food requirements, meal planning, and the physical prep needed to accomplish our goals. It even discusses how to debrief a trip to learn from mistakes and capitalize on successes.

I had the assistance of both a personal trainer and a nutritionist, as well as several consultants in areas outside my scope of experience, like packing a bike for a multiday trip.

Take a journey with me, through these three trips, so you can take a journey on your own. Safely, while pushing your skill set to a new level.

GO! is available now, on Amazon and the iBookstore.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Safety and risk management in the outdoors

Risk and safety. I think about these two separate things pretty frequently. In part because I spend a lot of time leading novices in the outdoors, and I need to balance the two. If I run a course and it doesn't offer some level of risk, it is deemed boring. But If I crank up the risk, my students/participants may think it's exciting but to a level that makes the outing no fun. Essentially it becomes too scary to be enjoyable. This is a hard thing to balance and even more so for inexperienced individuals on their own trips. Without a good understanding of risk management, you may ramp up the risk way too far, and endanger your own safety. But at the same time, no one wants a trip to be boring. right?

On an almost daily basis I see people doing things that are unsafe. Particularly paddling. The problem is not perceiving that there is a risk occurring at a particular moment. I have had people tell me that they don't wear a PFD because they don't perceive the risk, or the danger. Not perceiving the risk doesn't mean it doesn't exist, it just means you don't have the experience to perceive it.

A sentence I hear all the time, "I've done it this way a hundred times, so it must be safe" The response to this - whether spoken or not - is, no you just haven't been caught yet. Doing something repeatedly doesn't imply safety, really what it implies is luck. You have just been lucky.

Playing in the outdoors is inherently dangerous. At the beginning of class I ask my students to assess the risks we are facing, I ask them "what bad things could happen today?" This is an interesting exercise because it tells me a) what people are afraid of, and b) how aware of the risks they are. The answers vary wildly from "I will flip the boat, get stuck and drown" to "We could get struck by lightning." Both are real risks, but the former doesn't happen, and the latter happens more often than you can imagine. But if you ask a novice paddler which is more likely, invariably they will say it should be the other way around.

So, how do we learn to perceive the risk, assess it, and respond accordingly? Experience, evaluation, and adjustment.

We have to get out into the world and have adventures. We have to go and do the things we enjoy doing, and have experiences in the outdoors. Because actual real world experiences become the fodder for step 2. Step 2 is the thing no one does. It should be a regular part of every outing.

Step 2, evaluation (some call it reflection). We have to evaluate all that happened on our outing. Good and bad. We need to assess as many aspects of the experience as possible.

When step 2 is completed - remember step 2 is the hard part - we move on to step three. Step 3 is adjustment. We have found the issues from the previous outing, and we can make adjustments for them.

On one of the last NOLS sea kayaking courses I worked, we were doing Independent student travel. This is a particularly difficult thing to pull off on sea kayaking courses. There are just too many things that can go wrong for relatively novice students. We can do it two ways. The instructors stay at the back of the group, just close enough to see what is going on, where there can respond if they have to. You can also break the students into small groups, and put an instructor in each group. The instructor isn't allowed to speak unless there is a risk management issue. On this particular course we were running it this way. I was at the back of a group of four, minding my own business while keeping an eye on the ever changing water environment we were paddling in. they were making the decision about which direction to paddle and how to do an exposed section of water. They spent a few minutes discussing it, before I opened my mouth. I said "ladies, you have 30 seconds to make a decision and then we have to move." They forced the issue and made a call. then proceeded to follow their plan. They did a great job, and the rest of the day went without incident. That night I got a visit in my camp site from one of the students who felt that I had overstepped my bounds by forcing their hand to make a decision. They were processing the data, and were taking their time. I shouldn't have rushed them. I explained why I had rushed them. They didn't realize that as they were making their decision, they were drifting backwards, and in 30 seconds we would have been pushed onto exposed rocks. They didn't notice this because they didn't have the experience. They were locked up in route finding without looking at the rest of the situation. She said now she understood, and accepted my actions. I didn't expect her to be aware of all that was going on, it was why I was there. They didn't yet have the experience to be aware of everything that was happening. Honestly, people rarely look behind them.

After looking at what transpired, you need to adjust the way you do things.

In the outdoor industry we evaluate incidents that occur on classes. Incidents come in three varieties, An incident with a fatality. An incident with an injury, and a near miss incident. I have never had to deal with a fatality on a course. I have handled some injuries, but never anything too bad. I have probably three near misses a season. Frequently weather related. I have a handful of people that I discuss these with, who I trust - in addition to discussing them with my employers. I am actively seeking to learn from my experiences, and if we work or play in the outdoors, you should too.

Lately I have been realizing that the less frequently incidents occur, the more likely we are to overlook the signs that it is possible. Or, the more likely it is we are about to suffer an incident. Just because my company has never used an epi pen on a course doesn't mean we never will, and are probably more likely to have an incident. We are due.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Three tiny backpacking stoves: Part 3 and conclusion

Finally, the last backpacking stove I want to talk about is the Jetboil Mighty Mo. This stove is also $49 and weighs the most of the three, 3.3 ounces. it has a similar design to the others and has the same kind of flame control. It also has the piezo lighter like the Giga Power, but has one feature that the other two don't have, a pressure regulator.

The pressure regulator helps with two problems that canister stoves have. The cold and altitude. When fuel canisters get cold it gets difficult for the isobutane (which is a propellent) to push the propane out of the canister. The same thing happens at altitudes above 8000 feet, the decrease in air pressure makes it harder to get fuel out of the canister and the stove can't light or offers an unusable flame. The pressure regulator maintains pressure in the canister making it easier to get fuel out. The short of it is, the stove works better in the cold and at higher altitudes. But this adds a bit of weight which is why this is the heaviest of the three. It also packs the biggest of the three, but honestly, by a couple of tenths of an inch.

For the third test, 72º water again, with a canister that read as 90% full. Lets see how it did:

2 minutes and 3 seconds. For all practical purposes it was the same as the pocket rocket. I started the timer a second late, and I think it was boiling more robustly a moment after I turned off the timer. I guess the next time I do this I will need a digital thermometer to really be exactly sure when it reaches 212º. The other part of this, is the pressure regulator. I need to do this test on a cold day to see if there is a difference, and we will do that this winter. But first I want to do one more test:

At the end of the test the canister read as 80% full. I wanted to do one more, with a full canister. I also used a 230 gram canister as well. Let's see if that makes a difference. 2 minutes and 3 seconds is the time to beat.

...and it was actually 2 minutes and 23 seconds.... slower. Maybe there is a variable I am missing. I actually decided to test the pocket rocket on the larger canister, and I came up with 2 minutes 6 seconds. Very consistent times.

But at the end of the day - a warm 70 degree day - both the pocket rocket and the Mighty Mo are great stoves. Lets check back in December to see how they do in the cold!

But wait, there is a bonus test! Just out of curiosity, because I had everything set up, I decided to test my very old Jetboil, and see how it did. The final number 2 minutes and 52 seconds. Pretty respectable time for a stove that is about ten years old and has a lot of miles on it. It is actually faster than the GigaPower stove.

Okay, a couple of things for clarity, I made sure the pot was cooled down between each test. I made sure the water temperature was the same before each test. To really do this correctly, I should have done each test with a brand new canister. The jetboil is using a different pot than the others so that effects the boiling times.

All of these stoves did a great job, and any of them would be a good choice. I was really hoping for something definitive. Maybe the cold will do that.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Three tiny backpacking stoves: Part 2

In our comparison of tiny backpacking stoves, our next option is the Snow Peak GigaPower 2. The follow up to the GigaPower, the new stove is slightly lighter (it weighs 3.2 ounces) compared to the original at 3.75 ounces. Besides that change in weight I can see no difference between GigaPower 1 and 2. They both list the same boil time for one liter of water, 4 minutes 48 seconds, which is significantly slower than the Pocket Rocket. They also say a canister will burn for 1 hour and 25 minutes, which is more than the 60 minutes listed for the Pocket rocket.

Something I particularly like about the GigaPower is that it has four pot support arms instead of three. It is also the shortest of the three stoves making it more stable combined with the slightly better grip on the pot it is supporting.

It offers similar flame control to the other stoves we are comparing and costs $49. But, it offers one feature that the Pocket Rocket 2 doesn't have. A piezo lighter, so to light the stove you open the valve and press a button, which in my book is well worth the $5 higher price.

Lets see how it does in the boil time test. Once again, 72º water, 100% full fuel canister. Same pot, same conditions.

3 minutes and 24 seconds! Significantly slower than the pocket rocket. A minute and 20 seconds slower, you could almost boil another two cups of water with the pocket rocket. Color me surprised. At this point you have to decide whether the time penalty is worth the piezo lighter.

At the end of this test I weighed the canister again, and after no changes for the first two tests it was now reading 90% full after the third test.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Three tiny backpacking stoves: Part 1

Canister stoves are by far the most popular stoves currently being used by backpackers. Their light weight, low cost and ease of use make them very popular. I wanted to highlight three of the most popular stoves and what differentiates them.

The first is the MSR Pocket Rocket 2. The follow up to what is probably, the most popular stove in history, the original Pocket Rocket. The PR2 is $45 and weighs all of 2.6 ounces. It offers great flame control, and easy use. When it replaced the original Pocket Rocket they made it ever so slightly lighter and changed the design of the pot support arms, which makes the stove pack smaller. So it is smaller and lighter than the original.

It comes in a small plastic case, or can be stored inside any number of pots with a fuel canister. Pots like the GSI minimalist, soloist, etc and the MSR line of small pots. The pot in the video is the GSI Halulite 1.1 liter boiler.

This stove was a great update to a popular stove, with the best thing being the way the pot supports now fold, making the whole stove pack smaller.

The specs listed online show the average boil time for a liter of water is 3 minutes and 30 seconds. But who boils a liter? Lets see how fast it can boil 2 cups of water, which is a much more practical volume.

starting with 72ºF water and a full fuel canister: The first time I used the lid, and at 3 minutes exactly it was a rolling boil. I decided to do it again with the lid off so we could see when it started boiling, and what the time difference between the two was.

The second time the canister still measured 100% full and once again the water was 72ºF:
At an amazing 2 minutes and 9 seconds I had a rolling boil. Seriously fast. This completely negates that first test with the lid on (because it should be faster with the lid on). Of course this is ideal conditions, no wind, a 70º room. But two minutes and nine seconds is really fast. The fuel canister still read as 100% full using my Jetboil Jet gauge.

Tune in two days to see how the Snow Peak Giga Power 2 did in the same test.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Paddling Otaku is now Adventure Otaku

This day has been long coming.

With the coming release of my latest book - which will be available on the iBook store for iPad and Amazon for Kindle - it was time to make a change. I no longer want to limit myself to paddle sports. Kayaking is still my first love, but for a long time I have worked in other sectors of the outdoor industry. I have spent most of the last twenty years teaching in the outdoors, it is time to let some of that knowledge out in this venue.

Otaku is a Japanese term, meaning someone with an obsessive interest. This website has been the face of my paddling obsession, but this entire time I have been almost equally involved in other outdoor pursuits. Camping, hiking, backpacking, wilderness medicine, stand up paddle boarding and navigation are where I live. So it is time to let those activities have some equal time.

There will be more gear review and tests. A little more delving into trip planning, to coincide with the release of GO! Coverage of other outdoor sports that I currently teach as well as entering into a few new arenas for teaching.

Got something you want to know about? A piece of gear, a destination, a skill. Let me know. If I don't have the answer I know someone who does.

You can find your way here through or

There is a lot to come, so stay tuned in.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Volunteers Needed!


No, really, I need your help.

With the pending release of my next book, "GO! Planning Weekend to month long Adventures" I am branching off into some new territory. While I have been teaching in the outdoors for close to two decades trip planning as a course topic is new. Eventually I would like the offering the course type in a weekend long, in person, workshop. I would also like to offer it in an online version.

Before I do either of those things I have to finalize a curriculum, and specific exercises for the workshops. I am in the early planning stages of that curriculum, but I want to test some things out. So I am looking for some volunteers in the central North Carolina area to do a one day workshop. It will give me an opportunity to play with the curriculum and see what resonates with students.

The best part of this is you can take this workshop for free!

If you are interested, drop my an email at AdventureOtaku(AT)

Yes, that is a new email address. Big changes coming.


Thursday, July 12, 2018

The future of PFD design

As you know I am a stickler for the use of PFD's. It is far too easy to die in the water if you aren't wearing one. Even if you are a strong swimmer. The single biggest hurdle to getting people to wear pfd's is fit. To a lesser degree, they need to look cool, but really it is fit. They have to be comfortable when you are wearing them, or you won't wear them. PFD design is something I have been thinking about for a while, I have recently felt like a revolution in PFD design is right around the corner, and this morning I saw the first sneak peak. But first, a little of my personal history with PFD's.

Before I was an outdoor educator I worked in the photography industry (and film production before that.) I lived in New York City's West Village in a tiny apartment up a flight of stairs. I was already a kayaker but obviously couldn't store a seventeen foot touring kayak in my small apartment - it would actually fit in the apartment but there was no way to get it in the door! So what I did was rent kayaks as often as I could. Two or three times a month I journeyed out to Long Island and rented kayaks. Inadvertently this gave me a great background in how different boats paddled. What I did to make this a little more fun, was I bought myself a nice PFD and paddle, that I would travel with.

My first PFD was a Lotus designs Locean. It was side entry, and low profile and had a good pocket arrangement, and I loved it. I wore it long past when I should have retired it.

The reason I wore it as long as I did was I couldn't find a PFD to replace it that was of equal quality and fit. Lotus had been bought by Patagonia and within a few years had been shut down, and then Patagonia for out of the paddling business - which is a shame because they made some great paddle gear. It wasn't until I found the Astral Buoyancy 300r whitewater vest that I knew I had a replacement. I later learned that the reason that I liked the 300r - and Astral products in general - is that the founder, Phillip Curry was also the founder of Lotus designs. I then moved on to the Seawolf from Astral - which is the non-rescue version of the Greenjacket. Clearly Mr. Curry's design ethics sing to me. 

But part of the reason that people don't like PFD"s is that they look bulky - all pfd's do. I have never worn a PFD that was as comfortable as my Seawolf, but from the outside it looks uncomfortable and that is enough  reason for people to not try them on, let alone wear them. We need to fix that, and that is where the future of PFD's is headed. It should be near invisible when I am wearing it, but offer enough flotation and protection when I need it. 

Which is where I was mentally, this morning, when the following things occurred. I am following two women on Instagram who are doing the inside passage, their username is @paddlingnorth which is very similar to the title of the short films I released after my trip on the inside passage. They were called Paddle North. These two ladies are using drysuits made by Mustang Survival. Mustang Survival is famous for making what people call "Gumby Suits." Which are ocean going survival suits. Your oil tanker sinks in a hurricane in the North Atlantic, you put on a gumby suit and jump overboard. The suit keeps you warm and floating until the Coast Guard comes and saves you. 

The part of this that surprised me, was that I didn't know that Mustang made paddling Dry Suits. I know that a good function drysuit is hard to make, and that it is way more difficult than making a racket and pants for paddling. I also thought I knew everyone that made paddling drysuits, so I headed over to Mustangs Survivals website, and it turns out they don't make Paddling dry suits, yet. The Paddling North ladies are using prototype suits. Which is cool, something new is coming to market. But while I was on Mustangs website I realized that they are branching out to a lot of markets besides survival. The first thing I saw was this amazing sailing gear! Check out this Ocean Racing Drysuit!

This is the Darth Vader Suit of extreme ocean sailing! I'm telling you, this is going to end up in a sci fi movie. Okay, but then I found this. 

This is a combination of two things. The ugliest PFD I have ever seen - okay, maybe that is a little harsh, but it's boring, that front pocket seems useless, it doesn't have a real lash tab, and the adjustments on the side and top are lazy design. Sorry Mustang Designers, but unlike Gear Junkie I tell the truth. So ugly is the first thing, but what is the second thing? I said a combination of two things. Well, it is BRILLIANT! This ultra thin, and low profile PFD offers traditional foam floatation - albeit not much of it - but then offers the ability to inflate via co2. So it can be invisible (almost) until you need it to save your life. After pulling a handle the front of the PFD expands dramatically (it looks like a small section behind the head also inflates) increasing the amount of floatation. 

Here it is in action.

This idea is brilliant. But I would love to see what a designer like Phil Curry could do with this concept. Their target audience is SUP and Kayak, but for me as an educator it doesn't offer quite enough of a feature package to make it work for my day to day. But I suspect people will jump on this idea and run with it.

Apologies to Mustang for being a little harsh on the design, but those were my honest first thoughts. Want to change my mind? Send me one and I will review it here. An honest review. You could also send me one of those Darth Vader suits.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Solar for backpackers

I get this question all the time. "I am going on a four day backpacking trip, and I need to charge my phone. Tell me about solar options."

There a large number of problems with this whole situation. The first and the biggest is, maybe you don't need that much access to your phone? Maybe the point of backpacking is to get away from your phone? The counter argument is "I am using it as my camera." Not surprisingly I have a problem with this answer as well. Yes, phones have become amazing cameras. Truly. Easy to use, incredible resolution. Your phone isn't particularly waterproof , which of course can be mitigated with a waterproof phone case, but the real problem is this. If something bad were to happen, you really should have a working phone with a full battery.

But, okay, you're going to bring your phone and you need to charge it. People have this image of "I will put a solar panel on the back of my backpack and it will charge my phone while I hike." I hate to be negative, but a solar panel needs to be facing the sun, which means it really needs to be on the top of your pack, and it needs to be pointed directly at the sun to be as efficient as possible.

Gregory actually released an update of their classic Baltoro backpack, with a solar panel and battery mounted on the top of the pack. They did this in conjunction with Goal Zero.

You see how the sun is directly in front of the hiker, and the solar panel is on the back? Yeah, this setup doesn't work very well. A setup like this will work best at 12 noon and there can't be any trees.

Okay, so that won't work so well, but how about on rest days. I can plant the solar panel in the sun, and charge my phone directly. This isn't a bad idea, you do need to stay on top of it though, about every twenty minutes it would be best if re-align the panel with the sun. It is all about maximum efficiency. This is essentially how we charged batteries during the AGAP trip. every 4 days or so we would take a rest day, and charge batteries, both literally and figuratively. OH! But in the first line of this post I said four days. There probably won't be any rest days.

But if there were, you have to take into account that it will take a few hours to charge the battery in your phone, and during that time you can't actually use your phone.

Okay, option 2 is a little different. You don't actually need a solar panel. really all you need is a battery. For a four day trip how many times are you going to need to charge your phone? twice maybe? Unfortunately we need to do a little math.

An iPhone 6 plus battery has a capacity of 2915 milliamp hours (mAH). That is what we need to charge. If we take a battery pack with us it needs to be able to charge that twice, and good first option is the Goal Zero Flip 20. It has a battery capacity of 5200 milliamp hours (mAH). With this size battery we will just charge it before we go on our trip, and at night when we wouldn't be using the phone anyway, by plugging it into the battery via USB cable. This is far less expensive than a solar panel and far more practical. It costs less too!

If you need more power than that, the Sherpa 40 holds a whopping 12000 mAH. That is enough to charge an iPad mini 2.5 times.

This is essentially how we did the AGAP trip, we had two Sherpa power units and a large solar panel. On rest days we charged the sherpas, and at night we charged our batteries from the sherpas. It worked flawlessly. Let me know how you solve your backcountry power problems.

One final tip, if you are bringing your phone into the backcountry to use as a camera, keep it in airplane mode. This will dramatically extend your devices battery life, and it will also help you separate from the front county. Which is the reason we are in the backcountry after all, isn't it?

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

How to fit a backpack

For the past 12 years I have been employed by a major outdoor retailer, and a big part of what I do is training new staff. One of my specialties is training staff in backpack fitting. I have trained welll over one hundred people and I estimate that I have done between eight and twelve thousand backpack fittings. I think it is one of the most important things I do. If your backpack isn't comfortable you won't be having a good time in the backcountry.

The first thing you have to understand is that backpacks are a lot like shoes. They may look good on the wall, and they may be your buddies favorite. But until you actually try them on and see how they feel you can't tell if they are right for you. People come in all shapes and sizes, and backpack fitting is about how it feels, and how the backpack carries a load. If it doesn't feel good on your back, and doesn't efficiently transfer the weight of the load onto your hips, it doesn't matter how many awards the backpack has won.

Next, you have to understand that backpacks have two sizes. A volume - expressed in cubic liters - and a size as it relates to its wearer, small, medium or large. The volume size of your pack is going to depend on the size of the gear you are putting in it, and is dictated by what we call the 'big three.' The big three is your sleeping bag, pad and tent. (some people say the big three is backpack, sleep system and tent, but for our purposes the backpack size is going to be determined by the other parts of the equation. So I don't include it in the big three.)

If you're an older back packer, like myself, your brain may prefer to work in cubic inches. You can turn cubic liters to cubic inches by multiplying by 64. a 50 liter pack (multiply 50 by 64) is a 3200 cubic inch pack.

Traditionally, backpackers will buy a backpack and then fill it with gear. The big three and the other gear needed. But I think this is backwards. If the volume of your backpack is going to be determined by the things going into it, why buy the backpack first? You risk having a backpack that is either too large (you will end up carrying more gear than needed, which means more weight than needed) or too small (you won't be able to carry all that is needed.) So what I generally suggest is that people buy their big three first, and then their backpack. The size and weight of the big three will largely be dictated by price. As you spend more money, your gear will weigh less and pack smaller. The depressing phrase we use in the industry is, the more you pay, the less you get.

When I started working in this field - over a decade ago - we regularly sold backpacks that ranged from 65 liters to 85 liters, this was the normal range. We stocked packs as large as 105 liters and could get packs as big as 115 liters. Today, after a decade of advancement in materials and design the bulk of the packs I sell are 45 to 65 liters. We still have packs - a few - that range up to 85 liters but I no longer have immediate access to packs bigger than that. The bulk of the AT thru hikers I fit for packs are buying packs in the 50 to 65 liter range. I also see people who started the AT with larger packs and by the time they get to me they are shopping again but this time for a smaller pack.

So you have a pack in mind you would like to try, in an appropriate volume, but how do you know what size (small, medium or large) you actually need. Well, to use the shoe analogy again, you need to get your torso measured, just like you would get your feet measured before buying shoes (you do get your feet measured, right?!) A torso measurement is best accomplished with a tool designed for the purpose. Because you are measuring from your iliac crest, on the side of your body, to C7, the large bump on the back of your neck.

It is almost impossible to measure yourself and difficult to measure someone else using just a tape measure. Any reputable backpacking store should have a measuring device to use for a torso measurement - they are provided by the backpack manufacturers at no cost. If your retailer doesn't have one, you need to find a new shop to frequent. The torso measurement spans from 16 inches to 21 inches. 16 and 17 are "small" 18 and 19 are "Medium" and 20 and 21 are "large." These measurements are not gender specific. Your torso measurement is also not correlated to height. You can be 6'4" and be a medium (with long legs) or 5'8" and be a large. Most men, about 80% are mediums. 15% precent of men are Larges, with the remainder being smalls. Most women (about 80% as well) are smalls, with 15% being extra small and 5% being medium.

Time to try on a pack in both the size that suits our torso and the volume that will work with our gear. Don't ever try on a pack empty. Let me repeat that. DON'T EVER TRY ON A PACK THAT IS EMPTY! It is a complete waste of time. Every pack feels good empty. To try on a pack the retailer you are visiting should have both pillows and sandbags to load a pack with weight. When I see a person take a pack of the wall, without checking its size, and then putting it on without weight, or making any adjustment to the pack I know immediately the level of knowledge of the person trying on the pack.

To be a knowledgable customer, come into your outfitter and say "I am shopping for a pack in 50 to 65 liter range and I am a medium, measuring 18 inches." If you don't know your size, say "I need a pack, and I need my torso measured."

When I do a pack fitting I generally open the divider between sleeping bag compartment and main compartment and the put two large pillows in the pack (I find it easier to stuff the pack from the top than to put one in the bottom and one in the top.) Then on top of the pillows I put a ten pound sand bag. This should be right behind the shoulder blades of the pack wearer, close to their center of gravity. (incidentally, this is mimicking the way you should pack your backpack for a trip. Heavy stuff right behind your shoulder blades, light stuff - like your sleeping bag at the very bottom) I then close the pack and tighten all the compression straps snugly. Then, before allowing the wearer to put on the pack, I loosen all the straps. This forces you - the wearer - to tighten the straps for themselves instead of just buckling them and going, which prevents them from just assuming they are set correctly. After loosening all the straps I confirm that the wearer knows where their iliac crest is - the top of the hip bone on their side - and I tell them that the iliac crest should be in the middle of the hip belt on the pack. I have them put on the pack, and get the hip belt in the correct location, and t then have them tighten it. We are then going to work our way up the pack tightening straps. Shoulder straps are next, The sternum strap is optional, and I tighten the load lifter straps above the wearers shoulders.

A lot of people want more weight in the pack when they are trying it on. Some pack fitters I know use 15 pounds, I generally use 10. Here is the thing. We are using a sandbag. Dead weight. Yes I can put 30 pounds of sand in your pack so you can see what it feels like, but it isn't going to feel like a real load. Gear just feels different. But 10 pounds is enough weight to that if there is a fit problem, I will be able to see it, and the wearer will be able to feel it. If they still want 30 pounds of dead weight, I will add it after an initial fitting.

Shoulder straps should be snug, but not tight. The sternum strap pulls the shoulder straps towards the center of the body, and it keeps them from rolling off the outside of the shoulders. It is optional, most people like it, but it makes me feel like I can't breath. Load lifter straps are the straps that get people in trouble.

Load Lifters go from the top of the shoulder strap to the top portion of the pack bag itself, usually connecting to the frame. When someone first puts on the pack I make them just snug. There used to be a rule that load lifters had to be at a 45 degree angle, but this is no longer true. With some packs they go straight back, and frequently with the current line of Osprey packs they may angle up at more than 45 degrees. The tighter you pull the load lifters the more it pulls the top of the pack towards your center of gravity - which feels good. The pack feels like it is part of you. But, the tighter those straps are, the more weight is shifted from your hips to the front of your shoulders, which will quickly fatigue your shoulders. This is the strap that you want to be adjusting throughout the day. If the terrain is flat, leave them looser, and allow the weight of the pack to be on your hips. If the terrain is steep, and you are using your hands for balance it is time to tighten them up. When you are walking, if you feel the pack wobble back and forth, they need to be a little tighter.

When someone comes to me and says "this pack hurts me when I wear it" the first thing I check is the load lifters, and 90% of the time they are too tight. Because it feels good when you pull them tighter, people do it all day, until they are completely tight, and their shoulders are exhausted. We want 50 to 60% of the packs weight on our hips.

Once the wearer has the pack on and straps are adjusted I check three things. I physically confirm - by sticking a finger into the space between waist belt and wearer - that their iliac crest is below the top of the waist belt. You have to physically touch the persons hip bone. Another good indicator of waist belt position is the location of the buckle. It should be over, or at least close to the belly button. Next, can I slide my fingers under the the shoulder strap with only a little resistance? Too much resistance means there is too much weight on the wearers shoulders, no resistance means the pack is probably too high. This is almost impossible to do on yourself. Find someone to do it for you. Finally, I check the location of the buckle that tightens the shoulder strap. It should be closer to the waist belt than the arm pit. This is a general indicator of pack size versus wearer size. If it is all the way down at the waist belt (meaning the shoulder strap is as tight as it can get, or close to it) it is an indicator that the pack might be too big. If it is up near the arm pit there is a chance it will rub the wearer while they are walking! - This is an indicator that the pack is too small.

Then you should take a walk in this pack for at least ten minutes. Is anything rubbing? pinching? binding? if it is doing it a little now, how will it feel after ten miles? Perhaps this isn't the pack for you.

Some packs offer adjustability in the back panel itself. I generally only have to adjust this if your size is on the border between medium and large or small and medium. Likewise, some packs have removable shoulder straps and waist belts. You generally only have to swap out sizes if your waist size and torso size is greatly different, or if you have particularly broad shoulders.

I generally discourage people from trying on more than three packs in a day. I find the memories of what was good and what wasn't gets muddy. If you don't have a definitive answer after three packs, take a photo of the tag of the pack that felt the best and come back in a couple of days and try it again, and then continue trying on other packs to compare to your previous best. Keep notes on what you tried, and what felt good and what didn't. Also, when going to try on a pack, dress like you are going hiking. I have had people come in for fittings who are dressed inappropriately, and let's just say it is awkward for everyone.

Here are the bullet points:

• Get measured
• Try on a pack with weight in it
• Check (or have checked) three land marks (hip bone, shoulder, and shoulder strap buckle)

Do everything you can - without sacrificing safety - to keep your pack weight low. We used to use the range of a quarter to a third of your body weight, is an effective load for you to carry. Today, using modern gear this is way to high of a number. In general, for most weekend backpackers, your pack weight should be between 23 to 35 pounds. I did 3 days on the AT last year, and my pack weight was 32 pounds with real food (not much lighter freeze dried) and a heavyish stove - an msr whisperlite.

Finding the right pack fit takes some time, and patience. But I have yet to find someone that can't get a good, comfortable fit out of a backpack. It is about finding something that fits your shape. Let me know if anything needs clarification.