Not All Who Wander Are Lost: A Blog for Adventurous Women

Boots for hiking vs boots for backpacking

Posted by Jan Latham on Oct 21, 2013 5:34:00 PM

Hi Jan!
I’ve been looking into boots and I was checking out the Keen’s Targhee II Mid Hiker that you prefer. The guy at REI suggested I go with something a bit more stout (backpacking boot vs hiking boot) since it is a multi-day backpacking trip, rather than just a day hike. Do you have an opinion on that mindset?
Let me know what you think.

Hi Beth

Wow --- asking me if I have an opinion is sometimes quite dangerous --- and (surprise, surprise) I do have an opinion.

The Grand Targhee II mid hiker is actually a pretty 'stout' boot and is considered a backpacking boot and not just a hiking boot.   Unless you have some medical issues with either your feet or your ankles the lighter you can go, still maintaining support both in the ankle area and on the sole of the boot --- the better.

My preference is to have some ankle support  (so the mid height is perfect) and have a sole with at least a 1/2 shank support and thick vibram (or vibram-like) soles.  Many backpackers are good with the lower shoe-like profile of other boots that are even more lightweight.  The Keen company has actually added a great innovation to their Grand Targhee II hiking shoe  --- a tightening mechanism that holds the heel in place much better than before.  You may even want to give them a try.  

We will also be carrying 30 pounds or less which makes a difference.  Perhaps the guy at REI is not familiar with Lightweight Backpacking and is thinking heavier loads?  I've actually not heard of anyone thinking the Grand Targhee II is not a backpacking boot.  

I'd also like to interject that recently a couple of the women who have taken the Intro trip and have continued to do the Appalachian Section trips with me have gone from the heavier, full leather (really stout) boots to either the Grand Targhee or the Asolo boot that is similar.

Best scenario --- buy the boots that feel the best in the store and take some hikes in them.  If you find that for some reason you feel you need a heavier (or even a lighter) boot then REI will take them back as trade in.  

Remember --- no matter which boot you purchase to get at least 1/2 - 1 size larger than you normally buy and do purchase a pair of Superfeet (or the equivalent) to use as the inner soles.  The inner soles of even the best boot are not sufficient for comfort --- just toss 'em!  You'll love the Superfeet!

I love these kind of questions!  --- can't wait to hear more of the story.


P.S.  Just so you know, I checked with my local REI store and spoke with their 'shoe person' and she was quite surprised that you received this advice.  Their training is in line with what I also advocate --- the lighter the better (barring any medical/physical issues) and the 'stouter' boot is generally recommended only for carrying 60 pounds and/or for winter and over and even then, they still feel that you should purchase the lightest weight boot your feet can handle.  I would take this guy's advice 'with a grain of salt' though.  

Have a gear question? Ask Jan, our very own gear head!

Ten ways to lose weight from your backpack - click here

Topics: lightweight backpacking, clothing and gear, backpacking, hiking

Advice on Backpacks from AGC’s Lightweight Lady

Posted by Katie Flanagan on Jul 19, 2013 6:00:00 AM

Our resident (and self-proclaimed) outdoor gear geek, Jan Latham, is always eager answer questions and pass along purchasing advice to inquiring minds searching for pieces to add to adventure travel gear selection. One of Jan’s areas of expertise and passions is lightweight backpacking. She continuously stays abreast of new developments in the lightweight backpacking arena with a focus on women’s gear. Recently, she was asked for guidance on purchasing a new backpack. Below are her reviews on and experience with (some firsthand, some second hand) the brands and products below.

MARIPOSA Ultralightweight medium backpack with hipbelt at

describe the imagePROS: When these packs first came out I did not like the support system or the shoulder harness/hipbelt systems but this generation looks like those areas have been given more attention.  There is an internal frame (removable aluminum curved stays) which is good (before you used your sleeping pad as the 'frame', which I don't like that at all) and the shoulder harness and hip belt have been beefed up and look good.  It is really a great weight (27 oz) and I do find that the Gossamer Gear brand holds up and is good.  The fact that you purchase the belt separately is a good thing, therefore you can get the correct size.  

CONS: There are NO load lifters which does give me doubts about the way this pack will carry.  The lack of this feature would probably keep me from purchasing it.  

JAN’S EXPERIENCE: I have had one participant use the first generation of this pack.  Her complaint at that time was that the weight felt more on her shoulders (lifters would decrease this weight)  and although the improved aluminum stays should help some with that I know that the lack of lifters would eliminate this pack immediately for me. 

Circuit pack at    

youtube review:

PROS: The weight of the pack at 39 oz is good.  I like that it has hip pockets built in.  Capacity is 4200 cc which might be a little big – it would be for me, but depending on the size/weight of your sleeping bag and tent, it could be a good size.

CONS: This pack really does 'look' good – wide hip belts, good shoulder harness.  It has a single metal stay running down the center of the back of the pack for structure.  It also uses rigid, foam padding for the back of the pack to increase comfort and structure.    

ULA Air X Backpack at

PROS: This one looks like it has the same features as the Circuit pack --- does have a carbon frame so you're not using your sleeping pad as the frame structure.  Not sure how this will carry --- no experience with it but it does have all the right features, lifters, padded shoulder harness and good hip belt.  

CONS: The capacity on this one is big at 4600 cc.  If you liked this one then I'd suggest trying the Circuit which is the same but a smaller capacity version. 

Starlite at

youtube review:

PROS: I do love Six Moon Designs and think they've done a great job with re-designing gear to be both lightweight and functional.  Again, this pack is basically without structure but I do like their optional hoop stay --- it appears to be dynamically shaped (similar to the Granite Gear support system)  They also offer different belt and shoulder harness sizes and I like the weight at 30 oz (including the optional stays).describe the image

JAN’S EXPERIENCE: One of our participants used an earlier version of this pack without the hoop stays.  It put a lot of tension on the shoulders with a 30 pound load so I would definitely recommend the hoop stays. I think it’s worth a try. 

4400 Porter Pack at

PROS: OK, I have to say that this pack brings the 'gear geek' out in me!  It is Cuban fiber, the lightest fiber available right now, plus its waterproof so no need for a pack cover.  Has good hip belts and shoulder harness AND has some internal structure.  

CONS: I do think the 4400 will be big but not sure you can fit your stuff into the next size down, the 3400. It is most expensive but personally I'd love to give it a try!  

Golite Pinnacle Backpack at

youtube review older model

PROS: This backpack does have a 'frame sheet' type internal structure which is what Granite Gear uses as well.  Is has really good support with great transferability.

CONS: The minimal hip belt would discourage me from trying.  

JAN’s EXPERIENCE: I did have a participant who used an earlier version of this.  She did not have a problemwith the smaller hip belt and was quite happy with the pack.  

Granite Gear's Crown VC 60

PROS: I like the Granite Gear suspension systems (good weight transfers) and their hip and shoulder belt/harness.    

CONS: Down side to this style --- torso is fixed so either a short or regular in women's sizes.  

JAN’S EXPERIENCE: I actually have the Crown VC one but have yet to use it --- will let you know what I think after loading it up and giving it a try.  describe the image

What to do with all of this information…

Choose 2 or 3 and order them, give them a 'try on' loaded and just send back what you don't like.  It's a hassle but that's what I end up doing too.

Jan’s Top 3

1.  Circuit Pack 

2.  Six Moons Starlite

3.  Porter Pack

Jan’s Honorable Mentions

Granite Gear Nimbus Meridian Ki  

This is remains my favorite and the one I use. This can be used with or without the hood.  

Leopard VC 46 Ki 


 Ten ways to lose weight from your backpack - click here

Topics: lightweight backpacking, clothing and gear, backpacking

Sweet Dreams on the Trail Part I: Sleeping Bag Selection

Posted by Katie Flanagan on May 16, 2013 5:00:00 AM

Getting a good night's sleep is right up there with eating well in the backcountry.  It would be a contest to see which of those would get #1 billing.  To get a good night's sleep you need to have a sleeping bag that fits you and is the right temperature rating and a sleep pad that allows you a comfort level you can handle. This blog is part one of two. In part one, we will give recommendations about how to select a sleeping bag and in part two we will focus on sleeping pads.
Sleeping Bags  sleeping bag1 resized 600
There are a number of variables to consider when choosing your bag. It can be quite overwhelming, especially when ‘sticker shock’ takes over.  You really don't need to have an unlimited budget to get a quality backpacking sleeping bag, but you do need to understand what you are looking for.
Top 3 considerations: 
1.      Temperature rating:   Consider what season you are anticipating using this particular sleeping bag for and choose a bag rated for the coldest temperature you expect to encounter.  Often the rating in incorporated into the name of the product ---for example, Marmot Plasma +15 which tells you right of the bat that this bag is rated to a inimun temperature of +15.  Other brands that do not incorporate the rating system into the name will have the  rating on the tag and/or in the specs if looking online
2.      Weight vs. roominess: When backpacking, you want to keep weight low without jeopardizing comfort or safety. For some, low weight overrides all other concerns (comfort, durability, convenience, price). For others, weight is less important than having a roomy bag for a good night's sleep. Most bags try to strike a balance between these extremes.
3.      Type of insulation: Your main purchasing decision is between the types of fill: down, synthetic and the new DriDown™.  Each of these fills have advantages and disadvantages and your personal choice will take into consideration where and when you are planning on using the bag. 
  • Goose-down fills are very light, compressible, durable and breathable. While initially more expensive, they offer great long-term value. The ‘down’ side of down is that you must be more careful regarding moisture.  Down does not dry easily after it gets wet and also loses its warmth value when wet.  So—this is probably not a good choice for use in an area of high humidity and frequent showers/storms.   
  • Synthetic fills excel in damp, cold conditions and have less sticker shock up front, these bags also retain their ability to keep you warm even when wet.  The ‘down’ side of synthetic fills is that they are significantly heavier and less compressible than down a comparable down bag.
  •  A new product on the market is DriDown.  This is goose down treated to resist moisture – a wonderful advancement for down bags!
If you happened to take an independent survey at one of your local outfitters in the sleeping bag department regarding what was the most confusing about buying a sleeping bag you would likely hear ‘the ratings’!  In the past sleeping bag companies all had their own independent rating systems so there was no way to compare or to be sure that the rating on the bag matched what you were looking for.  For years the European companies have used the European Norm (EN) 13537 testing methodology which allows for easier comparision.  Beginning in 2009 many of the U.S. based companies have also begun to follow this system.
The EN methodology produces temperature ratings you can trust and compare head-to-head with the EN ratings on other brands' bags. If you know the temperature range you'll encounter on your overnight trip, you can compare EN-rated bags and confidently choose the one that will best ensure a comfortable night's sleep.
Here's an example of the EN tag you'll find on all REI-brand 3-season backpacking bags: EN ratings resized 600
It is well know that women tend to sleep colder than men when comparing the same sleeping bag and the same conditions.  The EN 13537 testing reflects this fact, so you'll see separate temperature ratings and terms used for men and women on the product tag. 
Please note:  EN ratings are based on a sleeper wearing one base layer and a hat, and using an insulating sleeping pad under the bag.
So---what to look for regarding rating?  For women, look for the EN "Comfort" rating to decide if the bag will meet your needs. The lowest EN rating is their ‘Extreme” rating.  This essentially describes a survival situation.  At this temperature the bag will not keep you warm and toasty but is designed to keep a woman alive. 
What Temperature Rating Should I Choose?
Sleeping bags that display EN ratings can be expected to provide comfort to the temperature stated on the bag, keeping in mind the variables described above.
For non-EN-rated bags, select a bag with a comfort rating that is a bit lower than the lowest temperature you expect to experience. For example, if near-freezing temperatures can be expected, then choose a 20°F bag instead of a 35°F bag.
For any sleeping bag, you can always vent it on warmer nights by using the double-zipper to open the area by your legs. Or, simply drape the unzipped bag over you.
Here's a general rule of thumb on how sleeping bags are categorized:
Bag Type Temperature Rating (°F)
Summer Season +35° and higher
3-Season Bag +10° to +35°
Cold Weather -10° to +10°
Winter/Extreme -10° and lower


Non-EN rated sleeping bags:
For non-EN-rated bags, select a bag with a comfort rating that is a bit lower than the lowest temperature you expect to experience. For example, if near-freezing temperatures can be expected, then choose a 20°F bag instead of a 35°F bag.

Women's Bags:

With the increase in recognition that women are indeed built differently than me we have seen a increase in equipment designed for women.  Female specific backpacks are pretty common place at this time and now---women specific sleeping pads. These bags are specifically designed and engineered to match a woman's contours. When compared to men's bags, women-specific bags usually have the following characteristics:
  • Shorter in length
  • Narrower at the shoulders
  • Wider proportionally at the hips
  • Occasionally, extra insulation in the upper body and/or footbox
Sleeping bag lingo:
When shopping for a sleeping bag, you may read/hear some of the terms below.
1.  Names of the parts of a sleeping bag:
·         shell
·         lining
·         fill
2.  Sleeping bag styles:
·         mummy
·         rectangular
·         sleep quilts or bottomless sleeping bags
3.  Features to consider:
·         hood or no hood---that is the quesiton
·         zippers—right, left, full and ½
·         Stash pocket
·         Pad loops
·         Trapezoidal footbox

Topics: clothing and gear, backpacking tips and trips, backpacking