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

The Story of the Buff

Posted by Marian Marbury on Feb 20, 2015 2:14:27 PM

In our February newsletter, we talked about buffs- what they are, their many uses, and that we are starting to offer them as an option for women who go on a trip. But we had no idea where they came from until we received this email from our local partner in Spain. 

Hi Marian,

"Got a real chuckle at the February newsletter highlighting Buff.  DId you know it's a Spanish (well, Catalonian) company?  I have at least four buffs, and have been eyeing this year's models. BuffCindy

Short Buff story: the man who invented the thing was apparently using his neck gaiter from the military service (obligatory until not too long ago).  They're an ugly olive green and he decided that other colors just might sell to sports people.  In Spanish the name is the same as underwear for women:  braga.


All that is cute but....   not too long after they set up the company sometime in the 1990s, Buff funded a Spanish all-women team on a mega raid-adventure.   I don't remember the name of the raid, but it's something done every few years, funded by a millionaire who wanted to do some unusual giving-back.  The deal is (or was, maybe no longer happening) that teams of four people had a weeklong route, including hiking, probably some scrambling (not technical climbing), some water sport and maybe biking or horseback riding.  I think the team got 2 or 3 people for managing their supplies - but what was really unusual about this raid was that you signed up not knowing were it would be, and 2-3 weeks before it started you got a trip pack and had to plan everything in a short time:  when to cross the control points (that had a specific schedule), what to eat, what gear to take, and all that.   And they went to really isolated or underdeveloped areas.  No prizes, just a certificate for teams that completed the route in the stipulated time, with ALL the team members. 

The deal was of the team of four, one had to be a woman.  Thinking how to communicate and work together and all that, take the pace of the weakest member of the team (ummm).  The Spanish women team was the first all-woman team, and they needed to get funding. Government declined, but Buff said yes.  Buff got a lot of fabulous PR, used that in their adds for next few years  (rightly so!). And yes, all the photos of the women's team had Buffs somewhere in the shot. 

So what happened to the team?  They completed the route successfully and apparently even had fun. One of the blurbs was about them trying to get the rafts going in the right direction, amid gales and gales of laughter.  This route was so challenging that (so the story says) US Marines were seen sitting in tears next to the trail.  The women's team was praised for understanding that the spirit of the adventure was to test oneself, but also to have fun.

Just thought I'd share that with you, in case you didn't know. Makes the Buffs even better!"


Now that we know the history of the buff, we like them even more!!

Topics: clothing and gear

Do I really need to buy rain pants for my rafting or hiking trip

Posted by Marian Marbury on Aug 5, 2014 6:00:00 AM

Rain pants are an essential piece of outdoor gear, especially but not only for hiking trips. But do you always need them? The following two emails and responses might prove useful. As always, the answer is - it depends!

"Hi --I'm so excited that we have less than a month until our trip to Switzerland begins! I've been gathering the items on the packing list. The one item that I am having difficulty justifying the expense is waterproof pants. Do we really need them? Of course, my phone tells me that it's currently raining in Zermatt!"

Sorry but yes, unless you plan to not hike if there is more than a 10% chance of rain (which is always an option!) rain pants do need to be available.  Most of our hiking is above tree line which means that if we hike in the rain or get caught in the rain we aren't protected by trees overhead at all.  When you're under trees you can quite often get away without rain pants and just use your rain jacket but not when you're exposed above tree line.  Plus, the jacket, coupled with the rain pants,  provide the warmth needed when the temperatures drop during a rain storm.

I do have a couple of solutions for the expense part though!  

  • My current (and favorite) rain pants are a pair I bought at Gander Mountain for 39.99.  They are lightweight and keep me dry and warm.  They have an elastic waist and wide leg/foot openings so they go on over my boots.  (Also, I bought them a bit larger than needed so they'll easily go over my boots)  They are the Guide Series and are available at stores or online.  This year they put a mesh liner in them (which I don't like -- adds nothing but weight) so you can just cut that part out and you'll have a great pair of rain pants for all occasions!
  • The second suggestion is to purchase a pair of Frogg Toggs or Ducks rain pants.  These are lightweight pants that are also elastic waist and slip over the boot style.  You can find these at places like Super Targets, Walmarts, Gander Mountain and Dicks.  They are made out of a fabric that feels a bit like paper but are strong, waterproof, lightweight and inexpensive.  The last pair I checked on were at a store here in Michigan, Meijers.  They were a cream color and were the lightweight version at 19.99.  Actually, one of our guides who hiked the entire Appalachian Trail used the Frogg Togg jacket and pants for the trail and is still using her Frogg Togg jacket so they are quite durable (and work well!)  If you go with the Frogg Toggs or Ducks --- wash/dry them several times before you use them to soften them up a bit.

Here are a couple of websites so you can see what each of these suggestions look like:


"Hello ladies -Could you please tell me how critical rain pants are for the Salmon River Rafting trip trip?  I really don't want to have to purchase if the chances are we won't be wearing them."

"Whether or not you will need the rain pants is always the big question, and ultimately the decision is yours. They would not be on the packing list if we didn’t think there was a chance you needed them, but it’s also true that this is a hot and dry summer. So let’s say this - on some trips (e.g. hiking in the Alps), if you didn’t show up with rain pants, we would take you shopping the first afternoon. We won’t do that on this trip. I would, however, bring a couple of extra garbage bags and you could make pantaloons if it rained."

Want more tips?

Hiking Tips for Women

Topics: clothing and gear, hiking trips

How To Keep Your Feet Warm During Winter Outdoor Adventures

Posted by Marian Marbury on Jan 29, 2014 10:00:00 AM

After the last blog post about How to Stay Warm in Winter a reader asked that question. And in this winter of unrelentinAWT1 copyg polar vortices and plunging temperatures, it's an important consideration.

Like hands, feet are more prone to get cold since your body attempts to preserve core body warmth by skimping on blood flow to your extremities. But that's where the similarity between hands and feet stops. Hands get cold because you often expose them directly to cold air as you take off your gloves to use your fingers, and because your fingers have alot of surface area.

Feet get cold because 1) your feet sweat. You may not feel it, but they do; 2) your feet are in contact with the freezing ground; and 3) like skin everywhere on your body, there is an imperceptible layer of moisture that protects the skin and needs to be protected. In order to keep your feet warm, you need to consider each of these.

1) Wear synthetic or the new wool socks. Good brands are Thorlo and Smartwool. I say new wool because in the old days we used ragg wool socks, which have their own set of problems. If you're going to be out for more than a couple of hours, bring another pair to switch into if your feet get cold.

2) If you are someone who can wear liners (some of us get blisters from liners), use a sweat-wicking pair as your first layer. You do not, however, want to wear two thick layers unless your boots are really roomy. Otherwise your feet can be so tight in your boots that your circulation decreases and your feet actually get colder.

3) Boots are your most important decision and what you buy depends on where you live and what you need them for. Like every other piece of clothing, you want your boots to be waterproof but you also want them to be breathable and there is always a tradeoff. Completely waterproof boots will also be completely unbreathable. But in cold and especially wet weather, it's a tradeoff worth making. In that case your best choice is to buy insulated boots that have a removable felt liner that you can take out and dry. Sorels are a common brand. The liner acts as extra insulation, particularly from the ground, and the fact that its removeable means you can dry it out. If you live someplace with predictably cold weather, these are well worth the cost.

But what if you live someplace that isn't ususally cold, it's just this winter (think Mobile, Alabama this morning). It's likely you couldn't find Sorels if you wanted to and you won't need them for long anyway. In that case, take your roomiest pair of boots, put some neatly folded newspaper in the bottom for an extra layer of insulation and then seal them up with a layer of duct tape on the outside. Or instead of duct tape, put a shower cap over each boot. Fashionable? Well sure, in that quirky kind of outdoors way. And definitely functional.

4) Get chemical heaters. These are little packets that you activate by crunching them up and they give off an amazing amout of heat. Do not put them next to your bare skin. But a packet placed inside your boot at the tip can keep your feet warmer for hours.

Remember, keeping your feet warm is not just a matter of comfort but of vital safety. Your feet are very susceptible to frost bite, as evidenced by the number of mountaineers without ten toes. But being adequately prepared can make going out in the cold fun and safe.

Topics: clothing and gear, outdoors tips, safety, preparation, how to

How to Stay Warm Outside in Winter

Posted by Marian Marbury on Jan 4, 2014 10:19:00 AM

Plunging temperatures this week may have you convinced there is no alternative to staying indoors with a good book until Spring. Think again! Staying outdoors and active improves your mood, fends off winter weight Deb snow queengain, and keeps your vitamin D level high. Of course you won’t want to stay outdoors if you’re cold, but follow these 5 simple tips and you’ll be able to play outdoors all day.

 Keep your hands warm

Research has found that women really do have colder hands than men: when temps drop, the blood vessels in women’s hands constrict more so that blood flow is diverted to the core. The benefit is that women’s core temps stay high and thus help protect against hypothermia. But it also means that keeping your hands warm is more challenging for women.

 So are mittens or gloves better? The answer depends on you, the activity, and the outside temperature. If you’re doing something highly aerobic, or you require manual dexterity, then gloves can be fine.  But gloves are like sleeping bags – they don’t contribute warmth, they retain the warmth you have. Fingers lose heat faster when they are separated; if you can't find a pair of gloves that keep your hands warm, you are likely to find mittens preferable.

And what material should you use? Wool is the only material that keeps your hands warm if your gloves or mittens get soaked. Synthetics will dry quickly but they lose insulative capacity. Some gloves and mittens are made of GoreTex or a waterproof material and may be useful in damp conditions, but tend not to work in very wet conditions.

A pair of glove liners under a pair of thicker gloves can give you manual dexterity and help keep your hands toasty.  However, if you are someone whose fingers don't stay warm in gloves, wearing glove liners under mittens will actually make your fingers colder than if you just wore mittens. Personally my hands do better if I just whip my mittens off when necessary.

 Wear layers of clothing

Your goal is to stay warm while sweating as little as possible. Several lighter layers both provide more insulation and are much more adjustable than one heavy layer. The only time you might need a down parka is when you are standing around or otherwise not active. Bring a daypack so you have some place to put your extra layers as you warm up or take a break.

Start with a BASE LAYER of silk or "lightweight" synthetic long underwear and liner socks. These materials draw moisture away from the skin (this is called "wicking") and help keep you dry and therefore warmer. Over the base layer wear a second, MEDIUM-WEIGHT layer on your upper body such as "expedition-weight" Capilene or Polartec, and wool pants or a synthetic equivalent such as Polartec or Capilene fleece. Over the second layer, add a third HEAVY-WEIGHT layer. This should be a thick material such as wool or fleece. Typically this layer will not be necessary, even in cold weather, as long as you’re active. As soon as you stop for a break, put this on. If you're overheated, you might think you want to cool down. You don't, at least not abruptly. By the time you think you’re just right, your body temperature is on a downward trajectory that will overshoot. If it’s raining or windy, you will also want to add the outer layer described below.

This fourth and final layer is called the OUTER LAYER. This layer is for protection from wind and rain and should be a parka or jacket made of a coated nylon or a waterproof/breathable fabric like Gore-tex, HellyTech, Membrane, H2No, or Ultrex. Be sure it keeps water out. Before making this important purchase, be sure that it fits you properly. It should be large enough to fit over all your layers. In particular, the hood needs to be effective. It should shield your face from the rain and turn with your head. Movement of your arms should not interfere with the hood. Put on a daypack; can you still raise your arms? Lastly, the wind pants. They should be comfortable, allow enough room for your layers, and permit free movement of your legs (for example, can you crouch comfortably?). Partial or full-length leg zippers are useful for easily putting your pants on over your boots.  Even when it is not raining or windy, we lose heat from convection, the movement of air against our body.  This layer eliminates that and keeps you substantially warmer.

When you start, you should be just a little on the chilly side. If you're already warm, you will quickly overheat and before that happens, stop and pull off a layer. On a cold day I often start with my lightweight and midweight layer with my outer layer over that, and then pull off the midweight as I warm up.

3.  Don’t wear cotton

 In the discussion of layers, we mentioned several kinds of synthetic materials. The reason is that cotton absorbs moisture like a sponge and then keeps it next to you. The damp material will cause you to chill severely in cold weather once you stop for a break.

This is just as true for underwear as for t-shirts.  A cold, clammy cotton bra next to your skin is uncomfortable at the least and can lead to severe chilling. You will be warmer if you stop and take your bra off, even though that means temporarily exposing a lot more skin to the elements. Prevention is better yet! You can either choose not to wear underwear or you can invest in one made of synthetic materials that wick sweat away.


4.  Stay hydrated

The most important part of staying hydrated is to drink plenty of water. Even if you're not sweating, you lose moisture simply because the air is so cold and dry. Like heat, moisture seeks equilibrium between places where there is plenty (inside your respiratory system) and places where there isn't much (the outside air). When you become dehydrated, your body functions less efficiently and you get cold more easily.

Do not drink alcohol until you are off the trail and back in your cozy lodging. Alcohol packs a double whammy in the cold. First, it causes your blood vessels to dilate. That makes you feel warmer, but it causes your body to lose heat faster. Second, it impairs your judgment. Hypothermia, the condition caused by excess heat loss, does the same thing. And of course you really want to keep as many wits functioning as possible when you are out in the cold. Alcohol can also contribute to dehydration if the alcohol content of your drink is above 10% and you drink large amounts.

Of course, if you stay well hydrated you will need to urinate more often. If you are lucky enough to be out in the snow, try a "snow wipe" (using a snowball for wiping yourself) is a true refreshing pleasure.

Another key aspect of staying hydrated is protecting your skin by keeping it protected form the sun and well moisturized. Chapped skin is not only painful, it means that the protective barrier of your skin has been damaged. Moisturizing cream with an SPF of 15 or greater will prevent that


5. Should you wear a hat?

Well yes, of course, it makes you look outdoorsy! And there are so many cute hats these days. But we used to think that more heat was lost from an uncovered head than any other part of your body because of the rich network of blood vessels that feed your brain. However recent research has shown that heat loss through your head accounts for about 7% of your heat loss because the head accounts for about 7% of your body surface. Of course 7% is not insignificant and that plus the fact that hats make you feel cozy make them well worth wearing.

6. Stay hydrated and eat lots of snacks 

This is my favorite tip! I started winter camping when I heard that polar explorers had to eat 5000 calories a day just to maintain their bodyweight. That might be a little excessive for a couple of hours of hiking or skiing, but there is no doubt that the snacks you brought with you, washed down by the thermos of hot tea you just happen to have in your pack, are not only tasty but also essential for staying warm.

Zero degree weather? Bring it on! 

Hiking Tips for Women

Topics: clothing and gear, active travel, outdoors tips, health and fitness

Trekking poles for hiking trips: the 4 most common questions

Posted by Marian Marbury on Nov 21, 2013 6:22:00 AM

We always have hiking poles on the packing list of any hiking trip we offer. Here are the most common questions we get.

Why do you recommend trekking poles so highly?

Trekking poles contribute to your safety by improving your balance and stability, and to your health by saving stress on your knees. In addition they help conserve your energy by transferring some of the work to your arms and chest. As a result, and as an additional bonus, you also get an upper body workout with great triceps training.

What should I look for when I buy poles?

The short answer is to make sure their height can be adjusted, they have an upright (as opposed to cane-like) handle, and have wrist straps that can be adjusted. If you're just starting out, our advice is either to purchase an inexpensive pair (EBay,or some of the big box stores can be a good source) or borrow a pair of poles from a friend. Then go on a hiking trip where you can not only learn what they are all about but the correct way to use them.  You’ll also see what others have chosen. Once you’ve gained a bit of experience and you know that hiking is going to be a regular part of your life, you can make a more informed decision about whether you want to invest in the ‘perfect’ pair of poles. For more details, read this blog post:

Will TSA allow me to carry poles onto an airplane in my carry on?

If you ask TSA, you will most likely be told that carrying on your poles is not legal. However, our experience is that when traveling in the United States, it is very uncommon to be stopped. What we recommend is to pull your poles completely apart and put them in your carry-on luggage; if your luggage is designed to fit the requirements of carry-on baggage, the poles will just fit. Leave enough time at the airport to check your bag if TSA stops you. The advantages of carrying them on are that your hiking poles will definitely get there and it won't cost anything. The downside is that you could get stopped and have to go check your bag.

What are my options if I don’t want to risk a TSA run in?

The easiest is to put them into a checked suitcase. If you pull them apart, they take up very little room. Other options are to package them in rolled cardboard and check them as a second piece of luggage or to mail them ahead to your destination. Both of those can be expensive so another option, depending on where you are going and how long you will be there before you need them, is to buy them once you’re there.

Hiking Tips for Women

Topics: clothing and gear, safety, hiking trips

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

Choosing Trekking Poles for your Next Hiking Trip

Posted by Jan Latham on Oct 9, 2013 4:43:00 PM

We are all huge fans of using trekking poles on almost any hiking, trekking or backpacking trip. They so clearly contribute to your safety (by improving your balance and stability) and health (by saving stress on your knees), plus conserve your energy by transferring some of the work to your arms and chest, that we can't imagine why anyone would choose not to use them. Yes, they may take a little getting used to and instruction is helpful when you're first starting, but that should not deter you.

But there are so many options, how do you choose the right pair?

If you're just starting out, our advice is either to purchase an inexpensive pair or borrow a pair of poles from a good friend - and then come on one of our hiking trips where you can not only learn what they are all about but the correct way to use them.  You’ll also see what others have chosen and after gaining a bit of experience, you can make a more informed decision regarding the ‘perfect’ pair of poles.

If you're ready to commit to a pair, below are a few details to pay attention to.  I have listed them in the order of what my experience has led me to believe are the most important.  I dare say that you can find these same details on most any internet site you search regarding hiking poles although they could be listed in a different order. (But mine is the correct one!) 

1.  Weight

2.  Pole adjustment mechanism

3.  Sections

4.  Material

5. Grips

6. Baskets

7. Shock Absorbers


 1.    Weight: 

Being the lightweight backpacker I am, this has to be at the top of my list.  The lighter the better!  Remember, you will be picking these poles up and down hundreds (or thousands) of times during your hike/backpack and weight will be an issue. 

There are several factors that influence the weight of your poles including the following: 

  • material they are made of  
  • the locking mechanisms
  • whether they have ‘shocks’ on them
  • if they have baskets
  • what the handles are made of

Each of these details will be discussed below.

 2.     Pole adjustment mechanism:

There several types of locking mechanisms for pole adjustment. My favorite for many years has been the ‘twist’ type of mechanism because it was less ‘weighty’ and was quite reliable.  Unfortunately most of the companies have turned to newer technology – currently I use what is called the lever locking mechanism.  The types of adjustment mechanisms are:

  • Lever Locking system
  • DuoLock,
  • Super Lock System
  • Stop Lock. 

All of these locking systems weigh in about the same so just make sure you understand your particular locking system and can operate it well under the conditions you will be using the poles.


3.   Sections:

You can get poles that separate into either 2 or 3 sections.  My preference is for a 3 section pole for hiking and backpacking which allows the poles to be more compact in it’s collapsed (or broken down) position and fits into my luggage easily for travel.  The 3- section pole is what almost all hiking/trekking/backpacking poles are.  A 2- section pole is a stronger pole and I would suggest this  if you were using your poles for mountaineering or ski-ing where there may be more stress exerted on the poles.


4.  Material:

The most common types of material for hiking poles is aluminum or carbon fiber.  The lighter weight material will be carbon fiber but that will be reflected in the cost of the poles as well. 


5.  Grips:

This is definitely a personal issue, keeping weight in mind as the top priority.  Options are:

  • Rubber, which is good in situations where you don’t want your handles to absorb water such as mountaineering or winter sports --- it also insulates the hands from cold.  Rubber is not generally recommended for warm weather hiking simply because rubber can be more abrasive to bare skin (when used for cold weather activities you are usually wearing gloves) 
  • Cork, which ends up ‘molding’ to the shape of your hand/grip.  Cork tends to not absorb moisture which can result in slippery handles if you have particularly sweaty hands.  
  • Foam, which is softer and many hikers/backpackers feel keep your hands cooler.  Foam does absorb moisture but does not become ‘sodden’ or misshapen with just hand moisture. 


6.  Height:

  • Make sure that the poles you purchase are for your height --- yes, some of them come in regular and tall, plus some have weight recommendations.
  • If purchasing one of the newer (and extremely lightweight) Z-type poles please make sure you understand their limits.  Many of these poles DO NOT extend for downhill hiking.  My personal opinion is that my knees really do want the extra support for those downhills so I would not choose this type of pole. 
  • If the brand you are considering has a ‘woman’s pole’ do check this out.  These poles are often shorter (decreases the weight) and have smaller hand grips (comfort) 


7.  Wrist straps:  Using your poles correctly is very important and having wrist straps that are adjustable are fundamental in learning to and using your poles correctly.  

  • Make sure that the wrist straps are adjustable and that you understand how to make those adjustments


8.  Baskets:

My suggestion for hiking/trekking/backpacking is no baskets unless you are planning on doing your trip in the snow.  If your poles come with baskets they can be easily removed and saved for a trip you may need them for. 

9.  Shock Absorbers:

This particular detail can be a bit more controversial.  They do definitely add to the weight of the poles and the vast majority of hikers/backpackers feel that the shocks do not make a difference in comfort.  In fact, poles with shock absorber can actually create a feeling of instability due to the movement of the poles and especially create that feeling in situations where you need to have good balance (rock hopping, narrow ledges, crossing streams, etc.)  My personal opinion is that they are un-necessary weight and that the small amount of give in the poles is not sufficient to make a difference in comfort.  So --- I do ‘nix’ shock absorbers. 

10.  Use:  What will you be using your poles for?  Will they be multi-use poles for both hiking and snowshoeing for instance or are they just for hiking/trekking/backpacking.  Personally I have different poles for different uses but often you can get away with using the same poles for multi activities. 

 My personal preference for poles currently is the Komperdell C3 Carbon Powerlock.  These poles fit my basic criteria, lightweight, reliable locking mechanism, good grip and collapses/separates into a size that fits into my luggage. 

Topics: lightweight backpacking, clothing and gear, hiking trips

Do you really have to have all that stuff on a hiking trip?

Posted by Marian Marbury on Jul 30, 2013 5:45:00 PM

One of our guides just returned from the Canadian Rockies Hiking holiday, a hiking trip in the Canadian Rockies, and wrote  "A participant suggested a topic for a blog...basically, it was 'why we are carrying all this stuff and wearing hiking boots when others are wearing flip flops and not carrying a damn thing' ".

It's a great observation!! I immediately started thinking of the time I climbed Mt Katahdin in my early 30s in a cotton tshirt and shorts on a gorgeous hot summer day. We had food and snacks in a pack but that was about it. We got up to the plateau where it started drizzling. Undeterred we walked across to the summit and sat to eat our lunch, while the drizzle continued and the temperature plunged 20 degrees. Deciding we needed to get going, we headed for the path we intended to take down. Unfortunately it was the kind of path that required being able to hold on to rocks. Our hands were so cold that we literally could not use them, so that path was not possible. When I turned to discuss our options, it became clear that my hiking buddy was past the point of coherent conversation and in the first stage of hypothermia, where apathy is the most common symptom. Finding a boulder where we could get out of the wind, we stood and held each other until our body warmth followed by some snacking got her mobile and thinking again. We returned the way we had come, reached the bottom safely, and knew we had been lucky to get away with being so ill prepared.

"Be Prepared" is not just the Boy Scout motto, it's the motto of everyone who spends significant time in the outdoors. What you should have with you will vary with the location and the time of year, so our packing lists are not all the same. But let's look at some of the common items and why we carry them.

    • Hiking poles.There isn't a hiking trip we offer where these aren't on the list. The only difference is whether we put them in the Essential or the Recommended category. Most of our guides use them routinely on any hike for purposes of knee and energy conservation, and getting a great upper body workout. But when you're going steeply downhill or when you're tired, they add a large margin of safety.

    • Synthetic clothing. When we climbed Katahdin, our cotton clothing got soaked and at that point was actively leaching heat from our bodies. Wearing a synthetic tshirt and having a fleece to pull out of our packs, even if we didn't have rain gear, would have made all the difference.

    • Rain gear. But we were really dumb not to carry rain gear just because it was a gorgeous morning when we started out. Weather can change quickly and in unforeseen ways, especially in the mountains. Whether you carry a rain jacket and pants or just a jacket depends on where you're hiking, but a jacket at least should automatically go in your pack. One of our guides leading a hiking trip in the Swiss Alps ran into a hail storm on the day they did the 10 mile traverse from Schynige Platte to First. What could have been a dangerous situation remained an inconvenience because they all carried full rain gear and fleece.

  • Hiking Boots. Hiking boots aren't always essential. If the path is flat and smooth, then wearing flip flops might be all you need. But what flip flops and athletic shoes don't offer you is arch or ankle support, or protection from rocks - all requirements for most trails. A pair of hiking boots that fit your feet well should be comfortable. Yes, I have seen a woman descending a Grand Canyon trail in heels. I can't imagine what her feet felt like on the way out (assuming she didn't break her ankle on the way down).

Probably 49 times out of 50, you will carry more than you end up needing. But that 50th time, when bad weather comes out of nowhere, the trail is unexpectedly eroded or rocky, or what you thought was going to be a 6 hour hike ends up taking 9 hours, you will be delighted to have what you need to stay safe and warm.

Hiking Tips for Women

Topics: clothing and gear, safety, preparation, hiking trips

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

Should you try barefoot hiking on your next hiking trip?

Posted by Katie Flanagan on Jul 11, 2013 5:00:00 AM

The other day, I was walking on a nearby trail when I took a double take of a fellow hiker passing me. She was walking when I first saw her; my gaze turned down and I noticed she was not wearing shoes. My double take turned into a stare when she picked up the pace, turning her walk into a jog. I wasn’t sure whether to be impressed, stunned, or shake my head in disapproval at the ‘dangerous’ choice.  Although I'd seen a barefoot runner, this was the first time I’d seen a barefoot hiker. A few years back, I became familiar with barefoot running when I read Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.  In it McDougall sets out to learn about the world’s greatest distance runners, the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, and their barefoot running tradition. It is a great read and while inspiring and interesting on a number of levels, it still did not leave me with the urge to start trotting or even sauntering sans shoes. Though others did get that itch - the book serves as a summons to the world's runners to ditch the shoes. It denounces fat-heeled sneakers as insidious abominations, responsible for most running injuries while getting trumpeted as the solution to aching knees and sore hiking resized 600

Where there is barefoot running, there must be barefoot walking and hiking, but it seems the motives between the two groups diverge. For runners, many believe (and studies have shown evidence both for and against) that running barefoot leaves one less prone to skeletal injury (to read about this evidence follow this link). From personal experience, one running partner of mine struggled with knee pain for many years. She learned about the barefoot running idea and didn’t take the full plunge to naked feet but traded her sneakers for a minimalist piece of gear known as five finger shoes. In them, not only did her knee pain subside, but she ran her first full marathon. On a recent trip guiding in Bhutan one of my participant’s hiking shoes were a pair a Vibram Five Fingers. She has put many miles on the shoes and loves the feel.

Vibrams resized 600“The feel” is a recurring theme for proponents of barefoot hiking. The sensation of moss, pine needles, dirt, granite and roots below and in between toes can be exhilarating. Barefoot hikers describe the tactile tread as full of fresh pleasures and even a bit of a foot massage. Some claim that being barefoot nurtures proper posture and overall foot health. It certainly causes one to be more mindful of each step when hiking and therefore possibly more apt to enter a meditative or spiritual state while walking.

If barefoot hiking piques your interest, experts suggest starting at a slow pace and for short durations. Don’t attempt a mile on your first outing; 100 yards is a good distance for one’s first barefoot jaunt. And if completely naked feet do not sound fun, try the Vibrams or a less expensive type of minimalist footwear known as Xeroshoes.xeroshoes resized 600

I don’t foresee Adventures in Good Company changing our packing list to include Vibrams or Xeroshoes in the near future and we think trying it on a backpacking trip would not be safe or comfortable. Barefoot running/walking/hiking may be a passing trend. But until then, we welcome adventurers to experiment with different hiking styles and gear.


Barefoot-Style Running Best? New Studies Cast Doubt
Are We Built to Run Barefoot?
Myths of Running: Forefoot, Barefoot and Otherwise

Topics: clothing and gear, health and fitness