Backcountry Navigation: Map Reading Basics

Old World Map

Art from 1562 World Map by Diego Gutiérrez.

I have always liked maps of all kinds from hand-drawn treasure maps you scrawled out on the back of your ruled notepad paper as a kid to professionally crafted cartographer’s world maps. I have a significant map collection myself. There are some maps that have practical purpose and get used often (like local trail maps) and there are others I have just to have them (like my shaded relief map of Antarctica). Historically, cartography was an important art form and maps were an ever-changing representation of our knowledge of the physical world we lived in. The words “Terra Incognita” on a map have been the inspiration for many an expedition. The progression of the complexity and accuracy of maps throughout history is a direct link to our technological advancement as a culture.

My love of maps has carried over into my professional life. I create and use maps, primarily topographic maps, every day and my work depends on my ability to interpret them accurately. Learning how to read a map is not terribly complicated, more like learning another language..a visual language that uses graphics to communicate. Once you know what you’re looking at, reading a map is pretty straight forward. So let’s dig in…

Types of Maps

Maps are used to present information about a place, therefore, there are as many different kinds of maps as there are data to study (weather, geology, geography, traffic, population density, flora and fauna, water distribution, zoning, political, etc). For our purposes we are more concerned with the typical maps we would use for travel and navigation. There are four primary styles of maps typically used to supply road and trail information for would-be travelers.

Simple Line Maps

simple line map

Most basic type of navigational map.

This is the most basic of maps we can use. Typically it has little or no data regarding terrain and is often not drawn to any definable scale. Named roads and marked trails are illustrated and labeled, maybe some key features of the area are called out and there might be some trail distance data. Most of the time these maps will also label North for reference and even if they don’t, it is normally safe to assume that North is toward to the top of the page. You’ll find these maps printed for use in smaller local parks where “navigation” is not considered necessary. These are not the best maps to use for navigation but in a pinch, they can still be better than nothing.

Detailed Road Maps

detailed road map

Road Atlases and National Forest Maps are typically little more than detailed road and boundary maps.

Your typical state maps you can pick up at any gas station or thick road Atlas used for cross country travel are pretty common road maps. The focus is on known, paved roads with some information on maintained dirt roads and trails. These are great maps for traveling long distances by vehicle and tend to have relevant data for that type of travel. These emphasize main highways, towns and state boundaries, popular areas of interest and note road distances between towns and cities. Very popular and very useful when travelling by road and planning long distance trips but of little use in the backcountry.

Shaded Relief Maps

shaded relief map

Pre-color base shading for a shaded relief map.

Shaded relief maps are visually stunning and some of my favorite maps to look at. They beautifully represent land contouring and geological features through detailed shading giving an almost 3D effect to the map. On their own, they are little more than works of art but when combined with detailed road and topographical data they are incredibly useful and actually make topography easier to read. They also use a more real-world color palette to represent the land (i.e. browns for desert, greens for alpine and wetlands, white for snow, blue for water, etc.). By using shaded relief techniques on top of road, trail and topo data, map reading can be much easier and more intuitive for the average user.

Topographic Survey Maps

shaded relief topo map

Multi-layered map data with accurate topography is ideal for backcountry navigation.

For backcountry navigation, nothing beats an accurate and up-to-date detailed topographic (topo) map. It is the best map for accurately reading terrain and land forms in the field. When layered with road and trail data, boundary information and shaded relief graphics these maps create a very complete picture of the physical world around you. Topo maps use contour lines at set intervals to illustrate relief (see below for more on contour lines and reading topography). For the most part, these are the maps you want to have in the field when trying to navigate. These maps show not only the contours, but also any significant streams or other bodies of water, forest cover, built-up areas or individual buildings (depending on scale), and other features and points of interest. Landmarks and landforms on topographic maps are easily recognizable and make navigation much easier.

Map Components

Map Developer

Map Developer

If you have a lot of maps, or a lot of experience with maps, you’ll learn to place your trust in certain cartographers and map developers. This can vary locally as some small producers are responsible for fantastic local maps but don’t offer anything outside that region. For example, here in Arizona there is a set of trail maps produced by Emmett Barks Cartography for Flagstaff and Sedona. That’s all they do, but they do it really well and produce really nice maps based on up to date information (they generally update there maps every couple of years). I’m also a fan of the trail maps produced by Beartooth Publishing and have grown to trust their products as well. National Geographic maps are widely known and respected as well and most of the printed 7.5-minute maps I buy here are National Geographic publications. This is also where most maps will list their source material which can be important for determining accuracy of information. One Emmett Barks map I have lists USGS, Forest Service Maps, City maps and county GIS data as their primary source information with trail routes and distances provided by multiple GPS tracks compiled and edited. Maps using a single source of data are less likely to be completely accurate. The United States Geological Survey (“USGS”) is a federally chartered organization charged with providinggeologic, topographic, and hydrologic information that contributes to the wise management of the Nation’s natural resources.” Nearly all published topo maps will use USGS information as their primary basis.

The developer will generally provide the basis data for their maps including the reference datum and projection method. This is important to know if you are comparing multiple maps or if you need to communicate your position. There are generally two different datum references in use in North America and they differ slightly so it’s good to know what you’re working with. NAD27 is a North American based geodetic reference system established in 1927 and is wide use across North American maps, the other is NAD83 and is a based on a global reference. The two can be off by a handful of meters from each other. The most common is NAD27 and my preference for North American maps.

Also of some importance here is the projection method used to lay out the map. The large majority of North American maps will be Mercator projection maps, which uses a straight line grid making navigation easier but becomes extremely distorted toward the poles. I’ll cover the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) grid a little more in a minute.

Interesting Note: Google Maps uses a projection method called Web Mercator (or Spherical Mercator) which is a variation of the UTM projection method and is not recommended for accurate navigation.

Map Title

This is pretty straight forward but, again, important if you have to communicate your location to someone. Forest Service maps, city maps, trail maps and USGS 7.5-minute maps all vary slightly in assumed accuracy. It won’t really matter while it’s in use, but could be valuable information when passing on your location so that everyone is on the same page. The map name will be on the cover of folded maps or in the lower right corner of USGS 7.5-minute maps.

The Legend

The Symbols Legend is the Rosetta Stone of the language of maps. How do you know if that squiggly line you are headed to is a paved road, dirt road or primitive trail? That blue line, is it a seasonal wash or permanent water source? Is that green shaded area supposed to be forest, grasslands or a swamp? It sure would be nice to know before you get there…

symbols legend

Most detailed maps will include at least a basic symbols legend to let you know how they mark specific areas and features on a map. Some symbols are pretty universal like a tent-shape denoting campsites, or a picnic table denoting day-use picnic areas. But all maps have their own vernacular that varies slightly from the others. The USGS has standardized their symbols library for use across their collection of topographic maps but the legend is not generally printed on individual 7.5-minute topo maps, so you would need to download the USGS Symbols Legend and familiarize yourself with their standards or risk a misunderstanding in the field.

New Shaded Relief mapping is changing some of the traditional color representations to make them more intuitive, but there is still the need of a legend to clarify and define the language used for each map. Some maps use color to represent elevation instead of land character which can get very confusing if you don’t know that from the beginning. Before heading out with any map you may have to rely on, be sure you are at least partially familiar with what the lines, shades, symbols and numbers all mean.

Scale

map scale

Two of the biggest pieces of information for active navigation using a topographic map is the contour interval and the map scale. You’ll rarely see a scale note on simple line maps, but all others should offer a graphic scale (like the one shown above) for measuring distances on the map. Most compasses will have common scales printed on their edges for use while navigating and you can purchase map rulers at different scales which can be useful if you do a lot of land navigation. Scale should be one of the first things you look at when using a new map, and take some time to get sense of how that scale relates to your map. Why is this such a big deal? If you’re low on resources and need to get to a road, camp or water source on the map and you get the scale wrong you could be in a world of hurt. Or say you want to summit a peak and you misread the scale and misinterpret the contour interval you could have a really bad day.

Some typical map scales: 7.5-minute quadrangle maps (1:24,000 and 1:25,000 scale) and 15-minute quadrangle maps (1:50,000, 1:62,500, and standard-edition 1:63,360 scales)

On the right side of the image above you’ll also see the Key Map which shows where in the state this map section represents.

Declination

Declination-1

We covered how declination works in the Compass Basics lesson. Most topo maps that would be used for backcountry navigation have a specific declination and it will be noted or illustrated somewhere on the map. The typical declination graphic (shown above) will illustrate the differential angle between True North (TN) and Magnetic North (MN). Sometimes there is also notation of Grid North (GN) if the map’s grid differs from both TN and MN. As I mentioned in the Compass Basics, it is important to pay attention to the date the declination was noted on the map. Older maps will likely have outdated information and can throw off your navigational readings. Some maps will state the declination adjustment for that area so you can calculate the current declination with a little math. My suggestion: for local navigation, just keep yourself up to date on the declination in your area and ignore the printed data.

Grid Units

To simplify the use of maps and to avoid the inconvenience of pinpointing locations on curved reference lines, cartographers superimpose on the map a rectangular grid consisting of two sets of straight, parallel lines, uniformly spaced, each set perpendicular to the other. This grid is designed so that any point on the map can be designated by its latitude and longitude or by its grid coordinates and a reference in one system can be converted into a reference in another system. Such grids are usually identified by the name of the particular projection for which they are designed. So, Grid Units are a method of segmenting a map for easy reference and is typically related to the form of projection used. In most cases when a map uses UTM projection, the grid units will be based on the UTM grid (Lat and Long may be shown as well as a secondary grid).

Longitude and Latitude

Longitude and Latitude is an older, slightly outdated, mapping grid system that is still in use and still represented on most maps (even if UTM projection is used). Most of us learned about Long and Lat in elementary school and have noted the iconic lines on the typical classroom globes.

Latitude and longitude

From Wikipedia:

The “latitude” of a point on the Earth’s surface is the angle between the equatorial plane and the straight line that passes through that point and through (or close to) the center of the Earth. Lines joining points of the same latitude trace circles on the surface of the Earth called parallels, as they are parallel to the equator and to each other. The north pole is 90° N; the south pole is 90° S. The 0° parallel of latitude is designated the equator, the fundamental plane of all geographic coordinate systems. The equator divides the globe into Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

The “longitude” of a point on the Earth’s surface is the angle east or west from a reference meridian to another meridian that passes through that point. All meridians are halves of great ellipses, which converge at the north and south poles. The meridian of the British Royal Observatory in Greenwich, a little east of London, England, is the international Prime Meridian although some organizations—such as the French Institut Géographique National—continue to use other meridians for internal purposes. The Prime Meridian determines the proper Eastern and Western Hemispheres, although maps often divide these hemispheres further west in order to keep the Old World on a single side. The antipodal meridian of Greenwich is both 180°W and 180°E. This is not to be conflated with the International Date Line, which diverges from it in several places for political reasons.

The combination of these two components specifies the position of any location on the surface of the Earth, without consideration of altitude or depth. The grid thus formed by latitude and longitude is known as the “graticule”. The zero/zero point of this system is located in the Gulf of Guinea about 625 km (390 mi) south of Tema, Ghana.

UTM

The National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) adopted a special grid for military use throughout the world called the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) grid. In this grid, the world is divided into 60 north-south zones, each covering a strip 6° wide in longitude. These zones are numbered consecutively beginning with Zone 1, between 180° and 174° west longitude, and progressing eastward to Zone 60, between 174° and 180° east longitude. The contiguous 48 States are covered by 10 zones, from Zone 10 on the west coast through Zone 19 in New England (Arizona is zone 12S). In each zone, coordinates are measured north and east in meters. The northing values are measured continuously from zero at the Equator, in a northerly direction. To avoid negative numbers for locations south of the Equator, NIMA’s cartographers assigned the Equator an arbitrary false northing value of 10,000,000 meters. A central meridian through the middle of each 6° zone is assigned an easting value of 500,000 meters. Grid values to the west of this central meridian are less than 500,000; to the east, more than 500,000.

Virtually all NIMA-produced topographic maps and many aeronautical charts show the UTM grid lines.

UTM Grid Map

The UTM grid is shown on all quadrangle maps prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). On 7.5-minute quadrangle maps (1:24,000 and 1:25,000 scale) and 15-minute quadrangle maps (1:50,000, 1:62,500, and standard-edition 1:63,360 scales), the UTM grid lines are indicated at intervals of 1,000 meters, either by blue ticks in the margins of the map or with full grid lines. The 1,000-meter value of the ticks is shown for every tick or grid line. The actual meter value is shown for ticks nearest the southeast and northwest corners of the map. Provisional maps at 1:63,360 scale show full UTM grids at 5,000-meter intervals.

Understanding Topography

Alright then! All the basics aside, let’s get into the nuts and bolts of understanding topography. We’re going to try to keep this really simple and once you understand how it works, it’s fairly intuitive to read. You really just have to remember that we’re reading a 3-dimensional object in 2-dimensional space.

Three Dimensional Space

Working on flat paper it’s easy to graphically represent the two dimensions of length and width. The challenge then, for a 3-dimensional surface, is to graphically show height as well. Throughout the history of cartography, 3-dimensional relief has been illustrated in a variety of ways, few of which were accurate. Most of the representations were simply graphic indicators of mountainous regions, canyons or river valleys to communicate the rough character of the terrain. Today, accurate presentation of height and depth on maps is illustrated using topographic contour lines.

Contour Lines

Height and depth on maps and charts is referred to as relief and is represented by imaginary lines called contours. Contours, or isolines, represent the physical intersection of the bounding edge of a 3-dimensional object when sliced through at set intervals parallel to a given reference. The image below is the best representation of the way I was taught to view contour lines.

contours

 

The dashed lines (shown at 25 unit intervals) represent the horizontal slices through the object. The intersected edge at each interval is then projected onto the 2-dimensional map giving us a fairly clear graphic representation of the 3-dimensional object’s shape and height. As the diagram notes, the tighter the contour lines are the more steep the slope and the more spread out they are the more shallow the slope. The tighter the interval between contour lines, the more accurate the representation.

Intervals

The contour interval is the vertical distance between two adjacent contour lines. The tighter the interval, the more relief detail can be illustrated. Working with smaller maps of individual properties I am used to seeing one-foot intervals which provide a pretty clear picture of how the land is shaped. At larger scales, this tight interval is not practical and would render the map unreadable. For larger scale maps, intervals of 10-foot, 20-foot, 40-foot or 50-foot are common. This is extremely important when estimating slopes and identifying potential routes on a map. The trade-off for better readability is less fine detail of relief elements.

contour map intervals

Section of 7.5-minute USGS map showing a 40-foot contour interval.

Index lines on a map are heavier (thicker) contour lines every 4th or 5th contour and are usually labeled with the elevation reference. So, for example, on USGS 7.5-minute maps the interval is 40 feet. So all contour lines represent a difference of 40 feet in elevation and every 5th line is emphasized as an Index line so the interval between Index lines is 200 feet. Index lines will also be labeled with an elevation number allowing you to quickly reference your vertical position. With few exceptions, elevations will be noted in feet or meters from sea level.

Take some time to look over your maps and get to know how they’re put together: Who made them, how they’re projected, the basis for the data as well as the age and accuracy of the information presented.

Next we’ll put the Compass Basics and Map Reading Basics together and work on some real-world navigation exercises.

Camp Creek Road: Solo Adventure on the KLR…

Plans change.

Uncertainty seems to be the only hard and fast rule of adventure. I had originally planned a short ride on the KLR for Saturday to find some dirt and break in the new tires. Sunday I would meet up with a buddy to do a little exploring and check out some rarely visited ruin sites north of Phoenix. All in all, a solid weekend of outdoor fun. Then the shop called and said I wouldn’t have my bike back before Saturday. Great, there goes my Saturday plans. Then I got a message that my buddy came down with some kind of flu and had to bail on our Sunday excursion. My weekend of adventure was falling flat.

I spent Saturday getting caught up on some things around the house, which was far more practical use of my time but had all the excitement of getting a box of no. 2 pencils for Christmas. By Saturday night I was still trying to decide if I would explore the ruin sites solo, or do something else and wait for my buddy to recover. He’s as much of a history nut as I am and we usually team up to hit new ruin sites, so I finally decided I would wait on those and, instead, head out on the KLR for a substantial ride. Well, substantial to a new rider like me at least.

Seven Springs to the Verde River: FR24 and FR269

If you take Cave Creek Road north out of town and drive until you run out of pavement, that’s Seven Springs Road and Forest Route 24 (also known as Camp Creek Road). The approach brings you up Cave Creek Road through some of the most prestigious luxury golf course communities in Scottsdale like Desert Mountain, Mirabel and Tonto Hills. Shortly after that you’ll reach the turn-off for Bartlett Lake and the Tonto National Forest Ranger Station. Just past the Bartlett turnoff any traffic drops off considerably and you’ll essentially have the road to yourself. At least I did on Sunday.

Riding Seven Springs Road to FR24

Last year I did a backpacking trip into Tonto National Forest toward Skunk Tank north of Cave Creek. We backpacked in from Seven Springs, spending a night in the desert along the creek and then packing out. That was the last, and only time I had driven up Seven Springs Road. There is a short unpaved portion of the road before reaching the trailhead, but I really hadn’t made it out to the true dirt roads of FR24. Other than a little map research and a vague general knowledge of the area, I had no idea what kind of conditions I would find or whether I would be able to handle them when I got there.

Being new to this bike, I don’t yet have a lot of confidence in my skills. As I mentioned in the last post, I hadn’t really been on a motorcycle for 6 or 7 years before buying the KLR and I never really drove much dirt. This whole Dual-Sport Adventure Motorcycle business is entirely a new thing to me. I headed out anyway, determined to gain some experience on dirt roads.

Sears-Kay Ruin

Just past the turn-off for Bartlett Lake is a small Hohokam village ruin site known as Sears-Kay. It is one of many sites dotted along the Verde River and it’s tributaries like a long chain linked by one of the only continuous water sources in the state. The sign on site says that Sears-Kay is nearly 1000 years old, but other sources argue it was first occupied as late as 1500 AD. The hilltop site was discovered in 1867 by soldiers from nearby Camp McDowell and later named after J.M. Sears who founded a ranch nearby in 1887 called Sears-Kay Ranch.

Sears-Kay Ruin

Early on this particular Sunday morning I pulled into the parking lot for Sears-Kay and found it completely empty. I parked near the trailhead and turned off the bike only to be engulfed in complete silence. After stashing my gear and grabbing my camera I casually headed up the trail enjoying the peace of a morning alone in the desert. I made short work of the easy 1 mile trail and took my time walking among the partially reconstructed dry-stack stone walls. Some recent summer storms had brought moisture to the desert and the site was ripe with smatterings of color from seasonal wildflowers.

Camp Creek Road (FR24)

I didn’t stay at Sears-Kay long. I was anxious to get into the backcountry and a little worried about letting it get too late, too hot and too crowded. I drove the rest of the way up Seven Springs Road switched between pavement and dirt as it twisted it’s way back into the canyons. Eventually the pavement, and the people, completely faded away and I had the desert to myself.

One of the things I’ve always loved about hiking in Arizona is getting back into the untouched desert environments. The KLR offers a similar experience but allows me to see much more of the desert in a shorter time and get much further back into remote areas I wouldn’t get to otherwise. Ultimately, I’ll start combining hiking trips with motorcycle trips for a deeper look at Arizona backcountry.

As I rode down FR24 I kept a pretty moderate pace, still a little tentative about riding on unstable surfaces, which allowed me too look around a bit and enjoy the scenery. I stopped often to take pictures, explore a little side trail, or just turn off the bike and enjoy the amazing views in silence.

KLR on FR24

FR24 is a pretty well maintained road and was perfect for feeling out the bike. The hardpacked dirt was decent and not overly rutted out from storms, no muddy pits, no loose sand. It was a fun, easy, twisty bit of fun that I was really starting to enjoy. I expected FR24 to be more active on a Sunday morning with other traffic but I did not see another vehicle the entire time I was on this road. The solitude was an unexpected bonus and, at the same time, a little spooky in case of something going wrong.

KLR on FR269 with saguaros

FR24 (Camp Creek Road) ends at a T junction with FR269 (Bloody Basin Road). At the wide intersection there is a sign post showing the mileage along Bloody Basin Road to I-17 going west and to the Verde River going east. There is also sign at this intersection that talks about the Great Western Trail, a 3000 mile backroad route from Mexico to Canada. Apparently, the Arizona section of this trail uses Camp Creek and Bloody Basin to work it’s way north. I had the choice here to turn back, but I was making a day of this and it was still early. Besides, I really wanted to get out to the Sheep Bridge and put my feet in the Verde River.

FR269 is a pretty nice road as well, until the first creek crossing. Tangle Creek is the first big creek crossing and the first place I saw other people all day. A guy in a big 4×4 bronco was stuck in the soft sand of the creek and an older gentleman in another truck was working to help him get free. They had most of the creek blocked but as I approached they waved me through and darted around them praying that I wouldn’t bite it on my first creek crossing…especially with an audience. Coming up on the wide creek I could see tons of loose sand, river rock and mud and I really didn’t know what the bike would do or how I would handle it. JUST DON”T FALL.

I gunned it through the creek, goosing the throttle a little so I could maintain some speed and the KLR cut a path through the sand and over the rock without a hitch. YES! After Tangle Creek the road progressively got worse. There were two or three other creek crossing with the same loose, wet sand and every time I crossed one the road on the other side deteriorated a little. I eventually got used it, even started to enjoy the feel of the bike hoping around and finding traction on the rocky surface. It felt good to dial in and get a real feel for how the bike handles on terrain.

View of the Sheep Bridge at the Verde River

Verde River Sheep Bridge

I finally rounded a corner and caught my first look at the Verde River and the Sheep Bridge in the valley below. The structure is pretty cool and as I approached I found it interesting how natural the setting felt. This man-made structure in the middle of the desert at the end of a long dirt road didn’t seem out of place at all, it made sense. As I cruised down the switchbacks toward the bridge I passed a small corral and the old concrete slabs of structures that once stood near the bridge. I rode up to the bridge itself, designed as a footbridge, and for a split second debated if the structure would really hold me and the bike. But there were tire tracks and the new bridge looked solid enough. The Sheep Bridge is a 476 foot suspension bridge originally built in 1943 then rebuilt in 1989. Remnants of the old bridge foundation are still there next to the new bridge.

On the KLR after crossing the Sheep Bridge

KLR at the Sheep Bridge

Our summer storms have been pretty active this year, making for some interesting developments in the creeks, washes and rivers around here and the Verde is no exception. It was obvious the water had come down after a recent swell had saturated the banks and flooded the riparian plants that line the river’s normal shoreline. The muddy brown water was flowing pretty good around the tight corner just upstream of the bridge, slowing where the river widened then picking up steam again as the river narrowed downstream. The Verde is normally a very pretty deep green but this turbulent muddy mess was a sign of recent weather upstream.

I hiked down the little rock trail from the bridge to the gravel bar along the river. There was no one else around and I had the place to myself, at least for a while. The shoreline was a muddy, sticky mess and it looked like a couple of people had attempted to trudge through it before me. I chose to hike a little further down stream for something a little more stable. I found a spot where I could approach the river without sinking to my calves in muddy clay and dipped my head in the water to cool off.

I sat listening to the river for a while. My time rafting in the Pacific Northwest has given me a keen appreciation of rivers and their unique character. I love the sound of moving water and find it to be the closest thing to meditation I have experienced. I eventually pulled myself away from the river, suddenly very aware of my water supply and the increasing heat.

I passed two trucks on their way to the river as I rode back. Having left when I did, I kept my experience at the river unspoiled and was thankful for the timing. I noticed much more confidence on my return, riding a little faster, taking corners just a little harder, worrying less as I approached the sandy washes. Once I hit the graded road on the other side of Tangle Creek I opened her up a little bit and cruised down the gravel road at a pretty good pace. Other than the two trucks near the river, I saw no one else on the road back. A few people had made it in and stopped at one of the many open camp sites along the road, but that still left me with the road to myself.

Riding KLR on FR24

What did I learn?

Getting back home I started going through the pictures from the ride. I really enjoyed my Sunday morning adventure on the KLR and I am anxious to get back out there. There are a few things I learned on this ride that will allow me to be better prepared next time I go out.

For one, I didn’t take nearly enough water. That’ll be remedied next time I head out. I had underestimated how long I would be out there, and I underestimated how dehydrated I would get sweating in my riding jacket and helmet. Dehydration could have been a big problem and I was feeling it’s effects as I wrapped up the ride. I had some emergency gear in case it became an issue but bringing more water is easy enough.

Second, I was very under-prepared for a problem. I guess I expected to see a lot more people on these backroads and figured extraction would be easy. I need to bring some basic gear that would make upwards of 72 hours of survival easier to manage. It will likely never be an issue, but it will give me peace of mind to be prepared.

Navigation was poor. Knowing the route I wanted to take, it wasn’t a big deal but when I get more confident on the bike I want to be able to explore more of the side roads, trails and washes. Better maps, GPS and a compass really should be part of my regular gear. Really, I need to treat these outings more like I would extended hiking trips and less like road trips.

Food! I foolishly headed out without breakfast and didn’t bring a damn thing to eat with me. That was downright stupid and won’t happen again.

Thoughts for the next adventure…

Studying the area a little more now that I’ve been out there, I want to explore some of the other roads. Mount Humbolt, Maggie May Trail, Table Mesa Trail, New River and Bloody Basin are all now on the list. I want to look further into the Great Western Trail and how far north that will allow me to ride. I also learned that there are natural hot springs at the Verde River near the Sheep Bridge…reason enough to go back in Winter and make camp. The other direction on Bloody Basin Road is the Agua Fria  National Monument, a 71,000 acres protected area created in 2000. There are supposed to be upwards of 400 archaeological sites within the Monument, some as much as 2,000 years old.

However, I think the next adventure will be in a different area. I have really been interested in exploring Castle Hot Springs Road near Lake Pleasant. Not a technical ride, but there are a lot of side trails and backroads of varying difficulty. I just may have to check it out.

Hydration Summit – Week 1…

Today marks the beginning of Week 2 of the Hydration Summit, a huge collaboration of 16 outdoor adventure writers discussing everything you ever wanted to know about hydration.  For those of you who have not visited the site yet, I thought I’d do a breakdown of some of the highlights of Week 1.

June 4th-

My first article hit the night before the summit went live because I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t schedule my publish date properly.  I crafted a full product comparison of the 4 top hydration reservoirs competing in the hydration system market today.  I focused on presenting the CamelBak Antidote, the GEIGERRIG, the Osprey/Nalgene Hydraform Reservoir and the Platypus Big Zip.  Each had their unique advantages.  Go check it out and let me know which reservoir design you prefer.

Paul posted his article comparing the nozzle designs of each system as well.  His review systematically focused on the Pros and Cons of each nozzle (bite valve) and illustrated the differences.  He also got feedback from other users so his article didn’t just present his opinion.  He compared the CamelBak, Osprey, GEIGERRIG, Outdoor Products, High Sierra and Platypus.

June 5th-

Katie presented a fascinating, and somewhat disturbing (Blowback!) article about techniques for creating water pressure in your hydration system in order to spray water from the bite valve.  She presented multiple techniques (some of which I have tried myself) but ultimately focused on the one true “pressurized system”, GEIGERRIG.  There are times when having the ability to spray water through your hydration tube is a very handy ability.

Hendrik gave us a nice little comparison review of 4 different hydration backpacks.  Not all packs are created equal and many are designed for specific activities, making them less versatile and more specialized.  Hendrik compared the Osprey Raptor 18, GEIGERRIG 1200, the GoRuck GR1 and the LAUFBURSCHE huckePACK and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of all of them.

June 6th-

Phil published an informative article explaining the dangers of cross-contamination when refilling your hydration system and how to avoid it.  He shows us the most common points of cross contamination are:

  • Dirty hands – Putting “dirty” hands in your mouth or eyes
  • Dirty nozzle – Contaminating your hydration system hose nozzle
  • Dirty reservoir – Putting “dirty” water into a clean hydration reservoir
  • Dirty hose – Touching a clean hose with a “dirty” one

June 7th-

Whitney‘s fantastic and informative article about hydrating in the backcountry gave us an introduction to what the potential threats are in backcountry water sources.  She then follows up with explaining proper treatment techniques to avoid drinking contaminated water and becoming ill.  She offers some great tips for being safe with your drinking water.

June 8th-

Jessica had an opportunity to interview virologist J. David Beckham, MD, Assistant Professor in the Infectious Diseases Division at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine about hydration issues during outdoor activities.  Her interview digs deeper in to the problems of contamination in backcountry water sources and the dangers of drinking untreated water.  At one point she asks Dr. Beckham, “Are you confident relying on an inline filtration system, being able to fill your pack from a stream and have it filter thru the line and be immediately potable? Why or why not?”  That is an important question and you should check out his answer.

We also had some great additions to “Stories from the Trail” where you guys get to tell us your real life hydration stories.

I kicked off Week 2 this morning with my newest article about how to deal with illness and dehydration in the backcountry.  The danger of having to deal with the problems associated with drinking contaminated water are low on smaller trips.  Most of the time, you will be back home and near medical help when you start to feel sick.  But on longer trips into the wilderness, it is entirely likely that you’ll have to deal with a serious bout of illness and dehydration is the most dangerous challenge you’ll face.  I discuss ways to deal with it.

Look for Ryan‘s article later this week about hydration supplements!

Gear Review: GearPods Backcountry Kit…

GearPods Backcountry Kit...

If you haven’t heard of GearPods, you’re not alone.  They’re a relative newcomer to the outdoor/survival gear markets.  The company was established in 2008 in Polson, Montana and launched it’s Adventure Series Kits and Connect System in late 2009.  For those of you not familiar with the product, the GearPods Connect System is a semi-lightweight, modular gear storage system comprised of different sized, durable plastic tubes than can be connected in a chain (or used separate) to organize your gear.

James Davies, GearPods CEO, describes the product here:

“GearPods provides the best of both worlds – highly compact yet capable adventure gear but without the weight and bulk downsides you’d associate with traditional backcountry gear.”

With 4 different tube lengths and 7 different colored lids, it is a very versatile and easy to organize storage system.

Using the modular Connect System, the GearPods Individual Kits are pre-loaded with the kind of emergency and survival gear that these containers are suited for.  Individual kits include the Stove system, Shelter, Health and others.  GearPods goes one step further and offers Multi-Kit Systems combining essential Individual Kits into “integrated Adventure Systems” like the Backcountry Kit in this review.

Their Multi-Kit Systems range from $75 to $250 and offer everything from basic emergency shelter to full-scale rescue and survival systems.

GearPods was gracious enough to send me one of their Backcountry Kits to try out in addition to the kit they donated for this week’s giveaway.  I took the  kit with me on an overnight trip out to Lake Pleasant and tested out the stove system.  But first, let’s take a look at what’s included:

The GearPods Backcountry kit:

Size:

  • Weight: 1.25 lbs (20 oz)
  • Dimensions: 3.2″ diameter, 9.25″ length

Features:

  • GearPods Health: Compact but comprehensive first aid kit for treating minor wounds and injuries.
  • GearPods Survival Pro: Range of survival tools for starting a fire, navigating, signaling, purifying water, fishing, and repairing clothes or gear. Includes the GearPods Stove, GearPods CookMug (with snap-in lid), GearPods Windshield and solid fuel tablets for boiling water and cooking.

GearPods Health:

The Health Pod is a basic emergency first-aid kit including all the necessary items to treat most common injuries or ailments on or off the trail.  I was pretty impressed with how complete the first-aid kit is with one-time-use packages of everything from sun screen to sting-relief to burn ointment and a huge variety of bandages.  This kit alone is a very useful and essential part any emergency kit.

GearPods Survival Pro:

The GearPods Survival pro is a combination survival kit and cooking system (mainly for boiling water).  The kit includes an incredible assortment of survival gear including an ultra-light blade and saw, emergency fishing kit, multiple firestarters and tender, a tiny LED flashlight, signal mirror and weather-proof writing pad (see pics below).  With the addition of the small, lightweight, ingenious little stove and cook-pot I couldn’t think of a single thing lacking from this survival kit.

Impressions:

Unpacking the kits for the photos above I was immediately impressed with how much gear is actually crammed in to these Pods.  In fact, there seems to be room for a few more items if you have some specific personal item that you’d want to add (or beef up the medical kit with extra bandages).  My initial thought was, “I want one of these things everywhere!  I’d keep one in the house, one in the truck and have one handy for backpacking trips (at least the medical kit)”.  The size is perfect for stashing just about anywhere and the fact that everything is stored in these durable, water-proof tubes makes them perfect for a variety of different conditions.  I do believe that they are a little bulky for backpacking, especially if you travel light.  But they do pack easily if you don’t mind the weight.  When I took mine out on the trail I initially stuffed it into one of the side pockets of my pack, and on the return I rolled it up with my sleeping pad and strapped it to the bottom of my pack.

In the Field:

I brought the Backcountry Kit with me to camp overnight at Lake Pleasant.  I had a couple of goals in mind.  One, I wanted to test the cooking system and see how easy it is to set up and take down as well as test how effective it is at boiling water.  Second, I wanted to test the firestarters.  To me, those are the most important aspects to a survival kit (fire and water).

This is my field test of the cooking system-

The fuel tabs worked well once I got them lit (it was suggested that breaking apart the fuel tab would make lighting them easier). It took nearly a full single fuel tab to heat 9-11oz to boiling.  The cup is still very hot to the touch even with the fabric strip around the top.  The snap on lid worked well and would make for a nice drinking cup if you wanted to make tea, coffee or broth directly in the cup itself.  The  cooking system was very easy to set up and take down and was very lightweight.  As an emergency stove or backup, it’s perfect.  I would even consider it as my primary stove on short trips.

Getting fire started was a snap, the Tender-Quick lit without issue and allowed me to get my fire bundle going easily.

I will admit, in putting the kit back together in the tubes, I did have some trouble getting everything to fit just right.  I had to unpack and repack it several times to get the Pod lids to screw back on properly.  This, more than likely, is entirely a user generated problem.  It clearly fit just fine when I got it.  There is little room for error in the Survival Pro kit though, so pay attention when unpacking it so you can insure that it gets repacked properly.  If the fit is off or you can’t get the lids screwed on right, the Pods are no longer going to keep out water.

When everything is put together properly and the lids are screwed on tight, the Pods feel indestructible.  I felt comfortable tossing the Pod around camp, leaving it out overnight, tripping over it and kicking it out of the way without ever worrying about the contents.  I submerged it at one point in the lake without leaks and had to force it below water verifying that it would float if dropped out of a boat.  This made me think it might be useful to store electronics on boating trips.  The Pods are big enough inside to store a cell phone (even my massive HTC Thunderbolt 4G WITH a case on it fit inside the tube), batteries, cables, etc.

In the morning I played around with making a make-shift fishing pole. Using the line, hooks and sinkers provided in the kit along with a float I found on the beach, I tried my hand at fishing.  The system worked, even if I wasn’t able to land any fish.

All in all, I was very impressed with the Backcountry Kit.  It has nearly everything you would need for most any survival situation or backcountry emergency.  I would put serious thought in to adding the Shelter Kit to make this a perfect, all-around survival system (the GearPods Wilderness Kit includes the shelter kit).  If you spend much time on back roads, or live in areas where the weather can turn bad and  leave you stranded I would definitely get one of these for your vehicle.  They would also make an indispensably addition to your camping, boating or off-roading gear.  Or use the Pods to make your own kit, keeping everything safe, dry and organized!  I am considering getting a Pod to make in to a small tackle-box for creek trips.

-

As mentioned above, the Backcountry Kit was provided to me from GearPods at no cost in order for me to review the product.  My opinions are my own and are in no way influenced by the company providing the gear.  I have tested the gear under my own standards and offered my free and unbiased opinion based on my own personal experience.

 

Spring in to Adventure: BACKCOUNTRY Week…

(strobe lights, loud dramatic music, confetti, fireworks and a deep announcers voice says…)

THIS IS IT!  THE FINAL GIVEAWAY!

This one is huge!  An amazing collection of backcountry outdoor gear from companies like Trek Light Gear, GearPods, Buff USA, Purificup and MORE!  Get as many entries in as it will let you!  This week is truly….EPIC!

 

BackCountry Week Giveaway participators logos...

As you know, for the last couple months Wilderness Dave along with: My Life OutdoorsThe Outdoor AdventureA Little CampyHiking the Trail and Trail Sherpa have been working together with a whole bunch of popular outdoor companies to bring you guys more than a month of giveaways.

This is the LAST WEEK of the Spring in to Adventure EPIC Giveaway!  Click on the entry, complete the action, and then hit ENTER!  Don’t miss your chance on this one…it’s a HUGE prize pack!

As a reminder, here’s what’s up for grabs:

April 12th: BACKCOUNTRY Week

First Place Prize Pack:

Second Place Prize:

  • Alpine Aire Food Kit
  • Merrell Shoes

[Read more…]

Interview: Seth Haber – CEO of Trek Light Gear…

This week’s giveaway will feature products from Trek Light Gear.  As an introduction to Trek Light Gear, I conducted an interview with co-founder and CEO, Seth Haber.  Trek Light Gear is one of the leading companies producing high-quality lightweight hammocks today.  Designed to be used anywhere, the company is built around Seth’s personal revelation,

What better way to get outside, relax and take a break from a busy life than to lay in a hammock? And, what if you could easily take that hammock, that little piece of heaven, with you wherever you went?

Based out of Colorado, Trek Light Gear has made the rounds to countless shows, conventions and festivals to spread the noble philosophy that “no matter how crazy your life is, you are never too busy to take a few moments and relax.”

Trek Light Gear Logo

Interview with Seth Haber, CEO, Trek Light Gear:

Seth Haber CEO

Hello, Seth.  I’d first like to thank you for allowing us to do this interview with you and for generously donating to the Spring in to Adventure Giveaway for Backcountry Expedition Week.

Q:  First, can you tell us a little about the products that you’ve sent in for this giveaway?

We’re giving away one of our Double Hammocks along with our Go Anywhere Rope Kit which makes it easy to hang the hammock anywhere you go.  The Double is our most comfortable and most popular hammock model, weighing only 20oz and holding up to 400lbs.   We’re also including a pair of our ultralight carabiners which can be used to hang the hammock or for anything else – they weigh less than an ounce each and are rated up to 1100lbs.

Q:  The description of the Double Hammock on the website lists it as weighing in around 20 ounces.  About how much space does it take up in a pack?

The hammock itself packs down into its own pouch which only measures about 5”x8”.  And because the material packs so well, that pouch can then be compressed even further when stuffing it into a pack – the entire Double Hammock packs down to about the size of a softball when compressed.  Another great feature is that the carry pouch itself is permanently attached to the hammock and functions as a pocket while using the hammock – a great, multi-use feature that means you’ll never lose it and there’s no extra weight to carry.

Q:  What material are the hammocks made out of?  What made you decide on this fabric?

The hammocks are made out of a nylon material that’s commonly referred to as ‘parachute nylon’.  After checking out a variety of different ways to make a hammock, I found that the parachute nylon offered the perfect combination of the 5 factors that are most important: durability, breathability, strength, weight and comfort.  The material won’t rot or mildew which is a major problem with other woven cotton or cloth hammocks.  It breathes extremely well in the heat and doesn’t stretch during use.

Q:  With so many different styles of hammocks out there, what inspired you to take the direction you have with the design of the hammocks?

I’m a big fan of simple design and the ‘less is more’ philosophy.  When you get into more complicated hammock designs you’ll often find that there’s more to break, repair, etc. and the improvements offered are often appealing to a smaller set of people.  When it comes to the hammock, I discovered that the same basic hammock design that’s been in use for centuries around the world is ultimately pretty perfect in its simplicity.  It’s not something I invented by any means, it’s simply using a traditional design with different materials.

By traditional design, I’m referring to the woven string hammock design found commonly in Central and South America, not the wooden spreader bar style hammock that’s common in many backyards in the US.  Those are an unfortunate departure from what a hammock should be and if you’re curious to know what I mean by that I highly recommend reading this blog post: “These Aren’t The Hammocks You’re Looking For: How You’ve Been Hammock Brainwashed

Even though we’re using a modern material instead of woven strings, the basic design principles of a Trek Light Gear hammock is really as old as the hammock itself.

Q:  In your experience, how long should someone expect their hammock to hold up to regular use?  When do you know it’s time to start looking for a replacement?

The best answer to that question is that we’re still at 9 years and counting for a number of our original customers.  It honestly amazes even me but people continue to stop by our kiosk in Boulder and let us know that they’re still using their hammocks they bought during our first summer in business.

That being said though, I’ve definitely seen hammocks that people have put through the ringer so to speak.  Holes or small tears in the hammock can be pretty easily repaired (we sell a great repair patch through our site) but a growing number of holes or a major tear in the material is a sure sign that it’s time for a new hammock.

What’s most encouraging is that just about every time I hear from a customer who’s worn out their hammock, they follow it up by telling me how happy they are with how long it lasted and the abuse it took and that they can’t wait to get a new one.

Q:  What do you recommend for taking care of our hammocks to insure they last a long time?

The hammock is built tough but the key is really just to remember that it’s made with a lightweight material that needs to be treated with respect.  Be aware of what you’re wearing when you get into it, you don’t want to hop into your hammock with something sharp or abrasive on your clothing or shoes that could tear the material.

If you’re camping, be mindful of how close to the campfire you setup your hammock.  It’s no different than how you would think of any other camping gear in that regard – embers can have a certain knack for seeking out your favorite pieces of gear and burning holes through them if you’re not careful.

Last but not least, the hammock is designed so you can put it up and take it down literally within seconds.   Like flaming embers, UV rays can be gear-killers, so you don’t want to leave the hammock outside in the direct sun for long periods of time.  By no means does that mean that you shouldn’t use your hammock in the sun or that you should ever worry about having it out while you enjoy a fun day in the sun.  It’s long term exposure that does the damage and over time those powerful UV rays are going to fade the colors and eventually weaken the material to the point that it can tear much easier.  A few extra seconds to bring your hammock in when you’re done will likely have the biggest impact on how many years of enjoyment you get out of it.

Q:  I love that your site has a guide to sleeping in a hammock.  Do you find that a lot of people have trouble sleeping in hammocks simply because they don’t know how to properly lay in one?

Absolutely.  The Sleeping In A Hammock Guide has been the most viewed blog post on our site since I published it.  I didn’t start a hammock company because I was a hammock aficionado or expert, I discovered the benefits of a hammock and eventually found myself learning more about it and spreading that message to others.  As part of my job I’m often at festivals and trade shows talking to thousands of people about hammocks and I started to realize that there are a lot of misconceptions about hammocks and how to properly hang them and use them comfortably.  Telling someone how to properly setup and use a hammock may sound ridiculous if you think there’s nothing to it, but it’s amazing how understanding a few simple concepts can make such a big difference in the experience.

It took me a while to funnel what I’ve learned into a guide that I could publish but since I posted it I’ve gotten hundreds of emails and phone calls from people who tell me I’ve literally helped them get the best sleep of their lives – definitely not something I ever expected when I wrote it. Without rehashing it here you should just read the guide!

Q:  How long has Trek Light Gear been in business?

The first event I did was in 2003 at a street festival in Boulder.  At the beginning I felt like I was simply sharing a cool idea with other people and if it earned me some summer beer money I was happy.  It wasn’t until 2005 that I actually formed an LLC, launched a basic website and started focusing on what it really meant to have a business and where it could go.   In 2008, I finally walked away from my full-time job to focus on Trek Light Gear and it’s been a wild ride ever since.

Q:  Your website, and your company philosophy in general, seem to be all about not just getting outdoors, but finding the moments that make being outdoors special.  This is a great message to have woven into the core values of your business.  How does Trek Light encourage this philosophy in their customers and the community?

I love the question because you really nailed one of the important aspects of what the Trek Light brand and the hammock in particular represents to me.

I see our hammock as a vehicle for experiencing life.  When you lay back in the hammock things slow down – you have a chance to breathe, relax, think, and appreciate your surroundings.  You’re suddenly blissfully comfortable and it has the interesting effect of making you feel at peace and lucky to be where you are.  It’s those moments when you can’t help but think ‘life is good’ even when you’ve got stressful things going on in your life.   You mentioned the outdoors and that’s obviously a huge focus, but it doesn’t even have to be outdoors – a hammock setup indoors is incredible and helps you find those moments just the same.

The idea that ‘life is better in a hammock’ is something that I felt early on and it’s woven into every aspect of the company.  I’ve been so touched by the emails and calls I’ve gotten from people who have told me that the hammock has actually changed their lives or made one of their adventures what it was.  It’s incredible when you think about it – a backpack won’t make your life more memorable.  Neither will a tent, clothing or so many other outdoor gear products out there.  But I hear it all the time from people who’ve discovered the effect the hammock has on them and it’s something I’ll never take for granted as a business owner.

Q:  Your site also talks about hammock camping being a more “environmentally friendly” way to experience the outdoors.  Can you elaborate on this a little for us?

It’s hard to talk about all the positive effects and benefits of camping with a hammock without coming across as anti-tent.  I grew up camping in tents and have lots of great memories hanging out with groups of friends in the backyard or in the woods.  Comfort aside, one of the truths about tent camping is that you’ve got a pretty large footprint where you’re crushing the soil and any plant growth underneath you.  There are studies that show that even one night of having a tent on the ground can kill the grass, wildflowers, etc. underneath.  If you’re camping in a group night after night or other people will be camping in the exact same spot when you leave, you can see how much of an impact it can have over time.   Camping with a hammock minimizes the impact that you have on the soil a great deal. Instead of rolling around on the ground all night your only real impact to the ground is your footprints.

I also believe that one of the best ways to get people to care more about the environment is to get them to connect with nature.  It became apparent to me that sleeping in a tent when you’re camping actually disconnects you from your surroundings – you’re in the woods but you’re practically indoors in your tent.  When you’re in a hammock you’re literally sleeping under the stars (or under a tarp if there’s rain) and that ‘life is good’ feeling kicks in quick.  You’ll realize that you feel a much stronger connection to your surroundings and anything that helps you feel that connection to nature is going to help make you more mindful of your impact.

Q:  Would you consider Trek Light Gear a “Green” company?

I don’t let myself get hung up on the whole ‘green’ company thing.  What we do speaks to how important environmental issues are to the brand and me personally.

We’ve got our ‘Buy A Hammock, Plant A Tree’ program which has planted thousands of trees around the country over the last few years for every hammock we’ve sold.  The impact the program has had is incredible, there’s areas all over the world that desperately need reforestation and I’m immensely proud of the difference we’re making.

We’ve been promoting our Eco Totes (reusable shopping bags) since long before all the plastic bag bans started coming about in grocery stores around the world.  I was reading an article one day that opened my eyes to just how bad the plastic bag pollution problem is – learning that something as disposable and commonplace in our culture as the plastic bag takes over 1,000 years to decompose and often winds up in our oceans.  Suddenly I realized I could use the material we make our hammocks out of to do something about it.  Considering the average person uses about 500 plastic bags a year, every single Eco Tote we get out there makes an incredible difference.

My goal is simply to promote the philosophy that if you enjoy the outdoors we all need to do our part to protect it, one small step at time.  I want people to think about their impact on the planet – that’s definitely a big part of what the Trek Light name represents.  It can be overwhelming for people or businesses who feel like they can’t possibly live up to the high standards of doing everything that being considered ‘green’ might cover.  Just do your best – something as simple as recycling a bottle or using a reusable bag on your next grocery trip can have an incredible impact when enough of us simply care enough to do it.

Q:  I think most of us would suspect that selling hammocks for a living has got to be one of the most relaxing jobs in the outdoor industry.  What does the average day look like for the CEO of Trek Light Gear?

Of course the answer is that it’s not as much time spent lying around in a hammock as you’d think.  But, there are lots of perks – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been somewhere hanging out in a hammock, out on a photo shoot or even just talking to someone about hammocks and had that amazing “I love my job” feeling.  Realizing that while I’m relaxing in a hammock I’m actually at work, it never really gets old.

Right now I love being involved in every aspect of running a business – on any given day I’ve got a million things on my plate: marketing, accounting, customer service, graphic design, blogging, business development, you name it.   The CEO in my title stands for Chief Everything Officer and it’s been an incredible learning experience for me.  It can be pretty overwhelming most of the time, but it’s a great feeling to love your job and not have the same work routine to do day after day.

In February, I signed a lease on the first Trek Light Gear office space that isn’t in my living room or garage.  It’s in a funky warehouse space in Boulder and we’re busy turning it into a showroom complete with hammocks hanging from the ceiling and lots of space to demo all of our products.  There’s a few more projects to complete and then I can’t wait to show it off and invite people in.

Q:  What do you look for when you are looking for the right place to hang a hammock?

The view is definitely the easy answer to that one.  There’s something incredible about hanging a hammock with a beautiful view you can take in as you fall asleep or first thing when you wake up.  To sit near the edge of a waterfall or watch the sunrise on the side of a mountain, those are the moments that are hard to beat.  But, the beauty of having a portable hammock is that it also really doesn’t matter where you are.  When you lie back and close your eyes or look up at the sky it doesn’t matter whether you’re on your back porch or on the edge of the Grand Canyon – life is good.

Q:  Your Facebook Page has some great shots of Trek Light hammocks in amazing locations.  One of the recent REI photo contest winners was a Trek Light hammock photo.  Where was your favorite, or most memorable place you’ve hung your hammock?

There are a lot of spots that compete for a favorite in my mind, but if I had to choose it would probably be on the island of Kauai in Hawaii.  Lying in a hammock and listening to the waves crash on the beach as you drift off to sleep, you could call that my happy place.

The hammock has actually created powerful enough memories for me that I can often just close my eyes and put myself back in a particular spot – even around the office I can lie down in a hammock and suddenly remember the sounds or the way the breeze felt during one of those magical hammock experiences.

Q:  I once spent a week camping in my hammock along a creek.  I woke up in the middle of the night with something repeatedly bumping against the underside of the hammock.  When I finally got my headlamp turned on and looked, there were dozens of tiny frogs making their way across my camp and as they jumped, some would hit the hammock.  It was a very strange and memorable experience for me and one you really wouldn’t get sleeping in a tent.  Have you ever had a strange or unique experience that would not have happened if you were NOT in your hammock?

That’s a great example of why I love being in a hammock instead of a tent whenever I can.  One of my favorite experiences is just waking up in a hammock and watching the sunrise.  You don’t have to go to the trouble of getting out of your tent, putting your shoes on or anything at all – you can just float in a hammock and watch nature come alive right before your eyes.   I’ve woken up to see marmots running around my hammock, fish jumping in a nearby lake, bighorn sheep silhouetted on a mountain range – you realize why you’re out there camping in the first place.  When I sleep in a tent, most of my mornings are spent complaining about the rock or root that kept me up all night and not wanting to really get up until it gets too hot in the tent to force me out.

Q:  Trek Light recently added the Eco Totes to the product line.  Can you tell us a little about what inspired the new product?

Contrary to the note on our website that still refers to them as being recently introduced (I need to update that!) they’ve actually been in our lineup for a number of years now.  I talked about the Eco Totes while answering the ‘green’ question but it’s hard to say enough how important they are.

We’re all used to just showing up at the grocery store and getting paper or plastic bags, I definitely understand that the idea of bringing your own takes a little getting used to.  But, we’ve got to educate ourselves on what’s actually happening every time you get a plastic bag – incredible amounts of oil and other valuable resources go into making something that people use once (twice if you’re lucky) before disposing.  You use it for less than 20 minutes and then it sits around as waste for 1,000 years – that’s a no-brainer.

The idea behind the Eco Totes is that they make it easy to make the switch, they pack up into a tiny pouch so you can easily leave them in your car or have them with you when you need them.   They’re also stronger than just about any similar bag out there because they’re made with the same material as our hammocks.  There are lots of examples of things being sold as ‘reusable bags’ that look like they’ll wear out after only a few uses.  I don’t see the point in calling something a reusable bag if it doesn’t hold up for many years of use.

Q:  What’s next for Trek Light Gear?  Any new projects in the pipeline you’d like to tell us about?  Anything exciting coming up?

There’s lots of exciting things happening here right now.  One thing I’m most excited about is a new backpack design we’ve got coming out soon, it’s a small daypack which can pack down into itself just like our Eco Totes and hammocks and it only weighs about 3oz.  I’ve been testing one for the last few weeks and I’m amazed at how much I’m using it on a daily basis.  It’ll be called the PackBack™ and you heard it here first.  Look for it in Late Spring/Early Summer.

There may be a few other exciting product additions this year, but the big focus for me is in spreading the word even more about our current product line and building a strong retail presence in 2012.  I’ve been focusing on grassroots marketing and building the brand through direct sales for the last 9 years and I’m excited to build on that foundation now by getting Trek Light Gear on as many retail shelves as possible.  I’ve got competitors who have focused solely on getting into stores from the start, so there will be some fun challenges there but our passionate fan base speaks for itself in many ways.  I’m looking forward to making it easier for people to discover Trek Light Gear in their favorite outdoor stores.  It’s a whole new direction for the company but it’s really just an extension of what we’ve been doing all along.

Q:  And finally, I have to ask: I noticed in your FAQ page someone has asked “Can the hammock be used as a parachute?”…how often do you really get that question?

You’d be amazed.  

Slideshow from TrekLightGear.com Gallery…

GEAR: Spring in to Adventure Giveaway…

Hiking and backpacking season is pretty much year-round down here in Arizona.  For the rest of the world, however, Spring kicks-off hiking season.  The groggy outdoor-enthusiasts wake from their Winter hibernation, put the skis and snowboards away, shed the layers and head out into the sun!  We are here to help get you outside in style!  Wilderness Dave wants to see you guys enjoying the outdoors with some awesome new gear, so we’ve teamed up with five other outdoor blogs to bring you one epic giveaway!

Spring in to Adventure logo

MyLifeOutdoors.com, HikingtheTrail.com, TrailSherpa.com, WildernessDave.com, TheOutdoorAdventure.net, and ALittleCampy.com have teamed up to give you the Spring into Adventure Gear Giveaway!

Starting March 15th we will begin five weeks of giveaways with 10 individual winners, and over 35 pieces gear from companies like Yaktrax, Beyond Coastal, Alpine Aire, Sole Spikes, Gerber and many more!  During the week we will introduce you to the gear being given away through a series of gear reviews and brand highlights featuring our event sponsors.  At the end of each week we will draw a First Place winner, as well as a Second Place winner.

Each week, you will have a full seven days to enter in multiple ways for your chance to win some of this epic gear.

The giveaways…

March 15: COLD Week

First Place Prize Pack: (Winner posted)

  • Polarmax Baselayers
  • Minus 33 Balaclava
  • Yaktraks
  • Beyond Coastal Travel Kit
  • Alpine Aire Food Kit

Second Place Prize: (Winner Posted)

  • Sole Spikes

 

March 22: SURVIVAL Week

First Place Prize Pack:

  • Adventure Medical Kit Ultralight Watertight 0.7 oz Med Kit
  • Adventure Medical Kit Origin Survival Kit
  • Adventure Medical Kit Escape Bivy
  • Gerber BG Survival Parang
  • Beyond Coastal Travel Kit
  • Buff USA Merino Wool Buff
  • Innate Storage Sack

Second Place Prize:

  • Survival Strap

March 29: Sea To Summit Week:

First Place Prize Pack:

  • Sea To Summit Ultra-Mesh Stuff Sack
  • Sea To Summit Ultra-Sil View Dry Sack
  • Sea To Summit Ultra-Sil Sink
  • Sea To Summit Ultra-Sil Bucket
  • Beyond Coastal Travel Kit
  • Buff USA Merino Wool Buff
  • Alpine Aire Food Kit

Second Place Prize:

  • Sea To Summit Ultra Nano Dry Sack

April 5th: DIGITAL Week

First Place Prize Pack:

  • Sherpa Site
  • Yodel App
  • Stick Pic
  • Buff USA Merino Wool Buff

Second Place Prize:

  • Survival Strap

April 11th: BACKCOUNTRY Week

First Place Prize Pack:

Second Place Prize:

  • Alpine Aire Food Kit

 

This Epic Giveaway starts in SEVEN DAYS!!  So get ready to win some gear!