Hiking Gear: What’s in my Bag?

Whether you’re filling a bag for a spontaneous hike or prepping for an outdoorsy vacation, the supplies you need for hiking are basically the same.  While the length of the hike itself will determine whether some items are included or not, my over preparedness personality type tells me that all things are necessary at all times because what if something unexpected happens?  But as always, I’m no expert.  Just sharing with you what I’ve learned.  Take what you will from that.

No matter the duration of your hike, food and water are necessities, no questions asked.  Hiking requires energy and dehydration happens a lot faster when you’re out and about.  I recommend granola bars, trail mix, or similar that won’t be effected by the weather conditions.  A useful investment is a Camelpack or some other backpack with the water inside and a straw attached, but it’s not necessary if you don’t want to spend the money on it.  CamelBak’s website has a nifty water calculator that asks a few questions and calculates how much water you would need for maximum performance.  I’ve also heard that you should drink half your weight in ounces of water each day (For example, if you weigh 100 pounds you should drink 50 ounces of water.  Simple enough, right?).  Whichever method you use, water is the most important thing to have with you at all times!

As a perpetually pale person, I live by sunscreen.  Personally for hikes I like to use Neutrogena sunscreen for my face and any type of spray sunscreen for my arms and legs.  I also bring a hat of some sort and cheap sunglasses (in case I lose them).  Bugspray can also be important, depending on the season and location of your hike.  I usually bring some just in case!  If you’re trying to save weight and space, go for the bug wipes rather than spray.  They’re generally single use, so you’ll decrease bag weight as you use them.

A map and a compass can be lifesaving gear when hiking in an unfamiliar area.  Even if you’ve been there before or have a general idea where you’re going, it’s never a bad idea to have a reference just in case!  The same goes for a cell phone in areas where you have reception and a satellite phone in areas you don’t.  You know, just in case of emergency.  The same goes for a small first aid kit that includes at the very least bandaids!

I always bring my camera since I enjoy taking pictures and sharing them with you, but that’s certainly not required.

Keep in mind this is a short list for short trips.  Anything all day, overnight, or longer would require more supplies!  But this list has provided a useful starting point for me.

What hiking gear do you never leave home without?

Guys, Go to Arches!

And by Arches, I of course mean Arches National Park!  I visited in May on a school trip and let me tell you, the one day we had in the park wasn’t nearly enough.  But we experienced the best Moab has to offer in that day, so I thought I’d share it with you!  We camped at the Lower Onion Creek campsite, located just on the backside of Arches.  This gem of a campsite boasts no running water other than the Colorado River, but we loved it anyway.  With views like this, how could you not love it? (Once again, taken with my phone, no editing required!)

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Another perk of staying at Onion Creek is the campsite is about half an hour away from Moab, which makes it a lot less busy than the sites closer.  There are no reservations needed unless you’re coming with a large group, you can just show up, fill out a form, stick some money in an envelope, and call it good!

We drove into Arches bright and early in the morning in an attempt to beat the crowds.  That didn’t work so well (everyone in Moab must be early risers) but we didn’t have to wait too long to get into the park.  I was surprised at how far you had to drive into Arches to actually see any, well, arches.  I guess I had always assumed they would be front and center at all times with each vista boasting an arch or two.  While that assumption was wrong, the other parts of the park were pretty cool too.

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arches1See? Arches or not, the views are hard to beat.  Eventually we did make it to the arches themselves, with the obligatory hike up to Delicate Arch.  This three mile hike took about three hours, just as the park ranger suggested it would.  Doesn’t three miles in three hours sound a little long?  That’s what we thought too, until we realized how far up Delicate Arch was from where we started.  The hike was strenuous for sure, but definitely worth it.  Bonus tip!  On your way up, the trail twists and turns for awhile.  Once you’re almost to the top, the trail veers sharply to the right and there’s a vertical rock wall on the right and a canyon on the left.  Looking up towards the top of the wall, you’ll see a mini arch that if you possess spider monkey skills or have a friend who does, you can climb up into for the best view of Delicate Arch.

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arches6In the first picture you can see the brave souls who scrambled up the wall first without a clue of what they would find on the other side.  In the second you get a pretty clear idea of just how high up we were!  But the best part is yet to come.

arches4 arches7Just look at that!  Not the average Delicate Arch view, right?  It was a little scary to get up to that point, but definitely worth the crawl up an almost vertical sandstone wall.  Good thing there were good friends waiting at the top to pull me up.

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: actually standing beneath Delicate Arch!

arches3 arches8Can you see me in the first picture?  Probably not, so the second picture is included as well.  That thing is massive!  No wonder everyone suffers through the hike to finally get there.

arches5We hung out at the top for awhile, too pleased with our accomplishment and amazed at the landscape to really move much. We were still smiling at the end so it must not have been that bad.  The hike back down isn’t as much fun in my opinion, but going downhill certainly makes things easier!  We also stopped in Devil’s Garden to check out the famous Landscape Arch.  We didn’t have much time, but Landscape definitely lived up to expectations!

If you have the chance to go to Arches, take it right away and don’t look back.  From staying off the beaten path, to taking the standard hikes, we definitely made the most of our day in Arches.  Hopefully you get a little more time to enjoy the views!

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Take a Hike

No, I’m not rudely telling you to leave (I really appreciate you being here and reading my ramblings!).  I’m simply passing on the advice my boss gave me on Thursday.  After completing the day’s one and only field assignment, she recommended I check out the adjacent trail, bless her heart.  You know, because I should know what we’re talking about when discussing the trails we manage.  Or she just knows how much I abhor sitting in a cubicle all day.  Either way, I’ll take it!

This little gem was only 45 minutes from home!  I guarantee, no matter where you live there’s a hike to be had near you.  Now when I picture hikes, I think of mountains and forests.  But no siree!  Check out this prairie.  (Taken with my phone on the go, no editing needed).

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Don’t you feel relaxed just looking at it?  The light breeze tickled the grass and tugged my hair from its braid.  The only reminder of civilization was the occasional glimpse of the gravel road as the trail snaked through the gentle hills.  The only sound was the crunch of my shoes, the whisper of grass, and the occasional call of birds.  Peace filled me and I was able to return to work with my regular optimism, the grumbles of another day at the office far behind.  Ah, the power of a simple, short walk!

And so I say to you: Take a Hike!  You don’t have to go to exotic places to get your daily dose of contentment and adventure.  Explore your city, state, country!  Get out and experience the beauty right under your nose.

Yellowstone National Park, Part 1

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Ah, the Upper Falls as seen from Uncle Tom’s Trail. Seriously, is it possible to take a bad picture here?

What better way to start my National Park series with my first post on the first National Park?  And even better, the first national park I ever visited and the very reason I’m studying conservation biology.

Ah, the memories.  But first, a little background information on the national park system!  The National Park System website explains it best: “By the Act of March 1, 1872, Congress established Yellowstone National Park in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming ‘as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people’ and placed it ‘under exclusive control of the Secretary of the Interior.’ The founding of Yellowstone National Park began a worldwide national park movement. Today more than 100 nations contain some 1,200 national parks or equivalent preserves.”  The national park system is seriously incredible.  The most beautiful places in not only the US but all over the world have been set aside to educate the public and preserve the environment.  How cool is that?  Each country runs their park system a little differently.  Some are focused more on education, some more on conservation, and some on tourism.  I think the US’s park system has found a lovely blend between these important topics.

So, Yellowstone!  Located in the northwest corner of Wyoming with small areas overlapping into Montana and Idaho, Yellowstone boasts rushing rivers, wide meadows, and mountain ranges galore.  My personal favorite features lie below and above the ground.  You see, Yellowstone is located on a caldera (the remnants of a volcano) that brings the warmth of the lower mantle up to the crust, creating fabulous geothermal features including geysers, mud pots, paint pots, and hot springs.  The extreme temperature allows certain types of bacteria to thrive, painting the pools in rainbow colors (look for pictures of this to follow!).

Yellowstone also boasts an extremely unique ecosystem.  From bears to moose to fox and ground squirrels, fauna of all shapes and sizes call Yellowstone home.  It’s a biologists paradise!  Look forward to more sciencey posts to follow!  I could write on and on (and on and on and on) about the incredible biology found in and around Yellowstone National Park.  (again, pictures to follow!)

But let’s talk about the real reason we read oodles of blog posts every day, eating up every word:  the raw emotion, the human experience, the glimpses into the lives of others.  At this point you’re probably thinking to yourself “Sure, Yellowstone sounds alright.  Maybe I’ll go there.”  But to me, Yellowstone is more than a vacation destination, more than just another stop along the way.  Yellowstone is my home.  Ok, I don’t literally live there (yet) but that’s where a significant portion of my heart is.  On my very first trip to Wyoming, to a National Park, to Yellowstone, I fell in love with a landscape that I knew but hadn’t met yet, with an environment I understood but couldn’t get a true grasp on.  My thirst for adventure, travel, exploration truly began there.  My eyes were opened to a potential career, one spent in the great outdoors with marvelous landscapes, wildlife, and people.  But the story’s not done yet.  Currently, I’m halfway through my degree program in preparation of a life spent conserving the great national treasures that are the focus on the National Park System.

The Best Days End with a New Color of Dirt

The best days end with a new color of dirt coating my hiking boots.  At this point, tying the laces involves holding your breath as months of dust pillow back up to you with each pull.  But hey, that’s what they’re for, right?  I’m far happier with a pair of shoes that are solely meant to get dirty than with trying to keep my shoes clean.

So, hiking boots!  Probably the best investment I’ve made in quite some time.  After doing some online research and trying some boots on in the store, I finally settled on these Merrell’s.  I chose Merrells because they’re about in the middle price-wise and offer a wide variety of options.  I was also looking for something that would be waterproof and offer ample ankle support.  These do the trick fabulously!

Some boot shopping advice: try them on in a store with the socks you would usually wear.  Even if you’re planning to order them online to save some money, you need your boots to fit well!  I’d also recommend getting your boots a size larger than your every day shoes.  The extra space allows for cushiony socks and prevents your toes from being squished when hiking up or down hill.

A bonus of new hiking boots is new hiking socks to go with them!  Personally, I like SmartWool socks best for long hikes.  They come in a variety of styles, sizes, and amount of cushion so you can usually find exactly what you’re looking for.  Even though they can be a bit expensive, if you hang them up to dry they’ll last for years!  I’d also recommend getting a liner kinda like this one, especially if you’re planning some longer trips.  They prevent friction in places like the back of the ankle and toes where blisters are likely to form and keep your socks fresh longer.  I’ve been told you can get through a week-long trip and only bring three pairs of hiking socks if you have two liners to go with them! Plus they’re soft and comfy!

Hikes are pretty great, but they’re even better with shoes and socks that will help you keep going for miles.

Hidden Waterfalls and Adventure

Puerto Rico must just be the place for adventure.  If you have the chance to go, take it!  But I’ll wax poetic about Puerto Rico at a later date.  Let’s talk about hidden waterfalls and adventure.  When I visited Puerto Rico we stayed at a research station in El Yunque National Forest.  We were surrounded by jungle and rivers and amphibians of all shapes and sizes.  We spent one afternoon visiting the various streams and rivers for a stream ecology lesson.  This included a fairly large river that you could track from the research station to the shore, which was pretty cool.  I’m told we were there during a pretty hefty drought or our adventure wouldn’t have happened.  The river in question features pools connected by areas of rushing water.  The side of the pool we were focused in was essentially a rock wall was a small sliver open to a waterfall that could be heard but not seen.  The explorer of the group decided there must be a way to get to that waterfall and he soon disappeared under the water.  When he came back and pointed out the ‘path’, everyone soon followed.

Path is used loosely here.  To actually get to the waterfall from where we were situated, one had to swim about fifty feet to the other side of a ten foot deep pool, balance on a rock to catch their breath, then begin their ascent.  You see, there was an opening in the rock just above water that created a tunnel up to the waterfall.  It wouldn’t have been possible to climb if a tree limb hadn’t gotten stuck, providing a makeshift ladder.  If you’ve ever been on river boulders, you know just how slippery this whole situation was.  With the help of good friends, we all shimmied through that hole and enjoyed the view.  Here’s a picture that hardly does it justice!

17285_665450570267241_1152919931804729207_nIf coming up sounds precarious, coming down was just as bad.  It was impossible to go back the way we had come because there was nothing to hold on to one you reached the bottom.  The same explorer as mentioned before suggested we try sliding down the log you can see on the left side of the picture above.  There was a space just big enough for the average person to fit through, so away we went.  I must say, natural water slides are much more fun that amusement parks.  Surprisingly, no one got hurt and all eighteen of use made it to the waterfall and back out again.  While it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Bioluminescent Bay in La Parguera, Puerto Rico (Also known as The Night I Swam with Jellyfish)

If you haven’t seen a bioluminescent bay in person, google it right now.  It’s incredible.  The water is full of dinoflagellates that glow blue when they move.  This means the water glows when you move (and when it’s dark enough out, of course).  There are quite a few bio bays around the world, but one of the best is found by La Parguera, Puerto Rico.  This cute little town was under construction when I last visited, but in theory it’ll be done by the time you make it there.  Either way, their bio bay operation is up and running!  If you sign up for this adventure, a lovely tour company will take you and your friends out on their boat at the optimal viewing time.  It takes about twenty minutes to get from the shore to the protected cove that is dark enough to see any form of bioluminescence.  The view at first is a little unimpressive, just dark water and stars.  Then the captain dives into the water and the ocean comes to life with sparkling blue creatures.

One not so brave soul in our group asked the captain what else was in the water.  Makes sense to me, black ocean that’s twenty or so feet deep make me question what could be in there too.  The captain assured us there might be a few schools of fish but that’s about it, and they’d be far too deep for us to notice.  So we hop in and become enchanted by the blue glitter that follows in our wake.  Almost everyone is now in the water when the first girl rushes back to the boat in tears.  She didn’t want to freak the rest of us out, but her bright red arm did that for us.

Apparently the captain forgot to mention the swarm of jellyfish that enjoyed hanging out in the bay.  These weren’t normal jellyfish either.  Known as moon jellies, they prefer to swim upside down, as in tentacles up, and are found five to six feet below the surface.  If you’re short (like me) or aren’t a particularly rambunctious swimmer you won’t even know there’s jellyfish in the water.  Unfortunately for six of the eighteen of us, they didn’t fall into either category and came back to the boat sooner than they wanted with jellyfish stings in various places (mostly ankles and wrists).

But no worries, the pain only lasted a few hours and the redness went away by the next morning.  And I didn’t get stung, so even better.  Even if I had, the experience would have been well worth it to be able to say I went swimming with jellyfish.