The summer before his senior year at Duke University, Andrew Skurka thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, his first ever backpacking trip, alone and in only 95 days (that’s 23 miles a day). He had caught the bug. He’s since hiked 7,775 miles from Quebec to Washington and the Great Western Loop (6,875 miles) and has been named the 2005 “Person of the Year” by Backpacker Magazine and the 2007 “Adventurer of the Year” by National Geographic Adventure. We caught up with him to talk about success and failure on the trail.
Bring An Enemy
Stick anyone next to a cliff and they’ll inch forward and peek over; put anyone in a supercar and they’ll double the speed limit. We all want to stay safe and comfortable, sure, but in those moments when we lose our footing and time slows to a crawl, we are undeniably living in the moment. Call it suicidal or call it truly living. Here are ten trails that return hikers to their baser need: staying alive.
A Life Worth Saving
Gear worth owning is pricey, and repairs used to be the path of least resistance. Today, it’s actually kind of a pain. Yet reviving well-worn gear has major payoffs.
Comfort and sturdiness, put to the test
Over the years we’ve owned a number of different hiking boots in a continuous search for just the right balance of sufficient support, stability, and grip without being so rigid and heavy that they feel like Tony Soprano concrete specials. Recently we had the opportunity to try the BIOM Terrain Plus ($230) from ECCO, a brand we knew only as the maker of grandpa’s “most comfortable shoes you’ll ever wear!” Of course we were skeptical about where they would rate on that scale of comfort and stability — and, equally as important, whether we’d want to be seen wearing them on the trail.
Light, fast, local
There are big-name brands in the outdoor clothing market that turn out lustworthy, cutting-edge shells, baselayers and insulation pieces season after season. But every once in a while, we stumble upon a small brand doing things a little bit differently yet equally well. One of those is NW Alpine, based in that outdoor playground, Portland, Oregon. We got to test out three pieces of NW Alpine gear in the mountains this fall: the Black Spider Hoodie, the Fast/Light Pant and the Simplicity Jacket.
Hiking Hut to Hut in the White Mountains
For thru-hikers of the AT, the White Mountains are a cruel joke, coming near the end of a months-long journey that begins in the gentle hills of Georgia. With nary a flat mile the trail follows the spine of the Presidential Range before exiting into Maine and the final miles to Katahdin. But while the Whites can be cruel, they are also kind. Among the rocky steeps is a series of huts where a weary hiker can find a soft bed, warm smiles and hot meals.
I came to the White Mountains of New Hampshire with too much confidence and they kicked my ass. With the trail’s highest point barely above tree line and only one thousand feet higher than the starting point of my June ascent of Mount Rainier, I figured hiking here would be easy. I was wrong.
Everything Else is Slow R
You don’t have to be a genius to understand that there are trade-offs in life, a fact that applies to products as well. The spork notwithstanding, hybrid products typically appeal to a broader swath of the population in exchange for being less desirable to enthusiasts in either of the original disciplines. The Adidas Terrex Fast R GTX hiking shoe ($180) stands out for being both nimble and rugged; it’s not a compromise, but an elevation above and beyond what exists in the lightweight hiker category.
Part I of III in The Mountain Series
The rotor wash from a Bell 212 helicopter is startlingly strong. Though I was getting used to the pick up and drop off routine — kneel, huddle together, cover your face — every time the helicopter landed I was nearly blown off my feet. Peering out the side window as we lifted straight up from a postage-stamp-sized rock atop a peak called “Kickoff”, I noticed that getting blown over here would have meant a very long fall. Note to self: don’t be the guy at the back of the huddle.
Helicopter travel is addictive. Though it’s loud and uncomfortable, it’s the swiftest and most scenic way to get from Point A to Point B in the mountains. There’s also a certain Green Beret appeal to being whisked off a remote peak by a Huey. Purist hikers and climbers may call it cheating (I used to be one of them), but reserve judgment until you’ve hiked for five hours and 5,000 vertical feet in some of the wildest backcountry in the world and can get back to the lodge in ten minutes for a beer by a crackling fire. I came to this newfound appreciation after a week of up and down in the Bugaboo Mountains of British Columbia.
What's old is new
Retro gear is retro for a reason: modern outdoor gear design performs better than its forebears in almost all respects. But we still have a soft spot for the leather, wool, canvas alpine designs of the 1950s and ‘60s — you know, before things got all sleek and neon. After seeing two Gear Patrol favorite brands, Topo Designs and Howler Brothers, collaborate to design a classic climbing pack, the Klettersack ($189), we decided to go all Reinhold Messner and take it to the mountains to see how a retro style pack works in the environment that inspired it.
You've got twelve weeks. Get busy!
We love winter and all it brings: fires, warm sweaters, skiing and flasks of Scotch. But come June, we’re ready to bust out and undertake some adventures that can only be done in the warmer months. Memorial Day is traditionally when bikes and boats and boots get dusted off and you hit the ground running until the Labor Day slow down. This summer, why not go a little further and tackle something truly epic? We’re here to help with five great summer-only adventures. There are only twelve weeks of summer, so get planning.
Eschewing the goliath, steel-toed, curb-stomp readiness of hiking boots of yore, the LiteTrace Mid Waterproof Hiker ($150) are the funked-up kick you’ve been looking to hit your next trail with. Three-ply laminated waterproof membrane, durable upper mesh and climbing rubber overlays, Pebax midsole foam for durability and comfort; and Green Rubber lug soles for outstanding…
Lessons from Green Berets in the Colorado Rockies
“Open Road” is an ongoing series of dispatches written and photographed by guest correspondent, Foster Huntington, during his epic cross-country adventure for his upcoming book by Harper Collins. Foster is the creator of Arestlesstransplant and The Burning House. Check out previous parts of the series here. My alarm went off at 2:15am on Thursday, the…
The Original Mashup
This is not the KFC spork of yore, so dispel those flash backs of middle school field trips and cellophane packaged cutlery. Made entirely of titanium, the super light Triple Aught Design Titanium Folding Spork ($39) reduces arm fatigue as you stuff your face with last night’s left overs. Plus, it has a bottle cap/can…
The Comfort of Home Minus the Bulky Bits
I’ve preferred air mattresses over sleeping pads for as long as I can remember, but when it came time to buy a lightweight alternative, I immediately turned to the Z Lite by Therm-a-Rest ($30). Many folks who spend a good deal of time sleeping on the ground swear by them, so I wanted to give…
Clean, drinkable water is critical to life on this planet and is a resource that those of us in first world countries often take for granted. That is, unless you’ve traveled far enough to know otherwise. In the past, though, portable options for purifying fresh water while traveling have been pretty dismal. Boiling, of course,…
Man make fire. Gwaarrrg!
You might call us latter day Boy Scouts, but we at Gear Patrol have been riffing on a certain theme of late: Be Prepared. It’s just that you never know in what situation you might find yourself, and, when the unexpected strikes, a man wants to be able to be decisive and take charge, knowing…
Every Man Needs A Rain Jacket. Else, Be Wet.
The Marmot Essence Jacket is just that – the essence of what you need in a rain jacket and nothing more. It keeps you dry, is light and breathable, and you’ll find it eminently packable. The Essence gets a sound GP recommendation in the rain jacket department.
Microlight Feels Like An Understatement
It’s not often I find myself very surprised by a product. Well before my review of any product is published on Gear Patrol, I have researched it extensively, read other people’s comments and reviews on it, and tested it myself. So, when the Rab Microlight came my way unexpectedly, I had no idea what to…