Gear / REI Flash 60 Women's Backpack / The sophisticated big sister to Flash 52

Summer in western Montana is when I love roaming trails when wildflowers are bursting all over, while big fluffy clouds float across huge blue skies. Right now in early spring, the hills are at the cusp of turning fully green. I have to pay close attention because everything is bursting into life!
 
This summer, I’m looking forward to getting to know the wildernesses around me more intimately. Have you heard of the Bob, the Missions, the Rattlesnake, or the Absoroka-Beartooth wildernesses? Most of those aren’t famous like Yellowstone or Glacier National Parks, but they hold understated wonders I want to explore at a slower pace, to soak them all slowly in.
 
REI sent me a new pack recently, the Flash 60. I like to call her the more sophisticated big sister to my previous Flash 52 because of some feature improvements. I’m particularly looking forward to using the pack because it’ll make my trips more comfortable. Let me give you my REI Flash 60 Pack Laydown and highlight a few features I’m pretty stoked about.

First, I’m a major sweaty back girl, so put a pack on it and I instantly get a mini waterfall down my back every time I go backpacking. The new ventilation system in the Flash 60 is going to be a rock star in keeping my sweaty back drier (finally!).

Then there are two simple design changes I adore: (1) slanted side pockets for easy access to my water bottles without having to take off my pack, and (2) small cords to strap on my hiking poles to my pack and the small inserts where I can hide the cords when not in use! As a designer, these are both simple design solutions I really appreciate. One makes it easy to access my water bottles without hassle and the other satisfies my desire for organization. ;) Lastly, I’m stoked to find that they’ve increased the size of the hip belt pockets to fit my smart phone and lots of snacks. (I love snacks!)

These practical changes in the REI Flash 60 make life on the trail a little more comfortable and a littler easier so you can forget about the gear and focus on what the trail’s connecting you to. Perhaps some wildflowers, fluffy clouds and big blue skies await you too.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post, in partnership with REI.


Ask Liz / What do I do if an animal comes into my camp at night?

THE SIMPLE ANSWER: BEARS IN YOUR CAMPSITE SHOULD BE FEARED, OTHER ANIMALS AREN'T REALLY AN ISSUE. BE VIGILANT ABOUT BEST PRACTICES AT CAMP. BE AWARE, ALWAYS. DON'T RUN!

Photo Credit: Nat Geo Wild

Photo Credit: Nat Geo Wild

FULL QUESTION: "If there is an animal that comes into my camp at night, what do I do?...How can I tell [what it is] in case I can't see it? What do I do if it is a bobcat/bear/mountain lion? If I see a bear around dusk, should I keep walking to put as much distance between us as possible? I guess it is the animal/night combo that is giving me the creeps - any advice would be appreciated."


Here's Vicky and Al Noack. (My husband took a baking class from Vicky when we lived in Ennis, and I tried moose for the first time at their home.) They are some of the kindest, most generous people I've met.

Here's Vicky and Al Noack. (My husband took a baking class from Vicky when we lived in Ennis, and I tried moose for the first time at their home.) They are some of the kindest, most generous people I've met.

I asked my friend Al how he would answer this question because I needed some backup. Al's a 62-year-old Montanan, through and through, and he has a lot more experience in the wilderness than I do. Al's spent 3/4 of his life in the wilderness. He's been teaching a hunter and bowhunter class for the Fish, Wildlife, and Parks for the state of Montana, for 20 and 25 years respectively. Overall, Al has a great sense of what to do and not do in the wilderness. I trust what he has to say and want to impart his knowledge here. I think his responses provide a sense of sobering reality and relief. 

AL: "I think a person only has to fear one animal at night in camp, and that is a bear...The other animals, not at all. Don't let movies that show otherwise ruin a great chance to get out and enjoy the outdoors....MOST animals fear humans." 

I wholeheartedly agree that your fear shouldn't stop you from enjoying the wilderness, but there are some things you should definitely practice to be empowered to help yourself. 

IT'S ALL ABOUT PREVENTION.

AL suggests some best practices to avoid making dumb human mistakes that draw animals into our camps.

  • Plan your day to get to camp before dusk. "Most human/animal conflicts happen during the day, but can happen at night. Most happen when a human walks upon an animal while it's feeding, sleeping or has young. It goes into defense mode and bad things happen. At night, animals are not out looking to attack something, most of all, a human."
  • Don't set up camp right next to a water source. (This is a Leave No Trace principle as well.) "If it's easy for you to get water, it's easy for animals also and they might come at night to get a drink."
  • Don't cook and eat your meals in camps or in your tent. "The smell can last a very long time" and sometimes we might spill food. This is bad! In addition, "If you build a fire, NEVER throw food or its containers in the fire."
  • "Never store food or anything [with a scent] anywhere close to camp." You should put food in a bear canister or bear hang and have it at least 200 feet away from camp.
  • Carry bear spray and a light source with you at all times. There's a small chance you might encounter an animal when you walk away from camp to use the bathroom.

IF THEY DO ROAM INTO YOUR CAMP, WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

  • Don't assume the animal wants to attack you. It may just be walking through your camp.
  • "NEVER run. Get your spray ready and turn on the flash light. Just seeing the animal will take away some of [your] fear." Al says it's probably not going to be the killer griz your mind might make up. It's likely a porcupine, raccoon or another little critter.
  • Talk to the animal in a low voice. "Don't yell. Hopefully hearing your voice will cause it to turn away and leave."
  • Keep the flashlight on it, and move it in small arcs. 
  • "Don't use the bear spray unless it attacks you. Using the spray to scare it away is just a waste of spray."

"We don't know why bears attack." But HERE'S WHAT TO DO IN CASE THEY DO

If a bear charges towards you, spray a one second burst using a sweeping motion (left to right or right to left).

  • Spray it where the bear will be, on it's path towards you (versus aiming for the bear). Bears are really fast and you want to have a cloud of bear spray in it's path. 
  • Be ready to spray again, holding your can with two hands. Stand and wait to see what it does.
  • Spray again if the bear keeps coming. 
  • If the bear halts, take a couple steps back, slowly. 

If the bear actually attacks you, there are different responses to different bears (relevant to the lower 48 states. Alaska is a whole other playing field.)

  • GRIZZLIES: Play dead. You'll get mauled; it will be painful, but play dead. Stay in fetal position. Protect your neck.
  • BLACK: Fight back with everything you have. 

ENCOUNTERING A BEAR AT DUSK

This one is a tough one to answer because it depends on what the bear is doing. Does it have cubs? Is it feeding on a dead animal? Is it moving away from you or moving towards you? 

First of all, you need to have a plan you can enact. Al sums it up with: Observe. Decide. Act. This is what he would do in that situation.

  1. Know how to use your bear spray. Practice getting it out removing the clip, holding it out, and fake-spraying.
  2. Get your bear spray out, slow and easy. It should be easily accessible! Not in your pack, but attached to your hip or pack strap.
  3. Rapidly assess the situation. Are there cubs? A food source? Is it a sow (mama bear)? Where are the cubs? Is the bear being aggressive? Is it curious? Which direction is the wind blowing? What's behind you? Are you between the sow and cubs? 
  4. Decide what you need to do. Stay calm and get yourself out of that situation without provoking the bear.
  5. Take a few steps away from the bear/cubs. Be ready with your bear spray and back up away from the bear. Keep slow and steady and get far away as possible. 
  6. Set up camp somewhere safe. 

Bears can be especially defensive if there are cubs involved or if they're feeding. Move away slowly. NEVER RUN. Even if you have to back track, stay out of that area. You're at risk of provoking the bear when it's most protective and defensive. You'll need to decide what direction you think the bear is headed and go the opposite way.

What about mountain lion? "If you see a mountain lion trailing you, you're probably lunch." (Al said that, not me! I don't want you or me to be anyone's lunch!) They attack people when they're moving around, not when you're settled in camp (necessarily). Make yourself as big as you can and make a ton of noise. Make it think it's going to take on godzilla! If they attack, fight with everything you have. 

When you're out of danger, remember to take some deep breaths. Get your heart rate down. Give thanks that you're alive. Decide on a new campsite and get situated to hunker down for the night. Sleep. Rest. Relax as much as you're able. Take care of yourself. 


On an adorable (and frightening) note: I couldn't resist posting these "bears at camp" photos I found on google. They tickle me silly! Please remember to practice being bear aware. Protecting your food = protecting the bears. 


Ask Liz / Tips for your first solo hike and how to get over the fear

Q: Any hot tips for your first solo hike...and how to get over the fear?


HOT TIPS ON GOING ON YOUR FIRST SOLO BACKPACKING TRIP

  • Tell your "team" of supporters exactly where you're going, when you're expected to come out, and contact information for the nearest ranger station. Here's an example. Make it easy for them to find you in case they don't hear from you.
  • Take a personal locator beacon (PLB) if that makes you feel safer. REI has a nice breakdown here.
  • Start small. For your first solo backpacking trip, try going to a more popular location or just for a day or two just to see how it feels. As you get more comfortable with being alone, try for a longer or more isolated destination.
  • Have a game plan for when/if you get bored. I've been alone many times and sometimes I'm like, "hMmm..what should I do?" If you're prone to getting bored, maybe think about some ideas beforehand. Here are some ideas:
    • Journal
    • Watch a flowing body of water
    • Take a nap
    • Read
    • Do some yoga
    • Daydream
    • Stretch
    • Clean your nails  :) 
  • Do you have any tips to offer? Comment below!

OK, LET'S TALK ABOUT FEAR.

I'm hearing more and more stories of women going on solo hikes and enthusiasm about women wanting to go on their first solo backpacking trip. It's awesome! And at the same time, there's been a rise in voiced concerns and fears about going out into the wilderness alone as a woman. I don't know all the answers, but I can share from my own experiences of solo backpacking.

First, take a moment: What do you fear most about going on a solo backpacking trip? 

  • Getting physically injured so badly and not being able to call for help?
  • Getting harassed or assaulted by some scary dude?
  • Running out of food or water?
  • Something creeping around in the dark?
  • Being lonely?
  • Getting lost and wandering in the wilderness until you eventually...
  • ...get eaten alive by a bear?
  • _____(Fill in the blank)_____

To sum it up, it seems the most, if not all fears have to do with one's SAFETY.

When I went on my first solo trip (which oddly, also happened to be my very first backpacking trip), I was so scared. Even though I was only 30 minutes from home and 1.5 miles from my car, I was afraid of all the stories my mind made up about the unknowns. 

I think it's natural to have fears about being alone in the woods. I feel like our lady minds are particularly good at coming up with some scary "what if" scenarios and act (or not act) on them. We humans are oriented to self-protect so going out into the unknown alone raises all those red flags. It's like you have this innocent thought, "I think I want to go on a solo backpacking trip," and all of a sudden, every internal siren is triggered and it's all ALERT!!DANGER!ALERT!!DANGER! in there. And then you tell your parents and they're all, "ALERT!!DANGER!ALERT!!DANGER!" except, this time out loud. It makes sense, females have been socialized to fear a lot of things. 

Here are some suggestions to get over your fears:

  1. Practice thought experiments to help you get to know your fears and where they originate from. Think about your worst case scenario. Got one? Now run with it. Ask yourself why you're afraid of it. Dig deeper until you get to the core of the fear. Then ask yourself what the opposite of that story might be. Thinking through the opposite version of the story is a helpful tool because it puts things into perspective that no one story is the Truth.
     
  2. Read stories about other women's solo tales. There's power in learning about other women's stories and how they've gone before you. It's emboldening! Here are some inspiring women to look into: Grandma Gatewood, Jennifer Pharr Davis, Liz "Snorkel" Thomas, Mary Moynihan
     
  3. Trust yourself. A large part of getting over fears is to trust that you're smart, capable, and have the ability to deal if something goes wrong. Part of this might mean learning a few things. For example, taking a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course might empowering. It was for me. I loved it so much, I became Wilderness-EMT (WEMT) certified. (Note: WFA is a 2-day course vs. WEMT is a 3 week intensive)

What helps you get over your fears? (Comment below!)


How to eat a whole apple

Mmm, yum! Fresh fruit on the trail is such a treat. Sometimes I wish I could have a juicy watermelon whenever it gets hot and dusty, but I know that ain't happening. I won't take anything that leaves any kind of remainder, like watermelon rind or an apple core. I would have to pack that out and why would I carry extra weight if it can be helped?

I'm not about to eat watermelon rind, but what if you could make the apple core disappear?

True story: I had never considered eating the ENTIRE apple before I met an experienced backpacker who talked about eating the whole apple as if it were nothing. Well sir, for this suburban-raised girl, that was not even an option. I was like, "He's crazy." Well....that was until I tried it and thought, "K, he's not crazy, but I don't like this one bit." 

Yet, I now eat my whole apple (when backpacking) and I'll tell you how I do it so you don't make the same mistakes I have.

SQS-Apple.gif

HOW TO EAT A WHOLE APPLE

  1. Take the stem completely off. Twist twist twist until the whole things comes out. (If you forget to do this, it's okay, you won't even notice it in your pack out trash bag.)
  2. Wash the apple thoroughly.
  3. Don't leave the core for the end. Eat through the apple from one side to the other side. That way, your last bite is a good one. (If you decide to eat around the core and save that for last, it's a truly unappetizing process. I did that the first time because no one ever told me how to eat a whole apple!)
  4. When biting into the core, get a good ratio of apple meat mixed in there so you don't only taste the seeds. 
  5. PRO TIP: Beware of biting into the hardened parts (aka: endocarp) that encases the seeds. It can get stuck in between your teeth yo!

Honestly, you might not enjoy this process. I still don't, but I tolerate it so I can take an apple or two on the trail as a delicious juicy treat. I never regret eating an refreshing apple on the trail while my trail mates eat dry nuts. ;-P

What fresh fruit/veggies do you want to take on the trail?


Real People / All the Little Things Giveaway Winner Megan Platt!

Congratulations Megan!

Photo from Megan's instagram.

Photo from Megan's instagram.

Thank you everyone who entered the All the Little Things Giveaway. I wish I could give everyone this one-of-a-kind giveaway, but I had to choose one winner. 

I thought it would be fun to learn a little about our winner Megan because I loved it when my friends at Misadventures Magazine did it for one their giveaways recently. (Hat tip!) I thought introducing the winner gave their giveaway a nice texture of authenticity I wanted you to experience too.


ABOUT MEGAN

Megan's never gone backpacking before, but shows a lot of enthusiasm for getting started. She's loved hiking and camping for forever, but just hasn't delved into the world of backpacking. Can you relate? I don't know Megan's reasons for not having gone yet, but it seems there's often a distinct mental (and physical) barrier to going backpacking for most women. What's awesome though is that Megan's taking small steps to get started -- (like trying to win backpacking gear, hehe). :-P

She lives a few hours from the Adirondacks, so she's planning on getting in some weekend trips this summer, with the ultimate goal of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) one day. Although Megan grew up in the burbs, the outdoors has always been the place she escapes to. Being outside keeps her sane. "It reminds [her] that [she's] just a small piece in this big, beautiful world." Amen, sista!

And if you thought to yourself, "I never win anything!" Guess what? Neither does Megan! And neither do I! That's why hosting a small giveaways and giving away prizes is SO.MUCH.FUN!!! I get to turn "I never win" into "I can't believe I won!!" And better yet, I get to help women go from "I've never gone backpacking" into "I can't believe I'm about to do this!"

You can find Megan's adventures on Instagram. Let's give her some follow love and encourage her as she embarks on newbie backpacking adventures!

xo, Liz