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.

Product Review: Peak Design Capture Camera Clip

I was skeptical at first. I mean, can a clip really make a difference while backpacking? I don't think so. Plus, I don't want extra weight if I can help it. Right?

Giiiiiirl....the Capture Clip made by Peak Design has completely changed the way I interact with my camera on the trail.

I took it on a 7-day backpacking trip and was SO glad to have it securely on my pack the entire time. My camera never felt like it was going to fall off and it never bounced around (like it does when I have a neck strap). In the beginning, I kept checking to make sure nothing was loose, but my anxiety was soothed every time I looked down and gave my camera a wiggle.

The one thing I'd note is that with any uneven distribution of weight, you will feel it in the shoulders. Even with my small mirrorless camera, I had to make some strap adjustments to try to create balance. 

But ladies! Even my big ole zoom lens stayed secure while I hiked. 

Photo Credit:   @yundified

Photo Credit: @yundified

Photo Credit:   @yundified

Photo Credit: @yundified

It's now a staple in my backcountry kit, whether it be for a hike or a solo backcountry trip, my camera and the Capture Clip go hand-in-hand.


Safety / How to make a simple wilderness survival kit

Less than six months ago, I used to think, "Eh, I don't really care about emergency preparedness. Survival kits add extra weight and takes up space. Plus, what's the likelihood something will happen to me?" Did I mention I also had no idea how to apply the contents of a survival kit to any kind of situation?

I love it when proclamations like that come back to bite me in my butt (they often do, don't they?), because I'm now a believer in emergency preparedness in the backcountry.

What changed my perspective was taking a Wilderness EMT course with Aerie Backcountry Medicine. I learned a great deal about how to respond to medical emergencies in the backcountry and what I would need to stay alive and get rescued in an wilderness emergency situation. One particular topic we covered was a survival course taught by Trenton Harper. My survival kit below was inspired by his. Trenton's a local paramedic, instructor, and (this one's a fun one) Naked & Afraid survivor


Survival Situation: a situation where you have to save yourself or someone else through your own efforts; live long enough to get yourself out of a dire predicament or live long enough for help to arrive. 

If you find yourself in a survival situation, consider this order of priority for addressing your short-term and long-term needs:

  1. Shelter
  2. Fire
  3. Water
  4. Food
  5. Signal

When you think you won't need it. Often people are need of Search & Rescue help because they're unprepared. It starts at, "Oh, it's just a quick run or it's only a day hike." Then a questionable choice here and there and all of a sudden, they're lost or soaked, on the verge of hypothermia. Suddenly, they realize they have no food, no means to call for help, no warmth, and no shelter from the wind and rain. It's not like anyone decides to jump off a boulder to sustain injuries after a 50' fall and have to spend a night in the wilderness. My point is that when we're unprepared, we're most at risk.

Below are images and descriptions of what I carry in a simple survival kit so I can sustain my life or someone else's in an emergency situation. I hope I don't have to use it...but if I ever do, it's in the bottom of my pack y'all. 

Size: ~5.5"x4.25"
Weight: 6.9oz

[A] 2-person Survival Blanket
PURPOSE: Use to wrap around yourself or build a shelter that reflects heat. When thinking about a shelter, you want to think about how you can stay best protected from the elements and stay warm (or cool). 

[A1] Hairtie with Duct Tape Flag
PURPOSE: In case I need to hold something together or think of a creative way to use rocks to tie my survival blanket into a shelter.

Fire is important to the shelter, water, and signal aspects of survival. It'll keep you warm or make your shelter more effective, it's the best way to treat water to kill any water-borne diseases, and you can use it to burn stuff to make a signal.

[B] Two Types of Matches
PURPOSE: Easy fire source. I carry strike on box and stormproof matches inside this little case I hacked. The reason I have two kinds of matches is just in case one fails.

[C] Mini Bic Lighter
PURPOSE: It's always good to have an alternative for making fire.

[D] Cotton Soaked in Vaseline
PURPOSE: This extremely efficient fire starter will catch on fire immediately and will burn for about 30 seconds to a minute. I carry three cotton balls in this small repurposed container that used to hold shea butter.

You need water to survive. Full stop. You can go maybe 24 hours without water, but you'll start feeling the effects of dehydration. Water is essential to your survival. You want to make sure you have a way of getting some and treating it. 

[E] Resealable Bag for Water
PURPOSE: In case you need to transport or collect water, this size bag will hold about a liter. 

[F] MSR Aquatabs
PURPOSE: 10 Fast acting (30 minute) water treatment tablets. It's 1-liter/tablet. It's good enough and treats for giardia, but not necessarily for cryptosporidium. 

[G] Potable Aquatabs
PURPOSE: Water treatment tablets that take 4-hours to treat water because it kills all offenders like giardia, cryptosporidium, etc.

>> Read more about treating water

Once you figure out your shelter, fire and water situations, you'll need to figure out how to signal to rescuers where you are. 

[H] Mini Glow Stick with String
PURPOSE: The string allows you to spin the glow stick to create a large signal in case a helicopter is overhead looking for you. Also a way to signal a landing area or mark your campsite for rescuers.

[I] 10 Feet of Flagging
PURPOSE: Use this reflective flagging to mark your shelter site and/or your path so that Search & Rescue can find you or you can find your way back. You can also use it to mark a huge X as a helicopter landing zone.

[J] Mini flashlight
PURPOSE: In case your headlamp goes out, you need a light source, or you need to signal your location, it's great to have an alternative option. The tiny flashlights with the blinking option is optimal. I added the rubber band so I could hang it somewhere or put it around my wrist. 

[K] Duct Tape
PURPOSE: Has a bajillion uses. To name a few: repairs, first aid, fire source, etc.

[L] Floss
PURPOSE: To sew. I keep unscented floss in my survival kit to avoid any scents. 

[M] Write-on-Rain Paper (4 sheets)
PURPOSE: To write notes on waterproof paper. E.g. If you're caring for someone unconscious, but you leave them to call for help, you can write a note just in case they wake up; or if you leave your shelter to call for help, leave a note at your shelter in case Search & Rescue arrive and you're not there but you want them to know you're alive!

[N] Pencil
PURPOSE: To write on your write-on-rain paper and it works in a variety of temperatures, unlike an ink-based writing utensil. I use a golf pencil since it's small and not too uncomfortable to use. (Imagine if your fingers are frozen and you're trying to grip something too thin or too tiny. Renders that thing useless, no?)

[O] Safety Pins
PURPOSE: It's like duct tape, there are so many ways to use safety pins. To name a few: improvised fishing hook, first aid, sewing, aiding with shelter building, makeshift compass, repairs, etc. 

PURPOSE: To hold all of the contents together in a compact, airtight, waterproof manner. 

*Note: I do not have a compass and whistle in my survival kit because mine are attached to my backpack. I also carry a pocket knife in my pant pocket all the time, so opted out of including a knife in my kit for now. These three items are important to have on you, I just didn't want to be too redundant with gear. 

I never thought to carry dedicated emergency food because I always took a little extra anyway. Well, now I carry "911 food" in a different ziploc bag in case anything goes awry and I need extra calories. It includes three small bars, two nut butters and two packets of caffeine.

  • You can survive ~3 weeks without food, but it sure helps to have some if you're super low on energy. If feeds our brains and bodies, two things we need for our survival. 
  • Simplify by not mixing scented food items with unscented survival gear. This way, I can keep my survival kit with me at all times without having to animal-proof it in the evenings.
  • Bring a little caffeine. I learned from my Aerie instructors to bring some caffeine in my emergency food supply in case someone is addicted to caffeine. Having a caffeine option will help with any withdrawal symptoms that may arise. 

When I'm in the wilderness, these kits (plus my first aid kit) are with me and I use them willingly. When something does get used, I make sure to resupply it right when I get home so it's ready to go for the next outing. 

Do you carry a survival kit? If not, what keeps you from doing so? 

Gear / How to find backpacking gear for free (or cheap)

Before you decide to go buy a bunch of gear without having much backpacking experience, please take a moment to pause.

[Take a deep breath and relax. Feel the excitement in your body and let go of any anxiety you have about acquiring gear. Seriously, take one big deep breath now.

An alternative way of approaching your first backpacking trip.
We are bombarded with messages to buy buy buy. Our pervasive consumer culture permeates every aspect of the outdoors industry too. No surprise, just ironic. (I mean I even have ads and affiliate links on my lil ole site.) 

When you want to get into backpacking, it can feel particularly overwhelming to figure out what to buy. A visit to REI might leave you feeling depleted because of all of the options and the lack of knowledge to make the best decision. (I mean your life is on the line, isn't it? We're talking about your survival in the woods!) Naturally, each purchasing decision feels big. A sleeping bag suddenly isn't just about a sleeping bag, it's about your survival, your life. 

[Is it time for another deep breath?]

I want to offer another framework. Instead of thinking of your first backpacking trip as "a big survival adventure that requires a huge financial cost where you suddenly acquire a whole crap-ton of gear you may never use," consider it as an invitation to invest in one backpacking experience. Just one.

You will be okay. 
I want to acknowledge that there's a lot of fear around going backpacking. The thing that people will attest to being one of the most empowering experiences ("Wow, I can't believe I carried everything I need to survive on my back") can be the thing that causes the most concern ("What if I don't bring what I need to survive, or it's not enough?"). 

Those fears are normal. They lessen with experience, but they are very real. Be smart, listen to your gut, don't take foolish risks in the wilderness and study up before you head out. You will be okay. And trust me, you're thinking will change rather quickly. 

Buying gear is scary because it asks you to commit to something you don't know if you even like.
Even with generous return policies by many of the major companies, it still feels like a big commitment to buy a $300 tent, doesn't it? What if you don't even like backpacking after all? Or what if you do like backpacking, but the tent was difficult to set up and the zippers were loud (don't worry, all zippers are strangely loud!). Ugh, now you have to go return the used tent and worse, if the sales rep asks you if there was anything wrong with it, you have to come up with something to say. Well skip it. Get it out of your head and go straight to the next point. 

Don't buy any of the major pieces of gear. Borrowing from friends or renting is the way to go.
Ask your coworkers, your family, your friends if they've gone backpacking before. Do they have a backpack, sleeping bag, pad, and tent you can borrow? Ideally, find a backpack from another woman so it's sized a smidge better for you. If you can go light, try to seek out lighter backpacking gear too. You'll thank yourself for it later. 

If you don't know anyone at all, try renting gear. Here are some places to consider to rent gear for your first backpacking experience. 

When you borrow/rent, the gear won't feel just right or as comfortable and light as you'd like. That's normal since you won't even know what you like the first time around. Just pick one and go for it. It doesn't have to be the "right one." You'll learn what you like and don't like on the trip and those lessons are valuable. It's a 100% learning trip, so keep that in mind.

Go on your first trip, enjoy it, learn, and then decide if you want to go again. You might catch the backpacking bug (no pun intended). If you're not sure if it was your thing, borrow gear again and try it out a second time. Apply what you learned. You'll know when it's time to start purchasing gear when you find yourself wanting to go back again and again. (And how to purchase gear is a whole other blog post!)

Any questions? Know any other gear rental resources you'd recommend? 

Lighten Your Load / Repackaging your products

It's all those little things, those micro moments, micro seconds, micro bottles, that really matter in life. ;-P That's why you should repackage what you can.

Case in point
On the left, I have a bottle of REI's travel sized sunblock. I bought this years ago and have refilled it for my backpacking trips. It weighs 2.2 oz (for a bottle half full) and even that amount is plenty to last me a few trips. Way to go Liz! 

But wait, what's that on the right weighing only 0.6oz?
It's sunblock, repackaged into a tiny container with just what I need plus extra. In fact, it was more than I needed! The awesome thing about repackaging the sunblock was that it's more likely to fit inside the waist belt pocket of your pack (assuming you have one), which means you're more likely to apply it at the frequency you need.

Let's look at another example. 
I reused an old micro bottle of hand sanitizer and squirted some castille soap in there to use as toothpaste and anything else I'd need soap for (there isn't much). As small as this bottle is, it was overkill for the amount I needed. I only use 1-2 drops of soap as my toothpaste to avoid over-sudsing. Next time I'll use an even tinier dropper. Can't wait.

Next time you get a tiny bottle, consider saving it and reusing it to repackage for the trail. Doing this will give you such an appreciation for how little we need, and of course, a lighter pack.