When it comes to sleeping bags, and getting a good night’s rest in the backcountry, there’s no shortage of products available on the market. There’s down bags, synthetic bags, hybrid bags, summer bags, winter bags ... the list goes on and on.
As part of our gear team’s preparation for Washington Trails’ summer gear guide (the new May+Jun issue) they were charged with figuring all this out to come away with their top recommendations to help you sleep well while enjoying the outdoors this summer.
Among the bags tested were Therm-a-Rest’s new integrated down sleeping bags, the Antares and Altair. Both bags feature the SynergyLink Connector that lets you connect the bag to your sleeping pad to ensure a comfortable night’s sleep without slipping off your pad. They also feature zoned insulation and a smart design that keeps heat in while allowing freedom of movement within. And the highly compressible 750-fill down insulation keeps pack weight to a minimum.
Find out how we put the new bags to the test—and we're giving you a chance to win one of your own!
Testing on a soggy Olympic Coast and through Cascade snowstorms
Our team accepted the challenge and wasn’t gentle in their testing, having to do so through the cold and soggy months of winter and early spring—from biting winds and rain on the Olympic Coast, to snowstorms in the Cascades and Issaquah Alps. They tested for packability, durability, comfort and, most importantly, the ability to stay warm. In the end, these new Therm-a-Rest bags passed the test and came away highly recommended.
Here’s what our testers had to say:
“I tend to toss and turn, getting twisted and claustrophobic in most sleeping bags. In the Therm-a-Rest Antares I was able to comfortably move inside the sleeping bag while it stayed in place secured to my sleeping pad.” — Jaime Hale
“Zipped into the Therm-a-Rest Altair in a blizzard at 4,500 feet, it was the most comfortable experience I've spent in the wilderness in a long time. From the moment I cinched down the hood the bag trapped my body heat and kept me warm.” — John Soltys
Win a bag! Share your tip for a great night's rest in the backcountry
Just like WT’s gear team, you can experience a great night’s rest in your own favorite wilderness destination too. Thanks to Therm-a-Rest, we have some of these bags to give away!
Three lucky winners will be chosen from all entrants in our Great Night’s Rest Contest to receive a brand new Therm-a-Rest© Antares™ 3-season down sleeping bag and a NeoAir™ All-Season Mattress.
This year, WTA's trail maintenance program celebrates its 20th anniversary! We'll be celebrating all year long with articles, features, history and fun facts in both Washington Trails magazine and on wta.org. To kick off the anniversary, we're in need of a logo to put on posters and promotions. And in the spirit of the trail maintenance program itself, we're turning to our faithful volunteers—that's you!
And because we appreciate our volunteers, the creator of the winning logo will get to choose between a $100 REI gift card or a Kelty Grand Mesa 2 Backpacking Tent*!
Build Our Logo!
Logo designs should reflect the spirit and purpose of WTA's trail maintenance program, and represent WTA as a leader in foot-powered outdoor recreation and trail and environmental advocacy in Washington state and the greater Northwest. The main "message" or theme of the logo should indicate the 20th anniversary of the trail maintenance program. Logos should also:
- Include "20" or "20th Anniversary," "Washington Trails Association" or "WTA," and "Trail Maintenance."
- Utilize natural and rugged, yet clean, use of elements, styles and colors.
- Not be overly flashy or complex in design, but convey a clear, concise "message."
- Can include iconic graphics representing trail maintenance, i.e. hard hats, trail tools, etc.
- Have the ability to be used in both full color (RGB/CMYK) and black & white.
- Created in editable, scalable vector art using Adobe Photoshop and/or Illustrator (AI, EPS, PSD).
Win a Prize!
The deadline for entry is February 6, 2013. Submit your logo designs to email@example.com, along with your name, address and telephone number.
All design entries will be entered for consideration. The winning design will be selected on or about February 8, 2013, in time to be included in the March-April Washington Trails magazine. The winning designer will be notified shortly thereafter, and have their choice of a $100 REI Gift Card or a Kelty Grand Mesa 2 Backpacking Tent.*
Don't delay! The celebration begins next month, and we want you to be part of it. If you have any questions, would like additional information, or are interested in additional creative volunteer opportunities with WTA, please contact communications director Susan Elderkin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*The Kelty Grand Mesa 2 Backpacking Tent offered has been previously used by the Washington Trails gear team. It is complete, and still in like-new condition.
"[Balog's] hauntingly beautiful videos compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breathtaking rate."
I love movies. If I'm not out hiking, or writing about hiking, or photographing hiking, or putting together a magazine about hiking, I'm usually catching up on the latest features on the silver screen—everything from the blockbusters at the multiplex to the indies at the local art house. (My favorites are the theater-pubs!)
I recently caught the trailer for a new movie titled Chasing Ice. The film tells the story of National Geographic photographer James Balog and his efforts to capture evidence of global warming by photographing the shrinking glaciers and icefields of the arctic over a period of three years. Through the use of high-tech time-lapse photography, Balog and crew were able to witness a very real, and very sobering, environmental epidemic. I was immediately captivated by the amazing imagery in the film—and this is just from the 2-minute trailer! (See the trailer below.)
The topic brought home to me the very real condition that is global warming. On recent trips to both North Cascades and Glacier national parks, rangers have commented that in 20–30 years, there may not be any more glaciers left in these places. That's a disturbing premise. It's these immense sheets of ice that are responsible for carving and sculpting these magnificent landscapes, and lend themselves to these places' beauty and admiration.
Winner of more than 20 international film awards, Chasing Ice offers undisputed evidence that our planet is changing—and what we can do about it. Look for Chasing Ice in the Seattle and Portland areas starting November 16.
Watch the trailer
The year-end issue of Washington Trails is just around the corner, and this one's a doozy! We're wrapping up 2012 with a recap of some of this year's big trail projects, a look at the planned cleanup efforts of North Cascades' Monte Cristo Mine, a spotlight on gear companies right here in the Northwest and our year-end gear gift guide.
To top all that off, we're also presenting the results of our readers' choice survey in a 24-page mega-feature that will knock your Thorlos off! You won't want to miss this one. Here's some highlights:
Readers' choice: best hiking destinations and trails
This past summer, we surveyed the Washington Trails audience to find out what they considered to be the best hiking destinations and trails throughout the state—everything from national park hikes to berry-picking trails.
You name, we got it. Wildflowers, waterfalls, wildlife, coast trails and more throughout the Olympics, Cascades and beyond. One particular hiking destination was the runaway favorite, nabbing top spots in four categories!
We also found out about your hiking faves not just in mileage and scenery, but where you're going for post-hike chow and what you're reading to get inspired. You can see it all in Washington Trails' 2012 readers' choice issue.
Trail maintenance spotlight
In 2012, WTA worked on 170 trails throughout the state—from Beacon Rock and Coyote Wall in the Columbia Gorge to the Duckabush and Humptulips on the Olympic Peninsula; from Mount Rainier's to the Colville's Sullivan Lake; and just about everywhere you can imagine along the I-90 corridor.
Don't miss it. Join by Oct. 31
In this issue, check out some spotlights on a few featured trail projects, and the amazing volunteers who spend their time maintaining the trails for all to enjoy.
Northwest gear: a guide to go local
There are gads of outdoor gear companies based right here in the Northwest. Some you're probably familiar with, many more will probably surprise you. From retailers, to footwear and apparel brands, to multi-use gear providers, you could outfit your entire hiking ensemble with just "local" items. Many of them are even manufactured right here in the Northwest.
We spotlight nine local companies that not only produce outdoor equipment, but are also engaged in outdoor stewardship, community programs and local sponsorship.
Smart shopping: holiday gift guide
The holiday season approaches ... along with packed parking lots and long checkout lines. Washington Trails has you covered with this year's holiday gear gift guide.
We've selected nearly 50 hot new gear items that will please any hiker on your shopping list—from footwear, apparel and electronic items to tents, packs, accessories and all the essentials. We've got ideas for everyone, including the hiking kids and pups on your list.
The easy part: all of these items will be on wta.org with direct links to purchase through your favorite retailers. And, every purchase made will support WTA's work with a percentage going directly back to trails.
Looking to replace some gear as the season's drawing to a close? Still got some dividend you need to spend up before the next one comes in? Or how about just getting a jump on some holiday shopping? By shopping at REI online through the end of September, you'll be helping Washington's trails with a portion of your purchase, so we've gathered up a list of top trail-tested items that will be sure to please any hiker.
Hyperlight Stove packs a punch
Cut weight in your backpack without cutting performance with MSR's Micro Rocket Stove. This tiny, 2.6-oz. canister stove folds up small enough to fit in the smallest corner of your pack, but light it up and it'll have your noodle water boiling in no time flat. With no priming or pressurizing, just light it up with the included Piezo Igniter and you're set. When you're done, pack it up in its own storage case. A Washington Trails Editor's Pick! $60
Layer up for fall and winter
Cooler temps are coming (believe it or not), so to get the most out of our trails before the rains come back its time to start adding layers. The recently reviewed Patagonia Capilene 3 Zip-T Shirt offers ample warmth on those chilly days. Constructed of Polartec PowerDry, and treated with Gladiodor odor-control, the Zip-T will keep you dry and feeling fresh, even after those long days on trail. Available for both men and women. $59
Time for new treads
Did you put more miles on your boots than you did your car this season, and you see more duct tape than leather? It might be time for some new boots. Slip into a pair of the newly redesigned Vasque Breeze Boots and get back on the trail. You'll be thankful for the seam-sealed Gore-Tex lining as we enter the wet time of year again, and the DryTech footbeds that help keep your feet dry and fresh. Add to that a Vibram Contact sole and you're ready to tackle any terrain. Now on sale! $112
Get some good ZZZZs
Was it a long season of waking up with a sore back, on a mattress with enough patches to qualify as Swiss? Then treat yourself to a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All-Season Pad. Selected as an Editor's Choice by both Washington Trails and Backpacker, this 2.5-inch thick, 4.9 R-value pad offers luxurious sleeping on the coldest of backcountry nights. And the rugged, 75-D construction doesn't add weight, keeping it light and compact enough to stash in the smallest of overnight packs. $139+
Home away from home
You've heard about it, you've seen it, you might even have one of your own already. It's a classic that just keeps getting better every year—the REI Half Dome Tent. With two doors, stash pockets, air vents, large vestibules and ample leg- and headroom, the Half Dome is a portable backcountry (or front country) comfort cabin, ready to go anywhere you are. DAC Featherlite poles and welded construction help keep the weight down, and the price makes this award-winning tent a no-brainer. $189
Last week, I began my highlights of this year's Outdoor Retailer Summer Marketplace with the new BioLite CampStove, new tents and apparel from Mountain Hardwear and Sierra Designs, and new footwear from Scarpa, Vasque and La Sportiva.
That was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. I would need an entire week's worth of blog posts to review all of the new and amazing items coming for hikers and backpackers later this year and into next. Look to the pages of Washington Trails for more reviews on these and many more items in coming issues.
To wrap up this year's coverage, here's a selection of a few more stand-out products that will be coming to your favorite outdoor retailer soon.
Magnets replace zippers on new Big Agnes tent
I'm a big fan of Big Agnes tents—lightweight, roomy, freestanding and durable. I have two—a 1P for my solo outings and a 2P for when I have company.
This year, Big Agnes is taking it up a notch with two new models: the hyperlight Fly Creek Platinum 2P and the zipperless Fish Hook SL2. The upgraded Fly Creek is a new, all-mesh design that weighs in at a scant 1 lb. 13 oz.—ideal for fast-packing without having to resort to a bivy or tarp.
The new Fish Hook model, selected as Outside magazine's "Gear of the Show," falls into the ultralight category at a mere 3.5 lbs. and employs tiny magnets instead of zippers, for quick in-and-out and less hassle with zipper repairs in the field. Washington Trails magazine will be putting this one to the test.
Big Agnes is also rolling out a line of DownTek Sleeping Bags. These water-repellant models will be right at home here in the NW, letting us enjoy cozy down insulation with our often-inclement weather.
Packs: Gregory's new system, more from Deuter, Futura
You might think that you can't do much to improve a backpack—open compartment, stuff in gear, go.
Gregory is now making it easier than ever with the new Contour and Cairn Backpacks (pictured) featuring the new TrailSmart Pack System. This new design helps you load your pack perfectly every time to get your gear weight distributed properly, and keeps all the essentials accessible.
They're not forgetting the kids either, introducing the Wander Backpack. This new model features an adjustable torso, allowing the pack to grow with your kids.
A personal favorite, Deuter continues their line of feature-packed ACT Lite and ACT Zero Backpacks, and expands their offerings with the Futura Backpacks, a series of affordable, entry-level packs good for dayhikes and quick overnights.
Therm-a-Rest puts you to sleep (in a good way), Alite cozy camp chairs
When it comes to comfort in the backcountry, it's all relative to how much weight we're willing to carry.
Therm-a-Rest might have just given us good reason to add a couple pounds to our packs on weekend outings with the new Luxury Light UL Cot (pictured). This full-length cot raises you just off the ground to help you avoid those bumps and lumps that keep you tossing in the night; throw a NeoAir Mattress on that for the ultimate in wilderness dreamtime. The real kicker is that broken down, the UL Cot compacts into a sack not much larger than your Nalgene bottle!
If your idea of camp comfort is a cozy chair to plop into at the end of a long trail day, the new company Alite has you covered. With three designs, Monarch, Mayfly and Mantis, these ultralight, ultra-compact camp chairs will let you recline and enjoy those trail downtimes.
Rab shells continue to impress
Recent newcomer to the American market, UK-based Rab has impressed with everything that the Washington Trails gear team has sampled—and it looks as though that will continue into next year.
The item I'm most excited about is the new Rab Myriad Soft Shell (pictured), incorporating Polartec NeoShell technology. This lightweight, technical shell will be perfect for the NW's temperamental seasons with the NeoShell's water-repellant, breathable membrane, while offering enough stretch for full-range motion and a cut to accommodate heavy baselayers. Look for Washington Trail's more in-depth review of this amazing jacket later in the year.
So whether you're in the market to replace or upgrade some gear, or just like to see what's new and exciting, these have been but a handful of highlights from this year's Outdoor Retailer Summer Marketplace.
Full disclosure: Gregory and Therm-a-Rest are both sponsors of WTA's 2012 Hike-a-Thon.
Every summer, the outdoor industry invades Salt Lake City, Utah for the Outdoor Retailer Summer Marketplace. This is the event where every outdoor brand under the sun—sweltering in the Southwest summer—gathers to show off their latest and greatest, and preview their up-and-coming. You won't find an empty hotel room for miles, as buyers, media reps and exhibitors converge from around the world in this Western Rockies town. I got to spend a few days roaming the Salt Palace Convention Center at this year's event.
As always, the gear displays and offerings are impressive, showing off more gear than you could ever hope to use in ten hiking seasons. There were lots of new technologies being introduced, classics updated, and plenty of new items on the horizon for next year—just in time for when your next REI dividend comes in the mail.
Best in Show: BioLite CampStove
One of the items that stole the show, both for me and several other outdoor publications, including GearJunkie.com's Best-in-Show award, was the BioLite CampStove.
This remarkable new backpacking stove requires no fuel, but burns on organic material you collect around your camp—dry twigs, pinecones, etc. Add to that, the fan element that drives the high-efficiency burner (thus recharging itself) also houses a USB port that lets you recharge your smartphone, GPS or other electronic device. Broken down for transport, it's extra-compact. The WT gear team will be doing extensive field testing on this item in the coming months, so look for our reviews soon.
Mountain Hardwear's Latest: Made for the Northwest
I'm a big fan of Mountain Hardwear's gear—durable and dependable. Next spring, Mountain Hardwear will be introducing a variety of new items, including a selection of tents seemingly made just for the Northwest—the Mountain Hardwear DryPitch line. This new design will be available in both the SkyLedge and LightWedge models and let the user fast-pitch the fly of the tent when the weather suddenly goes south, helping keep you and your gear dry.
In the apparel department, the new Plasmic Jacket (pictured) will be an affordable rain shell incorporating their new DryQ Evap technology, and a selection of new clothing will feature Mountain Hardwear's new CoolQ Zero technology, which actually helps keep you cool on sweaty hikes or trail runs—something I've already sampled on a sweltering backpack in Oregon's Eagle Cap Wilderness and it is awesome!
Sierra Designs Tent Preview
Another knockout presentation at the show was Sierra Designs. For those of you with an easy $1,800 to burn and have to have the ultimate in hyperlight gear, you'll want the Sierra Designs Mojo UFO Tent (pictured). This one-piece ExoFusion tent is made of a water-repellant cuben fiber material and weighs in a a ridiculous 1 lb., 11 oz. for the 2P model!
For the rest of us, their new Flash Tent series comes in 2P, 3P, and 4P sizes, and is constructed with the same ExoFusion design at a more affordable price range. For keeping warm, the new Sierra Designs Cloud Layer System is a 3-piece system that employs a warming midlayer, a lightweight DryDown Puffy (perfect for the wet NW!) and an ultralight 4 oz. rain shell. Look for these items next spring.
Best in Boots and Trail Runners
If you've worn through your boots this year and will be in the market for next season, there are plenty of brands to help get your feet back on the trail. For a winter trails boot, the new Vasque Snow Junkie will keep your feet toasty warm with a comfy fleece lining and an UltraDry waterproof upper.
The La Sportiva Omega is a heavy-duty backpacking boot without the weight you would expect from such a durable boot. Top that off with a Gore-Tex Italian leather upper and Vibram sole and these boots will take you up any trail.
For fast-movers, you should check out the Scarpa Spark Runner (pictured). Winner of "Best Debut" in Runner's World magazine, these ultralight trail runners feature a compression-molded EVA midsole with a minimal 6mm drop and a tread that will hold up to our often wet and slick trail conditions.
More from Big Agnes, Therm-a-Rest, Deuter, Gregory and Rab
Stay tuned to Signpost Blog next week for part two of my OR wrap-up with reviews on new tents and sleeping systems from Big Agnes, an ultralight backpacking cot from Therm-a-Rest, some great new packs from Deuter and Gregory, an amazing Rab jacket that incorporates Polartec NeoShell technology, and more!
Full disclosure: Gregory and Therm-a-Rest are both sponsors of WTA's 2012 Hike-a-Thon.
There's still time for you to make your selections in Washington Trails' Reader's Choice Survey—and get your entry in to win our Kelty Grand Mesa 2 backpacking tent!
Washington Trails is conducting its first Reader's Choice Survey. Here's your chance to chime in on all that's great and wonderful about hiking and backpacking in Washington state, from the best dayhiking destinations and the prettiest waterfall hikes, to your favorite wildlife sightings and the tastiest post-hike chow. We're compiling everyone's selections, and we'll showcase the results in the Nov+Dec issue of Washington Trails!
What's more, your participation in the Reader's Choice Survey will help us determine what we want to feature in the pages of Washington Trails next year. Maybe you'd like more Mount Rainier hikes, or more nature stories, or more helpful how-to tips. Here is your opportunity to let us know what you want to see in Washington Trails—after all, this is your magazine!
Finally, you have a chance to win something! That's right, we'll be drawing a lucky winner from all survey respondents for a Kelty Grand Mesa 2 backpacking tent. This lightweight, freestanding tent features taped seams, DAC poles, internal pockets and a large entry door—and has been approved by the Washington Trails gear team.
So make sure your choices get counted—take Washington Trails' Reader's Choice Survey today. For just a few minutes of your time, you can participate in an issue of Washington Trails—and maybe win a new tent!
I love guidebooks. As much hiking information is available at my fingertips on the Web—including gobs on WTA's own site—I still like to sit down at a table with a stack of guidebook and maps and plan my wilderness outings.
My own collection of guidebooks, covering much of the western U.S. and Canada, would rival any showcase at the local REI or outdoor retailer. Recently I've had the opportunity to add some classic, new and updated guidebooks to my collection—guidebooks that can also help you plan your next trail adventure.
For Seattlites, Falcon Guide's Best Hikes Near Seattle, by Peter Stekel, is just what you need to get out on a quick trail outing without a long drive. This full-color guidebook features more than 40 hikes, from easy jaunts to serious leg burners, and includes both urban options and nearby wilderness areas—Skykomish, Issaquah Alps, Snoqualmie and more. Chock-full of trail info, I really like the big topo maps and inclusion of GPS data. Gorgeous photos encourage readers to get outdoors and see these areas for themselves. This guide should be a no-brainer for all Seattle-area hikers. Get Best Hikes Near Seattle.
New last year, The Mountaineers Books' Backpacking Washington, by Craig Romano, is my go-to guidebook for overnight trips in Washington. Crammed full of 70 overnight trips across the state—from the Olympics to the Gorge, and the Cascades to the Kettles—this handy pocket guide highlights the biggest and best. Each hike includes trail beta, detailed directions to trailheads and vital info and tips for enjoying a riotous good time in some of Washington's deep and remote wilderness areas. The only problem with this book is not being able to hike them all fast enough! Get Backpacking Washington.
Coming next month, be on the lookout for Tami Asars' new Hiking the Wonderland Trail, by The Mountaineers Books. This is THE book for Wonderland hikers, whether planning a day trip, weekend or the full circuit. This beautiful guide is full of all the details every hiker needs to know about every inch of the famous 93-mile loop around Mount Rainier, including permits, camping, food caching and storage, weather, conditioning and suggestions for planning your own itinerary. I'll be using this guide to plan my own Wonderland circuit; I think that's scheduled for 2014. Preorder Hiking the Wonderland Trail.
You've likely heard me mention my love of California's Sierras, and for those of you heading for higher, drier climes in the country's third-most popular national park, you'll want to take along Wilderness Press' new 50 Best Short Hikes: Yosemite National Park, by Elizabeth Wenk. This easy-to-read guidebook covers the entire park, dividing hikes into smart categories like classics, historical, family-friendly and, my favorite, walks on granite slabs. See the best that Yosemite's amazing scenery has to offer—and see it at the best times to avoid the masses and truly enjoy your experience. Get 50 Best Short Hikes: Yosemite National Park.
So if you're a guidebook junkie like me, and plan to get in some serious trail time this summer, add any one of these volumes to your own library, and start planning your own wilderness experience.
See you on the trails!
Whether you're new to geocaching or a total pro, we've got a way to go geocaching with Washington Trails Association the next time you hit the trail. Find out how to win a geocaching starter kit or how to play our virtual geo-hunt (and collect new geocoins).
Voice of an Expert Geocacher/Hiker
Did you catch Abby Wolfe's feature story on geocaching in the recent issue of Washington Trails magazine?
President of the Washington State Geocaching Association, Abby shares the history of geocaching, its roots right here in the Northwest, and how responsible geocaching makes for a fun family activity and can add treasure-hunting adventure to your hiking outings. And there's also an informative quiz to test your geocaching knowledge, and brush up on geocaching trivia. Check out the full article and quiz.
Win a Geocaching Starter Kit!
Attention Muggles! If you're ready to give geocaching a try, we're ready to help you get started. Washington Trails has three geocaching starter kits to give away. Each kit contains a copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Geocaching (the official guide by geocaching.com), a travel bug, a geocoin and a fun treasure trinket. And you no longer need an expensive GPS unit to enjoy geocaching, as now a variety of smartphone apps offer GPS and geocaching capabilities. Just send an email to email@example.com with the subject line "I want to go geocaching!" Be sure to include your name and street address in your email. Next month we'll draw three random winners so you can get out hunting this summer. Get yours in today!
Go on a Virtual Geo-Hunt
Are you an experienced geocacher, or up for a bigger challenge? Join the Washington Trails virtual geo-hunt this month. Over the next few weeks, we'll be posting the coordinates of five great trails throughout Washington state—all with great geocaches to be discovered. The first set of coordinates will be posted in the July issue of Trail News, WTA's free e-newsletter (not subscribed? sign up here); the following sets of coordinates will go up on WTA's Facebook page. Collect the names and/or locations of all five trails and you can win a brand new geocoin!
For more information on both the geocaching intro kit giveaway and the virtual geo-hunt, rules for entry, contest deadlines, and answers for the geocaching quiz, visit wta.org/geocache. Prizes are offered courtesy of Groundspeak.com and Gear Aid.