Family secrets. Romance. Nazis. What else could one ask for in a sweeping, epic novel set in France?
[For the record, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah has nothing to do with Florence Nightingale, the famous nurse who basically invented modern nursing — just in case you're as goofy as I am.] It's the story of two sisters during World War II France who, while struggling with the death of their mother and the abandonment of their father, join the French resistance. It's an often brutal novel that explores themes of family obligation, patriotism, courage and redemption along the way.
I'm a bit of a World War II buff. My paternal grandfather fought in Germany as an artillery man, and my maternal grandfather drove skiff boats in the Pacific. I've seen the movies, read a lot of books and watched the miniseries. I know a lot about World War II.
[SPOILER ALERT — also, affiliate link alert. If you click on some of the links in this post, your purchase will go towards supporting Outdoor Book Club (which we're deeply grateful for).]
Except it turns out I didn't really know much about one really important aspect of the war — the German occupation of France. Before I read The Nightingale, the most I knew about the French in WWII was a particularly memorable line from The Simpson's. After reading this book, I feel like I know not only how the war affected French people as a whole, but specifically how it affected the women who were left behind when the men left to fight (and eventually got captured and thrown in prison camps).
Why I liked the book
As much as I complain about not having enough time to read long, sweeping historical novels, I love me an epic tale. This book had a lot going for it: Romance, intrigue, spies, Nazis and sassy women. I liked a lot of the complicated nature of many of the male characters as well.
It's worth mentioning that a lot of other reviewers on Goodreads and Amazon said they cried at this book — personally I'm not a big crier, but this did manage to tug at my heartstrings more than normal.
I found it fascinating how the author portrayed the lives of these French women: how they fought to survive without their men, what they did to try and save others who were less fortunate, how they
compromised in order to make things easier for their children. Reading this book, I asked myself the same question over and over again: what would I do in the same situation? Which of course makes it a great pick for book clubs.
There's also a nice little twist that runs through the story — I won't give it away, but I thought it was well-executed. These days it can be hard to really pull of plot twists well (we're all so jaded), but Hannah manages to do it in The Nightingale.
What I didn't like
There weren't a lot of cons to this book. I sometimes wished the author had added the same level of complexity to the female protagonists as she did to some of the male characters (especially to the younger sister, who I felt often came across as a sort of cartoon-character tomboy). The writing overall flowed, though several members of my book club couldn't help compare the writing to All the Light We Cannot See, another book set during WWII, and found it lacking (though they did admit the writing in the latter was superb and would be hard for anyone to beat).
The Nightingale manages to combine family dynamics, history, romance and tragedy in a way that feels deeply meaningful yet is still a page-turning thriller (at parts). It offers plenty of thorny issues to discuss and reflect on as a book discussion pick, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone looking for a solid, emotional novel that centers around family, history and hard choices.
Did you read the book? I'm interested to know what you thought. Leave your comments about The Nightengale in the comments below.
A lightweight tent will protect you from the elements and allow you to get a good night’s sleep. Some hardcore backpackers use a hammock made especially for sleeping (something I've been meaning to try for awhile now), or a few hardcore backpackers prefer basically a tarp or what’s called a bivvy sack.
If you’re new to backpacking, I suggest borrowing or renting a tent to gauge your preferences before you shell out the money for a new tent. Or, if you’re just going out for a night or two to see if you even like backpacking, just bring whatever you’ve already got.
What to look for
When you are ready to purchase a tent, it’s helpful to keep two things in mind: The weather and your priorities (i.e. size, weight and cost). Other factors might include how easy it is to set up, and possibly any bells and whistles you might want (tent lights, anyone?).
For purely weight reasons, you’ll want a tent that is specific to backpacking — they are lighter than regular "car camping" tents and come in sizes based on the number of people they can hold. Manufacturers tend to name their tents with a number (i.e. the Nemo Kunai 2P or the Alps Zephr 3).
Personally, I use a Eureka! Solitaire when I’m backpacking by myself or an ALPS Mountaineering Meramac 3 when I’m sharing a tent with someone else.
*Important: With a backpacking tent usually you can count on the tent holding only as many people as it says — often the manufacturers don’t leave room for gear. Thus the reason I have a three person tent is so that me, my husband and our gear (and often a dog) can sleep comfortably within its walls.
It's best to try out the tent in person by visiting stores that physically have the tents you’re interested in buying. That being said, both of my tents I bought sight unseen from the internet, but since the reviews were so good, I figured I was pretty safe from a regrettable purchase.
How much should it weigh?
A good rule of thumb is to keep the weight to less than three pounds per person — and anything less than that is fantastic, though keep in mind that your lower-weight tents are going to be noticeably less roomy. With a solo tent, it’s good to keep the weight to 2-3 pounds. Two people tents are usually around 3-5 pounds (but can go as high as 6 and as low a 1 pound).
How much should I pay?
You can get away with paying around $100 for a good two-person tent, or upwards of $2,000 (it turns out that roughing it is an expensive hobby). The bigger the pricetag, the lower the weight and the more bells and whistles the tent will have (generally speaking).
How tough should my tent be?
Most backpackers, especially those who only go once or twice a year, only need a three season tent which will be sufficient keep you warm and dry from spring until fall. Of course there are various options depending on the climate where you’re traveling — for instance, it’s nice to have a rainfly you can remove to look up at the stars if you’re camping someplace dry.
NOTE: Some people think they need to waterproof their new tent with special sprays — be forewarned, it’s not necessary and may even damage your tent. In order to keep you dry, your tent needs to have some breathability, otherwise the condensation gets trapped inside and that equals misery. Some people like to waterproof the seams of their tents, especially if the tent is getting worn, but for most new tents it’s not necessary.
Do I need a footprint?
A footprint is a ground cloth that’s custom cut to the size of your tent. It’s supposed to protect your floor from rips and tears. My personal opinion? Leave ‘em at home. They just add extra weight, and most tents are plenty durable if you pick the right spot to set them up.
TIP: ALWAYS PRACTICE SETTING UP YOUR TENT AT HOME BEFORE YOU HEAD OUT. Even if you’ve had the tent for awhile and used it several times, make sure you set it up, air it out and check to see if there are any holes or missing tent poles or stakes. I once went out on a three day backpacking trip missing a tent pole, and it poured rain. It worked just well enough to keep me basically dry, but I was pretty much pinned to the ground the entire night, and I had to closely watch the roof so that the water didn’t pool too much.
How to pack your tent in your backpack
It's likely that your tent is going to be, from a volume standpoint, one of the biggest items in your pack. Every backpack is different, and you'll have to do some experimenting to find out all the different pockets, straps and options you have with your pack, but basically you have two options as to where you can store your tent: either inside or outside your pack.
If you place it outside your pack, you'll have easy access to it in case of bad weather, but you'll also leave it open to snags and tears (this is rare, but it does happen). If you do have room in your backpack, you can compress the tent as much as possible — a lot of people use stuff sacks to protect and help compress the tent down, which can really help make more room in your pack for things like food — and then place it near the middle of the pack. Try to place it where it will be closer to your body, where it's more firm and closer to your center of mass. You can either roll up the fly and footprint (if you have them) inside your tent, or store them separately outside.
Strap your tent poles to the outside, either vertically near your water bottle or horizontally at the top or bottom of your pack. This will keep them from puncturing your tent or sleeping bag.
How to find the best spot to pitch your tent
Other tent tips:
If you choose well, your tent will serve you well for many years, and you'll come to have a certain affection for it. It kept you dry, was your home base for some exciting adventures. What other tips or questions do you have for tent buying? Leave them in the comments and we'll do our best to answer them.
Recently while driving my son to school we were listening to the podcast version of NPR's TED Radio hour. If you haven't yet listened to this show, I highly recommend it. They take 2-4 TED talks and condense them into an hour with a theme, like "7 Deadly Sins" and "Animals & Us," and delve deeper with the presenters during interviews. It's one of the most fascinating, educational and entertaining hours of my week. You should check it out.
The talk we were listening to was called "The Fountain of Youth," and the first TED Talk was Dan Buettner's How to Live to be 100. I'd highly recommend listening to the talk, but here's the gist: there are seven areas of the world where, on average, people live longer. Buettner calls these areas "Blue Zones."
What I found most interesting about Buettner's talk was the list of things that all seven of these areas have in common — basic lifestyle choices that make life better and increase longevity for the people who live there. Their lifestyles almost always include:
What struck me the most was that all these lifestyle elements are embodied by book-loving outdoorswomen. We move our bodies in ways that feel both purposeful and natural. Reading allows us to have a purpose and reduce stress. Often on our outings we celebrate the end of a hike with wine (and our potlucks are a smorgasboard of healthy, vegetarian meals). And of course we are a community, a tribe of like-minded women who support and encourage each other.
Another reason I was so struck by this talk was because I just recently conducted a survey of women that asked them about how much fun they have in their lives (a subjective term, I realize, but I decided everyone can define fun and play in whatever ways they like).
The results were incredibly depressing.
So many of these women said that they don't have time to get outside, try new things or hang out with their girlfriends. Almost as many said that even when they do make time, they feel guilty for doing so. Why? Why do we feel the need to deprive ourselves for others' sake, especially when it's clear that others don't ask us to do it? What is it about playing the martyr that keeps us from living a longer, more meaningful life?
If you're a woman who can relate to feeling like you don't have the time to move your body, connect with other women and basically just live a more balanced life, I'd encourage you to create your own "blue zone." Find ways to move naturally. Create a purpose in your life — maybe that's being part of a larger community. Have a drink with friends over a vegetarian meal.
When I was in the Army, we used to make a joke whenever someone wanted to stop doing a job they hated: "Hey, Johnson, tell your first sergeant I said to take the day off." (Obviously first sergeants as a rule don't give a damn about who lesser-ranking soldiers think deserve a day off.)
Hey lady: tell that tired, guilt-ridden voice in your head I said to take the day off. Ignore your inner first sergeant and make a conscious decision to create your own personal blue zone: Stop doing things that will shorten your life and make it misreable, and start making time for the things that will enable you to enjoy a long, meaningful life filled with friends, movement and being outdoors.
Guys. What are you going to do with them? You want them to be safe, but maybe they aren't quite prepared for the worst. The women of Outdoor Book Club want to make sure our favorite fellas are safe when they're out wandering around the great outdoors. Here's a list of tips you can give your boyfriend/husband/life partner/favorite dude in case he gets lost in the woods, and can't find his way home:
Before he leaves
Make sure he tells someone where he'll be
I get it — your guy doesn't want to look incompetent, and so rather than bother someone with a text or phone call, he'll just head out and not annoy anyone with his personal safety. But if he doesn't do this one very important thing, your boyfriend's chances of being safely rescued in an emergency are significantly diminished.
Not to mention that he'll have to deal with your annoyance and I-told-you-so looks after the search and rescue team drops him back off at your house.
Have him do his research
Your guy needs to know beforehand exactly where he's going, how long he'll be there and what potential hazards exist. Besides studying the area and his routes before he leaves, he MUST bring a hard copy map with him as well. Having a phone with GPS is handy, but phones run out of battery, especially when he's taking selfies out in the woods (all the while his phone is constantly searching for a signal that's not there). A paper map could be the difference between him spending a little extra time on the trail than he had planned, and you calling out a full search and rescue team to go find him.
Food: before & during
Have him eat a healthy, filling meal before he goes out into the wilderness, and have him pack emergency energy bars or trail mix in his fanny pack (he's got a fanny pack, right?). No "light" rice crackers or other low-calorie meals to help him keep his waist trim; this is the wilderness, he'll need as much fuel as possible if he gets lost!
Assemble an emergency pack for him
Speaking of emergency pack, there are a few other things he'll need if he gets lost. Now he may find a fire steel, space blanket, water purifying tablets, signaling mirrors, a first kit and a whistle intimidating, but teach him what these things are and how to use them. Even if he just plans to go out for a couple of hours, he should always bring an emergency survival kit.
Surviving in the woods
If he either ignored your advice or perhaps circumstances beyond his control caused him to really get lost in the woods, there are a few things he can do to 1) help get found and 2) stay relatively comfortable until he does get found.
Assess the situation
Once he figures out he's seriously lost, teach your man to stay put. That will not only increase his chances of being found, but it will conserve his precious energy. If he's with one of his guy friends, THEY SHOULD NOT SPLIT UP. It's likely that someone will come looking for them both, and it's better to find them both at once instead of taking on exponentially more risk by having to search for two lost guys.
Wherever he's decided to hunker down, that will be his "point zero," which he should mark with some clothing, a pile of rocks or anything else easily seen from a distance. He should also figure out the directions: the sun sets in the west, rises in the east, etc. If you can teach him how to spot the North Star in the backyard before he gets lost, that would prove invaluable in a lost-in-the-wilderness situation.
Find a good source of water
Your man can survive up to three days without water, but by the end of day two he'll be seriously hurting. Springs are the best sources of water, but those are hard to come by. He should've brought plenty of water with him for the hike, but if not, he should ration it as much as possible. If he runs out, a running stream is his best bet for reducing sediment and harmful bacteria. Other options include having him pack a small bottle of household bleach (empty eye drop bottles work well for this) in his emergency kit and add a few drops to his water bottle, or even filtering the water through a bandana (this won't do anything about bacteria).
But in a life-or-death situation with no water, he may just have to risk the giardia-induced diarhea that will show up a few weeks after he's rescued and drink whatever water is available.
Unless he knows what he's doing (and let's face it, if you're having this talk with him he probably doesn't), it's probably best that your man not eat anything that he doesn't know is safe. He can survive up to three weeks without food, so starvation is less of an issue than dehydration. He may be totally grossed out by the idea, but grasshoppers and grubs can provide protein in dire situations — but he should cook them, because sometimes insects can harbor harmful parasites.
Build a fire
Building a fire is both a skill and an art, and I think it's something that everyone should learn how to do (like swimming). He should gather plenty of firewood, and start the fire before he needs it — like before he panics as the sun sets. This will not only make him feel safe, it will also possibly act as a signal to rescuers. That being said, he should keep it small (big fires take more firewood & are harder to manage), and only build a fire in a place where it's safe to do so.
Find or build a shelter
It's going to likely get cold at night. Hopefully your man brought a sweatshirt, but if not, the woods has lots of options to make shelters. He can find a fallen or leaning tree, and create an A-frame shelter by stacking branches along the side (and insulating with leaves). If it's winter, a snow cave can actually be quite cozy, provided you don't use too much energy building it and exhaust yourself.
With just a little education and a well-stocked emergency bag, your man will do just fine lost in the wilderness. Good thing he's got such an awesome girlfriend/wife/life partner to give him the knowledge he needs to survive!
What skills or tips have you given your man if he gets lost in the woods? Share them in the comments below.
We all know the benefits of staying hydrated. Even better, research shows that moderate alcohol use has its benefits: besides raising your "good" cholesterol and possibly helping you fight off colds, it can improve your libido (but we knew that already) and even help you live longer.
It's possible that who you drink with makes all the difference, and on that note, here are five book characters I'd totally throw one back with if given the chance.
1. Katniss Everdeen (whiskey)
This girl could do shots with the best of them and then turn right around and fire an arrow into a dirt bag's Harley at 100 yards. She might be a little quiet at first, but after a few rounds I'm betting Katniss might really get chatty about what it was really like to save Peeta's butt every time he got in trouble.
2. Stephanie Plum (beer)
A modern-day mix of Nancy Drew and Dirty Harry, this girl has been known to tie one on more than once. Janet Evonavich, the series author once said "If Mickey Spillane wrote Archie and Veronica, Stephanie would be Betty." Although Plum has gotten more stable and responsible as the series has gone on, I still think she'd be a blast at a dive bar up north. I'd just have to be sure she left her gun at home before we headed out drinking.
3. Anna Karenina (vodka)
Because, duh, she's Russian. But also because she'd have some pretty great secrets to spill, and although she might very well be a depressing drunk, sometimes that's what a woman needs when she finds herself torn between two lovers.
4. Elizabeth Bennet (tea, of course)
I'm not always out to get a buzz; there are plenty of afternoons where I love to while away the hours gabbing about books and politics and Orange is the New Black. Tea with Liz would be a blast, and I'm betting I could get some good relationship advice as well.
5. Ramona Quimby (milkshake)
My childhood hero, Ramona had the guts to say "guts" when everyone else was scared. I'd love to take her to Jersey Junction and share a peanut butter banana milkshake and tell her everything was going to be okay. Because Ramona was a lot like me, and I don't feel like I heard that nearly enough growing up. The least I could do is say it to Ramona.
What about you? What book heroine would you like to have drinks with? Leave your dream literary drinking buddy's name in the comments below.
“The world will be saved by the western woman." — Dali Lama
Consider this a manifesto. When I think about the women I know and love, women who are smart, confident and willing to take risks, I think of women who love books and the outdoors. From the depths of my soul I believe that bringing together these three things will save the world.
We build relationships.
When women get together over books and shared adventures, powerful bonds are forged — quickly. We connect deeply and share our passions, challenges and ups and downs. The only way any of us can be successful is with the support of others. Although it’s certainly possibly to build relationships in the woods with men, doing it with just women is different.
We prove that femininity is a strength.
We discover we are the heroines of our own stories while in the woods (or mountains, rivers, meadows, oceans), and we begin to understand how that heroine can show up in other parts of our lives. Whether it's hiking, skiing, climbing, biking or running, women just do things differently than men and it's wonderful to share that in a community of other women. We can celebrate and share our fantastic differences together, and find our own path to strength through the power of shared outdoor experiences.
We foster epic conversations.
There's nothing like solving the world’s biggest problems while hiking together up a big hill or sitting at a bonfire next to a woman you just met (but somehow inherently trust). Whether it’s talking over that idea for a new nonprofit you want to start, hearing new perspectives on a struggle you’re facing, or sharing painful or hilarious stories — no one “gets it” like the women who have fought that mountain/river/trail/rainstorm right next to you.
We embrace risk on our own terms.
Traditionally feminine characteristics like nurturing, care, consideration and patience show up in some really interesting ways on the trail. There’s less competition, less judgment and more willingness to set aside our egos and the outdated stereotypes we have both about ourselves and others. Outdoors and over books, women tend to be less worried about getting to the finish line and more concerned with learning new things and enjoying the journey (and each other’s company) along the way.
We believe that doing something “like a girl” is AWESOME.
Physically, emotionally, and intellectually, we’re climbing, hiking, skiing, camping, paddling and leading “like a girl” — and that’s a beautiful thing. When it’s just women out on the trail having an adventure together, we’re constantly reminded of how strong we are as women, and how doing things “like a girl” means doing it in our own way, on our own terms.
We cultivate leadership.
Outdoor adventures paired with the right book can teach women incredible leadership skills. What better way for women to help each other develop confidence, lateral thinking and world-conquering management skills than hiking a rugged trail together while teasing out the nuances of Cheryl Sandber's Lean In? One of the best ways to mentor a young woman is to invite her on a women-only outdoor adventure. Watch how she’s inspired by being around a group of confident, strong female role models. She’ll come away knowing that she is capable of anything.
We inspire each other.
When we see other women summiting mountains or carrying a 40-pound pack for 23 miles or doing anything we haven’t yet tried, it becomes easier to picture ourselves doing it. Excuses and fear evaporate. Many of us have spent our whole lives admiring men's abilities and accomplishments, but there’s something powerful and relatable about being inspired by the women around you.
We practice inclusiveness.
Young, old, married, divorced, gay, straight, professionals, stay-at-home moms, introverted, extroverted, experienced woodswomen and “girly girls:” On an outdoor adventure, we’re all in this together. Our trips often require a level of teamwork that we don’t get to experience in our regular lives. Working with all women doesn’t mean the bar is lower because it’s “just women” — instead it means that the only bar is how far we’re willing to challenge each other. Everyone has their role to play.
Power is not one size fits all.
Power should be considered a core feminine quality. All-women adventures allows us the unique experience to share in the joint understanding of what it means to be a powerful woman — and then bring those behaviors and mindsets back into our daily lives. What women truly need is to embrace our unique traits as a gender and not always feel the necessity to hide them. It often takes sharing a life-changing experience with a group of women for us to remember how powerful it can be to be female.
We’re laying the foundation for future generations.
We live in a world where outdoor activities are dominated by men — watch a typical ski movie or open a mountain bike magazine and you'll notice the lack of female role models. By pursuing enjoyable and challenging activities with other women, and encouraging each other to climb higher, we can be role models for our daughters, sisters and nieces. We want to foster a future in which our daughters don't feel like outsiders, and where we all (men included) inspire each other to succeed in our chosen pursuits.
When I first came up with the idea of Outdoor Book Club, I had a very specific target audience in mind: women like me: Mid-to-late 30s and 40s, women who, in their younger days, were pretty bad ass. Women who remembered what it was like to be adventurous, to take risks, to know the triumph of getting out of their comfort zones. Women who flirted with men they didn't know, drank drinks with scary sounding names, women who swam naked at night on the beach.
Where have these women gone?
We're sitting on the sidelines of suburban soccer games and our lives. We're waiting for meaning and fulfillment in the carpool lane at the local elementary school. We've grown up (and out) from our adventurous selves. We've started families, got respectable jobs and now spend our days trying to be amazing and thin and beautiful and smart and funny and kind and perfect, all the time.
All that pressure keeps us quiet. It keeps us pinned down to lives where meaning and satisfaction and a sense of purpose is always just out of reach. It makes us small and scared and unwilling to take risks. And scariest of all, that pressure dribbles down and does the same things to our kids.
When did we decide leaving our kids for a weekend would ruin them?
When did a soccer game or a neighbor kid's birthday party come to overrule time spent with other women, bonding, growing, learning from each other? Learning how to take risks, learning how to love the outdoors again, remember what it was like to fail at something hard over and over again, until finally, through hard work and persistence, you succeed?
It's when we quietly started using them as an excuse to play small. It's when we stopped letting them have their own lives, their own secrets, their own existences beyond their mothers.
Your kids do not need you as much as you think they do.
One day they will grow up and move on and not need you any more, and that is kind of AWESOME (sad too, but that's not the point I'm making here). Your kids are on LOAN to you; they have always belonged more to the world than to you. Your most important job is to love them enough to prepare them with the grace and grit they need to thrive in a world that won't give a crap about their insecurities. They will be better people if you're NOT there every second of their lives, cheering them on and making them feel entitled to your (and thus the world's) constant love and attention. How do you think our grandmothers grew up to be the strong, wise, awesome women they are today? Certainly not because their mothers came to every quilting bee, I can tell you that.
You are a grown-ass woman
Which is why I'm not going to patronize you and assume you don't know the difference between taking care of yourself and neglecting your kids. There is a balance, and I trust you to find it. You'll make mistakes, and we all know it's part of the process.
There is so much beauty, so much adventure in you. There is so much about you that I want to know more about — that's great that you love your kids, but what I really want to know about is why you ran away from home that one time in high school, or how you fell in love with a drummer, or what it's like to live with a chronically ill husband. Everyone loves their kids. What I want to know about is your pain, about how I can help, how you want to be better today than you were yesterday. I want to know about who you are at your core. I can't get that while sitting next to you on a folding chair at a band concert; it needs to happen on a ridgeline or next to a surging river or around a campfire under starry skies.
In junior high I was a huge fan of the hair band Motley Crue. They had this song called "Girl Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)" and I think about this song every time a woman tells me she feels guilty for asking her husband or the grandparents to watch her kids while she goes away for the weekend. I want to sing this song to my girlfriends trapped in their minivans, clutching thier ziplock bags filled with sliced oranges:
We could sail away
Or catch a freight train
Or a rocketship into outer space
Nothin' left to do...
Girl, don't go away mad;
Girl, just go away.
I'm telling you point blank: Girl, don't go away mad — at yourself, your husband, your bank account, your boss or whatever it is that's keeping you away from adventure. Girl, just go away — to a rocketship, a hiking trip with your college girlfriends or a writer's retreat across the state line.
When you get back, tell your kids stories. Talk about the struggles you overcame and the people you bonded with. That will be worth a hell of a lot more than the two hours you spent standing in the cold while they ran up and down the field. And how much more relaxed will you be because you've stepped away from your everyday life, you can put all that day-to-day bullshit and anxiety into some perspective?
There will be time for concerts and games and cleaning the house (I'm also looking at you, Ms. No Kids But Chained To My Job). I get emails from older women all the time who want so badly to go on adventures, but their doctors say it's just not a good idea. You think you have time, but you don't. The outdoors is calling you. Find that girl you used to be and bring her to life once again; there's a campfire and a starry sky that have your name written all over them.
One of my favorite trips/workshops to lead is intro to backpacking. I love getting outside with women who are open to trying new things, including getting outside and having an adventure. One of the first questions women always ask is "what should I wear?"
That's a really good question, because bringing the wrong clothes can mean the difference between loving backpacking and hating it. So to save you a lot of misery, I'm hear to tell you exactly what to bring on your backpacking trip.
Rule #1: Cotton is your enemy
Whether it's socks, underwear or jeans, stay away from anything that's 100% cotton (except for maybe your bandana). It holds water (read: sweat) close to your skin, making you feel cold and clammy plus encouraging bacteria growth.
So that means bringing synthetic blends. For me, that usually means bringing one or more of the wicking shirts I've gathered over the years from various 5ks and adventure races. Another good place to look for good backpacking clothes is in your workout clothes drawer. Many yoga pants, capris and even sports shirts are made of good wicking material.
Rule #2: Don't overpack
This is one of the biggest mistakes I see newbies making — bringing way too much, and thus overloading their pack and making it too heavy to carry enjoyably. Check your list, make sure you have everything you need, then leave the extra clothes at home. No one cares if you stink on the trail (in fact, getting dirty is part of the fun).
So without further ado, here's a list of backpacking clothing to bring on your next trip:
Convertible pants — these are pants where you can zip off the bottom third of your pants when the weather gets hot (and zip them back on at night when it gets cool)
Hiking shorts — for those days when you know it's going to be nice and warm.
Wicking t-shirts — You'll be surprised at how quickly these shirts dry out after a rainstorm or even just lots of sweat.
Long-sleeve wicking shirt — This shirt is going to serve a dual purpose: it will keep you warm if the weather is cooler, and it will serve as your sleeping clothes at night.
Fleece — This will keep you warm around the campfire. The good news is there are lots of different kinds of fleeces, with varying degrees of warmth (and packability).
Puffy vest — If you're doing spring, fall or winter camping, bring your whole puffy jacket to make sure you don't get cold, but in the summer months, a puffy vest is perfect. It's generally worth it to pay a little bit more for vests that are more packable.
Synthetic underwear — Underwear is one of the few things that I will risk overpacking. Wearing dirty underwear is not only gross, it's unsanitary, so throw in 1-2 more pairs than what you think you'll need.
Sports bra — How long a woman wears the same bra is a matter of personal preference (and time of year), so I'll let you decide how many you want to bring. The fewer the hooks, the better.
Synthetic socks — Again, pay a little bit more for some good hiking socks to help you avoid blisters and keep your feet dry and warm. A good rule of thumb is to pack 1 pair of socks for every two days you'll be out, but I'll also say that, like underwear, having an extra pair of socks never killed anyone.
Fleece gloves — I like the convertible gloves that allow you to have access to your fingers when you're trying to set up your tent or start a fire. It might be worth paying a little extra for these as well, since it's likely you'll end up using your gloves when breaking down firewood or grabbing a hot pot.
Hiking boots or sturdy shoes — I read recently that most thru-hikers don't wear hiking boots anymore; a good pair of athletic shoes are lighter and dry out faster when they get wet. This probably depends more on what type of hiking you're doing: if you're going to be going uphill or over lots of rocky, ankle-turning terrain, you're probably going to want to go with a good hiking boot. Your local outdoors outfitter will have some good advice as to how to fit & buy hiking boots.
Flip flops — Most newbies don't realize the pure pleasure of peeling off your hiking boots and socks at the end of a long day backpacking, and slipping your toes into a pair of sandals while you prepare your dinner or just sit around relaxing. Your trip will be so much better if your feet get some time to breathe at the end of each day.
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I was a voracious reader as a kid. I'd hide books in textbooks, under the covers, in my bunk at camp. My parents actually had to take my books away from me in order to get me to do my homework, complete chores and even to go to sleep. All that reading about girls who were out there living their lives, having adventures beyond my boring life in the suburbs no doubt influenced the fact that I now make my living reading books and leading women outdoors. So here are seven girls and one boy protagonists who I could not get enough of as a kid.
1. Ramona Quimby
“She was not a slowpoke grownup. She was a girl who could not wait. Life was so interesting she had to find out what happened next.”
Beverly Cleary was the first author I read religiously, and Ramona Quimby, with all her flaws, was the first protagonist I ever saw myself in. We even looked alike, with the same straight brown hair cut chin length, the same skinny legs and arms. I remember being inspired to finally lose my temper by Ramona's declaration of a bad word (spoiler alert: it was "guts") after a lifetime of always trying to be the good girl.
2. Pippi Longstocking
“Don't you worry about me. I'll always come out on top.”
The Queen Goddess of Badassery, Pippi Longstocking had no parents and a horse that lived on her front porch. Author Astrid Lindgren inspired generations of upstart young women with a heroine who was at once both vulnerable and brave, setting the tone for who I wanted to be as a young woman.
3. Harriet the Spy
“Sometimes you have to lie. But to yourself you must always tell the truth.”
While the generation before me was inspired by Nancy Drew, I was a Harriet girl all the way. I even had a notebook that I'd carry around with me, hiding in bushes and behind seats on the school bus, scribbling away at my observations of people (which didn't win me any friends, by the way).
4. Sam Gribley
“I must say this now about that first fire. It was magic. Out of dead tinder and grass and sticks came a live warm light. It cracked and snapped and smoked and filled the woods with brightness. It lighted the trees and made them warm and friendly. It stood tall and bright and held back the night.”
Who among us hasn't dreamed of running away from home and living in the woods? Sam Gribley gets the lone distinction of being the only boy on the list, but he was still a sort of heroine of mine. Written by Jean Craighead George and published 1959, My Side of the Mountain taught me everything I needed to know about courage and independence while also inspiring me to make Dandelion Fritters and feed them to my family (they were not impressed).
5. Julie (from Julie of the Wolves)
"Somewhere in this cosmos was Miyax; and the very life in her body, its spark and warmth, depended upon these wolves for survival. And she was not so sure they would help."
It was not until I started writing this blog post that I realized that My Side of the Mountain and Julie of the Wolves was written by the same author — hooray for Jean Craighead George! Another heroine who survived out in the harsh natural world by herself, Miyax/Julie made friends with wolves and survived on her wits and intelligence. A powerful story of conflict between two identities and two sets of traditions, I loved this story from the very beginning.
6. Becky Thatcher
“Maybe not, maybe not. Cheer up, Becky, and let's go on trying.”
Becky was not just Tom Sawyer's first love; she was mine too. I immediately fell into my first girl crush with this girl's blonde braids and surly attitude. Becky is probably the most "lady-like" of all my inspirational girl heroines, but I loved how she taught Tom that his showing off and his "boy tricks" wouldn't work, and if he wanted to win her, it would have to be with something more serious. I clearly remember wishing that Mark Twain had written a book about Becky, adding depth to her character and giving us more insight into her sheltered life.
“Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it's unbelievable...”
Ronald Dahl's Matilda was magical and loved books — and I wanted nothing more than to be her, Wormwood parents and all. In fact, she's something of a feminist icon for me, as she flat-out rejected her parents' insistence that she be "seen and not heard," or that she was stupid and unworthy. Although I clearly remember wishing Miss Honey would grow a bit more of a backbone, I loved Matilda and everything she stood for.
8. Laura Ingalls Wilder
“Laura felt a warmth inside her. It was very small, but it was strong. It was steady, like a tiny light in the dark, and it burned very low but no winds could make it flicker because it would not give up.”
The Little House on the Prairie books convinced me that I had been born in the wrong century. I wanted badly to eat maple syrup drizzled on snow and wished that my own father played the fiddle (instead of softball). My favorite of the series was the first book, Little House in the Big Woods, but I devoured all of the books in the series as quickly as possible. Later, when I discovered the TV series, I remember thinking it seemed like a totally different Laura.
Who were your favorite literary girl heroines growing up? Leave a comment below.
Sleeping Bear Dunes isn't the only place in Michigan for travel adventure. Here are some of the top destinations for those looking for a more lively vacation.
Hike cabin to cabin in the Porcupine Mountains
If you're looking for an easy transition between being a hiker and becoming a backpacker, consider reserving some of the rustic cabins or even one or more of the yurts available in the Porcupine Mountains. There's no running water or electricity, but they do provide some nice shelter beyond a tent. For inspiration, check out what these folks ended up doing for a six-day trip.
Be a spectator at the AuSable River Canoe Marathon
2015 will be the 68th year of this historic race, this non-stop canoe race starts at night with a thrilling LeMans-style running-start to the river in Grayling and ends 120 miles later near the shores of Lake Huron in Oscoda, MI. Only professional paddlers should compete in the race, but being a spectator is the next best thing. Fans can cheer and route for the teams, keeping the paddlers alert and giving them a boost of morale and adrenaline. Diehard spectators follow the race from Grayling to Oscoda, and stay up all night! Spectators should be prepared for all kinds of weather conditions, bugs, traffic and thousands of other fans. Please read the Spectator Guide to help you prepare for your all night adventure.
Ride the zip line at Boyne
Want to experience a new perspective on the same hills and valleys that provided Ernest Hemingway with the inspiration for the Nick Adams stories nearly 100 years ago? Located along high ridges and over scenic valleys just outside of Boyne City, Wildwood Rush will strap you in and then let you fly through the forest canopy on over 7,000 feet of zip lines, cross five suspended sky bridges and enjoy the amazing views of Lake Charlevoix from six tree-top platforms.
Backpack Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area
Leave Sleeping Bear Dunes to the crowds (or when you have relatives in town) — All of my favorite outdoorswomen (as well as Backpacker Magazine) swear by Nordhouse Dunes. You can pick your campsites when out in the wilderness, but if you want water & bathrooms for $9 a night, there are somewhat developed sites at Lake Michigan Recreation Area, adjacent to the wilderness (first come, first serve).
Ride The Michigander
Named one of the "Top 10 Multi-Day Rides in America" by Bicycling Magazine, The Michigander combines beautiful trails, Great Lakes beaches, lighthouses, rivers, virgin white pines, and a healthy serving of brewpubs. It's a perfect Pure Michigan route. An ideal ride for mountain and hybrid bikes on rails-to-trails riding (also includes route for roadies). Check website for route. Two-day and six-day options in 2015. Sponsored by Michigan Trails and Greenway Alliance.
Take a sled dog ride
This is definitely on my bucket list, and when I saw that Snowy Plains Sled Dogs offers a romantic dinner for two by dogsled, I had my anniversary gift nailed (shh — don't tell my husband!).
Camp & paddle on a multi-day kayak expedition
Guided trips are some of the best ways to see Michigan's beautiful natural scenery by water. Paddling Michigan offers kayak expeditions that include paddling around Pictured Rocks and Grand Island; canoe trips can be made down the Escanaba and Michigamme rivers.
Jump off a cliff (and into Lake Superior) at Black Rocks!
Black Rocks is one of Marquette’s coolest attractions, where cliff diving into the frigid Lake Superior is a true rush — or wait until the middle of August when the water reaches a balmy 60 degrees. Brrr! To get to Black Rocks, park at one of the parking lots near the tip of Presque Isle and head towards the lake, going east. In a few hundred yards you find a 15-foot cliff that drops straight down into Lake Superior. Show up on a sunny summer day in and you’ll likely share the cliff with tourists and college students.
Visit the Michigan Icefest
One of winter’s newest silent sports, ice climbing combines challenge and adventure. With miles of sandstone cliffs lined with hundreds of frozen waterfalls, Michigan is home to some of the best ice climbing spots in the country. Frozen waterfalls range from 20 to 210 feet tall, where you can take in in the scenic landscape that only a Michigan winter provides. The Michigan Icefest is the best place to hone your skills and meet other ice climbers.
Where else can you find adventure in Michigan? Leave a comment below.
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Jill Hinton Wolfe