This is how we find our way in a world that feels like constant chaos. Nature as our compass, books as our map.
Hundreds of years ago, when sailors were blown off course, they would chart their way back to their destination, by looking to the stars (especially when there were no other landmarks).
They measured the currents, tested the wind. With the sky, air and sea as their guide, they set sail to lands unknown.
When we feel stable, it’s because we know where we stand, where we are located in relation to the rest of the world. It is then that a map is most useful.
Books are messages in bottles, sent from people long ago and/or far away, showing us the way. That they, too, have been lost in the wilderness and found their way. They, too have been overrun by enemies outside and in, and fought their way back from the brink.
We look to books to know that we are not alone, that someone just like us (perhaps a bit wiser) has gone before, has made a path for us to follow. Books teach us how to do things, impossible things, everything from how to build a house to how to build a life. We open a book and escape to another world and come back changed.
We return to our everyday lives with more clarity, more compassion for ourselves and others. We are given a treasure trove of ideas and perspectives that otherwise we’d never know.
For a thousand years nature has been our cradle and our grave; our greatest refuge and our greatest enemy. It’s where we have worshiped and hunted and gathered and explored.
Modern life would have us lose that connection but it’s as easy as stepping outside and turning our faces to the sun to regain even a small amount of power that will guide us back to our true selves.
Then we pick up a book and know that anything is possible. That we’re not alone. That a path has been made ready for us.
All we need to do is begin.
Warning: the first two things "you need to know" about Gabriel Tallent's *My Absolute Darling (listed below) aren't exactly ringing endorsements for reading the book.
But you should DEFINITELY read this book (IF the first two things don't apply to you).
I really loved this book, but given the reviews at Goodreads, it's clear that this book wasn't everyone's cup of tea (shot of whiskey?), and in fact, the book was quite controversial. Given the book's subject matter relating to sexual trauma and a minor, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised.
Fourteen year old Turtle Alveston is being raised by her father Martin to be a survivor — he's taught her how to fire weapons, sharpen knives, navigate the coastal wilderness around their northern California and mistrust the outside world.
But Turtle isn't at all safe from the outside world — the kids at school, teachers who want to help, curious adults who knew her mother when she was alive. None of them could ever guess at how much her father loves her — or how terrifyingly manipulative he is.
Eventually, several events in Turtle's life force her to interact with the outside world, and she begins to open up. She begins to question her father's world, which puts her in danger — but also opens her eyes to what true friendship and caring looks like. In the end, Turtle must choose between the known force of her abusive father's love — and the unknown power of her own inner strength.
The most important aspects of this book
It involves sexual trauma, so as previously mentioned, it's definitely a trigger warning for women who have experienced their own sexual trauma. But I also have to emphasize (again) that the story is beautifully written, both in language and in its plotting. I couldn't put this book down!
1. Don't read this book if you get triggered by sexual trauma.
This is a terrifying book for just about anyone, but I can't imagine how bad it might be for someone who has been sexually assaulted or abused, especially by a loved one.
But then again, maybe this is just the book you need — because this is definitely a survivor's story. Turtle's journey is powerful allegory on survival. Gallant doesn't sugar coat anything, but I think that's one of the reasons I loved it. Talk to your therapist first if you're not sure.
2. Don't read this book if you're offended by vulgar language.
Gallant uses the c-word and the p-word pretty regularly throughout the book. Although I hate that kind of language in "real" life, in this context it served to sharpen the prose and create a very real world for the readers. It served to highlight the danger and emotional abuse that was depicted in the book.
Maybe just knowing ahead of time that the language is vulgar is helpful (I hope so — I think you should read this book if you can). Perhaps that way you can decide that you aren't going to let the language bother you like it would if someone used them in front of you.
The violence and the language in this book reminds me a little bit of the show "Breaking Bad." I remember being deeply disturbed at the violence of the show — but also thinking that the violence clearly (and compellingly) moved the plot forward to serve the story. I hate violence for violence's sake (I stopped watching The Walking Dead for that exact reason), but I can get on board if the violence serves the story in a way that's compelling and not overdone.
3. The setting is just as much a character as Turtle and the other main characters.
I love books that feature the land as character. Two books (that I loved) that come to mind are *Mink River by Brian Doyle and *The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (read my review of Hannah's The Nightingale here). Interestingly enough, both of these books are set at least partly in the Pacific Northwest. The rocky shoreline, the redwoods, the ocean and the various plants and animals Gallant lists throughout the book serve to create an experience of being alive and right next to Turtle as she picks her way through the wilderness.
4. You will love this book if you love stories about strong women outdoors.
Turtle has been raised to be the consummate outdoorswoman. She knows how to survive in the woods, how to butcher animals, find food and stay drive. She can fire a weapon and use a knife. Knowing all these things both keeps her trapped and saves her — this may be one of the overarching themes of the book. Nature is a bitch, but she's a powerful force for good as well.
5. This book is very polarizing
If you read the reviews, there are lots of polarizing views.
But for me, this book was a reminder of all the things I love about great literature: It asks us to confront difficult choices; it gives us an opportunity to understand the deep fears, dreams and motivations behind people who, from the outside, look just plain awful. It uses real language, and depicts scenarios that no doubt actually happen in our world.
Some of the reviewers accused the book of profiting off of pain. Literature is art, and for some people who read this book, and see a character who fights a good fight, it is inspiring.
Honestly, this book reminded me of how I felt reading *All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Like a terrible, beautiful, very important thing had been put in the world, and my whole life was consumed by it the moments my eyes flashed over the text.
Read this book if you love great writing, and feel that tragedy can serve a purpose. Don't read it if you just can't handle any more terribleness in your life (and these days, there's a lot of terrible stuff going on in the world, so I completely understand).
Other book reviews at Outdoor Book Club you might enjoy:
Have you read the book? Do you have questions about it?
Leave a comment below and I'll answer it!
This post was originally published in November, 2013.
Whether it's bad weather, unsavory bad guys or wild animals, some women think that camping alone is only for the very brave or very crazy. But that's just not the case. If you've got the right gear, right preparation and the right attitude, camping alone can provide just the right combination of adventure, peace & quiet and much-needed rejuvenation. It's one of my favorite ways to reconnect with myself and nature.
Why spend time outdoors by yourself?
Camping by yourself is a great way to spend some quality time with the one person who probably needs it the most: you. The simple act of being around trees, rivers, lakes and the woods can take you from being a burned out, over-stressed crazy lady to a zen, bring-it-on kind of Wonder Woman.
There's nothing that will build your self-esteem and sense of accomplishment faster than packing all your gear in the back of your car and heading outdoors by yourself. (Plus you'll have the best story on book club night — which brings me to the best reason you should get outdoors: uninterrupted reading time!)
Here are seven tips to help you feel safe and relaxed while camping by yourself:
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7 Solo Camping Tips for Women
1. Prepare mentally.
This is the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do. Take some time to channel your inner Katniss Everdeen or even author Cheryl Strayed in her book *Wild. Imagine yourself as strong, capable and a total total badass, ready to take on whatever challenge the outdoors can throw at you. Journal about your fears, then switch roles and play the wiser, braver version of yourself and answer those fears. Next, minimize risks by following the rest of my tips to give you even more confidence.
2. Test Your gear.
Don't over pack, but make sure you have everything you need (this can be a hard balance for many women to strike). Bring a first aid kit, and know how to use it. Also bring bear spray, mace or a knife (one of these should be in every woman's standard hiking/camping gear) for emergencies, and understand how it works. ALWAYS practice setting up your tent and using your cook stove before you leave.
3. Let someone know your plans.
It's always a good idea to let several people know where you're going and when you'll be back. If you're going to a campground or state park, let the ranger/hosts know that you're there, and if you have any medical problems. Also, it never hurts to ask, "Is there anything I need to know?"
Some women like the extra confidence of having an emergency radio — one of my best friends, who often hikes in very remote areas, has a *Garmin In Reach Mini Satellite Communicator which allows her to always have a way to contact authorities in an emergency. These are pretty expensive tools, though, and I really only recommend them if you're going to be in the wilderness or so terrified there's no other way you'd go camping by yourself.
4. Pick a well-worn route.
Pick a trail or area that you're familiar with, and have visited before — barring that, pick a destination that's known to have good cell phone reception. State campgrounds are good options, as are private campgrounds — especially if you're just starting out.
The more experienced you are, the more you'll want to move out to less crowded campgrounds. The tradeoff is more peace and quiet.
5. Know your limits.
Start small, with a day hike so that you can become familiar with the area. If you're going to be gone for more than one night, make sure you're physically (okay, and mentally) capable of taking on a solo trip - be honest when it comes to your limits.
Build up to what you'll be taking on through walking, running and lifting weights, and make sure you have the appropriate food, water and all the right backpacking gear (including good shoes, a warm sleeping bag and the ability to pee in the woods) before you go.
6. Bring your dog.
A canine companion can provide just the right amount of company, though make sure you know the rules of the campground or area where you'll be bringing your pooch. Also make sure you pack extra gear and food so that Fido is comfortable and doesn't become more of a burden during the time when you're supposed to be re-charging your mental health.
A word of warning: sometimes your dog just isn't cut out for camping, and so your weekend away in the woods becomes super-stressful as you try to manage their anxiety. Know your dog's limits — sometimes a vacation includes getting away from the responsibility of dog ownership as well (assuming you have someone at home that can take care of your dog).
7. Bring a great book.
This is your chance to have some amazing reading time - make sure you take advantage of it! Whether you spend the whole time snuggled up in your sleeping bag with a book in front of your face (personally, my absolutely FAVORITE place to read is in my *hammock, or intersperse your reading time with some strategic hikes or cooking some gourmet meals for yourself, novels make great camping companions.
Looking for some great book recommendations while you're out in the woods? I've got you covered.
Camping by yourself isn't difficult or hard — it just seems that way if you've never done it before. Take the leap and you'll find it truly rewarding. What other tips or questions do you have when it comes to camping alone?
Leave a comment or question below and I'll answer it!
With millions of new books being published every year, finding great sources of book reviews and reading recommendations can be overwhelming. And while Instagram and Twitter both offer a plethora of great reading materials, Facebook is still where I go to find interesting and new literary ideas, including book recommendations
Here are 10 of the best Facebook pages I use to keep on top of all things bookish: reviews, best-sellers, unique lists or just funny/inspiring reading memes.
It's not surprising that Amazon knows books, but it was surprising that their book-specific Facebook feed has so much good content. Sneak peeks at new books, must-read lists from all genres, interviews with authors and book recommendations. Basically, there's a wide variety of book-related news and inspiration.
Book Riot's fresh, sarcastic style makes it one of my favorite book sites, and I actually look forward to getting their newsletters on Sundays. Check them out — they make being a book lover seem super cool. They've got some great book-related podcasts as well, so you can listen to experts and smart people talk about why books are important, plus discuss the latest news in your favorite genre.
This page has everything you'd expect from Buzzfeed — genre lists ("X Best Romance Novels...), cool bookish products, funny memes and general irreverence that we've all come to know and love about Buzzfeed. Somehow scrolling through their feed doesn't feel like I'm wasting time when I'm on Facebook.
I love the idea of thousands of strangers sharing what they're reading every Friday (as much as I love sharing what I read with them). This is a cute little page with a real community feeling around it — plus they have a lot of giveaways. Check them out.
Anyone who uses the Goodreads site or app will find their Facebook posts a nice complement to the site's other content. Author birthdays are my favorite; check the comments in their various "What are you reading?" posts to discover new reads.They also often feature reader-generated content.
Literature Is My Utopia
A little more intellectual & "heady," LIMU shares lots of inspirational quotes and old-timey author photos. They do a great job with their memes as well.
Book nerds unite! Again, another place for readers, not just book lovers. Their online community is smart and passionate; reading the comments is as enlightening as the posts themselves.
Keep up-to-date on the books that everyone is talking about. Includes links to recent author interviews, reviews, and book picks, as well as conversations about what you're reading, the future of publishing, and other lit-ish links. Basically everything you'd expect from NPR: Smart, often tongue-in-cheek articles about everything books.
A more humorous approach for book lovers. Lots of memes, links, giveaways and LOLs. I love this site for all the shareable cartoons about how great/awful it is to be a bookworm.
Books & Mortar
I'm including my favorite local indie bookstore because "Bookseller Jennie" does such a great job detailing her journey as a independent bookshop. She hosts tons of events and generally keeps her tight little community updated on great books and worthy causes. Whatever your local indie bookstore is, be sure to give them some Facebook (and IRL) love! (Honorable mention: Bay Books near Suttons Bay, Michigan)
Where do you go on Facebook to get your book fix? Let us know in the comments.
Women generally fall into two camps when it comes to gear: Loving it or feeling completely overwhelmed by it.
Usually the former comes before the latter. It's like the five stages of grief, only with more waterproofing and straps.
My first backpacking trip, I made a ton of mistakes, like forgetting to check my tent poles and not bringing a map ("I'll just use my phone!"). I got lost and wore too-tight hiking boots so my feet had horrible blisters.
But I still had an amazing, strength-building experience that I'll never forget.
Seven years after that first trip, a whole corner of my basement is filled with plastic tubs filled with gear. It's become sort of an addiction. I used to get giddy over a pair of great heels. Now? I get giddy over a *sleeping pad designed for side sleepers or *tent twinkle lights.
The bad news for women new to backpacking is that gear can be expensive. Really expensive. Tents, sleeping bags, backpacks and more all can cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars.
But the good news is twofold: First, you don't need a bunch of stuff to get started, and second, you don't need to spend a ton of money. There are plenty of cheap options available if you're still not sure if backpacking is your thing (though I totally hope it's your thing)
So lace up your boots, grab an extra Nalgene bottle of water — I'm going to give you EVERYTHING you need to know to go backpacking — often for not much money. And for those of you just starting out (who also happen to love shopping), you may have just met your next true love — or worst enemy: gear.
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Backpacking for Women: Gear Essentials
Here are all the essential gear you HAVE to have for backpacking. (Later in this post I go into a few luxury items you might want to consider once you get a little more experienced and decide, like so many of us, that you love being out in the woods and want to do it every chance you get.)
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 (personally I love sleeping off the ground — but kinda hate the lack of privacy), 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 (assuming it's not a four person tent or bigger).
What to look for in a backpacking tent
For purely weight reasons, you’ll want either the smallest “regular” tent you can find (1-2 person), or even better, 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).
Other factors you might want to consider include how easy it is to set up, and possibly any bells and whistles you might want (for example, some tents use your *trekking poles as support, making them really light).
When I first started, I used a *Eureka! Solitaire — a very affordable, lightweight option, but ultimately I felt a bit King Tut like sleeping in a sarcophagus, so I graduated to *Big Agnes Scout UL 2 Person Tent I bought at our local second-hand gear shop (don't you wish you had one of these near you?). I love the tent for its simplicity, but not so much for it's breathability.
Honestly, because I'm cheap I still don't have a backpacking tent I just love — I mostly use either the aforementioned Big Agnes tent, my backpacking hammock with a tarp, or my husband"s old REI 2-person tent which is 20 years old.
Ready to spend more?
(Skip this section if you're looking to hike affordable, because these tents are definitely on the pricier side — i.e. $300+). Here are a few recommendations from my backpacking besties:
*NOTE: With a backpacking tent usually you can count on the tent holding only as many people as it says — with NO room for gear. This is why all the women above have 2P tents, so they can fit their gear without feeling crowded. When my husband and I go backpacking (often with our dog), we bring our 3 person tent so we can all sleep comfortably with our gear inside the tent.
How much should my tent 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 backpacking 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 for a backpacking tent?
You can get away with paying around $100 for a good two-person tent, or upwards of $2,000 for an all-weather, extremely light and technical tent.
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 to 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. Also, know that in order to keep you dry INSIDE the tent, your tent needs to have some breathability. Otherwise the condensation gets trapped inside and you wake up soaked in your own breath/sweat (GROSS). 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 tent footprint?
A footprint is a ground cloth that’s usually 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 take up space in your backpack and most tents are plenty durable if you pick the right spot to set them up.
LADY TIP: ALWAYS PRACTICE SETTING UP YOUR TENT AT HOME BEFORE YOU HEAD OUT.
Miscellaneous tent tips:
Your Backpacking Sleeping Bag: A Woman's Best Friend
Even in very warm temperatures, you’re going to need a sleeping bag. Most outdoor environments get significantly cooler at night (the only exception to this might be if you’re literally hiking in the jungle) and besides that, you’re going to want someplace comfortable to bed down.
On that note, the $30 cheap sleeping bag you bought at the Dollar General will only do the trick if it’s very mild outside — and it’s going to add a ton of weight and bulk to your pack. If you just don’t have the money (or the friends) to buy or borrow something better, it will do. Like most gear, it’s always a balance between what you want to spend and what you’re willing to bear.
Three considerations when buying a backpacking sleeping bag:
If you do decide to spend some money on a sleeping bag, there are three things you need to consider: temperature, weight and materials.
With temperature, often the bag has its temperature right in the name, just like tents (i.e. the *Marmot Trestles 15). Most of us won’t be camping in weather colder than 50 degrees, so a 30 degree bag should suit you fine.
A option to increase the warmth of your sleeping bag is to add a *sleeping bag liner to your pack. These usually add another ten degrees of warmth to your sleeping bag, but they’re also nice if it’s going to be really hot and you just want something lightweight to sleep in.
Weight is a big deal with sleeping bags because they can be the heaviest thing in your pack (not to mention it usually takes up the most space). It’s a tradeoff between being comfortable at night versus being comfortable on the trail.
When I went July backpacking on Isle Royale — an island that’s as about far north in the continental U.S. that you can get — I brought my warmest sleeping bag because it also happened to be my lightest (read: expensive). The first couple nights it was hot (or hot for Isle Royale) which was around 60 degrees at night. I simply slept with the bag unzipped in minimal clothes (see the next section on clothing about what to bring to sleep in).
The rest of the nights when the temperature was closer to 45 degrees, I was very comfortable inside my sleeping bag, and in fact some of my favorite memories from the trip are waking up, snug and cozy in my sleeping bag, and listening to the wolves howl (!!).
The final thing to consider is the type of insulation you want: down, synthetic or water-repellent down. Insulation choice also is a financial choice, since down (goose or duck) sleeping bags, while very lightweight and compressible, are considerably more pricey. They also are ruined if they get wet, so you need to consider how well you plan to take care of your gear. Synthetic fills do better in damp, cold weather, but they’re heavier and bulkier. The new water-resistant down fills are great, but pricey.
Women's Backpacks: What You Need, What You Don't
The operative word in backpacking is, of course, backpack. So of course you need something to carry all of your stuff, and your library totebag won't cut it. You’ll need something with a ton of capacity. Here are your biggest considerations when choosing a backpack:
Backpack capacities are usually measured in liters. If you’re going cold weather camping you’re going to need more space, and if you’re into ultralight backpacking you’ll need less.
For beginners going out for 1-3 days, a 35-50 liter pack should work fine (I see the *Osprey Aura AG 50 Women's backpack all the time on the trail), or try the *AmazonBasics Internal Frame Hiking Backpack with Rainfly if you’re looking for something smaller and cheaper.
Smaller backpacks force you to be more choosy about what you bring with you — which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your personality and the weight/bulkiness of the rest of your gear.
If you’re going for 3-5 days, a 50-80 liter pack will suit your needs better (personally I love my *Gregory 60L, which has a really nice suspension system). In fact, I use my 60-liter pack for most trips, even the shorter ones, because I have a system down for how I organize the pack.
If you're going out longer, then you'll likely need something bigger — but I don't recommend going out for longer than 5 days as a first-time backpacker unless you go with an experienced backpacker who you trust and that can help make sure you have the right gear.
Fitting your backpack
Now that you know the size, it’s time to make sure you have a good fit. A lot of women I know prefer women-specific packs, since they tend to fit our shorter torsos and wider hips better. Personally, I don't notice a difference between men's and women's packs (#pinkwashing), but most of my backpacking friends disagree.
For me, the most important thing is for the pack to sit comfortably on my hips — a full 80% of the weight of your pack should rest on your hips. I had one backpack that, despite cinching it as tight as I could on the waist belt, still wasn’t tight enough (and I’m not exactly Kate Moss when it comes to waist size, either). That pack put a lot of pressure on my back, which let’s face it, isn’t as sturdy as it used to be.
Also, keep in mind that torso length is different from overall height. Many packs have options to adjust the tension for torso length, which I’ve found to not be all that useful, but maybe you will.
Other adjustable parts of the backpack include the “load lifter” straps located at the top of the shoulder straps, which ideally you’d like to form a 45 degree angle between the pack and the straps. There’s a sweet spot with these, and you just have to experiment with how they feel the most comfortable, where they keep the pack from pulling too far away from your body, which adds extra stress to your lower back.
The chest strap that goes across your sternum adds a small layer of stability. PRO TIP: I find the chest strap most useful for reducing swelling in my fingers while I’m hiking. I hook my fingers facing in on my chest strap and let my elbows hang, which keeps my fingers from looking like sausages at the end of the day.
Backpacking Frame Types
Every once in awhile out on the trail you see some old timer — or some way over-geared dude — carrying an external frame backpack. They look like something your grandfather might have used. Apparently these packs are good if you’re portaging a canoe or kayak, or really anything else big and awkward.
But Internal frame backpacks are the industry standard. They have a built-in frame that hugs your body and keeps you stable on uneven trails, and often is designed to transfer more weight to your hips.
Frameless backpacks are basically for ultralighters or superheroes. They’re awkward and don’t offer much support, but I guess they do save on weight.
Packing Your Backpack
Today’s backpacks have a million different straps and compartments, so it can be hard to keep everything organized and accessible. However, if you can follow your mother’s rule of “A place for everything and everything in its place,” you’ll find yourself in a much more Zen place when unpacking after a hard day’s hike or trying to find your raincoat when it starts pouring.
Again, you’ll have to experiment with which features are important to you and how you want to organize your pack. It can be a bit of an art form, balancing comfort and access.
Backpacking Gear: Non-Essential Items
There are some pieces of equipment that aren’t required per-se, but will make your trip a whole lot more comfortable. If you're going backpacking, you should probably take these things with you (though technically, you could do without these items).
I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to backpacking food and cooking. Personally, I have three stoves I use, depending on the situation (I did say that backpacking gear was addictive, didn't I?). Since many backpacking locations don’t allow you to build a campfire (this always surprises my non-backpacking friends), a stove is a must. And honestly, you don’t want to cook your food over an open fire — it’s almost always way too much work and has unappetizing results.
Luckily, today’s backpacking stoves are light and easy to use. (My husband recently pulled out his 20-year-old backpacking stove, and the contraption looked like it could’ve been used on the Space Shuttle, it had so many levers and cranks and components. Plus the fuel canister was almost as big as my head.)
Generally speaking, there are two categories of backpacking stove: canister fuel and liquid fuel, though the proliferation of outdoors-related startups have created a variety of alternative fuel stoves.
How to use a backpacking stove
Each stove is different, so make sure you read the directions and try it out at least once before you hit the trail. The canister stoves tend to have a device that basically screws into the canister, and lets you adjust the flame with a small knob on the side.
Once you’ve got the stove component screwed into the canister, turn the knob that regulates the fuel and use a lighter to light the gas. This is something that takes a little bit of practice; many women feel like they’re going to light themselves on fire, but rest assured you just need to be a little quick to pull your hand away as soon as it lights.
Now that you’ve got the flame (make sure you have your water or food ready to go in the pot before you light your stove so you don’t waste fuel), you then set your pot on top and let it cook. Canister stoves tend to boil water the fastest, but they also tend to be very touchy when it comes to simmering.
My favorite stove is my *Jetboil, which isn’t cheap, but it’s so reliable and easy to use that it’s one of my favorite pieces of gear. It works in wet weather, you can add a variety of extra accessories, like a *coffee press or a *skillet and it packs down pretty light. Plus its insulated cook pot means I don’t accidentally burn myself on the pot (though I do have to closely watch the pot because water boils in it fast).
If you’re looking for something smaller and lighter, the *MSR PocketRocket Stove is a good option, though then you need to get a separate pot. I've got one and it's always been very reliable. If you’re backpacking in really cold or windy weather, you may want to consider a windbreak so that you don’t waste too much of your fuel when it blows away in the wind.
I also have a *BioLite CampStove, which is kinda fun because you can charge your phone with it, but also a pain because you have to keep it going with small sticks (but it can also be nice because you don’t have to carry fuel canisters). So if you’re backpacking with a BioLite and you think it might rain, gather your fuel beforehand and store it so that you have something dry to burn.
How much stove fuel should I bring?
I find that store clerks always overestimate how much fuel you need to bring. Yes, it would suck to run out of fuel on the trail, but today’s stoves are very efficient and depending on the weather conditions and how long you need to boil your food and/or water, you probably won’t be using all that much fuel. A good rule of thumb is that, generally speaking, one 8 ounce canister of fuel can heat 60 cups of water. Ultimately, fuel consumption is something that you’ll just need to try to figure out through trial and error.
Final Stove Tips
toI would never go backpacking without a sleeping pad, unless maybe the zombies were attacking. Sleeping pads not only add comfort to your trip — getting a decent night's sleep is the difference between hating backpacking and loving it — it keeps you from freezing your ass off. The ground will suck all the warmth out of you and you'll hate nature and yourself within minutes of lying down.
For most women, I recommend buying the best sleeping pad you can afford.
I'm a side-sleeper, so I need my sleeping pads to accommodate the fact that there's a lot of pressure on my shoulders & hips. I have three pads that I use for varying situations:
Backpacking Utensils & Dishes
This is another area that heavily depends on personal preference. I hate doing dishes and cleaning up on the trail, not only because I’m usually dead tired, but also because throwing out food, even traces of it, usually means a higher likelihood of attracting unwanted wildlife visitors. This means I have to put more work into food prep while still at home, but I’m ok with that. Others just want to throw some instant potatoes or ramen in their pack and head outdoors.
You can put your cookset together in one of two ways: Buy a prepackaged set of cookware that usually nests together well, or cobble together your own cookset, which has the advantage of being customized to your own needs (plus it’s cheaper).
Cooksets are made of all different kinds of materials. Aluminum is cheap and strong (enough), whereas titanium is light and incredibly strong. Depending on the cookware, silicon is also an option. Many utensils are made of heat-resistant plastic, which in most cases is fine, though I’ve had more than one “camping” spork break on me when I was stirring a thicker-than-usual stew.
I have a cheap cookset I bought at a local big box store, which fits inside itself and has collapsible, heat resistant handles. But frankly, I don’t bring it on many trips anymore because I do all my meals using the freezer bag method. I simply boil my water in the JetBoil, then pour it into the bag and wait for the meal to cook.
I also like to bring a mug for my coffee and occasionally soup. I love my aluminum Deschutes Brewing carabiner mug I picked up on a trip to Portland, OR, though my future gear wishlist (there's always a wishlist, no matter how much gear you have) has something that is collapsible yet still has a handle.
If you're going out into the backcountry, and not carrying all the water you need with you (a very heavy proposition), you'll need a way to filter water. There's no quicker way to ruin a trip than with waterborne parasites.
Luckily, there are lots of options to help with purifying your water. I'll list them from the most popular to least.
Women's Hiking Boots for Backpacking
Taking care of your feet should be one of your very top priorities. One backpacking book I read devoted almost a third of its content to footwear. I thought that was a bit overkill at first, but after dealing with dozens and dozens of blisters, twisted ankles and lost toenails, I now realize just how important your footwear can be.
There are four general considerations when buying footwear: weight, breathability, durability and water resistance. Be careful about buying footwear that’s completely waterproof — you want to make sure that your foot’s sweat isn’t getting trapped inside your boot, which is a surefire way to get blisters.
So while the good news is that you may very well be able to get away with wearing your running shoes while backpacking, the bad news is that you don’t know until you try it.
For me, buying hiking boots/shoes is a bit like buying a mattress — you can spend a ton of money, and chances are that the more you spend the happier you'll be with your choice (psychology 101 at work!), but in the end it could be a cheaper version will work just fine for you.
Traditional hiking boots are heavy, they’re expensive and it turns out they’re really not all that good at protecting your feet anyway. Consider getting a pair of light hikers, cross-trainers or some people even backpack in sandals (that’s a bit extreme, though bringing sandals when backpacking is one of the best pieces of advice I can give you — camp shoes are like my third favorite piece of gear I take backpacking).
That being said, here are the types of backpacking footwear you might want to consider:
I have a pretty severe case of plantar fasciitis, and so my feet need all the support and love they can get. Earlier this year I bought these *Oboz Bridger B-DRY boots and I've been really happy with them (though I still need to stretch my feet after every hike). Plus they're RED!
Women's Backpacking Clothing As Gear
One of the first things newbie women ask when backpacking is “What should I wear?” The type of clothes you wear out into the backcountry could make the difference between having a great experience and never wanting to step foot outdoors again.
Rule #1 NO COTTON
Wearing jeans, sweatshirts, t-shirts and cotton socks can make you miserable on the trail. Those clothing items are fine when you’re car camping and have easy access to indoor shelter, but out in the backcountry, they’ll soak up every bit of moisture and hold onto it until you literally want to die.
Bring poly blends instead — think any clothes that are designed specifically for athletics and working out.
My favorite camping clothes are the race shirts I get a 5ks — not the cotton ones, but the performance fabric, high-end shirts. Sure they’re more expensive, but they’re worth it when you’re both sweaty and cold in the middle of the woods. 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 is 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).
One special note: A lot of women have issues with certain kinds of fabrics irritating their skin. Wool is almost always a great option if this is you — today's wool activewear is lightweight, wicking and feels amazing. Just know that it's more expensive than synthetic materials, and you have to be careful not to put it in the dryer!
Here's a checklist of backpacking clothes I bring on my backpacking trips:
Other clothing items you might consider:
Misc. Backpacking Items You Should Have in Your Pack
There are things you can't forget, that should be on your checklist, but that don't require a lot of explanation. Those items include:
Other "luxury" backpacking items
There are some things that are totally unnecessary, but I LOVE having on the trail with me. Consider adding them to your Christmas list & acquiring them over time:
Final Words: Your turn
Whew! Now that was a long post. I really did put my heart and soul into it, trying to give you as many options and tips as I could. But I know I could always do better!
NEWBIES: What burning questions did I leave unanswered? Leave them in the comments, and I'll answer as many as I can.
EXPERIENCED LADY BACKPACKERS: What advice do you have for newbies? Help a fellow future trail bestie out and leave your best backpacking hacks in the comments.
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As a dyed-in-the-wool adventurer, I LOVE scavenger hunts. The camaraderie, the competition, the crazy photos and videos — it's one of the best ways to bring people together and have a ton of fun, especially strangers or almost-strangers.
I've always wondered why people don't do them more often, but then I realized after putting my own hunt together for my birthday that they can be intimidating to plan.
So to encourage more people to get out there and design mind-blowing scavenger hunts for adults (there seems to be plenty out there about kids' scavenger hunts) I've put together this handy quick-reference guide.
Choose a theme
For my birthday hunt, I chose myself as a theme. Self serving? Yes — but it's my birthday and I'll do what I want to. Other theme ideas include a nature-themed scavenger hunt (you'd look for items out on the trail — though be sure to be considerate), a food-based scavenger hunt, or a bachelorette/girls night out party.
Having a theme will not only tie everything together in one appealing package, it will help you come up with better clues and items to include in the hunt. Also, with themes you can have participants to dress up in crazy costumes (and if Halloween has taught us anything, it's that dressing up = instant party enhancer).
Send the invite
It's best to schedule the event AT LEAST two weeks beforehand, though a month or more is better. Pick a location that works best for your group size and theme; personally, I think it's more fun (and safer) if you can do everything on foot and not have to drive anywhere (unlike the University of Chicago's scavenger hunt , which is perhaps the world's craziest, most difficult scavenger hunt ever invented — it spans several states and even goes into Canada).
Then decide how long you want the hunt to last — pick an end time and place, and deduct points for every minute a team is late.
Weather can be a factor in scheduling your scavenger hunt, so make sure people know to dress appropriately, especially when it comes to comfortable shoes. This may seem obvious, but at my birthday scavenger hunt, one of my friends wore flats (shoes), which made racing around the city difficult (and she ultimately ended up just quitting).
People should also know to bring their cell phone with a camera. Seems pretty obvious, but again, it's nice to give folks a heads up, in case their phone isn't fully charged or some other unforeseen issue.
Create the clue list
This is the most fun, if the most intimidating. Create a list that's long enough so that not everyone can get every item and they have to prioritize which items to get first. Assign points to each clue, awarding more points for more difficult items.
(I assigned a crazy amount of points to items that I knew no one would get, but still wanted to see if anyone had the cajones to do it — like getting a tattoo. You'd be surprised at the lengths people will go to in order to win cheesy prizes & bragging rights! Plus the pictures are hilarious.)
Keep the list secret until the day of the hunt — you don't want folks cheating ahead of time.
Some photo challenge ideas:
Tips for adding complexity to the hunt
To make things interesting, here are some ways to add complexities to your clues:
The pre-hunt meetup
Have everyone meet at a pre-determined location. For me, I had everyone meet at our big library downtown, since 1) I love books, and I was the theme of the hunt and 2) it was a public location that had lots of parking.
It's a good idea to tell everyone to be on time, since one late person can hold up the entire hunt - so deduct points for people who are late to the kickoff!.
Once everyone arrives, give the rules of the hunt: time limits, rendezvous points, and remind people not to break any laws or otherwise be obnoxious to business owners or civilians (i.e. people who aren't part of the hunt).
We were surprised at how helpful people will be when you're nice and explain what you're doing, but there are others who will not want to participate. That's fine; don't hassle them because they don't want to play. Also, you may want to stipulate that team members cannot pay for any of the items (though that's up to you; in my hunt, the teams didn't have to buy anything to win, but a couple of teams did end up spending nominal amounts to buy a drink or get a receipt for exactly $1).
Once you've gone over the basic rules, hand out the clue list, bags to carry items and pens/pencils for each team.
NOTE: At this point, everyone may stop listening to you and start pouring over the list and strategizing with their team members, so make sure you get the most important points across BEFORE you hand out the list. Or not, and make it that much harder for them.
To wrap up the pre-hunt instructions, encourage everyone to think outside the box! For example, one of my clues was to find & take a picture of a Bill. I allowed a couple of teams to take a picture with a dollar bill for half points.
Warnings & other ideas
Here are some other ideas that will help your hunt go more smoothly:
After you send out everyone to chase down their challenges, it's time for you to relax — or at least head to the final rendezvous point to start setting up. I went to a local bar, ordered a beer and watched all the crazy pictures starting to come in on my laptop (I used iMessage, which makes it WAY more easy).
One thing I wish I would have done was set up a projector (or brought an HDMI cord) to display all the pictures for the after party, which would have gotten everyone in the mood. Make sure to watch the clock as the end time draws near; remember, you'll need to dock points for every minute a team/participant is late.
It helps if you can have someone as an assistant —someone to run interference with you and the teams, and they can help tally the points (the most time-consuming portion of the hunt — it really is much easier to have the teams tally as they go, and you simply confirm at the end).
Then comes the announcement of the winners, the bestowing of the awards, and finally, where everyone comes up to you and gives you a hug because they had such a great time and want to know when the next one is.
So that's it — how to have an adult scavenger hunt. If you have any tips, ideas or thoughts I'd love to hear them in the comments below. Maybe you'll get invited to my next epic scavenger hunt (or me to yours)!
Want an easier option? It's just $8 to download a pdf of 36 fun, creative challenges (plus points & rules) for any downtown area.
Finally, I'll take the opportunity to plug GO Scavenger Hunts — which make it SO MUCH EASIER to run these hunts for team building or even bachelorette parties. We design the challenges, tally the points via our app, create an easy-to-use slideshow and just basically doing everything hard for you.
Located in one of my FAVORITE outdoor places in Michigan — Ludington State Park — the Jack Pines Hike-In Campground is one of my favorite beginner backpacking sites. It's located just on the other side of the dunes of Lake Michigan, so at night you can fall asleep to the sound of waves. There's a pit toilet and water pump, and many of the sites have picnic tables, which is nice when you're first starting out.
In order to get to the campground (it's nestled inside the state park), you need to hike a mile in with your gear — the perfect distance to get away from all the crowds at Ludington (at least in the summer). However, you need to reserve your site ahead of time, so make sure you get online early. Once you're there, there are miles and miles of beautiful hiking trails to explore. Plus, if you wimp out and get hungry for some restaurant food, the beautiful town of Ludington isn't too far a drive!
Sand Lakes Quiet Area
The best thing about Sand Lakes is that it's not that well known — so if you're looking to get away from the backpacking crowds (yes, there is such a thing), consider Sand Lakes Quiet Area.
One thing I do warn visitors is that, as late as fall of 2017, the water pump was broken at the "campground" (really it's just a collection of worn spots & a pit toilet next to a marshy lake), so you need to be prepared to get water from the lake. And like I said, the lake is surrounded by mud and cattails, which makes getting the water into your filtering system a little tricky (but it can be done). Just be prepared!
But there's great hiking in the surrounding area, and if you decide you really only want to do one night in the "wilderness" there's a state campground (Guernsey Lake State Forest Campground) nearby that's really nice and hardly ever full.
Manistee River Loop
Because of its incredible popularity — and the damage that's resulted from that popularity — apparently local Michigan Hiking & Backpacking Meetups have officially stopped mentioning or promoting the Manistee River Loop to new backpackers. There's been too much trash, too many people driving in on old logging roads with their pickup trucks and beer coolers.
But I figure it's not the trail's fault people are destructive assholes! So I say go try it (though read up on it first). It's one of the best loops in Michigan, offering the perfect weekend trip for women who are beginners, with beautiful views and close proximity to civilization so you don't have to feel so remote..
Pro Tip: Plan on spending the night on the east side of the river — suitable campsites are few and far between on the west side.
Waterloo Pickney Trail
"Waterloo-Pinckney Trail is a 33.9 mile lightly trafficked point-to-point trail located near Grass Lake, Michigan that features a lake and is good for all skill levels," says AllTrails.com. This is the only trail on the list that I have very limited experience with, but I wanted to add something for east-siders to visit. This trail is one-way, so you'll need to have two cars or some way to get back to your vehicle from the starting point. Do your research on which section of the trail you'd like to attempt — because 34 miles is NOT for beginners!
South Manitou Island
If you have to choose between North Manitou Island and South Manitou Island (you can reach them both via the Manitou Island Transit), newbie backpackers should opt for the latter — South has many more amenities such as bathrooms and water pumps. My husband has taken his three teenage boys camping on South Manitou twice, and both times they've had great experiences .
When you feel ready & have some experience under your belot, come back and visit North Manitou Island — it's one of my most favorite places on earth. Peaceful, gorgeous sunsets, and it's just remote enough to feel like you're really getting away from the world..
One of the most gorgeous natural ecosystems in Michigan, Nordhouse Dunes is a National Forest and a very popular place for backpacking, since it offers dispersed camping along the shores of Lake Michigan. Most seasoned backpackers avoid the location since in summers it fills up with college students dragging giant coolers of beer (there's no one as dedicated as a college boy with his beer). But if you can get there early and claim your secluded spot — the dunes offer a lot of privacy if you do it right — the views and the hikes are incredible.
Your own backyard
If you're nervous about backpacking, one of the best places to start is your backyard, or even a local park. BUT DON'T STAY IN CITY PARKS OVERNIGHT. Just set up your gear, maybe even cook a meal using your stove to get a feel for what it's like. Lie in your tent and smile and sigh, and imagine what it would be like to leave it all behind and do some serious shinrin-yoku. It's a great first step toward getting comfortable and feeling safe with the idea of backpacking.
Seasoned backpackers — what are your tips for newbies? Leave them in the comments below.
5 Reasons to Read: Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead by Tara Mohr
It's unclear as to how I first came across *Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead by Tara Mohr. I want to say it was through the Women At Work podcast (another HIGHLY recommended resource) but I can't be sure.
However it just showed up in my life (just before the holidays in 2018), it's now been kicking around in my head ever since. I've bought four additional hard copies from my local bookstore (Books and Mortar!) to give away to friends. I've also downloaded the *audiobook so I could listen to it again and again while driving or getting ready in the morning (more on this later).
This book has significantly changed how I think about my goals, my interactions with others, what I feel called to do professionally and how I frame professional and personal challenges.
So it makes sense I want to share it with as many women as possible!
(DISCLAIMER: Other than Amazon's standard affiliate payout if you buy the book through my links — which isn't much — I'm not getting paid anything to hype this book. It's just that good.)
So here they are — Five reasons to read Playing Big:
Reason 1: Call a staff meeting with the voices in your head.
There are lots of pervasive, cultural roadblocks that hold women back — a long history of gender discrimination and lack of access to resources are two that immediately come to mind — so many of which are out of our control. What's nice about Mohr's book is that she gives back some control to women in the forms of voices that are already talking in our heads. That's where your inner critic and inner mentor come in (the first two chapters of the book).
Mohr is the first person (resource?) to give me a clear, tactical roadmap on how to best deal with my inner critic. As women, we've been raised with certain ideas about how the world works, and those ideas and perspectives are so ingrained into our thinking that it's extremely difficult to overcome — even if those ideas and perspectives are flat out wrong (not to mention mean!).
In a nutshell, here's what she helped me do:
Many women say the inner mentor work is some of the most powerful work they've done, and for me, it was worth the price of the book.
"Playing big doesn’t come from working more, pushing harder, or finding confidence," said Mohr. "It comes from listening to the most powerful and secure part of you, not the voice of self-doubt."
Reason 2: Name and own your fear
Chapter 3, "A Very New Old Way of Looking at Fear" uses two Hebrew terms for fear which has been extremely helpful for me to name and identify my feelings of anxiety when it comes to taking risks:
You really need to read the book to get the whole explanation, because I can't do it justice, but I know that by being able to look at fear differently, I have been able to make stronger, more confident decisions (plus help council my friends and students on how to move past the things that scare them).
"That’s the problem with pachad—it fires way too frequently, often simply in an attempt to protect us from emotional risks that we don’t really need (or want) to be protected from. When we feel pachad, we need to work on shifting away from responding out of fear so that pachad doesn’t dictate our actions."
Reason 3: Take the Leap
A lot women I know (who admittedly are mostly white and upper-middle class) are control freaks. Certainly I am. So often when our jobs, relationships, health, spaces and families feel out of our control, we desperately try to lock down and manage the chaos so we feel less anxious about it.
But often that control shows up as hiding and stalling: Saying we're not ready, that we need to get more money or education (that's a BIG one — check out this NY Times Opinion Why Girls Beat Boys at School and Lose to Them at the Office for more on how women often use education as a sort of shield against playing bigger).
"The antidote to all that hiding and stalling is a special kind of action called a leap," says Mohr. This chapter took some time to really sink in for me. On some levels I'm good at leaping, but if I'm honest with myself, most of my "leaps" are pretty safe. Mohr has said that many women end up reading the book more than once (*hand raised*) and the chapters that resonated the first time through are different than the second time. Chapter 7 definitely felt this way to me.
"Leaping changes your concept of self from I want to be a woman who . . . to This is who I am."
Reason 4: Let yourself off the hook.
As a writer, Chapter 4, "Unhooking From Praise and Criticism" resonated so strongly with me I kept listening and reading it over and over again, each time amazed at what new thing I learned and absorbed.
In this chapter Mohr talks about her personal experience of growing up being praised as for her writing skills, but then later on became so paralyzed by praise and criticism she had to stop.
As Mohr grew older she started to become obsessed with getting praise for her work, while at the same time going to great lengths to avoid even the most constructive criticism. Her writing process became so fraught with anxiety that she stopped writing entirely for seven whole years. This follows my own path so closely that I fell to my knees in the shower listening to Mohr speak about it. I'd never realized how much being hooked into praise and criticism held me back.
As an entrepreneur, writer and even professor, I am forced to deal with criticism all the time. And yet I still hate it. I often avoid reading student feedback because I can't stand the feelings that are wrapped up with their comments. This chapter really helped me reframe praise and criticism so that I could actually benefit from reading feedback.
"Playing big is a kind of bold and free motion, and both the fear of criticism and seeking of praise limit that movement. When we are petrified of criticism or are in need of constant approval, we simply can’t play big. We can’t innovate, share controversial ideas, or pursue our unique paths."
Reason 5: Easy is the new hard.
Mohr's advice in Chapter 10 is a breath of fresh air. As women, we are always striving, always working so damn hard to prove we're okay, that we're good enough (if you struggle with this, you should check out Brene Brown's *The Gifts of Imperfection, another book which changed my life). Being everything to everyone is really, really hard work.
Mohr gives us several other ways to frame and think about our goals, so that goal-setting feels less like a burden and more natural, more fulfilling, more in service to both ourselves and the world.
“I’ve come to know, in my own life, and in the lives of the women I work with," says Mohr, "that where we think we need more self-discipline, we usually need more self-love — not just self-love as an attitude, but self-love manifested through the routines and rituals that we set up to enable the changes we desire to happen naturally and with ease.”
"We want to set up plans for action that work for 'the most exhausted version of ourselves' not an idealized version of ourselves."
Have you read *Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead by Tara Mohr? Are there other books you've read that you've found helpful in your journey to more fully step into your life? Leave your comments below!
Like what you've read? Do me a solid and share it with your networks.
We all need a little moral support these days, especially those of us who would like to read more but simply can't seem to find the time.
Whatever it is that's sucking up your your time to read — kids, work, lack of sleep or just the constant, general effort it takes to keep from veering into chaos — I hope these quotes inspire you to take a little time for some self-care and pick up your next great read.
A few weeks ago, an article showed up in my newsfeed from our local newspaper:
Winter river rafting is a 'magical experience;' here's where to do it in Michigan.
Before I'd even read the whole thing, I immediately texted my group of outdoorsy girlfriends:
"OUR BUCKET LIST JUST GOT LONGER."
Two weeks later, after a flurry of texts, emails and Facebook messages, I hopped into an inflatable boat on the ice-crusted, fast-flowing Jordan River.
Don't you just love it when plans come together quickly?
Much of the trip credit goes to Lisa, who both organized the outing and took the fabulous photos in this post. Usually I'm the one who does the organizing so it was great that Lisa took over the role. Thanks Lisa!
Winter river rafting: It's either not as bad as you think, or way more awesome than you think.
Many people think that getting into a boat while there's ice and snow around is a dangerous proposition.
I'm here to tell you: It's not.
At least it isn't in Michigan. If anything, floating down a river in winter was more relaxing than doing it in the summer. There's almost zero chance of you getting wet, much less of tipping over; and there's no other people on the river ruining your peace and quiet with their loud music and cursing (or occasionally, having sex).
In the winter, everything is more beautiful, more peaceful, more amazing. We saw deer, another group just behind us saw a beaver, and everything was so quiet. The only thing that could have made this trip better was if the sun was shining, but those of us in the upper midwest know that you have to take what you can get when it comes to weather.
Winter rafting rules
There are a few rafting rules in the winter that are different than the summer. If you can understand and follow them, then you'll be just fine.
1. Watch for low-hanging branches.
Unlike the summer, where the river is regularly cleared of fallen trees and limbs, the winter river is a bit more cluttered. Your guide should warn you of these (ours was named Al and he made dad jokes and looked a bit like Gandalf), or, you can just see them yourself and duck. Duck LOW. Like, lie in the lap of the person next you — a great way to build trust and camaraderie..
One of the women in our group did manage to get a small cut on her face when some ice slid off a branch. But she loved it. The rest of us were actually jealous. Like three different people tried to give her a bandaid and she refused. She said she wanted to casually bring it up on Monday's staff meeting ("Now next up is the marketing budget, but before we move on does anyone think that with this head wound I should be making any big decisions...?")
2. The river runs faster in the winter.
Because the riverbanks freeze before the middle of the river, you'll find winter river rafting moves very quickly — basically the whole current is funneled into the middle. So what may have taken you an leisurely hour and a half in August will take about half the time in February. The good news is that there isn't much paddling to do (your guide will do most of it, asking for a little help every once in awhile) so you can sit back and enjoy the view.
3. The trips don't run if the river is frozen.
Up until the day before our trip we weren't sure we were going to get to do it. Our guide service, the awesome Jordan Valley Outfitters, can't run the trips unless the river is wide enough to get the inflatable boats through (the boats are the same as what they use in Colorado). We had just experienced a very extreme polar vortex in Michigan, and so most of us had our money on the trip being cancelled. But it warmed up just in time.
In summary, if you can watch out for branches, not freak out at a fast current and the river hasn't iced over, you're all set to have an amazing adventure.
This is actually the fourth rule, but it's so important I made it its own heading.
Everyone I told beforehand about my plans had the same facial expression: The "You're-going-to-freeze-your-ass-off" face.
They weren't wrong. But they weren't exactly right either.
To explain, here's what I wore (with tips on how it was awesome OR how I should've known better):
The details of the trip
The trip started at the JV Outfitters headquarters, where we paid $40 each and boarded a bus with about 10 other people at 1:30pm. Dan & Melanie, who manage the shop, run the trips on weekends every four hours or so. It was about a ten minute ride to where we "put in," and we all grabbed a Personal Floatation Device (the outfitter actually laughed when Lisa asked about her "PDF" — which is another thing entirely!) from the back of our bus seats as we headed down to the river.
We had five women in our group, so we got our own boat. We listened to a quick safety briefing, then headed down to the river to get into our boat.
The float begins
I was a little nervous about getting into the raft; as a kid, I had a traumatic river accident with a friend, and so I've always been just a tad anxious when it comes to float trips, even in the summer. But it was as easy as a one-two quick step into the boat. We settled in and pushed off, and headed down the river.
It wasn't long before we came to our first tree and had to crouch down and hold our arms over our heads so that the branches wouldn't swipe our hats from our heads. In fact, the only person to lose something was our guide! But he deftly plucked his hat out of the river with his paddle.
The river flowed quickly around corners and we bumped into rocks and turned around backwards several times, but it was all very chill (ha). Someone said it felt a little like bumper cars. We all marveled at the scenery and the way the snow was untouched in the woods. We saw deer bounding off into the forest at several points (apparently we just missed seeing a beaver, though we saw plenty of sticks that the beaver left behind). Sometimes, when Al asked, we would paddle to help get the boat pointed in the right direction. But mostly we spent the time alternating between taking photos and ducking under tree limbs.
A treat at the end
An hour and a half later (or a bit less), we arrived at the end point. It was just as easy getting out of the boat as it was getting in, much to my relief. We headed up to the bus where there was hot cocoa and "river rocks" — a sort of local sugar cookie-type of treat — waiting for us. We chatted with the others in our group while everyone took turns pouring hot cocoa for each other (they also had hot cider if you wanted it) and comparing notes on our trips.
Do it. Do it now.
If you get the chance, you should try winter river rafting. I'm not sure you need to do it more than once, unless the first time you don't have much snow. You can even do it with the family or as a birthday or bachelorette party. The pictures are amazing, and besides — you've probably done all the skiing, snowshoeing and winter hiking at some point — so why not try something new?
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Jill Hinton Wolfe,
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