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We’re pretty obsessed with gear—and have been for the past 80 years. And if you’re here, that means you’re also probably pretty obsessed. We are constantly choosing, testing, reviewing and re-choosing gear, and a lot of it has to do with what resonates well with you, our customers. So we’re bringing you the top purchased products across every category for the first half of 2018. If your fellow outdoorspeople think this stuff is good, we bet you will too.

KUHL Renegade Convertible Pants - Men's

Men are loving these convertible pants. They feel like cotton, but perform like synthetic fabric. And, best yet, you can zip off the legs when things heat up. Add in UPF 50 sun protection, and you have pants that take you places.

REI Co-op Lightweight Merino Wool Hiking Crew Socks

If you’re hiking, you need good socks. Wool is naturally moisture-wicking, quick-drying and odor-resistant. The reinforced padding at the heel and toe means lots of comfort and durability. Plus, these are unisex, so everyone can enjoy them.

Clif Shot Bloks Fastpak

Looking for your next snack? Everyone agrees: These Clif Shot Blocks make for simple snacking. They are even USDA certified organic with 100 percent naturally sourced ingredients, so you can rest assured you’re getting good, clean energy.

Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Sack - 13 Liters

Our top-selling watersports item is this dry sack. The fully-taped seams and roll-top closure means it’s completely waterproof. The durable buckle features a D-ring attachment for easy attachment to pack or kayak. That’s smart.

BlueWater 1'' Climb-Spec Tubular Webbing

When you’re climbing, the basics matter. This tubular webbing is perfect for making your own runners or etriers for anchoring or slings. It makes sense that something so simple is the bestseller for climbing—you always need more webbing.

Osprey Daylite Daypack

Traveling in the near future? The experts (you, our customers) picked the best bag for the trip. This daypack has all the organization and comfort you need to take on days of hiking in the mountains or backpacking in Europe.

Co-op Cycles Presta Tube - 700 x 23 - 25 / 28 - 32 / 35 – 43

If you cycle, you’re going to get some flats. And if you get some flats, you’re going to need tubes. These are bestsellers because they are durable and fit a wide variety of 700c tire sizes for easy replacement. Stock up now! Looking for another size? We also carry this tube in 27.5” and 29”.

humangear GoBites Uno Spork

The people have spoken. If you’re going to be eating in the backcountry, you’re going to need a utensil that works. Combining a spoon and a fork with a cutting edge, this spork is made to be both durable and utilitarian. We like the clean, solid design.

The post Best-Selling Outdoor Gear in 2018 (so far) appeared first on REI Co-op Journal.

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Hike | REI Co-op Journal by Jessica Bernhard - 4d ago

A couple of years ago my 3-year-old son and I had one of those especially difficult days getting on trail. We were visiting Arches National Park and the challenge started in the parking lot of Delicate Arch. I wanted to carry Mason in a soft-structured carrier, but he just wasn’t having it. He insisted on the frame carrier and wouldn’t budge until I pulled my Deuter Kid Comfort 3 out of the back of our truck. Of course, once I got the frame carrier out, he wanted nothing to do with it. Thirty minutes later he was in, after much coaxing, bribing and practically forcing him into the carrier. That’s when I realized I hadn’t taken the time to adjust the size. If only I had started earlier in the day or had a distraction like a toy or a friend hiking with us to help alleviate the situation, setting off on our hike might have been smoother. Such is life as a parent, grandparent or caregiver of a young one attempting to get out there on trail.

Assess your situation ahead of time to make hiking fun for the whole family. (Photo Credit: Deanna Curry)

If you have kids or care for young kids on a regular basis, you’re probably nodding your head in solidarity and saying “been there.” If you are new to hiking with your baby or toddler, just wait. It’s coming. Soon you too will know the feeling of relief as you start down the trail after taking 30 minutes to just get out of the car and reach the trailhead. If I’ve learned anything over the last five years with Mason, one of the things I know all too well is that it’s important to really assess your situation—from where you are headed to the gear you are bringing—before you get to the trail. It would be nice if hiking with kids were as simple as picking a trail and going for it. It can be at times, but if you really want to have happy hikers who will keep enjoying family adventures well into their teen years and you want to accommodate the whole family—infant to grandparent—you want to carefully look at a combination of things.

Who is in your family?

Consider your family members and their unique needs to select a trail that feels just right. (Photo Credit: Ashley Scheider)

Once, you might have had a quiet little baby who was happy to gaze up at the sunlight streaming through the leaves in the trees, but now he’s 3. This means he’s in the “it’s all about me and my way” phase. Expect some serious patience and negotiating at times. For this, I suggest bribes and toys. Keep them handy for distractions and to get you moving. Do you have more than one kid? Sometimes, that can be a good thing, as multiple kids will keep each other going on trail. But it can also mean you’ll want to be more aware of the trails you are picking so you don’t have a mini heart attack when your 4-year-old decides to take off while you are changing a super poopy diaper. To keep pre-kindergarten-age kids in check while you’re on the ground wrestling with wet nappies, bring a toy like a magnifying glass and have your 4-year-old tell you all they can see on the ground. No toys? Ask them to find five shades of green for you in the surroundings. Bringing grandparents along? Consider the terrain and if there are roots or rocks they might have to step over. While a grandparent might do great on sidewalks, uneven terrain requires more muscle. There are many trails that can accommodate canes or walkers. The same thing goes for little ones who are new to walking. Smoother trails with bark or firm dirt are easier to negotiate than loose gravel. Also, look for trails with benches or good stumps for resting. This can be a boon for nursing parents.

What do you think would make a good hike?

Seek out trails that are interesting early on in the hike. Bonus points for multiple “interesting for kids” stops along the way. (Photo Credit: Arika Bauer)

Hikes you used to do pre-baby might not be what you remembered. Once, you might have blasted through long, boring stretches to get to the gold nugget of the hike where the waterfall was flowing or the view was epic, but now you might literally be crawling or going around in circles on the trail. Seek out trails that are interesting early on in the hike. Bonus points for multiple “interesting for kids” stops along the way. Abandoned, crumbling structures (as long as they are not hazardous), a rope swing, flower fields, natural rock piles and huge muddy puddles are all great toddler and kid motivators. If you have older family members along, keep everyone positive and excited about the adventure by choosing smooth trails that require minimal hiking to reach the view, waterfall or point of interest. “When choosing a hike for my little one, I look for trails with variety and something fun at the end, such as waterfalls, lakes, a restored cabin. I don't shy away from elevation, but make sure the trail is no longer than five miles. I’ve found that kids are stronger than we give them credit for, and with a little positive reinforcement and lots of snacks, they can climb most anything,” says Ryann Peverly, an ambassador for Adventure Mamas from Puyallup, Washington.

What trails are around you?

Finding community will help get you to the best trails nearby. (Photo Credit: Ashley Scheider)

You might be surprised to find that you don’t need to travel far from home to find a trail that will keep kids entertained. In fact, for many, a shorter drive to a hike might mean a less cranky kid on trail. Not all kids travel well, so work up to hikes that are farther away as your child ages and you adventure more. “When I was new to exploring with my kids, I stayed close to home because there was a part of me that was afraid I’d get lost, especially if there was no cell service,” says Alex Wong, Hike It Baby Ambassador, of Salt Lake City, Utah. “Now I have no problem driving an hour for a great hike. Still, there are times I can’t do a hike that takes up the whole day, so on those days I go back to those hikes I learned early on that are close to home and I still get the enjoyment of being on trail.” Finding community will help get you to the best trails nearby. Are you a solo parent (single or often on your own) and wrangling a few kids at once? Keep it close to home for your own comfort level. Check out the Hike it Baby Solo Parenting Facebook group for resource suggestions from the community.

What does your gear look like?

Choose carriers wisely, as you'll spend lots of time with this pack on your back! (Photo Credit: Jessica Human)

You don’t need fancy clothes or gear, but expect everything to get incredibly dirty. I always bring a change of clothes and a towel in the car because it’s not uncommon for Mason to lie down in a mud puddle just because it’s there. Simple rubber boots are a must if you live anywhere that gets even the slightest rain. Gloves and hats can be challenging to keep on. Be creative, and if your kid wants to rock a teapot cozy on their head that is shaped like a chicken (true story here), let them if it will keep them warm. Take the time to research your gear and don’t just buy it because it’s on sale or the first thing you see. This is especially true with carriers because you will be doing a lot of carrying when kids are young. As Melissa Freeman, Hike It Baby Ambassador from Hampton Roads, Virginia, says: “The carrier is key. Even if it’s a short distance or your kids are used to hiking, sometimes a skinned knee or a grumpy toddler suddenly necessitates being carried, and it’s way easier to throw them on your back than carry them in your arms.”

Remember, getting out there with family members will have ups and downs, bumps and bruises and plenty of nerve-racking moments. But the key is anticipating as much as you can prior to the hike, so you can deal with whatever is thrown at you on the day of your adventure.

Related articles:

The post Family Hiking Tips appeared first on REI Co-op Journal.

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A common ingredient in your favorite energy drink grows wild in the mountains of North Carolina, and it’s worth so much, you have to win a lottery in order to harvest it legally. Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests have opened their annual lottery for permits to harvest wild American ginseng.

People use ginseng for a variety of reasons: to potentially stay awake, lower blood pressure, increase mental clarity or reduce heart disease risk, to name a few. Much of the scientific research hasn’t yielded sufficient evidence on the effectiveness of the root, but it’s been coveted in Asia for centuries because of its reported benefits. The popularity of ginseng in China has resulted in a robust market for American ginseng, which has a similar appearance to Asian species used in traditional remedies. But that robust market has led to overharvesting and poaching, and populations of wild ginseng plants found in the Southern Appalachians are on a sharp decline, according to North Carolina National Forests.

Photo Credit: Gary Kauffman

“There are a number of herbs that are being harvested on national forest land, but nothing along the scale of ginseng,” says Gary Kauffman, a botanist for North Carolina National Forests. “Because of the long history and the massive demand for the root, no other herb can get the return rate of ginseng.”

Ginseng is a native plant that grows wild throughout the eastern U.S. and Canada, and it can be harvested in 19 states. In North Carolina, it’s found mostly in the mountains near the Tennessee border. It’s been harvested in the area since the mid-1700s and has traditionally been shipped to Asia, where the herb is used for medicinal purposes. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which issues exporting permits for the root, most of the plants harvested in the U.S. are still shipped to Hong Kong and China, and prices for the wild plant have risen significantly in the last 10 years. Kauffman says harvesters can get between $500 and $1,000 per dried pound of root, and the FWS estimates the wholesale value of wild American ginseng roots at around $27 million per year. The increased market for ginseng puts increased pressure on the plant throughout its natural habitat, which could be problematic for the species’ longevity.

“When you harvest ginseng, you kill it,” Kauffman says.

Unlike harvesting fruit or mushrooms, the root of ginseng is the valuable component, so you have to remove the plant from the soil. Although ginseng fetches a high price per pound, it takes roughly 300 plants to make up a dried pound of ginseng, which is how it’s sold. The U.S. Forest Service says it’s difficult to estimate the exact rate of ginseng’s decline in North Carolina’s mountains, but based on anecdotal evidence, the Forest Service believes the native ginseng population has dropped drastically in the last few decades.

“We look at historical accounts of people harvesting ginseng in the area and the amount that’s being sold on the market, and we can get a sense for how much is being harvested legally and illegally,” Kauffman says. “I’ve seen accounts of families setting up camp in one cove for a whole summer and all of the kids and parents digging for ginseng day after day.”

Photo Credit: Gary Kauffman

Whereas some national forests along the eastern seaboard have banned ginseng harvesting all together, North Carolina National Forests instituted a permit system in the ‘80s. Then in 2012, it reduced the number of permits by 75 percent and began the lottery system, issuing just 136 permits a year. Even though the Forest Service can limit the number of people who harvest the root legally, they have little control over the number of people poaching ginseng out of season and without a permit.

“It’s impossible to completely police it,” Kauffman says, adding that each law enforcement agent for the Forest Service in North Carolina is responsible for policing 150,000 acres of forest. And most ginseng grows in remote locations that officers can’t easily reach. “We’ve contemplated banning it outright because there isn’t much indication that we’re making a difference in the illegal harvesting of the plant. But with the money from the permits, we’re trying to develop seedbeds so we can augment existing populations and establish new populations in appropriate habitats.”

The lottery for a ginseng permit runs through Friday, July 20, so there’s still time to land one of the 136 spots. You have to call or visit a ranger district office to apply for a lottery spot (no email submissions). If you get a permit to harvest ginseng in Pisgah or Nantahala National Forests, you’ll be notified by a letter before August 17. The harvest season runs from September 1 to September 15.

What You Need to Know About Harvesting Ginseng
  • Removing ginseng from a National Forest without a permit is illegal and may result in a $5,000 fine, a six-month sentence in federal prison, or both.
  • Do not harvest ginseng in designated Wilderness areas.
  • Only harvest plants that are at least five years old, which will have at least three leaves. Kauffman recommends only harvesting plants that also have red seeds.
  • Replant the seeds in the same spot you harvested the original plant from, burying the seeds one inch beneath the top of the soil.
  • Permit holders are allowed to collect up to three pounds of wet ginseng per year.

The post North Carolina’s Ginseng Lottery Has Begun appeared first on REI Co-op Journal.

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My friend Aaron and I spent parts of two days tromping in and around Denali National Park in early May. The mountains were spectacular, the moose were enormous and the snowy owl that flew across my line of vision was a delightful surprise. Even the ptarmigan that sat on the side of the road looking like a punk-rock chicken was a charming diversion. Indeed, everything about Denali was wonderful. But I had traveled 3,700 miles to get there, and I wanted more than wonderful.

I wanted to see so many eagles I got bored with them, to have call-and-response howling with coyotes, to play gin rummy with bears. Just kidding. Bears play euchre. But seriously—you know how it is before a hike you’re excited about, right? You set your expectations so sky-high, or at least I do, that even a great hike can’t live up to them. I couldn’t count how many friends I’d told before the trip, “We’re going to hike Denali,” over-enunciating Denali, as if the very word foretold awesomeness.

I expected the hike to give me a searing freeze-frame memory, a tremendous true tale worthy of the Tall One, which is what Denali means in Koyukon.

It didn't—at least not while I was there.            

My Denali moment came long after I left. A week after we got home, Aaron texted me two photos and they transformed my entire memory of Denali. Gone was my subtle disappointment and in its place was a tremendous true tale I’ll tell forever.

My Denali experience made me think about the great expectations we all set on hiking. We go in with preconceived notions and come out disappointed when they aren’t met. But I’ve noticed a strange trend in my hiking life: Some hikes have a way of becoming retroactively better than I had ever hoped.             

That’s why the photos Aaron sent me made me think of my first-ever backpacking trip, which was on the Appalachian Trail (AT). That hike, unlike Denali, wasn’t wonderful in the present. In fact, it was a disaster of such monumental proportions that if the aftermath weren’t so great, I might have never hiked again. But that hike, like the one in Denali, got better after it was over.

I was so excited the night before the AT hike that I couldn’t sleep. I felt foolish—a 41-year-old man shouldn’t be so wound up that he tosses and turns all night. On the other hand, it was going to be my first overnight hike, and I had been looking forward to it for three months.

Night finally ended, dawn arrived, we put our boots on the trail and yikes. What a mess. Start with the rain. The famous brown ribbon of a trail that runs from Georgia to Maine became a creek. The only way to avoid stepping in ankle-deep water was to straddle the sides of the trail. The rain fell in such thick sheets that if one of the four of us lagged just 50 feet behind, he disappeared into the torrent.

On top of the terrible weather, add my poor choices due to inexperience. I wore a pair of bargain-rack rain pants. About five minutes into the hike, a briar pricked the right leg. That tiny tear became a full circle, and three-quarters of the pant-leg dropped down to my ankle. An hour later, the left side tore and separated, too. We hadn’t even stopped for lunch, and my rain pants were already in three pieces. It looked like I was wearing matching leg warmers and shorts.

The author with his pants in three pieces. (Photo Credit: Andy Korepanov)

That was bad enough. Under those rain pants, I wore 100 percent cotton pants, which was 150 percent foolish. They were waterlogged minutes after my rain pants fell apart. I carried a borrowed backpack, and I had not asked for the rain cover. Everything inside got soaked.

By mid-afternoon, the drenching turned me from miserable to—I don’t want to say afraid, but I was close to that. I worried about sleeping in wet clothes in a wet sleeping bag in a wet tent on wet ground. The only way to get warm and dry was to build a fire. That would have been impossible, because even if it had stopped raining, every piece of kindling and wood would have been soaked beyond burnable. The temperature was 10 degrees cooler than had been forecasted. The difference between high 50s and dry and high 40s and sopping is the difference between awesome and never hiking again.

By luck, our targeted campsite happened to be close to Overmountain Shelter near the Tennessee–North Carolina border. We immediately decided to sleep there. It’s an old barn, and on this night, it must have been one of the most populated shelters on the AT. By nightfall, I counted 27 people spread across the two floors. We passed around food and drink and stories of rain-soaked horror with our shelter mates. The fact we all suffered meant we all suffered a little less.

We set up a tent inside the shelter for privacy, though I was walking around wearing dark blue long johns in front of complete strangers, so it’s not like I was bashful. All night, I heard the pitter-patter of little feet, not because there were small children running around, but because mice used the roof of my tent to throw a dance party.

Somehow, I still got a good night's sleep. The next morning, my clothes remained drenched. One of my buddies let me borrow some of his; he’s about six inches taller than I am, so I pulled the pants nearly up to my armpits. That still beat my three-piece rain pants.

Someone at the shelter made excellent coffee. It warmed my still-chilled bones. So did the sun as it rose above the mountains. The good morning started the redemption of the previous day’s misery.

The hike continued it. I walked alongside Andy. Before that trip, Andy and I had been friends—we lived in the same neighborhood, and our daughters, who have the exact same birthday, were friends. But we hadn’t been close.

That hike—because of the shared suffering, the talks on the trail, the laughter about the pants—started a transformation of our friendship. In the months and years to come, Andy became one of my best friends. We have hiked all over North Carolina together, spent hundreds of hours talking as we watched our kids play at the park and leaned on each other in tough times. It makes all the cold, all the soaking, all the worry worth it—many times over.

***

Just like my memory of that AT hike is a fond one because of what happened after, so too, is my Denali memory. The two pictures Aaron sent me were of a four-legged creature we had seen from the car on the main road in Denali. The conversation had gone like this: What is that? Is that a dog? What would a dog be doing way out here? It can’t be a wolf, can it? It has a collar. And what would a wolf be doing in the middle of the road? Wouldn’t a wolf run when it saw our car?

I had forgotten about the animal until Aaron sent me the pictures. Once we looked closely at them, we both wondered if we had missed something big. In one picture, the animal looked like a dog I’d love to play fetch with. In the other, it looked primal, hungry, mean.

Was it a dog or a wolf? (Photo Credit: Aaron Blough)

But was it a dog? Neither one of us knew. All week long in Alaska, from Anchorage to Fairbanks and back again, while hunting, hiking, boating and riding ATVs, I had from time to time seen a splash of brown out of the corner of my eye and jerked my head quickly, sure that what had turned out to be a downed tree had actually been a bear. (I really wanted to see a bear.) Now, I didn’t want to jump to conclusions that a creature that looked like a dog, walked like a dog and had a collar like a dog was anything but a dog.

I forwarded the pictures to a public affairs officer at Denali. After receiving the first picture, she said that she thought it was a wolf but wanted to check. After the second: “It’s definitely a wolf.” She said only a fraction of people who go to Denali see a wolf. “Congratulations,” she said in an email.

It was a wolf! (Photo Credit: Aaron Blough)

When you get congratulated because of what you saw on a hike, you know the hike was awesome—even if you didn’t realize it at the time.

Now Aaron and I laugh about that picture, and our less-than-informed response to it, just like Andy and I laugh about the rain and my torn pants. Neither of those hikes went anywhere near like I imagined they would. Neither of them met my preconceived notions of great. But both turned out far better than I would have imagined, and that’s a lesson I’ll remember every time a trip isn’t perfect.

 Now it’s time to prepare for my next hike, which will be in Big Bend National Park in Texas. It looks like it will be totally awesome. I can’t wait to find out how.

The post There’s No Such Thing As a Perfect Hike appeared first on REI Co-op Journal.

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Here at the co-op, we test tons of products. Small to large, complicated to simple, we’ve tried them out and brought you reviews of the best of the best. However, sometimes it’s even better to hear from the people who buy the products. Especially when those people are SO EXCITED to share their feedback.

Sit back and enjoy—and maybe make some space for this gear on your wishlist. (These reviews have been edited for length and clarity.)

REI Co-op Quarter Dome 1 Tent

★★★★★

The Greatest Piece of Engineering in the World

“This tent is the pinnacle of modern engineering.

“I was camping at Badlands National Park and god unleashed but the worst thunder storm in the history of time that night. The gale force winds shook my soul as I looked death in the eye that night. Other, less [intrepid], tents crumpled and folded under the pressure. But this tent bent and bent but it did not break. The hail came and the rainfly refused to give me up. I have never seen such determination out of a piece of technology in my life. When all was said and done, this tent kept me dry and safe through a storm I had no business surviving.”

—sharmani

Patagonia Black Hole Duffel - 60L

★★★★★

It Fits Everything

“I don't usually write reviews for the things I buy, but this bag is so good that I specifically sat down to write one. The name says it all, it's a black hole.

“I used this bag last weekend to go and visit some old friends a few hours away, and it fit literally everything I needed to bring. I packed: 3 full days worth of clothes including pants and sweatshirts for each of the days, running shorts/shirt/top and bottom base layers/hat/gloves/socks/and SHOES, a pair of sweatpants, all my chargers, my tablet, my toiletry bag which is like half the size of a football, an entire board game, and my pillow. My whole entire pillow. …

“I just kept putting stuff in, and putting stuff in. I had it all laid out and thought to myself, "Ok. I'll need this bag, and then probably a backpack or something and I'll carry my pillow." And then the black hole ate everything. Not only that, but it's a backpack itself! …

“I went back and forth about buying this bag vs other ones, but hands down I would buy this one again. I don't have a bad thing to say about this bag.”

tyler22

climbOn! Climb On! Skin Repair Bar - 1 oz.

★★★★★

The Bar is the Bomb, Use it or Lose it!

“Use as directed, it’s cool.

“What's so great about it, it really works!

“What's not so great, you use it up!

“If only life or love could be as refreshingly simple and predictable as this little miracle in a can!”

easyrider

Bodyglide Anti-Chafe Formula Skin Protectant - 1.5 oz.

★★★★★

Worth its Weight in Gold

“Rarely do I ever find a product that is so good that I feel compelled to write a review about it. I have been searching for a cure for as long as I can remember for chafing in the nether-regions. I have grown up in the south and always been plagued by excruciating pain after doing anything active outdoors in 90+ degree weather. I have used every known home remedy and nothing has worked as well as this or been as easy and non-messy to use. I work at a restaurant that requires us to wear jeans and we have a patio. I always considered this "cruel and unusual punishment." By the end of a twelve hour shift I could barely walk without severe pain. This product allows me to work all day unaffected by the heat, sweat, and irritation that used to cripple me by the end of the day. It prevents saddle sores while cycling. I use it on my stomach when "boogie-boarding" at the beach. I put it under my pack straps and on my feet when backpacking. I have nothing bad to say about this product. It has allowed me to enjoy every step of a hike in the summer around where I live. The last few miles of a hike used to be excruciating which really can rob the splendor of the overlooks and the small beauties along the way. I wish that I had found this product ten years ago. I have suggested this product to all of my hiking buddies and fellow servers at work. If you have any doubt just buy this product and you will feel the same way. It might be my imagination but it also seems to reduce odor as well. This stuff is great!!! Never greasy, never messy, a preventative measure as well as a cure. Thanks Body Glide!!!”

BudgetMindedTrekker

Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Tandem Inflatable Kayak

★★★★★

A Great Boat in Your Trunk

“I have a Buick Park Avenue for which roof top carriers aren’t available. When my wife and I wanted to buy either a canoe or a kayak, we decided to go inflatable and skip the rack search. Good idea! After a few trips to local lakes, we took our tandem to Glacier N.P. and had a wonderful outing on Lake MacDonald. 15 minutes of set-up with a battery powered Coleman air pump did most of the job, topped off by a few strokes from a 2-way hand pump we bought with the boat. It could not be easier, even for a nuclear med tech like me!! Back in its case, back in the trunk and a smooth 6 hour drive back to Colville in my big Buick and I’m a happy man. Buy this boat!! You will not be disappointed. We may buy a canoe for local runs, using my wife’s Ford for carrying it, but the kayak remains our long distance traveling companion. Nice Job, Advanced Elements!!!!”

Tony the Nuke

Trigger Point Performance GRID Foam Roller

★★★★★

Wonderful!

“I've had my Trigger Point foam roller for a couple of weeks now, and am so happy my physical therapist recommended it for my back issues. I just wish I could take it with me everywhere I go, but people would most likely stare if I did this at the mall, grocery store, church, etc. It's wonderful!”

Pianomama

Balega Hidden Comfort Socks

★★★★★

The Best Socks for Just Walking

“Took these socks on a trip to Glacier Park. Am past the age of hiking, so short walks were in order. The socks felt Wonderful! Haven't had folks look at my feet in years, but several people did and commented on my socks. Wow! Would I buy more of them? You bet!”

Hollister Harpy

Pearl Izumi Pursuit Attack Bike Shorts - Men’s

★★★★★

Love It!

“I really cannot think of anything to not like about these shorts. I've restarted cycling after a long way away due to an injury. Basically, my butt had reverted to novice status; but these shorts help me achieve long rides with ease.”

OG85

Kammok Roo Double Hammock

★★★★★

From the Minute I Ordered

“From the minute I ordered it, I knew that I couldn't wait to get the package in the mail, leading to multiple mail interceptions and ultimately skipping my lunch period to go to the post office and pick it up myself. [Less than] 30 minutes later, the hammock was [hanging] with a Grand Trunk and Eno in an encompassing triangle shape in the bosom of the Colorado Rockies. I stayed in the hammock for at least two hours and waited into the cold until I had to go home. The set up took only minutes, and the Python straps are definitely a must buy. World grown, world sown, and world known. Kammock Roo's and other accessories are a must by a continuous thrill seeking and enhancing product.”

Kingsley R.

The North Face Resolve Reflective Jacket - Boys’

★★★★★

I Use This Jacket Every Single Day!!!!!

“I use this product on rainy or not rainy days ... almost every day! So comfortable and such a great product!!!! Great thing for being small could fit in kids sizes!!! Wooohoooo!!!!”

Laura

The North Face Reversible Mossbud Swirl Fleece Jacket - Girls’

★★★★★

Dream Became Reality for a Little Girl

“I wanted to purchase a gift for my 11 year old niece as a reward for her performance in her school play and a great report card. Her dream was to have a mint green North Face coat. The look on her face when she put on the beautiful coat was just priceless. Thank you for making such a wonderfully warm and stylish coat and enabling her dream to come true.”

TPFan

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Diedre Tanenberg grew up exploring the outdoors. The 33-year-old REI Outdoor School instructor was raised on the West Coast, where she acquired a passion for pushing herself outside, primarily through camping and whitewater rafting.

It therefore made perfect sense that one day Tanenberg would become an instructor for the REI Outdoor School. But there’s one thing that makes her classes unique: Tanenberg, who is deaf, teaches her courses in American Sign Language (ASL). After graduating from Sonoma State University in 2012 with a degree in environmental studies and outdoor leadership, Tanenberg landed a job at REI and worked her way up as a sales associate, eventually becoming the first Outdoor School instructor to teach classes in ASL.

While other Outdoor School classes are interpreted into ASL, Tanenberg is the only active instructor who is deaf and teaching in ASL—and thereby inspiring students who are deaf and hard-of-hearing to know that they can be outdoor adventurers like her. We caught up with Tanenberg to hear more about the courses she teaches and how she’s working to expand access to the outdoors.

Editor’s note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you first get interested in the outdoors?

I’ve always loved camping and whitewater rafting. My grandfather was actually a backpacker, a cross-country cyclist and a fisherman. I found out that before the REI Outdoor School was formed, he led some early classes for the store in Sacramento, California. He was also an avid composter, and I’m passionate about composting and waste management as well.

How did you get started working for REI?

I’ve been working for REI for five years. I started out as a sales specialist for the REI store in Santa Rosa, and then I transferred to the Corte Madera store where I was the sales lead in the camping department. Working in sales for REI was so fun—getting that hands-on experience with gear is so invaluable. You can’t get that kind of experience working anywhere else, and I knew I wanted to share it.

How did you make the jump from sales to teaching courses? 

I knew from day one that I wanted to teach classes in ASL. I happened to meet Steve Wood in an Outdoor School Map and Compass Navigation class and I immediately asked him how I could become an instructor and how we could make classes available for the deaf community. Steve was the one who suggested that I start out as a sales associate to get the experience and knowledge of REI’s products, and then apply for the Outdoor School. In 2016, I was finally hired as an instructor. I started out as a co-instructor for the Bay Area Hikes course, which was not offered in ASL.

Tanenberg at the San Francisco store. (Photo Credit: Shelby Carpenter)

My reviews were good from early on. To engage students, even though I wasn’t teaching classes in ASL, I would teach them sign language for things they might see along the trail—words like “bird” or “whale” or “butterfly”—and have them repeat those new signs to me at the end of the hike. Teaching those courses helped me figure out what was relevant and what wasn’t. It also gave me ideas for when I would eventually teach classes in ASL. For example, it can be hard to talk while you’re moving on the trail, so I found that I did a lot of instructing during breaks. I knew that the same problem with talking on the trail would happen when working with the deaf community, and that I might need to plan even more time for breaks to stop and check in and instruct my students.

What classes do you teach in ASL now?

So far, I’ve only done the Muir Beach Hike. My classes typically have anywhere from three to 15 people, depending on the time of year. During my classes, I teach about the Ten Essentials and the gear students need to have a safe adventure outside. I also teach some orienteering and how to use a map and compass. I give students activities, like identifying objects in their environment to help orient themselves toward home. I also like to teach ways that they can get involved in their local communities and volunteer—I think it’s really important to be a steward.

I have a class coming up at Angel Island and I’m really looking forward to that. We’ll ride a ferry over to the island together, and then have three to four hours to hike up Mount Livermore and then get back to the ferry. Eventually, I want to do full moon hikes and solstice hikes, and I’d especially like to lead an overnight backpacking class.

What are some things that are unique about teaching classes in ASL?

I think it can be really inspiring for students to see someone like me—who is deaf and a woman—leading in the outdoors. Some people might look at me and make assumptions that I’m not the outdoorsy type.

In 2016, I went with another instructor to host an REI booth at an expo for people who are members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in Pleasanton, California. People were so excited when they came up to the booth—I would share my stories and they would tell me about their own incredible outdoor adventures. One man I met had hiked the Pacific Crest Trail alone. Can you imagine being so out there and relying on all of your other senses since you can’t hear? People who are deaf already have to be hyperaware of their surroundings even when they’re not outdoors. Stories like this inspire me to think, “Yes! I could do that too.” It can be challenging for deaf adults to get the opportunity to get out there with full language accessibility, which is what makes me so passionate about my work at REI.

Do you think your work is challenging REI to approach things in a new way?

I’m changing the atmosphere of the Outdoor School by being more inclusive and showing that a deaf person can lead a class safely with another instructor who can hear. I think that accessibility is something that the outdoor industry needs to look at in general. It would be great if more gear and equipment was accessible to those who can’t hear. The Garmin inReach, for example, has been an amazing tool because it uses text-based emergency communications. It can connect to my phone so I can send text messages back and forth in case of emergency. I think having the inReach be accessible to those with auditory losses is a huge gain. I believe it will help rescuers know how to communicate with deaf people in the outdoors by having direct communication in this setting.

I would love to see REI take additional steps towards being more inclusive. I think any videos or social media should be captioned to be accessible to the deaf community, for example. I’ve seen REI make great strides in the past few years by captioning some training videos, but I’d like to see even more. I’d also like to see HQ create a tab on the REI.com/learn page specifically for ASL classes.

How can people find out more about your programs?

Potential students can visit my Facebook page to find out about upcoming classes I’m leading and co-instructing.

Promoting accessibility for people who are deaf and hard of hearing is important to REI. As part of the reasonable accommodations that REI makes to remove workplace barriers for its employees, training videos are offered in closed captioning whenever that capability is permitted. REI also plans to build future training modules through a combination of e-learning and embedded video, both of which should offer captioning. 

The post This REI Instructor Teaches Outdoor Classes in American Sign Language appeared first on REI Co-op Journal.

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If you’ve ever worn cotton socks on the trail, you know how bad things can get for your feet: Cotton socks hold moisture next to your skin, which can cause chafing and blisters galore. That’s why you need at least a few pairs of moisture-wicking wool or synthetic hiking socks in your pack.

To bring you the best hiking socks of 2018, we looked to our customers first. Each pair of hiking socks on this list is top-rated by verified purchasers. That means your fellow outdoors people wore these socks for hundreds of miles, through rain and snow and heat waves, through dust and mud and rocky inclines, and came back to tell us how they performed. After perusing customer reviews, we tested the socks ourselves, walking in each pair for several miles on Pacific Northwest trails. We did a smell test, spritzed each pair with water to see how fast it dried, and checked to see which pairs picked up the most debris while hiking in brush. After all this research, here’s what we found.

Best Hiking Socks Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew Socks

Best All-Around Hiking Socks

Versions: Women’s, Men’s

MSRP: $20.00
Fabric: 54% nylon, 42% merino wool and 4% Lycra spandex (women’s); 56% nylon, 40% merino wool and 4% Lycra spandex (men’s)
Height: Micro crew
Cushion: Light

The Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew socks were the most comfortable and breathable socks we tested for summer, fall and spring hiking. Darn Tough socks are made in Vermont and they promise an ideal mix of breathability, comfort and quality. The micro crew length means the socks come up to your lower calf, helping keep out  loose brush. The light cushion makes for excellent breathability without influencing the fit of your boot and shoe, too: Because the socks fit fairly tightly, we didn’t experience any bunching in the toes or heels, which could lead to blisters. We climbed steep trails and trotted back down them in these socks with no hot spots or blisters to be found. An added bonus: Darn Tough socks are relatively smell-proof, too, because they’re made with high-quality merino wool.

Says one customer: “I've been wearing [Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew  socks] since 2013, doing hundreds of miles every year, and have yet to see any kind of failure whatsoever.”

Yes, Darn Tough socks are a bit pricier than other hiking socks, but there’s a good reason for that: Darn Tough offers a lifetime warranty so you’ll only have to buy these socks once. If you ever get a hole in your socks, Darn Tough will send you a replacement pair for free.

WRIGHTSOCK Escape Crew Socks

Best Non-Wool Hiking Socks

MSRP: $17.00
Fabric: Inner: 70% polyester/26% nylon/4% spandex; Outer: 71% polyester/24% nylon/5% spandex
Height: Crew
Cushion: Light

If you’re looking for a non-wool hiking sock option, we think the Wrightsock Escape is the best choice for most people who want to hike during the fall, summer and spring months. The Escape is breathable and wicks away moisture flawlessly. Although it holds on to smells a bit more than the wool socks we tested, it did smell better post-hike than most of the other synthetic socks we tried. Wrightsock’s double-layer design, which knits together two sock layers, helps prevent hot spots and blisters. These are also the softest socks we tried.

Although this model technically comes in men’s sizes, it’s actually unisex. Check the size chart on the product page for details about what size you should buy for your unique foot.

“No issues, no blisters, no pain,” wrote one customer. “I have been looking for a good combination of hiking sock and liner, and I've tried several liners all with an eventual blister or sore skin on feet. [The Wrightsock Escape’s] all-in-one liner and light cushion socks are a dream.”

Darn Tough Hiker Boot Full-Cushion Socks

Best Hiking Socks for Winter Trekking

Versions: Men's, Women's

MSRP: $25.00
Fabric: 66% merino wool, 32% nylon and 2% Lycra spandex
Height: Crew
Cushion: Heavy

If you need a good pair of hiking socks for cold weather hiking, snowshoeing or mountaineering, the Darn Tough Hiker Boot Full-Cushion socks are our top choice. Like their lightweight cousins, they wick moisture well. This is especially important in winter temperatures: The more your foot sweats, the more moisture lands in your sock. Wet socks can be problematic in below freezing temperatures so wearing a sock that wicks away moisture quickly is paramount.

These full-cushion Darn Tough socks were some of the thickest socks we tried and we were glad to find they felt padded but not too padded; you won’t have to go up a size in your boots. Again, all Darn Tough socks have a lifetime warranty. As one customer explained, “I finally put a small hole in a pair after 3 years! Sent them back and [Darn Tough] sent me a brand new pair! No questions asked. They are the only socks I will ever wear!!”

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Hiking Socks Buying Advice

What materials are best for hiking socks?

The number one rule for hiking socks (and most other outdoor gear) is no cotton. “Cotton is the fabric of our lives but it is also the product of many blisters,” says Beth Henkes, footwear sales lead at the Alderwood, Washington, REI store. Wet, cotton socks don’t wick moisture: Instead, they trap moisture next to the skin, which can cause chafing and blisters.

Wool, on the other hand, is king. It is the best material for regulating temperature in the outdoors because wool fibers have hollow shafts, which allow heat to escape quickly. If you’re shopping for outdoor gear, you’ll likely see labels that say “merino wool.” Merino wool comes from Merino sheep, which are prized for their high quality, super-fine wool. Merino wool is typically processed via a boiling protocol that removes many of the microscopic barbs, making it a good option for people who sometimes find themselves irritated by the itchiness of non-merino wool. Wool does not retain smell like other materials: The lack of barbs in the fibers means that smell filters right through.

“You can take three pairs of wool socks on a three-week trip and that’s all you need,” Henkes says. “One on your feet, an extra dry pair in your pack, and one hanging off the back of the pack to dry.”

Synthetic materials (typically made with polyester and nylon) dry more quickly than wool materials, but you’ll likely sweat a bit more in them, compared to wool. Synthetic items are also more likely to retain smell and your feet may slip  a bit more in a pair of synthetic socks, compared to wool. That said, if wool irritates your skin, synthetic materials are a good back up choice.

How should hiking socks fit?

Hiking sock fit largely depends on the shoes you own and the size of your feet. Head into an REI store to get your foot fitted for the right pair of shoes: REI shoe experts are trained to help you assess foot volume, which is the most important part of hiking boot fit. Volume is the depth of your foot—it’s not the same as your arch—and it determines the width and size of the best shoe and sock for you.

Once you’ve gotten your foot measured and you have your socks, here are a few other tips to keep in mind: A good pair of hiking socks won’t bunch. “Pay attention to the fit of the toe and heel. If a sock is too long, it will bunch over your toes. And if the sock is too short, it will slide down into the shoe and feel tight,” says Julia Borsari, REI’s assistant category merchant for socks.

You should also watch for where the seams hit, ideally right below the tips of the toes, Henkes says. If the seams hit in the wrong place, you may get blisters. Ill-fitting socks may slide down the heel (this means the sock is too small) or the seam may hit at the top of the toes (this also means the sock is too small). If you’re wearing through the heels of your socks every few months, the problem is likely an ill-fitted shoe.

Which sock height should I pick?

REI typically sells four sock heights: no show, ankle, crew and knee-high. If you’re wearing a boot that comes up over your ankle bone, you probably need crew-length socks; your sock should be fully under your boots or it will rub on your legs or ankles and promote blisters. If you’re wearing hiking shoes (below the ankle bone) or trail runners, an ankle or no-show sock might be more comfortable. Some trail runners may prefer an ankle sock over a no-show sock because it keeps trail debris out of the shoe. Knee-high socks are best for people who plan to hike in significant brush or in areas where there may be ticks.

In this guide, we’ve recommended only crew-length socks because these socks are the most commonly-purchased item for three-season hikers (summer, spring and fall) who plan to hike on moderately groomed trails in hiking boots and shoes. However, all of the socks we picked come in other lengths.

Does hiking sock thickness matter?

REI typically sells socks in four thicknesses: No cushion, light cushion, medium cushion and heavy cushion. For most people who plan to hike on moderate terrain, a medium or lightweight hiking sock is the best choice. Typically, it makes sense to start with a lightweight sock and work your way up, if you find that your feet are getting cold. A medium-weight sock may be a good fit for people who like a bit more padding while hiking.

If you have perpetually cold feet, if you like to hike at cold times of day (in the early morning or late evening), or if you plan to hike in the winter or are a mountaineer, you may want heavy cushion socks. However, Henkes says many people will be just fine with a light or medium-weight socks, plus liner socks. Heavy socks add a lot of bulk to a shoe, meaning you’ll be prone to blisters unless you go up a half size in your boots. Plus, a light or medium-weight wool sock will typically keep your feet warmer than a thick sock because thinner socks wick moisture quickly and sit close to the foot. Your socks won’t be as wet in a thinner sock and thus, your feet will stay warmer.

Do I need  liner socks to prevent blisters?

“The most common reason for people getting blisters from hiking is not wearing proper hiking socks,” Borsari says. When you’re considering blister prevention, the first step is ditching your cotton socks and picking up a pair of wool or synthetic socks. This may fix your blister problems entirely but if it doesn’t, some people also prefer adding liner socks into the mix. Liner socks are thin socks that add extra protection between your foot and your hiking sock. If you’re new to hiking, Henkes recommends trying  liner socks during a basic hike to see what you think. (We didn’t test liner socks for this guide, but the Wrightsock, our best synthetic sock pick, has a built in liner sock).

If you are wearing a liner sock, Henkes says to match like with like: Pair a wool sock with a wool liner sock, or a synthetic sock with a synthetic liner sock. If you put a synthetic liner sock under a wool sock, the synthetic sock will trap heat and overwhelm the wool—you’ll be extra hot. If you’re looking for an alternative to a liner sock, Henkes recommends adding a layer of Body Glide to your feet, under your socks. Surgical tape is also often recommended as a blister prevention tool.

Are men’s and women’s socks different?

Take it straight from the expert: “In most cases, there’s no difference between a men’s and a women’s sock besides the color,” Henkes says. There are a few pairs of running socks that are tailored to women’s and men’s feet (the women’s socks tend to fit more narrowly, says Henkes). But most people have triangular feet and will fit into a unisex sock option.

How can I make my socks last longer?

Don’t wash your socks very often. The more you wash your socks, the more the fibers break down and the less useful they become. Some socks will also shrink in the wash. (According to Henkes and customer reviews, Wrightsocks are known for this.)

Instead of throwing your socks straight in the wash, turn them inside-out and let them dry on their own. Then give them a smell test. If they don’t smell, don’t wash them. If they do smell, “Wash inside-out on a warm setting, tumble dry low and avoid fabric softener,” Borsari says. Most hiking socks should last for several years if you’re hiking a few times per month, but watch for sock breakdown. If your socks are all breaking down in a certain spot (especially in the heel), you probably need a new pair of hiking shoes.

The post The Best Hiking Socks of 2018 appeared first on REI Co-op Journal.

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Diedre Tanenberg grew up exploring the outdoors. The 33-year-old REI Outdoor School instructor was raised on the West Coast, where she acquired a passion for pushing herself outside, primarily through camping and whitewater rafting.

It therefore made perfect sense that one day Tanenberg would become an instructor for the REI Outdoor School. But there’s one thing that makes her classes unique: Tanenberg, who is deaf, teaches her courses in American Sign Language (ASL). After graduating from Sonoma State University in 2012 with a degree in environmental studies and outdoor leadership, Tanenberg landed a job at REI and worked her way up as a sales associate, eventually becoming the first Outdoor School instructor to teach classes in ASL.

While other Outdoor School classes are interpreted into ASL, Tanenberg is the only active instructor who is deaf and teaching in ASL—and thereby inspiring students who are deaf and hard-of-hearing to know that they can be outdoor adventurers like her. We caught up with Tanenberg to hear more about the courses she teaches and how she’s working to expand access to the outdoors.

Editor’s note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you first get interested in the outdoors?

I’ve always loved camping and whitewater rafting. My grandfather was actually a backpacker, a cross-country cyclist and a fisherman. I found out that before the REI Outdoor School was formed, he led some early classes for the store in Sacramento, California. He was also an avid composter, and I’m passionate about composting and waste management as well.

How did you get started working for REI?

I’ve been working for REI for five years. I started out as a sales specialist for the REI store in Santa Rosa, and then I transferred to the Corte Madera store where I was the sales lead in the camping department. Working in sales for REI was so fun—getting that hands-on experience with gear is so invaluable. You can’t get that kind of experience working anywhere else, and I knew I wanted to share it.

How did you make the jump from sales to teaching courses? 

I knew from day one that I wanted to teach classes in ASL. I happened to meet Steve Wood in an Outdoor School Map and Compass Navigation class and I immediately asked him how I could become an instructor and how we could make classes available for the deaf community. Steve was the one who suggested that I start out as a sales associate to get the experience and knowledge of REI’s products, and then apply for the Outdoor School. In 2016, I was finally hired as an instructor. I started out as a co-instructor for the Bay Area Hikes course, which was not offered in ASL.

Tanenberg at the San Francisco store. (Photo Credit: Shelby Carpenter)

My reviews were good from early on. To engage students, even though I wasn’t teaching classes in ASL, I would teach them sign language for things they might see along the trail—words like “bird” or “whale” or “butterfly”—and have them repeat those new signs to me at the end of the hike. Teaching those courses helped me figure out what was relevant and what wasn’t. It also gave me ideas for when I would eventually teach classes in ASL. For example, it can be hard to talk while you’re moving on the trail, so I found that I did a lot of instructing during breaks. I knew that the same problem with talking on the trail would happen when working with the deaf community, and that I might need to plan even more time for breaks to stop and check in and instruct my students.

What classes do you teach in ASL now?

So far, I’ve only done the Muir Beach Hike. My classes typically have anywhere from three to 15 people, depending on the time of year. During my classes, I teach about the Ten Essentials and the gear students need to have a safe adventure outside. I also teach some orienteering and how to use a map and compass. I give students activities, like identifying objects in their environment to help orient themselves toward home. I also like to teach ways that they can get involved in their local communities and volunteer—I think it’s really important to be a steward.

I have a class coming up at Angel Island and I’m really looking forward to that. We’ll ride a ferry over to the island together, and then have three to four hours to hike up Mount Livermore and then get back to the ferry. Eventually, I want to do full moon hikes and solstice hikes, and I’d especially like to lead an overnight backpacking class.

What are some things that are unique about teaching classes in ASL?

I think it can be really inspiring for students to see someone like me—who is deaf and a woman—leading in the outdoors. Some people might look at me and make assumptions that I’m not the outdoorsy type.

In 2016, I went with another instructor to host an REI booth at an expo for people who are members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in Pleasanton, California. People were so excited when they came up to the booth—I would share my stories and they would tell me about their own incredible outdoor adventures. One man I met had hiked the Pacific Crest Trail alone. Can you imagine being so out there and relying on all of your other senses since you can’t hear? People who are deaf already have to be hyperaware of their surroundings even when they’re not outdoors. Stories like this inspire me to think, “Yes! I could do that too.” It can be challenging for deaf adults to get the opportunity to get out there with full language accessibility, which is what makes me so passionate about my work at REI.

Do you think your work is challenging REI to approach things in a new way?

I’m changing the atmosphere of the Outdoor School by being more inclusive and showing that a deaf person can lead a class safely with another instructor who can hear. I think that accessibility is something that the outdoor industry needs to look at in general. It would be great if more gear and equipment was accessible to those who can’t hear. The Garmin inReach, for example, has been an amazing tool because it uses text-based emergency communications. It can connect to my phone so I can send text messages back and forth in case of emergency. I think having the inReach be accessible to those with auditory losses is a huge gain. I believe it will help rescuers know how to communicate with deaf people in the outdoors by having direct communication in this setting.

I would love to see REI take additional steps towards being more inclusive. I think any videos or social media should be captioned to be accessible to the deaf community, for example. I’ve seen REI make great strides in the past few years by captioning some training videos, but I’d like to see even more. I’d also like to see HQ create a tab on the REI.com/learn page specifically for ASL classes.

How can people find out more about your programs?

Potential students can visit my Facebook page to find out about upcoming classes I’m leading and co-instructing.

Promoting accessibility for people who are deaf and hard of hearing is important to REI. As part of the reasonable accommodations that REI makes to remove workplace barriers for its employees, training videos are offered in closed captioning whenever that capability is permitted. REI also plans to build future training modules through a combination of e-learning and embedded video, both of which should offer captioning. 

The post Getting to Know REI Outdoor School Instructor Diedre Tanenberg appeared first on REI Co-op Journal.

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There was a time when the external frame pack was the backpacker’s workhorse. Now, though, spotting one along the trail is like seeing a classic car on the highway. Sleeker and more innovative internal frame varieties rule the trails. While the majority of backpack buyers these days will choose an internal frame pack, it’s worth understanding the differences between the two styles.

Here are the main differences between external frame packs and internal frame packs:

External frame packs are easy to spot by their squarish packbag and visible frame elements, which are good for lashing on bulky gear, which is why trail crews and hunters might use them. External frame packs are best suited to use on well maintained, well graded trails.

In comparison, internal frame packs are more sleek and form-fitting. They hold the load closer to the body, which makes them more stable on rugged trails and when you’re scrambling off-trail.  The slimmer profile is also less likely to catch on brush, branches or rock faces.

Shop External Frame Packs

Shop Internal Frame Packs

Here are additional key differences between external frame packs and internal frame packs:
    • Selection: It’s not even close: Because so many more people are buying internal frame packs today, your range of choices in internals is far greater. And, if you’re looking for innovation, you’ll find that most of the cutting-edge designs are internals.
    • Affordability: The adage that externals cost less is no longer true—bargains can be found in each type of pack. So, decide which frame style you prefer, then start deal shopping among comparable packs. As pack designs have evolved, the answer to which frame style is more affordable has changed. Initially, internals were less expensive because early internals won the cost battle by virtue of having either no frame or a very limited amount of structure. But internal structures have changed and the realm of super techy (pricey) packs is now dominated by internals. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find affordable options in both external and internal frame packs.
    • Support: An external pack transfers the load nicely to your hips and allows an upright walking position that some find comfortable, though it also makes you less agile if you need to move quickly. An internal pack’s closeness creates stability, and most have suspension systems that transfer the load to hips efficiently. Advanced designs allow you to twist and turn yet keep the load balanced.
    • Weight: Externals’ thick frame pieces make them heavier and few external pack makers are innovating with ultralight designs and materials. Internals’ frames are inherently lighter and you can find a range of options from lightweight to ultralight.
    • Fit: Adjustable suspension systems on externals are rare, so you need to be sure the pack comes in a size that’s a decent fit for you. On the other hand, many internals come with an adjustable suspension that allows you to get a more precise fit.
    • Cooling: Externals have a large gap between the frame and packbag that allows air to flow across your back. Some internals might have ventilation channels that offer a little bit of cooling; suspended-mesh back panels on others offer comparable airflow to external frame packs.
    • Storage: Capacity measurements are done the same way for each type of pack, so a 60-liter external frame pack holds the same amount of gear inside as a 60-liter internal-frame pack. The exposed frame pieces on external packs are good for lashing on bulky and heavy items. Internal packs often have lash patches that allow you to attach some additional gear.
    • Organization: Externals typically include lots of outer pockets that help you organize things; access to the main compartment is typically through the top of the packbag. Internals, by contrast, range from ultralight packs with very few pockets to deluxe designs with pockets aplenty. The access to the main compartment on internals also varies: It might be from the top or a front panel, with some models also offering side zippers to reach deep-down items.
    • Aesthetics: The retro look of an external frame pack definitely has its fans, even though most pack buyers prefer the sleeker lines of an internal frame pack.

The future: Pack designers continue to innovate, so who knows what your options might be in the next few years? The trend toward ever lighter materials and designs will definitely continue.

The past: For a fun and fascinating look at the evolution of the backpack, from knapsack to external frame pack to internal frame pack and beyond, check out The History of the Backpack.  

The post What’s the Difference Between an External Frame Pack and an Internal Frame Pack? appeared first on REI Co-op Journal.

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Jerry Brown was a 39-year-old Coloradan living in Texas when he read a newspaper article in 1989 about a multi-use trail that traversed 486 miles across his home state, from Denver to Durango. The Colorado Trail (CT) had just been dedicated with ceremonies at its northern and southern terminuses and immediately following its opening, 13 people hiked the trail, according to the Colorado Trail Foundation. After reading the article, Brown made plans to ride it.

The next year, in 1990, Brown became the first person to bikepack the Colorado Trail. He didn’t foresee it then, but he says the CT would come to play a large role in his career as a cartographer. And by making the map that CT users of all types would eventually carry, the trail benefited from him, as well.

This summer, the CT turns 30 years old. But the trail’s origins can be traced further back, according to an interview with U.S. Forest Service Ranger Bill Lucas. On November 3, 1970, Lucas met with the Colorado Mountain Club, whose members were advocating for a trail to access the Rocky Mountains. Even earlier, in the 1940s, a group called the Roundup Riders had desired to travel through the Rockies on horseback. Lucas gathered threads from each group’s vision and in 1976, he conceived the trail as a bicentennial project. Passing through eight mountain ranges, six national forests and six wilderness areas, most of the trail is higher than 10,000 feet in elevation. (Its highest point is 13,271 feet in the San Juan Mountains.) Hundreds of volunteers and thousands of volunteer hours later, the trail was finally completed in 1988.

The CT may be known primarily as a hiking trail, but, as Jerry Brown learned in that 1989 newspaper article, the trail was always intended as multi-use—albeit bicycling is much harder and more limited due to the trail’s length, terrain and remoteness. Although some segments of the trail are heavily cycled, pedaling it from end to end is less common. According to Bill Manning, the executive director of the CT Foundation, communications from different trail users help the organization develop a rough sense for user group percentages. "Probably about 90 percent are on foot, most being hikers," he says. "The great majority of the balance, say 9 percent, is bicyclists with maybe 1 percent being horseback riders.”

Day 1 of Jerry Brown's inaugural ride on the Colorado Trail in 1990. Photo Credit: Jerry Brown

Day 8, near Leadville. Photo Credit: Jerry Brown

Day 16, near Molas Pass in the San Juan Mountains. Photo Credit: Jerry Brown

When Brown left Waterton Canyon near Denver in 1990, he assumed that he’d run into another bicyclist on the trail.  

“I didn’t run into anybody!” he says. “I had an airplane fly over me near Saguache, and when I got to a road crossing, there was a sheriff and he said, ‘What the hell, I thought I was hallucinating!’”  The officer had been dispatched to look for lost hikers, and when Brown popped out of the woods on a bike, well, he must have seemed otherworldly. If mountain biking was a relatively unknown sport in 1990, loading up a mountain bike with road bike touring gear was almost unheard of.  

“I was using regular panniers, front and rear, on a hardtail no-shock bike and carrying a tremendous amount weight because I didn't know better,” says Brown. “It was a Merlin Mountain, one of the first titanium frames. It was an ’89 model...Rockshox just came out, but I didn't have one.”

Brown finished the trail, arriving in Durango 18 days later and 20 pounds lighter. “It was a hoot!” he says. He loved the trail so much, he came back the next year to repeat some sections with friends on foot. And he kept coming back in the years to follow to hike the trail. He didn’t bring his bike back to the CT until 10 years after his first ride. This time, Brown, an accomplished surveyor and cartographer, was going to make a map of the CT. You’d think his load would have lightened considerably, but now he was schlepping 27 additional pounds of surveying gear and equipment.

Although Brown had worked as a surveyor for a seismograph company since his early 20s, mapping the CT didn’t cross his mind during any of his first forays on the trail. At that time, the CT map was no more than a red squiggle where people estimated the trail’s path, says Brown. Users could purchase a set of maps from the CT Foundation that were made by the United States Forest Service (USFS) with funding from REI and the Colorado Lottery. Manning explains that the original CT maps weren’t an anomaly. “A hand drawn line is how all sorts of good maps were made throughout history,” he says. “Educated guesses, right?” On his inaugural ride, Brown brought those maps—which he says were “pretty crummy”—and used them with the Colorado Trail Guidebook (which offered advice such as: “Look to the south and you’ll see three peaks. Go between the first two,” recalls Brown) and a compass for navigation.

When GPS and surveying technology improved, the CT Foundation published a plea in their newsletter, Tread Lines, in 2000 asking for volunteers to help them make better maps. Brown replied immediately.

Jerry Brown (left) and Bill Manning, the executive director of the CT Foundation, study the original maps of the Colorado Trail. Photo Credit: Betsy Welch

“They wanted to see if people would carry a Garmin GPS and map the trail with it,” he says. “But [Garmins] were horrible then, not suited for something like that.” Brown replied that he had better equipment to survey the trail and volunteered to do the work. His own top-of-the-line equipment allowed him to record a position every second as the trail was either hiked or mountain biked. Still, in 2000, the gear was heavy. Each battery for Brown’s GPS unit, a survey-grade Pathfinder PRO XRS GPS receiver that charted satellite signals, weighed 2.5 pounds and only lasted two hours.

“Picture an old lead acid battery that you put in a camcorder,” says Brown. He recruited friends and volunteers to hike in new batteries and tote out the old ones throughout the entire trail. When he met with volunteers to switch out batteries, Brown would download the data onto hard drives that they also hiked in. In total, over 466,000 positions were recorded in either 1- or 5-second intervals.

“The resulting trail alignment was stunning in its detail and accuracy,” says Brown.  Rather than relying on the helpful yet limited narrative instructions in the Colorado Trail Guidebook, CT users now had data.  The maps made from Brown’s 2000 survey are still the official map source of the Colorado Trail Foundation. While the maps can be purchased in a spiral bound book or CD set from the CT Foundation, it's important to note that any map of the CT—be it app, GPX file, or wall poster—contains the data collected from Brown’s second bike ride on the trail.

Jerry Brown leads a team of surveyors in 2013 in the Cochetopa Hills, between Saguache and La Garita Wilderness. Photo Credit: Jerry Brown

Jerry Brown made the maps that everyone uses on the Colorado Trail. Photo Credit: Jerry Brown

“Jerry’s mapping has made its possible for CT travelers to know how far it is, and—with precision—where the next water source is and how high the next climb is,” says Manning. “His survey work has made all the difference for CT users.”

On June 16, Brown left for the CT again, this time on foot. Lighter than ever, he’s carrying two small GPS units. The one mounted to his hat weighs a mere four ounces. The purpose of his hike isn’t for an accurate survey, he says, but to verify that nothing has changed and to take some pictures for the CT app he works on.  If he makes it to Durango, this will be Brown’s seventh time completing the CT.

Unlike his first tour of the trail in 1990, Brown will likely see other bicyclists on the trail this summer as interest in riding the trail end to end continues to grow. The unsupported Colorado Trail Race begins in Denver on July 29. (Last year, 18 people completed the endurance bikepacking race, with finish times ranging from five to 12 days.), Thanks to Brown, anyone on the trail can rest (or ride, or hike) assured that they’re exactly where they think they are on the map.

The post Putting the Colorado Trail on the Map appeared first on REI Co-op Journal.

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