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My kids can’t swim. It’s ironic, really, given that they were both born in water, in an inflatable bathtub in our living room, and they’ve spent their childhoods splashing in mountain creeks, tossing stones into lakes, and rafting down rivers. But however much they enjoy water, they’re out of their element in it. And nowhere is this more apparent—or more dangerous—than in the ocean.

My wife and I discovered this last month when we flew to Cancún, Mexico, for a friend’s wedding and some R&R along the Mayan Riviera. On the first day, our two boys, Theo (age five) and Julian (two), ran toward the ocean like it was a long-lost friend. The day was beautiful and windless, and I waded out with them into a sea that was calm, flat, and indeed, very friendly. In the deeper water, Theo discovered that if he wiggled all of his body at once, he could keep his smiling face above the waves. He called it a “giggle swim.” Sheer joy was making him buoyant.

But joy is an unreliable flotation device. A week later, we drove down to Tulum, where three-foot waves battered the beach. As I was smearing sunscreen on my shoulders, I watched Theo skip out into the whitewater with a plastic bucket. Immediately, a wave slapped him in the face and knocked him down. He sat in the foam, coughing up salt water and wiping the sea from his eyes while the receding waves pulled at his ankles. I raced over and scooped him up before the next wave broke. Suddenly, the swirling, opaque water felt more like a monster than a friend.

The ocean, of course, is neither friend nor monster—it’s liquid indifference. Just like mountains, the sea can teach us important lessons about our own cosmic insignificance. One day my children will learn these lessons. But in the meantime, when the waves were buffeting my boys and clawing at their toes, it seemed safer to avoid the ocean than try to understand it.

So when we got back to Montana, I called up Richard Schmidt, the Californian big-wave surfer who runs the popular Richard Schmidt Surf School in Santa Cruz. Schmidt raised his two boys, now 21 and 18, in the water. At age two, Schmidt’s oldest son, Richie, was catching waves on the front of his father’s surfboard. (Richie is now a world-class surfer, so the bug obviously caught.) His youngest son, Makai, took more time to be comfortable in the water, but now he’s an excellent surfer, too. His boys took swimming classes in a pool, but Schmidt made sure they knew the ocean was a different creature altogether.

“You need to really make it clear to kids that you have to be careful with the ocean,” Schmidt told me. “A swimming pool stays the same every day. The ocean changes.”

Schmidt suggested a few ground rules to help parents safely introduce their children to wilder waters.

Watch the Ocean

Just as fools rush in where angels fear to tread, children often feel a little too confident about dashing into the sea. “Never go into the ocean until you’ve watched it for a good 15 minutes,” Schmidt advises. Even when the waves are big, the ocean can appear calm between sets. “Some people jump right in, thinking it’s docile,” Schmidt says. “The next thing you know, you’re getting pounded.”

Instead, do a thorough job of checking out both the water and the beach with your children. Are there lifeguards? Are there red flags? How are other people getting into the sea? Are there any rip currents? Rocks?

“Figure out what the ocean is doing,” Schmidt says. “Get a game plan, and imagine the worst-case scenario.”

And once you are ready to enter the water, make sure your kids know the fundamental rule of ocean safety: never turn your back on the sea.

Watch Your Kids

As I learned in Mexico, keeping track of your offspring can be hard at the beach, especially when the surf gets rough.

“You can’t take your eyes off of them,” Schmidt says. “More worry is better than less worry, that’s for sure.”

Schmidt spent 15 summers as a lifeguard in Santa Cruz, and he remembers seeing a four-year-old boy go under in the San Lorenzo River, which empties into the ocean in the heart of town. “I saw the kid go down,” says Schmidt, who raced to save him. “I’ll never forget looking down through the water at that little guy standing on the bottom, looking up at me. I pulled him up and found his parents, who were sunbathing.” 

When you take your children to the beach, their safety is paramount, but remember that you’re also establishing relationship with the ocean. Schmidt has seen surfer parents try to introduce their kids to waves too quickly, only to unnecessarily traumatize them. 

“You’ve got to be careful with your kids in their early days,” Schmidt says. “If they get trounced by a wave when they’re young, they might reject the ocean and hold that fear forever.”

Pick the Right Beach 

Set your children up for success by carefully selecting a beach that will make their introduction to the ocean really positive. The perfect spot for young kids should be sandy, with a gentle slope into the water, and no rocks or tricky currents. “You want to be able to wade out for ten yards and it’s still knee-deep,” Schmidt says. “You don’t want drop-offs, where kids can fall into holes and the water’s over their heads.”

Look for these spots in protected places like coves. If you don’t know the area, find a surf shop and ask them about a child-friendly beach. Put a life jacket on your kids for a little extra security. And even before you head out to the beach, it’s wise to do some homework on the conditions. Surfline and the National Weather Service's marine forecast offer information on swell heights and intervals, the tide schedule, and wind conditions that will help you get the timing right.

My family and I found our happy place by accident, just north of Tulum, in Akumal, where we paddled around in what felt like a giant turquoise-colored bath while pods of bonefish nosed the sand at our feet. Someone told us there were loggerhead turtles out a little deeper. But we were having too much fun lolling around in the shallows to investigate.

Tell Your Kids Stories    

Keeping young children safe in the waves can be stressful for a parent. One way to preempt this is by telling your children stories about the ocean. Inuit parents instill caution in their kids by telling them about a monster in the ocean that will rise up out of the waves, put them in a big pouch, and drag them down into the water if they get too close. Stories like this help young children learn to be careful around the ocean and save their parents from anxious yelling on the beach. Of course, you don’t want to terrify your kids so much that they won’t even get wet, just enough to ensure a healthy respect of the ocean.

The stories needn’t always be folklore, either. Tell your children about times that you were afraid in the ocean. What did you do wrong? How did you get help? What did you learn? Important safety lessons are often more effective when they’re told as a story rather than a scolding.

Keep It Fun

If you want your children to grow up with respect and affection for the ocean, it’s important that their experiences around it are as positive as possible. The best times I had in the waves with my kids were when I carried Theo or Julian out to where I could stand but they couldn’t. I’d hold them by the arms, and we’d face the incoming swell together. As a wave rolled in, I’d lift my son’s head over the crest at the last minute. He was safe, I was relaxed, and we were both having fun.

But when the surf picks up and you tire of hovering over your kids in the breakers, shift gears and hit the sand. There are endless things to do on a beach that don’t involve a risk of drowning. Walk over to rocky points and look for tide pools. Start a seashell collection. Bring some toy dump trucks and excavators to dig holes and tunnels, and build castles. Kids don’t need much guidance for that kind of play. They’re hardwired for it. But they’ll almost always appreciate your companionship.

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America’s public lands are owned by the people and managed on our behalf by federal and state governments. That means you get to use them for all sorts of fun things for little to no charge. Here’s how to do that. 

A very high-resolution shaded relief map of the entire National Park Service system. (NPS) National Parks

What are they? The crown jewels of our public-lands system, national parks protect our country’s most beautiful places while making it as easy as possible for large numbers of people to visit. 

Why should you go there? Sightseeing. From Yosemite’s towering granite walls to Yellowstone’s wildlife and thermal features, national parks contain the most iconic natural attractions. 

What’s better elsewhere? Camping. Not only are national parks crowded, meaning that permits and reservations are often necessary for even remote backcountry sites, but the pressure those crowds bring to these unspoiled landscapes means that you’ll necessarily be subject to lots of strictly enforced rules. Fishing may be allowed by special permit, but hunting is mostly forbidden, as are activities like mountain biking. 

What do they cost? Of the 417 national-park sites, only 118 of the most popular charge entry fees, which are typically $30 for a passenger vehicle. And even that fee can be waved or reduced depending on your age, military service, or even on certain holidays

Every National Forest. As you can see, there's a lot more area here than there is in the National Park Service. (USFS) National Forests

What are they? Managed for multiple use, our 154 national forests provide resource extraction as well as wildlife conservation and recreation opportunities. 

Why should you go there? For fishing, hunting, cycling, camping, and other outdoor pursuits. Forests are way less crowded than parks and typically allow virtually any activity. 

What’s better elsewhere? Accessibility. Forests are basically just undeveloped tracts of land. Travel through them takes preparation and capability, and you’ll need to find the good stuff yourself. 

What do they cost? Resource extraction pays for the rest of us to use them mostly for free, but there are specific recreation passes required at certain popular sites. 

Look at all that desert! BLM lands are some of my favorite places to go camping, for the simple reason that they're vast, you'll have them to yourself, and there's little to no rules or authority on them. (BLM) Bureau of Land Management Lands

What are they? The federal government originally tried to give all this land away to homesteaders during the westward expansion. But a lot was left over, and someone needed to manage it, so today the BLM does that for one-tenth of our landmass, on lands located primarily in the western states. Governed by the principle of multiple use, the BLM must balance the needs of resource extraction with conservation and recreation, while maintaining this land for the enjoyment of future generations. 

Why should you go there? Don’t like rules? Well, there’s not many on BLM land. You can camp, you can shoot guns, you can ride or drive off-road, you can have a campfire. Within basic reason, anything goes so long as you leave only footprints and don’t drive off designated routes.

What’s better elsewhere? We’re talking about vast empty swaths of what is typically desert, so you’re on your own out there. Get into trouble and help is likely a long way away, if available at all. 

What do they cost? BLM land is typically free to use, but some permits are required for special uses or in designated sites. 

Can you believe waterfowl hunters pay for all this? (US Fish and Wildlife Service) National Wildlife Refuges

What are they? Originally created and still funded by waterfowl hunters, wildlife refuges exist to provide habitat and migration corridors for birds and other wildlife. 

Why should you go there? Hunting, fishing, paddling, and wildlife viewing. 

What’s better elsewhere? Camping and hiking. Wildlife refuges are typically composed of wetlands or contain lots of them. 

What do they cost? Hunters fund the wildlife-refuge system by buying a federal migratory bird-hunting permit, commonly referred to as the duck stamp. While you can visit a wildlife refuge for free if you’re not hunting, you can also chose to contribute to the system by buying a $25 stamp of your own. As a bonus, they’re collectible. 

Conservation areas are shaded green. There aren't many of them, but they're important. (BLM) National Conservation Areas

What are they? Areas of particular natural beauty or biological diversity managed by the BLM but given greater levels of protection. No resource extraction is permitted in conservation areas. 

Why should you go there? Backpacking. Motorized travel is typically restricted in conservation areas, leaving you free to explore these exceptionally stunning (but uncrowded) places on foot. 

What’s better elsewhere? Accessibility and recreation. With access being limited, and only foot travel permitted, these can be difficult places to visit. Most activities, like mountain biking, are also banned. Each one has different rules, so familiarize yourself with them before planning a trip. 

What do they cost? Some areas may require entry by special permit only. The fees are nominal—typically $10—and are mostly a way to limit human presence. 

National Monuments

What are they? The Antiquities Act authorizes presidents to create these in order to protect areas of particular historic, natural, or scientific interest that are being threatened. There’s been a lot of political rhetoric around monuments recently, which is a shame. Each is unique and typically makes an allowance for historic uses, so really they just add protection to areas we were about to lose the ability to enjoy. 

Why should you go there? By their very nature, monuments are remarkable. Some, like Mount Rushmore, are simply tourist attractions. Others, like Bears Ears, offer some of the best backcountry camping in the world. 

What’s better elsewhere? I suppose if you’re an energy company looking to rape the environment you might look elsewhere. 

What do they cost? Depends on the monument. Most are free. 

Wilderness areas can be managed by one of several agencies, but all ban wheeled travel, and are some of the absolute best places to participate in intact ecosystems. (USGS) Wilderness Areas

What are they? Places where nature hasn’t been spoiled by humans. Wilderness areas are designated by Congress, can exist within other types of lands, like national forests, and specifically ban any form of motorized or wheeled travel. 

Why should you go there? To see and participate in truly wild landscapes. They’re great places to go backpacking, hunting, and fishing. 

What’s better elsewhere? Wildernesses are, by definition, difficult to access. That’s what makes them fun—but only for the prepared. 

What do they cost? They’re typically free, but parking at the trailhead may come with a fee depending on location. 

National Recreation Areas

What are they? Typically located near major urban areas, and are designed to provide outdoor recreation opportunities for large numbers of people. Many are on a dammed river, and are places to go boating

Why should you go there? They’re easy to get to. They have lots of water or trails. Go have fun. 

What’s better elsewhere? Visiting during spring break probably isn’t for shy and retiring types. 

What do they cost? Typically $25 per passenger vehicle, and there may be additional slip and moorage fees.

Rivers are small and thin, zoom in. (USGS) Wild and Scenic Rivers

What are they? Created as a mechanism for preserving natural (read: without dams) waterways in their original state, the National Wild and Scenic River System is basically a wilderness designation for water. 

Why should you go there? Floating and fishing. If you want to experience a river as nature intended, this is where you do that. 

What’s better elsewhere? Motorized boating is prohibited on many wild and scenic rivers; each has its own management plan. 

What do they cost? They’re free to use, but you may encounter parking or put-in/take-out fees in some areas, and you’ll need a state license to fish. 

National Seashores and Lakeshores (CalTopo) National Seashores and Lakeshores

What are they? Established to preserve coastlines in their natural state, you’ll find these along the coasts of both oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Great Lakes. 

Why should you go there? Like beaches? Want to see what those looked like before people built hotels and expensive houses on them? Well, these are the most beautiful, unspoiled beaches in the country. 

What’s better elsewhere? You’re not going to find services like beach bars and banana stands here. 

What do they cost? Fees vary from $3 to $20 per day. 

Turns out you don't have to hike just the PCT or ACT to check a long-distance thru-hike off your list. (NPS) National Trails

What are they? Paths along which you can hike. Access and management are provided by the federal government along routes that may cross state, federal, and private land. There are three types of national trails: scenic, historic, and recreation. Scenic trails, likely the type you’re most familiar with, are at least 100 miles in length and compose our nation’s most famous thru-hiking routes, like the Appalachian Trail. Historic trails retrace famous trips, like the 4,900-mile Lewis and Clark Trail, the path of the well-known mapping expedition. Recreation trails are just that and vary in length. 

Why should you go there? Backpacking trips. If you’ve got something to prove, and that something is the ability to march along a trail for several weeks or months, then this is where you’d do that. 

What’s better elsewhere? I’d say solitude, as the most famous trails are pretty darn popular these days, but there are so many trails in this system, and some are so remote, that you can definitely find that here, too.

What do they cost? National trails are typically free, but you may need to pay fees if you pass through certain national parks, use some campgrounds, or take advantage of other services. 

All public lands in the United States, by management. (USGS) Don’t Forget the Rest

Even with all the 640 million acres mentioned above, we’re only scratching the surface of places you can go play outdoors in the United States. Those states also own land, and while they aren’t required to protect it to the same degree as the feds, state-trust lands and state parks still offer amazing recreational opportunities. So in addition to the enormous amount of land managed by the federal government, Americans have access to 135 million acres of state-trust lands, nearly 19 million acres of state parks, and numerous smaller city parks. No matter where you are in the country, there’s probably some of that public land right outside your front door. Here's a map of all of it

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No, that headline isn’t just for clicks. Trail runners really are lazy parasites. Deadbeats, even.

Allow me to explain.

Nationally, nobody keeps a good tab on exactly who turns out on volunteer trail-work days to install water bars, build steps, reroute switchbacks, and replant vegetation. But here’s what we do know: trail running is booming—its number of participants more than doubled from 2007 to 2017. According to the Outdoor Foundation’s 2018 report, there are now more trail runners—nine million and counting—than there are off-road bikers. A million more. We also know that in Colorado, where a whopping 92 percent of residents recreate outdoors, as many as 40,000 hikers and runners can be found on the trails of the more popular fourteeners each month of the summer.

Based on this shear volume alone, trail advocates know that trail runners are having a major impact. Every time one steps around a puddle to keep their shoesies clean (mountain bikers tend to ride through puddles), they’re widening the trail. This happens a step at a time, multiplied by tens of thousands of steps, until it turns singletrack into a six-foot-wide sidewalk. With every edging action around a curve or skid on a steep descent, trail runners are moving dirt and extruding roots and rocks. Hell, every time they take a leak—again, when multiplied by thousands—they’re killing native plants. Solo trail runners—like solo cyclists, hikers, and even the occasional horse—are low impact. Nine million trail runners are a different story.

In other words, trail runners are now just like the rest of us. But anecdotally at least, when compared to mountain bikers and hikers, trail runners are the least likely to volunteer to build and maintain trails. Anna Zawisza, director of community relations and strategic partnership with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC), the state’s oldest and largest organizer of trail crews, ranks trail-runner turnout right down there with public-trail-riding equestrians, which, to be fair to the horse people, constitute a niche group compared to the scrawny Forrest Gump set. Even in the few communities where trail runners are active with trail work, they routinely show up less than other groups. You can see this if you ever work on a trail. I’m no star volunteer, but in the half dozen or so times I’ve gotten out and swung a McLeod or a Pulaski, I haven’t met a single trail runner. But among the throngs of mountain bikers, I have met hikers, horse folk, dog walkers, and bird watchers on Colorado’s multi-use trails. Even the trail-running boosters I talked to bemoaned the lack of turnout of their own kind.

Part of the reason for this is that trail runners don’t have a national trail-advocacy group. There’s no equivalent of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) organizing chapters and funneling resources and bodies—700,000 volunteer hours in 2016—at projects. Well, to be precise, there was one. A mysterious outfit called Run Wild launched in 2017 with lofty goals, but now it’s a dead site and its Instagram page hasn’t been updated in two years. That’s too bad, because the trails need it. Though three out of four Coloradans identify as conservationists, only 1 percent of Coloradans volunteer with stewardship organizations (another study claims 3 percent, but that’s dubious). In a typical year, VOC counts 5,000 volunteer work days. That might sound like a lot, but even if that number portrayed 5,000 individuals (and it doesn’t; lots of folks volunteer for multiple days), it would represent less than a thousand people for every million Coloradans that recreate outdoors. It’s not enough. “We have 39,000 miles of trail in Colorado,” says Zawisza, “and we’re adding to that total every year. On a good year, VOC touches 30 miles.”

As a former Coloradan, I’m not picking on the state. Colorado’s volunteer turnout is likely better than the national average. Nor, despite my ribbing, am I hating on the blister-adverse trail-running crew, with its weird little utility belts and tank tops. I may have to revise my calculations after this column comes out, but I count a number of trail runners as friends. I’ll admit, though, that I am a bit mystified by trail runners. And I’m not alone. IMBA executive director Dave Wiens, who founded the nondenominational Gunnison Trails group long before taking the helm of the association, says that for mountain bikers, trail work “is a social experience that ends with brats and beers. But from what I can tell, trail runners aren’t into the beers-and-brats part.” It’s also true that one maniac trail runner allegedly attacked a mountain biker in Golden, Colorado, in 2017, and more recently, another choked out a mountain lion. But I won’t paint them all with the crazy brush.

To really understand why mountain bikers are gung ho volunteers and trail runners are lazy parasites, it helps to look at the origins of the two sports.

Mountain bikers came on the scene in force in the 1980s. Castigated and labeled as outlaws, they were banned from many existing trail networks. Only later did research prove that bike tires don’t destroy trails any more than shoes do (and that both shoes and tires are way less destructive than horse hooves). Still, it took decades of advocacy and trail work to change the public’s opinion and prove that mountain bikes belong on our public lands. This effort remains a work in progress.

If we’re speaking openly here, mountain bikers would be OK with fewer hikers, runners, and horses walking up the downhills, which is why mountain bikers want to build more trails—to spread out the crowds. For these reasons, and also bratwurst and beer, trail work is part of mountain-bike culture. Minus the beer, pretty much every high school mountain-bike race team in the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) does trail work. Freeriders do it. Cross-country racers do it. Trail riders do it. Downhillers do it. Old guys that get fat in winter also throw down. “Trail work is part community outreach for us,” says Wiens. “It’s also true that the trail itself is essential to our experience. We say things like, ‘That was a good trail’ or ‘That was a bad trail.’”

Trail runners, on the other hand, don’t have much of a birth story. No counterculture kooks in Marin County, California, monkeying around with old Schwinns. No access problems, no vigilantes laying booby traps for them. People were running on trails long before trail shoes were a thing. Nobody told them they couldn’t do it then, and nobody is telling them they can’t do it now. And while, like mountain bikers, runners can inadvertently sneak up behind hikers and spook them, they rarely get the same dirty looks. Even the social dynamics of trail running are different than those of mountain biking. “Historically, ultrarunners and most trail runners were a little more self-sustained,” says Brett Sublett, owner of the Durango Running Company, in Colorado. “People got into that solo mindset and kind of assumed they were the only people out there running. And that’s still a big part of what attracts people initially. But with the popularity of trail running, that’s changing. We used to get ten people to a group run, now we get 30 to 40. There’s a much stronger trail-running community.”

Which gets us to today. Nine million trail runners and counting, yet a widely held belief—if an unproven one, as most trail crews don’t ask too many questions—that they have the lowest turnout among the core user groups when it comes to trail maintenance. But here’s some good news: that’s changing. The most storied ultrarunning events have long required that racers complete volunteer trail days. Today, dozens of smaller events are following that lead, with many offering more lottery-style entry chances to volunteers. In Colorado, VOC is actively trying to recruit such folk by posting flyers at the Cheyenne Mountain Trail Race. Meanwhile, Nancy Hobbs, founder and executive director of the American Trail Running Association, is promoting trail work on her organization’s site and actively directing runners to volunteer opportunities. (The association also plugs an activity called “plogging,” which involves stopping to pick up trash from trails as you jog. Not sure why it needs a name.) Sublett, of the Durango Running Company, requires that the Fort Lewis College kids he helps coach perform at least one day of trail work a year. These types of initiatives, especially with the race entries, seem to be gaining traction.

Durango is also home to Trails 2000, a trail-maintenance nonprofit founded 30 years ago on the idea of engaging with all nonmotorized users. Its numbers suggest that it’s working. According to Mary Monroe Brown, the group’s executive director, Trail 2000’s volunteers break down as follows: 40 percent mountain bikers, 35 percent hikers, and 25 percent trail runners. “People who mountain bike here also trail run and dog walk,” says Monroe Brown. “And the Durango Running Club and the Durango Running Company have helped create a culture where there’s a direct correlation between running and trail work. People that are driven enough to live in Durango have an outdoor ethic and tend not to develop that protectionist attitude, that this is my trail and I need to protect my experience. We should be taking the high road and working together.”

Still more promising? Little Missoula, Montana, is home to what is (as near as I can tell) the nation’s only dedicated advocacy group organized to get trail runners out doing trail work. It’s called the Montana Trail Crew (MTC), and to date it has adopted trails, purchased land, moved trailheads, and performed all manner of maintenance with hundreds of volunteers, some of whom get out for at least three trail days each summer. Sometimes the MTC works on pedestrian-only trails. Sometimes it sends volunteers to MTB Missoula to help with multi-use paths. It doesn’t matter much to them. “A lot of people get into trail running from a fitness or a road-running background,” says MTC cofounder Jimmy Grant. “They don’t all have that mountain ethic. We wanted to serve as a model for other groups. You get more personally invested in your running and your town when you get your hands dirty.”

So there you have it. Signs of progress. But will trail runners outside of chill towns like Durango and Missoula get the message? Tough to say. They might not want to get their arms all swole doing manual labor. But I hope so, if only because, if that happens, then the trail-running and mountain-biking communities can shame the hikers into stepping up as well. Call me snitty, but there are 45 million of those lazy parasites.

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From climbing and basketry to fishing and even medical applications, knots have myriad uses. Hell, the Maya even worked them into math, utilizing knotted cords called quipus to record numbers. You might not be performing hard calculations with them, but learning these five important knots can serve you well on your next outdoor adventure.

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Photo Gallery: The Sweetest Rigs at 2019 Overland Expo West
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When Alex Honnold tells you the thing you're doing is a little crazy, it warrants some self-reflection. Cracked Out, from Black Diamond, is that self-reflection from photographer and off-width climbing fanatic Chris Burkard. It documents his attempt to on-sight Twilight Zone, a classic off-width route in Yosemite.

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Outside Magazine by Outside Editors - 14h ago

When surfer Alex Gray's brother, Chris, passed away from a heroin overdose, Alex knew he didn't want to follow the same path. Surf Therapy, from Compass Coalition, profiles Alex and delves into his efforts to start a community of surf-therapy meetups for people who are experiencing loss. 

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Outside Magazine by Christian Vizl - 14h ago
Photo Gallery: The Ocean Life We're Losing
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Most people know that to pull off a successful road trip you need three things: good company, a great destination, and the right music. However, the way you pack the car also makes a huge difference in how much fun you have.

Can’t reach the snacks? Major fail. Need to unpack the entire trunk just to dig out your camera? You missed the shot. It took me a while to learn that no matter how well organized the cooler is, if it’s buried under a bunch of other stuff, the LaCroix you bring for the road will stay there until you reach camp—and camp is for IPA, not flavored sparkling water.

Here’s how to properly pack for a road trip and some gear to help you do it.

1. Know What Your Car Can Handle

First and foremost, consider the vehicle you’ll take and the storage space it has. If you overload your rig, you can hamper its driving characteristics, capability, and safety. Before you pack, look up the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) and payload capacity, which are usually printed on that little sticker on the inside of the driver’s-side door or in your owner’s manual. These numbers tell you how much stuff (passengers, cargo, etc.) your car, truck, or SUV can handle once it’s fully loaded. A 2019 Toyota Tacoma, for example, has a a GVWR of 5,600 pounds and a payload capacity of up to 1,620 pounds. That information is especially important if your road trip involves pulling a trailer of some kind. And in the era of rooftop tents, it’s easy to put too much weight in and on a crossover or smaller vehicle with four adults, all of their stuff, and some adventure toys like bikes or kayaks.

2. Use a Rack

You don’t need a huge truck or a giant SUV with massive amounts of storage to road trip right. Get a roof box and rack for more space, or add a hitch-mount rack for bicycles or coolers. Here are my favorite tools for loading gear on top or behind your vehicle. 

(Courtesy Thule)

Thule Evo WingBars ($439 and Up for the Set)

Thule’s latest bars are stronger and more aerodynamic than ever, meaning you get a quieter ride. Fit your vehicle with a base system and these aftermarket bars, and you’ve got the ability to haul bikes, skis, a storage box, kayaks, or a rooftop tent with ease.

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(Courtesy Thule)

Thule Motion XT Alpine Box ($800)

Even if you’ve got room in your vehicle for almost everything, it’s worth investing in a good rooftop storage box. One of these will let you pack the stuff you don’t need during the drive up top, so you can keep essentials handy inside the car. Bonus: you’ll actually be able to see out of the rearview mirror. With a capacity of 16 cubic feet and capable of holding up to 165 pounds, this one from Thule can carry as many as seven pairs of skis or five snowboards.

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(Courtesy Kuat Racks)

Kuat NV 2.0 Hitch Mount ($649)

My favorite way to bring bikes on a road trip is with a hitch rack, because it leaves you room for a rooftop box. The best bike rack you can buy is Kuat’s NV 2.0. I’ve used mine for several years, and it still works flawlessly. The big draw is the rack’s versatility: it’ll hold two bikes of pretty much any size, with room for up to 4.8-inch tires, and it comes with a built-in workstand.

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3. Pull a Trailer

A trailer helps you transport gear and can also provide you with a simple sleeping space. Plus, you’ll spend less money on hotel rooms and get better views by camping along your route. 

(Courtesy Sylvansport)

Sylvansport Go Trailer ($10,995 and Up)

Sylvansport’s Go is nice because it can act as a pop-up camper, utility trailer, or gear hauler. It only weighs 840 pounds, so you can tow it with just about any kind of car with a hitch. The Go can carry a range of equipment inside the adjustable-height trailer, and the top can accomodate bikes, kayaks, or other toys. The tent folds out in about ten minutes, making it easy to set up camp when you stop for the night. 

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(Courtesy Yakima)

Yakima Easy Rider Cargo Trailer ($2,999)

Here’s a simple cargo trailer, weighing just 175 pounds, that lets you turn it into a camper by putting a rooftop tent on it. With a 500-pound load capacity, it can carry coolers, bikes, kayaks, and lots more. 

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4. Take Plenty of Water

Water is essential on a road trip, whether you’re dispersed-camping along the way or just need a drink between pit stops. It’s also nice to have some extra to clean up.

(Courtesy Reliance)

Reliance Aqua-Tainer Jug ($19)

I like having five to seven gallons of drinking water on hand during a road trip, which cuts back on plastic and is plenty for me, my wife, and our two dogs over a long weekend. The Aqua-Tainer holds seven gallons and has an easy-to-operate spout that makes filling bottles or washing camp dishes easy.

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(Courtesy NEMO)

NEMO Helio LX Portable Shower ($150)

A small, portable shower like the Helio LX is another good option for water storage. The pressurized sprayer makes rinsing off at camp or hosing off bikes less of a chore.

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5. Bring Plenty of Snacks

This is a no-brainer. The key here is to make sure you can get to them quickly and don’t have to dig through an iced-down cooler in the back of the truck. 

(Courtesy Dometic)

Dometic CF 25 Electric Cooler ($650)

Overlanders and RV types figured out the electric-cooler (or mobile-refrigerator) game a long time ago. It keeps your food and drinks cool without requiring you to stop for ice all the time. Dometic products come in all shapes and sizes, but the CF 25 is small and light enough to fit in most vehicles. The Dynamic Battery Protection System automatically shuts off the product to prevent a dead car battery. You can also run it from a solar-power system or other external sources.

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(Courtesy OtterBox)

OtterBox Venture 25 Cooler ($230)

This one is small enough to fit in the trunk of your car and compatible with a ton of fun accessories, like cutting boards, side tables, and cup holders. You will need ice, but since this one can keep ice from melting for up to ten days, at least you won’t have to stop as much.  

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6. Give Everything a Place

There’s a good reason your dad was so anal about packing the car for a family road trip when you were a kid: knowing where all of your stuff is, and having easy access to it, keeps everyone happy.

(Courtesy Kelty)

Kelty Big G Tote ($90)

Designed to store camping gear as a part of the Kelty GYST (Get Your Shit Together) system, the Big G is basically a giant tote that you can fill with smaller cubes to hold all of your stuff. It’s a great way to keep everthing organized on the road.  

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(Courtesy YoGi)

YoGi Prime Backseat Car Organizer ($24)

Cargo pockets that hang off the back seat are great for keeping small essentials close at hand during a road trip. Use them for snacks, tissues, trash bags, and reading material.

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In this episode of The 101, Bryan Rogala focuses on the aspirational, pricey, custom-built adventure rigs of Tactical Application Vehicles

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