Never Underestimate a Mountain

Submitted By: Kristen GraceBoard Member & Wilderness Ambassador in Denver

When two women set out to climb a mountain, they don’t let anything stop them.

They aren’t afraid to wake up at 4am. They don’t let fierce winds or freezing temperatures scare them off. And they definitely don’t turn back when the summit is in sight.

Even if they probably should.

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Climbing Mt. Bierstadt – 14,065′ (Georgetown, Colorado)

When we set out to climb Mt. Bierstadt, it was late September and the Denver highs were still in the 70s and 80s. Packing a heavy coat for hiking seemed excessive. We thought to bring hats and gloves, and to layer up just in case, but even that seemed like overkill.

Mt. Bierstadt was the first 14er I climbed after moving to Colorado in Summer 2016 and it taught me an important lesson: never underestimate mountain weather.

Because mountain weather is fickle and no matter how warm it is in Denver, in the mountains it’s always cooler and a sunny day can change to powerful storms in minutes.

The Climb

We hit the road around 4am so that we could arrive, stretch and start our climb just in time for sunrise.

The base of Mt. Bierstadt is only about an hour and half drive from Denver, making it one of most accessible 14ers in the state. It’s also a good choice if you’re looking for a quick and challenging day hike since the out and back is only a few hours.

The first part of our hike took us through a flat valley. It was deceptively pleasant and made starting out in the dark totally worth it. We watched the sun light up the snow-covered mountains with shades of pink and gold. This view alone was worth the trip.

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But once we started to climb, we realized something was wrong: it was windy. Really windy.

And windy means cold.

The part of this hike that people neglect to share is that you are completely exposed to the elements once you reach a certain point in the trail. That means there is no shelter from the wind, especially when you get closer to the rocky summit.

As we climbed, I questioned both our sanity and safety.

I couldn’t feel my toes, my face was completely exposed and it was really cold.

This should have been enough to make us turn back… but we were on a mission.

The summit was 20ft in front of us. How could we quit?

The Summit

I learned later that my hiking buddy, Chi, had been shouting for us to turn back, that it was too cold and the wind was too strong to keep going.

But I couldn’t hear her over the sound of the wind whipping around us. So as I continued to push on, she begrudging followed.

Not being able to communicate was another reason we should have turned back. If only I’d known.

But miraculously, we reached the top.

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We pulled out our signs and snapped a few pictures. “Click, click, okay, let’s go!” My mouth was too frozen to smile.

The pictures we managed to take showed a clear, wide open view of the Rockies that only the top of a 14er can provide. I just wish I’d been able to actually enjoy it!

Then a strong gust of wind threw me into a rock, nearly tossing me off the mountain. With the threat of death feeling very real, we raced back down. Mission accomplished — we were ready for the hike to be over.

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On the way down, the weather improved. It was actually warm enough to enjoy the view!

As we passed groups of people headed to the top, we noticed that many were even less prepared than we were. We saw hikers in shorts and tank tops. We saw sandals!

I was already feeling bad enough about misjudging the intensity of this hike, but I admit, seeing others more foolish than me attempt the climb made me feel just a tiny bit better.

We tried to warn our fellow hikers that they were in for a shock at the top, but most brushed us off. It was beautiful and warm at the bottom! How could it be cold at the top? A rookie mistake.

The Aftermath

In the end, we made it. All our fingers and toes intact.

But this experience changed the way I prepare for serious hikes.

First, I always check the forecast before heading out. I want to know if there is ANY chance of rain, wind or snow. When you’re over 10,000ft in elevation, it matters.

Second, I pack for every possibility, even if most things stay in the car. Extra clothes, raincoats, snacks, hand warmers, etc. You never know what you might need.

Third, I never underestimate the intensity of the climb. Just because you’re in shape doesn’t mean the elevation won’t affect you. When you’re at high elevation, you need to be aware of how you’re feeling and when it’s time to call it quits.

Finally, I’ve made peace with turning back. Finishing the Mt. Bierstadt climb was stupid. It was dangerously cold and windy, and we were not prepared. While I’m proud of us for pushing ourselves, it was a huge risk and we got lucky. When faced with a similar situation, I’ll never put my goals ahead of my safety again.

But at least it was beautiful!

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New Zealand: or what study abroad trips are really about

Submitted By: Mia Zavalij, Board Member

It’s been difficult to write about my study abroad experience in New Zealand. I chose to go to New Zealand because it was one of the last options left by the time I had decided to spend my next spring semester, and my last semester of undergrad, abroad. Of course, I also chose New Zealand because of it’s breathtaking sights and landscapes. I mean, could I really not have a great time in the country where Frodo and Bilbo Baggins journey through Middle-earth?

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The truth is, a study abroad trip, or almost any solo trip for that matter, is always about so much more than the trip itself. Although I was thrilled to be travelling to one of the notably most beautiful countries in the world, I would have eagerly jumped at the chance to go to anywhere else.

The decision

I was holding on to some deep seated dissatisfaction with my life. I worked incredibly hard in college, and was fortunate enough to have cofounded a successful nonprofit at a very young age. But my hard work didn’t translate to my academics. It had been four years since I recovered from an eating disorder and I had even planned awareness raising events on campus. But, internally, I was still plagued by my past and felt incredibly disconnected from my body. I had one year left until graduation. I’d graduate after five years of undergrad, and a robust resume that I wasn’t proud of. The feeling of “this isn’t enough” followed me. So the option was, push through and finish up undergrad in one more semester OR — my dad offered me another alternative. Why don’t you study abroad?

The arrival

I landed in Auckland, New Zealand on February 15th. I was at the top of the North Island and I had one last flight to go before my final destination to my soon to be home for five months, Wellington. It all felt pretty surreal. My flight from Maryland to California had been delayed because of a snowstorm, causing me to miss my flight to New Zealand and forcing me to stay the night in LA in a crappy Holiday Inn room by the airport that reeked of smoke. So I won’t be lying when I say that Auckland felt like a breath of fresh air. When I made it to Wellington, my wonderful homestay mom picked me up and drove us up a steep hill to the neighborhood of Melrose, where she was hosting two other students. Lisa, from Germany and Dan, from China. These women became nothing short of family. The house itself was idyllic. A charming white house, with wood floors, tall windows and front yard with a view of the bay. I opened the door to my temporary room and sighed, yeah I could be happy here I thought. It felt like a blank page, white walls and empty spaces. 

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My journey through Middle-earth

Despite being in an entirely new country, it was easy for me to find my way to my old habits. I made friends easily, said yes to everything and constantly told myself I was somehow screwing it all up. I had begun to fill my schedule with people and things without intention and my mind filled up with the uneasiness of it all. I’d come home and wonder, but what am I supposed to get out of all this? Did I decide to explore the right things today? Why don’t I feel like a new person? Am I supposed to be enlightened by now? Am I taking enough classes? Am I taking too many classes?

A few weeks in I decided to wipe it all clean again, I physically slid off all the clutter from my desk and went back to the drawing boards. I told my newfound friends that I went on this trip because there were some things I needed to do on my own and although within days we had become “the goon squad” and were already lifelong friends, they understood. I decided there wasn’t anything I needed to be getting from the trip, and my only objective was to feel whole. I crumpled up all of the lists I had made with the things I had to do and places I had to visit, the lists that were beginning to weigh me down. I committed instead to go on one hike every single week, no matter where I was in the country. And I wrote five magical words on one sticky note. “Today, I will enjoy myself.” I woke up every single day for five months and saw those words. It didn’t matter if it meant I was studying by the beautiful Wellington waterfront or taking a run along the coastline in Lyall Bay. Oh and that’s the other thing. I took my very first run out of desire. Of course it’s easy to love running when you are surrounded by rugged coastline. But that was the first time I was running not because I had to. And not because I felt shitty about eating and six miles was my personal punishment for being born with hips and thick legs.

Woman vs. wild

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Now this is the fun part. Cue montage of a woman in flannel and khaki pants trekking up mountains, backpacking along coastlines and laughing while drinking wine with her friends as they watch the sunset on a beach. Now picture me, my experience was hardly as graceful or picturesque. It was me and my new best friends eating string cheese in the dark for dinner when we arrived at a hostel in the middle of the night. It was running through the streets of Wellington in the middle of a cyclone for the fun of it. It was jumping off a pier off the coast after seeing the shadow of a couple of stingrays swimming just beneath the surface and screaming “fuck it”; likelihood of death by stingray: low, belief of death by stingray: high. It was taking a five day backpacking trip in the Abel Tasman with my friend Anna and missing a week of school because it was oh so worth it. And it was getting in trouble with a park ranger because you messed up the dates on said backpacking trip. Oh and also learning the absolute wrong way to back your backpack. It was drinking Scrumpies (cheap, super sweet cider) with my friends in their dorm room and learning that iced coffee actually meant coffee milkshake no matter how many times you said you just wanted ice in your coffee. It was climbing up Mount Doom (you know the one in Lord of the Rings), and hating every minute of it because with every step up, the rocks would slide you back down again. But also loving it, because you were going to tell everyone that you climbed up Mount Doom. It was going to hot water beach, and digging in the sand to find the hot water only to find you made a bunch of pits in the sand that were filling up with lukewarm water. It was taking a windy and narrow kayaking trip  that was above your skill level and getting stuck in the bushes along the way. It was never as glamorous as I thought it should be, but it was always glorious. It was full of lessons, memories and people that I will treasure for a lifetime. And yes, by the end I really did feel like I was whole again.

It wouldn’t feel right to share my experience in New Zealand without compiling a list of some of my favorite adventures. So if you ever do find yourself in New Zealand, I hope you make some pretty imperfect memories in these places too:

  • My favorite multi day backpacking trip, and how I learned the best way to not pack a backpack: Abel Tasman, South Island. If you love the idea of hiking up mountains while having a view of the coast and its beaches, and being able to take a dip in the ocean at the end of the day — this is the most perfect backpacking trip.10155633_10201786735449920_1532715957692977262_n.jpg20140327_072146
  • When I felt the strongest, aka my favorite day hike: Tongariro Crossing, North Island, New Zealand. Great for hiking up volcanoes, Mount Doom and discovering the beauty of emerald green lakes. (

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  • Most peaceful hostel: Little Earth Lodge – Whangarei, Northland, New Zealand. Also the best place to find the greenest of hikes. 

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  • Most challenging kayaking experience: Tokaanu, just outside of Lake Taupo, North Island.
  • Coolest experience: Waitomo Caves, North Island. Make sure to take an evening walk through the surrounding forest — you’ll be surrounded by glow worms in the trees and the starry skies.
  • Favorite beach (and hot tub!) : Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Bay, North Island. You really can dig up your own personal hot tub.10174833_10201900368050664_6000726863604297452_n

 

 

Swimsuit Season

Header image from xoJane’s “real beach bodies”

Submitted By: Allison StraussBoard Member & Wilderness Ambassador in Portland, OR

Every day, I see how deeply ingrained we are by body image standards. I work at a swimwear store.

In an aggressively progressive city, where “body-positive” is attached to every event description, the customers I work with don’t strike me as women who judge others’ figures. The store is almost a “sacred space,” where women step out of the dressing rooms and no one stares. Yet when it comes to their own bodies, the same non-shallow women feel besieged by age-old ideals. This includes women who embody those ideals! Dressing rooms grow hot and sweaty, and echo with declarations of, “I need a drink!” (We serve beer.)

Swimsuit season is here. No one should let the summer pass without getting in the water. So here are some strategies to combat self-loathing, and guide you to a suit that suits you!

  • Start shopping well before your outing or trip. You’d be surprised how many women put off shopping till the day before. The time pressure adds to their anxiety. No one wants to make more than one shopping trip, but leave yourself enough time so you can. That way you can hold out for a suit you really like, not just one that “does the job.”
  • Know your size. Dress size, band size, cup size. Swim sizes do vary somewhat by brand, but that goes for all the rest of clothing-dom too, so you should never get out of the range you wear day-to-day. The thing that makes me the saddest at work is when I clear a dressing room, and find a customer was trying on suits obviously too large for her. It’s amazing how our feelings can skew our perception.
  • Start with what genuinely appeals to you. Trying on everything that’s the right size is not an effective way of hedging your bets. It’s a recipe for overload. It’s also easy to simply lose track of how many suits you’ve passed onto me, the helpful sales associate, to put in your dressing room. Do yourself the favor of making your dressing room a curated gallery, not a museum. You can always branch out from there.
  • Don’t make concealment the point. When customers would say, “I hate my [part of body],” an old coworker used to respond, “What part of your body do you like?” Certainly go for that “tummy control” feature or that skirt to cover your thighs. But make sure you also choose something with an accentuating feature or design point of interest. This will keep you out of “granny suit” territory. You’re cooler than that. You’re still you!

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Sarah Jane Adams reflects in “Me My Body” for Advanced Style, photograph by Ari Seth Cohen

  • Something to keep in mind: Do you spend your time at the beach, lake, river, etc. judging others’ paunches, sags, wrinkles, stretch marks, cellulite, and veins? It’s true we’re not used to seeing these things, they can be surprising. But you just think, “Oh, well there it is” and move on, right? Which is not to say you discount the person. Trust that others won’t discount you either. If someone is that shallow, you can feel bad for them. 

    “…those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”
    –Dr. Seuss

Finally, when you notice a swimsuited woman with your same symptoms of a life lived, don’t you kind of admire her and feel a little more confident yourself? You can be that woman to someone else.

swim3Jazzmyne shared her first bikini experience with the world.

Accessibility in the Outdoors & The Camp Kit’s Role

What does making the outdoors accessible mean? This question was on my mind when I co-founded Wild Wilderness Women almost two years ago. We wanted to build a group that would empower more women to get outside, and do so in an intentional way that wouldn’t leave any women out. As we’ve grown, it has been a question our board has returned to again and again. How do we make sure we’re fostering an inclusive environment where socio-economic status, race, sexuality, and the variety of other characteristics that a diverse community of women may identify with don’t inadvertently prohibit them from feeling welcome outside?

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The urgency of the question for me only grew as our board began planning our inaugural Babes Off the Beaten Path trip—an annual opportunity for Wild Wilderness Women to come together and build community while having an exceptional outdoors experience. For this first year, we’d be taking eight women into the backcountry of Glacier National Park for four days. Three of these women had never been backpacking before.

My mind immediately turned to cost, and the stress I remember feeling around obtaining all the gear I needed when I started diving into the world of backpacking. The truth is that it’s expensive to get started backpacking. Just the cost of the basics adds up fast.

  • Backpack: $200
  • Sleeping pad: $60
  • Sleeping bag: $150
  • Tent: $175
  • Stove: $50
  • Headlamp: $25
  • Total: $660

The cost of gear shouldn’t be what stops a woman from trying out backpacking for the first time, and we certainly didn’t want this to be the case for the women who were courageously throwing their fears to the wind and coming with us on this wild ride to Glacier. This is where The Camp Kit came in.

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For far less than the price of buying all new gear, The Camp Kit offers easy rentals of everything a newbie may need to try out this great love affair we call backpacking. And, unlike some rental companies, it only sends high-quality gear—the type that you would want to buy for yourself. As a first-timer, this is important. Using gear that is old, smelly, heavy, or otherwise unappealing can affect the way a beginner internalizes the experience.

When Tara first joined Wild Wilderness Women, she didn’t have much experience camping. Day hikes, paddling on the Potomac, or biking along local trails were more up her alley. But, strapping a pack on your back, sleeping near wild animals, and spending multiple nights in a tent? She had some hesitations. However, when we announced our trip to Glacier, Tara excitedly signed up. She quickly embraced the opportunity to push her limits in a way that so beautifully encapsulated the ethos of our group’s mission. This was something we wanted to champion.

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Photo Credit: Nicole Lesnett

Tara headed out on the Dawson-Pitamakan Trail with us this past August thanks to a 1-person backpacking kit from The Camp Kit. She got to experience what backpacking was all about without committing to dropping hundreds of dollars on gear. And, I can’t imagine what our trip would’ve been like if something like the cost of gear had held Tara back from joining us.

Tara brought incredible spirit to the group—encouraging all of us when we began to feel tired, letting us share in her excitement of seeing her first moose, and being the first to want to learn new skills, such as bear bag hanging or backcountry dishwashing. I asked her at the end of the trip if she thought backpacking was something she’d do again, and, guess what? Even with aches in the feet and stinky armpits at the end of the trail, her answer was—yes!

Accessibility in the outdoors is important across a variety of spectrums. For me, the financial barrier of getting started is one I feel particularly passionate about breaking down. I’m grateful for options like The Camp Kit that help do just that.

XO—Korrin, Co-founder & President

Header photo credit: Nicole Lesnett

The Backpacker’s Wardrobe

Submitted By: Allison Strauss, Annual Adventure Maven

Excitement is building around Wild Wilderness Women’s backpacking trips this summer. For some, it will be their first such expedition, potentially mixing in nervousness with the excitement and raising many questions.

When someone else is doing the planning, the area you have the most control over before a backpacking trip is what you’ll wear. The clothes you bring will affect your comfort, and therefore how great a time you have. So discussing clothing seems like a good place to start in building first-timers’ confidence, whether you’re coming with us this summer or preparing for your own walk on the wild side.

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First, put REI out of your mind. But everything’s so cool! Says the excited You. But everything’s so expensive! Says the nervous You. Tell them both that those cool and expensive things are variations on just a few necessities. Over time, the backpacking wardrobe has been honed down to a standard set that applies anywhere in the continental U.S. This guide will “unpack” that set, sharing its reasoning and its options.

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1) Synthetic Underwear

Backpacking clothes are all about materials. Underwear should be made of some kind of synthetic (polyester, nylon, etc.). It wicks sweat, dries quickly, and minimizes odor. We tend to think of cotton underwear as the ultimate in comfort, but cotton is banned in backpacking, because it gets wet, stays wet, and smells. The cotton ban is particularly relevant for underwear, to prevent yeast infections. That said, I backpacked in cotton underwear for years and never got a yeast infection. The aim of this guide is to impart an attitude of intentionality, not fatalism.

–How many pairs?

One for each day, plus one or two extras. No need to get radical on your first trip!

2) Sports Bra

No complicated straps or plastic bits that might dig into you.

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3) Wool Hiking Socks

The thick toughness of these socks is absolutely necessary to keep your feet from blistering. And wool wicks moisture, which also keeps your feet from blistering.

–How many pairs?

As with underwear, there’s no need to go radical here. It’s more important not to get athlete’s foot. For short trips, you might as well bring a pair for each day. For trips of five days or more—not that you should be doing that your first trip–I’d say a pair for every two days.

Note: Some backpackers are firm believers in liner socks–specialty thin socks worn under wool socks to reduce friction. I haven’t found they make any difference, so I say one less thing you have to buy. You can always try them in the future if you get into backpacking.

4) Sacred Socks

Many backpackers bring a pair of comfy, warm socks just to sleep in. So they stay clean, these “sacred socks” are usually packed in the bottom of the sleeping bag and never leave there.

5) Camp Sandals/Shoes

Lightweight footwear to give your tootsies a rest from hiking boots. Many backpackers bring Teva-style sandals they can wear over their socks. Backless sandals or shoes are discouraged.

6) Knit or Fleece Gloves

Fingerless recommended!

7) Knit or Fleece Hat

8) Sun Hat

Baseball, bucket, or safari style, so long as it can be stuffed in your backpack.

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Rigid hats like those made of felt or straw are discouraged for two reasons. 1) The stiff brim in the back may bump against your backpack and drive you crazy. 2) The only thing to do with a rigid hat if you don’t feel like wearing it is to strap/tie it to your backpack. I encourage minimizing the number of things on the outside of your pack to keep items from getting damaged, tangled, or lost. This will also make it easier to pull on a pack cover if it rains.

9) Thermal Top and Bottoms

Think of thermals as your second skin. Their job is to insulate. Many backpackers sleep in their thermals.

Thermals come in silk, synthetic, and wool. Synthetic is ideal for backpacking, as silk can be too delicate for long-term use and wool can be too hot. But if you already own either silk or wool thermals, no need to run out and buy synthetic.

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Thermal Tops!

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Several examples of the popular thermal bottoms with shorts combo.

Note: Most of the folks in the photo above are wearing gaiters, those sheaths around their lower legs. Gaiters have stirrups that go around your hiking boots, keeping snow, sand, pebbles, etc. out of the boots. But I haven’t found them to make much of a difference, and am more comfortable without them. Unless your trip leader advises gaiters because of specific conditions, I’d say this is another item you can skip for a first trip, and test out on future ones.

10) Hiking Pants

These don’t have to be explicitly for hiking. Check the thrift stores! What you’re looking for is a tough material and a comfortable fit. Consider whether they’ll protect your legs if you’re pushing your way through bushes. You should be able to wear thermal bottoms underneath.

Note: Seriously, check the thrift stores. I’ve found Helly Hansen pants and Marmot shorts, both with the tags still on. And you’d be surprised at all the North Face jackets.

11) Hiking Shorts

These do not have to be explicitly for hiking either. Take them for a walk to make sure they don’t chafe or ride up between your thighs. Leave the shorts at home from late fall to early spring.

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Note: Pants that zip into shorts are great!

12) Synthetic T-Shirts

I used to make a cotton exception with t-shirts and you can too. But I noticed a B.O. improvement when I switched to synthetic, and the armpits don’t get holes with wear. Invisible mesh gives great breathability. Swab with an anti-static dryer sheet before your trip.

–How many?

I’d say 1 shirt for every 3 or 4 days. If that means only one shirt for the length of the trip (as it probably will on your first), then bring an extra in case you spill hot chocolate down your front.

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Note: Lots of women wear tank tops backpacking, but to give yourself the best shot at comfort (and therefore an enjoyable trip), I’d advise against tank tops, to minimize risk of your backpack straps from rubbing your shoulders. You can try tanks the next time, once you’ve decided you like backpacking come what may. Bring a t-shirt in case it doesn’t work out.

13) Fleece or Compressible Down Jacket

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14) Fleece Pants

Wear over thermal bottoms at night and/or to sleep. Leave them at home in the summer.

15) Fleece or Compressible Down Vest

If you bring a fleece vest, you should be able to wear a fleece or down jacket over it. If you bring a down vest, you should be able to wear a fleece jacket under it. (No point in bringing a down vest and down jacket, since they can’t be effectively layered.) Think of yourself as a matrioshka doll—everything’s got to nest. Leave the vest at home in the summer.

16) Rain Jacket and Pants

These should be shells, meaning not lined with any sort of insulation. That way they’ll be comfortable if you need rain or wind protection but aren’t cold. Make sure they are marked Waterproof, that they’re not just windbreakers. These are your outermost layers and should fit over everything.

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17) Hiking Boots

If you haven’t hiked in hiking boots before, or have not owned a pair you really liked, go to an outdoors store and try on an assortment of boots with a shoe department clerk. Tell him/her about the trip you’re going on. As you test different boots, describe what you’re feeling so the clerk can steer you in the right direction. Don’t be shy about taking however much time is needed and making the clerk go back and forth to the stockroom. (Go at a slow business time if possible.) If the clerk is pushing a boot that you don’t think is right, don’t settle for it just because (s)he is more familiar with boots. They’re your feet, and this is your big-money item in the backpacker’s wardrobe.

Before your trip, take your new boots for a hike or some walks on a dirt path. (Avoid wearing them down on concrete as much as possible) This will mold them to your feet and make them uniquely yours!

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In Review:

  1. Intentionality, not fatalism.
  2. Synthetics and wool are your friends. Cotton is banned.
  3. Lightweight and compressible.
  4. Be a matrioshka doll. Make sure your layers actually nest.
  5. Check the thrift stores.
  6. Set your feet up for success.

See you in the backcountry!