Being Stupid With Friends: A 32-Mile Dayhike in the White Mountains

By Michael Lanza

As we near the top of Mount Flume in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the first of nine summits we hope to reach today, a light shower begins falling. It seems a less-than-ideal portent near the front end of one of the longest and hardest days of hiking any of us has ever undertaken—especially for three people somewhere between two and three decades past their hiking prime. But this only strikes us as one more in a long list of reasons to laugh at the absurdity of our self-imposed mission: to see whether we still have the stuff to knock off a dayhike that few mountain walkers would even contemplate. In that context, the arrival of the rain we knew was forecasted comes all in a day’s foolishness.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once opined, “It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”

Two hours after setting out at precisely 6 a.m., under mostly overcast skies that kept turning grayer—which seems to invite a metaphor about the hair color of my companions and me—we have come about five miles and nearly 3,000 feet. That would represent a proud halfway point for many dayhikes we’ve all taken. But it comprises just a fraction of our plans for today.

My good friends and longtime trail mates Mark Fenton, David Ports, and I have embarked on arguably the most grueling long “dayhike” in the Northeast that people actually do—that’s really a thing—and one of the hardest and most scenic in the country: the 32-mile Pemi Loop through the Pemigewasset Wilderness in the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

 

Mark Fenton and David Ports hiking the Lincoln Woods Trail, White Mountains, N.H.

Mark Fenton and David Ports hiking the Lincoln Woods Trail, White Mountains, N.H.

From the Lincoln Woods Trailhead on the Kancamagus Highway, we intend to complete a loop over the peaks of Franconia Ridge, Garfield Ridge, South Twin Mountain, and the Bonds, eventually staggering back to our car probably well after dark. We’ll cross nine named summits over 4,000 feet—eight of them “official” 4,000-footers, and two of those over 5,000 feet, while a third rises nearly that tall. While our route largely follows a few connected mountain ridges, it nonetheless makes numerous significant drops between the summits, gaining and losing a cumulative 10,000 vertical feet of elevation. For the great majority of its distance, the Pemi Loop, like many trails here, traverses terrain notoriously rocky, steep, and considerably unkind to creatures with just two legs.

Those numbers are eye-popping. But the number most relevant to our fate on this day may be our combined age in years: 162.

The rain falls steadily and fog thick enough to impress a Scotsman envelopes our little world as we stroll a trail along the brink of cliffs to the 4,328-foot summit of Mount Flume. Standing only briefly in the cold wind raking the exposed, rocky crown, I’m struck by the fact that my quads and lower back seem to be feeling the day’s rigors sooner than I anticipated; and my left knee has begun communicating, in its simple way, some displeasure with its circumstance.

The good news is that we have less than 27 miles to go.

 

Got a trip coming up? See my reviews of the best hiking shoes and 6 favorite daypacks.

 

David Ports on the Osseo Trail, White Mountains, N.H.
East Branch Pemigewasset River, in the Pemigewasset Wilderness, White Mountains, N.H.
Franconia Ridge, White Mountains, N.H.
Franconia Ridge Trail, White Mountains, N.H.
Mark Fenton hiking the steps on the Osseo Trail, White Mountains, N.H.

Ultra-Hiking the Pemi Loop

Perhaps because of their ample road access and the challenging nature of these trails, the White Mountains have spawned a sub-culture of ultra-hiking, or covering long distances in a single day. The holy grail of such hikes is the one-day “Death March” of the Presidential Range: 20 miles and 8,500 vertical feet over nine summits. Other continuous ridges with good road access invite ambitious dayhikes, like Franconia Ridge and the Carter-Moriah Range linked up with Wildcat Mountain.

Then there’s a feat unimaginable even to many hikers like Mark, David, and me, who are capable of knocking off the Pemi Loop (or think they are): a one-day traverse of the Appalachian Trail through the Whites linking up all of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) huts, from Carter Notch to Lonesome Lake, a walk of some 49 miles and 17,000 vertical feet of elevation gain. That insanity apparently began as a challenge among the typically young AMC hut “cru” staff, who spend summers developing the leg muscles to do it by hiking constantly on these trails. Beyond those super fit cru members, only a few true extremists could even consider such an undertaking.

All three of us have dayhiked the monster Pemi Loop before, 10 years ago—David on his own, Mark and I together on an punishingly hot and humid July day when we drank at least 10 liters of water each and sweated out even more.

But that was then. Although we’ve all stayed fit and taken numerous long hikes since then, the fifties are a decade when the human body mimics a car with an odometer reading well into six digits: Parts begin to wear out, and occasionally fail catastrophically. We all know people who have replaced knees, or given up running or skiing or recreational-league basketball or soccer—who’ve adapted to the inexorable erosion of physical ability. All three of us have suffered more chronic injuries—rightly known by their other name, “overuse injuries”—than we can probably remember. And we’ve mostly healed from them, although we now understand “healing” to mean a condition better than injured and not as good as original.

 

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, the creator of The Big Outside, recognized as a top outdoors blog by USA Today and others. I invite you to get email updates about new stories and gear giveaways by entering your email address in the box in the left sidebar, at the bottom of this post, or on my About page, and follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

Fortunately, Mark, David, and I have all avoided the knife and major injuries so far. But at our age, the question on any given day is not whether anything hurts, but what hurts the most.

We’ll all certainly be proud if we can pull off again a hike that most people half our age never could. And we’re confident but realistic: There’s no predicting what could go wrong, either physically or even situationally in these mountains known for weather as harsh as the trails. (Mount Washington, just several miles to the northeast, held the record for the fastest wind speed ever recorded in the world for more than 60 years—231 miles per hour—and has an average year-round temperature below freezing.)

The Pemi Loop presents another logistical difficulty that ups the ante for this hike: Long stretches of it lie miles from the nearest road. And the farther along we are on the loop (hiking clockwise, as we are), the more complicated it becomes to abort the hike, because doing so could mean finding ourselves at a trailhead very far from our car, with no easy way to get back to it. So we view a bailout as an emergency scenario only—too poor an option to consider just because of sore legs and feet or blisters. Suffering is presumed. Blood is eminently possible.

In the back of our minds a little voice whispers, “Are you sure you can do this?”

And in moments of lucid self-awareness, all three of us would probably answer that question: “Not really.”

 

I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life. Find out more here.

 

The foggy summit of Mount Lafayette, Franconia Ridge, White Mountains, N.H.
Mount Garfield summit, Garfield Ridge Trail, White Mountains, N.H.
Mount Garfield, White Mountains, N.H.
Franconia Ridge on a past hike, White Mountains, N.H.

Hiking Franconia Ridge in Fog

Fog engulfs us and rain falls on and off throughout our hike over Franconia Ridge—a little disappointing, because that long, alpine crest has views spanning most of the Whites. (Note: The photos in this story showing a sunny Franconia Ridge were taken on previous hikes.) On both sides of us, the ground plunges away into blank gumbo. During a brief lull in the rain, we stop briefly to wolf down sandwiches—a hike of this distance doesn’t happen without plenty of fuel—finishing them just moments before the rain resumes.

Glancing skyward from under the hood of his rain shell, Mark says, “I wonder if the clouds will break at all today.”

But today’s weather can’t dampen our spirits. We’re dressed for it, it’s not cold, and the rain never grows really heavy; so the conditions merely turn what’s a hard and beautiful hike on a clear day into a hard hike that feels that more adventurous.

 

Be comfortable on your hikes. See my review of “The 5 Best Rain Jackets For the Backcountry.”

 

David Ports hiking the Franconia Ridge Trail, White Mountains, N.H.

David Ports hiking the Franconia Ridge Trail, White Mountains, N.H.

Beyond the 5,260-foot summit of Mount Lafayette—highest point of our day—we descend the rugged Garfield Ridge in fog.

We don’t have what you’d call fond memories of Garfield Ridge. In fact, we remember it as one of the toughest sections of the Pemi Loop, and now, unbelievably, it seems even harder than we remember. Hiking the 7.4 miles of the Appalachian Trail between Lafayette and the summit of South Twin Mountain involves treading carefully over a trail carpeted with damp, slick, moss-covered boulders, and scores of knee-punishing ledge drops of two feet or more. Garfield Ridge is one of the reasons—albeit many reasons—that the Whites bear a reputation as hosting some of that famous long-distance trail’s hardest mileage.

On the summit of Mount Garfield, one of the most remote summits in the Whites, we take a short break. Around us looms nothing but a wall of gray fog.

 

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South Twin Mountain, White Mountains, N.H.
South Twin Mountain, White Mountains, N.H.
Hiking off South Twin Mountain, White Mountains, N.H.
Hiking Bondcliff, White Mountains, N.H.
Mark Fenton hiking Bondcliff, White Mountains, N.H.

Galehead Hut

At the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Galehead Hut—just over 17 miles into our day, with just over 14 miles still to go—we take our longest break, about 40 minutes, buying and eating freshly baked chocolate-chip brownies, stretching muscles that started feeling the miles several miles back.

The first time the three of us dayhiked the Pemi Loop, we did it in the other direction: counter-clockwise. We decided to go clockwise this time because we thought that might ease the difficulty of its toughest sections—and we’d take whatever easing we could get. Plus, we’d knock off the hardest stretches—Franconia Ridge and Garfield Ridge—in the first half, while we’re relatively fresh.

The three of us agree that was a good call. Even the most ridiculously steep and rocky sections, like the AT between Galehead Hut and the 4,902-foot summit of South Twin—which climbs more than 1,100 vertical feet in just 0.8 mile—proves easier going up at a moderate pace than the knee- and quad-pounding of going down it.

 

Be ready for your next hike. See my stories “Training For a Big Hike or Mountain Climb
and “10 Tricks For Making Hiking and Backpacking Easier.”

 

Mark Fenton on Bondcliff, White Mountains, N.H.
Hiking Bondcliff, White Mountains, N.H.
Mark Fenton on Bondcliff, White Mountains, N.H.
David Ports on Bondcliff, White Mountains, N.H.

Bondcliff… and Sunshine

Even in the White Mountains, on a mostly crappy day, you can get lucky.

As we’re ascending 4,265-foot Bondcliff, the final peak of our day, the clouds splinter and separate. Shafts of sunlight set the sheer rock walls of Bondcliff aglow. Tendrils of fog rise from the wet valleys, while a pleasant breeze courses over the ridge. With evening approaching, and us walking up toward a beautiful and remote summit, we get treated to the finest weather and light of the entire day.

Looking around at our 360-degree panorama from Bondcliff, a view of wilderness with no trace of civilization visible, David and I talk about how we both started hiking in these very mountains more than 30 years ago—traveling the same trails around the same time before we knew one another—and how these peaks nurtured for both of us a lifelong love affair with hiking and the outdoors. Everywhere we look, a mountain reminds us of past hikes and old friends. We’ve both always felt a strong attachment to the Whites. “And I still feel that way,” he tells me.

With 8.8 downhill and then flat miles to go, we now know we’re going to make it. Mark says, “One of the reasons I wanted to do this was to see if I still could.” Apparently, we still can.

There’s a quote attributed to the late writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez: “It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old; they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”

 

Mark Fenton on Bondcliff in the Pemigewasset Wilderness, White Mountains, N.H.

Mark Fenton on Bondcliff in the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

Night falls as we’re walking the interminable miles back to our car—which we’ll reach at 9:59 p.m., finishing our 32-mile dayhike in one minute shy of 16 hours. We’re exhausted, running on fumes. I feel completely depleted—feet aching, lower back stiff. My legs keep moving, but I could drop into a bed right now and fall asleep instantly. Somehow, Mark and David maintain a strong pace. I see the bright dots of their headlamps in the black distance ahead of me on the Lincoln Woods Trail.

That’s the problem with hiking with people like them: You can walk 32 miles in a day and still suffer feelings of inadequacy.

But as Helen Keller famously said, “I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.”

 

Tell me what you think.

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See all of my stories about the White Mountains, including “Still Crazy After All These Years: Hiking in the White Mountains,” and all of my stories about ultra-hiking at The Big Outside, including “Training for a Big Hike or Mountain Climb.”

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THIS TRIP IS GOOD FOR extremely fit, expert hikers with experience taking long dayhikes in the Northeast mountains. People aspiring to hike it in a day would be wise to build up to the distance with dayhikes of the Presidential Range and/or Carter-Moriah Range. Backpackers who are moderately fit often take three to four days to complete the Pemi Loop.

Make It Happen

Season The prime hiking season in the White Mountains is June through mid-October. Winter hiking skills and gear are generally required from November through mid-spring, and deep but soft snow can make hiking difficult in late April and May.

The Itinerary The 32-mile Pemi Loop can be hiked in either direction from the Lincoln Woods Trailhead on NH 112 (Kancamagus Highway), 5.6 miles east of the information center at I-93 exit 32 in Lincoln. I’ve dayhiked it in both directions and find clockwise is a little less punishing physically than the opposite direction. For backpackers, there are several backcountry campsites along the route.

Huts The Appalachian Mountain Club’s MC’s eight mountain huts are popular; make reservations at least a few months in advance, further in advance for summer and early-fall weekends, at outdoors.org/lodging/whitemountains/index.cfm.

Shuttle Service The Appalachian Mountain Club’s hiker shuttle bus operates daily from early June through mid-September, and on weekends and holidays from mid-September through mid-October, stopping at several trailheads throughout the White Mountains. See the schedule at outdoors.org/lodging-camping/lodging-shuttle.cfm.

Permit No permit is required for dayhiking or backpacking.

Map/Guidebook The AMC White Mountain Guide describes all trails and includes topographical maps, $24.95, (617) 523-0655, outdoors.org/amcstore.

Concerns Weather is the biggest hazard, including thunderstorms, strong winds, rain, snow, and whiteout conditions on summits and exposed ridges. Check the forecast for the summits, posted daily at all AMC mountain huts and the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, and available from the Mt. Washington Weather Observatory, mountwashington.org/experience-the-weather/mount-washington-weather.

Contact Appalachian Mountain Club, (617) 523-0655, outdoors.org. Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, White Mountains, (603) 466-2721.

 


MSR TrailShot Water Filter Review

Drinking from a MSR TrailShot Water Filter
Drinking from a MSR TrailShot Water Filter

The MSR TrailShot Water Filter is a highly compact and portable water filter that lets you drink directly from natural water sources like streams, rivers, lakes and ponds. It has an unusual design that’s a lot like a water fountain (with a built-in water filter) so you can hydrate on the go without having to carry a water bottle or hydration reservoir. Users who can benefit the most from the TrailShot include trail runners, ultralight backpackers, fishermen, and boaters.

The TrailShot has three components

  • A special squeeze bulb with a drinking spout that contains the filter element
  • A 16 inch hose
  • A pre-filter to remove particulates before they reach the filter element

When you want to drink some water, you stick the pre-filter end of the hose in the water and start squeezing the transparent bulb. This draws water up the hose to a comfortable height and pumps it through the filter. If you want to sip from the drink spout directly, simply remove the cap and aim the water at your mouth or slurp it like a water fountain. I’d caution you against touching your mouth to the drink spout because there is the potential for of cross-contamination if the drink spout gets wet from the hose or pre-filter when the unit is folded up and stuffed in a pocket. You can also use the TrailShot to fill water bottles, or reservoirs directly without removing them from your pack if your hose diameter fits into the TrailShot’s drink spout.

The MSR TrailShot is a lot like a waterfountain with a built-in water filter
The MSR TrailShot is a lot like a water fountain with a built-in water filter

The TrailShot uses the fast-flowing hollow-fiber water filter technology that has revolutionized water filers over the past several years and is used in other filters such as the Katadyn BeFree and the Sawyer Squeeze.

The TrailShot is rated to remove 99.99999% of bacteria and 99.9% or protozoa (giardia and cryptosporidium.) It has a flow rate of 1 liter per minute in ideal circumstances, if you can keep squeezing your hand fast enough without tiring. The weight of the unit is 5.2 ounces and it’s easy to stuff it into a small pocket if you don’t mind the residual water in the filter dripping over stuff.

To clean the pre-filter, simply unscrew it and rinse out the tiny screen inside. To clean the filter inside the squeeze bulb section, pump it full of water and shake it vigorously. Then remove the hose and let the water pour out. This is easy to quickly do in the field, without the need to carry a separate syringe for backflushing.

I’ve been using the TrailShot for over 6 months, primarily when I go fly fishing on streams and small rivers. I like the freedom of drinking directly from a stream using the TrailShot without having to carry any additional containers. I’m literally standing in the water for hours at a time, so it seems silly to lug around bottles of the stuff or a hydration pack.

If you’re a hiker, there’s always a trade-off between the convenience of carrying water and resupplying more frequently. Personally, I’d rather stop once every 4 hours to filter or purify water, than every 30 minutes with the TrailShot. But if you’re obsessed with moving as fast as possible and only carrying what you need, I’d encourage you try the MSR TrailShot Water Filter. It’s a very different way to think about water resupply for highly mobile activities.

Disclosure: The author received a sample of this product for review.

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The 5 Best Hiking GPS Reviewed For 2017

Best Hiking GPS

Many hikers refuse to enter the wilderness without a hiking GPS. Some hikers use GPS units as supplements to map and compass.

I bought my first GPS when Geocaching was a brand-new hobby. If you’re not familiar, Geocaching is a “sport” where participants hide and seek “treasure” stashes around the world using GPS.

The best handheld hiking GPS units have come a long way since then and become much more affordable. While it’s still quite popular, Geocaching is only one way to use a handheld GPS.

Others use GPS units exclusively for navigation off trail or following a pre-charted route with great accuracy. Whatever your needs, a GPS is an indispensable modern piece of navigation equipment for the hiker.

For more of my top gear recommendations, have a look through these popular Outside Pursuits guide links: Hiking Compasses, GPS Hiking Watches, Hiking Backpacks

Quick Answer: The 5 Best Handheld GPS For Hiking 2017

  1. Garmin Montana 680t
  2. Garmin GPSMAP 64st
  3. Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS
  4. Garmin eTrex 30x
  5. DeLorme Earthmate PN-60W GPS

First let’s take a look at the GPS Hiking Units, then we’ll talk about how to choose the best one for you in our guide. Here is a feature overview for my top 3 overall picks.

Best Hiking GPS

  Garmin Montana 680t Garmin GPSMAP 64st Garmin Foretrex 401
Features: – High-sensitivity GPS and GLONASS
– Pre Loaded Geocaches
– 8 megapixel digital camera
– High-sensitivity GPS and GLONASS
– Includes worldwide basemaps
– With ANT+Bluetooth
– High-sensitivity GPS receiver
– TracBack feature to retrace your path
– Electronic compass and barometric altimeter
Wearable: No No Yes
Best For: Hiking, General Navigation and Geocaching Hiking, General Navigation Hiking, General Navigation

Handheld Hiking GPS Reviews

#1 Garmin Montana 680t Review

Garmin has been making the Montana series GPS units for years. In fact, my first handheld GPS was a Garmin brand.

Now there’s more features than ever packed into ever more affordable packages. 3-axis compass will allow you to maintain an accurate bearing whether moving, standing still, or holding the GPS unit at an angle.

It’s hard to recognize just how convenient this feature is until you try using a GPS without it.

Garmin has loaded the 680t with high definition topographic maps so you won’t have to worry about aftermarket maps unless you’re looking to travel outside the US or seeking some maps with very unique perspectives.

Video: Overview of the Garmin Montana.

It even comes with over 250K preloaded geocaches, though you’ll want to update their information before heading out on the hunt – in case your local geocache is no longer available (they change often).

I think one of the coolest features is the onboard camera. While a dedicated camera certainly would take better quality photos, such as a DSLR, it’s not always easy or convenient to carry a camera while hiking.

Having a camera on the Montana 680t means you can take a quick geo-tagged photo or some scenery and wildlife pics on the fly. I think this is the best handheld gps for geocaching.

#2 Garmin GPSMAP 64st Review

Possibly the most well-loved GPS unit in use among the hiking community, Garmin has been making the GPSMAP handheld unit for longer than I can remember.

This low-resolution screen, button interfaced GPS unit is waterproof, accurate, durable, and reliable. There’s few better qualities in a hiking GPS than those!

Choose from several different models with preloaded maps in either the US or Canada. There’s even a model with an integrated camera, though it’ll cost you a bit more.

While the 2.6” 160×240 pixel display won’t win awards for clarity or contrast, it’s extremely battery efficient. They’ve even kept the GPSMAP upgraded and it now features the industry standard 3-axis compass and wireless Bluetooth and ANT connectivity.

Honestly, this would probably be my go-to choice for reliability, efficiency, and effectiveness.

While it’s not as fancy as the high resolution, touch screen displays of some of the more expensive models, you’ll be hard pressed to find a user with something negative to say.

In my opinion this is the best handheld gps for hiking.

#3 Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS Review

With a slight departure from the mapping GPS units we’ve been looking at, this GPS is simple, sleek, and efficient. It operates on a conservative two AAA batteries which promise long battery life due to the black and white screen and simple operation.

Instead of the map features available on the other units we’ve reviewed, this unit operates on a simple waypoint and tracking navigation system.

The GPS will passively track your route as you walk and you can activate the “TracBack” feature to retrace your steps. This is a great emergency or backup feature for those navigating difficult areas.

Create a waypoint, track, or destination before leaving home and upload the information to your GPS to use its simple functionality to track your route as you navigate. Having the option to wear it on your wrist for convenience, makes the Garmin Foretrex 401 the best handheld GPS for hunting and fishing.

This is a great, simple, lightweight supplement for map and compass navigation for the confident backcountry traveler looking for a safety net. It never hurts to have a backup plan.

#4 Garmin eTrex 30x Review

This upgraded version of a classic GPS has stood the test of time. Garmin’s original eTrex has been around in black and white display format for decades. Now you can find the same reliable, waterproof GPS unit in several different models.

This 30x model eTrex features a 2.2” color display which is small, accurate, and efficient. It’s a great balance between visibility and power consumption.

Preloaded base maps aren’t great so you’ll definitely want to take advantage of that nice display screen and get yourself some aftermarket maps to beef up your unit.

Video: Overview of the Garmin eTrex.

Topo 24K maps are a great high definition topographic map choice for most hiking users. This is a great way to take advantage of the high resolution, small screen.

With features we have come to expect from modern GPS units, the eTrex30 is wirelessly compatible with other devices to share waypoints, tracks, or routes as well as geocache information.

That means you can share geocache locations on the fly with other participants in the field. Know where something is? Share it with others! This is probably the best handheld GPS for the money.

#5 DeLorme Earthmate PN-60W GPS with SPOT Satellite Communicator

While GPS units connect to satellites to send and receive location based data, there’s usually no way to use that connection to communicate with the world.

Luckily, with the SPOT satellite device paired to the Delorme PN60W, you can now send and receive messages and location information.

This is an awesome solution for those looking to carry the best GPS for hiking for accurate off trail navigation or map and compass backup.

You can program in messages to send to specific phones such as your parents, spouse, or emergency team. There’s even an SOS and emergency signal broadcast option so you can use it like a personal locator beacon.

With support for up to 32GB SD cards and tons of custom mapping features, you’ll be able to use the high-resolution sunlight readable display for accurate navigation in any weather.

Fully waterproof and equipped with access to the highest aerial satellite imagery, however due to technical “glitches” with the unit I think your better off with one of the Garmin units.

How to Choose the Best GPS for Hiking

If you’re new to the world of navigating in the backcountry, there can be many considerations which may not at first be obvious. I’m going to help you choose the best hiking GPS for your needs by walking with you through several key decision points.

Battery Use

GPS units all use some kind of batteries. Most hiking GPS units use replaceable batteries, unlike car GPS units which use sealed, rechargeable batteries. Why? Because in the field you won’t have a good way to recharge a GPS unit, so hiking GPS units us simple AA batteries for the most part.

Consider using rechargeable AA batteries when using your GPS on shorter trips or around the local park. This will save you money on batteries and you can simply use disposable batteries on longer backpacking trips where recharging isn’t an option.

Screen Size and Type

Today you’ll have to choose from two main types of GPS:

  • Touch screen
  • Traditional

Touch screen GPS units usually have larger screens, as there’s no need to make room for physical buttons on the unit. However, touch screens can be more difficult to use in rain, cold weather, or when wearing gloves.

Larger screens are nice for viewing but come with two main drawbacks:

  • They consume batteries faster
  • The overall unit will be larger and heavier than smaller screen units

Maps

Most GPS units come with a pretty simple and, frankly, poor quality “base map”. Fortunately, more and more manufacturers are including high quality topographic maps as standard fare on their hiking GPS units.

Be sure that the unit you’re considering buying has high quality topo maps installed, otherwise make sure to calculate the cost and hassle of buying third-party maps and installing them yourself.

Electronic Compass

Electronic Compass

GPS units us equations to calculate where you are, where you’re going, and how fast. If you’re standing still, however, the unit has no way of knowing how it’s oriented to the world around you.

Units lacking a standalone electronic compass are incapable of generating a heading or bearing when standing still.

Especially for accurate navigation, orienteering, or geocaching you’ll want to make sure your GPS unit has an onboard electronic compass which allows the unit to calculate and display a bearing while standing still.

Having a 3-axis compass is a must-have feature as it allows you to hold the GPS in any orientation while still getting an accurate bearing.

You’ll have to hold the GPS perfectly flat like a piece of paper to get a 2-axis compass to work properly, and trust me it’s annoying.

Wireless Capability

Many newer GPS units feature Wi-Fi connection or wireless device-to-device communication. That means if your friend has a compatible device, you can quickly and easily transfer routes, waypoints, and POI’s wirelessly. If you’re often traveling with a partner it might be worth considering a wireless capable GPS unit.

Radio Capability

Some GPS units now feature the capability to act as two-way radios or short distance phones. With a compatible device, you can use a set of GPS units to establish two-way communications which is critical in situations such as search and rescue or emergency services.

You may even find that your device comes stander with the ability to access NOAA weather radio broadcasts.

Conclusion

There are so many options on the market today that it can be a challenge to identify your needs in a GPS and find one which meets your standards. Many GPS units offer too much power or more features than most people need. Be careful about upgrading to the most expensive unit without considering why.

Some of the smaller units offer higher reliability, equal accuracy, and many of the same robust features as top-end units at a lower price. You’ll also benefit from reduced battery consumption by using a GPS that has just the features you need and not a bunch of extra fancy gadgets.

For the casual weekend hiker, the Garmin eTrex or GPSMAP units are reliable and powerful enough to get any job done without gobbling up batteries. If you’re a world class navigator looking for only the best off-trail navigation and cutting edge features, something like the Garmin Montana 680t will be your trusted companion.

It’s easy to get trapped in the hype of buying new gadgets. However, with careful consideration you’ll be able to choose the best handheld hiking GPS companion for all of your adventures. Decide which features really matter to you and you’ll be happy with any choice on our list of hiking GPS units.

I hope this guide was helpful for finding the best hiking GPS to fit your needs. If you want to comment or recommend a GPS I didn’t include, please use my contact form to get in touch.

Have fun and be safe out there!

The post The 5 Best Hiking GPS Reviewed For 2017 appeared first on Outside Pursuits.

The 7 Best Recreational and Fishing Kayaks 2017

Best Recreational Kayak

There’s no time like summer for a kayaking trip. What’s that? You don’t have a kayak? Well, you’re in luck because we’re going to walk you through everything you need to know in order to pick out your first kayak.

Then we’ll review a few possible choices you have for purchasing a kayak. By the time you’re done, you’ll know what to look for and where to start finding the best recreational kayak for you!

Whether you’re looking for a kayak for you or your family we’ve got it covered.

There are so many kinds of kayaks out there and not every manufacturer makes it clear what activity each kayak is best for. That’s why we’re going to get started with what you need to know right now.

For more of my top gear recommendations, have a look through these popular Outside Pursuits guide links: Kayak Roof Racks, Kayak Paddles, Kayak Carts

Quick Answer: The 7 Best Recreational Kayaks For 2017

  1. Ocean Kayak Frenzy Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak
  2. Old Town Kayaks Vapor 10 Recreational Kayak
  3. Lifetime 10 Foot Manta Tandem Kayak
  4. Ocean Kayak Scrambler 11 Sit-On-Top
  5. Old Town Canoes & Kayaks Heron
  6. Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 Sit-in Kayak
  7. Sun Dolphin Bali SS 10-Foot Sit-on top Kayak

Let’s jump right in to what’s happening today in the kayak world. We’re going to show you a lineup of popular kayaks for recreation, youth, and fishing. Here are my 3 favorite kayaks with full reviews and our buyers guide below.

Be safe always wear a kayak PFD.

Best Recreational Kayak

  Ocean Kayak Frenzy Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak Old Town Kayaks Vapor 10 Recreational Kayak Lifetime 10 Foot Manta Tandem Kayak
Weight Capacity 275-325 pounds 275-325 pounds 500 pounds
Paddlers: Solo Solo Tandem
Features: Stern well storage provides easy access to items

Stern and bow deck bungee cords with bow and stern carry handles

Stern well storage provides easy access to items

Adjustable Comfort Flex padded seat

Two lightweight aluminum paddles and two kayak seats

Tunnel hull design provides stability, tracking and makes it almost impossible to tip over

Recreational Kayak Reviews

#1 Ocean Kayak Frenzy Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak

For many reasons sit on top kayaks make some the best choices for recreational kayaks. They’re versatile, easy to use, and self-bailing.

I love the open design of this kayak with tons of space, a generous seat, and two large deck lashings. It weighs 43 pounds which is pretty good for an affordable recreational kayak.

One feature I like is the replaceable rear skid plate which can be changed out if the kayak becomes worn from use. Not a bad call! The Ocean Frenzy is my top pick for the best recreational kayak.

#2 Old Town Kayaks Vapor 10 Recreational Kayak

This is a single person kayak designed for recreational paddling on quiet water. This would be perfect for slow rivers, lakes, ponds, and other recreation friendly water.

It’s a single layer polyethylene boat which means it won’t cost an arm and a leg.

There’s a gear vestibule behind the cockpit but overall, I would have liked to see them put in a little more dedicated storage space.

Adjustable seat and foot pegs are pretty standard these days but we’re glad to see them included – they’re vital to comfort! Old Town is known for making quality kayaks and the Vapor is the best recreational kayak under $500.

#3 Lifetime 10 Foot Manta Tandem Kayak

With the ability to paddle single or double person (tandem) and a sit on top design, this is the ultimate in versatility.

While the back rests leave something to be desired and the seating is not going to be comfortable for longer trips, it’s a solid choice for the lake house couple. Lifetime also touts the tunnel hull design as “almost impossible to tip over”.

I would say this kayak is at its best for short trips with couples that want the flexibility of a sit on top kayak and don’t mind giving up some comfort.

I like the fact that they included paddles, the Manta is one my top picks for the best budget kayak.

#4 Ocean Kayak Scrambler 11 Sit-On-Top

This is, of course, a sit on top kayak as the name suggests. That means more leg room and flexibility for paddlers.

It also means that the boat is able to feature an easily accessible gear compartment. Shock cord lashing is all you get for storing gear so make sure it’s already waterproof! There is one in-deck waterproof storage that’s just large enough for a phone or keys.

I like the flexibility and options that sit on top kayaks offer to users. Don’t worry there is an adjustable seatback for the kayak so you won’t have to spend all day sitting upright without back support.

The Ocean Scrambler is one of the best recreational sit on top kayaks, especially when you consider its price tag.

#5 Old Town Canoes & Kayaks Heron

When I used to work for the local parks department back in Michigan we used this exact kayak for rentals. They’re dependable, functional, and nearly indestructible.

I love the included water-resistant drywell behind the cockpit. There’s also padding on the edges of the cockpit where your knees would most likely make contact. A critical feature in my mind.

Overall, I’d say this boat has plenty of features for any recreational user and the nicely designed seats are a plus compared to many competitors.

#6 Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 Sit-in Kayak

This short, 10-foot kayak comes in several colors. It features a gear well behind the cockpit with webbing straps for extra gear.

There’s also a built-in water bottle holder or drink holder right in front of the cockpit which is a pretty nice addition for hot days on the river.

Made from UV-stabilized polyethylene and featuring a slightly adjustable seat this kayak makes a smart choice for the recreational user. It also comes in a bit lower on the price scale!

#7 Sun Dolphin Bali SS 10-Foot Sit-on top Kayak

Let me just say that for the price, this kayak is packing a ton of great features! I love the portable accessory carrier system that can be used as backpack, tow-behind, or in boat storage system.

Two dry storage compartments are included along with cock cord and deck rigging for gear. It’s also a sit on top design which automatically offers some of the best versatility and flexibility of any type of boat.

This is a serious contender for top choice among recreational kayak picks for the new paddler!

How to Choose the Best Recreational Kayak for You

Let’s start by reviewing a few of the types of kayaks available to you. Then we’ll talk about specific features and what you should look for or avoid. When we’re done you’ll have a great idea of where to start looking for the perfect kayak!

First lets answer the question: What is a recreational kayak?

I would define a recreational kayak as a kayak that is used by the occasional/casual paddler that will use it on flat water conditions such as a lake or slow moving river. It will be used primarily for recreation like exploring, exercise and site seeing but not necessarily fishing and definitely not white water rafting.

What Makes a Good Recreational Kayak?

A good recreational kayak will be easy to get into, track well but will not be as good as a longer touring kayak. They are stable and difficult to tip over and maybe most importantly be easy to paddle!

Recreational Kayaks

Recreational kayaks are the plastic ABS kayaks you’ll find at most local liveries. These types of kayaks are designed to be affordable and perform moderately well on most flatwater. While I’ve made these types of kayaks work for camping and fishing trips, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Seek out these kayaks if you’re looking for affordable boats that you can take an occasional weekend family or friends trip with. They’re not usually meant to tackle whitewater, hold gear for long trips, or be outfitted for fishing.

Whitewater Kayaks

Ranging from super short to moderately long these kayaks can span the breadth of shapes and sizes. Many of these boats are made for specific and advanced types of paddling.

They’re usually more expensive and a bit harder to find than a recreational kayak. Go to the nearest whitewater rafting center and inquire if you’re not sure where to begin looking for a whitewater kayak.

Touring Kayaks & Sea Kayaks

These boats tend to be long and narrow with features unique to long paddling on open water. Often, they’ll feature a rudder or skeg to aid in navigation and tracking.

They’ll always have added bulkhead space for storing gear and some will even have watertight compartments. These boats can tend to be the most expensive and niche types of kayaks available.

Put plenty of thought into your choice before choosing a touring kayak for long trips!

Sit-on-Top

Sit on top kayaks are newer and quite popular for several reasons. They’re self-bailing which means they can’t be filled with water. That makes them easy to use and maintain.

They also allow more leg room and flexibility in paddling. However, they lack much of the performance of many other types of kayaks. These are best for recreational trips or days around the lake cottage.

Sit-in-Kayak

Like a sit in kayak, they have seats, a foot pedal that is adjustable to rest your feet on to get comfortable and provide support to paddle. The biggest difference between a sit in kayak and a sit inside kayak is the fact that the sit in kayak is enclosed.

This gives you protection from the elements that you do not get from a sit in kayak. This is called the “cockpit”. If you will be out in bad weather, you can attach a “spray skirt” that will keep water out and block some of the wind.

They quite different styles of kayaks and the easiest way to decide to to figure out how you will use the kayak and that will tell you what’s the best kayak for you.

Which is Better for You: Sit-in-Kayak or Sit-on-Kayak?

By answering these questions, you will have a better idea of which type is better for you.

  1. Will you be paddling in warm weather and water conditions? If you will be using the kayak in cold water/weather conditions, a site in kayak may be best for you.
  2. Are you a beginner and worried about the kayak tipping over? A sit in kayak is more stable due to the fact you are sitting lower in the kayak and will have a lower center of gravity providing more stability.
  3. Will you be kayaking in calm/sheltered water or in the ocean? A sit in kayak will keep you more protected from the elements and the ability attach a spray skirt giving you more protection from the elements that a sit in kayak.

Kayak Features

  • Spray Skirt – this addition is common among whitewater and touring boats. It prevents waves and water from entering the cockpit and submerging the boat.
  • Rocker – One of several design considerations in a kayak’s shape. Rocker describes the amount of arc or “banana” shape that the boat has. The more rocker, the easier to turn.
  • Skeg – This often detachable or retractable fin helps to stabilize some kayaks in windy conditions or when paddling straight over long distances.
  • Rudder – Not to be confused with a skeg, the rudder is actually use in controlling the direction of the boat as an aid to paddling.

Kayak Materials

Polyethylene – The most common and least expensive material to produce boats from. It’s cheap but heavy. Poly tends to break down with exposure to UV so store boats in the shade!

ABS – More resistant to sunlight damage than Poly boats. ABS is more expensive but more durable and easier to repair.

Composite – These can be Kevlar, fiberglass, or carbon fiber and they’ll cost you a fortune! These kayaks are lightweight and top-performers across all classes but they’re hard to find and very expensive.

Sit-in-Kayak vs Sit-on-Kayak

 

Pros and Cons of Sit-on-Top Kayaks

Pros:

      • A sit on top kayak are more beginner friendly, they are easy to get into and out of. If you are at all claustrophobic, then the enclosed feeling of a sit in kayak may make you uncomfortable.
      • A sit in kayak will be self-bailing because they have what are called “scupper holes”. These are holes that allow water splashed into the kayak to drain out.

Cons:

      • This type of kayak is best for warm weather/water conditions.
      • You are much more likely to get wet from waves splashing and water dripping off the paddles.

Pros and Cons of Sit-In Kayaks

Pros:

      • A sit in kayak will shelter the lower part of your body from the wind making it a warmer paddling experience.
      • You will have a lower profile, making it slightly easier to paddle because there is less wind resistance. It also gives you a lower center of gravity making it more stable than a sit in kayak.

Cons:

      • A sit in kayak is more difficult to get in and out, so if you are less flexible, this may not be the best type of kayak for you.
      • They are not self-bailing, if water splashes in the kayak you will need to flip it over to drain it.

Video: How to get into and launch a sit-inside kayak.

 

Video: How to launch a sit-on-top kayak.

I hope this guide was helpful for finding the best recreational  kayak to fit your needs. If you want to comment or recommend a kayak I didn’t include, please use my contact form to get in touch.

Have fun and be safe out there!

The post The 7 Best Recreational and Fishing Kayaks 2017 appeared first on Outside Pursuits.

Camp in California’s Death Valley National Park

Look no further for some of the best camping in Death Valley National Park, plus tips to enjoy your stay from The Dyrt Ranger team the Switchback Kids.

Most Popular Campgrounds in Death Valley National Park

Found within the Mojave Desert, Death Valley National Park is the hottest, driest and lowest location in North America. Sunken well below sea level, the park is home to more than 1000 species of plants, 300 species of birds, 51 species of mammals, 36 species and a handful of amphibian and fish species. Camping among such a thriving ecosystem is an experience like no other. These three campgrounds will serve as ideal base camps to further explore the extreme conditions of this natural wonder.

1. Furnace Creek, CA

Photo from The Dyrt user Sarah S.

Located in a central position inside Death Valley National Park, Furnace Creek Campground is the only campground in the park that takes reservations. The site features 136 campsites with drinking water, picnic tables, flush toilets and a dump station. Popular for RV and group camping, the spot is near a visitor center, bike path, hiking trails and an abandoned borax mine. The only downside is that the trees here are scattered amongst the campground, so finding shade can be difficult.

Reviews & Photos

2. Texas Spring Campground, CA

Photo from The Dyrt user Kayko S.

Far enough away from Furnace Creek, Texas Spring Campground seamlessly blends feeling isolated with being able to get supplies or check out the Visitors Center. The campground offers 106 sites that are divided across two levels.The lower level is reserved for tent camping and offers shade with trees, flush toilets, water, fire pits, tables, and grills. The upper portion of the park is set up the same as the lower but the only difference is that RV’s can camp there. With all the main attractions within a 45-minute drive, this spot is a great base camp for exploring the national park.

Reviews & Photos

3. Stovepipe Wells Campground, CA

Photo from The Dyrt user Elynn K.

While it can get quite windy due to the lack of cover, Stovepipe Wells Campground makes up for it with an amazing view of the valley. Here you’ll find 190 sites, drinking water, toilets and a sanitary dump. And, just in case you were worried about resources for the night, this campsite is near multiple stores, a bar, and a gas station.

Reviews & Photos

Explore Death Valley

With colorful badlands, snow-covered peaks, desolate sand dunes, rugged canyons and flat, dry basins called playas, Death Valley National Park has so much to offer! You could find yourself hiking, chasing wildflowers, watching sunsets, following scenic drives or kicking back at the Furnace Creek Inn.

The Dyrt’s Ranger duo the Switchback Kids, who spent a year visiting all 59 National Parks, have put together this incredible video to document their firsthand experience in Death Valley with the hopes of improving the visit of others.

Switchback Kids Ranger Tip: Death Valley can be a crowded park at times, so use the early morning and late evening times to your advantage. You’ll also beat the heat this way.

Win gear for camping Death Valley

When you review campsites across the US on The Dyrt, you get the chance to win outdoor gear. In California, you have the chance to win a $100 gift card from Boost Oxygen, a $75 gift card from TredAgain, and an MH2 Headlamp from Ledlenser. Check out the contest leaderboard, review your camping experience, earn points for your review, and you could win prizes!

The post Camp in California’s Death Valley National Park appeared first on The Dyrt.

Newhall Pass Open Space

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  • Location: There are two trail heads, both off of the Old Road. This write-up assumes a start from the northern trail head. The approximate address is 23110 The Old Road, Newhall, CA 91231. From Valencia, take I-5 south to Calgrove Blvd./exit 166. Bear right and follow Calgrove Blvd, which becomes the Old Road, for a total of 1.9 miles. The trail head is on the left side of the road, just after you cross under the freeway. From the 14 Freeway, take the exit for I-5 south but follow the signs for the Old Road. Bear right to exit the freeway for the Old Road and then turn right onto the Old Road and follow it 1.4 miles to the trail head. From the south, take 5 Freeway to Roxford St. Turn left, cross the freeway and turn right onto Sepulveda. Follow Seuplveda for 1.1 miles to San Fernando Rd. Bear left and follow San Fernando Rd., which becomes the Old Road, for 3.4 mile. The trail head will be on the right. For directions to the southern trail head, click here.
  • Agency: City of Santa Clarita
  • Distance: 4.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: September – May
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash (exercise caution on warm days)
  • Cell phone reception: Good (fair in some spots)
  • Water: None
  • Restrooms: None
  • Camping: None
  • Recommended gear: insect repellenthiking polessun hat
  • More information: Article about Newhall Pass Open Space here
  • Rating: 6

In June of 2017, the City of Santa Clarita acquired 240 acres of land just north of the 5/14 freeway interchange. The Newhall Pass Open Space offers a challenging hike with panoramic views of the San Fernando Valley, Santa Clarita Valley, Santa Susana Mountains and western San Gabriels. As might be expected, the hike’s proximity to the freeways makes traffic noise hard to ignore, but considering that the area was once slated for a housing development, it’s hard to complain. Its convenient location to both the Santa Clarita and San Fernando Valleys make the Newhall Pass Open Space a valuable outdoor resource, one that is sure to become a hit among local hikers in the years to come.

The hike can be done several ways: as an out-and-back with big ascents and descents in both directions, as a point-to-point with a short car shuttle or as a loop, requiring a 1.2-mile return along the shoulder of the Old Road. This write-up assumes an out-and-back hike starting from the north trail head, getting the biggest single climb of the route out of the way sooner. Begin by following the unsigned single-track trail heading southwest from the parking lot, briefly paralleling the Old Road before dipping into a pleasant, oak-shaded canyon and meeting a fire road. Head right and begin a steady ascent, in and out of shade, enjoying a bird’s eye view of the 5 Freeway. After passing a gate at 0.6 mile, stay left at the next two intersections and continue your ascent to a clearing near the top of the ridge with views on both sides. A little more climbing (now on the opposite side of the ridge, away from traffic noise) brings you to the high point of the route, about 2,200 feet above sea level and an ideal place to stop and catch your breath. If you are short on time, this is a good turnaround point.

From here the trail descends gradually, continuing to follow the ridge. At 1.7 mile, you make a brief climb to a knoll on the south edge of the ridge marked by a cell phone tower, just above the 5/14 interchange. From here, an oak-shaded paved road takes you steadily downhill, dropping 300 feet in half a mile to reach the trail’s southern terminus. A few log benches line the parking lot and a giant oak provides some shade. Other than the occasional car passing by on the Old Road this is a tranquil place to stop and rest before retracing your steps back up to the ridge.

Newhall Pass Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA
Start of the hike from the north trail head
Newhall Pass Open Space, Santa Clarita Valley, CA
Geology near the top of the Newhall Pass trail
Newhall Pass Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA
Looking east from the trail near the high point
Newhall Pass Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA
Makeshift bench beneath an oak at the southern end of the trail

Text and photography copyright 2017 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Cabala’s Orion: Good Camp Tent, Easy On The Wallet

At less than $100 on sale, Cabela’s designed its Orion tent as an all-around shelter for anyone on a budget.

Cabela's Orion 2-Person tent review
The Cabela’s Orion 2-Person camp tent; all photos by Sean McCoy

Wind whipped my tent at 11,000 feet. I was camping on the flank Colorado’s Mount Princeton, worried with the gusts that the big trees near the campsite would crash down.

But the big branches stayed put. And inside the Orion tent by Cabela’s, all was calm. With just a few stakes in the ground, my wife and I slept comfortably through the howling gales outside.

By morning, I was impressed. This tent, which costs $120 (and can be had for less than $100 on sale), withstood a hard battering with no problem.

Cabela's Orion Tent

In Short: The Cabela’s Orion 2-person tent is a good choice for an inexpensive tent for car camping. It’s a little heavy and has only one door, but its basic build delivers a secure campsite home.

Cabela’s Orion 2-Person Tent Review

I’ll get the bad out of the way first, because it’s a short list: The Orion is heavy for a backpacking tent (5lb, 8oz for the two-person model; 6lb, 8oz for three-person). As noted, the two-person has only one door, and only one vestibule. It’s not ideal for backpacking if you’re going ultralight, but it will certainly work, especially if you divide the load.

Beyond that, the Orion is a heck of a good tent for the money. I’ve seen it on sale at Cabela’s for $89, down from the retail price of $120.

For a quality tent, that’s downright cheap. But I would not call the Orion cheap — it’s a value, yes, but it’s well made and designed, with good components like SKS zippers and 7001 aluminum poles.

The expanse of mesh gives views of the great outdoors

The tent is a pleasure to use. Light, see-through mesh envelops the 35-sq.-ft. interior. This lets you gaze up at the stars, trees, or mountains whenever you can leave the rain fly off.

It also lets the tent breath very well. In a few nights of sleeping, I found it vents off moisture better than many more costly abodes. That’s in part due to two large mechanical vents at the top of the rain fly, both of which can be closed during bad weather.

Inside, it’s a fairly spartan affair: Two pockets give each camper a spot to store small items. That’s it.

Set-Up

The Orion sets up with two poles attached via clips. The common configuration is easy to set up. Most people can have it out of the bag and standing in a couple minutes.

The rain fly lays easily over the tent. Four tie-outs stabilize the rainfly on the corners. I wish there were tie-out points on the ends of the rainfly to hold it away from the tent for better ventilation. But in my use, this hasn’t presented serious problems.

Versus the Competition

The Orion shines as a value tent. For the price, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something better.

REI’s Camp Dome 2 hits a similar price point at a similar weight. We have not tested it. The Camp Dome 2 is a little lighter, and it has two doors. The Camp Dome has less mesh (which helps save weight, but costs ventilation). Beyond that, these appear at least on paper to be very similar designs.

Otherwise, prices tend to increase pretty quickly when you get to sub-5 pound tents.

While the Orion won’t stack up with $200+ backpacking tents, it is a heck of a value. It’s a durable investment that will last for years.

More Info / Buy Now

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