Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Cabela's XPG line

I really like Cabela's, and for a variety of reasons, I'd rather shop there for my outdoor stuff than REI, or Dicks, or some other Joe Blow sporting goods store.  However, Cabela's is very focused on hunting and fishing, and where I'm looking for technical backpacking and hiking gear, they haven't always been the best choice.

I just got a new Cabela's catalog in the mail a week or so ago, though, and I can see that they've made an impressive foray into that experience as well with their XPG--Extreme Performance Gear--line.  The catalog I got was men's clothing, and that's where the majority of the new stuff seems to be, but it looks like there's been an XPG camping gear selection out there for some time.

Some of the stuff seems pretty good--$140 Gore-tex, lightweight hikers, for example, is as good as any on the market.  $300+ tents and sleeping bags, on the other hand, don't impress me as a great deal.

Still, there's some great looking things to be mined there.  If I had that corporate sponsor I mentioned a few posts ago, I'd go spend some $4000 overnight on stuff, and I'd basically wear Cabela's outdoor clothing as my everyday uniform.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

This summer's backpacking trip...

My plans for the year continue to be in a bit of flux.  I have a fair bit of my vacation already "spoken for," including a cruise with the family.  I might go on a nearly two-week spread of day-hikes in the West with my family, if things work out.  If not, I'll go on at least a week or so backpacking trip by myself.  I've posted in the past about my day-hiking options.  My backpacking options are, I believe, as follows:
  • The Teton Crest Trail.  With maybe a Shoal Falls loop as a warm-up in the nearby Gros Ventre wilderness.  This would give me a change to acclimate to the altitude before tackling the Tetons.  My biggest concern here is with bear canisters, and permits.
  • The High Uintas.  I'd like to hit up King's Peak, and maybe Naturalist Basin further west.  Not sure yet how I'd link them, but I'd probably do them as two short trips, interrupted by a car ride to a new trailhead.  If I do this, I'd likely warm-up with the summit of Timpanogos first.
  • If permits for the Teton Crest trail are scarce, I could do something similar in the nearby Wind Rivers.  Warm-up with a 3 day Gros Ventre appetizer, and then do two smaller trips into the Winds--one to famous Titcomb Basin and one to equally famous Cirque of the Towers.  I'd love to actually link the two, but realistically I probably won't this time out.  I'm still a bit rusty to take on something quite that ambitious.
  • Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness loop hike.  Just to give Colorado a shout-out, and it is one of my short-list wanna hikes.  Permits and crowds, again, might be an issue.
  • There's also the possibility of some autumn backpacking.  If I do this, I'd look at the Art Loeb Trail in North Carolina in October.  Or possibly a late October or early November Grand Canyon backpacking trip.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Hiking abroad

I've said before, and I'll reiterate now--I love the American landscapes.  Especially the American West.  I can get all the hiking I'll ever need in the Rockies, the Sierras, the Cascades, the Great Basin, the Appalachians, etc.  Heck, I can probably get all the hiking I ever need in Colorado alone (although frankly, I'm more inclined to look towards Wyoming and Montana for the Rockies, and Utah and Arizona for the Colorado Plateau experience.)  I'm almost jingoistic about preferring the American West, with a nod towards the American east as a nice secondary location.  But there is one major problem with this: the season is too short.

For mountains in the Rockies, the Sierras, or the Cascades, the season is (basically) July, August and September.  On low snow years, you can incorporate June, especially if you stick to lower elevations.  Because I don't do skiing--cross-country, Nordic, or otherwise, and I don't really like hiking in serious snow, my season is fairly short.

I can get desert hikes in on the "shoulder" seasons.  The best time to go to Canyonlands or the Grand Canyon is actually the spring and the fall.  The lower elevation mountains of the Appalachians, like the Smokies and the rest of the Blue Ridge, are arguably better in October than any other time, whereas the more northerly parts of the Appalachians, and the higher elevation Rockies, Cascades and Sierras are extremely iffy in October, if they're available at all.  But that only extends my hiking season to, oh, about seven months.  Maybe eight if I'm really pushing it.

During the "dead" of winter, I have slim options in the US.  There's some great hikes in Hawaii and American Samoa, for instance (although they're extremely hard to get to, relative to the Rockies).  Big Bend National Park, I can attest, is lovely in February (and presumably much of the rest of the winter) if you don't mind extremely arid hiking.  The same could be true of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Saguaro National Park, and parts of Death Valley.  But what I really want is mountains, and to get those in the "off season", you have to flip over, find yourself in the southern hemisphere where the seasons are reversed, and try it that way.

Oddly, there are a few less options than you'd maybe think by doing this, since the percentage of the earth covered by land in the southern hemisphere is dramatically less than in the northern hemisphere.  But your best options probably include the Southern Alps in New Zealand (famous as the locations used in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies) or portions of the Andes in South America.  New Zealand has got to be the better of the two options, given that it is political much more stable than many of the countries of South America, and you don't have to learn another language to get by (as it happens, I already speak Spanish, and I learned it in Argentina, so I'm OK on that front.)  I've been extremely impressed, however, with photography that I've seen from hikers in the Andes, particularly the Patagonian Andes.  When I was in Argentina, the Bariloche region was often billed as a "little Switzerland" in terms of settlement patterns, architecture, chocolate, and... of course.. scenery.  I hadn't yet heard of some of the stunning vistas of the even more southerly Patagonian Andes--Torres del Paine, or Monte Fitz Roy, or Cerro Castillo, for instance.

I'd love to fill my Jauuary and Feburary itineraries with backpacking trips into the Patagonian Andes, and then come home to fill my July and August (and September) itineraries with the Rockies, the Cascades and the Sierras.  Heck, Argentina even has a reverse Colorado Plateau desert systems in Talampaya National Park and Ischigualasto Provincial Park to help round out my shoulder seasons.  If I can find a way to do this, I can hike at any time of the year in a stunning wilderness setting.

Here's some images I've grabbed over time on the internet of Andes hiking opportunities:

Now; does anyone know how I can go about getting a corporate sponsor to keep me hiking for about four months of the year, and support me for the remaining eight while I plan and equip myself?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hiking pants, redux

I recently bought two pairs of "hiking pants."  Specifically, they are Cabela's brand "Lookout Peak Trail Pants."  They normally retail for $55 (about par for the course for hiking pants) but I kept my eyes open for a decent sale and bought they just under $30 each.  I've even seen them as low as $20 several months ago.  Cabelas.com is weird in that they frequently have short-lived sales that come and go.  I had some Cabela's gift cards to spend, and had been waiting for almost two months for a decent price before I hopped.

Be that as it may, what makes a good hiking pant, and why did I buy these?  Honestly, I bought them because I found them at just under $30.  I would have bought Railriders, or something by REI or Timberland or Patagonia or Columbia... or anyone else if they were the kind of trail pants I wanted at that same price.  And I had a gift card I could use.  Although I do admit that I prefer buying Cabela's when I can, and these pants are everything I want.  Namely:
  • 100% nylon shell and 100% polyester mesh (for pockets and such.)  Good hiking pants need to be made of a material that is lightweight, sufficiently rugged, and quick drying.  There is of course more than one material or blend of material that fits this bill, but this particular combination does the trick.
  • Loose enough to be comfortable to wear and move around in, but not so baggy that they constantly rub and snag on stuff as your walking.  On well manicured, wide trails, this may be less of an issue, but since I prefer to think that I'd go into the backcountry on trails that are narrow, possibly overgrown in meadows and whatnot, and otherwise of occasionally dubious condition, I want them to be loose, but slightly tapered.  Gusseted crotch for even better mobility.  Fits the bill.
  • By the same token, I don't want or care for shorts or zip-off pants.  Lots of hikers hike in shorts.  I've done it myself.  It's a good way to get your legs all scratched up, bitten by bugs, or at least extremely dirty.  Worse case, I've had my shoes and socks completely covered in prickly seed pods.  Smooth, long pants would have completely protected me.  The zip-off feature ends up being something that you pay extra for, but which I don't want.
  • In that case, of course, I want pants to be light enough that I'm not feeling really hot on summer days hiking.  These fit the bill.  In fact, since they keep the sun off of my skin, they may be better than shorts.  Although you don't get a lot of sunburn on your legs from walking anyway.
  • Since they're light, I need to be able to comfortably fit a base-layer underneath them when it isn't hot, which is anytime in the mountains not in the summer, and heck, you never even really know about the summer.  Last night, I had to get into the power distribution box of my car.  With a pair of these, and a base-layer bottom, I was kneeling in the snow working on it for about an hour, and felt comfortable.  Ka-ching!  They work.
  • A few pants come with a very expensive option: bug-resistance.  This seems like a silly frill to me.  Not that it's not a good idea, but paying all kinds of money for it is.  For $10 at Wal-Mart, I can buy a spray bottle of Permethrin, spray all of my clothes, my hat, my backpack, my sleeping bag, and maybe even my tent (or at least part of it) before it's empty and get months worth of bug-resistance.  Supplement that just a bit with a small container of bug-spray, and I should be good to go for an entire season of hiking, for just $10.  And a lot better to go than I would be with just bug-proof pants.
In all, I'm quite happy with this purchase.  This is way better than hiking in jeans or canvas cargos--or at least, I'm managed to avoid potential issues that those pants would carry with them.  And frankly, I didn't have to spend really any more money than I would have for those.