Earlier this year, Terry Dubois, an elementary school reading coach and member of the Los Alamos Mountain Canine Corps, a search-and-rescue outfit in northern New Mexico, went hiking with a few friends and four dogs. They were on U.S. Forest Service land, three miles from town and on a well-established trail that leads to some Native American ruins, when her 12-year-old heeler, Jetta, suddenly began shrieking.
“It was like nothing I had ever heard before,” says Dubois. “She was screaming and crying, and I hardly recognized it was her.”
The jaws of a foothold trap, baited with bobcat urine, had snapped shut on Jetta’s right front leg. The group scrambled to try and release her.
“By some miracle, one of my friends had just watched a video that showed how to open similar traps,” says Dubois. “It was not intuitive.”
After being freed, Jetta was limping a little, but there was no permanent damage. Other pets have been less fortunate. In January, a 12-year-old Idaho boy watched as his dog, Loyal, was killed in a trap, despite his parents’ efforts to save her. In Maine, last October, an 84-year-old man was forced to shoot his hunting beagle after it became ensnared, panicked, and latched onto him as he was trying to free it. In Minnesota, in November 2012, a seven-month-old border collie on a walk with its owners set off a Conibear trap, designed to clamp down with enough force to break an animal’s neck. It was the family’s second dog killed by such a trap.
In the past two years, there have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of incidents of dogs and cats getting caught in traps set to snare bobcats, coyotes, and other fur-bearing animals. These nontarget species, in trapping lingo, have become unintended victims in a nationwide resurgence of something most people assumed had gone the way of the coonskin hat. Thanks to demand in China and Russia for fur-trimmed coats, a coyote pelt that sold for roughly $7 a decade ago now goes for $50. Muskrat is at $11, up from $2. Highly coveted bobcat pelts can fetch up to $2,100 at auction. Overall, the U.S. fur trade is now a $15 billion industry, up 45 percent since 2004.
That means there are thousands of new trappers and perhaps tens of thousands of additional traps in the field. In Minnesota, annual trapping licenses now top 10,000, nearly double the number in 2000. How much additional risk that represents for domestic animals is difficult to quantify, since there is no comprehensive database tracking incidents. But trappers commonly set two or three dozen traps each. Many are required by their state’s licensing laws to take safety courses, which also cover how close to trails the traps can be placed, but compliance varies. The trap that caught Jetta was set just inches from the trail, which is illegal in New Mexico. (Traps there must be placed 25 yards from foot traffic.) And it didn’t have the trapper’s ID number on it, another requirement.
A growing number of angry pet owners like Dubois are looking to outlaw trapping for good. The practice is already tightly restricted in four states—California, Washington, Arizona, and Colorado—but laws there have existed for a decade or more. New efforts tend to seek partial bans. In New Hampshire, a bill is making its way through the legislature that would increase penalties on violations that result in a dog’s death. In New Mexico, anti-trapping advocates hope to pass a bill next year that would ban the practice on public lands.
“Our goal is a national ban,” says Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director at Wild-Earth Guardians, a conservation nonprofit. “But it’s difficult, because people don’t realize that these indiscriminately cruel devices are still widely used.”
Another challenge is anti-government and landowner groups, which see any form of regulation as an infringement on their rights. “People use trapping bans as a metaphor for overreach,” says Cotton. “The debate becomes a platform for all sorts of folks.” The nonprofit Footloose Montana gave up on a fall ballot proposal because of pushback from several state agencies. A similar effort was abandoned in Oregon. Some advocates have had more success at the local level—Dubois and Trap Free New Mexico convinced Los Alamos County to pass a resolution against trapping in March—but even that can be an uphill battle.
For now, dog owners have few options but to be wary while on public land. As for Dubois, Jetta’s trapping turned out to be a life-changing event. “Every day I try to raise awareness. But I’m left with this feeling of paranoia and powerlessness,” she says, “and all for someone’s fancy coat.”
Yes, tents are an institution in the gear shed, but (gasp!) they’re not always the best option. Dozens of alternatives exist, many of which weigh less, are more comfortable, or simply work better in certain conditions. With camping season now in full swing, it may be time to try something new and leave the pitching to baseball.
Pros: Hikers obsessed with ultra-light options (and Boy Scouts) caught onto this secret a long time ago: With a good roof, you don’t need a floor. A tarp is lighter, easier to set up, and can be used in most bad weather situations.
Sea to Summit’s Escapist would surely get the Boy Scout seal of approval, weighing in at just nine ounces. It’s waterproof and has eight tie points to ensure stability even in windy conditions. It can be pitched with hiking poles or without, and the company offers a few minimalist mesh shelters that fit under the tarp if you need protection from mosquitoes.
Cons: In a severe rainstorm, you're going to get wet.
Pros: Sleeping under the stars is the most romantic part of camping. But you'll need good weather, the right campsite, a killer view—and the proper bedding.
While sleeping on the ground is always an option, cots add a level of comfort that turns a good starry night into a great one. But temporary beds are typically clunky and they’re rarely portable—or durable—enough for backcountry travel.
Therm-a-Rest aims to reconcile cot complications of the past with its LuxuryLite line, which is easy to set up, sturdy, and light enough to toss in a backpack. The low-profile cots can hold up to 325 pounds and will keep you four inches above the ground.
Cons: The LuxuryLite UltraLite still weighs about as much as a plush inflatable pad. And you’re going to need great weather if you plan to use the cot without additional shelter over your head.
Pros: There’s something inherently adventurous about the ability to throw down your sleeping bag, whip out your bivy sack, and crash just about anywhere. On the side of a mountain? Sure. Suspended on a big wall? No problem. Bivy sacks are one of the most versatile shelters you can buy.
Black Diamond’s Spotlight Bivy solves the traditional bivy problems (condensation on the inside and no headroom) with a single hoop pole that keeps the shell material from rubbing on your head and dousing you with raindrops. There’s also a large mesh panel with a zip-over awning for increased ventilation.
Cons: Bivy sacks are small and will limit movement. If you toss and turn in your sleep, you might find feel a tad confined.
Pros: Like ultra-light backpacking, duck hunting, and coffee brewing, hammock camping has its own fanatics. And for good reason. Hammocks are light, easy to set up, and comfortable. And in recent years, there’s been a big movement to improve the classic design.
Clark Outdoors has risen to the challenge, designing innovative two-person, four-season hanging shelters that resemble bunkers more than hammocks. Features include insulating pockets, a waterproof rainfly, mosquito netting, and an integrated hanging system that can hold more than 300 pounds.
Cons: Some people don’t sleep well in the curve of a hammock. And, no matter what, you’re going to have trouble hanging one of these things in the desert.
Pros: Tent trailers sit on the lavish end of the blue-collar-camping-equipment spectrum. Yes, they offer some comforts you won’t get in a tent, but they’re typically utilitarian, not luxurious.
But Sylvansport aims to change that. The company has revamped the tent camper, ditching the usual hard-shelled, canvas-walled pop-ups. The GO features a fold-out aluminum frame and a rip-stop polyester shell. When not in use, the tent folds neatly on itself and the trailer can be used to haul gear.
Cons: Though the GO has 13 inches of clearance, you won't get too far off the beaten path towing one of these trailers. And the price tag may have you running for shelter in your much more affordable tent.
Around noon on June 5, a sweaty man walked into the Walasi-Yi Interpretive Center near Dahlonega, Georgia, about 30 miles northeast of Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. The man put his keys on the counter and told a clerk he’d pay her $200 if she’d watch his car.
How long will you be gone? she asked.
Four to six months, he said.
A few days later, hikers reported seeing a backpack in the middle of the AT, about a quarter mile from the Walasi-Yi Interpretive Center. It hadn’t been moved in days.
Local sheriff’s deputies fetched the pack and found brand new gear inside—hiking boots, a GoPro camera, a GPS system, tent, and a sleeping bag. They also found a wallet containing the driver’s license of a 50-year-old Wisconsin construction worker named Paul D. Paur.
Sergeant Darren Osborn of the Union County Sheriff’s Office tracked down Paur’s girlfriend outside Milwaukee. She told him Paur had suggested he was taking a sabbatical and had withdrawn $5,000 from the bank and split. She was frantically worried about his mental health.
“His girlfriend was very concerned,” Sergeant Osborn said. “He had prepared for a hike, but he just left it all behind. What made it even more strange was the $3,000 he left in his backpack.”
Sheriff’s deputies launched a search for Paur and tacked “missing person” fliers to trees suggesting that Paur was possibly suicidal.
“SHOULD YOU COME INTO CONTACT, DO NOT APPROACH,” the fliers said. “ALSO, SHOULD YOU COME INTO CONTACT WITH AN UNFAMILIAR ODOR, PLEASE MARK THE AREA AND NOTIFY UNION COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE IMMEDIATELY.”
In the following days, several hikers called the sheriff’s office to report seeing a northbound AT hiker wearing a T-shirt, khaki shorts, and flip-flops. The man was sleeping inside a trash bag, and he said he was walking the 2,000 miles to Maine’s Mount Katahdin. In Georgia, he was seen at Deep Gap on June 7 and at Plumorchard Gap on June 8. On June 10, he was sighted at the Standing Indian shelter, across the state line in North Carolina. One person who shared a shelter with Paur said he was reading the New Testament and talking about religion.
“He was saying he was trying to find God,” Osborn said, “searching the pathway of the mountains.”
Paur’s brother Richard joined the search from Wisconsin, calling AT hostels and state parks. A week ago, on June 17, Richard Paur said, someone saw his brother at North Carolina’s Wesser Bald, in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, roughly 100 trail miles from where he started.
“They sat around the fire and talked four or five hours,” Richard says. “They said he was carrying a black duffel bag with a few aluminum pots.” The hikers, concerned that Paur was unprepared, offered him about a week’s worth of food, which he willingly accepted. “My level of concern is to make sure he’s got what he needs,” Richard says. His brother is strong, weighs about 230 pounds, and is an avid hunter and fisherman.
Osborn still considers the missing person case open and he has contacted officials farther north. But law enforcement may not have any authority to force Paur off the trail, even if a recent report had him walking barefoot.
“They could try to get him some help,” Osborn said. “If they feel like he’s mentally capable to continue on, they’ll let him.”
Word of Paur’s unusual journey has spread through the trail community, and reactions have run the gamut. Some say Paur needs help if he’s mentally unstable. Others say he’s come to the right place to find what he’s looking for.
For campers and backpackers looking for the best pre-prepared backcountry meals, Good To-Go is the new contender in town. Co-founded by chef Jennifer Scism, the Maine-based company aims to make lightweight gourmet meals that outdo typical freeze-dried fare.
Scism, who co-owns Annisa in New York's Greenwich Village and has cooked at four-star restaurants, decided she needed better food options after planning a seven-day backpacking trip with her husband. So she pulled out the dehydrator and started making the kinds of meals she'd be proud of in her own restaurant.
My fiancée, Paige, and I eat a vegan diet, and she's gluten-free. That limits options for camp food. But thankfully Good To-Go has three gluten-free flavors, two of which are also vegan (they're labeled vegetarian). We wanted to see how they stacked up against the other big names out there—Backpacker's Pantry, Mountain House, and MaryJaneFarms—so we worked up our appetites and dug in. Here are the results:
Gathering firewood and setting up camp on the Chama River in northern New Mexico left us hungry. Good thing we'd brought snacks. Because Good To-Go is dehydrated rather than freeze-dried like most backpacking meals, it requires almost double the time to absorb water—20 minutes—compared to others. Expect that going in, and you're, well, good to go. When it was ready, I opened the resealable packet, and the chili was still piping hot.
The consistent first response was, "Mmm." The chili packs a lot of flavor, and it's spicy, but not over-salted like most brands. Perfect texture, too, just like you'd expect at home. At 100 grams per serving (a more realistic serving size than most offerings), the chili made for a hearty meal, the kind you want after a long day outside. ($6, 3.5 oz)
MaryJanesFarm Outpost Lentils, Rice, & Indian Spice
Part two of our Chama dinner was also dehydrated, but took half the time to hydrate. Nonetheless, the rice was a bit chewy, and though the flavor was good, it didn't stand out after Good To-Go's excellent chili. MaryJaneFarms does get props for all-organic ingredients and eco-packaging that you can burn when you're done to eliminate waste. Unfortunately, the lack of insulation and no reseal option (you fold the top down while hydrating) means you lose heat for a lukewarm meal. ($6, 4.3 oz)
After a 3.5-mile quad-busting hike to 11,400-foot Nambe Lake in New Mexico's Pecos Wilderness, I needed fuel. So after boiling water, I chomped into an apple and let the risotto soak. Twenty minutes later, I dove in, and I admit I didn't waste much time reflecting on every bite. But my first impression was the risotto's texture—I felt like I should be eating this on a plate at a restaurant. The mushrooms popped satisfyingly, and the flavor was subtle, but good. I was mostly satisfied, but while the serving is ample compared to other brands, I'd probably already burned most of the 410 calories it gave me just getting here. I was left wishing for just a bit more. ($6, 3.4 oz)
Paige and I had just come back from a late-night music session, and we thought we'd save time by boiling up this curry dish at home. In the backcountry, a certain psychology and physical necessity tends to make your taste buds forgiving, so it's true that our home environment could have skewed the results here. Still, Backpacker's Pantry has long been my go-to when opting for freeze-dried backpacking meals, so I'm familiar with it in its proper setting.
In both scenarios, my biggest complaint is the over-salted flavor. Otherwise, it would stand up to home cooking. True, you need electrolytes after a long hike, but I found it was excessive here. And I'd normally eat the whole pouch myself, which gives me 2440 mg of sodium (ouch), yet only three grams of fat—a key requirement in the backcountry. The curry was a tad watery, too. Extra points for clear gluten-free and vegan labeling. ($6.50, 6.6 oz)
This one has milk and anchovy, so I gave it to Paige's brother Pete for testing. He found the rice to be quite tasty, full of Thai flavor. His only complaint: the spices were a tad too sweet. But he declared it good to the last bite, which came a bit too soon to fill him up. Bring on dessert. ($6, 3.4 oz)
Mountain House doesn't have any full-meal options for vegans, so I opted for a side dish. While the food smelled like it was going to be very tasty, when I drained the excess water (it's in the directions, but it feels like wasting precious liquid) and ate a spoonful, the meal was bland. That's fine if you want to customize your flavor, but I didn't.
Nonetheless, I added some much-needed salt and garlic powder, but it still didn't hit the mark. Something else was missing, too. Rice would have been a good touch. The veggies were flaccid and not particularly appealing, while the beans were unremarkable. True, this is a side dish, but it's made to be self-contained, and yet I found it only works in tandem with something more flavorful. ($4, 1.5 oz)
You've styled your child with an enviable lineup of outdoor camps, slotted in some action-packed adventure festivals for the whole family. Now Mama (or Papa) needs a little solo play time. Fortunately it doesn't take much to recharge. All you need for DIY adventure is 36 hours and a multisport destination a couple hours' drive from home. Or let someone else do the planning and sign on with one of summer's best new guided retreats guaranteed to recapture the sweet freedom you took for granted before the kids came along. Sign up now for mid- to late-summer adventures, and you'll still have the time—and a fresh surge of energy—to pull off that family camping trip and set your little ones loose on spontaneous backyard adventures before school's back in session.
Run Wild Retreats
July 17-20; Aspen, Colorado If you shy away from Strava, hate wearing a heart-rate-monitor, and just want to run well and feel great doing it, then this four-day holistic trail running retreat in the wilderness outside of Aspen is for you. Blending mindfulness practice, yoga for runners, and plant-based nutrition, the camp—led by running and health coach Elinor Fish—is a stellar primer on how to run mindfully for maximum health, for life. With daily guided trail runs ranging from four to 12 miles (no prior trail experience is necessary), cooking demos on how to fuel and recover with whole foods, yoga classes, and gait assessment, you'll come away with a new vision for how running smarter can increase your energy and reduce your stress, and feel good every time. $697; two-day mini retreat, $397.
September 15-20; Cataract Canyon, Utah Wilderness travel is transformative, but sometimes the epiphanies you have in the backcountry lose their focus as soon you get home. This six-day raft trip through Cataract Canyon, in Canyonlands National Park, is intended to be a modern-day rite of passage to help renew your sense of purpose, empower you to action in the world, release you from stagnation and make lasting change—for both the planet and also yourself.
"Traditional wilderness rites of passage were designed to knit together generations and to prepare for transitions in life," explains Stacy Peterson, a yoga instructor and hypnotherapist, who is co-leading the trip with an eco-psychologist and a climate justice activist. "Because we don't have these opportunities to mark transitions in our lives, we no longer take the time to slow down, deeply reflect, and reset the course of where we want to go."
The expedition through one of West's most stunning, and remote—and imperiled—river corridors incorporates daily yoga and meditation practice, cleansing food, as well as that most rare and restorative perk of all: silence. Out of range from cell phones and schedules, you'll hike into the iconic sandstone spires of the Doll House, in the remote Maze district of the park, and splash down Cataract's Class IV rapids, pulling out of your own busy life and immersing yourself deep into your own true nature. $1199.
Rio Chama Photo Workshop
August 22-26; Rio Chama, New Mexico Ever wish you could take better photographs while in the backcountry? This five-day raft and photo expedition on the Rio Chama in northern New Mexico offers an intensive dose of both photography instruction and wilderness immersion. Led by The Santa Fe Photographic Workshops—widely regarded as the best in the country, now in its 25th year—the trip launches with a three-day, 33-mile float down the Wild & Scenic Rio Chama, the old stomping grounds of Georgia O'Keefe, Ansel Adams, and Elliot Porter. Under the tutelage of veteran lensman Tony Bonanno (and boatmen from New Mexico River Expeditions) you'll spend your days floating the Class II-III rapids, hiking to hot springs and slot canyons, and photographing the thousand-foot sandstone walls, the meandering high desert river, and the stately ponderosa that line the banks. Back at the Workshop's lab in Santa Fe for the final two days, learn the ins and outs of digital processing and printing on Adobe. You'll be all but guaranteed to come home with stellar expedition photos and the know-how to capture your next trip with equal aplomb. $995.
Make Friends with Fear Workshop
August 1-3; Hammondsport, New York Former pro skier and Zen therapist Kristen Ulmer has been running Ski to Live camps each winter in Alta, Utah, and around the West for years. What she's discovered in her experience with mindset coaching is that "whether we realize it or not, fear runs everybody's life, even if you don't feel afraid." This three-day retreat at Red-Tail Overlook B+B in the Finger Lakes region is designed to help you change your relationship with fear, to stop treating it like a hindrance and turn it into an ally to create momentum and growth in your life—whether it's in sports, parenting, business, or creativity. Instead of making you walk over hot coals or dangle from high ropes courses ("we don't do that," assures Ulmer), she'll help clients shift into the next level of consciousness while hiking the rolling, wooded trails along Keuka Lake, facilitating creative role playing, and sharing ancient wisdom stories. If it sounds a little out there, the former champion athlete is one of the most respected sports mindset coaches in the field—she's the real deal. Says Ulmer, "If you turn fear into an asset, it will set you free." From $625; two-day fear camp in Salt Lake City, July 19-20, $190.