The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Camping

Tough Pad: Tablets Get Rugged

Apple’s iPad might be beautiful, but it doesn’t mix well with the outdoors. While it can resist a few bumps and scrapes, it’s not exactly prepared to dive off a cliff. That’s where these new tablets come in handy. Designed for outdoor use, they’re rugged enough for any of your adventures.   

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Pat’s Backcountry Beverages

We’ve written about Pat's Backcountry Beverages Carbonator, the Nalgene-size system for fizzifying your drink of choice where ever the trail takes you. And while we've talked about Pat's alcohol-packed beer flavors—the world's first beer concentrate, according to the company—we haven't put them to the test. Until now.

As a backpacker and a booze writer, when I heard about Pat's first two beer flavors (complete with alcohol!) I couldn't resist checking them out. After all, who among us hasn't fantasized about some sweet suds at the end of a long, hot hike? But could these “beers” pass the taste test of an admittedly picky beer drinker? The short answer—Yes.

For those unfamiliar with the idea, Pat's Backcountry Beverages Carbonator is a plastic bottle with built-in levers, valves, and cups. You add a mixture of potassium bicarbonate and citric acid to the small charging cup within the bottle, pull a lever on the cap a few times to add water, and a chemical reaction starts, releasing CO2 into your beverage of choice. In this case, your beverage of choice would be beer.

Pat's offers two flavors: Pale Rail and Black Hops. They both come in portable, 1.7-ounce liquid packets that you add to the water before you charge it. These packets are sold in four-packs for $10 a pop, which isn't too outrageous compared to your standard micro-brew.

It's worth noting that these aren't merely “beer flavored.” Founder Pat Tatera developed what he calls a “Hybrid Brewing Process.” The beer begins as a normal beer would, except once it's done fermenting, he vacuum-distills it. This pulls out most of the water and the alcohol, which Tatera sets aside, leaving a beer-like syrup. Then he restarts the brewing process, but instead of using water to create the wort, he uses the beer syrup. He repeats these steps four times, then soaks Cascade Hops in the reserved alcohol to extract their flavor, and combines that with the syrup. The result? A little packet of concentrated beer. Just add fizzy water.

I went through the process exactly as I would if I were in the field, using cold, bottled water to simulate filtered water from a stream. Despite Pat's claim that it's just three steps, there are several steps within each step, and you'd be hard-pressed to remember them all if you didn't bring the instructions. It takes approximately five minutes to brew each beer. Here's how they measure up to the real thing.

Pale Rail

The lighter of Pat's beers certainly has the look and color of a pale ale, but when you smell it, something seems just slightly off. It's unmistakably malty, and it has that fermented, beer aroma, but it's just a little, well, funky. It smells too sweet, as if it had spoiled a little. Tasting it was a pleasant surprise though. It's a little sweeter than I'd like, but the pale ale hoppiness is there, mostly in the after-taste. It doesn't have that sharp, citrusy flavor you typically associate with Cascade Hops, but at the end of a long hike, it would definitely scratch the itch. At 5.2% ABV, it'll put a little grin on your face.

Black Hops

The smell is a little cleaner on this one. You don't get much in the way of hops on the nose, but you get those dark, rich, roasted malt notes. It's dark and molasses-like, but not as syrupy as the Pale Rail. As soon as you take a sip, you’re hit by clean, sharp flavors. Nice and dry, although it does have a bit of a bitter after-taste. It is missing that fresh hop flavor—that grapefruity, piney, almost weedy pop—but overall, it's really good. If someone poured it for me at a bar, I wouldn't think twice about drinking it, and I be absolutely psyched to have it at the end of a trail. I would actually look forward to this at the end of a hike, not because of the alcohol content (6.1% ABV), and not because it reminds me of a beer, but because it actually tastes like a good, real beer.


So what’s the bottom line? While it's a struggle to get the drink as carbonated as you'd want (the best I ever got was analogous to a draft beer that had been sitting out for a good half-hour), the flavors are on-point. The Pale Rail is still a tad too sweet, but the Black Hops is most definitely worth the price of admission. I'm absolutely bringing it on my next trip, and if you're a beer lover, I suggest you do the same. 


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The Gear You Need to Race the Iditarod

Running a 1,000-mile sled dog race across Alaska is no small feat. Like any professional who performs at the highest level, dog mushers must be dedicated and focused in order to be competitive and successful. Raising, training, and racing sled dogs is more than a sport—it's a lifestyle.

As owner and operator of Wild and Free Mushing Kennel, I live with my dogs in Eureka, a remote Alaskan mining town that’s 150 miles from the nearest city. I’ve traveled through country that’s as rugged as it is beautiful, and I’ve encountered some of the harshest conditions on the planet—including gale-force winds, negative 50-degree temperatures, and freak blizzards.

Having the right equipment is essential to a musher’s success. Here’s a list of the most important gear we use to keep our dogs and ourselves happy, healthy, and safe along the trail.

Race-Mandated Gear

We're required to carry some gear with us at all times: a cold-weather sleeping bag; an axe; a pair of snowshoes; fuel; cooker and pot; and dog booties and harnesses. If I camp along the trail, I need a good sleeping bag, and I’ve found Feathered Friends makes a high-quality product.

I use the axe throughout the season to chop meat for the dogs' meals and collect firewood for camp. All mushers carry methanol and a specialized cooker large enough to heat at least three gallons of water. The hot water comes in handy when I need to heat my frozen, vacuum-sealed meals and make the dogs' food. Iditarod mushers are allowed to pick up methanol and water at each checkpoint.

I've rarely used snowshoes during a race, but when I need them to break trail, I’m happy to have them along.  

The Sled

The sleds used in the Iditarod need to be lightweight, strong, and durable. We use “runner plastic”—essentially ski wax designed for different temperatures and conditions—on the runners to help the sled glide quickly over the snow.

Every musher has a preferred sled design—some competitors even build their own rigs. Cody Strathe of DogPaddle Designs builds my sleds, which tend to be small and maneuverable.

Small sleds also prevent me from carrying gear I don’t need. All my equipment has to fit in the sled bag, a durable, custom-made pack that attaches to the sled. It stores everything I need. I use a Becker Sewing and Design bag, which I found can withstand a lot of wear and tear.

Dog Booties, Jackets, and Harnesses

I pack 3,000 dog booties to run the Iditarod. Made of lightweight cordura, this is easily the most important piece of dog gear I use. Over the course of 1,000 miles, my dogs will race over bare ground, ice, fresh snow, and open water—and booties are the best way to prevent injury.

Harnesses aim to capture as much energy from the dogs as possible while still keeping the animals comfortable. I use the traditional “x-back” style that crisscrosses across the dog’s back.

Finally, there are the dog jackets. I use outerwear from ManMat to help dogs conserve their energy when we’re travelling in extremely cold temperatures. The jackets also keep the pups warm and comfortable when we’re resting for the night. 



If this doesn’t sound like essential gear, then you’ve never tried staying awake and focused during a 1,000-mile dog race.  

Mushers get very little rest, and there are sections of the Iditarod trail that are extremely monotonous, so most of us carry a music player. You won’t find me out there without an iPod. I listen to music, podcasts, audio books, and even movies to help keep myself entertained.

And while I admit I’m not famous for my vocal talent, I do sing along to the songs. The dogs pick up on the energy you put out, and it helps keep their spirits up, too.


Every musher wears a wicking next-to-skin base layer. The outer layers come down to personal preference and conditions, and are made from merino, fleece, silk, down, or other synthetic fibers. We need to stay warm and dry, and when we do get soaked in sweat, we need quick-drying gear that will wick the moisture away from our bodies.

My go-to layers are Patagonia Capilene tops and bottoms, a one-piece full-body Polartec fleece suit by Carol Davis Sportswear, windstopper fleece shorts, a wool long-sleeve shirt, down vest, down jacket, and a Helly Hansen insulated softshell.


I wouldn’t survive these races without a good parka—a durable, wind-resistant, well-insulated shell. It’s so vital to the Iditarod that most mushers have these jackets custom-made to fit their exact specifications. I turn to Apocalypse Design to make my parkas—each of which have a fur ruff.      

Sometimes there’s no competing with nature, especially when it comes to warmth. When I need to stay warm in temperatures 50 degrees below zero, I use fur in my jacket from the animals that have evolved to survive these harsh conditions.

Every musher has a fur hat, fur mittens, and a fur parka ruff. You’ll see beaver fur—known for its warmth, softness, and wind- and frost resistance—in the hats, mittens, and parkas of most mushers. You might also spot pelts from muskrats, wolves, and wolverines.

The fur ruff around the hood is the most important piece of the parka because it helps protect and insulate my face. Mushers typically use beaver or wolverine fur to line the inside of the ruff—these materials shed frost—and wolf fur along the outer rim. 

Gloves and Mittens

So how do I keep my hands warm in frigid temperatures? A combination of beaver fur, wool, and hand warmers. For traveling on the trail, there is nothing that compares to the warmth and wind-protection of beaver mitts. Inside of the mittens, mushers usually wear a pair of thick wool or fleece gloves.

When I’m taking care of the dogs—bootying, massaging, snacking, feeding—I need more dexterity, and for those tasks I wear tight-fitting liner gloves, or half-gloves that only cover the palm of my hand. I use hand warmers all the time. 


In addition to taking care of 64 paws, I have to make sure my feet stay as warm and dry as possible. I'll usually wear a lightweight merino wool liner under thick alpaca socks from Pure Country Alpacas

Some mushers also pack extra boot liners. There are different boot options, but mainly mushers are looking for efficiency—we need a boot that’s as light as possible while still being warm, durable, and wind- and water-resistant. A thick sole or insole helps insulate our feet from the cold ground. I’ll wear an aftermarket boot liner inside a pair of Lobbens—a tall felt boot from Norway—which in turn fit inside a pair of Neos overshoes.

Ski Poles

Toward the end of a race when the teams are moving slower, a musher can help his team by kicking behind the sled or poling. Most mushers carry a sturdy, lightweight ski pole for this purpose.

During the 2014 Yukon Quest, I also discovered that the poles come in handy for fending off moose, although I don’t recommend anyone try that at home.


I love sharing my races with my fans and friends, so I always carry a GoPro to capture the incredible moments along the way. Enough said.

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High-Tech Outdoor Cooking Gadgets

Humans have been cooking over open campfires for more than a million years, but that doesn’t mean the process couldn’t use some refinement. Outdoor manufacturers have unleashed a new wave of cooking technology that does more than just boil water. From stoves that can charge your smartphone to devices designed to maintain a steady flame, these seven gadgets will help you pack light—and feast well. Our ancestors would be impressed. 

BioLite KettlePot ($50) 

One of the smartest cooking accessories on the market, the BioLite stove debuted in 2012. Using twigs and brush, you can create an “eternal” charger for your phone or camera. The heat from the pot generates power with a thermoelectric generator, which in turn causes a fan to blow, generating even more heat. You connect your phone with a USB port. The new KettlePot holds about six cups of water and weighs just one pound. 

PowerPot V ($150) 

This two-in-one cooking pot weighs about 12 ounces, making it light enough for long treks. As you cook, the metal pot transfers heat using a thermoelectric generator to charge your phone in less than 90 minutes. The pot holds about 6 cups of liquid and has a standard USB port for charging. Serious hikers, take note.

BBQ Dragon ($50)

This handy addition to a cooking arsenal will save pyrophiles a lot of time and effort. The BBQ Dragon clamps to the side of a firepit and blows a steady stream of air, which is helpful when it comes to starting and maintaining a cooking fire. The device runs for about three hours on medium speed using four AA batteries. (There’s also an optional rechargeable battery pack.)

MSR Reactor 1.0L Stove System ($170) 

Also available in 1.7-liter and 2.5-liter sizes, the MSR Reactor stove uses standard camping fuel canisters and holds about four cups of water—enough for two people. You connect the base to the fuel canister, and then set the pot on top. This metal-to-metal approach creates a better heat transfer when you’re cooking in a place with high winds, and the whole kit fits nicely inside the pot.

GSI Outdoors Halulite Boiler ($35) 

The GSI Outdoors Halulite Boiler uses a proprietary hard-anodized alloy material that’s scratch-resistant and at just 11 ounces, this device is unusually light for a full eight-cup cooking pot with a fold-up handle. The spiral-turned bottom is designed to stay put on the fire grill, and the lid doubles as a strainer.

Barocook BC-007 1200ml ($45) 

The Barocook is a unique cooking system made for windy conditions and high altitude. The plastic cooking pot, which comes in several sizes, uses a heat pack that reacts to water to create an exothermic reaction with the stainless steel base. It looks a bit like high-tech Tupperwear that can heat water to more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Close the lid, and cook your meal in less than 20 minutes. While there’s still no word when this Korean import will be available in the U.S., it’s something to keep an eye on.  

USB Rechargeable Lighter ($20) 

No, this isn’t exactly cooking technology, but it still deserves a place on this list—and in your backpack. The USB-powered lighter charges electronically through a port on your computer or BioLite stove. Once charged, you can use the lighter to light about 100 campfires, without ever having to rely on gas or butane again.

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