Custom-Fit Camping

Custom-Fit Camping

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What’s Your Pleasure?

Do you like it rough? Easy? Hard? Soft? However you choose to hit the trail, you’ll find a soul mate among the woodsy habitués who dispense their wisdom in the following pages—from the long-distance trekker and the devotee of amphibious excursions to the headstrong guy who enjoys getting lost and the gung-ho guru of fast-packing. Not to mention the backcountry hedonist with the luxury jones. So pick your style, bushwhacker—and let’s get it on.

Go Long, Go Deep
The Floating World
Get Real Gone
Wherever You Go, There You Are
Are We Not Men?
It Ain’t Heavy, It’s My Salmon on Toast Points

Go Long, Go Deep

If the point is to get away from it all, then all you need is time and distance

You check your e-mail, what, three times a day? eight times a day? the world is too much with you, friend. You need out. Not for a day. Out for ten days. By yourself, if possible. Because believe it or not, your brain can actually stop buzzing. For a day or two it will keep firing on all cylinders— what stock you should buy, what your savviest career move should be, what trip you should take next. And then for another day or two you might panic. What am I missing? Is the NASDAQ, like, plummeting?

But soon enough your brain starts to run out of gas—opinions, ideas, plans start to float away. Maybe once upon a time life was so simple that this process only took a few hours: wander in fields, write sonnet, come home, take bath. But now a day trip does more for your muscles than your mind. It’s hard to leave it all behind when it all is used to tagging along with you wherever you go.

When you do really get away, though, strangeness can happen. I remember hiking for a week by myself, easy trail- walking in the Adirondacks where I live. One rainy morning, I woke up, my mind still, didn’t bother to get dressed, and just began to wander down the trail. It was as if I gave off no vibrations at all. An owl stayed perched on a branch as I walked two feet beneath him; a deer stayed on the trail, shifting her weight to let me pass; a mother merganser paraded her young inches from where I lay naked on a rock. Late in the day I saw people coming my waya party of four, perfectly pleasant-looking backpackers chattering their way down the trail. I’d already yanked my clothes on, but I crouched behind a fallen hemlock and hid till they were gone; I didn’t want the spell to break.

Take as much food as you can carry, but no cell phone. And no book that isn’t illustrated with pictures of the local birds or wildflowers. You can chew information all the rest of your days—the idea here is to get a little bored. Does that prospect unnerve you? It shouldn’t; it’s not like going on an airplane without a book. There’s plenty of stuff out there to read, written in what John Muir called “the great alphabet of nature.” But you have to slow down enough to see it.

One trick is to bushwhack whenever possible (and ethical). You can keep your eyes fixed as firmly on a muddy trail as you can on a four-lane highway, and if you do, your mind will drift just as quickly. When you’re off the trail, finding your way, you’re always looking. The contours of the land, the game trails, the drainages—they catch your attention, fill your head.

Sometimes, if everything’s going well, even movement starts to seem unnecessary. I remember a week I spent on the top of a mountain near my home, when I hiked no more than two or three miles from camp on any given day. I’d just head out along some ridge until I found a patch of sunshine and then sit down, or until I found a patch of berries and then fill my baseball cap. Here are the things I noticed: Night takes a long time to fall—hours, from the sun low in the sky through the pink glow to the darkening blue to the first star. Also, a mountaintop has a sufficient number of rocks and trees, needing neither more nor less to be complete. One day I lay on my stomach on a little promontory and watched a black bear pick berries on the same slope I’d browsed the day before. He moved at about the same leisurely and unconcerned pace. Like me, he had the luxury of a predatorless existence, at least until hunting season. His only work was to fill himself with calories before winter; mine was to fill myself with silence before I returned home.

If you’re lucky, nothing dramatic will happen. The days will fade into one another. That way, you’ll know it wasn’t fording the raging river, or facing down the grizzly, or surviving the thunderstorm that left you a little changed. It was just the quiet, the chance to use senses other than the info-eye or the info-ear. Which leads, of course, to the main danger of going long and deep. You might not be able to find your way back to quite the spot where you began.

I’m a sucker for vistas—I’ll stare off into the mountains forever, memorizing the curves and thrusts of the surrounding ranges. So while Lewis and Clark carried a magnifying glass to impress the Indians with their magic fire-starting ability, I pack one in an effort to force my head down toward the ground. All you need is a Swift Instruments Pocket Magnifier ($5; 800-446-1116), or even just a little plastic lens, and you can examine the veiny wings of that annoying mosquito, the melting ice crystals on the edge of a late-spring snowfield, or the rings in a slice of pine. You can, in other words, see vast vistas even on cloudy days. —B.M.

A one-foot by two-foot swatch of closed-cell foam for a sit-pad
Mountain Safety Research Heat Exchanger ($30; 800-877-9677)
Small shaker of cumin (about $3 at any grocery)
National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers
($19; Alfred A. Knopf)

Adirondack State Park, New York: Head into the hilly Silver Lake Wilderness and then hit the Northville-Placid Trail—a 133-mile trek through the rugged High Peaks region.Contact: New York State Bureau of Public Lands, 518-457-7433.

The Wonderland Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington: This 93-mile circumnavigation of the mountain traverses lowland forests and subalpine meadows. Contact: Mount Rainier National Park, 360-569-2211.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee: Over 850 miles of trails, including a stretch of the Appalachian Trail that winds around old-growth tulip poplars and under a natural arch. Contact: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 423-436-1200.

The Long Trail, Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont: A 270-mile gallivant through farmland and into the crags. Plan for at least three weeks. Contact: Green Mountain National Forest, 802-747-6700.

Haleakala National Park, Maui: Hump through 19,000 acres of rainforest, near-desert, and the dormant Haleakala Crater in this International Biosphere Reserve. Three back-country cabins are available by advance lottery. Contact: Haleakala National Park, 808-572-4400.

PHILOSOPHY OF CAMPING 101: “People too often hike to a beautiful natural area, pitch their tent, crawl inside, zip the door, and shut out the world. This is camping? I prefer what I like to call ‘stealth camping’—wander a mile or two beyond the crowded campground, establish a low-profile campsite, and sleep under a tarp. If a deer wanders past, you see it. You stay connected to nature.”

Bill McKibben’s book on cross-country ski racing, Long Distance: Notes on a Year of Living Strenuously, is due out this fall from Simon & Schuster.

The Floating World

The importance of portaging lingerie and sharing the load

I was six years old when my father and his best friend carl decided that five of their collective nine kids were old enough to discover the allure of God’s country. So, one sticky summer day in July 1976, we stuffed our watertight bags with everything we would need (firecrackers included) for a week in the Boundary Waters, where the dads planned to chisel us into mini-voyageurs. I was an easy convert: Our first morning on the water, I woke up at dawn, padded barefoot out of my tent, stuck a fat leech on the end of my Lindy Rig, and plunked down on a granite ledge that dropped off to a near-bottomless fishing hole, soaking up the sun like a beached walrus.

An hour later, my peaceful reverie was shattered when Carl stretched his 6-foot-3 frame out of the tent and broke into booming fits of laughter, waking the entire camp. “Why, Stephanie,” he bellowed, “is that a nightgown you’re wearing?” As a matter of fact, it was—my favorite full-length, flowered flannel nightie. The other kids could tease me till I cried, but as far as I was concerned, frilly sleeping apparel was fair game on a canoe trip.

Actually, even the kitchen sink is fair game if it fits in the boat and can be schlepped across a portage. I’ve seen folks lug sirloin-packed coolers and Samsonite-size tackle boxes through the wilderness. But no longer needing my security nightgown, I now stuff my Duluth Pack with only the bare necessities: an extra pair of shoes, two pair of wool socks, a stocking cap, a Hacky Sack, polypropylene long underwear, two T-shirts, a paperback novel, a pair of nylon shorts, a swimsuit, Carhartt work pants, rain gear, a sleeping bag, a headlamp, a first-aid kit, a bee-sting allergy kit, a Bible, and at least one roll of toilet paper.

But to reduce the joys of canoe-camping to the material goods you can stash between the gunwales is to discount the mesmerizing rhythm of a paddle dipping into glassy waters, the shivery call of a loon as it surfaces across the lake, and the glorious self-sufficiency of catching and eating your own walleye. Even the most terrifying episodes bring about a certain thank-God-I-didn’t-kick-the-bucket kind of happiness, like the time in the middle of Lake Agnes when every curly hair on my head stood on end, rising in staticky salute to an incoming thunderstorm.

What really elevates canoe-camping and other forms of amphibious exploration (kayak touring is no less wondrous) to the higher echelons of wilderness experience is this: It takes a partner to help muscle the craft and carry the load. I’ve guided canoe trips in Minnesota and Ontario, and my paddling partners have included Beastie, a frazzle-haired Outward Bound junkie who combed his beard with a dinner fork; Kelayna, a sassy 12-year-old who couldn’t swim a stroke but could bake a Dutch-oven chocolate cake to rival Betty Crocker’s; and Maren, a 95-pound wisp who I once saw portage a canoefor eight miles. No matter what our differences were in the real world, we still managed to create our own peaceable kingdom, a self-propelling yin to each other’s yang.

On some days, however, when the weather turns hypothermic or super-size mosquitoes zoom in for the kill, the dark side of even the most symbiotic paddling partnership can reveal itself. Such was the case when Kelayna the cake-baker decided she was homesick, tired, and dying of malaria. Her proposal: to tough it out alone at the campsite while I paddled the four days, 16 lakes, and 15 portages to call for a rescue party at the nearest phone. With bodily force and strategic cajoling—namely, the false promise of a 7-Eleven Big Gulp just a few portages away—I managed to coax her back into the boat.

Chances are you won’t be held captive with strangers on your next paddling venture, but even relationships with siblings, spouses, parents, and friends take on a new light after a few days on the water. You discover, for example, that your brother, once a head-banger, now has an affinity for Yo-Yo Ma. Or that your mother once was a Girl Scout archery champion. Or that your husband can spend hours on end picking blueberries. Such insights are often as fleeting as wispy clouds, disappearing the moment you strap the boat on the roof rack and head back to civilization. The memories that linger, though, are of the soul-searching debates—and jokes—over the Big Questions, like, does God really exist? Or, more important, who lit the firecracker under Dad’s sleeping pad back in ’76?

It wasn’t me. I was out fishing in my flannel nightie.

I wouldn’t think twice about lending my kevlar wenonah canoe to a friend in need, but I pity the fool who asks to borrow my paddle. My prized Moore Grand Classic Cue ($400, 843-681-5986) is a sophisticated, lightweight carbon-fiber paddle that propels even the most sluggish, gear-laden aluminum barge through the water like a sleek barracuda, without a hint of yaw or wobble. Grasp its uncompromisingly stiff, hollow shaft, grip the well-sculpted butt, execute an effortless J-stroke, and you’ll never regret the dotcom stock you had to hawk for a week in the wilderness with the coveted, if costly, Cue. Best of all, at a feathery 18 ounces, it makes long-distance portages a joy. Almost. —S.G.

Duluth Pack ($42-$185; 800-777-4439)
Clarins SPF 30 Suncare Cream ($21.50 for 4.4 ounces; 212-980-1800)
Lindy Rig ($1.89 for hook, line, and sinker; 218-829-1714)
Coleman five-gallon expandable water carrier ($6.60; 800-835-3278)

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness: More than 1,000 clean, rocky lakes laced with 1,500 miles of canoe routes in northern Minnesota’s moose country. Blueberry patches abound. Call BWCA for reservations, 877-550-6777.

The Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii: Dodge towering waterfalls, laze on secluded beaches, and watch sea turtles cavort along this stunning coastline—but only in summer, when the surf is down. Contact: Hawaii State Parks, 808-274-3444.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia: Swamp heaven, with 396,000 acres of peat bog, alligator habitat, and moss-shrouded creeks along the Florida border. Contact: Okefenokee Visitor Center, 912-496-7836.

Buffalo National River, Arkansas: Deliverance jokes aside, the Buffalo is epic fun. It’s lined with limestone bluffs and shady hollows, and flows through three designated wilderness areas. Contact: Buffalo National River, 870-741-5443.

Bowron Lake Provincial Park, British Columbia: A spectacular 72-mile-long chain of lakes, rivers, and trails on the western slopes of the Cariboo Mountains. Reservations required. Contact: Tourism British Columbia, 800-663-6000.

“Outdoor Research makes women’s clothing with a pee system and the zipper opens wide enough so that you can do more than that. Title Nine Sports makes a zip-open bra, for easy access. A Lush oil-filled massage bar for him. And get a tent that gives you a better morning glow than green. You don’t want your partner to wake up and think they just slept with the Loch Ness monster.”

Stephanie Gregory writes The Wild File for Outside.

Get Real Gone

Being lost may be the truest course to finding your way

I get my TV news from Denver. Some of the anchors are less androidlike than others, but they all recite the same headlines. A recurring topic: an ill-prepared adventurer vanishing in the Colorado wilderness. The man was last seen wearing only cut-off jeans and a T-shirt. Authorities fear he might not have survived freezing temperatures and a mountain storm that dropped hail the size of Anjou pears.

My first reaction is to envy the exciting perils of these men in T-shirts. Then I read something in the furrowed brows of the TV anchors: the chilling truth that newsworthy outdoorsfolk rarely make it back to check their Nielsens.

OK, you can die out there. Usually, though, misplacing yourself is neither so public nor so tragic. I, for one, get lost on a regular basis. Yet I always manage to find my way out before friends and family can agree which of my organs to donate and which to keep for themselves. Being prepared for getting lost is a skill like any other. The trick is to keep a cool head. The rational mind knows that fat reserves can keep you alive in the wild for weeks. Even better, the rational mind can think your butt back to safety.

The most obvious strategy is to turn back the way you came. My brother tells a story of being lost with his wife in Southern California’s Los Padres National Forest. Relying on an outdated guidebook, they set off on a Saturday morning to spend the weekend hiking a long loop—not knowing that the Forest Service stopped maintaining the trail in the late eighties. They struggled for a day and a half through a maddening overgrowth of chaparral, manzanita, and poison oak before totally losing the trail in a place jovially known as the Devil’s Potrero, or “pasture.” They turned back late Sunday, but not in time to avoid an unplanned night in the woods. On Monday, when my sister-in-law didn’t show up for work, concerned coworkers asked the Highway Patrol to check accident records for any sign of the missing couple. Their humiliating retreat didn’t end until late that night, when they hitched a ride with a random band of beekeepers dressed, as my brother said, “all in white, like angels.”

How painful is it to retrace your path when you planned a loop? Well, five years after this misadventure, my brother still rants at length about Forest Service budget cuts and their effect on trail maintenance. He forgets to mention that, while they were lost in the Los Padres, he and his wife conceived their first child.

For most of us, getting lost is little more than an inconvenience. The 21st century, however, has declared a holy war on inconvenience. With cell phones and GPS receivers, we can keep ourselves present and accounted for at all times. What a bunch of weenies we are. If you do get lost, take the opportunity to tap into the better human qualities, i.e. our powers of deduction and animalistic instinct for self-preservation. Bring water, food, and an extra layer of clothes. Don’t just look for landmarks and terrain features, take their measure, too. If a pretty, snowy mountain slope is tilted steeply and bereft of trees, it’s an avalanche zone. Hiking amongst big, dead trees on a windy day is wilderness Jenga. So think, dammit, think.

A few years ago I took a solo tour of the Tatoosh Range in Rainier National Park. I ambled aimlessly, and tangled myself in thick underbrush on the wrong side of a ridge. The skies wept and my fingers grew numb. It seemed I had two choices: to brainstorm my way out or to fashion a nice deathbed pillow from D.B. Cooper’s wormy skull. I figured that parallel valleys all drained to the same place, so I tramped downstream along a creek until it emptied into a river adjacent to an unfamiliar trail. My sense of direction urged me to go right, and eventually I made a grotesque circle back to my original trailhead.

If you have the good sense to get lost in the daytime, use the sun. Even overcast skies glow a little brighter in one direction. Consider it east or west, depending on the time of day. Factor in the time of year, also—that brighter shade of pale in the sky will trend southward around the winter solstice and northward in June and July. The sun is the only star I trust. Some say you can navigate by the south-pointing triangle of Deneb, Vega, and Altair, but it’s hard enough to find one star, let alone three.

The way I see it, getting lost provides unexpected relief from the sometimes tedious “eat-recreate-eat-sleep” routine of a camping trip. Veer off-trail and you might stumble upon a bulbous porcini, a 500-year-old Incan mummy, or the Treasure of the Sierra Madre. You camp in order to reconnect with the wild, right? So go ahead and ramble. Remember, the beaten path, by its very nature, is beat.

Ineptitude has an antidote, and its name is education. But education can be a colossal bore. So I prefer an antidote that’s cozy and puffy and never lectures me: a Kelty Pulsar down sleeping bag ($190; 800-423-2320). Rated to 15 degrees, the three-pound Pulsar is a three-season bag, which means it takes up significantly less room than a bin of caramel corn. More like a dachshund. No, young campers, there’s no substitute for brains. But when you’re stumbling through a forest at midnight, you can roll out a Pulsar on a random patch of ground and act like you meant to sleep there all along. Which is way more comforting than knowing where the hell you are. —R.S.

Porter Products Big Sky Bistro Coffee Press ($16; 888-327-9908)
Leatherman PST multi-purpose tool ($57; 800-847-8665)
PUR Explorer Water Purifier ($130; 800-787-5463)
The North Face Packable Pant ($78; 800-362-4963)

Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado: The region’s 470 miles of hikeable routes include an 80-mile leg of the Continental Divide Trail, plus three fourteeners you can climb in the summer and backcountry ski in the spring. Contact: Rio Grande National Forest, 719-852-5941.

Zion National Park, Utah: Dis-appear for days into remote slot canyons where ferns cling to 300-foot-high sandstone walls. Contact: Zion National Park, 435-772-3256.

San Bernardino National Forest, California: Massive granite escarpments, crenulated peaks, and 538 miles of trails. The smog of Los Angeles, 60 miles to the southwest, makes for impressive Technicolor sunsets. Contact: San Bernardino National Forest, 909-383-5588.

Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Nevada and California: The largest forest in the Lower 48, with 22 mountain ranges and 72 peaks over 10,000 feet. Prepare for solitude. Contact: Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, 775-331-6444.

Ozark Trail, Missouri: A shady 307 miles of trails. Cool off and get all transcendental in countless limestone caverns along the way. Contact: Mark Twain National Forest, 573-364-4621.

“Your circadian rhythm becomes skewed, personal hygiene is a challenge, and after a week anybody will start to miss the sun and wide open spaces.”

Outside correspondent Rob Story profiled the ski-filmmeisters of Teton Gravity Research in the November 1999 issue.

Wherever You Go, There You Are

A guide to GPS and the technical frontier of navigation

Bob Graham is a man possessed. Still blonde, wiry, and boyish at 58, this retired Courtland, California, farmer-turned-mountaineer has spent the past five years roaming the Sierra Nevada in an attempt to retrace the 122-mile-long route taken by John C. Frémont in 1844, when the brave but vainglorious lieutenant, along with Kit Carson and a detail from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, made the first known winter crossing of the northern half of the range. In his own travels, Graham has seen his car battery explode due to high altitude and been menaced by a mountain lion. But he’s never lost sight of his key obsession: How did a half-frozen, wandering adventurer like Frémont find his way through a forbidding alpine maze?

One snowy morning last spring, Graham let me tag along on a hike to one of the explorer’s campsites, a spot near Carson Pass he’d recently discovered. As walks in the woods go, it was both geographically and intellectually rigorous, with Graham delivering a lecture on the technological advances that have eased the burdens of land navigation. To emphasize his point, he explained that Frémont’s duties as leader of a U.S. government–sponsored survey expedition included having to call a halt at midday and get up at odd hours of the night, weather permitting, to futz with a bunch of sextants, chronometers, thermometers, telescopes, astronomical tables, and complex mathematical formulae, and thus determine the latitude, longitude, and altitude of his exploring party.

Fast-forward a century and a half. As we snowshoed up a spur ridge covered in aspens and lodgepole pines, Graham suddenly stopped, reached into his parka pocket, and extracted his cell phone–size Magellan 315 Global Positioning System receiver.

“What if Frémont had had this?” he barked. Well, maybe his men wouldn’t have had to eat their boots. Alas, this was not the answer Graham was looking for.

“He wouldn’t have had to get up in the middle of the night, waiting to fix one of the Jovan moons,” he said. “At any moment of the day or night he would’ve known where he was.”

Then he punched a button. In seconds, our position materialized on the tiny screen: Latitude 38š 41′ 56″ N; Longitude 119š 57′ 35″ W; Altitude 7,776 feet. So much for Jovan moons.


The GPS relies on a constellation of 24 orbiting satellites that the United States Department of Defense began launching in 1978 to meet its own navigational needs, and to keep tabs on military movements during the Cold War. Using atomic clocks accurate to within one second every 70,000 years, each satellite continuously broadcasts the time and its position. A GPS receiver, pulling in signals from three or more satellites simultaneously, then measures how long it takes them to arrive, calculates the distance to each orbiting body, and, using simple geometry, produces a fix on your position.

First made available to the public in the 1980s, GPS technology nowadays is exploited by everybody from bush pilots to mountaineers to your Uncle Milt the bass fisherman. Instead of having to lug around a load of obscure, weighty, and hard-to-figure-out navigational equipment (would you know where to buy a sextant these days?), now you can push a button or two on your GPS receiver and, just like that, you’re on the map. Most models can store at least 200 “waypoints,” readings on locations you either want to go to or have been to already. If you haven’t been there, keystroke the coordinates and your GPS will help you find the spot; if you’re already there, just press a button to bookmark the position. By entering a series of waypoints, you can create a route and store the whole thing for later use.

In his hunt for Frémont’s trail, Graham typically studies a topographical map to suss out the coordinates of a particular Sierra locale he wants to visit, and then keys them in to his GPS. Using the same map, he finds a road that takes him within striking distance, parks, and switches on his GPS to take a reading on his location. At this point the instrument can tell him exactly how far his target is and in what direction. Now it’s just a matter of using a compass to hike to the site. That’s right—a compass. As the amateur cartographer is quick to point out, while GPS would have greatly reduced Frémont’s logistical burdens, it would not have solved the mess he got himself into. “Since Frémont didn’t have a decent map of the Sierra to use GPS by, the system would have told him where he was, but not where he had to go—or anything about terrain,” Graham says. “The Sierra still would have been terra incognita for him.”


When it comes to terra incognita, Graham knows what he’s talking about. Because merely pinpointing your position won’t get you anywhere, you need to own traditional orienteering skills along with that fancy GPS. To fully exploit the data it provides, you should know how to use a topographical map, a compass, and a plotting scale—a rulerlike tool calibrated to the same scale and coordinate system as your map.

And then there’s the small matter of UTM. All GPS receivers provide traditional latitude-longitude readings but, increasingly, many also utilize the newer Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) coordinate system. Universal Transverse whaaaa, you ask? Good question. Lines of longitude and latitude superimposed on the earth’s spherical surface result in inconstant distance factors, meaning a degree of longitude at the equator is about 69 miles long, whereas it’s about 49 miles long at Minneapolis, on the 45th parallel. By “flattening” the earth’s nonpolar regions into a rectangle and dividing them into 60 zones, UTM reduces those inconsistencies.

Both systems work, it’s just a matter of personal preference. In Graham’s case, he sticks with traditional latitude-longitude readings. “Most of the time, I’m working with 19th-century maps and Frémont’s journals, which don’t use UTM,” he says. For the rest of you modern-day frontiersmen out there, now may be the time to get acquainted with both systems, lest you find yourself using your shiny new GPS device as a projectile to fend off vultures.

If most of this sounds like a techno-geek soliloquy left out of the latest Star Trek flick, here are a couple of pre-Computer Age caveats. First, although GPS receivers feature tiny video screens that display preprogrammed map grids with various zoom options, those images don’t compare in detail and scope with traditional paper topo maps—so definitely use both. Second, while GPS offers bankable latitude and longitude coordinates, its altitude readings are often unreliable (see “Going Up?”, a review of altimeters, page 130).

Ultimately, Graham is pretty sure he would have found the Frémont campsite using the old maps-and-legends method, but GPS made success a speedy certainty. “Without GPS,” he says, “even after getting close to the site, it would have been hours of wandering here and there.” Which is fine if you’re basking in nature’s splendors, but not so good if your men are starting to gaze longingly at your footwear.


Garmin GPS 12MAP
Kitted out with a welded, waterproof case, the Garmin 12MAP ($425; 913-397-8200) allows you to download topographic information from a separate MapSource CD-ROM ($152), so you’ll know when your trail will rise to meet you.

Lowrance GlobalMap 100
The GlobalMap 100‘s ($199; 800-324-1356) high-contrast screen is easy to read in daylight, so the map details downloaded from the accessory CD-ROM ($129) come out clearer than your path through the woods.

Magellan GPS 300
Small and lightweight, the rubber-encased Magellan 300 ($100; 909-394-5000) is suited for the space-challenged backpacker, and its intuitive operating system and low price make it attractive to weekend campers, too. —JOHN BRANIGIN

Tom Chaffin teaches U.S. history at Emory University and is currently working on a biography of John C. Frémont.

Are We Not Men?

Give it up, cut it out, travel light—because nobody wants to be a pack mule

We roared into the parking lot at dusk, loaded our packs in the dark, donned headlamps, and set off up the trail. We hiked for three hours, made camp under a shotgun blast of stars, and didn’t get up until the morning sun turned the tent into a sauna.

We’d been in such a hurry to get off work, get out of town and get into the mountains that it was only when we finally decided to whip up some breakfast that we discovered things were missing. I’d apparently left my stuff sack of extra clothes in the car—gone were my long pants, fleece vest, extra socks, and my baseball cap. Mike dumped his pack and did inventory. Somehow he had forgotten his cup, the extra bottles of stove fuel, his windpants, and worst of all, one of the food bags.

“Guess we’ll just go without,” said Mike, grinning goofily.

And we did, hiking the Medicine Bow Range from Elk Mountain in Wyoming to the Rawahs in Colorado. I wore what little I had, put on my windbreaker when it got cold, and wrapped my sleeping bag around my shoulders in the evening. We saved fuel and rationed the food; Mike used the pot as his cup. None of this caused hardship. On the contrary, our packs were lighter and thus so were our hearts.

On the next trip, loading up in the parking lot, Mike grabbed my sack of spare clothes and threw it back into the car. “Cut it!”

“Then you gotta cut everything you forgot last time.”

“Already did,” he said.

Not to be outdone, I pulled the stove bag out of his pack and tossed it back into the car.

“Excellent, man, excellent,” crooned Mike.

We did that trip eating breakfast and lunch cold and building the tiniest of campfires to cook dinner. It was a spartan trek. Unburdened by dead weight, we moved quickly and smoothly through the mountains, covering more country more easily than we had ever done before.

Mike and I decided to call our game “the big cut.” Pushing further, we added variations. On any adventure, before leaving the parking lot (or the airport), each of us was empowered to remove one item from the other guy’s pack. Our trips became ultralean and efficient. For every pound of gear we cut from our packs we were rewarded with an extra mile on the trail. More for less. More of the wilderness in exchange for less equipment. Instead of sweating underneath monstrous loads, moving as slowly and ponderously as beasts of burden, we cruised the trail like coyotes, heads up, alert, eyes on the horizon.

Here’s the real trick to traveling light: Scrutinize every piece of gear. Why take a three-pound, multi-zippered, multi-pocketed, expedition jacket when an eight-ounce windbreaker is sufficient? Why take a heavy full-length air mattress when, with the right campsite selection, an eight-ounce foam pad is enough? Why carry a ten-pound tent “tested on Everest” when, if the point is to be outside, a four-pound tent is terrific? Why take a bulky sweater when a featherweight down vest is adequate? Why carry extra food when you’ll never eat it? Why carry extra water when you can move from stream to stream and purify what you need? And now that you’re carrying half the weight, why use a seven-pound backpack when a three-pound pack is fine?

Why? Because it goes against everything we’ve learned to crave. Ours is a maximalist culture—the bigger the better. Minimalism is discouraged, even denigrated—but take a minute and think about the last time you were on the trail. A fat, plush Cadillac may be fine for the highway, a big-screen TV just the thing for home theater thrills, but carrying a heavy backpack is backbreaking work. It crushes the body, flattens the spirit, and makes about as much sense as carrying a picnic table when you would be just as happy sitting on the grass.

In the end, the decision to go light and fast is an existential one. To enter the wilderness is to dispossess ourselves of the burden of possessions, to slip smooth and clean as Houdini from the thousand invisible chains of stuff. Once inside, we become, however briefly, part of the wild—lithe, lighthearted and free, loping across the landscape.

So next time you’re getting ready to head out, identify every single thing you doubt you’ll really need. Then forget it.

The topographic map is the essential tool for moving swiftly and efficiently through the backcountry. But that’s only the beginning, because a waterproof topo map—especially one from Earthwalk Press Maps ($8; 800-742-2677)—is actually a two-dimensional book of natural history. The wriggling brown ink of its contour lines will tell you if the pass will be high and choked with snow or low and dry, where the elk will be in summer (high and in the shade on steep forested slopes), and where the buffalo will be in winter (near the hot pools where the grass is still green). A topo map is as deep as a lake. The surface will show you where, but it’s the depths that whisper why. —M.J.

Trojan-Enz 12-pack ($4). Beyond its primary use, a nonlubricated prophylactic will hold one liter of water.
Polar Pure iodine-crystal water treatment kit ($10; 408-867-4576)
Outdoor Research Windstopper Alpine Hat ($22; 206-467-8197)
Butler GUM unwaxed dental floss ($.99). It’s the best sewing thread going.

Kootenay National Park, British Columbia: Well-maintained trails in this mountain Valhalla include the Rockwall, which works its way along a 2,300-foot-high limestone escarpment. Contact: Kootenay National Park, 250-347-9615.

10th Mountain Division Hut Association, Aspen, Colorado: Hop from one alpine hut to another on 300 miles of skiable (in winter) and bikeable (in summer) trails in the White River National Forest. Reservations required.Contact: 10th Mountain Division Hut Assn., 970-925-5775.

Mount Katahdin, Baxter State Park, Maine: Katahdin, the top end of the Appalachian Trail, rises 5,267 feet above 202,064 acres of wilderness. Watch out for blackflies, and hikers spouting Thoreau. Contact: Baxter State Park, 207-723-5140.

Yosemite National Park, California: Leave the Tuolumne Meadows behind and hike north into spectacular Sierra wilderness, where the pine cones are a foot long.Contact: Yosemite National Park, 209-372-0200.

Henry Mountains, Utah: Take the rough Back Country Byway 20 miles south of Hanksville up to Bull Creek Pass. Keep an eye peeled for the occasional wild bison herd, then head up to Mount Ellen to explore the abandoned gold mines.Contact: BLM, Hanksville, 435-542-3461.

“The more our camping style depends on the paraphernalia of the world we are leaving behind, the more we dwell in contradictions.”

“It’s really seductive to take along complicated-looking gear, but when it comes down to it, I think you’re better off without that battery-operated egg beater.


Mark Jenkins is The Hard Way columnist for Outside.

It Ain’t Heavy, It’s My Salmon on Toast Points

Sometimes luxury is a necessity

Carole Latimer is prepping for the wilderness at a trailhead in the southern Sierra Nevada. Before her sits an organizational challenge commensurate with her stature as a cuisiniere en plein air and the Martha Stewart of gracious camping. She’s putting together food, fuel, and cooking gear for a six-day, six-person backpacking trip that will top out on the 14,494-foot summit of Mount Whitney, and right now her staging area looks like an Outward Bound plane crash—dinged and scorched cookware, Nalgene bottles, Ziplocs within Ziplocs. The matériel commingles with a foods-of-the-world Pile of Babel, from poblano peppers to wasabi paste. For three hours, Latimer walks and crawls around the wreckage, organizing ingredients for breakfasts, multi-course dinners, and snacks. All told, she has about 70 pounds of dunnage that she and her group must divvy up and add to their packs. In skinny air on steep trails, every little superfluity will hurt. On the other hand, a missed must-have could kill: Leave behind the nori or the sticky rice and you can forget about sushi night.

Latimer works with peevish focus, but then suddenly she’s ready, shouldering an enormous external frame pack. A smile slices her cheeky apricot-colored face and she dances onto the trail. “I love it!” she yells. “God, I love it!” What she loves, among other things, is weight on her back. “I’m the reincarnation of a mule,” she says.

She also adores leading pilgrims into the Sierras with a load of grande luxe comestibles. Latimer occupies a singular position in the outdoors: For 22 years she has pushed back the limits of backcountry deliciousness through her Berkeley-based guiding company Call of the Wild, which specializes in all-women trips. But she doesn’t mind taking me and another Y-chromosomer on this outing, a recapitulation of her standard Whitney hike. We’re taking a roundabout, scenery-maximized backside approach to the top of the mountain. We’ll cover about 42 miles, with one goof-around day at a particularly gorgeous campsite. Whitney’s role, as Latimer explains it, is to provide incentive as well as aesthetics. “I think it’s good to have a goal,” she says. But the goal’s goal is sybaritic delight. And I’m getting hungry.

OK, I am un-wowed by the thai tom yum soup on our first night in the backcountry. The problem is not the soup but psychic displacement. I don’t know where I am yet and compare Latimer’s tom yum to restaurant fare. But then, after a few day’s hiking, Latimer flips me and everybody else to the 33rd level of gustatory bliss with her salmon on toast points.

It doesn’t hurt that the campsite is as good as the hors d’oeuvres. We’re in a 9,600-foot valley in a copse of pines between a trout stream and a glistening meadow. The group stands around the maestra, who kneels in pine duff, browning slices of bread in a banged-up frying pan over an itty-bitty camp stove. She cuts the toast into dainty triangles, smears on the salmon and offers them around. The first bite is oral Fantasia. The smoked fish swims to heaven while Holsteins sing the cream-cheese chorus and herbs and minced green onion go off like fireworks. The toast—pain grille, really—makes the whole business too too. The contradiction between here-and-now and what we’re eating opens a toothsome rent in reality. Latimer seems to be having even more fun than we are. “I like the element of surprise, of turning people on,” she says. “Cooks are egoists. They love the praise they get.”

Latimer’s ego can dine hugely on us, who praise her nonstop. Most of our meals are straight out of her 1991 book, Wilderness Cuisine, which is a woods-foodie standard. She doesn’t mind sharing unpublished recipes, which seem too simple to be such knockouts. The salmon spread, for instance, is just cream cheese stirred up with a piece of vacuum-packed fish and a bit of dill and onion. Anybody could do it, except, of course, most of us wouldn’t bother, much less follow it with a romaine salad perfectly dressed with rice-wine vinegar (Latimer tosses ours in a plastic grocery sack patched with duct tape), and then pesto over angel hair and fresh-baked brownies.

Like Alfred Hitchcock, who mapped out every camera shot on storyboards ahead of time, Latimer mentally rehearses each of her evening meals. “I have only a limited number of pots and stuff,” she says. “I start planning my dinner out in my head. Exactly, step by step, what I’m going to do.” Latimer has devised a battery of shortcuts and weight-saving gadgetry. She travels sans water filter, killing microbes with tincture of iodine (ten drops per liter of water) then killing off the medicine flavor with powdered ascorbic acid. The Latimer-signature backpackers’ cupboard/dish drainer consists of a 3 by 4-foot piece of nylon window screen folded in half and pinned to a line strung horizontally between two trees. Dishes dry quickly in it, and they’re easy to keep track of. She also carries a smaller piece of screen which multitasks as a colander, salad spinner, and scouring pad.

During our layover day, Latimer cranks the backwoods-comfort meter up to ten. She leads her group to a nearby waterfall, where she proffers chevre and sun-dried tomatoes. The high point, from her end, is finding wild watercress to garnish the plate just so. “I’m having fun now!” she enthuses. But she also finds time to loll with her back against a tree. Just sitting in the sun, Latimer fosters an illusion that follows her through the trip: Somewhere, just out of sight, she has her own secret resort hotel, because she looks too good to be camping. She sports the same synthetic fuzz and techno-cloth as the rest of us, but she wears it with more flair and a few extras—scarf, silver earrings, lipstick. Grooming, she says, is part of the disciplined attention to one’s own needs that can mean survival. “Where are you going to draw the line, if you let yourself go?” she demands. “Are you going to let yourself get cold? Is it going to be no lipstick? I mean, where’s the line?”

I can’t imagine what the guy-equivalent of lipstick might be, but I’m with her—it’s treacherous to cross the slob line. And I can’t help but notice how the survival/fashion gear flatters her. Latimer is good to sit next to; brown-eyed, with an arsenal of smiles and a low, precise voice with an accentless twang. If a puma had her own radio show, she’d sound like Latimer. Rrrrrow. At 55, she doesn’t play tricks with artificial youth. She’s just an all-American babe with crow’s-feet and decades of windburn. She’s also a fifth-generation daughter of the Sierra foothills, raised in Placerville, California, a couple of hundred miles northwest of where we sit. Childhood backpacking trips with her father taught Latimer that camping is eating. “We had biscuits and eggs and salad with Thousand Island dressing. And bacon. And trout, golden trout,” she rhapsodizes. Her food is a contemporized throwback. It’s also a protest against what she calls “Sierra Club nerds” who make camping into something anal-compulsive and meager. Ultralight fetishism particularly gets on her nerves. Says Latimer, sounding as if she’d like to biff it out with a nerd right now, “There are plenty of hard-core people who carry heavy packs.”

Latimer confides something about mount whitney: it might be the tallest peak in the Lower 48, but it’s not the apogee of our trip. “The goal is the garbage-bag bath,” she says. There’s no way to know if she’s right during the bath itself, because it happens three days before we summit. But the post-trip view bears her out. Whitney is this great big, you know, mountain. There’s nothing all that surprising up there—at least not on the scale of a packable solar-heated spa.

Latimer’s recipe:

Spread a ground cloth 300 feet from a water source where the sun can shine unobstructed for at least four hours. Set out two extra-large black garbage bags and fill with six gallons of water apiece. (Tie the bags loosely shut while filling to prevent spills.) Close the bags and leave the sun to do its work. When the bags are warm, it’s bath time. Use one bag to wash, the other to rinse.

The water in my bag is more tepid than hot, but things start to get miraculous when I sit in it, pull the plastic up to chest level, and remember backcountry baths past. Where are the goose bumps, the screaming from ice-water shock? How come I don’t want to run to the sleeping bag and go into fetal position? The bath is so not-horrible that there’s time to sink into it, to splash and look around at the meadow, the trees on the far side, the mountains over the trees. In five minutes the garbage bag is kicking the ass of every outdoor spa in the West. Here, in a sack of Sierra bathwater, is the entire Camping-with-Carole-Latimer experience: It could be miserable, except she’s figured out a way to make it more like a week at Canyon Ranch.

Speaking of which, isn’t this sushi night?   

Without a stick of butter, a whole onion, and a clove of garlic, your camp food is mere nutrition. As the French, and Madame Latimer, say, onion marries flavors. Consider butter and garlic the best man and maid of honor. They give earthy authenticity to freeze-dried dishes, so much so you’ll forget that dinner came out of foil packets. Double-Ziploc the onion and garlic, and whittle as needed; keep the butter in a wide-mouth Nalgene jar. Don’t even consider margarine or powdered onion or garlic, they’re an insult to glorious realité.—M.S.

Asian noodles. Soak in hot water and you’ve got pasta.
Tang and dark rum. Mix four ounces rum to one packet of the orangy insta-drink. Commence cocktail hour.
Coleman Peak One Feather 442 Stove ($55; 800-835-3278)
Opinel Folding Knife Model OP-8 ($11; 303-462-0662)

North Manitou Island, Michigan: White-sand beaches and protected bird habitats encourage lollygagging on this piney isle. Contact: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, 231-326-5134.

Big Bend National Park, Texas: Where the Rio Grande slices through 1,500-foot canyons, the ragged Chisos Mountains rise up sharply from the desert, and seldom is heard a discouraging word. Contact: Big Bend National Park, 915-477-2251.

Dempster Highway, Yukon and Northwest Territories: One of only three roads in North America that cross the Arctic Circle, its 451 miles of gravel are a choice jumping-off point for tundra exploration. Just watch out for hungry, omnivorous grizzlies. Contact: Tourism Yukon, 867-667-5340.

Sycamore Canyon, Arizona: Hot, rugged, peaceful, this is a miniature version of the Grand Canyon—minus the RV parade. Contact: Kaibab National Forest, 520-635-8200.

Gulf Islands, British Columbia: Tucked in a sunny pocket off soggy Vancouver Island, these wooded islets are a refuge for those seeking splendid isolation.Contact: Tourism British Columbia, 800-663-6000.

“People don’t realize how much dead space there is in a pack. You learn to stuff the pots with food and squirrel away the cheese.”

“I did start to consume a bit of Mountain Dew towards the end. Other than that, I guess I’m naturally full of energy. Fourteen hours a day was not that hard.”


Outside correspondent Mike Steere profiled GoLite, an ultralight camping-gear startup, in the December 1999 issue.