I along with a few of our Hiking Forward Correspondents are taking to the woods on January 1st to help in leading New Year's Day hikes. This is a great way to start the year off outside and help those around you to enjoy what nature has to offer all us on day one.
I will be leading my local Sierra Club's Stone Soup Hike in Central Illinois. Everyone brings something for the two pots (one vegetarian and one meat). The soup simmers over open fires as we all hike. When we return we share in the soup, fellowship and great conversation. The hike has continued to grow each year and become a family tradition for many.
According to the National Association of State Parks Directors almost 28000 participated in First Day Hikes throughout America's state parks hiking over 66,000 miles total. The family nature club that I started in 2012 has held a First Day Hike annually since it's inception. This year is no exception, on January 1st I will be leading a First Day Hike with the South Mississippi Family Nature Club along the Black Creek Hiking Trail.
First Day Hike – Friday, January 1st, 2016 – 11:00 am to 2:00 pm
Hosted by the Waukesha/Milwaukee County Chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance
Get outdoors and begin the New Year with a hike at Lapham Peak. First Day hikes take place throughout the nation. Be part of this celebration of the country’s parks and trails. This moderate level family friendly hike will be about 3 to 4 miles in length. Dress for the weather. Bring snowshoes and hiking poles if you wish. Park fees will be waived for the day. The hike will begin from the Hausmann Nature Center parking lot. Warm up with hot beverages and snacks at the Center afterwards.
Are you planning on hiking on the 1st day of the year? Comment below and let us know where you are hiking.
Keep Hiking Forward!
The review of the Keen Chandler CNX is a fruit of cooperation with SoleLabz.com, website reviewing top rated hiking shoes, boots and sandals.
Keen - the company
Keen company started out firmly set on developing a hiking sandal that also offers toe protection. Their signature toe-covering black thick bumper was thus born. This happened in 2003, and they’ve been growing ever since by not just making some of the best hiking sandals out there, but by broadening the scope of high-quality footwear they manufacture.
In 2003, they were named “Launch of the Year” by Footwear News making them the new hot brand. In 2006, they relocated their headquarters to Portland, Oregon and got Kirk Richardson joining them after a 27-year career in Nike’s management. Salomon’s ex CEO James Curleigh joined them in 2008, and big names and achievements just became too hard to keep track of ever since.
Let’s take a look at what Keen says about Chandler CNX
The upper of the CNX is synthetic mixed with breathable mesh, ensuring light weight and optimal performance.
Toes are protected at all times by sturdy rubber rand. The model offers plenty of flexibility, and it locks the foot inside thanks to the secure lacing capture system. Collar and tongue are well-padded for extra cushioning. They also feature pull-out loops for easier on/off.
A contoured arch provides your little ones with superior mid-foot support. Outsoles are non-marking with multi-directional lugs, giving superior traction and making the shoe more durable.
- Breathable mesh lining
- Contoured arch for added midfoot support
- Lightweight performance mesh and synthetic upper
- Multi directional lug pattern for increased traction
- Non-marking rubber outsole
- Reverse strobel construction provides streamlined interior
- Secure fit lace capture system
Mine and Grace's initial thoughts
This is the first review in which we will be utilizing our new Hiking Forward Review system. The system is based on a five star review measurement, however we just use hiking boots instead of stars.
Grace has been wearing the shoes for a couple of weeks. We will continue to update our thoughts as she engages in multiple activities in them and time generally passes. We were both excited to find out that there are some hiking related shoes out on the market for Grace. At her age and size there is a limited supply of quality footwear for outdoor activities that is above and beyond normal sports. Keen to the rescue. Both Grace and I are quite familiar with Keen and their product line as all of us in the family can be found from April through October in Keens.
Keen is a company we already know and trust, so giving these shoes a try was not a hard sell for either Grace of I. Immediately you can tell from the material and stitching that the shoes are very well made and so far have no signs of wear that have caused defects in the manufacturing of the shoes. Grace is extremely hard on her sneakers. Her sneakers typically are worn out from the punishment she provides versus the soles giving out. While it have only been a few short weeks of Grace trying these shoes I doubt that the quality will diminish over time. Our initial quality rating is:
Without hesitation the first words out of Grace's mouth upon getting the shoes on was about how comfortable they were. She even mentioned this after our first initial hike in the shoes, when typically on the same route in other shoes she complains of her feet hurting. This along his a huge success in my book. Nothing will end an afternoon family jaunt in the woods then one the kids complaining about feet problems because they don't have the proper footwear, This is not their fault or yours. The availability of proper footwear for non-sport related is extremely sparse. The mesh top of the shoe allows for extreme breath-ability which enhances the comfort of the user in warmer temps. The traditional non-tie laces allow for easy on and easy off instead of having to take the time to tie up or untie when done with your adventuring. Our initial comfort rating is:
While it is hard to test true durability after only a few weeks of testing, we know that the shoes are well made and are a quality shoe. Our history and general awareness of Keen and their other footwear products that we have worn for years have lasted well longer then they should have. We both would be extremely amazed if durability of the shoe would be an issue. The protected Keen toe-box is a great feature of all Keen shoes but as a Dad, this is a great feature for the kids who tend to not look down when hiking.
Because of our initial experience with this shoe we believe it to be an immense value for parents of an outdoor minded child looking for proper footwear for hiking, camping or non-sport related outdoor activities. Our initial durability rating is:
Stay tuned as Grace continues to put these Keen Chandler CNX's to the test.
Keep Hiking Forward!
Scott & Grace
Gun or No Gun, In The Backcountry?
For years within the backpacking community there has been debate about carrying a firearm on the trail. I myself have struggled with an internal debate both for & against the practice. In all my years in the backcountry, I have never had a run in with an animal (even the two legged kind) that required even a moments consideration to act with deadly force. I make the decision not to carry a weapon, long gun or concealed handgun, knowing that things can easily go sideways. It is a personal choice and I will likely continue hiking and backpacking without a firearm.
Having said that, I completely understand why one would carry a weapon in the woods. Far from help, predators of all types, ne’er do wells taking advantage of isolated areas for various illegal ventures all come into play. Geography plays a part too. If I was hiking the hills of Patagonia, Arizona, a stone’s throw from the US/Mexico border, I would absolutely sling my carbine. My intent of this blog is to just bring some considerations up if are considering bringing a firearm into the backcountry.
Assuming you are an existing gun owner or are going to make a purchase to arm yourself, I advocate doing the research on all federal, state and local laws. Educate yourself on the rules of law regarding not only ownership and carry, but use of the firearm in a confrontation. What you are committing yourself to is a responsibility that can far exceed anything you’ve taken on in your life to date. Ensure you understand how your travel plans to / from the backcountry will impact your decision to carry and know the rules in all parks you may be going into / out of during your trip. Since 2010, firearms rules have been significantly relaxed in National Parks, but there are still expectations on your conduct in the park. Ignorance is not a defense.
Safety goes without saying. You need to be able to safely manipulate the firearm regardless of being wet, dirty, tired and scared. Please don’t think for a moment plinking on the range with a .22 while following the four firearms safety rules makes you ready to carry a weapon in the backcountry. Assuming you have purchased a reliable, appropriate firearm for your need (I am not getting into type/caliber etc that is too expansive a topic for this blog) seeking out professional training is critical to make you “responsible” in responsible, armed citizen.
Learning how to operate your weapon safely under a level of duress (shot timer, peer pressure) in a class is a terrific start. Understanding both the weapon and your limits and true capabilities will also be a likely result by training’s end. Once training is received, practice in a safe, reasonable manner with the weapon you will protect yourself with and DO NOT watch Instagram “gunfighters” performing derring do. Brilliance in the basics and consistency is the secret to good firearms practice.
As backpackers, we love gear and firearms open you up to a host of gear needs for practice (hearing/eye protection, range bags, optics) and carry considerations. At the end of this article, I will provide a list of gear companies I believe are strong in design, quality and reputation for rifle and pistol use.
One thing I will discuss because it goes to employment is holster selection and method of carry. A rifle sling on a long gun is a given. From a simple adjustable carrying strap to a tactical two point, the sling on a rifle is akin to the holster for a handgun; absolute must for carry, practicality and as an aid in marksmanship. As for a holster, I am not a proponent of open carry at all. I understand the virtue of getting to your weapon in a “time is life” scenario, but you need to accept the fact that a gun draws attention and you do not want unwelcome attention when you are dealing with strangers in the backcountry. No reason to show what you are carrying to someone you don’t know. Also when you are carrying a firearm, any altercation you may find yourself in is NOW a “gunfight.”
Do not advertise that you have a gun and understand how to retain that weapon (again, go train) in a fight. Select a holster that is easily concealable and has a decent level of retention, but works with a backpack’s hip belt and will remain tight to your body to allow not only concealment, but comfort in hiking/movement. It is your choice for “inside the waist band” or “Appendix carry,” but I would advocate a strong side, hip holster or even a chest/fanny type rig like Hill People Gear sell. After your selection of carry method, ensure you practice with your choice both with a pack on and without. And always carry a small light with you to identify targets and background. Shooting a firearm is 100% visual.
The content above is simply a primer; a start to a longer conversation. Carrying on the trail, as in life, offers a host of complex considerations that should not be taken lightly. Understand the law, act in a safe, responsible manner and train like your life and the lives of your loved ones depend on it. Do your research, think about it and practice.
Gear List (recommendation based on experience with the company):
● Range Gear:
○ Ares, Jones, Milt Sparks, Safariland Concealment/Soft Clothes
○ AWS, Ronin Tactics Duty/Military Style
○ Raven Concealment, Off the Grid, Safariland, GCode Kydex
○ Milt Sparks, Greg Kramer, Mitch Rosen Leather
○ Hill People Gear chest rig (haven’t tried this myself, but it’s on the list)
As with any gear “Buy cheap, buy twice”
Do you carry a weapon when hiking or backpacking? We'd love to know why or why not.
Drop us a comment!
See you on the trail and be safe.
Keep Hiking Forward!
Mike & Melanie!
An Intimate Sense of Place
This was my very first blog post back in June of 2013. I was visiting North Carolina for a 2 week long training in the mountains outside North Carolina and the first weekend I was there I stayed with a friend in Asheville. Spending 2 weeks in the NC mountains left quite an impression on me. There was one experience in particular that changed the way that I view the world when I travel and you are about to read it. Even though this is an older post I wanted to share it because it will help to communicate how I relate to nature and the great outdoors!
I started out jogging. I left my friend’s house in Asheville, NC with only my cell phone. He had given me verbal directions to the local trail head for the Carolina Mountains to Sea trail that ran very near his home. I started my journey down the driveway and turned left. As I passed house after house I looked for familiar plants in the front yards. I recognized some, some I didn’t. I continued on my way. While crossing a bridge that spanned interstate 40 on the south side of Asheville I looked to my right and was stopped in my tracks.
If I was previously unaware (and to a very small degree I was) at that moment I realized that I was no longer in Mississippi or that type of landscape so familiar to me in Mississippi. To my right and left I could see mountain tops; lush, green and teeming with life. To the east the sun was just beginning to peak over the mountain’s horizon and shone bright orange against the heavy gray clouds looming overhead. Having my own small but far from insignificant spiritual experience, I wanted to exist in this moment forever, but I knew that there were more wonderful surprises waiting for me on my trek. I gathered my thoughts and continued on my way.
I found East Porter Rd. turned left; proceeded down the hill towards the much anticipated trail head that was my destination. Along the way I fought the urge to stop and admire a group of Tritoma or red hot pokers. These are some of my favorite flowers that I previously had never seen in person. I have planted seeds on several occasions but to no avail as I have never been successful at getting them to grow in MS. I pushed on.
At last I reached the trail head. I hesitated a bit contemplating the richness of the moment. I was about to set foot on the North Carolina Mountains to Sea trail; following in the footsteps of countless other Americans. In this way I was about to share this experience with thousands of total strangers even though I was completely alone. The forest seemed so calm and serene. It beckoned me to explore all the natural awe and splendor that was contained within its borders. I felt as though I was being extended an invitation into the forest.
The very first thing that greeted me when I stepped into the forest was a small group of dainty red flowers. Their petals seemed to wave at me as they swayed in the breeze. I now know this flower to be fire pink. I didn’t stop jogging and pushed on. Every few steps I wanted to stop jogging to admire this alien but somehow strangely familiar forest. I had planned to continue and finish my run unimpeded but Mother Nature had other plans. After jogging on the trail for about 10-15 minutes I decided to head back.
The moment that I turned around I came face to face with an extremely familiar sight. Right before my eyes was a single flame azalea in bloom. I’d seen these back home in MS. It was not the largest or most ostentatious specimen that I’d ever encountered but for some reason on that morning it completely grabbed my attention and refused to let go. I realized that I had run right past it just a few seconds before without even noticing. Seeing this plant in full bloom I realized how/why it got its name. The yellowish orange flowers stick out like a sore thumb in the vast sea of greens and browns in the forest just as a flame would. I thought about what other sights I missed because I was so focused on running. I decided to slowly walk the way back to the trail head.
I began to realize all the details of the forest that I had missed while jogging. While jogging I noticed groups of plants and on occasion individual plants and the colors associated with them. While walking I noticed the leaves on the plants, the shapes of the leaves and how they swayed in the breeze.
I thought to myself that I might still be missing something so I decided to stop walking and sit in one place for a while. I found a large log, made myself comfortable and sat there. I made a conscious effort to clear my mind and just exist, there in that moment.
Being sedentary I could see small insects scurrying around on the ground. I touched and manipulated the leaves of the plants nearby. I inspected the veination of the leaves, noticing the different patterns of the different plants. I noticed how the ground along the trail differed from the ground just inches away off the trail. Off the trail the ground was covered with detritus and leaf litter. I could find several bugs just by disturbing a small area of ground.
As I sat quietly the birds began to flit about nearby. The only birds that I could identify were Eastern Towhee. There were several of these nearby along with countless that I saw and heard; birds that I’d never seen before. I did not have my binoculars so I couldn’t get a good look in an effort to identify them. I slowly realized that in order to truly know a place you can’t have just traveled through, you have to stop and “visit” for a while. I can truly say that I have an intimate knowledge of that section of North Carolina’s Mountains to Sea trail right there near “my” log. From this moment forward I intend to obtain “an intimate sense of place” where ever my travels may lead me to. I already long to return to the North Carolina mountains and to “my” log.
Recently, I have had the opportunity to attend a couple group camping trips. You all know as you do, that I love being outdoors, the deeper in the woods the better. But, recently I have found myself wondering about large group versus small group campouts and car camping versus car camping with a slimmed down amount of gear. The question is, does the gear do more then weigh us down? Is there an emotional tie one way or the other? Some people may need more comforts from home while others truly need the sense that they are not at home an need less creature comforts to feel comfortable while in the woods.
This is clear as mud, right? Good… lets carry on.
When I typically car camp… George (that’s my Jeep) is usually packed to the gills with gear. I have a lot of gear. Yes Scott… so do I, you’re proabably saying. No seriously, I have a lot of gear and I usualy bring extra’s of things for others who forget something or something breaks, “No worries I got one!”. I’m THAT GUY.
Plus in addition to being that guy, I am always bringing new gear to try, put through it’s paces and review. This is on top of the normal gear one needs on a camping trip with fifteen of your closest buds from you local hiking group. Lately, I got the feeling that with so much stuff I was constantly touching something, looking for something, wondering where I put something etc. This truly started to drive me almost insane. I was relishing in the ability to be backpacking instead of car camping where every ten minutes I was looking inside George for something, a knife, my headlamp, more beer, rope, more beer etc.
Having lots of stuff gave me almost more options to be doing something with something all the time. Being in the woods for me means doing nothing but being able to relish in the woods and soak it in. So, is the gear getting in the way? My mates would say hell no! As we collectively scarfed on 16 pounds of smoked ham that I smoked on one of these recent campouts. Damm that was good stuff. Yes, I brought my smoker car camping. I wouldn’t do it if the stuff I smoked didn’t taste soooo damn good.
I won’t say that I didn’t enjoy myself on this particular campout, but I will honestly say that these thoughts came into my mind which led to this post. Camping is not about the gear. It’s about nature, escaping, friends and or family and reconnecting with yourself. No matter what gets in the way of that goal, in my opinion needs to re-evaluated if it hampers your ability to feel how you want to feel when you’re outside.
I paused on writing this post right after this particular trip because I wanted to see how I would do with a new thoughtout perspective on an upcoming one night trip. So, a few weeks ago I did attended a simple one night trip. While the weather was less then favorable, I did have a good time. While I downsized the “stuff” (for lack of a better term) I still don’t feel that given the time I was camping the gear met the trip.
Awareness of the somewhat emotional weight of gear and how it can impact me and my camping experience was now more present in mind as I gathered my gear and prepared for my night away. On this particular trip I hammocked versus tented. However, on this trip I still fell into some but not all of my habits that caused some internal strife once I arrived. I hate messing with gear or searching for things versus enjoying the moment. While I admit I did less searching and messing, that may have to do with the weather conditions and the time of the trip versus the previous three night four day excursion.
In addition to gear weight and how it impacts your trip, the other element that can have a positive or potentially negative impact on your camping experience is the number of people in your group. Small groups, who are like minded, are safer bets, especially if you are familiar and have similar skill levels. The larger the group the odds grow of potential differences in personalities, experience, skill and knowledge level. While most of the time these differences are subtle they have virtually little or no impact on you or your camping experience.
So in closing, maybe you don’t resonate with these issues but if you do, be aware of how group dynamics and gear impact you before you head out. Having an understanding of these things will ensure that you can fully enjoy each and every outdoor experience.
Keep Hiking Forward!
This winter Tyke Hike was anything but winter-like. With temperatures approaching forty degrees, there was no chance of the wintry walk as advertised in the promotional materials. Still, nearly forty hikers enjoyed a walk through the paved Homestead Hollow path at beautiful Lapham Peak State Park.
We all trekked the trail and discussed the power of glaciers, "found" the future of the forest, and searched for active animals, especially at the peaks of the pine trees. With every hike, we try to provide some off-trail exploration to get the hikers in nature, not just around it.
In our explorations, it was wonderful to see the curiosity and intrigue of the children. From finding frost-covered leaves to investigating under logs, each twist and turn along the trail offers a new learning point and a new way to fall in love with nature.
When we talked about how wood decomposes and helps turn into rich soil, a few children found some fallen, rotting limbs and offered up their karate chop services to hasten the process. When searching through the blanket of leaves, one child found a stick covered with moss and lichens. After peeling off the moss, he politely asked his mother, "Can you please hold my moss?" You knew never know what you will see or hear in the forest.
Keep Hiking Forward!
You have spent all summer and fall tooling around in your family adventure mobile. I bet you have put tons of miles on your vehicle out camping, hiking, climbing, shopping for gear and paddling. Now for most of us in the United States as we begin to transition from warm and cool temps to cold temps and slushy roads its important to take a moment to stop and ensure our adventure mobile is ready, willing and able to get us to grandmothers house this holiday season for pumpkin pie (mmm pumpkin pie!) and holiday cheer.
Typically we don' think to much in general of these things, we just grab the pack and go, right? But, now that winter is soon to be upon most of us, it is now more important then ever to make sure your vehicle is in tip top form and ready to get you to and from your destination in one piece. Because, who likes eating holiday dinner in the breakdown lane?
This past Thanksgiving we traveled to my wife's families home in the St. Louis suburbs. While only a state away some simple travel preparations are always put into place when we know we are traveling far and will be traveling home late at night. My general rule of them time of year is maintaining the proper survival gear in "George" (my jeep) - read more about George here.
While I know that we will never be far from people, help or general assistance, I don't have what you would classify as "survival" gear in the jeep, but more classified as comfort gear.
Comfort Gear Items:
Snacks and Food
First Aid Kit
Battery Charger for Cell Phones
Cords for phones and other devices
Extra Cold weather gear
Keep Your Adventure Mobile Properly Serviced
Before a trip of any distance especially one as special as a holiday gathering it is important to have your adventure mobile either fully serviced or just have the fluids checked along with the air in your tires adjusted or corrected. Changing weather can sometimes catch us all off guard during the holiday season and not having the proper or adequate fluid levels or proper tire pressure could cause problems on the roadway. Visiting your neighborhood Jiffy Lube is great way to keep your adventure mobile in shape for the long road ahead. They are committed to helping you leave worry behind this holiday season during your travels.
With two young girls its always important to ensure they are happy on the way to the holiday event as well as on the way home. Make sure you have their favorite activities packed, charged and backup charging or plug in capabilities for the long haul. For us. knowing we would be having a late night those sleeping bags I mentioned earlier always home in handy to snuggle with along with the addition of their favorite pillow and stuffed friends. I will admit the backseat of a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited is not the most cozy or plush place to sleep or relax, so think of the kids and how your vehicle rides before getting in it for hours on end.
Keep the Snacks and Drinks Close at Hand
Another great tip is to pack a small cooler. It never fails, you get five minutes down the road and somebody is thirty or wanting a snack. Well, prepare for it and have a better ride. Plus, by having the small to moderate sized cooler will allow you to take home leftovers! You know you having be trying to figure out how to bring home one of Aunt Ruth's famous Chocolate pies. Now you have someplace to safely transport it home!
These tips are obviously not just for the trip to grandma's house this holiday season or for the trip to great uncle Carl's annual New Year's Day Celebration in Chicken Falls, Minnesota. These tips are tips we have picked up along they way during our multiple day and multi-day cross country journeys to see family and visit national parks.
Holiday Travel Tips from our friends at
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