You Should Read the Jan/Feb 2020 Issue of Backpacker Mag…

Because it is their best issue ever.

I’ve subscribed to Backpacker mag for  over 25 years.  I plan to ride my mountain bike and hike for another 2020 miles this calendar year, so I spend a good part of my time outdoors.  While I’m an experienced backpacker my interest in reading about and acquiring new gear and clothing has almost totally diminished, as well as my interest in reading about all the possible places in the world that I could go  backpacking.  Most months  I am done with the magazine in less than a half hour.

Then “The Long Trails Issue”  came into my mailbox.  Hmmmm.

“What up?”  I asked myself?

Maybe its the new Editorial Director, Shannon Davis?

After the initial pages of the usual highlights of dozen or more of places throughout where I’m not interested in hiking, I came to page 31- “Skill Set:  The Thru-Hikers Handbook”.   It contained “Food is Fuel” where personalized meal plans, and sketching out of resupply strategies was of interest and reeked of experienced input from two thru-hiking record holders: Heather (Anish) Anderson and Jennifer (Odessa) Pharr-Davis.

I was suspect of page 34’s 10 multiple choice questions that result in knowing   “How Fast Will You Make It to Kathdin?” as a continuous hike.  My first  thru-hike was the AT in 2007 for 5.5 months.  My score resulted in a “About 4 months”.  I am certain I would take me approximately 5 months to do it again, so the quiz came out pretty close.

Page 35 was chock full of useful information, including rest day strategies, US Post Office decorum, and a great graphic –  “A 25 -Mile-Day-By The Minute” schedule, which is basically to start walking at daybreak, try to make 12 miles by noon, and then keep going until just before dark. Its not a big secret plan.  It does get boring some days , so passion for the sport better not be your main reason for thru-hiking.

I absolutely loved page 44 Warmup, Bed Down.  The whole page is hand drawn and colored, including the print and large image of a mummy bag.

Page 44 Backpacker magazine

I  now carry a small sketch pad,  colored pencils, and set aside some time to notice details that one misses when a point and shoot camera captures a place of interest.  Here’s my last effort, from Maine’s Namahkanta Public Lands :

Since I’ve decided to carry a satellite communication device the side-by-side review of four of the more popular products in this class was of interest to me, and convinced me that I had made the right choice in choosing the Garmin Inreach, paying $12.55 a month to be able to text back and forth word wide as well as trigger a rescue.

On page 59 Barney (Scout) Mann’s historical feature about one of the earliest thru-hikers that most people have never heard of was a home run.   In 1924 Peter Parsons burdened himself with a 60 pound pack and in one hiking season thru-hiked what would eventually become the Pacific Crest Trail.  The black and white photos only elevate Mann’s richly embroidered story.

Six more hand-drawn pages featuring double-page spreads of the three Triple Crown Trails come next, along with selected spots on each map linking the reader to successful thru-hiker commentaries.


Kidnapped On The Trail by Bill Donahue, is the last feature, and is a convincing argument that cautions us to understand that all is not peace and love on these National Scenic Trails.  The very nature of the accepting, inclusive community that welcomes the diversity of hikers into the backpacking family is exactly the same reason why a small minority of criminals find backpackers to be easy pickings.  I’ve experienced these folks up close and personal at least twice on the AT: one serial wallet thief and another criminally convicted harasser who triggered a multi-person law enforcement lock down and search near the Kennebec River in Maine.  It was bad enough that the police convinced the female thru-hiker to abandon her almost completed thru-hike and head for home as fast as possible.

One last shout out to the design team on this issue.  I cringe at the lack of clarity that some magazines produce when they fail to tone down the background color and then insert a typeface with inadequate contrast.  I cancelled my subscription to  Bicycling magazine after they were repeat offenders at obscuring the readability of their text.

So, I’m hoping that Shannon Davis is able to extend her  Editorial Director home run  streak with more to come.

Kudos, Backpacker magazine!







How to pick a trail that’s great for snowshoeing



Today’s Bangor Daily News features an excellent column by Aislinn Sarnacki  about where to snowshoe in Maine.

Her first suggestion is the most important one- Can You Park At The Trailhead?

I do AT trail clearing on both Bigelow and Mt. Abram and both of those trailhead points are snowed in right now and will be into spring when the mud dries out.  Specific trail heads that are very popular in the summer and fall are only reached with additional snowshoeing mileage right now, some of it considerable.  Ask  somebody.  Alternatives are to check social media ( i.e. Maine Hiking on FB)  where these type of questions are posted and answered, although you definitely can’t be sure if specific information is current or accurate.  Allison is spot on that it is best  to contact a specific trail maintainer, and/or land trust or park ranger.

Navigation skills are essential, especially when snow depths obscure painted blazes and the hiker encounters unspoiled whiteness ahead.  Certain temp/wind/and snow conditions also coat blazes, making it impossible to view the trail.

GPS and phones fail due to weak batteries, a real problem with smart phones in the deep cold.  One additional point I’d add to Aislinn’s suggestions is to carry a old school compass in your day pack, which should be contain winter day hike  essentials.

I add my Garmin Explorer InReach + to my winter day hiking pack as well.  With the inReach’s satellite technology  and a satellite subscription ( $12/month) , I can send and receive messages, navigate my route, track and share my hike and, if necessary, trigger an SOS to get help from a 24/7 global emergency response coordination center via the 100% global Iridium satellite network.

Alison’s is 100% right on that one needs to know basic navigational skills in the winter.  I was engaged in a solo winter late afternoon hike a few years ago in Camden Hills State Park where I  was the first person to break a snow trail on the Sky Blue Trail off the Cameron Mtn. end.  We had a huge dump of snow and most of the blue blazes were obscured.  I was foolish and didn’t check the batteries in my headlamp before I left, and my phone’s light waned in the shorter winter light.  (Aislinn’s tip #8 applies here).  I couldn’t find the trail after getting 3/4 of the way out  in the dark.  Luckily the moon came out and I knew it came up in in the east.  I applied the navigational skill of handrailing, where one establishes an entry point into the wilderness on the map and memorizes features like roads, trails, highways, or rivers in each of the cardinal directions.  I ended up bushwhacking east, where I knew I would eventually reach the Multipurpose Trail that transects the State Park.  Once I reached that well traveled path, I followed it two miles back to the car.

So, good luck out there snowshoeing this season.  Hike prepared, hike smart, and do read Aislinn’s excellent tips for staying safe and enjoying yourself out there.

via How to pick a trail that’s great for snowshoeing — Act Out — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine