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Gear: Backpacking Essentials

When backpacking, weight is the name of the game. You want to bring all the gear you need to be safe and happy, but not so much as to burden yourself on the trail.And even if you can carry more, you shouldn’t always do so. Creature comforts like a book or music? Your call. But the below list of nine must-haves should serve to form the perfect base kit for your summer backpacking adventures.

Navigation

Either a traditional topo map and compass or handheld GPS with your route and waypoints pre-loaded. A trail map with your route on it is also good to have, when you can get it.

Pack

BackpackingGearPACK

Whether backpacking for two days or seven, you need a large-capacity pack to accommodate all the essentials. A pack with at least 50 liters of storage should do. Look for a pack with a padded hipbelt and suspension system to make carrying heavier loads more comfortable, and some styles employ mesh backs to elevate the pack off your back to help keep things cool. Water-resistant shell fabric and an integrated rain fly protect your gear dry in wet climates. A few pockets keep you organized, but you don’t want so many bells and whistles that it weighs down the pack.

Sleeping Bag

You need a bag that is rated for the lowest temperature you will see on your entire trip. Down is usually lighter and more packable than synthetic, but synthetic will keep you warm even if it gets wet. Also go for models that include compression sacks to make it easier to fit among the rest of your kit.

Pad

Generally a weight-versus-comfort battle, there are now some really light inflatable camping pads on the market that will have you sleeping soundly each night. Be sure to bring the included repair kit in case of puncture. The last thing you want is to be without your pad on that prime rocky summit site.

Shelter

BackpackingGearSHELTER

Depending on your school of thought, you need a tent, simple tarp, or hammock. But most beginning backpackers should consider going for a good, two-person tent. Look for a three-season model (good for spring, summer, and fall) with plenty of venting options and detachable rain fly to give you the most flexibility throughout the year. Dual entry/dual vestibule comes in handy for sharing a tent, so you don’t have to climb over each other for that midnight call of duty. Make sure to split the tent parts between your party to cut down on backpack load. And, as we mentioned above, weight is the name of the game here. Go for ones that weigh between four and six pounds.

Stove

If you are going the dehydrated meal route, you really only need a stove that can quickly boil water. Otherwise, consider a stove with different pot attachments in order to cook up a variety of meals. Once again, kitchen supplies are easily split up between the group.

Water Filter System

Even in remote Alaska, the water contains nasty bugs. Filtration options range from the simple Vitamin I or iodine tablets you pop into your water bottle to boiling water and gravity-assisted filtration reservoirs that can purify up to four liters of water in just a few minutes. The last option may be the heaviest of the bunch, but the water will taste better than if you use iodine or bleach, and it’s more versatile when you need to filter water mid-hike.

Fly line management is critical. Conway Bowman shows us how a simple washtub can keep you from missing the big catch.

Travel: The Dead Sea, Jordan

The Dead Sea | Jordan

The Dead Sea sits on the central-western border of Jordan, more than 1,250 feet below sea level.

Considering the wealth of outdoor activities throughout Jordan—rock climbing, hiking, scuba diving, canyoneering—it seems fitting that the country also boasts one of the most decidedly curative locales on the planet. This salt-dense water has attracted visitors for centuries, but today’s Dead Sea is far more modern than when it became one of the world’s first health resorts for Herod the Great.

Here, Western and Middle Eastern cultures intermingle. Contemporary bathing suits are as common as burkas, and the coast is lined with a variety of high-end spa/resorts like the expansive Marriot Jordan Valley Dead Sea Hotel, which boasts a variety of restaurants, a massive spa, and a series of terraced pools that lead to the famed coastline.

The heavily salinized water here is the prime draw, long reputed to have curative elements.  Most hotels offer easy access to the coast, where you can ease yourself into the water and float, a truly singular experience. But expect it to be slightly unpleasant; the high concentration of salt will sting every minor scrape you might’ve acquired over the last few days, but bobbing in the slightly viscous water is both calming and slightly disorienting. Then smear yourself with mud, another famed ritual in the holistic process, and mug for a few photos.

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As there really isn’t a central town, you won’t find a market like you might find in other Jordanian cities. But the nearby landscape does offer a few cool canyoneering hikes like the Siq Trail at Wadi Mujib. And Jerusalem is less than 30 minutes away, glittering in the distance.

But in some ways the most inviting aspect of the Dead Sea is the otherworldliness of the region, the columns of white salt coating the rocky coastline and the muted, perpetual haze that dominates the horizon. Here, the sun doesn’t glitter off the water so much as look half-absorbed by it. Envision the muted colors of the French Impressionist rather than a photo-realistic rendering of some Caribbean beach resort.

To best appreciate this utterly ethereal landscape, retreat to the Dead Sea Panorama Restaurant for dinner. As its name indicates, the restaurant delivers staggering views of the undulating coastline and expansive horizon, especially at sunset.

Gear: …Or Lack Thereof

NOT Wearing Wearable Tech

Don’t get us wrong. Running without music—after decades of pacing out our steps to the beat of our favorite tunes— is almost impossible, just as training for the next race without the mountain of data recorded by your favorite smart electronic monitoring device would be practically impossible. We fully understand that the latest gadgets tell us if we need to get more sleep, eat more protein, or drink more water. They document every pedal and breaststroke to help us understand what we’re doing wrong, and what we can do to improve our performance. They’re HAL from 2001—only without the creeping sentience.

And yet…it all becomes a bit much. We don’t begrudge tracking your progress as you prime for that next marathon or filming your latest single-track exploit or an attempt at a first ascent. We love adventure porn as much as the rest of the known world.

But we also love heading out into the great beyond, and just listening to the world of the backcountry. No music, no silent streams of data flooding between your smart watch, smart phone, and your heart rate monitor. No imagined digital whirl of a camera capturing every second of every stride. Just the ambient soundtrack of nature: the crunch of leaves underfoot, the birdsongs, the wind through the fluttering leaves, even a distant sound of a jet plane or a chainsaw—which is just loud enough to punctuate how natural the other noises are, without disturbing its atmosphere.

Others may disagree—as the legion of YouTube action videos demonstrate, this is a GoPro world. Even author Walter Kern recently wrote an eloquent essay about how much he loves fireside Tweeting, how watching movies in nature enhances the experience.

But maybe such impulses shouldn’t always be automatic. Maybe on your next foray into the backcountry, be it a day hike or a multi-day trek, bike ride, or swim, you power down the apps, pull out the ear buds, and turn off the camera for a few hours. What you hear may surprise you. And you won’t have to sift through hours of point-of-view footage to find that part where the copperhead slithered across the trail.

Travel: Inn of the Lost Coast

Inn of the Lost Coast | Shelter Cove, California

California’s Lost Coast offers a glimpse into what Northern California has always looked like, a natural, wonderfully development-free area of the country that’s a far cry from the sky-scrapers of San Francisco. Unlike pretty much the rest of the entire West Coast, the steepness of the coastal mountains here makes this stretch of beachfront too costly for state highway or county road-builders to establish routes through the area, leaving it the most undeveloped and remote portion of the California coast.

Without any major roads, communities in the Lost Coast region remain secluded from the rest of the state—great news for outdoor lovers. Whether you are a sport fishing enthusiast in search of salmon or an avid hiker seeking peace and quiet, the Inn of the Lost Coast makes for the perfect place to find a bit of comfort amidst all that remote, wild beauty. Nestled on the cliffside in the small town of Shelter Cove, one of the only communities in the region, the inn boasts 18 oceanfront suites, where you wake to the sound of crashing waves and then sip morning coffee on your private balcony. Once you’re done enjoying one of the many outdoor activities in the surrounding Kings Range National Conservation Area (hiking, biking, fishing), return to your cliffside oasis to soak in the hot tub or fend off the chilling fog around the fire pit—all while enjoying a glass of California wine or craft beer as the sun drops into the Pacific.

How-To: Hiking With Kids

Hiking with kids? Start small, dream big.

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Taking a child on a walk is better than Disneyland. Every fallen log, meandering steam, or low-angled boulder is a mini-adventure—to say nothing of waterfalls and wildlife. You can usually go to your local Parks and Recreation Office for a map of trails in and around your hometown. Or start with the nearest local, state, or national park and chat with a ranger to find out their “classic” hike. From there, hopefully the activity will become a life-long pursuit for everyone involved.

1. Start small. What differentiates a hike from a walk? Not much—although a hike generally connotes self-supported travel on unpaved terrain. Pick a nearby park or forest and find a loop hike (meaning you don’t go up and back on the same trail.) Look for one that lasts about an hour to start, and try to find one that’s easy to access and also one that you hike often, like the small butte that rises just outside of the town of Bend, Oregon. It’s about half an hour up and about 20 minutes down (just over a mile round-trip). You can start by taking kids in a burly stroller, then hand-in-hand. Next thing you know, the little ones will be racing to the top, and as they grow older, they’ll likely develop a positive relationship with the trail.

2. Dream Big. Anticipation is half the fun. Use your local walks as training for THE BIG EVENT. Is it the summit of a peak you see from your porch every morning? Or the top of a local ski hill in the summer? Or maybe a summer road trip through one of our majestic national parks? The important thing is pick something fun, use the anticipation to inspire training and enthusiasm, and then give it a try.

3. Bring a light daypack for each person on the trip packed with fun snacks, tasty cold drinks, and favorite deserts. Don’t forget a packet of hand wipes for after lunch (or post mud castle construction).

4. Bring along a bird book and pair of binoculars. Or better yet, a camera. Or a few light kids’ storybooks. Who doesn’t like a story about an outdoor setting IN an outdoor setting. Little House on the Prairie anyone?

5. Use the hike as a lesson on how to read (or make) a map. Most smart phones have compasses—and apps that include an altimeter, but better yet, buy an inexpensive compass at your local outdoor shop.

6. Encourage your kids to wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes that won’t snag on bushes or limbs, and can get extremely dirty. One non-negotiable option is good footwear. Don’t scrimp when it comes to well-fitting walking shoes with rugged tread, a sticky rubber sole for traction, and supportive canvas or leather upper. Flip flops or gym sneakers will just cause foot problems and diminish your kid’s ability to climb, hike, and run.

7. Pack a small medicine kit. Sunblock and bug spray are a must. So are fun, colorful band-aids that take the sting out of a skinned knee.

8. Remember, the walk is about the kids and exploration. Gently pushing them beyond their comfort zone is a good thing, but sometimes quitting halfway to take advantage of a wildflower-covered field or sparkling swimming hole is the best way to engender enthusiasm.

Reel set up may seem simple, but it needs to be done right. Chad Hoover shows us how to dial your reel in for precision casting.

Good To Know: Poison Ivy

Myth: Poison ivy rash is contagious.

Fact: Although the poison ivy rash appears contagious, you cannot catch a rash from someone else, and you cannot spread a rash to other parts of your own body.

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Poison ivy is a member of the toxicodendron family of plants, which also includes poison oak and poison sumac. It typically grows as a vine or shrub east of the Rocky Mountains along trails, ponds, and lakes. Poison sumac grows in boggy areas in the southern United States, while poison oak grows as a bush or climbing vine in the western United States.

Urushiol—the oil found in poison ivy, oak, and sumac—causes the typical allergic reaction and resulting rash symptoms. Contact with urushiol can either be direct (read: touching the leaves themselves) or indirect (read: the oil gets on your clothes, bike, shoelaces, etc., and then you touch that object). Most rashes develop within eight to 48 hours after touching the oil, but can take as long as 15 days to form.

Although nasty, your poison ivy rash is not contagious. You can’t catch or spread the rash after it appears, even if you touch it or the blister fluid. Sometimes people believe that the rash is spreading because it appears over different parts of the body later on, but the rash only appears where urushiol has come in contact with the skin. So either the rash is still developing from earlier contact, or you have touched something that still has urushiol on it.

If you think you (or your dog!) has come into contact with poison ivy, oak, or sumac, be sure to wash the affected areas immediately, preferably with a product like Tecnu, which is designed to remove the oil. Wash your clothes and footwear as well. If you do end up with a rash, there’s not much you can do, apart from taking a couple of antihistamine pills and using calamine lotion to help relieve symptoms. Your doctor can also prescribe medications like a sequence of steroids—they don’t stop the itching entirely, but do make the experience slightly more comfortable.

With the apex of poison ivy and poison oak season upon us, your best bet is to avoid the plants all together. Download one of the smartphone apps like LeafSnap (which uses facial recognition software to ID a plant based on its leaves) to help you identify poisonous plants in the field. Or view photos online before you head out in order to know what to avoid on the trail.

And when making a camp fire, never—NEVER—burn the stuff. The only thing worse than getting poison ivy on your skin? Getting it in nasal passages.

Travel: Aqaba, Jordan

Standing on the Yasmena dive boat out of the port of Aqaba, Jordan, you can see the coasts of Jordan, Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.The Red Sea and surrounding landscape is beautiful from this vantage point, with the vast desert extending down to the ocean—and underneath the azure water it is even more magnificent. Yazan Alsaed, the Yasmena’s captain, has been a dive instructor for more than 20 years—he runs the dive and snorkel company Sea Guard, with three boats that operate year-round from the Aqaba port. The boat is immaculate—with first-rate snorkeling and scuba equipment, a top deck for sunning, and a kitchen that serves fresh tuna steaks and deliciously cold and frothy mint lemonade.

The coral reef here is vibrant and healthy. In order to protect the marine environment around Aqaba (including the Israeli town of Eilat, two miles along the coast), the Jordanian government established a marine park in 1997. The reef runs about 11 miles along the eastern arm of the Red Sea to Jordan’s border with Saudi Arabia and is so close to the shoreline that you can snorkel to it from one of the private or public beaches. But further out, the dive boat can deliver you to more than 20 world-class spots—including a sunken ship. The Cedar Pride, a 230-foot-long international cargo vessel, was sunk in 1985 to create a site for divers. It lies across two big coral reefs, so you can swim under the ship. The deepest point of the ship is 88.5 feet, but its highest point is only 30 feet under the surface, so you can see it even if just snorkeling.

More than 200 varieties of coral populate the reefs, in contrast to Hawaii’s more modest 45 species and Bermuda’s paltry 15. With an excess of 1,000 species of tropical fish, few crowds, and an exotic vibe straight out of Arabian Nights, Aqaba is a premier dive and windsurf spot that’s undiscovered by most Westerners.

But there’s more to this part of Jordan than the varied sea life.

The city of Aqaba is ancient, even by Middle East standards. It’s been inhabited since about 4,000 BC. The Nabateans, who carved the giant columns and granaries into the sandstone cliffs in Petra, called this coastal city home, and the Roman Tenth Legion was garrisoned here. In more modern times, it witnessed one of the most pivotal Middle East battles in World War I—the historic Battle of Aqaba.

Aqaba takes the guesswork out of what to wear when you’re visiting Jordan. While most people dress conservatively in the souk (market), the beachfront hotels and dive boats have a more cosmopolitan air—shorts, sleeveless tops, and even bikinis are nearly as prevalent as headscarves and traditional robes.

And Aqaba has arguably the best shopping in Jordan. It is a duty-free zone, so the prices are some of the best in the country. While there are modern boutiques, don’t miss the old souk, where you’ll find a kaleidoscope of shops, with souvenir stands, rug emporiums, and small cafes serving cardamom-spiced coffee and savory lamb kabobs. There are plenty of hotels and guest houses to choose from in Aqaba, where five star luxury properties like the Kempinski Aqaba Hotel or the InterContinental Aqaba  line the seashore. The latter has expansive, modern guest rooms as well as a first-class spa, a gorgeous outdoor pool, and 900 feet of private beach. You can eat and drink in one of the hotel’s several restaurants, or head into town to sit at a café with a cold beer and fruit-flavored hookah and revel in your good fortune.

Accurate casting is essential to snag the catch of the day.

George Poveromo demonstrates how you can cast like a pro!

Part of an ongoing weekly Tips and Tricks video segment.