Hiking Gear Review: KUHL Transcendr Leggings

While you definitely don’t need any special gear to hike, having comfortable, high-performing clothing can make your hikes at least a little bit better.

And with that above disclaimer, I will say that I am fully immersed in ‘gear culture’. I (hopefully) am not a brat about it and keep my obsessions relatively subdued while my eyes constantly dart from person to person on the trail seeing what type of gear they have. And it truly doesn’t come from a place of judgment, I just really love to see what people use and wear.

Over the years, I’ve become either a shorts or leggings only hiker depending on the terrain or temperature. I’ve just found that if a hiking pant that isn’t sung to my belly/hips/thighs, I’m constantly adjusting or getting twisted up. So, it may come as no surprise to you that I have multiple pairs of hiking bottoms. In my hiking pants arsenal, you’ll find the KUHL Transcendr Legging, a clever combo of durable soft shell fabric on the front and back and knit stretch panels along the sides.

Here’s what I love about them:

  • DWR (durable water repellent) on the soft shell fabric resists light rain and spills
  • Envelope-style pocket that easily holds my iPhone 14
  • Breathable yet durable thanks to the combo of soft shell and stretch fabrics
  • UPF 50 sun protection
  • High-waisted
  • Looks pretty cute for hiking pants! (Totally unnecessary but appreciated!)

What I would improve:

  • Only comes in one inseam, which is pretty typical for leggings, but as a member of the long legs club, I wish these leggings were just a bit longer
  • I wish they were just a smidge higher waisted, but I love stuff to be sky high on my waist!
  • These only go up to XL, so sizing isn’t fully inclusive, especially as they tend to fit a bit small. I would love to see Kuhl carry a fully inclusive size range as none of their sizing goes above XL.

I took them for an inaugural overnight camping/backpacking trip a few weeks ago and they were very comfortable. I didn’t find myself having to constantly pull them up while hiking or moving around camp, which is always a plus for any kind of pants. I also was climbing up and over some rocks on the hike and they moved well and stood up to some light abrasion.

I feel like they are pretty true to their sizing chart on the site. I wear a medium (5’ 7”, 145 lbs, with a butt) which coincided with my waist and hip measurements of 29” and 40” respectively. If anything, I’d size up a bit from your ‘normal’ size because They don’t fit perfectly but, honestly, what pair of pants does, right ladies?! Like I mentioned above, it would be really great to see Kuhl extend their size ranges. Only going up to a size XL (16/18) is a huge bummer from such a large company. It’s really hard to fully support a product (even when they make great things!) when those great things can’t be worn and enjoyed by hikers and active people of all sizes.

Overall, these pants are a great choice for day hiking, backpacking and camping. I love the combo of durable and stretch and always appreciate a good phone pocket. If you’re searching for a solid hiking pant, put the Transcendr Legging on your list if you are in the XS-XL size range.

Approved by both Luna and I

Note: Kuhl Transcendr leggings provided free of charge for the purpose of this review.

How to Start Backpacking

AKA An Anxious Person’s Guide to Ease into Sleeping in the Backcountry 🙃

Putting everything you need to survive for a few days in the woods can feel pretty daunting, especially if you’ve never done it. It can feel like an all or nothing endeavor.

The inspiration for putting all these words down on this page is for all my anxiety-suffering pals out there. Jumping into something like backpacking can be absolutely debilitating to think about (so many things to plan, think about and could potentially ‘go wrong’), even if hiking and camping are things you enjoy. For me, taking out as many unknowns as possible helps my anxious brain regulate. So, taking things step by step and introducing new things in smaller chunks is so helpful.

So, how do you prepare? How do you start your backpacking journey? While some just go for it, there’s a few things you can do to ease yourself into it and hopefully help in easing the transition from ‘regular’ camping or hiking.

  1. Gather Your Gear

First (and this probably goes without saying), you need to collect your gear. While hiking has a low cost barrier to entry, you obviously need some gear to venture into the backcountry and stay the night. Here’s a general list of what I take backpacking. There’s tons of different types of gear, but the most important thing to keep in mind is getting a backpack that will comfortable carry the weight of your gear. When I first started, I would just collect whatever gear I could that was inexpensive or on sale. I didn’t have a huge budget and I slowly collected all the gear I needed. My gear was much heavier than it is now, but I had a backpack that could comfortable carry the higher weight. Don’t feel like you have to strive for the super ultralight right from the beginning. Even now, my gear is lighter, but I’m not an super ultra-lighter. Also, make sure you know how to pack a backpack so that weight is distributed evenly. (Basically, you want the heaviest stuff near the middle of your back.)

Backpacking Checklist

  • Backpack
  • Backpack cover or liner (in case it rains)
  • Trekking poles
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping bag liner (colder months)
  • Sleeping pad
  • Inflatable pillow
  • Tent
    • Footprint
    • Tent body
    • Poles
    • Tent stakes
  • Stove + pot
  • Lighter
  • Fuel canister 
  • Lightweight Mug (for coffee)
  • Long handled spork (or any spoon/spork for eating)
  • Waterproof roll top food bag
    • With food obviously!
  • Water bottles or water bladder (I usually carry 2 1L bottles)
  • Water filter + dirty water bottle/bag (I use Katadyn BeFree + 2L Hydrapack bag)
  • First Aid Kit
  • Toilet Kit
    • Kula Cloth
    • Trowel
    • TP
    • Hand sanitizer or soap
  • Toiletry Kit
    • UL toothbrush
    • Toothpaste tabs
    • Sunscreen
    • Chapstick
    • Body Glide
  • Paracord + carabiner for bear hangs (or bear canister)
  • Pocket knife or multi tool
  • Headlamp
  • Battery bank + charging cord
  • Headphones
  • One change of clothes for sleeping (not necessary for short trips, but it is nice to have “clean” clothes to sleep in!)
  • Extra socks
  • Raincoat
  • Hat (usually both a brimmed one and a beanie in the cold)
  • Gloves (cold weather only)
  • Lightweight fleece (almost always unless it’s dead of summer. Mornings can be chilly)
  • Puffy coat (I’ll bring if temps will dip to 40-ish degrees or below)
  • Bandana or small camp towel (like PackTowel)
  • Camp shoes like crocs or lightweight sandals (not necessary but nice to give your feet a break)
  • Map (either paper or saved on phone somewhere)

2. Practice at Home

Now that you have your gear, make sure you know how to use it. In your living room or yard, make sure you know how to set up your tent. Put your entire sleep system (sleeping pad, sleeping bag, pillow, etc.) inside. Pack your backpack up, then unpack and ‘set up camp’, then re-pack everything again.

Make sure you know how to use your stove and water filter. Practice filtering water (even if it’s just from your tap!). Go outside and set up your stove. (Not a great idea to ever use a stove inside.) Light it and boil some water.

If you aren’t relatively comfortable with your gear at home, you don’t set yourself up well to use it in the backcountry.

3. Take a ‘Faux’ Backpacking Trip

Once you’re familiar with your gear at home, it’s time to take it outside. Find a walk-in camp site (or drive-up site, but I like the walk in because it feels a little more like backpacking). Savage Gulf State Park has a few great walk-in sites (or sites within a couple tenths of a mile from the parking lot) that are perfect for this type of trip. Being close to your car lets you easily bail if you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed. Bonus points if you’ve camped at the spot before. Removing as many ‘new’ things as possible always helps me feel a bit less anxious or stressed.

Then, the next day, pack up your stuff and do some day hiking, but with your pack. Because, wouldn’t you know, hiking with 25+lbs on your back feels different than a 5lb daypack. (This is where trekking poles come in extra handy. I never backpack without them!) With more weight, comes more stress on your joints and bones and also my body just moves a little differently when I have a pack on. (Aka I fall a lot more because the weight pulls me down…)

4. Backpack a trail you’ve already hiked

Now’s the time to put it all together and camp in the backcountry. I always suggest doing a trail that you’ve already hiked so you know what to expect: in terrain, difficulty, water sources, etc. Again, removing as much ‘new’ as possible makes it feel a little less daunting.

Also, one thing that helps me feel more at ease is knowing where the water sources are, which you’ll have a better idea of if you’ve already hiked the hike. You can also always call park rangers or park headquarters to ask about trail conditions and water sources. Sometimes, water sources are seasonal, too!

To start off, I’d suggest a 10-12 mile overnight hike, whether that’s an out and back or a loop. Here are some of hikes in Tennessee that would also make great overnight trips. But, really any hike that you’re familiar with is a great choice.

  • Virgin Falls
    • Multiple sites along the trail depending on how you want to split up the hike (Reservation needed)
  • Stone Door + Big Creek Rim + Laurel Trails (or Big Creek Gulf for more of a challenge) in Savage Gulf
  • Montgomery Bell Loop Trail
    • Camping only in backcountry shelters (no tents) so this would be a little bit of a different feel (Call to reserve; info here)
  • Walls of Jericho
    • Site near Hurricane Creek/Clark Cemetary (Free; First come, first serve)
  • North and South Old Mac Trails at Frozen Head State Park (Or any combo of trails leading to Tub Spring)

5. Backpack a new trail and/or take a multi-day trip

You did your first trip! How did you feel? Ready to tackle something new?Maybe you’ve decided backpacking isn’t for you (totally ok!!), but if you’ve been bitten by the backing bug, now’s your chance to take another step into the unknown. Backpack a bit more challenging trail, or a new trail or try a longer trip (2 or 3 nights). The possibilities are endless.

I’m not saying this is the only way to get into backpacking or you definitely should do all of these steps. Some may find moving this slowly is ridiculous, while others may have to take it even slower. My best advice is to listen to your body, but also, to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Do something that scares you a little. Even when I feel my anxiety is becoming crippling, once I actually get out on the trail, some of it usually subsides.

Going with a trusted friend or on a group trip — TN State Parks usually host some backpacking trips throughout the year. There’s also many hiking groups that do overnight trips — can also be a great starting point. (And if you don’t have any gear, some programs will rent you gear.)

I can’t really explain fully why I love strapping on backpack with all I need to survive for a few days and trudging through the woods and I think that’s why I love it so much. It both frees my mind and scared me a little bit. And I think all the best things do.

Minimal UL Toiletry Kit for Backpacking

Going fully UL (ultralight) with all of your gear is often very expensive and exclusionary for many people. I wanted to share an inexpensive and easy way to shave some ounces and space in your backpacking setup: a tiny UL Toiletry Kit! (And unintentionally all one boring white color 🙃)

1️⃣ Garage Grown Gear UL Toothbrush
2️⃣ Huppy Toothpaste Tablets in .2oz Hinged Container
3️⃣ Sunbum Sunscreen in .33oz Dropper Bottle
4️⃣ Colorado Aromatics Body Powder in .1oz Dropper Bottle

Put it all in the tiniest bag sack you can find! I like to keep all this stuff together not only for convenience, but also so I can easily throw in my bear bag with my food. Remember to always hang or stow in a bear-safe container any products that have any type of scent!

Total weight: 34 g (1.2 oz)
Total cuteness: ♾


  • The UL toothbrush is super tiny and great, but it’s typical lifespan is about 7 days. So don’t expect to have this forever. But at 99 cents (or $2.99 for a 5-pack), I think it’s worth it.
  • These toothpaste tabs are great! They are virtually weightless compared to a mini toothpaste tube. Just stick one in your mouth and chew a couple times to make a paste, then brush away. It does take a bit to get used to because it doesn’t taste as strong as ‘regular’ toothpaste. But, I’ll never go back! (I actually use them exclusively at home too and I refill them at a local shop, so it’s zero waste for me.)
  • I love Sunbum sunscreen. It’s a relatively ‘natural;’ sunscreen that’s reef-safe and it works so well. Also, this combos as my face moisturizer too.I’m not going to bring separate skin care while I’m backpacking, but it is nice to have something that gives my skin a little love.
  • This verrrry mini bottle has deodorizing body in it and it’s my newest addition to this kit. I typically don’t bring a stick of deodorant on trail because you are going to smell and it’s just not worth the weight (and possible meatiness factor). This powder is great because it’s very light and I can pat it on areas that get sweaty or smelly. It helps absorb some moisture and also combats the funk a little bit.

Why Should I Research a Hike?

It’s so surprising to me how many people hike a trail they know nothing about. They just hear, “Oh, Fiery Gizzard is a great trail!” and they set out on a long and technically difficult trail with only a 12 oz water bottle and sandals. Without discouraging people from getting outdoors, I want to provide a better solution to unpreparedness or, perhaps, even a bit of ignorance.

Being unprepared feels terrifying, especially when you are out in nature, potentially without cell phone service. Even if I’ve done a hike multiple times thoughts like “Am I going the wrong way?” or “Did I lose the trail?” will go through my head and a bit of panic sets in. (Perhaps some of that is attributed to my ongoing anxiety issues…) But, then I’ll remember I saved an offline map, I have my GPS app going or I have an actual physical map and I immediately feel more at ease.

It’s pretty simple to calm these anxious thoughts by researching the hike before you go. It greatly decreases the chances of you getting lost or being unprepared (not enough food, water, etc.) when you are hiking. Also, it takes like 5-10 minutes total, so there’s really no excuse not to.

By researching a hike, you can discover things like:

  • Distances between different points on the trail (waypoints)
  • How well maintained the trails are
  • How well marked the trail is so you can pay attention more closely to trail blazes (or lack thereof)
  • Difficulty of the trail, which may change your mind if you feel unprepared to take on several miles of precariously places boulders
  • Directions to a trailhead
  • Trail maps

PRO TIP! When looking up info about a hike, you want to be sure to look at recent postings/comments, if available. You don’t necessarily want to be reading about the trail conditions last fall, because things could have changed.

Yes, you need a map.

One thing you want to make sure you have access to is some kind of map that you don’t need cell phone service to access.

The most reliable and trustworthy tool is, of course, a GPS app or device.

The only downside to these are that, most of the time, they cost money. But, it’s worth it to know exactly where you are, especially if you are on a trail that’s not well marked or in a completely unfamiliar place. There’s tons of GPS apps for your phone that are going to be much cheaper than buying a GPS device.

Other good options:

  • Google/Apple Maps – Download a map to use offline.
    • PRO TIP! Mark your starting location on your map before you begin hiking, so if you get lost, you at least know where your car is.
  • Screen shot a map from a state/national park website.
  • Stop by the visitor’s center, if available, and grab a physical copy of the map. (Yes, paper maps still exist!)

IMPORTANT! If you are planning to use your phone as your main navigation source, whether via a downloaded map or GPS app, make sure you have a fully charged phone and a back up power device. It’s always better to be completely prepared!

PRO TIP! You can bring a lightweight portable power bank and cord so you can recharge, if needed. I like Goal Zero’s Flip 24. It is small and lightweight and worth the extra 4 ounces in your pack.

Other Resources

  • AllTrails: One of the most popular hiking resources
  • Hiking Project
  • State and National Park Websites
  • State and National Park Visitor’s Centers
    • Get that paper map I mentioned above and talk to the park rangers about trail conditions.
  • Hiking Instagram/Twitter Feeds
    • I may be biased but @shehikestn has some pretty good info and photos…

To leave you with one final word, just be as prepared as you can be. It can be quite scary to realize you lost the trail or you are racing the daylight because you didn’t know how long or difficult a trail was. By researching your hike beforehand, you can take away some of this uncertainty and pick a hike that’s right for you in that moment.

Taken on a rainy, windy (and well-researched) hike in the White Mountains

Questions? Anything to add? Let me know!

Bargain Hunting for Outdoor Gear

Just like many other hobbies, hiking/camping/backpacking can get expensive quickly. But, if you have patience and aren’t looking for something really specific, you can grab some gear no the cheap. I grew much of my outdoor gear collection buying highly discounted or clearance gear. It can get tricky because, just like any type of bargain hunting, it takes time both in searching and researching. Below, I’ve tried to condense what I’ve learned over the past decade about bargain hunting for outdoor gear.


Starting off with the biggest potential bang-for-your-buck website, Steep&Cheap is anchored by their “Current Steal’, which is a highly discounted item – oftentimes over 50% off. The catch? Each ‘current steal’ item is only live for 5 minutes, then it’s gone (or just moved to the other part of the site for not as great a deal). I first learned about Steep&Cheap from fellow counselors my first summer working at camp in 2008. (Also, the summer I quit college and had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Fun fact: Over ten years later, I still have no idea what I want to do with my life. But, I digress…)

You can find anything from outdoor clothing to tents to skis to hiking boots and more. Over the years, Steep&Cheap has expanded to have much more discounted gear at all times. So, you’ll be able to search for whatever you are looking for. While this other gear isn’t as highly discounted as the ‘current steal’ you can still find amazing deals. Off the top of my head, I’ve purchased my tent, my first pair of hiking boots, base layers, Chacos, snow boots and a sleeping pad.

The downside of Steep&Cheap is that many items have limited size options. (It is a bargain site after all.) I’ve been tricked may times before, finding an amazing deal only to find an XXS or XXL (Upside: if either of those are your sizes, you will probably be able to find lots of cheap gear!) But, if you stay patient and check often when you are in the market for an item, I bet you’ll get lucky one time or another. But, I will warn you, browsing this site is very addicting because you’ll think “Oh, just five more minutes and I’ll see the next item on super sale” and then one hour later, you are still staring at the screen.


While Backcountry isn’t necessarily a bargain site, you can still find amazing deals. There’s almost always some type of promotion or sale. They sell almost all of the outdoor brands plus now have their own line of clothing/gear. Backcountry will have a much larger selection than Steep&Cheap. In fact, Steep&Cheap is powered by Backcountry meaning the limited-time, limited-quantity deals are from the stock of Backcountry.

If you are looking for something very specific and don’t want to wait to see if it may show up on Steep&Cheap, try Backcountry and see if you can find the item on sale. For example, I just saw a Patagonia fleece vest, available in most sizes, for just under $65 (usually $99). Chances are, you won’t find a popular item like that on Steep&Cheap.

Sierra Trading Post

Sierra Trading Post, also known now as simply Sierra, is like a T.J. Maxx of outdoors items and clothing. (Probably because they are owned by the same parent company…) Most of the items are already discounted from normal prices and they also have a ‘Clearance’ section. Some of their stock turns over quickly, so, if you are looking for something specific, I would check back frequently.

Sierra also tends to have brands discounted that I haven’t seen anywhere else. (I’ve gotten a Filson coat for over 50% off.) I feel like this site is, in some ways, the best of both Steep&Cheap and Backcountry. They have so many items, a large variety of great brands, and good prices. I’ve seen brands like Gregory, Cotopaxi, Eno, CamelBak, Northface and so many more. But, since it is more of a bargain site, you may not be able to find the exact thing you were looking for. Occasionally, you will run into limited size options. But, by searching more broadly, you will probably find a great deal on something similar.

REI Garage Sales

One of the most popular perks of being a member of REI is being able to shop the garage sales. REI has a one year return policy in which you can return any item that didn’t meet your expectations/needs. Because REI obviously can’t sell used items for full price, they have garage sales multiple times thttps://www.steepandcheap.comhroughout the year where they sell all of the returned items. You can find amazing deals on so many different types of gear and clothing. However, you are at the mercy of what gets returned to REI, so I would try not to have something very specific in mind. Make a ‘wish list’ of gear and keep that in mind as you are shopping around.

Keep in mind that these items are used at least once and you cannot return them for any reason. However, it is a small price to pay for such great deals. Also, buying used gear is much better for the planet and help contribute less waste to the planet. So, it’s a win-win!

Tips for Finding Deals

  1. Be flexible. If you are looking for something specific, it’s pretty rare that you will find that exact thing on sale. So, by opening up your options, you have a much better chance of finding a piece of gear that works and also doesn’t break the bank. Have ‘good, better, best’ options in your mind when looking to make a purchase.
  2. Read reviews with a grain of salt. I am an avid review-reader when I am looking for something new. But, I have learned to be a smart review reader. Be careful to note if the reviewer used the item incorrectly or is being extremely picky. Sometimes, I’ll see an item with a 2 or 3 star review and be weary of the item only to find that they overloaded a backpack or used a sleeping bag in weather colder than it was meant for. It takes time and a little bit of outdoor-gear knowledge, but it’s something you can home in on as you begin your bargain searching.
  3. Know your limits. You may find a deal that seems too good to be true. You may not even need the thing, but it’s 80% off. Are you willing to spend the money on the item, possibly cutting into the budget for another item that at the top of your list? Or, on the other hand, you find the _perfect_ coat, the exact one you were looking for, but it’s still $30 more than you wanted to spend. It may be worth the splurge because you never know if it will go on sale again or if it will go out of stock. Just something to think about as you’re browsing.
  4. Pay attention to seasonal sales/shop “out of season”. Many local outdoor shops (like Cumberland Transit if you’re in the Nashville area!) and REI have sales throughout the year; get on those email lists and pay attention! For example, if you are looking for a new winter coat, buy one at the end of the season when all of the winter wear is going on sale. Try to think ahead so you aren’t purchasing something you absolutely need at the last minute.

Also, I’ll leave you with this: Don’t buy something you don’t need, just because it’s on sale. I’ve been wooed far too many times by a fantastic deal when I really didn’t need the item in the first place. Perhaps that alone will help you save money on gear!

Favorite Trail Food

I think that one of the biggest mistakes a novice hiker can make is not bringing any food on a hike no matter how short the distance. You may not end up eating anything, but it’s always better to throw something in your pack and have it just in case. If you are hiking more than 4-5 miles, I would recommend bringing a few snacks. I don’t want to sound too alarmist, but you never know what could happen, even on a short hike, and it’s always better to be as prepared as you can be.

(Note: You ALWAYS want to bring water. Always. Always. Always. Even if you think it is silly to bring water because the hike is so short, do it. You never know what may happen and you want to be able to hydrate yourself.)

To give you a few ideas of what to bring along on your hikes, I’ll share some of my favorite things to snack on while hiking. I usually like to pack both sweet and salty snacks.

EAT Ultra Bars: For when you want an updated granola bar

Say farewell to those dry and cardboard-y Quaker Oat chocolate chip granola bars that your mom gave you when you were a kid. These cherry chocolate bars from Everyday Adventure Treats are a serious upgrade from your run-of-the-mill bar. Made with local and sustainable fruits and nuts, these bars are chewy and perfectly balanced. I love that there’s just a hint of salt to complement the natural sweetness. Plus, they are filling for a small snack. There’s five different flavors, so I’m sure you’ll find your favorite! You can get them via the Everyday Adventure Treats website.

Noka Superfood Smoothie: For when it’s so hot out, you can’t imagine eating solid food

These are one of my favorite snacks when hiking in hot weather. It’s like grown-up applesauce in a pouch. It’s made with all organic ingredients and also has some protein and other superfoods. They taste really great and aren’t full of sugar. My favorite flavors are Blueberry Beet and Mango Coconut, but I haven’t tried a flavor I didn’t like. You can get them via Amazon or their online store.

Honey Stinger Cracker Bar: For when you need the perfect balance of salty, sweet and crunchy

I love pretty much all of Honey Stinger’s products, but this cracker bar is lights-out good for a grab-and-go bar. It’s two multigrain crackers filled with a nut butter then dipped in chocolate. Sometimes, when I’m hiking, I just get so focused on the trail that I forget to take a break and eat. But, when you have a snack that you are excited about like this cracker bar, you make yourself take a seat and enjoy the view (and the treat). There’s three different varieties: Peanut Butter Milk Chocolate, Almond Butter Dark Chocolate and Cashew Butter Milk Chocolate. You can get them online from the Honey Stinger website or from REI.

PlayHard GiveBack Trail Mix: For when you want to mix up your trail mix

I’m not the biggest fan of trail mix overall. I mean, it’s fine, but it’s not something I normally go for. BUT! PlayHard GiveBack trail mix is so different and unique and great. Also, they are part of 1% For the Planet. (Members donate 1% of their revenue each year to organizations that give back to the environment.) Each flavor has their own type of little energy bites, almonds, and cranberries. The rest of the ingredients are dependent upon the flavor. My favorite is the chocolate banana goji which has banana chips, mini peanut butter cups, and goji berries. Check out their website for more!

Nick’s Sticks: the perfect salty snack

What’s a hike without jerky? These grass-fed, perfectly-spiced beef sticks leave those dry, tasteless meat flakes in the dust. These meat sticks have all the good stuff and none of the bad. Because there’s two sticks in each pack, it’s the perfect amount of saltiness for your day hike. I love the spicy beef, but there’s also turkey and chicken varieties. You can order via Amazon or their website.

Rip Van Wafels: For when you need a trail dessert

These stroopwafel-esque snacks aren’t the most nutritionally complete snack for hiking, but packing it alongside other snacks makes it feel like a trail dessert. If you aren’t familiar with stroopwafels, it’s like a very thin waffle with a filling. (They are even better if they are warmed up over a cup of coffee or tea when the filling becomes gooey.) This brand, Rip Van Wafel, uses quality ingredients with no artificial flavors or preservatives. My favorite kind is the dutch caramel and vanilla, but they have a handful of other fun flavors like cookies and cream and snickerdoodle.

Of course there’s hundreds of things to eat while hiking, but I’m hoping this will spark some new ideas for eating on the trail.

What’s your favorite thing to eat while hiking?

Beginners Guide Series: No. 3 – Trekking Poles

This week, I’m tackling trekking poles for the third edition of the ‘Beginner’s Guide Series’. When I first learned of trekking poles, I scoffed at them. Surely, a real hiker doesn’t need assistance from fancy canes. Then, I borrowed a friend’s on an intense hike in Glacier and I haven’t looked back since.

First time using trekking poles – Glacier National Park, Dawson Pitamakan Loop
Me and my Black Diamond Distance Z poles in Savage Gulf

Not only do hiking poles help decrease impact on knees, feet, and ankles, they also provide 4 points of contact on the ground, making me feel much more stable. They are especially great when going up or down steep terrain, providing leverage or decreasing impact. I’ve avoided multiple falls and slips by bracing myself with my poles. Now, if I forget my trekking poles on a hike, it feels like a piece of me is missing.

There’s a few things you should know about trekking poles before you purchase them so that you get a pair that will fit your hiking needs.

Choosing the Correct Length

Many trekking poles are sold by length in centimeters. As a general rule, you’ll want to make sure that your arm makes a 90° angle when the tips are touching the ground. This ensures that you will get the most comfort out of your poles. However, with adjustable poles, the length is variable, so choosing the correct length when purchasing isn’t as important because you can adjust to the correct length.

Fixed-length vs. Adjustable

There’s two basic types of trekking poles: ones that are adjustable and ones that aren’t. There are more adjustable poles on the market than fixed length because they are simply more versatile. It is great to be able to adjust poles for the terrain and not worry about buying the exact right length.

Pros of adjustable poles

  • People of different heights can use the same poles
  • Adjust for long sections of hilly terrain
    • 5-10 cm longer for downhill
    • 5-10 cm shorter for uphill

Pros of fixed length poles

  • Usually lighter in weight
  • No possibility of multiple locking mechanisms failing

I have some fixed length poles that collapse down (Black Diamond Z-Poles). I love them because they are lightweight and collapse down pretty small.

Aluminum vs. Carbon-fiber

There are two main materials that trekking pole shafts are made of – aluminum and carbon-fiber. Each has their pros and cons so make sure you get a pole made from a material that suits your hiking needs.

Aluminum poles are the more economical and durable option. They provide a strong trekking pole and will bend (rather than break) under pressure. If you are hiking is very rugged areas where you expect to be putting a lot of stress on your poles, aluminum may be a better option for you. However, poles made from aluminum tend to be a bit heavier than their carbon-fiber counterparts.

Carbon-fiber poles are the lighter and more expensive option tending to run $40-$50 more than aluminum ones. They are a strong pole, but can break under high stress (rather then bend). If you are concerned about weight and aren’t hiking is very rugged areas, carbon-fiber poles are a great option.

Rubber vs. Carbide Tips

Most trekking poles will come with interchangeable tips for different terrain. Use the carbide or steel tips when you want more traction on icy surfaces or to decrease impact the impact to the ground/terrain. But, most of the time, I use the rubber tips, which provide more shock absorption and don’t make a terrible grinding sound on rocky terrain.

Using the Wrist Straps

Many hikers actually use the wrist straps incorrectly. You want to insert your hand from the bottom of the strap, then grab the grip so that some of the wrist strap is against your palm. This provides support for your wrist and hand. The wrist strap should also be adjusted so that the strap rests close to the back of your hand.

Added Features

Shock-absorption: These types of poles have springs inside them to absorb shock, especially when going downhill. It’s a great feature to have for anyone, but highly recommended for those with knee/ankle issues.

Ergonomic grips: Holding poles on a long hike is much more comfortable when the grips are fit closely to the shape of your hand.

Camera mount: Some poles feature a built-in camera mount under the handle so you can get that perfect, steady shot.

Foldable: Some poles fold down like a tent pole, making them lightweight, packable and easy to stow in the side pockets of a backpack.

Buying Trekking Poles

There’s a lot to consider when buying something as seemingly simple as trekking poles. Some popular brands are: REI Co-op, Black Diamond, Leki, and Komperdell. Unless you are an ultra marathoner or long-distance trail runner, I don’t think the extra money for carbon-fiber poles is necessarily worth it to save 5-6 ounces of weight.

The REI Co-op Passage Trekking Poles are a good entry level pole with a competitive price.

The Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles are a great lightweight and compact choice that come with a higher price tag. These poles also come in carbon fiber (Black Diamond Distance Carbon AR Trekking Poles) if you are looking to decrease weight.

The Leki Cressida Cor-Tec Trekking Poles are a popular choice among women and have a bit more features and comfort.

I’ve only mentioned a few poles by name, but there are so many good options. Also, if you are hiking mostly day hikes in Tennessee, honestly, most any pole will probably do great as long as it is the correct size.

Do you use trekking poles? What are your favorite? Let me know in the comments!

Beginners Guide Series: No. 2 – Hydration Reservoirs

Water is the most important thing that you need to bring on a hike, regardless of distance. However, water bottles tend to be clunky, heavy, and relatively inaccessible, even if it is in a side pocket of a backpack.

But, you don’t have to live burdened to your water bottle on a hike. Enter the hydration reservoir, also affectionately known as a hydration or water bladder. For about the same prices as a nice water bottle (like a Hydroflask), you can secure yourself a handy water bladder. If you have never used one of these, your hiking life is about to get significantly better.

So, um, what exactly is it?

Hydration bladders are essentially flexible, lightweight water holders with a long-ass thick, flexible straw attached to it. They are meant to be slid into a backpack while the straw sticks out and is clipped onto the strap of the backpack. It’s the easiest way to hydrate yourself while hiking. Because, you know, hydration is the key to victory.

Hydration packs encourage me to drink much more water than if I had to take 5+ minutes to stop hiking, take off my pack, root around for the bottle, then take a few swigs of water. It’s already hard enough for me to drink enough water on a hike, so taking away this hurdle to your water is a game changer.

What size do I need?

You may be thinking, “First of all, I had no idea there were even different sizes.” Let me explain.

There are different volumes of reservoirs: typically 1.5, 2, or 3 liters. You will want to choose a volume depending on how long you typically hike and how hot the weather is where you usually hike.

The general rule is to bring 1 liter of water for every 2 hours of hiking. If it is hot and humid (VERY likely in TN for, like, 10 out of the 12 months), I would double the amount to 1 liter every hour

So, if you are strictly a short-distance hiker, you can probably get away with the smaller liter size. However, the price difference between the sizes is usually only a few dollars. So, when in doubt, get a larger size. Many of the bladders have volume markings so you can only fill what you need. So, in my opinion, there’s really no reason to NOT get a 3L. But, oftentimes, a 2L bladder is a nice middle ground for most.

  • Get a 1.5 liter if your hikes are typically under 3 miles and you don’t hike in the heat.
  • Get a 2 liter if your hikes are typically under 6 miles or you hike short distances in heat often.
  • Get a 3 liter if your hikes are typically longer than 6 miles or you hike mid-distances in the heat.

P.S. Hiking long distances in heat is not recommended; it’s honestly not fun and it’s hard to stay hydrated enough.

What brand should I buy?

There’s a handful of hydration reservoir brands and many of the differences are based on preference of features like weight, ease of cleaning, size/shape of the mouthpiece, and quick disconnect capability. I’ll outline some of the pros and cons of some of the most popular bladders.


This is my overall favorite reservoir. It’s super lightweight, durable, and innovative without being clunky. I particularly like the ‘Shape-Shift’ line with a baffle in the middle. You can lock it for a slimmer profile and stabilization or unlock it for maximum capacity. It has a quick-release, which lets you disconnect the tube for cleaning and easy refilling. It also has a great high-flow mouthpiece with a bite valve shut off (so it doesn’t leak water when you aren’t drinking) and a heavy duty ziploc type closure at the top for a leak-proof seal.

One of the worst parts about owning a hydration reservoir is the cleaning process. It always feels like you can never fully get it clean. But, the HydraPak is fully reversible making this normally painstaking process a breeze.

Pros: Lightweight, durable, adjustable baffle – almost like having 2 different capacities, leak-proof zipper-type seal

Cons: A bit pricier than some others, but totally worth it


Probably the most well-known brand of reservoirs, Camelbak is a trusted brand that was founded in the late 1980s. You can’t go wrong with a Camelbak. It is a quality product that keeps making improvements to its products. They are a little heavier than HydraPaks and have a built-in baffle to keep a slim profile. The bite valve is totally fine, but I just don’t like it as much as others. It’s also harder to clean because of the small opening. I never feel like I can get it completely clean and it’s hard to dry out. It has all the basic features you need like quick disconnect tubing, a bite-valve shut off, and a slim profile.

Pros: Good quality, trusted brand, great value

Cons: Difficult to clean, harder to seal (as opposed to a zipper-type)


Platypus has two main lines of reservoirs: Hoser and Big Zip. The Hoser is cheaper and more lightweight, but not nearly as convenient as the Big Zip. The latter is similar to the HydraPak without the baffle. The bite valve has a great flow rate but is bigger than the others, which I don’t like as much. It’s durable, but not quite as lightweight. It’s moderately easy to clean since you can open up the entire top. It also has all the basic features listed for the others.

Pros: Zipper-type seal, high-flow mouthpiece

Cons: Most expensive, not as easy to clean


Mazama is relatively new to the hydration reservoir market. The have great features such as a piece that holds open the reservoir to dry, a different type of closure, and their DUAL line with two separate chambers and tubes (to carry both water and electrolyte drinks. They have all the basic features of the other brands as well. They also offer a ‘short’ version of the 2L that fits in smaller packs that may not accommodate a longer bladder. My gripe with this brand is that the clips that seal it break easily. They are just made of plastic. Mine still functions, but it’s a bummer.

Pros: Low price point, structured handle

Cons: Plastic clips break easily, heaviest of the options presented

Did I miss a reservoir that you love? Let me know in the comments.

Beginners Guide Series: No.1 – Daypacks

For our first installment of the ‘Beginner’s Guide’ series, let’s talk packs. It’s one of the first things I recommend purchasing if you are looking to start your day hiking gear collection. It can easily be a relatively inexpensive piece of gear and it’s something I take on every hike.

Usually you’ll be carrying no more than 10 lbs in a pack for a day hike and most of this weight will be water, which you will be drinking, so it’ll only get lighter! Other things you may want to include in your pack are trail snacks, first aid items, a bandana, chapstick, and a headlamp/lightweight flashlight (just in case).

Features to Consider in a Daypack

  • Lightweight
    • You’ll probably want your pack to weigh no more than 1 lb
  • Durability
    • Look for materials like ripstop nylon
  • Comfort
    • If possible, try the pack on, put some weight in it and walk around the store.
  • Sternum strap (buckles around your upper chest)
    • For better weight distribution across shoulders
  • Hipbelt strap (buckles around waist)
    • For better stability and weight distribution
  • Hydration reservoir compatibility
    • If you have no idea what a hydration reservoir is, don’t worry! I’ll be going over all you need to know in a future blog post.
  • Small pockets/organization
    • For easy access to things like snacks (v. important!) and chapstick

Wearing a Daypack

I know most of us are probably past the middle school days of extending the straps and wearing a backpack super low because that was the “cool” way to wear it. But, when you are hiking, you want to be sure that the pack sits snugly to your back. The top of the pack should sit right below the nape of your neck. The straps should be tightened down so that the bottom of the back hits near the bottom of your torso, right around the top of your hips. It’s important to wear your pack correctly because, not only will it will be more comfortable, but it will be more stabilized on your back, especially if you are on uneven terrain.

Pack Recommendations

Below, I’ll share three packs that I own, use and would recommend to anyone looking for a reasonably priced daypack. Of course there’s probably “better” packs out there, like the Osprey Talon 22 (Men’s)/Tempest 20 Women’s) or the Deuter Speed Lite but I wanted to share some that are around the $50 price point.

REI Flash 18 Pack – $34.95

I would venture to say that this is probably the best bang-for-your-buck pack. It’s relatively inexpensive, super lightweight, durable and water bladder compatible. There’s exterior loops if you’re into hanging stuff off of your pack and a drawstring closure so you won’t have to worry about zippers. There is slight padding on the back, which can also be pulled out and used as a sit pad. The downside of this pack is that it can get uncomfortable and cut into your shoulders if you are carrying more weight. It also doesn’t have external pockets. But, this is a great starter day pack for any hiker.

Pros: Inexpensive, all the right features, super lightweight

Cons: Unpadded straps can dig in if loaded down, no exterior pockets

Cotopaxi Luzon 18L Del Dia Pack – $55

This Luzon pack has all the basic features listed above. What sets it apart from the REI Flask pack are more comfortable, lightly padded straps and an external pocket to easily access essentials (and the whole pack can be stuffed into this pocket). It’s also made with a slightly thicker material, so it feels a bit more robust without adding a lot ofweight. Also, each pack is one of a kind. If you are unfamiliar with the ‘Del Dia’ series by Cotopaxi, I’d recommend watching this video. Each pack is handmade in the Philippines and the employee has total creative control, which is why each pack in unique. What a great company to get behind!

Pros: Lightweight, comfortable straps, fun and unique colors

Cons: A bit pricier (but it’s for a great cause!), holds odors

Osprey Daylite Pack – $50

The Osprey Daylite pack is a little more structured than the two packs above, making it a favorite for longer hikes. It has just enough pockets for organization without feeling complicated. It sits comfortably on my back and shoulders. The back panel is also more breathable for those extra sweaty hikes. It has all of the features that I find essential in a pack: hipbelt and sternum strap, hydration reservoir, padded straps and exterior/side pockets. A word to the wise: the side pockets are great for smaller items, but are not so great for water bottles. (I always use my hydration bladder for water, so this has never been a problem for me.)

Pros: Breathable back, nice organizational features, sturdier

Cons: Stiff top handle can graze neck while wearing, lower gear capacity (13L)

Do you have a favorite day pack that you think should be included? Let me know in the comments.

Day Hiking Essentials

Most of the hikes that are featured on this site are day hikes, meaning you can complete them within the daylight hours. Day hiking can be anything from a 2 mile stroll through Radnor Lake State Natural Area or an all day 12-miler in Savage Gulf. Either way, I think it’s important to be prepared with the right gear and supplies. (I almost always over pack for my day hikes but much of my hiking has been solo, so I tend to over prepare.) There’s a few essentials I take on almost every hike and I thought I’d share them for those of you who are new to hiking and want to start building your gear collection.

1. Water, preferably in a hydration reservoir

If you only bring one thing on a hike, let that one thing be water. Never leave for a hike of any length without water.

To figure out how much water to take along on your hike, follow the general rules below:

  • “Normal” weather: 1 liter for every 2 hours of hiking.
  • Hot and/or humid weather: 1 liter for every 1 hour of hiking.

Hydration reservoirs, also known as water bladders, may seem like an unnecessary item to take along on a day hike if you already have a water bottle. But, water bottles are often heavy and a pain to take out of your pack every time you want a drink of water. (Plus, I seem to never drink enough water if I take a water bottle.) Enter the hydration reservoir: a hand-free water delivery system. I will be going over reservoirs in detail in a future post.

2. Day Pack

‘Day pack’ is just another word for a type of backpack. I always recommend carrying a day pack or backpack, even for short, easy hikes. Typically day packs are crafted with features specifically for hiking/outdoor activities, but feel free to break out that old Jansport from high school if you aren’t looking to purchase one. Be looking out for a post about day packs in the future.

3. Snacks

Another thing I never leave home without is trail snacks. I will always throw at least a granola bar in my pack, even if I’m just going for a quick and easy stroll through the woods. You never know when hunger may strike and you don’t want to feel light-headed on the hike. If I am going on multi-hour hike, I will bring a handful of snacks, both sweet and salty. I’ve taken things like bananas, jerky, Clif and Lara bars, smoothie packs, and nut mixes. Of course, you can get fancy and bring the ever-popular “sweaty lunch” – crackers, cheese and pepperoni – deemed that because the meat and cheese gets “sweaty” when its in your pack. (Not a recommend snack on hot days.) 

4. Hiking Shoes/Boots

Sure, your Nikes may be cutting it, but having proper hiking shoes/boots can make all the difference, especially on tricky terrain or in wet conditions. Depending on your preference and type of hiking you do, you can find a wide variety of hiking boots to match.

5. First Aid Kit

Some may say this is overkill, but you never know when you’ll get a blister or a headache or a super itchy bug bite. You can craft your own little kit with bandaids, salve/ointment, NSAIDs (Tylenol, ibuprofen, etc.), anti-itch cream, etc. You can also buy pre-made kits specifically tailored to day hiking, like the HART Health Day Hike Kit or the Adventure Medical’s Day Tripper Lite. However, if you only bring one thing medical related on a hike, make it the Green Goo First Aid salve. It’s like a first aid kit packed into one little tin.

6. Trekking Poles

While not absolutely necessary, especially on short, flat hikes, I am in pro trekking poles. I would venture to say they are necessary if you are hiking over very uneven terrain and/or are gaining or losing elevation. They provide four points of contact on the ground instead of just two (your feet). I’ve used them for stability as I have delicately crossed streams on boulders and for security when descending a steep incline. Also, if you have knee problems, hiking poles can help take some of stress off of your knees, especially on declines. Yes, I’ll be posting more about trekking poles in the upcoming days/weeks as well.

7. Trail Map

While this may seem unnecessary, I always recommend having some type of map with you. To me, there’s no worse feeling on a hike than that sharp drop in your stomach when you think you are lost. (‘Always be prepared’ say the Boy Scouts.) Sometimes the trail will be marked in Google or Apple maps on your phone. Sometimes, you’ll have cell service and you will be able to pull up a trail map, if needed. And sometimes, you’ll be completely out of cell phone service and have to resort to a paper map. At most trailheads, there will be a large trail map that you can at least take a photo of with your phone. Sometimes, there will be paper maps at the trail as well. One of the biggest mistakes a novice hiker can make is being unprepared, thinking ‘Oh, it’s just a 3-mile hike.’

Bonus item: A dog

Hiking with a pup is highly recommended; dogs make everything better. I’ll just leave it at that.

Is there anything that you never hike without? Let me know. Let’s learn from each other!