Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

The Colorado Adventure: Day 2

CJP_4324The most amazing place I have encountered to date is Rocky Mountain National Park! That place will forever be my spirit animal (as they say)… Let’s start at the beginning as we will continue to do for the 2017 Family Vacation. If you’re new to this string, keep reading.

If you’ve read about our adventure before, skip to the next picture.

Less Junk More JourneyColorado TripI must give credit where it is due. While the majority of the trip were places we knew about, the specific itinerary ideas were thanks to a YouTube channel called Less Junk, More Journey. The channel is a regular vlog about a family traveling around the country full-time in their RV. I used locations from their videos that really interested Cheryl and I, and formed a route that covered most of the state of Colorado. The route’s intention was to give us a taste of what every area had to offer so that we would know what we wanted more of. We consulted the kids to get their input and set our plans in motion.

CJP_4460First stop on the list was Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). I always knew that RMNP was one of the most popular parks of our national park system, but I didn’t understand exactly what that meant in terms of visiting it. Thanks to the YouTube channel describing it as being similar to Disneyland, I was far more prepared. We were going to be visiting in mid-July, the height of the tourist season for Colorado, hence why we were there.

RMNP.JPGOur plans were to hike from the Bear Lake trail-head to Emerald Lake and back. There is a small parking lot at the Bear Lake trail-head, but it fills up quickly according to many sources. So the other option is to park a little further back and hitch a ride with the free shuttle service. It is only about a 10-15 min drive by car between the parking lots, but the shuttle makes multiple stops, so expect about an hour once you get on from what people are saying.RMNP Shuttle

DSC_4407Being someone who is willing to sacrifice a little sleep in order to get on the trail at sunrise, I informed the family that they were going to be sacrificing their sleep as well. There might have been a couple unamused faces after gaining this information… The dark of night was just fading as we pulled out of the hotel parking lot in Loveland on our way to Bear Lake. My intent was to beat the crowds and get one of those coveted parking spots at the trail-head. As we pulled up to the entrance there was only one other car driving in, things were looking good. We proceeded to weave through the park and found that the elevation change for these Iowa lowlanders was starting to affect Titan, so we had to pull over for a couple of minutes. We got back on the road once he felt better and hit the parking lot a few minutes later. The sun hadn’t crested the mountains yet and the Bear Lake trail-head parking lot was already 1/4 full. There were a few hammocks hanging around the lot, so some had been there overnight. At any rate, success! We got a spot!

We stretched our legs a bit and got ready to hit the trail, even though Titan and Odessa were a little grumpy still at the early rising, you could sense the excitement of hiking in the mountain for the first time. We stepped into the trees and started down the well-worn path. The trail was extremely well maintained, which was to be expected, it is a national park and this is one of the most popular hikes in the park. It didn’t take long to confirm the efforts put into planning were well worth it, the views were breathtaking as I… I mean we… finally got to officially be in the mountains!

CJP_4292Another perk to getting out on the trails early, there weren’t many other travelers to jockey around for position amongst the congestion. We didn’t have to wait in line to take the shot we wanted, or have to worry about the discourteous visitor jumping into your shot because they only cared about getting theirs. By 10 AM the trails were already starting to see a large influx of people on the trail as we were heading back to the parking lot. You could actually begin to time the buses as we would encounter very large groups of people every 15-20 minutes.

CJP_4305The hike from Bear Lake to Emerald Lake is 2.3 miles (4.6 round trip), but there are two other lakes along the way. The first one you come to is Nymph Lake after about a 1/2 mile of steady climbing from the trail-head, which produced some initial huffing until we got our legs under us a bit. On the way down more than one person asked how the rest of the hike was, because the first section was obviously working them. After Nymph Lake it was a lot easier. It is the smallest of the four we visited that day, and completely shrouded by the mountains. The light was trying to creep in, but the mountains blocked any hope it might have had of reaching the surface of the lake until late in the day. As a consequence, the mosquitoes were quite thick along the shore. Fortunately this was the only place we encountered any mosquitoes during our visit through the entire state. Nymph Lake had all of Colorado’s mosquitoes in one place!

We stuck around for only a little bit to try to capture some images, but the low light and mosquitoes won out, and we decided to try later on the way back. By the time we returned both were far better. As we moved on to our next stop, Dream Lake, the trail continued to climb, but with far less grade to it. This section of the trail provided the most spectacular views along the hike. There are two specific locations that really lend themselves to photographs, the first was the rock introducing this post. It is directly above Nymph Lake, so you can look down into it, and the forest surrounding it.

CJP_4447-PanoThe second is several yards down the trail where you get an open view of everything you think of when imagining a national park in Colorado. Both of these locations were spots I watched visitors trying to “fight” for position to get pictures (notice us early risers don’t have any other people in our shots…).

CJP_4341After about another 1 mile we arrived at Dream Lake. Dream Lake was filled with such crystal clear water that you could see the trout swimming around logs and rocks resting on the bottom. There were a good number of fisherman spending their morning with rod and reel here. We didn’t see any of them catch anything, but that’s not the purpose of fishing right?

CJP_4350Dream Lake is long and narrow so there was really only one shot of note for most people, a large rock outcropping at one end with the length of the lake stretching out and leading to the base of a mountain peak.

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Of course we joined in and took our family photo! All four of us had a camera of some sort, so after we all were satisfied with our photos we began our trek to Emerald Lake.

DSC_4352We started to run into the remnants of that winter’s snow along the way which surprised the kids since they didn’t comprehend that snow can stick around well into July due to the elevation and low sunlight, etc. Heck, as some readers may remember, I was praying for snow in Iowa this year and didn’t get a chance to test out my new snowshoes until late January or February, and that snow only lasted a couple of days!

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There were a couple climbs along the way, but overall the elevation gain felt relatively mild. It was roughly 3/4 of a mile from Dream Lake to Emerald lake. Aside from the fact that Emerald Lake was beautiful, I noticed that it felt more secluded than the others. The trail did terminate there, forcing you to turnaround and head back to the trail-head, so that could have been part of it. The other lakes had open areas around the lake with wide trails where one could easily move around. At Emerald it felt like the mountains shot straight up from the shoreline, and visitors only had a small 30 foot circle to gather and enjoy the sight.

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Even though it was still quite early and the main traffic hadn’t started yet, there were a good number of people hanging out in the small area. Like Dream Lake, there was really only one point of view that was attractively photogenic, and everyone that arrived wanted their shot from it. Yes, including me. The annoying part, the majority of us that stopped for a breather and a snack, stuck to the outer areas of the circle, back from the edge of the lake. Except one lady. She decided she wanted to sit on a rock protruding out into the lake a touch that was the only good spot for pictures, and refused to move. Of course she was European, possibly only spoke German it sounded like, and didn’t understand a group of us would like pictures of the lake without her in it. Eventually, after multiple people started to stand around her in awkward ways to try to get photos without her, she caught the hint and left. Then we all took our turns, got our photos, and moved away for the next person.

That lady was the only negative encounter we had though, but remember, the crowds hadn’t started to arrive yet. I started to feel a little bit of the elevation once we got to Emerald Lake; probably due to the combination of elevation, carrying CJ, and failing to drink enough water on the way up. (Elevation reduces the amount of oxygen in the air, water is partly made up of oxygen, drinking it helps add oxygen into your body.) I downed a good bit of water during the break and felt better for the return. I made sure that I continued to drink water regularly for the rest of our adventure in Colorado, and didn’t have an issue again. Once everyone felt rested and finished their snacks we put our packs back on and started back to the trail-head.

The little over 2 mile journey back was one of mixed sadness. I was loving every minute I got to spend on the trails within the mountains, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit sad that I knew we were heading back to the car so we could leave and continue on down the road (Cheryl is still suffering from the loss…). Along the way we kept running into large bus load after bus load of people on their way to Emerald Lake. We got some more photos as we could, stopped at Nymph Lake to try to get some better ones (which we did), and eventually made it back to the trail-head.

CJP_4480DSC_4292We were ahead of schedule, so we decided to sneak over to Bear Lake since it is only a 1/2 mile trail around it. Well, on paper it looked and sounded bigger than it was. The lake is only about 50 yards from the trail-head, and once we got to the shore we saw that you could see every bit of the lake from that one spot and to hike around it would just be for exercise as the views weren’t going to change. So we decided that was good enough.

DSC_4364So with big smiles, but slightly sad hearts, we walked back to the car. Here is where the “circus” began. The parking lot was full and there were a couple of cars circling like buzzards waiting for something to open up. Once they realized we were heading to our car the race that wasn’t a race was on! the First one there proceeded to block everyone else (one lane loop) while they waited for us to drop our gear, pack up the cameras, get CJ and the packs loaded into the Jeep, film the talking head part I do about the conclusion of the trail, and finally back out and leave. On the way out Cheryl wanted to stop at the gift shop so another encounter was incoming. heh. We got lucky and we got the last available parking spot immediately upon pulling in. However, the discourtesy among the majority of the people at the gift shop was amazing. People were walking out in front of moving vehicles with total disregard, or just simply standing in the middle of the roadway talking as cars are trying to leave. Others sending their young children to run ahead of other cars and stand in and block open parking spots, with vehicles basically informing the child move or get run over. The ugly selfishness of the human race showed its face for certain. It was only a little after noon!

CJP_4323In closing, even though the gift shop soured the experience a little, Rocky Mountain National Park is absolutely amazing! Just make sure you arrive just before dawn to beat the crazies. We’ve agreed that we’ll be returning for an extended trip with the goal of hiking as many of the trails as we can in the years to come. If you’re wanting to visit RMNP and don’t know what to do, the Bear Lake to Emerald Lake is very popular because it is so accessible. We saw a multitude of walks of life with varying physical conditioning along the trail. Just remember to take your time if you need to, and plan for a longer day. Make sure to bring plenty of water and some snacks to help keep you going. Even if you don’t take a lot of pictures, the experience would be good for your mind and body!

DSC_4340Now get out there and go for a walk!

Bensen Sculpture Garden, Loveland, CO

The Colorado Adventure: Day 1

Colorado Trip

In July of 2017 we packed up my wife’s new Jeep, and headed for a week of traveling to the mountains of Colorado with the kids. Our first stop on the trip was going to be Rocky Mountain National Park, but we wanted to hit the park at sunrise to beat the majority of the crowds (which was an excellent plan!) so we needed to stay over in Loveland just outside of the park. Well this gave us a long afternoon of sitting in the hotel, so the wife and I scoured the Google looking for things to do and we found Bensen Sculpture Garden in the center of town.Bensen LargeDSC_4051

DSC_4075The park is made up of over 150 large sculptures on a paved loop that circles a pond and covers 1.5-2 miles. The majority of the sculptures were pretty neat. At first the older kids had that “oh yay… look at the rock” attitude that a tween and teen have on family outings, but eventually they forgot they were supposed to be acting too cool and began having showdowns with the gunslinger and practicing their yoga poses. DSC_4166

Baby girl of course thought pretty much every one of them was neat and kept trying to go back to the ones with balls and puppies.DSC_4229

It was a pretty popular place with some steady traffic. There was even a wedding going on in the central gazebo that CJ tried to check out. As we neared the car we noticed it appeared that there seemed to be more on the other side of the road. Unbeknownst to us, there was a new section that was built to expand the park, to include a little mini train that went around that section! They don’t have an official website from what we found, so nothing really talked about the addition. I wish we had known so we could have planned a little more time to take CJ on a train ride. Either way, weather eventually started to move in and we were getting hungry as we completed the loop, so we decided to head back to the hotel.

 

A fun little place to check out if you find yourself in the Rocky Mountain National Park/ Fort Collins/ Loveland area with a couple hours to kill. Once again, I really wish I’d known more about the train. For me at least, I know I’m going back to RMNP for a few days next time, so CJ will get her train ride!DSC_4123

Here are a handful of the neater sculptures:

 

September Means Great Hiking is Here!

DSC04848Fall is officially around the corner and that means the temperature and humidity are going to start staying in those super comfortable zones. The leaves are going to start their annual shift to gorgeous golds, oranges, and reds. Most importantly, the bug populations are going to soon be getting thinner and thinner!

CJP_5210August was a good month to get outdoors and I hope many of you had the opportunity to do so. I had the annual outdoor adventure with the wife’s family, and snuck out to Brushy Creek State Recreation Area to check out their middle section of the trails. I did their lake loop last year, and plan to hike their southern sections in the next couple weeks. Once I finish that I will have completed the park and can add it to the queue for posting. They claim to have 45 miles of trails, so a bit to do in a single dayhike.

CJP_5449We also attempted to introduce baby girl to tent camping; it went ok, mostly. She had a blast playing outside, watching dad build the fire, etc. Unfortunately there were some not very fun parts. The first was our fault not trying to figure out a better way to feed her in advance. We opted for cooking her supper, but that takes a little longer on a canister stove than at home. Let’s just say she has her mother’s patience… maybe PB&J next time for her. The other hiccup was that once it was time to go to bed. She wasn’t nearly ready for that and it was quite rough and loud. We waited until around 11 pm before finally deciding it was a good effort, but she wasn’t going to sleep, which meant we weren’t going to sleep. We broke down the camp, stuffed it in the car, put her in her car seat and on home we headed. She was asleep by the time we hit the highway… We had her home and in bed 30 minutes later. We gave her a taste of her future at least, she’ll come around. 😉

DSC_4324As far as The Iowa Hiker media, I completed a post and video on the Pine Creek Cabins we stayed at for the annual trip. I have been plugging away at processing the photos from our Colorado adventure in July when I have the time, over halfway through now. My wife has been prodding me to get them done so she can post them to friends and family, so it shouldn’t be much longer…

CaptureGoing forward I have an ambitious couple months coming up. I am using up quite a bit of vacation time, giving me plenty of opportunity to get out there and chew up some miles finally. Not to mention I should get some time to sit down at the computer get some editing done while I recover! Unfortunately, my goal of hitting 212 miles was probably a little too lofty for this year. One park has had extensive trail damage due to some heavy rains and is currently closed for repairs, and the two long “tours” as I call them, are a little harder to plan for than anticipated. (I also didn’t know I was going to get promoted and that my schedule was going to take a hit when I made that goal.) So that’s 70-some miles getting pushed to next year. It does leave me with 160ish for the year though, which is still a gain on last year.

For now, September is starting out great and I’m glad I have DVR so I can watch my Irish when I get home from my hikes!NDFB

Pine Creek Cabins

CJP_5180The annual glamping trip with the wife’s family has come and gone for 2017. This year I found us a cabin up in the northeast corner of Iowa. As they are officially known, Decorah High Point – Pine Creek Cabins are located just outside of Decorah.Pine creek google

There are a total of 6 cabins on the property that sleep anywhere from 6 to 17 people per. Our large group of 16 (7 adults, 4 teens, and 5 children) stayed in Pine Cabin which sleeps 17, and it was plenty comfortable! The owners where nice enough to open up 3 of their other cabins that were empty that weekend for me to check out, so I’ll chat about those as well.

Pine creek overviewPine creek cabins

CJP_5210Lets go over Pine Cabin first since that is the one we stayed in. The cabin is well furnished and spacious. While it was clear that it was a cabin with fewer finishing touches than a residential home, you didn’t overly notice it unless you were looking for it. There are three levels with four sizable bedrooms.

 

Upstairs there was a loft area with a futon next to two of the bedrooms. All three areas had a nice skylight that provided plenty of light during the day… and the evening. This actually bothered my wife as it was a full moon in a clear sky and the light was bright enough to actually keep her up on the first night. I would suggest possibly finding a way to hang a shade in the bedroom skylights to help alleviate this in the future.

 

The first floor had a nice open feel in the living room area. The kitchen was a little cramped when we tried to get more than a couple of people in there trying to cook breakfast for 16 people, otherwise it was fully functional. They had everything we needed for cookware and dishes, the only thing we were glad we brought were the counter-top griddles for pancakes. They have a TV available with a DVD player for the little ones. We found this to be very helpful with baby girl as it eventually got to the point that she needed to settle down from the fun of playing with her big cousins and the only thing she’ll sit down for is her puppy movie (The Secret Life of Pets).

CJP_5238One of the best features of the first floor (to me anyway) was that there was a patio door that stepped out onto a porch that wraps around the east and south sides of the cabin. I love sitting out on porches, and I spent a good amount of time with my camera farting around with long exposure shots throughout the day and evening.

 

The basement level has the remaining bedroom and bathroom, with a secondary kitchenette and living area. The living area has a walk out patio door that leads to the yard. The downstairs bedroom is the only one with two beds in it. There is a small bed just outside that room, which I’ll admit at first seemed kind of out of place, but a bed is a bed and a 17 person cabin is about getting people together.

All in all, no one really complained about their sleep except my wife with the moon, and baby girl had issues being a little warm sleeping in her pack n play in our room during the first night. The second night my wife and I switch sides of the bed to help keep the moonlight out of her eyes, and we moved baby girl to a different spot where she could get more airflow from the overhead fan. That seemed to fix a lot of their issues as they slept through the second night.

CJP_5282Outside of the cabin, the views of the rollings hills of northeast Iowa are great. The first morning offered a great view where fog had rolled into the valley below us, with the sun rising behind it. Surrounding the grounds is a field of prairie grasses full of birds and bugs. You’re not allowed to venture out into the fields, so be aware of that, but I spent a little while walking around the perimeter with my camera. On the last night we stoked up the fire pit for s’mores and one last night of reflection, well those of us that didn’t wander off to bed early.CJP_5199

On the second day I noticed that it didn’t look like the other cabins had a lot of traffic, so I contacted the owners to ask if I could have a peek into the empty cabins. The owner, Shanyn, stopped by and said the Cedar and Balsam Cabins were rented, but she would go unlock the three vacant ones for me.

 

The first one I looked at was Spruce Cabin (I somehow forgot to take a picture of the outside of Spruce and Birch, so I stole their exterior shots off their website.). Now I will say that the first two I looked at had more of the traditional simple rustic cabin feel. Spruce is two levels that sleeps 8, with an open area ground floor that has stairs leading up to a loft. There is a small bed in what was probably the original mudroom across from the bathroom. Even though my first impression when I walked in was that it looked somewhat cramped, I spent sometime looking around and found it to actually be quite cozy. My favorite feature of this cabin was in the loft. There is a door that leads out onto a little balcony that has a couple benches to sit on and enjoy the scenery.

 

The next cabin I took a look at was Birch Cabin. Birch is the simplest of the cabins on the property and sleeps 9. It has a completely different look to it that leads me to believe that it may have been the original one. It is the only other one with three levels. The top floor is an open loft with 4 beds, the ground floor is a single room with a simple kitchen and living area. The doors here lead out onto a deck that wraps around the north and east sides. The basement has the bathroom and remaining 2 beds with a walk out door to the fire pit. A thing to note for those that have issues with stairs, both sets of stairs are very steep and narrow.

 

The last cabin I ventured to was Aspen Cabin. She described Aspen as their new luxury model of cabin, and I would agree. It isn’t overly large (sleeps 6), but there was definitely more attention paid to the details and finish work. There are still traits that remind you it is a cabin, like the open ceiling, but the furniture and appliances are of nice quality. Honestly, I’d probably like to have the kitchen in my home. It is a two bedroom layout on a single floor that leads out to a wrap-around porch on the east and south walls. There is a similar view, but if I’m honest, the primary grounds have a better one. There is also a three stall garage next to the cabin, although there isn’t a mention on the website and I failed to ask if that was for the guest’s or the owner’s use.

CJP_5249If there is a negative (because you have to find one when you’re writing a review right?), it’s that the cabins are more of a staging point to access things to do in the area. If you want to hang out with the family in a more secluded spot then this will work great (there is also a small playground for the kiddos). Otherwise, the property doesn’t have much to offer in terms of adventure. Fortunately, it is in prime canoeing territory as the Upper Iowa River runs right by it. We ran into Decorah to check out the trout fish hatchery, there is a pretty nice mountain bike area on the outskirts of Decorah that I’ve biked a couple times, and much more. So there are plenty of things to do in the area, just not on the property.

Once again thank you to Shanyn Hart for letting me check out the vacant cabins. If you’d like to look her up you can find her on Facebook @Shanyn.Hart.Iowa and Instagram @Shanyn.Hart. Don’t forget to head over to YouTube and check out the video walk through!

CJP_5186Decorah High Point – Pine Creek Cabins is nice place to take a weekend to get away and hang out, or to plant yourself to explore the hills of northeast Iowa.

 

Here are the results of the long exposure shots:

 

August is around the corner!

Rocky Mtn NPSo we’re basically skipping July and going straight into the August update. This is mostly because July has been busy, but for once, busy in a good way. Remember that vacation and exploring new places I mentioned in June? If you are following me on Instagram and have been watching the feed, I took the wife and kids to Colorado for a week of hiking and sightseeing! It was absolutely amazing!

Colorado TripWe started in Rocky Mountain National Park and made a big loop covering as much of the state as we reasonably could to get a taste of the different areas to find what we wanted to have more of. Without a doubt Rock Mountain National Park is my new favorite place and we will be going back to spend a good length of time there. Mesa Verde National Park was a big surprise in that it has far more to it than just visiting a pueblo or two, so that will require a couple days. Lastly, Pikes Peak was clouded over, so we’ll have to go back for another summit with clear skies (maybe next time we’ll actually hike to the summit rather than simply driving…).

Ouray was a great little hike that has a lot more trails in the area that would be worth exploring. Hanging Lake was an awesome hike worth the effort. Four Corners and Aztec Ruins Monuments, and Royal Gorge Bridge were definitely neat places to visit, but I don’t foresee a reason to make it a goal for a second trip to them.

Cheyenne Zoo GorillaFinally, since we are going to have to go back to Pikes Peak, we might as well revisit the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo which was pretty dang cool (not to forget that gorilla that knows what the people want), and explore more of Garden of the Gods since our trip was cut short by rain. We can’t wait to go back and explore the mountains again, but that is going to have to wait because my wife has already set her eyes on the National Parks of Southern Utah for next year… Not that I’m complaining mind you. 🙂

As far as the website goes, I have a large amount of photos to process, as well as video to edit. I’ll admit that writing up posts are a little on the back burner right now. It is summer after all, and my mind is more focused on how to get out into the woods than sitting behind a computer editing and typing. I have a harsh Iowa winter up ahead where I get to do that, heh. I did get one video posted for the first time in a while on Pilot Knob State Park. So feel free to go check that one out.

Other than that, Colorado got me to 50 miles for the year, so almost a quarter of the way! Other than a busy work schedule, the next few months look like they should be good for grinding out some miles!

Now let’s go get our shoes dirty!

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Let’s chat about clothing options!

Another gear related question I get from people is “what type of clothes are good to wear?” I tell them to do what they can to stay away from cotton. As the saying goes, “cotton kills,” and here is why.

The Techy-ish Stuff:

As we hike, our body temperatures inevitably rise and needs to be lowered. To achieve the required heat balance we sweat. This is good and helps to cool us off, unless we are wearing cotton clothing which soaks up and retains that sweat. Simply put, once the cotton is saturated it no longer acts as an insulator, and instead starts to suck heat away from the body. This can drop our core temperature enough to cause hypothermia, even when temps are not freezing. The Mayo Clinic says many elderly people suffer from hypothermia in an air-conditioned home every year. If you are hiking in cotton clothing in the winter, then the risk is greatly magnified and you should probably rethink your hike.

This doesn’t mean that if you wear cotton out in the woods you will inevitably die, only that cotton can be added to the equation if something does go bad. Everyone has, and probably most still do, wear cotton on a hike. If that’s all you have, that’s all you have. Just be cognizant that once you get wet, if you’re feeling cool it might not be the wet shirt cooling you off, but rather your body temperature dropping.

So if you shouldn’t wear cotton, what can you wear? The big three you’ll find most commonly mentioned are clothes made with polyester, nylon, or merino wool. The primary function you are going to hear is that these materials “wick away” sweat, which basically means it does the opposite of cotton.

The design of “wicking” materials is that they pull sweat away from the body where it evaporates more easily, helping you stay cooler and dryer. The first major name that I remember pushing this tech was Under Armour while I was serving in Iraq in 2005. It was the big thing to put it on instead of the standard olive drab cotton t-shirt to help keep us cool in the heat. (They played it up too by being one of the few to make their products in military colors and the whole “Under Armour” thing.)

The last kinda technical thing I’ll cover is terminology of the tops. There’s a base-layer, a mid-layer, and an outer layer or hard-shell. Here’s the Barney-style breakdown. The base-layer is a thin, lightweight, breathable, wicking layer, such as the Under Armour shirts. The mid-layer would typically be a lightweight fleece or jacket, something to add a touch of warmth. The outer layer could be a coat to increase warmth, but mostly it is something that blocks out the wind and rain, sometimes referred to as a hard-shell since it goes over everything to protect you from the elements.

So what should we be looking for?

Now that the techy-ish stuff has been glossed over, let’s chat about what you actually wear. Today, there are more companies producing outdoor clothing than any of us realize. Some are going to be better than others, so read up and figure out brands to trust before you start investing heavily on a new outdoor wardrobe. When tech is involved in creating things, the price goes up, and quality outdoor gear definitely comes at a cost.

DSC_1353I’ll speak from personal opinion on what I do. I like to hike in a nice breathable shirt and a breathable pair of shorts or pants. Those are a must for me, I perspire a touch and breathable means wicking and staying cool. The majority of my hikes are from late spring through early fall (which I’m going to assume is like most of you). Iowa temps are roughly 70-90 degrees F, with 70-100% humidity during that time period, so I typically only bring an emergency rain jacket (hard-shell). If I do hike in the early spring or late fall I’ll add either a thin fleece or a lined windproof jacket. In the winter I wear a base-layer, the mid-layer fleece, and my outer layer is a lightweight, waterproof, winter coat.

When it comes to my legs I wear either my hiking shorts or pants. I only have one of each, so its a temperature dependent situation. Both are stretchy and have thigh pockets that work great for storing my map or lens caps, or snacks. In fact they are the same thing, except one is longer than the other. In the winter I will add a pair of running tights under the pants to add a bit of warmth.

And that is that on what kinds of clothes I wear on my torso and legs, moving on to the things we think less about.

The Peripheral Accessories:

Image result for under armour running glovesIf we have our legs and torso covered, then that leaves the head and hands (I cover the feet in another post). When it comes to hands, I think the only time we would need something would be during winter and possibly the weeks bracketing it. I use running gloves most of the time unless temps are really low, then a nice pair of thick gloves. I choose running gloves because they are thin and normally fit a little snug which allows me to still use my camera equipment and often allows the use of a touchscreen with them on.

When it comes to the head I think it is important to keep it covered and I use several options. First off, hats. I prefer to wear a full-brim sunhat most of the time. However, that doesn’t work when I have baby girl on my back I’m discovering; it annoys her half the time and she likes to play with it the rest. So I am switching to a standard ball cap. In the winter I use running beanies or standard stocking caps. I focus on sun protection and warmth.

The other item that I really like for outdoor wear is a Buff. Buff is the name of the company that produces a tube of material that can be manipulated to be used in a ton of different ways. I’m wearing my orange one with night time reflecting strips in headband fashion above. I recommend trying one out if you’ve never messed with one before.

Another newer item that has been popping up over the past couple years are arms sleeves. They are simple tubes of spandex for your arms that can be used to help warm a touch, or the more common use as I understand it, UV protection that is easy to take on and off.

The last accessory item I will touch on is one I never really hear anyone talk about, but it makes a big difference to me; the belt. We all should be wearing a belt to hold our bottoms up, but how many have thought about the materials that belt is made out of? I started out wearing my standard leather one, but it inevitably soaked up too much sweat, took too long to dry, and got annoying. Now I wear a nylon belt that doesn’t soak up water. It has made a big difference in comfort on the longer trails. Of course many have fancy buckles like rigger’s belts, or ones with bottle opens, etc. Just stay away from leather and cotton belts.

The Brands I Know About:

Like I said before, there are more companies jumping into the outdoors than we’ll ever realize. These are the ones I can speak to.

The budget option: Champion from Target isn’t among the highest end gear, but it will do when money matters and you’re just starting out upgrading from cotton.

The name brands: Eddie Bauer, North Face, Columbia, Under Armour, and Merrell are all high end brands I’ve had great experience with. My personal go to is Eddie Bauer’s Active and First Ascent lines, always great comfort and durability. None of these companies are cheap, but one thing about Eddie Bauer is that they have huge sales often. As Iowans, all of these brands also have an outlet store in the Tanger Outlet Mall in Williamsburg to save a few bucks.

That is just me though. There are other well know brands such as Arcteryx, Patagonia, Mountain Hardwear, Marmot, and REI that all have great reputations.

The important thing to remember, don’t let you clothing prevent you from going outside and getting active.

I recommend at least wearing something, we can have a ridiculous amount of mosquitoes in Iowa after all…

We all started with cotton, upgrade as you can. I have a specific set of outdoor clothes now, but I spent several years finding what I liked and putting it together piece by piece. You’ll figure out what you like and will build your outdoor wardrobe as you go as well.

I hope this little chat helped get you moving in the right direction.

Now go enjoy your walk!

 

What do you mean it’s June?!

DSC_3543Well then, for those that read the last update and remember me saying something about April being super busy but May was looking pretty good… I was wrong. May turned out to be pretty packed after all. I took a new position at work so there have been fewer days off with the related training and such. Plus I decided I needed to rehab my deck, so that ate up a couple of the nicer weather days as well.

I almost didn’t make it out on a trail at all last month, but luckily the weather was beautiful over Memorial Day weekend and the wife and I decided to take the girls and one of their friends over to Illinois for some waterfalls at Starved Rock State Park. I’m still processing the photos, but should be posting some of them on Instagram soon. (Here’s a sneak peek.)

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After seeing them with flowing water, it is amazing how massive they can get once they are frozen. That park truly is two completely different parks when you compare them winter to summer. (This is the same waterfall.)

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With the help of the WordPress staff I was able to get the map section to work. I plotted out the parks on my list in Google Maps so you can scroll around and zoom in and out to find parks that you may be curious about, or didn’t know existed. If I have posted a trail report for a particular park you should be able to click the link and go straight to the post to read about it.

June isn’t looking much better for getting out, but I have the last weekend off. Here’s hoping the sunshine holds, the temps dip back down into the 70’s or 80’s, and my honey-do list remains empty! Now come July, I am finally using some vacation and taking some time off work to explore some new places. Super excited!

I’m only about 25 miles into my 214 mile goal for the year, it’s time to take the camera for a walk.

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