2017 Holiday Gift Guide for Adventurers (On a Budget)


It's almost December 25th and that means you might be scrolling through amazon trying to figure out what prime eligible items will make that weird outdoor person, in your life, a happy camper on Christmas Morning. Well, I'm here to help. Maybe? I've put together a list of stuff that at least I would love to receive. Everything on the list happens to be under $25 (because let's be real, we're all a bit strapped for cash around this time of year) and extremely useful. Happy Gifting!


Friction Labs Chalk - $7-$25

  • For the climber in your life. People make fun of me for loving this expensive chalk, but I seriously feel like it works better than any of the other brands. Plus it's got pretty packaging.

Smartwool Socks - $19

  • The best socks you'll ever wear. And they NEVER stink. It's insane.

Twist Lock Carabiner - $19

  • You can never have too many carabiners

The Great Outdoors: A User's Guide: Everything You Need to Know Before Heading into the Wild (and How to Get Back in One Piece) - By Brendan Leonard - $17

  • This is seriously an amazing guide book. Even for the seasoned outdoors-man, this is a fantastic reference guide on almost all outdoor subjects.

Stanley Classic One Hand Thermos - $20

  • Beautiful, timeless, and functional. The perfect place for the hot coffee.

Tenacious Tape - $8

  • A must have for anyone with a puffy jacket, down sleeping bag, nylon tent, hammock, etc. Quick patches that rarely wear out.

Fire Starter - $9

  • Because someone usually always forgets matches or a lighter.

Carhartt Beanie - $10

  • For the man or woman in your life. Everyone's got a head that needs keeping warm. And look at all those colors!!!!

Yoga Mat - $15-$20

  • Even if you aren't a much of  a "yogi", a yoga mat is nice to have for stretching, sitting outside, and even as a makeshift sleeping pad.  Also great for instagram photos.

Field Notes Notebook - $10

  • Make sure your adventurer can record all they did on their trip so they can tell you all about it!

Sawyer Products Mini Water Filtration System - $20

  • This is handy in case of any quick filtration needs.

Petzl Tikkina Headlamp - $20

  • Headlamps are seriously the greatest invention of all time. And these are SUPER bright.

Power Bank - $25

  • It's the 21st century and you need your phone almost all the time. So you might as well be able to charge it up even on a camping trip.

Mountain House Meal - $10

  • Chicken and Rice mountain house meals are so good. I'm not even kidding.

Titanium Spork - $8

  • You have to have something to eat your nasty morning oatmeal with. Or the aforementioned chicken and rice. (YUM) And lets be real, even if your person owns one of these, they'll end up losing it soon anyway. Might as well give them an extra.

Compact First Aid Kit - $19

  • This is a no brain-er, yet I most people I'm around (including me sometimes....oops) don't carry a first aid kit with them.

Compact Trekking Poles - $23

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!



Advice for the First Time Backpacker

I am by definition a novice backpacker. So don't think i've been on some incredible life changing thru hike. I've literally been on two trails. That's it. Though I will fight anyone who says the Fiery Gizard Trail is easy....

My first two trips were such a great learning experience and they've set me up for years of more prepared backpacking. I thought I would share some of my (extremely limited) wisdom for the first time backpacker. 

Go with someone who knows what they are doing.

Make sure you aren’t stuck in the backcountry with someone who hasn’t done the appropriate research about your trip. Make sure you have proper water sources, enough food, you know precisely what paths you are taking, etc.

No matter how tempting it is to go on a jumbled, thrown together, “let’s just GO!” backpacking weekend, I don’t recommend seeking out THAT big of an adventure if you are just as inexperienced as the dumbo planning it. My first trip was planned and executed with incredible precision by a trusted, experienced Boy Scout leader. That’s the type of trail captain you want for your first trip.

Don’t overdo it on your first trip.

You don’t need an expedition the first time you’re dipping your toes in the backcountry waters. I’d suggest keeping your total mileage between 10-15 miles (or less! My first trip was only 6!) with minimal elevation gain. This is most likely your first time carrying all of your belongings on your back for an extended time. Don’t ask too much of yourself.

Borrow. Don’t buy.

Now this is a suggestion I didn’t follow. I knew that when I went on my first trip that I would be using my gear for years to come. But if this a completely new activity for you, I encourage you to try borrow a friend’s gear instead. You can spend anywhere from $250-$1,000 on backpacking equipment (frighteningly easy to do, no matter how absurd that seems), so save your cash and borrow or rent some equipment until you’re ready to make the investment.

For locals, I know that there is backpacking equipment available to rent through ORAC at WKU!

Don’t pack your bag alone.

Ask questions at your local outdoor store, or the ask the trip leader how to pack efficiently. I promise you there will be no judging. Backpackers love to nerd out about their kit. Make sure you learn the method of weight distribution when packing. It’ll make your miles a whole lot easier to bear.


Don’t over pack

If you’ve done any backpacking research you’re going to have already read about weight, weight, weight. Your base weight is important. This includes your entire pack and contents minus your consumables (your food and water). You don’t want to be staggering through the woods with a 7 pound tent, 4 pound sleeping bag and a 2 pound sleeping pad. Keep your essentials lightweight so you have enough room/energy to haul your water and meals. Clothing takes up a TON of room. Try to plan out what you’ll wear each moment of the trip

Subpoint: layer, layer, layer. Make sure all clothing works together and is multipurpose. Bring lightweight layers you can piles on in case of colder temperatures, and then ditch when the sun comes out.

Don’t be so worried about weight that you leave out a few comfort items.

I know this seems to contradict the previous point, but just listen. There are a couple things you might want to bring along to make “roughin’ it” a little bit less…rough! My biggest things are:

Extra pair of camp socks for the evenings. Keep those feet dry and warm at the end of the day!

In-camp shoes. I am partial to Birkenstocks (they are lightweight and easily lashed to your pack) for my camp shoes, but a dollar pair of flip flops are great too. Believe me, after you’ve been walking miles in a day, you are going to want to ditch those chunky hiking shoes and let those barking dogs breathe.

Extra bras and underwear. I’m going to be real (and we haven’t even gotten to pooping out doors yet…..) I’m a sweater. And if I’m hiking or backpacking in temperatures above 75, it’s not going to be pretty. Being able to change into dryer clothing for the night is a major blessing

Share weight when possible.

Coordinate with your trail peeps and make sure you all aren’t packing multiples. You don’t need five stoves, ten canisters of propane, four bottles of sunscreen (well, if I’m with you that may be necessary – redhead problems.), and three water filters. You only need one of each with maybe a few backups depending on the trip. Communication is key.

If you’re cool with sharing tents, split up the poles/rainfly/tent into two or three hiker’s packs. That way one person isn’t stuck with the full weight.

No bathrooms. Don’t freak out.

Pooping in the woods is inevitable. And it’s weird. But here’s the thing, you’re going to be way more uncomfortable if you try to hold it. Fight through the fact that you’re going to be naked and feeling a little too vulnerable. It’s honestly not as bad after the first time. Make sure you learn how to dig a “cat hole” and bring a tiny trowel to share with the group. You’re gonna feel super proud of yourself after you take care of backwoods business. And for you ladies who may be dealing with Mother Nature on a trip, bring plenty of plastic baggies to carry out your trash, don’t bury that non-biodegradable stuff.

Attitude Issues (This one is for me)

I’m mashing three points into one title here.

  • Stay positive and keep complaining to a minimum (unless there’s a legitimate problem obviously!)
    • Everyone is hot, everyone is tired. Point out the great things instead of dwelling on momentary discomfort. No one made you come on the trip!
  • If you are truly struggling, don’t keep it to yourself.
    • You’re companions have no idea If the pace is too fast or you need to break for extra snacks or water. They won’t be able to help if they don’t know! I’ve had full blown panic attacks on trips before, and It was totally okay to take a while and get back to normal. Everyone is going to be so kind and helpful if you give them a chance!
  • If the first trip is awful. Give it another chance.
    • Learn from what made it bad and make the appropriate changes for the next outing. Remember, second or third time’s the charm!

Maybe this list was a no brainer to some, but hopefully it was helpful for someone who's never ventured out for more than a day hike. I think everyone should carry their belongings on their back for a few nights and see how little you actually need to survive.

Happy packing!



It's just the elevation. We aren't this weak.

     This is not the view you want to see when you’ve been on pins and needles waiting to see REAL mountains for the first time in two years. Wet, rainy, and unbelievably cloudy was what Denver had in store for Melissa and I as we landed on the saturated tarmac.

     We planned this trip back in November for Melissa’s birthday. She’d never been this far west before and when we found $50 plane tickets, it was a no brainer that this was how we would celebrate. I talked it up big time how the mountains greet you on the way into Denver International. Yet, all we could see was white fog the entire flight. It was the most underwhelming way to start a hyped up mountain vacation. We prayed that the weather would clear and in the morning we would wake up to the snowy peaks greeting us in the distance.

     We grudgingly stared down the sky as we took the airport bus to the car rental terminals. Unsure of what the weather would be like for the entirety of our trip, we traded up our standard rental car for something more adventurous. There was no hesitation when they offered us a pristine Toyota Highlander. Luxurious, yet rugged. It checked all the boxes.

     Day two did not bring the sunshine, and mountains we had hoped for. It was almost impossible for us to turn our sour moods around. Driving from Longmont (where we were were crashing with friends) into Denver, we screamed at the sky and hurled insults about Colorado in the key of “THIS LOOKS LIKE HOUSTON”,  “I DON’T EVEN THINK WE ARE IN THE RIGHT STATE”. (We both have an unhealthy dislike for the not so great state of Texas).

      As I mentioned in the last post, I am a planner, and a trip not going to plan is extremely stressful for me. I had spent so much time planning different places, parks, and activities for this weekend and almost all of them were getting postponed, cancelled, or switched around. I don’t know why I ever expect that a plan will be executed properly. No matter how meticulous I am, nature doesn’t really care about my agenda. It does what it wants. End of story.  It’s us human’s job to make the best of it and not be a sourpuss the entire time.

     Breakfast helped. And a trip to REI really helped. You just can’t be upset in that place. We stopped at Patagonia, Topo Designs, and had breakfast at a place where the biscuits were as big as my face. Next, we trekked through the Denver Art Museum. It happened to be a day with free admission so we actually lucked out! Art museums have a knack for improving any rainy, dreary day. When we stepped out of exhibits, we had a brighter attitude that matched the sunshine peeking out of the rain clouds. Maybe this place wasn’t as lousy (worthless, useless, trashy……….) as Texas.      


     Rocky Mountain National park greeted us with the sunshine we had wished for. We packed up, grabbed two pairs of snowshoes from a friend (we owe you, Ben!) and headed up to Bear Lake.

     Neither of us had snow-shoed  before, but I think we did pretty well. Except I totally fell within the first ten minutes on the trail. It wasn’t that it was very difficult, I just tried to take a stupid photo with me kicking my leg in the air like an idiot. It resulted in my tumbling over the side of the trail and landing in a snow pile. Got a great photo though.

     I dusted myself off and we marched on to what we thought was Emerald lake. We misread the trails (I’m great at that) and ended up going to a much less trafficked, Bierstadt Lake. No complaints here. We reached a pristine blue lake surrounded by snowcapped peaks, and we had it completely to ourselves. We hung out with the mountain ducks and took a well-deserved break, basking in the views.


      We stayed up there until clouds started rolling in and the skies began spitting snow on our wind chapped faces.  Pizza and warm drinks were waiting for us at the end of the trail. But RMNP wasn’t done blessing us yet. 

     Melissa and I were on cloud nine as we descended from the Bear Lake trail head towards the park’s exit. Spirits could not have been higher, or so we thought. We casually remarked, “the only thing that could make this day any better, would be seeing an elk”. Not even thirty minutes down the road and entire herd of majestic elk began crossing in front of our Highlander. 

     I almost cried. Maybe I did. It was all a blur. These gorgeous animals with their cute little heart shaped butts, hung out where we had stopped our car and we both hopped out to take a better look. I could barely take photos I was so overjoyed. I just wanted to take it all in. The herd finally decided to move on to another area of the park, and we moved on to pizza. What a day.

     Originally I planned to visit Colorado Springs during this trip, but since the weather didn’t cooperate for the first day and a half, we cut that from our itinerary and penciled in Boulder instead. First up was a morning in Red Rocks. I felt like a part of the landscape with how well my hair blended into the desert color palette. We hiked around a few trails near the visitor center and started of more of a major hike before deciding that we were too hungry and slightly dehydrated to continue. Saving energy for a better view later in the day seemed wise.

     We refueled in downtown Boulder, made a return at the local REI, and then headed to a local favorite, The Flat Irons. This hike was not a joke. It was a struggle fest. We had been sleeping at elevation for two nights and we’d been trying to drink as much water as possible, but let’s face it. That Colorado air is thin for “at sea level” dwellers like us. We kept saying, “It has to be the elevation. We aren’t this weak!” as we coughed, heaved, and sputtered up the trail.

     The trail was only about three miles long but it was steep and rocky ascent up 1500 feet with less than ideal oxygen levels. Readers are probably scoffing at us for thinking this hike was hard (and believe me, we felt ridiculous as trail runners blew past us as we heaved), but give us a break. Kentucky and Tennessee are vastly different from arid Colorado.

     Anyway, we continued up, spirits still high even with our ridiculous struggling. We met a nice guy on the trail who warned us a rattle snake was just spotted in front of us. Thankfully we didn’t run into any slithery friends, and instead we got to pet that guys adorable pup. 

     Scrambling up the last hundred feet was a blast. We perched on top of the jagged landscape and ate some cliff bars to ease our stomachs. There was a fair amount of hikers at the top so we all took turns grabbing photos of the view. A girl offered to take a photo of both Melissa and I and we got to talking and even ended up hiking down the trail together. Brenn happened to be visiting from Philly and was hiking on a broken foot. She made us feel like weaklings with all our limbs intact, struggling up the hill. She was a firecracker and it was great to meet and photograph her. Trail people are always the best people.

     We weren’t ready to call it a quits yet. Coffee was in order, and then we drove around trying to find another small hike to end the day. We found a beautiful inner city park and strolled around until day light started to fade.

     Our time in Colorado was finally at an end. The trip didn’t pan out like I’d painstakingly planned, but all the experiences we had were priceless. Don’t let unforeseen circumstances and uncooperative weather steal your joy. Nine times out of ten things will work out and leave you with better memories that you could have hoped.  

P.S. I vlogged the whole trip if you'd like to see more of what we saw!

"How intense is the hike?" "Not too bad, just uphill to the view"

     That was the answer I gave when Courtlyn asked me about the hike I had planned for the weekend. I also might have told her that the hike was only about 3 miles long. Both of these pieces of information may have been a bit understated.


    Something you all should know about me, is that I am a planner by nature. I like a schedule, a list, and an itinerary for almost any outing. The older I get the more stressed out I get when things don't go according to plan. So this explains the overkill in the below text message. 

    It went on even further, but I'll spare you the rest. This was honestly pretty tame, it's only a day hike anyway. You should have seen the five page google doc that I put together for a North Carolina trip earlier in the year (I might do a blog post on that trip because it was a doozy. In the good sense and the bad.). My travel partner, Makenzie, discovered I was an actual insane person when she saw my bullet pointed list of every item we would be packing, every location we would be going (complete with corresponding printed maps, and even geological coordinates for some locations), and links for extra time fillers in case something fell through. 

     None of this is too important for today's entry, but I think it gives you some necessary background about my personality for anyone who plans on sticking around for the long haul. Now back to the excursion at hand. 

     Originally, I planned to pick Courtlyn and George (the precious, good boy, Aussie Cattle Dog) promptly at 8am and hit the road for the two and a half hour drive to Berea, KY. However, I was an excruciatingly twenty minutes late due to: 1) all my belongings being stacked in a great pile in my parent's living room, and 2) checking my temperamental Subaru Forester's coolant levels, which ended up with me splashing coolant around and simultaneously covering my entire right arm in engine grease. 

     Regardless, we hit the road, and made it to our lunch destination with no hiccups. (Hallelujah). Berea, KY is a quaint little town known for its quirky local artistry and the college that bears its name. I've only been to Berea once before and on that occasion I wasn't able to do much but hike due to it being extremely early in the morning and no shops had opened their doors yet. 

     This time, everything was open and the streets were bustling as it appeared there was a wedding taking place later in the day. We snagged an outdoor table at a local coffee joint so that George could hang out with us while we ate our sandwiches and drank our beverages. I chose a latte that was supposed to be iced but ended up hot (still delicious, no complaints!) and Courtlyn got a mango smoothie which I was definitely a bit envious of. We finished up, scouted an ice cream shop for later, and made our way to the trail. 

     The Pinnacles are a trail system taken care of by the local college. It's conveniently located and well maintained. It leads up to an East Pinnacle and West pinnacle, each sporting gorgeous views of Kentucky's rolling hills and picturesque farm land. I quite like the fact that there are an East and West point because you could easily spend the entire day up there and see the sun rise and set and have some town exploring in between. 

     Starting out, you make a steady ascent up a wide trail until you arrive at an intersection leading to either East or West. At this point you are standing in most beautiful clearing filled with wildflowers and butterflies. It left us wondering when the elves would be popping out to say hello. 

     We decided decided to tackle the East Pinnacle first. Once we reached it, we took a much needed snack and water break. We especially made sure George kept drinking though we wasn't too keen on having water forced at him every few minutes (sorry we kept harassing you George, it was for your own good).      

     Snacks finished, water drank, bugs descending....
When an Assassin bug the size of my palm is intruding (i'm aware that in reality, we were the ones invading his area, but this my narrative!) your scenic view, it's definitely time to go.  

Upon further research, this ugly specimen is not an Assassin bug, but a nearby cousin called 'Leptoglossus Clypealis'. Unlike the Assassin bug, the Lepto doesn't tend to bite, instead he creates a bad smelling liquid when threatened. Basically a MASSIVE stink bug. Still scary when its as big as the palm of your hand....

     Just around the corner from our first stop was an even better view point with perfect trees for hammocking. We set up our portable seat and took some photos. While relaxing, a nice guy and his Bernese Mountain dog, Boyd, joined us and I took some complimentary photos for them (which reminds me, I need to email them to him. Oops).
     Boyd made it a bit difficult to take glamour shots since all he wanted to do was hide under a shady rock shelf. Poor guy must have been on fire underneath all that fur. I happen to have extrememly thick and heavy hair too, so I "slightly" feel his pain. 

     After about twenty minutes we took off back down the trail to the magic meadow and hiked towards the West pinnacle. This time the ascent was basically straight up for a mile and half. Courtlyn and George were absolute gems about it. No complaints, and they didn't even ask for a break! They made what could have been a really un-fun hike, a joyful and rewarding experience. 

     Once we conquered the ascent, it was pretty late in the day.  We didn't stay very long at the end, and honestly I don't think we even made it to the true West pinnacle. All three of us were pretty pooped and ready for dinner. It was a unanimous decision that the next time we came, we would find the end of the West Pinnacle trail and explore when we weren't so hungry.

     The two and a half or maybe three miles back to car was all downhill (sorry knees) and it went by rather quickly. We arrived at the car, sweaty, slightly sunburned and ready for a seat. I don' think there is anything more satisfying than making it back to your vehicle after a four hour summer hike and blasting AC as your reward.

     Well......maybe burgers, pizza, and ice cream are equally as satisfying.  It's a tough call, but we ended up doing both to safe.  

     So, maybe that hike ended up being five miles instead of three. And maybe the hike was a bit more intense than I let on, but still, It wasn't too bad. Just uphill to the view.