Step Outside WELCOME TO STEP OUTSIDE! Find the best outdoor fun near you! en-us 30 Step Outside 144 144 Sat, 20 Apr 2019 03:54:19 -0500 5 Ways To Get Healthy By Shooting A Bow Archery as a stand-alone act is simple. Simply draw the string back to your face and let go. Watch your arrow travel downrange and, hopefully, hit the bullseye. Lather, rinse and repeat. To an observer, that might appear to be where it all ends. As an active participant, however, you’ll see there is a lot more going on than simply flinging an arrow toward a target. 

The benefits of archery extend far beyond the act of merely shooting, and they work for us both on a mental and physical level providing both great exercise and stress release. If that sounds like something worth checking out, then read on to discover five health benefits that archery offers participants. 

Several years ago, I got a random call from a production company to be the talent in a bowhunting commercial for a big-box store. During the shoot, one of the fellows in charge was watching me shoot my bow over and over. He asked if he could try it, so I handed him the bow but told him he might not be able to draw it back. 

He was shocked at the suggestion, but even though he was a couple of inches taller than me (and I’m not short) and also a former college football player, he couldn’t draw it back. He was amazed that I could draw the bow dozens and dozens of times and he couldn’t even come to full draw with it once. 

The thing is, archery involves a lot of back muscles and some shoulder muscles that get very little use in our everyday lives. If they aren’t developed, you’ll have to start with a very low draw weight. That’s okay, that’s how it’s supposed to go. You’ll soon realize that you want to be able to shoot heavier draw weight and that is a good incentive to keep shooting and, for many folks, to start working on their back and core muscles.  That’s a good thing for anyone. 

Mental focus is tough to come by these days because we have so many distractions in our lives. The thing is, really focusing on one thing is healthy for us. It’s good for us mentally to be able to home in on a single task and see it through. It’s also good for us to tune out the white noise of the world and put our whole attention on something as simple as shooting a bow. 

Just like running four or five miles, doing a hot yoga session, or meditating for 20 minutes a day, shooting a bow can help you feel more relaxed and centered.

It sounds like hippie nonsense, but it’s not. It’s beneficial to our mental health to settle into a task and focus on it with all of our mental bandwidth. 

Buried deep in the three pounds of gray matter between our ears we have reward centers that fire off a drip of dopamine when things go right. Social media has hacked this to give us a little hit when we get a “like,” but that’s not the best way to go about getting a daily fix. 

A better strategy is to trigger your reward center, that evolved during the days when we were scrounging the forests for our next meal, by accomplishing something challenging. Making a good shot with a bow is a challenge; making six of them in a row is even better

Our minds crave tasks that are difficult so that we can feel accomplished when we achieve them. Archery is ideal for this, and it’s one of the reasons that when people start to shoot, many of them never stop. It’s also why so many archery enthusiasts are devout recruiters to the activity. 

Mental health has been studied a lot, for obvious reasons. What makes us happy or, just as important, sad, matters to us. While results vary depending on a litany of variables, a common theme is that getting exercise in the outdoors is a major contributor to individual happiness. 

Archery allows you to do just that, and while shooting at a target in your backyard is better than indoor time spent flinging, a better option is to visit a 3D course

Shooting a dozen or more targets while hiking up and down hills and through the woods is hard to beat. It combines the outdoors with a bit of exercise and the joy of archery. 

Q: What’s better than experiencing something rewarding by yourself?
A: Sharing it with like-minded individuals. 

While we are connected to the world at large via our cell phones and tablets, we still cling to tribalism in many facets of our lives. We love being a part of a small group because it makes us happy. It makes us happier if that small group is working toward a common goal, like shooting a couple of dozen arrows well. 

Socializing around a positive activity is something we’re all drawn to at an early age. The need for it, and the enjoyment of it, don’t go away as we get older although finding simple opportunities to bond with our peers around something we all like can become more difficult to find. 

The good news is, your local archery shop will probably have a league night. Or, you might just form your own little group of like-minded archery enthusiasts to meet up with once a week at the outdoor range. Be with people who enjoy what you enjoy, and everyone will benefit.


Archery is fun, rewarding and good for us. If you’re looking for a new hobby or have always been interested in shooting a bow, give it a try. You just might find that there is a lot going on every time you get ready to shoot a few arrows, and over time, that the act itself will become both physically and mentally rewarding. 

Photograph By Tony J. Peterson Target archery is an excellent way to promote physical and mental well-being while truly enjoying a challenging activity. Mon, 01 Apr 2019 00:00:00 -0500
How To Tap Local Fishing Communities For The Best Angling There are a lot of fishing opportunities out there that may seem exotic or hard to come by at first. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find that they’re available to everyone, provided you’re willing to do some pre-trip research and you’re willing to source some local knowledge. 

There is no one more qualified to advise a newcomer on the best locations, presentations and tackle choices than a knowledgeable resident. With their help, you should be able to find amazing fishing opportunities wherever you go, which is just what happened to me earlier this year when I traveled to Florida’s Space Coast with my family for vacation.

Here's how I was able to tap into local residents and resources to turn what might have been a busted fishing day into an angling adventure my twin girls will remember forever.

I’d packed one travel rod, a spinning reel, and a small assortment of lures for our trip. The day before I wanted to take my girls to a local beach to fish I’d even stopped in at a local tackle shop to get some much-needed advice. The shop owner was helpful and I left with some 3-ounce sinkers, pompano rigs, and a package of frozen shrimp.

Quick tip: Quick Tip: Pay attention to how the locals fish, so that you can not only pick up tips, but also avoid breaking any unspoken rules of your potential new fishing community.


These worked great and I caught a few fish right away, but my enthusiasm drained away the first evening as I watched the waves grow from manageable two-footers to well over my head in a matter of a few hours. I knew the fish I’d found staging on a sandy shelf were going to be within reach, but impossible to work with my setup, which wouldn’t hold in the waves, or allow me to cast far enough into the surf to reach any of the productive water. My twin seven-year-old daughters were ready to catch their first saltwater fish, so I needed a new strategy. 

The young man working in the tackle shop closest to our Cocoa Beach hotel told me about several spots that might be just out of the wind enough to fish with my setup. He then showed me the smallest jigheads, hooks and sinkers they sold. I left with the ocean equivalent of panfish tackle and drove north until I found a private beach with paid access. Using my phone to check some aerial photography, I could see a pier and a jetty, and it looked like the best fishing might be shielded from the big waves. 

My first spot was a bust, but farther out on the pier I started to get bites. Pinfish were the first takers, but then I caught a blowfish that the girls would have found fascinating. A few small hairy blennies bit as well, so I drove back to the hotel to get the girls and their Uncle Dave, who didn’t want to miss a chance to see what the fishing was like. 

We’d just started to pluck a few hairy blennies from the rocks when a bikini-clad local with a cast-net and a fishing rod walked up. She surveyed our setup and said, “Honey, you’re all wrong. Everything you have is wrong.” She didn’t even let me respond before she walked off. 

A few minutes later we walked up the pier to see if we could find an open spot when another fishermen approached us and said, “Come on down. They’re biting at the end of the pier. All you need is a crappie jig.” 

When I told him my crappie jigs were 1000 miles away, he opened his tackle box and pulled a white marabou jig out and then unspooled three feet of 40-pound fluorocarbon for a leader. I watched as he set us up and when he finished he said, “Tip the jig with a piece of shrimp, cast it straight out and let it hit the bottom. Then, pop it back in.”

Quick tip: Keep your fishing simple when you’re traveling with kids. The best spots are often those easy-to-access areas from shore that will provide enough action to keep you and the kids happy.


On the first cast I did just that and within a few cranks of the reel a whiting bit. I handed the rod to Lila, who landed it while fisherman down the entire length of the pier cheered. The next cast produced the exact same results for her twin sister and it was smiles all around. We fished under a double rainbow while birds of all varieties tried to snatch our bait. The local who had set us up told us stories about fishing and offered up tips. 

It was one of those evenings when you pray to whoever might be listening to delay the sunset for a few more minutes just to wring the most out of the experience, but eventually we packed it in and thanked our new friend. 

As we walked off the pier, the bikini-clad rod critic who’d stopped us earlier was leaning hard against a fish that had some weight to it. Her fishing partner clambered down on the rocks with a net and when he popped up, a three-foot shark bowed the bottom of the net. 

The woman let fly with the mother of all swear words, which sent my daughters into a giggling fit. But that ended when she told the girls to walk on up and touch the fish. They were wide-eyed and surprised at the shark’s rough skin. It was a perfect ending to the most fun we had during eight days of theme-parks and beach fun in Florida. 

The shore fishing opportunities we found on our latest trip were no accident, even though we leaned heavily on local help. Here are some of the ways we made the trip a success.

Carry A Pack Rod: I always travel with a collapsible rod and just enough tackle to hit the water wherever we end up. The rod is a $20, whippy six-footer that is better than nothing and has been good enough for a wide variety of saltwater fish over the years.

It’s too small for a lot of fish, but good enough for a seven-year old or an adult man with the fishing enthusiasm of a seven-year old. The idea is to be able to fish any time an opportunity comes up, and if you’re looking, it usually does.

Buy A Time-Specific License: Pretty much everywhere you go you’ll probably need a fishing license, but most states will sell you a time-specific license that is usually good for a few days and is often cheaper than the fee to check one bag at the airport.

Tap The Local Tackle Shop: Aside from that, you’ll probably need a little help. I always do some internet research on the fish that might be available and the public spots I can visit, but there’s nothing that replaces local knowledge. I can remember strolling into a tackle shop in Key West one time and asking the fellow behind the counter what to use and he simply asked me where I was staying. After telling him, he grabbed a few jigheads, some shrimp and said, “Throw it out and then let it sit on the bottom."

Photograph By Tony J. Peterson
While traveling, you can often find easy-to-access fishing opportunities. In them, you might find yourself an entire fishing community that will take you in and offer a hand.

Mangrove snapper and grunts bit nonstop along with a few bonus barracuda and before long, my wife and I had an entire group of people fishing with us. Several had young kids and while they hailed from all over the country, we all shared a similar love for fishing. It was an incredible vacation and the trip that solidified my resolve for always traveling with enough tackle to take advantage of new adventure.

Nowadays, that new adventure involves a pair of little girls who want to catch fish and see string rays and experience what the world of water has to offer. It’s a gift that so many destinations offer. If that sounds appealing, consider picking up an inexpensive travel rod and doing a little research before your next family outing. You just might find a local fishing community that will take you in as one of their own, which is what fishing is all about.

Photograph By Tony J. Peterson An inexpensive travel rod and a time-specific fishing license might be all you really need to find fishing adventures in far-flung locations. Mon, 01 Apr 2019 00:00:00 -0500
5 Sneaky Ways To Fool Pressured Gobblers Most turkey hunters will openly admit that every male turkey they encounter in spring is different. Just as no two hunts are the same, no two gobblers react the same way. Some like to gobble; some never gobble, but in certain situations, using the right tactic can help bring those call-shy gobblers into range.

The following are five of my favorite tactics to use on those tough-to-coax longbeards that seem to hang up just out of range. They can be applied to both public-land and private-land hunting, though I strongly advise using caution when hunting public lands and mimicking turkeys.

As a common courtesy, if another hunter gets to a spot before you, move on and find a new area. This will give you more space and hopefully reduce the danger of other hunters accidently coming to your calls or rustling sounds in the leaves. And always follow the 10 rules of safe gun handling.

Public-land turkeys are often highly pressured and educated, making them some of the most difficult to harvest. Sometimes it takes little things and quick decisions to make your hunt successful in coaxing an educated bird those last few steps. These five tips, when used in the proper situation, can be extremely effective. 

For most hen turkeys, the majority of any given spring day is devoted to finding food and eating on the move. When turkeys are feeding through wooded areas they often make quite a bit of noise by scratching in the leaves and other debris on the forest floor. 

A hen turkey scratching through the leaves when feeding does so in a distinct cadence. Imitating that scratching cadence can often be just enough to get a gobbler to commit and come in. 

When setting up on a workable bird I often grab a good-sized stick that I will then place on the ground on my dominant side. Having this stick close by allows me to make this feeding cadence by scratching and rustling in the leaves with minimal movement and it produces a more natural sound. 

Quick tip: Scratching in the leaves in a 3-scratch cadence along with some soft clucks can be a great tool for coaxing a wary tom those last few yards into range. Mouth calls and friction calls that require limited movement are best suited to these close-quarter situations.

Soft clucks and purrs while making this feeding noise are the sounds of a happy hen turkey. This technique can be used as a hunter is walking through the turkey woods calling periodically or when you’re trying to make a play on a gobbler or strike up a conversation with one.

Video By John David Santi
Learn how to use a stick to rustle leaves in the proper cadence to imitate a happily feeding hen to attract call-shy cobblers.


In areas with vast tracts of timber this can be an extremely effective way of bringing home a turkey. Sometimes gobblers become call shy due to hunting pressure and no calling is needed at all. Scratching in the leaves is often enough to convince a wary gobbler there is a hen over in your direction. This trick also works great in situations where you can get in really close to a known roost location and visually see the bird fly off the limb.

In states where it’s legal to hunt turkeys in the afternoon, this can be a very productive time to harvest a bird. Many times, turkeys will roost in the same general area and, in some cases, the same tree, year after year. Sometimes a turkey will roost in the same tree each night! Find that roosting tree and you’ll be in business.

If the morning hunt proves to be unsuccessful, but the longbeards' morning shouts gave away his location, try sneaking back into his bedroom in the middle of the afternoon. Setting up and lightly calling every 15 to 20 minutes can be an excellent tactic. 

Using decoys in this type of setup is also a good idea depending on the openness of the terrain. Most turkey hunters are frustrated and out of the woods by mid-morning. Going back out in the  afternoon, when you may have more of the woods to yourself, can be a great tactic for hunting highly-pressured toms.

A big part of hunting is the comradery shared by hunting partners. Experiencing the ups and downs of turkey hunting provides great memories for hunting buddies, but hunting with a partner can also be used as a tactic for tricking even the smartest tom. 

Having the ability to send a hunting partner behind the shooter to mimic the sounds (yelps, clucks, purrs, and scratching in the leaves) of a retreating hen can be deadly. Just be careful on public land where other hunters may be attracted to your partner’s calls by mistake. 

This “drop-back” calling strategy works very well in hunting scenarios where a tom can see a long distance such as in open hardwood bottoms or early in the season before plant life greens up. The caller can use terrain features and foliage to stay out of the view of an approaching gobbler while creating the sounds of a foraging hen in an attempt to coax the incoming bird past the shooter in front of them at a killable distance. 

Patience is probably the biggest tool a turkey hunter can have in their bag of tricks. Countless times I’ve worked a bird for a long period of time and made him stop gobbling, only to stand up and spook him. Each turkey is different, but oftentimes tough, pressured turkeys require a lot less calling. 

Once the turkey knows your location and responds to the call, I sometimes stop calling altogether in hopes of making him come look for me. Having patience and fighting the urge to call is extremely difficult (everyone likes to hear incoming birds gobble), but sometimes not calling at all can be far more effective.

Turkeys that like to frequent large fields or always seem to have a large flock of hens with them are usually hard birds to kill. They have everything they want right in front of them and they feel safe, so why should they leave to come investigate your calling? There are two tactics I go to when dealing with a bird of this nature and both involve picking a fight. 

In the first scenario, if a known tom frequents a large field and roosts nearby I tend to get in as close as possible under the cover of darkness and place a feeding hen decoy and either a full-strut tom decoy or a subdominant jake decoy in the field. Some gobblers hate to see another male turkey moving into their home turf and will leave their flock of hens to pick a fight with your decoy. Always use extreme caution when using these realistic decoys on public land to avoid another hunter mistaking your decoys for a real turkey and firing at them.

If the first tactic doesn’t work, I’ll sometimes go after the dominant hen. Early in the season longbeards tend to stick close to their hens and can be very hard to call away from the flock unless there is a mouthy boss hen in the group. If I’m calling to a group of turkeys and a hen is loudly responding, I’ll try and pick a fight with that boss hen. 

As long as she is responding, I’ll continue to call with loud yelps and “kee kee” calls. (The National Wild Turkey Foundation website is a good source for hearing many of the common turkey calls.) The hen will either get irritated and head in the opposite direction or come to investigate. If they become interested, a lot of times the gobbler will follow right behind as the hen comes to check things out. 

Pressured turkeys are no doubt extremely tough to hunt and coax into range, but the feeling of success when you bag one is second to none. Be safe and get out there to experience the fun.

One trick to getting call-shy gobblers to come those last few yards into range is to scratch the leaves to mimic a feeding hen. Mon, 01 Apr 2019 00:00:00 -0500
Super-Clean Your Guns The Easy Way There is an old saying in the gun world, “Firearms have only two enemies – Rust and Politicians.” Be kind to your guns and they will be kind to you. Politicians? Perhaps not so much. 

Guns are an investment and just as you wouldn’t abuse a new truck you just bought, keeping your firearms cleans will guarantee you years of shooting enjoyment. Like most things in life, however, there is a right way and a wrong way to clean firearms. Learning to clean your guns the right way is something every shooter should know and it’s easy to do once you get a routine down.

The following are some of the tricks I’ve learned over the years to keep my firearms super clean and the gun-cleaning regimen I use to keep them operating to perfection. 

Before we start, this is so obvious that I wish it didn’t need to be said, but always check to make sure your gun is unloaded and that the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction whenever you pick it up.

Now, onto the good stuff. Keeping your guns clean requires both internal and external attention. Let’s start with the outside. 

All guns can rust, even those made of stainless steel. Simply handling the gun is enough to cause rust because your fingerprints will leave salt and other corrosive substances behind. You must prevent that by using a product that provides a barrier of protection on the metal. 

I just returned from the Old Hemlock Setter annual reunion where the bird shooters were often using shotguns that cost more than my first house. After hunting they tended to their dogs first, their guns second and then to themselves. Every gun was wiped down before casing it for the night.

The market is full of protective products. My current preference is Clenzoil, because it works and because I like the smell. I usually spray down the metal (protecting any optics from the spray) and then wipe with a cloth impregnated with the oil. Spraying ensures that the protection gets into all the nooks and crannies that are missed with a simple wipe down. 

If I have an old gun with a wood stock with a beat up finish, or any oil finish, I wipe the wood down with boiled linseed oil. This will often restore, at least temporarily, a rough looking stock. Brownell’s is a good source for this and many of the other cleaning products mentioned here.

Quick tip: Quick Tip: To clean a scope, use optical-quality cleaning pads and cleaning liquid. These can be found at any camera shop. Blow off all dust, wet a pad and gently wipe the glass to clean it.

The larger issue, though, is the internals of the gun. The bore being the most important. Many “Bore Cleaners” are formulated to remove powder fouling, but they do not effectively remove metal fouling. If you are shooting a centerfire rifle, you must periodically remove all of the copper fouling in the bore. For that you need a strong copper-cutting solvent like, Montana Copper Killer, or Barnes CR-10

Always use a high-quality, one-piece, coated, cleaning rod and, if possible, clean from the breech end of the barrel with a bore guide.  Use a jag that’s slightly small for the bore and double the patches so they will get down into the grooves of the rifling. 

Photograph Courtesy of Howard Communications, Inc.
The wide variety of gun-cleaning products on the market today make caring for your firearms easy. The trick is finding the right kinds of solvents and lubricants for your purposes.

The process to clean a bore properly is a bit complicated. I go into this in great detail in my book, Gunsmithing Made Easy, but this video covers the basics for rifle shooters.  

Handguns (or rifles) that have been used with lead bullets require a lead-removing solvent in addition to a powder solvent. Shotguns often need a plastic-removing solvent to clean out the fouling left behind by the wads. Work the bore with the solvent and a brass brush. 

It’s important after any cleaning that you remove all traces of the cleaning solvents and then treat the metal with rust protection. Before shooting the gun, wipe out the bore with a clean patch to remove the oil.

Quick tip: Quick Tip: One old trick to get the trigger mechanism super clean is to flush it with lighter fluid. This washes out the gunk and leaves a light lubrication coating behind when it dries.


While wiping off the metal and cleaning the bore will cover the day-to-day maintenance of your firearms, they should be field stripped and cleaned on a regular basis. If you shoot a lot, the carbon and crud will build up inside the gun and must be removed. (If you are not comfortable doing this, bring the gun to a qualified gunsmith who will deep clean it for a reasonable price.) 

Here is the gun-cleaning regimen I like to follow:

      1. The first step is to take the gun apart, which is commonly called “field stripping.” Each firearm has a different approach, which should be detailed in the owner’s manual. If you don’t have that, go to the manufacturer’s web site and find a download.
      2. Make sure you wear safety glasses, as some guns have springs and parts that can turn into projectiles if you are not careful. Also, later in the process you will be spraying some nasty liquids. You don’t want them to splash into your eyes. Trust me; it’s a very unpleasant experience.
      3. You should also wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from the solvents. And always do your gun cleaning in a place with good ventilation.
      4. Put all the small parts in a container of some kind. (I use a stainless steel salad bowl that I “liberated” from my wife’s kitchen.) Then spray them with solvent.
      5. Scrub them with a nylon-bristle brush, and spray again. Now let them soak while you clean the bigger parts.
      6. Next, turn your attention to the larger parts, the slide and frame on a handgun or the receiver and action mechanism on a rifle or shotgun. Be aware that some materials, like fiber optics and some stock finishes, can react to some of the solvents, so be careful.
      7. Spray the parts with a cleaning solvent, letting it drip off and carry away the gunk.
      8. Scrub with a nylon brush, spray with solvent and repeat. It might be necessary to use a dental pick or similar tool to scrape away some of the tougher carbon deposits. Let the parts soak so the solvent can loosen the grime and dirt.
      9. As you work, be careful not to allow the goo that you are flushing out to wash into the trigger or any other mechanism. Hold the part so the solvent drains away without problems.
      10. Finally, finish with a grease-removing solvent that dries without residue. There are a lot of name brand gun cleaning solvents on the market, but Brakleen, available at any auto parts store, works great and is inexpensive.
      11. Let it all air dry. The metal is now clean, but unprotected.
      12. Spray everything lightly with a low-viscosity lubricant and protector. I like to spray the action mechanisms and and then use shop air to blow out the excess lubricant so only a thin film is left behind. If you lack an air compressor, wipe off the excess with a cloth that’s been dampened with the same oil. This leaves a nice protecting film behind.
      13. Lubricate any friction points on the moving parts with gun grease. When in doubt, look for shiny places, which are usually where contact is happening. A gun is like any other machine; it needs lubrication. You don’t run your car without oil, so why run a gun without lubrication? Oil provides some lubrication, but I like to supplement it on the friction points with light gun grease.
      14. Put the gun back together and rack the action several times. It’s likely with some firearms that grease will squirt out in several places. Clean it up while you wipe down the gun with your rag.
      15. Put it all back together and function check once more to be sure the parts are in the right place and everything works. Wipe it all down again with the oily cloth and store the gun safely for the next shooting session. 

Fast and Not-So-Furious Protection

Photograph Courtesy Vista Outdoor
Running a bore snake, impregnated with protectant, through your gun is a great way to do a quick cleaning job in the field after a day of shooting. Just make sure you purchase the right size for your firearm.

Often, after a day of shooting or hunting, you may not have the time or energy to do a full cleaning job. It’s still important to protect the gun from rust, however. Here are three quick steps you can take to protect your firearms without a lot of fuss.

Spray and wipe the outside.

For the bore, a pull-through bore-snake that has some protectant on the last part of it will protect the bore until you can get to a full cleaning. Make sure you buy one that is the correct diameter for your firearm.

For shotguns, fuzzy sticks work great. They remove much of the carbon and grime. Mine have a small extension stored in the cap. This has a hook to attach to the eye at the end of the stick. After running the stick in and out a few times, I wet this extension with a protectant and hook it on the end of the fuzzy stick that is protruding from the end of the barrel. When I pull the stick out, the extension leaves a nice film of protection. 


Whenever possible, always clean from the breech end of your firearm. A bore guide is highly recommended to ensure proper alignment of cleaning rods straight down the bore and to protect the bore from scratches. Sun, 31 Mar 2019 20:19:08 -0500
10 (Modern) Essentials Every Hiker Should Carry When the third edition of the classic book Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills was released back in 1974, it quickly became a must-read for any outdoor enthusiast. The book was jam packed with practical advice, clever tips, and fascinating stories not only for climbers, but for hikers and backpackers, too. It was also the first published version of an iconic list of hiking essentials that remains just as relevant and important more than 45 years later.

The “10 essentials of hiking” were designed to provide hikers and backpackers with a list of outdoor gear that they should take with them every time they hit the trail. Over the years, the list has been updated and modified a bit, but its purpose has remained largely unchanged––keeping us safe in the backcountry.

Whether you’re heading out for a day hike, or spending weeks on the Appalachian Trail, these are the 10 classic essentials redefined for the modern age that you should always carry in your daypack, plus a few extra items thrown in for good measure. 

When the 10 essentials were first introduced navigation meant knowing how to properly use a compass and map. Those skills are no less important today, but the advent of GPS technology has brought new options to the category. Now, we can carry dedicated GPS devices with detailed maps of just about any place in the world. We can get navigational cues from our watches or even use our smartphones to help us find the way. That said, a good compass never runs out of battery life nor does it ever require a cell phone network to function properly. Carry one.

Proper sun protection isn’t just about wearing sunscreen. It also includes wearing sun glasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and even outdoor apparel that offers some level of protection from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Also, don’t forget to bring protection for your lips as well.

The options for bringing insulated clothing to keep us protected from the elements has expanded greatly since the publication of the original 10 essentials list. Today we not only have hydrophobic down that can resist water on an impressive level, but we also have our choice of a dizzying array of synthetic insulations such as PrimaLoft, Polartec, merino wool, and aerogel. The best part is that these insulators come in a variety of weights and garments, ranging from the ultra-packable variety for use in moderate temperatures to the thick and bulky, which are designed for use in extremely cold environments. 

Quick Tip: There’s an old adage amongst hikers and backpackers that says, “cotton kills.” Avoid wearing cotton clothing when hiking as those fabrics can take a long time to dry and offer no real temperature control in warm or cold environments. Instead, look for apparel made from merino wool or synthetic materials that are designed to be fast drying and have moisture-wicking properties.


Getting caught out on the trail after dark can spell disaster, which is why you should always bring a flashlight or headlamp with you even if you only plan to be out for the day. Modern flashlights and headlamps often use LED bulbs and rechargeable batteries, which allow them to run longer and brighter than previous-generation models. Just be sure they are full charged before you set out for your hike. 

The modern first aid kit not only comes equipped with bandages, adhesive tape, and gauze pads, but it includes insect repellant as well. It should also be stocked with options for treating blisters (the most common trail injury), bug bites, and the aches and pains that come from build your own medical bag to meet your needs or you could simply buy one from Adventure Medical Kits and get everything you need in one compact, lightweight and affordable package.

There may be times when you’ll need to start a fire while on the go, which means bringing a lighter or a pack of weatherproof matches

Alternatively, you could use a plasma lighter, which comes with a built-in rechargeable battery to create an arc of energy that can be used to get a blaze going in a fast, efficient fashion. 

Quick Tip: Whenever you set out on a hike, be sure to let someone know when you’re going, where you’re going, and how long you plan to be away. That way, if something goes awry they’ll know where to start looking for you.


When the 10 essentials were first created, carrying a knife with you into the backcountry seemed like a no-brainer. Today, it makes more sense to pack a multi-tool instead. Not only will you have access to at least one or two knife blades, you’ll also get screw drivers, pliers, can and bottle openers, wire cutters, and much more. A good multi-tool puts an entire toolbox in your pocket or backpack, serving as a great back-up should the need arise.

Whether you’re out for a few hours or making an extended hike for days, be sure to bring extra food. On a day hike, that means packing an extra energy bar or two for those “just-in-case” scenarios. If you’re planning a longer expedition, always pack an extra day or two’s worth of food. That’s easy to do now that there are plenty of tasty options for freeze-dried meals, which weigh next to nothing, don’t take up much room in your pack, and are quick and easy to make. 

Staying hydrated on any outdoor excursion is even more important than having enough food. Hydration packs make it easier than ever to carry water with us in the backcountry and there are plenty of good water bottles that can help us to do the same. That said, bringing a filtration system with you means that if you run out you can always make more drinking water no matter where you go. There are even bottles that will remove harmful materials for you. 

Weather conditions can change quickly, bringing colder temperatures, rain, and snow even though the forecast doesn’t call for it. That’s why having an extra layer of clothing or two in your pack is always a good idea. Bring a rain jacket just to be safe and an insulating layer doesn’t hurt either. You never know when you may need more clothing, either for yourself or someone else in your hiking group. 

One More Essential

The list of 10 essentials remains just as relevant today as it was when it was first published. If I were going to expand on it, however, I’d suggest adding a portable USB battery pack to your list of items to bring on any hike.

One look at the list above and you’ll see a number of gadgets mentioned, including smartphones, GPS devices and headlamps. Keeping those items charged while on the go is incredibly important, which is why a portable power source is a must-have for modern backpackers. 

Whether you’re out for a day or weeks at a time, the 10 essentials of hiking will keep you safe on the trail. Fri, 29 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0500
Skier’s Guide To The Best Last-Minute Spring Vacations April typically marks the end of the North American ski season, but this year, a record-level snow pack throughout the West will ensure we are all making turns throughout spring, and perhaps even into summer! With the busy (and costly) spring break period behind us, now is the very best time of the 2018-19 ski season to hit the slopes for an exciting adventure.

Families as well as solo skiers and snowboarders can take advantage of uncrowded lift lines, warmer weather, smaller ski-class sizes and an average savings of 25 percent compared to regular season prices. Here’s how to capture the best spring ski vacation deals right now.

Go west! This year, it hasn’t been uncommon for ski resorts in the Far West and Rocky Mountain region to report nightly snow fall in feet (not inches), with some base depths as high as 235 inches in Northern California.

In Tahoe, Heavenly Mountain Resort has announced an extended season through April 28, 2019, plus a three-day weekend May 3-5. Northstar California has announced that they will remain open through April 21, and Kirkwood Mountain Resort will stay open through April 14, with a three-day weekend April 19-21.

Sierra-at-Tahoe won’t close until April 23, and Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows anticipates remaining open through May, with an estimated close date of June 2. But wait, there’s more: further south, Mammoth Mountain won’t close until June 30!

In the greater Pacific Northwest, Idaho’s Sun Valley Resort will remain open until mid-April, Oregon’s Mt. Hood Meadows will be open until May 5, and British Columbia’s Whistler-Blackcomb plans to remain open until May 27.

If you simply must go farther east, the slot canyons outside Park City, Utah have all been dumped on with Alta, Solitude, Brighton and Snowbird planning to remain open through April 21. 

Quick Tip: When you plan ski trips for the spring season, you might enjoy bonus activities off-slope, such as spring festivals, wellness events or retreats. The Sun Valley Film Festival, for instance, runs in March each year, and many resorts host music or spring equinox festivals during the latter half of the snow season.


General ski information sites, such as and, can be a good places to start when looking for the best deals, as both sites also have features that help skiers and snowboarders compare resorts and narrow down the options.

State tourism ski departments, such as SkiUtah and SkiIdaho, are also great resources . For instance, SkiUtah is currently publishing a 20-percent-off spring skiing deal at select resorts. If you plan to head to a Vail resort (there are three in Tahoe alone), check out Vail Resorts’ page for Northern California deals.

The best way to find last-minute deals, however, tends to be on the official resort websites. Depending on the type of lodging you plan to utilize, bundled lift ticket and lodging deals specific to particular resorts will almost always offer greater savings than if you purchased each item separately. And money-savers you may not have considered searching for, such as lesson deals or après ski discounts, are often advertised only on official resort websites.

Quick Tip: Remember that in many ski villages, renting a car is not necessary. Most provide free shuttle services around the resort area and even in town. Park City, Utah and Sun Valley, Idaho both have shuttle systems that extend to the town, and Breckenridge, Colorado is completely walkable. Northstar, California has a shuttle route that connects all their condo and townhouse lodging to the village.


After the busy Presidents’ Day and spring break time periods, ski resort vacations go on sale. April and May are the time to plan that last-minute getaway. Plug in your details (such as number of people in your party, dates and desired add-ons) at and a plethora of options abound, at an approximate savings of 25 percent this spring.

For instance, a three-night stay at Heavenly Mountain Resort in Tahoe for two adults and two kids (mid-week in April) is advertised at under $1200. The package includes three nights of lodging and two days of skiing.

Similar savings can be found at many other area resorts with on-site lodging, and deals can also be had via the airlines that connect you with the West’s best powder. Delta Vacations and Southwest Vacations have current deals on offer, and don’t forget about Alaska Airlines innovative ‘ski free’ offer: just show your boarding pass at any of the ski resorts they fly to, and you can ski for free that same day. This offer is easiest to redeem in Utah or Tahoe, where landing in Salt Lake City or Reno, Nevada put you just 30-45 minutes from the slopes. 

Once you’ve found that perfect resort for your spring ski vacation, if you don’t choose a package deal that combines resort lodging and lift tickets, you still have lots of cost-saving options. 

  1. Use a vacation site: Vacation rental sites, such as HomeAway, VRBO, and Airbnb, can be a good choice for larger families, family reunions and friend groups. And many are as close to the lifts as official lodging options.

  2. Shop around: Be sure to compare all three sites, as many vacation homes are listed on all three…but not at the exact same total price. The price may vary depending on the number of people in your party (and whether the site charges per person or per night) and what deposits and fees you’ll be responsible for, such as security deposits and cleaning fees. The exact same home could be listed for a few hundred dollars cheaper on one site versus another, so it pays to shop around.

  3. Go for a kitchen: Opt for condo or home rentals that include kitchenettes and washer/dryer combos so you can dine in for some meals and air-dry wet clothing.

  4. Buy groceries before you ski: Stock up on essentials at a larger supermarket before arriving at the lodge or village, which will have far fewer market choices and higher prices.

  5. Book a shuttle: If you plan to stay in a centralized location, such as a ski resort village, you may also save money by booking an airport shuttle to your condo, vacation home, or hotel room instead of renting a car. Keep in mind that in most mountain locations, an all-wheel-drive car will be required, which ups the price of renting.

  6. Bring your own gear: You can also save money on ski and boot rentals by bringing your own, taking advantage of airline deals where skis and boot bags count as only one checked item instead of two. Participating airlines include American, Delta, Alaska, Frontier and United, among other regional carriers and international carriers.

  7. Rent in town: If you do plan to rent, consider renting your gear in town or in the city after landing (for instance, in Salt Lake City, Reno, Boise, or Denver) to save you both time and money at the slopes. 

Taking just a little time to do some research can save you hundreds of dollars on your ski trip and exercising some simple cost-saving tips could save you hundreds more. The main thing, though, is to just get out there and enjoy the best skiing of the season, which is happening right now.

Photograph Courtesy: Scott Markewitz/Aspen Snowmass April and May are some of the biggest snow months of the year out West with many resorts offering last-minute deals that make spring skiing a bargain. Fri, 29 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0500
How to Pick the Perfect Campsite Choosing the right campsite for our backcountry excursions can be surprisingly more challenging that you might think. Sure, it’s nice to consider things like proximity to water, scenic views, and locating a soft, level surface to pitch our tent on. But as it turns out, there are a host of other things to keep in mind as well, not all of which may be quite so apparent at first glance.

It should be noted that if you’re camping in a state or national park, you’ll often find yourself required to stay inside a designated campsite. Usually those sites were specifically chosen because they have all the features necessary for a safe outing, while also protecting potentially fragile environments.

There are many parks and other public lands, however, that allow backpackers to camp freely in the backcountry, meaning you are can set up your tent just about anywhere. If that’s the case, these are the six most important things you need to consider when choosing where to settle down for the night.

The number one priority for most backpackers and campers is finding a source of fresh water that they can camp close to each night. Chances are you’ll be using water to not only make your meals, but to clean up your cooking utensils afterwards. Additionally, you’ll want to filter the water for drinking as well, which makes having it located close by extremely handy.

That said, you should always set up camp at least 200 feet from any fresh water source. This allows both other hikers and local wildlife to come and go without having to pass through your campsite. It also helps to cut down on trash and other unwanted items ending up in lakes or streams. 

Quick Tip: Plan on arriving at your campsite at least two hours before sundown. That way you can take advantage of the daylight to set up your tent, cook your meals, and complete your other tasks before it gets dark.


When searching for a place to rest for the night, look around for spots that can offer any kind of shelter. For instance, trees overhead can provide some shade from the sun, which is especially handy first thing in the morning. Also, keep an eye out for boulders, rock faces, or trees that can serve as a wind block to cut down on the ruffling of your tent while you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep.

Also, don’t be afraid to wander off trail a bit to find a location that is secluded and quiet. Even though you’re in the backcountry, you may still run into other campers, so choosing a spot that is away from anyone else is always nice. You’ll enjoy the peace and quiet, and appreciate not stumbling across one another throughout the night. 

When picking out your campsite you’ll want to find a spot that offers relatively flat ground to set your tent up on and serve as your living space. But before you do that, take a closer look at the area to make sure it is safe.

  • Examine the trees overhead to ensure there are no branches that are threatening to come crashing down in the night.

  • Avoid slides. If you find yourself camping at the base of a hill, be sure you’re out of the way of potential rock slides, avalanches, or areas where running water could come rushing through.

  • Camp on higher ground to avoid potential flash flooding or if the ground is especially dry, build a fire ring or go completely without a fire.

Safety should always be an important consideration when deciding where you’re going to camp each night. For instance, if you’re camping on a beach, it is important to identify exactly where the high-tide line and set up your tent above that mark.

Don’t camp under a lone tree or one that is substantially taller than the ones around it either. If a storm roles in while you’re at the campsite, those types of trees are the ones that tend to attract lightning.

Your campsite can play an important role in how comfortable you are during your stay in the backcountry. For instance, camping in a valley or other low area often means that temperatures are cooler and the humidity is higher. That often translates to colder nights in your sleeping bag and more condensation forming on your tent. It can also take longer for the sun to crest any surrounding ridges in the morning, which means your camp will stay chillier for a longer period of time, too.

Pitching your tent higher on a hill will mitigate most of those issues and will likely deliver better views as well. You’re also more likely to find a steady breeze, which can also make things more comfortable. Wind helps to keep flying insects to a minimum, which is pretty much the exact opposite of what you get when you camp too close to water. Bugs tend to congregate near lakes and streams, bringing all kinds of annoying nuisances with them. 

Quick Tip: Setting up your tent in the shade isn’t just good for keeping the temperature cooler inside, it can reduce wear and tear on your gear as well. UV light from the sun can degrade the fabrics that make up the tent, causing them to weaken over time. But by setting up camp under a tree or in the shade of rock face, you can help prolong your tent’s life.


When choosing your campsite, it is important to remember that the backcountry is often teeming with wildlife. Be sure to look for fresh signs of animals in the area –– including game trails –– before setting up camp. You’ll also want to hang your food in a tree each night in order to keep it out of reach from hungry scavengers. Nothing brings an abrupt end to a camping trip quite like waking up in the morning to find all of your provisions have been eaten by a thief in the night.

Bears are obviously the biggest concern for most hikers and campers, but there are plenty of other animals to keep an eye out for. Wolves, coyotes, moose, mountain lions, and even deer can get aggressive at times and it usually pays to give them a wide berth.

Smaller animals, like raccoons and possums, can be a major nuances as well, sometimes wandering into camp in search of food. Don’t give them any or they’re likely to be back looking for more before you know it. 

Before embarking into the backcountry, check online or at the local ranger station for any rules that could impact when and where you can camp. Some locations won’t impose any restrictions at all, while others will adjust their regulations on a seasonal basis depending on conditions. Some areas of the backcountry could be closed at certain times or you may be required to camp close to the trail. Either way, it pays to know ahead of time.

It is also important that before you set out you learn about things like the rules governing campfires. There may also be restrictions about carrying your trash out when you leave and having as minimal of an impact on the environment as possible.

These guidelines should serve as the basis for what you should look for when searching for a campsite. In the end, it’s all about finding a place that is safe, comfortable and convenient where you can relax and enjoy the outdoors for a few days. 

There is more to picking a good campsite than just a beautiful view. Fri, 29 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0500
Archery Gear—10 Best New Products of the Year In January, I spent three days cruising the aisles of the annual Archery Trade Association Show, which was held in Louisville, Kentucky. The ATA Show is the chance for archery industry manufacturers to showcase their best new products and for members of the media, as well as pro-shop owners and other archery industry professionals, to check out the latest and greatest gear offerings on the market.

Anyone in the hunt for innovative and interesting products this year certainly didn’t leave the show disappointed. The following are 10 new gear items worthy of your consideration, whether you’re an archery newbie or have been bowhunting for decades. 

One product that created a lot of buzz at this year’s show was the new Tactic from Mathews. This could be attributed to the bow’s 30.5-in. specs, which include a 7-in. brace height, 4.24-lb. mass weight and the ability to generate arrow speeds up to 335 feet-per-second. Or it could be that this bow is only $849 and offers all of those things, and many, many more.

That price, for a rig of this caliber, is incredible considering that you could drop twice that much on a new bow from a competitor. In other words, anyone looking for the best bargain in quality bows would be well-served to check out the Tactic. 

Crossbows have come on strong in the archery market over the last five years or so. Demand has pushed the weapon into the mainstream, and fostered a pile of innovation in the category, but that’s also increased the average price of many models. It’s not uncommon to see price tags of well in excess of $2000 for 2019 offerings, which makes the RDX 400 from Wicked Ridge an absolute steal.

Options start at under $800 for this compact, 7.-lb crossbow that can fire bolts up to 400 fps. For ease-in-use the RDX 400 is designed with either the ACUdraw or Rope Sled cocking device, and every iteration is built with the DFI (Dry-Fire-Inhibitor) for safety. 

Here’s the thing about archery targets, the more fun they are to shoot at, the more you’ll shoot overall. If you can find a target that is fun to shoot and will last for years, then you’re really on to something. No one builds targets to last longer than Rinehart and if there is a company with better imagination when it comes to creating new offerings, I’ve yet to come across it. 

Quick Tip: March is a great month to visit a local pro shop and receive hands-on help in choosing new archery products.


This year, Rinehart has released the 1/3-Scale Woodland Elk, which is the coolest target on the market. It measures 38 inches tall, is designed with a replaceable core, and represents an actual bugling bull elk, but at 33-percent of a real bull’s size. Even if you’ll never hunt elk in the wild, this target is a worthy investment at only $220.

The arrow market can seem overwhelming, and since the entire category looks similar, it might seem like a waste of money to buy spendy arrows when there are cheaper options available. The thing about that is, high-end arrows perform so much better than low-end arrows that it’s not even close. They also last a lot longer because they don’t experience spine degradation nearly as quick. This means that while the cost up front is higher, overall they represent a better value. And it’s hard to make a better choice than to go with the new Maxima XRZs from Carbon Express.

These arrows are built with Tri-Spine technology to produce unprecedented flight, are laser-checked for straightness, and are available in multiple options to suit a wide range of archer’s needs. 

The sight market can also be a bit overwhelming, which is why it’s best to whittle down the choices to what you really need. For most shooters, three pins will suffice as will first- and second-axis adjustment. This makes the new Ascent Whitetail from Black Gold an excellent choice.

This American-made sight is built with the company’s signature PhotoChromatic technology, which utilizes available light to adjust pin brightness to perfection, no matter whether you’re shooting at first light or during your lunch break when the sun is blazing directly overhead. 

LaCrosse Footwear has entered the leather boot market in 2019 with a lineup that is ideal for everything ranging from a pleasant Sunday hike with the family to a high-country bowhunt for elk in vertical terrain.

LaCrosse’s Atlas boots are offered uninsulated options as well as insulated versions that contain 400, 800, or 1200 grams of PrimaLoft Insulation. At $170 to $200, these boots are mid-priced but built to the specs, durability and comfort of $500 offerings. Each Atlas features the DuraFit molded rubber heel cup and Dry-Core waterproof lining to ensure all-day comfort in the harshest conditions. 

Five-sided hub-style blinds are great for bowhunting, outdoor photography and for exposing youngsters to the wonders of nature. The downside is that they are often heavy, bulky, and not that easy to set up. This is where the new Stake-Out Blind from Primos comes into play.

This 4.5-pound, two-hub blind is perfect for run-and-gun outdoor activities. It measures 37 inches tall, features three shooting ports/windows, and is built with the SurroundView fabric so you can fully see out, but critters can’t see in. 

The outdoor industry is embracing the influx of women into its ranks, and this is no more evident than when you check out new products like the Allure Stand Pack from ALPS OutdoorZ

Quick Tip: March is a great month to visit a local pro shop and receive hands-on help in choosing new archery products.


This daypack is designed to fit a woman’s frame perfectly via specially designed contoured shoulder straps and an innovative waist belt. It also offers up 2050 cubic inches of storage and weighs just a shade over four pounds. The Allure is designed with a litany of pockets and compression straps for added gear storage, and is covered in Realtree Edge camouflage.

Bowfishing is gaining in popularity for many reasons, not the least of which is combining the awesomeness of archery with the fun of fishing! Getting started with the right gear can be a bit intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be thanks to killer bowfishing kits like the Hooligan from AMS Bowfishing

Built on the Hooligan bow, which is a no let-off bow that offers draw weights of 24 to 50 pounds. This kit comes with everything you need to go bowfishing, including the Retriever TNT reel, Tidal Wave Arrow Rest, and a fiberglass arrow. 

There is no more of an exciting way to bowhunt turkeys than when hiding behind a silhouette decoy like the new Wiley Tom from Montana Decoy. This super realistic strutting tom decoy weighs less than two pounds, folds up to fit into a daypack, and is ideal for ticking off real longbeards and drawing them into range. It’s also built with a view-through window so you can see what you’re doing when you crawl through the grass toward a real tom. Just be sure to be safe and understand your environment, and you can experience turkey hunting in the most exciting fashion possible. 

Photograph by Tony J. Peterson The Archery Trade Show provides the best sneak peek at all of the new products you’ll soon find at your local archery shop for 2019. Thu, 14 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0500
Turkey Hunting—How to Get Started The Easy Way Wild turkeys can be alternately the easiest and most available game animals to hunt and also the most elusive and diabolically maddening. They live in nearly all suitable habitat across the nation and sometimes are so easy to dupe in the spring that it can seem like you’re taking advantage of their love-struck oblivion. However, the next minute their prodigious senses may kick in and they’ll demonstrate their legendary ability to survive.

But that’s what keeps hunting wild turkeys so interesting. They are one of America’s original game animals not only because of their availability, but because they’re so thoroughly vexing. After all, if every turkey hunt ended in a gobbler cooling in your vest, you’d lose interest in pursuing them. Luckily, every longbeard encounter has its own unpredictable script, a narrative that changes based on variables of weather, terrain, season of the year, and even time of day.

Here are 4 basic tips on calls and gear to help you bag your first spring gobbler right now!

Wild turkeys spend the night in big trees. It’s their aerial defense against terrestrial predators like coyotes and bobcats. Because these roost trees are knowable, based on your pre-hunt scouting or just good luck in finding them the evening before your hunt, your best bet is to get out of bed uncomfortably early and hike to that special tree, arriving well before sunrise and being quiet and stealthy in your approach.

Turkeys—there will be a mix of hens and gobblers in the roost tree—will become active a full hour before sunrise. Once they start moving, clucking, and yelping on the limb, you should not move at all. But if you’ve arrived good and early, you can stake out a decoy or two—these are the fake turkeys that we’ll discuss below—in an opening 100 yards below the roost tree. The idea is that these fake turkeys will dupe the real turkeys into thinking that they have friends to meet, right there on the ground below the tree near where you’re waiting with a shotgun.

If the toms (male turkeys) follow the script, they’ll gobble on the roost before they fly down. You can make a few calls to fool them into thinking your decoys are eager hens, but don’t overdo it. Once the birds fly down, throw them a few subtle hen calls, then shut up and wait for them to strut into range, which is somewhere around 30 yards for most shotguns and beginning shooters.

Of course, the script rarely flows that seamlessly. More often, the birds fly away from you off the roost, or you call too much and the real hens lead the toms in the opposite direction, or you move and spook the birds before they get into range.

All is not lost, however. You can still salvage your hunt by walking the woods and calling, loudly this time, until a gobbler responds and you can pitch yourself against the base of a tree and call him into range. Or you can leave the fly-down spot and find cooperative birds elsewhere. Just be careful about walking and calling on public-land hunts as this can be dangerous depending on how crowded the woods are with other hunters.

What all turkey hunts share—cooperative birds or not—is the need for body-covering camouflage, a basic shotgun that will throw a tight pattern consistently, a variety of calls, and a backpack or vest. There are endless variations on all these topics, but here’s how to get started.


Wild turkeys have prodigious eyesight. An old-time hunter once told me that they can see the sweep of a watch’s second hand at 100 yards. Maybe. Maybe not. But they see extremely well, and they especially see movement.

Photograph by Andrew McKean
Box calls are the easiest to use, loudest, and most versatile turkey calls for beginning hunters. Note how the hunter here is covered in camouflage.

You want to cover yourself up to hide shiny or off-color parts, but mainly to blur your outline. If a gobbler struts 10 yards closer to you before he realizes the blob against a tree trunk is lethal, that’s 10 yards that you don’t have to move toward him. Complete your outfit with lightweight camo gloves, a facemask, and a hat. And don’t neglect your boots; the shiny leather and eyelets of hunting boots have saved many a gobbler.

A key piece of kit that many beginners overlook is a vest. Classic turkey vests have an abundance of pockets to hold calls, shotgun shells, rain suit, and miscellany like bug repellant and pruning shears to trim limbs, but they also have a padded seat that will literally save your butt during long sits on hard ground. And most have an oversized pouch in the back to haul your gobbler if you’re lucky or good enough to kill one.

It's also a good idea to carry a hunter-orange vest and hat to throw on after you’ve tagged your gobbler, so you’re clearly visible in the woods when you walk out.

Quick Tip: Avoiding pressure—and danger—on public land. Because turkey hunters are donned entirely in camouflage, they can be hard to see. And because they’re calling and sounding like real turkeys, they can be easy to hear. That’s a recipe for an accident if two hunters mistake each other for turkeys. If you hunt public land, try to get as far away from other hunters as possible. Park at a remote trailhead, and then plan to hike far away from access points. You’ll be rewarded with more callable gobblers, and far fewer risks of being mistaken as a turkey by fellow hunters.



You can buy a purpose-made turkey gun with fancy camouflage. Or you can use the same shotgun you’d use for ducks or pheasants. The specialized turkey guns typically have extended extra-full choke tubes and after-market sights to place payloads consistently out to 50 yards or farther. If you go with your versatile shotgun, make sure it’s capable of shooting very tight patterns of turkey loads. That generally means the ability to screw in choke tubes of either modified, full, or extra-full. It needn’t be chambered to handle big 3-1/2-inch shells, but make sure it’s capable of shooting high-power 3-inch loads.

The specific choke constriction needs to match the load you use, and here’s where spending time experimenting with different combinations of load and choke will pay big dividends. You want to find a combination that will produce a pattern density of at least 10 pellets in a 10-inch circle. Most load/choke combos will do that consistently out to 30 yards, but how about 40 yards? 50? Experiment with different shot sizes from different manufacturers. Maybe you get the best results with #6 shot from a 3-inch Federal Heavyweight. Or maybe it’s #5 shot from a 2-3/4-inch Winchester Long Beard XR. Once you find the combination that produces that 10-pellet density out to the longest range, that’s the load-and-choke you should use in the field.

Make sure your shotgun has sling swivels. You’ll be carrying your shotgun a lot more than shooting it, and the ability to sling it over your shoulder for long walks will save a lot of aggravation. And if it’s not camouflaged, consider adding camo tape or even spray-painting it to cover up any shine or gobbler-spooking gleam.

The reason we hunt turkeys in the spring is because that’s when gobblers will come to a call. It’s their breeding season, and by imitating the sounds of a hen in heat, you can unlock the wariness of a wily tom. Even beginning hunters can easily make effective calls as long as you stick to the basics. Beginners’ repertoire consists of two main calls: the yelp and the purr.

Photograph by Andrew McKean
Setting up decoys in an open area can help attract gobblers who are looking for a visual accompaniment to your calling.

The yelp is simply a searching call, used to announce that “you” are a “hen” looking for love. If a responsive gobbler is in the area, he’ll generally respond with a thunderous gobble. If he’s really eager, he’ll strut in to shotgun range. Sharp, shrill, and loud, the yelp is like a chicken’s cluck, only louder and more insistent.

The other call is a “purr,” and it’s really a sound of contentment. It’s a soft trill that tells nearby turkeys that you are happy and that there’s nothing to fear by approaching.

Turkey calls come in a variety of styles. The easiest for beginners is the box call, which is about the size of a hot dog bun and makes sounds by sliding a lid across the thin sides, which are chalked to reduce friction. You might also consider a slate call, sometimes called a pot call. It’s a hand-sized piece of slate or hard resin or even metal that’s encased in a wooden or acrylic pot. 

By scratching the calling surface with a striker, a wooden or acrylic stick, you can make all the sounds you’d make with a box call. You can also try a mouth—or diaphragm—call. It’s a couple of pieces of thin latex stacked together that you put in your mouth. With practice, you can blow air over the reeds, making them yelp and cluck and purr.

Photograph by Andrew McKean
A beginning turkey hunter poses with her trophy. This gobbler fell for a decoy set up on the edge of a field in southeastern Montana.

The benefit of mouth calls is that they leave your hands free to do the shooting, which is the happy outcome of a successful hunt, and hopefully what this short primer has prepared you to do.

Photograph by Andrew McKean Pairing up with a buddy is a great way to learn to turkey hunt. One hunter can do the calling and the other one can be set up to shoot. Once one tag is filled, switch roles. Thu, 14 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0500
10 Awesome Vacations Your Fishing Family Will Love Fishing with the family is always funs, but  not everybody who lives under your roof may like to fish 24/7. And if you have teens, they might not want to spend the family vacation so far back in the sticks that they don’t have a chance to try anything new and exciting. Fear not.

We’ve found a handful of places  where families can have it all – outdoor recreation, excitement, shopping and shows with a bit of Americana mixed in. It’s summer, so you’ll want to visit a place where the heat isn’t too oppressive, and other water sports offer great ways to cool off. These places check those boxes and, depending upon which destination you choose, they may also include great beaches, places to canoe or kayak or a giant water park for a splash-filled afternoon.

Here are 10 places around the country that make great family fishing vacation destinations. To make your getaway even more memorable, we’ve even suggested some local guides that will help guarantee some rod bending action for everyone. Read on and start planning your getaway today.

If the number of bass tournaments held on a lake is any indication of how good the fishing is there, then Table Rock Lake, near Branson, MO, ranks among the best. Not only is the fishing good in this Ozark gem, but it’s close enough to one of the vacation meccas of the Midwest to keep everybody in the family happy.

Largemouth and plump spotted bass are the main course on the lake, whose name is derived from the large rafts of flat rock that line its banks in places. Finesse fishing with downsized soft-plastics in deep water or skipping baits under docks is the key to success in this clear, 45,000-acre lake.

Trout fishing in area streams and on nearby Lake Taneycomo is as good as it gets. Fortunately, the trout are always looking for an easy meal and don’t mind mixing it up with fly-fishing newbies.

Bonus Attractions: In addition to all of the music halls that make Branson an entertainment crossroads, Branson is home to one of America’s most popular waterparks, so be sure to check out 13-acre Silver Dollar City White Water Park while you’re there.

  • The History of Fishing Museum houses the vast lure collection of Karl and Beverly White.

  • The original Bass Pro Shops is about 60 miles to the north in Springfield.

  • The hugely popular Wonders of Wildlife Museum and Aquarium, which was chosen as the top new outdoor attraction in a national poll last fall, adjoins the store.

Key Contacts: Table Rock Chamber of CommerceEric’s Elite Guide Service (mostly bass), Anglers Advantage (trout), Wonders of Wildlife, and History of Fishing Museum

It’s hard to focus on fishing when eye-popping English Mountain and the dark peaks of the Smokies are in the southern backdrop, but this lake’s feisty bass are likely to jar an angler back to the business at hand. If none of the lake’s largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass are biting, then the abundant crappies, white bass, catfish and stripers usually figure into backup plans. Fishing and water sports on the 28,000-acre lake should keep you occupied, but Cherokee Lake to the north and Norris Lake to the northwest offer even more fishing opportunities. Trout fishing in any of several area streams is another option.

Bonus Attractions: Trail hikes, drives through the Smoky Mountains National Park (the country’s most frequently visited national park).

  • Visit nearby Dollywood (home to Splash Country Water Park) and the shops of Sevierville and Pigeon Forge. 

  • Kingsport Speedway, 75 miles away, hosts NASCAR races throughout the summer.

  • Dandridge, which is about 33 miles east of Knoxville, is a great town to use as a base camp. It’s one of the oldest towns in Tennessee and historical sites radiate out from there. 

  • Jonesborough, the state’s first European-American settlement (1779), is about an hour’s drive away.

  • Davy Crockett’s Birthplace State Park near Limestone is also an easy hour’s drive away. 

  • For those who like to golf, Morristown, 30 minutes away near Cherokee Lake, has four courses.

Key Contacts: Tennessee Tourism, Smokies Angling Adventures and Douglas Lake Marina Boat Rentals.

Big muskies, huge bass and lots of islands characterize the region where Lake Ontario funnels down into the St. Lawrence River. It’s not uncommon to catch 20-pound-plus muskies by trolling lures on one of the many charter boats available in or near the towns of Cape Vincent, Clayton and Alexandria Bay. A few years ago, a 60-inch musky was caught and released in the upper river. By comparison, the current International Game Fish Association world record musky weighed 67.5 pounds and was 60.25 inches long.

Clayton has been the site of numerous bass tournaments as well, beginning with the 1980 Bassmaster Classic, and a trip to sample the awesome smallmouth fishery there is not to be missed. Fishing for largemouth bass, jumbo yellow perch, northern pike and walleyes is likewise impressive.

Bonus Attractions: The Antique Boat Museum in Clayton houses all types of wooden boats from yesteryear; Boldt Castle and Heart Island are a couple of places to see at Alexandria Bay.

  • Farther down the river, the Frederick Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg is well worth the 50-mile drive.

  • The Dwight Eisenhower Visitors Center in Massena (85 miles from Clayton) tells the story behind the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which expanded shipping to and from the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence River.

Key Contacts: 1000 Islands International Tourism Council, Sign Man Charters, Antique Boat Museum, and Frederic Remington Art Museum.  

Quick Tip: If staying in a roadside motel or hotel for several days on your summer fishing vacation doesn’t seem appealing, opting for a cabin or condominium might be a better choice. There are a number of websites that offer vacation rentals, including Vacation Rentals By OwnerHome To GoHomeAway and Trip Advisor. Typically, the services provide prices and details about rentals, when they’re available and how to book them.

Water, water everywhere: Summer is the best time here to fish any of the several area glacial lakes, Grand Traverse Bay and its adjacent bays, and Lake Michigan. Lake trout, king salmon, coho salmon, walleyes and brown trout are mostly targeted in the big waters, while smallmouth bass, walleyes and yellow perch are the most numerous species in the region’s inshore waters and lake system.

Small wonder Field & Stream magazine named Traverse City as the third best fishing town in the country, and Fly Rod & Reel magazine put the city on its top 12 list of fly-fishing retirement towns. Understandably, there are plenty of guide services in the area, ranging from those that head offshore for a day of trolling, to those that specialize in bass and walleyes.

Bonus Attractions: Traverse City has an extensive shopping district plus lots of downtown art shops, museums and historical sites.

  • The popular Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, with its great views of Lake Michigan, isn’t far.

  • There are plenty of vineyards and wineries on the peninsula that splits Grand Traverse Bay.

  • Historic Mackinaw City Island is about three hours to the north on Highway 31, and much of the drive is along the scenic lakeshore.

Key Contacts: Pure Michigan Tourism, Traverse City Tourism, Mega-Bite Fishing Charters, 231-218-5381, Traverse City Charter Fishing, Traverse City Bass Fishing Guide Service and 45 North Vineyard & Winery .  

Some of the best trout fishing in the eastern states can be sampled in the quiet nooks and crannies of the southern Appalachians, which is why Fannin County bills itself as the “Trout Capital of Georgia.” Whether you’re a fly-fishing expert or a novice who can handle a spinning outfit, the streams in the 750,000-acre Chattahoochee National Forest offer secluded getaways for the family that likes to get away from it all.

Blue Ridge, GA, makes a good base of operations. The town shares its name with a 3,300-acre lake outside of town where it’s possible to catch bluegills as well as white and black bass, or go after the Blue Ridge Lake grand slam: walleye, smallmouth bass and rainbow trout. There are lots of trout streams in all directions, with native brookies sharing the water with rainbows and browns. You can make it as easy on yourself as fishing the well-traveled Noontootla Creek or as tough as Jacks River, which requires a 5-mile hike into the hinterlands.

Bonus Attractions: Beside various outdoor activities in the national forest, there’s a slew of attractions nearby in Blue Ridge, Dahlonega, Blairsville and Helen.

  • The Appalachian Trail cuts through here and there are scenic highways and even railways.

  • Mountain craft shops, as well as farmers’ markets and mountain music festivals galore, await here and there along the byways you’ll travel.

Key Contacts: Chattahoochee National Forest, Georgia’s Blue Ridge and On the Fly Excursions.

Thanks to the foresight of a few savvy charter boat skippers decades ago, Alabama boasts one of the most extensive inshore reef systems in the country. Basically, what it means for visiting anglers is that they can spend more time fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and less time riding in a boat.

All the favorites of the northern Gulf Coast are available to anglers fishing out of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, AL including red snapper, grouper, king mackerel, ling (cobia), amberjacks and various other reef fish.

Inshore, Mobile Bay, Wolf Bay, Perdido Bay, Terry Cove and Big Lagoon are popular fishing holes for flounder, speckled trout (spotted seatrout), redfish and sheepshead. For landlubbers, there’s the Gulf State Park Fishing Pier, where whiting, pompano, Spanish mackerel, redfish and the occasional king mackerel are available. Surf fishing is generally good along the beach, and watercraft of various types can be rented from any of several venues.

Bonus Attractions: Alabama’s Gulf Coast boasts some of the best seafood in the country, whether you eat it in a restaurant or take it back to the condo or campsite to cook.

  • Bon Secour (“safe harbor” in French) is shrimp and oyster headquarters for carry-outs, and world-class seafood restaurants are strung out from there east to Orange Beach.

  • Mobile, settled in 1699 by French explorers, is just up the road. Tours of antebellum homes and the USS Alabama, a WWII battleship, are among the sights.

  • Fort Morgan in the southeastern corner of Mobile Bay is a popular destination for Civil War buffs.

  • Fairhope is known for its boutiques

  • Foley is a shopping outlet mecca.

Key Contacts: Gulf Shores & Orange Beach TourismAlabama TourismIsland Girl Charters and Gulf State Park

You’ll see red when you lay eyes on the Green River’s Flaming Gorge area, which owes its name to the gorgeous red sandstone cliffs that line its waters. The reservoir straddles the Utah-Wyoming state lines and is home to some of the biggest lake trout, kokanee salmon and smallmouths in the West. However, it’s the trout fishery below the dam that is the big attraction here.

The 30 miles of river support one of the best rainbow and brown trout fisheries in the country, with a few native cutthroats in the mix. It’s estimated that there are between 10,000 and 15,000 trout per river mile, with browns predominating, and the highest concentration is between the dam and Little Hole.

There are a number of fishing guide services in the area and wade fishing is permitted where practical. Some trout fishing is available downstream – most notably Jones Hole Creek – where the river returns to Utah out of Colorado and passes through the Dinosaur National Monument toward Moab.

Bonus Attractions: Historical markers detailing important waypoints of the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails can be found in all directions.

  • The Wasatch National Forest features the usual outdoor attractions common to the Northwest.

  • Dinosaur National Monument, the John M. Browning Firearms Museum in Ogden and various stops along the Interstate 15 corridor draw a lot of visitors.

Key Contacts: Utah Tourism, Travel Wyoming, Old Moe Guide Service, Red Canyon Lodge and Flaming Gorge Resort.

Chances are you won’t be crowded by other fishermen in this 304,000-acre impoundment on the Missouri River. As might be expected of the fourth largest reservoir in the country, Oahe supports several species of sportfish, but is most noted for its walleye fishery. Otherwise, there’s the usual Midwest mix: smallmouth bass, northern pike, salmon, catfish, yellow perch and white bass.

Although there are guide services and resorts up and down the lake, also consider staying in Pierre. The second smallest state capital in the nation with about 14,000 residents, Pierre nevertheless loomed large in the early days of the fur trade and opening of the West. Consequently, it’s at the hub of number of historic sites.

Bonus Attractions: South Dakota is a hidden gem for travelers interested in the Old West and American history in general.

  • For starters, there’s famous Wall Drug Store and the Badlands National Park Badlands, the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, the Corn Palace in Mitchell and Deadwood.

  • The remains of the Sioux leader, Sitting Bull, are buried near Mobridge and it’s believed that Sacajawea, the Shoshone woman who helped Lewis and Clark explore the Louisiana Purchase, is interred near there as well.

  • If you’re in the neighborhood, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally takes place in August.

Key Contacts: South Dakota Tourism and Adams Guide Service.

Running water and scenery galore characterize central Oregon’s outdoors. The storied Deschutes River, which flows out of the Cascade Mountain Range, is one of those streams that most serious trout fishermen want to sample at least once. The salmonfly hatch and steelhead run are two good reasons to book a guide trip out of Bend.

If you have time to wander a bit, the state has approximately 12,000 waterways of various sizes and lengths – including 58 designated as Wild & Scenic Rivers – and all of them are full of fish. Among the best bass destinations is the John Day River, the longest undammed river in the state at 284 miles long. The river is especially famous for its smallmouth bass fishery.

Bonus Attractions: After you’ve done all the tourist things with the Cascade Mountains and the coastal towns, visit the Ochoco National Forest northeast of Bend for some of the best Western scenery in the land.

  • The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway through the Deschutes National Forest is another popular waypoint.

  • Bend itself has some interesting sights including Pilot Butte, a landmark near the Deschutes River; the High Desert Museum; and the Lava River Cave in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument.

Key Contacts: Travel Oregon, Little Creek Outfitters, River Runner Outfitters, John Day River Fishing and Oregon River Experiences (rafting trips on various rivers).

In a manner of speaking, there are two Maines: the rough-and-tumble northern region that’s largely owned by timber companies with large expanses of public land, and the southern section that’s more urban in nature. North or south, the fishing is fantastic for a variety of species in the state’s major rivers.

Prime time for trout on the Penobscot is July through the end of summer, but landlocked salmon and smallmouths the size of overinflated footballs are the biggest draws. Guided trips are the best way to sample the trout and salmon fishing in the West Branch, but there also are lots of access points to fish from the bank or by wading.

The rock-bound waters in the upper stretches require some deft footwork, so be advised. The lower stretches of the river attract more smallmouth anglers who fish from the bank or canoes, typically, with the usual assortment of bass lures. Canoe and kayak rental outfitters are abundant, and some offer tents and much of the gear necessary to set up a riverside camp.

If northern Maine doesn’t seem suited for your family vacation, head south. There you’ll find more of the traditional tourist attractions, including the Maine Beaches region near Portland. Some of the best largemouth, smallmouth and striped bass fishing on the East Coast is nearby in the Androscoggin River, and adjacent waters offer a variety of angling opportunities.

Bonus Attractions: If you’re looking for boat bargains, visit the Old Town Factory Outlet Store in Old Town.

  • Bangor, home to author Stephen King and downriver from Old Town, is the third largest city in the state (population 32,000) and has the usual supply of small museums and shopping outlets.

  • It’s about 60 miles from Old Town to the popular shopping mecca of Bar Harbor where you can rent sea kayaks by the hour, and Acadia National Park isn’t far from there.

  • L.L. Bean’s flagship store is in Freeport along with great outlet store shopping.

  • Inland, the Appalachian Trail and the northernmost peaks of the Appalachians – including Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park – await hikers and sightseers.

Key Contacts: Maine Tourism, Penobscot River Cabins, Maine Bass Fishing Guide Service, Twin Maple Outdoors, Tracewski Fishing Adventures, Penobscot Guide Service, Maine Outfitter (canoe and kayak multi-day trips), New England Outdoor Center (rafting trips) and Penobscot Adventures Whitewater Rafting.

Photograph Courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Wed, 13 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0500
Camping—5 Amazing Destinations To Try Right Now Now that spring is in the air and warmer temperatures are nearly upon us, it’s time to start thinking about that first camping excursion of the year. If you’re looking for a unique and off the beaten path destination to pitch your tent this spring we have some amazing suggestions on where you should go.

These hidden-gem destinations are great all year round, but in the spring they provide an extra dose of seclusion before the arrival of the busy summer season. Here are five of our favorite camping getaways where can lose the crowds.

Located in the shadow of Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia, Spruce Knob Lake Campground is a quiet place to pitch your tent nearly all year round. The campsite itself is found inside the Monongahela National Forest sitting on a ridge that overlooks the scenic lake below. It is surrounded by numerous thick hardwood trees, which helps to add to the sense of privacy and solitude.

Activities: Visitors will discover more than 60 miles of trail to hike in the area, with the campgrounds situated just off the picturesque Big Bend Loop. Adventurous hikers or trail runners may want to climb to the top of the 4863-foot Spruce Knob itself, where an observation platform provides excellent views of the surrounding countryside. Other activities include trout fishing, boating, or kayaking on the lake itself.

Reservations: The campgrounds are traditionally closed until mid-April, so consider that when making your plans. Because they are lightly used all year long, however, reservations aren’t typically needed. However, you can claim a spot prior to arrival on, with prices ranging from $13-$28 per night.

Quick Tip: is a great place to not only check availability and reserve campsites in U.S. national parks, forests, and preserves, but to obtain permits for special activities and buy tickets for tours and events, too.


When describing Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in Texas, most locals wouldn’t exactly call it a hidden gem. The popular outdoor destination can get quite crowded on weekends as visitors pour in to make the hike to the top of the iconic 1825-foot granite dome from which the park gets its name. But most of those visitors never go beyond the parking lot or the summit trail, which leaves the backcountry –– including its campsites –– relatively traffic free.

Activities: Enchanted Rock offers 11 miles of hiking trail to wander with the most popular routes taking hikers to the top of the dome. From there, visitors can see for miles in all directions, with the rolling Texas Hill Country spreading out around them. The park also offers fantastic stargazing on clear nights and has some of the best rock climbing in the state. Whether you’re an experienced climber or a complete beginner, you find a lot to like here.

Reservations: The park features 35 campsites with running water and another 20 primitive locations. All require a bit of a hike to reach, but that helps provide campers with a quieter experience. One tip however, is far easier to reserve a spot in the early spring than it is as the season warms up. The sites run $14-$18 per night and can be claimed on the Texas State Parks website.

Spring comes early to Tennessee, which means the camping season starts early, too. One of the best places to set up camp is at the Pickett CCC Memorial State Park, which covers more than 19,200 acres on its own. But the park also sits adjacent to the 125,000 acre Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, which means there is plenty of wilderness to explore.

Activities: Visitors will discover seemingly endless miles of towering bluffs and twisting gorges to explore, with numerous rivers and streams crisscrossing the area. Options for staying busy include plenty of hiking, rock climbing, and fishing, with exceptional whitewater kayaking in the spring months too.

Reservations: Pickett State Park features 31 campsites in total, with a mix of RV and primitive options. Those looking to truly escape the crowds can elect to hike to a backcountry location as well, where they’ll not only find plenty of peace and quiet, but amazing views of night sky too. Reservations can be made on the Tennessee state parks website.

How To Find Great Camping Spots Near You:

If you’re looking to discover the best camping (or hiking, fishing, and hunting) locations near you, head to the Step Outside home page and enter your zip code or the name of the city you wish to visit. Our search engine will automatically populate the interactive map on the page to help you locate the top trails, campsites, public lands, and other places that will allow you to explore all of the options for outdoor recreation in your area.

The Step Outside search engine will drop a pin on the map to represent all of the options found in your area. Those pins can be clicked on to learn more information about those places, including addresses and a brief description of what can be found there. In many cases, you’ll even find a link to an official website for that place, which can help when looking to reserve cabins or campsites or finding permits for other activities.

When traveling to another part of the country, the Step Outside website can be a useful tool when planning for your trip, too. Just enter the location that you’ll be visiting to see a list of options for outdoor activities in that place as well. This can come in handy when searching for campsites while on vacation for instance or when looking for good hiking trails near cities and towns where you’ll be staying.


At the southern end of the California’s Lost Coast Trail you’ll find a campground that is truly a hidden gem. The Sinkyone Wilderness State Park falls right on the beach, with the Pacific Ocean stretching off into the distance, while unique candelabra redwood trees form a dense forest around the area. The location is made all the more magical thanks to elk meandering through the area, while sea lions and harbor seals frolic in the waters nearby.

Getting to the campground can be a bit challenging as the road into Sinkyone is narrow, steep, and best for trucks, SUVs, and crossovers. That helps to keep the traffic down, particularly in the spring when hikers and campers are just starting to head back outdoors.

Activities: Visitors will find access to a variety of hiking routes, including the Lost Coast Trail itself, and the proximity to the ocean provides opportunities for kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and swimming. Horseback riding is allowed as well, making this popular location for equestrian camping.

Reservations: All campsites are primitive with a $5 per day fee. Reservations are not accepted online but can be obtained at the Needle Rock Visitor Center before heading to the campgrounds. 

Quick Tip: When planning a spring camping trip, check the weather closely. During the spring, conditions can vary greatly and shift from cold to warm and back again in a matter of just a few days. Depending on where you’re camping, rain and even snow can be a concern as well, so be sure to dress in layers for added versatility.


Utah is home to five of the most spectacular national parks in the U.S., with Bryce Canyon ranking amongst them. The park itself isn’t necessarily a hidden gem, but strike out on to its 23-mile long Under-the-Rim Trail and you’ll find eight different campsites that are off the beaten path, breathtakingly beautiful, and generally free from travelers during the spring time. 

Activities: The Under-the-Rim trail will keep most hikers busy for at least two or three days but there are hundreds of miles of other trails to explore as well. The geological wonders on display in the park will enthrall just about any visitor and at night, the skies over Bryce Canyon are a dream for stargazers too. There are even options to take guided night time hikes when the moon is full, casting a pale glow over the otherworldly landscapes found there.

Reservations: Backcountry camping inside Bryce Canyon require a permit, which is obtained at the visitor center prior to setting out. The permits cost $5 per night and reservations can be made up to 48 hours in advance. 

It really is possible to “get away from it all,” at these five hidden-gem campsites. Wed, 13 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0500
Hiking—The 10 Best New Pieces of Gear for Spring Treks Spring is finally here, which means sunshine and warmer temperatures aren’t far behind. But before you hit the trail for your first hike, backpacking trip, or camping excursion, perhaps it's time to upgrade some of your older gear with shiny new modern equipment instead. If you’re thinking about heading over to your favorite gear shop to see what’s new, here are 10 outdoor products you should keep your eye on this spring. 

A good headlamp is one of the most useful pieces of gear to have with you on any outdoor adventure and BioLite’s new light is perfect for day hikes or weekend getaways alike.

With its rechargeable lithium battery, the HeadLamp offers a burn time of as much as 40 hours on its lowest setting, while still being able to crank out 330 lumens of light on its brightest level. It comes with a surprisingly comfortable moisture-wicking headband that makes it ideal for high intensity workouts. Best of all it weighs just 2.4 ounces, which means you’ll hardly even notice it in your backpack. 

Gregory has a long tradition of creating excellent backpacks for use on the trail, and the new Miwok 24 upholds the company’s legacy nicely. The pack’s new BioSync suspension is among the best we’ve seen on a bag of this size, while the Miwok’s comfortable shoulder straps and hipbelt make this daypack a joy to wear on extended hikes.

Other nice features include a dedicated sunglasses holder, a large hydration sleeve, and a fleece-lined accessory pocket that is perfect for smartphones. Storage options abound as well, with a cavernous main pocket, two side mesh pockets, a front stretch mesh pocket, and bungee attachments for securing trekking poles and climbing tools. Essentially, this backpack offers everything you need for a day on the trail, wrapped up in a good-looking and durable package. 

Quick Tip: Most new hiking gear comes out during the spring and early summer each year, which means you can often find excellent deals on last year’s products. Check the closeout section of your local gear shop or favorite online stores and you’ll often find you can save lots of money on clothing, footwear, packs, and other items.


For early spring hikes where snow and ice could still be a possibility, the Lowa Innox Ice GTX makes for a great option. These boots were specifically designed to keep your feet warm and dry, while maintaining balance and control even in deep powder.

Comfortable, rugged, and good looking, the Innox feels like a sneaker on your foot, yet these boots maintain excellent traction even on wet, icy surfaces. A Gore-Tex liner ensures Innox boots stay waterproof even in the worst of conditions, while an insulated footbed adds a bit of extra insurance against cold temperatures. 

For warm weather hiking, the new Altra Lone Peak 4.0 is an excellent option. While primarily designed to be a trail runner, the shoe has become the most popular model for thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail. It’s foot-shaped toe box, zero-drop design, and comfortable footbed make it a great option for day hikers and weekend warriors too. Add in a grippy outsole and built-in gaiter attachments and you have all the trappings of a lightweight, yet very supportive, hiking shoe. 

Kammock’s new Mantis All-in-One Hammock Tent isn’t just a camping hammock but a full-featured sleep system that can keep you safe from insects and the elements while sleeping comfortably suspended between two trees.

The hammock come with everything you need to get started, including a lightweight rainfly, insect netting, and tree-friendly straps. The entire system can be set up in a manner of minutes, weighs less than 2.8 pounds, and can support up to 500 pounds of weight. In other words, it has all the comfort and amenities of camping in a tent, without having to actually sleep on the hard ground. 

Those looking to shave some ounces off their camping kit will definitely want to check out what Therm-a-Rest has cooking this spring. The company’s new NeoAir Uberlight sleeping pad clocks in at just 8.8 ounces, while its 32ºF Vesper Camp Quilt is a mere 15 ounces. That means combined these two products weigh less than two cans of beer, and since the both pack down to an incredibly small size, they don’t take up much room in your pack either. Made for warm weather outings, these two products will come in handy as spring temperatures take an upward turn. 

Quick Tip: If you’re looking to lighten up your backpack and move a little faster on the trail, buying new gear can often do the trick. Thanks to improvements in materials and the construction process, many products these days are lighter, stronger, and more durable than in the past.


A compass is always a great tool to have at your disposal when navigating a trail, but the LynQ takes that functionality to a new level. These easy-to-use electronic devices allow up to 12 of the units to be connected to one another, making it a breeze to know where others in your hiking group are located at all times.

A simple interface allows users to set the digital arrow to point in the direction of a specific person and even displays how far away they are. The LynQ works using GPS, which means it functions in areas where cell service is not available, potentially making it an important piece of safety equipment for backcountry travel. 

There are countless water bottles to choose from for use while hiking, but few offer the features and functionality of the Grayl Geopress. This bottle won’t just keep you hydrated while in the backcountry, it can actually purify the water you drink to ensure you stay healthy, too. Using a simple procedure, the Geopress can remove 99.99% of viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and other harmful elements from any water source, making it easy to collect drinking water from rivers, lakes, and streams. The device is fast, too, taking just 8 seconds to purify 24 ounces of drinking water and creating as much as 5 liters in a single minute. 

Whether you’re just heading out for the day or you’re making an extended backpacking trip. the new UCO Bamboo Elements Mess Kit will make meals easier and more convenient. The kit ships with a bowl, a lid that doubles as a plate, a spork, and a reusable tether to keep everything together. Best of all, it’s made entirely of Earth-friendly, easy-to-clean bamboo, that looks great and is incredibly lightweight. Even the spork is innovative, easily transforming into a long utensil for stirring pots or bags of dehydrated meals. 

If you’re going to be cooking on the trail or at the campsite, the new GSI Escape silicone cook pots will be of interest. Not only do these pots collapse down to save 53% more space in your pack, they also have 30% faster cook times, which in turn saves you 30% more fuel from your stove. The Escape line comes in various sizes, offering up fast cooking for a single hiker or larger pots that can feed the whole crew. 

Hikers and backpackers have amazing choices when it comes to choosing cool, new gear this year. Wed, 13 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0500
Handgun Shooting—4 Ways to Quickly Improve Your Skills If you are a new handgun owner, it’s important that you seek some training in the basics of shooting. Learning the rules of gun safety is also important. But, what’s next?

How do you progress to the next level? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall—practice, practice, practice. But practice can also be fun.

The more you shoot, the better your skills will become. But just going to the range and blasting away is pointless and will lead to bad habits. You need to practice with a focused objective in mind and in a way that measures your performance and improvement.

Here are a few drills that will build your basic shooting skills. These are “entry-level” exercises, designed to build confidence, but they’re also fun. Don’t worry about speed at this point; that will come later. For now, stay focused on the basics of sight picture and trigger control, and you’ll be surprised at how fast your handgun shooting will improve. Here goes.

This drill comes from Dan Smith, the co-owner of International Cartridge Company and a long-time competitive shooter. Dan says it goes back to a tip that Ray Chapman taught him during a shooting school in 1983.

Every top pistol shooter will tell you that fundamentals are the key to shooting well. Sight picture and trigger control are critical for any successful shooting.

By starting each shooting session with this simple, close-range, precision drill, the shooter is “programmed” to focus on the fundamentals of sight picture and trigger control. This drill helps program your mind and helps to set the stage for the rest of the shooting session. It’s also a good idea to end each session with this drill as it will help you to refocus on your trigger and sights. And with the tiny groups you’ll get as a result, it will leave your with a positive mental end to the day.

  1. Place a one-inch target paster of contrasting color on the target. 

  2. Move back to five yards. 

  3. Using a standing, two-hand hold, slowly fire 10 shots at the paster with your pistol.

    Take as much time as you need. Don’t rush. The goal is to keep all 10 shots on the paster and in a single, one-inch (or smaller) group.

    You will need perfect sight alignment, with equal light on each side of the front sight and a perfect trigger pull or the shot will not be on the paster. Even a small error in sight alignment or trigger pull will show up, with a shot out of the group.

    You will see the bullet holes and know where each shot hit. Every time you pull a shot off the paster, there is a reason. Maybe you let the sights wander; the sight picture was bad, you jerked the trigger, or your grip was poor, but something caused that bullet to miss.

  4. Slow down; focus on the fundamentals. Think of nothing else but putting the next bullet through the paster.

  5. Keep trying until all of your shots are on the paster. Then proceed to the rest of your training session knowing that your mind and body are focused on precision. 

This is a very casual drill. The idea is to use a smallish, reactive target. There are a lot of commercial targets, both synthetic and steel, that will work

But it’s cheaper to use soup cans, clay pigeons, square blocks of wood cut from a 2X4, or anything that is about 3 to 5 inches in size that will react when hit; be innovative. 

  1. Place five targets at 25 yards. Later, as your skills build, move them out in 5 yard increments until you are able to complete the drill at 50 yards.

  2. From the shooting line, shoot each of the five targets in succession.

  3. Shoot from a standing, two handed position. Take your time and work for precision. The goal is to hit all five without a miss.

  4. If you can do that five times in succession, it’s time to move the targets further away.

This drill builds on the fundamentals of sight alignment and trigger control, but at an elevated level as the distance magnifies any mistakes. 

Make Sure You Have The Right Ammo

Photograph Courtesy of Vista Outdoor
To find the right load for your handgun, shoot a series of 5-shot groups using sandbags to support your wrists. By carefully firing different loads this way, you’ll soon discover which ammo works best in your gun.

Most handguns have some preference in the ammo they like. For practice, you will want to buy ammo based on price as much as anything else, but it’s important that the ammo be accurate and reliable in your handgun. It’s also important that the point of impact match the point of aim.

Different weight bullets within a given cartridge can have a dramatic effect on the point of impact. With adjustable sights this is not a problem. Simply adjust the sights until the point of impact matches the point of aim at a given distance, usually 15 to 25 yards depending on the shooter’s preference.

If you have fixed sights on the gun, you may need to experiment with ammo to find a load and bullet weight that matches your gun’s sights. Most fixed sights can be moved side to side to correct for windage, but there is no easy provision for adjusting vertical point of impact. Bullet weight changes the impact up or down on the target so often a specific bullet weight will impact correctly for the sights. Typically, the heavier the bullet the higher the impact.

When testing:

  1. Shoot at a bench from a sitting position.

  2. Use a support like a sandbag to support your wrists, not the handgun.

  3. Fire each shot with precision and careful attention to sight alignment and trigger control.

  4. Always fire a group of three shots, or even better, five shots before making any changes.

Once you have your gun and ammo matched to impact at the point of aim and you are getting good groups of perhaps 2 inches or smaller at 15 yards, you are ready to start shooting these drills.


This drill was developed by Kyle Lamb for rifle shooting, but it is a great training drill for handgun shooters as well. The 2X2X2 is a simple drill designed to build speed and accuracy while transitioning to multiple targets. The key is to do it smoothly and to shoot accurately.

In the 2X2X2 drill you fire two “controlled pairs” at each target. A controlled pair is where each shot is aimed and the shooter must see the sights on the target before breaking the next shot. The shooter must also drive the gun from target to target, but stop the sights on target to break the shots. Do not try to shoot as the gun swings past the target.

The cadence should be fast enough so that the split time between the shots will be just about equal to the splits between targets. The result is six evenly spaced shots that can be checked by looking at the split times on the timer, if you are using one.

Only center hits count. Any shots outside of the “C” zone on an USPSA or the -1 zone of an IDPA target will not count. Remember the goals are accuracy and speed, in that order.

  1. Three targets are evenly spaced, side by side and placed five yards in front of the shooter. This drill is usually shot from the holster. However, a new shooter will be safer having the gun in their hands in the low ready position to start. Later, as your confidence and skills build, you can practice the drill by drawing from the holster.

  2. At the start, engage each target in order, firing two shots each. Right to left or left to right is shooter’s choice. The goal is to have both shots hit the target in the scoring ring.

  3. As you master that skill, you can start to go a little faster.

This builds skills in target acquisition as you move from target to target. 

This is a variation on the old kick-the-can shooting drill. In fact, you can use cans for this rather than a manufactured target. However, the manufactured targets hold up better and roll a bit more predictably.

Make sure you have a safe background to do this shooting drill.

This is a competition, so you need two shooters and two targets.

  1. Mark a goal line using paint or some type of marker.

  2. Place the targets 15 feet in front of the goal line.

  3. Two shooters stand with their handguns at low ready.

  4. At the start, they shoot at the target, moving it with multiple hits it until it passes the goal line.

  5. The first one across wins.

This drill is simple, but huge fun and it’s a great skill builder. 

Photograph Courtesy of Howard Communications, Inc. The author recommends starting each shooting session with a simple warm-up drill that emphasizes trigger control and sight picture. Wed, 13 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0500
31 Quick & Easy Trail Tips For First-Time Four-Wheelers If you just bought your first 4x4, congratulations! But if you’re new to the world of four-wheeling, the notion of putting that brand-new truck or SUV at risk on the trail may be a bit intimidating. 

It needn’t be. Even stock 4x4s are very capable machines, able to take you miles off the highway without breaking a sweat. However, a few simple, common-sense tips are all you need to get started in this exciting hobby. As your experience and confidence grow, you’ll find yourself exploring farther off the beaten track, and really getting the hang of what four-wheeling is all about. 

Read on to learn about your 4x4, how to drive it in a variety of terrain conditions, and what to pack for your off-road adventures. 

1. Trust Your Tires 

New-truck ads talk a lot about power and torque, but it’s those four black donuts between you and the trail that can make or break an off-road excursion. Four-wheeling is all about traction, so your new 4x4 should be equipped with all-terrain tires with deep, knobby treads that will find purchase even in loose soil, and tall sidewalls to cushion the ride over trail obstacles. If you plan to drive in a lot of mud or snow, upgrade the all-terrains to mud-terrain tires that have tread blocks that are even more aggressive.

2. Lower Tire Pressure For Traction

Lowering the air pressure in your tires by 10 psi or so can improve traction a couple of ways: widening the tire’s footprint (called “flotation”) keeps it from digging into soft ground, and softening the tire allows it to mold around obstacles to grip them. Be sure to air the tires back up once you’re back on pavement, as underinflated tires generate heat that can damage the tire.

3. Put A Tire On Rocks

A 4x4’s tires do more than just scrabble through the dirt. Carefully placing them between your vehicle and an obstacle minimizes sheetmetal or undercarriage damage. Big rock in the trail? Put a tire on it rather than straddling it.

4. Check For Clearance

Before you head off pavement, look under your 4x4 to get an idea of its ground clearance. A spec chart may tell you there’s eight inches or so between the truck’s lowest point and the ground, but having a visual reference of what that actually means, and where the low points under the rig are, will help you avoid hitting them on the trail.

5. Note The Overhang: While you’re under there, take a look at your 4x4’s front and rear overhangs, also known as its “approach” and “departure” angles. These angles are formed by imaginary lines drawn between the ground, the front tire, and the lowest hanging part of the vehicle. Essentially it’s the area ahead of the front tire (approach angle) or behind the back tire (departure angle) that can make contact with an obstacle without that obstacle hitting the vehicle.

Many SUVs, like the Jeep Wrangler, have short overhangs at both ends, giving them great approach and departure angles. Pickup trucks typically have terrible departure angles due to the length of their cargo boxes. 

Photograph Courtesy of Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp.
For more demanding traction situations, like mud (and snow), a mud-terrain tire, like this Toyo Open Country M/T, may be needed. Mud-terrain tires have more aggressive tread patterns with larger open areas between the tread lugs to help them self-clean.

6. Understand The Transfer Case

The button, lever or dial that engages the 4x4’s transfer case is what sends power to both the front and rear wheels. 4 High (4H on some switches) engages the axles at both ends; 4 Low (4L) introduces gear reduction to multiply the engine’s torque going to the wheels, so the 4x4 has an easier time tackling tough terrain. A transfer case with a 4-Auto setting means there are clutches or a differential in the case so it can operate in 4WD on pavement without binding the driveline—a good call for inclement weather conditions.

7. Switch to 4x4 When Pavement Ends

Engage 4WD as soon as you leave the pavement, and experiment with both High and Low range to get a feel for what works best on a particular type of terrain. Just remember to go back to 2WD when returning to the pavement.

8. Know Which Wheels Are Driving

Unless your 4x4 is equipped with some sort of limited-slip or other traction aid in the differentials, what is called four-wheel drive is actually just two-wheel drive, with power going to one wheel in back and one in front. The reason has to do with the differentials, which allow the wheels on either side of the truck to travel at different speeds while cornering. It’s a good idea to learn which wheel is driven at both ends, so you can better plan your approach to a slippery situation.

9. Add Upgrades 

As you seek more challenging terrain, there are aftermarket upgrades that are easy to add and will enhance your 4x4’s capabilities: bigger and/or more aggressive tires, firmer (or adjustable) shock absorbers, body armor (bumpers, bars and rails that protect vulnerable sheetmetal), extra skid plates, traction aids and a winch are the most popular. 

10. Start Slow 

Literally. Unless you’re racing in the Baja 1000, off-roading is not about speed. A leisurely pace allows you to enjoy the outdoors and relax behind the wheel, and gives you plenty of time to read the trail ahead and plan where you want to go. There’s an old saying about driving off-road: Go as slow as possible and only as fast as necessary.

11. Easy Does It 

If you have zero experience driving off the pavement, don’t start out on gnarly, rated-nine-out-of-10 trails. Find graded dirt roads in your area to get the feel for how a vehicle, even a 4x4, slides around on loose surfaces. Work up to more challenging terrain with as you gain wheel time.

12. Look Up 

It’s easy to fixate on whatever is right in front of you on the trail. A better strategy is to look ahead so you can plan your approach.

13. Scout Ahead

If you can’t see the trail ahead—what’s past the crest of a steep incline, or the depth of a stream crossing, for example—walk the route. Sometimes trails veer sharply one way or another at their crest. Likewise, streams are notorious for hiding deep holes that swallow 4x4s. Neither is a fun surprise.

14. Listen To Your Spotter 

In tricky terrain, a buddy or fellow 4x4 driver on the trail can guide you across an obstacle that you can’t see from inside the cab. Be sure to return the favor.

15. Momentum Is Your Friend 

Especially in very loose or slippery conditions, like mud and sand. Don’t stop until you’re on firmer ground to reduce the risk of getting stuck. Note “momentum” is not “speed.” If you need to park, position the 4x4 with its nose pointed downhill to make it easier to get started again.

Three Do’s (And One Don’t) When Off-Roading

Photograph Courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.
Once the front of your 4x4 has cleared an obstacle, remember the rear-end has to follow it. Because of their cargo beds, pickup trucks can require extra care to prevent dragging on ledges and rocks.

Do Stay on Marked Trails: Off-roading isn’t done in wilderness. Minimize your impact on the land by sticking to the roads and trails designated for vehicular travel. Ford streams only where they cross the road. Drive over, not around, obstacles so as not to widen the trail. These and more tips are available from Tread Lightly!, which promotes responsible recreation on land and water.

Do Go with a Buddy: Whether it’s a companion in the cab or in another vehicle, there’s safety in numbers on the trail. A buddy can spot you over tough obstacles, tug you out of a stuck, and get help if needed.

Leave No Trace: Leave the area you’ve traveled in better condition than when you found it. Pack out your own trash and pick up other trash you come across. If you made a firepit, bury it.

Don’t Drive Over Your Head: Expert-rated terrain is for expert four-wheelers. Nothing spoils a day (and your new 4x4) faster than toppling off a rock or into a deep mud hole. Trails are rated as to their difficulty level, sometimes with a number, others with colored shapes. (Green circle? Yes! Black diamond? Not yet.) Those difficult trails will still be there when you and your rig are ready to tackle them.



16. Straddle The Ruts

When traveling over a deeply rutted trail, straddle the ruts when you can to help maintain traction and so your front wheels don’t just follow the ruts automatically. If there’s no room to straddle, drive up on the rut edges, again to help maintain control.

17. Mind Both Ends 

After you’ve successfully negotiated the front of your 4x4 over an obstacle, don’t forget to take as much care with the rear end, too. This is especially true for pickup trucks, which have longer (and more vulnerable) rear overhangs than SUVs do. 18. Don’t Spin The Tires A spinning tire is not getting any traction and won’t move you forward. It will just dig in and get stuck. If a wheel is slipping, let off the accelerator pedal. Try again with lighter pedal pressure. Still spinning? Stop, back up and take a different line on firmer ground.

18. Don’t Spin The Tires

A spinning tire is not getting any traction and won’t move you forward. It will just dig in and get stuck. If a wheel is slipping, let off the accelerator pedal. Try again with lighter pedal pressure. Still spinning? Stop, back up and take a different line on firmer ground. 

Photograph by Drew Hardin
Signs posted at trail heads will indicate the trail’s level of difficulty. They will also alert you to trails that are closed for rehabilitation, washouts, or other reasons.

19. Turn and Grip

In some situations, like when driving through mud or up a hill in loose dirt, if your front wheels start to spin you can find traction by turning the steering wheel back and forth. That allows the tire treads and the biting edges of the sidewalls to look for purchase.

20. Go Easy In Snow 

Driving a 4x4 in snow is similar to driving in sand or mud as it’s a surface with very little traction. Momentum helps to keep from getting stuck, as does the wider tire footprint from lowered tire air pressure. All driving inputs—accelerating, braking, steering—should be applied gently and smoothly.

21. Back Off The Gas To Transfer Weight

In an understeer situation on snowy roads, when the truck’s nose is going wide of where the wheels are pointed, let off the accelerator to transfer weight over the front tires and help them grab. Watch for patches of ice that will diminish the already minimal traction. (For a more in-depth look at cold-weather ’wheeling check out our “4x4 Master Class—How to Conquer Snow and Ice.” 

22. Pre-Flight Your Trip

Make sure your 4x4 is in top operating condition. Check fluid levels (including fuel) and air pressure in the tires. If your rig is a year old, it may be time to change the wiper blades.

23. Map It 

Seems old-fashioned with today’s smart phones and GPS, but not all off-road trails show up on those electronic programs. A paper map will come in handy if you get turned around in the outback.

24. Mind the Weather 

As with any outdoor adventure, check the forecast for signs of bad weather approaching while you’re out. A dry dirt road can quickly become an impassable muddy quagmire in a downpour.

25. Check Out 

Let folks at home know where you are going and when to expect you home. If trouble arises and you don’t have cell service to call for help, they can send help your way.

26. Check In 

Stop at the local ranger station to inquire about any issues where you’re headed: trail washouts, areas closed for rehabilitation, and so on. Local officials are also a good source of trail maps and wildlife guides.

27. Water 

At least a gallon per person per day, more for higher altitudes and hot weather.

28. Gear Bag 

Purchase an inexpensive gym bag or duffle that you can toss in your 4x4 every time you go out. It should have a flashlight and spare batteries; cell phone charging cord and/or battery pack; multi-tool; tire pressure gauge; work gloves; energy bars, nuts, or some other calorie-rich snack; and a first-aid kit.

29. Recovery Gear

Prepare for the eventual stuck (it happens to everyone) by packing one or more of these recovery tools: A tow strap will allow a buddy’s rig to tug you free; traction mats for under your rig’s tires (floor mats will work in a pinch); high-lift jack; and a shovel. The next step is to mount a winch on your rig and bring along the related gear in a winch bag. (Read more about recovery options in 5 Things to Have When You’re Really Stuck.

30. Tools 

In addition to the multitool in your gear bag, pack tools that will help you cope with the terrain you’ll be traveling in, such as a collapsible shovel if you’re headed to the sand, or a saw to clear fallen branches in a forest.

31. Protective Clothing 

Pack extra clothes with local conditions in mind: A rain shell, fresh socks and extra shoes for wet weather; gloves, a stocking cap and heavy jacket for cold; a wide-brimmed hat, shorts (and sunscreen!) for hot months.

Photograph Courtesy of Jeep (FCA US LLC.) A stock 4x4 right off the showroom floor is a capable trail machine that will help you enjoy four-wheeling while you learn the basics. Wed, 13 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0500
8 Amazing Off-Slope Activities You Need To Try Even if you don’t ski or snowboard—or you just don’t want to ride chairlifts every day of your mountain vacation—there’s plenty to do in the high country in the winter. Here are 8 off-slope activities your family will love .

Why pay for tubing when there’s a perfectly sledding hill nearby? Because professional tubing hills give you a steep, spinning thrill like no other. Most tube parks offer enormous inflated tubes with handles, staff to answer questions and get you started downhill, and, often, a magic carpet ride back to the top of the very long hill.

(or superlative views, consider the tubing park at Mt. Norquay, in Alberta, Canada, near Banff

For a more down-home experience, where you walk back up the hill after tubing down, Snow Mountain Ranch, a YMCA-operated nordic center in Granby, Colorado, fits the bill.

If you can walk, you can snowshoe. And many mountain towns have a suite of snowshoe trails that range from flat and easy to through the woods and more challenging. Snowshoeing is quiet, as rigorous as you want it to be, and still you stay warm, thanks to your body’s effort. Snowshoe rentals are usually available at local mountaineering or ski shops.

Quick Tip: Sunscreen. If you’re going to be outside in the mountains, you’re at a higher risk of sun exposure, even if it’s cloudy, because the air is thinner at higher elevations, and the sun’s UV rays are strong. Always lather up before heading out, and reapply after a few hours.


There are two primary types of Nordic Skiing: classic and skating. “Classic” is where you ski in an established track and simply go forward. “Skating” is what Jessica Diggins and Kikkan Randall did when they won the gold medal in Nordic sprint in the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics. Naturally, you won’t be skiing like an Olympian your first time out, but you will experience the peaceful calm that comes from winding through the woods on skis.

There are Nordic ski areas all around the country—the best way to find one is by using the interactive map on this page or through an Internet search. Many mountain golf courses also groom Nordic trails in the winter.

Nordic gear rentals are typically under $50 for skis, boots, and poles, and day passes range from $10-$20 at most areas.

Many resorts are building off-slope winter activities to appeal to a wide range of guests. The Gold Runner Coaster at Breckenridge in Colorado drops 2,500 feet through the resort’s stunning, high alpine terrain. Participants ride a chairlift to the top of the coaster and then fly down. Coasters are cropping up at resorts all over the country—check out this an extensive list to find a coaster near your vacation spot.

At the newly renovated village in Snowmass, Colorado, the Limelight Hotel offers a five-story indoor climbing gym that’s open to the public and features beginner and more advanced routes . New Hampshire’s Loon Mountain has a climbing gym, as do many other resorts. If you can’t find an actual climbing gym, check out the town’s rec center—chances are they have one.

Quick Tip: Most mountain towns have city-owned rec centers with pools and hot tubs, indoor climbing walls, and gyms. Plus, they don’t mind brown bag lunches. For a fraction of the cost of activities at a resort, head to the local rec center for a day’s worth of activities.


The aestheticians in mountain towns understand the body’s need for moisture, relaxation, and restoration. They’re also intimately familiar with the sore muscles that come from pounding your body during adventures. A spa day in a ski town won’t be cheap, but it can relax your muscles and give you that extra boost to end your mountain vacation on a high note. 

Most resort-town libraries have a lot more than books. At the Vail Public Library, the kids’ area has toy trains and puppets, along with an entire nook of cozy furniture made for little people.

The Teton County Library in Jackson, Wyoming, brings in world-renowned authors to give readings and talks, has a café, and is a warm, welcoming place with plenty of work space. Many libraries will let you check out books with your local library card, thanks to an exchange program, or they may issue you a temporary card. 

OK, this isn’t exactly an off-slope activity, but it is one growing in popularity. Uphill skiing is where you have special ski bindings that release your heel on the way up (like Nordic skiing) and let you lock it down for the descent. To get traction going up, you affix “skins,” which are adhesive, carpet-like strips, to the bottom of your skis.

Many resorts, including Snowmass, Winter Park, Vermont’s Mad River Glen, and others allow skiers to go uphill during special hours. This lets you get the workout of uphill without needing additional expertise to ski in the backcountry (like knowing how to stay safe in avalanche terrain). Local outdoor shops rent uphill gear.

Photograph Courtesy of Jeremy Swanson, Snowmass Tourism Many resorts now offer tubing parks where the family can take a wild run down groomed hills. Tue, 12 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0500