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How to navigate || Part 3: Watch, compass, altimeter & GPS device

By Andrew Skurka / August 28, 2019 /

Using just a topographic map, I can competently navigate in areas like the High Sierra and Colorado Rockies, which generally have distinct landforms and open views. Even so, for added accuracy and unusual circumstances, I also carry select navigational tools, personally a GPS watch, magnetic compass, and smartphone with GPS app. These instruments become more…

How to navigate || Part 2: Maps & resources

By Andrew Skurka / August 23, 2019 /

For my earliest hikes, I utilized whatever resources were conveniently available and that seemed sufficient. Before thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2002, for example, I purchased the ATC Data Book and downloaded the ALDHA Thru-Hikers Companion. And to explore Colorado’s Front Range the following summer, I bought a few National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps that…

How to navigate || Part 1: Navigator’s Toolkit + Navigation Mastery

By Andrew Skurka / August 22, 2019 /

Navigation is one of the most important backpacking skills, and certainly the most liberating. It allows you to drive your own adventure, rather than being a passenger. As a new backpacker with only rudimentary know-how, I was confined to backcountry thruways like the Appalachian Trail and high-use areas like Rocky Mountain National Park, where I…

Long-term review: La Sportiva Bushido II || Ideal for high routes, Alaska, early-season

By Andrew Skurka / August 21, 2019 /

The La Sportiva Bushido II ($130, 10.5 oz) is designed as an all-mountain trail running shoe. It may perform well in that application, but I bought a pair earlier this summer to instead hike in Alaska’s Brooks Range and on the Yosemite High Route in early-season conditions. Over a 5-week period I put 315 demanding…

Long-term review: Therm-a-Rest UberLite || 3-season pad for 8.8 oz

By Andrew Skurka / August 19, 2019 /

Therm-a-Rest revolutionized the sleeping pad category in the late-2000’s with the NeoAir XLite, which was lighter, warmer, and more comfortable than the prevailing self-inflating pads of the day. Use of the NeoAir technology was expanded, and other brands developed competing products, but the XLite has remained dominant among backpackers concerned with the weight of their…

Long-term review: Big Agnes Tiger Wall Carbon Tent || $1000+ fragile guilty pleasure

By Andrew Skurka / August 17, 2019 /

Over dinner at The Pump House in Fairbanks, I read to my co-guides — Alan Dixon, Flyin’ Brian Robinson, and Justin Simoni — the disclaimer-filled email about the Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 Carbon Tent, sent to me by BA’s PR firm: “The [Tiger Wall Carbon] is intended for only the most advanced users. Although…

Review: Black Diamond Iota Headlamp || Goodbye AAA’s

By Andrew Skurka / August 15, 2019 /

On most summertime backpacking trips, I barely need a headlamp: I can break camp, hike as far as I want, and find a new camp using just natural daylight. Most often, I need a headlamp for camp chores after long days; rarely, I use it to hike a few miles after dark. For nearly a…

Long-term review: Western Mountaineering AstraLite || Very warm & light

By Andrew Skurka / June 13, 2019 /

In a one-week period in April I fielded three inquiries about the Western Mountaineering AstraLite, which was released in spring 2018 and which I’ve used for about 30 nights while scouting the Yosemite High Route in August, guiding trips in Sequoia-Kings in September, and enduring cold-and-wet conditions in West Virginia in May. I will use…

Drop 4.4 oz from the ULA Catalyst in 5 minutes

By Andrew Skurka / June 6, 2019 /

For 5- and 7-day guided trips this summer in the Brooks Range and Yosemite National Park, I plan to carry (and review afterwards) the ULA Catalyst. Its key specs: 48 oz (3 lbs 0 oz, 1360 grams) 4,600 cubic inches (75L) Twin aluminum stays Durable fabrics throughout Generous hipbelt pockets and front stash pocket Made…

Crampons & ice axe: Recommendations for the High Sierra

By Andrew Skurka / May 26, 2019 /

In July I’m running six trips in Yosemite National Park, split between two guide teams: two intro-level 3-day courses, and four more advanced 5- and 7-day trips. We will be hiking sections of the John Muir Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra High Route, and Yosemite High Route, in addition to other trails and off-trail routes. Because…