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The Big Three on the AT

When backpacking, whether it be one night or one hundred, the Big Three can make or break your trip. The big three entails a hiker’s tent, sleep system (sleeping bag and pad), and their backpack.  

Here is a brief rundown of the Big Three for my 2022 Southbound (SOBO) thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail:

The tent is central to the big three, so choosing the right one is important.


 I’m carrying Big Agnes’ Fly Creek HV1. Fully packed, this tent weighs about 21 oz. While it may not be the most spacious tent, my plan is to use this tent sparingly and take advantage of shelters along the trail. My tent will be a backup if the shelters are filled up when I arrive at camp or if I want to spread out from the crowds.


Sleep System:

Quilt: For this hike I am using Enlightened Equipment’s Enigma 20 degree quilt. This weighs 21 oz as well. I went with a warmer quilt because summer nights up north can still get pretty chilly and I will be going through the southernmost states in the late fall/early winter. I can use this quilt the entire duration of the AT without having to switch it out for something else. 


Sleeping Pad: My sleeping pad of choice is the classic Nemo Tensor Insulated, which I am sure many of you are familiar with. This weighs in at 17oz. I do not have much to say about the Tensor that has not been said before. It is a great sleeping pad and widely used among backpackers. As with my quilt, the insulated model of the Tensor allows me to use it the entire time I am on the trail without getting too cold…. Hopefully. 



Picking my backpack was probably one of the toughest gear choices I had to make during my preparation. I was curious to explore hiking with an ultralight pack, but I like the versatility and weight capacity of internal frame packs. I have always backpacked with Osprey packs and really liked them, so when I saw the updated Osprey Exos it was a no-brainer. They say you pack your fears, and for some odd reason my fear is running out of room. I went with the 58 liter option for more space; it weighs in at 2.6 lbs. 

The Big Agnes Fly Creek is ultralight, a great way to knock weight off of your big three.

Check back later in my hike to see how my choices hold up after a few thousand miles of walking. Did I make the right decisions, or will I be wishing I had saved a few ounces?


by: Dalton Spurlin

Down vs. Synthetic Outerwear

by: Will Babb

Comparing down versus synthetic insulation in outdoor outerwear

If you ever want to waste an hour of your time, ask a gear junkie about the difference between down and synthetic, sit back, and listen to a monologue about the pros and cons of each. If that doesn’t sound like the best use of your time, spend a few minutes reading the rest of this blog for a brief overview of anything you might need to know. I’ll start off by defining a few things, dispelling a few myths, and sharing some key pieces of information.

When it comes to down insulation, the big talking point is always fill power. This isn’t an enigmatic concept only the experts know about; it’s actually fairly simple. The fill power refers to the number of cubic inches of down in one ounce. A piece with 700-fill down will have 700 cubic inches of volume per ounce of down. A big myth is that the higher the fill, the warmer the piece. This is sometimes, but not always, true. Fill refers to the quality of the down, but not how warm it is. Warmth has just as much to do with the amount of down or the way it is packed into the piece as it does fill power.

There is a right time and place for down or synthetic. Typically, synthetics perform better in wet conditions because they will continue to insulate even after they are saturated. However, synthetics tend to be heavier and less compressible than down, although they usually make less of a dent in your wallet. Down pieces, on the other hand, are highly compressible, lightweight, and sometimes as expensive as a flatscreen TV. The downside (pun intended) is that these pieces don’t insulate when wet. Even hydrophobic down, treated with a solution such as DownTek, won’t perform as well as synthetics once it gets wet.

Additionally a down garment doesn’t actually contain feathers. Instead, the loft comes from down plumules which are incredibly light and airy and will pack down smaller. These featherlight (another pun!) down clusters are what give your jacket all that fluff, without the annoyance of quills poking your skin. If you’re in the market for a new winter jacket or sleeping bag, it’s important to consider all of those factors before making a purchase. The conditions you’ll be using it in and how important weight and pack size are to you might determine which one is best for you.

Most down pieces will be either duck or goose down, with goose down being the higher quality but more expensive of the two. Many outdoor brands such as Rab and Sea to Summit are using sustainably sourced down certified by the Responsible Down Standard, which ensures ethical treatment of birds.

Almost all down pieces will be baffled, which give them the quilted look. These baffles prevent the down from piling in one end of the sleeping bag and distribute the insulation evenly. These baffles are made in one of two ways, either via sewn-through construction or box wall baffling. Sewn-through construction is the most common method used in gear. The fault in this is that you are left vulnerable to cold spots, whereas box wall construction eliminates this problem but results in a heavier, less compressible, and more expensive piece of gear.

I briefly mentioned fill power above, but there’s a bit more to it than just numbers. Most outdoor apparel or sleeping bags will have fill power somewhere between 650 and 850, with some extremely high-quality garments having fill as high as 950- or 1,000-fill. A typical piece might have 650-fill; anything above 750 would be considered lightweight and more suitable for backpacking. As with most gear, the lighter pieces and higher fill are almost always a bit more expensive.

With higher fill power, jackets require less down to create the same amount of insulation. For example, a piece with 850-fill power might only need three ounces of fill to create just as much loft as a 650-fill power piece packed with five ounces of down. To add confusion, down is either rated by a European or US standard and the standards are slightly different. Generally, the US has a lower standard, so a Patagonia jacket labeled as 850-fill by the US standard is equivalent to a Rab jacket rated at 800-fill by the European standard. A good rule is to subtract 50 fill power from the US number to get an approximate European equivalency.

Fill weight is an often-overlooked specification when people are comparing items. Fill power only tells you the quality of the down used, but the weight refers to how much down there is. The heavier the fill weight, the more down is in the garment and the warmer it will be. It is important to remember the connection between weight and power though, as both contribute to the overall warmth of the jacket.

Down jackets or sleeping bags are a great choice when lightweight, packable gear is important, but the chances of wet weather are low. For activities like backpacking or mountaineering, down is a good choice and worth the extra money. Down can always be layered with a waterproof piece to protect it from the elements. I tend to prefer down because I usually need lightweight gear and love having the ability to pack a jacket into its own pocket or compress my sleeping bag to the size of a water bottle.

Synthetic insulation is much less complicated than down. There’s no fill power or complicated terms to understand; synthetic insulation keeps you warm even in wet conditions and it’s that simple. There are many types of synthetics; almost every company has its own proprietary synthetic. The differences between Primaloft, Cirrus, or Polartec insulation are minimal; some breathe better than others, but it would take far too much detail to cover the minute differences in this blog. Many companies are making recycled synthetic fill for the conscious consumer. It’s still important to look at fill weight with a synthetic piece. How much insulation is actually in the garment is crucial.

Your gear should last you for a long time if it is cared for properly. Synthetics are much easier to care for, whereas down requires delicate washings, special detergents, and appropriate storage. A lot of people don’t consider this until after they’ve purchased their gear, but if ease of care is important to you, don’t forget this factor when making a decision. If you’re going to be adventuring in wet conditions or will spend your winter skiing day in and
day out, a synthetic piece would probably suit you better than down. It’s that superior performance after it gets wet that gives synthetics the edge when weight is less important than insulation.

As of yet, there are no synthetic materials that can compete with the high warmth to weight ratio of down. If you’re looking for a crazy light and packable piece that is still useful in wet conditions and inexpensive, you might need to look in an alternate universe. There is no perfect piece to suit all of your needs, so you might need to make some compromises on what you want. You’ll have to weigh the options and decide what factors matter the most to you, and then see if down or synthetic will fit those prerequisites. There are pros and cons to both down and synthetic gear, but it is not as intimidating as it sounds to choose between the two! Do your research beforehand and you should walk away with gear that will keep you warm and happy all winter long.


*Get the full gear ninja training and become an expert with these other Down blogs and videos:

Sleeping bag breakdowns by the Goatman: read here

Cleaning your down with the Bear: read here

Hydrophobic Down test video: watch here

*these blogs are not revised from their original post and may have outdated product information.

Rentals: A Gateway to Adventure

by: Bryan Wolf

Summer is almost here and the last thing you want to hear about is all of your friends taking sweet trips to the mountains. It’s not that you don’t want to go, it’s just that you haven’t even been before and where would you even start? You’ve heard their stories about buying the coolest new gear (hopefully at RRT) and can’t imagine how much you’d have to spend to go with them. These are normal everyday concerns for an adventure hopeful.

No more excuses! Rentals are at RRT:

RRT’s new gear rental program gives opportunity to the new adventure seeker. With RRT’s professional gear guidance and rental service you can be side by side with seasoned thrill seekers and look like the pro of the group. We now rent gear from top name brands like MSR, Black Diamond, Thermarest, Osprey, Sea To Summit, and Sierra Designs. So now for very affordable pricing you can get the gear you need for a trip and trust that you have some of the best brands on trail. But our service does not stop there. The RRT staff won’t send you out the door, hands full and clueless. Every time you rent (or buy) from us you can get a full run down of product features, use, care, and personalized fittings.

By the time you head out of town you’ll be confident and ready! So what are you waiting for? Rental gear availability and pricing can be found here: Gear Rentals

Why do we rent gear?

The outdoors provide an essential element to all of our lives and should be as accessible and inclusive as possible. We’ve seen nature heal wounds, save lives, blossom personalities, give purpose and passion, grow confidence, and strengthen bonds. There is very little that time with nature can’t accomplish and for that reason we know that its impact should be as proliferate as possible. Time spent outside is time well spent.

Who can rent our gear?

Our rentals are ready for the first timer or the seasoned adventurer. Let’s say you are heading out for a group overnight at your local state park. You need a tent, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag for the night. To buy all of the items new can be hundreds of dollars. You think about going to the superstore for a cheap option but you’ll still spend $100 and chances are you’ll wake up cold and wet. As you retreat to the car for the night you’ll have visions of throwing away your new “gear” in a fit of rage. Haha, alright, hopefully this is worst case but why risk it?

The price of all three items for your overnight is only $54. You’ll be dry and cozy all night saving you a trip to the chiropractor in the morning. But we haven’t even mentioned the best part! When you return your rented gear you’ll have the option to apply half of your rental fee to the purchase of new gear. We’ll apply that portion of your rental directly to a new item purchase.

Do you just rent Camping and Backpacking Gear?

Heck no! We are growing our rental fleet to help you get outside in more way than one. Have an extra boat but forgot about a busted paddle? We’ll rent life jackets and paddles too! Hitting the road on a National Park tour; we’ll rent cargo boxes and in some cases car racks to give you extra room! Check out the full list of options and see for yourself!

Check out all of the rentals here.


Bedrock Sandal Reviews

by: Brandon Behymer

Tired of big clunky footwear? Want something that is lightweight and extremely breathable but holds up to the wear and tear of many miles on the trail?  Check out the Bedrock sandal.  The company is based out of Richmond, California (they have since re-located to Missoula, Montana) and the sandals are made to order.  Yes, that’s right.  The sandal you order today takes 2 to 5 days to produce depending on how busy they are.  The company was started as a Kickstarter campaign in 2011 and has grown slowly over the past 10 years.  Bedrock is also a proud supporter of the 1% for the Planet program.

The sandals themselves?  The foundation of the Bedrock sandal is a Vibram sole.  The Cairn and Cairn Pro models use a specifically designed tread pattern with the difference being that the Pro uses Vibram Mega Grip rubber.  These sandals are said to last at least 500 miles and some users can squeeze 1000 miles out of a pair.  Once you walk the soles off the sandal, take advantage of Bedrock’s Resole program. Starting at $60 you can get a new rubber sole put on. If the dog chews through the straps they also have a re-strapping service.

Want a little more cushion and even some minimal arch support? Try the Cairn 3D. It has the same strap and sole that we love with the original Cairn but is less intimidating to the non-minimalist buyer. Need a stronger strap for mud, sand, and water? The new (2021) Cairn Pro II provides a hook on the heel as opposed to the velcro for a more secure strap.


In relation to the classic Chaco sandals, the Bedrocks will be much lighter weight with a vastly lower profile.  Where the Chaco has a very supportive arch and heel cup, the Bedrock will not. It’s literally a flat sole with nylon straps. As far as durability goes Bedrock and Chaco are comparable. Because of the pure thickness of the Chaco sole, it will put in a few more miles before needing to be re-soled. The strap configuration on Chaco sandals is unique in the way it’s run through the sole. When first trying a pair on this can be a bit frustrating. Bedrocks have a very simple thong styled strapping system.

Compared to the Teva Universal, the Bedrock will be of similar weight, though constructed with much burlier materials.  The Universal is known for being soft and providing a little bit of arch support.  Durability of the Bedrocks will be far greater than the Universals. This boils down to the quality of materials and construction.  This is reflected in the price without much surprise.

Overall summary:

The Bedrock Cairn is a hardwearing minimalist sandal meant for use anywhere your feet can take you (notable exceptions being possibly the arctic, winter alpine ascents, and the occasional wildly overgrown and thorny trail in West Virginia). What makes Bedrock standout to me is how simple they are. With no support to speak of and a secure strap it’s a throwback to some of the earliest footwear designs that we created as a species.  Only what you need and nothing you don’t.  With this being said, it will take some time to get your feet used to not having their normal rigid entrapment around them. After a few weeks of regular use, the muscles in your feet will get used to being free and having the ability to naturally splay out.  This will strengthen those muscles that most people don’t know they have.

Personal Experience:

Brandon– I’ve been wearing the Bedrock Cairn sandal since April and have put about 500 miles on them so far.  From hiking and backpacking to kayaking and running they treat my feet well no matter where I’m at.  If you’re looking for a good water shoe or something to run around the desert or other rocky environments, the Vibram sole provides a ton of traction. If you’re not used to minimalist footwear they take some getting used to so take it easy at first.

Bryan– I have been a die hard of the minimalist footwear for over ten years now so there was no break in period for me. They have been my go to day in and day out for two years now (winter excluded) on trail, water, or town. It is refreshing to see a company do everything so right, from manufacturing, to distribution, to function, and accountability. The heavy arch pushing sandal never worked for me so I’m happy to have my solution.

Joe – These sandals are rock solid… (crickets)

Will- I used to wear closed-toed shoes every day of the year until I discovered the Bedrocks, and since then the Cairns have been my everyday shoe. I’ve always thought the key to standing 10 hours a day at work was a shoe with a lot of support, but I’ve since discovered my feet are actually most comfortable in the opposite- a shoe like the Cairn without support is the only shoe I’ve found that won’t leave my feet sore by the end of the day. I have endless praise for the Bedrocks and they would be a great multipurpose shoe.

Olivia– I love my Bedrock sandals. They are the most comfortable sandals, really shoes in general, that I have ever worn. I have severe bunions and finding footwear that fits them comfortably with my active lifestyle has been difficult. The Cairn sandal bridged that summer gap for me. I hike, backpack, bike, run, swim, play tennis, and casually wear these shoes in my everyday life. They have held up beautifully to my abuse and my feet thank them. Only suggestion, try them on before you purchase, they run about a size smaller than normal shoe sizing.


RRT stocks a full size run for Men and Women in both the Cairn and Cairn 3D in multiple colors. Unfortunately these are not listed on our online inventory so please call for availability or stop by to try them on!

Gear Review: Rab Alpha Direct

image000000No matter what winter outdoor activity you participate in, the main challenges are always to stay warm and dry.  It can be quite the struggle to achieve this equilibrium given the environmental conditions that are thrown at you on the mountain, the slopes, or even the trails at the Nature Center.  Everyone wants to be warm and toasty when they hike in winter, but if you become too warm, your body needs to start sweating in order to keep cool.  Of course, the first instinct is to shed a layer which helps if you’re slogging up the relentless uphill pitch of your favorite mountain or large hill. In other situations though, you just start to get doggone chilly! I have definitely been “that guy” on many a winter hike or snowshoe trip that has to stop every 5 minutes to keep putting on the layer I just took off the last time I stopped.  Ever since I was a young lad working on the potato farm on the Emerald Isle, I have long dreamed of a jacket that would be both breathable enough to expel the heat created while working hard and insulating enough that I would not freeze my fanny off when I stop to take a break.  Well, my fine feathered friends, do I have good news for you: I finally was able to experience such a magical coat this winter!  It’s the Alpha Direct Jacket from our good friends over at Rab.

The jacket gets its name from the Polartec Alpha insulation.  This is a synthetic insulation that is highly compressible, made of highly lofted knit fibers (almost feels like high pile fleece on the inside) that keeps moisture vapor moving freely throughout that increases overall air exchange and speeds up drying time.  This allows the insulation to keep from over saturating and turning into a sponge which I have experienced while using traditional synthetic insulation material.  It is definitely the most water repellent of any insulation material I have ever used.

Jacket at First Glance

-Maybe the best fit I’ve ever found in a synthetic insulated jacket. I’m 5’8”, 170 pounds with an athletic build and the medium fit me like a glove.  It is trim enough that it layers easily underneath a hard shell when needed, but not tight to the point that I can’t wear it out in public.

-One chest pocket on the16178743_10158003463420005_8905867791651398461_o outside with two hand-warmer pockets high enough to be used when wearing a backpack hip belt or a climbing harness.

-Insulated under the helmet hood. Great because over-the-helmet hoods look huge and barely stay on your head when not wearing a helmet (plus not everyone wears a helmet when doing winter activities!)

-Rab chose to forego an inside liner for this jacket. At first I was skeptical, but then quickly changed my mind after I noticed how soft and warm the Polartec Alpha material feels directly on the skin.  I think this helps expedite drying time and moisture release even more so!

-It may have the best length sleeve with thumb loops I have come across.  The thumb loops are fleece lined and great when putting sleeves through another layer or for extra hand warmth, but are still a good length that the sleeves don’t bunch up when you’re not using the loops.

-May seem silly, but I like the two tone blue that my jacket came in.  I really like blue and this made it seem less in your face

The Alpha Direct out in the “Field

I first used this jacket back in December on a three mile run on a windy day with temperature in the teens.  Beneath it I wore a short sleeve Ibex wool base layer that was all! When I first stepped out of the car I immediately feel the teeth chattering kind of cold creep into my shoes.  If only they made Polartec Alpha socks! (Heath, if that catches on, I’d like 1% of all sales worldwide.)  Anyway, despite not advertising any wind resistance, I found the Pertex Microlight outer fabric does a fine job with this.  I honestly finished the run sweat-free despite running at a good pace for all three miles.  A couple times I had unzipped the front of the jacket about halfway to let some heat escape, but overall I was very comfortable the entire run.

Over the course of December and January, I wore this for a good number of shorter day hikes, ranging from 3-6 miles depending on the day and what I had time for.  Most da16299599_10158003585010005_6874443317420259073_oys, when the weather was in the 20’s and 30’s, I was totally fine wearing just my short sleeve base layer underneath.  I prescribe to the hiking style of finding a sustainable pace that I can maintain with ease in an effort to just keep moving and to minimize breaks.  So when I would stop, it would only be for a minute or two, but even when on these short rest breaks, I never noticed any drop in core body temperature like you can find when taking a hike stop without adding any additional layers. Again, still amazed at how dry I would be when finishing up these short hikes. Even when hiking near zero degrees my body still finds a way to sweat if I work hard enough.  I would sweat some while wearing the jacket, but the moisture was always able to escape through the jacket and keep me from soaking through my base layer(s).

Now for the real reason I got this jacket: my winter trip to summit Mt. Washington with the University of Cincinnati Mountaineering Club! The three previous times I have summited this mamma jamma, by the time I reached the top, my base layers were either soaked, near soaked, or down right icy which is terribly dangerous in that type of winter alpine environment.  This time however, I was actually dry when I reached the summit! Like they always say, fourth time is the charm… I’m sure someone has said that.  I started my hike with my Ibex merino wool short sleeve base layer and a Rab long-sleeved Merino/polyester blend (MeCo) hooded base layer because I know that I needed to start cold to keep off sweating as long as possible.  When starting a winter activity in which you know your body will warm up after some from exertion, don’t be afraid to start a little chilly. You will warm right up.  Eventually, I needed a little more warmth, so I threw on the Alpha Direct Jacket and chose not to zip it up seeing as we were still hiking uphill.  Once we reached tree line, we met some icy winds so I threw on my Gore-Tex shell jacket and that layering combo kept me warm enough without overheating all the way to the summit! (If you are more interested in Mt. Washington during winter, I wrote a blog about it this time last year! It will be in the blog archives from February 2016.)

Since then, I keep wearing it on my little winter sojourns to commune with the trees and listen to the babble of the brooks in my free time.  Whether it’s near zero and I wear it with a hard shell, or it’s in the upper 40’s and I can get away with just a t-shirt underneath, there is such a wide range of conditions and acti16300059_10158005272260005_1705066003377294848_ovities for which I can wear the Alpha Direct jacket.  I plan on definitely continuing to use it as my go-to winter mid-layer and looking forward to chilly spring and fall days where I can use it as a standalone jacket.  This summer I am taking a 4 week road trip out west and I plan on bringing it as my “just in case” jacket if we run into any 40 degree or lower nights while in the mountains or on the chilly Pacific Coast.  The versatility of this jacket is what makes it worth its weight in gold (which is actually only about 17 oz.!) Given the right conditions, I think I will end up using this bad boy for about 8 months out of the year.  That’s pretty darn worth it in my mind, especially if the trend of having warmer winters continues and you find yourself reaching for that giant puffy less and less.



The Triple Bottom Line Part 2: Social Sustainability

By: Mackenzie Griesser

The first blog of this series discussed the most obvious factor when determining a company’s sustainability: their environmental awareness.  Another important element that contributes to the triple bottom line of sustainability is social sustainability. This can be defined many ways, but for the purposes of this blog we will define it as a company’s efforts to give back to the communities in which they operate. This can be done several ways. Some companies organize fundraising events and donate the money to local environmental groups while others send volunteers to help with ongoing projects. No matter their level of involvement however, every brand we carry invests in their community in some way. Part two of a three part series on sustainability in the outdoor industry, this blog will highlight some of the social sustainability initiatives that different brands we carry at Roads Rivers and Trails have to offer.

Patagonia definitely takes the cake when it comes to community involvement and outreach. They work closely with several environmental organizations and donate 1% of all profits to nonprofit groups across the globe. Another way they raise funds for these groups is by organizing the Salmon Run, a 5k community “fun run” in Ventura, California. They also created an environmental internship program for their employees, which is one of the best internship programs I’ve ever seen. Not only do they allow the inteexte842rns to work with whatever environmental group they want, they continue to pay and offer benefits for the duration of the internship, which can be up to two months! Patagonia also takes steps to give back to its namesake, Chilean Patagonia, by sending employees at the company’s expense to help create a new National Park from a former sheep and cattle ranch. Volunteers help remove non-native plants and restore grasslands, build trails, and even built a visitors’ center and other necessary infrastructure. When it is finished the park will span 173,000 acres and be a home for over a hundred species of native fauna, including the four-eyed Patagonian frog and the near extinct huemul deer.

While Patagonia’s community outreach and dedication to environmental protection is truly astounding, Arc’Teryx is right behind them in giving back to communities and protecting beloved wilderness areas. However, they differ from Patagonia in that most of their involvement and outreach is through partnerships with other organizations. For example, they partner with the North Shore Mountain Bike Association to help maintain and protect mountain biking trails on Canada’s North Shore. They are also a sponsor of the Trail Builders Academy, which utilizes both on-site and classroom settings to teach proper trail building and maintenance techniques. They are also members of the European Outdoor Conservation Association, which requires a membership fee that directly funds projects that Arc’Teryx employees regularly volunteer time towards, and the Conservation Alliance, which engages businesses to fund and partner with organizations to protect wild plaArcteryx_BirdNestCape_Delivery_Day_1ces. The membership fees for this organization also go towards funding projects that are voted on by members. One project that Arc’Teryx created and organizes itself is the Bird’s Nest Project. Staff members volunteer time to sew discontinued Gore-Tex fabrics into garments for homeless citizens in Vancouver, which are distributed by local police departments and homeless shelters.

Another brand that invests a lot in their community and organizations across the country is Osprey. Like Arc’teryx, many of their social sustainability initiatives are through partnerships with other organizations. They helped Conservation Next organize and execute an event where volunteers spent the day removing invasive species and performing much needed restoration work on trails in Eldorado Canyon State Park. They also act as a sponsor for Telluride by financing renewable power for Lift 12, as well as sponsoring the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival. On their own, they donate $2 of every pro deal sale to non-profit organizations, including the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Continental Divide Trail Alliance, and donate 5% of profits from their biannual community “Locals Sale” to nearby non-profit organizations. Donations from these two fundraisers totalled around $7,000 in 2009. Financial donations aside, they also allow employees to do 8 hours of volunteer work on their clock, racking up 200 hours of paid volunteer work in 2009 alone.

These three companies definiteindexly do the most when it comes to social sustainability, but all of the brands we carry give back in one way or another. Rab and Prana contribute to multiple service projects, including restoration work at Peak District National Park (UK) and sending aid to natural disaster sites. Big Agnes and Sea to Summit support Leave No Trace, an international organization that teaches outdoor ethics. These two also support several other environment-focused organizations such as the Conservation Alliance, the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education, and the Outdoor Industry Association.

Some businesses see giving back to nearby communities as a great PR move, but it’s incredibly important to account for how their operations affect local people. Companies benefit from these communities and everything they have to offer, so it is crucial that they invest in them to ensure their longevity. Social sustainability is often overlooked or assumed, but the brands we carry here at RRT do an awesome job of making sure local neighborhoods and the organizations that support them are taken care of. However, they cannot truly be sustainable unless they follow the criteria of the triple bottom line, which includes social as well as environmental and economic sustainability. You can read about our apparel brands’ environmental sustainability here . Stay tuned for the final blog of this series, which will discuss the thrilling world of economic sustainability, coming soon!

Outdoor Apparel Companies and Environmental Sustainability

by Mackenzie Griesser

As an environmentalist in a capitalist society, I can’t help but think about how the gear and apparel I purchase are manufactured. It would be super disappointing if the companies making products that are meant to be used in the great outdoors were actively contributing to unsustaiimagesnable practices that harm the planet! I was curious to see just how sustainable the brands we carry are so I did some research and was happy to find some great information. When we talk about how sustainable a company or product is, we have to consider the “triple bottom line”: social, economic, and environmental sustainability. If the company or product does not meet all three of these qualifications, we can’t call them truly sustainable. In my research, I found that there is way too much information to discuss all three of these components in one blog, so this is the first of a 3-part series covering each factor that makes up the “triple bottom line”. The following is a brief summary of the environmental sustainability initiatives of some of the brands we carry, specifically outerwear and apparel companies.

When we think about the sustainability of apparel, there are a few questions we must ask ourselves: Where did the raw materials come from? How were they obtained? What processes do they go through as they are made into a garment? How long can they be used before being thrown out and added to the ever-growing landfill? Luckily for us, most of the brands we carry answer all of these questions directly on their websites and are great at providing consumers with transparency concerning all of their processes, from cradle to grave. Mountain Hardwear even goes as far as to publish lists of the manufacturers that produce their materials every year for the public to polybag-herosee! Most other brands, including Arc’Teryx, Ibex, Patagonia, and Prana, perform Life Cycle Assessments regularly, following products from manufacture to disposal to ensure that they are doing everything as efficiently and sustainably as possible.

When it comes to raw materials, the brands we carry are pros at finding the most sustainably procured materials at a reasonable price. Both Patagonia and Prana use several recycled and re-purposed materials, including down from old bedding that is washed and sterilized, wool from old sweaters and scraps from production, cotton also from production leftovers, nylon, and polyester made from pre- and post-consumer recycled plastic. They both also utilize hemp, which leaves the soil it is grown in healthy enough to grow food crops directly after harvest, as well as organic cotton, which is not genetically modified and does not require fertilizers or pesticides.  Patagonia takes it a step further and also utilizes Tencel, a branded lyocell fiber that comes from the pulp of trees grown on farms certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, yulex and guayule rubber, which together make a more sustainable version of neoprene, and undyed cashmere.

Chemical management is also very important to consider. The big “bad guy” often used in outdoor apparel is perfluorocarbons, or PFCs, which are used in waterproofing materials. However, several brands now use more sustainable alternatives including single polymer polypropylene and short-chain PFCs, which biodegrade much easier than other chemicals and take less energy and resources to obtain. Arc’TeryxPatagonia also adheres to a strict Restricted Substances List to ensure the materials they are using are safe for both the consumer and the environment.

The last thing to consider when determining the sustainability of a garment is what will happen to it once it wears out. Several brands, including Patagonia, Ibex, Chaco, and Arc’Teryx, encourage customers to send back worn-out or damaged products to be recycled or repaired in order to prevent adding waste to landfills. In general, however, all of the brands we carry make super hardy and durable products, so they will last a long time.

Another thing to consider is ensuring that the animals that materials are sourced from are treated well. Every brand we carry that utilizes down in their products (Sea to Summit, Rab, Patagonia, Outdoor Research, Arc’Teryx, and Prana) are certified under the Responsible Down Standard. To be accredited under these standards, the farmer and company must adhere to some standard principles. First, birds are never live-plucked or force fed. Also, the welfare of the birds is respected from birth to death. This means injuries and illnesses are prevented as much as possible and treated in a timely manner they cannot be prevented. Companies that are accredited under these standards are randomly audited multiple times a year by third-party companies, usually with unannounced visits, and only products with 100% certified sustainable down can carry the RDS label.

While down is utilized in many products we sell, we can’t forget about good old merino wool (AKA Miracle Fabric.) Ibex definitely leads the way when it comes to wool that is harvested sustainably. They only use ZQ merino, which has a pretty intensive certification process. Any farmer can be accredited if they meet the 5 freedoms granted to animals by the Animal Welfare Act. First, the sheep must be properly fed with wholesome foods that meet all nutritional requirements, as 24well as be provided with limitless water. Next, they must be given appropriate shelter. Another freedom granted is the freedom from unnecessary pain and distress, which means the farmer must know how to handle them to avoid distress and maintain their property so that there is little risk of injury. Also, mulesing is prohibited under this category. Mulesing is a surgical procedure where sections wool-bearing skin that are susceptible to retaining bacteria that attracts flies are removed. While this procedure does decrease the chances of flystrikes, there are more sustainable ways to deal with this issue, including regular inspections and cleaning and shearing of the vulnerable areas. The next requirement is that the sheep must be allowed to exhibit natural patterns of behavior, which essentially means they must be given adequate space to roam and interact with one another. Finally, the farmer must be able to provide prevention, rapid diagnosis, and treatment of injury, disease, and parasite infestation if any of these were to occur. If a farmer meets all of these conditions, they can be accredited under the ZQ merino standard. Every 3-5 years unannounced audits are conducted, usually by a veterinarian.

Environmental sustainability is such a. important thing to consider when investing money in a company by purchasing their products, especially when it’s a company that specializes in outdoor gear! While some brands offer more sustainability initiatives than others, every apparel brand we carry does a great job of being environmentally conscious when sourcing materials for their products and when manufacturing them. I always feel much better about supporting companies that consider these sorts of things, even if it costs them a little more money, than companies that are only out to make a profit regardless of what effects their processes have on the environment. However, environmental sustainability is only one third of the triple bottom line! Stay tuned for more info on the social and economic sustainability initiatives offered by the brands we sell here at Roads Rivers and Trails.



7 Halloween Costumes Every Backpacker Already Has Lying Around

October is my favorite month, no doubt. The long, humid days of summer shorten into chilly autumn nights. Campfires smell better. I get to wear my favorite fleece.  Every hike is lit up golden and red, reinventing familiar paths and making every viewpoint a visual spectacle. There’s pumpkin pie and pumpkin beer and pumpkins to carve and, at the end of the month, there’s my favorite day of all: Halloween!

I love Halloween as much as I love backpacking and being outdoors in the Fall. With all of the trips I go on this time of the year, I don’t have a lot of extra cash lying around and, to tell you truth, I’d rather spend the money I do have on gear and travel rather than a costume I may only use once.  Solution: raid the gear closet for anything I can use for a Halloween costume!

1. Jack Torrence/Brawny ManIMG_8923

We’ll start simple with a flexible costume. Grab a flannel, a pair of jeans, and some big stomping boots and you’re half way there. Have fabulous hair and a mustache? Then all you need is a roll of paper towels (which will come useful when people start spilling cider on the dance floor) and, behold: Brawny Man! Have more of a crazy look in your eyes and an axe in the shed? Here’s Johnny! You’ve got Jack from the Shining ready to go.

2. Attacked by a (Teddy) Bear

Throw on your normal hiking get-up and don’t forget the pack. Grab a teddy bear and have him secured to your pack and looking as fearsome as possible (vampire teeth?) as he leans over your shoulder to take a chunk from your neck. Obviously, you can get as gruesome as you’d like with your wound situation. Explain to others that you forgot to hang your candy bag.

3. Really, ReFullSizeRenderally Lost Hiker

Depending on your dedication, you can grow your beard out all year in anticipation of this costume. All you need are your most ragged clothes  and a hermit-worthy beard. Get creative with this one. The goal is to look like you’ve been in the woods for way too long. If you can train a squirrel to eat from your (real or fake) beard, you win!

4. Arctic Explorer

Every few years, Halloween in Ohio turns out cold. Not chilly or nippy. Cold. Snow and ice and freezing temperatures cold. When this happens, all the naughty nurses and skimpy Tarzans flirt with frostbite on their exposed skin. But not you! You’ve got a big, puffy down jacket, sunglasses, snow boots and a beanie. Maybe you even have a rope and an ice axe laying around. Throw some water in your (optional) beard and put it in the freezer for added effect. If people are hip to horror movies, you can even tell them you’re Carpenter’s The Thing in human form.

5. Ramboimage(6)

You know you have a knife so large as to be impractical for actual backpacking. You start looking at knives and suddenly you have a 7″ Ka-Bar in your hands and you feel its power. So you buy it and think that someday, when society finally collapses due to radioactive space zombies, you and your knife will be all you can trust. Until that day, however, at least you can dress as Rambo with a pair of army pants, a red headband, and your beloved, huge knife. Giant muscles are helpful, but optional.

6. Base Layer Ninja

You’ve got your base layer, whether Capilene or merino wool, and I bet it’s black, light weight and form fitting. Have a Buff? Then you probably already know how to make a ninja mask out of it. If you don’t, stop in RRT and I will personally show you. Slip on some black socks or a black pair of Vibram Fivefingers and you are ready to disappear into the shadows before the shogun’s guards ever know you were there.

7. Famous Hollywood “Thru-Hiker”IMG_8950

Hollywood has made a few movies over the past few years that bring backpacking, and thru-hiking in particular, into the spotlight. Forget all about your ultralight set up and grab your old, huge pack and stuff it full with goodies. Ladies, check out Wild for aesthetics and lace up your boots with bright, red laces to pose as Cheryl Strayed. The greener the pack, the better. Men, stuff your belly with a pillow, put on a floppy hat, and curse a lot for a perfect Katz from A Walk in the Woods.


Get creative! Ideas of your own? Share them in the comments. Get hiking and haunting and have a great October.


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21 Things I Wish I Knew on My First Backpacking Trip

By Kayla McKinney

We all remember our first time out there. The first time we strapped up, laced up those boots, and set off for what was supposed to be a rewarding, life-changing event. Only…the pack was so heavy, you smelled for days, and you just felt so unprepared. Someone told you what to expect, but you didn’t really know. It’s only after we experience mistakes that we learn from them and this is especially true for backpacking. But that doesn’t mean you can’t look for advice from those who have been there before.

Below is a list compiled by some friends and me as a memento of what we wish we knew before our very first backpacking trip.

  1. You don’t need 4 pairs of pants.
    1. If you have the right pants, you should be able to wear the same pair for several days in a row. You might not even need two pairs of pants, realistically. The idea is to lighten your pack by only bringing what is necessary.
  2. Cotton is Rotten/Cotton Kills.
    1. Cotton will pull heat from your body if it’s wet. It will smell horribly and won’t dry very quickly. It will chafe and you will be uncomfortable. This includes your favorite pair of jeans and your snuggly soft hoodie. Save them for the city.
  3. There’s no point in bringing razors. You’re not going to shave out there.
    1. Backpacking is not a beauty pageant. Who are you trying to impress? To tell the truth, you can leave the deodorant in the car as well (but don’t forget your toothpaste!)DSC_0194
  4. “There’s no such thing as bad weather! Your discontent is due to improper gear!” – John Ferree
    1. Good gear is important. You don’t have to go overboard, but you want gear that holds up to the elements. Different gear is appropriate in different situations. Gear can be the difference between staying and leaving, a good time and a bad time, or sometimes even life and death.
  5. Footwear is the most important piece of gear you have.
    1. When backpacking, keeping your feet happy is rule number one. A good pair of hiking shoes or boots coupled with merino wool socks will make a world of difference. The soles on these shoes are designed to protect you from rock bruising and support the muscles in your feet differently than other shoes. Merino wool wicks sweat, prevents blisters, and is anti-microbial. If there is one piece of gear that will make all of the difference, it is proper footwear.
  6. “They’ve started making lighter weight tents since 1994 when I bought mine.”– Aaron Boyd
    1. They’ve started making lighter weight versions of nearly everything. Sometimes it’s really worth it to upgrade your gear. These days, you can turn your 50 lb. pack into a 25 lb. pack without sacrificing much of anything.
  7. Modern backpacks come in various sizes and are adjustable to fit the contours of your body.
    1. Everyone is shaped differently, whether it is torso length, hip width, or shoulder girth. Backpacks can and should be customized to fit your body appropriately. Look to someone who knows what they are doing to help you be as comfortable as possible with your bag on. If you borrowed a bag, make sure it is the right size and ask your friend or local outfitter to help you to adjust it to fit you specifically.
  8. “Bring food you like! 7 days of oatmeal for breakfast is better when you end the night with a tasty dinner.” – Todd Cline
    1. Vary your snacks as well. Save something special for a hard day to reward your accomplishments.
  9. You’re going to eat everything you have. Bring more food than you think you’ll need.
    1. Once again, hiking takes a lot of energy, so be mindful and put in the fuel you need so that you’re not running on fumes all day. A long distance hiker can burn up to 5,000 calories a day. Skip low-cal, low-fat foods. Calories and fat are code words for energy.
  10. There’s no bathroom.
    1. No bathroom for days.
  11. If you’re going to use leaves as TP, plan ahead. Make sure there are appropriate leaves where you’re going.
    1. Sometimes I grab nice leaves as I walk past them knowing that they will be useful later. You want large, smooth, and abundant leaves.
  12. Bring sunscreen.
    1. If you are outside all day, the sun will burn you. This goes especially for times when you’re above tree line, right up in the sun’s business. Sleeping in a sleeping bag is terrible if you are sunburnt.
  13. “…it’s good to hike early in the morning, but not to be first on the trail. Spider web clearing is a creepy job.”– TJStatt
    1. If you do have the job of being first in line, first thing in the morning, consider waving a stick in front of you as you walk to clear the spider webs. Trekking poles work great. If you’re afraid of spiders, perhaps let someone else lead.
  14. Marmots are cute, but can be evil. Same goes for mice, raccoons, porcupines and chipmunks.
    1. If you let them, they’ll eat everything. Your food, socks, hip belts, etc.
  15. Snakes, bears and other dangerous animals rarely want anything to do with you.DSC_0610
    1. You are a bear’s only predator. They want to be far away from you. Let them be and obey proper bear country safety tips.
    2. Most snake bites occur when the animal is handled. Give them space and they’ll give you space.
  16. Waking up to watch the sunrise is always worth it no matter how cold and tired you are.
    1. The sun will warm your body and getting an early start will ensure that you enjoy all that nature has to offer. Every day starts with a sunrise. Enjoy them.
  17. Never try to cross an exposed ridge or summit after noon if possible.
    1. Afternoon storms are the real deal and should not be taken lightly. Never underestimate a big cloud. Things can escalate quickly and there’s little to no protection up above tree line.
  18. It is worth it to climb out of your tent and urinate in the middle of the night.
    1. You will sleep better. You will be warmer not having to keep waste fluid at body temperature all night. Plus, you will get the chance to appreciate the night sky in all of its glory.
  19. “Carrying firewood into the forest is unnecessary weight.” – KurtGaerther
    1. Surprisingly not as obvious as it should be: there’s usually a lot of dead wood in the forest (and only use dead wood! Live, green wood doesn’t burn well). Pay attention to the regulations in place if you plan on building a fire. Also note that bringing in firewood from another area can spread parasites and is forbidden in many states.
  20. Duct tape is extremely useful.
    1. You can repair gear, prevent blisters, make a belt, and find a hundred other uses. Wrap it around your water bottle or trekking poles to save room. It is a multifunctional tool.
  21. Cameras will never do it justice.
    1. If you really want someone to see the place, take them there.

Nobody knows it all. Even the most experienced backpacker makes mistakes now and then. Despite all the things it seems like you need to know before you go, go anyway without knowing it all. Take chances and learn from your mistakes. The only thing you really need to know is that it’s always worth it.

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