Monday, October 10, 2016

Top 10 Qualities to Look For in An Outdoor Adventure Partner

Summit of Mt Tamalpais, SF, California, with my kid and my "little" brother, two of my favorite adventure partners.
On any hike, adventure or exploration we head out on there’s always a need to make sure we’re doing it with someone who has the right mix of qualities that will make for a totally epic yet also safe adventure no matter the level of risk. 

Close your eyes — who pops into your head immediately as your favorite adventure partner? I feel so lucky to have a long list of people who I can call on to join me. Tops on my list are my son who has begun excelling in the outdoors and learning vital skills as he's grown into a teen. And also my brother, who is my original adventure buddy from when we were kiddos way before seat belts and helmets came on the scene. How did we ever survive those days??

So, given that, what are some of the attributes we look for in a partner for outdoor adventure? Here’s a top 10 list:

1 - Trust - Trust is the number one quality that makes for an ideal partner. How can we even take a step on the trail, or jump onto a backcountry ski slope in the deep powder, or clip in to a harness if we don’t trust our buddy. Trusting this person can literally be the difference between life and death when playing in the outdoors in the unpredictable terrain and elements that Ma Nature throws at us constantly. 

2 - Trust - again.

3 - Trust - and again and again.

4 - Camaraderie - Telling stories, laughing ‘till our sides split, hitting the crazy views at the summit together after a painful climb — the sense of camaraderie we have with the right person or group is a powerful, important force.

5 - Level Head - Panicking in the outdoors never gets anyone anywhere. A level head is key to stop, assess and move forward with a new strategy when the inevitable not-according-to-the-plan situation arises. It ALWAYS does.

6 - Emotional Resilience - When things get hard, we always want someone who can be honest with their emotions yet also be able to manage them and not get overwhelmed by them so they get distracted from making safe and smart decisions. 

7 - Physical Competence - We all don’t need to be Olympic athletes, however it’s best to make sure everyone’s ready and in shape for the level of risk we’re going to put ourselves into. This avoids susceptibility to injury or exhaustion and thus putting everyone else on the team in the role of caretaker.

8 - Sense of Humor - Sense of humor so required. I have never laughed so hard, had so much fun, looked at life with such huge smile on my face as when I’m out with a great partner or team in the outdoors. Sheet goes “wrong” and hits the fan constantly and being able to laugh while coping is a huge bonus.

9 - Sense of Adventure - The spirit and enthusiasm we can bring to an adventure is contagious. I love being with people who are as excited to the point of almost salivating at the build-up to the adventure. And then they maintain and exude that joy and good energy during the actual adventure itself. This is 100% one of my favorite qualities.

And, finally 10 - It t all circles back to: Trust. Of course.

This motley crew of trusted adventurers formed Hell Hike & Raft 2014
through Hells Canyon & The 7 Devils, Idaho.

Some other, cheeky things might be someone who: will carry the beer, play Journey songs on the ukulele around the campfire, cook up a mean bacon burrito in the backcountry. This list is endlessly fun. 

Any others to add? Definitely share. 

So now, when you close your eyes and think of your adventure partners, who do you come up with. Is it the same as before?

Always join the conversation on @OutdoorsyMama on twitter or Facebook.

See you in the mountains. - Annie @OutdoorsyMama 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Which Hiking Shoe Is Right For You? For Kids and Adults

Me and my kiddos testing out the latest Hi-Tec hiking boots in Yosemite, California.

As an outdoorsy person I confess I now own a number of different types of shoes to hike in, just as you may ‘cause we’re all spilling our secrets here, and they’re sort of like my babies. I think about them when i’m not with them. I wonder if i’ve left them out on the back steps by mistake after that last hike. I carefully contemplate which pair to wear the next day. I chose from my hard-core, waterproof, dinosaur-kicker Keens to my agile, 4WD-teeth-for-treads Saucony trail runners, to my hybrid-type, mountain-shoe by Ahnu, etc.

Just like my kids, each of these precious hiking shoes has their own personality and some things I adore about them and some things I don’t really adore and blame on the other genetic swirl in my life. And, just like my kids, I go through phases of which is my favorite. Don’t tell my kids.

Sunset hike in the Saucony trail runners I travel with in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.
Trail Runners:
For my California, coastal lifestyle, there’s no question that the trail runners are the way to go. It barely rains here. And the lightweight comfort and hard-core tread on these shoes win almost every day. Because the climate is so parched here, wet feet from precipitation is rarely an issue and if there’s a water crossing, the hot, California days will dry them out quickly. Sometimes when I wear these I feel like i can walk straight up walls or at least i know I can cling to rocks precariously when bouldering. They make me feel powerful and they don't take up tons of space so they're my go-to traveling hiker shoe.

My Merrell trail sandals have seen every side of a trail, river, boat and campsite.
Trail Sandals:
If I were living in the hot-zones of So Utah and Arizona and similar places, like the wise guides who run all the adventure trips I’d hike and adventure mostly in Trail Sandals and also get that funky, white-strapped, sun tan that is almost a badge of honor. They’re max in breathability and good for the well traveled trails and still provide good stability for the foot. You just need to watch the exposed toes. They're also a great extra pair of shoes to have at the campsite & can be strapped to the back of any backpack easily.

New lightweight technology makes hiking boots a great option like in these Hi-Tec boots.
Hiking Boots:
When I head back to the Northeast for some adventure, I note the value in the toe-protecting hiking boots with all of the roots and scrambling involved on those gnarly trails. I’m giddy that our family gets to test some Hi-Tec boots this season that are so surprisingly lightweight. Some peeps still love the old, leather hiking boots, but I’m happy to let the new technology wrap my hiking feet and provide excellent stability and protection with a nimble feel rather than the heavy clomp, clomp.

How to Chose the Right Pair for You?
When you go to places like REI or other outdoor or shoe specialty stores, talk to the experts there about your feet's quirks, your needs, and then try all the styles on. There seems to be a real mix on opinions of whether to buy a hiking boot - either high or low cut - versus trail runner even for backpacking these days. A veteran expert from a renown specialty store talked me into my first pair of trail runners years back as I was headed out on a backpacking trip and even despite the weight and mileage, he kept recommending the trail runner over all hiking boots. 

For Next Hiking Season
As we head into fall and winter it's fun to think about what's right for your feet for the next hiking season and boy do they make great holiday gifts instead of toasters and ties and vacuums. And I've found everything I've chatted about here works the same for my kids, too. 

See what works for you. Maybe a mix like me? And you’ll definitely start finding your favorites. Just don’t tell your kids…

For more live conversation find me on Twitter at @OutdoorsyMama

Disclaimer: Hi-Tec provided hiking boots for testing. All opinions are always and forever shall be my own. 

For more about gear read my Gear Reviews & Products I Love

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Why We Flash Nature and More to Help Share the Importance of the Outdoors

Why we flash nature, perspective on the cover of National Geographic magazine.

The love for the outdoors and exploration and adventure comes from a deep place my family. It’s sort of like part of our family’s DNA, our blood, our history, our family lore, and when we’re lucky now, it’s part of our everyday lives.

The more I slow down to take the time to ask my wise uncles and aunties about my family history, the more I hear about a dashing and daring Great Uncle who climbed this and pioneered that and then there's that Great Auntie who drove ambulances and saved lives during a world war when it just wasn’t acceptable for women to do so.

Have you taken a moment to poke around in your own family history?

I do wonder what legacy I’ll leave someday in the exploration, adventure, outdoor department. I’ve been enjoying, conquering, and galavanting about on mountains and lakes and summits and ski trails my whole life. However, the pull towards advocacy beyond sharing adventures and small moments of giving-back is getting even stronger. Especially after reading headlines from articles such as National Geographic’s latest magazine hitting stands October 2016 about “the selfie generation” getting back outside. 

Although social media is exposing the younger generation to the epic gorgeousness of remote and far-flung parks and wilderness, there’s a concern and statistics show that this younger, more diverse population is just not getting outside in the same numbers as previous generations.

So while we worry that apps such as Instagram are creating a crush of over-used trails and campsites in certain popular parks, the truth is that we need to continue to spread the word about the power of the outdoors and and share other more diverse, special, outdoor places with other more diverse communities. This while also continuing to work on implementing careful management of the “over-loved” places like the headline trails in Yosemite, Zion and Yellowstone.

I’m deeply connected to a family who cares about the outdoors and I now have a passionate group of friends, and I suppose I can happily call them “outdoor colleagues”, I myself have made over social media over the last few years. And it is exciting to see the power we all have to share that passion on grassroots level within our own groups of friends and communities, but also as an effective, larger tribe when we put our heads together with the massive reach that social media can give us. We can influence change.

And finally, what would my grandparents, who ran an overnight, all-boys, summer camp in New England based around nature and the outdoors have thought of the photo of five women standing shirtless on the edge of a gorgeous alpine lake in Glacier National Park donning the cover of the iconic National Geographic magazine? 

Well, I bet they’d understand that to capture the energy and power that this younger generation brings to the table these days and to grab that gen’s interest in helping foster a love and a desire to protect these places, we do what we need to do. Flashing approved.

Follow me on twitter for live conversation @OutdoorsyMama

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Spending Time in The Outdoors One of the Secrets to the Happiest Places on Earth #outfam

What does one of the happiest places on Earth know that we don't? Getting outside in nature is vital. 

Denmark is known for being one of the happiest countries on our beautiful Earth. What strikes me as I watch a new film just launching now called NaturePlay isn’t what the educators from Denmark are saying. I’ve heard before that outdoor time and time playing in nature is good for us and especially for kids as they develop into healthy creatures. 

What stands out this time in this movie is the breadth of Denmark’s commitment to embracing, as a culture, this way of life and specifically developing adventure parks in cities and educational programs nationwide with this inclusion of nature into their children’s everyday lives. The people in Denmark know from a personal and public health level that for the wellbeing of not just that child, but of their society as a whole, it’s important to focus resources on the seemingly simple, but often overlooked, concept of Nature Play.

And this is the BOOM of this film.

At the end of the film, there is a cameo from Matt Damon, the Hollywood movie star, who speaks at a rally for Save Our Schools about too much testing and not enough Nature Play in the schools in America. His points are poignant: none of the qualities that got him to where he is today can be “tested” and every kid is an individual puzzle, not a robot to be fit into a standardized test.

If you are curious to learn more about “NaturePlay - Take Childhood Back” or would like to set up a screening of the film in your community or school, find more information here.

Healthy society. Healthy planet. Healthy children. Let’s play in nature.

Disclaimer: The NaturePlay film was sent to me without cost for screening. All opinions are always and forever shall be my own.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

6 Ways to Celebrate 100 Years of National Parks #findYourPark

Happy Birthday National Park Service from Yosemite National Park

If you've ever stood at the edge of cliff or a summit of a mountain and spread your arms out wide, as if you were about to take off soaring because your heart has been swept away by the breathtaking natural phenomenon before you, then you've probably visited one of our 412 National Parks.

So, let's put on our recyclable, sparkly party hats and wish a giant "Happy 100th Birthday!" to one of the most brilliant ideas ever: protecting America's natural wonders so future generations can reap the benefits of experiencing unparalleled natural beauty and learning deep, American history.

National parks are good for people. And giving both adults and kids access to these parks so they can learn to love nature and the outdoors is vital for a healthy earth and society.

Here are a few ways to celebrate:

Please share any more ways to celebrate, this is the kind of news we want to go viral!

Find me on twitter @OutdoorsyMama for live chatter about all things outdoors.

-Annie @OutdoorsyMama

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Why Overnight Summer Camp Will Rock Your Kid's World #getOutside

Closing campfire at my daughter's overnight summer camp in Vermont. 

I was seven years old when my parents threw me into my first overnight summer camp. It was for a month, and possibly bordered on someone waking-up and calling the authorities for child abandonment. My older sister was also at the camp, although as a 12 year old, she outright denied any genetic connection to me like a developmentally appropriate pre-teen would. 

People gasp when they hear how young I was, and as a mom of three now, I shake my head and wonder: what were my parents thinking??

However, as I prepare my youngest for her one week away at camp, I find myself regaling her with tens and hundreds of fascinating details, stories, failures and triumphs from that one Vermont summer at Teela-Wooket. (That’s camp speak for: young girls who ride horses, shoot rifles and sing Mary Poppins songs whilst swaying.)

In fact, in an eye opening revelation, I realize that I remember that one summer at camp more vividly than any other summers up until I was thirteen years old and headed abroad for the first time. Why?

1 - Independence
2 - Survival
3 - Newness
4 - Shooting Range
5 - Archery
6 - Cold Morning Bathrooms
7 - Waking up every morning to trumpet reveille
8 - Raising the Flag
9 - My first fall from a horse
10 - Literally, getting back up on the horse
11 - Camp Uniforms
12 - Bug Juice
13 - Stacks and stacks of tiny cereal boxes
14 - Homesickness
15 - Award for shooting range
16 - Award for archery
17 - Red Rover Red Rover 
18 - Freezing in bunks
19 - Rest time
20 - Seeing Mom and Dad for the first time…
21 - Winning: Youngest Camper Award

These days, overnight summer camp is a no-screen, no brainer. No matter what, your kiddo will learn something about themselves and their bigger place in the world, even if it’s just simply: Why do they call it Bug Juice, Mom? 


For more, live conversation follow me on Twitter

Monday, July 4, 2016

Hiking Hill 88 in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area: July 4th & Battery Townsley Secret Military Fort #findyourpark

Heading up to Hill 88 in the GGNRA in the Spring
I grab my keys and head out today ‘cause my legs need some fresh air and my mind needs a regroup. Driving in The Beast, covered in dust and pollen and tree goop, sorry shiny California cars, I head over to Rodeo Beach in the Golden Gate National Rec Area, one of our Nation’s largest National Parks.

The fog is here today for our strange San Francisco, Bay Area, summer weather, so visibility is low and a soft, grey blanket covers the usually vibrant Marin Headlands coastline. But today I’m not hiking for views, I’m hiking for the experience of getting outside, filling my lungs, and finding the flow feel that time in nature always brings back to me.

Destination? To the top of Hill 88, a decaying old army site in Fort Cronkhite on the highest “hill” overlooking the entire bay. It’s a quick @4-6 miles - depending on your loop - with some good vertical, 1,000ft, to get the heart pumping.

I wind up the initial, old paved roads on the trail, passing by Battery Townsley and then break off & head up higher as I skip from abandoned bunker to bunker on the ridge line, Wolf Ridge, climbing up up up.

View down towards Rodeo Beach and the GGNRA from Battery Townsley. There are no views from Hill 88 today.
It’s so foggy and windy I’m putting on layers, despite sweating, as the wind blows directly into my ear drum and down into my insides. Hoodie goes up and I’m just about to the top where I can see… nothing! But I take a celebratory spin around the shaved-off hill with heli-pad and old buildings covered in graffiti. Note the graffiti, though a true shame, is almost a defining, artistic characteristic of all of these old WW2 bunkers along the California coastline.

Summited and breathing freely and deeply, it's time to head back down, my feet breaking into a trail-run to keep the blood moving and so I don't get chilled.

Battery Townsley tucked into the hillside on the left, "camouflaged" from the WW2 enemy.
Back down at Battery Townsley, a fort built into the hillside to defend us from WW2 enemies, and about 2/3 of the way down from Hill 88 summit, it’s my incredible luck to stumble upon a rare opening of the secret underground military fort. It’s in stages of restoration thanks to a generous benefactor and is now open once a month to curious hikers like me.

Photos are attached of our tour through the fort, showing the massive scale of the armor-piercing, 25 pound "bullets" fired from massive guns which would reach 25 miles out to sea from 1940-1948 when the fort was active.

This is not my usual outdoor post, stumbling upon WW2, secret forts and giant bullets, but a great example of the stories and experiences we can bump into when just getting out for a stretch of the hiking legs and a breath of fresh air. How perfect that I ran into this on the weekend we celebrate July 4th, our Independence.

Grateful for our troops. Grateful for the volunteers at the National Park Service who make a surprise adventure like this possible. Grateful for our history. Grateful for our families who bring it all home.

Happy 4th of July, everyone!

-Annie @OutdoorsyMama on Twitter

Trip Report:
Location: Ft Cronkhite in the Golden Gate National Rec area, just west of the Golden Gate Bridge, next to Baker Beach.
Length: @4-6 miles RT. There are various loops and side trails to add in, straight up and down @ 4miles.
Summit Reward: Spectacular 360 view of entire Bay Area including Golden Gate Bridge, GGNRA, Marin Headlands, Oakland. On a clear.
Level of Difficulty: Moderate. It's generally a "straight up the hill" hike. 
Exposure: Full sun.
Kids? Yes! Safe trail in general. 
Dogs? Undetermined. Yes on leash for part but reports of "not allowed on Hill 88" so confusing. Stay tuned. 
Where to eat? Bring your own food. No restaurant or snack shack open to public. Can go pick up a few light snacks at Marine Mammal Center just up the hill.

Hill 88 Hike Map. Photo Credit:

Hike Details:
Battery Townsley History: