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Online Forums & Communities

Backpacker Forums - I've been hiking & backpacking into remote areas for years, and I've met some great friends along the way. Many of 'em I met online, at Backpacker.com. Whether you're just getting into hiking and want gear advice, or you've been doing it for years and would like to meet up with others, it's a great little community of folks with one thing in common: backpacking. If you ever peek in, my screen-name is "GoBlueHiker." Feel free to say hi!

TrailTalk Forums - If you like your message boards a little more rough-and-tumble, you'd do well to check out TrailTalk. There's a lot of great folks there (just watch out for the rocks!) and they have a wonderful function for planning group treks. Many folks from there hike often & everywhere.

Northwest Hikers - Lastly, a wonderful community full of outdoor expertise in the Western Washington area (hikers, fisherman, climbers, you name it) resides at Northwest Hikers. If you have a particular question about a destination in that region, odds are someone at NWHikers has been there.

Alpacka Raft Forums - It's still a niche sport, but Sheri at Alpacka Raft has opened a small online forum for fellow packrafters to discuss their adventures in this unique medium. Many of the "fathers" of the mini-sport hang out there, so if you're eying a packraft for your own adventures, it's a good place to look.

Backcountry Gear & Supplies

At some point I'll post an entire page about the gear & techniques I use for extended travel off-trail through temperate rainforests. But for now, I'll just post an overview of a few of the "specialized" items I've come to rely upon for travel through these regions. Some of my ways may be a bit unorthodox, and as always, there's more than one way of doing this. But based upon my own years of experience, here are a few pieces of equipment I've come to trust in my own experience.

Alpacka Raft, Russell FjordAlpacka Raft
Quoted from their Website at "The World's Finest Packrafts." It's an accurate assessment. Since recently acquiring an Alpacka Raft (along with a 4-piece collapsible Aquabound Paddle), my backcountry journeys have reached the next level, allowing me to explore areas and navigate routes that would've been completely inaccessible on foot. Adventurers in Alaska and elsewhere have come to use these rafts as the industry-standard for remote water navigation. I used mine on a recent trek to the Russell Fjord Wilderness (SE Alaska), where it proved indispensible for much of the 16-day journey. A good page discussing the techniques of Packrafting are found on Hig & Erin's Alaska Trekking. They're not cheap toys, but if you truly want to venture beyond the realm of where most hikers go, they're worth looking into.

McHale Custom Packs
Backpacking has become over a $1 Billion annual industry, and more than a few brands of packs offer large options for extended backcountry trips. Personally, I've tried packs from well-known brands like Kelty, Gregory, and Marmot. Sheridan Glacier, Chugach Range, AK These packs worked great for awhile, but I eventually found they weren't designed for the extreme demands of bushwacking weeks at a time through dense rainforests. The seams were the first thing to split, soon followed by the fabric, and over the years I grew tired of playing seamstress... having to re-sew and patch nearly every seam on my pack just to keep it running. Not to mention, very few pack-suspensions seemed truly designed for the massive loads I'd carry (sometimes 70+ lbs) at the beginning of a multi-week solo expedition.

After much gnashing of teeth, I finally made the jump to a custom-made backpack. McHale Packs have had a reputation for durability and comfort by climbers and high-end backpackers for decades. These days, I use a blue & yellow McHale SARC pack that handles the thickets and thorns of Northwest bushwacking, while allowing me to carry a hefty load in relative comfort. The pack is completely configurable for the trek (with removeable pockets & compressible main compartments), has exactly the features I want (with none of the features I don't want), and is precisely fit to my body dimensions. A custom pack isn't cheap (I paid roughly $600 for mine), but after tearing through several $200-350 packs, I eventually saw the wisdom of investing in a high-end pack that would last me years of use without breaking down.

Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
(Currently manufactured by ACR and McMurdo)
Solo trekking can be dangerous. Especially when those treks take me deep into remote regions far from trails, and I can walk weeks at a time without seeing another soul. As an insurance policy for the "Near-Worst Case Scenario" (being injured or stranded with no way of getting out on my own), I've invested in a Personal Locator Beacon, a satellite-detected emergency device that could possible save my life should I ever need a rescue. I've never needed it yet (hopefully never will!), but it's there if I do. Those with families at home can appreciate the necessity of calming the nerves of your loved-ones as you pack & prepare for a remote journey, and as an added bonus, my PLB has amazing results in that capacity.

McMurdo Fastfind PLB Folks have asked me "Why don't you buy a satellite phone?... that way you could talk to folks whenever you wanted." Overall, that's a true statement, except that Sat-phones (as they're currently manufactured) don't work whenever you want. They have weaker signals, a short battery life, limited durability and aren't waterproof... any of which can be killers in an emergency in the rainforest. An overview of the functional differences between Sat-Phones and PLBs is explained here at Equipped.org. I may (at some point) acquire a Satellite Phone, but I will continue to carry my PLB for my own safety and the sanity of my family at home.

An interesting new development in the field of Satellite location is the SPOT Messenger device, a "PLB-like" device with limited range & reliability but enhanced features over the current spectrum of PLB technologies. The technology is still young yet, but I'm keeping an eye on it, and may choose to acquire one of these for future endeavors.

Internet & Hosting

Webshots.com To save myself from bandwith-hell, my photo albums are hosted (and remotely linked) from my Webshots Album. They have bigger servers than I do, so download all ya' want. This site is hosted by the folks at GoDaddy.com.GoDaddy.com They've done a good job so far (reliable servers with little-to-no downtime), at half the price of a bunch of other hosting sites.
The full-sized photo album animations are provided by a freeware JavaScript utility called Lightbox 2.0.
Note: If you can't see full-sized images in the reports, make sure JavaScript is enabled on your browser. Most folks have no troubles, but if you can't see the images, look there first.