We could argue endlessly about where to go for the best family vacation. Some might say Disneyland; others will name a national park like the Grand Canyon. You’re always right with a trip to Hawaii—and the “Garden Island” of Kauai. It combines some of the best offerings of different vacation options.
For Nature Lovers
Nature’s beauty is everywhere. The Kauai weather is tropical, so the forecast is always warm or warm and rainy—ideal growing conditions. We stayed on the south side of the island (recommended) at the end of January. Temperatures were in the low- to mid-80s, perfect for the best family vacation. Only one day brought extended rain, and it felt gloriously refreshing to be in it.
Some of the most breathtaking views are found on this island in Hawaii. The Waimea Canyon is called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. A few minutes from there is the Kalalau Lookout. My wife called it “the most beautiful spot in the world.” It’s a picturesque view of the Kalalau Canyon and the ocean. A slow drive to the north end of the island brings you to the Napali Coast. It’s another spectacular spot, well worth seeing. But we spent a total of 4 to 5 hours in our rented Jeep Wrangler. If you’re on the south side of Kauai, think twice about making the trip. And to maximize your best family vacation, go as early in the day as possible.
If you love the ocean, surround yourself with it in Hawaii. We stayed at a resort on the famed Poipu Beach. It’s perhaps the island’s most popular beach because it’s sandy, clean, generally calm enough for swimming/snorkeling, and it attracts plenty of sea life. We saw humpback whales in the distance, we spotted monk seals lying in the sand, and my 9-year-old accidentally found himself swimming with a sea turtle.
One of our favorite adventures was whale-watching via Blue Dolphin Kauai. We lucked out with perfect Hawaii weather conditions. We were even luckier on this best family vacation: Our captain found the humpback whales as we were leaving port, and he stayed with them for 2 hours. Around 10 or 12 males were chasing 2 females. The captain told us that the males breach more often during mating season. Sure enough, we saw around 20 breaches!
For Thrill Seekers
If you’re an amusement park kind of person, there’s no shortage of activities. You can try helicopter rides, zip-line tours, fishing expeditions, ATV excursions, and more in Hawaii. My favorite activity on this very best family vacation was mountain tubing with Kauai Backcountry Adventures. We floated down the irrigation system of an old plantation. We traveled in a beautiful rainforest and passed through several dark (and often long) tunnels on our way to a quaint picnic lunch.
There’s no shortage of delicious dishes in Kauai, especially if you love fresh seafood and even fresher fruit. Plus, with Hawaii’s relatively new focus on local farming, a lot of the meats—especially beef—now have that fresh, local flavor. The famous Puka Dog lived up to the hype on our best family vacation. It was so delicious that I ate there no less than four times. Brick Oven Pizza was another fantastic spot, as was Da Crack and their burritos. I enjoyed shave (not “shaved”) ice every chance I got. However, the award for best meal of my week went to the sampler platter at Chicken in a Barrel. The plate of BBQ food was under $20, and my wife and I shared it. Of course, for a combination of food, local culture, and lively entertainment, be sure to book dinner at a luau.
For Couch Potatoes
If your idea of the best family vacation is to “be lazy,” Kauai is a great place for that. You can relax on the sunny beach (perhaps even book a beachfront massage). You can find a comfy spot on the patio. Or you can remain indoors. With a cool ocean breeze always blowing in, just open the windows and enjoy—no air-conditioning needed. Go to CVS and buy the world’s best gummy bears: Island Cravings Baby Gummy Bears. Grab yourself a Mai Tai or some guava juice, and relax.
To find even more fun and adventure for your best family vacation in Kauai, check out AdventureKEEN’s popular guides like Hawaii Trails and Hawaii Wildlife Viewing Guide.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it with this winter season. In Minnesota, it’s been cold and snowy. And cold. And snowy. The weather forecast calls for more of the same in February, March, April, and into forever. We won’t get discouraged, though, right? Winter isn’t going to beat us. We only have between 2 and 700 months to go. To help us persevere, I grabbed a copy of Surviving Minnesota Winter by Brett Ortler. Following are five tips to help us make it through the winter season and to the fabled land called Spring.
Go Shopping for Clothes
Are you looking for a reason to love the cold? Does the weather forecast have you feeling blue? Good news: layering up is never more in fashion than during winter. Treat yourself to new sweaters, hats, mittens, and more. For best results, your bottom layer of clothing should be polyester or wool. Your insulating layer should be wool or fleece. Your outer layer (e.g., a big, warm parka) should ideally be goose down.
Eat, Drink, and Be Toasty
When it’s too cold to go anywhere without an emergency survival kit, stay home. Cook some comfort food. Popular options during the winter season include buffalo wings, pho, wild rice soup, and just about anything else that makes you feel warm inside. For a treat that’s chillier than the weather forecast, winter is traditionally the time to make homemade ice cream too.
Try a Winter Science Project
As awful as the season sometimes feels, it is “cool” to get your geek on. The famous boiling water trick is always a crowd-pleaser. There is a safe and effective method for doing it. Here’s what Surviving Minnesota Winter says about preventing injury: “If you want to try this at home, keep in mind that the effect is more dramatic if it’s colder, and you need to take proper precautions—wear safety gear and be darn sure about the wind direction when you throw the water. A surprising number of people are burned each year while trying this.” Other popular options presented in the book include growing snow (in the house), freezing a bubble, photographing snowflakes, and more.
Find a Winter Hobby
For some crazy people, when snow is in the weather forecast, it’s reason to rejoice. I admit it: the winter season offers some epic options for outdoor adventure. You can start with the basics, like building a snowman or sledding down a hill. Hikers can snowshoe. Runners can cross-country ski. Anglers can ice fish. And let’s not forget pond hockey, snowmobiling, downhill skiing—and more! If I didn’t know better, I’d say winter almost sounds a little fun. Almost.
Go on Vacation
My favorite way to thumb my nose at the frigid temperatures is to get out of town. A week-long vacation in Florida, Arizona, or Hawaii sounds heavenly. But a winter-season getaway doesn’t need to be that elaborate or expensive. A weekend stay at a hotel (with a hot tub, of course) does wonders for refreshing the body and making the weather forecast seem almost bearable.
For more ideas—and for advice on everything from winterizing a home to creating an emergency survival kit—check out Surviving Minnesota Winter. It’s available wherever books are sold.
“Carry as little as possible but choose that little with care.”
~ Earl Schafer
I have an obsession with pack weight. I got it early in my backpacking days while carrying a base-weight that must have been in the 45-pound range. After a few trips with a 3-pound sleeping bag, 4-pound pack, heavy stove, heavy leather boots, and lots of extra stuff I didn’t need, I began to make different choices when it was possible to replace or eliminate something. I have an older post, “Preparing for Multi-Day Backpacking Trips,” at ozarkmountainhiker.com that was well received. For this post, I’m focusing specifically on pack weight.
Over the last 20 years and after a lot of trial and error, I’m carrying a base-weight of 9–10 pounds when I’m using my lightest options. Base-weight is your pack-weight before adding food and water. The photo above shows my pack with food for two nights and water included.
Going lighter is all about personal choices. I’m sharing the following, not because this is how it should be done, but to give ideas and possibilities for going lighter. If you have a trick that works for you, please share with me through the contact page. I love to pick up good ideas from readers. I will mention brand names for clarity in this post, but I’m not endorsing any company.
The big three areas for discussion are Sleep System, Shelter, and the Pack. Reducing weight here has the most significant impact on pack weight.
1. Sleep System: Rest is essential to your trip’s success, so this is no place to skimp on cost—but a good down quilt is less than a sleeping bag. I use an Enlightened Equipment 20-degree down quilt and a silk bag liner for a weight of about 1 lb. 4 oz. Twenty-degree sleeping bags weigh around 2 lbs. 6 oz. to over 3 pounds.
I’ve used air sleeping pads with good results except for the occasional leak. There are lighter and more rugged options.
If I’m going my lightest, I prefer a Therm-a-Rest foam pad with two extra foam cutouts to avoid cold spots where most of my weight makes contact. I’m a side sleeper, so one extra 6×8-inch pad goes under my hipbone, and the other goes under my shoulder. I cut the two extra pieces from a full-sized foam pad to make it a 2/3 pad after cutting another piece for Hiker-dog. She loves her foam sleeping pad! In cold weather, I place my pack under my feet to get up off the ground.
For me, a pillow is essential. I now use a Platypus water pouch filled with air inside a small pillowcase along with extra clothes. During the day and in camp, I use the pouch to store extra water. If there’s water in the pouch in the evening, I pour it into my cookpot for the next morning’s eggs and coffee. I like double-use items.
2. Shelter: There are lots of options here, and I’ve tried several over the years. Right now, I’m using a Big Agnes Silver Spur 2-person tent (2 lbs. 12 oz.) when I expect cold temperatures and want to keep Hiker-dog in the tent with me. When I want to go my lightest, I use a ZPacks tarp. I love the tarp because it’s flexible, lightweight, and I can feel close to my surroundings. If it’s bug season, I pitch a screened Enlightened Equipment bivy sack under the tarp. I sometimes use a piece of plastic under the foam pad in non-bug season. A backpacking tent can easily weigh 4 lbs. The tarp, stakes, and plastic ground cloth add up to 16 oz. With a bivy sack, it’s 21 oz.
3 The Pack: On the John Muir Trail and for many Ozarks trips, I use my Granite Gear Crown 60 pack. I love that pack, and it handles a bear canister well. If I’m going my lightest and a bear canister isn’t required, I use a ZPacks Nero that is super light.
Packing the pack (my way) – Place all items that must remain dry in a trash compactor bag. Both the Zpacks and Crown 60 packs area simple tubes. Pockets, compartments, and zippers are nice but add weight.
The foam sleeping pad is placed against the pack walls, adding structure to the lightweight floppy pack. I press the tarp into the bottom so any moisture will move down from there. Then I press the trash compactor bag into the tube containing the down quilt, silk sleeping bag liner, and extra clothes. Lastly, I pack the food/kitchen bag.
Lightweight hacks: Here are a few tricks I’ve picked up from other hikers and reading:
Hydrating light: If I use a filter, it’s the Sawyer mini squeeze filter. If the water is cloudy, I sometimes pre-filter with my bandana and then the Sawyer filter. If I’m going my lightest, I use Aquamira water treatment drops, rebottled in small plastic bottles. I prefer the drops and leaving the filter in the bag or at home. Sometimes I carry both drops and a Sawyer, depending on what I expect to find out there.
Cooking light: Sometimes, I cook on a fire if there’s already a fire ring and it’s a high-impact campsite, but the stove I carry is a titanium Esbit stove with two fuel cubes for each day. I have a pocket-rocket type of stove that works well, and sometimes I carry that, but it’s heavier, and I despise giving pack space to fuel canisters. I have a Jetboil and would use it for a large group where we wanted to boil lots of water quickly without having a bunch of stoves. A Jetboil could save weight for a group, but it’s heavy for an individual. One of my main trail friends uses a Whisperlite, and he’s masterful with it, but it is a slightly heavier option.
My cookpot (Toaks 550 ml) and cup are titanium. Some prefer a larger pot, but this one boils water for coffee and scrambled eggs, although it does get close to the rim with evening meals. I made a pot cozy using foam and Gorilla Glue that extends the cooking time and keeps the food warm while I eat it. I love coffee and have a somewhat unique coffee recipe. I sometimes wish my mug were bigger, but it fits nicely inside my pot.
Food is generally heavy. I rarely use commercial freeze-dried meals, preferring to pack my own using soups, instant potatoes, and Knorr meals as a base. Add dehydrated vegetables and freeze-dried chicken to make good meals with less packaging and weight. I carry trash in an empty coffee bag. It’s light, durable, and I don’t have to look at my trash as with a plastic bag.
Trekking poles: Hiking poles aren’t a necessity, but I find they improve my stability, especially going downhill. They can also serve a dual purpose as tarp poles. Lightweight and simple are my favorite features. I don’t care for fancy adjustments/shock absorbers; I sometimes see hikers playing with their stick lengths to the point of frustration because of tricky mechanisms. I use Black Diamond Distance Z trekking poles (non-adjustable).
Shoes and socks: I wear lightweight, low-top hiking shoes or trail running shoes. I use crocs for creek crossing and around camp. I carry two pairs of Darn Tough socks with one pair on my feet and a backup pair in my pack. Everything adds up, so wearing lightweight clothes makes a difference in the weight your knees and feet will feel on the trail.
Personal items: What do I really need? I used to tweak around with toothbrushes, trying to lower the weight. I settled on tooth powder for a while instead of toothpaste. Now I just carry a roll of floss; that’s all. I floss each evening. Each morning I snap off a green twig and “brush” my teeth while walking along. After a few minutes, my teeth feel as clean as ever.
Luxury item: Give yourself one. It might be an iPod or some other item that adds to your enjoyment. I love my double-wall titanium mug, but it would qualify as a luxury item, so it never makes backpacking trips. My favorite luxury item is a package of wet-wipes. It feels good to clean up before sleeping, keeps the silk bag liner cleaner, and keeps down the stink.
Speaking of stink…. proper pooping is important! There’s a whole book on the subject! For the Ozarks, bury your business away from the trail or water, and pack out any toilet paper. I like to use leaves when possible to reduce the use of toilet paper, although I still carry a little. I like what Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips by Mike Clelland has on this subject and many more.
Life is all about nuanced choices, and the same is true of packing light. Experimenting with your gear can be fun and add to the anticipation of a trip, or it can drive you crazy and annoy those around you.
I think maybe “closet ultra-light backpacker” is the way to go. Quietly make decisions that reduce your pack weight, but don’t initiate conversations about subtle differences between the Toaks titanium cookpot over the MSR Titan Camping Kettle. It is better to have campfire conversations about the trail, scenery, and life.
Enjoy your light pack and the places your happy feet will take you!
If you want to hit some beautiful Arkansas and Missouri trails, pick up my book, Five-Star Trails: The Ozarks.
It’s that time when people across the country make a New Year’s Resolution. The most popular goals range from getting organized to saving money, but tops on most lists is a desire to get healthy. Whether that means exercising more, eating better, or losing a specific number of pounds, it’s a lofty ambition and one that, unfortunately, has a high rate of failure. According to U.S. News & World Report, 80% of these resolutions fail—by February! The news for dieters is even worse, with failure rates reported as high as 95%.
Don’t get discouraged, though. Instead, get active. Hiking is a popular way to go outside, enjoy fresh air, and, yes, get the exercise that will give your New Year’s Resolution a boost. Some hikers prefer to find a favorite route and walk it every day. Other adventurers use the opportunity to explore new and different places. Whichever you choose, the important thing is to set a schedule and follow through. How far will you walk (or for how much time)? How often will you do it? What time of day works best? Answer these questions, and commit to it. You have an advantage because hiking is fun!
Yes, many people find the experience of taking a hike to be rewarding in itself. Perhaps you’ll glimpse wildlife or find a remote waterfall. Or maybe the peace and quiet of an escape into nature is appealing. Of course, even if it doesn’t sound like something you will enjoy, worry not. There are plenty of ways to make your New Year’s Resolution work. Following are few simple ideas to spice up your hike:
Bring a Friend
Everything is more fun when you have someone to share it with. Build your hiking schedule around a friend or family member. Not only are you both more likely to stick with the plan, you’ll also get to enjoy each other’s company.
Bring a Friend, Virtually
Thanks to mobile phones, you can hike with a friend who is somewhere else entirely. Grab a headset with a speaker, and both of you can walk together, even when you’re apart. (Just pick trails with good reception.) Similarly, you can listen to music, podcasts, or a good audiobook.
If you hold an interest in the arts, turn your New Year’s Resolution into a search for inspiration. Bring a camera to take photographs, plan your next poem, or look for picturesque settings to paint.
Turn Hiking into a Learning Experience
Depending on the hike, you might enjoy taking an identification guide with you. If you see plenty of birds, you can discover what kinds are present. Or learn to identify animal tracks. You might also find a new hobby in identifying and collecting rocks. (Make sure you are in a place where rock collecting is allowed.)
Regardless of where you live, chances are good that there’s a wonderful trail—or several—within striking distance. AdventureKEEN has a variety of series to help you find the best options, including 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles, Five-Star Trails, and Top Trails. Make a plan, choose your routes, and turn this New Year’s Resolution into a success in 2020.
Birds in winter are wonderful to observe, and a birding-themed gift is a perfect fit beneath your Christmas tree. A good friend of mine is very enthused about the birds (less so about the squirrels) that visit her feeder during these chilly months. I took it upon myself to create the ultimate bird-watching present. With AdventureKEEN products, that’s easy to do. Following are five ideas for a great gift package.
1. Bird Identification Guide
A state-specific field guide adds an extra personal touch to this gift idea, and that’s always a good thing. Find the Birds of book for your state. These wonderful guides for watching and feeding birds in winter are organized by color. So when you see a yellow bird, jump to the yellow section to find out what it is. Once you find a match, you’ll learn about the bird’s nest, eggs, migration, favorite foods, and more.
2. Birding Journal
Add another level of interactivity to your gift. The Birding Journal allows its users to record their favorite birding moments. Note which birds are seen, including when and where. Document the birds in winter—and all seasons—eating at the feeder. Compare new spring arrivals from year to year. Keep track of a life list and more. It’s a beautiful book, worthy of a spot under the Christmas tree.
3. Bird Playing Cards
A fun addition to a gift package or a perfect stocking stuffer, the Birds of decks of playing cards are available by region. Choose from the Gulf Coast, Midwest, Northeast, Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, and Southwest. Each card features a photograph of different species common or important to the region. So people can learn to identify birds in winter, spring, summer, and fall while playing their favorite card games.
4. An Asylum of Loons
For something fun and entirely unexpected beneath the Christmas tree, this fascinating book is the twist your gift package needs. It introduces strange and unexpected collective nouns for specific types of birds. Discover the surprising number of different terms, and learn their true meanings―as well as the history behind them. Did C.S. Lewis really coin the phrase “a parliament of owls”? Find out in this colorfully designed conversation-starter.
5. Zen Birds
The giftiest item in your bird-lover’s present will be Zen Birds. This small, beautiful hardcover book was inspired by traditional Asian brushwork and haiku. The artwork and text are sure to warm a heart more quickly than spotting one’s favorite birds in winter.
Put these five products in a box, wrap them up, and tuck them under the tree. You’ll win Christmas for just around $50 or so.
There is much to be thankful for the season. And very little of it has to do with walking around inside, elbowing through the crowds and shopping.
That’s why once again we’re locking arms with folks across the outdoor industry and shutter our online shopping cart to help encourage everyone to get outside and enjoy nature. REI kicked off the #OptOutside hashtag and efforts a few years ago and their website is a good place to start.
We hope your Thanksgiving is full of family, friends and food, and that you get to recover from all the holiday-ness outdoors.
Here are three ideas for what to do this Black Friday:
- Check with you state park system as many are waiving fees and making it free to visit the state park. (Minnesota is calling theirs day Free Park Friday). You can find your state park system at StateParks.og
- Find a hike, bike ride, climb, or run close to home using REI’s list of digital tools
- Join outdoor enthusiasts across the country today in their efforts to clean up the outdoors. You can find a list of contacts and programs on REI’s official page for this year’s #OptOutside.
Ultimately all of the #optoutside chatter makes us thankful. Thankful for the outdoors. Thankful we get the time off to celebrate and enjoy the company of family, friends and old hiking buddies. And we’re especially thankful for you and the growing outdoors community! Happy Thanksgiving and get outside this week.