Monday, September 15, 2014

How to Take Great Foliage Photos

How to Take Great Foliage Photos

Leaf-peep your brains out this fall. Then bring home some photographic memories that actually replicate the brain-popping colors you just witnessed. Here's how:

  • Motivate on wet mornings after a rain; bright foliage often awaits.
  • Use a polarizing filter, which enhances foliage color by eliminating reflected glare from leaf surfaces. 
  • Adjust the white balance setting on your camera appropriately to ensure your shot has sufficiently “warm” colors (reds, oranges).
  • Auto-white balance settings for “shade” and “direct sun” will add the greatest warming effects to your shots. 
  • Watch for overcast days and cloudy moments to provide even lighting, especially in forest settings.
  • Avoid taking pictures in glaring midday sun, which creates both harsh contrast and diminished colors. Seek morning and evening shots for the best lighting.

This column originally appeared in the print edition of AMCOutdoors along with the column "Tough Shots: Rugged cameras for the backcountry."

(Photograph by iStock.)

Monday, September 8, 2014

The 3 Strangest Things I've Seen on My Bike Commute

I ride the 10-mile length of the Minuteman Bikeway most days to work, racking up hundreds of trips and thousands of miles over the past three years. And, as I detailed in a recent article (The Rail-Trail Effect), I'm far from the only one on bike path each day.

Joggers, walkers, roller bladers, skateboarders, stroller pushers... I've spotted just about every non-motorized form of transportation you can think of. But there are three things I've seen that win the award for strangest sights.

Unicycle Training Wheels

Having made exactly one ill-fated attempted to ride a unicycle, I can attest to the difficulty of acquiring the skills of a successful one-wheel rider. It always made me wonder how anybody got started in this esoteric pursuit in the first place.

Now I have at least part of the answer. When I first spotted it on the bike path, I thought I was looking at a full-size adult riding a bizarre tricycle. Turns out the guy was riding a unicycle supported by a pair of small wheels that attached to the seat stem and extended out behind him.

Rand Ross Unicycle with Training Wheels

Stand-up Bicycle
The first time I spotted one of these I was utterly mystified. From a distance, it looked like an 8-foot-tall man was gliding smoothly and rapidly ahead of me on the bike path. As I got closer, the mystery deepened as I could see him pumping his legs, yet somehow his body wasn't bobbing up and down in response. It was my first encounter with an ElliptiGO.

These contraptions marry a gym elliptical machine with a bicycle to create a stand-up design that allows you to run in place as you power forward by two wheels. Looks like a great, low-impact workout (especially for jogging fanatics), but it doesn't come cheap. The basic model starts at $1,799 and they go up from there.

Helmet Mysteries
Lastly, and the one thing that most baffles me, is why some people ride with helmets on their heads yet don't buckle the strap under their chin. They might as well not be wearing a helmet at all, since an unsecured helmet will simply fly off in an accident and be essentially useless. I have seen this bizarre scenario dozens of times, and still can't figure it out.

Close runner-ups in the helmet category include people wearing their helmets backwards and cyclists riding along with their helmets dangling from their handlebars of backpacks as they go.

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

How to Recycle a Used Stove Fuel Canister

When it comes to cooking in the backcountry, canister stoves—those that run on a compressed propane-butane blend—have been my go-to backpacking option for years. For me, their convenience and ease-of-use—attach stove, ignite, boil, simmer, done—more than outweighs the minor drawbacks of the canisters’ small additional weight and expense...

This story originally appeared in the August web edition of AMC Outdoors. You can read the complete story here.

Photo courtesy JetBoil.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Dehydrated Beer: Now Available

Two years ago I highlighted Pat's Backcountry Beverages, which at the time was developing the Holy Grail for backcountry beer enthusiasts. Now you can hold it in your hand.

Two versions of beer concentrate are now available:

1919 Pale Rail, an amber brew featuring "a delicate blend of aromatic malts and Cascade hops" that "delivers a complex, yet well-balanced, craft brew."

Black Hops, a darker, stouter option with "a bold blend of dark roasted malts" that "creates a smooth yet robust craft beer."

How does it work? You can get the full details here, but the short story is this.

Each 50ml brew concentrate pack ($9.95 for a 4-pack) will produce a pint of beer with an ABV between roughly 5 and 6 percent. In order to get it carbonated, however, you also need a carbonator bottle ($39.95) and a single-use activator packet (12 for $5.95). This video shows the whole process in action.

While I have not yet had the opportunity to sample the brew, some early reviews on GearJunkie and Gizmodo confirm what I would have guessed. Not the best beer you've ever had, but not bad either. And given that just about anything you eat or drink tastes better after a long, hard, and sweaty day on the trail, it's probably much tastier in the backcountry than it would be at home.

As to whether it's a good idea to just do a brew concentrate shooter straight out of the packet (ABV of roughly 50 percent), I would heed the feedback from the Gizmodo crew after they attempted it:
"After coating your throat in a not-at-all-pleasant burning sensation (lasting for about 8 minutes after the fact), the gel bombards your taste buds with a rotting symphony of flavors not meant for consumption. The Pail Rail—the tamer of the two at 49 percent ABV in the packet and 5.2 percent with water added—tasted vaguely of potent, regurgitated beer and/or straight garbage, while the Black Hops version—50 percent ABV or 6.1 percent with water added—was more reminiscent of an atrociously strong soy sauce mixed with melted tar. In short, beer concentrate shots are bad. Do not do them."
Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

How to Destroy Your Gear: Five ways to damage (and revive) your outdoor equipment

As a general rule, most outdoor gear is built to survive significant use and abuse over many years and adventures. By using these five simple tips, however, you can quickly and easily damage your equipment to the point of near uselessness. With a little additional effort, you can then resuscitate it for more abuse in the future...

This story originally appeared in the September/October edition of AMC Outdoors. You can read the complete story here.

Photo by iStock.

Monday, August 25, 2014

3/4 vs. Full-Length Sleeping Pad

Opting for a three-quarter length sleeping pad allows you to carry less weight and bulk in your pack, but it also comes with some notable drawbacks. Is it worth it?

Full-length Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite
Though there's an increasing array of sleeping pad lengths, shapes, and sizes, most 3/4-length sleeping pads (often listed as size small) are right around 4 feet long, give or take an inch or two. Full-length pads are usually 6 feet long (slightly shorter for women's-specific versions). 

Depending on the pad, the weight difference between 3/4-length and full-length can be anywhere from 4 to 5 ounces (for ultralight pads like the classic Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest or high-end NeoAir XLite) to as much as 8 ounces or more for heavier versions like the inexpensive Trail Scout. 3/4-length pads also pack down smaller than their larger brethren, a boon for smaller packs.

I've used both lengths over the years. Here's my personal take on the two options.

First, I've found there to be no meaningful difference in sleeping comfort between the two. 
The most important places to have padding for a good night's sleep are beneath your shoulders, hips, and knees. Even for a tall guy like me (6 feet, 5 inches), a 3/4-length pad provides sufficient knees-to-shoulder coverage. You don't need a pad under your head, since you'll be using some sort of other padding for a pillow (here's my recommended pillow solution); or under your ankles and feet, which don't create much in the way of pressure points.

There's one important caveat to this, however. I have noticed that thick 3/4-length pads (2 inches or more) create a distinct drop off below the knees that is uncomfortable. For me, this often results in sleeping discomfort and noticeable soreness in my knees the next day. Consequently, I generally don't recommend thick 3/4-length pads. If you want that amount of cush, go for the full-length.

Second, 3/4-length pads require that you put something else under the tail of your sleeping bag.
You don't want the end of your sleeping bag lying directly against your tent floor or, worse, against a shelter floor or directly on the ground if you're sleeping outside. Doing so exposes your sleeping bag to moisture, dirt, and abrasion.

It's an easy problem to deal with—you can place a garbage bag or lightweight tarp or ground sheet beneath your feet, or use your pack or rain gear if you want to go minimalist—but it does require a small amount of hassle. 

Third, I personally use a full-length ultralight pad.
I continue to use a full-length Z Lite pad (pictured above), which has been my go-to three-season pad for nearly two decades. For me, the extra 4 ounces and coverage of a full-length vs. 3/4-length version is well worth the small additional weight.

I will grant, however, that the thin padding of the Z Lite is not for everybody. If you need a thicker, cushier pad for a good night's sleep that doesn't leave you feeling like a sore and creaky Tin Man the next morning, the weight and bulk differences between a 3/4 and full-length pad become more striking—and require more careful consideration.

Sleep well!

Learn more:
“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Do You Hike with Trekking Poles? Avoid this Common Mistake.

Trekking poles offer a slew of advantages—increased hiking stability, reduced knee compression, easier river crossings, ultralight shelter support, and more—but if you aren't using them correctly, you're not taking full advantage of their strengths.

One of the most common mistakes—and one of the simplest to correct—has to do with how you use the trekking pole straps. With rare exception, every trekking pole features those dangly straps that emerge from the top of the grip. Used properly, they take considerable pressure off of your hands and transfer it instead to your wrists, allowing you to effectively use the poles without the need to tightly clench them with your hands. Used improperly, they do little more than serve as a leash for your poles.

Here's the error many people make. They insert their hands through the top of the straps and then grab the pole grip with the straps dangling loosely around their wrists.

The correct way is to insert your hand through the bottom of the strap and position it so that the strap runs across your palm and then up between the thumb and index finger. The final step is to tighten (or loosen) the pole straps so that they are snug yet comfortable—adjust them so that they connect to the grip slightly above the top of your hand.


The same advice applies for ski poles as well. Happy hiking!

Learn more:
Sticks and Stones: The Pros, Cons, and Uses of Trekking Poles

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid. 

Photos: Courtesy of