Posts Categorized: Adventures

Beginner’s Guide to Backpacking

Backpacking Eagle Cap Wilderness

I know how intimidating and overwhelming it can feel to get started with backpacking. There are so many questions that need answering. What gear do I need? How will I stay safe? How will I know where to go?

When I first began backpacking, I dove headfirst into the longest hike of my life; the Oregon section of the PCT. I backpacked for 30 days using ill-fitting, heavy gear, paper maps, and a whole lot of extra stuff I didn’t need. My feet hurt throughout the entire trek, red, sore, and covered in blisters. But I made it and all that anguish was worth it!

I’ve learned a lot over the 6 years since that hike. I’ve been able to swap out some of my gear for more practical items and successfully spent countless nights under the stars in the mountains, in the desert, and on the coast. My objective with this post is to share some of the lessons I’ve learned from my adventures. Hopefully, it will give you the confidence to branch out beyond car camping.

Backpacking in Eagle Cap Wilderness

Before I get started, I want to clarify that this is what I’ve found works for me. Everyone is going to feel differently when they enter the backcountry, so make sure to do plenty of your own research and trial and error to figure out what you’re most comfortable with.

So if this sounds exciting to you, but you aren’t sure how to get started, I’m here to help! Here are some ways to work up to backpacking:

• Start with longer hikes! Tackle a long-distance trail and bring a heavier backpack with plenty of supplies, including extra food and water (we call this training weight). Do all the research you’ll need beforehand to complete the hike safely. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment while training your body to carry a heavier load. It will also help familiarize you with the experience of spending several hours immersed in nature before trying it out overnight.

• If you have no experience backpacking, I recommend going with knowledgeable friends the first few times. There’s only so much you can glean from the internet. Learning directly from those who have experience will be so helpful when questions arise. And they’ll be there to back you up if you forgot to pack a crucial piece of gear. Don’t have friends who want to backpack with you? Try a local club, MeetUp.com, or reach out to like-minded folks on social media.

Underwood Wine Cheers

• Before you invest in your own backpacking gear, try borrowing from a friend or renting from an outdoor store. This will help you narrow down what kind of gear you like best and will ensure that you’re well equipped with knowledge and experience when you do finally purchase the items you need. There’s also plenty of used gear shops out there for those with a tighter budget. REI has a whole used gear section on their website. This is the perfect way to get started while simultaneously keeping used gear out of our landfills.

The most important step you can take to prepare for your first backpacking experience is to do a lot of research. Knowledge is so empowering and the more you have, the more comfortable you will feel in the backcountry.

One creative option is to take an online or in-person class on backpacking. For example, REI teaches many outdoor skills classes, including topics in navigation, survival basics, women’s wilderness skills, and First Aid. They also have local backpacking trips in many cities across the US for those who’d prefer to learn from experts on multi-day trips. This is also a great option if you’re looking for new like-minded friends to go backpacking with.

Backpacking trip by a lake

When choosing a location for your first trip, start with a fairly easy, low mileage trail and only stay out one night. That way you won’t be far from your car if you forget a crucial piece of gear. Starting easy and working your way up to longer and more difficult treks is perfectly normal. And there are plenty of short trails with beautiful views! It may just mean a little less solitude.

If you’re not sure how to find trails near you, I suggest using the AllTrails app downloaded directly to your phone. There’s both an unpaid and paid version. There are benefits to the paid version, like the ability to download maps that you can follow while you hike, but the free version works great as well and you can still often view the maps offline. This app will help you figure out what trail will suit you best. It lists the length and elevation gain of each trail. Plus, people write helpful reviews on trail conditions and campsite locations.

Once you decide on a trail, google the nearest ranger station and give them a call before you depart. They might have more recent information about trail closures, permits, wildfire restrictions, and conditions that you won’t find on the internet.

Wallow Whitman National Forest Backpacking

Start your hike early in the morning. Getting an early start will allow you to take your time getting to your destination and will most likely give you the chance at the first pick of the best campsites. That way you’ll have the rest of the day to play and enjoy the gorgeous views.

Safety in the Backcountry

Have you heard of the 10 essentials? Carrying these items with you every time you step into the backcountry is so important, even on short day hikes. And knowing how to use them will be incredibly valuable if you ever get yourself into a bind. They could save your life.

Backpacking Essentials What to Pack

The Ten Essentials:
• Navigation: map, compass, altimeter, GPS device, personal locator beacon (PLB), or satellite messenger.
• Headlamp and extra batteries
• Sun Protection: sunglasses, sun-protective clothes, and sunscreen
• First Aid: including band-aids, ointment, and insect repellent
• Knife: and gear repair kit
• Fire: matches, lighter, tinder, and/or stove
• Shelter: carried at all times (even as simple as an emergency bivy)
• Extra Food
• Extra Water
• Extra Clothing

Having a whistle could save your life if you accidentally slip, fall, or are rendered immobile in any way. Many backpacks have them attached to the shoulder straps, but you can also purchase one separately. Experts advise keeping it around your neck, in case you’re separated from your pack. 3 loud blasts, each lasting about 3 seconds, is the universal call for help.

I always carry an extra iPhone battery charger with me. Smartphones aren’t only good for taking amazing photos and videos of your travels, they double as navigation, map storage, and potential call for rescue. The last thing you want is for your phone to die on the trail when you need it most.

Always be sure to tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to be back. Supply them with the phone number for the nearest Ranger Station and let them know at what point they should be worried enough to call.

As stated earlier, always be sure to know what your selected trail conditions will be like and check the weather forecast before you go. Knowing what to expect, in terms of weather, will give you the information you need when you’re packing for your trip. But it’s also important to “expect the unexpected.” So even if the forecast isn’t predicting rain, I’ll stuff a raincoat into my pack just in case the weather turns. This can happen frequently in the mountains, so it’s best to be prepared.

What to Pack

Having the right gear for your trip is essential, but don’t get too hung up on the fancy stuff! Expensive gear can be a huge barrier for a lot of people. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with borrowing from friends, finding used gear, or starting with the less expensive, but probably slightly heavier stuff. When I started, everything I brought with me was used. Over several years, I slowly replaced the vintage items with more lightweight ones. It’s ok to start wherever you are. The most important part is knowing how to use what you have.

It’s really helpful to have a physical list and cross items off as you go. That way, you won’t get stuck without a crucial piece of gear when you’re miles away from town.

REI has this super helpful and comprehensive backpacking checklist that you can download and print out at home.

In order to determine what you need to pack, however, you’ll have to consider several factors, including how far you’re going, what kind of weather you’re expecting, how long you’ll be out for, and what kind of terrain you’ll be crossing.

Here are some items I deem essential:

Backpacking tent

A One-Person Tent (unless sharing with a friend):
I recommend using a one-person tent to keep your pack weight down. However, if you have a dog or you prefer something roomier, you might want to consider a two-person tent. I use a Nemo Hornet 1 Tent, because it feels spacious enough for me and my pup, it’s easy to set up, and it packs down small.

Stove:
A stove is a great item to share with a friend to keep weight down. But you can also bring your own. I have the MSR Reactor Stove because it performs well in snowy conditions. But this might be overkill for the casual summer backpacker. There are several lightweight, less expensive options to choose from as well. Jetboils are a popular option amongst backpackers.

PLB’s and Satellite Messengers:
My Garmin InReach Mini is my most valued piece of gear. It gives me an added sense of security whenever I’m outside of cell range. I often use it to text my parents my location when I arrive at camp. Just knowing that someone else has my exact location gives me that extra peace of mind. I also love that I can check the updated weather forecast whenever I need to.

However, these devices can be quite pricey. If you don’t have the funds to invest in an emergency device right now, don’t let that keep you from going. Just make sure someone knows where you’re heading.

First Aid:
It’s important to always hike with some form of first aid. Even on short day hikes, I carry a handful of these items. You can buy a readymade kit or build your own. I’ve been using the same first aid kit for a few years now, and I simply replace the items as I use them.

The items you bring will largely be dependent on where you’re going and what time of year it is. You’ll want bug repellent in the mountains during summer, for example. I always like to stash away some extra ibuprofen as well, to soothe my sore muscles at night.

Self-Protection:
I bring SABRE Frontiersman Bear Spray with me on my solo hiking and backpacking trips. This is my preferred method of self-protection. Keep it somewhere easily accessible and know how to use it before you go.
Another option would be to carry a more standard pepper spray, like SABRE RED Tactical Pepper Gel. If you aren’t hiking through bear country, a spray of this strength would be perfectly suitable.

Underwood Wine in a lake

Underwood Wine:
No backpacking adventure would quite be complete without a delicious can of Underwood Wine to reward yourself with after a long day. Just chill your beverage in the nearest spring-fed river or alpine lake and wait!

Ok, now that you’ve made it to your destination and set up camp, what do you do with the rest of the day? This is my favorite part of the trip and it’s so full of possibilities!

A few fun ways you could spend your afternoon:
• Take an exploratory side hike. Pack an extra small backpack. It can easily double as a stuff sack for clothing and will provide you with a small pack to take with you on those fun afternoon explorations. Fill it with snacks, a water bottle, your camera and you’re good to go!
• Sit and read a book or Kindle in the sun all day. This is my favorite afternoon activity. I use a Kindle because it’s so lightweight, low profile, and means you can carry multiple books!

• Tie up a hammock and nap the afternoon away while you listen to the birds chirp.
• Listen to music or podcasts downloaded on your phone. Just be sure to download everything you might want to listen to while you’re still in cell range.
• Draw or paint your surroundings! Bring a small sketchbook and a set of paints or pencils and practice your art skills in an inspiring location.
• Bring a set of cards and play games with your friends or solitaire by yourself.
• Pop open that can of Underwood, cheers your friend, and watch the sun slowly dip behind the mountains.

Leave No Trace:

Lastly, some of the most pertinent information you can familiarize yourself with is the 7 Leave No Trace Principles. Make sure to educate yourself on these practices and understand the “why” behind them. Mother Nature, local wildlife, and your fellow hikers will thank you.

You can find more in-depth information here at lnt.org.

Now get out there and enjoy!

Brooke Weeber Backpacking Trip Tent by Lake

Photography and story by Brooke Weeber

Celebrating Spring at Tom McCall Preserve

Tom McCall Preserve Tom McCall Preserve

In addition to their work to fight climate change, improve the health of our forests, restore habitat at the coast, The Nature Conservancy helps to protect millions of acres of land across the world. In fact, in Oregon alone, they have protected more than 530,000 acres. One of these special places is Tom McCall Preserve at Rowena.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot

Tom McCall Preserve at Rowena

Located just east of Hood River in the Columbia River Gorge, the Preserve bridges the wet west side of the Cascades with the drier grass prairies of the east, creating a unique landscape with many rare and sensitive plants. Each April and May the preserve is full of bright native flowers. The flowers that are the most prevalent at the Preserve are Arrowleaf Balsamroot and Lupine. Native plant species help preserve the planet’s biodiversity and are often better able to support the local environment and wildlife than ones that are introduced.

Red Tail Hawk

The Preserve is a great example of the beauty and diversity the earth offers when it is protected. The work The Nature Conservancy does help to restore and protect these 231 acres allows birds and other species to thrive. Among the many native flowers, we saw a few red tail hawks during our visit.

Underwood Wine and The Nature Conservancy

We recommend making a trip out there within the next week or so as the peak blooming season is coming to an end. Please stay on marked trails to protect the sensitive species that call it home. Pack your camera, flower identification book, and your favorite beverage.

Learn more about The Nature Conservancy’s efforts to protect #NatureNow.

Tom McCall Preserve

As always, pack it in, pack it out, stay on the trails, and please don’t pick any of the flowers.

More information on the Tom McCall Preserve at Rowena, including directions, highlights, and other resources, is available here.

Above Photo: Rowena Crest ©Gary Grossman/TNC Photo Contest 2019
All Other Photos: ©Union Wine Company

Brett Stenson Artist Spotlight: Behind the Design of Our New Cans

 


My process usually starts with some sort of trip or some sort of experience first, like, how do I develop a strong emotional connection to something I’m going to start drawing or carving? So it starts with coming up with what am I emotionally connected to? And then from there, I start sketching stuff, come up with the composition, come up with the idea.

Brett Stenson Artist Spotlight

Brett Stenson Artist Spotlight

If you go out and draw something that is laying in a stream, you’re going to see a composition that nature made, you didn’t make it up sitting at your computer, like you had to be subjected to it and look at it and accept it for how beautiful or weird or not that beautiful it looks and turn it into something that it is really interesting and cool on paper because if you do it cool, somebody is going to enjoy it so you don’t have to overthink it very much.

Brett Stenson Artist Feature

The idea behind the cans was based on having your own perspective when you’re standing in a river and being able to look down and see fish swimming in rocks and plants. So it almost puts you in a place of, oh, I’ve stood here before or I’ve been in this place before. I think what was cool about designing something that you had to spin and look at was that I wanted it to feel almost like an infinite continuous loop of a river, kind of like passing by as you spin it.

Brett Stenson Artist Feature

I feel like Union Wine and Underwood has such a great reach that they can show a lot more people in an unexpected way, you know, you think you drink it and you’re like, yeah, it’s wine, but it’s also made of water. If it’s not good water, it’s not going to be good wine. So you have to have great water. That makes great grapes. That makes great wine. Making artwork or making design work for people that are going out there and protecting trails, protecting forests, is my way of helping by making things that raise awareness for that stuff because I don’t necessarily have the knowledge or energy to go out and like, know how to protect a river or make it more fertile for fish to live in because that’s what biologists are for. So my design work is like my way of connecting to the things I care about.

Brett Stenson Artist Feature

Backcountry with Ali Lev


As the seasons start to change, there is still a part of us that wants to hold onto the last season. In the Pacific Northwest, the end of February and the beginning of March is a great time to take advantage of the final snowy days on the mountain. Go out solo, with your partner, or with your pups, and of course, don’t forget to throw some Underwood cans in your pack. Our friend, Ali Lev, tells her story below.

Union Wine Co Backcountry Skiing

My name is Ali Lev and my husband’s name is Brad Burnham, and we have two Husky’s named Fiona and Tucker.

Tucker is very much a mama’s boy and very rambunctious but wants to do whatever I’m doing, and Fiona is a typical husky in being very independent and beats to her own drum and comes when she feels like it. But they’re both really good. One of the motivating factors to get me outside is to see them happy and running in the snow.

Union Wine Co Backcountry Skiing

When I was a kid, one of the things that I hated about skiing was being uncomfortable, whether it was being too hot or too cold or too tired or too windy.

I hated the constant fluctuation of discomfort.

And as an adult, I kind of have embraced the discomfort a lot more because I feel like that’s when I’m challenged and I am able to, like, feel those raw feelings more. As they say in back-country skiing, you’ve really got to earn your turns. And even if you’re only doing one lap, you really got to work for it and enjoy the entire day, not just the downhill part. Oregon has been a really pleasant surprise for both Brad and I.

Union Wine Co Backcountry Wine

There’s something really special about having so much greenery all year round. You just feel like there’s life around you at all times. I think that for myself and a lot of others that struggle with mental health issues, whether that’s anxiety and depression or other things, the outdoors is a place where you can let go of all the stresses in life and just be present; creates a sense of freedom that I often don’t feel in other areas of my life.

Union Wine Co Backcountry

It’s not always about going out and having big powder turns.

Sometimes you’re not going to get that, and it’s just about getting fresh air and getting the dogs exercise and being out with friends or your partner and just enjoying the day itself.

Union Wine Co Backcountry

Find a few mental health resources below:

NAMI Oregon
Better Help
The Loveland Foundation
Bigger Than The Trail