ask me anything, volume 1

Gear, like most of what goes into planning a thru-hike, is constantly changing, being updated and reconsidered.

Yesterday, I received an email from a fellow hiker who’s about to begin her first solo thru-hike. She had questions about the safety of hitchhiking, whether I buy trip insurance, if I carried a sun umbrella on the Arizona Trail, etc. etc.

Like most hikers, I have strong opinions on backpacking topics – while pretty wishy-washy on others, usually after being stubbornly certain about them for years!

It’s the perfect time for me to strive for less wishy-washiness as I prepare to walk the final 100 miles of the Arizona Trail in late February. So (drum roll please) the time has come for the first ever “Ask Me Anything.” It’s your opportunity to send me any burning questions you might have about anything backpacking-related. I will give it my best shot to offer wisdom-from-the-trail.


fill out this form to ask your question

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Arizona Trail

Sea to Summit Aeros UL Inflatable Pillow review

Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves.

Dorothy Parker
Blissful gives Sea to Summit’s UL pillow the highest rating, five Anitas (gotta have it).
This bit of luxury for my head was one of my best choices for the Arizona Trail.

what’s a luxury item?

On a thru-hike, the goal is to complete the hike, which usually means hiking all day, nearly every day for miles on end. While I am becoming less enamored with speed and “crushing miles,” that reality remains if you want to actually get anywhere.

Which is why it’s imperative that your “base weight” – the cumulative pounds of all your gear minus food, fuel, water and what you’re wearing – be as light as possible so you can move with ease and lessen the chances of injuries. And that means purchasing high tech ultralight gear that’s oftentimes, very expensive.

Most backpackers speak of the big three items – pack, tent and sleeping system – since they account for the bulk and heft on your back, and cost the most. As well, these items tend to constitute your survival. If you have shelter that keeps you dry and warm, and a means to carry it, you should be ok.

All the other items are important and selected carefully, as well as changed out over the years, things like head lamps, chargers, wallets and rain gear. What often doesn’t get discussed in detail are luxury items. What extra things will you take to make the hike not just a grinding march to the finish but a pleasurable journey through nature?

btw, you can see my revised gear list here

I take very little in this regard, but have now settled on adding an inflatable pillow to my gear list. And why, you might ask, when I could simply roll up extra clothes and stuff them in a stuff sack under my head? First of all, there aren’t always any extra clothes for that. I have tried laying my head on my food bag (the food itself is inside an odor proof resealable bag) But, as you can imagine, the size changes over time and most of the food feels hard and crunchy!

I’m not exactly a spring chicken anymore, and sleep is paramount on a thru-hike after so much physical activity. On this latest trek, I needed to change out my mattress when my blow-up blew out from a spiky bit of grass. I found to my delight that a closed-foam pad actually worked better for me.

That being said, I wasn’t ready to give up a blow-up pillow, which somehow was spared being spiked…

Sea to Summit Aeros is the most comfortable backpacking pillow I’ve used and it compresses to the size of a pack of ramen noodles.

What makes this pillow so great?

Sea to Summit designed a pillow with baffles, a kind of curved and contoured air bladder that when filled, fits your head perfectly whether you’re a back or side sleeper like me. Unlike my mattress, the pillow makes no sound as I move and adjust during the night. Shaped like a fat C, it cradles my neck whether I’m writing the blog or fast asleep.

The polyester itself is soft, though I did add a washable pillow case for one more layer of joy. I don’t know if this aspect is really necessary, but it certainly made life easier – there’s a multi-function mini-valve that closes off when filling the pillow and holds the air in place. Open the valve completely, and all the air comes out. I found this made it easier to fine tune the filling, though I usually tuned to solid brick.

I did not end up using the ‘pillow lock’ to hold it inside the hood of my warmest sleeping bag. It’s a set of self-adhesive hook and loop patches. I actually found the pillow case itself kept things in place as I slept. And what’s more, this is an ultralight pillow that weighs just slightly over two ounces. A lot of comfort bang for the extra “weight,” I’d say.

The mini multi-function valve may not be a necessity, but it sure made inflating and deflating the pillow easy as well as adjusting the hardness.


In a nutshell, I love this pillow and, if you’re over 50 and want to sleep well at night, I highly recommend picking one up (with that smashing bright purple cade!) for your next outing. Your neck will thank me!

Blissful gives Sea to Summit’s UL pillow the highest rating, five Anitas (gotta have it).

Specs at a glance (regular size)

  • Material: 20 Denier soft stretch-knit polyester, contoured laminated TPU bladder, RF welded
  • Dimensions: 14.2 x 10.2 x 4.7 in (36 x 26 x 12 cm)
  • Packed Size: 2 x 2.8 in (5.5 x 7.5 cm)
  • Weight: 2.1 oz (60g)
  • Machine washable: case – yes; pillow – hand wash only
  • Inflation: multi-function mini-valve
  • Securable: with pillow-lock system


alison young was given the pillow and case for testing by Sea to Summit


KÜHL convertible hiking trouser review

To walk in nature is to witness a thousand miracles

Marie Davis
Blissful gives KUHL Hörizn Convertible hiking pant the highest rating, five Anitas.
My KÜHL trousers’ stretchy, soft fabric and easy fit make them some of the most comfortable pants I’ve worn on trail.

“made in the mountains”

Just how important is finding the right trousers to wear when hiking? Well, next to finding the right footwear – both shoes and socks – about as important as it gets to ensure that you’re comfortable, will stay relatively dry and can move without restriction. And my new favorite is the KÜHL Hörizn convertible for its durable, yet soft and flexible fit.

KÜHL’s tagline is “born in the mountains,” and that’s quite literally so. Founded by three skiers and a climber (living legend Conrad Anker) KÜHL is an independent brand of clothing that reflects the harsh and changeable conditions of an alpine environment as well the demands of the people who play there. And I kinda like the fact that they’re indie, without shareholders or venture capitalists breathing down their neck. They answer to no one but themselves – and, of course, us.

And so it’s no wonder that the hiking trousers feel as if designed by people like me who live for adventure and also specifically with my type of hiking in mind – hard, fast, unforgiving with day after day in the same cloths. My walking demands a product that’s not going to unravel at the seams or easily tear when I plop myself down on a rock outcropping for the thousandth time.

construction counts

This starts with the choice of materials. KÜHL uses a fabric called “Reflex” which is made of 56% stretch polyester and 44% “new” polyester. What’s so new about this polyester, you might ask? For one thing, it’s a type of synthetic used in performance wear that allows for moisture management like wicking, color and other properties to be added to it but in a far more eco-friendly manner. Reflex is also Bluesign Certified, which means it meets a high standard of manufacturing that requires companies to replace harmful substances with safer alternatives.

But perhaps the most important point about Reflex is its GSM, or grams per square meter, number. At 164 it’s on par with chambray, a high density but lightweight fabric – you know, the stuff they make those ultra-comfy button down shirts out of. This translates to a heavy-duty fabric that can manage the punishment meted out on miles-upon-miles of blowdowns, cacti, and rock scrambles while never feeling heavy or scratchy against your skin.

Rugged they are, but also stretchy in all directions, which is useful since most blissful hikers are known to move in all directions. KÜHL sews the seams with 100% nylon thread. And why should this matter? This is the same thread used on climbing harnesses, and you won’t see a fraying or unravelling harness pretty much ever. To hold together the seams with that nylon thread, they use a saddle stitch. I learned this technique way back in Junior High Sewing Class, a more time-consuming way to piece heavy materials in the strongest and most secure manner. The point is to keep things together even if one portion of the stitch is cut. Talk about attention to detail!

In addition, this magic fabric offers the highest amount of sun protection at 50+ UPF.

The Hörizn hiking trouser converts into shorts by unzipping a stylish and “stealth” zipper.

stylish fit

So now we know that the materials are tough and put together in the best way possible to ensure they hold up on long backpack trips. But what about fit and how I look out there humping a backpack ? KÜHL knows that pants that might look good on a static model aren’t going to cut it in the field. This is why they add an extra panel or gusset at the back of the knee to allow the trouser to articulate with your every move.

I am not a belt person, so will never make use of the belt loops and it seems KÜHL is fully aware of this, providing an internal waist drawcord for a perfect fit. The pant actually tips slightly, higher in back and lower in front with a cupped fit over the hips while relaxed through the thigh. Although I’d never call the Hörizn “low rise,” the trousers tend to fit too close to the hips for me. I’d prefer a higher fit all the way around my waist rather than at my hips as there’s a tendency for the pants to droop slightly when I squat down or lean over. That being said, the fit is loose while still flattering, not an easy task.

The sizing feels true, so if you’re one of those people drawn into the race-to-the-bottom of making a size 6 into a size 2, prepare yourself for a shock. But this might very well be the only hiking pant on the market that offers three, count em THREE, lengths – 30, 32, and 34. LONG LEGGED HIKERS UNITE! You will no longer need to look like you’re waiting for a flood. I am a bit in-between tall and not-quite-as-tall-as-I’d-like-to-be, so it helps that KÜHL adds a bottom hem cinch to gather the pant over my trail runners.

I am an obsessive pocket-user when I hike and I know designers struggle to give me all I need and not make me look like I’m wearing clown pants. What I’d like to know is why men are so cute in cargo pants and us chicks end up looking like beached whales? While the Hörizn has two pockets in front and two in back, I don’t trust open pockets much while backpacking except to hold the odd wrapper or maybe my lip balm. I normally like my iPhone within easy reach for photos. But while the thigh zip pocket fits my phone well, it’s too short for me to zip it closed, so not all that helpful on river crossings or other exposed areas where I’ll need to keep my phone safe in my backpack’s waist belt. The zippers are high quality and hidden within a stealth seam, again with superb attention to detail and style.

Over the years, I’ve begun to dress more like an Arab in the desert rather than a hot young thing thru-hiker in short shorts. I still have good legs worth showing off, but I’ve learned from my dermatologist it’s unwise to expose them to the sun for hours on end, day after day because, as it turns out, the most common area for melanoma to occur in women is on the legs. That being said, it’s nice to have the option of a zipoff on trail for certain occasions.

I loved wearing my KÜHL hiking pants in Scotland because they moved with me on rough ground.

so, how did it go?

I wore the KÜHL Hörizn Convertible hiking trouser for a solid month in Scotland and I have to say I love them. While most of the time they stayed hidden under rain gear, they did their job, breathing when I got hot and sweaty, keeping me warm when the rain really came down and moving with me as I “bog trotted” on rough, uneven ground up and down trackless moorland. Yet somehow I managed to look reasonably attractive at the bothies and when we ventured into pubs for a wee dram. I am hooked and that’s why I give these trousers five Anitas!

Specs at a glance

  • Material: Bluesign certified sustainable “Reflex” fabric
    55% stretch/44% regular ripstop polyester/100% nylon thread
  • Sizes: 0 – 16; 30, 32 & 34 inseam
  • Color: Khaki
  • Fit: mid-rise, relaxed leg with internal drawcord, articulated legs
  • Sun protection: UPF 50+
  • Modifiable: bottom hem cinch cord
  • Convertible: stealth zips
  • Storage: four open pockets/two zippered thigh pockets


alison young was given these pants for testing by KÜHL

Some of the links found on are affiliate referral links. This means that if a reader clicks on text or an image to enter an online shopping site, Blissful Hiker may receive a commission from purchases made on that visit. There is no additional cost to you; referral fees are paid by merchants. Through affiliate links and paid advertisements, I promote only products and businesses that I consider helpful to you. Thanks!


Backcountry Foodie review

People who love to eat are always the best people.

Julia Child
Blissful gives Backcountry Foodie the highest rating, five Anitas.
Backcountry Foodie's recipe for Garlic Parmesan Ramen served on the Kekekabic as a cold soak. The verdict? Delicious, nutritious and filling!
The Backcountry Foodie recipe for Garlic Parmesan Ramen served on the Kekekabic as a cold soak. The verdict? Delicious, nutritious and filling!

What do you eat when you thru-hike, Blissful?

The number one question I’m asked when making a presentation about my thru-hiking is, “What do you eat?” quickly followed by, “How do you get enough calories?

It’s no secret in my household that I am not much of a cook. When I hit my twenties, my mom gave me The Joy of Cooking for Christmas. Seemingly at the tail end of a vain attempt to convince me I’d come to like it too, she inscribed on the inside front cover, “It really is a joy!”

Is this a joke? I wondered.

Fast forward to today and the bible of cooking still sits on my kitchen counter but it’s more Richard’s than mine. Before we met, I subsisted on microwaveable dinners, ones I’d assumed were healthy since they came from the natural foods aisle.

Though I have improved and those of you who’ve followed my blogs from the Te Araroa or the Pacific Crest Trail, know my “balanced diet” includes a combination of healthy items I make myself including fabulous vegetarian pemmican bars, dried fruit and veggies and jerky as well as one-pot meals dehydrated and packed in vacuum seal bags.

What’s difficult for me, however, is that these items are hard to make in bulk and send forward as resupply. I’d come to rely on questionably nutritious packets of “food” picked up at random shops along the way.

What I ate left me constantly hungry and usually craving sugar. On the PCT in particular, I developed an addiction to gummy bears – well, to be perfectly frank, gummy anything. By the time I arrived in Southern California, I was consuming a full bag every single day!

My strategy to make up for the lost calories – and lost weight? Eat massive amounts in town. Surely there had to be a better way.

Backcountry Foodie recipes are one-pot meals and take very little time or fuel to cook.
Backcountry Foodie recipes are one-pot meals and take very little time or fuel to cook.

Introducing Backcountry Foodie

When Backcountry Foodie contacted me last year to see if I might want to trail test their company’s wares, I was under the impression the food was pre-made. Of course I said yes, send ’em on over! I’ll check them out on Isle Royale and the Kekekabic

Not so fast, Blissful.

Unlike any company I know of in the outdoor industry, Backcountry Foodie is less a provider than a partner in thru-hike meal planning.

Aaron Owens Mayhew is a registered dietician and ultralight long-distance backpacker. It would take more than fifteen years of carrying heavy military rations and unappetizing freeze-dried meals that left her feeling hungry before she thought to combine her passions.

She has created a spectacular collection of recipes in a kind of thru-hiker meal strategy, one that checks all the boxes – food that’s healthy and high in calories, ultralight and concentrated as well as cheap to create at home and easy to prepare on the trail.

One of my go-to recipes for breakfast is the chocolate/peanut butter shake.
One of my go-to recipes for breakfast is the chocolate/peanut butter shake.

How does Backcountry Foodie work?

Aaron must have been a straight-A student because she’s organized, passionate and thorough, covering information I hadn’t even known I needed, categorizing her meals by day part, calories-per-ounce, as well as cross referencing the use of ingredients for other meals.

I should point out here that it’s not necessary to own a dehydrator unless you want to dry your own ingredients.

The “pantry” is the extensive list of ingredients with a link to purchase each item. Many ingredients can be found at your local store, but some, like dehydrated refried beans or peanut butter flour, are harder to find and best bought online.

Every recipe is “freezer-bag” style, cooking fast (if at all) and using very little fuel and each one is designed like pages of a cookbook (The Joy of Cooking, anyone?) including home and field prep time, allergy and diet restriction information and if the meal works best cold soaked or cooked. Plus, there are individual labels to print and slap on your baggie with all pertinent information. This will definitely come in handy when you open a resupply box three months down the road.

As a member-based organization, Backcountry Foodie offers three tiers – the most basic – and independent – level providing access to 75 different recipes, with the more comprehensive levels including meal plans, webinars, group web calls as well as custom meal planning.

In case you thought maybe the meals could get a little boring, here’s a sampling to whet your appetite: Coconut Mango Porridge, Taco Scramble, Bivy Bran Flakes, Antioxidant Trail Mix, Spicy Hummus, Yosemite Yams, Chips & Salsa with Guacamole, Pasta Primavera, Reboot Espresso Trail Mix, Pina Colada…and on and on.

I should mention here that each recipe is vegetarian, still managing to provide the essential vitamins and minerals and calories needed from a hiker walking 10-12 hours per day.

Packing meals for nine days on Isle Royale. My pack felt lighter and less bulky carrying Backcountry Foodie recipes. I also was not starved the entire time.
Packing meals for nine days on Isle Royale. My pack felt lighter and less bulky carrying Backcountry Foodie recipes. I also wasn’t feeling starved the entire walk.

How did it go?

There are way more recipes than I could possibly have explored for my shortish hikes this fall. Working through the bounty one-by-one will take me most of the off-season. But from what I field-tested, I can say without reservation, Backcountry Foodie is a game changer.

I started this review mentioning that I’m not much of a cook, and that is made patently obvious on the trail where all I want to do is eat and get going. I want my meals to be simple.

And simple is the name of the game, one pot, just-add-water kinda meals, exactly the way I like it.

I made two items for breakfast – a Chocolate/Peanut Butter Shake and Banana Nut Crunch. These were beyond easy to put together even if I dried my own bananas. They tasted great in the field and I mixed and ate them directly from their baggie. They hit the two most important criteria – they tasted good (I wanted another serving the next day) and they filled me up.

I usually snack during the day on dried fruit and jerky, but I loved the Black Bean Dip made on my dehydrator and eaten with a bag of Fritos , a staple of every thru-hiker’s kitchen.

For dinner, I mostly stuck with the Ramen meals – yup, the same thing you had in college at 25¢ a pop. The secret is to remove the flavor packets, crunch up the noodles and add all sorts of tasty items like my new best friend, shelf-stable parmesan cheese, or freeze dried mushrooms, even cashews and red pepper flakes.

The only drawback for me is the recipes calling for the addition of oil. I just can’t make the leap to carry oil in my pack, no matter how carefully it’s wrapped. Maybe it’s because I’m generally a slob when backpacking and everything tends to get beaten up within an inch of its life.

I have no problem carrying nut butters, but I draw the line at things that might spill on my clothes and sleeping bag. Unfortunately without oil, the nutritional profile is not accurate. That being said, the meals I made tasted delicious and I found oil was not necessary.

Because everything was so delicious and I felt full and strong, I thought what the heck, why not give cold soaking a try on the Kekekabic. Cold soaking is exactly as it sounds – water is added to rehydrate the meal and it’s eaten cold. The advantage to the hiker is leaving the stove and fuel at home, thus saving weight and bulk. I was shocked and pleasantly surprised at just how good everything tasted and I never felt the need for a warm meal even when the temperatures dipped at night.

I am now a convert to cold soaking and it wouldn’t have be able to accomplish this without the superb recipes from Backcountry Foodie.

Blissful gives Backcountry Foodie the highest rating, five Anitas.

Specs at a glance

  • three-tiered ultralight recipe and meal planner with lifetime access
  • recipes sorted by meal type, cooking style, and dietary needs.
  • freezer-bag style meals that are easy to make, nutrition-packed and inexpensive.
  • “pantry” ingredient resource and where to purchase
  • monthly webinars, recipe subscription and meal plans available
  • custom meal planning available


alison young was given a demo account for testing by Backcountry Foodie.

Listen to my conversation with Aaron Owens Mayhew on Walking Distance!

Some of the links found on are affiliate referral links. This means that if a reader clicks on text or an image to enter an online shopping site, Blissful Hiker may receive a commission from purchases made on that visit. There is no additional cost to you; referral fees are paid by merchants. Through affiliate links and paid advertisements, I promote only products and businesses that I consider helpful to you. Thanks!


Kula Cloth review

Big dreams happen in small spaces.

Blissful gives Kula Cloth the highest rating, five Anitas.
Intentionally designed for all the places you ‘go,’ the Kula Cloth is one of the most important pieces of gear a women should have attached to her pack.

Can we talk peeing in the woods?

I know, I know, choosing the name The Pee Rag for my podcast got a few of you in a twist, but it was never intended to be vulgar, rather a play on words – “rag” being another name for a news source.

I also meant the choice to equate the unglamorous bits of thru-hiking with the grit and bad-assery required – especially from of a middle aged solo female backpacker carrying all she needs on her back to so many stunningly beautiful and transformative places.

To tell the truth, I had never even heard of a “pee rag” until a few days before my departure for New Zealand with an objective of walking the length of both islands on the Te Araroa. It was actually a Facebook post devoted to women hikers of the TA that piqued my curiosity, one where a fellow hiker queried, are you taking a pee rag?

Not to look uninformed, I researched this mystery and came upon Stacia Bennett’s informative and matter-of-fact article all about the subject. Like me, after reading you too will come to realize you just can’t leave home without a pee rag. Let’s face it gals, “drip drying” is no way to manage on a multi-day hike – or ever for that matter, and using wads of toilet paper does not align with Leave No Trace principles in any form or fashion.

So both the Te Araroa and the Pacific Crest Trail saw me sporting bandanas on the side of Olive Oyl, one for the pot and one for me. But this presented a few issues – namely mixing them up, but also uric acid causing the bandanas to wear out fast, and I could never really find a way to keep them clean or dry. I also feared contracting an infection.

Kula Cloth is intentionally designed for all the places you 'go.'
Part of the Kula Cloth artist series, the “adventure sloth” Kula captures Blissful’s naturally sauntering and “andante” hiking speed.

What is a Kula Cloth?

And that’s where our story brings us to the remarkable Kula Cloth! Anastasia Allison is a former park ranger, blissful hiker, violinist, and entrepreneur based in the Pacific Northwest.

Like me, she tied a pee rag on her pack in the mountains, one made of microfiber. It became a kind of joke when rather than snap selfies, she would pose her pee rag in astoundingly beautiful locations. It wasn’t long before the thought occurred to her that maybe she was onto something.

Taking its name from Kula Khangri, the tallest mountain in Bhutan, the word Kula also translates as community, one she considers “a radically inclusive community that happens to sell a pee cloth for anybody that squats when they pee.”

What surprised me at first was how small the cloth is – just about a hand’s width in size, kind of like a potholder. My Kula is part of the artist series designed by Lyn Sweet and features an orange sloth backpacking with walking stick into the sunset. You could say, I’m carrying my Kula spirit of the “saunterer.

The pictured side is the “clean side” and waterproof, preventing moisture from reaching my hands. The working side is made of antimicrobial silver-infused absorbent material, which quickly and efficiently did its job on the many stops during my latest hikes on Isle Royale and the Kekekabic.

Other features include a cloth loop with a tough little hypoallergenic plastic snap that locks the cloth in place, as well as an extra privacy snap to fold the cloth over on itself into a triangle. Reflective thread is woven into each side so the cloth can be found when a night urge hits and a headlamp guides the way.

Read more gear reviews including La Sportiva and LEKI.

Leave no Trace Principles

1. Plan Ahead & Prepare
2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
4. Leave What you Find
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
6. Respect Wildlife
7. Be Considerate of Others

Just to be clear, Kula Cloth and all pee rags are meant for use only when going Number 1!

So, how did it go?

Kula Cloth did its job perfectly – it fit beautifully in my hands, absorbed the urine and kept me dry and clean. The conditions on Isle Royale were very wet this season – rain, sea-fog and general humidity – so my Kula only dried out thoroughly when the sun was shining. When wet, it acted more like a “wet wipe” but remained surprisingly absorbent and kept my hands clean.

I don’t ever take soap with me on hikes and I simply rinsed my Kula in water. I should point out that it was only when it dried out that it became completely odor-free, but no soap was ever necessary to clean it on my nine-day hike.

The Kula feels weightier than a simple piece of cloth or bandana and the only wear and tear I noticed was some of the side threads shredding ever so slightly. Since I’m a pretty rough on my gear, this might become more of a problem when having to crawl under fallen trees and potentially snagging my Kula.

Are either of those issues a deal breaker? No! A pee rag is an absolute necessity and Kula Cloth is made with materials specifically designed to be absorbent as well as non-toxic, non-sensitizing, and non-irritating when in contact with the body. Although I have not yet suffered a urinary tract infection on a thru-hike, that is not something to fool with and I put my full trust in the superb bit of gear to keep me healthy.

With the pandemic still raging and a run on toilet paper reminiscent of Black Friday on repeat, many people have been considering pee rags a possible permanent solution. Why cut down trees when using a renewable resource is far more ecologically sound? Perhaps Kula and pee rags in general will become far more normalized as part of everyone’s good habits.

And besides, how cool is to have a work of art on the back of “Blueberry” (my new Granite Gear pack) something that gives a little character to my walking – as if I need any more!

Kula Cloth is coming with me on every hike and I give her my highest rating, five Anitas.

Specs at a glance

  • Weight: .53 oz
  • Length: 6.25″ x 6.25″
  • Antimicrobial, silver infused materials
  • Hypo-allergenic snaps
  • Reflective thread


alison young was given this pee rag for testing by Kula Cloth.

affiliate links

Some of the links found on are affiliate referral links. This means that if a reader clicks on text or an image to enter an online shopping site, Blissful Hiker may receive a commission from purchases made on that visit. There is no additional cost to the consumer; referral fees are paid by merchants. Through affiliate links and paid advertisements, we promote only products and businesses that we consider helpful to our readers.


Ibex merino wool review

Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak. 

Rachel Zoe
Blissful gives Ibex the highest rating, five Anitas.
Ibex makes all of its apparel from soft and odor resistant merino wool.

why merino?

Merino is a type of wool harvested from a special breed of sheep most often raised in New Zealand and Australia. This is not your grandmother’s wool, but rather soft and breathable, and has become the gold standard for hiking attire.

  1. THERMOREGULATING: Merino sheep live through cold winters with temperatures below zero (Fahrenheit) and hot summers with temperatures close to 100, all while wearing the same coat! The fibers, in turn, react to changes in our body temperatures.
  2. BREATHABLE: The individual fibers are naturally “crimped” and can absorb around 30% of their weight in water, wicking it away from the body. This means you say cool and dry even when sweating.
  3. ODOR RESIST: Because merino manages moisture, odor-causing bacteria are held at bay. This may be the number one reason for choosing wool since you’ll likely wear the same shirt for days on end before washing. My Ibex simply did not stink!
  4. COMFORT: Merino fibers are fine and never itch, snag or poke and are fantastic for people like me who have sensitivities to most wool products.
  5. DURABILTY: Merino fibers are elastic and flexible. They contain keratin just like our nails, hair and skin, and, like a spring, can be bent and flexed 30,000 times before tearing.
  6. UV PROTECTION: Did you know you can get a sunburn through many fabrics even if your’e completely covered? Not with merino which has a UPF rating ranging from 25-50.
  7. LIGHTWEIGHT AND QUICK DRYING: Merino packs to nothing and air dries quickly.

Read more gear reviews including La Sportiva and LEKI.

I wore this Ibex merino shirt through Washington and California on the PCT.

So, how did it go?

I wore one Ibex top – the Woolies Tech Long Sleeve Crew (the high collar style is no longer available) – through most of the Pacific Crest Trail plus on of the Te Araraoa. I found it lived up to the promise of being comfortable, moisture wicking and nearly completely odor free even after many days between washings.

That being said, in Oregon, I picked up a men’s dress shirt for a dollar because the mosquitos were able to bite me through the merino! However, that shirt had no UV protection and my skin burned, so I went right back to Merino when I hit the Sierra.

Ibex sells its product online only and this keeps the prices very reasonable. They make it their mission to treat everyone through the supply chain, from animal to person, ethically and ensure a fair, safe, non-discriminatory and empowering workplace.

And besides, if backpacking is not your thing, Ibex merino products mix fashion with comfort and you’ll love how you feel wearing their clothing.


  1. I stayed warm through many days of icy rain in the North Cascades and cool while hiking in blazing sun above tree line in California.
  2. Sweat wicked very well, and the shirt always felt soft and dry against my skin.
  3. I had my family do the smell-test when I walked right off the trail in Campo, California and into a sushi restaurant. No one could believe I hadn’t bathed in four days.
  4. Even after cramming my shirt into my pack, it looked clean and pressed once I pulled it out to wear. Not that thru-hiking is about looking good, but it does help when trying to hitchhike!


  1. Mosquitos can bite you right through merino, especially on your shoulders.
  2. Merino is durable up to a point. I was surprised the backpack didn’t wear away the fabric nearly as much as expected, though I developed holes in my under arms.
  3. Merino is very expensive. Plan to spend at least $100 if not more. That being said, its benefits make merino – especially extremely well-made and reasonably priced Ibex – a fantastic purchase.


Ibex merino tops are some of the most comfortable I’ve worn and this is likely because they add the smallest amount of nylon and elastane to give the shirt even more flexibility, durability and softness. I will continue to wear merino when I backpack and highly recommend Ibex!

Blissful gives Ibex the highest rating, five Anitas.

Specs at a glance

  • 81% merino wool
  • 12% nylon
  • 7% elastane
  • Raglan Sleeve
  • Flatlock Seams
  • machine washable


alison young was given shirts to test by Ibex

Feeling stylish in my much-loved Ibex top just before crossing over the highest point on New Zealand’s Te Araroa.

how to fix a tent zipper

Nobody notices it when your zipper is up, but everyone notices when it’s down.

Cynthia Lewis
The four zippers that close my doors on the alicoop all had to be replaced.

The tent I used for both the Te Araroa and the Pacific Crest Trail – the alicoop – is made my Tarptent. Called a Notch Li, it’s a mix of Dynamee and Nylon. You can find out more of its specific and my review here.

She’s gone a whole lot of miles with me, and I’m hoping she holds up for one more thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail this season. Since there are no tears in the fabric except a few minor stress points where the tarp door closes, which I patched adhesive-back dynamee fabric, she just might. Though I am having a problem with the zippers which no longer pull the teeth together, leaving me wide open to bugs and whatnot.

Zippers fail because corrosion from due to dust and grit gunks up the teeth and causes the sliders to spread apart. I normally would clean the coils before I store the tent using a toothbrush – and then, very unwisely, use something like chapstick to help them slide.

Big mistake.

First of all, I should use soap and water with that toothbrush and never use chapstick which just adds a gluey layer that attracts even more dust and grit, thus speeding up the fail.

After a good soaping up, the next step would be to use a silicone spray, something like Liquid Wrench. Spraying it into a cloth and working it over the teeth gets the zipper pulls gliding smoothly with the added benefit that the lubricant itself actually removes grit and dust.

Clean the zippers when you’re ready to store your tent for the season:

  1. use soap and water to clean the teeth then dry thoroughly
  2. follow up with silicone spray on a rag to pull off any more grit and lubricate the teeth
A silicone spray helps remove grit from the teeth as well as lubricating the zipper.

But after so much opening and closing of the doors to get in and out of the alicoop night after night, the zipper coil can open slightly behind the slider. In that case, it’s pretty easy to crimp the metal “jaws” back closer together with needle-nose pliers.

When crimping a fussy zipper coil…

My advice would be to take care not to pinch too tightly, so pinch, and try, then pinch and try until it feels like it’s grabbing.

All good so far, except one problem: the alicoop zipper pulls were so full of gunk, they were grabbing anything – and besides, I wasn’t planning to take a set of tools with me on the trail for any MacGyver-ing, so I needed to replace the pulls themselves.

Good ‘ole Tarptent sent me four new zipper pulls and ran me through the steps, which were easy, so I will share with you!

Replacing the zipper pulls

  1. Locate the end of the zipper coil.
  2. Cut through the coil about a centimeter from the end and remove the zipper pull.
  3. PRO TIP: use toenail clippers rather than scissors so you don’t accidentally cut into the tent itself
  4. Slide on a new pull aligning the raised side of the coil to the flange side of the pull
  5. Work one side on a time and be careful to only pull it up partway, this ensures you don’t mismatch teeth when you try to place the second pull
  6. Here’s where the fun begins! Slide the pull onto the other side and wiggle it together so the two halves click in place.
  7. PRO TIP: I found this the hardest step trying to hold one side in place while clicking the other to lock in, but be patient and keep wiggling them, they want to slide together.
  8. Pull the slider and engage more teeth.
  9. Sew up the incision to create a new break and YOU ARE DONE!
The alicoop is an ultralight shelter that has seen torrential rain, heavy snow, masses of bugs and spectacular scenery.
Balega is a Zulu word that means "move with speed." I'm happy to move with comfort, blister-free and in a spectacular array of colors.
gear blog

Balega socks review

Balega is a Zulu word that means "move with speed." I'm happy to move with comfort, blister-free and in a spectacular array of colors.
Balega is a Zulu word that means “move with speed.” I’m happy to move with comfort, blister-free and in a spectacular array of colors.

Recently, a pal from the PCT named “Toast” asked me how my socks held up I did not lie, I still use a few of my Balagas from the hike, they’re practically indestructible! So, I’m republishing this review and offering a chance for you to win Balega socks as a kind of post Christmas bonus present. Just LIKE and SHARE The Pee Rag on Facebook and you’ll be automatically entered to win!

Sometimes it’s safer to read maps with your feet.

Kelly Link
Blissful gives Balega Socks the highest rating, five Anitas.

September, 2018 – If you want to hike with the ease, agility and the fleet-footedness of a seasoned ultra trail runner, and keep your feet cool and blister-free, Balega socks are for you. Balega means to move with speed and while that is not my ultimate goal as a backpacker, I appreciate that whatever is protecting my foot is indeed the ultimate arbiter of success in any walk.

Balega scores high for me because of a moisture wicking fabric they call “Drynamix” that is soft and breathable and just as advertised keeps my foot dry. I chose the slightly heavier Blister Resist sock that combines mohair with Drynamix. These socks are soft and cozy – and may prove to be a bit much for the beaches and rain forests of New Zealand’s Northland, which is why I am taking pairs of Enduro V-Tecs in my bounce box. They are synthetic and contain a compression band for the mid-foot, supporting just so without feeling too tight.

Both socks are made without seams, which help prevent blistering, but fit like a dream with a snug heel cup and elastic grippers that prevent slippage. And each have strategically placed ventilation panels that aid the wicking process which will be key as I walk in and out of rivers and find my feet caked in mud throughout my five-month sojourn. Sounds fun, eh?

But maybe more than just feeling thrilled that I have found the best sock for my long distance thru-hiking, I also have some real warm fuzzies when I think that the additional pairs of Balega socks I buy will help support Balega’s outreach programs in their home country of South Africa. There was even a little sticker on each pair with a picture of the person who inspected – and washed – my socks before they were sent out. Just like that beautiful Zulu word Ubuntu, meaning “shared humanity,” I feel there is a bit of this wonderful company’s energy walking each step with me on the Te Araroa.

Blissful gives Balega Socks the highest rating, five Anitas.

Specs at a glance

  • seamless
  • “drynamix” mohair and synthetic available
  • V-tech arch support
  • anti-microbial silver-infused


Balega supplied alison young with socks.


Care Remote boot sock review

Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.

Anne Lamott 
Blissful gives Care Remote boot socks three Anitas (will use as a backup)
Comfortable, therapeutic and colorful, Care Remote boot socks worked well on the Kekekabic, but sprung a leak on day four.

Everything starts at the feet.

If you want to have a pleasant hiking experience, it’s imperative that you wear the right hiking shoes – whether boots or trail runners – ones that fit well, have good support, and are built to handle uneven surfaces. But even the best footwear will let you down if you’re not wearing the right sock.

I have been wearing Balega socks for the past two years, but became curious about compression socks after suffering a minor bout with shin splints on the Pacific Crest Trail.

So it was one of those “the trail will provide” sort of moments when Victor Phillips, founder of Care Remote, contacted me to ask if I might give their socks a try.

What are Care Remote socks?

The branding comes from Phillips’ origins working in the healthcare and technology fields. Traveling the world, he worked with people in textiles and design as well as the medical professionals to come up with a solution to the problems of socks – namely, that they fit badly, get soggy and smell.

Through a proprietary weave of an anti-microbial mix of nylon, polyester and lycra, the intention is to check all the boxes for a sock’s use whether in the outdoors, as therapy or to just to look snazzy in a casual setting.

In addition, these socks are meant to stay consistent even after multiple washes, reduce blisters with fibers placed in strategic “hot spots,” and slip in and out of boots easily.

So, how did it go?

Victor sent me a variety of socks to try – no show, ankle-length and full-length. I started using them by simply walking around my neighborhood, but it was when I got on trail, walking the Kekekabic in Northern Minnesota, that I put them through their paces, choosing the 12-inch, mid knit compression sock for this remote 41 miles in the Boundary Waters Wilderness


  1. I had very damp conditions last October and the socks wicked moisture, staying surprisingly dry and keeping their shape.
  2. I wore the same pair for four days and the odor was well managed.
  3. My calf felt comfortably swaddled in the soft, form-fitting and massaging fabric which still managed to breathe.


  1. The sock did not fit well. I recommend choosing a smaller size than your shoe size since the heel will stretch and ride up.
  2. The toe-box did not offer enough protection for an all-day hiker and I suffered wear on the skin as well as the loss of toenails. To be fair, the sock is much thinner than my Balegas and my foot may have slipped more.
  3. The sock sprung a leak on Day 4.
  4. Other notes: they’re expensive. These socks were given to me for review, but they seem a bit on the high side.
  5. and there are just too many choices on the website and I found it all a bit confusing.


For the most part, I liked the socks I wore and will find uses for them on day hikes, when climbing, skiing (especially since they feel like a second skin and will be very easy to slip in and out of boots) and when biking.

Since I got a hole after only three days of backpacking, I think these socks might not have the durability required of a thru-hike, though they may act as a nice second when I need the compression or will be walking in a lot of wet terrain.

Blissful gives Care Remote boot socks three Anitas (will use as a backup)

Specs at a glance

  • available in hidden, mid or full-length (3, 6, 9 and 12-inches)
  • regular sock – 5% Lycra, 45% Nylon, 50% Polyester mix
  • compression sock – PTFE 8%, 2% Lycra, 40% Wool, 17% Nylon, 33% Polyester mix in two gradients
  • seamless with padded heel
  • antimicrobial and free of metals
  • colors: pink, blue and green camo, black/gray and off-white
  • mid and heavy knit available
  • machine washable


alison young was given socks for testing from Care Remote

Look closely and you can see the pee rag (tie-dye peace sign bandana) hanging from the back of my pack.

GUEST POST: The Pee Rag by Stacia Bennett

What is a pee rag? Let’s just say, it’s a tool that enables a female hiker to get the job done without fuss or muss, and focus on being her badass self on the trail.

Blissful Hiker, “The Pee Rag” Episode 1
Look closely and you can see the pee rag (tie-dye peace sign bandana) hanging from the back of my pack.
Look closely and you can see the pee rag (tie-dye peace sign bandana) hanging from the back of my pack.

It is not an overstatement to say reading Stacia Bennett‘s article on for The Trek “Gear Essentials for Women” changed my hiking life. My discovery began with a question posed in the private all-women Te Araroa Facebook , “Are any of you ladies taking a ‘pee rag’ on the TA?” I had no clue what this gal was referring to and obviously needed to get myself enlightened – or look the fool. Dr. Google led me straight to Stacia, a.k.a Tink, and once educated, I never looked back! I hope you enjoy this Asheville-based, former teacher turned nomad, Appalachian Trail thru-hike-attempt-turned-long-ass-section hiker’s explanation on a requisite piece of kit for every women’s backpack.

It’s super simple to start using a pee rag. The biggest decision you have to make is what material to use. For my long hikes, I chose to stick with a plain old cotton bandanna.

A bandanna is lightweight and since the cotton is thin, it’s pretty quick drying. Cotton is gentle on the skin and absorbent. So, pick your favorite pattern for $1 at the Wally World. Tie it to the back of your pack, and BAM! You’ve got yourself a pee rag.

Ok, I know what you are wondering. What the heck is a pee rag??

Actually, if you’ve spent any time at all on a long trail you’ve probably heard of them, and you’ve likely seen them hanging off the pack of the badass lady hiker in front of you.

A “peedanna”, or pee rag, is a bandanna or similar cloth that is designated for wiping after urinating in the woods. A lot of women opt to use a pee rag instead of toilet paper. There are a multitude of reasons why you’d want to make the switch to a pee rag. For me, the ease and convenience were the biggest factor.