Sawnee Mountain Preserve – Indian Seats Trail

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Atlanta, Georgia is known for being one of the busiest cities in the southeastern section of the United States. Many folks fail to recognize all of the excellent trails and state parks that you can reach within an hour’s drive.  This seriously is a city within a forest.  If you’re looking for something more mountainous, I also have a quick guide to 10 amazing places to visit in Georgia where you can fully experience all the nature and wildlife that Georgia has to offer.  However, these drives are significantly farther, especially if you start driving within proximity to the downtown area.

Nevertheless, all trails are worth it and I highly recommend checking out the blog.  This week I wanted to share, Indian Seats Trail, a relatively short, 4-mile roundtrip trail that has become a new favorite of mine. You can find this trail in the Sawnee Mountain Preserve located in Cumming, Georgia, or what Atlantans would call north Georgia.  For me, I don’t see north Georgia until  I reach the top of this little mountain. Sawnee Mountain is definitely one of the closest mountain hikes for me and definitely one of the nicest views I’ve seen around Georgia.  I live in Gwinnett County so I’m probably a little closer than the heart of Atlanta. I think it takes about 45 mins and covers a distance of maybe 20 miles or so from my location.  There are two entrances that will get you on the trail to the lookout.  The entrance I use is at the visitors center off Spot Rd.  From the visitor center, you take Laurel Springs Trail, the only trail at the center, and it will join into Indian Seats Trail. There is a fork in the trail here.  Take the right at the fork and you will head towards a parking lot. Going towards your left will lead you to the overlook. The parking lot is simply the other entrance about a 3/4-mile down Bettis Tribble Gap Rd.  Both locations can get you to the peak. Thanks to Alltrails and Google, a trail map is available.  You can also really see the size of that ridgeline from the map’s topography!  I hit this trail a few weeks ago just as the cold spell broke here in Georgia. It was still a cold, windy afternoon but I was aching to get out and hike.  Sometimes you just need that solitude to jumpstart your brain again. As soon as you get on the trail, it begins to wind up and around a short incline. After a few sets of switchbacks, the trail levels off just before heading up the last rocky incline that opens you up to the lookout.  Overall, I’d say this trail is medium in difficulty.  Throw a heavy pack on if you’re looking for the workout. There are some steep parts but they are fairly short.

Because of its proximity to Atlanta,  Sawnee Mountain is a popular spot nearly all year round.  At the top of the mountain,  you might find other hikers taking in the beautiful views.  I met a few youngsters and one old man hanging out on the overlook. The old man knew all the mountains nearby and even some over in North Carolina. Waterfalls, too!  It has always been interesting to me listening to other people’s stories about where they came from and where they’d been.  It’s rather inspiring at times, most times actually. The image above was taken from the overlook last in 2016 about this time but I wanted to think outside the box and experiment near the rock ledges. The last time I was here, I had just bought a camera and owned one lens, ‘the nifty fifty’, for only a few weeks. I took shot this handheld. Due to hard drive failure, I can’t access the actual settings of this image but I think I used a fast shutter speed on this, maybe 250. The 50mm that I have goes down to f1.8 as well, so I’m assuming I used a lower aperture judging by the focal point in the image.  Although the image turned out ok, I was a total newb at photography and hadn’t learned much about long exposure landscape shots. I was just talking the other day how my photography had become significantly better over the past few years. This year I was shooting with the same camera but using a 28-85mm mid-range zoom lens and an old-school manual 24mm lens.  Surprisingly, I captured a similar focal point shot as before but this time my settings were quite different and the results definitely show the improvements in my photography and post-editing skills.


Unfortunately, I didn’t have a tripod handy for this shoot but luckily found a sturdy place to rest the camera between two tree branches and other times just sitting on the rocks. This really helped me steady out the 1/32 shutter speed. Shooting this handheld would have been blurry for sure or else, I would have had to crank the shutter speed up and lose all of that extra light.  Those were the same thoughts I had before but at that time I never thought about more light giving more detail.  ISO was set at 100 as are most of my landscape shots, especially in bright light.  Aperture was set to f/16.  I do wish those clouds had of been there, though.sawnee mountain, indian seats trail, lifestyle photography, cumming, discover georgia, alltrails, georgia trails, hiking, mountains, north georgia

And of course, I had to get a couple of Instagram selfie, lifestyle shots. The view is great here and I was hoping the sun to actually be in a different spot today but at least the colors of the setting sun allowed the images turn out well.  I wasn’t sure how the selfie images would turn out but I kind of like them.  I never do selfie stuff but I feel that these images really reflect the way I see myself.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  If so, these might be a few of those pictures for me.  Camera settings are the same on these selfie shots except I’m using a much wider angle, a 24mm, and the camera is sitting on the rocks.  It’s an old-school manual lens and really simple to use.  I set the focal point to infinity, close the aperture down to get a broader depth of field, slow the shutter speed, and try to stay in range of the remote.  A wide lens works really well for these kinds of shots helping to create a sense of size and depth to the image.

If you like these blogs, make sure to sign up and follow it at the top right.  Do the IG thing as well if you want. Comments for discussion and/or other hike suggestions are welcome, encouraged, and appreciated.  I am always looking for a good workout hike and also hikes where I can get a few killer shots to share. Happy Trails!

Hiking Essentials – 50-Mile Hiking Gear Review

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As we all know, some gear is worth buying and some, well, just doesn’t live up to the hype.  This past year, I began upgrading all of my hiking and camping gear. I  wanted to do a quick hiking gear review of the quality of these items as well as the comfort level.  These are strictly my opinions and I receive no incentives from any of the companies to write these reviews.  However, I do get a small commission from the sales if you purchase any items directly from my links.  Any bit of commission earned helps me purchase new products to test and to, ultimately, write these reviews. My goal is to share these reviews with all of you hikers and campers out there that might be interested in some new, dependable gear.
A couple of these products have been in my collection for quite some time but all of them have been with me for a minimum of 50 miles.  That might seem like a long way on foot but when you average 5-10 miles/hike, it adds up really quick. When you’re adding miles that quick, you need well-built, well-designed, and dependable gear.

Boots 

Salomon boots, Salomon, Salomon quest 4d 2 gtx, hiking gear review, hiking gear, hiking, camping, pine mountain, hiking blogYears ago when I was first getting into hiking, I used to think boots or appropriate shoes were not that important.  I would usually opt for a cheaper boot and basically deal with weird fittings or aches in strange places. The worst part is when you begin making the decision to not even go hiking because you know your boots suck.  I had been hiking between 5 and 7 years with a nice pair of Merrell mid hiking boots. These boots were great. They were gore-tex, light-weight, had a great fit, and really comfortable.  Surprisingly, there was not a single leak the entire time I owned those boots.  However, when I started to do multiple day hikes, I started using a large pack and most of the time it would get pretty heavy.  This is when I noticed my feet were not so happy afterward.  I thought it might be my insoles and even tried to be more cognizant of the way my feet were hitting the ground. It didn’t matter, my feet still hurt.
After the first hike in my new Salomon boots, I knew that pair of Merrell’s was simply not built for the heavy pack load. That’s not to say they were not good boots for hiking.  There was almost no break-in period at all with the Salomon boots.  Right out of the box they were snug, comfortable, and had more ankle support than I’d ever experienced.  
I actually never imagined a pair of more comfortable boots than the Salomon Quest 4d 2 GTX. The soles are attached well, the seams are flawless, absolutely no leaks, and they even look pretty cool. The only disadvantage I’d point out with these is that they are a bit heavier than normal hiking boots and seem to be a warmer boot. Although, this can definitely be a benefit in colder climates.  I have put well nearly 60 miles on these now and impress me every time I lace them up. 

Socks

Socks tend to be way underrated for their importance on the trail.  Socks need to do and provide a few basic but crucial duties. They need to stay dry, they need to retain consistent cushion and comfort, and they need to stay together. I’ve noticed with cheaper cotton made socks, the first thing to suffer is dryness. As soon as the foot sweats, the socks begin to absorb all the moisture leaving you with wet feet. Hiking with wet or damp feet can lead to friction, wrinkles, breaks, and peeling in the skin exposing new sensitive skin layers that can lead to blisters and discomfort. The next major issue I usually find with cheaper socks is holes forming in the heel or the balls of the feet area near the toes.  Socks like these never retain their shape, cushion, or comfort and become pretty worthless after a short period of heavy use.
Today there are way too many sock brands out there but merino wool seems to be the common denominator and overall best material for hiking socks.  If you want to learn more about what type of sock to choose, check the REI’s guide here.  I recently purchased  Darn Tough brand so this review was triggered by this brand although they use the  These socks are uniquely designed and even comes backed by a lifetime guarantee. That alone was enough for me to test them.  So far, I don’t regret my decision.  I bought these with the boots mentioned above but I have worn them much more than the hiking distance alone.  I initially bought these specifically for hiking but they have really grown on me in my wingtips as well.  Hands down, these socks are built like a tank. They always retain their shape and comfort even when wearing several times a week for several hours at a time.  Sometimes they get a wash and other times they don’t.  It really depends on the level of perspiration. They’re simply a nice, comfortable sock. I will be expanding my collection on these soon.

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Trekking Poles

I had hiked for years and never even considered hiking poles. Maybe I was just young and never really needed them.  Last year, at 34, I was planning for a 16-mile hike in the Smoky Mountains and randomly decided to grab a set. This has been one of the cheapest purchases and best investment I have ever made.  I would not have been able to complete that hike without them.  I picked up a set of BAFX trekking poles for around $22 and have used them over a year now.  I can’t even count how many hikes these have been on.  They’re pretty much a standard attachment to my pack now.  I have had a few problems getting the adjustments to lock in place but they always end up working and always work well.  I highly recommend these guys. Sure, you can pay $100+ for brand name and carbon fiber poles but in the end, they all break the same.  I have read reviews that when the carbon fiber ones break, they tend to explode leaving them pretty much useless.   At least with a cheap set, you still have a bent pole to use for assistance if needed.

Pack

Choosing a pack can also be a bit overwhelming with so many brands and designs on the market. When it comes down to it, the most important aspect of choosing a pack is how it fits. You want to pick the right length of pack to match your torso. This way the waist belt and chest strap will be in the correct places to allow the pack to be pressed against your back but not resting on your shoulders. I’m 5’8″, 145lbs and only two packs seem to fit my body well. The Kelty Redwing 50L Pack which I own and is pictured above and another pack by Osprey. The Osprey pack was much more expensive and may have had the best fit but the Kelty pack suited my needs more with a laptop slot and more pockets for better organization. The Kelty pack also had a nice quick grab pocket where I stick my DSLR camera while on the trail. The 50L capacity easily holds all the gear I need for an overnighter or even multiple days on the trail. The pack has well-stiched seems, sturdy and strong zippers, and has an adjustment for nearly every parameter to get the perfect fit.  The pack has a built-in airflow design system to keep you cool and dry when wearing the pack for long periods.  Unfortunately, the pack does not come with the rain cover and that will need to be purchased separately.

Water Bags/ Water Container

Every hike needs adequate hydration. Without proper hydration or containers for staying hydrated, you could run into some potentially fatal situations depending on the intensity, climate, and remoteness of your hiking adventures. For most folks on short hikes, worst case scenario is being super thirsty. I often see people hiking long distance hikes with absolutely nothing. I, personally, like to be hydrated. On average, 60% of the human body is made up of water. Billions of individual cells that make up our body and the spaces between them are filled with water. Water is even integrated into the bloodstream. This is why our bodies work most efficiently when hydrated properly.  With all of the personalized tools available for hiking,  there is no reason not to have a water container of some kind.  Sometimes, it’s even a
good idea to have stored water in extra containers . You don’t really know what kind of situation you might experience in the wild so why not be prepared!?  I have a simple system where I carry an easily accessible container (Nalgene 32oz) that fits snuggly on the side of my pack. I also carry a larger container (Hydrapak Seeker 3L) that fits inside my pack or can be attached to the pack with straps. I have been on multiple day hikes where two of these containers barely got me through the hike because no water was available.  the good thing about these containers is that they’re built to last. They are definitely not indestructible but you don’t need to buy them that often as long as you maintain them and don’t lose them.

I hope this been a helpful topic and review for a few of these items. I recommended all the things I personally have because I have used them and I would not keep them in my working inventory if they were crap. However, You don’t have to pick these exact items for your hikes. There are plenty of similar and even better quality options out there. I thought this would be a good place to begin for anyone that is interested in hiking more or picking up hiking as a new hobby/ activity. With the proper gear, hiking can be a fun and rewarding experience. Feel free to comment, make suggestions, or requests about future products to test. If you like these blogs, you can follow them via email and I’ll send them directly to your inbox. Also, make sure to follow me on Ig if you like the landscape and urban photography I post.

 

Yonah Mountain – A North Georgia Gem

After a long bout of freezing temperatures throughout the southeastern US this January, temperatures soared to near 70 degrees here in Georgia this past weekend.  As an avid hiker and landscape photographer, there was no way I was about to sit inside and let this kind of day pass by. If there is one thing I like about what I do for a living, this is it. I love having the freedom to wake up, get a day’s worth of food together, pack my hiking/ camera gear, and take off on the open road. Well, maybe not so open near Atlanta with non-stop traffic congestion but hopefully you can picture what I’m trying to get at. 
I wanted to get a good workout on this hike and also wanted to see a nice sunset so I knew almost immediately where I wanted to go, Yonah Mountain. This little gem lies in the heart of the north Ga mountains.  It isn’t the tallest mountain in north Ga but it definitely provides gorgeous views and peaks at a towering 3166ft.  Just before reaching the trail-head, you can see the mountain very well from the highway as shown in the featured image at the top of the page.  Once you reach the trail-head off of Chambers Rd., the 2.3-mile trail takes you up a bouldering 1500ft in elevation. That’s roughly a 12% incline! Talk about working up a sweat! The views from the top are totally worth it, though.

I had been here once before and I was literally one of three people on the entire mountain.  However, today was incredibly busy with a line of cars leading all the way down to Chambers Rd.  I should have known it would be a hot destination location especially after such a cold spell that has been lingering around for far too long now.  There were even a few large sheets of ice still present at the top of the mountain. This caused extreme caution when I began exploring the cliffs to get some cool images.

In my opinion, this hike is considered a difficult hike. There are some flat areas along the trail but the continuous incline begins to take its toll after 45 minutes or so.  I thought I’d add a few pointers here if you’re deciding on taking a trip to Yonah Mountain for the first time. I advise bringing a small daypack, mostly something big enough to carry about 2 liters or more of water and a light snack. A protein bar usually works well for me depending on the amount of time I want to plan for exploring at the top.  It takes me about 50 minutes but that’s moving on with maybe one stop halfway to catch my breath and drink some water.  If you want to see the sunset, try and leave yourself at least 90 minutes for the hike just prior to the event.  You should also plan to bring along a headlamp or a small flashlight to use while hiking back in the dark. Make sure your batteries are charged!   If you have hiking boots, I highly recommend them over any other shoes mostly for the ankle support while climbing up and over large boulders that make up parts of the trail. If you have issues with your knees or any other joints, I’d recommend a set of trekking poles as well.
BAFX has a super cheap pair and very dependable (review here) but you can also find a nice thick stick in the woods if absolutely necessary.  It can be a bit tricky finding the trailhead if you’re not familiar with the area so just put Yonah Mountain trail-head into GPS. Make sure that your destination is just off Chambers Rd. and you will end up in the right spot. Last and def not least, the sheer cliffs at the top can be fatal if fell from so please proceed with caution. The dangers are not to be taken lightly here.  With all that being said, its a super fun and intense hike. So, opt outside this weekend and go check it out!  

Back Home

I grew up in Lee County, Virginia. Even though I haven’t lived there for 15 years or so, I still call it back home.  It sits in the most western part of the state.  It’s about half an hour or so from Kingsport, TN and about 45 mins or so from Middlesboro, KY. This county and the adjacent county, Scott County, house several mountains of the Appalachian mountain range. Powell Moutain, the one on the Tn-Va side, rises up 2500-ft. As the highway crosses near the top, you drive right into Lee County. Once you descend, you find Wallen’s creek near the bottom of the mountain and the creek cuts between Powell Mountain and Wallens Ridge, which rises 2000-ft as the highway passes through. 
The valley between the two mountains includes an area called Stickleyville, VA. If you travel along a small creek that runs through that area, you can easily find where I grew up. It’s basically a narrow curvy road just off highway 58 that leads to Blackwater Mountain and the town of Jonesville, Va. Going this way is what we referred to as ‘down the creek’.  This particular year,  like most years for the holidays, I went back home to visit but this time I had a new DSLR.  I decided before I had even left that I wanted to drive/ hike to a few of the places I had been to when I was younger to try and get some good shots for photography portfolio.  Unfortunately, as soon as I got there a gray gloom filled the sky.  With my optimistic mindset,  I wasn’t going to let that get me down so I decided to make the best of it.

When I was young, I found a cool place to go sit and think; collect my thoughts as they say.  The featured image is a view from this spot. If I ever needed to get things off my mind or write lyrics to a song, I would pack my guitar out here and strum away. The thing I loved the most about this spot was being able to be as vulnerable and naked as I possibly could.  I knew no one could hear me.  Although, the sounds do carry quite easily between mountains. And even if they could, there was no way they could make out what was doing. Who cared anyway! This allowed me to really be myself and reflect what is real to me. This was a huge stepping stone for me to become a real singer-songwriter.  The view from here looks up along what we called, Wallens Creek. 
It’s just a small creek that runs through the valley and eventually dumps out into a river.  About 2.5 -miles from here you take a right turn and you’ll be on your way up Powell mountain again. If you take a left, you’d most likely be on your way towards Pennington Gap or Jonesville.  I’ll leave those for another trip and another blog. Those rain clouds you see had moved rather quickly on me and nearly hindered all my prospects for photography while I was there. I spent time snapping pics around my Mom’s house and also throughout the land I once helped maintain.  I had never once realized the beauty of this place so much as I do now. I really owe it all to getting a DSLR camera last year.

log in pond (1 of 1)-2.jpgOver the next few days, I waited for the rain to stop. I didn’t plan for the rain at all so I figured I might as well take what I can get since I’m not here very often. While the weather was surprisingly warm for December, I decided not to let the rain spoil my trip and took off to see what kind of pics I get.  Of course, if there is a body water near, I’m bound to end up at that shooting at that spot before it’s over.  I played around for a while trying to get some shots of a few blue jays I had been following.  Then, I thought I saw the sun poking its head through the gray. Before grabbing my gear and heading off to catch a sunset, I played around with this pond and a log for foreground composition. The shot looked good, maybe better than anticipated for such a dreary and drowsy day. The reflections in the pond were killer!  One of the names on my list was Natural Tunnel State Park. I remember this park growing up mostly because the public swimming pool was nearby. I had only been to the actual park part with hiking trails a few times. I remembered a cliff, called lover’s leap and a huge tunnel that the railroad was run through back in the early 1900’s.  That was the extent as to what I remembered so I figured why not go back and photograph it. Once I got there, I climbed down to see the tunnel.
There were a bunch of Christmas lights and decorations there but with it being during in the day, they just seemed to be in the way of a decent pic. I snapped a bunch, may post one or two at some point but for now, I’ll leave them out. So I continued on and headed up to the peak known as “Lover’s Leap.” Legend says a white settler fell in love with a native American girl. Both plunged to their deaths from this lookout once conflicts broke out between the new Americans and the native Americans. Of course, I would have come here to get a potential sunset. I really didn’t expect the clouds to open up, though. At least not like they did! Sometimes it is all about being in the right place at the right time. This has been one of my favorite sunset shots ever. Large prints are available if interested.  


The rain was finally rolling out about the same time I headed out of town the following day. I had initially planned to try and get back to Atlanta as early as possible but once I passed this railroad trestle, I knew it was going to be a long trip back. Back in the early 1900’s, this was one of the highest trestles in the eastern United States. It rose to a whopping 167 feet above the Clinch River/Copper Creek junction. I’ve driven by this thing for years and never really paid much attention to it. They even had a parking lot to pull off and read about it. I managed to get some nice shots at random spots I stopped at along the way, well, before the rained started again.  It was almost dark by that time anyhow.
I’ll be on my way back to good ole Lee County in a few weeks. You guys should know by now that I’ll be taking my camera and you better believe I’m going to be getting some pics for a new blog.  I travel up into north Georgia, through the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, NC, and eventually make my way past Johnson City, TN, which will lead me towards back home. There is just so much everywhere I go that I feel inclined to take pictures and share it all with you guys. Feel free to share some places you know of as well or places you’d like me to visit, take some pics, and write up a blog about it. Make sure subscribe to my blog in the upper right corner and follow me on social media as well. I always have pics going up on Ig from all over the place. Until next time, safe travels!

 

10 Amazing Places to Visit in Georgia

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It’s definitely that time of the year again and here in the southern states of the US, the great outdoors becomes a luxury as the weather starts to cool. The time rolls forward, we lose daylight, the nights become longer, the leaves fall from the trees, and before long, old man winter will be popping his head in the picture. For now, this is prime time to get out and enjoy nature but of course, you can enjoy being outside anytime of the year. There might not be any mountains here in Atlanta, Georgia but just outside the city and especially a few hours north can take you to some the best hiking trails the state has to offer. Over the past few years, I have been exploring the north Georgia mountains while photographing my travels.  I have put a list together containing 10 amazing places to check out around the city and north Georgia.  You should definitely check them out if you’re trying to get out and enjoy a little bit of what mother nature has to offer.

All pictures were taken by me.  If interested in prints, a few of these can be purchased as high-quality luster prints but only in specific sizes.  Feel free to browse my portfolio or simply click on the image.  Don’t hesitate to get in touch with any questions about different print sizes or if you’re interested in something not listed with a price.

(10) Toccoa Falls

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The first few destinations are all straight up I-85N.  If you wanted to just drive, you could hit all the ones on this route in a day.  For me, I like to have a day or an overnight at each.  I tend to explore and see what all I can find to photograph.  There isn’t much hiking here at Toccoa Falls but this is definitely worth a stop to see.  While traveling north and just shortly before arriving at Tallulah Gorge, you can find this majestic waterfall hidden about 15 minutes off the Interstate at Toccoa Falls College. Once you get on campus, you will locate the visitor center. You should be able to find parking here as well. You must go inside to gain access to the short trail leading up to the falls so you may want to call ahead to make sure they’re open, especially if its a holiday. There is a small fee to gain access.

(9) Tallulah Gorge

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If you’re looking for a place with hiking near lots of water, this should definitely be on your list. The gorge is not a place for swimming, though. You enter the State Park about 900ft above the actual gorge floor.  You can access the views from a trail system above the gorge or you can take the neverending set of steps all the way down to the gorge floor. I highly recommend.  The amount of water flowing through here is an incredible thing to experience from the floor. I do believe there are places to cross the gorge floor but I have never attempted to do so and would suggest to not have anything valuable in your belongings if you do try.  Also, make sure to check the dam release schedule ahead of time as you can’t access the gorge floor during these times.

(8) Black Rock Mountain

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The further you travel north in Georgia, the more mountainous the terrain gets. Black Rock Mountain State Park lies in the most North Eastern part of the state, right up near the TN and NC state lines. The park includes four other peaks that extend over 3000 ft in elevation with Black Rock rising to an elevation of 3640ft.   A trip here will guarantee many views of the surrounding mountain ranges, including the Blue Ridge mountains. The featured image in this blog post is a sunrise looking over towards the Blue Ridge Mountains. The sunrise image here is much higher in elevation than the featured image. You can really see the fog lifting creating a beautiful, hazy morning sunrise.

(7) Yonah Mountain

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From many views around the northern mountain ranges, you can always pick out Mt Yonah with its huge rock face.  The mountain itself is a beauty but the views from the top are incredible. Mt Yonah and next few spots can be found straight up I-985N.  The trailhead to get here can be a little tricky. So make sure your gps is taking you near Chambers Mountain Road. The hike to get there is an extreme 2.2 miles or so to reach the 3166ft  summit. This will put you right on the rock face. As I noted, the views from here are beautiful but there is extremely sharp drop- offs as you walk along the rock face.  Please be careful if you plan to hang around these areas as falls from here can be fatal.  Backcountry camping is allowed on the summit but make sure to get up there early to get the best spots.

(6) High Shoals Falls

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If you have an itching for more waterfalls, north Georgia is def a good place to start. I’ll be making a blog post on just waterfalls throughout northern GA, so make sure to sign up for my emails and I send it directly to you once I get it together. However, I wanted to share this one since its probably a bit rare to see it this size.  Heads up: there is a small creek to cross as you get off the main highway. However,  there is some room where you can park along the side of the gravel road and hike it. You’ll find the trailhead about a mile or so up the hill that will lead you down to two different falls actually. This was the larger of the two.  I made it here after some crazy storms had passed through the night before.

(5) Brasstown Bald

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If you are hiking anywhere in the area, you are more than likely to see Brasstown Bald sticking out from the surrounding mountains. Why? Because it has the tallest peak in the state of Georgia.  Brasstown Bald reaches a peak at 4784ft, pushing it just a bit taller than Rabun Bald which is the 2nd highest peak. I’ll be visiting there this weekend and will have some pics to share and a blog entry as well from that trip. Make sure to follow my blog in the email sign up over in the right-hand column to catch that. Luckily for those of you wanting to see the views from the top of Brasstown Bald, there is a paved highway that takes you to a huge parking area where you can access a short trail about half a mile from the top.  The trail is paved as well but very steep. You will find a large observation deck on the top where you can enjoy magnificent views in all directions. Note: If traveling here during the winter months, make sure to check ahead as this is one of the first highways to close in the state.

(4) Bell Mountain

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Bell Mountain definitely isn’t the highest mountain in the Hiwassee area but is no less interesting. In fact, It might be one of the most unique spots to visit.  There has been a lot of controversy over whether or not ‘unique’ is good or bad. This little mountain has a huge scar on top where it was mined in the early part of the century.  You can see its exposed top in the picture here.  This used to be a highly sought destination to catch the sunset after a day hike to the top. Today, there is a paved road that will take you all the way to the top. On top, there is a massive lookout deck giving you panoramic views of the surrounding mountains that tower over Bell Mountain.  There is also a vast amount of vandalism on the exposed rock at the top. If you’re in the area, this is definitely a drive to make but please leave the spray paint at home.

(3) Sweetwater Creek State Park

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Sweetwater Creek State Park is probably the closest you will get to the city but far enough out to really enjoy nature at its finest. This park falls just west of the city near Six Flags over GA.  You can find this gem right off one of the major highways (I-20W) that runs east and west through Atlanta. The trail system mostly goes along the water where you can enjoy spectacular views of the rapids, the ruins of an old mill, and might even encounter some Georgia wildlife natives.  There is an excellent campground where you can stay in a yurt or camp backcountry style with a tent and a firepit. Electricity is available here as well at each campsite.

(2) Amicalola Falls to Len Foote Inn

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Amicalola Falls State Park is an excellent destination if you’re looking for waterfalls, hiking, backcountry lodging or if you’re just itching to get your feet on the Appalachian Trail.  The state’s largest flowing waterfall lies within the park rising to a staggering 729ft. From the parking lot, you can choose to descend the 600 or so stairs that will take you along the falls all the way to the bottom.  Keep in mind, you do have to climb back up but it is worth it.  Also from the parking lot at the top of the falls, you can take the trail-head toward Springer Mountain/ Len Foote Inn. The 8-mile hike to Springer Mountain will take you to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. You can cut that distance in half by branching off at the trail-head to the self-sustained, eco-friendly Len Foote Inn. Here, you can grab a room for the night and enjoy a nice shower, delicious dinner, and breakfast from the dining hall, all before heading back out on the trail. Reservations are required but depending on what time of year, you could prob snag a room spontaneously.

(1) Cloudland Canyon State Park

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This is probably the furthest drive you will make if you are driving from Atlanta. This huge Canyon lies in the most north-western tip of the state just before crossing over into Chattanooga, TN.  I had taken a crazy weekend hiking trip to The Great Smokey Mountains and this was a step along the way for me.  There is a lovely waterfall here as well.  However, I arrived here in the middle of a drought, so there was literally no water here! Feel free to see more pics and read all about the details of that trip here.  This park has about 10 miles or so of trails leading you around the canyon rim providing stunning views all around the canyon. There is also a trail that leads down to the canyon floor.

Hiking and Camping: Tips for packing Camera Gear and Essentials

Natural Tunnel State Park, Duffield Virginia, southwest Virginia, hiking, camping, outdoors, East Tennessee, Blueridge Mountains, Appalachian Mountains, Lover's Leap

Last week I briefly introduced the concepts of basic photography and how to integrate them into your hikes and camping sessions. I mentioned a few cell phones that were pretty impressive for photography as well but for the focus of my blogs, I’ll be directing the attention to DSLR cameras and interchangeable lenses. As a suggestion from one of my readers, I did want to mention the Sony RX100 and its competitor, Ricoh GR II. I would highly recommend these over cell phones for photography as they both have much higher megapixels and have manual settings like most DSLR cameras have. Loaded with many auto presets, these cameras are great for beginners. They are essentially beefed up, point-and-shoot cameras. The manual options work great for more experienced photographers but anyone can truly benefit from the lightweight and portable size. The real disadvantage is lacking the ability to change out the lenses. As we move through these guides and tips, I want to point out that you don’t necessarily need the best equipment out there to enjoy hiking, camping, be a good photographer, or even get excellent shots. There are definitely areas that you don’t want to cut corners but for the most part, make the best with what you have and have some fun.1

For most of you that are not familiar with or haven’t experienced much nature and landscape photography, I’ll let you in on the biggest secret right off the bat. You have to be in it to win it! At some point, you will have to hike long distances and more than likely have to hike through and over rough terrain in poor weather conditions. You are going to have to pack a lot of gear as well. With that being said, I don’t want you to feel discouraged or think that this limits your photography opportunities while out on the trail. The main focus of this week’s blog is to briefly touch on packing your hiking and camping essentials while also packing enough camera gear to get some great shots. Once you decide what camera gear you want to take, we will be referring back to the basic concepts and will continue to build on them as we go. So if you haven’t practiced those using the manual settings on your camera, I suggest you go check out that blog and spend some time playing around with your camera before taking off and planning to get those ‘money shots’.NC Mountains Cropped Red Filter.jpg

The main thing that you are going to need for these adventures is going to be a solid and well-made pack. Let’s assume that you are going to be camping at least one night. With that in mind, you’re definitely going to need enough space in your pack for food, sleeping gear, and your camera gear. This can easily get into a minimalism vs comfort debate. From my personal experience, I recommend nothing less than a 50L pack or something near that range. I use a Kelty Redwing 50L pack and I have plenty of room for packing everything I need. I’m not saying there is much room leftover but it works well for me and the fit in super comfortable. I’m 5’8″, 143lbs, lean/fit build just to give you an idea. Just to make a note, you will need a rain cover for your pack, especially for your camera Black Rock Sunrise (1 of 1)gear. Although I’d recommend it for all your gear, you can always compartmentalize your things into ziploc slider freezer bags as well. This helps ensure extra clothes, socks, phone, lighter/matches, first aid kit, and whatever else you have all stays completely dry. It also keeps things very organized inside your pack which is very convenient when you need something specific. One box of these should do everything in you need in your pack. Unfortunately, the camera probably isn’t going to fit well in a freezer bag so I rely on the rain cover for the larger items especially my lightweight down sleeping bag. An extra lens should fit fine in a large freezer bag depending on the size of the lens. I forgot to mention this before but also make sure to pack a small compass. This guy is going to be your best friend if you’re not good with spatial recognition or direction. This one clips almost anywhere and most importantly, it has a safety whistle, a thermometer, and an LED light that comes in more handy than you’d ever think. Of course, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. These are great pointers to keep you somewhat oriented. For tips on lightweight camping and sleeping gear, make sure to check out my hiking and backcountry essentials blog that lays out a nice setup for a comfortable overnighter while leaving just enough room for your camera gear.black rock mountain (4 of 12)

Now, let’s talk about packing the camera. There are several different ways that I have found to do this but it will ultimately depend on your specific pack and what you plan to photograph. Small packs devoted just for camera gear are great for short trips or car camping trips but if you’re out in the wilderness for an extended amount of time, you are going to need a much larger pack for all the necessities that go along with hiking and camping and trust me, you don’t want to pack two bags. I’m no minimalist but the less weight I have to pack, the more comfortable I am especially when the mountains come into play. You can always try to pack your camera bag inside your larger pack but I don’t recommend that as you ending up wasting most of your space. So, let’s narrow what you might need for your photography. You are definitely going to need your camera body. You can separate it from the lens if you don’t plan to take any images until you have found a spot to unload and setup your gear but make sure you have a cap for your camera body. I personally find it uncomfortable carrying the camera around my neck for long distances and more than likely you will scare off most wildlife and won’t see any worthy shots on your way to your destination unless you are traveling at high altitudes. Therefore, I’d plan to pack it away mostly just to keep it out of the way. One easy way to pack it inside your pack is to leave a small space on top of your pack with easy access to the camera. A padded case works nicely for your camera body but wrapped in a lightweight fleece works just as well to provide cushion and protection as long as it is snug in the pack. DSC_1547

As a landscape photographer, I love using wide lenses! The Nikon 24mm f2.8 AIS is my go-to lens for hiking and camping. Never underestimate these old lenses. They are built like tanks and the glass is excellent. Of course, it lacks autofocus and stabilization but with a tripod, there are no issues. And as much as I like autofocus, it isn’t really needed when focusing to infinity (distant objects). The best things about these lenses are that they’re small, lightweight, and relatively cheap if you can find them. If you do, I highly recommend you snatch them up. Speaking of tripods, you will definitely have to invest in one of these at some point. Handheld shots are going to get pretty blurry after you slow your shutter speed down past 1/30of a sec. Even with a cheap tripod, you are still going to get much better shots using long exposure times than handheld. Do be skeptical of dirt cheap tripods as they tend to be made with very flimsy material. Not only do they have a better chance of breaking or bending, they are quick to induce vibrations due to lack of stability. Not completely necessary but a wireless remote control can also reduce any shakiness in your setup due to touching the camera. If you don’t have a remote, your camera should have some kind of timer built-in depending on the model. Another super small, lightweight lens and probably one of my most-used lenses is the nifty fifty, a 50mm f1.8 lens. Both the 24mm and 50mm prime lenses are awesome for video as well. If you plan to shoot things at a closer range or just want to bring distant views closer, you can make the image a bit more dramatic using a good mid-range telescopic lens. There are many options out for these and prices can get really ridiculous. The 24-70mm f2.8 is a highly desirable professional lens and can give excellent all around results for many kinds of photography. This alone would be an excellent lens to have on the trail but they are significantly heavier than the prime lenses. Another desired lens, the 70-200mm f2.8, is a beast as well but will give you absolutely stunning shots with the constant f2.8 aperture throughout the entire focal length. You will see plenty of zoom lenses out there but beware, the aperture is only going to go to f4.5 or even f5.6 when zoomed in at the max focal length, ultimately resulting in significantly lesser quality images. Only using a tripod and/in good lighting will you get decent results out of lenses with this range of aperture.

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So, there it is. A few easy options for packing camera gear. I would love to get into greater detail and actually show some comparisons on the lenses and their competitors. If interested, Ken Rockwell has an extensive collection of lens and camera comparisons and reviews. Definitely, check out his site for specs and tech info. Thomas Heaton has an awesome youtube channel devoted to landscape photography as well so go follow him for awesome tips and ideas. Of course, don’t forget to follow my blog in the upper right corner of the page. Follow me on Ig to keep up with cool new shots of mine. All of the photography in all of my blogs are mine as well so if interested in buying custom prints or if you just want to share stuff around, check out my portfolio here or at the photography link in the header options. I hope these tips and links helps to steer you in a forward direction for getting some gear, getting it packed up, and getting out on the trail! Questions, comments, and feedback are welcome and encouraged!Untitled-3

On the Trail: Introduction to DSLR Photography

Ever wonder how people get such incredible pictures of wildlife and nature landscapes? Well, they’re typically not getting them using cell phones. Although I have to admit, some phones like Apple iPhone 7 plus and Google Pixel XL do an outstanding job of capturing light. I do recommend the unlocked version of any cell phone as they give you more control over the phones designed intentions. Both phones are similar in price and similar in photograph quality. The cool thing with iPhone is that it has two lenses on the back, one that opens to an aperture of 1. 8 and another that zooms in and opens to an aperture of 2.8. The Google pixel phone has only one lens but features a fixed aperture of 2.0. Both are considered two of the best phones for photography. However, a phone obviously has many more features and uses than a camera. Go check out Krystal Key’s comparison video for a direct comparison of different images. If you’re not familiar with the term, aperture, or understand what these numbers mean, that’s ok. We will jump into it in the following paragraphs as we briefly touch on the basics of photography. We will talk more about fixed and prime lenses as well. Ultimately, I hope to share some tips to help get you taking your best shots while out on the trail.

Cell phones have made an extraordinary advance in technology over the years, especially in their processing power and ability to snap crisp, high-quality images and capture sharp, detailed 4K video clips. However, if I were to head out on a hiking or camping trip to capture landscape photographs or any kind of wildlife that requires a teleport lens I would grab a DSLR (digital single-reflex lens) camera without thinking twice. The only limiting factor might be weight or space and honestly, I would sacrifice another item to make space for a DSLR. Just like cell phones, there are a large variety of DSLR cameras to choose from. Nikon and Canon are a couple of the most common known manufacturers in the photography world. Sony cameras also have competitive products and worth mentioning, especially the mirrorless design. Prices on the many models from any manufacturer vary from a few hundred to several thousand. Canon even has some video models that run $20k+. With so many different models and choices, it can be tough to figure out what to choose. If you want to compete with today’s cell phones, you will need at least 12 megapixels or more. You can find this range easily on DSLRs 5-10 years old. You will definitely need a camera body that allows for interchangeable lenses. Most importantly, you will need to be able to use your camera in a manual mode to understand and master the basic concepts. Without further ado, let’s get into the basics.

Most lower end DSLR cameras are much better quality than point-and-shoot style cameras. However, the options are not much different. In order to understand how photography works and learn how to capture breathtaking images in any setting, you

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55-200mm f5.6, shutter speed 1/1500 sec

will have to have a camera that allows you to change the setting from priority modes (aperture, shutter speed, ISO) to manual. Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are going to be the main focus here. When using your priority modes, your camera is literally doing most of the work for you without you having to think much. This works great for a lot of situations but over half the time it just doesn’t quite get it right and it many circumstances it has no clue. The concepts themselves are straight forward but being able to master them on the camera will take practice. Shutter speed is basically what the name implies. You are literally controlling how

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24mm f2.8, shutter speed 1/30 sec

fast the shutter open and closes. The longer the shutter speed, the more light that is allowed to hit the sensor. This plays a key role in capturing movement. Whether it be to freeze the frame of a hummingbird, capture the flowing water of a waterfall, or capture the stars in the open night sky, shutter speed will mostly be the determining factor. Aperture is a similar concept for allowing light to enter the sensor although, it doesn’t do much by itself for capturing movement. Aperture controls the amount of light that comes through the lens and ultimately controls the depth-of-field or the amount of the image that is in focus. A low aperture (lower f-stop=more open lens), often found on more expensive lenses, is most desirable for the blurry background, or bokeh, often seen where a single item is the subject of focus. On the other hand, a high aperture (more closed lens) is responsible for crystal clear landscapes where everything is in focus. With that being said, you don’t always have to spend a fortune on a good lens with a low aperture. If just starting out with photography, I highly recommend the ‘nifty fifty’, a simple 50mm f/1.8 prime lens. A prime lens means that its focal length is fixed. Unfortunately, it also means that it has no zoom. You can grab one of these lenses easily under $100. The interesting thing about this old lens is that it forces you to use only manual photography. All focus and aperture adjustments are manual. You should always check the compatibility with your model camera before making any purchases. Last but definitely not least, we have ISO (pronounced i-es-o). The concept of ISO can be a bit tricky because it actually isn’t increasing light but increasing the sensor’s sensitivity to the amount of light already present. Yes, your image will appear brighter as you increase the ISO number but you quickly begin introducing unwanted noise in the image. For the best quality, it’s common to leave it at a base line, around 100, and increase gradually depending on the camera model, amount of light present, and other camera settings. ISO plays an important role in capturing images in low light settings.

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50mm f1.8, shutter speed 10 sec, ISO 800

As you can see in the previous paragraph, different camera settings are crucial to capturing the images you want. Before setting taking off on the trails for a photo hunt, it’s a good idea to have some practice with a purpose in mind. You also might want a cheat sheet with you to assure that you get the appropriate settings right until you have memorized and are able to adjust them quickly on the spot. If you want to shoot wildlife or general nature shots, you are going to want some kind of zoom lens, preferably with a low aperture. One of the most desirable lenses for all around photography is a 70-200mm f/2.8. This lens allows you to shoot at an aperture of 2.8 at all focal lengths. This lens is superb and really hard to beat. You can grab a much cheaper alternative zoom, the 55-200mm f/4-5.6, but the aperture allows only half the light at 200mm. If you’re shooting in bright sun, it could be difficult to tell the difference between the lenses. In low light, however, the cheap lens simply doesn’t cut it. If landscapes are your thing, the 55-200mm proves to be an excellent piece of glass using the proper settings.

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55-200mm f4, shutter speed 1/200

Most landscape photographers desire a wide angle lens to capture more of the view. I typically shoot landscape photography and all the images here are and on the rest of the site are mine. I shoot the majority of landscapes shots I take with a 24mm f/2.8 wide angle, prime lens and I consistently get great images. It is also one of the lightest setups I can carry with me in the woods. Feel free to check out my portfolio (work in progress). I am currently working on setting up custom prints for purchase so if there is something you are interested in, feel free to get in touch. If you are just getting into hiking and/or camping, I have some great tips and advice in a previous blog that can help you gather some essentials to make your trip go smoother, Hiking and Backcountry Camping Essentials. I’ll be putting up another blog this week that will basically pick up at the end of this article and will focus mostly on camera bags, tripods, monopods, straps, filters, etc. and how to integrate all of this into a fairly lightweight hiking/camping trip. By all means, if you like the info I have, my writing style, the images, if you find the links helpful for price comparisons, want to make a purchase, or even want to talk trash about the blog, then do so. Of course, those not talking trash should follow the blog, join the mailing list, or follow me on Instagram where I usually share photography. Until next time, happy photo snapping!

Hiking and Camping – Minimalism vs Comfort

Recently, I have been coming across lots of different articles and questions on lightweight backpacking and backcountry camping.  One of the biggest topics I have seen tossed around is the idea of minimalism on the trail. I just posted a blog last week on 10 hiking and camping essentials that was basically written mostly for but not limited to folks that have no knowledge of neither of the two.  I included links for food tips and good quality materials including some that are super cheap as opposed to wasting money on a brand name item. What I didn’t get into so much was the weight of these materials I was suggesting.  For a camping or hiking newbie, I don’t recommend you deplete your bank account or savings just to have all the lightest weight gear out there. In this blog, I hope to briefly shed some light on the discussion about comfort and minimalism when out on the trail and maybe a few thoughts to pick your brain. vibrant sunset.jpg

In the previous blog, I shared a link to a tent very similar to mine not because it was expensive and I might get a larger incentive but because it is super lightweight. This is one of the most lightweight tents made by Mountain Hardwear.  This one, in particular, weighs in at about 2lbs 9oz. If you leave the rain fly out, you can probably shave off that 9oz easily. Yes, 9oz matters when it comes to carrying it on your back for X amount of miles. Although it’s not exactly the same design as mine, the weight is in the same range. I have a footprint with mine and use super lightweight aluminum stakes to anchor the system. The stakes and footprint easily add another 2 lbs but helps secure the anchoring and helps protect the tent floor from damages that may cause leaks. I have always used the footprint and I have never had an issue with leaks in my system. I have even been stuck inside the tent during an insane, summer thunderstorm and was pretty much floating in water, all while staying completely dry. I was actually impressed! Point being, I can justify that this company makes good quality and lightweight materials but that isn’t the objective of this article.

On a clear summer night, I can easily get by with packing the bare tent alone weighing around 2lbs but with the additional weight from the footprint and stakes, I feel more secure and comfortable. If I want to go super minimal, I usually don’t even pack the tent. I carry a double hammock pretty much every where I go.  DSC_0611.jpgThis guy weighs just short of 2 lbs and takes up less than half the space in my pack. Not only is it smaller and lighter, you’re not sleeping on the hard ground either. If I know there is no chance of rain in the forecast, this is always my first option.  However, there are downsides to both of these light weight and minimal options. The tent costs significantly more and takes up more space in the pack. The footprint and stakes are additional purchases. The hammock is cheap but doesn’t provide a solid surface to sleep on and doesn’t have any external protection from the environment.

When it comes down to it, is it really all about comfort? Are we talking about emotional or physical comfort? Does minimalism sacrifice this comfort? After all, you are carrying a fair amount of weight on your back while hiking. LFHI Amicalola (10 of 19)Even without a pack at all, this can be strenuous and might not be very comfortable for some folks especially after an extended period of time. Then, factor in the incline and terrain. And what exactly is minimalism anyway? A loose definition can be summed up as simply living with less.  Sounds like a sacrifice, right? Mark Manson brings a great point to the surface in his article about minimalism that we as humans feel a greater feeling of loss from losing something than the feeling of satisfaction we get from keeping that same object.  Of course, there is a physical feeling of comfort when being out on the trail. I stress this in my previous article specifically with boots but do we really need those two outfit changes, that small bottle of wine, that book that we will probably never open, or that entire bag of trail mix? These things bring us comfort as well, although, they don’t actually provide any benefit.

When it comes to discussing minimalism vs comfort, there is no fine line between the two terms. We are all individuals with different needs.  Keep in mind that needs are very different than desires. By all means, if you want to purchase a cheap 4 person tent from Walmart that weighs 10+ lbs just for you and your pup, you are more than inclined to do so.  If it becomes a struggle to give up that tent because you found the deal, bought it with your hard earned cash, and simply was all your idea to get it for whatever reason, then there is obviously another struggle at bay and ultimately, your physical comfort is going to suffer.  The best part about being on the trail for me is that I get to leave all of that emotional baggage somewhere else. That’s the one thing I don’t have to pack. Don’t let the emotional baggage weigh you down. Learn to let go of these insecurities. It all begins with a thought. And that is all it is, just a thought.  Let it be, then move on. If I feel that I am packing something that might not be necessary, I question it immediately. Why am I bringing this? What attachment do I have with it that deems it necessary for this trip? Is it essential? How much does it weigh? And the most important question to ask yourself, will I even use it? So while you’re making your checklist, keep these questions running in the back of your mind to help ensure a fun, minimal, satisfying, and comfortable trip!

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10 Hiking and Backcountry Camping Essentials

If you any of you guys know me personally or follow me on Instagram, then you know I love to be in the mountains. It’s kind of interesting how this has come about. I grew up in the mountains. Well, it was more like a valley between two mountains. It was a place called Stickleyville, Virginia. For my entire life, I had been aching to leave that area and see more of the world and eventually see what city life was like. In my opinion, it isn’t all it’s hyped up to be. I’d say it’s most relevant to what you’re looking for and what you really want, though. Maybe I’ll save that idea for another blog. Ten horrible things to expect in the city if you’re from the country… It’s perfect! Once I finally had the opportunity to move closer to a big city, I kept finding myself further away from and endlessly craving the mountains. It does help that I have a decent DSLR camera and love to do landscape photography. last weeks shots (downtown, mcdaniel farm, yellow river) (1 of 41)Other than lots of cool pics, I have gathered some pretty cool hiking gear over the past decade or so and have recently been working towards being comfortable with less stuff while I hike and camp. With that being said, I’m no minimalist hiker. Most times,  I actually enjoy the workout that comes with a heavy pack on a steep incline. If you don’t know anything about cameras and lenses, they definitely add some extra weight to a pack as well. In this blog, I wanted to share some reviews on stuff I have accumulated and use regularly in the outdoors. I have found that some stuff works and some don’t. If it has held up to the test and is worthy of being on my list, I consider it as an essential for a fun overnight trip anywhere. (January 2018 – I also just published a 50+ mile gear review on a few of the essentials I have listed here.)

Food

Whenever I’m planning a hiking/camping trip I like to begin with food. Nutrition is one of the most important parts of the trip and usually the part that takes the longest to plan for me. There are plenty of junk items to take along but I like to keep things lean and healthy. What you need to fuel your adventure usually depends on only a few variables; temperature, distance, and the intensity at which you plan to hike. Most trips I will pack freshly cooked chicken and sweet potato in sealable sandwich bags and throw them on top of a few ice packs inside a small insulated lunch bag. I never plan anything that needs to be on ice after the first day. Sometimes I will also bring a pre-cooked bag of oats and eggs for the first morning, then resort to bars and lightweight foods like Mountain House for the remainder of the trip. I also highly recommend Pure Protein Bars. The chocolate coconut ones are the bomb! The entire variety of bars is high in protein to keep you full longer. Each bar runs around 200 calories. Beef Jerky is another trail favorite of mine. Not only is it a good source of protein but it is high in sodium as well. Electrolyte imbalances can cause serious challenges and difficulties to any healthy individual so never underestimate them, especially in the severe heat. It’s always convenient to have a few electrolyte replacement capsules on hand when needed. If you have any questions or concerns in putting together a nutrition plan for your trip, feel free to get in touch with a good friend of mine, Gabrielle Fundaro, PhD, CISSN and nutrition consultant at Renaissance Periodization. Drop by her site and she will take care of you

Getting a pack and what to put in it

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CLoudland Canyon – October 2016

After the food is taken care of, things just kind of fall into place. First off, you’re going to need something to pack your stuff in. A good solid and comfortable pack doesn’t have to break the bank either. One of the most comfortable and best-designed packs I tested was the Osprey Atmos AG 50 backpack. Most have an open design and the fit was perfect. However, the price was just a little outside my range. After comparing multiple packs in the same range and style, I decided to go with the Kelty Redwing 50 Backpack. It was a bit cheaper but the main reason I went with this pack is that it works as a hybrid pack for me. There is one padded laptop slot and an easily accessible outer slot that works well with my camera. In all honesty, you shouldn’t be packing more than 50L. Although, you do need a big enough pack to hold your essentials. Depending on the location of the hike, you might need to pack your own water along with your food. I found these 3L collapsible containers that roll up into a
tiny attached bag that stash away when not in use. Two of these have lasted me around 16 miles. The nice thing with any water pack is your pack gets lighter as you go. These are long tube structures and I put one on each side on the inside of my pack but have loops built in in case you need to attach externally. This gives me room to put my sleeping Bag between them. With this setup, I have created the foundation to pack the rest of my bag. 

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Cloudland Canyon – 10/16

The sleeping bag I have been using was actually bought on a whim for a long hiking trip in northern GA and the Great Smoky Mountains back in November of 2016. This bag has passed the test on many trips since then. I give it 5 stars! For me, a sleeping pad is also an essential part of the trip. Whatever you do, don’t get the rolled up foam ones from Walmart. You will quickly regret it and from my experience, packing a bulky rolled up piece of foam around gets rather annoying. I grabbed this mat. It is thermoregulated for colder nights and is partially self-inflated but easily topped off with a few breaths.

First Aid

Depending on the pack you have, it’s probably beginning to fill up by now. Before you zip it closed and head out, make sure you have some form of a First Aid Kit with you. Make sure your kit has a Compression Wrap and some basic meds. This could potentially determine whether or not you make it off of a mountain. I usually pack some ibuprofen to help with inflammation and some Benedryl for any allergies to pollen, poison ivy, bee stings, etc. It does help induce a good night’s rest as well if you’re not already exhausted from your hike.

Hiking Boots/ Socks

With a full pack pushing upwards of 20-25 lbs, a nice pair of boots can be a dream come true out on the trail. I used to hike with a heavy pack in Merrell’s Moab Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Boot but the comfort level was not designed for a heavy pack. Don’t get me wrong, these are excellent boots. I’ve had mine nearly 6 years and the rubber soles are just beginning to deteriorate. Still no leaks, though! This year, I had decided to upgrade. I grabbed a pair of Salomon’s Quest 4d 2 Gtx Backpacking Boots. hiking boots, essentials, salomon boots, salomon quest 4d 2 gtxWith my pack loaded down upwards of 30 lbs, my comfort level has significantly increased and the boots just fit so well with hardly any break in period. Of course, they are slightly heavier than the Merrells but I can literally hike all day in these. I honestly love them. I even came across a pair of merino wool socks that matched well with the boots and even have a lifetime guarantee! What more can you ask for with a pair of socks!?

Trekking Poles

Another item I highly recommend, mostly depending on the terrain and elevation change, is trekking poles. There are a lot of folks out there that swear by carbon fiber or other expensive poles out there claiming it’s going to make the hike easier in some way. The fact of the matter is there is no easy way. I have put nearly 100 miles on a cheap set of trekking poles and still have no issues with them. I talked with a few other hikers that have put more mileage than this on the same brand and said they love absolutely them. The best thing about them is if they break, you’re only out $20. Even the most expensive ones break or bend the same. I’ve read that carbon fiber ones more or less explode when they break and you’re left with not even a bent one to assist you but I have not experienced this directly.

Tent/ Hammock

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Mountain Hardwear Setup – Jekyll Island, Ga.

Last but definitely not least, you’re going to need something to sleep in. The options are endless when it comes to most anything these days so don’t overthink it. Tents can be heavy and sometimes so heavy that it defeats your purpose of trying to pack light in the first place. They get even heavier if you include a footprint and rain cover to make sure you stay dry just in case of a dreaded storm. Mountain Hardwear makes an excellent line of super lightweight tent options but try not to get caught up in buying the most expensive option. If you keep an update on the weather forecast you can easily get by with a simple double hammock. A double hammock has made camping a breeze this year. A single works fine but the extra fabric from the double can serve as a protective outer layer against bugs and mosquitos.

So there you have it. Ten essentials to get you outdoors and off to having a fun time before you know it. I have taken the time to put together all the links right here so you don’t even have to go searching for the items. I consider myself frugal and often live on the cheap side but some things you don’t want to cut cost on, especially when it comes to comfort and security. If you any questions, please leave a comment and I will try to help with my best efforts or refer you to a better-qualified individual to help with your needs. Hiking, camping, and photography are areas that have become not only a hobby but a love of mine. Sharing my adventures and ways to inspire others while doing it on a budget is why I decided to start these blogs. If you are throwing these items on credit take a look at my last blog for easy ways to help pay down that bill as well. I am fortunate to have the time to explore, photograph it, and write about it. Although there is no pay, I potentially get incentives when you click on my links and make purchases at no extra cost to you. Putting these blogs together takes a great deal of time and these potential incentives create an opportunity to do what I love and of course, they allow me to share more information with all of you. If you like these blogs, come join the mailing list and follow whatever social media platform you like the best. Good luck on your hike and enjoy camping in the great outdoors!

Twenty-six Mile Hike – Part I – Cloudland Canyon

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It was the last weekend in October 2016, and instead of joining the crowds and participating in the Halloween festivities, I was packed and ready to set out into mountains for a few days. To begin this 26-mile hiking weekend, a drive out to Cloudland Canyon was required.  According to Wikipedia, this is one of the largest and most scenic state parks in the state of Georgia. Just short of Chattanooga, TN, Cloudland Canyon State Park is located at the northwestern tip of Georgia.

canyon western loop (1 of 1)
Cloudland  Canyon – Western Loop

After residing in Georgia for a little over two years, I was beginning to miss those rural southwest Virginia mountains where I grew up.  Autumn was finally here again and this year I wanted to use my new camera.  I grabbed an older model Nikon DSLR  back in February.  You can grab a used one fairly cheap now and the functionality has been incredible.  This one is semi-professional and even gives you on camera editing if you’re into that instead of sitting at a computer.  I thought I’d bring it along to capture the Autumn colors. So far, I can’t complain!  I shot all these images using a Nikon 24mm f/2.8 lens. This guy is a super old school lens. So, if you’re into manual stuff or video, these suckers are great and a fraction of the cost for newer lenses.

After seeing how close The Great Smokey Mountains were to Cloudland Canyon, that trip was planned.  The hike would involve 10 miles on Friday at Cloudland Canyon, camp, then make our way through Chattanooga to the lower Appalachian Mountain Range via the Dragons Tail, a crazy curvy, and dangerous scenic route that takes you along many breath-taking mountain views.  Just off the Dragon’s Tail, we should find the trailhead, Twenty mile to Gregory Bald, that lies in the southern part Great Smokey Mountains near the North Carolina state line. This hike would be broken up into two days. The first day, we hike to the top of Gregory Bald (9 miles), absorb the views, camp, then make our descent back on Sunday to the car (7.2 miles). We should reach an elevation of 4950 ft or so.

We arrived at the Canyon a bit before lunch. Since we were early we decided to stop at the visitors center and check into our backcountry campsite. It was at this moment I realized I had forgotten my jacket. Not only did the visitors center have a cool mug and magnet for Gabrielle, they had a well-made, rugged fleece that would soon keep me warm for the next couple of nights. We finally made it to our campsite parking area where we would take off for the first ten miles, then set up camp about half of a mile from the parking area. The backcountry trail started off through a well maintained, leaf-covered trail that eventually popped us out on the west rim trail and the first lookout that you see above.

falls (1 of 1)

Before we set foot on the west rim trail we wanted to see the popular waterfall attraction. In order to get to the falls, we had to descend down a never-ending flight of stairs that led us deep into the canyon. Once there we noticed there were no falls. They had dried up due to the lack of rain in the recent months. We walked through the dried up creek bed to observe a few of the unusually large boulders that had been carved out of the creek throughout the years.

We then climbed the stairs back up to the trailhead of the west rim loop and continued on our hike. The countless views were gorgeous! The leaves had already begun to change but were not quite where I expected as November approached. The trail climbed up and down around the edges of the canyon walls that delivered many lookouts to access the views of the canyon. As we passed our half-way point, we decided to sit and enjoy the view while having a snack for some calories to make it the rest of the way.

As we started to approach the end of the west rim trail loop, the sun was quickly starting to hide behind the treetops and showing an array of vivid colors throughout the canyon. loop (1 of 1)After 9.8 miles, we finally made it back to the backcountry campsite to set up camp. We were so tired we didn’t even bother with setting up the tent! We put up our Hammocks , threw in our Therm-a-Rest Sleeping Mats, and new down, Lightweight Sleeping Bags, and voila! hammock sleeping.jpg

Part II – The Great Smokey Mountains

10 Essentials for Hiking and Backcountry Camping