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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. For my entire life, I had been aching to leave that area and see more of the world and eventually see what the city life was like. Well, in my opinion, it isn’t all it’s hyped up to be. Maybe I’ll save that idea for another blog. Ten horrible things to expect in the city…It’s perfect! Once I finally had the opportunity to move closer to a big city, I kept finding myself endlessly craving the mountains. It does help that I have a decent DSLR camera, Nikon D7000, 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. Sometimes I actually enjoy the workout that comes with a heavy pack up a steep incline. And if you don’t know anything about cameras and lenses, they definitely add some extra weight to a pack. 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.

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 Ultra-thin Ice Packs inside a small insulated 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 Scrambled Eggs with Bacon 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. Jack Link’s 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. You can grab a bottle of Electrolyte Replacement Capsules to take care of your needs. 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 ya!

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 Men’s 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 a padded laptop slot and an easily accessible outer slot that works well for 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 Hydrapak Seeker 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 Outdoor Vitals Atlas Lightweight Down Sleeping Bag between them. With this setup, I have created the foundation to pack the rest of my bag. 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, Therm-a-Rest Trail Scout Mattress , 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.

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. 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 Boot. IMG_20170607_152927_341With 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 Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion Socks – Men’s Light Gray Large that matched well with the boots and even have a lifetime guarantee! What more can you ask for with a pair of socks!? 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 50+ miles on a set of BAFX Anti Shock Hiking Trekking Trail 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.

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. DSC_8671Mountain Hardwear makes an excellent line of super lightweight tent options but don’t 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. The CHILLAX Double Travel 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!

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Top 5 Soundcloud Tunes – Nov 4, 2017

Up first, Gypsy rings in this nice melody with strong guitar licks.  This classic takes me right into an open field, tent already setup,  psychedelics at peak intensity, and nothing but the whispers in the wind to carry me on.

D Major – Bristol, United Kingdom  ~This groovy jam just makes me feel good when I hear it. It’s such a good feeling when you feel like you have found what you have been looking for.

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Ry X – Only ~Los Angeles~ I first heard this song in a local coffee shop.  It was a busy night and the ambiance was filled with chatter and noise from the espresso machine.  While I waited for my pour-over, my ears suddenly became ever so focused on this song streaming across the speakers. It immediately hit me in the chest like a lump of coal. I knew this feeling. It had felt so real to me once or twice. This one definitely hits you right in the feels.

Ijomojo, pronounced eye-joe-mow-joe, a local band from Leeds grabbed my attention with their single, “Watertight”. The intriguing, dark folkish composition, harmonies, and unique sound is defintely worth the listen.

Another excellent artist, Suntrapp, caught my attention with their groovy, Folky London roots.  Listening to “New Morning” gives me the feeling of stepping out on the front porch, beautiful sunshine coming up over the mountain, fresh coffee brewing, and not a single worry as the new morning sets in.

10 Ridiculous Moments in Rock ‘n’ Roll History

Ridiculous moments seem to be a fairly common thing that runs throughout rock ‘n’ roll. One google search can literally bring up hundreds of crazy bizarre things musicians have done as either an act of drug-induced stupidity or possibly just for attention. Growing up as an avid musician, I had many influences that helped me develop the skills to become a live performing musician. Although I really wanted to be a rock star, I’m not quite sure I would have wanted to be part of a few of these outrageous times. Throughout this list of ten ridiculous moments, we’ll take a look at a few of my personal influences as well as some of the most iconic moments in rock ‘n’ roll history.

Robert JohnsonIn no specific order or ranking, we will get started with the most well-known, American blues musician from the early 20th century, Mr. Robert Johnson. Johnson, Mississippi born and raised, lived a short life as street corner performer. Little was documented about his short-lived life but at some point, he gained a remarkable amount of attention for his talent.  Rumor has it that Johnson’s success was due to a trip to the crossroads where he allegedly sold his soul to the devil.  In return, he would be able to play the blues like no other. Although the myth hasn’t been officially confirmed, his music and influences still live on. Johnson has been an influence on not only myself but many blues musicians over the past century. With his impressive mastery of the Delta blues style guitar, Johnson has earned the title as THE most important blues musician to ever live by many popular musicians.

When I was about 6 years old, my dad would run around the house banging on a parlor sized guitar while singing Elvis songs and old country tunes. Although he couldn’t actually play, I wanted to be like my dad so much that I learned how to play guitar. At that time, Elvis became my first real influence. ELVIS-elvis-presley-9613676-363-500 I started with a few big hits like “Jailhouse Rock” and “Don’t be cruel”. Then, I moved onto “Heartbreak Hotel” and “I’m all shook up” and just kept going down the list. I was too young at that time to realize any of the real-life stuff about Elvis, his drug habits and the fact that he could never play the guitar either. Until I got older, I never even realized the amount of attention that was drawn to his dance moves. Around the mid-1950’s color TV was far from the only interesting thing that hit public television. It only took a few months before Elvis was one of the most talked about musicians and celebrities with his sex-driven, hip gyrating dances. Although Presley’s dances were swooning the ladies in town left and right, the town’s men weren’t so happy with this outcome.  His hip movements gained so much attention that a local, juvenile court judge wrote up a warrant threatening to put Elvis in jail if he did so much as shake his leg during a 1956 performance in Jacksonville, Florida. It was unknown for the most part what Elvis was going to do or not after being threatened. After making to the Ed Sullivan show, the cameramen were instructed to only captured him from the waist up in fear that he would whirl his hips on national TV. 

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pete townshend 2 jpgAs the 60’s and 70’s rolled around, merely being able to master the guitar and wooing the ladies with your dance moves wasn’t enough. The music had grown more aggressive, more loud, and especially more obnoxious. Some musicians even began to destroy their instruments to set themselves apart. Pete Townshend, of The Who, can be credited for the first guitar smasher of the century. In 1964, Townshend claimed that he accidentally smashed the headstock of his guitar into a low ceiling during a small local performance snapping the headstock of the guitar he was playing. After realizing he had broken it, he decided to roll with as if he had planned it all along continuing to smash the guitar into the ceiling. This ultimately created an intense and exciting moment for the crowd. Pete then grabbed his spare guitar and continued with the show. Keith Moon, who was already known for the destruction of property, also wound up dumping his drum kit over at the end of the show. It wasn’t until a few years later that Townshend decided to make this ‘guitar smashing’ part of his act with his band and an undeniable force in the1960’s British invasion. 

Jimi-Hendrix-WallpaperWhile destroying instruments was becoming a trend in rock-n-roll, smashing them wasn’t the only way. One of my biggest influences and also for many other musicians was Jimi Hendrix. His style and talent quickly gained recognition. His guitar licks were incredible. He was explosive! He is arguably one of the best guitar players of all time. He never seemed to be a violent individual, but in 1967, he decided that he would set his guitar on fire. During the end of his set at the Monterey Pop Festival, Hendrix placed takes off his guitar, places it flat on the stage, and proceeds to douse it with lighter fluid. After lighting it on fire, the flames blazed high into the air. He then began to do some kind of voodoo procedure on it. Hendrix claimed that his destruction was a sacrifice. He said that he loved his guitar so much that he had to set it ablaze.  Hendrix was taken to the hospital after the show with burns to his hands as the flames unpredictable reached them during the act. No doubt did this act go on to help set the precedence for his fame. 

With guitar skills mastered, dance moves taken, instruments smashed and burned, there wasn’t many more options left to stand out. If your mind thinks like mine, you’re probably thinking the next insane act would have to be to literally blow everything up. Well, in 1974, Ritchie Blackmore, of Deep Purple, was so displeased with a decision to go on stage hours earlier than originally planned that when they did go on stage he decided to soak his amps with gasoline. ritchie blackmore.jpegAfter soaking the amps he began to smash his guitar and one of the smaller amps throwing both off the stage into the audience. Then, after grabbing another guitar, he played it for a second then placed it on the ground. With the feedback growling, he stepped back to his Marshall stacks and quickly returned to his guitar placing his foot on the strings. Without warning, the gasoline-soaked amps ignited causing a huge explosion, blowing an entire hole on the stage while the band continued to play like it was all part of the act. Blackmore only intended to catch them on fire. He had no idea that the amps would actually explode. The fire was put out quickly from a crew on stage with fire extinguishers as Deep Purple finished out the set. That night, It was smoke on the stage instead of the water.

Ozzy-Osbourne.jpgAt this point, It’s reasonable to wonder, not if, but how much drug use was responsible for some of these outrageous acts. Without a doubt, there must have been large amounts of drugs and alcohol consumed to contribute to such insanity.  Things definitely didn’t stop or even slow down after the 70’s. As the 80’s came along, big hairstyles, colorful outfits, and thick makeup become a trademark of the decade. Not only did appearance become oddly interesting, the acts became a bit more strange as well. Although Black Sabbath and frontman Ozzy Osbourne had been successful throughout the 70’s, chemical dependant Osbourne chose to leave the band branching off on his solo career as the 80’s came along. In 1981, heavily drug-induced decided to bite not just one but three bird’s heads off. The first was two were doves prior to his release of ‘Blizzard of oz’ then, a bat later on at a live event. He claimed that he thought the bat was a rubber bat from a store. He was treated immediately after the show for rabies. 

 

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As the strange 80’s weirdness increased, so did severity of drug abuse and the variety of drugs. Things couldn’t have gotten any crazier when Motley Crue went on tour with Ozzy. There was so much booze and drugs involved that it practically became a competition to see who would do the craziest. Although Ozzy might have won the competition after snorting a line of ants on the tour, bassist for Motley Crue, Nikki Sixx, eventually took an unwanted ride a few in an ambulance a few years later. He apparently had injected enough heroin that it took two adrenaline shots to kick-start his heart back to beating. This wasn’t his first overdose and definitely not his last but ultimately inspired one of their biggest hits and one of my favorite hair metal jams, ‘Kickstart my heart”.

Finally, the 90’s had arrived. Grunge rock, alternative rock, and a whole bunch of heroin addicts had hit the music scene. Throughout the entire decade, we saw many great artists come and go.  As the end of the decade approached, woodstockthe idea came about to host another Woodstock, a 30 year anniversary of one of the greatest rock events in history. Woodstock ‘99 didn’t quite make the list for greatest unless it was on the disaster list. Things weren’t so bad until supplies and facilities became insufficient for the attendees. Songs from artist such as Rage Against the Machine and Limp Bizkit fueled the crowd to wreak havoc on the facilities and booths creating mud holes and many large bonfires with debris from the destruction. During the fires, Red Hot Chili Peppers was chanted back on stage for an encore in which they decided to play a tribute to Jimi Hendrix. As if dancing around and performing naked wasn’t enough, they chose to perform the worst possible choice of cover-song at that very moment, “fire”. The cover was great, to say the least, but definitely the wrong place at the wrong time. Needless to say, there will probably never be another Woodstock.

Prince Live In LA

In 2007, one of the best performers of all time was about to take the stage at super bowl XLI in the pouring rain. Prince was already known for always wearing his high platforms, his funky colored suits, of course, his famous sex symbol shape, purple guitar. The question was what was going to happen in the rain? He was contacted a few hours before the show by the producer with concerns. Prince replied ‘Can you make it rain any harder?’. Classic response and unquestionably one of the best, if not the best, halftime performance of all time. He went through 4 guitar changes, covered Dylan in the style of Hendrix, covered Foo Fighters, and finally went on to rock the stadium with his own ‘Purple Rain’, all in the midst of a heavy downpour without missing a beat. Although he is no longer with us, his legacy and this night will carry on forever.

peter framptonLast but not least, Legendary guitarists/ songwriter, Peter Frampton makes the list with an interesting story. He wasn’t known for smashing or burning guitars, didn’t blow anything up or facilitate the destruction of an entire festival. He simply lost his guitar. He lost a custom Gibson Les Paul that was thought to have been burnt up in a cargo plane crash in 1980. This guitar, according to Frampton, was the best guitar he had ever played and was used on his most successful and one of the best selling live album records of all time. Come to find out, the guitar was never destroyed and had been plucked from the wreckage and played by a local performer for the next three decades. It finally surfaced and was matched to Mr. Frampton’s iconic 1970’s axe. In 2011, Frampton was finally reunited with this gem after 31 long awaited years.

Hiking and Camping: Tips for packing Camera Gear and Essentials

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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The Digital Age: 12 easy to use websites and apps that can help you earn and save money

First of all, don’t let the title mislead you. These small side gigs can easily generate a little extra income but are definitely not going to make you rich. In fact, you might not make much more than the cost of your phone or cable bill. How much you can earn will ultimately depend on how much time you have to spend and how you choose to spend that time. I, for one, am not a fan of wasting time so instead of watching TV and doing nothing, I choose to earn a few dollars a day on the apps and sites I am about to share with you. I personally around 20 sites/apps but I have found that I get the biggest yield from about 10 of those. For me, filling out short surveys has been the easiest way for me to make small amounts of extra cash. Most of these sites give you the opportunity to make additional income through a variety of different ways. You can play games, watch TV, take surveys, check paid email, complete offers, enter sweepstakes and contests, buy stuff from retail giants, and obviously, refer all your friends.

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The first site I came across with good reviews and seemed to be legit was Inbox Dollars.  This definitely isn’t my favorite app but it has helped generate a portion of extra cash over the past few months. Inbox Dollars has a minimum payout of $30 dollars and can be deposited into a pre-paid Visa or a variety of gift cards including Amazon. If you are doing mostly surveys, as I am, the process can be slow and tedious. There are a lot of surveys that you don’t qualify for so don’t waste all your time on this app.

ongoThe nice thing about some of these sites is that most of them have mobile apps that allow you to keep your surveys on the go. Apparently, that name was so catchy that I found a mobile app actually called Surveys on the go that can help bring some revenue into your pockets.  I really like this one as you can redeem cash straight into your Paypal after earning only $10 bucks. Surveys tend to pop up when you are near stores. Occasionally, there will be some really high payouts her for consumer studies/ research. I have received a few around $8 – $10 dollars but that has been rare.

quickProbably one of the most rewarding apps I have found is Quick Thoughts. It also has a $10 dollar minimum payout but only in redeemable gifts cards via Amazon. The nice thing about this one is that almost every survey is offered with a $1 dollar payout. If you are not qualified, you can usually bank $0.10 cents and you are usually disqualified quickly if so not at the end of the survey. I find the average survey running from 7 – 15 minutes but some will run 20-30 minutes.

CaptureThe next site/app I found was Swagbucks. I thought this one would be just the same as Inbox Dollars but it has actually been much more rewarding. You can earn points here by checking for daily codes, surveys, watching Swagbucks TV, and one of the easiest ways is by using the search browser. It has payouts as low as $3 in many different redeemable gift cards including Amazon, Amazon but can do paypal after $25. Another cool feature with Swagbucks is that if you buy stuff online, you can get cash back by going to the online retailers through the Swagbucks site or app. Some places give back as much as 10%!

ibottaSpeaking of buying stuff, if you are anything like me and trying to save or pay off that credit card that keeps accumulating interest or pay a phone bill, then you probably aren’t spending that much online. However, we all have to buy groceries so why not try to save here, too. I love to eat and for the most part, I eat healthy. I found this awesome app, Ibotta, and it has become one of my favorites mostly because I like to watch the savings add up then deposit them into paypal. It has a $20 dollar minimum payout but it gets there fairly quickly depending on how much you shop for groceries and where you get them. They have recently added Amazon, Amazon where you can get cash back from specific purchases as well.

c51If getting cash back via buying groceries is something that interests you, Checkout51 is very similar to Ibotta. The only downside to this one is that you have to request a check in which they will mail to you after you reach a minimum of $20 bucks. Surprisingly, the check gets to you really quick, though so there isn’t that much of an issue.

mintOne of the most recent sites I have found is Mintvine. This site doesn’t have a mobile app but has definitely proven itself to be a significant source of extra cash via surveys. It offers a variety of decent offers for surveys and often gives you a few points for just attempting them. You can also earn points by participating in a daily poll and completing available offers.

vindale

Vindale Research has been a fairly rewarding site for high paying surveys.  the surveys here go fast so once you get the email, you should definitely check to see if the survey is still available, especially if it seems worth your time. I have had a few surveys end after a brief amount of time with no compensation here so I do warn you on that. Now, I don’t use this one often unless the surveys pay really well for only a few minutes.

mturkMechanical Turk is a bit different than the typical survey sites like you will find above. The is a crowdsourcing-based work platform affiliated with Amazon. It basically gives you the opportunity to do as many small jobs as you want. There are some qualifications and tests to take and pass to get higher paying jobs but the jobs also take much longer. You can take jobs as small as $0.1 cent but I usually don’t find those to be sufficient for what I’m aiming for. If I am going to spend time on any of these sites, I usually shoot for a minimum of $6 dollars an hour but often will cover that in 10-minute increments spread out all through the day. Although, I have found a much higher pay rate with Mechanical Turk work than the surveys sites above.

AAOne last thing I want to throw on here is Amazon Associates. This is an opportunity offered through Amazon as well as lots of other similar sites that allow you to write blogs including affiliate links to related items. If someone happens to read your blog, clicks the link, then makes a purchase… Well, then you get a commission on the sale. No, it’s not much money but given the right traffic to your blog and depending on your niche you can definitely increase the chances of making a significant amount of earnings. Once again, this is not the same as the survey type work and can’t guarantee anything but sometimes the risk is worth taking. Besides, this might be a more fulfilling route than sitting and clicking at surveys all day.

stashLike I had said before, don’t go and download these apps with idea that you can make a monthly living solely on the apps. If this is your plan, there is a good chance you will end up homeless and just might starve. Initially, I began my quest just to see what I could find for extra cash. Then, I decided I wanted to make at least $1 a day. I started making a spreadsheet of all the extra cash that was accumulating and thought, “man, it would be cool to throw this in an account somewhere that collected interest. That’s when I stumbled upon an investment app called, Stash Invest. They will actually give you $5 bucks to get started and waive the first monthly $1 maintenance fee. What better reason to try this one out! This is a super cool app for anyone that wants to get started in investments but doesn’t really know much about it. Once I started making around $3 – $5 a day with the apps above, I started transferring the funds into Stash. It has to be linked to your bank account so I calculated my app earnings and deposited the money from my bank. You can also set up monthly, weekly, and even daily installments if you want to really start saving. The cool thing about this app is that you can invest in portions of shares and stocks/bonds then actually see returns on your investments. You can buy and sell whenever you like but it’s best to go for the long haul if you want to see return

acornsStash works well alongside another app I found and also linked to my bank account called Acorns. This app takes the remaining change from debit/ check card purchases and deposits them into an investment account as well. Just like Stash, you can take your savings out at any time. I have actually been seeing a much larger return on Stash so I transfer my saving from Acorns into Stash each month. As a self-employed musician/ freelancer, I thought this would be a great opportunity to save for the dreaded year-end tax payments. With the funds being hidden away in an account, you quickly forget about them and the savings really start to pile up.

 Alexa Integrated, Sonos One is now available!

Sonos One - White
Sonos Wireless Music Player


So there you have it! Of all the random stuff that you will find on the internet, these 10 or so apps have been successful in getting me up to $8 a day in savings by simply tinkering with them in my spare time. If you go the survey route as I am, don’t waste your time trying to do all the surveys you can. Pick the highest pay with the lowest amount of time invested. If you don’t qualify, simply move on to the next survey or even the next app/ site. After depleting your options, go enjoy the day or go back to whatever you were doing before.