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A Tribe Called Questival – New Adventures Await

Questival Logo

Gonna be a llamazing experience.

Two days from now, on September 15th, Team Bristleconers will be competing against over 175 teams in the San Diego Questival. The event, which lasts for 24 hours, is part scavenger hunt, part race, part team-building exercise on steroids, is hosted by Cotopaxi.

Here’s the rundown:
You sign up for the race of your choice here: CLICK ME!
You download the Questival App
You get a pre-event packet detailing what to bring (sleeping back, charger packs for your phone, etc)
You show up to a launch party, get a free backpack
Your app gets loaded up with lists of things to do
You go absolutely nuts trying to accomplish as much as you can
You upload proof you did the things
You and other teams judge each others submissions
Win or lose, you feel accomplished

The Bristleconers are coming at the San Diego event hot, but Cotopaxi hosts the events all over the country. Keep an eye out for a post-event review, but we’re already pretty freaking pumped for this thing. Here’s a video from Cotopaxi explaining it even more!

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Mindshift Backlight 26L – A review

The Backlight 26L in it’s natural environment.

 

I’ve gotten to the point where I have outgrown the janky free Canon backpack that came with the camera kit I got a few years ago. I wanted something rugged, and easy to access for long hikes and sudden appearances of forest friends.  When I started asking around for a replacement, the name that kept popping up was ThinkTank.
But, as I looked into it, I found that they were made far more for photographers that are in a bit more of a controlled environment, or a place where they can get their needed gear out, and stow the bag away. I needed a bag that was going to get snagged on brambles, get splashed by waterfalls, and be scorched by the sun.
So, imagine my excitement when, after scrolling to the bottom of the ThinkTank website, I find that they have an entire line of outdoorsy bags under the moniker of Mindshift.

Half Dome from Sentinel Dome

I reached out to their team, told them what I was looking for in a bag, and was floored by their warm reception and was offered a Backlight 26L to check out.
Immediately, we took to putting it through its paces. We took it to the mountains, to Disneyland, to the Grand Canyon, and to our latest excursion to Yosemite National Park.
It is PERFECT.
Seriously, it’s phenomenal. The pack is currently holding:
MeFoto Backpacker tripod
A Canon 5DMiii
Canon 24-70mm f2.8
Canon 70-200mm f1.8
Canon 50mm f1.4
Rokinon 12mm f2.8
Canon Speedflash 580ex
Three spare batteries
A “camera condom” (rain sleeve)
Two USB battery packs (for phones)
A TriggerTrap cable
Spare AAA/AA batteries
A multi-tool
Extra Peak Design cuff
Sunscreen
Included rain jacket
Peter Storm rain jacket (for me, not the backpack)
Charger cables
A squeaky duck toy I use to shoot both kids’ birthdays and animals
Random pieces from my double-camera harness, allen wrenches, and lord know what else.

2+ miles into the Wapama Falls Trail

So, the Backlight has some fantastic features that lead me to rave about it.
Hip/sternum straps
This was the major feature I wanted. In hiking with my janky little Canon bag, the chest strap was great, but it’s small size and lack of hip straps left me sore as could be. The Mindshift bag had both a larger capacity for gear and a padded hip strap, allowing for my 5 mile hike to Wapoma Falls in Hetch Hetchy to finish with no real aches and pains other than those related to the FIVE FREAKING MILE HIKE I JUST UNDERTOOK IN 90+ DEGREE WEATHER.
Tripod straps
The straps/weird pocket for the tripod were fantastic. We took the Backlight to Hetch Hetchy, Glacier Point, and up Sentinel Dome, and each place I was able to set up my kit to take a low f-stop, low ISO shot that tried to take in all the grandeur I possibly could, and because of the Backlight, I was able to carry everything and still keep my hands free. RAD.
The weird access from the back-thing
Hands down my favorite feature is the ability to access ALL of my gear without taking the Backlight off. With just the hipstraps on, you can spin the thing around and get into everything. We had a deer come near us in Yosemite Valley, and it took me less than a minute to get into my pack and switch lenses to my 70-200. While on the trail to Lower Yosemite Falls, we found that you can use a tree as a body and access the gear AND not have to carry it. How cool is that? (Spoiler: VERY COOL).

Cal found my squeaky duck

 

Overall, this pack is absolutely perfect for an entry-mid-level photographer who wants to take a fair amount of gear with them onto a hiking/backpacking trip. I have nothing to take away from this pack, so it most certainly gets a 10/10.
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Yosemite National Park – One of the Best Ideas

“Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the logcock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains.”
–John Muir, John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 235.

We need our wild lands; places in nature where we can play, ponder, explore, and engage.  We need our senses heightened, our memories indulged, and our spirits rinsed clean.  We need this desperately, and we need it often.

A couple weeks ago, we ventured north from where we reside to a place that seems to draw us in over and over again: Yosemite National Park.  In Ken Burns’ PBS series titled The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, viewers follow the birth and growth of the National Park Service to what it is today.  This documentary introduced me to the words of John Muir, and since then I can’t seem to shake that feeling of wonder and gratitude whenever I read or hear a quote from that great man.

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”
–John Muir, The Yosemite (1912), page 256.

So, we went to Yosemite to play, to take in its wonder, and to take a break.  With almost three months off from school for the summer, I decided to use up some saved vacation time and take Jonathan there for his second trip.  The first time he went was in 2014, a year of a severe drought.  In contrast, this year had so much snow that during our end-of-June trip, the Tioga Pass was still closed.  Though our timing was not impeccable, the waterfalls definitely were.

Staying at the Yosemite Bug – Rustic Mountain Resort, or Bug Lodge, as it was formerly known, our first order of business was to check out the amazing menu, which changes daily, at the June Bug Cafe, and talk it up with some locals.  We met a rad rafter who leads tours on the Merced, and informed us that within the past week of us getting there, the river had risen 5ft due to snow melt.  After dinner, we tucked in for the night and began our first day in the park bright and early with a 3:30am wakeup call.

Sunrise from Tunnel View is a thing of supreme beauty.  We spent our first day in the valley, wandering amongst the crowds, getting showered upon by the crazy amounts of water pouring out of those spectacular falls.  After grabbing some much needed maps on day one, we spent our second day exploring John Muir’s beloved Hetch Hetchy.  The hike I chose was a moderate jaunt to Wapama Falls, although due to that snow melt I mentioned before we were only able to get as far as Tueeulala Falls, which provided us with an amazing shower before turing back to the heat of the hike.

Day three was both an early morning and late night.  We started up the road to Glacier Point, feeling that bumpy road that gave us some indication of how Tioga Pass must have been.  After snapping some early morning shots, we ventured up to Sentinel Dome where the views of the park are not to be contended with.  Basking in the beauty of that amazing 360 degree view, we also realized that we were basking in full-sun on empty stomachs, so we began our hike back to shade and food.

The rest of our last full day there was spent getting to know Curry Village, now known as Half Dome Village, for future trips.  That night, we stayed in the park till sunset, driving back up to Tunnel View for some more amazing images to document the memories we made.  On our way back to the Bug Lodge for the last night of the trip, we stopped by the Merced to see its rushing waters on a moonless night.

“When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.”
–John Muir, Travels in Alaska by John Muir, 1915, chapter 1, page 5.

What a goddamn poetic man…

This trip gave me many things.  It gave me a renewed sense of wonder for our parks and open spaces.  It gave me a sense of calm content that can only come when viewing places of such majestic nature – places so old.  More than anything, though, it gave me the courage to keep going, keep exploring, keep fighting for our wild places, and keep writing about them, telling my friends, doing as much as I can to protect what means the most to me.  Yosemite reminded me that nature, above all else, is home.

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The Grand Canyon National Park – A Roadtrip

In trying to decide what we could do to pass the time during Cal’s spring break, she turned to me and said, “Want to see if there’s any camping available in the Grand Canyon?” Well, of course I did, and lo and behold, there was a campsite at Mather Campground during the first weekend of her Spring Break. So, instead of the stereotypical booze-fueled debauchery that is synonymous with college co-eds letting loose, we packed up our gear and skedaddled onto the 7-hour drive to the Grand Canyon National Park.

On the drive out, we saw some of the finest nothingness both California and Arizona had to offer. And I don’t say that sarcastically. The 40 was the largest chunk of our trip, and passes in between the Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve, both amazing, and vastly different, desert landscapes. We also stopped off at a random Dairy Queen in Needles, the last city before Arizona, where I introduced Cal to the glory that is the Butterfinger Blizzard.

“Is it like a milkshake?”
“Milkshakes wish they were Blizzards.”

With the tank full, next stop was Kingman, Arizona. We had decided to grab groceries and ice in Arizona, as we were taking a smaller cooler and wanted to make sure that we could keep any food fresh and cold. We only planned on cooking a couple of dinners, since there are plenty of food options in the park. Groceries acquired, we were back on the road for the last, but definitely not least, leg of the trip: the 64 North. Half annoying 2-lane highway, half stunning stretch of asphalt that takes you through desert into the stunning Kaibab National Forest, the 64 appropriately prepares you for the beauty of the area surrounding the Grand Canyon itself.

Now, prior to the trip, we were asked if we’d want to review some new gear from European brand Easy Camp, which of course we did. More on that over HERE.

Once we had everything set up and put away at the very wonderful Mather Campground, we realized that no matter how tasty a Blizzard is, four or five hours later, you’re going to want real food. So off we went into the park.

A very sassy “shuttle” (it’s a full-sized bus) driver picked us up from the Mather Campground stop and took us to the next stop: the Yavapai Lodge, more specifically, the Yavapai Tavern. Now, if you didn’t know, I LOVE me some nachos. I even have a nachos tattoo. No joke. And well, in our planning for the trip, I came across the Yavapai Tavern site, which has some images/menus available, including some pictures of their nachos. We arrive at the YavTav, tucked into the back corner of the Lodge, and find the 40-something capacity venue is at capacity. Luckily, the “45-minute” wait was more of a 15-minute wait, so our famine wasn’t stretched out tooooo long.

Most of the people we met who worked at the Grand Canyon were amazing, and our waiter, Anthony, was no exception. We ordered the nachos and two beers, including a Grand Canyon Wheat for Cal and a Lumberyard IPA for myself. Anthony recommended floating some orange juice in the wheat as a sort of beer mimosa, which we went along with. He also suggested adding the pulled pork, which was first slow-cooked, then pulled, then added back to a slow cooker with BBQ sauce. We were on board.

We devoured it all and didn’t look back. At this point in time, the sun had already set, and we were exhausted, so we decided to call it a night and wake up early to catch sunrise at Mather Point.

That did not happen. Apparently a whole day driving is more exhausting than we thought, especially when it was coupled with attempts to properly warm ourselves from the temperature that dropped down to the low 30s. But, we woke up moderately early, and set out for the rim at Mather Point.

I was truly worried I’d be a widower at the end of this trip.

We once again took the shuttle, as it was not only super convenient, but timely. Once dropped off at the visitor’s center (which is the same stop for Mather Point), we snagged some of the worst coffee we’ve ever had from one of the nicest cashiers we met. After throwing away more than half of the decrepit bean water, we made our way to the rim.

Just like Yosemite’s Tunnel View, Half Dome, Glacier Point, or really any part of Yosemite, no pictures do the Grand Canyon justice. None. It was stunning. As we turned and got our first glimpse, we noticed there was a solid barrier running around the edge. Great. Perfect. In the time it took for us to go down the stairs and across the little plaza, some maniac had somehow gone over/around the barriers, down some rocks, up some rocks, and over a gap in between two rocks to be perched precariously over the precipice below. Looking at him gave me heart palpitations. So I looked away! And in front of me lay a chasm so large it was difficult to comprehend the scope of what I was looking at.

Taking in the sights

 

 

 

 

Now, I’ve seen canyons before, but none that were so wide you could fit cities in between them. Valleys, sure, but canyons? No. This one was. For hundreds of millions of years, the steady stream of the Colorado River has been carving out one of the most spectacular visions I’ve seen yet.

Layer after layer, eon after eon has been exposed, with the colored stripes becoming even more inspiring when you realize you are looking back through time. Holy shit.

We decided to walk the two+ miles from Mather Point to the Hopi House, stopping at the Yavapai Point and Geology Museum along the way. Just after the Geology Museum is the Trail of Time, a lovely paved path with exhibits and very shiny rocks from the canyon below on display. On the ground are markers to tell you how “far back in time” you’ve passed. Make sure to look up, though, as there were several stunning vistas along the way, too.

Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number

After we reached Hopi House, we decided to finish the rest of the trail to Hermit’s Rest the next day, and hopped on the shuttle back to our site for dinner, which is described in more detail HERE.

Day two of GCNP saw us going back to Hopi Point and heading West along the rim towards Hermit’s Rest, which is quite the journey. Well, it would be on foot. We opted for a shuttle ride to Maricopa Point, but walked a majority of the way to Hermit’s Rest, where more shitty coffee was had, along with the most satisfying Clif Bar I’ve ever had.

Probably not normal to see a hand pop up.

We decided to hit up YavTav one more time while we formulated our plans for sunset. Over an amazing salad and a tasty burger, we picked Hopi Point, which offered stunning views of the canyon for miles on either side.

As we set up our prime location for some fun shots, we overheard some sunset tour bus drivers explain that the tiniest little notch we could see on the rim was actually the Devil’s Watchtower, a 5-story building that, at 25 miles away, was barely discernable. I was dumbfounded. Not even looking at the Grand Canyon directly can give you a true impression of the sheer scale of grandeur.

Sunset at Hopi Point

We witnessed an amazing sunset, I suppose as perfect as it could be. As the sun dropped below the horizon, the cloudy sky glowed with an electric fury, which lit the canyon up in stunning violets and burning reds. We sat and stared. All you can do is stare, and every time you dart your eyes to see a new angle, it’s an entirely different experience. Just absolutely stunning.

As we headed back to camp for some snacks, we decided to see what we could do to get some star shots over the canyon before the moon rose and flooded out the glory of the milky way. I am so glad we did, but I admit, it was TERRIFYING.

As we approached Mather Point, there was an eerie calm. Gone were the spastic children running around their befuddled parents. Gone were the birds and lizards. All that remained was silence and darkness. We made our way along the trail using our red LED headlamps, but when we got to the point, we had to switch to white light to ensure we didn’t go toppling off the edge and secure ourselves a Darwin Award.

Somehow, all my thought took on the voice of Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Once settled into a spot, we were back into night mode, where again, you are confronted with the vastness. This time not just of the canyon in front of you, but the space above. The thrilling site of the stars, with the first hint of moonrise on the horizon, was enough to help you realize how absolutely small, and how immensely beautiful our planet is. Again, I couldn’t take a picture to do it any real justice. As hard as I try, I lack the words that can truly capture how magnificent the entire experience was.

Back at the tent, I just sat there, incredulous that I had just witnessed that level of vast nothingness. A smile broke across my lips, though, as I realized that the sun’s first light would once again illuminate the canyon below, replacing the vast darkness above with the radiant colors of the canyon below.

Mather Point in the morning

 

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Easy Camp Reviews

Sunset from Hopi Point

Prior to our recent trip to the Grand Canyon, some very amazing PR people working with Easy Camp asked if we were interested in a real-life field test/review of some of their product.

We got ourselves checked in with the wonderfully helpful ranger and hit up campsite 266B. While it is a decent size, a majority of the site is rocky, with a spot of dirt perfectly fitted for the shiny new Galaxy 400 tent we got from Easy Camp.

Good night, Moon. Wait, I think that was Venus. My bad.

This is where you can tell that we were not paid for this review: setting this thing up SUCKED. The instructions were as minimal as Ikea furniture, but without any of the goofy illustrations to at least give you an idea of what you are supposed to do. We’ve set up our share of tents before, but never one where you put up the fly first and then the tent. Images/better instructions would have saved us a bunch of time, effort, and exasperated noises made at each other.

For example, there is a ground cover for the little patio area, and it has a notch in one side. Does it go in the front? Back? One of the sides? The answer is right next to the front of the tent, as a stake from the tent needs to go right through the notch. We discovered this after we staked it backwards, unstaked it, and re-staked it correctly. Oh, and those straps that were on the top when we unfolded it? They definitely go on the bottom. Honestly, Easy Camp, just add some doodles to help us out. We had no service to watch your “tutorial,” which also isn’t that great.

Having said all that, the tent, once put up, was absolutely worth it. Honestly, once set up, it’s GREAT. It felt as sturdy as our Teton Sports tent, but was tall enough for me to stand up in and get changed in (I’m just shy of 6’). There was plenty of space for us to lay out, and have our bags in there. What we called our front porch was a perfect size for a couple camp chairs, the cooler, and any food or gear we wanted to keep from some very brazen ravens. There were a couple of windows in the front, as well as one in the back. I’d also like to commend Easy Camp on the sheer number of stakes they offer, even if they are the thin metal ones that I’m not a huge fan of. Especially when we bent three of them trying to stake through some random rocks beneath the surface.

While we often go for a big batch of chili, we opted for foil-wrapped meal pouches, partly because they are a great way to minimize dishes and pans to be washed, but mostly because we wanted an excuse to review the Easy Camp Sarin Camp Kitchen.

What’s taters, Precious?

Since we knew we might not eat the healthiest food around the park, we went with chicken breast with a seasoning of ginger, garlic, turmeric, and curry powder, potatoes, and salt and peppered green beans. As we usually do, we made the seasoning blends before hand in reused plastic seasoning jars.

The Sarin was a pretty solid set-up, with far less of a learning curve as the Galaxy 400. The thing basically unfolds, two of the legs telescope out, and you hang the little shelf unit up. Done and done. Maybeeeeee a minute and a half to set it up, but only that long because we kept trying to look for instructions just in case.  Dinner itself was pretty easy, especially on the Sarin’s prep tables: chop up everything to desired size, wrap in foil, and put on grill. Easy peasy.

I do have to say, with the recent (as of April 13th, 2017) world events, Easy Camp may want to consider renaming this thing.

Cal being a happy camper

Usually for this style of cooking, we have to stack the foil packets on top of each other because the campsite grills that come attached to the firerings at most sites only cover about 1/3 of the fire. In comes Easy Camp review #3: The Easy Camp Campfire Tripod, a three-legged grill that goes directly over the fire.

This bad boy was also super easy to set up, with a little chain that you can use to adjust the distance between the grill and the fire. And, unlike the built-in grill, you can adjust the grill if the fire catches better on a different side.

The last Easy Camp piece we reviewed on the trip was the Duggite, a small, single-button LED lamp that springs open. Other than wishing it had a cute little robot face, it was pretty simple to operate, and bright enough to read by in the tent without being blinding.

Overall, we feel that the Easy Camp instructions leave a lot to be desired to make it live up to it’s namesake, but the products themselves are pretty solid for recreational camping.

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Camp – The Board Game

Cal, her brother, Mahlon, and her mom, Ramona

Last weekend, Cal & I got to take a trip to her parents’ cabin in Big Bear where we hiked, sledded, and played games with the rest of her family (yes, yes, we are TOTALLY spoiled). While we usually play word games like Mad Libs, Apples to Apples, or A2A’s R-rated cousin, Cards Against Humanity, this time around, we played a new-to-us game: Camp: The Board Game.

Well, OBVIOUSLY we were interested in playing a board game based on one of our favorite activities. While the games are a bit short, the gameplay is actually designed to be challenging for both kids and grown-ups.

After picking your animal character (I called dibs on Bruce the Moose while Cal picked Eisenhower the Owl), you roll a single die, where you land on a variety of squares. Should you land on a white set of footprints, your turn is over. However, should you land on green footprints, you get to be asked a question that can earn you another roll. This is where the game difficulty scales up or down.

The question cards offer four levels of nature-based trivia, with levels one and two great for the younger set, and the higher levels appropriately difficult. The questions run the gamut from easy “Which of these birds can’t fly” to questions about fishing lures that I had no clue about (what the heck is a Texas Jig?!).

On top of this, there are some Go to Clubhouse spots that can send you gleefully ahead on the board, or frustratingly backwards on the board. While there’s no trigger to get out of the clubhouse, you do have to read a “fun fact” during your turn. THEN there’s the Compass card and the shortcut, but that you’ll have to play to figure out.

Priced at under $20, it’s definitely a great deal to have some fire-side fun with family and friends. At least until the kids go to sleep and you can pull out Cards Against Humanity and make your in-laws question their daughter’s choice in men.

 

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Product Review – The Cotopaxi Taboche

Cotopaxi Taboche

The Taboche is so hot, snow can’t handle it.

I don’t know how it happened, but I have too many backpacks and not enough backpacks all at once. I have a DaKine that’s alright for a quick hike to hold some snacks, the dogs’ bowl, and a healthy supply of water. I have a small Herschel that’s just fine for running to the coffee shop with my laptop and a couple books. I have a Poler that’s a rugged, every-day sort of beast, but it doesn’t hold THAT much, there’s no sternum/hip straps, and the thick canvas is pretty heavy. My Canon camera backpack just doesn’t hold everything anymore. While each are OK for holding a few things, none of them seem to be able to hold a weekend’s worth of adventure supplies. When Cotopaxi offered to let me try out their 55L backpacking backpack, the Taboche, I eagerly accepted. What’s one more backpack? The answer? EVERYTHING.

Cotopaxi Taboche

Nice day for a hike, don’t you think?

With the recent snow in California’s mountains, I felt it was a good chance to see what the Taboche could do. In went:

My  15″ laptop & charger
A pair of jeans
Two pairs of socks
A pair of underwear
A pair of base layers (one top, one bottom)
A sweater
A scarf
A pair of gloves
Two books (Harry Potter and The Cursed Child and Salt, if you were interested)
Power bank/phone charger
Earbuds
Polaroid camera and a few packs of film
Toiletries (Flonase (WHICH IS THE JAM), deodorant, toothbrush, cologne, etc)
Gozer’s exceptionally adorable camp bandana
Turbo’s exceptionally warm quilted parka

Cotopaxi Taboche

The Taboche in its element.

And I still had room. IT STILL HAD ROOM.

It had room for my tripod.
It had room for my Canon & two zoom lenses. Though, in the interest of gear protection, I traveled with out of the pack.
Two camera batteries & a charger
My camera remote
And it had room for my water bottle in a sweet side pocket.

Poor Cal probably didn’t realize how much stuff I jammed into the backpack, but with the adjustable frame, sternum straps, hip straps, and compression straps galore, she said the weight wasn’t a problem at all. What a champ.

Now, I admit, while up in wonderful town of Big Bear, CA, I wouldn’t be roughing it by any means. We have regular access to a cabin owned by Cal’s parents; the aptly named Tranquility Base. As such, I didn’t try to go through and load the Taboche up with Jet Boils and TP and food and all the other necessities of backpacking, but I can tell you, based on the superfluous amount of crap I brought up, the Taboche is up to the task. AND, it’s sooooo pretty.

While it may not be quite the everyday renaissance (wo)man I am still looking for, it sure as heck is an amazing pack for weekends away from home (especially if you’re sleeping under the stars). If you’re looking for a mid-sized backpacking pack, I highly recommend giving the Taboche a try.

Cotopaxi Taboche

Cal looking mighty pleased with 3,457lbs strapped to her back.

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2016 Holiday Gift Guide

Oh, Christmas, that ode to a gross commercialization of pagan and Christian holidays that everyone finds absolutely disgusting. All the fighting for the latest fad toy that no one will remember in a year. All the worry of whether or not your niece already has a copy of Harry Potter or not. Who are we kidding, even if you are a Grinch with a heart of coal, Christmas rules. Holiday parties rule. Hot chocolate rules. The absolute lack of sub-zero temperatures in Southern California rules. Getting presents rules. And finally, giving presents rules. What doesn’t rule? Trying to pick stuff out. Don’t worry, we have fun (and often times tasty) options for you!

CAFFEINEEEEEE

Caffeine is always a solid choice. A giant bag of whole beam coffee says “I know your schedule rarely allows for sleep, but I want you to stay up and hang out with me.” And, like craft breweries, coffee roasters seem to be popping up all over the place. As such, I recommend grabbing as locally as you can. For me, that’s the bad boys over at Wild Goose Coffee here in Redlands, CA. They even have a Christmas blend ($17.50), offering subtle flavors that I will promptly be overpowering with some coconut-flavored almond milk.


Smells like “Cactus, Oranges, and Ocean.” That works for me.

I used to think that candles were my family’s way of saying “your room stinks, please refrain from offending my nostrils any further.” Now, I just looked around and see nine candles in my living room alone. I admit that I am generally pretty set in my candle-scent ways. I like both pine-scented and orange-scented wads of wax, mostly because they remind me of the smells of Southern California. Would you look at that? Homesick Candles ($30) makes candles playing to that exact sort of nostalgia. Their geographically themed candles base their scents on various states (and half states, as is the case with Northern/Southern California), offering an ability to reminisce through aromatherapy.


Another gift that screams, “Here you go, stinky, have something to hide your stinky” is cologne. Now, I know, I know, these kinds of things are generally subjective, but if you are reading this fine website, you may well be on board with Juniper Ridge‘s line of nature-inspired scents. I have had a bottle of their Sierra Granite Backpacker Cologne ($60) for a while, and I love using that ish. I get to stink to high heavens of pine trees while sitting in my little office in the corner of a window-less room. Awesome.


LOOK HOW CUTE THE LITTLE SKULL IS!

I think gifting particularly useful items is a GREAT idea. But then again, I think most of my ideas are great. Another great idea? California recently banned plastic bags in our grocery stores, which truly is amazing. But, even as wholly on-board as I am, I found myself consistently forgetting my reusable bags. Until I started actually keeping a couple Chico Bags ($6+) in my car. They hold a whole bunch more than disposable bags and fold up into their own little stuff sack. HOW CUTE! Now I am a glowing icon of environmentalism. Captain Planet ain’t got nothing on me. I’m particularly partial to my Stone Brewing Chico Bag. Now people can know that I drink amazing beer while caressing Mother Nature’s bosom.


Give your feet hugs with each step!

I don’t know when it happened, but it has definitely happened: I love getting socks as gifts. From crazy socks with flying pizza slices to plain wool socks that keep my little feetsies nice and toasty. And I recently found out about Feetures. ($15-$17) I’ll admit, “Merino Wool” didn’t really mean anything to me. What should be on the tag is “these socks are made of warm pillows,” because that’s what it feels like. My wife got a pair for some trail hikes and immediately wanted a wide array to keep her toes blister-free. Get these for people you like, even if (especially) if that person is yourself.


I’m on a boat.

I’ve been a proud owner of a variety Chucks, low-tops, hi-tops, black, teal, green, different black, and blue. But now, I have water-resistant ones! These Counter-Climate bad boys have a protective coating on the outside coupled with some kind of awesome neoprene booties on the inside. At first I thought, “Well, these look great, but it’s not like we get a lot of weather in SoCal,” but then I remembered that the ocean was an hour away and decided to take them on a boat. Not only did I not go overboard, but they were simultaneously comfortable and stylish. I can tell you first hand that you should get these. I mean, gift these. Or both.


Scotchy Scotch Scotch

“It’s amazing. Like drinking smoked leather.” While my wife was showed a true revulsion to this statement, you Scotch lovers will know what I’m talking about. From the Isle of Islay, Ardbeg’s 10 year is the top of the line when it comes to entry-level Scotch. But the Uigeadail ($80), this is the good stuff. When Ron Burgandy proclaimed his love of Scotch, he was probably drinking this. If your friend of family likes smokey, peaty goodness, get them this. If they don’t, get yourself a bottle instead.


Liquid gold.

If you want to keep your whiskey dollars in America, let’s do it right with the Bulleit Cask Strength Bourbon ($50). See, when whiskey distillers age their amber ambrosia, that stuff comes out of the barrel all kinds of inconsistent. Usually, the production team will water it back down to 80 proof (40%), but in cask strength, they give you the full dose, with each batch being a different ABV. If you think Bourbon is stiff at a standard proof, wait until you get yourself a bottle of straight hooch that is cask strength.


If your friends are going to try to hike away the calories of the fine whiskies you just bought them online, they may also need to keep warm this winter. Enter the Cotopaxi Kusa Bomber ($150). I mean, LOOK AT THIS THING. You can do some kind of ninja moves (according to this picture), chop some wood (probably, I haven’t tried it), but definitely sip some more whiskey after your exceptionally active adventures. PLUS, this bad boy is made with llama fleece, which keeps you, I mean, the gift’s recipient, warm while being lightweight. Which comes in handy when you’re a freaking dock ninja.


©Earl Harper

If you know of someone that regularly runs headlong into wilderness escapes, but comes back exhausted from the weight of an entire kitchen in their pack, try getting them the MSR PocketRocket™ Stove Kit ($100). The entire thing weighs just under 25 oz., but contains a stove, a pot, 2 bowls, 2 mugs, a strainer lid, and even 2 freaking sporks. That’s awesome. In case anyone I know is reading this, this would be an acceptable gift for me. For real.


Cal models the Buff in Yosemite.

If you know of, or are a person who would head off into a multi-day camping adventure, then you, or they, may also want a Buff headwear. It’s basically a tube of comfort and protection for your delicate noggin. Offering UV protection at the same time it keeps sweat out of your eyes, the Buff can be worn in a variety of ways. Yes, including “cover your whole face and try to freak out the dogs,” which, by the way, usually ends with some claw marks upon your person. Dogs don’t like the game of “cover your whole face and try to freak out the dogs.” There’s a cool series of National Parks Buffs ($25), which are awesome.


I model The New Primal Beef Jerky

Of course, there are stocking stuffers to consider. Just kidding, you don’t have to think about it, because I’m here to tell you: preserved meats make a helluva gift. Unless the giftee is a vegetarian. Then they are terrible gifts. But for everyone else, they are a great gift. Recently, my doctor told me “HEY, CHUNKY MONKEY, TIME TO LAY OFF THE BEEF.” That’s EXACTLY how he said it, too. At the time, I was bummed about the recent removal of beef jerky as my favorite snack, until the wonderful people of The New Primal Beef Jerky ($2/stick) sent me a wonderful gift pack that included TURKEY JERKY. Admittedly, I was super concerned about the idea. Is this going to be cooked? I’m I going to get tummy troubles? My worries were not warranted, as this stuff was fantastic. Now, if you want beef jerky, or even maple bacon pork jerky sticks, they have those, too. No sodium, nitrates, or preservatives are added, so even if I went behind my doctor’s back and grabbed some beef jerky, I wouldn’t feel THAT bad.

 

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Skip the Chaos & #OptOutside

 

REI Opt OutsideThank Mother Earth/God/Buddha/Krishna/Allah/Whoever for REI. Once upon a time, I worked in retail, which required working Black Friday for over a decade. It was THE WORST. Droves of hyper-aggressive grandmothers steamrolling anyone in their path to get their favorite grand-kid the hottest and most forgettable toy. Grotesque.

Sunrise

Not a bad sunrise, amirite?

Last year, REI shrugged off the traditional Black Friday marketing approach of slashed prices and doorbusters by telling every one of their customers to go away. Go away to the mountains. Go away to the beaches. Go away to any number of National Parks, State Parks, wherever. Just don’t go shopping. Instead, Opt Outside. Last year, I answered their call. Hell, my whole family did. Myself, the wife, the dogs, the in-laws, and even the inlaws’ dogs all found ourselves still waking up at 5am, but this time in the middle of the Mojave National Preserve.

We weren’t surrounded by hordes of mothers, crazed with the idea of paying half-price for a coffee maker. Nor did we see masses of middle-aged men manhandling each other to get a power tool for $25. Instead, we woke to crisp air, which quickly became scented with the coffee and bacon we had picked up along the way. With dogs at my feet, coffee in hand, and bacon in belly, we sat around an early fire (the desert is REALLY cold during the holidays, mind you) and talked. LIKE A FAMILY.

Are you achin' for some bacon?

Are you achin’ for some bacon?

And we’re going to do it again. And I hope you do, too. And now you have more of a reason to, as well as more than 275 companies are coming together to do good across the nation. REI’s closing its 149 stores for the day, instead telling everyone to GTFOutside. Kühl Clothing is shutting their single retail store down, putting “trails before sales,” a helluva tagline if I ever heard one. The National Parks Service, The Sierra Club, Big Agnes, Keen Footwear, PrAna (who make, hands down, the most comfortable pair of shorts ever constructed, the Zion stretch), and Meetup are all pushing their fans and customers to get out of the stores and into nature.

And, in total YESSSSSS-ness, Subaru, the champs they are, are sending out an armada of vehicles to take New York City shelter dogs away from the cold steel environment they’re used to and getting them out of the (dog)house for the day. Now, that’s a job I wouldn’t mind giving up a Friday for.

While we haven’t determined where to go, yet, we know we’re not hanging out with the rabid retail crowd. I hope you decide to #optoutside, too.

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Introducing Bristlecone Journal

Hello, there. I know what you’re thinking “Oh, good, another outdoorsy/artsy/homestead-y blog with beautiful images, instilling a sense that I should probably either get out of the house more or invite others into it. A blog full of fun information, gear reviews, fun food, tasty libations, and in insane amount of dogs for no good reason.”

Well, if that’s what you were thinking, you nailed it. Allow me to introduce the crew.

thanksgiving2015090

 
I’m Jonathan, but I usually go by my last name of Yost. One, there’s too many Johns, Jons, and Jonathans in the world, and two, I can make all kinds of puns out of it. Yoster Strudel. Pacific Yost Highway. Yostage Stamps. I could go on forever. The beautiful woman next to me is Cal. She does not go by our last name, which is probably for the best. She’s one of the funniest, smartest, and most talented people I know.

The dog on the left is Gozer the Destructor, one of the goofiest huskies you’ll ever want to meet. Which leaves Turbo, who somehow manages to look at you with both sheer love & devotion while at the same time looking like he is judging the living hell out of you. We’re a good group.

We often find ourselves exploring our corner of heaven, I mean California. We’re close to beaches, mountains, deserts, and freeways that lead directly to as many adventures as we can handle, so we’re pretty stoked on that. But, sometimes we find ourselves at home, where we have gardens instead of lawns, and picnic tables instead of a back porch, perfect for weekend get-togethers. Not too shabby, right? Well, we invite you to join us on some of these adventures, both at home and out and about. On the way, we’ll point out some of our favorite places, people, and things, take some pictures, and try to sneak in a joke or two. Come on, let’s do this.