The Fat Hiker

The Fat Hiker

Gear. Trails. Food.

Heavy Hiker Trails in the PNW: Talapus Lake

I recently visited this trail again and it’s one of my favorite novice hikes. It can be done relatively quickly and it features multiple ecosystems, some small stream crossings, and…

I recently visited this trail again and it’s one of my favorite novice hikes. It can be done relatively quickly and it features multiple ecosystems, some small stream crossings, and it’s got one killer view of Talapus Lake at the end.

This trail will also introduce new hikers to the “switchback” concept of trail design. To make the uphill trek of elevation gain easier, trails are cut in a zig-zag formation up the side of a mountain to make traversing upwards less laborious. Don’t get me wrong, uphill is still, well, uphill, but this approach makes the going easier. This trail also has a feature that Heavy Hikers will particularly enjoy, which I’ll describe later. Let’s get into it.

Talapus Lake Trail, in the Snoqualmie Region, WA

This hike is a well maintained out and back trek through the southern Mt. Baker/Snoqualmie National Forest that clocks in about 3.9 miles, with 720 feet of elevation gain. You begin from the trailhead on wide, well-manicured walking paths through covered forest. As you ascend to the taller sections of the hike, you’ll encounter Talapus Creek to your right. The trail gets a bit rockier through here, so be aware of where your feet fall.

Well Maintained Trails

 After the first set of switchbacks, there are several great spots to rest and take pictures. One particular spot is a collection of rocks on the left side of the trail where I like to take pictures of my adventurous wife, who can never turn down a chance to climb things (if you do this, please be careful).

Gets a bit rockier here…

After this point, the trail gets muddier, so you might want to rock some waterproof shoes or boots, though I wouldn’t consider them necessary. You’ll cross a few streams here. Nothing big, and as I visited here in October of 2017, the WTA was making progress on some bridges and turnpikes to level out the path and keep you out of the water.

A bridge makes crossing streams easier.

Finally, you come to Talapus Lake on the left hand side of the trail. It’s pure beauty. Have fun walking out on the timber on the south shoreline, snagging some pics. My dog, Bronko, likes to fetch sticks in the lake. This is a great spot to chill and have a snack. When you’re finished, just head back the way you came. Be aware of the downhill nature of the trek back. My steps become heavier and I tend to pick up speed as I plod down the path. This is also a good spot to mention proper trail etiquette, which states that you must always yield to the uphill hiker, so if you encounter someone on your way back, make sure you give them the right-of-way on their hike up the mountain.

Step carefully on the fallen trees.

Make sure you post your Northwest Forest Pass, or your America the Beautiful Interagency Pass in your window before you head out on the trail, and make sure you keep your furry friend on a leash.

So, you’ve made it to Talapus Lake. You’ve seen something beautiful. But wait. You’ve still got something left in the tank. And here now, we have come to why I love this hike for my overweight trail novices. If you’re up to it, continue just 1.2 miles further up the mountain and you’ll come to the absolutely fantastic Olallie Lake. Olallie Lake is a larger, more fantastic prize at the end of this trail. It’s more uphill aggressive, but it’s a great spot for overnight camping, which makes this hike a great gear-testing trip. If you go the whole way, this becomes a 6.2 mile hike with 1220 feet of elevation gain, which is quite the accomplishment for the new hiker.

When I first started hiking, I wanted to find a way to accomplish a goal, and then see if I could push myself… just a little further. That being said, on this trail, I don’t mind turning around at Talapus Lake, too. So, accomplish a goal and turn around, or challenge yourself to go higher. Either way, you’ll be proud of the progress you’ve made. For a more detailed description of this hike, plus current trail condition reports, check out the WTA website. Happy heavy hiking.

No Comments on Heavy Hiker Trails in the PNW: Talapus Lake

Dollars & Sense, Part One: Sleeping Bags

When outfitting someone for the first time, I have this steady piece of wisdom that I always impart on my newest clients: don’t buy all this stuff today. I don’t…

When outfitting someone for the first time, I have this steady piece of wisdom that I always impart on my newest clients: don’t buy all this stuff today. I don’t care if you can afford it. Before I get you to the register, my goal is to make you confident in your purchases, and I can only do that if you trust me when I say that outfitting is a life-long pursuit. I own enough gear for three hikers (okay, five hikers, but who’s counting) and I’m still always on the lookout for the newest advances in outdoor equipment.

That being said, I always approach outfitting from a personal place. There are three areas I focus on, before all others:

  • My pack
  • My footwear
  • My sleep system (sleeping bag & sleeping pad)

My process is simple. If I can’t carry my gear, step comfortably, and sleep well, then I will be a grumpy hiker. I can deal with bad food. I can handle adverse weather conditions. But if I can’t carry my weight load, walk without pain, or get a full night’s rest, well, let’s just say you wouldn’t want to run into me on the trail.

I will also be talking to my fellow Heavy Hikers, who might have trouble slipping into a thermal efficient mummy-style sleeping bag. I’m a big guy and I sleep on my side or on my stomach, which means I’m a tornado in the tent. I am also a warm-natured sleeper, so I tend to need to vent my bag throughout the night. With these factors in mind, I give you the NEMO Salsa sleeping bag:

NEMO Salsa 30

This is a 30-degree bag (which means you’ll be comfortable at that ambient temperature) with a “spoon” design that allows for more hip and elbow room. It’s also packable and lightweight for backpacking. It’s got a killer yoke (the little bit of fabric around the neck area to tuck you in) and is easily vent-able for those late night bouts of heat. The biggest feature about this bag is that it doesn’t feel too tight. I tend to get claustrophobic in mummy-style bags and I’ve never had that problem in my NEMO. Plus, this bag has a 650 down fill, which makes it a steal at this price point. I own a similar bag from NEMO that’s a bit older than this one and it’s my go-to bag for most of my outings.

Next up is the Marmot NanoWave 45:

Marmot NanoWave 45

I also own this bag for my summer backpacking trips, or if I’m going fast and light. It’s absurdly packable, shrinking down to about the size of a Nerf football (see the featured image of this article) in its included stuff sack. But beware, it lacks the comfort of the NEMO and the fill is synthetic, which also explains the low price. It’s also a bit tighter fit, but still roomy enough to not be considered a mummy bag.

Finally, I’ve included the North Face Dolomite for my big and tall hikers who still love the old school square bags.

The North Face Dolomite 30

It’s heavy (4.4 lbs) and it isn’t as packable, but if you’re just looking for a solid bag with a bunch of room for some fun weekend car camping, this bag gets the job done.

I want to end with a word of caution. Choosing a sleeping bag is a fiercely personal process. There has yet to be a bag invented that fits every body type, or that addresses every personal sleeping style, or that serves everyone’s individual uses. This will be a process of trial and error.

Also, try not to skim dollars in this area. I promise, that first restless, sleepless night on the trail, you won’t be thinking about that $60 you saved. Worse yet, you might not want to get back out there. Take time to try these bags on at your local outfitter and if you’re buying online, be immediately prepared to ship it right on back BEFORE you take it out on the trail. I want you to have the same wonderful experiences that I’ve had outdoors, so make sure you take absolute care in this particular area of your pack. And, food for thought, never store your bags in their stuff sacks long term. Stuff sacks are for temporary storage while hiking. Either hang your sleeping bag up or store them in a larger bag so you don’t compress the fill permanently. Happy heavy hiking.

No Comments on Dollars & Sense, Part One: Sleeping Bags

The Ten Essentials

There’s this moment I get to share with every first-timer I pack fit. We’ve discussed the kind of hiking they want to do. I’ve measured them. I’ve gone through a…

There’s this moment I get to share with every first-timer I pack fit. We’ve discussed the kind of hiking they want to do. I’ve measured them. I’ve gone through a few pack options and shared some of my experiences on the trail. I’ve put them in front of a mirror and shown them all the ways a pack should fit and feel. And then it comes, this moment where they’re holding their new pack, confident in the choice we’ve made together. Our eyes meet, and without saying a word, I know the next question that’s burning in their heart: “What the hell do I put in this thing?”

It never fails.

No trip is safe without the Ten Essentials. I know it sounds dramatic, but it’s the simple truth. I’ve heard too many stories about how having, or sadly, not having the Ten Essentials, has decided life or death on the trail.

Before we get too deep into what they are, I want to explain the motivation behind this list. The concept is simple: if anything goes wrong out on your trip, and you’re forced to delay your return, these ten things will keep you alive for at least 24 hours in the wild. That’s it. Humbly, you don’t have any business being outdoors without these items. Let’s get into it.

Navigation

A current map of the area you’re hiking in and a compass. Your compass doesn’t have to be fancy, just accurate and you should know how to use it with your map.

This Suunto compass can also double as an emergency signaling mirror.

Sun Protection

This should be in the form of sunglasses and sunscreen. I also carry lip balm and I always have a hat. There are also clothes out there with UV ratings that can help, too.

Insulation

Always bring clothes that can layer with your current outfit. I like to at least bring a fleece jacket and a rain shell. When in doubt, just make sure you’re bringing enough clothes to survive the coldest weather you will encounter that season and in your area, over night.

Illumination

I never leave without at least two options for light, specifically in the form of a headlamp and a handheld flashlight. Also make sure you bring enough back up batteries for both.

First Aid

A simple, small kit will do. Just make sure if you have any special needs (prescriptions, EpiPen, etc.) that you take them into account. Make sure you can stop bleeding and dress a wound. Also include insect repellent in your kit.

Fire

Stormproof matches in a waterproof case. Include a windproof lighter, as well. I’ll also pack some tinder (paper, wood chips, etc.)

I’ve only used UCO matches.

Repair Kit/Tools

You should be able to temporarily fix anything that you bring with you. I carry a multitool with a folding blade, and a fixed blade knife with a full tang (the metal of the blade travels all the way through the handle). I use the folding knife for delicate cuts to repair gear or to dress a wound. I use my fixed blade knife to break up firewood or anything else that requires more force. My repair kits always include zip ties and duct tape, and a small sewing kit. And if there’s something you can’t fix in your pack, bring a backup.

The SIGNAL includes a fire starter and a whistle.

Nutrition

In addition to the food you’ll need on your hike, you should have another entire day’s rations with you. Meal bars are best here because they don’t require cooking or refrigeration. They also only weigh about 3 oz and and pack a whopping 300 calories, enough to replace an entire meal, if necessary. Check out my article, Meal Bars: The Lazy Hiker’s Best Friend, for more info.

Hydration

If you’re traveling near water, make sure you have a water filter that can remove particulates, bacteria, and protozoa. If you’re not near water, it is recommended that you have at least two liters of water per day on you.

Emergency Shelter

This can be as elaborate as a full tent or as simple as a reflective emergency blanket.

I also keep one of these in my car.

I apologize for the serious tone of this post, but I want to make sure that while you’re out there seeing nature, that you respect what nature can do. It’s your responsibility to be prepared when you step out on a hike because the environment never takes you into account. I will also be releasing a series of short posts that go into further details about the gear I like to round out my Ten Essentials with more specificity soon. Happy heavy hiking.

6 Comments on The Ten Essentials

Meal Bars: The Lazy Hiker’s Best Friend

As a fat guy, I get sensitive when people start suggesting food to me. I listen to what they have to say and I know they mean well, but admittedly,…

As a fat guy, I get sensitive when people start suggesting food to me. I listen to what they have to say and I know they mean well, but admittedly, I start feeling self-conscious and defensive. It’s not their fault when they mention that what they want me to try is “low-cal” or “nutritious.” All I hear is, “Hey chub-chub, stop eating Cheetos and bacon and lose some weight. Your appearance makes me uncomfortable.” I know this is me filtering what other people say through myself, but I won’t  digress. I am what time and circumstance have made me and the chip on my shoulder is staying right where it is (until I get hungry and eat it :-).

So I’m not going to talk to you about weight loss. That’s not why I started writing about hiking. I started writing about hiking because nothing brings me more joy than seeing a fellow heavy hiker on the trail. And do you wanna hear the best part about this topic? Foods higher in calories are actually suggested on hikes. That’s right! You have to keep your caloric intake high to help your body recover from your exertion. By eating peanut butter by the spoonful, I’ve been prepping to be a hiker my whole life and didn’t even know it!

Specifically, meal bars are for meal replacement. So if your stove is just too far down in your pack, these guys are a great alternative to cooking. My lunch break is exactly that: a break. And I’m not busting out the cookware for my midday rest. They have enough calories to take the place of a full meal, so keep that in mind when your planning your day. They usually weigh about 3 oz and contain about 300 calories. If you’re just looking for a quick snack, there are other products out there besides meal bars and I’m planning another post about those options soon.

So let’s talk meal bars. I’m going to start with my favorites and move down the list.

Bobo’s

I love these little guys. They’re flavorful and tasty. The different varieties actually taste discernible and unique. They’re also gluten free and dairy free, which I like. Personally, the Cinnamon Raisin is hard to beat. For my money, Bobo’s are also the most economical because they are actually two servings in one package, basically making them half the cost of other meal bars.

ProBar Meal Bars

ProBar has been around a long time and they’re a staple out on the trail. The flavors are diverse and creative and they are a solid source of protein, which you’ll need for muscle recovery. I like the Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip one the best. They are a little higher in fiber, so if your diet is fiber sensitive, be aware. These meal bars are nutrient-dense for long lasting energy and nourishment. Also important, ProBar has a lot of products out there and not all of them are meal bars. Some are energy bars, protein bars, etc. Make sure you know what you’re buying.

GoMacro Macrobar

I’m no vegan, but these bars taste good. And if you’re looking for an all-natural option with no refined sugars, these are the best meal bars that I’ve encountered. I dig the “Cherries + Berries” bar. The GoMacro isn’t as tasty as the previous options, but they’re loaded with antioxidants and vitamin C, and they’re also a solid source of protein and fiber. The vegans got one right this time.

All of these bars are organic and keep for a pretty long time, which means they can also get a little dry, so make sure you’ve got your water bottle close by to help wash them down. This is the nature of all meal bars, but these are the least dry that I’ve encountered.

It’s important to remember that I’m a sensitive guy and my weight has been the emotional lightning rod of my life. I hope, however, that you can benefit from this character flaw. I hope you can trust that these suggestions have less to do with you losing weight (which if you do, great, if not, that’s great, too), and more to do with how happy I am that you’re eating one of these bars while sitting on a rock overlooking an alpine blue lake, shouldered in by a sea of swaying green trees. I’m so glad you read this post. Happy heavy hiking.

4 Comments on Meal Bars: The Lazy Hiker’s Best Friend

Heavy Hiker Trails in the PNW: Franklin Falls

When I first started hiking, my biggest concern was being able to physically complete a trail. As an overweight hiker, these were my concerns: It can’t be too far It…

When I first started hiking, my biggest concern was being able to physically complete a trail. As an overweight hiker, these were my concerns:

  • It can’t be too far
  • It can’t be too difficult
  • If I get hurt, I want to be able to find help
  • I don’t want to be a burden on my hiking buddy, or I want to be able to go on my own

Even though I am able to go further and higher now, I still remember having two personal goals: I wanted to see wonderful things and, most importantly, I wanted to complete the entire hike. I wanted to accomplish something that everyone else took for granted.

So now, keeping all this in mind, these are the factors I consider when choosing a first-timer day hike for a fellow heavy hiker:

  • Length of the trail (1-2 miles)
  • Elevation gain (0-500 ft)
  • Other hiker traffic (moderate to heavy)
  • Something pretty to see at the end (waterfall, scenic view, etc.)

This last point is key. Having a fantastic reward at the end is what can turn a moderately interested “newb” into a trail junkie for life. Franklin Falls is just that kind of trail.

Franklin Falls Trail, in North Bend, WA

It is a well maintained, out and back, 2 mile hike with a beautiful waterfall at the end. The total elevation gain is only 360 ft and the grade is light and steady in, which makes the hike back to the car downhill and chill. The trail also makes contact with the road midway through, so you don’t have to worry about being out in the wilderness for too long. 

Well Groomed Trails & Paths

Summer Views

Hikers Enjoying the Falls

What I like most about this trail is that it keeps on giving. If you’re just starting out, this trail is best traveled from March to October, but if you’re prepared to strap on some MICROspikes or Yaktrax, visit this place in December. The Falls freeze, and an absolutely beautiful wall of ice forms on the cliffside. So visit this place in the Spring, then, after a few more hikes under you, come back in the Winter.

The Falls in Winter

Make sure you bring your Northwest Forest Parking Pass or your America the Beautiful Interagency Pass for parking, and keep your puppies on a leash. 

I hope to post more trail reviews soon, and if you have any favorites, I’d like to hear from you. They don’t have to be in the Pacific Northwest. Also, click here for a link to a more detailed description from the folks at Washington Trails Association. They can give you driving details and additional info. Happy heavy hiking!

2 Comments on Heavy Hiker Trails in the PNW: Franklin Falls

The Best Gear You’re Not Using, Part One: Trekking Poles

I am a heavy hiker, which means I’m always on the lookout for gear that makes my trek through the wilderness easier. For my money, trekking poles aren’t just a…

I am a heavy hiker, which means I’m always on the lookout for gear that makes my trek through the wilderness easier. For my money, trekking poles aren’t just a luxury; they’re a necessity.

There are a few immediate uses for trekking poles:

• Better balance
• Crossing streams or rough terrain
• Leverage when traveling uphill

But for the novice, out-of-shape hiker, trekking poles have particular benefits that will not only improve your ability to trek further and higher, they’ll help reduce your early frustrations with the outdoors. This is key. I see too many of my fellow full-figured hikers give up in muted madness because they weren’t outfitted with the right gear. So let’s talk about why you need trekking poles.

Better for Your Body

Let’s be clear, I don’t like to exercise. However, I still have a passion for getting out and seeing nature’s beauty, so I’ve learned how to experience the outdoors while still putting the least amount of strain on my body. Using trekking poles are the best way to reduce the strain of hiking on your lower joints (knees, ankles) and they also lower fatigue on your leg muscles, which is the muscle group we rely most on when we’re outdoors.

They also help keep your body in a natural rhythm by moving your hands and keeping them elevated to more efficiently help blood circulation and respiration. This elevated position of the hands also reduces your overall fatigue and lessens the swelling in your upper extremities. Less blood pooling in the hands, even during a short day hike, is a good thing.

Weight distribution is another physical benefit. Trekking poles can reduce the weight your legs are taking on, especially in an uphill situation. If you’ve cursed as many staircases as I have, you’ll like this feature. By including your arms in the haul you’re likely to take up to 25% of the load off your lower body. I like to think of them as a railing that’s following me every step I take.

Trekking Poles are not Just for Trekking

Some lightweight backpackers (a term used to describe all sizes of hikers that choose to carry as little as possible) shed poles to lower the amount of gear they carry, but I can usually change their mind when they realize how versatile trekking poles can be. There are a number of tents out there that utilize trekking poles in the place of tent poles, like the Scout 2 UL from Big Agnes.

Big Agnes Scout 2

This tent only weighs 1lb 15oz, and is a far cry lighter than some other structures out there on the market. I own an older version of this tent and it’s the first thing I grab when I’m traveling fast and light.

Brandy & Bronko in my Scout

A better look inside, with Brandy & Wrigley

Another tent like this is the Breeze Mesh Tent.

Breeze Mesh Tent

It’s considerably cheaper and weighs an absurd 24oz. But beware: it’s lighter because it doesn’t include a rain cover. So if you’re backpacking through an area that isn’t rainy and you’re like me and you get pretty warm at night, this breezy structure is perfect for you. Both of these tents also take up way less space in your pack than a traditional structure.

Personally, I’ve used my poles to prop my pack upright during a break, making it easier to access items and keep it out of the dirt. I’ve used them to dry recently cleaned clothes when trees for clotheslines aren’t convenient. I’ve even used them to shoo away a curious fox from a campsite (a story for another time). And if you do find yourself doing a bit of potty business in the wilderness, a trekking pole is a great way of indicating to another hiker that you might be around the corner in a “compromising pose.”

Gear Talk

I am a big fan of the Black Diamond Trail Pro Shocks.

My Black Diamond Trekking Pole

These aluminum poles feature shock absorbing cushions that reduce vibrations traveling through your wrists and elbows. They are adjustable for nearly every size hiker and they have a really solid locking mechanism, which is important for strength, longevity of use, and they are easy to operate. I’ve had mine for about three years now and I never leave the gear garage without them.

If you’re not prepared to drop over $100 for your first pair of poles, Cascade Mountain Tech makes a 100% carbon fiber trekking pole with a quick lock.

Cascade Mountain Tech CF Trekking Poles

They’re considerably lighter, but the locking mechanisms aren’t as reliable and you’re giving up some material strength (carbon fiber is weaker than aluminum). But they cost less than $50, so if you’re curious about a lightweight trekking pole this is a cheap way to check them out.

On a humble side note, try not to spend too little on trekking poles. Cheap poles are more likely to fail and they can ruin your trip. Remember, you’re relying on these guys to support your weight from the trailhead and back again. If you’re a hiker on a budget, I can help you find the dollars somewhere else in your pack.

The Summit

I’ve saved the most important benefits of trekking poles for last: rest and confidence. Whenever I’m in the middle of a nasty slag up a series of switchbacks and I need a rest, I stop, step just off trail, lean hard onto my poles, and I catch my breath. When I’m ready, I gather myself up and start back to conquering that hill, because I know that whether I make it to the top, or I turn back and decide to conquer it another day, I gave myself the best chance to see beautiful things. Happy heavy hiking.

2 Comments on The Best Gear You’re Not Using, Part One: Trekking Poles

Type on the field below and hit Enter/Return to search