hike blog

TA walking hand-in-hand with Beethoven

How happy I am to be able to wander among bushes and herbs, under trees and over rocks; no one can love the country as I love it. Woods, trees and rocks send back the echo that people desire.
– Ludwig van Beethoven

It’s finally here, one week until I leave to walk in the footsteps – at least metaphorically – of Beethoven and commune with nature, hoping to decipher her secrets and find inspiration.

gear blog

The little light that could

At only three ounces, the Black Diamond Spot is a great little light with lots of functionality, if you can just remember how to turn it on and off.

Many years ago, my mom, who was a Forensics coach, took me with her to the All-State Finals to cheer on her very best students. There was so much talent that day, but our favorite by far was a kid from a Chicago suburb. He was competing in original comedy and his story revolved around what might happen at an amusement park if you had poorly trained staff. It went something like this:

Here’s how you run this ride, kid. Simply open the door, close the door, spin the room, and drop the floor. Got that? 

OK, boss…let’s see…open the door, close the door, spin the room, drop the floor. I think I’ve got it. Open the door, close the door, spin the room, drop the floor. Hey, this is easy! Open the door, close the door, spin the room, drop the floor. Open the door, close the door, spin the room, drop the floor. Open the door, close the door, drop the floor….uh-oh.

These lines became a family joke for years, and I share them today because they capture what has turned out to be my complete ineptitude in following fairly simple instructions for my otherwise cool headlamp.

The Spot has two sets of directional lights plus a red light so you don’t blind your friends.

I love my light-weight, multi-functional Diamondback Spot headlamp. She is a bit like me, a former model, and at 3 oz and around $40, a steal.

That being said, this past weekend Richard and I were lazying in bed and my mind was on packing and preparing for the Te Araroa and I blurted out my dilemma. No matter how hard I try I to memorize the functionality steps, by the time I’m out in the field, I immediately forget them, fumbling about in the half-light and inevitably ending up with a flashing red light or a dim white beam on the periphery.

Rich was aghast that I was headlamp illiterate, so in hopes of proving to him that it’s not as easy as it sounds, I hopped out of the coziness of our marital nest to grab the headlamp – as well as my laptop so I could share the helpful little Diamond Back video I watched on repeat trying to cram for my next outdoor adventure.

“Does this mean we’re getting up now?” Rich asked in a slightly exasperated voice.

“Not at all! You can just sit right there, and we’ll watch together.”

Thankfully, Black Diamond uses a straight forward searchable title, “How To Use The Black Diamond Spot Headlamp” and in no time, the video was up and running. Why exactly they chose to use a porn-film soundtrack, we’ll never know for sure, but the instructions are admittedly fairly straight forward beginning with power on…

The steamy beat and the perfect youth of our headlamp-models begin their familiar show and I explain to Richard all the reasons I like my headlamp – inexpensive, lightweight, multi-functioning – it can also be shut off to save the battery draining. Though this has not always worked out perfectly for me. If just one piece of gear presses against the on button for a little too long, it can undo the function. I have often opened my pack to find it glowing, the light on high beam and the batteries down to nothing.

Sure, I could simply pop out the batteries as I pack, but it’s just another bit of awkwardness to open the headlamp unless you don’t mind bending your thumbnail backwards. Richard showed me how you have to pull up and not back. And, ta-da, that did the trick! It just popped open – with batteries flying everywhere, lost in our sea of sheets. The batteries don’t lock in place with a satisfying click. No doubt to save weight, they just sort of perch there. So consider yourself warned not to open your light over a canyon or a rushing stream.

Meanwhile, back to the tutorial, the music twanging away as our happy headlamp wearers with perfect teeth and perfect skin smiled effortlessly. They surely were never ones to lose batteries when they opened the headlamp. These are the faces of people who memorized each and every function on their first go.

I hate them.

I found opening the back to replace batteries nearly impossible without a tool, the batteries usually fall out and you have to be careful closing it or it snaps with one side gaping open – sheesh!

Regardless of my negative attitude, they remain patient as if speaking to a very slow child.

Click once to turn on.

I turn on my light and immediately shine it into Rich’s face. “Turn it off!”

Click again to turn off.

But then things begin to get really tricky. They tell me to turn it off then on so the white light will change from the center (proximity) to the outside (distance) OK, got it. On and off and on. On, off, on. On-off-on…drop the floor…

I feel chuffed at this point. I made something happen! And the next section, too, is a breeze. I’m on cloud nine. Battery consumption is measured by three lights. Green means you’re at full power, yellow is only adequate, and red means you’re running down. And you can even save power by dimming the light, simply hold the button down and the light will slowly dim, hit bottom and blink at you, then begin brightening again.

This is fun!

But soon dark clouds move in as I enter territory meant to confuse this Blissful Hiker. It seems if you want to switch the light to red so you don’t blind your hiking pals, you better pay close attention.

With the power off, hold the switch down for three seconds.

OK, easy enough. And then my lovely headlamp friends tell me just repeat it and the white light pops back on. So hold down the switch three seconds – from off! – and the red light magically comes on.

It works!

But wait, there’s more. It seems the universal sign for an emergency on the trail and to get the attention of passing airplanes or paragliders is a flashing light and this little light of mine has that function too. Instead of holding the button down, you click it three times and you get the strobe light.

But didn’t I just click three times when I was switching from proximity to distance?? I am so confused!

“Just think of Dorothy wanting to get back to Kansas,” Richard says helpfully.

It works, but I’m sure that in the field I’ll likely simply give up, put the light away and go to sleep no matter the time. But I soon find that even that is a challenge.

With power off in the white mode, hold the switch down for 6 seconds.
The light will cycle through red, then the blue indicator light in the battery window will activate.

Makes sense, but maybe it’s because the light has to pass through white to red before the little blue light flashes to tell me all is well that I want to release the button too soon. Stay the course, Alison, don’t let up, don’t go into the light!!

The light goes out.

And all is well.

At this point you’re probably asking, why not just upgrade, Alison? I am sure things are on the upswing in the headlamp arena and I can afford a new light. Call it laziness, call me cheap, call me determined to become the William Tell of headlamp functionality, but I am not giving up on this little light of mine.

Not yet anyway.

I don’t really use my headlamp all that much except for tent selfies.

Specs at a Glance

  • Lumens :  300
  • Weight With Batteries :  3.1 oz
  • Max Distances :  [High] 80 m; [Low] 16 m
  • Max Burn Time :  [High] 30 H (est.); [Low] 175 H (est.)


alison young is too cheap to buy the up dated Spot but did buy this older model.

gear blog

Balega socks review

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

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

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

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

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


Balega supplied alison young with socks.

hike blog

Dried veggies and fruit

Accepting your own mortality is like eating your vegetables: You may not want to do it, but it’s good for you.
– Caitlin Doughty

Fruits and veggies are incredibly easy to dehydrate and weigh next to nothing while they pack a nutritional punch.

Fruits and veggies are incredibly easy to dehydrate and weigh next to nothing while they pack a nutritional punch.

The easiest way to get veggies and fruit on your backpacking trip is to dehydrate them. Fresh fruits – like apple and watermelon – and many vegetables – like cherry tomatoes and bell peppers – can be dried directly on the racks, but some – like carrots – need to be blanched first, which takes time and is just one more step I don’t feel like doing. So I was delighted to discover you can get fantastic results dehydrating frozen vegetables as is, no cooking required! including carrots, peas, string beans, corn, and those packages of frozen medleys – as well as a wide range of fruits like mango and pineapple.

Dehydrated vegetables can be added to any meal, and work very well with potato bark. I tend to eat dehydrated fruits all on their own. There is nothing like mango, watermelon or pineapple at the top of a hard-to-reach peak. They taste like candy; a real treat.

Pro tips:

  • For best results, don’t let the fruits or veggies stack on top of each other as the dehydrate.
  • Place them directly on the tray, though you may have to gently peel them when you flip them.
  • Some fruits can get a little sticky or turn slightly brown. You can always add a little lime juice which also gives them a mild margarita taste.
hike blog

La Sportiva Akyra Trail Runners review


La Sportiva Akyra blend the best of a trail runner with that of a hiking boot.

What do you get when you cross the speed, flexibility, the ability to stop on a dime and the wicking properties of the your favorite mountain running shoe with the ruggedness, stability and protection of those leather hiking boots you haven’t wanted to give up just yet? You’d get shoes that rock the long trails and my first choice for thru-hiking, La Sportiva’s Akyra Trail Runners.

I have only just begun wearing trail runners exclusively while backpacking. I made the switch from boots because my feet began to feel too hot and confined and once they got wet, they stayed wet. I had great success with trail runners on the Coast-to-Coast and ali-loop-of-the-Lakes and have never looked back.

The Akyra uses a complex “origami” design to keep the foot stable, while also allowing the foot to feel flexible and supple. The shoe is like a solid box with a bomber heel cup keeping me from over-pronating. Torsional strength is especially key when I contour overland on steep terrain. The top layer is in three parts including a skeleton, mesh and a wrap that provides lateral stability when negotiating roots, rocks and sand. The cushioned tongue holds easily adjusted laces and place no pressure on the top of the foot, which is crucial as my toes are slightly deformed from arthritis. And this may seem like a small point, but these laces have never needed to be retied mid-hike.


La Sportiva uses a patented rubber sole to make the Akyra responsive in uneven and wet terrain.

The Akyra is ideal for backpacking especially in mountain environments because the soles are made of a sticky rubber – much like approach shoes – that adhere to rock, even if wet. Using a tight pattern, the lugs provides superb traction at the same time they shed mud and clagg. My friend Stephanie took these photos and said the soles looked like mini-shovels displacing the sand as I cracked up and downhill. La Sportiva uses a patented brake system that not only gives me confidence on slopes, but decreases impact and that’s a relief for those day-after-days walking on uneven terrain.

Sizing was a bit of a concern and the shoe feels a bit long and narrow, though I was able to find a good fit playing with the laces. I always wear men’s trail runners these days to allow room for my feet to swell. I did not keep the included foam insole but rather replaced them with Superfeet.

Akyras handle uneven downhill slopes awesomely.

Akyras handle uneven downhill slopes awesomely.

Specs at a Glance

  • Drop: 9mm
  • Stack: Heel – 25mm / Toe – 16mm
  • Weight: 11.35 oz.
  • Upper: AirMesh / TPU MicroLite Skeleton / Flex-Guard
  • Lining: Airmesh (heel only)
  • Midsole: Injection shock absorbing MEMlex EVA / 2.4 mm LaSpEVA
  • Sole: FriXion Trail Rocker2 with Impact Brake System
  • Cushioning: Midsole – 32A


La Sportiva supplied alison young with this shoe for use on the Te Araroa.

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