Small Business Saturday Gift Guide

I’m a little late to the game this year, but I wanted to remind you all that today is Small Business Saturday and encourage you to support small businesses. To help you along, I thought I’d highlight some of my favorites.

Hiking and Camping Gear

  • Gossamer Gear makes great ultralight backpacks, shelters, and trekking poles. My personal favorites are the Kumo and Type 2 backpacks.
  • ZPacks specializes in all things cuben fiber: Shelters, packs, rain gear, and accessories. I love their stuff sacks anad dry bags. 
  • Warbonnet Outdoors makes high quality backpacking hammocks and accessories. Their Traveler hammock and Yeti Underquilt have worked great for me!
  • Dutchware Gear creates innovative hardware and accessories for your hammock and tarp. You won’t realize how badly you needed their stuff until you try it!


  • Purple Rain Adventure Skirts makes high quality hiking skirts. If you’re gonna go hiking, you better be comfortable. I never hit the trail without mine! 
  • Hiker Trash makes T-shirts, hats, and other accessories for the hiker trash inside all of us. Fun designs you should check out. 

Dog Gear

  • TurboPUP produces high quality meal replacement bars for you dog. Never fumble with ziploc bags of kibble again. Just  grab some bars, and you’re set for your hike or road trip. 
  • Groundbird Gear makes lightweight backpacks that are custom fit to YOUR dog. They’re built by an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who focuses on making functional packs without the excess stuff you won’t need.

Disclaimer: I am currently a TurboPUP Brand Ambassador, and was previously a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador. I have also done gear testing for Groundbird Gear and Purple Rain Adventure Skirts. None of these companies have asked to be listed here, and they had no preview nor editorial control of this post. All opinions contained here are my own.

Fitness and Training: Tabata Intervals


I know that finding time to train can be difficult, but I have a solution for those brutally busy days: Tabata intervals. One round of Tabata lasts only 4 minutes. That means that you squeeze multiple 4-minute workouts throughout the day, or string a six or seven rounds together to create a more complete workout. 

How to do Tabata

Tabata intervals follow a simple pattern: 20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest. Repeat this pattern 8 times, and you’ve completed one full 4-minute round. These intervals are short, so they are intended to be done at high intensity (as close to 100% effort as possible). 

Sprints, Jump Rope, Burpees, Squats, Lunges, Pushups, and Sit-ups make for great Tabata workouts, but you can do almost any exercise in this format. Isometric holds such as Planks, Wall Sits, Six Inches, or Squat Holds work well, too. You can also mix exercises together, alternating between 2 exercises in one round. Be creative!

Benefits of Tabata

Since you’ll be giving 100% effort, Tabata will boost your heart rate and metabolism almost instantly. This style of High Intensity Interval Training can also keep your metabolism in high gear for as long as 24-hours after the workout, which makes it optimal for fat burning. 


Be sure to properly warm up and stretch to help avoid injury. Do not attempt Tabata unless you already have a decent fitness level. High intensity moves such as these can make you more prone to injury if your body isn’t prepared for it. Try starting with just one round mixed into your normal workout. Add more rounds over time as you feel more comfortable. Since doing one exercise over and over can get monotonous and lactic acid buildup will be making your muscles burn, you must stay absolutely focused to maintain proper form. 

Tabata Timers

Tabata Timer app for iPhone


Since it can be tough to watch the clock while doing certain exercises, several smartphone apps are available for both Apple and Android platforms. These apps will give you audio and visual cues to keep your timing spot on. Most of them are free, so I highly suggest downloading one! 

This is no replacement for a good training hike or trail run, but Tabata is a great weapon to keep in your arsenal for busy days or a change of pace.

Short Thru Hikes in Pennsylvania 


Would you be surprised to learn that Pennsylvania is chock full of great backpacking trails? Everyone knows that the Appalachian Trail travels through the Commonwealth, but I believe that there are trails that the weekend warrior may find more rewarding. Hidden within the PA State Forests and Parks are several gems that can be thruhiked in one to five days.  These are my favorites.

Loyalsock Trail

  • Length: 59.2 Miles
  • Duration: 2.5-5 Days

In my opinion, PA trails don’t get much better than the Loyalsock Trail (LT).  Located in Northeastern PA, the LT weaves through the Loyalsock State Forest and Worlds End State Park, roughly following the Loyalsock Creek. It begins on PA-87 near Montoursville and ends at US-220 north of Laporte. Out there, you’ll find something for everyone: waterfalls, streams, vistas, rock formations, and a road walk. The trail is well-marked by yellow plastic discs emblazoned with “LT” in red, making navigation a breeze. Water is readily available in all seasons, which means no schlepping tons of water. There are a lot of ups and downs (the elevation profile is often compared to the EKG of an arrhythmia), but there are only a handful of really tough climbs. Definitely add the LT to your list!

Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail

  • Length: 70 Miles
  • Duration: 3-6 Days

Looking for a more leisurely backpacking experience? Check out the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail (LHHT). The LHHT is located in Southwestern PA, stretching from Ohiopyle State Park to PA-56 near Johnstown. With the exception of the initial climb to the ridge and the descent at the end, this is a relatively tame hike. This trail is its own PA State Park, which is what makes it different than any other trail in the state. There are shelter areas every 6-12 mile along the trail. These areas include tent camping sites, privies, firewood, water, and clusters of wooden shelters. You must reserve your campsites or shelters in advance, which means you have to plan out your hike and stick to it. There’s no improvising on the LHHT! I suggest booking the shelters, so you can leave your tent or tarp at home. The shelters also have built in fireplaces, which makes them great for winter trips. I strongly suggest the LHHT for beginners, but it can also provide an interesting change of pace for veteran backpackers.

West Rim Trail

  • Length: 30 Miles
  • Duration: 1-3 Days

One of PA’s better-known wonders is the Pine Creek Gorge (AKA The Grand Canyon of PA). As the name suggests, the West Rim Trail (WRT) roughly follows the western rim of the gorge. This means that you’ll get plenty of great vistas along the way! The ups and downs are minimal on the WRT. You climb up to the ridge, follow it for 25 miles, then drop down again. Water is relatively easy to find, and there are a handful of nice campsites as well. If you want some added convenience, I suggest that you park at Pine Creek Outfitters and have them shuttle you to the southern terminus. When you finish the trail, just walk back to your car at PCO. It’s only about a mile!

Black Forest Trail

  • Length: 42 Miles
  • Duration: 2-4 Days

The Black Forest Trail (BFT) has a reputation as one of the hardest trails in Pennsylvania. Also located near the Pine Creek Gorge, the BFT often decides to lose 1000-1500 feet of elevation very quickly only to regain it equally as quickly. I’ve always said that this trail is bipolar. Sections are either really hard or really easy, and there isn’t much in-between. The BFT’s proximity to the Gorge means that it has several nice vistas, and it also travels past some interesting old slate quarries. Water and campsites are both abundant, so logistics and planning are a snap. A connecting trail allows you to link the BFT with the West Rim Trail for an extended adventure!

Open Letter to the Boy Scouts of America


I was recently motivated to reach out to the local Council of the Boy Scouts of America about all the things I have seen scouts doing in recent history. I tried to keep my email as objective and PC as possible. I have strongly opposed the BSA on one particular social issue in the past, but I can’t oppose them entirely because they do succeed at getting kids outside. This is the message I sent. Am I too far off base or out of line?

To Whom It May Concern:

Recent Instagram posts from friends on the Appalachian Trail have inspired me to write this. The BSA is supposed to be teaching our young men to be safe and respectful while enjoying the outdoors, but fellow hikers often encounter a far different reality. Trail shelters, privies, trees, and rocks are covered with Boy Scout graffiti, much of which even includes Troop numbers (see attached photos). This graffiti, though, is almost minor compared to other offenses that I have witnessed. 

Scouts (and Scoutmasters) cutting trees for firewood, burning their garbage in campfires, and hiking in oversized groups all go against the principles of Leave No Trace. Teaching such bad habits to Scouts perpetuates these high-impact activities, and can lead to the destruction of the Public Lands and Wilderness Areas that we love. I have witnessed Boy Scouts doing all of these things in the Hawk Mountain and Pinnacle areas on the AT.

Less locally, I have witnessed Scoutmasters leading troops through genuinely unsafe conditions. Last summer, I passed a troop on the Presidential Ridge in New Hampshire’s White Mountains (widely know as one of the most dangerous hiking areas in the Northeast). The winds were blowing at over 60MPH, gusting over 80MPH, raining, and zero visibility. If I was leading a group of young, inexperienced teenagers, I would have taken the first trail down off the ridge. Instead, these scouts pressed on through the worst of the storm. A boy could have easily gotten lost and suffered from hypothermia.

I’m not sure if these are systematic flaws in the “Boy Scout Method”, or if it’s simply that your Scoutmasters are undereducated, but such actions detract from the credibility of the BSA as an organization, negatively impact our public lands, put Scouts in danger, and, in some cases, ruin the outdoors experiences of other people.

I am more than willing to speak to troops or Scoutmasters to help remedy any issues that my local Troops may be having. I have volunteered my time once before by giving a gear talk to Troop 160 in Leesport. [Their Scoutmaster] can speak to my experience. 

The problem of Boy Scout misconduct on this country’s trails is certainly not limited to your Council, but contact information for the BSA’s national leadership was not easily found online. As the Council in my area, I thought you would be the best ones to receive this message. I would appreciate if you could forward my concerns to someone on the national level of the BSA.


   Thank you for your time,

Dan Bortz

Purple Rain Adventure Skirts

Until this year, I probably would have laughed at the idea of wearing a skirt. I’m a big, burly man, after all! After hearing lots of good things from hiking friends (including other men), I decided to give skirts a more serious look. 


My friends Allison and Liz in their Purple Rain Skirts. Photo courtesy of

Purple Rain Adventure Skirts was suggested by friends, so I took to the inter-webs to place an order. Color and fabric options vary based on availability (mine is stretchy and black), but the basic design is constant. The skirts have a simple, yoga-style waistband with pockets on either side. The design is about as simple as it gets.

After getting some input from Purple Rain, I settled on a size “M/L”. I usually fall between a 36″ and 38″ waist in jeans, and the waistband on the skirt fit pretty well. The actual skirt part was a bit tighter than I would have liked, but that was because of my enormous tree-trunk thighs. Since men’s and women’s sizes aren’t really interchangeable, I don’t consider this a flaw in the product. If anything, it was more like mild misuse on my part!
I’ve been hiking in this skirt for a few months now, and I love it. It helps keeps my undercarriage cool and dry in hot weather, but can be paired with running tights or base layers for use in the winter. The skirt also provides an improved range of motion over pants or shorts. You don’t have to worry about splitting your pants when you’re wearing a skirt! This product also makes potty breaks simpler, especially if you decide to go commando!


Leg Selfie! Wearing my Purple Rain Skirt with running tights.

All-in-all, this is a great product. If you’re a man, be sure to ask questions about the sizing, and you’ll be fine. The biggest question is: Are you man enough to hike in a skirt? 

Disclosure: I purchased this product at full price with my own funds. I was not asked nor obligated to write this review, and all opinions contained here are my own. 

Mission Abort: Hike at Lehigh Gap

The intersection of the AT and the Winter Trail at the beginning of my hike.

I headed out today with plans on hiking the east side of Lehigh Gap. My route was supposed to take me up the AT, along a retired section of the AT, back onto the current AT, and then down the Winter Trail (forming a rough Figure-8). That plan wasn’t meant to be.

The intersection of the AT and the Winter Trail at the beginning of my hike.

The intersection of the AT and the Winter Trail at the beginning of my hike.

I began my hike on the AT as planned. The trail climbed through the woods for a bit before beginning an exposed rock scramble. This side of the mountain had good southern sun exposure, so the snow was minimal.

However once Pickle and I crossed over into the shade, the snow got deeper. The trail, which was mostly blazed on the rocks, disappeared beneath the drifted snow. I tried to climb up to the ridge, assuming that I’d be able to relocated the trail when I reached the ridge. After several near-miss incidents and hip-deep postholes, I decided to cut my losses and head back down to the car.

I’m not a huge fan of hiking in the snow to begin with, and the trail was simply not enjoyable today. We’ll try this hike in the spring after things thaw out.

Pickle enjoying his post-hike TurboPUP bar.

Pickle enjoying his post-hike TurboPUP bar.

Dog Gear: The Groundbird Gear Trekking Pack “2.0”

Pickle in his GBG Trekking pack.
Pickle in his GBG Trekking pack.

Pickle in his GBG Trekking pack.

Groundbird Gear‘s Marie “Bobwhite” Sellenrick was nice enough to send me an updated version of her Trekking Pack for dogs. I’d previously reviewed one of her earlier models, which quickly became Pickle’s backpack of choice, so I was excited to see what she did with the feedback she got from me and other testers. Since my last review, GBG has begun offering the Trekking Pack’s saddle bags in a size “Small”, instead of just “Regular” and “Large”. Because variety is the spice of life and Pickle’s current pack was a “Regular”, I asked for the new test pack to be “Small”.

Pickle in his GBG Trekking pack.

Pickle in his GBG Trekking pack.

The custom harness from Pickle’s previous GBG pack still fits perfectly, so Bobwhite made a pack to fit on that platform. After the customary 2-3 weeks of lead time (fairly standard in the Cottage Industry), the pack arrived. Pickle and I took it out for testing that very same day.

Top of harness.

Top of harness.

Underside of harness

Underside of harness

The very best improvement on this new version of the Trekking Pack is on the roll-top closure. GBG ditched the zippers on the saddlebags and went with a simpler hook-and-loop (AKA Velcro) closure. Since the bags would be rolled and clipped closed anyway, I always felt that the zipper on the earlier packs was overkill. It seems that my not-so-gentle complaining was heard, and this new closure is exactly what I hoped it would be! The change saves some weight, and even makes the roll-top function better. Without the chunky zipper in there. I think it rolls flatter and looks much nicer when the pack is closed.

One side of the GBG Trekking Pack, unrolled.

One side of the GBG Trekking Pack, unrolled.

Another nice addition was the optional shock cord attachment system, which can be used to fasten a sleeping pad or other small item to the outside of the pack. This was a surprise item that Marie added on for me, and I think it’s a good idea.


The shock cord attachment system

I’m glad I ordered the small pack! The pack fit 8 TurboPUP bars (2 days worth of food for Pickle), a leash, and dog booties quite nicely. This means it would be perfect for summer weekend trips, when we won’t need the extra pack volume for Pickle’s coat.


Overhead view of the GBG Trekking pack with the bags rolled closed.

All in all, this pack is a nice improvement on an already good dog pack. The changes listed above, as well as improved stitching and quality of construction, make for a beautiful and functional piece of gear. Coming in at 6.8oz on my scales (without the harness), this pack is about as ultralight as it gets.  If you’re in the market for a dog pack, the Groundbird Gear Trekking Pack is definitely worth a serious look. It’s price competitive with the big brands, chafe-free, and custom made by hands that care.

Disclaimer: I received this pack from Groundbird Gear for free, but I was not obligated to write this review. All opinions stated herein are my own, and GBG had no editorial control over this post.