Backpacking The Little Grand Canyon – San Rafael Swell, Utah

The Little Grand Canyon is an amazing overnight backpacking trip that is perfect for people looking for a fairly easy trip that wanders through one of Utah’s best scenes. The San Rafael River starting from Fuller Bottom is a popular spot for boaters to put in and typically do a single day float of the river, but we’re going to talk about backpacking the canyon in this post.

Below you’ll find some quick info on the best season to hike this, distance, and other important sources. Then you’ll read further to see a Day 1 and Day 2 explanation of the hike and what you can expect during your hike.

Season: Best done in early to late spring, and early fall. Avoid going June through August as temps are extreme and the river may be flowing at a rate that would be unsafe to ford.
Mileage/Time: Total miles to hike from the Fuller Bottom trailhead to the trailhead near the Swinging Bridge is 15.25 miles. You will split this in two, with day one being 7 miles or so, and day two being about 8 miles.
Where To Camp: Your best option for camping is at the mouth of Virgin Spring Canyon, located 7 miles from the Fuller Bottom trailhead. You’ll have to ford the river to get into Virgin Canyon, but there are two or three great, flat, established camp spots, big enough for groups of 6-8 people.
Waste Disposal: The Little Grand Canyon is located on BLM Land and does not have restrictions on human waste disposal. But please practice Leave No Trace principles and dig cat holes, carry out your toilet paper, and do your business 200 feet from any water source.
Water Availability: You can always filter water from the San Rafael as needed. It is typically murky water and will quickly plug up any filter. Your best water source is located at the end of Virgin Spring Canyon, where you’ll find a large pool and fresh water. Be sure as always to use a filter or chemical drops to treat the water. Cattle typically graze in these canyons or Utah.
Shuttle: Most people do this hike from point A to point B. Point A being Fuller Bottom, and then finishing at the trailhead below Swinging Bridge at the mouth of Buckhorn Wash. You will need to plan to leave a car at the Swinging Bridge Trailhead, then shuttle up to Fuller Bottom.

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Route Description:

Day 1: Plan to hike 7 miles this day to make it to Virgin Spring Canyon, so an early start is good to make sure you get the shuttle taken care of before you begin your hike. The Nat Geo Trails Illustrated map is not totally correct as far as where it shows the Fuller Bottom Trailhead. See rest of description for info.

Begin your hike at the small parking lot on your left where the Fuller Bottom road approaches the San Rafael River. There is a trail register box there tat is used by hikers and boaters. Reset your GPS and start walking down the jeep road. You will cross the river after about a 1/4 mile, make sure you stay on the Jeep road as it will allow you to avoid bushwhacking through tamarisk and following cow trails.

Follow the Jeep road for about one mile, it will begin to climb uphill and seem as though you are walking away from the river and canyon. In the distance as you are walking south, you’ll see a red sign with some torn up maps on it. This is where you will turn east (left) where you will begin walking towards the canyon. The trail is easy to follow at this point as it begins to drop into the canyon.

Be sure to look for a small pictograph panel that is easy to miss on your left about 3 miles into your hike from the trailhead. About half a mile past that on your right is an old mine. To the left of a small side canyon you’ll see a trail going up to a hole in some light yellow colored rock with a bunch or yellow tailings. There is also remains of a log cabin with tin cans around this area, but we were unable to find it. As you continue walking down the canyon you will ford the river several times. Make sure to check the current flow rate via USGS. If the river is running higher than 60 CFS, then crossing the river will be difficult, and possibly dangerous.

As you approach Virgin Spring Canyon you will be on the wrong side of the river and will need to cross the river to get into Virgin Spring Canyon. About 5 minutes up Virgin Spring on your right is a very nice pictograph panel about 15 feet above you. If you walk in the wash it’s easy to miss, but follow the trail on the west side of the canyon as you walk up will lead you to a sign that says to not deface the rock. Another 5-10 minutes up Virgin Canyon you’ll come to a dry fall where a large pool of water is located. This is your best source for water and should be your refill for the remainder of the trip, unless you choose to filter water from the river.

Virgin Spring Canyon has seen a bit of graffiti and people being careless about their trash. Please pick up any trash you see, and be a steward by practicing Leave No Trace principles. Virgin Spring Canyon has two or three nice spots to camp and this is your best option since it’s so close to a good water source.

Day 2: Make sure you are all stocked up on water and begin making your way down the canyon. There is supposed to be another pictograph panel just before you make the hard right turn on the river and start walking south toward Cane Wash. Cane Wash is also supposed to have decent camping and another pictograph panel located up the wash. We did not look for it on this most recent trip. You will cover about 8 miles this day to the car. The last 3.5 miles are dry and you no longer have to ford the river. Be prepared for a couple steep climbs, but nothing too aggressive.

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Sierra Designs Flashlight 1 Tent – First Impressions

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I’ve had my eye on the Sierra Design tents ever since they rebranded and made critical design changes to their line up of tents. The biggest aspect of design change that caught my eye the most was the removal of the traditional vestibule and the addition of functional gear closets. Although released in 2014, I finally got my hands on the Flashlight 1 tent just a few days ago, in March 2016.

I am the type of person that spends hours and hours researching and comparing outdoor products. I look at all my options within my budget and decide what will be best for me and the application of the product to the type of outdoorsman that I am.

Ultimately I decided on the Sierra Designs Flashlight 1 tent for my solo backpacking trips, in the scenario where a tarp or bivy are not the most practical. Sometimes having a dry place to take cover and stay away from the bugs is necessary.

Here are my first impressions of the Flashlight 1 tent as i’ve set it up before I take it out on the trail in a couple weeks and prepare for a full review of the tent.

Sierra Designs has obviously put a lot of attention to build quality in their tents. After setting the tent up for the first time, it was one of the first things I noticed. Reinforced seams, taped seams, stitching in obvious areas that may receive most wear and tear.

As mentioned before, they have removed the traditional vestibule from the tent and created an awning over the door that allows for better ventilation and breathability in the tent. The tent features one door, but two large windows that allows you to escape the elements in inclimate weather but still allow you to feel like you are outside and not stuck in a nylon dome. I’ve not tested this awning yet, but I am still excited about the single wall/double wall design that will allow for ample ventilation but keep me dry at the same time.

Let’s talk about the gear closet. What a genius idea for making a place for gear to be kept and protected from rain after you remove a vestibule. This truly is genius. I never liked how a vestibule is awkward and makes storing your gear even harder. Argue with me if you will, but I think Sierra Designs has hit a massive home run here. The gear closet on the Flashlight 1 is just large enough to stand about a 65 liter backpack up that holds the gear not being stored in your tent. For me this is adequate.

Check out the video below to get a full glimpse into my impressions of this tent.

 

Winter Hammock Camping – My First Attempt At It

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Last week I stepped out of my comfort zone and spent my first night ever sleeping in a hammock. Over my childhood and adult years I have spent more nights in a tent, sleeping on the ground than I would even begin to try and count. But why have I never slept in a hammock, you ask? Easy, I never thought to even try it. Plus people are always complaining about how cold they get in a hammock and how much their back hurts in the morning. Hmmm… freezing your butt off, and back pain. Sounds worse than sleeping on a futon.

I am happy to report, that after just one night in 20 degree weather, i’ll be returning to the hammock for more glorious nights of sleep. But lets back track a little and talk about how I got to this point. As you may know I have been investing a lot of time into my YouTube Channel. In that time investment comes looking at what is trending in the outdoor industry. I’ve noticed a few things trending, that being Ultralight Backpacking, and Hammocks. Hammocking is becoming the big way to save weight and simplify a backpackers setup. But if not done correctly, it won’t save you much weight or space, and that is the struggle I am seeing here. At least within a winter setup.

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So what got me to head out into the freezing temps to test out the hammock?

Couple of things: I got my hands on a couple hammocks that I have been dying to to use more, and to see if hammocking makes sense for the type of backpacker that I am.

So what was the result? Overall a good experience. I’ll admit that I don’t have all the necessary gear needed to make sleeping in a hammock ideal, but I had enough to make the trial a worthy test. I took my existing Rab Silwing Tarp and set it up over my Wildhorn Outfitters Outpost hammock. I am glad there was no weather, because the tarp is not as long as the hammock, creating a problem for rain evasion. But what’s more important is the comfort level. With my NeoAir pad in the hammock it made for a very comfortable night of sleep, arguably better than some nights i’ve had sleeping on the ground. It’s not always amazing sleeping when out in the backcountry, but the hammock setup made for a comfortable night of sleep.

At this point it comes down to making critical adjustments to the setup to make it even better. Mainly i’d like to see it get lighter and more manageable. Meaning that in order for the hammock setup to make more sense than a tent, I need to get a tarp that works properly for a hammock and probably focus hammock camping for Summer use only.

Overall I am pleased with my first attempt and plan to make more attempts at it and perfect it a little.


Black Diamond Orbit Lantern Review – Backpacking Lighting


Check out the full video review here

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Having the right gear makes all the difference in your backcountry experience. Black Diamond has been a leader in the climbing and ski industry for many years now, but even the products directly unrelated to skiing and climbing they excel at. The Orbit Lantern is the perfect example of functionality and reliability when it comes to needing light around camp.
Weighing in at 2.9 ounces without the batteries, it is an impressive little light that gives off 105 lumens of light. With the ability to dim the light by the press of a button, you are able to secure over 70 hours of usable light. New for 2016, the Orbit has dual function as a lantern and a flash light. They have embedded a 50 lumen flash light into the base of the lantern giving you even more versatility for your evening adventures.
We love to hang the Orbit from the gear loops in the tent and use it for easy reading, getting changed, or simply to play a round of cards on a dark stormy night. Needless to say, the Orbit is a great option for any backpacker looking for a little more functionality over the standard headlamp. No blinding your friends with this when in the tent, like you would with a headlamp.
Happy Trails my friends!

Sierra Designs Nightwatch 2 – Room With A View

Video information here: Sierra Designs Nightwatch 2
When Sierra Designs rebranded and made some major adjustments to their products a couple years ago, they reintroduced themselves back into the spotlight of innovation and smarts for the everyday outdoorsman. For the backpacker who isn’t concerned about going ultralight, the Nightwatch 2 person tent is a great addition to the Sierra Design line up of tents.
Overview:
A room with a view! The Nightwatch tent is new for Spring 2016, allowing the user to roll back the rain fly exposing the stars and creating awesome ventilation, yet keeping you away from the bugs.
Sierra Designs has made some major adjustments that give them an edge and separate them from the highly competitive field of outdoor recreation. Introducing the awning style rainfly and removing the traditional vestibule is the noticeably major difference in the new Sierra Designs tents, but there’s so much more. Ultimately focusing on the end user helps them stand out above the rest of the competition.
Nightwatch 2 Features:
When Sierra Designs rebranded they made changes to the design that every other company has been doing for years. Removing the traditional vestibule to make the entry to the tent more inviting and less awkward. We’ve all been in a tent where it’s raining, you’ve zipped shut the vestibule keeping you out of the rain, but you find yourself adjusting your backpack stashed under the vestibule making sure it’s not getting wet.
Sierra Designs has solved the issue with this, creating gear closets accessed from the inside of the tent removing your gear from the door of the tent. The other benefit of removing the vestibule is the ability to slightly zip down the window giving ventilation and being able to look outside and see what’s happening.
The other main feature of the Nightwatch tent is how it gets its name. Being able to roll back the rain fly exposing the night sky and creating excellent ventilation. This feature is important because one might argue how it differs from other tents. Being able to keep the rain fly attached and quickly rolling the fly down in inclement weather, rather than looking for a place to stash the unattached fly and scrambling when weather arrives.
The Nightwatch 2 also features 2 additional small doors the act as doors when the rain fly is rolled back, or as access to the gear closets when the fly is fully attached and covering the tent body.
Technical Specs:
Minimum Weight: 4 lbs, 7 oz
Packed Weight:  5 lbs, 0 oz
Internal Peak Height: 43.5 in
Interior Area: 30.50 ft
Overall this tent is a well designed piece of equipment that any backpacker would be happy with. There are some drawbacks to the design that may not suit a few people too well. A valid concern is dragging muddy, wet boots through the tent to place in the gear closet. The drawbacks around the design are minimal to the overall benefits of how it creates a better outdoor experience for the everyday backpacker.

Wildhorn Outfitters Outpost 2 Hammock Review

What do you think about when you hear the word Hammock? It’s probably coupled with words like solitude, relaxing, and comfort. Hammocks seem to be on the rise as a great backpacking addition or replacement to a traditional tent. All over YouTube you’ll find outdoor gear channels talking about camping with a hammock and how to sleep comfortably in a hammock. Are all hammock’s the same? Will you get the same level of comfort from any hammock you choose?

These and other questions are something to think hard about when it comes to whether or not your body is going to be able to recover after many miles of hiking. Here at Backcountry Exposure, we’ve been doing a lot of research on the various popular hammock systems available. We’ve been able to spend time with a few options, and have set our hearts on the Wildhorn Outfitters Outpost Hammocks and the included Litespeed Suspension System. For the price and what is included, you just cannot beat the setup that Wildhorn has put together.

Lets face the facts here people. A camping/backpacking hammock made from nylon is the standard across all companies whether it’s Hennessy, ENO, Grand Trunk or any other. They all feature high quality triple stitching at the seams, and have a gathered end with a loop of some kind of cordage or dynema material with a biner or loop system. Then there’s various tree strap suspension systems that are available, whether it’s simple 1 inch webbing you purchase on your own, or sophisticated straps like the Atlas straps from ENO. All of the options on the market though don’t hold a candle to the ease of use and simplicity that is the Litespeed System.

The Litespeed tree straps and suspension system is so easy to use it takes what feels like seconds to setup. The gathered end of the hammock is put together with Amsteel and wrapped around a metal cinch buckle. 200 pound rated nylon straps, 11 feet in length are fed through the buckle making it a simple grab and pull to tighten. So easy that you may question if you did it right, but don’t worry, it’s right and it’s awesome!

The Outpost hammocks come in two sizes, the Outpost 1 a single and the Outpost 2 a double. Both of them are 11 feet in length but are different in width, with the Outpost 2 being 6’4″ wide, it’s plenty big for two people to hang, or for sleeping.

If it we’re me buying a new hammock or my first time buying a hammock, my recommendation would be the Outpost before looking at any other options. It’s a great product at a great price!

Rab Equipment – AL Pull-On – The Best Base Layer

A good base layer? Seems like everywhere you go to find a good base layer you have what seems like hundreds of choices and dozens of brands. To be quite honest, I am kind of a gear snob and end up paying more for a piece of outerwear than I probably should be. However, i’ve learned that paying good money for a piece of outerwear really is, you get what you pay for. I’ve found that to be the case with the Rab AL Pull-on base layer. I bought two of these a few years ago, and it’s been worn more times than I could count. I feel like so many of the photos from my backpacking, climbing and hiking adventures I am wearing this base layer. It really is my go to base layer. 
With all that aside, lets get into what I love about this piece of clothing. The AL Pull-on is made from the Power Dry fabric by Polartec. A great wicking fabric that breathes incredibly well when worn right next to skin, and yet keeps the body warm. This particular base layer is a half zip that makes regulating temperature a breeze. 
I’ve worn this layer so much that it’s become a staple to my backcountry outerwear. Not only is it extremely comfortable and fits well, it’s been a reliable layer that i’ve always counted on. In March 2015 I wore this layer on a six day backpacking trip through the Paria River Canyon. Basically it was the perfect light weight, base layer that made sure I didn’t get too much sun on my neck and arms, and yet kept me cool when in the sun, but also warm in the cold shadows of the canyon. 
If you are in the market for a great base layer, this is one to make part of your gear list.  

Sea To Summit – Traveller Light Day Pack Review

If you are going to be doing what I call, destination backpacking, then having a good day pack to bring along is a necessary item. Lets say you are going to backpack several miles into an area of lakes that are within pretty close proximity to each other. You camp at one of the lakes, but you want to see the others. You are unlikely to pack up your 60 liter pack for a simple day hike. Why not take something so light and small that you almost forget you have it. 
The Sea To Summit Traveling Light Day Pack is the perfect option for a light weight, simple day pack. Weighing in at only 2.4 ounces, it takes up virtually zero space in your pack, and makes the day hikes more enjoyable. 
The good about this pack i’ve already mentioned. It’s small, light weight, and is easy to carry. It’s roughly 12 liters in capacity, so you can load a bunch of stuff in it, but be careful. The shoulder straps are nice and wide, but if you load it with more than 8 pounds of stuff, then it’s going to get a little uncomfortable. The straps have zero padding in them and they can collapse into a smaller strap when too much weight is put into the pack. Be smart and don’t carry more than you need. 
Made from high quality, ripstop, sip nylon, it’s tough, light weight, simple and the perfect addition to your backpacking system.

Backpacking Essentials – Backcountry Exposure Youtube Series

One of my favorite things about backpacking is the preparation that comes with the anticipation for a trip. I remember getting prepared for my trip down The Paria River with a school class. That trip involved a lot of planning, preparation and mental preparation. Knowing how to get ready for backpacking experiences is vital to whether or not you enjoy yourself out on the trail. 
This has lead me to create a series of videos to share with you all about the Essentials of Backpacking. Everything from gear to use, what to buy, and even the ethics behind being a good person in the backcountry. I love to share my knowledge with people and look forward to seeing the evolution of this series. It will primarily be contained on my Youtube Channel, but I will update with each video here as well. 

Outpost Hammock Review – Wildhorn Outfitters

Here in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah we just received our first blanket of snow. It seems a little odd to be reviewing a hammock in November, but when a really awesome new product comes out, you have to share the love.

Wildhorn Outfitters Outpost 1 Hammock
I am fairly new to the whole Hammock epidemic that seems to be overruling the photo world of instagram, but when a new product comes out that changes your perspective on the product in general, you pay attention. 
Wildhorn Outfitters is a new company to me, but they are doing awesome things to improve products in the world of the outdoors. What they have done to the hammock world is, in one word, AWESOME!
After doing a bunch of research and from previous experience with other hammock companies, there’s a few things that Wildhorn has done that makes their product stand out among the others. 
– Litespeed Suspension System: Of all the research that i’ve done on other hammocks that fall into the same category, none of them have a strap system as good as what Wildhorn has done. Not only are the straps included with the hammock, but they are incredibly bomber. They use amsteel cord to attach the hammock to the tree straps. Amsteel is incredibly strong and is super light weight. The Litespeed straps are 11′ long and have a cold rolled steel cinch buckle that showed zero signs of slipping when weight was put on them. The straps also include a 12kn rated wire gate carabiner to attach the strap to a tree, post, or whatever you attach it to. This is the biggest win on this hammock. 
– Length of the Hammock: The hammock is 11′ in length, which compared to the ENO Single Nest Hammock is over a foot longer. Why is this important? Having more fabric on hammock allows you to lay flatter after setup. This just simply makes the hammock more comfortable. 
– Light Weight: The Outpost hammocks are made from 100 percent ripstop nylon. The Outpost 1 comes in at just under 3 pounds. 3 Pounds for a hammock is light enough to take backpacking and camping. 
If you’re looking for a hammock to add to your gear stash, this is the hammock to buy!
You can get yours here: Outpost 1 Hammock