Etsy Holiday Gift Guide for Hiking Enthusiasts

Etsy Holiday Gift Guide for Hiking Enthusiasts

It’s no secret that Chica and love supporting individual artists and small business owners. Some of the gear used on the Appalachian Trail and our Camino de Santiago hike were hand made by seamstresses with Etsy stores.

For this holiday season we have created a guide for our favorite hiking related Etsy shops. These gift ideas make a great stocking stuffer of gift for family and friends or, if you are like me, make a wonderful purchase for yourself.

YearnMore Etsy ShopYearn More 

The Yearn More idea was created when owner Patrick Leddin took his son and his friends on a 10-day Appalachian Trail hike. The trip was a success and Patrick wanted to commemorate the trip. He made plaques from cut logs for each of the boys. They proudly took the wall hangings off to college and encouraged Patrick to make the products available to others.

In the Yearn More Etsy store you will find the original log plaques, stenciled with various hiking emblems, custom hiking stickers and posters, and more. Each item is handmade or of original design. Buy with confidence, the store has a perfect five star ranking.


Justin’s UL

We are huge fans of Justin’s UL water bottle holders (and other products). Just see our grizzled selves in the photo to the left. These holders on the front of our packs not only made our water easily accessible (as opposed to the notoriously annoying side pockets on most packs) but they lasted our entire thru-hike. That mountain in the background of the photo is Katahdin and our holders are still intact. Incredible craftsmanship.

In addition to multiple sizes of the shoulder strap holder, Justin also makes ultralight cellphone holders, stake bags and more. All of these products are small, super-light, and inexpensive and would make any gift recipient smile. All five stars for Justin’s UL.

WanderingArtsCrafts EtsyWandering Arts Crafts

The artist that create the gems found at Wander Arts Crafts has a bachelor degree in Fine Arts and was the Master Decorator at Emerson Creek Pottery in Bedford, Virginia for 9 years.

She pairs her skills and talent with a love for the outdoors and Appalachian Trail to create one of a kind art.

The store offers hand painted products along with mugs and stickers based on Melinda’s art. Her shop is favored by over 1100 people and she has 104 (all) five star reviews.


Ultra Gam gaitersUltra Gam

For our Appalachian Trail thru-hike Chica wanted to wear gaiters. This product helps protect from dirt or the errant rock finding its way into the shoe. Through the Appalachian Trail: Women’s Group she found out about Ultra Gam. She loved the design and price so bought a pair.

Needless to say the product served her well as she trekked 2200 miles over 179 days each of which the gaiters were put to the test. They passed, with flying colors. In addition to gaiters, Ultra Gam sells custom cycling sleeves and headbands. The store has sold over 4000 products and has all five star reviews.

Clay Mason StudiosClay Masons Studios

There is something magical about holding a handcrafted mug in your hand or utilizing other custom pottery.

Clay Mason Studios makes a variety of mugs, bowls, clever kitchen items, and even piggybanks. Our favorite is the custom large round trail ceramic mug.

Perfect for a gift or for sipping your own coffee on a cool mountain morning. Clay Mason Studio has over 500 (all) five star reviews.


The Scrubby Pine

I love art made from simple materials, it is naturally natural. The Scrubby Pine handcrafts simple jewelry that immediately summons up the outdoors.

The stamped clay pendants combined with paracord make a wonderful accent to any outdoor pursuit. I love the bootprint pendant with the subtle “AT” stamped in the middle.

The store has over 300 (all) five star reviews. And the art is priced perfectly.

World Vibe Studio

World Vibe StudiosOne of the things that helped our moms feel comfortable about our Appalachian Trail thru-hike was the ability to follow along with our journey. We had given each of them a paper map of the trail and little cutouts of us to move as we made our way northward.

I wish I would have known about World Vibe Studios then. For just a bit more money we could have had an AT map printed on canvas (with our names) and backed with foam so that pins could be placed on it.

In addition to trail and National Park maps the company produces outdoor related t-shirts and other gifts. Over 1500 (all) five star reviews can’t be wrong.

Bitter Sweet Canvas

This artist paints beautiful, hiking inspired, products. My favorite are the hand painted trucker’s cap. There are also paintings on barn wood, pallets, and even a maple leaf. Other Bitter Sweet Canvas products can be found as well, custom stickers, Christmas ornaments, and magnets.

With over 4400 items sold and an average five star for her reviews, a purchase here will not leave you bitter sweet. Ok, that was lame, but you should know me well enough by now 🙂

That wraps up our round-up. We wanted to promote others’ work, but I would be remise if I didn’t remind you that Chica has her own custom hiking jewelry on Etsy. She hand knots, solders, and stamps all her jewelry, Check out her shop Chica’s Arm Candy.

Happy holidays and happy shopping,



ULA Photon Backpack Review

ULA Photon Backpack Review

Planes, Trains, Automobiles … and Feet

Chica and I just returned from an incredible adventure and I used a new piece of gear that I want to talk about: the ULA Photon Backpack.

Our 50-day trip to Europe started on an Amtrak train that shuttled us from central Wisconsin to Chicago. We then flew to Paris where we spent a few days, then off to St. Jean Pied de Port, France by train to start our 500-mile walk of the Camino de Santiago (French Route). After 34 days of walking we terminated the pilgrimage in Santiago de Compestella, Spain and bused to Finisterre, Spain then back to Santiago where we eventually caught a flight to Madrid to be tourists for a while before reversing course and returning to Wisconsin.

50 days of travel, 500 miles of trekking taking multiple flights, trains, and taxis, but only one piece of luggage for me.  After such a long trip using my new backpack in multiple travel scenarios, I am ready to review the ULA Photon.

Backpack Needs

I’ll start by mentioning why I chose this ULA pack. I searched far and wide for the perfect backpack for this trip. My requirements seemed simple at the time, the backpack needed to fit my 6’3” frame, be of a size that it can be used as carry-on luggage, and have a comfy hip-belt with pockets.

Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail taught us many things about packing efficiently for an extended trip. I took this experience to inform my decisions on backpack solutions for this trip. However, instead of needing to carry everything to live for four or five days on my back, for this trip I was only required to carry (basically) clothes. No need for a tent, water filtration, food, or a sleep system. Instead, I just needed room for clothing, raingear, and maybe a bottle of wine.

In the end, what I was looking for was a daypack. I don’t know if most day-hikers are short or what, but finding a daypack for my long torso was challenging. In fact, ULA was one of the only companies that could customize this size backpack to fit moi.

Added to that, most daypacks have a simple strap as a hip-belt and lack pockets. Pockets allow for easy reach of items used most frequently, namely snacks and sunscreen. Finally, and oddly, daypacks that fit the first two needs rarely were of a shape that fit domestic and international carry-on requirements.

After much sleuthing I found a pack that met all my needs, the Photon. As a bonus the pack came with a ton of other features that complemented my needs. Here is a list of pack features from ULA’s website:

ULA Photon Features

Removable features are in bold.

  • Internal Pad Holster
  • Contoured Padded Hipbelt
  • Contoured Shoulder Straps
  • Hipbelt Pockets
  • Roll Top Extension Collar
  • Cordura Bottom Panel
  • Ice Axe/Pole Retention Loops
  • Side/ Top Compression Straps
  • ULA 210 Robic
  • Stretch Mesh Front & Side Pockets
  • Hydration Sleeve (1.4 oz)
  • Internal Stash Pocket (1.1 oz)
  • Water Bottle Holsters (0.8 oz)
  • Handloops (0.8 oz)
  • Foam Pad (1.2 oz)
  • Front Shock Cord (0.6 oz)

The Photon is available in 5 different colors including black, green, and orange as seen below. Or, if you want to flaunt your individuality, pay a bit more and completely customize any ULA pack.

The Photon’s actual weight was less important than the amount it could comfortably carry, although at between 27 and 28 ounces the pack is light. The volume capacity is 35 liters with a maximum recommended weight of 18 pounds.

My base weight was 14.5 pounds. Since we were eating at cafes along the route the only other thing I carried was 1 liter of water. So my total carry weight was ~16.5 pounds, well within the pack’s capacity.

Photon Fit and Function

If you have read my AT Thru Gear List you know that I was not happy with the Gossamer Gear Mariposa. It caused me shoulder pain and it was a complaint I heard from other tall people on the trail. Obviously, I was carrying about half the weight on our Camino trip as I did on the AT, but the Photon felt very comfortable even on 20+ mile days. Not once did I experience discomfort from the pack.

The pack comes with two water bottle holsters as well as two side-pockets that can store a Nalgene size bottle. Those that follow us know that we are huge fans of Justin’s UL water holders so I removed the supplied bottle holsters and utilized the side pockets for other items. Since I was using the side pockets for something other than their intended purpose I did experience a minor inconvenience.

The water bottle pockets have an opening at the bottom to allow easier retrieval and return of bottles. I was stuffing these pockets with other things, some of which would fall out of the holes at the bottom of the pocket. I eventually figured my optimal set-up for the pockets.

The left side housed my umbrella (held down with the side compression strap) and my crushable sun-hat. The right side pocket housed my rain parka — except, of course, in this picture where I used the pocket to house wine for lunch. The sun hat and parka take up enough space so as not to fall out of the hole. The rain cover, which was what kept falling out, was moved elsewhere.

The only other quibble I have is in regards to the mesh pouch on the front of the pack. It’s a great place to store wet items or things that might be too messy to put inside the pack. I used it for my sandals, cooling towel, and rain cover. The problem is the pouch tapers too much such that the opening is not wide enough to get things into it. Granted, I have big feet and I was trying to wedge my clunky Xero’s in there, but still I believe there is room for improvement there. Even with all gear taken out of the main pack, accessing the pouch could be challenging.


I am not kind to backpacks. I throw them down, I don’t use the carry loop, and I am not cognizant of brushing up against branches or bricks or other abrasive things. Still, after 50 days and 500 miles of abuse my pack looks brand new … it might not smell brand new, but it looks it.

We traveled on trains, in Ubers and taxis, on big jets and puddle-jumpers and the pack came on board with me every time fitting easily into the overhead compartment. On flights, if not for my umbrella, I could have even shoved the pack under the seat in front of me.

The ULA Photon was the perfect fit for this trip and it will be my choice anytime I travel (Costa Rica is up next) or do a hut to hut type hike.

Oh, one last thing, ULA’s customer support is PHENOMINAL. When I was trying to determine which pack to buy for this trip Chris was Johnny on the Spot, answering multiple emails within hours of my hitting send. You just don’t find that level of support anymore these days and it is appreciated.

In conclusion, I recommend the ULA Photon for travel, day hikes, and hut to huts. And, after this experience with ULA the company will be a top contender for my next long trail. I already have my eye on a custom colored ULA Circuit 🙂


Camino de Santiago Gear List

Camino de Santiago Gear List

Below are two complete Camino de Santiago gear lists, one for the men and one for the women. While walking the Appalachian Trail Chica and I dreamed up the next adventure. We both agreed a trip to Spain to walk the 500 mile pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela would be the trip of a lifetime.

Taking what learned from minimalist living backpacking through the AT we designed out Camino packing list to cover all our needs while at the same time allow us the freedom a lighter backpack affords. Here is our Camino de Santiago complete equipment list, along with a video explaining why we chose the gear we did and additional commentary about our selections.

Sunsets’ Camino de Santiago Gear List

BackPack/Sleep System

Backpack – ULA Equipment Photon 35 Liter Backpack

ULA Photon Backpack
Down Throw – Similar to this one.
Sleeping Bag Liner treated with Permethrin
Ear Plugs – Mack’s Pillow Soft Silicon
Shoulder Strap Water Bottle Holder

Worn Clothes

Shorts – Nike Running
Synthetic Shirt – Russell Athletics Dri-Power
Socks – Darn Tough, Light Cushion Ankle Socks
Trail Running Shoes – La Sportiva Wildcat

Bandana/Baklava – Buff
Sun Hat – ExOfficio Bugs Away

Stuff Sacks/Other

ZPacks 14 Liter Large Rectangular Dry Bag
ZPacks 7 Liter Med Plus Dry Bag
ZPacks Wallet
Wine Corkscrew

Other Clothes

Long sleeve Base Layer – Patagonia Cap 3
T-Shirt – Patagonia

T-Shirt – Beatles Let it Be
Long Sleeve Sun Shirt – Columbia
Convertible Khakis – The North Face
Chill Rag
Town Shoes/Shower Shoes – Xero Ztrail Sandals
Puffy Jacket – Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer 

First Aid

Duct Tape
Nail Clippers


Lush Shampoo Bar
Deodorant (travel size)


Phone/Camera/GPS/Video – iPhone 7 Plus 256gb
Phone Charger – Ankor 20,000

Chica’s Camino de Santiago Gear List

Clothes & Shower Bag:

Fleece Pullover Hoodie CudlDuds
Long Sleeve Shirt (mid-layer)
2nd DT socks
2nd INJ socks
Boho scarf
T-shirt (sleep) grey icebreaker
Skort (sleep)
Leggings (Athleta pockets)
Under Wear – ExOfficio
Quick dry towel
Lush Shampoo Bar
Deodorant (travel size)
Hair Brush, Hair Bands

Electronics Bag:

Converter Euro Plug
Plug with 2 USB Chargers
Extra Batteries
Headlamp – Black Diamond ReVolt

Nighttime/Sleep Bag:

Down Throw (Costco)
Sleep Bag Liner
Tweezers, Mrror, Skin Clip, Nail File
Xero Ztrail Sandals

Rain Bag (back of pack pocket):

Rain Jacket – Patagonia Torrent Shell

Baseball Cap

Brain Bag:

Guidebook, Notebook, Pen
Reading Glasses
Crossbody Bag
Pee Rag


Under Armor Shirt

Bike Shorts
Socks Darn Tough
Watch – Timex Ironman
Bra – Smartwool
Under Wear – ExOfficio
Trail Runners (Altra Lone Peaks 3.0)

Outside of Pack:

Carmex lip balm
Hand Sanitizer
1 Liter Smart Water Bottle
iPhone 7 Plus

La Sportiva Wildcat Review

La Sportiva Wildcat Review

Trail runners have replaced traditional boots as the preferred footwear for an Appalachian Trail thru-hike. I chose La Sportiva Wildcats for our 2,200 mile journey and this is my La Sportiva Wildcat review.

Before making the firm decision of thru-hiking in trail runners I tried both boots and trail runners in the mountains of the Central Valley of Costa Rica (where we lived before our thru). After hundreds of miles on each I determined that trail runners, La Sportiva Wildcats specifically, were the right choice for me, here are the reasons why:


For trail runners Wildcats are a bit on the heavy side but compared to boots they are light. Accumulative fatigue is a serious concern when you are hiking 8-10 hours a day, every day over the course of 6-months. It is estimated an average thru-hiker takes over 5 million steps during their journey. Having one or two fewer pounds to lift up and down will have a noticeable effect.

Dry Quickly

The Appalachian Trail is a wet trail. On a thru-hike it is probable you will experience multiple instances of multi-day rain. Wet gear is uncomfortable and causes chafing and blisters. La Sportiva Wildcats, after becoming drenched, dry quicker than their boot counterparts. Even non-leather boots.

Before hiking the AT I tried this out by crossing a river in them to get to a waterfall. The shoes were saturated but by the end of the day they had dried completely. The same cannot be said of Merrill Moabs that I had also used before the AT. I once got caught in the rain in them and it took two full days for them to dry.

One note, if you end up going the boot route, do not get waterproof boots. No boot is truly waterproof on a thru-hike and once soaked the waterproof barrier will not let the moisture escape.


You might not believe this, but I only used three pair of La Sportiva Wildcats over 2,200 miles. The first pair lasted 1,100 miles and the middle pair could have lasted longer but they had been battered by the Pennsylvania rocks and I wanted fresh treads before entering the White Mountains in New Hampshire.
I was expecting to replace the shoe every 500 miles and was completely blown away at the Wildcat’s durability. I met hikers in leather boots that only lasted 300 miles into the trip.

No Break-in Time

Because of the design of the shoe and liberal use of flexible mesh the Wildcats need minimal break-in. Traditional boots need many miles before they fit perfectly. The flexibility of the shoe and lack of break-in time also contributed to me not getting a single blister over the course of 6-months of hiking. Not one blister!

la sportiva wildcats after 1100 miles

After 1,100 miles I replaced my first pair of Wildcats (nice socks, right?)


Selling for around $100 the Wildcat is an affordable shoe. I actual got one pair of the three on sale for $75 and free shipping. Compared to boots this is a deal. And it’s about on par for other trail runners as well, although some run up to $150; this is still nowhere near the expense of an Asolo or comparable boot.

Find the best price for Wildcat shoes on Amazon.

Lip Service

One of the greatest design features of the Wildcat is the rubber toegaurd. Where other shoes’ rubber lip stops at the top of the toe the Wildcat’s goes up and over. This is crucial because you will be kicking rocks and roots all day and the other shoe design will cause the rubber to disengage from the shoe causing it to flap.

Chica’s toe lip compared to mine.

It’s amazing other shoe companies haven’t caught on to this. I remember one hostel where everyone’s shoes were lined up on the front porch. Every single pair, save mine, had flappy rubber on the toe. True story.

Now that I sold you on the shoe what are some of the problems with them?

First off, if you have bigger feet you are out of luck. Really, anything bigger than a 13 is a no go. The European sizing goes up to 47.5 which is supposed to translate to 13.5 American, but the shoe runs small. I typically wear 12.5 – 13 size shoes and the 47.5 fits me perfectly.

Next, not all feet are the same and not everyone will have the love affair I seem to have with these shoes. In fact, one of our YouTube subscribers sent me his pair because they didn’t fit him right and he couldn’t return them. When I bought my first pair, we went to REI and I really thought I was going to walk out the door with a pair of Salomon’s. But after trying on the pair of Salomon then the La Sportiva there was no comparison. The Wildcats were like a fairy tale, they felt just right.

Finally, the mesh can break especially after hundred of miles in wet conditions. The one’s I used for 1,100 miles were starting to fall apart, but what can you expect?

Trail runners are not a great solution for those that need ankle support or for those carrying mega-weight packs. Otherwise, I think there are compelling reasons to wear trail runners on a thru-hike. La Sportive Wildcats are my choice.



5 Women-Specific Gear Hiking Choices

5 Women-Specific Gear Hiking Choices

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I loved being a woman thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail last year. Yes, I was with my husband, and that was epic, but I didn’t let that take away from the pride I had for myself as a woman. When I was young, and I first heard of the Appalachian Trail, it was only associated with guys hiking it. But here I was – a girl, a women, a chica – doing it along with the guys, and other women as well! There are more and more female thru-hikers each year, currently about 30%, and I love that it’s on the rise. Who knows, maybe some day we’ll take over the trail? Girl power! (more…)

5 Brilliant Gear Solutions for Long-Distant Hikers

5 Brilliant Gear Solutions for Long-Distant Hikers

Gear, gear, gear. It’s easy to get bogged down in the minutia of gear stats when outfitting a long-distance hike. Weight, size, material, multi-use’ness, cost, it seems an unending process to choose what is best. Today’s list is 5 items that can be easily left out, but provide gear solutions to common backpacking problems. Most of these serve multiple purposes and they all are lightweight compared to their utility. (more…)

Click here for our new book Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail

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