Asher K.
Birmingham, AL
Joined June 2016
I am an MD/PhD student living in the south who loves camping and my goal is to explore as much of the Alabama wilderness as I can while training here.
Ranger Review: Red Ledge Free Rein Jacket at Glen Falls Backcountry

Campground Review:

There are two ways to access this campsite and one definitely requires significantly more sweat (that’s the route we took). The backcountry site is located near the far trailhead at Glen Falls located at the end of a forestry road. We hiked in from the trailhead that most people use to access the falls and continued down the trail past the typical turnaround point until you reach the bottom of the valley. The site is on the nicer side for a backcountry campground as it is level and has multiple areas for tents along with a large fire pit surrounded by logs for sitting on. The main advantage of this site over others in the area is that it is located on the inside of a curve in the river so the creek surrounds almost the entire site giving easy access to water and a relaxing sound to help you sleep at night. The hike down from the upper trailhead is relatively steep and involves going down many (many) stairs but is well worth it for the views of Glen Falls. This is a well-traveled and also well cared for route and we saw many other hikers while we were there. However, most people do not make it all the way down to this site so you will most likely find a significant amount of privacy if you plan on camping here. Since it is National Forest you will have no issues with camping just make sure to follow leave no trace practice and keep your fire under control. I would also highly recommend a dip in the cool waters to help with the heat during the middle of the summer. Overall, this is a beautiful secluded campsite very close to Highlands that provides both tranquility and also some strenuous hiking.

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**Product Review:** 

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get to test products while out adventuring. At this campground, I stayed dry using the Red Ledge Free Rein Jacket. After multiple rainy hikes and wet campground days some of my favorite features are:

  1. Dryness (obviously): Although it is the main purpose of a raincoat I still want to mention that this design is highly effective at keeping you dry. Not only is the material incredibly water-resistant and all seams are well sealed but it also has a dual closure system in the front to keep every last drop of water away from your body. I also know that this effectiveness will last since my wife has been using a Red Ledge raincoat for many years and only recently did it need a fresh waterproofing treatment. The small touches like a multi-cinching hood and velcro wrist straps make this an incredibly effective raincoat.
  2. Breathability: Where I am hiking in the south breathability is just as important as waterproofing since the heat will often cause you to become wetter from sweat than anything the rain can do. I found that this raincoat although still being hot was significantly more breathable than others I have used with the same rain protection. It has huge armpit zipper openings and several large mesh pockets that can be opened to increase airflow. The only negative I found was that the sizes for men run slightly smaller than usual so the tightness decreased airflow. However, this can be easily solved by getting a size larger than your usual. 
  3. Color Options: One of the things that often frustrates me about men's hiking clothing and gear is that the colors are typically boring and flat. They stick to dull greens and blues or grays and blacks. But not these raincoats! They come in bright reds and greens and many other color options to fit your individual personality. This was a big plus for me and is important if you want to be seen while hiking in areas that allow hunting or don't want to get lost from your hiking partner in a torrential downpour. 

Overall, for the very reasonable price of these raincoats, they are incredibly effective and comfortable and I would highly recommend seriously considering them for your next raincoat purchase.

Ranger Review: Morsel Spork XL at Gulf State Park

Campground Review: 

Let me start by saying this is a very large park with a variety of campground options so I will do my best to first review the overall park then discuss each of the sites individually. The park sits alongside the gulf coast and has multiple access points to the beach. It also has an extensive paved trail network that is perfect for all kinds of activities including running, walking, and biking. While visiting the park we biked and explored the butterfly garden which I highly recommend. We also had the chance to visit the pier and the education center and everything is so well organized and taken care of. Overall, there is so much to explore you will definitely need multiple days worth of adventure. There are two major campground areas in the park and I will start by discussing the yurt option. 

There are several yurts that are set up and organized for camping during certain parts of the year that each have 4 cots and a fire pit. There is also a large pump sink and a wild west looking shower in this area. If this option is available I would highly suggest checking it out. It is perfect for groups and provides a nice private area to spend your night away from the more crowded RV sites. This area is also centrally located and remote from the remainder of the park so you will have an incredible view of the night sky. The site is kept very clean and mostly covered in sand so it was wonderful to walk around barefoot. Finally, although you will have to bike or hike to get to these sites there is already firewood available for purchase so you won’t have to carry that in with you. 

The tent/RV area is very large and has a variety of amenities that will make your stay very enjoyable. Overall, it is on the slightly more expensive side for a campground but provides easy access to the beach and is significantly less than many of the nearby hotels. One thing I really liked was that they have created a separate area for tent-only sites from the combined tent/RV spaces. This gives you a slightly more rustic experience if that is what you look for. On top of all the usual features, they have a pool and picnic areas that campground guests can use and don’t forget to stop by the wildlife education center. You can also join in for one of the rangers led educational walks to see wildlife around the park

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**Product Review:** As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get to test products. At this campground, I tried out the Morsel Spork XL. After eating several meals using this innovative spork some of my favorite features are: 

  1. Length: I got the long-handled spork to be able to use it both for regular campground meals on plates or bowls and also with backpacking meal bags and eating out of cookware which each has its own needs in terms of reachability. However, until I opened the package I didn’t imagine just how long the XL spork was and this was very exciting to see. I haven’t had a camping tool that provides nearly as much reach as the Morsel Spork. Besides the obvious use of reaching to the bottom of a dehydrated backpacking meal bag, the long spork is also incredibly helpful for not burning yourself while cooking in deep pots or stirring large meals without worrying about getting your hands dirty. 
  2. Multi-edged spoon: The spork spoon end is designed to have both a rounded edge and a sharp-angled edge both with a flexible rubber edging. This makes it even more multifunctional by allowing it to clean any remaining food out of all types of pots and bowls. I found this was helpful to enjoy every last bit of our delicious camping food and made clean up so much easier. Its such a simple design idea but makes such a huge difference in practice. 
  3. Durability: I loved how lightweight the plastic material was but also didn’t ever worry about it snapping or breaking during use or in my backpack. They used a strong but slightly flexible plastic that won’t easily snap in half but also can withstand heavy use in tough foods. We were able to use the spork to cut through hard cheeses and also mix rice dishes. The curved shape of the long handle gives it extra strength and they even designed it to be washed in the dishwasher when you get home. Overall, this is the best spork I have ever used and has even become part of my daily lunchbox. When you use it to eat while camping you can quickly tell the amount of thought that went into engineering each aspect and finding the way to make it not only effective but also last you many years of adventure.
Better sites further down the trail

This is a very small site on a busy trail that is located smack dab in the middle of the path. It does have easy access to water and a nice flat area to set up a tent but that is about it. There are much nicer more established sites a little further down that I would recommend more highly. Also, because of its location near the start, it gets pretty busy here. 

Sipsey Wilderness is a protected but unmaintained area in Northwest Alabama that is well known for its intersecting creeks, streams, and rivers that play together with the many waterfalls and magical rock faces. The wilderness area is contained within the larger Bankhead National Forest and is accessible from a variety of different trailheads many of which are only reachable on dirt roads. Hiking here you definitely get the feeling that you have left the rest of the world behind and are in complete wilderness. Different times of year provide completely different experiences whether its the exciting and boundless blooms of spring, the overgrown wild of summer, the bold and expansive colors of fall, or the high river levels and easy boating access of winter. Just make sure to always do your research and plan ahead since it can change so drastically depending on when you go. My favorite is either fall or spring since the summer can be particularly hot and buggy.

This trip we had planned to kayak down the river from the Sipsey River Trailhead to the Highway 33 Bridge take out but were thwarted by a recent lack of heavy rain and unusually low river levels for the season. Several sites online suggested over 4 feet gauge height would be fine but after talking to the Rangers we were told the only time that it was really navigable was in the winter or fall for a couple of days after a major rainfall. With that plan out the window, we decided instead to throw some packs in the car and move our gear around to make it a semi backpacking/hiking trip.

Close to the car

This site is the first one you see right when you get down the hill from the parking lot. It will also probably be the first site claimed since it is the easiest to see and clearly very nice with its spot overlooking the river. The site has plenty of space for several tents and a well-established firepit. The downside, however, is that you are right on the trail and very close to other campsites and the busy thoroughfare for other hikers. If you don't mind making conversation then I would highly suggest staking your claim and getting your tent set up so you can enjoy a relaxing night listening to the river.

Sipsey Wilderness is a protected but unmaintained area in Northwest Alabama that is well known for its intersecting creeks, streams, and rivers that play together with the many waterfalls and magical rock faces. The wilderness area is contained within the larger Bankhead National Forest and is accessible from a variety of different trailheads many of which are only reachable on dirt roads. Hiking here you definitely get the feeling that you have left the rest of the world behind and are in complete wilderness. Different times of year provide completely different experiences whether its the exciting and boundless blooms of spring, the overgrown wild of summer, the bold and expansive colors of fall, or the high river levels and easy boating access of winter. Just make sure to always do your research and plan ahead since it can change so drastically depending on when you go. My favorite is either fall or spring since the summer can be particularly hot and buggy.

This trip we had planned to kayak down the river from the Sipsey River Trailhead to the Highway 33 Bridge take out but were thwarted by a recent lack of heavy rain and unusually low river levels for the season. Several sites online suggested over 4 feet gauge height would be fine but after talking to the Rangers we were told the only time that it was really navigable was in the winter or fall for a couple of days after a major rainfall. With that plan out the window, we decided instead to throw some packs in the car and move our gear around to make it a semi backpacking/hiking trip.

Flood Safe Campground-Good for spring

This site is one of the furthest along this section of trail and is nice since it is one of the larger spaces in this area. Like all the other campsites it has easy access to water and nice coverage with trees. It is also relatively private but still close to the trail. Check out my video review for more specifics about this site.

Sipsey Wilderness is a protected but unmaintained area in Northwest Alabama that is well known for its intersecting creeks, streams, and rivers that play together with the many waterfalls and magical rock faces. The wilderness area is contained within the larger Bankhead National Forest and is accessible from a variety of different trailheads many of which are only reachable on dirt roads. Hiking here you definitely get the feeling that you have left the rest of the world behind and are in complete wilderness. Different times of year provide completely different experiences whether its the exciting and boundless blooms of spring, the overgrown wild of summer, the bold and expansive colors of fall, or the high river levels and easy boating access of winter. Just make sure to always do your research and plan ahead since it can change so drastically depending on when you go. My favorite is either fall or spring since the summer can be particularly hot and buggy.

This trip we had planned to kayak down the river from the Sipsey River Trailhead to the Highway 33 Bridge take out but were thwarted by a recent lack of heavy rain and unusually low river levels for the season. Several sites online suggested over 4 feet gauge height would be fine but after talking to the Rangers we were told the only time that it was really navigable was in the winter or fall for a couple of days after a major rainfall. With that plan out the window, we decided instead to throw some packs in the car and move our gear around to make it a semi backpacking/hiking trip.

Small Backcountry Site

Another great backcountry site in Sipsey, read below for more info about the area and the trails we took on our recent trip. Check out the video or photos for a better idea of what is available at this campground.

Sipsey Wilderness is a protected but unmaintained area in Northwest Alabama that is well known for its intersecting creeks, streams, and rivers that play together with the many waterfalls and magical rock faces. The wilderness area is contained within the larger Bankhead National Forest and is accessible from a variety of different trailheads many of which are only reachable on dirt roads. Hiking here you definitely get the feeling that you have left the rest of the world behind and are in complete wilderness. Different times of year provide completely different experiences whether its the exciting and boundless blooms of spring, the overgrown wild of summer, the bold and expansive colors of fall, or the high river levels and easy boating access of winter. Just make sure to always do your research and plan ahead since it can change so drastically depending on when you go. My favorite is either fall or spring since the summer can be particularly hot and buggy.

This trip we had planned to kayak down the river from the Sipsey River Trailhead to the Highway 33 Bridge take out but were thwarted by a recent lack of heavy rain and unusually low river levels for the season. Several sites online suggested over 4 feet gauge height would be fine but after talking to the Rangers we were told the only time that it was really navigable was in the winter or fall for a couple of days after a major rainfall. With that plan out the window, we decided instead to throw some packs in the car and move our gear around to make it a semi backpacking/hiking trip.

Great group site across the creek

Read below for my Sipsey Review and check out the video to get an idea of the site. This particular campsite is located at the intersect of several streams and is a beautiful spot with a large area to set up tents. Because it is actually slightly removed from the trail that most people take it has an incredible amount of privacy while not being cramped or crowded. Another thing I really loved about this site is that it is right along the water without the need to climb down any steep banks. This could be a problem in the spring time when there is a chance of flooding but normally it makes for a wonderful site. Finally, the flat tent areas at this site are mostly covered in sand which means you will have a very comfortable surface to sleep on. 

Sipsey Wilderness is a protected but unmaintained area in Northwest Alabama that is well known for its intersecting creeks, streams, and rivers that play together with the many waterfalls and magical rock faces. The wilderness area is contained within the larger Bankhead National Forest and is accessible from a variety of different trailheads many of which are only reachable on dirt roads. Hiking here you definitely get the feeling that you have left the rest of the world behind and are in complete wilderness. Different times of year provide completely different experiences whether its the exciting and boundless blooms of spring, the overgrown wild of summer, the bold and expansive colors of fall, or the high river levels and easy boating access of winter. Just make sure to always do your research and plan ahead since it can change so drastically depending on when you go. My favorite is either fall or spring since the summer can be particularly hot and buggy.

This trip we had planned to kayak down the river from the Sipsey River Trailhead to the Highway 33 Bridge take out but were thwarted by a recent lack of heavy rain and unusually low river levels for the season. Several sites online suggested over 4 feet gauge height would be fine but after talking to the Rangers we were told the only time that it was really navigable was in the winter or fall for a couple of days after a major rainfall. With that plan out the window, we decided instead to throw some packs in the car and move our gear around to make it a semi backpacking/hiking trip.

Small but convenient

Read below for a full review of Sipsey and this particular trip. This is a small site right along the trail with enough cleared flat space for a single tent and 2-3 people. It has a well-established fire put and a couple of rocks that could be used to sit on. It is also immediately adjacent to the stream but high enough on the bank that it is not at risk of flooding. If possible I suggest heading a little further down the trail to the next site but this is a good backup option if that one is already taken. One of the cool things someone set up at this spot is several flat rocks placed in the fire pit that will help protect the fire in case of wind and direct the heat towards the sitting area. I can see this being a real advantage if camping during the colder winter months. 

Sipsey Wilderness is a protected but unmaintained area in Northwest Alabama that is well known for its intersecting creeks, streams, and rivers that play together with the many waterfalls and magical rock faces. The wilderness area is contained within the larger Bankhead National Forest and is accessible from a variety of different trailheads many of which are only reachable on dirt roads. Hiking here you definitely get the feeling that you have left the rest of the world behind and are in complete wilderness. Different times of year provide completely different experiences whether its the exciting and boundless blooms of spring, the overgrown wild of summer, the bold and expansive colors of fall, or the high river levels and easy boating access of winter. Just make sure to always do your research and plan ahead since it can change so drastically depending on when you go. My favorite is either fall or spring since the summer can be particularly hot and buggy.

This trip we had planned to kayak down the river from the Sipsey River Trailhead to the Highway 33 Bridge take out but were thwarted by a recent lack of heavy rain and unusually low river levels for the season. Several sites online suggested over 4 feet gauge height would be fine but after talking to the Rangers we were told the only time that it was really navigable was in the winter or fall for a couple of days after a major rainfall. With that plan out the window, we decided instead to throw some packs in the car and move our gear around to make it a semi backpacking/hiking trip.

Ranger Review: RovR RollR 60 Cooler at Parksland Retreat

Campground Review: My wife and I had the amazing opportunity to stay at Parksland retreat this weekend making our first campground reservation through the Dyrt. Parksland is a beautiful off the grid campground and home that is well cared for and a wonderful experience to stay at. They have set up several areas for guests depending on what your camping preference is. The owners live at the highest point of the property and have an outdoor kitchen surrounded by a garden and chicken coop with woods in every direction. If you are interested in what would typically be considered classic car camping you can stay at one of the many tent sites they have set up around the kitchen area. Many of these sites already have tents set up for you to rent or if you prefer to bring your own tent you can use one of the other available spots. All of the sites in this area are already covered with large industrial tarps so you can stay dry no matter the weather. If you are interested in a more private area they have two more primitive, trail campgrounds a short hike down the hill that each has cleared ground providing space for several tents. On this trip, we had reserved the further, more private and smaller site but ended up staying at the closer site since it was available and more convenient with the weather conditions. 

We arrived at the campground on Saturday around noon and got a tour around from Dustin the owner where he showed us all of the options. We then climbed down the steep hill with all our gear and set up camp before the rain came in. Since the site was relatively large we were able to find the perfect spot for our tree tent. After a quick lunch of grilled cheese, we headed off to explore the hiking around the area. Dustin suggested we take the Ridgeline loop trail and with only a couple of wrong turns, we managed to complete the loop and finish at the swimming hole. Although the water was cold it still felt wonderful and is a much welcome amenity in the hot and humid Alabama weather. Other than the poison ivy (which you can’t really do anything about) the hike was really scenic and a good afternoon trek. Make sure to take the map though cause it helps to make the turns at the right spots. We got back before the rain began so had time to take advantage of the hot shower they have available and cooked dinner by our fire (firewood is provided). We whipped together a wonderful sweet potato and chili combo with recipe inspiration provided by Fresh off the grid. After dinner, we cleaned up around camp, moved everything under our tent, and climbed in for the night. 

Although we were prepared for the rainstorm that we knew was coming overnight we were not prepared for rain inside our tent… We woke up in the middle of the night with puddles on our sleeping bags and a storm raging outside. Luckily we were able to stay warm and relatively dry but woke up intermittently. In the morning with rain still pouring we decided to just trek back up the hill with the gear and load up the car since we were already wet. We packed everything up and headed on home discussing how even with the crazy weather and unfortunate leakiness we had a fun and adventurous time and were glad we went. 

Overall, Dustin was so welcoming and helpful throughout our entire stay and he has created a wonderful oasis that makes a perfect getaway. I highly suggest checking it out. 

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Product Review:

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get to try out new and interesting products at campgrounds I visit. On this trip, I stored all my food in the RovR RollR 60 Cooler to keep it cold and fresh for the weekend. My takeaways from using the durable rolling cooler are:

  1. Transportability: Although there are now several rollable rotomolded coolers out on the market none are designed with off-road capabilities like the RovR. With large inflatable tires, I was able to go over steps and rocks, move through waterlogged mud, and glide gently over gravel paths with minimal amounts of effort. The cooler is on the heavier side but this was barely noticeable since it is so much more maneuverable than any of the other options. On top of that, it comes with a collapsible gear bin that attaches to the top proving even more space to keep gear that needs to be moved around. Since this campground required a short but steep hike to get to over fairly rough terrain there was no possible way we were getting any other cooler to and from this campsite but with the RovR it took 1 trip. I was able to roll the cooler down all by myself with most of our cooking gear loaded in the bin on top. My wife could then carry down the tent and clothes and we were able to get camp set up much sooner and get to eating lunch. Although I wouldn’t want to backpack with a piece of gear like this (though you probably could) I can’t imagine a camping situation where the RollR 60 wouldn’t succeed in making food transport easier. I also loved the design feature with the handles on the side since I have a tendency to perpetually hit my heels while pulling things directly behind me. 
  2. Temperature Stability: I didn’t get a chance to test this out to an extreme level since we only camped for one night but I did get a general idea of how well this cooler holds its temp. We loaded it up with ice and food on Friday afternoon to save time on Saturday and then unloaded it when we got home on Sunday and about half of the ice was still sitting in the bottom and everything felt like it was coming out of the refrigerator. The ingenious design also features a water runoff area underneath the dry bin so that you don’t have things sitting in a large pool at the bottom. This also ends up surrounding the dry bin with ice cold water turning it into a refrigerator of sorts. 
  3. Dry bin: Speaking of the dry bin this is by far the best design I have seen for organizing a cooler yet. It has two deep sections that sit all the way in the lowest part of the cooler as I mentioned earlier. This was so helpful for 2 reasons. First, the items in the dry bin actually stay cold rather than when the dry bin sits at the top of the cooler in the warmest part making you decide whether you would rather have your frozen items in cardboard packaging either soaking in the water at the bottom or fully thawed in the dry bin at the top. The second amazing thing about this dry bin is that it is deep/tall enough to store items that need to stand straight up. We were able to put things like sour cream and open cans of olives and jalapeños without worry about them falling over when the ice melted. Take a look at the picture I included to see just how much it helped with keeping everything organized. 

Overall, this is by far the best high-end cooler I have had a chance to try out. My wife and I found ourselves continuously impressed and excited about how well this cooler was designed and how much fun it was to use. If you are ready to pull the trigger and spend a little bit to get a nice cooler I can’t recommend the RovR more highly.

So close to Boston

Came here while in college at Brandeis University with my field Biology class. We explored all over the bog looking for interesting species of plants and animals and found so many amazing things. This is an amazing site to take anyone who is adventurous and loves to explore. It also doesn't hurt that it's so close to Boston. I agree with all the other reviewers and definitely suggest checking this site out.

Close to Wolfe's Neck State Park

Visited this site while up in Maine seeing the in-laws and had a wonderful time! This is a beautiful site right on the water and so close to Wolfe's Neck State Park which has wonderful hiking. Just remember it can get pretty cold around here to plan accordingly depending on what season you go. Its also so nice just how close to Portland and Freeport this site is so you can even get some shopping in at the LL Bean outlet.

Small but secluded

When we got to this campsite we were very excited and immediately began setting up in order to claim it early in the day. We really like how level it was and that it is removed from the trail so you still have privacy from other hikers. We ended up finding that the next site along the trail was also available and more spacious so we ended up moving there but this site is a good backup if that one is already claimed. Although it was relatively clear when we were there in early spring many of these sites off the trail can be hard to find when it starts getting more overgrown in summer. Read some of my other reviews from this area for more info about backpacking in Sipsey Wilderness.

Closest to the Car

This campground is the first you pass after coming down the road from the parking area. It is located right at the 203 trail junction near the bridge and along the water. On this trip, it was occupied by a family that had walked down the hill at the same time as us and carried in all their gear in their arms with no packs. This is an ideal site if you need an easy to find a campground that is as close as you can get to the parking area. It is on the smaller size but has a nice firepit and plenty of area to put up at least two tents. It is also high enough off the bank for you to stay dry in case of flooding. One small downside is that to access water you will need to climb down a steep slope or walk around to the bridge slightly down the trail. Another downside is that the trail passes right through the campsite so if you are a late sleeper you may get disturbed in the morning by other hikers passing through. If you are able I would suggest going a little further down the trail and checking out the 2 other nearby sites. Read some of my other reviews from this area for more info about backpacking in Sipsey Wilderness.

Ranger Review: Liquid IV Sleep at Sipsey Wilderness Backcountry Site

Campground Review: The Borden Creek Trailhead where we started our hike used to be down at the bottom of the hill but several years ago they moved the parking to a quarter mile away to help protect some of the areas down by the river. This means that coming into this site will require a short hike down a forestry road which isn’t shown on most of the maps. We loaded up all our gear into our hiking cooler and backpacking packs and trekked the 15-20 min downhill to this site. It is the 3rd campsite you pass after turning right at the bridge. This is also listed as trail 203 on most Sipsey maps and meanders along the river a short way. The campground will be on your right and is a large cleared out area with a fire pit in the middle.

Sipsey Wilderness is a protected but unmaintained area in Northwest Alabama that is well known for its intersecting creeks, streams, and rivers that play together with the many waterfalls and magical rock faces. The wilderness area is contained within the larger Bankhead National Forest and is accessible from a variety of different trailheads many of which are only reachable on dirt roads. Hiking here you definitely get the feeling that you have left the rest of the world behind and are in complete wilderness. Different times of year provide completely different experiences whether its the exciting and boundless blooms of spring, the overgrown wild of summer, the bold and expansive colors of fall, or the high river levels and easy boating access of winter. Just make sure to always do your research and plan ahead since it can change so drastically depending on when you go. My favorite is either fall or spring since the summer can be particularly hot and buggy.

This trip we had planned to kayak down the river from the Sipsey River Trailhead to the Highway 33 Bridge take out but were thwarted by a recent lack of heavy rain and unusually low river levels for the season. Several sites online suggested over 4 feet gauge height would be fine but after talking to the Rangers we were told the only time that it was really navigable was in the winter or fall for a couple of days after a major rainfall. With that plan out the window, we decided instead to throw some packs in the car and move our gear around to make it a semi backpacking/hiking trip. 

This particular campsite was where we stayed our second night and it was an amazing option. It is fairly large but buried in the trees so you are both protected in case of storms and won't boil from the sun in the morning. It also provides a nice bit of privacy from both the trail and the other nearby campsites. We were able to rig up a tarp between the trees and could still have a nice campfire and stay dry despite the rainy weather. I really liked how close we were to the river and could easily pump water and rinse off our feet and bodies after a sweaty day of hiking. Overall, I would suggest passing the first two sites on this trail and checking if this one is available since you will appreciate the serenity the close grouping of trees provide. 

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Product Review:

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get to try out new and interesting products at campgrounds I visit. On this trip, I tried out the Liquid IV Sleep drink supplement to help get a full nights rest out in the woods. My takeaways from using the powdered sleep aid are:

  1. Effectiveness: This drink mix knocked me out and that was after sharing it with 2 other people. Their mixture of 3 different natural sleep aids worked effectively to help me fall asleep and also stay asleep throughout the entire night. This is a tough feat when out in the woods so I was very impressed on that aspect. 
  2. Taste: Although there was a little saltiness in the flavor due to the electrolytes the overall taste of the drink mix was very good. I wish they had more options available for the sleep version but the blueberry lavender was a great choice. It is not too sweet and none of the individual flavors are overpowering.
  3. Ease: Since it comes in small pouches as a dried powder it is easy to bring along on any camping trip and you should always have water available so it is no problem to add to a Nalgene. You won’t notice the weight and in general, you can keep them in your day bag or any other pack where it could be useful. 

Overall, I would say this is a well-made drink mix that is very effective in helping you recover and fall asleep after a long day on the trail. I know getting a full night of deep sleep is often challenging for me out in the woods so having some extra help is well appreciated.

First to Review
Ranger Review: Icemule Pro Cooler at Horse Pens 40 Campground

Campground Review: This is considered the site for the best bouldering in Alabama and is known nationally for its climbing and annual festivals. It is organized as a large spread out, somewhat wooded area with designated campsites around fire pits. When you arrive and check in/pay your camping fee you then drive to pick a site. There is really no privacy for each individual spot but you can find ones that are a little more removed or larger depending on your needs. The campground area is then situated right next to the expansive boulders which you can explore throughout your entire stay. Since this is why people come to Horse Pens 40 it is the focus of the park and therefor the campsites function mostly for the sake of being close to the boulders. I wouldn’t suggest coming here if you aren’t a serious climber and very interested in the bouldering aspect. Since my wife and I are only amateur climbers we found the rocks to be more of a challenge than we were expecting and got pretty worn our very quickly. We also struggled to finish most of the routes. Overall, we did enjoy the trip but found that for our needs which were a relaxing weekend of camping and some easy enjoyable climbing it didn’t fit us so well. I had hoped for a more secluded camping experience and more manageable climbing options. I personally prefer making the little bit further drive from birmingham up to Cherokee Rock Village which provides a superior experience for less cost in my opinion. 

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Product Review:

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get to try out new and interesting products at campgrounds I visit. On this trip, I took along the Icemule Pro Cooler to keep all our food fresh for the weekend. My takeaways from using the soft shelled cooler are:

  1. Transportability: With built in backpack straps and the ability to roll closed and strap everything tight this cooler is the easiest I have ever used to transport cold items while camping. Even just going from car to the site which was no more than a 1-2 min walk would have been miserable with my traditional hard sided cooler packed full with ice and food. The Icemule got tossed on my back freeing up my hands to carry the bag with all our cookware. On another trip we even hiked in to a backcountry campground with the cooler and just loaded it with all of our food and cookware to make transporting everything easier. 
  2. Temperature Stability: I had my doubts that a soft shelled cooler could maintain its temperature anywhere near my hard sided coolers since I have seen how quickly my ice pack melts in my lunch each day. The Icemule Pro managed to surprise me in this regard as well since when we arrived home after 2 full days out in the sun and Alabama hot fall weather all the ice packs were still completely frozen solid. We were able to bring things that needed refrigeration without worrying about storage and without having to lug around the giant cooler. 
  3. Flexibility: Since the cooler is made out of a flexible fabric material this provides two wonderful features. First, it can be rolled up and stored in a small space when not in use. I really appreciated this since we live in a small home and space is always a factor with our gear. Second, when loading the cooler you aren’t limited by the form factor of a rectangular box. We had a lot more ability to squeeze items in where we wanted them and didn’t have any dead corner space. 

Overall, this is an incredibly engineered addition to my gear collection and has already proved useful on multiple camping trips. It had tons of space for a weekend trip, is easy to transport and move around the campsite, and performs incredibly well in its role as a cooler.

Ranger Review: Primus Primetech Stove Set at Sipsey Wilderness Backcountry

Campground Review: When we arrived at this site after carrying our gear down in backpacks from our car parked up at the trailhead I put down my pack and looked around. After a minute I realized this was the exact campsite I stayed at 15 years ago on the last night of backpacking with my family as a kid over spring break at the same time of year. It is a wonderful site and well worth claiming early since it is close to the parking area, has easy access to the river where you can pump water and swim, and best of all it has flat sandy tent spots up the hill and out of reach of flooding.

Sipsey Wilderness is a protected but unmaintained area in Northwest Alabama that is well known for its intersecting creeks, streams, and rivers that play together with the many waterfalls and magical rock faces. The wilderness area is contained within the larger Bankhead National Forest and is accessible from a variety of different trailheads many of which are only reachable on dirt roads. Hiking here you definitely get the feeling that you have left the rest of the world behind and are in the complete wilderness. Different times of year provide completely different experiences whether its the exciting and boundless blooms of spring, the overgrown wild of summer, the bold and expansive colors of fall, or the high river levels and easy boating access of winter. Just make sure to always do your research and plan ahead since it can change so drastically depending on when you go. My favorite is either fall or spring since the summer can be particularly hot and buggy.

This trip we had planned to kayak down the river from the Sipsey River Trailhead to the Highway 33 Bridge take out but were thwarted by a recent lack of heavy rain and unusually low river levels for the season. Several sites online suggested over 4 feet gauge height would be fine but after talking to the Rangers we were told the only time that it was really navigable was in the winter or fall for a couple of days after a major rainfall. With that plan out the window, we decided instead to throw some packs in the car and move our gear around to make it a semi backpacking/hiking trip. 

We started out Friday dropping one car off at the Sipsey River Trailhead and then drove another car to the Borden River Trailhead where we began hiking the 200 trail (All the Sipsey trails are numbered and there are multiple maps available online). We passed a bunch of awesome sites along the way (cataloged in other reviews) and picked out our favorites for the night along the way. When we reached back to the original car after about 3 miles we drove back to the same trailhead and packed our backpacks to get the gear down to the campsite we had chosen. 

This site has space for around 2 tents though you could possibly squeeze in a 3rd and it has a nice sized firepit with a large dead log that was perfect for sitting on. Most of the site is pretty sandy but level which was wonderful for sleeping on. We struggled a little with finding large pieces of dry wood for a fire since this is a pretty well-traveled site. A family did come by and use the river access near our site to swim while we were setting up camp but we had plenty of privacy by the time it got dark. If this site is taken there are a couple across the river (accessible via the bridge) or up the trail in either direction. 

Overall, if you want an easy access site to a parking area either because you are getting a late start to a backpacking trip or you want to camp near your exit point on your last night this is a wonderful spot that provides all the necessities and space for camping in Sipsey.

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Product Review:

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get to try out new and interesting products at campgrounds I visit. On this trip, I cooked all my meals on the Primus Primetech backpacking stove to create a range of delicious dishes. My takeaways from using the all in one packable gas stove:

  1. Efficiency: The set comes with 2 pots and a burner with built-in windscreen and heat transfer systems. This meant that I was able to get a freshly pumped pot full of cold river water (roughly 1.3L) to a full boil in under 4 min. I was able to use less fuel to prepare my meals and bring less along while still having spare fuel as a backup. The included lid also helped to maintain heat retention in the pot which meant I didn’t have to reheat the water while prepping other parts of the dish in the other pot. Finally, we were dealing with a significant amount of wind at the site and it didn’t affect the burner or efficiency thanks to the well designed built-in windscreen. 
  2. Packability: The stove is designed so that all the components pack together into the larger pot and then fit into the carrying case which cinches closed. This design means that there is no mess that you get from liquid fuel stoves and no lost components at the bottom of your bag. It also ends up being a shape that is easy to cram into the little nooks and crevices left in your bag after packing the bigger heavier items. 
  3. Cooking Performance: I am incorporating a few things into this section since I just didn’t want to leave any of my favorite features out. First, DURABLE NONSTICK, seriously, they made a durable nonstick surface that is lightweight and provides even heat. I was skeptical but have now used it multiple times with both plastic and metal utensils and it doesn’t even show a scratch. I cooked vegetarian sausage, rehydrated rice and beans, fried eggs, and boiled water and every time the pot ended up completely clean with no work but a little rubbing with my hands under running water. The locking tong handle means less weight since it works for both pots but provides stability since it locks onto the pot being used. It also has a protective guard so it doesn’t damage the pot and helps to act as a heat guard so the handle doesn’t burn you. Finally, since the design is nesting during cooking and the gas attachment is a hose the full setup sits stably on the ground and has no chance of tipping during cooking, even if on uneven ground. This is a necessary feature for me since I have had multiple dirt eating situations where my pot tipped and I was forced to scoop my now dirty food back into the pot…

Overall, this is by far the best backpacking stove I have ever used giving even consistent heat, a stable cooking surface, and efficient fuel use. It is also very reasonably priced considering the number of components that are included and comes in at a weight that makes it perfect for most backpacking situations. If you haven’t checked out Primus’s line of stoves and cookware yet I would highly suggest seriously considering them when looking to upgrade your backpacking cook set.

Ranger Review: AfterShokz Trekz Air at Fremont Saddle Campground

Campground Review: Ill start off by mentioning that this is a backcountry site in the desert and will require some serious hiking to get to. Plan ahead before camping here since you will need to bring in all your water and temperatures fluctuate widely depending on the time of year. Ok now on to why I loved this site!

The Fremont Saddle is located about 2.5 miles in on the Peralta trail and follows a pretty moderate to challenging climb up the mountain. Right at the campground you can see an incredible view of several of the nearby peaks and explore further onto several other branching trails. The campground itself is not well defined since this is a dispersed site though there is a single campfire ring that someone built right off the trail. (I believe fires are discouraged here however) The park rule for camping is that you can set up your tent anywhere that is off the trail (there is a distance specified at the trailhead). Check out my photos of the trailhead signs for more info.

There aren’t any water sources available so make sure to pack in whatever you will need and consider that it can get very dry during the day so you will be drinking a lot. Give yourself enough time at the campground so that you can set up and explore the area since it is incredibly beautiful. One of my favorite things about this site is that you can get 360 views at different points so you could have an amazing sunrise and sunset.

Overall, this is by far the best site I came across while hiking the Peralta Trail and is well worth the challenging trek to get here. Just remember to be prepared and give yourself plenty of time.

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Product Review:

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get to try out new and interesting products at campgrounds I visit. On this trip, I tried out the AfterShokz Trekz Air bone conduction headphones. My takeaways from using the open ear headphones are:

  1. Hear the world: One of the things that really got me excited about these headphones right off the bat was the ability to her what is going on around you while listening to your music. My wife and I are constantly out doing physical activity including runnings biking, hiking, climbing, and kayaking. For many of these activities hearing your surroundings can be a vital factor and can limit the ability to listen to music. These headphones are game changers and perform incredibly in this role. It often sounds like your music is playing on a speaker while wearing them and it was a shock the first time I tried them out. While wearing the Trekz Airs I was able to have a conversation with my brother hiking next to me and could easily tell when another hiker wanted to pass.
  2. Comfort: since these heaphones sit on the bones in front of your ear canal you would expect them to put pressure on your head and be uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time. However, I found than to be even less noticable on my head than my in ear headphones which bother me after an hour or so. They have nice pads which allow them to rest comfortably and the design is amazing how they lightly rest on your ears without squeezing your head.
  3. Sound quality: A major concern with using bone conduction is that the quality, depth, and volume will be unacceptable. I tested this out on the Airs by playing a variety of different music styles in different environments and while completing different activities. Overall, I was able to achieve rich, quality sound consistently. The one challenge I found was in noisy environments where I wasn't moving and getting the volume up meant feeling the vibrations. However, this is not what they were engineered far and when the volume is up while running I am unable to feel the vibration. Also, they stay in place when you move around so the sound stays consistent throughout your listening.

Overall, I would say these headphones are well worth the value and an amazing addition not only to your camping gear but also perfect for any other high intensity activities. They have a long lasting charge, great sound, and are comfortable to wear for hours on end. I liked the headphones after trying them out that I ended up buying a second pair for my wife. I can’t recommend these headphones enough.

Group Backpacking Site

This is a backcountry site right along the trail that you pass a minute or two before you get to the Blue Mountain Shelter. I have linked to that review and I highly suggest checking it out first since it covers some of the directions for hiking into this area. This specific site is more suited for groups however since it has multiple flat areas for lots of tents and several fire pits if you want to spread out. You can set up camp here and hike further on to get to some of the nearby viewpoints which are well worth the trek. This site isn’t that special but practical if you need the space and want to have a nice jumping off point to see some of the other sites in the area.

Keep hiking

Update for my most recent visit: I would first go check out my video review of this site below since it will help you get an idea of what is available and help you understand how the space is set up. I also have several videos attached that show some of the more confusing trail components so you don’t get lost. This is the closest campground to the trailhead and my least favorite of the options in the park. I would really only stay here if you are in a pinch and need a last minute flat site to pitch a tent.

Another backcountry site

I would first go check out my video review of this site below since it will help you get an idea of what is available and help you understand how the space is set up. I also have several videos attached that show some of the more confusing trail components so you don’t get lost. This is a backpacking site that is right alongside the trail and pretty easy to find. It has a little more space than the first one you pass so would be a better option if you are in a group of more than 2. However, since it is right along the trail you wont have the same privacy. There is a small (read very small seasonal) stream a short ways further down the trail but don’t count on this so fill up whenever you pass a stream earlier or go further along where you will pass additional fill up sites. Check out my other reviews of Cheaha for more info on backpacking here.