This out of the way, private campsite was the ideal place for a peaceful getaway. The seclusion was wonderful. Aside from minimal road noise and the occasional train, it would be easy to believe you are much further from others. Although the facility are minimal, they are clean and well kept. The site provides a port-a-potty, picnic table, and fire ring. It also includes firewood, the use of a Weber Kettle grill, and a hammock stand. Just behind a trailer on the property is a small creek that was fun to explore and fish in. The area provides lots of flat space that could have accommodated a larger group. The site also has RV hook ups that we didn't use. This would be an ideal place for a group of friends looking to camp and not bother other campers or a large family that wants a place to themselves. I look forward to recommending this site to others!
The hut is 3 sides and open on the 4th, the open side faces the fire pit. There is a picnic table, privy, bear locker, and bear pole to hang additional items at the site. The hut sleeps 8 and is first come, first serve. You may end up meeting some new friends there because of this. If the hut is full, there are some tent sites available. Also the spring for water is located very close by.
The campsites here were close, but still spaced out nicely. They all offer a tent pad, fire ring, and picnic table. The bathrooms have running water and free showers, but the hot water for the showers only comes on once per day.
There are RVs allowed in this campground, there are no hook-ups and very strict time limits for running generators. There is a short trail with stair case that goes down to Lake McDonald.
There is also a trail that goes into Apgar Village were you can get ice cream, firewood, beer, back country permits, and souvenirs.
This site is about 10.2 miles from the trail head for the Logging Lake trail. There is a small creek crossing right before the campground that makes you feel super cool when you go over it.
These campsites are very close to the lake and the paths to them from the cooking area was very muddy, it took my camp show right off my foot.
The site has a privy (no TP), fire ring with logs around it, and a pole frame to hang bear bags.
This is another beautiful site with incredible views.The lake is very clear and cold. We cooled off after our hike in by dipping our toes in.
This is the back country site about 5 miles in on the logging lake trial. The site is beautiful and is right on the lake. The views are incredible. There is plenty of flat space to pitch tents.
There is a fire ring with logs around it. There is also a pipe to bag your bear bag from. A privy for the campsite is located up a small hill, which does not provide TP. It's a little terrifying to go to alone at night.
We stayed here to be close to Great Sand Dunes. We got in late at night and the road was very rough and harder to follow after dark. The campsites are set up on the hillside and offer very little flat space. They do have tent pads so you don't have to worry about sleeping on too much of a pitch. They also include picnic tables, fire rings, and bear lockers. They are serviced by pit toilets. We were not able to find running water, but it may have just been because we were there in the winter.
It was a very cold night on the mountain side and got down to 14 degrees, so be ready for that if you are going in the winter.
We hiked to the waterfall in the morning and it was well worth it. The view from the trail head was very pretty and we were glad we saw it.
The payment machine was broken while we were there and it ended up being by donation. We gladly paid to stay.
We stayed here on our way back out of the canyon as an overnight between Bright Angel and the rim. I'm glad we broke the hike out up into 2 days. It gave us the opportunity and energy to check out more things and see the overlook that is nearby.
The campsites each have tent spots and covered picnic tables. There are pit toilets and running water available. The ranger was friendly and chatted with us for a bit. The sites also provide ammo cases to store your food from critters.
The garden has many beautiful plants and we saw deer from our site. It's worth the stop over.
We stayed here after a day of hiking down from the rim. Be sure to have your permit! We can in February because that was the easiest month to get a permit.
The sites are close together, but each one has a rack to hang your packs from, ammo cases to store your food away from ground squirrels, and a picnic table. The squirrels are serious business here. There was a crew cutting back trees the in the morning and we watched a squirrel chow down on one of the worker's breakfast.
The campsites have bathrooms WITH FLUSH TOILETS AND RUNNING WATER! I was floored to be at a "back country" site with those amenities. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised though, Phantom Ranch is just a few feet away and has running water and even vends beer and wine. Of course we had to go and try a Bright Angel IPA since we were hiking its namesake.
We stayed here the night before and the night after we hiked down into the canyon. The spots are reasonably spaced out and serviced by several restrooms with flush toilets and sinks. Each site has a spot for a tent, picnic table, and fire ring. Firewood and everything else can be bought at the park store that can be driven to or you can take a shuttle to.
If you want a shower you have to go back down to the laundry area and they are $2 for 5 min. My husband's shower cut off early though, so don't bank on your full 5 min.
My husband and I stayed here last December before starting the Taum Sauk to Johnson Shut-Ins portion of the Ozark Trail. The hike to Mina Sauk falls and Devil's Toll is always worth it.
We were the only people in the campground that night, which was a little freaky, but also very peaceful. A few cars did drive through the campground later at night, but they didn't stop.
The campsite had a picnic table, fire ring and tent area.
The water was turned off at the time of year we were there and the pit toilets were pretty full, but otherwise still clean.
Huzzah Valley Resort (HVR) is not a typical campground. It’s a place built for and specializing in float trips. If you are picturing serenely paddling down a pristine river in a canoe listening to the sounds of birds and insects, you are in the wrong place, at least on a Saturday during the summer. This is more like a float trip with frat parties floating on by you, complete with loud music, floating cooler, floating beer pong tables, loads of drunk people and of course the antics of these drunk people. Not really the best place to take your kids on those summertime Saturdays. I knew this going into the weekend. Really, with campsite prices from $12.79 (for the family camping area) to $16.00 (for the loud area with no quiet hours, nicknamed the Zoo) per person, per night most people not looking for this experience are weeded out by price alone. All that being said party-barge type float trips are pretty much a rite of passage in Missouri.
My Husband and I went on this trip with a group of friends that are not as experienced campers as we are and opted to stay in a cabin. This was about $90 per person for the weekend. Our cabin sleeps 8 people with 1 queen bed in a room, 2 queen beds in a loft, and a double sofa sleeper. It included a kitchenette, full bathroom, fire ring, BBQ grill, picnic table. Aside from a microwave and a full size fridge, the cabin didn’t really offer any other amenities. We brought our own sheets and campstove. It was nice to be able to set up a crockpot before we got on the river and have dinner ready when we got back though. The cabin was reasonably sized and not a bad experience.
It was nice on Sunday morning to just get to enjoy our coffee as we watched hundreds of hungover people in the campground try to take down tents.
We floated from Scotia to Ozark Outdoors, which is a very pretty 5 mile float in the Huzzah. This meant we had to be bussed from HVR to the put in and from the take out back to HVR. The river was packed!! There were people as far as the eye could see and the raft/canoe/kayak traffic never broke up during our whole time on the river. Since it was not a holiday weekend, we were a little surprised by how crowded it was. This didn't stop is from having a great time though! We floated in a raft and a kayak and both experiences were very good.
The campsite offered tent sites as well as sites with full hookups for RVs. Each campsite has a fire grate and picnic table. There is a camp store on site that sells everything you could possibly forget, from matches to fishing poles to beer.
As a Ranger for the Dyrt I get to try out products from time to time. One this trip I tested out Nature’s Coffee Kettle, which is billed as top quality coffee that you can take anywhere. They give you a reusable kettle bag and a filter bag of coffee. You can purchase refill packs to use in the same kettle bag. Kettle bags get up to 4 uses. You place the filter pack at the top of the bag, pour some boiling water over it and let it sit for a few minutes, then you pour the remaining water over the filter and wait a few more minutes for it to brew through the filter bag and drip into the bottom portion of the bag. Once it is done, you can pour yourself a cup of hot joe.
The coffee is very good. Even though the brewing process is a little complex (adding 1 cup of water, waiting a few minutes, adding 3 more cups, waiting more), it isn’t that difficult. The closable pour spout is nice to keep your coffee hot while you drink your first cup. The bag is a little flimsy and I was afraid the kettle would fall over while brewing, but it held up. The kettle and bag are lightweight and can fold down pretty small. These are definitely much easier to use than an old school percolator, and take up less space. I feel like car camping is where these will shine. Although you do still have to pack a pot to boil the water.
They are even practical enough that I might try to take them backpacking at some point. I can’t imagine they will replace Starbucks Vias as my go-to coffee for backpacking though. It is still bigger, creates more trash, and you have to make 4 cups at once even though it is tastier.
- Delicious coffee in a variety of roasts and types
- Lighter, smaller than traditional percolator
- Reusable kettle bags
- Screw cap to keep coffee hot
- They offer coffee, tea, and hot chocolate
- Can only make 4 cups at a time
- Thin bag- makes it too hot to touch and have to be careful not to let it fall over while brewing
- Not light, small enough to take backpacking regularly
If you are looking for a place for a group to go and have a fun float trip, this is it. They are only open on weekends and by reservation. They only offer group campsites, which is why the camping rate is so high. It is $50/night for 10 people. You get a nice open area with a pavillion, picnic tables, and a firering. Each group site is serviced by its own port-a-potty. While this is not an ideal toilet situation, they are clean and stocked.
For float trips they pick you up from your campsite and bus you to your put in point. You can float the Meramec for 4 or 9 miles and you end back at the campsite.
The real wins for this campground are that the operators are so nice and accommodating! They drive the bags of ice you buy to your campsite for you (cash only) and they will drive your coolers back to your site after a float. Also, this is much closer to St.Louis than many other float trip outfitters.
I was very excited to finally get to check out Sam A. Baker State Park as I had heard great things about beautiful land. The drive to the park was very pretty indeed, my husband and I enjoyed the view on the way in. My first impression upon entering the park was that this place is huge! There are 2 huge campgrounds (around 100 sites each!) and a nice paved bike path connecting them. There is also a visitor’s center were you pay for your campsite, a camp store that sells all kinds of things, a small restaurant, equestrian campsites, cabins, and an equestrian trail. We set up our tent in a basic site with no electricity, which was nice that it put us a little bit away from RVs and campers. The sites are very close together and even on one of the hottest weekends of the year the campgrounds were full! They do allow advanced reservations and I would definitely recommend them in the summer. The basic site cost $13/night and was close to a shower house with flushing toilets and a water spigot. Since it was such a hot weekend, Saturday morning we decided to the 4 mile float the campground offers. They depart at 10am or 11 am from the boat ramp at campground 1. They have a bus that picks you up at the end at either 2pm or 4pm. We paid $40 for our canoe for the afternoon. It was nice to float a different river, but the St. Francois (at least near Sam A. Baker) was pretty murky and you couldn’t see your feet in about knee-deep water. There were also tons of trees down in the water, making it a more technical trip at some points and even requiring us to get out and portage our canoe for about 25 yards. Although the price for the float was decent, the distance was very short (without stops, it would take about 1.5-2 hours). I think next time I would choose to just play and relax in the river near the campground rather than do that float again. The park also has some backcountry trails with backcountry campsites and is near the Ozark Trail. My husband and I really wanted to explore the trails and see if it connected to the Ozark Trail, but because of the heat the weekend we were there we didn’t get a chance to. Most of the trails are shared use, meaning foot and horse, which is never great for the hikers on foot. We wanted to be able to see the true condition for ourselves, but I guess that will have to wait until next time!
- Full amenities (showers, water, electric, store, restaurant)
- Lot of activities (river floats, fishing, swimming, equestrian trails, backcountry trails, amphitheater, bike path)
- Very popular, and therefore very crowded
- While it was pretty, it did not feel exceptional in any way.
Product Review: Snapbuds
As a Dyrt Ranger, I get the honor of reviewing products from time to time. This trip I got to highlight Snapbuds. They are a magnetic earbud cord organization system. If that sounds complicated, they are. They are a series of magnets that you clip around your earbud cords so that when you wrap up the cord it stays in place. This is to prevent the inexplicable phenomenon that is setting down your earbuds perfectly coiled, not touching them, then finding them in a yarn ball like knot the next day. They certainly do help with that problem. However, I have noticed since I am now coiling my earbuds the same way each time, they get twisted up after a few uses. The set up process is not entirely intuitive. You lay your earbuds on the provided guide and tape them down. Then you snap the buds in the locations of the wrap you want to achieve. Once the buds are placed, they are not supposed to be able to be moved, but you can pry them back open with a fingernail or slide them down with a bit of force. I found that the indicated placement to wrap around your hand or phone was not where they should line up for my hand or phone once I placed them. This required me to remove or slid each bud. Since they are magnets, if your cords are slightly twisted and the buds line up so the poles of the magnet don’t attract, you have to flip them and it doesn’t look as nice. Also, the magnet will be attracted to anything metal, so when using these at my desk, I have to be careful around my laptop. The buds do add a little weight to your earbuds, but it’s not bad. I did find that wearing the earbuds with snapbuds on them while running was a little annoying, since you have magnets hitting you in the chest with each stride. After each use you have to careful wrap the cord to match up. All in all, I don’t feel like this a worthwhile solution to the problem. At $10 per set, I feel like I would just rather continue to coil the cord at my leisure and keep them in place with an old hair clip.
- They do offer a solution to a common problem
- You can get them branded and use them as a promotional item
- Still causes issues with coiling nicely
- Not intuitive to install
- Magnates get attracted to metal around you
- Magnets add weight to earbuds
- Still had to invest time into untangling and coiling. Didn’t feel like it saved me anytime.
After we paid the park entrance fee ($16, I think), we picked up our FREE back country permit from the visitors center first thing. There we were told we were going to be the only people in the desert that night.
After we did all the road side attractions by car, we headed to the trial head at the Painted Desert Inn. About 1.5 hours before sun set, we backpacked into the Painted Desert from the Inn visitors center where there is water and toilets available. The trail that goes down about 200 feet via switchbacks then ends in a magical lunar landscape of red dirt and petrified pieces of tree. Once you get to the end of that trail, you just have to walk 1 mile in any direction to camp. We hiked a for about an hour across amazing desert-scape and found an incredible plateau to camp on top of. We had a fantastic view of the surrounding dessert without being able to see any man-made structures!
While it is definitely back country camping with no water, electric, toilets, defined sites or anything, it is the most amazing camping I've ever done! There's no light pollution so seeing the stars and the milky way is is no problem. It's so quite, my husband said all he could hear all night was his tinnitus.
It was beautiful, magical and remote. I would go again and again. There's so much to explore and so far you can go. We even found out you can bring your dog with you in the desert!
The only downside is you have to pack in all your water with you, making a multi-day trip a little harder.
- The most fantastic and magical backpacking you can imagine
- So remote and peaceful
- You can see the Milky Way (it was my first time seeing it).
- You can bring your dog!
- Incredible lunar landscape! You get to live out fantasies of being part of the Apollo 11 mission
- No amenities in the desert (no water available to pump from natural sources either)
- No showers for when you get off the trail
You should camp in the Painted Desert. Seriously, do it!!
We stayed here in February on our drive from St. Louis to the Grand Canyon. It was beautiful and FREE! It was also extremely cold in February, like my water bottle froze overnight. The campsites are nice and spacious and pretty flat. They each have a tent pad and picnic table. It was quiet at night and you could see a lot of stars. The vault toilets were clean and had TP. The next morning we did the hike around the monument and it was well worth it! There is a staffed visitor center/gift shop with good info.
The campground is beautiful and the sites are spaced apart so that you don't feel like you're camping on top of your neighbors. We were able to camp right next to the creek and it was amazing. They only have vault toilets that area reasonably clean and stocked with toilet paper. No fresh water on site, we had to drive into town on Saturday to buy a few gallons. No electricty. $10 per site per night, but well worth it!
Also, Marble Creek is the starting point for the only free standing portion of the Ozark Trail. It is 8 miles from Marble Creek to Crane Lake.
The chilly mid-April weekend still saw a good amount of campers at this clean, well maintained campground. The campsites provide the basics: a fire pit, picnic table, lantern hook, and flat gravel area for tents. The campground also offers vault toilets and a water spigot, don't expect electric hook ups or a shower in the summer time. The St. Francis river runs through the area, making it a popular spot to whitewater kayak. We got to see a few kayakers while we were there.
We did find ourselves wishing there was a map of available trails in the area. We couldn't find one anywhere in the park. Basically, you have to stumble across a trail head. The THs have a sign that just tells you the destination, no distances or terrain info. Because of this set up, we didn't get to see the actually Silver Mine there; we never could find the appropriate trail.
Advanced reservations for campsites are available through the us forestry website. If you do not pay online in advanced, make sure to bring cash or check with you. It is needed for the day use fee or camping fee.
As a Dyrt Ranger I get to review gear from time to time and on this trip I got the opportunity to try out Mountain House's new Turkey Dinner meal. I'm a big fan of Mountain House meals. They are my go-to for all my backpacking trips. You can always count on them to be a good freeze dried meal after a long hike. The Turkey dinner meal has a good amount of vegetables in it, which I was very happy to see. Frequently good nutrition is sacrificed in freeze dried meals and on the trail in general. The Turkey dinner was just fine, in my opinion. I'll probably try it again, but it doesn't feel like it stacks up to the awesomeness of MH's other newer meal (Spicy Southwest Breakfast Hash) which I want to eat even when I'm not on the trail. I think the name Homestyle Turkey Dinner evokes ideas of Thanksgiving dinner, then when you're not eating grandma's turkey out in the woods, you're a little disappointed. However, like I said, I'll probably try it again, with my expectations tempered a bit. Probably in the fall, after I've just hiked 10 miles while carrying 35lbs, my brain will tell me this is better than grandma's turkey could have ever dreamed to have been.
The campground is very family friendly, with kids programs and playgrounds all over, but if you want to go camping to have a sense of “getting away from it all, “ this place is not for you.
Meramec State Park is huge at 6,896 acres with over 13 miles of trails and so much stuff to do. While there you can get a canoe rental, eat at the Fireside Store and Grill, swim, attend an interpretive program, picnic, hike, backpack, explore a cave, boat, and of course, camp. This park caters to everyone from the back country camper to the RV enthusiast, to every those strange friends that would rather stay in a motel room or cabin. With the park only being about an hour outside of St. Louis and having great river access, it must be a hot spot in the summer time. My husband and I decided to go a weekend in the early fall and almost didn’t find a campsite despite the fact that it was already too cold to swim. The sites are packed in close together and the non-electric sites are just a short distance from the electric sites, giving you the sense that you are in a trailer park. If you are at a site at the far end of the loop, prepare for a 10 minute walk to the shower house every time you need to go to the bathroom. And forget just using the trees, there’s no cover in the open field of camping. I may go back to try the back country trails, which include 8 established campsites. Outside of trying the trails there are places not that much further away from St. Louis that offer a much better outdoor experience that I think I’ll go to instead.
Camping is available year-round, prices shown are $1 less in the off season (Nov 1-March 31).
Basic Sites - $13/ night
Electric sites- $23/night
Online reservation fee- $8.50 per reservation (year round)
As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get products to test from time to time - today I am testing the LEDlenser MH 10 Headlamp. This ultra bright headlamp is rechargeable! I definitely love the idea that this can be reused without going through batteries and that it produces this level of light! It provides enough lumens that you can easily hike a trail at night.
However, the rechargeable battery makes the headlamp bulky and weighty, so that it's not ideal for backpacking. It's really unnecessarily bright for car camping. The lenses that allow you to filter the light to either green or red are not the most user friendly to swap out, although they are very secure once on the lamp. The lamp does get warm to the touch after 5 minutes or more of use. It never gets so hot that it’s uncomfortable to wear or overheats the light. Don’t get me wrong, this headlamp is nice and probably a stellar choice for starting a hike before dawn, but for the average camping or backpacking trip it’s a bit of overkill and pricey.
-5 year warranty
-3 levels of light
-Heavy compared to other headlamps
-Difficult to change out color lenses
Ranger review 2
Ranger Review: Mountain House Meals at Bell Mountain Wilderness Area, MO
Bell Mountain Wilderness Area is well worth the trip! This is a rugged hike with no facilities. There is just a small (about 6 spot) parking area and that's it. The trail is an 10 mile lollipop style trail that also connects to the Ozark Trail. There are no privies, showers, water taps, camp fees or anything else, but if that doesn't bother you then you want to check this trail out!
There's a few streams that run across the trail that are easily passable in low to medium water. High water makes them a little tricky. The trail is a bit rough and steep at points, but the campsites make it well worth it. You can camp at “established” sites, that are only established because of repeated use and leftover fire rings. The trails are pretty and less crowded than other parks because of the lack of facilities. Camping is available at the top of bell mountain, which has vistas you usually only find on marketing material for camp goods. Or you camp by streams that are just as pretty, but less cool in my opinion. I do always find other people's trash at the sites, which is disappointing. Everything is first come, first serve for selecting a campsite.
Also, Google maps will try to get you lost and take you to private land, just turn where you see the cars parked about 5 min before Google says you'll be there. It is about 2.5 hours southwest of St. Louis.
On my most recent trip we did come across feral hogs while on the trail. We just kept still and they walked past us, totally ignoring us even with our dog.
Being a Dyrt Ranger is not only a on awesome title, but comes with perks! I recently got the opportunity to review Mountain House Meals.
Mountain House Meals are lightweight, freeze dried meals that are convenient as can be! When backpacking they don't take up much space, are light, and are really easy to make after an exhausting day on the trail.
At first I thought they wouldn't be that great, but I could eat anything after 8 miles with my pack on, so I didn't care. The first bite showed me the error of my ways. They aren't 5 star restaurant quality but they are tasty, fast, and easy. I had the chili mac and beef and that's what it tasted like! Also the Spicy Southwest Breakfast Hash is my breakfast of choice, like even when I'm at home I want to eat it, it's so good. The raspberry crumble is a bit disappointing in that there's not enough crumble part and it's almost too sweet.
You do have to carry a camp stove and have clean water available which can add weight to your pack for these, but in my case it's well worth it for a hot meal and I have those things anyway for coffee in the mornings.
Most meals come in 2 serving pouches which is perfect for my husband, but too much for me. Usually my dog gets to share with me because of that. I had to learn to bring an extra long spoon to get down into the corners of the bag.
They make so much sense I even recently brought a few bags with me on a trip to Europe. They were a safeguard against getting back from touristing too late and all the restaurants being closed. We could make dinner with only hot water at our hostel and they added hardly any weight to our bags.
- Warm meals
- A decent amount of options, including desserts!
- Lasts about 20 years, so if you don't use them this time, save them for your next hike!
- Needs camp stove and clean water
- Doesn't seem to many have veggie heavy options so you have to supplement them yourself for a balanced meal.
- If you're an idiot like me and don't follow instructions, you can pour boiling water on your leg while miles out in the backcountry when making it. It sucks.
Campground Review Hawn State Park is beautiful! It is one of my favorite state parks. It offers a variety of hiking trails, a nice play ground, plentiful picnic tables, and is some of the best scenery in Missouri. The pine trees that surround the parking lot give you a sense of the grandeur of this place before you ever leave your car. Then you walk to the beginning of the Whispering Pines trail and see the creek flowing, and know this place is going to be worth it. Don't get me wrong, this trail is rated as rugged, and they aren't joking around with that. If you are backpacking give yourself plenty of time to make it to camp, there are some big hills involved. Big, rocky hills. Once you get to one of the three established backcountry sites you find a generally flat area to sleep, a good amount of cleared land for activities, and a fire ring (although techincally no fires are allowed in the backcountry there). The camping is serene. I stayed at campsite 2 this time and got to listen to the trickle of a small waterfall near my site all evening, I mean, until it started raining. The hike is always worth it. This is an extremely popular trail in Missouri because of its beauty and promiximty to St. Louis (about 1.25hrs), so expect to make some new friends at your campsite. All backcountry sites are first come, first serve and free! No permit is needed, just sign in at the trail head. If you are not a fan of ruffin’ it, there are basic ($13/night) and electric ($21-23/night) drive up campsites with a showerhouse nearby. These are reservable in advanced for an additional fee. I would recommend advanced reservation on weekends in peak season. The campground is well maintained with fire rings, parking pads, and picnic tables at each site. Outside of the shower house, all other restrooms are vault toilets in the front country area (no privies in the backcountry, bring your shovel). This campground is worth a stay and hike around, even if it is on one of the shorter, easier trails.
Product Review I’ve always wanted to be a Park Ranger, exploring the wilderness for a living. I guess being a Dyrt Ranger is a pretty good substitute, especially since I got the opportunity to review the Gregory Maven Backpack recently. I have to admit, I was a little reticent to try out a new backpack. My my current pack was trusty, familiar and had been with me on so many adventures. It had seen me through my longest hikes, to the most interesting places, and mostly, it was my first. It was going to take a pretty amazing pack to get me to forsake my good ol, patch-covered Kelty. I can safely say I will never use that Kelty again. Not only is the Gregory about 100xs lighter (obviously that's a literal, scientific calculation), but it has so many features that set it apart. The first I noticed and loved was the horizontal water bottle holder. Trying to reach behind you and pull a bottle upward while walking is on par with an Olympic event, especially after you've spent 10 sweaty hours out on the trail. This pocket makes it so much easier and less of a gymnastics routine to get a drink. This alone would sell me on the pack. But let me sing more of its praises. The sunglasses wrangler on the shoulder strap is so flipping handy, I can't believe I haven't seen one before! The water bladder holder doubles as a day pack, which I love because, duh, it'll hold your water when you go off on an adventure. The material on the pack all seemed nice and durable. The padding was comfortable and it was so easy to adjust to fit me. The pockets on the hip belt are always welcome! I had to hand-craft one for my old pack, I was glad to see them on this pack ready to go. The only thing with them is if you are a little bigger in the hips, you do have to use awkward t-rex arms to reach over/back to zip them up. Also some of the label on the adjustment tab for one started coming off. Not that it's the end of the world, you just expect new things to stay new for a little while. The included rain cover was PHENOMENAL! Normally when a pack comes with a rain cover it will only cover your pack. Anything you have attached to the outside is screwed. This cover was spacious! My camp shoes, ground pad, etc. did not have to worry about the rain. Things I do miss from my old pack: A few more pockets so that it's easier to keep your gear organized and find items in a hurry. I understand this lack of pockets helps keep the pack weight down and I would rather have my pack lighter than pocket-y. I also missed my front zipper so I didn't have to pull everything out of my pack to find something. A few other less awesome things: The sizing on the website was a little confusing, it was hard to know if the sx/sm, sm/md sizes were for the hip belt or back panel. Honestly, I'm still not sure, but I'm leaning toward back panel. I did view this through a mobile platform, so it may be better on PC. Also, the bigger volume size packs are only offered in blue or gray. The colors are nice looking, but I wish an aqua, pink, or purple was available too. I can hike long distances and be feminine too, but maybe I'm the only one that feels that way though. These misses are small and I'm honestly thinking of using this pack as my luggage for vacation in a few weeks. If I do, I'll post pictures. And I will definitely be using it on future trips.