Congratulations to Leah Harman, our newest Reviewer of the Month! Leah (aka LAH now Twig), a Trailspace member since 2007, is a long-distance hiker, as well as a mariner, biologist, and paddler. She also is a volunteer member of Trailspace's Review Corps gear testing program.
She wins a 10 Essentials prize pack worth more than $350 for her contributions. Check out the 2017 prizes below or see "Essential Gear for our 2017 Reviewers of the Month."
Please tell us a little about yourself.
I have lived a varied and adventurous life, growing up in Colorado, then seeking professional paths as a marine biologist, mariner, and small boat program coordinator, among a myriad of other short-term tinkerings. I even moonlighted as pedi-cab driver while doing an EPA internship in D.C. one summer.
But many of these steps have been more like a means to feed my wanderlust, rather than inciting a desire towards any specific career path. I find myself at an interesting crossroads presently, hoping to discover and uncover different ideas, passions, and innovations...all while taking some time off just to walk.
How do you spend your time outdoors?
Looking back on all the backpacking I did this summer, plus the four months I am about to do, the answer as of late simply is: as a de facto state-of-being.
Do you prefer to go out solo or with partners?
This is a great question, but I’m going to cop out and answer BOTH! Before this summer, I would have answered solo, because that is my baseline. About 90 percent of my backpacking has been solo. As an only child, I guess I became comfortable with and by myself very early on. I experience a level of peace when I’m out in the wilderness alone, also feelings of contentment and pride. I am fiercely independent and know that my skills and abilities would not be as developed, had I not been forced to go it alone.
Yet I had some of the best times in the company of my tramily (trail family) this summer. It would not have been as amazing without them. This has given me a fresh perspective on hiking with others. For one, having a buddy means you don’t have to rely on selfies as much. But much deeper than that, it’s simply great to have somebody to share the experiences with.
A big thanks to my Colorado Trail Tramily: PBR, Twix, and Bam. So yeah, a good mix of both is the best thing.
Who has influenced your outdoor life?
Initially my parents got me hooked, but in the Internet age, I have greatly benefited from reading all the blogs and trail reports posted online. I’m very grateful for all those that take the time to share their adventures and advice. Which is a big reason why I love Trailspace so much!
If you could go for a hike with anyone, whom would you pick? Why?
I would hike with Gandalf. After leading so many epic treks in the movies and books, there’s evidence to suggest that he’s the Best. Hiking. Buddy. EVER. Period. You just never know when you might need some help battling a Balrog along the trail.
What is your dream outdoor adventure?
Any long distance thru-hike.
Any plans on your horizon?
I quit my job back in June and spent the summer hiking the Colorado Trail. I also completed the first 270 miles of the Appalachian Trail as two section hikes. I’ve done all this for fun but also as training towards my bigger goal. For over four years, I’ve stated that I would someday hike the Te Araroa (the long pathway) in New Zealand, and that is exactly what I am going to do, beginning this December. For the next four to five months, I will walk the length of a beautiful country (while also hoping for a glimpse of Frodo, but not Balrogs).
Do you have any outdoor goals?
I began to get involved in trail maintenance projects last year and I want to expand on this when I get back to the U.S. I’d also like to help support programs that introduce people to outdoor activities, especially those helping veterans, women, and youth.
What led you to start reviewing your gear on Trailspace?
I must confess, I was initially motivated to write reviews to win a prize (and I did, I won a tent!). I continued to write reviews after that, simply because I love to discuss gear. I never expected it to morph into such a big part of my life.
Do you have a favorite piece of outdoor gear? What? Why?
I have been really honing my gear list for the past five years, with the focus on less-is-more and going ultralight. As a result, I have a pretty high turnover rate with gear. What I might have loved two years ago has often already been replaced. But there are a few key pieces that seem like they will have some staying power.
My Zpacks Solplex tent has proved to be very functional, comfortable, and easy to set up. I also really like the properties of DCF (cuben fiber) over nylon. Did I mention that the tent is only 1 pound?
I recently switched to a Hyperlite 2400 Southwest pack for these reasons (waterproofness is key where I’m heading), but have only put 170 miles on it—so far, so good.
I have been using the same sleeping pad, a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, for five years and still find it’s the best for the weight and comfort.
Lastly, I’ve been very pleased with my Katabatic Alsek 22-degree, 22-ounce quilt. I don’t get a chance to use it much, since it’s so warm, but it saved my butt in Colorado this "summer."
What’s in your backpack right now?
Hopefully only stuff I’ll need for a 1,900-mile journey and nothing more! That sounds like it could be a lot of stuff, but my base weight is around 13 pounds. (Check out Leah's Te Araroa gear list.)
What’s the best outdoor or gear advice you’ve been given or heard?
I know people harp about going ultralight all the time and I know it’s not for everyone, but I can’t emphasize enough how this strategy has benefited my own hiking. It makes backpacking so much more enjoyable. I can do more each day, cover more miles, feel better at the end of the day, etc, etc.
Mostly, I can climb really fast. I hiked up Mount Elbert in Colorado to 14,433 feet this summer with my full pack, passing many that were just day hiking. Take it from other sports, there’s a reason why cyclists specializing in climbing are the scrawniest athletes...the less weight you have to push uphill, the faster you’ll go and the longer you’ll last.
Do you have any interesting gear stories?
This summer, while hiking the AT in the Smokies, I was present when a bear ran off with a guy’s boot. It’s highly likely that he had food in his tent, so not all that surprising. The poor soul didn’t have camp shoes, so my friend took pity and gave him his sandals, just so the guy could hike out.
Instead of taking the nearest bailout, the guy ended up at the same shelter as us again that night, proceeding to drop marshmallows on the ground (which surprisingly nothing ate all night, even given all the mice!) and was the most obnoxious snorer in the history of Shelter Snoring.
We gave him the trail name Meth Ninja (only behind his back) because he was dressed all in black and talked candidly about his previous (or current?) meth addition. Although more of an antidote about the crazy kind of trail people you meet, it’s also a cautionary tale about carrying a pair of camp shoes. That and how demonstrating kindness can come back to haunt you! Oh yeah, there’s one other key takeaway: NO ONE should ever eat marshmallows…not even rats will touch them!
What's your favorite book?
Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
What's your favorite quote?
“We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them.” –Bilbo Baggins
What would Trailspace members be surprised to learn about you?
I’m scared to death of centipedes. As a biologist, I’m mostly fascinated by and respect all life forms, but I cannot stand to even look at those things! Bad childhood memories...Thanks, Mom!
Where does your username come from?
I’m proud to announce that I finally have a real trail name—Twig. It’s actually a nickname given to me back in college, but as trail names go, it fits the bill of being simple, easy to explain, and outdoorsy-sounding. Why? Because I’m just tall and thin! See, easy.
What question would you ask other Tralspace members?
I get asked all the time how I’m able to do what I’m doing now. I even wonder the same thing about fellow thru-hikers. How can someone like Wired go on all these adventures all the time and how can I be exactly like her? At some point, you begin to find out that the roadblocks aren’t always insurmountable...some of them are just in your head.
Committing to a big adventure starts with simply stating, over and over again, that you’re going to do it. Eventually you begin to believe yourself. So in following with the question “What is your dream outdoor adventure?”, I would ask other members, "What is stopping you from fulfilling this?"
Leah by Monarch Pass, Colorado, near where she grew up.
On the Colorado Trail
On the Colorado Trail
Captaining her live-aboard sailboat
Being a kiwi in New Zealand ("Why did the kiwi cross the road?")
Riding a horse in the coastal dunes near Valparaiso, Chile
On the Colorado Trail
To thank them for their essential contributions, we're giving Leah and every 2017 Reviewer of the Month the following prize pack, thanks to these generous brands. Worth more than $350, it's filled with examples of what to carry into the backcountry. For more on the 10 Essential prizes read "Essential Gear for our 2017 Reviewers of the Month."
#2 Sun Protection
#5 First-Aid Supplies
#7 Repair Kit and Tools
#10 Emergency Shelter