Northern Wisconsin – 17 Best Places to Visit Up North

As trends change and vacation plans become all the more extravagant, many have forgotten about the secret gem that is northern Wisconsin. Referred to as “Up North” by Wisconsinites, this area is blanketed in forests, bursting with lakes, and dotted with quaint towns. If you’re looking for a family and budget-friendly adventure, look no further than northern Wisconsin.

And the best part? Northern Wisconsin’s a year-round vacation destination. The summer is filled with boat rides, hiking, stargazing, and bonfires. Autumn boasts changing leaves, cool temperatures, and dead mosquitoes. Winter warms the soul with a cup of hot cocoa, pillows of snow, and abundant opportunities to strap on a pair of skis. Spring brings about sprouts of green, the return of animals and their young, and cuddling up on a rainy day with a good book.

We make our way Up North at least a few times every year and always manage to hit up our favorite places, which we’re going to share with you. If you’re feeling extra generous, please shoot this post a like and a share and, as always, enjoy! One last thing before you get too far, remember to…

Pin our picks for the Best of Northern Wisconsin!

Tremblay’s Sweet Shop

Started in 1963, this “Olde Tyme Candies” shop has been a family-favorite for years. In fact, no trip to Hayward is complete without a stop at this Main Street store. At just $6/lb you’ll find yourself filling your wicker basket to the brim with individually wrapped Salt Water Taffy. Mixed amongst the old-fashioned candy (Slo Poke’s, Mary Jane’s, and Coconut Long Boys) you’ll find an array of more recent favorites too—Laffy Taffy, Blow Pops, and Gummy Worms. Did I mention there’s an entire wall devoted to all the different flavors of Jelly Bellies? Yeah, this place caters to kids and adults alike.

Is candy not really your thing? That’s fine, they have a huge display of homemade specialties. Fudge, truffles, brittle, almond bark, nut rolls, clusters, caramel, hand-dipped chocolate… this list goes on and on! My favorite is the chocolate-peanut butter fudge, but if you’re ever unsure about a flavor, pop a sample in your mouth beforehand!

One of the most notable things about Tremblay’s is that you get to watch them make all the homemade specialties, whether window-shopping or standing in the store yourself. Watching them pour out chocolate onto the table, slice it up, and throw it through the air like putty is seriously jaw-dropping. And if you’re not planning on making a stop in Hayward, there are also stores located in Eagle River, Wisconsin and Stillwater, Minnesota.

Website: Tremblay’s Sweet Shop

Scheers Lumberjack Shows/Lumberjack World Championships

By the late 1800’s, northern Wisconsin was one of the nation’s leading lumber producers, thanks heavily in part to the northern part of the state. Since then, much of the industry has vanished, but the memory of logging has been kept alive in the hearts of Wisconsinites. In its place, they created lumberjack sports. These include: log rolling, boom running, pole climbing, cross-cut sawing, axe throwing, springboard chop, and underhand chop, amongst others.

Log Rolling: two competitors stand on either end of a long and try to get the other to fall off… without pushing them or crossing onto the other side of the log! This is the most popular sport, and kids as young as four and five can begin competing.

Boom Running: a race from one dock to another and back, across nine logs, without falling in!

Pole Climbing: If you get nervous easily, cover your eyes for this event. Competitors speed climb up either a 60- or 90-foot pole and back down.

For a complete description of the events and times, head to the website below.

Scheers Lumberjack Shows are a mix of sport, history, and comedy. They’re good an audience of all ages, and even have a special “Yo-Ho!” event for the kids. Shows take place almost every day in the summer, but make sure to book in advance! Shows take place in both Hayward, WI and Minocqua, WI—so take your pick!

The Lumberjack World Championships are taking place from August 1-3, 2019 in Hayward, Wisconsin. Spectators and competitors alike flock from countries across the world to watch the best of the best compete for a “World Champion” title.

Website: Scheers Lumberjack Show

Website: Lumberjack World Championships

Namekagon River Tubing

Nearly 100 miles long, this river snakes through some of northern Wisconsin’s most pristine forestland. The relatively calm water and rocky bottom makes it ideal for a plethora of outdoor activities. The river begins at Namekagon Lake as a small trout stream, perfect for fishing. As it meanders around its dozens of islands, through lakes and wetlands, it picks up in size as it eventually merges with the St. Croix River, a tributary of the Mississippi River.

Canoeing and kayaking are popular pastimes, many of which are several day-long trips, with campsites dotting the shores (and probably some of the islands too—I mean, how cool!?) South of Hayward, the river has the potential to speed up into Class II rapids in a few areas, but generally the water is too shallow. Instead of rafting, many people choose to go tubing down the river. This is my personal favorite river activity, as it’s a good bled between relaxation, swimming, and fun!

I’m sure there are many tour agencies that offer this service, but I’m going to recommend two I know and trust.

The first is through the Hayward KOA, located in Hayward. You don’t have to be camping here to punch your ticket to an afternoon of fun. You can choose to canoe, kayak, or tube down the river. The KOA will then shuttle you to the drop-off point, and pick you up later at a designated spot down-river. All you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride! 😉

Website: Hayward KOA

The second is Jack’s Canoe Rental, located in Trego. Again, you can rent tubes, canoes, and kayaks. For tubing, shuttle service is free with the rental of a tube, and you can go as many times as you’d like during the day (between 9 AM and 3 PM and weather dependent, of course). If you bring along a cooler, they’ll even pitch in a free tube for it and rope to tie it to your own tube… making it a whole day adventure!

Canoe and Kayak rentals pay an additional shuttle fee, but patrons can choose from a variety of different rental options and trips (just a few hours to a few days), giving options to beginners and experts alike.

Website: Jacks Canoe Rental

Apostle Islands

Apostle Islands Wisconsin

This is, hands down, my favorite place in the entire state—if not the entire world (which is saying a lot!) Just off of Wisconsin’s northern shore in Lake Superior, 21 islands surround the state’s uppermost peninsula. These rugged, sandstone cliff islands jut out of the water with spectacular magnitude.

Several different options exist for island cruises, but most are out of Bayfield. Nine historic lighthouses are present on six different islands, which are a photographer’s dream. You’ll be amazed with the picturesque coastline of these islands and the light blue water that surrounds them (You thought bright blue water was only in the Bahamas??? Think again!)

Camping is available on 19 of the islands, but the most popular is Madeline Island. A ferry runs directly from Bayfield to La Pointe (the island’s only city). You can walk aboard, bring your bike, car, or entire camper. Campsites on this island fill up extremely fast, so make sure to book almost a year in advance if you want a site (I’m not joking). There are a few first-come-first-serve sites, but they’re always immediately filled, so don’t bank on it.

Madeline Island boasts a quarter-moon beach cay with white sand and calm, shallow water. Lounge around, sign up for the sand castle building contest, go snorkeling, cliff jumping, biking, hiking, or take a walk on shore’s rocks during sunset. Lake Superior’s water is notoriously cold, but once you’re numb you can’t feel it anyways. 😉

If you’re just there for a day-trip, check out the Madeline Island Museum, grab a bite to eat at The Beach Club, a drink at Tom’s Burned Down Cafe, and ice cream at Grampa Tony’s (just a few of our favorite places 😊).

The fun doesn’t stop when summer ends. When Lake Superior freezes, take the Madeline Island ice road (via a wind sled to be safe) to the only year-round occupied island. Take a winter hike, watch the aurora borealis, or explore one of the ice caves!

Website: Superior Trails – Madeline Island

Copper Falls State Park

Copper Falls Wisconsin

Another year-round attraction, Copper Falls State Park is a 3,068-acre park near Mellen. Famous for its deep gorges and thundering waterfalls, the golden-brown color of the park’s Bad River derives its name from the copper mineral found in the nearby rocks.

Well-groomed trails and amenities, plenty of campsite options, and its pet-friendly atmosphere earned its spot on our list. Some of the waterfalls need to be enjoyed from afar, but there are several smaller ones for the little ones to splash around near. It truly is one of our favorite spots in northern Wisconsin!

Plus, when you go in the winter, nothing is cooler than half-frozen waterfalls. You can either take my word for it or book your own trip to see it yourself, and I suggest the latter! Are you a huge waterfall fan? Check out our post: Best Waterfalls in Costa Rica!

Website: Copper Falls State Park

American Birkebeiner Ski Race

The Birkie (literally burr-key😉) is North America’s largest cross-country ski race. The race starts in Cable and ends 50-55 kilometers later on Hayward’s beautiful Main Street. Skiers from all around the world come to northern Wisconsin to compete in this monumental event, and crowds pack tightly together with hot cocoa in-hand at the finish line to ring their cowbells and cheer on the exhausted athletes.

Does skiing more than 50 kilometers not sound like your idea of fun? That’s fine! You can choose to ski the shorter Kortelopet (29 kilometers) or participate in the un-timed Birke Tour (for 15, 26, or 46 kilometers) on the nation’s best cross-country ski trail, just for fun!

Still not interested? What about the Prince Haakon 15k (ages 13+), the 3.7km race for adaptive skiers, the 1.2-5k Junior Birke for ages 6-18, or the infamous Barnebirkie, a non-competitive 500m-3k race for youth aged 3-13.

Or maybe you hate winter, who knows? The well-maintained trail is open year-round for hiking, running, or biking!

Website: American Birkebeiner

Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame

Fishing in Wisconsin

More commonly known as “The Giant Muskie”, the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame is just that—a giant Muskie. Located in Hayward (the spot of one of the world’s largest caught muskies), guests enter the giant fish at the tail, and make their way through the museum to the fish’s mouth, which provides views of the surrounding area. It’s a great way to spend a few hours learning more about wildlife and fishing in northern Wisconsin!

Website: Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame

CABIN TIME!!!

Lake Cabin Wisconsin

Locals live in them, visitors rent them. Cabins are woven into northern Wisconsin so tightly that the area, quite frankly, would look strange without them. Some are tucked away behind thickets of trees, some line the pristine lakes, others form a city block. A quick Google search will provide you hundreds and hundreds of options, which can be overwhelming.

So, we’re going to give you our favorite one, and a discount to use should you decide to book a few nights here (which you should 😉). It’s located 20 minutes outside of Hayward on 80 acres of land. There’s a small, 20-acre lake that only you have access to for the duration of your stay. I could keep rambling about how awesome this place is, but pictures do it a better justice than words.

When you book, send the promo code AGAPE2019 in your message to the host to receive 20% off. That’s right folks, that’s $50 off each night!

*Promo code is subject to availability. Discount is only available on bookings in May-June and September-November. The host reserves the right to deny any bookings.

Website: Airbnb Cabin Rental

Horseback Riding

Horseback Riding

Honestly, you can find a place to go horseback riding almost anywhere in northern Wisconsin. It’s a relaxing way to meander through the beautiful forest and check horseback riding off your bucket list (we know it’s on there). Here are a few local favorites for you to choose from.

Spider Lake Ranch

Located in Spider Lake, just 14 miles east of Hayward. $32/person for a one-hour ride, $24 for a half-hour, $8 for a pony ride. Discounts available for groups of 8+, boys & girls club members, active duty military, and college students.

Hoofbeat Ridge

Located in between Stone Lake and Spooner. Several different rides are available: ½ hour ($25), 1 hour ($35), 1 ½ hours ($65), All-day (5hrs- $175), or pony rides ($10). Discount on all-day ride for groups 3+ or if customers pay in cash.

Ranch of Rescued Hope

“Connecting with God by Connecting with Horses” is the tagline for this ranch. Located in Phillips, this ranch offers riding lessons, family packages, and birthday packages, amongst more! Riding lessons are for kids or adults, $25 for a one-hour private lesson or $25 for a 1 ½ hour semi-private lesson. The Family package is a 1- 1 ½ hour lesson and can accommodate group sizes 3-4 ($20/rider) or 5-8 ($18/rider).

On Twin Lakes

Did someone say sleigh ride???

Located in Birchwood, On Twin Lakes focuses on taking time to slow down and reflect. “We have been blessed with an amazing piece of God’s green earth, and we want to share that with everyone we can.” The farm hosts weddings and events, provides camping, rides, and trails, and even farms produce and meat.

Sleigh/wagon rides are available year-round. Prices start at $75/person (for up to 4 people, $10 for each additional person).

Boating

Boating and Wake boarding in Wisconsin

Minnesota may be “The Land of 10,000 Lakes”, but Wisconsin has over 15,000, making boating a very popular summer activity. Go tubing, water skiing, wakeboarding, and knee boarding, try your hand at the jet ski, wave runner, paddleboard, or paddleboat. Or maybe you’d rather take a cruise in a pontoon up to a sandbar and spend the afternoon watching the waves roll slowly in.

Don’t have a boat? It’s likely that you can find several marinas within the vicinity of any body of water… so basically, everywhere. The two hottest tourist destinations in northern Wisconsin are Hayward and Minocqua, so we’ll recommend two great marinas, where you can rent any type of boat for the afternoon or for the entire week. And the best part? Add on a few tubes, skis, and other water toys for an additional price.

Round Lake Marina – Hayward

This marina strategically sits between at the meeting point between two of Hayward’s most popular lakes: Big Round Lake and Little Round Lake, but is a short drive away from the Chippewa Flowage (and about a dozen other lakes of your choosing 😉).

Wave Rentals – Minocqua

Located on Minocqua Lake, Wave Rentals offers a variety of different watercraft—from pontoons and fishing boats to kayaks and paddleboards.

Minocqua, Wisconsin

Speaking of Minocqua… this quaint little town has an official population of less than 500. However, when the summer months start creeping around, that number grows exponentially. It’s a Northwoods hub for vacation, adventure, fun, and relaxation.

The year-round opportunities are endless. From the bustling, picturesque Main Street, live entertainment, art, history, water activities, trail hiking, hunting, fishing, ATV rides, and snowmobile trips, this area is stuffed to the brim with things to do, see, and eat. All these activities make Minocqua one of our favorite spots in northern Wisconsin!

Website: Minocqua, WI

Mini Golf

Mini golf, a vacation classic. If you’re anything like us, you scout the area for the best courses and the loser buys ice cream. What can I say? We’re competitive people who love ice cream—and winning. (Jacob likes winning more, but let’s be honest, I’m mostly in it for the ice cream). Any vacation town in northern Wisconsin is going to have at least one course, so we’ve gone ahead and pulled the top ones off our list for you.

Big Bear Mini Golf – Tomahawk

This course definitely isn’t jaw dropping, but it’s family-friendly, has a well-maintained green, and an attached ice cream/shaved ice shop. What more could you ask for?

Settlers Mill – Minocqua

A 19th century settlers themed mini golf, this course merges history with the present. It’s topped off with a covered wagon (AKA prairie schooner), water wheel, and of course—frozen custard.

Eagle Falls Adventure Golf – Eagle Falls

This 1950’s fishing camp-themed course is complete with a fishing cabin, bait shop, and dock. But why let the fun stop there? Try out their new northern lights-themed laser tag!

Pirate’s Cove – Sister’s Bay

With locations all over the country, this Door County mini golf is, you guessed it, pirate themed! Pirates, ships, and waterfalls await you at this award-winning course.

Moose Mulligan’s – Siren

With newly-carpeted green, this is your average family-friendly course. The holes aren’t too complicated, making it perfect for the little ones.

Scheers Lumberjack Village Mini Golf – Hayward

Remember this unique Wisconsin sport? After the show, head across the street to the neighboring mini golf course. Sloped holes make for an interesting game as you (probably) compete for post-game ice cream! If you love mini golf be sure to check out our favorite courses in Florida here: Family Friendly Adventures in Tampa!

Apple Picking

Bayfield Wisconsin

I may be biased, but some of the best apples in the world are picked in Bayfield. With its unique location on the shores of Lake Superior, the micro-climate helped it earn its name as the Berry Capital of Wisconsin. That’s right, it’s not just apples. There are several pick-it-yourself orchards filled with cherries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries, as well.

The first Friday in October kicks off the annual Applefest, a three-day celebration that’s consistently rated as one of the nations top fall harvest festivals. Head on up to northern Wisconsin to check it out yourself!

Website: Bayfield, WI

The Whitecap Mountains

Skiing in Wisconsin

Although it’s a four-season resort, we suggest checking out these Upson, Wisconsin slopes in the winter. With four separate peaks, this mountain is Wisconsin’s snowiest ski resort! There are 43 downhill runs ranging from beginner (green runs) to expert (double black diamonds). It’s no Vail, Colorado with gondolas and 5-star restaurants, but for midwestern ski bums—this northern Wisconsin resort is the place to be. (Plus, if your K-12 child gets all A’s, they get a free season pass… talk about motivation!!) Want to hear more about Colorado’s resorts? Check out our post: Skiing in Colorado!

Website: Whitecap Resort

Bear River Pow Wow

The Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians are a federally recognized Ojibwa Native American tribe located in northern Wisconsin. Each summer, Lac de Flambeau puts on an annual Bear River Pow Wow bringing together tribes from across the nation. Everyone is welcome to share in the celebration and this year’s Pow Wow is July 12-14, 2019.

Website: Bear River Pow Wow

Amnicon Falls State Park

Amnicon Falls Wisconsin

This 825-acre state park is located in South Range (just south of Superior). Similar to Copper Falls State Park, the Amnicon River runs through this park, filling it with waterfalls and rapids. Picturesque in all four seasons (especially fall!) this park is perfect for hiking, camping, or picnicking with your family and friends.

Website: Amnicon State Park

Door County

Door County Wisconsin

Arguably northern Wisconsin’s most famous county, Door County is located on the tip of Wisconsin’s “thumb”—the peninsula that juts out into Lake Michigan. Just like the Apostle Islands, Door County is filled with 300 miles of rugged coastline, long stretches of sandy beaches, and inviting blue water. Picturesque towns fill the space in between with cherry pie, art galleries, wine tasting, and local restaurants.

Website: Door County

Northern Wisconsin is more than just a summertime weekend getaway. Vast trails, quaint towns, and incredible scenery are the norm year-round. If you’re looking for a place to explore and reconnect, look no further than Up North. It’s more than affordable and will surprise even the most seasoned travelers with its beauty.

Thanks for tagging along on our tour of northern Wisconsin. Is any place calling to you? Think we forgot to mention somewhere? Do you plan to visit northern Wisconsin? Let us know in the comments below! Please remember to like and share😊 Until next time, K+J!

Cathedrals in Scotland – Religious Buildings Everyone Should Visit

Kestra and I love visiting churches and religious sites on our travels, and while we haven’t had the chance to visit the Cathedrals in Scotland but our friend L is a native to the region. As a mental health advocate (who also loves to travel!) she has been kind enough to share her favorite Cathedrals in Scotland.

Again, thank you L for your contribution. You can help thank L by checking out her blog here: One More Light. Hope you enjoy, and as always, please remember to comment and share. God Bless!

Scotland has a long history of Catholicism and Protestantism, and although violent at times, the heavily Christian influence in Scotland has left a variety of beautiful religious buildings all across the country. They are spread throughout Scotland but some of the most iconic buildings are in central Scotland such as Edinburgh and Glasgow. I love the various Cathedrals in Scotland and I think they add such beauty and culture to increasingly modernizing cities. In this post I’m going to talk about my favorites of the ones I’ve visited in central Scotland, and places I think you should visit if you’ve ever in Scotland.

Remember to pin L’s picks for the best Cathedrals in Scotland!

St. Gile’s Cathedral, Edinburgh.

St. Gile’s Cathedral dominates the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and it’s absolutely iconic. A beautiful building inside and out that’s a jewel in the tourist hub of Edinburgh city center.

St. Gile’s was founded in 1124, and is steeped in Scottish history. Having been destroyed and rebuilt twice in the 1300’s during attacks by English military forces. Existing as a Catholic place of worship for 400 years, it changed allegiance in 1560 when the Scottish government declared Scotland a protestant country and Presbyterianism was established.

Today it’s still an active place of worship but also welcomes tourists from all over.

University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel

I recently attended a wedding here and was utterly blown away by how classically beautiful this chapel is. Especially at Christmas with the addition of seasonal decorations. It also sits in the stunning campus of Glasgow University which is the highlight of the West end Glasgow skyline.

Rosslyn Chapel, Midlothian

Movie buffs might recognize Rosslyn Chapel from the Da Vinci Code, but it’s so much more than a prop. It’s hidden away in Roslin, Midlothian but is well worth the detour.  Founded in 1446, it still stands as a place of worship today.

Glasgow Cathedral

Standing alongside the old hospital building a stone’s throw from Glasgow’s famous Necropolis. Glasgow Cathedral is said to be built on the burial place of St. Kentigern (or Mungo) the patron saint of the city.

It’s also the only cathedral on the Scottish mainland that survived the aforementioned reformation in 1560.

One of my favorite things about traveling around Europe is visiting the stunning cathedrals and religious buildings each country has to offer, but I never stop appreciating the beauty of the ones in my home of Scotland too. Simply put, the Cathedrals in Scotland are too beautiful not to enjoy!

Have you visited any of the Cathedrals I’ve mentioned? Have you visited another Scottish religious building you think deserves some recognition? Sound off in the comments or give me a tweet and let me know your favorite of all the Cathedrals in Scotland!

Winter Hiking Guide – The Definitive Guide to Hiking in Winter

The chance to escape into a winter wonderland certainly has its appeal, but the inherent beauty of the landscape is also its main danger. Cold kills folks. We decided to put together our definitive winter hiking guide to help you start exploring safely.  From winter hiking gear recommendations, identification of cold related illnesses, to proper food and hydration you’ll have everything you need for a successful hike.

We know the thought of hiking in winter can sound absurd to some people. Who would want to go freeze their butts off for hours, in the snow, with only a few chances of seeing anything cool (stinking clouds)? Strangely enough, we would. We love the solitude, the chance to see wild landscapes blanketed and unspoiled under pillows of snow. Sure, winter hiking isn’t always glamorous— get snow in your boots and you’ll know exactly what I mean— but man oh man is it worth it.

If you’re feeling extra generous, please shoot this post a like and a share and, as always, enjoy! One last thing before you get too far, remember to…

Pin our Winter Hiking Guide – The Definitive Guide to Hiking in Winter!

Winter Hiking Clothing and Gear

Staying comfortable consistently on a cold hike is probably the hardest part about hiking in winter. There are three main factors to consider when choosing clothing: layering, material, exposure. Gear is all about covering your bases. It’s not entirely a “better to have and not need” situation but it’s close. Odds are (and hopefully) you will carry items you won’t ever use. If you wonder why I say hopefully, I’m pretty sure no one wants to use their first aid kit but you sure as heck want it when you need it.

How to Pick Your Winter Hiking Clothing and Gear

Layering is actually a pretty simple process that makes winter hiking so much more comfortable. Each layer has a unique purpose in the goal of keeping you warm. The idea is that you add and remove layers as necessary to stay comfortable throughout your hike. Sweating means you’re too warm and need to remove a layer, whereas, shivering means you need to add one. Ideally, you realize what you need to do before you’re actually sweating or shivering 😊 Your base layer should wick moisture away from your body, the middle layer is the nice warm insulation layer, and the outermost layer is simply a shell to keep out rain, wind, snow, etc. Pretty simple

Choosing the correct material for your clothing is another simple way to stay warm. First and foremost, ditch the cotton. Cotton is a notoriously slow drying material, meaning once you get wet, you’ll more than likely stay wet. That sounds like a good way to be miserable the whole hike to us. Look towards synthetic or wool clothing instead, not only does it wick moisture away but it also comparable thermal conductivity.

Exposure is also a very basic concept. If you can see the skin, its going to get cold. Extremities like your nose, ears, cheeks, fingers, and toes are extremely prone to frostbite and need to be covered accordingly. Additionally, that pesky half inch between the base of your glove and the end of your coat will quickly freeze up if not covered. Basically, if you can see it, cover it!

Winter Hiking Clothing and Gear Recommendations

Now that we’ve covered how you should bundle up we’ve compiled a list of our favorite winter hiking gear. We’ve broken it down into clothing and gear by body part and use. In the sake of honesty: this page contains affiliate links. In the event of a sale, as an Amazon Associate we will be awarded a small commission (at no extra cost for you).  This allows us to continue to produce great content, so thank you!

Warm Winter Hiking Boots

Look for winter hiking boots rated for 20 below zero Fahrenheit at a minimum. This should cover the majority of day hikes you’ll go on. If you plan on venturing above tree-line look for even heavier duty boots. Plan on buying between a half and full size larger boot. This will allow you to wear multiple or thick socks and still fit comfortably within your boot. Our favorite insulated hiking boot is the Keen Summit County Boot.

Buy it on Amazon HERE

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Warm Socks

There are a couple approaches to socks for winter hikes, some choose layers others a thicker wool pair. Personally, I love a single pair of wool socks. Extra pairs just seem to lay funny in my boots. Whichever approach you choose make sure there is enough room left in your boots to wiggle your toes. Why? Partially for comfort and partially for warmth. Blood flow is a good thing! EchoGorge makes some amazing wool socks, I even wear them skiing!

Buy it on Amazon HERE

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Waterproof Gaiters

Gaiters are those really cute (not) puffy things that run from below your knee and over the boots. What they lack in style they make up for in practicality. They do an excellent job of keeping cold wet snow out of your boots and socks. Look for Velcro gaiters instead of zippers. The Velcro holds up to the constant cold and flexing much better than their zipped counterparts. I personally don’t use Gaiters but I’ve heard the best are Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters. Again, practicality not style my friends.

Buy it on Amazon HERE

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Winter Hiking Traction Systems

Traction on the trails is critical. Ideally, you’d get to hike in an inch or so of fresh snow over a soft pack base every time you hike. Unfortunately, we’re not usually that lucky. For hardpack and slick conditions we turn to Hillsound Trail Crampons. They’re lightweight, easy to pack (watch the spikes though), and work well in most snowpack conditions.

Buy it on Amazon HERE

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If you venture further out or find a nice powder stash you may also be in the market for some snowshoes. For mountainous hiking look for heels with a lift. The lift makes climbing hills so much easier— just don’t ask me how it actually works. Also evaluate the binding system, if you think you’ll need to take off your gloves to adjust them look elsewhere. We have a couple pairs of Tubbs snowshoes by K2 and they work spectacularly.

Buy it on Amazon HERE

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Waterproof Hard Shell Pants

Hard shell pants are like a nice raincoat for your legs. They keep all the water (snow and rain) and wind on the outside. They aren’t quite as warm as a softshell so most winter hikers recommend wearing long underwear underneath. Try to buy a pair you can zip down the side to take off so you can leave your boots on when you’re too warm. KAILAS makes an amazing pair of hard shell pants. They’re fairly light, extremely durable, and pretty easy to slip in and out of.

Buy it on Amazon HERE

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Warm Softshell Pants

For those of you who run a little more cold blooded softshell pants are a lifesaver. Think of them as superpowered long underwear. They fit a little more snugly but boy do they pack the heat. Pack a pair of hard shells to keep the wind off your legs. Again, KAILAS makes some amazing pants, their soft shells are just as packable, rugged, and user friendly.

Buy it on Amazon HERE

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Insulated Jacket

I know that the beauty of layering is that you’ll always have a certain combination that should be the right warmth. That all works fine and dandy for when you’re hiking but what about when you stop and take a break? That’s when you need the big, fluffy, puffy jacket with a hoody. Something all about comfort and heat. This is where Kestra immediately screams, “Get a parka!!” and she’s right. They’re long enough to keep your legs and core warm, comfy, and extra puffy. I really like the look of the Western Mountaineering Meltdown Down Parka.  Avoid anything much lighter weight because those are better served as mid layers.

Buy it on Amazon HERE

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Hard Shell Coat (Outermost Layer)

These guys are not meant to be warm or really even that comfy. They serve the same purpose as a nice hard shell pant, they keep you bone dry and the wind off of you. Look for one with a built in hood that you can put up when its really coming down. Non-hooded jackets are nice but do you really want a drain circling water around your neck? We recommend looking for jackets with armpit zippers (you can thank us later) and a couple exterior pocket to store hats and gloves. The Outdoor Research Panorama Point Jacket is really the perfect epitome of those sentiments.

Buy it on Amazon HERE

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Mid Layer Insulation

Almost everyone has a mid layer they swear by. That’s all fine we just recommend you try out a few options and see which fits you and your budget best. The three main schools of though are jackets, pullovers, or vests, depending on how warm you run. Additionally, most people look towards fleece, wool, or synthetic (polyester) for the material. All are warm and good at pulling moisture away from the body. I love and use the North Face’s Glacier fleece, in fact I wear it around the house because it’s so comfy.

Buy it on Amazon HERE

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Base Layer Shirts

There are two main key to base layers. First, ALWAYS avoid cotton. Again cotton absorbs but doesn’t wick away moisture. Second, believe in wickability! Wicking removes any moisture or sweat away from your skin, and since you’ll have your base layer on all day it’s very important you aren’t wet. The Patagonia Capilene Lightweight is a great choice. They run as jerseys (loose) or as long underwear (tight). I used to wear the long underwear version to school all the time back when Under Armor and other tight shirts were cool.

Buy it on Amazon HERE

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Warm Hats

For winter hiking most people will recommend bringing at least two hats. One is a lighter “day” hat, the sun is up and you’re working hard so not as much insulation is needed. The other “night/sunrise/sunset” hat is much thicker and keeps you warm when you’re sitting still or as the temperature plunges. Mountain Hardware makes a phenomenal lightweight “day” and heavy “night” hat. Perfect from piling on or switching in between. Personally, I use the hand knitted Grandma Hardware version but I may have to switch over soon if they’re as great as everyone says!

Lots of people also carry a neck warmer and reinvent its use as a hat, or face mask, or even the trusty neck warming option. I’d recommend the SmartWool Merino 250 Gaiter. Double the insulation, machine washable, wicking so you don’t get that awful water buildup on your chin.

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Warm Gloves

Kind of like the hats most hikers use a two pair glove approach when it comes to hiking. Don’t be surprised to hear some people say they take along even more though. Again, this should be approached from the heavy duty and light duty perspective. Your heavy-duty gloves should be modular in design with a waterproof shell exterior and warm liner interior. This way you can ditch liners as your hand sweat throughout the day. As for mitts or gloves. Mitts are a bit warmer but gloves allow you to maneuver more freely, weigh what matters more to you! Outdoor Research Mt. Baker Modular Mitts are named after one of the snowiest peaks in the USA so can be sure they can handle a day of winter hiking!

Buy it on Amazon HERE

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The lightweight pair of gloves is meant more for the strenuous sections of your hikes. Your blood should be pumping enough that a thin lightweight glove should be all you need. Personally we’d recommend thin softshell gloves over medium fleece gloves for your second pair. Typically, if you’re cold enough for the medium you should wear the heavy-duty anyway, and the snow is less prone to stick to the softshells. I’ve used the Marmot Glide Softshell Gloves on a couple runs and I think they’d be perfect softshell winter hiking gloves.

Buy it on Amazon HERE

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Spare Clothes

Spare clothes are a necessity plain and simple. It’s amazing how quickly winter hiking can go from fun and pretty to damp and miserable. Not changing between layers, a slip in deep snow, or even a quick dip in a stream will certainly put a damper on any hike. Plan accordingly, be sure to pack additional socks, underwear, a base layer, and some pant in case of an emergency. While those alone won’t allow you to finish your hike home, they will give you time to dry out your essential clothing and get on the move again.

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Additional Gear for Tree Line Hikes

Once you exit the tree line winter hiking grows exponentially more difficult. Windblown conditions mean you need to carefully consider wind protection and traction for ice and slides. Personally, we recommend a full-face balaclava and a pair of ski goggles. This will keep your eyes from freezing shut and protect any exposed skin on your face. The googles also will protect you from any blowing material and snow blindness (yes, it is real!). The Self Pro Balaclava is an integrated facemask and balaclava that’s super warm, windproof and wicking, perfect for above tree line hikes. Kestra has a pair of Zionor goggles that she uses and loves, plus they have a ton of cool colors 😉

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Back to the traction aids. The ice, snow slides, and windblown conditions will require extra traction. If you plan on venturing above tree line you’ll need to carry both an ice axe and a pair of heavy duty crampons. Ideally, you’ll visit a local Co-op or outdoor store where they can train you accordingly. If you’re properly trained and just looking for some recommendations, I’d check out the Yaktrax Summit Crampons and Black Diamond’s 505g Raven Ice Axe. Both are superb for intermediate level hikers looking to push the boundary a little further without breaking the bank.

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Backpack

As you’ve noticed, winter hiking means you’ll wear and carry a lot more stuff than normal. All this extra gear means you need a bag large enough to accommodate it. Anywhere between 30-50 liters should do the trick. Additionally, you should look for a bag with numerous attachment points. That way whatever doesn’t fit or doesn’t need to fit inside can hang out (think crampons, snowshoes, waterbottles, etc.). Always make sure your winter hiking pack has an easily sealable lid and several pockets to keep things tidy. I’m still using my summer pack for winter hikes and things can get a little tight. If I get a little more spending money, I’d get the Osprey Mutant 38, it has tons of colors options, a flap over seal to keep stuff dry, and its matches my summer pack 😉

Buy it on Amazon HERE

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Water Bottles

I know this may seem goofy but hear me out. Your normal water bottle probably won’t work. Anything with a straw will freeze solid. Thin mouthed bottles will freeze shut. Reservoir hoses will freeze up. You need to carry a couple wide mouthed bottles. If you carry outside of your pack be sure to place an insulated sleeve. Kestra and I both love our Nalgene bottles, they’re wide mouthed, carry a ton of water, and have their own line of sleeves you can buy.

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The 10 Essentials

The ten essentials are basically ten items that you should always have on you when you go explore. They alone should be enough for you to spend multiple nights outside and survive, and be able to respond positively to an accident or emergency. There are two main schools of thought: the classic bare boned approach and the functional system approach. Personally, I subscribe to the bare boned school of thought. I carry enough to safely navigate the situation but don’t over-prep for every scenario. If you’re a little greener maybe try a mix of the two list.

The Classic List
  1. Map
  2. Compass
  3. Sunglasses and sunscreen
  4. Extra clothing
  5. Headlamp or flashlight
  6. First-aid supplies
  7. Firestarter
  8. Matches
  9. Knife
  10. Extra food
The Functional Systems List
  1. Navigation
  2. Headlamp
  3. Sun Protection
  4. First Aid
  5. Knife
  6. Fire
  7. Shelter
  8. Extra Food
  9. Extra Water
  10. Extra Clothes

If you’d like to read more about either list you should be sure to check out Mountaineers.org’s post here: What are the Ten Essentials. The do a phenomenal job highlighting the highs and lows of each system, the history of the list, and how to stay safe on the trail.

Survival Gear

If you’re planning on winter hiking you need to account for the chance that something might happen on the trail that won’t allow you to return that night. Maybe it’s an injury, a storm, or maybe you just got lost, things happen and you need to be prepared. If you’re alone you’ll need to plan on a larger pack to accommodate the extra gear but if you’re in a group you can split it up as you see fit.

There are five main things (along with the Ten Essentials) every group should carry along on their hikes. A sleeping bag, sleeping bad, and bivy sack will keep you warm and dry if you have to sleep outside. You will also need a way to melt snow for drinking water to keep hydrated, look at liquid fuel stoves and collapsible pots. Personally, I like the Coleman Mummy Bag, the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite, and the Outdoor Research Helium Bivy for staying warm and dry. I turn to the MSR WhisperLite and the Sea to Summit 1.3L collapsible camp pot for staying hydrated.

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Food and Hydration Tips for Cold-Weather Hiking

You can practice good layering all you want but your body is your best chance at staying warm. Just like you feed fuel to a furnace you have to keep your body fed. This means consistently snacking and sipping water as you go.

Try packing you bag according to this philosophy. If you plan on eating, and pack smartly, you can easily reach food and water while you hike and won’t have to stop near as often to refuel. Also pack according to the snack and temperature. Avoid snacks with lots of pointless wrappers (you have to carry those out you know!) or snacks that become hard to eat as they get cold. Everyone loves a Milky Way until you break a tooth biting into one. Looks towards more natural snacks like nuts and cheese that hold up better to the cold temperatures and still pack some protein. No matter what you decide to bring the closer you keep it to your core the better chance there is you’ll be able to eat it.

The worst thing you could do is let your water supply freeze. I know we warned about reservoirs and thin mouthed bottles and if you said, “What do they know?” more power to you I guess. Regardless, If you decided to use a thin mouth or reservoir try searching for similar hose or bottle insulation. You should also sip often to prevent the water from freezing in the line and try blowing into your reservoir to keep the tube empty.

If you’re using a water bottle there are a couple more tips that can help you keep hydrated on the go. Think about a lake, what freezes first? The top or the bottom? Try flipping your bottle upside down to ensure your lids won’t freeze shut. Insulation sleeves also add an extra layer to protect your drinking water from the cold. Lastly, try packing warm drinks in vacuum bottles. This little bit of heat will go a long way to keeping your core temperature and spirits up. Plus, who doesn’t like hot chocolate? Just remember, don’t do it in your Nalgene or plastic versions.

Cold-Related Injuries and Illnesses

Being able to quickly identify cold-related injuries and illnesses is vital to your safety. Winter hiking exposes you to the elements like you haven’t experienced them before. Frostbite and hypothermia are both very real threats and your ability to identify and begin treating them can make a tremendous difference on their severity.

Frostbite

Frostbite is the freezing of healthy tissue due to exposure or extreme cold. It’s most likely to happen on small extremities like fingers, toes and nose or on exposed skin. Frozen tissue often dies and the surrounding tissue is damaged due to the lack of blood flow. It can cause extreme pain and even fester into gangrene. Frostbite afflictions are categorized in three ascending stages: frostnip, superficial frostbite, and deep frostbite. All three levels can look similar while frozen, so it can be difficult to assess the damage until after the skin has thawed.

Signs of Frostbite:

  • Skin is cold, pale, or even waxy
  • Red, white, bluish-white, or grayish-yellow skin
  • You may feel tingling, numbness or pain in the affected area
  • Clumsiness or muscle stiffness
  • Your skin can feel soft if partially frozen or hard if frozen
  • Blisters often form with superficial and deep frostbite after rewarming

Treatment of Frostbite:

Frostnip can be treated immediately by covering up exposed skin and slowly warming the affected areas. Try placing cold fingers in your armpits or use a partner to warm cold toes and other extremities. The consistent warm heat allows the affected regions to slowly be brought back up to temperature. Do not attempt to place affected areas under hot water and do not rub the cold skin. This violent and drastic change can damage the tissue.

If the initial treatment fails and skin blisters or peels it is time to see a doctor. It is likely you have superficial frostbite or deep frostbite and educated medical attention is your best chance at recovery. Again, avoid direct heat and rubbing of cold skin. Do not let any frostbitten areas refreeze, the tissue is very fragile and any chance of recovery can be mitigated.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia is caused when the body loses heat faster than it is capable of replacing it. Hypothermia also comes in three ascending stages: mild, moderate, severe. It begins when the body drops below 95 F (35 C). Hypothermia does not only occur in winter. It can happen anytime and anywhere, even inside your home. Age, medical conditions, dehydration, and alcohol use can all have an affect or your susceptibility. Stay warm, use proper layering, and try to stay dry.

Signs of Mild Hypothermia:

  • Shaking, shivering, or chattering
  • Minor clumsiness (eg. zipping or clasping bag)
  • Slow thinking, confusion, mood swings

Signs of Moderate Hypothermia:

  • Intense shaking, shivering, or chattering
  • Obvious change in coordination (e.g. tripping, falling, stumbling)
  • Obvious change in mental state (e.g. forgetfulness, anger, irritability)

Severe Hypothermia:

  • Shaking may stop due to exhaustion
  • Extreme deterioration of mental state (e.g. disorientation, irrational behavior)
  • Pulse may be faint or week
  • Flushed skin in infants or young children

Treating Hypothermia:

To begin treating hypothermia you need to immediately change the environment. You need to move the person away from what is causing the cold stress. If you can get them inside do so immediately, if you cannot, get them off the snow (pine branches or even packs work) and out of the wind. Immediately swap any wet clothes for dry clothing and make sure they are well insulated. Keep them fed and make sure they drink water. They will need energy to shiver and make heat. Making sure they have the fuel to do so is part of the process.

Taking the proper steps, it is possible for hikers with mild hypothermia to recover and continue with the trip. If you or your partners exhibit symptoms of moderate or severe hypothermia immediately seek medical attention and evacuate them from the situation. Begin the same steps for treating mild hypothermia until help arrives.

Preventing Frostbite and Hypothermia

Prevention is always a better option than treatment. Actively looking out for yourself and your winter hiking partners is part of the process. Proper clothing, gear and technique can only go so far. Use common sense and think about the following:

Start Warm:

It is way easier to start and stay warm than to get warm later. Using the proper clothing and layering approach you can easily maintain a consistent temperature. This is much easier than trying to warm up once you’re too cold.

Don’t be Stupid:

If you start to feel yourself getting cold check on yourself. Take a break and warm up, switch clothes, rehydrate, refuel, you name it! Do what you need to take care of yourself and make sure you’re comfortable and if you feel somethings wrong speak up.

Look Out for Your Buddies:

A good winter hiking buddy always keeps an eye out for their friends. Talk and ask how others are doing often. Make sure your friends are dressed and prepared appropriately. Don’t let them attempt portions they aren’t equipped for and watch their backs.

We hope you have a blast out on the trail and found some value in our Winter Hiking Guide. Did we miss anything? Are you planning on trying winter hiking? Have any good trails we should try? Let us know in the comments! We hope you’ll continue to follow along and as always, God Bless!

Basque Country – Adventures in Northern Spain

We have yet to visit the Basque Country in northern Spain but our good friend Oli is a veteran visitor to the region. He has been kind enough to share his favorite hidden treasures of Spain’s Basque Country. Hope you enjoy, and as always, please remember to comment and share. God Bless!

The Basque country has been coming onto the radar of travelers more and more in recent years. Most visitors to Spain head to picturesque Barcelona and Seville, or the beaches of Andalusia. But the rugged northern coast offers something different for the intrepid explorer looking for a unique experience.

For many, if you find yourself in the Basque country you’re probably on the pilgrimage route, Camino de Santiago, which winds its way across the north of Spain to Santiago de Compostela.

But a trip to Spain’s Basque country (or Pais Vasco if you’re going native) has plenty for the casual visitor. From the bustling art and culture scene of Bilbao to foodie Mecca San Sebastian, travelers will be spoiled with choices.

As a big fan, and return visitor to the region, here are some of the best things to do in the Basque country of Northern Spain. Remember to pin my picks for the best kept secrets of Basque country!

Pintxos

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When it comes to food Spain is a gourmands dream. Tapas has become a global export but the local Basque variation is a work of art. Pintxos (pin-choss) are bite sized morsels, exquisite and perfectly presented and almost a shame to eat because they look so good.

Often a slice of French stick topped with anything from a simple tuna mayo or slice of tortilla, through to carefully balanced works of art, finding the best pintxos in town can become an obsession.

Walk in to any bar in the Basque country and you’ll see these creations lined up, tempting you to load up your plate.

The Basques go for a bebida y algo para picar (a drink and something to pick), meaning a few pintxos over a beer or vermouth.

Be careful, as much as these tempting delicacies look fantastic, at around €2 each they can soon add up. Most will grab a few pintxos with friends or as an appetizer before a meal.

Txakoli

If you’re a fan of wine or cider then you’ll love txakoli. Pronounced cha-KOH-lee (you emphasize the koh bit and I always get it wrong), this effervescent apple wine is tart and fruity and goes great with a big plate of pintxos. Not only that but the barman has to pour it in a theatrical head height to low glass style, so it’s always quite a head turner.

The Guggenheim Museum

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The iconic destination of Bilbao, the Guggenheim Museum has been responsible for transforming Bilbao from an unfashionable industrial city to a global destination. There’s no missing this incredible structure and the artwork inside is equally eye catching. With permanent collections featuring Van Gough and Picasso, you can easily while away a couple of hours browsing.

Even if you’re not ‘into art’ the museum is an incredible structure inside as well as out and is one of the most popular things to do in the Basque country.

To read about more incredible buildings around the world, check out our post here: 5 Free Things To Do in Reykjavik. It lists the Harpa Concert Hall as our favorite free activity in Iceland’s Capital!

La Concha Beach

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Featuring probably one of the best city beaches in Spain, if not the world, San Sebastian is a popular draw for tourists every summer. In fact, its such a beautiful city it even features a royal palace, The Miramar, for regal escapes.

La Playa de la Concha is a wide sweeping beach that dominates the landscape, and features incredible views. Its made for lazy lounging in the sun and the sheltered bay is perfect for splashing with kids or those who aren’t fans of big waves.

Surfing

Having spoken about how sedated La Concha is, just head around the corner and you’ll find some incredible surf breaks. In fact, pick any spot along the Basque Coast and you’ll find surfer friendly beaches.

Just over the border in France you’ll find Biarritz, which is still in Basque country. This is one of the best known surf breaks in Europe and is a beautiful town, not dissimilar to San Sebastian.

Keen surfers will probably start their Basque country journey in Biarritz and then head to towns like Zarautz and Mundaka (which is set inside a UNESCO recognized biosphere no less!).

Gaztelugatxe

Looking to travel to Spain? You can't afford to miss out on the Basque country. Anyone traveling in Spain should make the trip up to the northern Basque country! Our review will share our favorite Basque country hidden treasures, enjoy! #spain #basque #travelspain #traveleurope #travelblog #europe

Try saying that after a few of the local drinks…! Pronounced gas-tell-luga-chay, this fortress and walkway has become a postcard image of the Basque region.

Fans of Game of Thrones will recognize this rocky outcrop in the sea as, well, I don’t watch GOT but apparently it was featured quite prominently.

The whole coastline is quite spectacular and if you’re on the Camino pilgrimage you will drop by here. But if you simply want to get away from Bilbao for a day, this makes a great outing. The fresh air, the view and the rustic feel in the towns around here gives you a real sense of the Basque country culture.

The People!

It might be a cliché, but the people truly make this region special. Arriving in any bar you’ll find the people tend to be very engaging and even if your Spanish is of the school level variety, they will make an effort to engage with you.

Having said that, although Pais Vasco straddles France and Spain, the local language, Basque (known as Euskadi in the local parlance) bears very little in common with French or Spanish. Don’t worry though, everyone speaks Spanish and English is widely understood, especially in San Sebastian.

If you’re heading to Spain and you want to experience a more authentic side of the country; not just the tapas and party of Barcelona, or the music scene of Ibiza, Basque country is a captivating travel experience.

How to get to Basque Country

The main city and biggest airport in the Basque region is Bilbao. From there you can easily take a train or bus connection to the rest of the region, including San Sebastian. If you’re in mainland Spain, catch a train from Barcelona or Madrid to Bilbao in around 5 hours.

Biarritz in France is part of the Basque country and has good connections to many big cities in Europe including London, Paris and Frankfurt. You can also catch a bus from Biarritz airport direct to San Sebastian. But that would be a shame!

I hope you have all enjoyed my picks for the best kept secrets of Spain’s Basque country! Where would you most like to visit? Have you ever been to Spain? Let me know in the comments section!

About the Author:

Oliver Lynch is the editor and chief writer for GoneTravelling.co.uk and GlobalPlayboy.com. He’s based in London and can often be spotted in random European cities looking for the best budget food or snowboarding badly.