This story was produced with support from REI. REI Kalispell is now open at 2270 Highway 93 North.
The name “Crown of the Continent” contributed to the strong allure I felt to explore Glacier National Park (GNP). Three words to describe GNP; tremendous, rugged, and spectacular.
Glacier Park is the centerpiece of the largest intact ecosystem in the lower 48 states, which covers over 16,000 square miles, and is truly one of the most pristine landscapes found anywhere in the country. Covering Northwestern Montana, its 1,013,322 acres are home to 71 species of mammals, 256 species of birds, hundreds (maybe thousands) of species of mushrooms and fungus, and 20 tree species. And mountains, lots and lots of towering mountains, alpine lakes, and untouched forests.
An hour drive from the west side of GNP sits Kalispell, Montana. It’s a small town, with an enthusiastic outdoor appetite. REI recently opened a new location in Kalispell. I stopped by this location to grab some gear for a snowy hike I planned to take to an alpine lake within the national park.t
Every time REI opens a location in a new U.S. city, the stores distributes $20,000 in grants to local non-profits. Kalispell divided its grants among the Glacier National Park Conservancy for Virginia Falls Footbridge Project, Whitefish Legacy for trail maintenance, Montana Conservation Corps for underserved youth development of trail maintenance, and Montana Wilderness Association targeted for Jewel Basin infrastructure and trail maintenance.
Aimee McQuigg, a seasoned outdoor adventurist, gear enthusiast and REI employee (also known as a Green Vest) since 2016, helped me outfit for a frigid, backcountry day hike in a climate and landscape unfamiliar to me.
I’ve noticed a common theme with REI employees I’ve encountered on my various REI visits across the country over the years: They seem to genuinely enjoy their position at REI. The daily opportunities they’re provided to share their outdoor experience, stewardship, and gear-based knowledge with the outdoor community that comes to buy gear to fuel their adventures, fuels their positive attitudes.
When choosing pieces with McQuigg, I expressed to her the importance I place on buying gear I can use long-term and across various activities. Thanks to McQuigg, I was able to find all that I needed for a five-mile, snowy backcountry hike to Avalanche Lake, an alpine lake in GNP. Here’s what I took with me to enjoy the Crown of the Continent.
The day began overcast and frigid, temperatures not exceeding 24 degrees Fahrenheit. For adventures on days like these, layers are obligatory. The Patagonia Snowbelle Jacket is a 3-in-1 system. It can be worn as a shell, as light insulation or as a waterproof, insulated jacket, which was nice for the various stages of my adventure. The pit zips were nice to quickly release heat when I almost began to sweat a mile in.
I love the removable, helmet-compatible, 2-way-adjustable hood with a visor. The way the drawstring pulled the hood securely around my head was really convenient because it kept the hood from slipping while I was hiking and looking around without giving it a weird shape.
I skipped on purchasing a neck gaiter as an additional accessory because the tall collar protected my neck and face even with hood down. The outer shell is made from 70% recycled polyester and the super-cute reversible zip-out liner jacket (see apres photos below) is made with 90% recycled polyester.
This jacket also features an embedded Recco reflector that enhances radio signals from search-and-rescue Recco detectors, helping speed up the search for a buried avalanche victim.
For someone who inevitably sits, kneels, slides, or rolls around in the snow, snow pants are essential for staying warm and dry on adventurous activities. Like the Snowbelle Jacket (reviewed above), the Snowbelle Pants are made of a 70%-recycled polyester face fabric with the h2NO performance standard, Patagonia’s benchmark for garment waterproofness, breathability, and durability.
My base layer and legs stayed very warm and dry throughout the six hours I played and explored GNP backcountry. The inside of the pants have the same insulation as the zip-out liner in the jacket, so it was basically like a low-profile puffy jacket hugging my bottom half. Supposedly the material insulates when wet, although I was not brave enough to test this myself.
I enjoyed the quick access to body heat reduction during my fast-paced hike via the inner-leg mesh-lined vents. I barely stopped to unzip the vents and I quickly cooled.
The gaiters hooked onto my hiking boot laces like velcro.
I’ve been an Ahnu loyalist for three years. Since day one, Ahnu boots have been as comfortable as a broken-in pair of your most supportive sneakers. They have dual-density midsoles and removable insoles that provide stable cushioning, and I’ve never gotten a blister on any mile.
The waterproof membranes and leather exterior and the Vibram Megagrip outsole hold strong. My feet stayed dry through puddles and hours caked in snow while romping around GNP.
I’m so happy I bought these “Backpacker Magazine Gear Hall of Fame 2017” microspikes. The Avalanche Lake trail is popular, and high traffic packed down the trail into ice for most of the way. I began the first half-mile of the trail very slowly without the spikes, thinking they were a little excessive. That was until I slipped on a patch of ice. No one saw my Jerry moment and for that, I’m grateful.
After learning the hard way, I grabbed the drawstring pouch I stashed in my pocket containing the MICROspikes (about the size of a baseball and weighing only 11 ounces). Each microspike is low profile, with twelve 3/8-inch hardened stainless-steel spikes per foot.
Once I pulled them over my hiking boots with the easy heel tabs, it was clear I wouldn’t be taking them off until I reached the car. The integrated toe bales hold the spikes securely in place and I imagine they are easy to use with almost any shoes. I confidently hiked on ice at a swift pace to the lake and back with superb traction.
I live by an important mantra: BYOHW (bring your own hand warmers!) I never leave home without hand warmers when I know I’m bound for an outdoor adventure in the mountains. So what I loved about the Burton mittens was the waterproof-zip pouch on the top of each mitt which provides room for a hand warmer (and a chapstick and key, if you feel like living large). Or on warmer days, you can use the zipper as a vent to bring cool air to your hands.
I also really like the removable, liner gloves that have sticky grip palms. I can wear them on runs or while driving, and my hands won’t get as cold when I take the mittens off to use my fingers. I took off the shell when my hands got hot during the hike. Another favorite feature of mine: the outside of the glove features a very soft “snot grab” material that’s not painful to wipe your runny nose.
The mittens are lined with a brushed microfiber, supposedly good for pulling heat-robbing moisture away from your body before it crashes your party. Outside, the mittens are comprised of a durable, 2-layer Dryride Ultrashell exterior fabric that sheds wind and snow; and waterproof, windproof and highly breathable Gore-Tex inserts in the shells keep hands dependably dry and comfortable.
Smart-phone enthusiasts likely will enjoy the screen-grab palms and fingers that allow operation of the touch-screen phone with the mittens on.
A Green Vest at REI once told me that trekking poles “turn your two-wheel drive into four-wheel drive.” I’m going to go ahead and corroborate that statement. These poles were awesome on the slick, icy terrain on the Avalanche Lake trail.
This is the third pair of trekking poles I’ve used this year. What I liked about these that differentiated them from the others was the 360-degree padded webbing strap, that helps the pole stay securely in your hand and prevents you from having to set it down when you need to use your hand. Also, the handles are really comfortable and secure in the hands due to the dual-density non-slip foam grip handles.
The double flicklock pole adjustment mechanism is absolutely awesome, because once you set your length (59-125cm) they don’t snap unlocked while you’re applying force or pressure during use. When you’re finished using them, they collapse to 2 feet in length.
The poles come with low-profile powder basket attachments. I put them on my poles before the hike because I was not sure if I’d encounter any powder.
Remember how I mentioned layers were essential for really cold, active days? Many great brands make base layers, and REI is one of them. I chose the midweight half-zip base layer made with a 4-way stretch, moisture wicking and quick drying, UPF 50+ material.
I prefer the half-zip front on base layers as opposed to the crew neck. It provides warmth and coverage for your neck when it’s cold. When you start to get toasty, unzipping the neck down to the chest can quickly cool your body temperature a surprising amount.
In addition to apres wear, I will wear this base layer for camping, snowboarding, trail running and climbing over the winter due to its functionality, flexibility and warmth.
For years I’d heard that Darn Tough socks are the best socks out there for outdoor performance. I bought a pair of their wool socks before moving to Utah three years ago and the things are still warm and in great shape after experiencing many hikes, camping trips and lazy days around the house.
Made in Vermont with yarns from the U.S. and around the globe, Darn Toughs are unconditionally guaranteed for life.
All photos by Jo Savage.
If you’d like to plan a visit to GNP or learn more about its history or ecosystem, head to the National Parks Service website.
Know before you go – Head to the Hiking Glacier website for directions and information for Avalanche Lake.
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