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By Michael Lanza

The three bighorn sheep lifted their heavily horned heads to gaze at us, but never budged from their beds of grass amid boulders on a mountainside above the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park. The mountain goats we saw on various occasions gave us little more attention than that. And fortunately, the grizzly bear sow with two cubs in tow that passed within about 30 feet of us—an encounter of less than 10 seconds that is etched into my memory forever—gave us no more than a passing glance.

While I have backpacked over much of this amazing park, that trek gave us the definitive grand tour of Glacier, including must-see spots like the Highline Trail and the Ptarmigan Tunnel, the Many Glacier area, the Garden Wall, and Gunsight Pass. Besides an array of wildlife, two friends and I frequently saw an ocean of mountains spreading out before us, long escarpments of Glacier’s signature soaring cliffs, and some of the prettiest of the park’s 760 lakes.

We even enjoyed an unexpectedly high degree of solitude for long stretches of a multi-day hike—something I have learned, over three decades of backpacking all over the country—including more than 10 years running this blog and for many years previously as a field editor for Backpacker magazine—is a rare treat in popular national parks like Glacier.

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Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

Bighorn sheep along the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park.
” data-image-caption=”Bighorn sheep along the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park. Click photo for my e-guide to this trip.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Gla4-107-Bighorn-sheep-Highline-Trail-Glacier-NP.jpg?fit=300%2C142&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Gla4-107-Bighorn-sheep-Highline-Trail-Glacier-NP.jpg?fit=800%2C378&ssl=1″ width=”800″ height=”378″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Gla4-107-Bighorn-sheep-Highline-Trail-Glacier-NP.jpg?resize=800%2C378&ssl=1″ alt=”Bighorn sheep along the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park.” class=”wp-image-6297″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Gla4-107-Bighorn-sheep-Highline-Trail-Glacier-NP.jpg?w=800&ssl=1 800w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Gla4-107-Bighorn-sheep-Highline-Trail-Glacier-NP.jpg?resize=300%2C142&ssl=1 300w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Gla4-107-Bighorn-sheep-Highline-Trail-Glacier-NP.jpg?resize=768%2C363&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Gla4-107-Bighorn-sheep-Highline-Trail-Glacier-NP.jpg?resize=200%2C94&ssl=1 200w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Gla4-107-Bighorn-sheep-Highline-Trail-Glacier-NP.jpg?resize=670%2C316&ssl=1 670w” sizes=”(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Bighorn sheep along the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park. Click photo for my e-guide to this trip.

Our 90-mile hike also took advantage of the park’s free shuttle bus system, easing trip logistics and enabling us to split the trip up into 65-mile and 25-mile segments—and there are excellent variations for
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New Study Addresses how Lunar Missions will Kick up Moondust.

Apollo salute gray regolith jpg

Before the end of this decade, NASA plans to return astronauts to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era. But this time, through the Artemis Program, it won’t be a “footprints and flags” affair. With other space agencies and commercial partners, the long-term aim is to create the infrastructure that will allow for a “sustained program of lunar exploration and development.” If all goes according to plan, multiple space agencies will have established bases around the South Pole-Aitken Basin, which will pave the way for lunar industries and tourism.

For humans to live, work, and conduct various activities on the Moon, strategies are needed to deal with all the hazards – not the least of which is lunar regolith (or “moondust”). As the Apollo astronauts learned, moondust is jagged, sticks to everything, and can cause significant wear on astronaut suits, equipment, vehicles, and health. In a new study by a team of Texas A&M engineers, regolith also poses a collision hazard when kicked up by rocket plumes. Given the many spacecraft and landers that will be delivering crews and cargo to the Moon in the near future, this is one hazard that merits close attention!

The study was conducted by Shah Akib Sarwar and Zohaib Hasnain, a Ph.D. Student and an Assistant Professor (respectively) with the J. Mike Walker ’66 Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University. For their study, Sarwar and Hasnain investigated particle-particle collisions for lunar regolith using the “soft sphere” method, where Newton’s equations of motion and a contact force model are integrated to study how particles will collide and overlap. This sets it apart from the “hard sphere” method, which models particles in the context of fluids and solids.

Apollo salute gray regolith 1 jpg
Apollo 15 astronaut salutes next to the American flag in 1971. The Moon’s regolith or soil appears in various shades of gray. Credit: NASA

While lunar regolith ranges from tiny particles to large rocks, the main component of “Moondust” is fine, silicate minerals with an average size of 70 microns. These were created over billions of years as the airless Moon’s airless surface was struck by meteors and asteroids that pounded much of the lunar crust into a fine powder. The absence of an atmosphere also meant that erosion by wind and water (common here on Earth) was absent. Lastly, constant exposure to solar wind has left lunar regolith electrostatically charged, which means it adheres to anything it touches.

When the Apollo astronauts ventured to the Moon, they reported having problems with regolith that would stick to their suits and get tracked back into their lunar modules. Once inside their vehicles, it would adhere to everything and became a health hazard, causing eye irritation and respiratory difficulties. But with the Artemis missions on the horizon and the planned infrastructure it will entail, there’s the issue of how spacecraft (during take-off- and landing) will cause regolith to get kicked up in large quantities and accelerated to high speeds.

As Sarwar related to Universe Today via email, this is one of the key ways lunar regolith will be a major challenge for regular human activities on the Moon:

“During a retro-propulsive soft landing on the Moon, supersonic/hypersonic rocket exhaust plumes can eject a large quantity (108 – 1015 particles/m3 seen in Apollo missions) of loose regolith from the upper soil layer. Due to plume-generated forces – drag, lift, etc. – the ejecta can travel at very high speeds (up to 2 km/s). The spray can harm the spacecraft and nearby equipment. It can also block the view of the landing area, disrupt sensors, clog mechanical elements, and degrade optical surfaces or solar panels through contamination.”

Data acquired from the Apollo missions served as a touchstone for Sarwar and Hasnain, which included how ejecta from the exhaust plume from the Apollo 12 Lunar Module (LM) damaged the Surveyor 3 spacecraft, located 160 meters (525 ft) away. This uncrewed vehicle had been sent to explore the Mare Cognitum region in 1967 and characterize lunar soil in advance of crewed missions. Surveyor 3 was also used as a landing target site for Apollo 12 and was visited by astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean in November 1969.

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The 10 Best Backpacking Packs of 2024

Tet19 047 Me on Teton Crest Trail copy cropped 2 jpg

By Michael Lanza

Backpacks come in many sizes and designs for a reason: so do backpackers. Some of us need a pack for moderate loads, some for heavy loads, and others, increasingly, for lightweight or ultralight backpacking. Some prefer a minimalist pack, others a range of features and access. Everyone wants the best possible fit and comfort, and almost everyone has a budget. But no matter which type of backpacker you are, this review covers the best packs in each of those categories.

Each of my picks for the 10 best backpacking packs stands out for different reasons. I also point out two excellent packs for kids and small adults (at the bottom of the Gregory Paragon/Maven review). My judgments draw from many thousands of miles and more than three decades of backpacking and a quarter-century of testing and reviewing gear—including the 10 years I spent as the lead gear reviewer for Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog. Few reviewers have lugged as many packs around the backcountry as me.

Tet19 047 Me on Teton Crest Trail copy cropped 3 jpg
Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

The Granite Gear Blaze 60 in the Grand Canyon.
” data-image-caption=”Testing the Granite Gear Blaze 60 in the Grand Canyon. Click photo to read about “the best backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon.”
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Granite-Gear-Blaze-60-lead-2.jpg?fit=300%2C200&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Granite-Gear-Blaze-60-lead-2.jpg?fit=900%2C600&ssl=1″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Granite-Gear-Blaze-60-lead-2.jpg?resize=900%2C600&ssl=1″ alt=”The Granite Gear Blaze 60 in the Grand Canyon.” class=”wp-image-33676″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Granite-Gear-Blaze-60-lead-2.jpg?resize=1024%2C683&ssl=1 1024w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Granite-Gear-Blaze-60-lead-2.jpg?resize=300%2C200&ssl=1 300w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Granite-Gear-Blaze-60-lead-2.jpg?resize=768%2C512&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Granite-Gear-Blaze-60-lead-2.jpg?resize=1080%2C720&ssl=1 1080w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Granite-Gear-Blaze-60-lead-2.jpg?w=1200&ssl=1 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Testing the Granite Gear Blaze 60 in the Grand Canyon. Click photo to read about “the best backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon.”

I’m confident at least one of these packs will be perfect for you—plus you’ll find the best prices for them through the affiliate links to online retailers below. Purchasing gear through my affiliate links supports my work on this blog. Thanks for doing that.

I’ve listed the pack reviews below in order by weight because that’s the metric that most defines and influences a pack’s design and functionality. The ratings admittedly tend to favor more-featured packs, which are heavier, and that may not meet your needs; use the ratings as a comparison with packs of similar weight. The pack you ultimately choose may depend partly on weight, but also on design and on your budget. Each pack review in this article links to that pack’s complete review at The Big Outside.

A backpacker above Toxaway Lake, Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho.
” data-image-caption=”Testing the Osprey Aura AG 65 in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. Click photo to read about the best backpacking trip in the Sawtooths.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside
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Hike the World’s Most Beautiful Trail: The Alta Via 2

Tet19 047 Me on Teton Crest Trail copy cropped jpg

By Michael Lanza

Hiking toward a mountain pass named Furcela dia Roa, on the first day of my family’s weeklong, hut-to-hut trek on the Alta Via 2 in northern Italy’s Dolomite Mountains, we stopped in an open meadow of grass and wildflowers overlooking a deep, verdant valley in Puez-Odle Natural Park. Across the valley loomed a wall of cliffs topped by jagged spires, like a castle a thousand feet tall. I looked at our map and back up at the stone wall before us, puzzled. After a moment, I realized: We have to get over that wall.

Scanning the vertiginous earth before us, I eventually picked out the trail snaking across the head of the valley and making dozens of switchbacks up a finger of scree, talus, and snow leading to the lowest notch in that wall: the Furcela dia Roa, the pass we had to cross.

Tet19 047 Me on Teton Crest Trail copy cropped 1 jpg
Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-books to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

A family trekking the Alta Via 2 in Parco Naturale Puez-Odle, Dolomite Mountains, Italy.
” data-image-caption=”My family trekking to Furcela dia Roa on the Alta Via 2 in Parco Naturale Puez-Odle, Dolomite Mountains, Italy.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Dolo1-019-Hiking-to-Furcela-dia-Roa-Alta-Via-2-Parco-Naturale-Puez-Odle-Dolomites-Italy-copy.jpg?fit=300%2C199&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Dolo1-019-Hiking-to-Furcela-dia-Roa-Alta-Via-2-Parco-Naturale-Puez-Odle-Dolomites-Italy-copy.jpg?fit=900%2C598&ssl=1″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Dolo1-019-Hiking-to-Furcela-dia-Roa-Alta-Via-2-Parco-Naturale-Puez-Odle-Dolomites-Italy-copy.jpg?resize=900%2C598&ssl=1″ alt=”A family trekking the Alta Via 2 in Parco Naturale Puez-Odle, Dolomite Mountains, Italy.” class=”wp-image-26784″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Dolo1-019-Hiking-to-Furcela-dia-Roa-Alta-Via-2-Parco-Naturale-Puez-Odle-Dolomites-Italy-copy.jpg?resize=1024%2C680&ssl=1 1024w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Dolo1-019-Hiking-to-Furcela-dia-Roa-Alta-Via-2-Parco-Naturale-Puez-Odle-Dolomites-Italy-copy.jpg?resize=300%2C199&ssl=1 300w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Dolo1-019-Hiking-to-Furcela-dia-Roa-Alta-Via-2-Parco-Naturale-Puez-Odle-Dolomites-Italy-copy.jpg?resize=768%2C510&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Dolo1-019-Hiking-to-Furcela-dia-Roa-Alta-Via-2-Parco-Naturale-Puez-Odle-Dolomites-Italy-copy.jpg?resize=1080%2C717&ssl=1 1080w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Dolo1-019-Hiking-to-Furcela-dia-Roa-Alta-Via-2-Parco-Naturale-Puez-Odle-Dolomites-Italy-copy.jpg?resize=200%2C133&ssl=1 200w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Dolo1-019-Hiking-to-Furcela-dia-Roa-Alta-Via-2-Parco-Naturale-Puez-Odle-Dolomites-Italy-copy.jpg?resize=670%2C445&ssl=1 670w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Dolo1-019-Hiking-to-Furcela-dia-Roa-Alta-Via-2-Parco-Naturale-Puez-Odle-Dolomites-Italy-copy.jpg?w=1200&ssl=1 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />My family trekking to Furcela dia Roa on the Alta Via 2 in Parco Naturale Puez-Odle, Dolomite Mountains, Italy.

It was our first encounter with a lesson that would repeat itself many times over the course of our week of hiking on the Alta Via 2: These mountains are so steep and rocky that the trail often traverses ground that, from a distance, looks impassable without ropes and climbing gear.

But in reality, my family, including our young kids, were perfectly comfortable with the exposure, we never
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