Going Beyond the Map in Costa Rica

Going Beyond the Map in Costa Rica

Travel can mean different things for different people. For some, it might be as simple as a quick overnight jaunt to the Laurel Highlands to sleep on the ground. For others, it may require room service and pampering in some luxury resort. For Cody Bliss, founder of Beyond the Map, it's all about experience. It's about getting away from guide books and tourist traps to fully immerse yourself in a culture or environment. Throughout the year, 3 Rivers Outdoor Company will be partnering with Beyond the Map for a range of both regional and international travel opportunities. We sat down with the Pittsburgh native to talk about his company's approach to travel and our joint Costa Rica trip planned for April.

We’re Bringing Mountain Town Culture To A Theater Near You!

We’re partnering with Seven Springs Mountain Resort to bring a taste of mountain town culture to the big screen.On Friday, December 14, we’re hosting the Pittsburgh premiere of Matchstick Productions' new ski movie, “All In,” at the Regent Square Theatre. 


Out West, watching ski movies is an annual tradition. Before the snow really falls, it's ski movie season—a time to get excited for winter and watch the latest adrenaline-filled offerings from some of the outdoor world's big-budget film companies. 

Those of us who, at one time or another, embraced the mountain life have our favorites. The ski movie that inspired us to ski a little faster, jump a little higher and – undoubtedly – wreck a little bigger. For some, it's Warren Miller. For us at 3ROC, it's Matchstick Productions, and being able to host their latest movie especially exciting.

Ski Movie Culture, “All In,” and Matchstick Productions

Following in the tradition of long-standing institutions like Warren Miller Entertainment and the Banff Mountain Film Festival, Matchstick Productions continues to raise the bar in the world of extreme-sports filmmaking. Known in the ski movie world for their jaw-dropping segments, sense of humor, and risk-taking backcountry skiing, they’ve been honored with a number of awards—including Emmy nominations and “Movie of the Year” honors.

This year is a special one for them. Breaking from the norm of annual testosterone-driven male-dominated ski flicks, “All In” features a balanced cast with some of the top female action sports athletes leading the charge in film segments across the globe. But like their press release says, “This isn't your typical 'women can shred too' film, this is a kick-ass ski film that just happens to feature as many women as men.”

The film showcases remote mountain ranges fit for a big screen experience with destinations including Alaska, Japan and South America. You don't have to be a skier to appreciate this visually stunning spectacle.

We're excited to be a part of the Matchstick “All In” premiere tour. This is the kind of movie we hope will inspire the next generation to dream of big-mountain ski lines like some of us did back when our knees and shoulders flexed a little better than they do these days.

We hope you'll join us for a night filled with festivities in the tradition of the annual ski-town movie premiere. Prior to the show, we will have a fire on the 3ROC patio outside the shop with beer and food options. There will be a charity raffle benefiting Allegheny Mountain Rescue Group and the Pennsylvania Cross Country Ski Association (our nonprofit partners this quarter), with a drawing at the theater prior to the show. We've got another solid list of prizes in the works featuring some of the companies we carry and local partners to be announced leading up to the event. We also have a VIP ticket option that will include preferred seating, food, and beer.
Pre-show festivities will get underway at the shop at 6 p.m. Doors open at the theater at 8 p.m. followed by our raffle drawing and the show at 8:30 p.m. Advanced purchase tickets are $10. For other details and to buy tickets, visit our link below. 

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What's Down Got To Do With It?

Synthetic vs Down

Whether it's for a sleeping bag or a winter jacket, it's always the first question: Should I go with down or synthetic? We thought we'd take this opportunity to share some basic answers to a common question around the shop and to share some lesser known details about sustainably sourced goose and duck down.

So here is the rundown in simplest terms. It primarily comes down to cost, warmth and packability. Synthetic fills are cheaper but also heavier and not as packable. Down fills are lighter and more packable, but come at a higher cost. For that added cost, however, down can be a significant amount warmer than synthetic, depending on the quality of fill or loft. Traditionally, synthetic fills still work when they get wet where as down loses it's loft and insulation ability. That said, there have been a lot of advances in the treatment of down making it more water resistant. Hydrophobic down is a down that has been treated to make it shed water better. Exterior fabrics on a down sleeping bag or jacket are also often treated to make them more water resistant.


There have been a number of advances in synthetic insulation making them closer to being able to mimic down. For someone who'd prefer not to use animal products, synthetic may be the preferred option, but we encourage you to read on to learn about sustainably sourced down. For those not keen on over porduction of synthetic materials, it's worth noting that some companies like Patagonia use recycled material in their fills.

So how do you decide? It's a question of budget, application and how warm you want to be. If you're car camping and space for a sleeping bag isn't an issue – or it's not that cold – then synthetic might be fine. On the other hand, if you're multi-day backpacking – where space and weight are at a premium – or you get cold easily, then down is absolutely the way to go.

Same with jackets. If you're cruising around town and want to be reasonably warm synthetic is great. If Pennsylvania winters chill you to the core then down is the answer. But a down jacket – while it packs down better – may be bulkier when you're wearing it compared to synthetic – again depending on fill.

Sustainably sourced down and the Responsible Down Standard

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

We get it, down is expensive. But why is it so pricey? It's true, you might be able to pick up some cheap down jacket online or at a discount store. But there's probably an ugly truth behind that rock bottom price. It likely came from a juvenile goose or duck that was overfed, caged and slaughtered before reaching maturity. It was probably also less processed, washed or treated, leaving a good chance it may have dust mites associated allergens and low-cost down.

Enter the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) and treated down. Down from companies like Rab meet RDS qualifications – the RDS is an independent nonprofit that oversees responsible down sourcing. The RDS certifies down that only comes from mature farm-raised and properly fed geese and ducks. Much like comprehensive organic farming standards, RDS certified farms have to meet a standard that emphasizes animal welfare and sustainable practices. RDS certifications means animals were not force-fed and were farm-raised to maturity.

From there high quality down is treated to be hydrophobic or water resistant. The process involves a thorough cleaning that eliminates a number of allergens found in lower quality down. Treatment means the down will shed some water if exposed to the elements, maintaining loft and insulation qualities. During processing down fill is also grade based on loft and warmth. An 800 fill for example will have a higher loft and insulative quality than a 600 fill.

From eco-conscious brands to sustainable practices, it's those kinds of quality considerations that we take in to account with a lot of the products we chose to carry. Have more questions? Stop in any time to chat. If it's in the store, there's a good chance there's a good story behind it.

For further information on choosing the right down jacket read the Rab Guide to Down Insulation.


Wild in the 15238: Allegheny Land Trust's Sycamore Island

It's funny, you grow up in Pittsburgh wondering about the world outside of it, occasionally overlooking the wilderness at your doorstep in the process. At least I did. I can remember doodling rugged mountain skylines and fantasizing about the Rockies and the Alps as a kid. It took 10 years of wandering the West pursuing the real-life version of those sketches before I realized there's plenty of adventure back home. Whether it's the wilds of West Virginia's Gauley River National Recreation Area, the nearby New River Gorge or Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands and Allegheny National Forest, there's no shortage of adventure right out the backdoor.

Hiking around Sycamore Island late September.

Hiking around Sycamore Island late September.

It turns out you don't even have to go that far from the city to find your wilderness. Last week I had the chance to tag along on our kayak trip with the Allegheny Land Trust to Sycamore Island. Purchased by the Land Trust in 2008, the 14-acre island is just 9-miles upriver from Point State Park, near Aspinwall and Fox Chapel. Open to the public and only accessible by boat, the island is a sycamore sanctuary – mostly free of invasive species – that will have you feeling like you're much further up river in the national forest. Great for a day trip or even an overnight – the Land Trust has one designated campsite on the island available with a reservation. Once a “party island” with a bar and a pool, originally simply a dredge pile made to clear routes for barge traffic, the island is now fully reclaimed by nature with tall sycamores and other maple species – in no small part due to the efforts of dedicated volunteers maintaining the island and clearing it of invasives. The old pool is now an amphibian-friendly pond habitat. The barge once home to a bar for guests now has trees growing through it's rusted shell. The whole island has a trail that circumnavigates and intersects it, also courtesy of a strong volunteer effort.

While we may or may not consider a fall trip to the island, we encourage you to take the opportunity to explore it for yourself. The Land Trust's dispersed campsite is free to the public but requires a reservation. It's otherwise open to the public during the day. We accessed the island paddling upriver from the Aspinwall's public boat launch. Setting out from there makes for a roughly 3-mile paddle upriver to reach the island. At normal river flows, it's an easy enough paddle, but you'll want a kayak or canoe that tracks well for upriver travel. The island is also accessible from a boat launch in Verona, near the Steel City Rowing Club. For more information stop in the shop or reach or visit the Allegheny Land Trust Sycamore Island website.

Fall backpacking adventures in the backyard;

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Did you know that there are only five Pennsylvania State Parks open to overnight backpacking and all are within a two hour drive of Pittsburgh? True story. They're all great options for enjoying the changing leaves and impromptu fall camping. Laurel Ridge, Ohiopyle, Moraine, Oil Creek and Raccoon Creek State Park all offer trail accessible backpack camping with a variety of amenities from shelters to tent sites. Roughly an hour and a half from downtown Pittsburgh, Laurel Highlands and Ohiopyle both offer access to segments of the Laurel Highlands Trail system for adventures ranging from a few miles to up to 70, if you take on the full trail. Closer to Pittsburgh Moraine offers 13 miles of trail within the park, but also ties into the other 4,600 miles of the North Country National Scenic Trail connecting North Dakota to New York State. Fall might hit a week or two earlier in Oil Creek State Park outside of Oil City. For more information, check out the Department of Conservation and Natural Resourses State Park backpacking page.


Rab: A lesser known outdoor workhorse

What's Rab? We've had the question a lot in the shop. And it's understandable, the British Brand founded by climber Rab Carrington isn't widely distributed in the U.S. Since it's a big part of our fall offerings, we thought we'd take a chance to introduce them. Originally geared toward climbers – much like Patagonia's early days – they've expanded to be on par with other big-name outdoor apparel brands. More widely known and distributed in Europe, we carry them because we believe in the quality product they put out, their unique designs, and plus the gear looks really cool.

“They're a great brand,” said 3 Rivers Outdoor co-founder Chris Kaminski, “ We carry them for a number of reasons” from innovative insulation techniques to responsibly sourced European down certified to the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) – an independent non-profit that certifies ethical practices and treatment of animals sourced for natural down. You'll find we carry everything from their sleekly designed fleece mid-layers to waterproof jackets fit for the coldest of winter temperatures. The company also offers a wide array of tents, sleeping bags and other gear not currently in-stock but available on special order.

Check out the video below for a little more background:

Hay Woods Adventures and Misadventures

View from Hays Woods looking towards Oakland on the Monongahela River.

View from Hays Woods looking towards Oakland on the Monongahela River.

We often think of going on adventures as travelling to far off places with big mountains and majestic views, but adventures are everywhere as I discovered this past weekend.  As a way to motivate myself back to trail running, (I'm more of a watersports person)  I recently signed up for a half marathon with a friend I met through our 3ROC Tuesday Night Trail Runs.

As part of our training plan, my new trail-running partner and I agreed that we should make our longer weekly runs serve the dual purpose of training and adventuring on trails in places we had never run before. When she brought up the idea of running at Hays Woods, I thought, "Awesome!" Hays Woods had been on my mind to check out ever since I read the article that it had been donated to the City of Pittsburgh and would become the largest city park. I mean, how cool is it that there is 600+ acres of wooded land just on the edge of our city. I was eager to go exploring.

Type II Fun...Misadventure or Adventure?

Photo credit - https://friendsofhayswoods.org/maps/

Photo credit - https://friendsofhayswoods.org/maps/

At first I was excited when my new trail running partner Sarah texted to meet up at Hays Woods, then -- knowing that I had a commitment later in the morning --  I nearly backed out for a more familiar route. I thought for a moment, we might get lost or have some difficulty finding our way. Sometimes you should listen to your instincts. But if you don't, there might be a good story to tell. I reconsidered and said the heck with it, how hard can it be? There are marked trails on Google Maps and the MTB Project. 

Saturday morning we met at the top of Hays Woods, just off Agnew Road. (Google Map Parking at Top of Hays Woods.) Sarah was using the MTB Project app to check our route. We figured we could easily get in 5 miles doing an out and back on the Hays Woods trail or figure out a loop along the way. The first mile of the trail was fairly straightforward and pretty but a bit hilly. At nearly a mile in we had great views of the Monongahela River and Oakland and I was thinking this is so awesome! What a great place to run. From that point on, it started to get a bit sketchy. At first the trail became heavily eroded. It was like running along a miniature series of ridges and valleys, and you had to watch every step closely to avoid rolling an ankle. Then the trail became significantly steep with loose scree, making it difficult to maintain any running pace without the threat of wiping out. The trail traversed open areas along a power line and then cut back into the woods. When the it came to a T, we had to decide, left or right? 


We checked the map, and somehow we had gotten off the marked trail on the app. We were clearly standing on a trail, but they weren't marked or visible on the map. It was obvious now we should have gone left around a power line tower at the very top of the hill. We thought for a moment about going back, but figured surely one of these trails would connect back up to a mapped trail sooner or later. We went left first and got about a half-mile before the trail just disappeared completely under overgrown weeds and downed trees. We turned around and decided to go for the right trail back at the T intersection. That cut down to a stream with a clear path across and then just disappeared into an open forest. We decided to keep going. The path, while not obviously a trail, was an open forest floor with a road off to our left. From the map we determined that if we cut straight across, keeping the road on our left, we would pick up the marked Hays Woods trail ahead and have direct line back to the car. The clear forest floor didn't last long. It became cluttered with downed trees, overgrown brush and knotweed. The terrain became steep and we scrambled up and over hills and around what was clearly poison ivy. Wearing running shorts and tank tops I was convinced we would end up covered in poison ivy.

Needless to say we hadn't been running for the last 20 minutes. We were just scrambling, sometimes on hands and feet. We finally reached the Hays Woods trail and it was clear we were on the right path, both on the map and underfoot as it was a wide concrete path. We headed back in the direction of the car at the top of the hill. After about a quarter of a mile, we reached a point where we just couldn't move forward with out a machete. The trail was completely overgrown with knotweed 6-7ft high. The thought of trudging 2.5 miles up hill through it was daunting, and we both had places to be by 10 a.m. We had started the run at 7:30 a.m. and by then it was nearly 9 a.m. We had maybe gone 2 miles. We decided to turn back and take the trail back to Glass Run Road, which appeared to be a half-mile back. From there we would follow it to our cars. It was a half-mile of more of the same overgrown knotweed, but we finally got out of the jungle. While I was looking at the map on how to run the road back to the car, Sarah had pulled up the Uber app and discovered a ride was a minute away. I stared up and down Glass Run Road and saw a winding road with no shoulder and lots of traffic. While I hated to take a ride back to the car, running on that road was not a wise decision. The poor Uber driver who picked us up must have thought we were nuts. We told him the story and he laughed with us, but also gave us an odd look. Once we got back to our cars, we searched for the nearest pharmacy to find some poison-ivy disinfectant. After a shower at home it was less of a disaster and more of a comedy. A little dose of Type II fun usually makes for a some great stories and some good laughs. I won't soon forget this little trip and I'm looking forwarding to going back to Hays Woods this winter, when the Pittsburgh jungle disappears.

Whether you're interested in exploring Hays Woods or any other outdoor adventure, we recommend trying some of Apothecary Muse's  Woodsy Warrior poison ivy/oak treatments and bug repellent products made locally from natural ingredients. It comes in a soap, salve, or sunstick form. We are proud to carry this and other products by Eryn of Apothecary Muse, locally made here in Pittsburgh and delivered to us direct by bike.

Note: Hays Woods is heavily used by hunters so be sure to wear orange or avoid it all together during hunting season.  For more info on Hays Woods be sure to check out the webpage Friends of Hays Woods.

We'd love to hear about your adventures and/or misadventures. If you have a great story to tell about some local excursions you'd like to share send us a message at info@3riversoutdoor.com we'd love to write about it in our blog or have you come share about it in the store.