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The Frugal Guide to Getting Started Stargazing

Photo: Jack Schroeder

Western North Carolina is renowned as a haven of outdoor beauty. Our night skies are no exception; Asheville’s relatively low level of light pollution and easy access to the Blue Ridge Parkway make it an ideal spot for seeking fantastic views of the night sky.

If your looking to expand your outdoor hobbies, we recommend giving stargazing a go. It’s a low-key way to enjoy the our outdoor paradise, it is equally fun solo or with a group, can be enjoyed regardless of your fitness level, and doesn’t require a large investment to try.

Get started frugally. You don’t have to shell out big bucks for a fancy telescope to enjoy stargazing. In fact, you can see up objects up to 2.5 million lightyears away without any equipment at all. To get started with minimal investment, we recommend purchasing a star chart (great options are available for under $20) and heading to a dark spot on the Parkway (check out some of our fav spots below). You’ll be surprised at what you can see!

Get help from experts. Most amateur astronomers are enthusiastic about their passion and happy to help new comers. Think about joining one of the group star gazes hosted by Astronomy Club of Asheville or one of the many public events hosted by UNCA at the Lookout Observatory. This can be a great way to learn more about what you’re observing and make connections.

Ready for a better view? You can purchase an excellent pair of binoculars for a much smaller investment than a mediocre telescope + their versatility and ease of operation make them ideal for beginners. Added bonus, they’re a breeze to throw in your pack for incredible views on a nighttime hike.

Great Places to Go:

Blue Ridge Star Park and Observatory– Spruce Pine, NC Recognized by the International Dark Sky Association as a dark-sky place.

Mt. Pisgah Trailhead (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 407.6)

Stoney Bald Overlook (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 402.6)

Tanbark Ridge Overlook (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 376.7)

Craggy Dome Overlook (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 364.1)

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WNC Trail Triple Crown Challenge

We’ve partnered with our friends at Asheville Trails and Diamond Brand Outdoors for the WNC Trail Triple Crown Challenge.

Visit Frugal Backpacker or any Diamond Brand Outdoors location to check out the awesome new Asheville Trails kiosks with dozens of local trails. We believe the outdoors are for everyone of all abilities, so you’ll find lots of good stuff at the kiosk, like directions and insider tips on easy, moderate, and difficult hikes of varying distance. Find a trail you like, and then snap a picture of the info sheet with your phone. And then visit the Asheville Trails website to get driving directions and more trail info.

Hit any three trails from the displays during April and we’ll give you 20% off up to five items, plus a free Asheville Trails sticker! Just post a pic to Instagram while you’re on the trail, tag both @frugal_backpacker and @ashevilletrails, and use the hashtag #WNC3C.

Once you’ve hiked three of the trails, return to Frugal Backpacker or any Diamond Brand Outdoors location to receive your discount. A team member will take a look a look at your tagged photos — which we’d probably like to share on our feed if you give us permission!

Discount cannot be used for gift cards, boats, or special orders. See store for any other exclusions.

Winter Hiking in the North Carolina Mountains

It may be a little hard to imagine layering up for a winter hike with the unseasonably warm weather we’ve seen over the past few weeks, but a chilly trek with friends is one of my favorite activities during the season of staying inside. When a sunny day shines down between bouts of frosty mornings and blustery afternoons, it’s a great time to explore new trails that are harder to access during the warmer months. It’s the perfect prescription to warm you up on those chilly, gloomy days!

As a kid, winter is the season of finding the best spot for sledding, snowball throwing, and snow fort building quicker than anyone else. As an adult, it can be making fresh tracks in the snow or avoiding mud puddles as you check out a view usually obscured by leaves during the spring and summer. There are also few sights that compare to a frozen mountain waterfall and one of the coolest sights to be seen in WNC: needle ice.

There are plenty of rewards to a winter hike including refreshing temperatures, fewer fellow hikers, and endless views of deep blue skies. While higher elevations typically see snow, the valleys around Asheville are usually clear and great on mild days. The North Carolina Arboretum is a great place to explore during these months as sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway are often inaccessible since it’s never treated or plowed.

As with any season, it’s best to be prepared when heading out for a hike of any length. Trail-tested essentials to keep in your daypack year round are water bottles, trekking poles, snacks, first aid kit, and whistle. A headlamp and a rain jacket are also imperative if you like to enjoy too-beautiful-to-miss sunsets or make a wrong turn. This is one season you can leave the insect repellant at home.

With heavier used trails, winter hiking can present packed snow turned slick or slushy mud. Consult with one of our footwear experts to choose footwear based on expected trail conditions. Winter hikers usually have better grip and sturdy ankle support. A good pair of hiking boots – no matter the season – provide great piece of mind.

Even though it seems like spring has come early, there’s still plenty of time to enjoy an afternoon or weekend hike and come back home for a warm bowl of chili or cup of tea. Layer up and get outdoors.

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Thanks for Donating Over 200 Coats

asheville coat drive eblen charities diamond brand outdoorsThanks for helping us collect over 200 coats for Eblen Charities. As the lowest temperatures of winter hit the mountains, they’ll make sure they make it to those in our community who need them the most.

During November and December, we joined with Diamond Brand Outdoors and our customers to collect coats, hats, and gloves for the second year in row. Thanks for showing us the great things that can happen when we all join forces to strengthen our community!

If you didn’t get a chance to drop off any items, you can support Eblen Charities with a donation or as a volunteer.

Eblen Charities is a non-profit organization whose outreach extends throughout the counties of Western North Carolina and through its numerous programs has helped thousands upon thousand of families each year with medical and emergency assistance through more than 70 programs yearly throughout the region.

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asheville coat drive diamond brand outdoors eblen charities

Crew Essentials: Top Outdoor Gifts for Campers

camden

Camden’s a crew member here at Frugal Backpacker. He shares his top gift ideas for your favorite outdoor enthusiasts.

My favorite hike is Alum Cave in the Smokies. I love it because I helped build that trail and that view is my favorite ever.

Kelty Bestie Blanket
Very light weight, very warm, and easy to clean, this makes a perfect throw blanket. It’s perfectly sized for lounging around the campfire or for warming up with a good book.
$22.95

bestie
ENO has the best design of any straps for any hammock that uses carabiner connectors. Agile but enduring, the ENO Atlas Strap weighs a scant eleven ounces, yet boasts a whopping thirty combined adjustment points.
$29.95
atlas
ENO DoubleNest Hammock
The ENO DoubleNest Hammock makes you want to snuggle. With two-feet of extra width than the SingleNest, the DoubleNest allows room for one, two, three, or however you decide to pack 400lbs. It packs down to the size of a grapefruit and is also machine washable.
$69.95
double
Stanley Adventure Cooler
Stanley is great because the company blends classic style with the lastest technology. This is a great small cooler for bringing your lunch to work or any day adventure.
$40
stanley-adventure
Mountain Hardwear Micro Thermostatic Puff Jacket
Affordable, light weight, and just plain awesome! This  very warm down jacket is perfect for layering. It’s also compactable so it fits easily into a pack.
$105
jacket
Deuter Act Lite 50+10 Pack
A great choice for anyone who is new to backpacking, the adjustable back is great for any trip in the wilderness or travel abroad. Lightweight with a purist yet technical look, this versatile expanding pack lets you comfortably tackle everything.
$189
deuter-act-lite

Events

Tying Knots

Knot tying is an essential skill for the outdoors. Outdoors expert Sam Roach will lead a hand-on clinic in which you’ll learn basic useful knots for camping, outdoor sports, and everyday use.

RSVP on Facebook

Well-behaved pets and kids with owner on leash are welcome at this free event.

 

Kelty Trunk Show

Kelty was one of the first companies to produce an external-frame backpack designed specifically for civilian use, inventing the aluminum-framed backpack in the process. We salute this trailblazer and take a look at their latest tents, packs, trekking poles, and more.

Be prepared to get truly hands-on as you crawl inside, touch, and explore the summer line. We’ll also have plenty of discounts and giveaways throughout the day.

RSVP on Facebook

Kids and well-behaved pets with owner on leash are welcome at this free event.