10 Travel Essentials

Two adorable girls sitting in a car trunk before fall vacations.

Let’s face it: packing is difficult. And packing clothes to keep you and yours comfortable through visits to family and friends all holiday long? Even more difficult. But packing doesn’t have to be painful! If you’re prepared with go-to travel essentials that’ll keep you warm, cozy, and comfy, your bags will practically pack themselves. 


The North Face Women's Mossbud Insulated Reversible Vest.
The North Face Women’s Mossbud Insulated Reversible Vest

This reversible, wind-resistant and water-repellent vest also includes Heatseeker insulation, making it the perfect vest for any kind of weather.



Olive + Oak Women’s Ashlyn SweaterOlive+Oak Women's Ashlyn Sweater.

This sweater’s soft, marled knit and trendy balloon sleeves with ribbed cuffs make it a stylistic choice for keeping warm in and out of the car.


UGG Women's Kristin Boots.UGG Women’s Kristin Boots

These boots repel water and stains, add arch support and give you lightweight traction and flexibility, making it a shoe for all occasions.



Southern Marsh Men's Hindman Flannel Long-Sleeve Shirt.

Southern Marsh Men’s Hindman Flannel Long-Sleeve Shirt

Made from the softest brushed flannel fabric, the Hindman Flannel Shirt is comfortable and durable. With its rounded hem, it’ll look great by itself or in layers.



The North Face Men's Gordon Lyons Full Zip.The North Face Men’s Gordon Lyons Full Zip

This heavyweight fleece gives you thermal insulation with a warmth-to-weight ratio that’s perfectly travel friendly.




OluKai Men’s Nohea Lole ShoesOlukai Men's Nohea Lole Shoes.

The OluKai Nohea is designed to give you great traction with the convenience of a slip-on, making it adaptable to most conditions, terrains, and activities.


KÜHL Men's Rydr Pants - 34" Inseam.

KUHL Men’s Rydr Pants – 30” Inseam, 32” Inseam, 34” Inseam

These pants feature euro-twill brushed cotton and a gusseted crotch, giving them the flexibility and durability to last for years (and miles) to come.



Cabeau Evolution Travel PillowCabeau Evolution Travel Pillow.

Instead of resting your head on your jacket, try the Cabeau Evolution Travel Pillow. Its memory foam and raised side supports will rid you of a stiff neck and help you relax on those long rides.



Sea to Summit Traveling Light Eye Shades.Sea to Summit Traveling Light Eye Shades

These light eye shades ensure a great, comfortable sleep that won’t add too much weight to your packing.



Patagonia Black Hole Cube – 2LPatagonia Black Hole™ Cube.

You’ll never lose small items in a large back again after getting the Patagonia Black Hole Cube. Its chain and large grab handle make it a convenient addition to your luggage.


Text by Nick Adrian


‘Tis the Season: Road Trip Travel Tips

Packing your car and hitting the road can be an intimidating endeavor for even the most seasoned traveler. That’s why we asked an expert for advice. Brooke Drinkard Whatley of Brownell Travel shared her best road trip travel tips on how to plan, pack and stay organized no matter where the season takes you. 


Brooke Drinkard Whatley of Brownell Travel.

Brooke Drinkard Whatley of Brownell Travel.

Step One: Get Organized

Brooke recommends sitting down with your travel companions and starting a list of things you want to do together. This lets everyone know what to expect from each day. Plus, it ensures that everyone gets a say in what you do on the trip. Build an itinerary around those activities, but be sure to block out time for things like stopping for gas and bathroom breaks. Also, remember that planning is crucial, but over-planning can keep you from enjoying the spontaneity of a road trip. There’s nothing wrong with blocking out time to do nothing but sit and have a picnic.


Step Two: Pack It Up

Packing for a road trip means leaving enough room for yourself, your luggage and all the souvenirs you’ll be bringing back — and your travel companions, of course. While it’s easy to wait until the last minute to throw everything in a bag and go, Brooke suggests “making a packing list — and sticking to it.” Knowing what you need and keeping it simple will lighten your suitcase significantly. And don’t worry about sacrificing your style for that critical extra suitcase space: Brooke has a solution for that, too. Pack basic apparel and use accessories to keep your outfits looking fresh.


Step Three: Be Safe and You Won’t Be Sorry Young couple with bags at holiday cabin.

Finally, what’s the one thing you can’t travel without? You might say your favorite neck pillow, or maybe your perfectly curated road trip playlist. But according to Brooke, it’s travel insurance. Travel can be unpredictable at times. From cancellations to lost luggage, travel insurance can protect you through any unforeseen events. There are even policy options for the more adventurous travelers interested in hazardous sports — think skydiving or bungee jumping.


Even though it takes a lot of effort to get ready for a road trip, the end result is worth it. Being on the road gives you the chance to break out of your daily routine, experience new things, and create lasting memories for yourself and with your loved ones. Now that you have the building blocks for a great road trip, immerse yourself in the adventure!


Text by Kaitlin Cochran


How to Get Started with Trail Running in Alabama

Two men trail run in Alabama.

Throughout Alabama you’ll find beginner and advanced trails. Rock/Creek

With 21 state parks that occupy a wide variety of terrain, Alabama is the perfect place to take up trail running. Whether you’re looking for a gentle jog through serene woods or a challenging trek up a rocky mountainside, you’ll find nearby trails to suit your desires.

Throughout the state you’ll find beginner and advanced trails, giving you the freedom to test your level of skill and endurance as you gain experience and progress. However, trail running is not without its own intricacies, so we’ve shared expert advice to ensure that your first foray into the sport is successful.

Join A Group

When you’re taking up a new sport or activity, it’s smart to learn from experienced veterans who know the ins and outs. If you run with a group, it will not only help ease your doubts, but you’ll avoid rookie mistakes and progress faster. Groups like the Birmingham Ultra Trail Society (BUTS), We Run Huntsville, or the Auburn-Opelika Running & Track Association will help make trail runs more enjoyable and keep you motivated to stay with the sport.

Gear Up

5sdbmq5kzYWu06k6gEWYmyMake sure you’re properly equipped to handle the rigors of the trail. Rock/Creek

Like all sports, trail running has gear specially designed to meet its demands. While you don’t have to go crazy with new gear, it is important to invest in good trail-running shoes that will provide adequate support, traction and protection on rugged terrain. You’ll thank yourself for investing in a nice, comfortable pair of trail runners as you confidently grip red clay, leap over protruding roots, and gallop surefooted downhill on the tail end of a run.

For the most part, running short distances on trails is a minimalist sport. However, like all runs of significant length, you need to ensure you are properly equipped to handle the rigors of the trail. To stay as dry and comfortable as possible, you should wear technical clothing that helps you manage moisture, wind and your body temperature. Also, you should carry water to stay hydrated and pack gels or other foods to maintain your energy. If there’s any possibility that you might get lost, you should also take navigation tools.

When you’re ready to shop, you can buy shoes, clothing, accessories and other gear at a specialty running store, like Fleet Feet Sports, or an outdoor specialty store, such as Alabama Outdoors or Mountain High Outfitters.

Jumping from the Road to the Trail

Time to talk technique. As you transition to the trail, you’ll have to slightly modify how you run. Strides need to be shorter, especially on an incline. This will allow you to react quickly to obstacles that will pop up on your run. Make sure you pick your feet up, maintain good balance, and keep your eyes down while scanning the terrain 15 feet or so in front of you. If it looks like two steps are needed, go ahead and take three. Being alert and aware is key.

Be Safe, Not Sorry

Part of participating in any sport is being safe and avoiding injury. With trail running, you must take a few extra steps on top of the standard rules for running.

Wear brightly colored clothes. If something does happen, you want a park ranger or someone else to locate you easily. This also helps identify you as something other than food for the freezer during hunting season. Second, get a map of the trail system and have a navigation aid. Make note of the phone number for the park ranger, and save it in your phone. It’s easy to get turned the wrong way while on the trail, even a well-marked one. Next, know what the hazards are. Alabama is home to more than 50 species of snakes, six of which are venomous, some of which you will see on the trail.

Also, if you couldn’t meet up with your group or a friend to run, make sure you tell someone where you are running and when you should be back.

Know the Rules of the Trail

Yo7uSyMwmaQ6MwQQgEec4You’ll find great running trails at award-winning Oak Mountain State Park outside Birmingham. Rain0975

Every sport has its own etiquette, designed so everyone has opportunity to enjoy it equally. Trail running is no exception, and its rules aren’t much different from those you follow when hiking or camping. Take out what you brought in, stay on the trail, and be kind.

However, it’s important to know who yields to whom when a trail runner encounters a hiker or mountain biker. If you didn’t know, yield to those on the uphill—they have a limited field of vision. Everyone yields to horses, and mountain bikers yield to everyone else. However, don’t assume anything, just be alert and use good judgement. Don’t sneak up on a hiker or fellow runner. If you offer a simple, “On your left,” you’ll keep them from jumping out of their shoes. Also, if a mountain bike is coming at you on a narrow trail, be kind and step off for a second to let the rider pass. They’ll appreciate it.

Where to Trail Run in Alabama

Now you need to know where to go. In Alabama there’s no shortage of trails, and the Alabama State Park system features some of the most diverse trail systems in the country. You’ll find great running trails at award-winning Oak Mountain State Park outside Birmingham; Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville; and Cheaha State Park east of Birmingham. You can start checking out the list of trails for the Southeastern Trail Run races or the XTERRA Trail Run Series in Alabama. This will give you a good start toward finding a nearby trail or ideas for exploring a different part of the state.

Written by Hap Pruitt for RootsRated in partnership with BCBS of AL.

United By Blue: A Brand That Gives Back

United By Blue cleans waterways

United By Blue doesn’t just make stylish clothes and durable canvas goods for the outdoors enthusiast. For every product sold, they also remove one pound of trash from oceans and waterways through company-organized cleanups. The brand made this promise when they started in 2010, and they wasted no time keeping it. As their website says, “We hosted our first cleanup the same week we sold our first T-shirt.” Read on for more about what makes United by Blue a brand that gives back.

A Good Ol’Road Trip — For the Good of Our WaterwaysGirl with United by Blue pack.

Since 2010, United By Blue and their volunteers have helped remove over 1,000,000 pounds of trash in twenty-seven states. This past summer, they decided to up those numbers even more by embarking on a cross-country cleaning voyage called The Bluemovement Road Trip. Starting on June 1, 2018, husband and wife duo Kelly Hilovsky and Jeff Butler — along with their lovable goldendoodle, Chance — set off on a road trip. Over the next two months, they helped volunteers in twenty states clear trash from their local waterways.

Bluemovement on the Move

The trip began with a cleanup in Richmond, Virginia on June 1 and ended in Bloomington, Indiana on August 6. Their stop in Birmingham, Alabama on June 12 saw volunteers removing 82 pounds of trash from Shades Creek. Throughout the sixty-plus day trip, the Bluemovement team removed 12,091 pounds of trash.

A Crisis in Our Waterways

8 million tons of plastic enter the ocean every year, with 1.5 million of that being made up of plastic bottles. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the most famous marine trash heap, is twice the size of Texas. Our waterways need help now more than ever, and it is so inspiring to see companies like United By Blue doing so much for our environment.

United by Blue messenger bag.


United by Blue products can be found in more than four hundred outlets nationally — including Alabama Outdoors! If you’d like to join one of their hosted cleanups, check here to find one near you!


Text by Nick Adrian

The Best State Parks in Alabama (and Some Amazing Wilderness Areas, Too)

Waterfall in Alabama state park

Alabama may not have any national parks, but it boasts some great state parks and wilderness areas. Photo by Richard.
In the 1800s, rumors grew of a magnificent place in the Wyoming Territory with stunning scenery and vast fields of boiling sulphur springs. By 1872, explorers had confirmed the reports, and President Ulysses S. Grant established Yellowstone as the world’s first national park. Later, in August 1916, President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service.

To celebrate its 100th anniversary throughout 2016, the NPS is encouraging people to get outdoors in the national parks across the country. Alabama may not have any national parks to its name, but the NPS manages a couple of great outdoor destinations across the state, including Little River Canyon and Russell Cave. But Alabama is also blessed with state parks that offer a diverse range of natural escapes, from the mountains to the sea.

Here, the best state parks in Alabama, as well as other wilderness areas around the state well worth a visit.

Little River Canyon National Preserve

best state parks in AlabamaThe Little River Canyon Nature Preserve is especially scenic with the changing fall leaves. Photo by Alby Headrick.

Over the course of 10 miles, Class III to Class V whitewater crashes through this sandstone canyon, making it a great destination for experienced paddlers. Those who prefer to hike can follow trails into the canyon and skirt the banks of Little River to find swimming holes, waterfalls, and big boulders for lounging in the sun.

In the Canyon Preserve, you can also access the DeSoto Scout Trail, a 16-mile path that follows the West Fork of Little River. As you travel this rocky trail, you’ll cover diverse terrain with waterfalls, ridges, valleys, rocky plains, and stretches of sand.

Russell Cave National Monument

Prehistoric people inhabited Russell Cave from 10,000 BCE to 1650 CE. — NPS
Prehistoric people inhabited Russell Cave from 10,000 BCE to 1650 CE. — NPS

For more than 10,000 years, prehistoric people inhabited Russell Cave, located near Bridgeport. In 1961, it was established as a national monument and now serves an important archaeological site and popular destination for travelers. While visitors aren’t allowed to explore deep into the cave, they can tour the exceptionally large cave entrance, known as the “cave shelter,” which was the site of one of the earliest human settlements in the Southeast.

If you want to get a taste of prehistoric life, you can watch interpretive rangers demonstrate the art of throwing a spear with an ancient tool called an atlatl. To round out your visit, visit the cave museum and hike the 1.2-mile Backcountry Trail, where you’ll find wildflowers blooming in spring.

Cheaha State Park

best state parks in AlabamaCheaha State Park offers magnificent views of the surrounding landscapes. Photo by faungg’s photos.

In Cheaha State Park, you’ll find some of the most spectacular views in Alabama, and you can access miles and miles of hiking trails that traverse immense forested areas. From the park’s Cheaha trailhead, you can reach the Pinhoti Trail, a 335-mile path that passes through Alabama and north Georgia to connect to the Appalachian Trail. Another option is to begin at the Cheaha Trailhead and hike a little more than three miles to McDill Point, a west-facing outcrop where you can relax in a hammock and enjoy the sunset.

Cheaha State Park is also the jumping-off point for the Odum Scout Hiking Trail, which stretches 7.5 miles along the eastern slopes of Talladega Mountain in the Cheaha Wilderness Area.

For experienced mountain bikers, the park has about six miles of trails where that require negotiating fairly rocky terrain, a few short but steep climbs, and fast sections of singletrack topped off with hallways of rhododendron. Just keep in mind that the rides aren’t recommended for beginners.

Oak Mountain State Park

A bird's-eye view from the Kings Chair outcrop. — Marcus WoolfA bird’s-eye view from the Kings Chair outcrop. Photo by Marcus Woolf.

Covering 10,000 acres,  Oak Mountain is Alabama’s largest state park, with 51 miles of trails for hiking, running, biking, and horseback riding. Also on site are two 85-acre lakes and one 60-acre lake where you can kayak, paddleboard, and fish for bass, bream, catfish, and crappie.

While the park is just a few minutes from Birmingham, its hiking and biking trails wind through a forest that feels way more secluded. Along the quiet ridge tops, hikers can follow relatively level trails and take short detours to gaze out over broad green valleys. For an excellent hike, climb the Blue Trail to the remote Eagle’s Nest overlook, and then continue to King’s Chair, the park’s most impressive rock outcropping with a sprawling view of the valley below. For a short, heart-pumping hike, begin at the Park Office/Beach area on Terrace Drive and ascend two miles on the Green and White trails to reach Peavine Falls, a 65-foot cascade.

If you have some experience hiking and want to try backpacking, Oak Mountain State Park is a perfect place to build up some valuable wilderness skills. After hiking an hour or two, you can reach backcountry campsites that offer quiet solitude, though they’re just a few miles from civilization.

If you bring bikes to the park, the 22-mile Double Oak Trail (aka “Red Trail”) has something for riders of all skill levels. On the level Lake Trail, beginners can cruise around Double Oak Lake, while intermediate and advanced riders can challenge themselves on steep climbs, swift downhill runs, bumpy rock gardens, and sandpits.

Gulf State Park

best state parks in AlabamaFour cots are ready and waiting for you at the new Outpost primitive campsites in Gulf State Park. Photo by Alapark.com/GulfStatePark.

While high rises have replaced most of the bungalows at Gulf Shores, there are still quiet spots in the area where you can enjoy a low-key vacation surrounded by nature.

For rustic accommodations, Gulf State Park offers outpost campsites that include secluded tents with cots and a nearby portable toilet. There are cots and a sink with running water for dishes, but you’ll have to bring your own drinking water, for example), but the immersion in nature is next-to-none. To reach your tent, begin at the Cotton Bayou Trailhead and walk 1.5 miles.

If you prefer more amenities, Gulf State Park also has 20 cabins and 11 cottages within walking distance of the beach. Lining the shores of Lake Shelby, the cottages sit in the shade of the pines, and screened porches look out over the 900-acre freshwater lake. Nearby you can rent kayaks and paddleboards and venture across the water to eat lunch at a picnic table beneath massive oaks.

Lake Shelby feeds into nearby Little Lagoon, which gets little motorboat traffic, making it a tranquil destination for kayaking and paddleboarding. Teeming with redfish, flounder, and speckled trout, it’s also a good spot for kayak fishing.

Written by Marcus Woolf for RootsRated in partnership with BCBS of AL. Updated June 16, 2020. 

 Alabama Outdoors wants everyone to enjoy the outdoors, and we work to build loyalty one connection at a time. Visit one of our stores or take advantage of our shipping or curbside pickup! #BeOutdoors