How to Choose a Rain Shell

When you need a good rain shell, you really need a good rain shell. When the clouds open up or the wind kicks in, having a good layer between you and the elements is essential to keeping you moving, happy, comfortable, and safe in the mountains. But the diversity of rain shells available to shoppers today is incredible, with jackets ranging from under $100 to pushing well above $500. So what is the difference between these shells? And, more important, what type of raincoat is “best” for what you want to do?

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Waterproofness and Breathability

No matter the outdoor activity, you’ll want a jacket that’s waterproof and breathable (i.e., a jacket that prevents rain from penetrating the shell while also moving perspiration from the inside of the jacket to the outside). Because waterproof/breathable jackets must account for moisture in both directions—shielding water on the exterior and moving moisture from the interior—they compromise some of both attributes to balance performance.

For example, a rubber rain slicker is great at keeping water out, but because rubber doesn’t breathe, wearing one while doing anything active will leave you soaked in sweat. Likewise, a Techwick t-shirt excels at moving moisture, but don’t expect it to keep you dry during a rainstorm. Fortunately for consumers, the industry has developed two ratings (a waterproofness rating and a breathability rating) to indicate how a jacket will perform and make comparing products easier.

Waterproof Ratings

A raincoat’s water resistance is measured by how many millimeters of water it will hold before it leaks—most commonly represented as 20K, 15K, and 10K. To paint a clearer picture, imagine putting a one-inch by one-inch tube on your 10K-rated raincoat—you could fill that tube with water to a height of 10,000 mm before water would begin to leak through. That’s almost 33 feet high!

READ MORE: 10K, 20L? What Waterproof and Breathability Ratings Really Mean

Jackets rated to 10K are generally capable of handling light rain and snow for a short amount of time, while 15K-rated jackets can protect against moderate rain and snow for a longer duration. 20K-rated jackets provide the best defense against moisture and are able to guard against heavy rain and wet snow.

Breathability Rating

A shell’s breathability is also represented as 20K, 15K, and 10K, only this time the number is representative of the amount of water vapor it can move through one square meter of fabric—from inside to out—over the course of 24 hours.

Jackets with breathability rated to 10K are ideal for  less vigorous activities where you’re less likely to break a sweat, like commuting and travel while 15K jackets are slightly more breathable and better-suited for things like alpine skiing or ice climbing. Jackets rated to 20K provide maximum breathability and are the choice of athletes moving quickly through the mountains: hikers, climbers, and anyone doing something more physical.

While these jackets are rated for breathability, it’s worth noting that numerous factors, such as the temperature and humidity, can affect the breathability of a jacket.

Air Permeability

Although breathability and air permeability are often used interchangeably, there is a subtle difference between the two. A waterproof/breathable raincoat needs water buildup or pressure inside the jacket to push moisture out—meaning moisture transport stops when a person stops moving. Conversely, air permeable shells constantly allow air and moisture in and out. However, because air permeable shells allow constant air exchange, they are not completely windproof like traditional waterproof/breathable jackets.

Air permeable shells are still in their relative infancy and can cost substantially more than a traditional raincoat. Keep your eyes peeled for more of these slick slickers in the future.

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2-Layer, 2.5-Layer, and 3-Layer Construction

Rain shells are constructed in three different ways: 2-layer, 2.5-layer, and 3-layer. In many respects, how a jacket is constructed explains its performance better than its waterproof/breathability rating, with 3-layer raincoats being the highest performing and 2-layer jackets being the lowest.

3-Layer Raincoats

3-layer rain jackets are constructed by bonding three layers of fabric together, with a waterproof/breathable membrane sandwiched between a face and liner fabric. The body-facing liner fabric helps prevent sweat and oils from clogging the microscopic pores of the waterproof membrane (for improved breathability), while also helping disperse moisture on the jacket’s inside. Because of this, 3-layer jackets often don’t feel as clammy as other types of shells. The multiple layers also make these shells the most rugged and durable of the three types of raincoats—making them the best choice for people who spend a lot of time outdoors and in wet weather. There is, however, a performance premium, as 3-layer shells can be heavier than other options.

2.5-Layer Raincoats

Most shells found at Eastern Mountain Sports, and other retailers, are 2.5-layer shells. 2.5-layer shells are made of a face fabric that’s bonded with a waterproof/breathable membrane with an inner coating (the half layer) designed to protect the membrane from abrasion and microscopic-pore clogging sweat, oil, and dirt from your body. Balancing performance and affordability, 2.5-layer shells breathe well and are durable, packable, and reasonably priced, making them a great choice for enthusiasts on a budget.

2-Layer Raincoats

The improvements in technology and the subsequent reduction in prices of 2.5-layer jackets have, for the most part, relegated 2-layer jackets to urban and non-technical use. Two-layer raincoats feature a waterproof/breathable membrane bonded to an outer face fabric. Because 2-layer shells lack the half-layer found on the insides of 2.5-layer coats, they often use an additional hanging liner of mesh (or other lightweight material) to protect the membrane.

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Waterproof/Breathable Membrane

The most well-known waterproof/breathable membrane is GORE-TEX, a high-performance fabric that has set the standard for rain jackets for the last 25 years. There are now several types of GORE-TEX membranes in addition to the original: Active (for, you guessed it, highly aerobic activities), Pro (for the most extreme conditions), and Paclite (for lightweight, super-packable shells).

Almost every company making outdoor clothing has a proprietary waterproof/breathable membrane. For EMS, it’s System 3; for The North Face, it’s HyVent; and for Marmot, it’s MemBrain. They are all great and, because they are company-specific, sometimes mean that you’ll be getting a more reasonable price on the jacket.

The final membrane worth mentioning is NeoShell. Manufactured by Polartec, it’s most interesting because it is as waterproof/breathable as the other membranes, without requiring as much internal pressure buildup to force the exchange. In other words, NeoShell provides more natural thermoregulation.

Durable Water Repellents (DWR)

Almost all waterproof/breathable rain shells feature a durable water repellent finish (DWR). The DWR finish found on raincoats is what causes water to bead up and roll off the outside of the jacket. However, this finish wears off over time and with use. When the DWR finish wears off, the jacket’s surface fabric can soak through, negatively affecting the breathability of the jacket and giving the jacket a cold, clammy feeling.

Luckily, reapplying the DWR treatment to your shell is easy.

READ MORE: A Guide to Picking the Ridge Nikwax Product

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Other Features

With all the technical aspects of today’s raincoats covered, there are still some other features that you should consider before purchasing your next raincoat.

Hood

An overwhelming majority of raincoats have hoods. After all, how good can a jacket designed to protect you from the rain be with a giant hole in the top? A nice touch found on many of the hoods on today’s jackets are adjustments to ensure a proper fit. Another consideration, especially if you plan to use the raincoat for mountaineering, ice climbing, or skiing, is if the jacket’s hood can accommodate a helmet.

Rain jackets typically come with one of two types of hood configurations: storm hoods and drop hoods. Storm hoods are directly integrated into the jacket while drop hoods have a separate collar that the hood pulls over. Drop hoods are particularly popular with people participating in winter sports, as they protect a person’s face from the elements even when the hood is down.

Seam Taping vs. Welding

Rain shells are built by combining multiple sections of waterproof/breathable material together. Manufacturers use two methods to secure these pieces—typically the body, arms, and hood—together: stitching and welding (attaching pieces with adhesive or fusing the pieces with ultrasonic bonding), both of which result in seams.

Welding seams is the lightest and least bulky option. The other advantage of welded seams is that there are no holes in the fabric, so water can’t sneak in.

Rain jackets that are stitched together require seam tape to waterproof the holes created by sewing. There are two common methods of seam taping: “fully taped” and “critically taped.” On a fully taped shell, every seam is covered with tape, while a critically taped shell typically only has the most critical seams taped.

It’s not uncommon to find raincoats using both methods of construction with high-usage, high-stress areas like arms and shoulders while incorporating welded construction into zippers and pockets.

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Denier

The denier of the fabric used to make a raincoat is another clear indicator of the jacket’s overall durability. The denier of a fabric refers to its density—the higher the number the denser (and therefore stronger), the fabric is. So if you’re planning on doing a lot of abrasive outdoor activities, get a jacket with a high denier number.

Zippers

Zippers are another chink in a rainshell’s armor. Manufacturers address this in one of two ways: a laminated zipper or a storm flap. Laminated zippers offer users a waterproof zipper option and are lighter and more packable, but they can also be tricky to zip. Less effective but more affordable, a storm flap is simply an additional piece of fabric that covers the zipper that prevents it from being directly exposed to rain and snow.

It’s also not uncommon to find jackets with both types of zippers—for example, the main zipper with a storm flap and pockets with laminated zippers.

Venting

Even the best rain jackets can fail to keep up with a user’s breathability needs during strenuous activity. Because of this, most rainwear features some manner of venting. The most common style of venting is pit zips or underarm vents. However, some jackets use other methods, like large pockets on the torso that double as vents. No matter what system is used, the idea is the same—to allow better air circulation.

Packability

Another consideration when choosing a rain shell is how packable it needs to be. If you’re using a shell for alpine skiing, the answer may be not very, but if you’re pursuing light-and-fast hikes, a super-packable shell might be very beneficial. Be aware, however, that ultralight raincoats typically have to make a sacrifice in order to achieve their lighter status, which means they’re either not as rugged or waterproof as more robust models.

Fit

Fit is another important characteristic to deliberate before buying your next raincoat, since the way the jacket fits will affect how you use it going forward. When sizing your raincoat, consider whether or not you plan on layering underneath it. If so, keep in mind that you’ll need extra room to accommodate those layers. Indeed, you may even find that you’ll need different rainwear for different conditions.

 

Do you have any tips for selecting a rain shell? If so, we want to hear them—leave them in the comments section below.

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Tradition or Truth in New Hampshire’s White Mountains

The goal of climbing New Hampshire’s 48 mountains over 4,000 feet in elevation and joining the Four Thousand Footer Club has a 60+ year history dating back to 1957. However, over the past few years, the United States Geographical Survey (USGS) has been re-examining the topography of the White Mountains using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), and has made a shocking discovery: at least one of the 48–Mount Tecumseh, the shortest of the 48 4,000-footers—is actually 8 feet shorter than previously thought, putting this now-3,995 foot peak in jeopardy of being excluded from the AMC’s list of recognized 4,000-footers. And while 8 feet is small potatoes in most contexts, for the list-conscious hikers among us, it’s a huge deal.

But, the potential “losers” list may be broader than just Tecumseh. To date, the USGS hasn’t yet made all of the survey data collected public and the AMC has only evaluated the new information pertaining to 26 of the 48 4,000-footers. Still, with more accurate mapping technology available and more survey data to be reviewed, it’s safe to assume that low-lying 4,000-footers besides Mount Tecumseh could be in jeopardy of losing their status as 4,000-footers. Mount Isolation (4,004 feet) and Mount Waumbek (4,006 feet) are two candidates that come to mind. “The NH45” doesn’t have the same ring.

Of course, during the new survey, some mountains could find themselves picking up elevation. For example, at 3,993 feet, Sandwich Dome is just 7 feet shy of the magical mark under the old standards—is it possible it’s “grown”?

Likewise, some peaks could see their prominence (to qualify as a 4,000-footer, a peak must have a minimum rise of 200 feet from all surrounding peaks) increase, thus making them new additions for the 4,000-footer list. Indeed, according to the new data, Guyot now has sufficient prominence on the side facing South Twin. However, the data from Guyot’s other side has either yet to be released or analyzed. But if substantiated, it would mean that a full Pemi-Loop would net a peak-bagger 13—not 12—4,000-footers in one trip.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

How Will This Affect List-Conscious Hikers?

Revising the list of 4,000-footers in New Hampshire is certain to send shockwaves through the peak-bagging community. For many pursuing the NH48, this will surely alter their plans—possibly adding new peaks to their lists while subtracting others. For those with more committed projects—like gridding—changes to the list could significantly complicate their quests. Meanwhile, for those competing for a fastest known time (FKT) for completing New Hampshire’s 48 4,000-footers, subtracting Tecumseh could save a speed-hiker a couple of hours (including drive time, of course).

The flux in elevations of the New Hampshire 48 thus begs the question: How, if at all, will the AMC adjust the list? Will it just change the list to reflect the mountains’ true elevations? Or will it continue to include some of these now-“lesser” peaks on the list even though they no longer technically qualify? Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time the list keepers in the Northeast have faced the question.

History of AMC Changes

In the past, the AMC has adjusted the list according to a peak’s true elevation. In fact, the story of the New Hampshire 4,000-footers begins with just 46 peaks, ironically mirroring what was thought to be the number of Adirondack peaks over 4,000 feet in elevation. It wasn’t until the USGS published a new South Twin Mountain quadrangle that the New Hampshire 4,000-footers became 48 with the addition of Galehead Mountain in 1975, followed by Bondcliff in 1980. The most recent change came in 1998, when new survey data lead to Wildcat D replacing Wildcat E on the list of 4,000-footers.

Despite these changes, the AMC has not, to our knowledge anyway, ever just subtracted a 4,000-footer from the list. Indeed, even when they swapped the Wildcats, they made clear that ascents under the old standard would still “count.”

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

An Adirondack Tradition

With a tradition dating further back than New Hampshire’s (Robert Marshall, George Marshall, and Herbert Clark first completed the Adirondack 46 in 1925) more than 10,000 hikers have followed in their footsteps since, according to the ADK46ers—the ADK46 list is more steeped in tradition than true elevation, as more recent USGS surveys have shown 4 peaks to fall short of 4,000 feet, while one peak found to meet the essential elevation has been omitted (MacNaughton Mountain). Despite the updated information, the ADK46ers continue using the same list of 46 peaks that was used back in 1925. And, as two Tecumseh traditionalists—to be clear, we’ve hiked the mountain a lot—this could be a great solution in New Hampshire as well.

 

Given all this, what do you think the AMC should do? Would you be excited to see a new list and a new challenge? Or, would you prefer the AMC keep the tradition of the 48 alive? We want to hear! Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.


Don’t Be a Fool: Stop Doing These 10 Things While Spring Hiking

April Fool’s Day is a time best known for pranks and jokes. It’s also a time of tricky conditions in the mountains as winter gives way to spring. Mud, ice, snow, unexpected weather, high rivers and more can all add challenges to spring hiking that we don’t see year-round.  Keep reading to avoid being the joker who gets caught unprepared hiking this spring.

1. Lighthearted Layering

Don’t get the wool pulled over your eyes by the warm weather in the parking lot. Instead, be prepared to add layers to your body as the early spring weather in the high mountains rarely aligns with the warm, sunny conditions you had down low. Wide-ranging weather is common this time of year and often a hike that starts in short sleeves will end in a heavy puffy coat.

2. Footwear Folly

Trail runners might seem like a good idea at the car but could be closer to clown shoes up in the alpine. The additional height of hiking boots keeps snow from scheming against you and sneaking in the top of your shoe. Even better, waterproof footwear keeps you from being bamboozled by wet feet while providing a little extra warmth.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Not-So-Silly Snow

The absence of snow at the trailhead is a common hoax this time of year, tricking hikers into leaving their snowshoes behind. Colder temperatures, more snowfall, and hiker traffic packing down snow on trails can cause it to linger at higher elevations throughout the spring—making snowshoes necessary to avoid being duped into post-holing through unexpected snow.

4. Traction Tomfoolery

Melting snow, spring rain, warm days, and cold nights all conspire to make mischievously icy trails. Pack a pair of traction devices for navigating this tricky terrain and to avoid senseless slipping.

5. Muddy Monkey Business

Trying to avoid mud in the spring is a fool’s errand in the Northeast. When you encounter mud while hiking, either stick to hard surfaces to avoid it or walk through it, as walking around it on soft surfaces widens the trail, damages the delicate ground, and leaves behind a long-term record of your mischievous misbehavior.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

6. Worrying Water Crossings

Snowmelt and spring rains increase runoff, swelling mountain streams and rivers, making otherwise benign water crossings deceptively difficult. No laughing matter, take the time to find the best place—i.e., where the water is shallow and slow-moving, or where rocks protruding above the water’s surface form a natural bridge—even if it means spending a few extra minutes searching up and downstream.

7. Trekking Pole Trick

Carrying trekking poles is an easy way to avoid being the butt of the joke when it comes to mud, ice, and water crossings. There are so many reasons to use trekking poles, including that they let you probe mud and water depth, and help increase balance and stability while making tough crossings and moves on slippery rock.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

8. Deceived by the Dark

The days are still short this time of year, heightening the risk of getting benighted. Don’t get hoodwinked and hike without a headlamp; Hiking in the dark is a punchline no one wants to hear.

9. Wait for a Less Foolish Day

Sometimes the conditions just don’t line up—treacherous water crossings, too-slushy snow, and unstable weather are just a few pranksters that can disrupt even the best-laid plans. If things don’t look right, consider picking a different objective or call it a day early.

10. Whacky Weather

It’s undeniable that spring is known for its comically inconsistent conditions. One way to avoid being a victim of this practical joker is by checking conditions. In New Hampshire, the high summits forecast from the Mount Washington Observatory is a great resource for gaining info on expected weather while websites like New England Trail Conditions use community-based reporting to deliver up-to-date trail conditions.

 

Have a spring hiking tip that’s kept you from playing the fool? If so, we want to hear about! Leave it in the comments below.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

This Hike is a Blue Square: The Problems with NYS's Plan to Rate Hikes Like Ski Runs

The New York State Assembly is currently considering a bill that would rate the difficulty of hikes in the same manner in which ski areas rank the difficulty of their trails—black diamond for experts, blue square for intermediates, and green circle for beginners. According to New York State Assemblyman Chris Tague, the bill’s sponsor, the purpose of this trail-rating measure is to improve hiker safety. But this also begs the question—how does slapping a circle, square, or diamond at a trailhead do this?

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While the bill may provide a very generalized assessment of difficulty, it doesn’t say anything definitive about what a hiker is “in for” on a particular trail. Nor does it explain what hikers should be carrying in their packs in case of emergency. This is information that has historically been included in guidebooks and on signage found at many trailheads. Why not refocus this bill toward improving the existing information by consolidating it into an online region-by-region guidebook, then posting detailed trail descriptions at trailheads? That way hikers could easily research their objective before they left home and, if it was a last-minute outing, read about the hike at the trailhead. From websites giving detailed trail descriptions, (such as our Alpha Guides) to dedicated enthusiast websites, to personal blogs, much of this information already exists and consolidating these sources would give hikers a much better picture of what to expect (mileage, elevation, terrain difficulty, etc.) than a single symbol.

From websites giving detailed trail descriptions, to dedicated enthusiast websites, to personal blogs, much of this information already exists and consolidating these sources would give hikers a much better picture of what to expect than a single symbol.

A second concern with the proposal is that it doesn’t account for seasonal and weather-related changes to trail conditions. Consider a situation common to hikers in the Northeast, where icy conditions, a winter snowpack, or a water crossing with high water turn a moderate hike into an epic. Diligent hikers do their research, seeking out an up-to-date picture of what to expect on the trail before they leave home. Is New York going to similarly dedicate staff to changing that green circle into a black diamond when conditions warrant? More so, where community-based websites are already filling this role, aren’t the State’s resources better allocated to helping foster a state-wide trail condition forum like NewEnglandTrailConditions.com or TrailsNH.com (which already cover some of the state’s higher peaks)?

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A third problem is that difficulty is incredibly subjective. Simply scroll through the comments on some of the hiking pieces we’ve written for goEast or on a website such as AllTrails.com and it quickly becomes clear that one person’s easy hike is another’s nightmare. And it’s not just the web where the subjectivity influences trail descriptions and level of challenge—hikers are rarely in sync with the suggested completion times found in popular guidebooks. Once again, the ever-changing nature of trails and weather can play a role in this. Dry conditions and mild temps can make for an easy ascent one day, while slick, wet trails or heat and humidity can lead to struggles the next. It’s not dissimilar to a problem shared by many ski resorts—shred a black diamond run that’s filled with snow and it may feel easy, but encounter it later in the day when the snow has been scraped off and the challenge rises exponentially.

Simply scroll through the comments on some of the hiking pieces we’ve written for goEast or on a website such as AllTrails.com and it quickly becomes clear that one person’s easy hike is another’s nightmare.

It’s not only the dynamic nature of trails that make using a single rating to define their difficulty a problem, but the question also arises, what do we, as hikers, think is difficult? Will the ratings merely be based on mileage and elevation gain? What about the quality of the terrain? After all, a rough and rocky trail is much slower to navigate than a smooth trail. What about how rapidly the elevation is gained? Many of us find a slow, gradual ascent easier than a steeper, more direct ascent. Then, of course, there are technical bits such as water crossings, ladders, and steep sections which, depending on experience and comfort level, will feel easy for some and turn others around.

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Finally, what happens if hikers are planning on using multiple trails? Do two greens equal a blue? Or, three greens equal a black diamond? It seems to us that this system could quickly cause more confusion than it helps to clarify. In addition to sowing confusion, could rating hiking trails like ski runs lead to complacency? For example, would hikers be encouraged to leave behind essentials such as a headlamp because a trail is a green circle?

Do two greens equal a blue? Or, three greens equal a black diamond?

Interest in hiking and exploring our wild places is on the rise and thinking about how to make our trails safer and more inclusive should be on the top of people’s minds, especially those in charge of managing these places. But, while we feel like the New York’s heart is in the right place, we don’t think that rating hiking trails like ski trails is the solution they’re looking for.


The Forest through the Trees: Skiing the GBA’s Glades

If you haven’t skied any of the Granite Backcountry Alliance’s new glades in New Hampshire’s White Mountains yet, you’re missing out. Formed in 2016, the GBA’s mission is to provide low-impact human-powered backcountry skiing opportunities to the public through the creation, improvement, and maintenance of ski glades in New Hampshire and Western Maine. Working in partnerships with public and private landowners, the GBA has so far established five glades, with more on the horizon. Want to sample the GBA’s handiwork? Keep reading for the beta on a few of their most recent projects.

Skiing the trees on Bill Hill. | Credit: Tim Peck
Skiing the trees on Bill Hill. | Credit: Tim Peck

Great Glen North/Bill Hill Glades

Named after a local who “spent some time in them thar hills,” Bill Hill is located on land owned by the Gorham Land Company—who also own the Great Glen Trails, the Mount Washington Auto Road, and the newly opened Glen House Hotel. Categorized by the GBA as a “lunchtime lap” destination, don’t be dissuaded from spending a day sampling the skiing at Bill Hill; The various glades here may be short, but they feature tightly spaced trees in an area that was recently logged and have just the right amount of pitch. On top of that, Bill Hill is north facing so the glades hold snow after a storm.

To access Bill Hill, park in an obvious plowed area on Bellevue Road—just outside of downtown Gorham—and begin skinning on an established snowmobile track to the far end of the airport, which is easily identified by a brick building. Snowmobile traffic here can be heavy at times, especially on the weekends, so keep your guard up, wear bright colors and, if traveling in a group, skin in single file. At the end of the airport, traverse through an open area—that’s also clearly popular with snowmobilers—and loop back along the opposite side of the airstrip for a few hundred yards before entering the woods on the right. If this seems confusing, just picture the approach as a “U.”

Shortly after entering the woods, skiers will come across a mountain bike trail sign reading “For Pete’s Sake.” Follow that trail momentarily before breaking left onto an old logging road that leads to steeper terrain, eventually gaining a ridge and the top of the gladed skiing—if you’re not skiing in the middle of a storm, there is a good chance someone has done the hard work and put in a skin track to follow. From the top of the ridge, there are multiple glades to drop into and enjoy the 600-foot descent through the trees to the old logging road you entered on. From here, either head back up for another run or retrace your steps to the car.

Looking down on the Crescent Glades. | Credit: Tim Peck
Looking down on the Crescent Glades. | Credit: Tim Peck

Crescent Ridge Glade

Another great glade is just up the road in the Randolph Community Forest. Offering something for everyone, Crescent Ridge Glade features five distinct ski corridors—described by the GBA as “low-density vertical lines that are approximately 35-50 feet in width”—that all funnel skiers into a large hardwood glade and, eventually, back to the trail they entered on. From here, skiers can easily head up for another lap (or three) before returning the way they came to their car. Offering a wide variety of terrain in a relatively condensed area, the initial pitch of Crescent Ridge’s runs vary between 30 and 35 degrees, before mellowing to 20 to 25 degrees, eventually giving way to 10- and 15-degree terrain on the ski out.

Crescent Ridge skiers start the day at a plowed parking lot located at the end of Randolph Hill Road, right off of U.S. Highway 2 in Randolph. From the parking lot, skin past the kiosk on a wide track for a few minutes before entering the woods on the Carlton Notch Trail. Following the GBA’s blue blazes, skiers will skin through gently rolling terrain, through a large open field with amazing views of the Northern Presidentials (just turn around), and past the bottom of the large hardwood glade. It’s here that the skintrack steepens for the final push to the ridge and entry points to the ski corridors, which are numbered 1 through 5.

Skiers should plan on it taking between an hour and an hour and a half to make the little-under-two-mile, 1,000-foot climb from the parking lot to the ridge and expect it to take 20 to 30 minutes to transition and make the 600-foot climb needed to lap the trees. Getting back to the parking lot is easy and fast (provided the water crossings are filled in)—simply ski back the way you came in.

Skiing Maple Villa with Mount Washington in the distance through the trees. | Credit: Tim Peck
Skiing Maple Villa with Mount Washington in the distance through the trees. | Credit: Tim Peck

Maple Villa

Maple Villa Glade is the largest, longest, and most popular glade on this list. Skiing at Maple Villa—which is named for a hotel at the end of the original ski trail—has a long history, beginning in 1933 with the Civilian Conservation Corps cutting the “Maple Villa” ski trail. Shortly thereafter, Maple Villa became the Intervale Ski Area, which operated for approximately the next 40 years. Following the closing of Intervale Ski Area in the mid-1970s, the Maple Villa area was home to the Eastern Mountain Sports (cross-country) Ski Touring Center. Skiers today will discover everything from tightly spaced trees to resort-esque runs varying in length from 800 to 1,700 feet.

One of the factors for Maple Villa’s popularity (in addition to its expansive terrain) is its proximity to North Conway. The parking lot for Maple Villa is found on 70 East Branch Road in Intervale and is just minutes from North Conway. Leaving the parking lot, skiers follow blue blazes along the original Maple Villa Ski Trail as it slowly gains elevation along the two(ish)-mile skin that climbs approximately 1,700 feet. A number of descent options are obvious from the top of the glade—all of which offer a mostly moderate pitch and terrain alternating between closely spaced trees to more widely spaced runs. Keep your eyes peeled as Mount Washington can be spied through the trees on the descent.

The upper half of Maple Villa is meant to be lapped, and the area’s primary runs all deposit skiers to the same place—allowing them to follow the skin track back up roughly 800 feet of elevation, or providing them with a gentle ski out the way they came, along the old Maple Villa Ski Trail. Skiers can expect it to take an hour to an hour and a half to go from the parking lot to the top of the gladed terrain and between 30 and 45 minutes to skin a lap.

 

Whether it’s establishing larger areas like Maple Villa or maintaining smaller “lunch lap” locations like Bill Hill, the Granite Backcountry Alliance has put a lot of time, work, and money into these projects. If you explore these glades, please be courteous of the area and respectful of the rules, especially where to park if a lot is full. If you’d like to support the GBA, consider donating, becoming a member, attending one of their events (like the upcoming Wild Corn on April 4th), or taking part in one of their workdays.


Abandoned But Not Forgotten: Skiing Mount Watatic

Here’s a little secret that backcountry skiers in Massachusetts have been keeping for years: Mount Watatic, in Ashby, Massachusetts, still has awesome skiing. Sure, it’s a small mountain that “officially” closed as a ski resort in the mid-1980s, but in recent years locals have revitalized the abandoned trails, turning it into a backcountry paradise for skiers and riders of all abilities. Read on for the beta of this prime destination, located less than 60 miles from Boston.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Watatic’s Backstory

Although skiing began on Mount Watatic as early as 1940 (when a rope tow was installed), the resort’s heyday ran from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s. At its peak, the resort had multiple lifts, snowmaking, a ski school, a base lodge, and night skiing. There were also six top-to-bottom trails—Spruce, Wapack, The Line, Cascade, Big Dipper, and Little Dipper—each with between 500 and 600 feet of vertical drop.

Like so many smaller resorts, Mount Watatic eventually succumbed to larger, glitzier, and more convenient mountains, closing for good in 1984. Things remained quiet at Mount Watatic until the early 2000s, when a company made plans to build a cell tower on the mountain. Thankfully for skiers, the tower was never built, with the land instead purchased and set aside for conservation in 2002. However, this didn’t happen until after the telecom company that planned to build the tower had blasted a road to the top of the mountain, slicing diagonally across the ski area (and the remnants of the ski trails) in the process.

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Accessing the Goods

Whichever lot you decide to park in, “the road” is now Watatic’s most distinct landmark. It is the easiest ski descent on the mountain and it is also the unofficial uphill route for skier traffic thanks to its wide, even surface and moderate grade.

The road also separates Mount Watatic into two sections, the upper mountain and the lower mountain. Although it feels strange to divide a mountain with less than a thousand feet of elevation into sections, both the upper and lower mountain have distinct characteristics.

The Upper Mountain

The runs on the upper half of Mount Watatic feature everything from short, steepish chutes to perfectly spaced pine glades. In line with the old ski trails, the most challenging terrain is found on skier’s right just below the summit—on top of the old ski resort’s two black diamond runs, Big Dipper and Little Dipper. Attentive skiers should look for the awesome glade run hidden between the two; make sure to check it out on a pow day!

Cascade and Thin Line drop straight down the center of the upper mountain. Their starts are easy to find and both lead to tight runs that are lots of fun in good snow conditions. Of the two, Cascade is better maintained and, in most conditions, a little wider and easier.

The remnants of the trails on skier’s left are a little harder to find; the upper portions of the road have subsumed a good part of the upper section of Wapack, while the start of Spruce is overgrown and partially hidden. However, spending the time to find the start of Spruce—you’ll essentially ski down a short section of the hiking trail to find it—is well worth it, as it’s a tight, fun run that flows uninterrupted to the base area.

Because these runs are not formally maintained, conditions can vary from totally clear to shwacky depending on factors like skier traffic and snowfall. Be sure to also pay attention to your turns as these trails intersect the road separating the upper and lower mountain; the terrain here is sometimes tricky, as the road builders put little thought into preserving the ski trails.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Lower Mountain

The lower mountain’s three distinct runs (Wapack, Cascade, and Little Dipper) remain in their historic locations. They are easy to find from the road and tend to be more open and lower angle than the upper mountain trails, making them perfect for newer backcountry skiers and a pleasant reprieve from dodging trees (and the occasional rock) up top. Moreover, frequently windy conditions near the top of the mountain can often leave it scoured, but great snow can be found down low with powder pockets deposited generously across Watatic’s lower slopes.

The first trail that skiers descending the road see is Wapack. Dropping off the road just after it makes a sharp bend, Wapack is a tight chute, with interspersed mini-glades, that runs to the base area. It is the longest and most challenging of the lower three runs.

The drop in for Cascade is a short distance further down, just before the one steep section on the road. Although once fairly tight due to regrowth, Cascade was, and is again, the widest run on the mountain and offers fun skiing on moderate terrain.

At the bottom of the road’s decline, skiers can take a sharp left onto Little Dipper. Although not as wide as Cascade, it is the lowest angle of the three runs and is pleasant, easy skiing, especially near the bottom.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Base Area

All of the lower slope’s runs deposit into a large open area at the base of Mount Watatic, which makes it easy to regroup between laps. This area also gets a considerable amount of sun, allowing for comfortable conditions to refuel and transition between downhill and uphill skiing.

Have you skied Mount Watic either under your own power or when it was still operational? If so, tell us about your experience in the comments below!


What Do Guides Think About Before Ski Touring in Tuckerman Ravine?

Whether you’re a veteran backcountry skier or somebody who just read goEast’s Alpha Guide for Tuckerman Ravine and is now psyched to ski it for the first time, managing avalanche risk and planning for Mount Washington’s notorious winter weather can be tricky. With that in mind, we recently asked the EMS Climbing School’s Keith Moon, who has spent hundreds of days climbing and skiing on Mount Washington, to share some pointers on how to make a Tuck’s ski tour as safe and awesome as possible.

Keith Moon skinning the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. | Credit: Tim peck
Keith Moon skinning the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

Before You Go

A critical first step in planning a Tuck’s ski tour is to select and research your objective. In the process, investigate possible alternatives that are suitable to your party’s abilities and risk profile in case weather or avalanche risk preclude your intended route. Some good alternatives in the vicinity are the Gulf of Slides itself, as well as the Sherbourne and Gulf of Slides ski trails.

Another consideration is the style of tour that you’re going on. As he’s planning, Keith focuses on whether he’ll be backcountry skiing (looking for the best snow), ski touring (trying move across a significant distance), or ski mountaineering (climbing a specific objective and skiing down)—which helps clarify the goals for the day. Answering this question also helps ensure that he has the right equipment for the task—think big skis for powder hunting and lightweight skis for long-distance touring.

A few days before your tour, Keith recommends studying the Mount Washington Observatory’s Higher Summits forecast and the Mount Washington Avalanche Center’s avalanche report to get familiar with the existing conditions. Recent trip reports or conversations with local guides, snow rangers, and skiers are great ways to supplement your own research.

READ MORE: Reading Weather Reports for Mount Washington

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What to Pack

The night before your tour, pack gear appropriate for the objective and conditions. In terms of clothing, Keith prefers a four-layer system of a baselayer, an insulated midlayer, a hardshell, and a puffy. The weight of each layer often varies depending on the conditions, with lighter weight puffies and shells for spring-like bluebird days and heavier weight layers for cold or wet missions.

Keith’s pack also includes avalanche gear (beacon, shovel, and probe) as well as an ice axe, and crampons (essential gear for booting up an iced-up gully). Additionally, he packs a pair of ski goggles, ski helmet (it’s warmer and more protective than a climbing helmet), a first aid kit, bivy, repair kit, and food and water.

Getting Going

The morning of the tour, Keith recommends reading the MWAC’s daily avalanche report and Observatory’s weather forecast (which, in case you don’t have internet access, are also posted on the wall in the climber’s room at Pinkham Notch). As he does so, he refines his route plan, identifying aspects and elevations that he wants to avoid, observations that he’d like to make en-route, and alternatives in case the intended objective proves too risky.

Whether he’s skiing with friends or clients, Keith recommends having a group conversation about the day’s goals, risks, and hazards. He always encourages everybody to share their opinion, as it’s better to sort out divergent opinions near the parking lot instead of when you’re standing atop a gully, shivering from the windchill.

The Tour

On the skin up towards the Ravine, Keith recommends keeping an eye on the snowpack and the weather, as it may yield clues that support or detract from your earlier plan and forecast. Indeed, if you watch Keith while he’s skinning towards Hermit Lake, he’s regularly probing the snowpack on the side of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail with his ski pole searching for distinct layers in the snow, assessing stability by observing whether snow is sliding on inclines near the trail, and glancing at the sky looking for any weather changes (i.e., is the snowpack getting more sun or precipitation than expected or is the forecast bad weather arriving sooner than expected). If you’re not doing this too on your own tours, now is a good time to pick up the habit.

Another key to the day, and something that Keith focuses on with his clients, is good skinning technique. Gliding the ski along the snow, as opposed to picking it up like a snowshoe, is much more efficient and makes the uphill a lot easier. Not having wrecked legs is something you’ll be thankful for once you transition to the downhill.

Keith recommends that groups pause for a few minutes when they arrive at Hermit Lake. It’s a great spot to have a snack and layer up (if you haven’t already). If the visibility is good, it is also a great spot to make some visual observations of the Ravine, looking for any signs of recent avalanche activity. If they’re out and about, chatting with the snow rangers about conditions they’re seeing is another great way to garner some info.

Courtesy: Colin Boyd
Courtesy: Colin Boyd

Into the Ravine

From Hermit Lake, skiers have three main options: turn left towards Hillmans, head up into the Ravine, or, if the conditions have deteriorated, ski down the Sherbie. If the option is up, Hermit Lake is a great spot to make sure everybody is ready. What you don’t want to do, is head up, only to have to pause some minutes later, likely in the runout of a known avalanche path.

Heading into the Ravine, Keith tries to choose a route that minimizes the exposure to known avalanche paths. He’s also paying close attention to other groups, adjusting his path and objective to reduce the likelihood of being caught by a human-triggered release from above.

Whatever gully you’re heading up, Keith encourages keeping the skins on as long as possible. With the skis on, it’s easier to ski out of trouble and the floatation they provide allows you to avoid post-holing, a concern in the typically deep Tuckerman’s snowpack. Although skinning up a gully is tricky, learning to love the kickturn makes it a lot more manageable.

If skinning uphill becomes too tricky, find a safe spot to transition from skinning to booting. As you’re doing this transition, Keith recommends stripping your skins and having your skis ready to go, so that when you get to the top of the booter, it’s as simple as clicking into the skis and heading downhill. This helps minimize the time the group spends at the top of the gully, something that’s particularly helpful when the platform you stamp out is less than ideal.

Credit: Jamie Walter
Credit: Jamie Walter

Ski

This is the part everybody comes for, but it’s also not time to let your guard down. Keith advises skiing one at a time, from safe spot to safe spot, with the group leapfrogging down the gully.

If the gully bottoms out in the bowl, Keith likes to make sure everybody has agreed on the plan before they get there. Whether that means skiing out of the bowl down the Little Headwall to the Sherbie or transitioning for another gully lap, having a clear plan helps minimize the time standing in the runout of multiple avalanche paths.

Once back at Pinkham, it’s rinse and repeat for tomorrow (at least for Keith), but not before a quick debrief. That’s a great time to assess what went right, what went wrong, and terrain that’s suitable for next time, all topics that help improve everyone in the group’s risk assessment capabilities.

Jamming everything Ketih knows about Tucks is near impossible, luckily you can schedule some one-on-one time with him in the ravines by simply contacting the Eastern Mountain Sports School. Whether looking for pow or looking to refine technique, Keith is a wealth of knowledge and everyone from Tucks veteran to first-timers are sure to learn something from a day spent skiing with him.


3 Beginner-Friendly Ice Climbs in Crawford Notch

There’s no denying the great ice climbing found in the Northeast. The entire region is home to fantastic flows, even in the most unexpected places. However, one ice climbing destination stands out among the rest: Crawford Notch. With numerous test-piece climbs at Frankenstein Cliffs, a multitude of multi-pitch routes on Mount Willard, and the uber-classic Shoestring Gully on Mount Webster, it’s no wonder why this winter wonderland attracts ice aficionados from across the country. However, it’s not just ice climbing experts flocking to Crawford Notch—the area is also home to some of the best moderate ice climbs in the Northeast. Below are a few great destinations for newer ice climbers looking to gain experience on ice in Crawford Notch.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Willey’s Slide

With an easy approach and an abundance of low-angle ice (between four and six pitches of ice graded no harder than WI2), it’s no wonder why so many Northeast ice climbers have kicked their first steps on Willey’s Slide.

Willey’s Slide is the large slab on the side of Mount Willey. It is easily spotted above the aptly named Willey House while driving Route 302 as it winds through Crawford Notch, allowing climbers to get a sense of ice conditions before making the 15-minute approach. Parking for the slide is in the plowed pull-off just after the Willey House if coming from Conway (or before it, if heading south from the Highland Center). Leaving the parking lot, climbers will typically find a well-traveled path leading up the hill and eventually crossing the railroad tracks before depositing them at the base of the climb. Don’t over-layer in the parking lot or you’ll be roasting by the time you reach the slide.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Willey’s Slide is great for newer ice climbers as it offers numerous opportunities to increase or decrease the difficulty of the climbing. Climbers looking to challenge themselves will find the steepest climbing in the center of the slab, while the slab’s sides offer lower-angle, less-challenging climbing. Even better, climbers tackling the climber’s left side of the route can bail into the woods and onto the descent trail at almost any point if the climbing becomes uncomfortable. Speaking of the descent, there’s no need to rappel or make tricky v-threads to descend the climb; at the top, climbers can simply follow a normally well-packed trail through the woods to the base.

Two warnings about climbing at Willey’s Slide: First, it can get busy, as it is a popular destination for many of the area’s climbing schools, our EMS Climbing School included. Second, the slide has avalanched, so use caution after any heavy snow.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Silver Cascade

A short drive north on Route 302 is Silver Cascade, a gold-star route for those with aspirations of climbing the Northeast’s classic gullies. And, unlike Willey’s Slide, encountering hordes of fellow ice climbers here is a rarity.

Much like Willey’s Slide, Silver Cascade is easily viewable from the road making conditions easy to ascertain. In fact, the route begins at the intersection of the cascade and Route 302. Parking for the route is located at the top of the notch in a small lot just before the AMC’s Highland Center (if coming from North Conway). There’s also a lot directly across from Silver Cascade for summer tourists, but it is not always plowed and folks regularly get stuck.

Once on the route, ice climbers are treated to a wide variety of ice and conditions as they ascend the climb’s four to five pitches. Silver Cascade offers an ample amount of low-angle terrain with the most challenging sections rated no harder than an intermediate-ice-climber-friendly WI2+. After the initial steep, almost all the most challenging sections of Silver Cascade can be avoided, if less-experienced climbers don’t feel up to the challenge. Also, if anchors prove challenging, the climbing is taking longer than expected, or climbers feel like they are in over their head, bailing off the route is as easy as moving into the woods on climber’s right. After four to five pitches, the ice peters out and most climbers descend via a well-trod trail through the woods on the climber’s right side of the climb—once again negating the need to rappel.

One trick to having the best experience on Silver Cascade is to climb it before the snow begins stacking up or in low snow years—climbing Silver Cascade when there is lots of snow is still possible, it’s just more steep snow climbing and a little less fun.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Flume Cascade

Sharing the same parking lot as Silver Cascade is another moderately-graded frozen flow that is sure to please: Flume Cascade.

Similar in character to its neighbor, Flume Cascade delivers a wide variety of climbing, with steep curtains of ice, graded up to WI2+/WI3, interspersed with long sections of snow. Continuing for four to five pitches, the varied terrain on Flume Cascade (very easy initially, followed by several bulgy sections) makes for an engaging outing and is great training for tackling longer, more challenging adventures in Crawford Notch. Like the aforementioned climbs, the most challenging sections of Flume Cascade can be avoided by taking less-steep variations, and the woods on climber’s right (also the descent trail) provide a reliable bail-out option for almost the entire climb—although, you’ll want to try to make it to the top, as Flume Cascade concludes in a very cool cave-like feature.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Although Silver and Flume Cascade are rarely super busy, the variety of climbing options allow ample opportunity for more experienced climbers to pass novice parties—a luxury not found on all of Crawford Notch’s classic ice climbs. Additionally, the proximity of Flume Cascade to Silver Cascade along with the easy walk-offs for both climbs mean that many climbers can tick both routes—and between eight and ten pitches of climbing—in a day.

One word of caution for both Silver and Flume Cascades: these are active streams that are often running during even the coldest spells. Their volume tends to increase significantly (and quickly) if it rains, so be sure to head for the woods if liquid starts falling from the sky.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Do you have a favorite ice climb in Crawford Notch? Whether it’s a super-steep single-pitch line or a more moderate multi-pitch route, we want to hear about it—so tell us about it in the comments below.


How to Choose Snowshoes

Whether you’re heading into the mountains or just getting a little exercise, snowshoes are a key piece of gear for winter exploration. They make winter travel easier and more efficient by dispersing a person’s weight over a large surface area, providing flotation, and preventing them from sinking into the snow. Can’t figure out what snowshoe is right for you? Keep reading to discover which features and benefits are best for you in a snowshoe.

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Terrain

Snowshoeing means different things to different people. For some, snowshoes offer access to untracked powder deep in the mountains; For others, they are simply a way to enjoy the outdoors in winter. Because of this, snowshoes are designed to perform in a wide variety of terrain and applications, making the knowledge of how and where you’re going to use them one of the simplest ways to narrow down your snowshoe choice.

Hiking and Recreational Snowshoes

Designed to handle conditions encountered by the majority of users, recreational/hiking snowshoes are capable of handling all but the steepest and iciest terrain. They’re built for comfort and ease of use with enough traction and technical features to handle moderate terrain and hiking off the beaten track. Most snowshoes fall into this category.

Mountaineering and Backcountry Snowshoes

Mountaineering and backcountry snowshoes are designed for people going deep into the mountains and tackling demanding terrain. They feature more aggressive crampons (and, in many cases, serrated side rails and rear crampons) than hiking/recreational snowshoes for improved performance in steep and icy conditions. Since users in this category will be traveling far from civilization, mountaineering/backcountry snowshoes are built using burlier and more rugged materials and are typically field-repairable. Lastly, many snowshoes in this category have bindings designed to accommodate bulkier boots such as snowboard or mountaineering boots.

Running

Running snowshoes represent a small niche of the snowshoe market, but are popular for people looking to take a break from pounding the pavement during the winter. Running snowshoes tend to be shorter, narrower, and lighter than other snowshoe styles, sacrificing some flotation to facilitate a more natural running motion. Additionally, the bindings found on running snowshoes are designed to accommodate sneakers, rather than boots.

Pro Tip: To ensure your feet stay warm and dry, wear waterproof trail runners and ankle gaiters with your running snowshoes.

GO: Snowshoes for Gentile | Rolling | Steep Terrain

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Men’s, Women’s, and Children’s Snowshoes

Men’s (typically also considered unisex) snowshoes are designed for bigger bodies carrying heavier loads and come with bindings designed to fit larger boots. Conversely, women’s snowshoes are engineered for smaller people, lighter loads, and smaller feet. Women’s-specific snowshoes also frequently feature a tapered tail to account for a woman’s narrower stride. With that being said, many women can still be comfortable wearing a men’s/unisex snowshoe.

Children’s snowshoes vary by age, but most are built to be easy on and off. Snowshoes for younger children are typically made for backyard use rather than backcountry, but snowshoes designed for older children incorporate the technical features found on adult models.

GO: Men’s Snowshoes | Women’s | Kids’s

Courtesy: Tubbs Snowshoes
Courtesy: Tubbs Snowshoes

Sizing Snowshoes

Snowshoes work by dispersing a person’s weight over the surface area of the snowshoe—therefore, it’s important to get an appropriately-sized snowshoe for the load it will have to carry. Every snowshoe comes with a recommended weight range, which should be consulted before purchasing.

As a general matter, if you’re under 150 pounds (with gear), you should be looking at snowshoes in the 21 to 25 inch range. For folks between 150 and 200 pounds (again, with gear), consider a snowshoe in the 25 to 30 inch range. Finally, for individuals weighing more than 200 pounds (including gear), look for a snowshoe over 30 inches. Balance this, however, with the terrain you’ll be traveling in—in deeper snow you’ll want a bigger size, while on well-packed trails a smaller shoe will be easier to use.

Pro Tip: A good rule of thumb is to choose the smallest snowshoe available that is capable of carrying the load and handling the conditions you anticipate encountering, as smaller snowshoes are easier to walk in and weigh less than their larger brethren. This is especially true for hikers expecting to snowshoe predominantly on packed trails.

GO: 40-90 lbs.80-150 lbs. | 120-200 lbs. | 170-250 lbs. | 220+ lbs.

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Construction Type

Today’s snowshoes fall into two different types of construction: wrapped frame and plastic decking.

Wrapped Frame

Most snowshoes are constructed using the wrapped frame model. Wrapped-frame snowshoes take their cues from the traditional wood-and-leather snowshoes of the past, updated with more modern materials like metal and rubber. Wrapped-frame snowshoes deliver a nice balance of light weight and performance and are well suited for use in soft snow.

Plastic Decked

Plastic-decked snowshoes have become increasingly common in recent years. Unlike wrapped-frame snowshoes, plastic-decked snowshoes typically do not feature a separate frame—rather, the frame and deck are a single piece, making them more durable. Plastic-decked snowshoes are more packable than wrapped-frame snowshoes, but frequently are only available in one size, ruling them out for users headed for deep powder (although some modular snowshoes come with “tail”-like extensions).

There are a few exceptions when it comes to snowshoe construction, most notably the MSR Lightning series snowshoes. Rather than using a tube frame, MSR Lightning snowshoes feature a metal frame with serrated edges (and a rubber decking) to provide a snowshoe that blends the advantages of both wrapped-frame and plastic-deck snowshoes.

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Crampons and Traction

A clear indicator of a snowshoe’s intended use is the design of its crampon and the traction system. The more aggressive the crampon, the more advanced terrain it’s built for. For example, a basic recreational snowshoe might have a simple toe crampon, while a mountaineering snowshoe will feature a toe crampon, a heel crampon, and side rails for additional traction in steep terrain. More so, crampons designed for steep and icy terrain will also typically be more aggressively-shaped to provide purchase in gnarly terrain. It’s also common for snowshoes designed for more extreme terrain to be outfitted with traction systems made of more rugged materials—switching aluminum construction out in favor of steel.

Bindings

There are two things to consider when looking at a snowshoe’s binding: how it attaches to your foot and how the binding interacts with the snowshoe.

Manufacturers use numerous ways to connect the binding to your foot. In fact, it’s common to see multiple connection methods used on the same snowshoes. Popular binding closures are webbing straps, rubber straps, snowboard-like ratcheting straps, and Boa dials. Webbing and rubber straps are the most utilitarian binding systems (and allow for replacement in the field), while ratchet straps and Boa dials are more easily adjusted and easier to use.

Whether the snowshoe’s binding is “fully rotational” or “fixed” also impacts its performance. A fully rotational binding is attached to the snowshoe with a pivot or hinge and delivers a wider range of motion than what’s offered by fixed bindings. Rotational bindings allow for a more natural stride and make it easier to gain purchase on steep slopes.

Alternately, fixed bindings attach the binding to the snowshoe with a strap or band. Fixed bindings bring the snowshoe tail up with each step, making them ideal for activities like running where a rotating snowshoe could present a tripping hazard.

Heel Risers

Heel risers, also called heel lifts or climbing bars, have become increasingly common on many snowshoes and are particularly beneficial on mountaineering and backcountry snowshoes. Heel risers can be flipped up to support the heel when ascending steeper terrain, putting the foot in a more natural position for increased comfort and less strain.

 

Do you have a favorite snowshoe model or a suggestion for something new snowshoers should be on the lookout for? If so, we want to hear about it—leave your suggestion in the comments below!

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How to Keep Your Puffy Jacket Clean

Puffy coats are an essential part of every outdoor adventurer’s wardrobe. Whether you’re a hiker, skier, climber, or backpacker, one (or more) of these synthetic and down-filled jackets probably regularly finds its way into your pack. But with winter now upon us, you’ve also probably been wearing it so much that it begs the question: is your puffer clean? Because keeping your puffy clean improves its performance and increases its longevity, read on for a few tips to keep your precious puffy in pristine condition and, if it happens to get dirty, clean it up.

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1. Top of the Line

Stashing your puffy at the top of your pack offers a handful of advantages. Most notably, it keeps it easily accessible for when you stop—which is always a great time to add a warm layer for sudden shifts in temperature. From a longevity standpoint, stowing your puffer on the top of your pack keeps it out of harm’s way when shoving items in and out of your backpack. It also helps it avoid absorbing moisture from wet items in the pack, or from being doused by a leaky water bottle.

2. Hang in There

Speaking of storage, while many puffies on the market come with stuff sacks or stow in their own pockets, keeping them bundled up is not a good long-term solution. Keeping an insulated jacket compressed can cause flat spots and negatively affect how insulation lofts. Instead, hang your puffy up at the end of the day. It’s good for the disbursement of insulation and loft of your puffer, and also ensures that your jacket dries thoroughly between uses.

3. Look Sharp

Another easy way to keep your puffy jacket at peak performance is by simply being careful when handling sharp objects. Tuck ice axe picks into pick pockets or cover their sharp edges with Black Diamond Pick Protectors. When storing crampons, make sure to pack them with their points facing one another, or use the Black Diamond Crampon Bag to avoid accidentally puncturing your puffy. Carrying skis on your shoulder? Watch those edges!

Pro Tip: If you’re planning on wearing a puffy for a considerable amount of time—and conditions allow—consider adding a more robust layer, like a softshell, on top of the puffy for an extra layer of protection.

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4. Don’t Dig Yourself into a Hole

Despite our best efforts, it seems holes are inevitable on puffy coats (especially lightweight ones). Patching holes early is a good way to keep expensive insulation inside your coat and add years to your jacket’s lifespan. Duct tape is the old standby for many outdoors people, but it can actually do more harm than good since it can further tear the coat when removed, leaves a residue behind, and pulls the insulation out when removed. Instead, use a pre-cut Gore-Tex Patch or Gear Aid Tenacious Tape, both of which are easily stored in a repair kit.

Pro Tip: To avoid losing insulation or further damaging the outer lining, patch any holes on your puffy before washing it. Of course, if the material around the hole is truly filthy, spot cleaning it can go a long way to ensuring that the patch stays put.

5. Clean Up Your Act

No matter how careful you are with your puffy, the time will come when it needs a wash—dirt, oils, and, in some cases, beer all have a way of winding up on your jacket. Keeping your jacket clean is for more than mere aesthetics—it also improves the loft of insulation and revitalizes Durable Water Repellent (DWR) shells, keeping puffies functioning at the pinnacle of performance and extending their lifespan.

While cleaning a puffy can feel daunting, it is actually quite easy:

  1. Most companies advise using a front-loading washing machine for cleaning your puffy coat and warn against using top-loading washers. However, many newer top-loading machines do not use agitators—which can snag and rip delicate items like puffies. If you have access to a newer top-loading washer without an agitator, feel free to use it. No matter if its a front- or top-loader, use the gentle cycle. No washer? No problem, a bathtub or sink also works great.
  2. Get a cleaner designed specifically for your garment, such as Nikwax Down Wash. Traditional laundry detergents can strip down feathers of their natural oils and leave a residue on your jacket’s shell, both of which will negatively affect your coat’s performance. If you are washing a synthetically insulated puffy, a product like Nikwax Tech Wash both cleans insulation and restores the jacket’s water resistance, all without leaving a soapy, performance-inhibiting residue behind.
  3. After your puffy is done in the washing machine, throw it in the dryer on low heat. At low heat, drying a puffy can be a time-consuming process and it often requires a few cycles to get a puffy completely dry. Fight the temptation to speed up the process by jacking up the heat—too much heat can melt everything from the jacket’s outer shell to the synthetic insulation. It’s also possible to air dry a puffy, although it can take anywhere from a couple of days to a week. To air dry, simply lay your puffy on a towel in a warm, dry spot out of direct sunlight and occasionally flip the jacket over.
  4. To help your jacket maintain its loft, throw a few clean tennis balls into the dryer with it, as they aid in re-fluffing your puffy. If you’re hand drying, manually pulling apart insulation clumps can help restore your puffy’s fluff and speed up the drying process.
  5. While everyone loves a nice, clean puffy, it’s advisable to only wash them as needed. Washing can cause extra wear and stress to a jacket and shorten its lifespan.

Do you have any tips for keeping your puffy pristine? We want to hear them! Please leave them in the comments section below.

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