Hiking Acadia’s Ladder Trails

Acadia National Park is known far and wide for its dramatic natural beauty, the vivid contrast of mountain and sea creating a dreamscape of bald ridgelines, sweeping ocean views, and granite cliffs that dive straight into the tide. In the spaces between, dense woodlands and immaculate waterways offer no relief from the splendor. It’s paradise, in a complete, uncompromising, and distinctly New England way.

For all Acadia’s given natural qualities, however, it’s a man-made characteristic that allows visitors the privilege of access: the trails. Miles and miles of hewn stone steps, graded carriage roads, and blazed footpaths represent a mammoth feat of ingenuity, engineering, and labor worthy of the land for which they were constructed. Among these built features, it’s the use of iron—as rungs, railings, and ladders—that stands out. Their presence, on steep, severe, and exposed terrain afford hikers access to parts of the mountains that they wouldn’t be able to achieve without technical climbing acumen—and because of their concentration in the park, they’ve become almost synonymous with Acadia. In guidebooks and online, the Park Service has even appended their rating system to include easy, moderate, strenuous, and ladder.

A word of warning, some of these trails are steep and should absolutely not be attempted by hikers who aren’t comfortable with heights.

Editor’s Note: Some of these trails, including the Precipice, Jordan Cliffs, and Beech Cliff Trails are subject to seasonal closures to protect the peregrine falcons who nest in the cliffs. These can last from mid-March to mid-August but visit the park’s website to be sure.

The Precipice

Nowhere in Acadia are those elements that define the merit of the ladder trail more apparent than on the Precipice Trail. This notoriously steep and exposed route up Champlain Mountain’s rugged eastern face follows a system of near-vertical cliffs, navigating their natural cracks and ledges with the aid of dozens of iron rungs and railings. It’s not long before substantial easterly views of the Atlantic Ocean open up and the exposure becomes palpable—in places it feels closer to a climb than a hike. In a little less than a mile—with an ascent of over a thousand feet—the Precipice gains the 1058-foot summit of Champlain, with an outstanding view of Dorr Mountain to the west as a reward. From here, link up with the Champlain North Ridge and Orange and Black Trails for 2.1 miles of what is widely referred to as the park’s premier hike.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

The Beehive

Though the summit is a mere 520 feet above sea level, a quick jaunt up the super popular Beehive is a must-do on just about everyone’s Acadia list—and justifiably so. The eponymous Beehive Trail, with its iron rungs and railings, delivers sweeping views in short order by running right up its exposed southern face. From nearby Sand Beach, the crowds look more like ants marching up an anthill than bees working about their hive, but don’t let the crowds dissuade you—between the panorama and the fun of the brief, steep ladder sections, the Beehive is essential Acadia. String it together with the Bowl for a 1.4-mile loop. Getting there early and getting a spot at the beach for some post-hike chill is highly recommended.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Dorr Mountain

At 1,270 feet, Dorr Mountain is Acadia’s third-highest peak and an ascent of its rugged eastern face rewards hikers with substantial views in every direction, taking in the town of Bar Harbor to the north, Champlain Mountain to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the south, and Cadillac Mountain directly to the west. Naturally, these views are best achieved via the aptly-named Ladder Trail. Starting just south of the Tarn, the Ladder Trail gets right to work, climbing steeply over seemingly innumerable stone steps before the first iron rungs come into view. The proper ladder section is brief but memorable, with intermittent views of Champlain through the trees. Continue up the Schiff Path over gorgeous slabs dotted with pitch pine to Dorr’s summit to take it all in. Connecting with the Dorr Mountain South Ridge and Cannon Brook Trails makes for a very pleasant 3.2-mile loop.

Jordan Cliffs

While most of the ladder trails in Acadia are designed to get hikers up a cliff face, the Jordan Cliffs Trail is actually a traverse, running north to south along a series of east-facing cliffs, between Penobscot Mountain and Jordan Pond. Although by heading north, hikers will get a cumulative elevation gain, the Traverse aspect of the Jordan Cliffs Trail promises plenty of up and down over its course utilizing wooden staircases and—naturally—iron rungs in the process. Some exposed sections offer excellent views, with Jordan Pond and Pemetic Mountain in the east, and the Bubbles, a set of postcard-worthy twin peaks on the north end of the pond. Make it a 4.6-mile loop and take in Sargent and Penobscot Mountains, Acadia’s second- and fifth-highest mountains by connecting the Jordan Cliffs Trail with the Sargent East Cliffs, Sargent South Ridge, Penobscot Mountain, and Spring Trails. The exposed ridge walk over Sargent and Penobscot is some of the best hiking in the park.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Beech Cliff

On the western side of the island—commonly referred to as the “Quietside” for it’s relative distance from the bustle of Acadia’s better known attractions—one can get their ladder fix on the Beech Cliff Trail. This short trail rises straight up through the dense woods around Echo Lake over some cut stone steps before reaching a series of four iron ladders that negotiate the shelves and ledges of a near-vertical cliff system before topping out at a junction with the Canada Cliff Trail and a beautiful view back over Echo Lake. Continue to the right to the high point of Beech Cliff and more views of the lake and out to the Atlantic in the South. This is an awesome trail to do as part of a beach day at Echo Lake—Acadia’s only swimmable fresh-water lake—or as an escape from the crowds in high summer. Do it with the Beech Cliff Loop Trail and descend via the Canada Cliff Trail for a nice little 2-mile loop.

 


3 Trail Runs Near Newport, Rhode Island

Trail running is having a moment right now. First-person video of airy ridgelines traversed at precipitous speeds are flooding the social media feeds of the outdoor-inclined. Grueling backcountry ultra races—in the image of the notorious Barkley Marathons—are popping up by the day. Classic backpacking routes, from the Pemi Loop to the Devil’s Path, are getting done in hours, not days. It certainly seems that everywhere you look, the wilds of the Northeast are teeming with ultra-fit, tiny-backpack-clad trail runners, dodging blowdown and hopping over rock and root as they bound headlong into some real type 2 fun.

While it’s not the type of peaceful community with nature that some of us seek, trail running is, at the very least, another great way to get outside. It’s a lot easier to squeeze a hike into a busy schedule if you’re running it and covering more ground faster affords the ambitious—and properly conditioned—outdoor enthusiast the freedom of a remote backcountry experience without the heavy pack.

Trail running is also excellent cardiovascular exercise and incredibly good training for harder, higher mountaineering objectives, where moving quickly over difficult and varied terrain is essential. That said, it is a strenuous activity that shouldn’t be taken lightly—road runners will need to account for the uneven, often difficult footing while hikers will need to acclimate to the additional aerobic strain. So, if you’re new to trail running you’d be wise not to start in the mountains but rather with a more manageable goal.

Seek the coast. More specifically, set a course for Newport, Rhode Island. Though the City by the Sea is better known for its surfing and sea kayaking, a modest selection of trails, gentle elevation changes, and breathtaking ocean views make Newport—and the surrounding area—a top-notch place to give trail running a try.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Sachuest Point, Middletown

Sachuest Point, on Aquidneck Island’s southeastern corner, is a true gem. A small peninsula jutting out into the sea, its 242 acres briefly divide the Sakonnet River from Rhode Island Sound, affording sweeping, sustained ocean views. The terrain is flat and easy, alternating between hard dirt and gravel path, all while the trail meanders through shrubland and native grasses before opening up to panoramic views of rocky coastline, beach, and sea.

The area is a federally-managed wildlife refuge replete with an incredibly diverse population of birds and smaller fauna, including the increasingly rare New England Cottontail rabbit. Obviously, this makes staying on marked trails—so as not to disturb these fragile habitats—of critical importance.

Linking up the Flint Point and Ocean View Loops, Sachuest Point’s two named trails, in a figure-eight will net you a 2.7-mile round trip. A cool down lap of one or both loops to enjoy the many, signed shoreline access points or observation areas is highly recommended.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Sakonnet Greenway, Portsmouth and Middletown

Open meadows packed with wildflowers, breezy coastal woods, and bucolic farmland, characterize the Sakonnet Greenway, as it weaves its way through the heart of Aquidneck Island, linking the towns of Portsmouth and Middletown in the process. End-to-end, the trail weighs in at 10 miles—the longest continuous trail of its kind on the island—though a few well-spaced parking areas afford opportunity for shorter loops, including the Portsmouth, Middletown South, and Middletown North Loops.

You’re not going to gain a ton of elevation, and the footing is generally good as the trail runs mostly over dirt or cut grass, but step lightly after rain—the trail is also open to horses, and the deeper hoofprints can roll an ankle if you’re not looking.

And while this is not a wilderness experience, the Sakonnet Greenway still has its moments with flora so thick—nurtured by the milder marine climate—you’ll feel its breathing with you. Give the 2.6-mile Middletown South Loop a try, beginning at the parking lot at Newport Vineyards and ending with a glass of something chilled.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Cliff Walk, Newport

While it’s not a trail run in the traditional sense—most of it is paved—Newport’s Cliff Walk is hands-down one of the best runs on the island. From the get-go at Memorial Boulevard, just uphill from Easton’s Beach, Cliff Walk delivers spectacular views of the Atlantic and it yields not once over it’s 3.5-mile course to Bailey’s Beach. On one side are the mansions of Newport, soaring monuments to the kind of American wealth that defined the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. On the other side, an even stronger force: the Atlantic Ocean and the dramatic cliffs that plunge directly into it.

In either direction, the views are stunning and the sea breeze is enough to make running Cliff Walk a joy even on the hottest of Summer days. Do yourself a favor and go early—this is a must-see destination in Newport and it fills up quickly. If you don’t want to be dodging and weaving your way through the crowds, don’t wait.

Parking and access points are aplenty on Cliff Walk so runs of varying distances are possible. If you’re up for it though, completing the 7 mile out-and-back route is the way to go.


Alpha Guide: Hiking The Devil's Path

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Not for the faint of heart, the Catskills’ most notorious trail is rugged, wild, and just as challenging as it is rewarding.

Point blank, the Devil’s Path is hard. In its 25 miles, this hike gains over 8,500 feet in elevation while running over some of the roughest terrain in the Northeast. The five Catskill high peaks it traverses—Indian Head, Twin, Sugarloaf, Plateau, and West Kill Mountains—are separated by dramatically steep descents into low notches, requiring hikers to scramble and even downclimb in some spots. The kind of loose rock that makes your ankles hurt just looking at it is seemingly everywhere and, depending on the season, water sources can be few and far between. The challenges this hike presents are unrelenting.

The reward, however, is apparent in the abundant, fantastic viewpoints and the wild vibe of the trail. For being just two hours from New York City, this hike feels a lot more remote than it actually is.

Quick Facts

Distance: 25 miles, thru-hike
Time to Complete: 1-3 days
Difficulty: ★★★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May to October
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/5265.html

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Turn-By-Turn

The Devil’s Path is often thought of as two halves, east and west, with its midpoint being the intersection with NY-214 at Stony Clove Notch. Truth is, once you hit Stony Clove Notch (hiking westbound) you’ve done the bulk of the work with most of the mileage, elevation gain, and the decidedly rougher terrain behind you.

Most folks like to tackle this trip in a weekend, camping close to the trailhead on Friday night and splitting the Eastern and Western sections between Saturday and Sunday. For the brave, doing the “Devil in a Day” is also an option, though an early start and ample preparation are absolutely critical.

From the Thruway (I-87) take Exit 20 and head west on NY-212. After 2.3 miles, take a slight right onto Blue Mountain Road. Continue for 1.4 miles, then take a left onto West Saugerties Road. From there, it’s 5.2 miles to Prediger Road (on the left) and another 0.5 miles to the trailhead parking area.

This is a one-way ticket, so you’ll need to post a shuttle car at the other end on Spruceton Road.

The view from Orchard Point on Plateau Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak
The view from Orchard Point on Plateau Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

The Eastern Section

Beginning at the Prediger Road trailhead (42.13396, -74.10435), the Devil’s Path starts out easy, heading southeast on a wide path over the mostly flat ground. At 0.2 miles the blue-blazed Jimmy Dolan Trail splits off to the right. Bear left and follow those red blazes. Fortunately, for all the myriad obstacles this trail is going to throw at you, route finding isn’t one of them—every junction is very well-signed and the blazes are plentiful.

At 1.7 miles, the trail runs into a T intersection with the Overlook Trail—take a right. In about 200 feet, the trail splits again, with the Overlook Trail heading straight (south) and the Devil’s Path breaking off to the right (west-southwest).

A short distance straight on the Overlook Trail is the Devil’s Kitchen Lean-to (42.11896, -74.08716), a very popular shelter and the first of its kind on the trail. Should you be looking to do this hike in a weekend, the Devil’s Kitchen is a solid Friday night option, and will all but ensure an early start on Saturday morning. You almost certainly won’t be the only one with this plan in mind, though, so don’t bank on a spot in the shelter proper.

A view through the trees on the way up Indian Head Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak
A view through the trees on the way up Indian Head Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

Indian Head Mountain

After the junction with the Overlook Trail, the Devil’s Path begins its first ascent, moderately gaining elevation as it climbs the northeast face of Indian Head. At 2.9 miles the trail reaches Sherman’s Lookout, an open ledge with excellent views back to the east. From here, the trail meanders over the ridge, climbing and descending easily to another great view, this time to the south. Beyond this lookout, the grade steepens and requires some easy scrambling over rocks and roots—a mere warm-up for what’s to come—to the viewless 3,573-foot summit of Indian Head (42.11640, -74.11456), your first of five Catskill 3500-foot peaks on the trip.

Up next is your first, steep, characteristically-Devil’s-Path descent, dropping around 500 feet in 0.6 miles into Jimmy Dolan Notch. Compared with the descents to come, however, this one is relatively moderate. At the low point of the notch (4.5 miles), the eponymous, Jimmy Dolan Notch Trail descends to the right. This is the same blue-blazed trail the Devil’s Path crossed at the beginning of the trip so should you need an early bailout option, this is one will take you right back to the car.

A break in the clouds from Twin Mountain’s south summit. | Credit: John Lepak
A break in the clouds from Twin Mountain’s south summit. | Credit: John Lepak

 

Twin Mountain

Rising to the west, on other side of Jimmy Dolan Notch, is Twin Mountain, the second 3,500-foot peak of the hike. Much like your descent into the notch, the climb out is short and steep, regaining all the elevation you just lost in short order. At 4.9 miles, the trail gains the south summit and rewards your early efforts with a really outstanding view to the south. Continue on a relatively level ridge walk, descending slightly though thick evergreens and climbing again, easily, to the true summit of Twin Mountain (3,640 feet) (42.12559, -74.12903), at 5.6 miles, and another good viewpoint.

A short distance down from the summit you’ll come upon a cave on the trail’s right hand side. A spacious rock overhang makes this a solid, protected spot to post-up for for a breather and maybe even some lunch—if you’re trying to bang this out in two days, the timing will likely work out.

Make sure to enjoy the break though, because past this point, the Devil’s Path really starts to show its teeth. This descent, into Pecoy Notch, gets steep quickly and the pace slows right down. There are a few rock features through this section of the trail that require some serious scrambling and one that’s actually more of a downclimb. These can be dangerous in wet or icy conditions so an abundance of care is necessary to negotiate them safely. Keep on descending into Pecoy Notch where a junction with the Pecoy Notch Trail (blue blazes) at mile 6.3, provides another eligible bailout if needed.

A short spur trail past Sugarloaf’s summit offers a nice view when it’s not in the clouds. | Credit: John Lepak
A short spur trail past Sugarloaf’s summit offers a nice view when it’s not in the clouds. | Credit: John Lepak

Sugarloaf Mountain

From here, the trail presses on to the West and the steep ascent of Sugarloaf Mountain. One fun feature of the eastern section of the Devil’s Path is that the ups and the downs get progressively more difficult for the west-bound hiker. So, that this little section ups the ante—climbing around a thousand feet in a little less than one mile—should come as no surprise. It’s rough, as the trail scrambles over rocks and roots until, after what seems like forever, you reach the summit ridge and level out for a short, gentle approach to the 3,800-foot viewless summit (42.13130, -74.15014) at mile 7.5. A yellow-blazed spur path just beyond leads to a good viewpoint south.

The descent into Mink Hollow is—you guessed it—steep and rough. There are plenty of obstacles to negotiate as you drop almost 1,200 feet in 1.05 miles so the going is predictably slow.

When the trail finally levels out it’s joined by the blue-blazed Mink Hollow Trail on the right at mile 8.55. These two trails run together for a short while before the Mink Hollow Trail departs to the left. Following that will bring you to the Mink Hollow shelter (42.13564, -74.16247) and decent water source. Depending on what time of day you get here, this is also a beautiful little spot to set up camp for the night. If not, it’s still a prime opportunity to take a break and fill-up before the rough hike back up, the latest in a series of progressively harder climbs.

A view from an outlook just shy of Plateau Mountain’s wooded summit. | Credit: John Lepak
A view from an outlook just shy of Plateau Mountain’s wooded summit. | Credit: John Lepak

 

Plateau Mountain

Continuing straight on the Devil’s Path, the terrain steepens just about immediately and the scrambling resumes as you make your way out of the hollow. Intermittent views back towards Sugarloaf make stopping to catch your breath a bit more enjoyable but the ascent is steep. At 9.6 miles, after 1,250 vertical feet of some pretty heavy duty hiking, you gain the summit ridge and top-out on Plateau Mountain at 3,840 feet (42.13780, -74.17419).

As the name would suggest, the summit of Plateau is relatively flat for a leisurely 2.1 miles through dense, fragrant conifers. Roughly 0.4 miles after the summit, the Warner Creek Trail breaks off to the left.

Plateau’s ridgewalk culminates with two excellent viewpoints. Known as Danny’s Lookout and Orchid Point they offer nice views to the North and West, respectively and the open ledge of the latter is another great spot for a rest before heading down to Stony Clove Notch.

Notch Lake and NY-214 in Stony Clove Notch, the unofficial halfway point of the Devil’s Path. | Credit: John Lepak
Notch Lake and NY-214 in Stony Clove Notch, the unofficial halfway point of the Devil’s Path. | Credit: John Lepak

 

Stony Clove

From Orchid Point, the trail continues on to the left, dropping quickly over some large rocks before beginning a long, moderate descent. While ‘moderate’ may sound lovely here, especially after the drama of the previous several descents, the Devil’s Path has another plan for it’s weary hikers: loose, broken, ankle-rolling rocks. If you’ve chosen to split this hike into two days, you may be coming down in the dark here, so take care and make sure that headlamp is charged. Eventually the grade and scree will ease up and turn into a rough staircase as you make your way into Stony Clove Notch.

If you’re making this a two day affair, Devil’s Tombstone Campground (42.15466, -74.20599) is a good place to stop. It’s wildly popular so make sure to reserve a spot in advance. If you’re hiking in the off-season, when the campground’s closed (October to May) consider another option—the campground is regularly patrolled and the fines for illegal camping are steep.

Note: The Devil’s Tombstone Campground is closed for the 2019 season for essential infrastructure updates. Existing reservations will be accommodated but there will be no staff or amenities on site. More information is available here.

The Devil’s Path as it climbs out of Stony Clove Notch. | Credit: John Lepak
The Devil’s Path as it climbs out of Stony Clove Notch. | Credit: John Lepak

The Western Section

The trail resumes across NY-214, winds through the campground, and crosses a footbridge before reentering the woods. Another steep climb begins almost as soon as you get into the trees as the Devil’s Path switches back and forth over rocks and roots, steadily gaining elevation. This is one place to pay particularly close attention to, as some of the switchbacks are hard to see and it’s easy to just keep on walking straight off the trail. The blazes are there, just keep a close eye.

 

The grade eventually eases up and the trail proceeds over the relatively mild terrain in the col between Hunter and Southwest Hunter Mountains. At mile 15.1 the yellow-blazed Hunter Mountain Trail, which leads north to the summit of Hunter Mountain, begins on the right. Continue straight and just past this junction find the Devil’s Acre lean-to ( 42.16544, -74.23084)—another serviceable option for spending the night—and a reliable water source just off the trail to the right.

The next 2.2 miles are among the Devil’s Path’s gentlest as the trail traverses the southwestern flank of Hunter Mountain and descends into Diamond Notch.

The low-point of the notch features Diamond Notch Falls (42.17519, -74.25791)—a lovely place to take a break and get some water—and a junction with the blue-blazed Diamond Notch Trail. If you’re looking for a place to spend the night, this is a good opportunity—take a left and the Diamond Notch Lean-to is just 0.5 miles south. If not, keep on going straight—West Kill Mountain, your final high peak of the trip, awaits.

Buck Ridge Lookout, before the marked—but viewless—summit of West Kill. | Credit: John Lepak
Buck Ridge Lookout, before the marked—but viewless—summit of West Kill. | Credit: John Lepak

 

West Kill Mountain

The Devil’s Path crosses a sturdy wooden foot bridge over Diamond Notch Falls and turns right, paralleling the Brook briefly before swinging left and beginning to climb. The ascent opens with a short bit of rock hopping before easing into a soft, mostly dirt footpath. The grade is steep but steady and the terrain is far easier than any of the previous climbs on the route.

Nearing the top, a few rock obstacles require short scrambles before the climb out of Diamond Notch culminates with a cool rock overhang at 18.7 miles. The trail skirts the overhang to the left and gains the ridge with one final push.

West Kill Mountain’s long ridgeline has four distinct “summits,” and just past the rock overhang marks the first one. Beyond, the trail dips down into an easy saddle before beginning its ascent of the true high point. The enjoyable stroll winds through dense evergreens to Buck Ridge Lookout, an outstanding southerly viewpoint at 19.65 miles. If you’re looking for a breather, here’s a good place to do it.

Another gentle 0.15 miles takes you to the true summit of 3,880-foot West Kill Mountain (42.16787, -74.28959), marked by a cairn and a sign. Continuing on, the Devil’s Path drops, steeply at times, as it traverses West Kill’s ridge. Cross over another small knoll and continue traversing the ridge on your way to Saint Anne’s Peak.

A short final climb up Saint Anne’s Peak (3420, mile 21.85), the westernmost of West Kill’s summits, marks the final real ascent of the journey. Past here the Devil’s path descends steeply to the northwest before swinging back to the southeast. At mile 22.8, the trail meets a brook and takes a hard right.

The remaining 1.55 miles follow the path of the brook, gently rolling over minor elevation gains and losses through a shady evergreen forest until one last, steep descent to the parking area on Spruceton Road (42.19209, -74.32433).


 

In the clouds at the 3500 foot sign, on the way up Twin Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak
In the clouds at the 3500 foot sign, on the way up Twin Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

The Kit

  • In the mountains, two trees are often easier to find than a flat, rockless clearing. Consider eschewing the tent for an Eno Singlenest Hammock. It’s also a whole lot lower-impact, which is a nice bonus.
  • Soaked socks are the worst, so a second pair is critical. Darn Tough Vermont Hiking Socks are wicked comfortable and just about indestructible—just what you’re going to need after a day on this trail.
  • Sacrificing taste for weight is rough but there are a ton of good freeze-dried options out there. Good To-go is an outstanding one with vegan and gluten free meals available. Try the Herbed Mushroom Risotto.
  • Get those meals cooked with the MSR Windburner Stove System. It’s lightweight, packable, and doesn’t skip a beat up high or in a storm.
  • Whether you’re doing it in a long weekend or a single day, at some point, you’re going to be hiking in the dark. A headlamp, like the Petzl Actik Core, is essential—the rechargeable battery is a real plus too.

Above Diamond Notch Falls, before ascending West Kill Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak
Above Diamond Notch Falls, before ascending West Kill Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

Keys to the Trip

  • In drier seasons, water can be hard to come by out here so be prepared to fill up early and often. Do your research before you go: Know where reliable springs can be found and keep an eye on the trail conditions and weather reports.
  • Backcountry camping is permitted below 3,500 feet and at least 150 feet away from trails and water sources. Lean-tos at Devil’s Kitchen, Mink Hollow, Devil’s Acre, and Diamond Notch are good options as well.
  • If you want to go fast and light and not lug too much food (or water) with you, NY-214 crosses the Devil’s Path at its midpoint, making an ideal spot for a supply drop. Just keep it out of reach of the bears.
  • The Devil’s Path is a long, point-to-point hike that requires a shuttle. If you’re going solo, or your party doesn’t have access to a second car, you can book a ride with Smiley’s Transport. It’s always wiser to hike back to your car, so make sure to give them a call in advance.
  • Once you’re out of the woods, grab a post-hike beer at nearby West Kill Brewing. Just 1.7 miles East of the trail’s end on Spruceton Road, this little gem—and its eclectic menu of beers featuring locally harvested and foraged ingredients—is a welcome respite.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked any part of the Devil’s Path recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!


How to Patch a Sleeping Pad

If you use an inflatable sleeping pad you’ve probably experienced the maddening discomfort that occurs when that sleeping pad fails. Whether it’s the hard ground beneath your tent reworking your spine, or the air beneath your hammock turning the temperature way down, the bummer of a deflated sleeping pad has likely driven you to more than one nocturnal fit of manically trying to re-inflate the thing and get back to that much-needed night’s sleep.

Not to overly disparage the inflatable sleeping pad, however—we use them for a reason. They’re comfortable for sure, providing considerably more cushion against rough, uneven surfaces than foam pads. They’re also very packable when deflated, and while they’re not necessarily a lighter-weight option compared to closed-cell foam pads, their virtues grant them some measure of favor in the value-to-ounces equation. They’re also insulating, good in winter and are essential year-round for keeping warm in a hammock (lest you invest in an under quilt).

They are, however, invariably delicate—the very design that affords them their comfort, insulation, and packability also leaves them inherently vulnerable to puncture. An errant rock, twig, or crampon point have been known to evoke a stream of expletives from many a drowsy backpacker.

The good news is that fixing them is not that difficult, and can even be done in the field with the right tools. Here’s how you do it.

Assembling a small repair kit will save you some serious backache should you pop your sleeping pad on the go. | Credit: John Lepak
Assembling a small repair kit will save you some serious backache should you pop your sleeping pad on the go. | Credit: John Lepak

Gather Materials

First thing’s first, prepare a workspace and gather your tools. This is wicked easy if you’re at home, but it can be a bit more challenging in the backcountry. Try and find a place that’s clear of debris and is flat enough to work on. Rock slabs, shelter floors, and the bottom of a tent all work.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Note: You can also go with a packaged repair kit, complete with pre-cut patches, and skip on the Seam Grip and the Tenacious Tape.

Escaping air causes the soapy water to bubble, identifying the area in need of repair. | Credit: John Lepak
Escaping air causes the soapy water to bubble, identifying the area in need of repair. | Credit: John Lepak

Find the Leak

A big hole in a sleeping pad is a big problem, but finding a pinhole-sized leak is a massive pain. This is a good way to do it without going nuts. Inflate the pad and apply warm, soapy water to it in sections. Watch where the soap bubbles: that’s where you’ll find your problem.

If you’re at home, fill a bathtub and inflate the pad, then submerge it under the water. The bubbles from escaping air will be pretty hard to miss!

Cleaning the area ensures the sealant will cure correctly and the patch will hold. | Credit: John Lepak
Cleaning the area ensures the sealant will cure correctly and the patch will hold. | Credit: John Lepak

 

Prep the Damaged Area

Now that you’ve located the issue, deflate the bag, rinse off the soapy water, and dry the area around the leak with a hand towel, wiping it clean. When it’s completely dry, apply a little bit of rubbing alcohol to ensure it’s completely clean—any unwanted residue or debris will interfere with the efficacy of the sealant. If you’re out in the woods, an alcohol wipe from your first aid kit will do the trick. Let it air dry for a minute or two.

A little bit of sealant goes a long way. Make sure your sealant footprint matches up to the size of your patch. | Credit: John Lepak
A little bit of sealant goes a long way. Make sure your sealant footprint matches up to the size of your patch. | Credit: John Lepak

Apply the Patch

Squeeze a small amount of the sealant onto the hole and spread it thinly over the area, making a circle about the size of your patch. If you’re using a repair kit, it should match your selected, pre-cut patch; if not, cut a patch out of the tape to match the size of your adhesive application.

Next, apply the patch and give it some time—overnight should do the trick. A little extra sealant applied around the edge of the patch will help keep it from catching on something and peeling off.

Once the sealant has properly cured, re-inflate the pad and check your work. Obviously, if you’re already on a trip, overnight isn’t a great option. Give it as much time as you can—you can always go back and fix it for real when you get home.

Once applied, a touch more sealant around the edge of the patch will help keep it in place. | Credit: John Lepak
Once applied, a touch more sealant around the edge of the patch will help keep it in place. | Credit: John Lepak

 

Now Keep it in One Piece

Keep your sharps separate: that means no knives, tools, or utensils anywhere near that sleeping pad. If snow and ice is on your itinerary, just leave the crampons and the ice axe outside the shelter. Avoid a hot camp stove and, surprisingly enough, bug spray—deet is a solvent that is known to damage plastic. Natural threats, like twigs, branches, roots and rocks abound—not a ton to be done about it in the outdoors but to steer as clear as possible. Eventually, something will poke a hole, but there’s no reason to rush the process.


What to Look for in an Early-Season Overnighter

The transition from winter is an awakening of the senses in the forest. The din of a pond teeming with newly-roused frogs, the impossibly clean aroma of snowmelt-swollen brooks mixed with budding flora, and the warmth of the sun on bare skin as it makes its way through the still leafless trees. These are the harbingers of spring, invigorating signs that we can go outside again.

Early season outings have their advantages and chief among them is the temperature: it’s not frigid, but not sweltering either. It’s warm enough to shed some of the heavier winter gear but it’s cool enough to keep the bugs and the crowds at bay. It’s also a time when water is plentiful, and a trail that might be dry as a bone in high summer will yield more than enough to keep that filter pumping.

On the flip side, being out in the spring in the northeast means you’re going to get wet. Wherever you’re going, bring rain gear, good (waterproof) footwear, and a change of clothes to stay dry in camp. Breaking out the hammock in lieu of a tent—and getting out of the mud—is also a smart move this time of year.

Any way you look at it though, it’s great to get back out there. Here are some tips on what to look for when selecting a spring backpacking trip.

The warmer lowlands and foothills can offer a reprieve from the snow and ice of the northeast’s mountains. | Credit: John Lepak
The warmer lowlands and foothills can offer a reprieve from the snow and ice of the northeast’s mountains. | Credit: John Lepak

Stay Low

For the high peaks of the Northeast, winter is a very long season where snow, ice, and some nasty chill can hang around until late. Ergo, if spring is what you’re looking for in a backpacking trip, it’s best to stick to lower elevations where the warmer temperatures creep in first. Fortunately, the Northeast boasts more than a few lowland backpacking routes, each with their own degree of natural splendor, rugged wilderness, and physical challenge. Spring will inevitably come for the mountains of the Adirondacks or the Whites, but in the meantime, the valleys are where you can find the change of season.

Cranberry Lake 50, Adirondacks

Located far in the northwestern corner of the Adirondack State Park, Cranberry Lake and its namesake hiking trail offer one of the top lowland wilderness experiences in the Northeast. Ample camping, arresting vistas, and real remoteness make this 50-mile loop hike a legitimate classic. Do it in early spring before the bugs wake up.

Lower Pemigewasset Loop, White Mountains

While the traditional Pemi Loop traverses the great ridges and summits of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, the lowland route—linking the Franconia Brook and Lincoln Brook Trails in an 18-mile loop around Owl’s Head with an overnight at Thirteen Falls Tentsite—is a wild, super remote alternative. Be prepared for a lot of water and know how to make a crossing safely.

Spring reaches the southern ranges like the Catskills, Taconics, and the Berkshires first. | Credit: John Lepak
Spring reaches the southern ranges like the Catskills, Taconics, and the Berkshires first. | Credit: John Lepak

Southern Exposure

Spring’s claim on the region moves from south to north, making landfall along Long Island Sound long before the snow starts to melt in the Great North Woods. This is great news for those hardy lovers of the cold among us, as the combination of elevation and location work to extend the ice climbing and skiing seasons well beyond the calendar’s winter. If that’s not your game, it’s best you turn your eyes to the south: friendlier climates make destinations like the Catskills, the Taconics, and the Poconos perfect for that first big trip of the season.

South Taconic Trail, Taconic Range

Stretching 16 miles along the New York–Massachusetts border, the South Taconic Trail is a gem of a hike all-too-often overlooked by the area’s backpackers. Steep climbs are rewarded with grassy summit balds and panoramic views atop Brace and Alander Mountains, and cool side trips—like the New York–Connecticut–Massachusetts boundary marker and Bash Bish Falls—make for a great weekend outing.

Burroughs Range Traverse, Catskills

Doable as a 10-mile shuttle or a 15-mile loop, the Burroughs Range is a Catskills classic that bags three peaks above 3,500 feet: Wittenberg, Cornell, and the tallest of them all, Slide. The opening climb is steep but gains what’s arguably the best summit view in the region. Beyond that is a rugged ridge walk that includes the Cornell Crack: a fun—and tricky—semi-technical rock obstacle.

Trailside shelters are great for shoulder season hiking when rain and mud tend to be at their worst. | Credit John Lepak
Trailside shelters are great for shoulder season hiking when rain and mud tend to be at their worst. | Credit John Lepak

Seek Shelter

Another excellent way to open the spring hiking season is by zeroing in on trails that have a good network of shelters. Backcountry shelters can vary greatly, from the full service huts of the Appalachian Mountain Club to the humble, trailside lean-to. Lean-tos are typically three-sided structures with a roof—just enough to keep you out of the temperamental early-spring weather and up off of the mud. Even on chillier nights, they can be down right cozy with a tarp lashed over the opening (though you should check with the land manager so make sure this is allowed—In the Adirondacks, closing off lean-tos is forbidden). Shelters are regular occurrences on long-distance trails, so Northeastern stand-bys like the AT is a good place to start.

AT–Mohawk Loop, Connecticut

This scenic hike in Connecticut’s rural Northwest Corner connects the Appalachian Trails of old and new—the blue-blazed Mohawk Trail actually follows the original path of the AT prior to being rerouted west of the Housatonic River in 1970’s—to make a 40-mile loop. The trip is replete with shelters, campsites and stellar views of the Litchfield Hills.

Harriman–Bear Mountain State Parks, Hudson Highlands

Despite being within an hour of New York City, Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks offer wilderness, an extensive network of trails and abundant shelters fit for overnight trips of any size. Link the AT with the Ramapo–Dunderberg, Long Path, and Red Cross Trails for a 22-mile loop that takes in some of the park’s greatest hits including an incredibly tight scramble, aptly named the “Lemon Squeezer.”

What are your favorite early-season backpacking locations? Let us know in the comments!


5 Steps for Setting Up Camp in the Snow

All of those fun, multi-day trips into the mountains you did this past summer don’t need to stop just because of a little bit of snow. Backcountry camping in the winter is not only possible, it’s awesome. There are no bugs, way fewer people, and all of the roots and rocks you slept on in July are under a nice comfy snowpack in March. With the right gear and a little bit of planning ahead, you can get out there year round. But setting up camp in the snow is a little different than during the summer. Follow these steps to make sure your winter abode is comfortable.

TK_EMS-Conway-8804

1. Pick Your Spot

Just like the rest of the year, picking the right spot to pitch your tent is super important to ensuring a good—and safe—night outside. First thing first, read up on the local backcountry camping regulations to make sure your spot is legal. These guidelines vary from place to place, but generally mean keeping away from water sources, trails, established backcountry sites (like cabins, shelters and established campgrounds), and sensitive ecosystems.

Natural hazards are important considerations in three-season camping but are especially critical in winter. Stay far, far away from avalanche-prone areas and be mindful of wind and weather—do some research ahead of time and be aware of local conditions. If you’re in the woods, check out the surrounding trees to make sure you’re not in range of anything dead, broken, or otherwise ready to fall.

2. Make a Footprint

Once you’ve got a solid spot picked out, the first thing you want to do is pack down a footprint for the tent. Packed snow will melt slower and insulate better than loose powder and will make things a whole lot more comfortable. Keep your skis or snowshoes on and hop around in the spot you plan to set up until it forms a nice firm base.

Side note: Insulation is key to a comfortable night out in winter. An appropriately rated sleeping bag is a start, but bring an extra sleeping pad and you’ll be straight toasty.

EMS-Winter-Camp-Mountain-4755

3. Pitch the Tent

Next, pitch your tent just like you would any other time of year but for one small difference: the stakes. Your run-of-the-mill, three-season tent stakes are probably not going to do great in the snow, so a heavier duty option—like these—are a good way to go. Tying off and burying found objects—like gear, rocks, or fallen branches—is a good alternative too. A buried ice axe makes a solid anchor and keeps those sharp edges away from ripping a real bummer of a hole in your tent.

Provided the weather reports aren’t grim, a three-season tent can be totally workable in winter. The big difference between winter and three-season tents are stronger poles (for snow accumulation) and sturdier fabric (for wind resistance). If the forecast is clear of heavy snow or high winds, you’re golden. Just lash down that rainfly right so the cold air doesn’t creep in.

EMS-Winter-Camp-Kitchen-4058

4. Use the Snow

The coolest thing about winter camping is that, with the snow, you can really go to town customizing your site to fit your needs. If you need a bit more space for gear you can dig out your tent’s vestibule and stash it there. If the wind is crazy you can build a snow wall and keep yourself in the lee.

5. Break it Down

Before heading out it’s important to make sure you’ve broken down your site in the most Leave No Trace way possible. Break down or fill in those cool man-made features and always pack out what you pack in.

Do you have any other suggestions for setting up camp in the snow? Leave them in the comments!


Three Ways to Spice Up Your Dehydrated Meals

Packing your backpack for a long trip is a game of ounces and priorities and striking a balance between utility and weight invariably results in some sacrifices. On some trips, this can mean going with a canister stove and a selection of pre-packaged, freeze-dried or dehydrated meals rather than liquid fuel and a spread of ingredients.

If fast and light is your game, then you already know that some of these meals are good and some are, well, good enough to get you by. You probably also know that packing in a little extra—be it a favorite hot sauce, or fresh veggie—can make all the difference. Here are a couple of suggestions on how to punch up those pre-packaged meals.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Good-to-Go Smoked Three Bean Chili

A solid, hearty chili is a great way to refuel after a long day on the trail and Good To-Go’s Smoked Three Bean Chili is tops. Good To-Go’s mission of creating good food with real ingredients is a familiar one in our daily, in-town lives, but is something of a revelation in the realm of lightweight backpacking food. Several of their meals, including this one, are also Gluten-free and Vegan. Obviously some of the recommended add-on ingredients below are neither. They’re easy to distinguish.

Servings: 1–2

Ingredients

  • Good-to-go Smoked Three Bean Chili
  • ½ c cotija cheese
  • ¼ c scallions, chopped
  • ¼ c cilantro, chopped
  • Picamás Salsa Brava Roja
  • 1 lime

Recipe

  1. Open the packaging and remove the oxygen absorber packet.
  2. Pour 600 ml of boiling water into the bag; stir, reseal, and let steep for 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, assemble your other ingredients and cut your lime into quarters.
  4. After 20 minutes, open the packaging and stir again; add the juice of two lime quarters and distribute mixture into two portions.
  5. Crumble the cotija over each portion of chili and top with chopped scallions, cilantro, and the remaining two lime quarters.
  6. Add hot sauce to taste.

Tip: If you can get your hands-on some smoked venison or merkén (an indigenous Chilean super-condiment spice mix), throw some of that in there too. They’re harder ingredients to come by but can really get things going.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Mountain House Macaroni and Cheese

Mac and cheese is as comfort food as it gets. It’s delicious, it’s hearty and it’ll make you forget all about the aches and pains the mountain so generously shared with you over the course of the day. To get this classic on-the-go, look no further than Mountain House Macaroni and Cheese. Born from long-range patrol rations for the United States military, Mountain House has set the standard for packaged, lightweight, and easy-to-prepare freeze-dried meals for 50 years. The addition of Bajan hot sauce brings a little more depth (and fire) to the meal while the pancetta bumps up the protein.

Tip: Measure and prep ingredients at home and pack in in lightweight containers. It’ll spare you having to bring in a cutting surface or measuring tools and, with exact measurements, you won’t have any leftovers to pack out.

Servings: 2–3

Ingredients

  • Mountain House Macaroni and Cheese
  • ½ c good melting cheese, grated
  • 2 T pancetta, cooked and diced
  • 2 T Delish Bajan Hot Pepper Sauce

Recipe

  1. Open the packaging and remove the oxygen absorber packet.
  2. Pour 475 ml of boiling water into the bag; stir, reseal, and let steep for 10 minutes.
  3. After 10 minutes, open the packaging and add the cheese, pancetta and hot sauce; stir again and let sit for another 5 minutes or until the cheese melts.
Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Backpacker’s Pantry Chana Masala

You can really go wild and mix it up when it comes to what type of cuisine you want to bring into the backcountry these days. Pho, risotto, pad Thai—minus the crowds and the subway fare, it’s just like picking a spot for dinner in the city. Among their numerous and varied options, Backpacker’s Pantry Chana Masala stands out. In fact, in 2016, the Colorado-based company was recognized in Backpacker Magazine’s Editor’s Choice Awards for the dish. This little modification turns the chana masala into a hand-held entrée, cutting down on the dishes you’re going to have to wash afterwards.

Servings: 1–2

Ingredients

  • Backpacker’s Pantry Chana Masala
  • ¼ c plain yogurt
  • 2 T cilantro
  • 4 pieces naan bread

Recipe

  1. Open the packaging and remove the oxygen absorber packet.
  2. Pour 540 ml of boiling water into the bag; stir, reseal, and let steep for 15–20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile place the naan bread in or on your still hot cookware to warm.
  4. After 15–20 minutes, open the packaging and stir again; distribute mixture evenly onto your portions of naan bread.
  5. Top with chopped cilantro and plain yogurt, roll naan bread, and enjoy as you would a taco.

Have another idea for ways to spice-up your dehydrated meals? Share them in the comments!


Explore the Mad River Valley in Winter

When the temperatures begin to drop and the snow begins to fall, the Mad River Valley of Vermont is what skiers and hikers dream about. Miles and miles of trail—groomed and wild, downhill and cross-country, hiking and snowshoeing—are easily accessible within a short drive.

Loosely defined by the path of its namesake river, the Mad River Valley runs from Granville Gulf Reservation in the south to the Winooski River in the north. Anchoring the valley are the three villages of Warren, Irasville, and Waitsfield, which offer no shortage of downtime, eating, or aprés ski opportunities.

No matter what you’re looking for, the Mad River Valley is the place to be, come winter.

Courtesy: Mad River Glen
Courtesy: Mad River Glen

Skiing

Vermont is a the premier destination for skiing on the East Coast and the Mad River Valley is about as good as it gets. Sugarbush Resort, comprised of two mountains, Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen, is the largest option in the neighborhood, boasting 53 miles of skiing over 111 trails.

A short ways up VT-17 is Mad River Glen, the famously throwback, co-op-owned operation. It’s skiers-only and natural conditions over 45 challenging trails. Chances are you’ve seen their “Ski it if You Can” bumper stickers—they’re about as ubiquitous in New England as those “This Car Climbed Mount Washington” ones.

Courtesy: Mad River Glen
Courtesy: Mad River Glen

The mountain breeds an “old school New England skiing” vibe, thanks to its natural snow, narrow trails, plentiful trees, and sing-person chairlift—One of only two remaining in the country. For more advanced skiers, our scouts recommend taking it up Stark Mountain and dropping into the trees off the left side of Upper Antelope, where you’re sure to find the good snow. After that, link back up with Lower Antelope as it winds down the ridgeline in narrow, bumpy steps.

For newer skiers, a plethora of blues and greens intertwine on the other side of the mountain, but experts shouldn’t stay away from this area, either. Well-spaced trees off the side of TK let you break in and out of the trail as you see fit and enjoy some buttery glades.

Legs shot? Stop by General Stark’s Pub (see below) to recharge with a brew and a burger.

Groomed trails at Ole’s in Warren | Credit: Hans-Peter Riehle
Groomed trails at Ole’s in Warren | Credit: Hans-Peter Riehle

Cross-country

The Mad River Valley also boasts significant cross-country skiing options. In the town of Warren, Ole’s Cross Country Ski Center and Blueberry Lake Cross-country Center each has miles of groomed, varied terrain suitable for all skill levels.

For backcountry options, look no further than the Catamount Trail. Running roughly parallel to the Long Trail, the Catamount Trail traverses the entire length of Vermont by way of old woods roads, groomed trails, and snowmobile routes. Difficulty varies from section to section so advance planning is essential.

Descending the Long Trail into App Gap | Credit: John Lepak
Descending the Long Trail into App Gap | Credit: John Lepak

Winter Hiking

Vermont is a hiker’s paradise and it only gets better in the winter. The Long Trail, the nation’s oldest long-distance hiking trail and a Vermont institution, runs right by on its journey from Massachusetts to Québec. There are several outstanding side trails that serve as access points to the LT and two of Vermont’s five 4000-foot peaks—Mount Abraham and Ellen—are right there. It’s also worth noting that the other three—Mount Mansfield, Camel’s Hump, and Killington Peak—are within an hour’s drive.

In and around town, the Mad River Path offers several miles of easy going trails that are good for the whole family. These ice over pretty good in winter though, so despite their relatively chill vibe, traction is a must.

The Skatium in Waitsfield. | Credit: John Lepak
The Skatium in Waitsfield. | Credit: John Lepak

Skating

When the conditions are real grim up high, it’s good to stay down low, and pick-up hockey is a great way to pass the time. The Skatium, a laid-back outdoor rink in Waitsfield Center, delivers. Against the backdrop of the Green Mountains one can play some hockey or just skate around and chill out. Everything you need—skates, sticks and pucks—are available for rent and a warming hut is open to keep the game going.

A light lunch at The Mad Taco in Waitsfield. | Credit: Katharina Lepak
A light lunch at The Mad Taco in Waitsfield. | Credit: Katharina Lepak

Eating and Drinking

Food and drink in the three villages isn’t at all hard to come by, and the diversity of options will keep you interested in the time between the hiking and the skiing. The Mad Taco in Waitsfield is a legitimate taco joint and a favorite of the goEast staff. An arsenal of hot sauces and craft beers round it out. In Warren, The Warren Store is an eclectic general store that serves up excellent sandwiches. If you’re looking to stay in and cook at home, stock up on local meat, cheese and liquor at Mehuron’s Supermarket in Waitsfield.

After a long day skiing the glades at Mad River Glen, stop into General Stark’s Pub at the base, a cozy scene for a generous selection of brews as well as food. Local brewery Lawson’s Finest Liquid’s is the “official beer” of the hotspot, so our scouts recommend grabbing a glass of the Fayston Maple Imperial Stout, from Lawson’s, for a quintessential Vermont taste in a dark, rich, and heavy taste.  It might be a one-and-done.

It isn’t too difficult to stay hydrated in these parts either. Mad River Distillers operates daily tours out of their distillery space in Warren. You can also try their offerings, including their Maple Cask Rum (outstanding in an après ski hot toddy) at tasting rooms in Waitsfield and Burlington. On the beer side of things you can check out Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Waitsfield. Get a taste and some snacks to stay or load up on packaged beer to go.

 

With additional reporting from Ryan Wichelns. 


6 Tips for Winter Hiking With Your Dog

Hiking with your dog is awesome, and doing so in winter is no exception. Shorter daylight hours, freezing temperatures and the potential for dangerous weather do, however, compound the necessary precaution warranted before a winter outing—for both you and your K9. But, with a little advance planning you can hit the trail with your furry little buddy any time of year no problem. Here’s what to consider when the temperature drops and the terrain gets real.

1. Get them some warm clothing

While some dogs are naturally adorned with thick winter coats, others are woefully unprepared to go out in chillier climes. For our not-so-furry furry friends, a jacket will likely be necessary.

Dog jackets come in as many shapes, sizes, and prices as human jackets do, so a little research will help. Consider the needs of your pup, the conditions you’re likely to encounter, and dive head-first into the wild and varied world of dog outerwear. Just make sure it’s functional—it needs to fit, it can’t restrict movement, and it damn sure can’t interfere with your dog’s ability to answer nature’s call.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

2. Protect their paws

Snow, ice, and frozen rock can be hard on paws. So can salted parking areas. If you can get your pup into the idea, options abound for dog winter footwear that both insulate from the cold and protect from the harsh terrain.

If your dog is not the boot-wearing type, consider a topical application like Musher’s Secret as an alternative. Musher’s Secret—not just a brand name but actually developed in Canada for sled dogs—is a natural, breathable wax. When applied, it absorbs into the paws and protects them from salt, ice, snow build-up, and cuts or scrapes. It also allows dogs to use their claws—nature’s crampons—to travel well over icier terrain.

3. We all need food and water

Breaking trail is rough work—rougher still when you consider how many steps your dog is taking for your one. Stock up on food and water, pack a dog bowl, and keep morale high by doling out treats liberally.

4. Coat them in blaze orange

Hunting seasons vary from place to place but oftentimes overlap with winter hiking season. Know where you’re going, if hunting is permitted there, and what’s in-season. Nip any doubts in the bud and get your pup a blaze orange bandana or vest anyway.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

5. Be wary of hypothermia

Just like humans, dogs are susceptible to hypothermia. Since they can’t tell you what’s up, you need to know the signs. If your pup is shivering, breathing slow, or is stumbling around, warm them up with a sleeping bag or emergency blanket immediately.

6. Make a plan

Above all else, make a plan. Keep an eye on trail conditions and weather reports and be aware of your pup’s ability—just like with humans, conditioning and training is important. If it’s wicked cold or the snow is wicked deep, it may be wiser to leave your dog at home—or just bail all together.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

How to Tell How Much Fuel is In Your Canister

On a cold, wet, and windy morning in late October, our party huddled in Stony Clove Notch, the halfway point of the Catskills’ infamous Devil’s Path. We were sitting, shivering in the lee of a boulder, and watching a pot of water try to boil when, without warning, the fuel ran out. We checked it, shook it, tried again and again to light it, but that was that—it had kicked. There would be no hot breakfast this morning. There would be no coffee. No. Coffee.

We’d walk off the cold on the climb out of the notch, but we learned two valuable lessons that day. One, nothing takes the wind out of your sails quite like running out of stove fuel, and two, always bring enough.

Because canister stoves use stock container sizes—a common knock when debating the merits of liquid versus gas backpacking stoves—it’s not super easy to tailor the amount of fuel you’re bringing into the backcountry. Short of hauling extra canisters (heavy), or only packing-in full canisters (wasteful), your only option is to measure just how much fuel actually remains in that used canister you’ve got hanging around.

Here are a couple of ways to do just that.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

1. Weigh It

To measure a fuel canister’s contents, weighing it is a reliable and fairly accurate method. This is optimally performed with a digital scale. Kind of a specialty item, these scales aren’t crazy expensive and are a fantastic tool to have in the kitchen if you’re the cooking type. They are not, however, ultralight or especially useful in the field. So, you’ll need to do this exercise at home, before the trip.

Gather two fuel canisters of the same brand—one with some gas left and one empty. Since the exact mixture, manufacture, and packaging vary from company to company, it’s important that the canisters be of the same brand.

This is when you’ll need that digital scale, and since there’s a bit of math involved here, it couldn’t hurt to grab a scrap of paper and a pen—or to open up that calculator app. 

Weigh the empty canister, and record its value. This measurement gives you a baseline for what the container weighs by itself.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Next, weigh the semi-full canister and record this measurement. Now for the arithmetic: Go ahead and subtract the weight of the empty canister from the semi-full canister. The resulting value tells you how much gas you’ve got left.

Fuel weight to burn time ratios vary from stove to stove, however. So, a little research on your specific setup will be necessary to find out how long those ounces will last. Measure that against the needs of your trip, and you’ll have a good idea of what to pack.

Side note: If you’re using Jetboil canisters, the Jetboil JetGauge Canister Weight Scale offers accurate weight measurement in the field. It’s small and packable, and goes one step further for you, converting the weight into a percentage value to represent the remaining fuel. 

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

2. Float It

At home, a digital scale is a luxury, but in the backcountry, it’s an impossibility. Fortunately, thanks to physics and the fuel canister’s natural buoyancy, there’s still a way.

The principle is simple: A full canister weighs more than an empty one. Ergo, the more fuel in the canister, the lower it will float. Start at home with two canisters of the same brand—one full and one empty. You’ll also need a permanent marker and a pot or bowl large enough to hold your canister and a sufficient amount of water to float it.

Fill the vessel with just enough water to submerge a single canister. Then, gently add the full one, tilting it slightly to free up any bubbles that got caught in the concavity underneath. Also, be sure not to get any water in the little area around the valve, as this will skew your reading.

Let the canister settle, and check the water line. Once it’s not moving around as much, take it out of the vessel, and mark the water line with a permanent marker. For accuracy, a good move here is to eyeball a feature printed on the canister that lines up with that water line.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Now, repeat the process with the empty canister. At this point, you’ll clearly notice the difference in where the water line hits.

Finally, line up both canisters on a flat surface and copy the marks from one to the next, so that each has an approximate “full” and “empty” line. Provided you’re using the same brand of fuel moving forward, you can keep one of these marked canisters to use as a template to mark future ones.

Some companies, like MSR and Jetboil, have taken to printing “fuel gauges” on their canisters. This cuts the advance work out of the picture and allows you to measure your available fuel on the fly.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Honorable Mentions

There are no doubt hordes of OGs out there who swear by the shake method, and that’s cool. For reference, this is when you shake a used canister to see if there’s anything left and make a judgement by touch and heft. It can work, too, but only to a very rough degree of totally subjective accuracy. The method also relies heavily on experience. So, if you’re new to your camp stove, keep away from this approach.

You can also combine your knowledge with the information provided by your stove’s manufacturer. For example, an MSR Reactor stove set up with a 1L pot should—according to the manufacturer—burn through an 8 oz. canister in approximately 80 minutes, producing 20 liters of water in the process. Unless you’re on a trip that requires melting snow as a water supply, that’s enough to last a single person for a week—10 days if you’re stretching it. If you can keep track of just how many times you took your canister out, and roughly how much you used it each time, you can get a decent estimate. Unlike weighing or floating, though, you’re still essentially making a guess rather than taking a measurement.

No Substitute for Experience

At the end of the day, preparedness relies on experience, and there’s no way to get that but to spend the time. The more you get out there, the more you’ll know about which type of stove fits your needs, and how much fuel you’ll need to bring along. Waking up without coffee is a bummer, but when you’re really out there, a working stove—that you know how to use and are comfortable with—can be the difference between a good trip and a serious situation.

So, give these methods a shot and let us know which works best for you.