Opinion: Connecticut Is Playing Catch-Up on Public Lands

Connecticut Residents Should Vote “Yes” On Question 2

Over the past few years, the debate over public lands and conservation has been a national political flash point. The reductions of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monuments, the reopening of mining in the Boundary Waters, and attacks on pro-environmental policies illustrate the attitude current officials have toward conservation. It’s a grim picture.

But, there is a chance for some good news. This November, protecting public lands at the local level has made it onto the ballot.

Protecting state-owned land in Connecticut is of critical importance. It preserves our heritage, it protects our natural resources and wildlife habitats, and it provides much-needed open space in one of the country’s most densely-populated states. If you’ve spent any time in the Nutmeg State, you know what I’m talking about. Names like Hammonasset Beach, Squantz Pond, and Sleeping Giant likely evoke pleasant memories of days spent outside. As much as grinders, white clam pizza, and the Hartford Whalers, they’re an inextricable part of the state’s culture.

However, if you can believe it, these places are essentially unprotected. They can be sold, traded, or given away without the public’s input, in the dead of night, over a handshake deal. It sounds insane, but it has actually happened before.

Come November 6th, though, it doesn’t have to happen again.

Paugussett State Forest, Upper Block in Newtown | Credit: John Lepak
Paugussett State Forest, Upper Block in Newtown | Credit: John Lepak

Understanding Question 2

“Question 2” is simple. Essentially, it asks if the state’s constitution should be amended to protect these places. A “yes” vote would mean two things. One, the transference of state-owned land would need to be subjected to a public forum. Secondly, any such transference would require a two-thirds majority vote by the state’s legislature. While it seems pretty straightforward, it’s not entirely unprecedented, either. Massachusetts and New York already have similar provisions in their respective constitutions, as does Maine.

Our neighboring states seem to realize that retaining public lands is significantly more valuable than their price tag would suggest. Forget about natural beauty and a clean water supply for a moment. Instead, looking at the purely pragmatic, bottom-line-numbers side, they make money. Fees collected at state parks, forests, and beaches generate revenue, and their operation and maintenance create jobs. Beyond that, dollars spent at businesses adjacent to these public lands offer a significant boost to those local economies. Meaning, again, public lands help generate more money and more jobs—two things Connecticut just happens to really, really need right now.

So, here’s what you can do: If you live in Connecticut, vote “yes” on Question 2 on November 6th to protect Connecticut’s state parks, forests, and beaches for generations to come. If you don’t live in Connecticut and are interested in safeguarding your state’s public lands, call up your local representative to see what’s what. Maybe you can get yourself a constitutional amendment of your own.


The Best Outdoor Adventures Near Our New Hyannis Store

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Big news! Eastern Mountain Sports is reopening its Hyannis, Mass., store, so outdoor enthusiasts on the Cape can be equipped with the right gear for all sorts of coastal adventures. To celebrate, we asked the employee experts at the new Hyannis location about their favorite local spots. So, to plan your next trip, start with their recommendations, and swing through the new shop for all the gear you need and even more expert beta!

Where to Go & What to Do

Hathaway Pond is a small, 20-acre natural kettle hole pond, perfect for paddling around and looking down into the depths. Visibility is excellent, extending to 23 feet. The bottom is composed of rubble and sand, and is also a hot spot for local scuba divers. For those interested in staying dry, an easy walking trail roughly one-mile long loops around the whole pond, and it’s great for families and dogs. Pro tip: Next summer, it will be the location of the shop’s demo days!

Another local favorite is The Trail of Tears, a 1,200-acre parcel of conservation land in the village of West Barnstable. As one of Cape Cod’s treasures and a prime bike riding area, it’s a hot spot for mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and cross-country skiing.

Nickerson State Park is a state-owned, public recreation area of more than 1,900 acres in Brewster, Mass. The sandy soil and scrub pines surround many kettle ponds, the largest of which are Cliff, Flax, Little Cliff, and Higgins Ponds. Ruth, Keeler’s, Eel, and Triangle Ponds provide additional water habitats. This is a great, fun place for people to go in the summer and off-season! We love the easy access to water, hiking, and camping. It’s also amazing in the winter for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

A hub for kayakers who love the shallow bay for its scenery and wildlife, Washburn Island and Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is a coastal playground. Paddlers can also camp on Washburn Island, a rare untouched tract of land on the Cape. Here, you’ll find hiking trails weaving through oak and pine, as well as beaches and salty ponds. As a note, paddling from the inner harbor takes a couple of hours, and for camping, make reservations in advance.

Do you have another favorite Cape Cod adventure?


Alpha Guide: The Carter Range Traverse

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Challenging terrain, breathtaking views, and the summits of six New Hampshire 4,000-footers combine to make the Carter Range Traverse one of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains.

Rugged but weather-protected terrain, fantastic views of Mount Washington and the northern Presidentials, a multiplicity of camping options, all without the crowds of some of New Hampshire’s better-known overnights, and foliage that’s among the best in the Whites make this a must-do fall point-to-point backpacking trip. And, for those who want to go luxurious and light, there’s even an Appalachian Mountain Club hut that’s right in the middle of the traverse.

Many hikers begin the Carter Range Traverse at the Carter-Moriah Trailhead on Bangor Street in Gorham. They then head south on the Carter-Moriah, Wildcat Ridge, and Lost Pond Trails for 17-plus miles, crossing six 4,000-footers before ending at Pinkham Notch on Route 16.

Quick Facts

Distance: 17 miles, thru-hike.*
Time to Complete: 2 to 3 days
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★


Season: Late-May to early November (Late September to early October for the best foliage)
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/whitemountain 

*The AMC Guidebook lists this hike ar roughly 20 miles, but our GPX and other independent sources have tracked it as less.

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Turn-By-Turn

Getting to the Carter-Moriah Trailhead is simple. Bangor Street is across from the Androscoggin Valley Country Club on Route 2 in Gorham. From Conway, follow Route 16 North approximately 24 miles to Route 2. Take a right onto Route 2, and look for Bangor Street on your right about a mile down the road. There’s a small hikers’ parking lot a few houses before the end of the street. Park there, and then, walk down to the trailhead (44.3822, -71.1694) at the end of the street.

If you have two cars, leave one at each trailhead. For an alternative, take advantage of the shuttle service provided by the Appalachian Mountain Club. For leaving a car at Pinkham Notch, it’s even easier to find than the Carter-Moriah Trailhead, as it’s right in the middle of Gorham and Conway. If you’re coming from Gorham, just follow Route 16 South for roughly 12 miles, and the building will be on your right. When you’re coming from Conway, Pinkham Notch is roughly 12 miles past the Glen intersection on Route 16 South, and the building will be on your left.

Although there’s limited parking at the Carter-Moriah Trailhead, the Libby Memorial Pool off Route 16 has additional parking. If you end up parking there, it is just a short road walk to the trailhead. As an added bonus, you get to cross a cool hikers-only suspension bridge to get to the trailhead.

Looking northeast from an overlook near Mount Moriah's summit. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Looking northeast from an overlook near Mount Moriah’s summit. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Moriah

On the way to Moriah’s summit, the Carter-Moriah Trail (CMT) gains more than 3,000 feet of elevation over the course of 4.5 miles. The trail itself is easy to follow but relatively nondescript, with the most notable feature being the rock ledge near the summit of Mount Surprise. If you haven’t taken a break yet, this is a good spot, as it is almost halfway to the summit.

After 4.5 miles of uphill terrain, you’ll reach a short spur trail that leads toward Mount Moriah’s summit ledge (44.3403, -71.1315). The views from the summit and surrounding area are among the best in the Whites, with the Northern Presidentials to the west, the Wild River Wilderness and Maine to the east, and portions of the traverse visible to the south.

In the woods near the start of the Carter-Moriah Trail. | Credit: Douglas Martland
In the woods near the start of the Carter-Moriah Trail. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Moriah to Imp Shelter

From Moriah’s summit, head south on the CMT. After a few minutes, you’ll come to a short, exposed downclimb that can be tricky. Be especially careful if you’re carrying a heavy pack. At the junction at the bottom of the downclimb, keep right to stay on the Carter-Moriah Trail. Although the junction is well signed, if you have any doubts from here on out, you’ll be following the Appalachian Trail’s white blazes, so there’s really no excuse for getting lost.

The trail then meanders across ledges and open slab, with great views east into the Wild River Wilderness and Maine’s forests and mountains. Eventually, the trail begins to descend steeply over the open slabs without compromising those views. Along the way, you’ll come across several fantastic overlooks, where you’ll probably find hikers ascending Moriah from the south pausing to catch their breath. Use caution when descending, however, as this section is often icy.

About 1.5 miles from the summit, the trail drops back into the trees, where it begins to flatten out. Almost immediately, you’ll arrive at a well-signed junction with the Moriah Brook Trail, but you’ll want to stay on the CMT. Soon thereafter, the trail crosses a boardwalk through a marsh area before coming to the Stony Brook Trail junction. At the junction, remain on the CMT for 0.75 miles, until you come to a spur trail for the Imp Shelter.

Coming up the Stony Brook Trail and skipping Moriah is an easier way to reach the Imp Shelter. It’s a great option for those starting late in the day on the first day of their trip or for those looking to do a single-day range traverse.

Down a short spur trail, there’s a shelter (44.3291, -71.1502) and five tent platforms (available for $10), with a caretaker present during summer months, as well. Tucked in the shadow of Imp Mountain, this is a great place to spend the night if you’re doing a three-day trip. If you’re doing the traverse in two days, consider pushing on, as you’ve only done one-third of the mileage.

Pro Tip: Since the stream at Imp Shelter is the last reliable water source before Carter Notch, it’s a good idea to refill here.

Looking back on Carter Ridge from Carter Dome. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Looking back on Carter Ridge from Carter Dome. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Up North Carter

If you spent the night at Imp Shelter, the early-morning hike up North Carter on the Carter-Moriah Trail can be a rude awakening. It’s steep and rough, gaining 1,400 feet over the course of roughly two miles. More so, it is probably the traverse’s hardest part, so take your time—there’s a long day ahead.

If you’re looking to catch your breath, a few spots on the way up North Carter have good views north toward Moriah. You might miss them, though, when heading uphill, since you’ll be facing the wrong direction.

About 1.6 miles from the shelter, you’ll stumble onto North Carter’s summit (44.3131, -71.1645). Although it is 4,530 feet in height, the Appalachian Mountain Club doesn’t consider North Carter a 4,000-footer. The col on the ridge from Middle Carter only descends 60 feet (18 m), thus making North Carter a secondary summit of that peak.

Mount Hight and Carter Dome from South Carter. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Mount Hight and Carter Dome from South Carter. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Ridge Running the Carters

Once you’ve climbed to the ridgeline, the CMT mellows considerably along the rolling Carter Ridge. As well, trees shelter the ridgeline, offering great protection from the weather. Occasionally, breaks in the trees offer views both to the east (Maine, the Baldface Range, and the Wild River Wilderness) and to the west (the Northern Presidentials). And, because Carter Ridge isn’t a straight line, a few opportunities offer a glimpse of what lies ahead.

About a mile from North Carter’s summit, the trail surmounts Middle Carter (44.3031, -71.1673). Although you’ll get great views before and after the summit, the summit itself is wooded and nondescript. And, because you’re near a wilderness area, the summit itself isn’t signed. Look, instead, for a cairn.

From Middle Carter, the trail descends gradually to the col between Middle and South Carter. At this point, it climbs gently toward the summit of the latter peak (44.2898, -71.1762). About a half-mile from the col, be on the lookout for a very short spur trail to South Carter’s official summit. Again, there are no signs, but it is pretty hard to miss the small cairn. And, although the summit has no real views, an outlook sits a few steps away on the other side of the trail. Your next objectives—Mount Hight and Carter Dome—dominate the horizon to the south.

To reach them, continue south on the CMT for 0.8 miles as it heads downhill toward Zeta Pass. While it descends quickly at first, it then meanders through the woods and over boardwalks as it nears the pass.

The Northern Presidential Range from Mount Hight. | Credit: Douglas Martland
The Northern Presidential Range from Mount Hight. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Carter Dome and the Mount Hight Detour

From Zeta Pass, the Carter-Moriah and Carter Dome Trails temporarily merge, both headed for Carter Dome’s summit. Soon, however, they split at a junction (44.2789, -71.1737), with the CMT taking a slightly longer route with a detour to the outstanding overlook atop Mount Hight. If time is of the essence and you want to skip Mount Hight, take the Carter Dome Trail (blue blazes) directly to the top of Carter Dome. It saves about 0.2 miles, but you’ll be skipping one of the hike’s key highlights.

To get to Mount Hight, a subpeak of Carter Dome, simply continue following the AT’s white rectangular blazes. After a few minutes, the trail begins to climb steeply. Although some effort is involved, keep hiking: The alpine zone and 360-degree views of the Presidentials, the sections of the Carter Range you’ve traversed so far, and the Wild River Wilderness are well worth it. When you can peel yourself away from the summit (44.2759, -71.1702), continue along the CMT and AT, until it intersects with the Carter Dome Trail, a short distance below Carter Dome.

Compared to Hight, Carter Dome is unimpressive, with a small open space and some competing summit cairns (44.2674, -71.1792). The summit’s northwestern side also has an overlook toward the Northern Presidentials.

Fall foliage behind Carter Lake. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Fall foliage behind Carter Lake. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Carter Notch

From Carter Dome, the CMT descends into Carter Notch. Here, the trail is steep with several sections where you’ll want to watch your footing. About halfway down the trail is a nice overlook, where you can see the Carter Notch Hut with Wildcat Ridge as a backdrop.

The CMT spills out into Carter Notch at the junction at Carter Lake. If you’re spending the night at the Carter Notch Hut (44.2588, -71.1951) or just looking for snacks and water, follow a short spur trail left, past two small lakes for 0.1 miles. Built in 1914, the hut offers full services during the summer months, as well as self-service during the rest of the year. Those thinking of spending the night in one of the two bunkhouses can make reservations with the AMC.

If you’re continuing on toward Wildcat Ridge, turn right instead, following the trail along the edge of Carter Lake and then up as it begins to climb out of the Notch. Since the trails around Carter Notch are maze-like, pay careful attention, so you don’t get lost and lose any time.

Fall foliage from near the top of Wildcat D. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Fall foliage from near the top of Wildcat D. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Up Wildcat Ridge

Whether you spent the night at the hut or continued to push on, the 0.7-mile climb up Wildcat A is a tough one. The trail travels continuously over rough terrain, gaining elevation with a series of long, traversing switchbacks. Since the best views are behind you, use that as an excuse if you need to take a break.

You’ll know you’re near the summit when the trail briefly levels out. The summit (44.2590, -71.2015) itself is inconspicuous—just a small cairn a few feet off the trail. But, just before, an overlook delivers good views of Carter Dome, the Notch, and the Hut.

Mount Washington with Tuckerman (left) and Huntington (right) Ravines from below Wildcat C. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Mount Washington with Tuckerman (left) and Huntington (right) Ravines from below Wildcat C. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Across the Ridge

Wildcat Ridge rolls along across Wildcat’s five named peaks—A, B, C, D, and E. Although only two count as official 4,000-footers (A and D), you’ll still have to earn each one, as even their short elevation gains seem like real work this late in the traverse.

The most notable of the subpeaks is C, mainly because of the stellar views of Mt. Washington’s Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines on the descent. Be careful, as well, on the descent off C into Wildcat Col; a few of the sections require some easy downclimbing.

The sights and sounds of civilization indicate you’ve climbed out of the col and are nearing the summit overlook atop Wildcat D (44.2493, -71.235). It’s the first summit on the trip that’ll be crowded with non-hikers—Wildcat’s gondola runs near D’s summit on fall weekends—but you can at least appreciate that your climb up was much more challenging. And, if the crowds are minimal or it’s off-hours, the observation platform is a great place to admire Mount Washington.

The trail approaching Carter Dome. | Credit: Douglas Martland
The trail approaching Carter Dome. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Down to Pinkham

From the overlook, the trail meanders over Wildcat E and soon thereafter begins to descend. Easily one of the Whites’ hardest hikes, descending the Wildcat Ridge Trail may be even more demanding than ascending it. Rocky, slabby, and at times extremely steep, the trail even features rock and wooden steps to ease hiking on such vertical terrain. As it plummets down two miles and roughly 2,000 feet of elevation, people who are carrying big packs, have tired legs, or are uncomfortable negotiating exposed terrain should consider taking the shortcut down the Wildcat Mountain Ski Area.

Near the bottom of the Wildcat Ridge Trail, take the Lost Pond Trail for an easy 0.9 miles to Pinkham Notch. Although this route is longer than just finishing out the Wildcat Ridge Trail, it eliminates the need to cross the Ellis River.

As another reason doing the traverse from north to south is advantageous, after passing the final summit, hikers can quickly scamper down the ski slope to the resort’s parking area, instead of continuing on the steep and rugged Wildcat Ridge Trail to the Glen Ellis Falls Trailhead. The preferred hiking trail is the Polecat Trail, a 2.2-mile green circle that gently weaves down the mountain. From Wildcat, hikers can do a quick road march back to Pinkham Notch.


The Wild River Wilderness from Mount Hight. | Credit: Douglas Martland
The Wild River Wilderness from Mount Hight. | Credit: Douglas Martland

The Kit

  • The EMS Refugio 2 Tent is a great choice for those who feel that staying in the hut is too luxurious but aren’t psyched on going super-lightweight. Weighing roughly a pound and a half more than its ultralight sibling, the Velocity 2, the Refugio delivers plenty of space to stretch out and has voluminous vestibules for storing gear.
  • The Sawyer Mini Filter makes access to potable drinking water easy. Simply screw it onto a water bottle or rig it to your hydration bladder. Or, even drink right from the source using the included straw.
  • After a long day on the trail, appetites are high, but the motivation to cook is low. A canister stove like the Jetboil Flash makes preparing dinner as easy as pushing a button.
  • Super small and compact, the Sea to Summit Ultralight Sleeping Pad is perfect for keeping pack size down and doesn’t disappoint when it comes to comfort.
  • The EMS Mountain Light 20 is warm, compressible, and cozy, making it perfect for trips like the Carter Range Traverse. Open the super-versatile bag up for unseasonably warm weather, or wear your jacket to bed and cinch the hood for those cold fall nights.

Foliage from near the top of Wildcat D. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Foliage from near the top of Wildcat D. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Keys to the Trip

  • From mid-September through mid-May, the AMC’s Carter Notch Hut is self-serve. During the self-service season, a bed is provided and so is the use of the hut’s stove, cookware, and utensils. While neither dinner nor breakfast is offered during the self-serve season, you can ditch the weight of a tent and stove. The cost is $45 a night for AMC members and $54 a night for non-members. However, it’s always a good idea to reserve a place in the hut in advance.
  • Although the Carter Wildcat Traverse is pretty straightforward, it’s always smart to carry a map, and the White Mountains Waterproof Trail Map is a good one. In addition to being helpful in the event you get turned around, it’s also perfect for getting stoked before your trip and scheming up the next traverse once you’ve checked the Carter Range Traverse from your list.
  • After a couple long days of GORP, granola, and freeze-dried meals, you deserve something decadent. Treat yourself to an incredible cupcake (or two) from White Mountain Cupcakery.

Current Conditions

Have you recently hiked in the Carters or Wildcats? Have you done the complete traverse? What did you think? Post your experience in the comments!


LNT For Your Feed: Understanding the New Social Media Guidelines

New technological developments have changed our experiences in the backcountry. Particularly, the ever-common smartphone is now a staple, functioning as a map, flashlight, camera, and more. However, complete reliance on a smartphone can get someone into serious trouble.

A drained battery is not the only threat, though. Social media has popularized the outdoor lifestyle, leading to more and more people sharing their views and experiences online and thus increasing traffic at popular destinations. This, in turn, has led to erosion and overcrowding at places not yet ready to handle such heavy use. However, if used to advocate for stewardship, social media can be beneficial.

Contrary to popular belief, Leave No Trace (LNT) is not just the phrase angrily grumbled by a grizzly hiker as he picks up an energy bar wrapper off the trail to pack it out. Rather, LNT is an organization that advocates for sustainable outdoor ethics. In line with that mission, it recently released new guidelines regarding social media use—particularly, for protecting these spaces and ultimately strengthening our relationship with the outdoors. So, how does the everyday hiker make sense of these recommendations, and what shouldn’t you be doing?

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Tag thoughtfully

“Avoid tagging (or geotagging) specific locations. Instead, tag a general location such as a state or region, if any at all. While tagging can seem innocent, it can also lead to significant impacts to particular places.”

Our social media posts have far-reaching impacts. What seems benign may actually end up drawing masses to the site featured in your post. In turn, the larger crowds contribute to erosion and may complicate relationships with landowners. While some areas can handle heavy use, like the above cascade in the Catskills, many destinations are not equipped for the increased foot traffic.

DO: Post something along the lines of, “Enjoying this refreshing mist on a hot day in the Catskills!” Consider tagging the mountain range or region of the state, rather than a specific place.

DON’T: Tag the exact location of a vista, or mention any shortcuts to get to a destination.

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Be mindful of what your images portray

“Give some thought to what your images may encourage others to do. Images that demonstrate good Leave No Trace practices and stewardship are always in style.”

Our posts should empower others to take care of our lands. Before you post, ask yourself if the content you are sharing is geared towards sustainability and respect for our natural spaces. Think about how you will view the post in five or 10 years—it is never fun to look back and cringe.

DO: Post photos of area cleanups, or artistic and creative landscape shots that depict pristine wilderness, thus encouraging people to keep it that way. Remember: “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footsteps.”

DON’T: Post photos of yourself or friends doing something dangerous or photos that may encourage others to harm themselves, others, or the land. As well, don’t show photos of you littering or camping in areas you’re not allowed.

Give back to places you love

“Invest your own sweat equity into the outdoor spaces and places you care about. Learn about volunteer stewardship opportunities and get involved in the protection of our shared lands.”

Nature gives us experiences and memories that we cherish forever. We can give back by cleaning up litter, maintaining trails, keeping our own impact minimal, and inspiring others to do the same through social media.

DO: Leave no trace, pick up litter and pack it out, follow the trails, and post photos promoting group cleanups.

DON’T: Litter, draw graffiti, damage plants, break trail, or post photos encouraging these behaviors.

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Encourage and inspire Leave No Trace in social media posts

“Given the millions of social media users in the world, think of the incredible potential that social media has to educate outdoor enthusiasts—first timers to seasoned adventurers—about enjoying our wild lands responsibly.”

We sometimes see the effects of people leaving traces in the backcountry, which, then, influence our own experience. Greenhorn adventurers may not even realize that they are leaving a trace, such as when they leave obvious markings of a campsite. Even experienced adventurers sometimes violate LNT! Thus, we can use social media to educate others, regardless of their level of outdoor experience.

DO: If you see something in the outdoors that does not follow LNT principles, make an informational post to educate others!

DON’T: Post a photo of feeding wildlife, including summit chipmunks, or post aggressively or angrily about situations where LNT principles were broken (this may discourage people from listening!)

 

What other dos and don’ts would you add? Comment below!


Video: Cook with YETI's Hungry Life

If you’re not eating like this while sitting next to the Yellowstone River, you’re doing your camping food wrong.


How to Choose a Backpacking Stove

Energy gels and bars are great for day trips in the mountains. But, if you’re spending more than just a day out, odds are you’ll eventually want something more substantial (and warm) to eat, which often involves using a stove. Which stove, you ask? Well, that depends on what exactly you want to heat up. These days, there’s a camp stove to satisfy everyone, from those who simply want to boil water to forest-bound foodies. For the best option to cook your next backcountry breakfast, campsite cuisine, or mountaintop meal, keep reading.

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Fuel Type

Backpacking stoves are distinguished by fuel type, and fall into three main categories: canister, liquid fuel, and alternative fuel. Canister and liquid fuel stoves represent the majority you’ll see on the trail. However, in recent years, alternative fuel stoves have seen a surge in popularity.

Canister Stoves

Powered by prepackaged canisters holding a pressurized butane-propane blend, canister stoves are incredibly easy to use—just screw the stove to the canister and fire it up. Coming in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, canister stoves vary from simple, super-light burners to full integrated systems. Requiring very little maintenance (shy of changing fuel bottles), they deliver reliable performance in three-season conditions and are also quick to light. Big picture, you don’t have to worry about fuel leaking out of the bottle.

Canister stoves do have some drawbacks, though. For one thing, it can be difficult to gauge just how much fuel is left. Another issue, some super-light stoves have difficulty supporting a larger pot, while the larger, integrated systems may be tall and tip prone. Additionally, for models without built-in pressure regulators, cold weather or high altitudes can freeze and depressurize a canister, causing the stove to stutter. Also, compared to white gas, prepackaged fuel is expensive and may be harder to find outside of the United States. Lastly, the prepackaged canisters cannot be refilled and recycling them may be frustrating, as most municipalities have special rules in place.

Pro Tip: If you’re going to use a canister stove in cold weather, storing the fuel canister in a warm place—your jacket pocket while you’re moving or your sleeping bag while you’re sleeping—will make it less likely to depressurize.

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Integrated Canister Stoves

With an integrated canister stove, all the individual components (canister, burner, pot, and lid) work together. Due to their interlocking nature, they have a high energy transfer rate between the burner and pot and excel at heating water quickly. They are quick and simple to assemble and, on many models, nest inside the cooking pot for easy storage while you’re moving. And, for folks who hike in varying group sizes—sometimes solo, sometimes with friends—you can customize the pot for your particular outing.

Liquid Fuel Stoves

Reliable and time tested, liquid fuel stoves are known for their versatility and ability to run in a wide variety of conditions. More commonly powered by white gas, some models, such as the venerable MSR Whisperlite International, use any kind of liquid fuel—kerosene and diesel included. This makes them popular with people who travel to locations where canisters or white gas could be hard to acquire. Unlike canister stoves, liquid fuel stoves use special refillable bottles. In turn, backpackers easily know much fuel they have at any given time, can reuse the same container, and only bring as much as they’ll need.

One downside is, they require priming, a finicky process. Liquid fuel stoves also need periodic maintenance. The jets and fuel hose can get clogged, especially when fuels other than white gas, which may have more impurities, are used, and the O-rings occasionally need to be replaced. Another drawback, liquid fuel stoves tend to be heavier and don’t pack as well as canister options. And, since spills suck, don’t forget to keep your fuel bottle sealed at all times when not in use.

Some stoves, like the MSR Whisperlite International, can operate using either liquid or canister fuels, making them even more versatile.

Should I use a canister or liquid fuel stove?

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Alternative Fuel Stoves

Alternative stoves use everything from wood to denatured alcohol to solid fuel tablets. Wood-powered stoves, for instance, burn twigs and small sticks and let you hike without carrying a fuel canister or bottle. Denatured alcohol stoves are super-lightweight, have very few parts, and use a fuel that is inexpensive and readily available. Solid fuel stoves are light and inexpensive but, as a drawback, may leave a residue on your cook pot.

In recent years, alternative fuel stoves have seen an increase in popularity. But, because they each have unique limitations—most notably, they do not burn as hot or boil water as quickly as canister or liquid fuel stoves—their use remains niche. Still, they make nice complementary stoves to more traditional options.

GO: Canister Stoves | Liquid Fuel Stoves | Canister or Liquid Fuel Stoves

Courtesy: MSR
Courtesy: MSR

Other Considerations

When choosing your next backpacking stove, fuel type is just one consideration. Weight, boiling time, simmering ability, and lighting method are other factors that should influence your purchase.

Weight

It’s easy to be lured by a stove’s lighter weight. However, when comparing stove weights, remember to account for the fuel and required cook set, especially when comparing standard models to integrated systems.

Boiling Time

Almost all backpacking stove manufacturers tell you how long it takes for a particular stove to boil a liter of water. And, if boiling time is your most important criterion—say, for that cup of coffee or that Good To-Go Thai Curry—consider an integrated canister stove. Their extremely efficient transfer of heat from the burner to the pot often results in the fastest boiling times. Just don’t expect to replicate these exact results on your next backpacking trip on the Pemi: Stoves are typically tested at sea level in 70-degree Fahrenheit temperatures with no wind.

Simmering

For a stove that does more than boil water, you’ll want to choose a model with a simmering option. Liquid fuel stoves generally offer the easiest degree of heat control. However, with a little practice, more complex dishes can even be cooked on an integrated system.

Lighting Method

Many stoves today ignite via a button (or “piezo”). This handy feature increases the ease of operation, but we still suggest carrying matches or a lighter just in case. However you light it, once your stove is going, don’t ever cook inside the tent—carbon monoxide kills!

Courtesy: MSR
Courtesy: MSR

So, Which Stove Should I Get?

Although most models you’ll find at EMS are fairly versatile, here are a few activity-based suggestions:

Solo or fast-and-light: Consider a simple canister stove. If that’s not light enough, check out a denatured alcohol or solid fuel option.

New to backpacking or just eating freeze-dried meals: Integrated systems are easy to use and boil water very efficiently.

Going out with a large group: Liquid gas stoves are perfect for large groups, and for this reason, they’ve been a staple of NOLS and Outward Bound trips for years. Pro tip: Going out with a large group and love coffee? Supplement your liquid gas stove with an integrated stove for quickly brewing that crucial cup of coffee in the morning.

Can’t decide: Check out the MSR Whisperlite Universal, which can use either IsoPro canisters or liquid fuel.


Alpha Guide: The Dix Range Traverse

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Traversing five High Peaks with awe-inspiring views nestled deep in the Adirondack wilderness, the Dix Range beckons to those hikers with an adventurous spirit and passion for a challenge.

Given its unique terrain, true wilderness atmosphere, and marvelous scenery, the Dix Range is a common favorite among many Adirondack hikers. Beginning from the Elk Lake Trailhead, the difficult, 14.8-mile hike starts off easy, before steeply ascending a unique slide to Macomb’s summit. Next is an exposed scramble to South Dix, followed by a comfortable walk to Grace, and several scenic ups and downs to Hough. A final push through the woods, with some rock scrambles, leads to the remote, bald summit of the state’s sixth-highest mountain, Dix. With a backdrop of lakes, river valleys, other High Peaks, and even Vermont’s Green Mountains, the Dix Range’s allure is undeniable.

Quick Facts

Distance: 14.8 miles, loop
Time to Complete: 1 day (with an optional overnight)
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★


Season: May through October (The trail is closed during big-game hunting season)
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/9164.html 

Download

Turn-By-Turn

You’ll find parking at the Elk Lake Trailhead along Elk Lake Road, about 20 minutes northwest of North Hudson and 40 minutes northeast of Newcomb.

From the south (Albany, New York City), take I-87 north, and from the north (Plattsburgh, Montreal), take I-87 south. Depart I-87 at Exit 29, (“Newcomb/North Hudson”), and take a left to head west on Blue Ridge Road for about four miles, where you’ll then take a right onto Elk Lake Road. The parking lot will be five miles down on the right-hand side. The surrounding area is private land, however, and outside of the designated lot policy, there is a very strict no-parking rule. Another DEC parking lot is located along Elk Lake Road at Clear Pond, but it’s two miles back from the trailhead, thereby adding on four more miles roundtrip.

Credit: Elizabeth Urban
Credit: Elizabeth Ricci

The Warmup 

Sign in at the register (44.020924, -73.827726) before hitting the trail, which is marked with red discs. The path is well maintained and relatively flat, making it a great warmup and easy to follow if you’re starting before sunrise. This stretch is relatively uneventful, with a few stream crossings, including Little Sally Brook and Big Sally Brook. At approximately 2.2 miles, you’ll reach the Slide Brook lean-to and four primitive campsites. If hiking the entire range in a day seems too daunting, this is a suitable location to spend a night, either before or after hiking the range.

This spot also marks the intersection of the main trail with the herd path you will take to Macomb (44.044437, -73.805971). The herd path will be on your right, heading west, and may seem confusing, as it appears to go right through a campsite. If you stay to the right of the campsite, it will be relatively easy to pick up the trail leaving the site.

Negotiating the Macomb Slide. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Negotiating the Macomb Slide. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

The Slide 

The herd path remains in the woods, paralleling Slide Brook. You’ll gradually gain elevation, before the terrain starts to steepen. Like most of the range’s herd paths, the trail may be narrow at times but is well worn and relatively easy to follow. At approximately 3.5 miles (44.051854, -73.786633), the trail veers right and emerges onto the impressive Macomb Slide. Although the slide is short (0.15 miles), it is very steep, climbing nearly 500 feet. For this reason, the loop is typically hiked counterclockwise: Going up the slide with fresh legs is preferable to going down with fatigued muscles. Unlike most of the Adirondacks’ rock slab-type slides, this one is characterized by rocky rubble varying in size and grade. It can be immensely fun for those who like a good scramble but daunting for others who fear heights or exposure.

Although the slide has no correct path up, many people prefer to stay toward the right. Take your time and allow for plenty of space between yourself and those ahead. Although there’s no need for a helmet, cascading rocks are common on a busy day. The slide narrows toward the top, so it’s easy to spot where the trail reenters the woods (44.051472, -73.783510). After a few quick rock scrambles, you’ll pop out on Macomb’s summit at 4,405 feet and mile 3.9 (44.051702, ‘-73.780204), where you’ll be treated to beautiful views of Elk Lake tucked among the mountains to the west.

Credit: Elizabeth Ricci
Credit: Elizabeth Ricci

Scrambling

From Macomb, follow the herd path northeast, heading back into the woods. The trail will descend about 600 feet before reaching the bottom of the col between Macomb and South Dix. At the col, take the shortcut to the Lillian Brook herd path. Keep right to stay on the trail to South Dix, and there, you will begin climbing again. Soon, you’ll exit the woods and scramble up a large rock outcropping. Generally, you should stay toward the right but follow the cairns other hikers have created.

You may think the summit lies at the top of this rocky section, but you’ll alternate between woods and more small rock outcroppings two more times before reaching the actual South Dix summit at 4,060 feet and mile 4.7 (44.059934, -73.774472). Located right near the summit, the trail will split: to the right (east) lies Grace and the left (north) is the path to Hough.

Note: South Dix is in the process of being renamed Carson Peak to commemorate Russell M. L. Carson, a founding member of the Adirondack Mountain Club. The names are often used interchangeably.

The summit of Grace Peak. | Credit: Sarah Quandt
The summit of Grace Peak. | Credit: Sarah Quandt

 A Walk in the Woods 

At the intersection near South Dix’s summit, stay right to head east toward Grace. Just past the intersection, a short side trail on the right leads to a ledge—the only spot for views on South Dix’s actual summit. Back on the herd path, the terrain is relatively flat before gently descending about 350 feet to the col. From the col, it steepens but is a relatively short 300-foot climb to the bald summit of Grace (mile 5.7), itself barely a High Peak at 4,012 feet (44.065014, -73.757285). On this remote summit, you’ll be treated to sprawling views of the surrounding river valleys and smaller mountains.

If you’re up for some exploring, venture to the summit’s north side to get a look at Grace’s aptly named Great Slide. However, resist the temptation to relax here for too long, and instead, head out, because you still have a good deal of climbing and scenery ahead. From here, retrace your steps back to South Dix’s summit (mile 6.8), and at the trail intersection, stay right (north) to head towards Hough (pronounced “Huff”).

Note: Formerly known as East Dix, Grace Peak was renamed in 2014 to honor Grace Hudowalski, who, in 1937, became the first woman to climb the 46 High Peaks. Old maps and guides will use the East Dix title. 

On top of Hough Peak. | Credit: Sarah Quandt
On top of Hough Peak. | Credit: Sarah Quandt

Houghing and Poughing

From the summit of South Dix, stay right (north) at the trail intersection, and follow the herd path as it descends into the woods. After a short while, you’ll begin climbing again and rise above the treeline. Don’t be fooled by the impressive views, however. You aren’t on Hough yet but, instead, on the small bump informally known as Pough (pronounced “puff”).

After meandering along the ridge, the trail descends back into the woods, until it reaches the col between Pough and Hough, which is distinguished by a small clearing. This is also the intersection with the Lillian Brook herd path (44.065483, -73.777484), which is on the left (west) of the clearing and heads back down the range to the main, marked trail.

At this point, assess how you and your group are feeling and check on the time. From this spot, you still have quite a bit of climbing (1,500 feet) and distance (7.6 more miles) to cover. Assuming you’re still up for the challenge, continue straight through the clearing, following the winding herd path up to Hough. The path may be steep and overgrown in areas, and will remind your body how much work it has done so far. Albeit small, Hough’s summit at mile 7.5 (44.069549, -73.777813) is a welcomed resting area with excellent views, including the Beckhorn looming in the not-so-far distance.

On top of Dix. | Credit: Sarah Quandt
On top of Dix. | Credit: Sarah Quandt

The Pinnacle

Upon leaving Hough’s summit, you’ll descend back into the woods and reach a col. From here, the final push begins. More climbing may feel rough at this point, but compared to the section up Hough, this path is a bit gentler. As the woods open, you’ll need to get through a few more rock scrambles before reaching the Beckhorn (44.079930, -73.784957), a large, easily recognizable rock outcropping and the beginning of a marked trail. You’ll return to this location later for the descent of the range.

From the Beckhorn, continue north. After only a few minutes, at mile 8.7, you’ll finally reach the range’s crown jewel—Dix itself (44.081902, -73.786366)! Take time to enjoy the summit and exquisite 360-degree views, which, by this point in the day, are well earned. To the west, Nippletop towers in front of Blake and Colvin. Farther out, you’ll spot the Great Range and the always-impressive Mount Marcy. To the north is the Bouquet River valley, followed by Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge. Dix’s summit is bald and forms a short ridge, offering plenty of space for groups to spread out and soak in the afternoon sun. While it may be tempting to stay for a while, be conscious of time. You still have a very steep descent, followed by a long walk out ahead of you.

Descending to Elk Pass. | Credit: Sarah Quandt
Descending to Elk Pass. | Credit: Sarah Quandt

A Steep Descent

Retrace your steps from Dix’s summit to the Beckhorn, where you will turn right (west) to head down on the yellow disc-marked trail (44.079930, -73.784957). The initial descent of the rocky Beckhorn may be tricky, but look for the yellow blazes to guide you. Once back below treeline, the trail will continue to descend steeply for a total of 2,500 feet over two miles. Keep in mind that many hiking accidents happen on the descent after a successful summit bid. Here, people tend to be fatigued, are eager to be done, and often are less observant. Instead, exercise care, stay mentally alert, and try not to split your group up.

While this trail is no more difficult than almost anything else in the Adirondacks, you’ll be tackling it after an already very full day of hiking. Make sure everyone is hydrated and well fed, so they are in optimal shape and good spirits. After what will seem like an eternity of trekking downhill, the trail ends where it intersects with the main trail (44.068988, -73.809992) at mile 10.7.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Not All Downhill from Here 

Upon reaching the main trail, turn left (south) to follow the red disc trail markers. It’s a long walk out from here, so settle into a good trekking rhythm and enjoy your surroundings. You’ll quickly pass Dix Pond on the right, before hiking up and over a small bump and crossing Lillian Brook. Beyond, at mile 12.6, you’ll come across the Lillian Brook lean-to and a couple of primitive campsites.

From here, you’ll begin a slow ascent of another “bump,” which, eliciting some grumbles, will account for an unwelcome 200 feet of additional climbing. As the climb tops out and you reach the bump’s high point, you may see a rock cairn on your left. This marks the Lillian Brook herd path, the top of which you saw earlier at the col between Pough and Hough. Continue straight on the main trail, following the red discs, and you will begin to descend the bump. As the trail starts to flatten out, you’ll reach the Slide Brook lean-to and campsites again. From here, you can retrace your steps from much earlier in the day back out to the trail register and parking area, 14.8 miles later.


Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

The Kit

  • Trekking poles are essential for the Dix Range, with all the climbing and descending. Invest in a quality pair that is up for the task. LEKI’s Micro Vario Ti COR-TEC Trekking Poles are lightweight and packable and come with a lifetime warranty.
  • Although the herd paths are well worn, they are often overgrown with vegetation and can leave bare legs and arms covered in scratches. To stay cool but protected, a durable pair of convertible pants, like the EMS Camp Cargo Zip-Off Pant, are an excellent option. Pair them with the EMS Techwick Essence ¼-Zip for full coverage.
  • You should always be prepared when hiking, especially on longer, remote treks. Invest in a basic first aid kit, like the AMK Ultra 0.7 Scout First, which provides a comprehensive selection in a compact, waterproof package. Weighing in at only 6.5 oz., it’s barely noticeable in your pack.
  • Nutrition and hydration are paramount on grueling hikes. Calorie-dense foods are your best bet to keep up your energy and save space in your pack. Fill up on tasty Clif Nut Butter Filled energy bars and Honey Stinger Vanilla & Chocolate Gluten Free Organic Waffles. Replenish electrolytes with GU’s Grape Roctane energy drink mix.
  • Always carry a headlamp and extra batteries in your pack. They may be the difference between an easy walk out and spending an unplanned night in the woods. Try Petzl’s Actik Core headlamp, which delivers 350 lumens and offers both white light for visibility and red for night vision.
  • Pick up the National Geographic Adirondack Park, Lake Placid/High Peaks topographical map. It shows all the trails, campsites, and recreational features and offers relevant information on wildlife history, geology, and archaeology.

Credit: Elizabeth Urban
Credit: Elizabeth Ricci

Keys to the Trip

  • Get an early start. The small parking lot fills up very quickly on weekends (well before 7 a.m.). Additionally, beginning in the dark with a fresh mind and pair of legs is better than finishing in the dark when you’re mentally and physically drained.
  • The trail between the Slide Brook lean-to and the Beckhorn is technically unmarked and unmaintained. So, be sure to carry a map showing these herd paths, familiarize yourself with the route beforehand, and carry a compass (that you know how to use!). Although the herd paths are well traveled and defined, preparation is imperative.
  • Carry extra water and food. This is a long, strenuous day hike with unmarked herd paths and very few water sources. Staying hydrated and keeping your blood sugar up will keep you strong, focused, and in good spirits.
  • Know your and your group’s limitations and be realistic about expectations. The Lillian Brook herd path leads down from the Dix Range to the marked trail and is a good bailout option, if needed. You can always come back to complete the other summits!
  • Keep up on the latest trail conditions at the DEC’s Backcountry Information page for the High Peaks Region, which is updated weekly.
  • Overnight hikers may use the Slide Brook and Lillian Brook lean-tos, along with the various designated primitive camping sites, although they are first-come. Aside from these marked sites, you can camp anywhere that is at least 150 feet from a water body, road, or trail, and below 3,500 feet in elevation, unless the area is posted as “Camping Prohibited.”
  • If you finish early enough, stop at the Adirondack Buffalo Company (closes at 6 p.m.) for a variety of home-baked goods, fresh produce, buffalo meat, locally made crafts, and, perhaps most importantly, coffee. It is located on Blue Ridge Road, just before the Elk Lake Road trailhead.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked in the Dix Range recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!


Newsflash: Belgian Karel Sabbe Smashes Appalachian Trail Speed Record

41 days, 7 hours, 39 minutes.

Thats the new fastest known time (FKT) along the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail after the 28-year-old Belgian dentist and ultrarunner Karel Sabbe topped out on Katahdin to finish the thru-hike on Tuesday.

The new record is the latest in a rapid arms race that the AT has been host to in recent years, with numerous runners upping the ante and besting each other’s times on the Georgia-to-Maine trail. Until Tuesday, the record belonged to Joe McConaughy who set his FKT last year—Sabbe broke McConaughy’s record by more than 4 days. For his hike, however, Sabbe utilized a support team to provide him with food and other aid, lightening his backpack. McConaughy completed his hike unsupported.

“Nobody had averaged more than 50 miles on the Appalachian Trail. More than proud, I feel privileged for having lived these incredible adventures. It was a blast from start to finish!” Sabbe wrote on Instagram.

 

In the year 60 B.C., Julius Caesar wrote: “Of all Gauls, the Belgians are the bravest.” Over 2000 years later there is still some truth in that sentence. We have set a new speed record on the epic Appalachian Trail !! The Fastest Known Time is now 41 days 7 hours 39 minutes, which is over 4 days faster than the previous record, held by an incredibly strong and unsupported @thestring.bean. I want to thank my dear friend @jorenbiebuyck from the bottom of my heart as without his incredible crewing and support I would never have made the PCT as well as the AT speed records. Fun facts: nobody has ever held overall Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail speed records at the same time. Nobody had averaged more than 50 miles on the Appalachian Trail. More than proud, I feel privileged for having lived these incredible adventures. It was a blast from start to finish ! Thanks @skinssportwear for making this possible, without you there would have been no new FKT. Thank you everybody for the support!  #AppalachianTrailSpeedRecordAttempt  #teamSKINS #BestInCompression #HOKAONEONE#TimeToFly #TraKKs #Suunto #Selfpropelled#Ledlenser #kleankanteen #nordisk #trekneat #ultramarathon#speedrecord #AppalachianTrail #ultrarunning #ultratrail #trailrunner #trailrunning

A post shared by Karel Sabbe (@karelsabbe) on

In 2016, Sabbe also broke the speed record on the Pacific Crest Trail (breaking the FKT of none other than Joe McConaughy), a title he still holds, making him the first to hold both records simultaneously, according to him. Not a professional runner, Sabbe burst onto the ultrarunning scene with his PCT record two years ago and spends most of his time as a dentist in Ghent, Belgium.

During his record-setting run, Sabbe’s mornings started shortly after 3 a.m., seeing him push most days for around 53 miles. His final day on the trail, he ran 100 miles for 32 hours up the steep sides of Mount Katahdin to capture the record. Sabbe shared his final steps on Facebook:


Newsflash: Hikers Asked to Avoid Katahdin Over Labor Day Weekend

Appalachian Trail hikers hoping to finish their 2,190-mile trek on Mount Katahdin this weekend are being asked to make alternate plans.

The Monson Appalachian Trail Visitor Center is advising long-distance hikers to summit Maine’s tallest peak before Saturday, Sept. 1 or after Monday, Sept. 3 to allow the Penobscot Indian Nation to take part in the Katahdin 100, an annual spiritual run that finishes at the northern terminus of the AT.

The Katahdin Stream Campground, located at the base of the AT route up the 5,267-foot mountain in Baxter State Park, will be closed to overnight guests on Saturday and Sunday while the Penobscot conduct their traditional ceremonies.

“Avoiding those days for summiting is in the best interest for the hikers and Baxter and the AT,” Claire Polfus, the program manager of Appalachian Trail Conservancy Maine, told The Bangor Daily News.

Meanwhile, there are no day-use parking passes left for either Saturday or Sunday, the Monson Visitor Center announced in a Facebook post. The visitor center staff added that The Birches campground will remain open to 12 northbound hikers, but the area will be exceedingly busy.

The Katahdin 100, which was first run in the early 1980s, retraces the migration pattern of Maine’s native peoples from Indian Island near Orono to Mount Katahdin. Each year, the members of the Penobscot tribe make the 100-mile journey from Indian Island to the mountain in canoes, on bikes, and their own two feet.

“For the duration of the gathering (Saturday to Monday of Labor Day weekend), Katahdin Stream Campground largely belongs to the Penobscot.” the visitor center staff wrote on Facebook. “It’s important to remember…this was Penobscot territory for millennia before the A.T. existed.”


How to Shoot Film in the Outdoors

In the digital realm, memory cards with almost-unlimited, deletable memory hold the majority of our images of the outdoors, and computer-based editing lets you fine-tune that nearly perfect shot. But, shooting nature the old-fashioned way has its benefits, too.

First things first: Film will cost you. It will cost you time, it will cost you space in your backpack, and it will most definitely cost you money. If you’re like me, it’ll likely also cost you sleep, as you think about what you could have done differently with a certain frame. Or, maybe, it will cost you a few gray hairs, as you anxiously wait to see how the processed negatives from an exciting sojourn abroad turned out.

But, film photography can also change the way you think about making images or even what you decide to shoot. With time, it’ll make you a better photographer and more a part of the moments you choose to document. Ultimately, it’ll change the way you see, and it’s a lot of fun to use!

North Carolina's Linville Gorge | Credit: John Lepak
North Carolina’s Linville Gorge | Credit: John Lepak

Where Do I Begin?

Get started by picking up a film camera. Hit up a tag sale or a flea market. Or, poke around the internet a bit to see what strikes your fancy—Craigslist and eBay are both excellent resources. In all cases, 35mm film cameras are widely available, and the film typically has 24 or 36 exposures per roll. Medium-format cameras take 120 film, which is a bit bigger and produces a larger negative. Generally speaking, though, these cameras—and their film—are a little less accessible. They’re less forgiving, too, usually producing just 12 images per roll.

You can get your film on eBay or at a tag sale, but it does have an expiration date. As a side note, using expired film can produce some cool effects. However, you’re probably safer sourcing from a camera supply store (yes, they still do exist). Tip: Buy film in bulk to save some money and refrigerate it. Cooling it down significantly extends its lifespan.

A Guanaco in Torres del Paine, Chile| Credit: John Lepak
A Guanaco in Torres del Paine, Chile| Credit: John Lepak

Packing It Up

Next, the hard part: Finding room in your bag. Full disclosure: There is nothing ultralight about this. The film adds weight, and the older cameras have more in common with bricks than today’s backcountry equipment, but remember how much fun you’re having.

Personally, I only drag a camera along when I’m going somewhere far away, as opposed to a walk through the local park, and want to get the most out of photographing the experience. I’m also not lugging it on longer backpacking trips, where weight and space are serious issues. Overall, consider where you’re going and how much you want to carry. It will take some trial and error to figure out how many exposures you’re going to make, and you’ll likely need to drag some unnecessary ounces around before you find a good fit.

Also—and this is no different from using digital equipment—make sure you have a way to keep your gear dry. If you’re carrying the extra stuff, it’s a whole lot nicer to have it working than not.

Valahnúkur, Thorsmörk, Iceland | Credit: John Lepak
Valahnúkur, Thorsmörk, Iceland | Credit: John Lepak

The Downsides and Upsides

It’s worth noting that film is expensive—infinitely more so than if you just whipped out your existing phone and fired away. You’ve got the camera setup and the film, and then, you have to get it processed and either printed or digitally scanned. Most opt for the latter, unless you’re looking to gift or sell any of your images. All in all, it’s not cheap.

But, consider this a positive and use it to your advantage. Instead of running around with your phone out the whole time, take the opportunity to be deliberate and present. When you have a price tag attached to each image and a finite number of potential exposures, you’re going to really see what’s around you before raising your camera. Being in the moment ultimately helps you make better images and, moreover, connects you to what’s around you more than ever before.

Lastly, just have fun with it. Like getting out into the woods after a long work week, treat shooting film as a change of pace. Time in the backcountry seems to slow down in such a tremendous way that it only makes sense to capture it with a fitting medium.

Cuernos del Paine, Chile | Credit: John Lepak
Cuernos del Paine, Chile | Credit: John Lepak