Gifts for Girls Who are "One of the Guys"

Whenever I do anything outdoors, I’m almost always the only girl in the group. This means I’ve had plenty of time over the years to figure out the best gear to help me either keep up or kick butt. So, if you’re shopping for a girl who often finds herself in the same situation, here’s a list of things I use to make hanging out with a bunch of dudes easier and more fun.

Courtesy: Ashley Peck
Courtesy: Ashley Peck

Climbing: Petzl Elia Climbing Helmet

I was tired of a helmet that only sat on my head properly if my ponytail was in just the right spot. The boys were also tired of waiting for me to fix my hair before or after each climb. A few years ago, I received the Petzl Elia as a gift, and this problem hasn’t been an issue since! Other companies “girl-ify” helmets by simply making them in prettier colors, but taking it a step further, Petzl developed a headband that actually accommodates a ponytail in multiple positions. It also weighs just 10 ounces and adjusts to fit any head perfectly. So, your climber girl will probably forget she’s even wearing it and will have an extra-safe hike back to the car after a day of cragging.

Hiking and Camping: GoGirl Female Urination Device

I wouldn’t say I’ve ever wished I was, um, “built like a man.” But, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous of how much easier it is for my male hiking partners to heed nature’s call when we’re out on the trail. If the lady hiker on your list has ever complained about popping a squat in the woods, treat her to a GoGirl this holiday! Not only does it have a fun name (if you ignore the medieval-sounding “Female Urination Device” part of it), but it also helps level the pee-playing field and virtually eliminates the risk of getting poison ivy in unfortunate places.

Courtesy: Ashley Peck
Courtesy: Ashley Peck

Biking: CamelBak Women’s L.U.X.E. Hydration Pack

It might just be that my husband and his friends are crazy people, but they hate taking breaks during a bike ride. If I start to get hangry while we’re mountain biking, they’ll cave and let me take a quick food break. However, I wouldn’t stand a chance of staying properly hydrated without my Camelbak Women’s L.U.X.E Hydration Pack. If the biker chick on your list has to keep up with the boys, or if she’s the ambitious one who doesn’t like to stop, make sure she stays sufficiently watered out on the trail with this super-comfy pack that holds enough fluid to ride for hours on end.

Skiing: DryGuy Green HEAT 2-in-1 Heater

Just because the weather gets cold that doesn’t mean the outdoors-woman will stop adventuring. It does, however, mean she might need some extra help staying warm. Whenever I’m skiing, snowboarding, or winter hiking with the boys, it always seems like I’m the only one whose hands are freezing, no matter how nice my gloves or mittens are. Hand-warmer packs help a little, but the DryGuy GreenHEAT 2-in-1 Heater is the BEST. It’ll warm your snow sister’s hands instantly, recharge her phone (or headlamp), and help the planet by reducing hand-warmer waste—making it a win-win-win.

Courtesy: MTI Adventurewear
Courtesy: MTI Adventurewear

Paddling: MTI Moxie PFD

Don’t let your water woman settle for any ol’ life jacket. She may have to wait a few months to use it, but when she unwraps a made-for-her PFD like the MTI Moxie this holiday, she’ll be happier than a seagull with a french fry. What makes the Moxie so comfy is its Adjust-a-Bust fit System—certainly giggle-worthy every time she and her guy friends get on the water. It’s truly a gift that keeps on giving.

Courtesy: Mountainsmith
Courtesy: Mountainsmith

All of the Above: Mountainsmith Sixer

If all else fails, the Mountainsmith Sixer is always a safe bet. For a girl who’s one of the guys, you can be sure of one thing: Beers are a staple of every adventure. And, if the mountain maven you’re shopping for is the one who supplies the cold brews at the end of the day, she’ll always be the boys’ favorite bro.

'The 46ers' Doc Goes to the Small Screen: A Q&A with Director Blake Cortright

Prior to 2012, when he spent a weekend backpacking, 18-year-old Blake Cortright knew next to nothing about the Adirondack 46ers—the mountains and the people. But, if the peaks are good at anything, it’s inspiring those who journey into them. Before long, Blake became fixated and hiked them constantly, hoping to craft his exploration of the 46 High Peaks and the group of hikers that share their name into a documentary. Today, that film (sponsored in part by Eastern Mountain Sports) is headed to the big-time, scheduled to air on PBS stations across the country, including WCNY on Monday, November 13. We sat down to talk with Blake about his progression from novice to storyteller and the things he picked up along the way.

goEast: How were you first connected to the Adirondack High Peaks, and how did that develop into wanting to create this film?

Blake: I hiked my first High Peak in 2008 with my Boy Scout troop. We summited Giant Mountain on a perfect autumn day, and that was my first “awe” moment in the Adirondack High Peaks. It wasn’t until a 2012 camping trip with my dad and my brother that I really got inspired to film in the High Peaks. We set out over three days to summit Marcy, Tabletop, Phelps, Algonquin, Iroquois, and Wright. We left with Marcy, Tabletop, and Wright and felt a new sense of reverence for the mountains.

During this trip, I got a little side of Mount Marcy all to myself and took in the sweeping views of lakes, rivers, mountains, and wilderness. That’s where the vision for the film ultimately came from—sitting atop Mt. Marcy on a beautiful summer day, looking out at the wild places as far as the eye could see. Shortly after returning from this camping trip, the wheels started to turn and the core question which drove the project began to take shape: “What transforms ordinary men and women into the legendary 46ers?”

Blake directing hikers on Whiteface. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright
Blake directing hikers on Whiteface. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright

goEast: You must have done a ton of hiking while making this film!

Blake: We summited 14 High Peaks and several smaller mountains during production.

goEast: Do you have any memorable experiences from all of that?

Blake: Each trip held its own challenges and rewards, and I have fond memories from every day of filming. One of most memorable hiking experience was summiting Cascade around 5 a.m. We had set out to capture a crew finishing their 46th on Cascade with a beautiful sunrise. We carried a camera crane and counter weights for the crane to the summit along with all of our camera gear and our normal hiking gear. Unfortunately, shortly after we summited, we were wrapped up in clouds. The crew came up, and we filmed them with the crane, climbing up the rocky summit in thick clouds with a lot of wind.

It was a cold, dark morning, and we were thinking of calling it a day, but then, Adirondack photography legend Carl Heilman hiked up to us almost out of the clouds. I had been in touch with Carl and had invited him to this trip, which he said he might make depending on his schedule. His presence lifted our spirits, and he was optimistic that we might get a change in the weather. He was right. The clouds began to part and reveal an incredible undercast scene: a sea of clouds below us, stretching to the horizon, and the High Peaks rising up above those clouds, like islands in the sea. We all dashed around to get our gear ready and got tons of amazing shots that day. I’m very thankful for my patient crew, who waited out the weather with me on that day!

Blake and the team using a boom to film on Whiteface. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright
Blake and the team using a boom to film on Whiteface. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright

goEast: You did a lot of hiking, but you also talked to a lot of people, some of whom are somewhat revered in local hiking circles. What did you get from that process?

Blake: What struck me early on in the interview process was how humble the 46ers are. I had set out to talk about “legendary hikers,” and most of them found that term amusing. They saw folks like the Marshall Brothers and Herbert Clark (the first 46ers) as the true legends. Their reverence extended not just to the people who literally blazed the trail, but also to the mountains themselves. I discovered a group of people who were not just thrill-seekers or checking off a list, but people who truly cared about the mountains and worked to conserve them. They all spoke of LNT principles, as well as safety and emergency preparedness. As an Eagle Scout, I knew many of the principles and safety precautions, but I learned even more from the amazing people I interviewed.

I was also inspired to learn of the Summit Steward Program and how multiple Adirondack organizations, including the 46ers, came together to address the erosion of the summits and the dangers to the rare alpine vegetation that lives there. The journey of the 46ers stretches far beyond adventure and into conservation and stewardship. It has been a privilege to learn from these folks and see them give back to a place that has given so much to them.

Blake interviewing one of the film's subjects. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright
Blake interviewing one of the film’s subjects. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright

goEast: Fun question: In all the hiking you did for the film, was there one piece of gear that you would say was critical? 

Blake: While hiking, we always needed good boots, wool socks, backpacks, various jackets and layers, gloves, hats, etc. One that was easy to forget, but thankfully we didn’t, was a headlamp and extra batteries! Many of our hikes started or ended in the dark. So, having a headlamp was essential. Also, for me personally, after a few knee injuries in the High Peaks Wilderness, I finally bought a pair of trekking poles, and now, I never hike without them. We also made use of MICROspikes and snowshoes in our winter shoots. Depending upon the trail conditions, we would use one or the other, but we usually carried both.

goEast: You’re well on your way to becoming an Adirondack 46er from your time making the film alone. Do you want to finish it?

Blake: The 46ers film was a three-year process for me, from the initial idea to our finished product. And now, two years later, it’s about to be shown to an ever-growing audience, thanks to WCNY partnering with us to take the film further than we could on our own. At the outset of the journey, I thought I would likely finish my 46 while making the movie, but in hindsight, I’m thankful I didn’t. I learned so much from the 46ers I interviewed, from being out in the mountains and from putting the movie together. I will become a 46er down the road, but now, I know it will be a longer journey, and I’m okay with that.

One thing I learned from my interviews is that whether you hike them in a few weeks or over decades, the mountains will wait for you. I would say making the movie broadened my perspective about hiking and helped me to value the journey as much as the destination.

Blake with his crew and guests on Cascade Mountain. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright
Blake with his crew and guests on Cascade Mountain. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright

goEast: You mentioned WCNY and other PBS stations picking the film up. Was that something you had in mind making it? Did you have an “end goal”?

Blake: When I had the initial inspiration for the project in 2012, I wanted it to be seen by a wide audience. We did a series of limited screenings in 2015 when we finalized the movie, and it was very well received by those audiences. I’m excited for the upcoming television release of The 46ers, as it will expand that audience far and wide around the U.S. There was something surreal about seeing a film I had made projected on the big screen and experiencing it with an audience. I’m very happy with how well the documentary has done and continues to do, and I’m hopeful that it will inspire more people to not only experience the outdoors, but also to take care to preserve and steward the wildernesses where they adventure.

goEast: It’s going to be seen now by a lot of people who don’t live in the Northeast, don’t know what the 46ers are, and may not even be familiar with the Adirondacks. What do you think they’re going to get from the film?

Blake: I think 46ers who see the film will take a trip down memory lane and hopefully feel joy watching the movie. I think those who love the Adirondacks will be awed by the beautiful cinematography my team captured, showcasing the mountains in a new and visually stunning way. I think those who are unfamiliar with the 46ers and the Adirondacks will be intrigued, inspired, and moved by the film. I hope the deep love for the wilderness comes across on screen and folks seeing this place for the first time will be better equipped to adventure in it after hearing not only the exciting stories, but also safety and LNT principles, which are so deeply connected to the culture of the Adirondacks and the 46ers.

Filming the remainder of the undercast on Cascade Mountain. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright
Filming the remainder of the undercast on Cascade Mountain. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright

Packing Your Camera Gear For Hiking and Backpacking

So, you’ve decided to take your DSLR out for the first time on a hike. That can be pretty intimidating. Carrying what could be thousands of dollars in sensitive electronics in the dirty, wet outdoors is enough to make any photographer think twice before packing up. But, if you know ahead of time what to bring and how to pack it, your camera will be in good hands, and the rain shower freakout can be averted.

Depending on the extent of your hike, you probably want to pack as light as possible. This is no different with your camera gear. Each piece you choose to bring should either be a necessity or a backup. So, what should you have with you?

Credit: Chris Daniele
Credit: Chris Daniele

Carrying and Protecting Your Camera

Carrying your camera while you’re on the trails can be quite the struggle, but one of the simplest things you can do for outdoor photography is to upgrade your stock camera strap. A longer, more comfortable option with a quick-release buckle, such as the Peak Design Slide, may make things easier. By resting the strap diagonally across your chest with the camera body sitting by your hip rather than around your neck directly in front, you’ll be much more comfortable, and the camera won’t move around as much while still being easily accessible.

For more intense hikes, a chest harness might be more helpful. This mounts the camera securely to your chest and distributes the weight evenly over both of your shoulders. The camera usually sits facing downward, so, if you were to accidentally fall forward, it would stay close to your body and won’t hit lens or glass first. This position also gives you a better line of sight to see where your feet are stepping.

Credit: Chris Daniele
Credit: Chris Daniele

Keeping Dry

So, you’re mid-hike and here comes the rain. That can be pretty scary, but with the right precautions, you shouldn’t have to worry. The key? Plan ahead and look at the forecast. A 30-percent chance of rain is still a chance! One of the cheaper and most important accessories you can get to keep shooting in the rain (or snow) is a rain cover for your DSLR. Even if rain is not in the forecast, these are small and light enough to always keep in your pack—and it wouldn’t hurt to store it in a side pocket that is easily accessible—and could save your camera’s life in a downpour!

If you decide you’re going to hop into a canoe or kayak during any of your adventures, I would strongly suggest getting a waterproof case or bag for your DSLR. While this is a more expensive accessory, the odds of the camera possibly getting submerged are greater than if you were on land. They also make taking my camera out on kayaking trips far less stressful and way more fun!

Tip: If you think your camera is getting wet, shut it off! For your electronics, one of the worst things is having water get inside when they’re powered on. And, try not to turn it back on until you are sure it is dry. Also, if you are about to cross a slippery stream or climb down a steep rock, it’s always a good habit to shut the camera off, just in case!

Credit: Chris Daniele
Credit: Chris Daniele

Which Lens Should I Take?

You will probably only want to have one (or maybe two) lenses on you for your hike. As often as possible, I try to only bring one, but if I do bring a second, I use an athletic fanny pack to keep it on me and easily accessible, so I don’t have to dig through my backpack.

Choosing a lens depends on what you plan to shoot. For landscapes, you’ll want a wide lens; for shots of your hiking pals, consider a medium focal length; and if you’re planning on photographing wildlife, you’ll likely want a telephoto. If you’re shooting all styles or want a lot of versatility, your best bet is a lens that covers as many focal lengths as possible. My go-to when I only bring one is a 24mm-105mm, so I can shoot wide landscapes and get closer, just in case I run into any wildlife.

A UV filter also adds a layer of protection to the front, and it can also keep dirt and moisture off the glass. Keep in mind that a cheaper UV filter may impact your image quality!

Credit: Chris Daniele
Credit: Chris Daniele

Batteries & Memory Cards

Bring extras, and don’t forget to charge them all the night before. Remember, colder conditions may drain your batteries faster, so keep them someplace warm, if possible, like inside a jacket. It also doesn’t hurt to bring a car battery charger along, in case you start shooting before you get to your hike or for reviewing photos after. If you can recharge via USB, a lightweight portable backup power supply additionally comes in handy.

As always, bring a backup card. You never know what can happen, so having that second card adds no weight and could be a lifesaver. It’s also a good idea to have a card case that’s water and impact resistant.

Credit: Chris Daniele
Credit: Chris Daniele


Other important—and light—tools to pack are a lens cloth—remember, you will be kicking up dirt—and an air blower cleaner, in case you notice dust on your camera’s sensor while you’re out shooting!

If you are planning to use a tripod for stability, longer exposures, or selfies, the Joby GorillaPod SLR-Zoom with a Ballhead is a lightweight and versatile hiking option. It can hold about 6 lbs., and you can grip to almost any surface. I’ve definitely had my camera hanging from tree branches on this thing!

If you’re camping and there’s a chance of rain, it also doesn’t hurt to bring a dry sack to seal your camera in overnight. It could be the one time you wake up in a puddle, and your camera is sitting halfway underwater. Peace of mind will help you rest up!


Each hike and situation is going to be different for every photographer, but with these tips, you can enjoy your trek more without all the worry about your gear. For most, it will be figuring out what works best. Happy shooting!

Credit: Chris Daniele
Credit: Chris Daniele

Packing The Ultimate Lightweight Traveler’s Kit

As a hiker or backpacker, you know all about paring down your load to reduce weight. These same principles apply to lightweight travel. If you are ready to stop worrying about dragging around heavy luggage and paying expensive baggage fees, give these suggestions a try.


1. Bags

Just like when you’re carrying all your gear down the trail on your back, the right bag makes all the difference when you’re traveling. By packing light, you no longer need wheels and telescoping handles to transport your belongings, and as an alternative, a shoulder-carried backpack makes you more mobile and quick.

However, there is a difference between a backpacking pack and a backpack for travel. Also known as conversion packs, these streamline the bag with stowaway straps, use zippers rather than drawstrings, and have wide openings rather than a top-loading design. Check out the Osprey Porter Series or the EMS Boda Conversion Series. Typically, conversion packs under 45 liters meet carry-on restrictions, but you’ll want to check the dimensions. Also, don’t forget a rain cover if you will be out in the elements!

2. Organizers

Use stuff sacks and packing cubes to keep your bag organized and clothing compressed to save space. With the many sizes and shapes available, you can customize a system for your specific bag and travel needs. Take a picture with your phone when you finish packing, so you can easily put everything in its place for the trip home.

3. Tops

Hikers and backpackers use layered clothing to keep themselves comfortable, and that concept is just as applicable to traveling. As today’s performance clothing lends itself beautifully to traveling, start with a washable, wicking base layer, such as the Icebreaker Everyday Lightweight Crew, a mid-layer like a hoodie or fleece jacket, and a soft shell, like the EMS Techwick Active Hybrid Wind Jacket. For warmer weather, a lightweight T-shirt can be your base layer, with another layer or light jacket on top for cool mornings or evenings.

Because of their odor resistance, wool layers are ideal for multi-day wear, and lighter shirts will dry quickly when washed out mid-trip. Wear your heaviest layers while in transit, if possible: It’s always a little chilly in airports and on planes, and you’ll save room in your backpack.


4. Bottoms

Hiking pants make great travel clothes. They are lightweight and easily compressed, are hand-washable if necessary, and often have multiple pockets. Look for pants made of synthetic materials, such as the EMS Compass Line. In cold weather, consider adding a base layer below, such as midweight or heavyweight Techwick bottoms.

5. Underwear

Underwear can be a scary thing while you travel, so people tend to pack a lot of it. However, ExOfficio makes lightweight men’s and women’s styles that wash out easily in the sink or shower, so you won’t need to jam a ton into your backpack. You just need three pairs: One to wear, one to change into, and one drying after washing.

EMS - BIG SUR -014533-Mud_Hikers

6. Shoes

A good pair of sturdy lace-up hiking shoes will keep your feet comfortable all day, whether you are walking on cobblestone streets, doing some light hiking, or trekking across the airport. Merrell, Keen, and Oboz have dependable options. If you want a second pair, sport sandals, such as those offered by Merrill, Teva, and Keen, are great for warmer days or if you are near the water, and won’t take up too much room. Wear the heavier pair when traveling, and place the other in a lightweight stuff sack or plastic bag to keep your other items clean.

7. Socks

Traveling is not a time to skimp on socks, and with their breathability and odor resistance, wool styles from Smartwool, EMS, and Darn Tough can be worn for several days at a time. Wool socks are comfortable for adventures year-round and come in a variety of weights and lengths.

8. Outerwear

The options for packable outerwear have really exploded over the past few years, and they’re all ideal for traveling. Many lightweight down jackets pack into their own pockets, while feature-rich rain jackets do double duty as both a rain coat and a windbreaker. As well, don’t forget a lightweight wool or fleece beanie and gloves for colder weather.

Courtesy: Adventure Medical Kits
Courtesy: Adventure Medical Kits

9. Odds and Ends

Before you pack up, look through your hiking and backpacking gear for practical items that work just as well for travel as they do in the woods. Your Sea to Summit Lite Line Clothesline is perfect for hanging up your underwear and other items after you wash them in the sink. Don’t forget your spork for quick takeout meals. Fold-up water bottles like the Hydrapak Stash help you avoid high prices for bottled water at the airport and collapse down when you don’t need them. Finally, your AMK Ultralight First Aid Kit comes in handy for those minor injuries.

The next time you head out for a trip, simply look first to your hiking and backpacking gear to lighten your load. Happy traveling!

11 Tips for Staying Warm While Backpacking in Fall

When you’re in the backcountry during the shoulder seasons, it’s no fun to wake up freezing cold in the middle of the night. You can’t just “turn up the thermostat” or grab an extra blanket from the closet. So, since shivering uncontrollably is only fun for so long, here are 11 tips for staying warm:

EMS-Winter-Chill-Camping-8630 (1)

1. Wear dry clothes to bed

If you go to bed in the shirt you’ve been sweating in all day, it’s going to be hard to escape the damp chill. I often pack a spare base layer, so that I’ll have something dry to put on just before bed, and I’ll put all my dry layers—including puffy jackets, hats, and gloves—on over it.

2. Set up camp in a protected area

Finding a campsite away from the wind is another way to increase your chances of keeping warm through night. If you’re doing a multi-night Pemi Loop, for example, you’ll be much warmer if you walk the extra mileage down to the Mt. Guyot tent platforms instead of camping in overflow sites right on the Bondcliff Trail. If you’re unfamiliar, these are located on the ridgeline and get exposed to wind all night long. By contrast, the Guyot tent platforms are tucked away a few hundred yards below the ridge.

3. Keep your stuff warm, too

There’s nothing worse than waking up in the morning and trying to force your feet into damp socks and ice-cold boots. To prevent this, dry your socks in your sleeping bag overnight. And, if it’s really cold and your boots are soaking wet, consider putting them in a plastic bag—a grocery bag works well—and stuffing them into the bottom of your sleeping bag. They’ll stay warm enough, so that your feet won’t turn into icicles when you put them back on.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

4. Zip your sleeping bag all the way up

It never ceases to amaze us that the person complaining about how cold the night was is also the same person who didn’t bother to zip his or her bag all the way up—or who wasn’t using the mummy hood. Pro tip: Wearing a hat to bed is a good insurance policy if you’re likely to squirm out of your mummy bag during the night.

5. Bring two sleeping pads

Although most focus on a sleeping pad’s comfort, it also serves an important insulating purpose by preventing conductive heat loss. I’ve found that the best combination for warmth and comfort is a closed-cell foam pad, like the Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol, on the bottom with an inflatable, like the Sea to Summit Ultralight, on top. Pro tip: Closed-cell foam pads also work great around camp, and are much warmer than sitting directly on the ground or on rocks.

6. Make a heater

Fill your water bottles with boiling water before you go to bed, and then stuff them in your sleeping bag. They’ll act like a heating pad, keeping you warm all night long. Just make sure the caps are on tight!


7. Bring a heater

Get yourself some Yaktrax Handwarmers. Disposable hand warmers are an awesome addition to your fall backpacking kit. It’s amazing how much warmth these little suckers add when tucked into your pockets, at your feet, or simply stuffed into your sleeping bag.

8. Pack and eat extra food

When it’s cold out, your body has to work extra hard to keep warm. To fuel your furnace, make sure to bust into that stash of cookies you hid in your partner’s pack.

9. Have something warm to drink

Hot liquids both increase your body’s temperature and work as fantastic morale boosters. If possible, avoid alcohol, which, in spite of the warm feeling it gives you, actually speeds up heat loss, and caffeinated beverages. The latter is known to dehydrate you—bad for circulation—and could send you on a cold run for the bathroom in the middle of the night.

EMS-Winter-Camp-Mountain-1869 (1)

10. Get up and get warm

Good circulation is a sure way to beat the cold. If you’re hanging around camp, periodically get up to jog in place or do some jumping jacks—just try to avoid sweating—to increase blood flow and fight off the freezing temperatures.

11. Spread the love warmth

When the going gets tough, cuddle. If it’s colder than expected or you’re less prepared than you thought you were, there is always the miracle of body heat. You always wanted to get closer to your hiking partner…didn’t you?


Do you have a tried-and-true trick for staying warm in the backcountry? If so, share it in the comments.



A Guide to Backpacking the Virginia Triple Crown

From lush, dense forests to stunning overlooks and winding ridges, Southwestern Virginia offers plenty to keep any hiker busy. And, the three iconic destinations included in the Virginia Triple Crown give hikers an unparalleled set of challenges and rewards.

The Virginia Triple Crown combines three spots along the Appalachian Trail, all of which are located in close proximity to each other, and can be reached via day hikes or in one fell swoop through 30- to 40-mile backpacking routes. Whether you’re a day-hiker or backpacker, you’ll enjoy what the Triple Crown has to offer.

Things to Know Before You Go

If you’re considering day-hiking or backpacking the Triple Crown, plan to:

  • Start your hike early. Parking lots fill quickly during the peak season.
  • Be challenged and know your limits. Each day hike covers five to eight miles with a minimum elevation gain of 1,500 feet. Triple Crown backpacking routes may feature up to 16-mile days, depending on your route.
  • Spend time doing careful, thorough route planning. Water sources and campsites may be few and far between.
  • Practice Leave No Trace, observe group size restrictions, and camp only in designated areas to help protect the trail and landscape.
Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

Day-Hiking to McAfee Knob

Start: McAfee Knob Parking Area
Round-Trip Distance: 7-8 miles, steep
Time: 4-5 hours
View Route

McAfee Knob is one of the area’s most photographed hiking destinations. It has also seen an exponential increase in visitation recently, making observing rules and Leave No Trace principles paramount. You’ll share the trail with others, but the overhanging cliffs and panoramic views will be worth it.

Start at the McAfee Knob Parking Area, cross VA 311, and pick up the white-blazed Appalachian Trail, heading north. Pass an information kiosk, wind through dense forests, and pass the Johns Spring Shelter (0.8 miles) and the Catawba Mountain Shelter (1.5 miles). As you continue to gain elevation on the AT, you’ll see signs for an overlook, and as you hike through, you’ll arrive at McAfee Knob. To return, retrace your steps on the AT or take the McAfee Knob Trail back down to the parking lot.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

Day-Hiking to Tinker Cliffs

Start: Andy Layne Trail Parking Lot
Round-Trip Distance: 7.5 miles, steep
Time: 4-5 hours
View Route

Tinker Cliffs offers beautiful creek crossings, panoramic valley views, and a trail section named after a 1980s incident called Scorched Earth Gap. It’s a tough, steep hike but absolutely worth the journey.

From the parking lot, follow the yellow-blazed Andy Layne Trail. Cross two bridges over Catawba Creek, avoid stepping in cow patties, and move through a gate (1.2 miles), which indicates passage onto private land. The remaining part of the Andy Layne Trail is steep; you’ll gain 900-plus feet of elevation before arriving at the white-blazed AT and Scorched Earth Gap. Turn right onto the AT, and then, you’ll come to the first good viewpoint (0.5 miles). Over the next quarter mile, take in the views along Tinker Cliffs. To go back, retrace your steps to the parking lot.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

Day-Hiking to Dragon’s Tooth

Start: Dragon’s Tooth Parking Lot
Round-Trip Distance: 5.7 miles, steep and technical
Time: 4 hours

Dragon’s Tooth is a giant, scraggly rock formation sticking out of Cove Mountain and the sand-covered land above the Catawba Valley. It’s the shortest of the three Triple Crown day hikes but by far the steepest, and it requires some hand-over-hand climbing and good balance.

From the parking lot, pick up the blue-blazed Dragon’s Tooth Trail, cross two small bridges, pass the yellow-blazed Boy Scout Connector Trail, and continue up. Here, climb steadily through dense tree cover, until you reach the intersection with the AT (1.4 miles). Then, turn right onto the AT. The next 0.7 miles cover extremely rocky terrain, including rock steps, two sets of iron rungs, and narrow sections just wide enough for two feet. As this portion eases, continue 0.3 miles to Dragon’s Tooth. To return, you have two options: Retrace your steps, or follow the AT north, turn left onto the Boy Scout Connector Trail, and catch the last bit of the Dragon’s Tooth Trail back to the parking lot.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

Backpacking the Virginia Triple Crown

Start: McAfee Knob Parking Area
Type: Loop
Round-Trip Distance: 37 miles
Time: 3 days, 2 nights

If you’re a seasoned backpacker looking for a challenge, you can visit all three Triple Crown destinations in one trip. The recommended route is a loop, but it’s also possible to complete it via a point-to-point route along the AT. For the recommended loop, refer to this trip report and the following itinerary:

Day 1: 10.6 miles. Starting at the McAfee Knob parking lot, follow the AT north. Then, pass McAfee Knob, three AT shelters (Johns Spring, Catawba Mountain, and Campbell), and Scorched Earth Gap, and stay overnight at Lamberts Meadow Shelter.

Day 2: 15.5 miles. Retrace your steps 0.7 miles south on the AT to Scorched Earth Gap, and take the Andy Layne Trail down the valley. Pass through the Andy Layne Trail parking lot, cross the road, and hike up to North Mountain Trail (yellow blazes) via the Catawba Valley Trail (blue blazes). Come down North Mountain, cross VA 311, head through Dragon’s Tooth parking lot, and camp at the campsites off the Boy Scout Connector Trail.

Day 3: 9.6 miles. Leave your packs at the Boy Scout camp, and then, tag Dragon’s Tooth via the Dragon’s Tooth Trail. After you retrace your steps back to camp, pick up your backpacks, and take the Boy Scout Connector Trail to the AT. Follow the AT back to VA 311 and the McAfee Knob parking lot.

Have you done any of the Triple Crown destinations as day hikes, or done all three via a backpacking trip? We’d love to hear from you!