5 Steps for Setting Up Camp in the Snow

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

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1. Pick Your Spot

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

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

2. Make a Footprint

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

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

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3. Pitch the Tent

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

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

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4. Use the Snow

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

5. Break it Down

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

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


Understanding the Sleeping Pad R-Value

Shopping for sleeping pads is about to get a whole lot easier.

The second law of thermodynamics states that heat will naturally flow from hot to cold. Without getting too nerdy, this is why we use sleeping bags while camping: They slow down that heat transfer from hot (you and your body) to cold (the outside air). Unfortunately, a sleeping bag is only as good as its loft, and when your body compresses the bag between you and the ground, all of your body heat will easily be lost into the ground. Enter the sleeping pad.

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What does a sleeping pad do?

At first glance to novice campers and backpackers, the sleeping pad just a poor excuse for a mattress, attempting to make the sticks and rocks less noticeable, but it’s real function is to thermally insulate your body from the cold ground. But how well a particular sleeping bag does that job has been hard to quantify.

For many years, sleeping pads were rated in a similar fashion to sleeping bags: with temperature ranges. The problem with this method is that its subjective to both the manufacturer and the user so there is no way to accurately compare the warmth of sleeping pads between brands. Also, a sleeping pad insulates you from ground temperature, which can be very different from the air temperature, and is more difficult to forecast or predict.

More recently, pads have been rated using a number called the “R-Value,” which is a method of rating thermal resistance (how well a material insulates against conductive, or contact, heat transfer). This universal method of rating insulation can now be used to compare the insulating properties of almost any material or product! The problem? Until now, it hasn’t actually been universal. Brands tested their pads to find the R-value using a variety of different techniques and without a standardized method, the numbers listed on sleeping pads were often hard to compare and make sense of—some brands opted to not include an R-value at all.

But, at the end of last year, a coalition of industry brands announced that they would be standardizing the R-value tests and requiring that all pads list the new, easier to understand number by 2020.

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So, how will it work?

So how will the R-Value for a mattress be figured out? A thermal testing rig which contains a hot and cold side is set up with the mattress sandwiched in between the two sides. The hot side is heated with an electric coil, and the amount of energy required to keep the hot side at a constant temperature is measured. A mattress that insulates well, will let the heating coil use less energy to maintain the set temperature because less heat is being conducted through the mattress to the cold side. This measured amount of energy is then converted with some fun math equations into the R-Value that will be assigned to that specific mattress.

Thankfully many of the gear companies have already done much of the legwork for you and have come up with some recommended R-Value ranges for the season or warmth you might be looking for:

“Season” Summer 3-Season Winter Extreme Cold
Recommended R-Value 1+ 2+ 3+ 5+

Much like a sleeping bag, the trade off of increasing R-Value is increasing the weight. A high R-Value sleeping pad will naturally weigh more than a sleeping pad with a lower R-Value using the same material technology.

The good news for consumers who don’t want to own a different sleeping pad for every season, is that R-value is simply added together linearly in order to increase its insulating properties. For example, this means you can stack an inflatable mattress with an R-value of 3 on top of a closed cell foam mattress with an R-value of 2 and have the equivalent of a new mattress with an R-value of 5!

You may be asking yourself why any of this matters. After all, if a company tells you that a mattress is rated for 15 degree weather, why not believe them? The true advantage of incorporating a standardized method of rating is being able to compare mattresses from different companies and not having to worry about marketing tactics or personal bias. Relying on a scientific standard for rating the insulating properties of camping mattresses lets you, the camper, make informed and complete decisions on how to spend your hard earned money.


Three Ways to Spice Up Your Dehydrated Meals

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

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

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Good-to-Go Smoked Three Bean Chili

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

Servings: 1–2

Ingredients

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

Recipe

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

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

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Mountain House Macaroni and Cheese

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

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

Servings: 2–3

Ingredients

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

Recipe

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

Backpacker’s Pantry Chana Masala

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

Servings: 1–2

Ingredients

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

Recipe

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

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


When Ultra-Enjoyment Outweighs Ultralight

We didn’t need a fire. (It was unseasonably warm.) We didn’t need s’mores. (Does anyone need s’mores?) We certainly didn’t need camp furniture. (We were used to roughing it.) And yet there we were, twelve women from the same hiking club standing in a circle in a dirt parking lot at 4 p.m. in Harriman State Park as our hike leader unloaded dry firewood from the trunk of her car. We handed it piece by piece to the person next to us, who in turn passed it around until we all had a hefty stick dutifully stuffed into our day packs.

The wood was followed by four bags of marshmallows, six large bars of chocolate, and three boxes of graham crackers, evenly distributed among the group. I managed to stuff a bar and a box next to my log. That left just enough room for the foil-wrapped sandwich I planned to toss in the fire for a fast dinner—in an effort to get to dessert sooner—and my seat pad because no way was I was going to eat s’mores with nothing between me and a rock.

Two of the women had little room in their packs for the s’mores fixings. At the time, I wondered: What could they possibly have packed for such a short, relatively easy hike of under two miles that their packs would be full?

What could they possibly have packed for such a short, relatively easy hike of under two miles that their packs would be full?

I knew most of the women, having hiked with them on various trails around the area—the Palisades Cliffs, Bear Mountain, Ramapo Valley, Pyramid Mountain, Norvin Green, and Wawayanda. I’d also joined several on a three-day trip in the Adirondacks. These were skilled hikers who lived to scale mountains. They weren’t the type to pack a lot of non-essentials.

With our packs loaded, we headed along trails wet from three consecutive days of rain (hence, the firewood) toward Bald Rocks, a grassy, mostly level open area with plenty of fire rings and places to pitch a tent or tie a hammock. By dusk, we’d reached our destination and found a site. Around us, campers were tying hammocks to trees and pitching tents.

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We built a fire, and organized the s’mores fixings on a tarp. While several women went on a mission to secure marshmallow-worthy sticks, I pulled out my seat pad. I noticed two women across the fire inserting metal poles into one another, flipping and turning them as though they were creating large-scale origami figures. But these were no cranes or orchids. They’d created camp chairs. After one completed her chair, she reached into her pack and pulled out another pouch. Flip, turn, insert, and voila! She’d assembled a table complete with cup holders strategically placed in the center. They inserted their water bottles into the holders and took a seat. Even through the flames of the fire, I could see that they were very happy (not to mention comfortable) campers.

I tossed my sandwich into the flames, a little disgusted, I admit. Then I approached the chairs.

I pointed to one. “Do you mind?” I asked the woman.

She smiled. “Go ahead,” she said as she rose.

I sat down. It was ridiculously comfortable for a camping chair—more comfy than any camping chair I’d ever tried. I envisioned myself pulling a gooey marshmallow from a stick as I sat in this chair, imagining it tasting a whole lot better than it would from my seat pad. I rose, and picked it up with one finger. It weighed less than the stick of firewood in my pack.

“Nice,” I said, setting it down and walking over to my seat pad, which I felt like kicking into the fire, but didn’t.

I drove home in the feeling like I’d just left a fancy spa.

After our feast, we walked about 50 feet to an open area where others from various campsites had gathered. We watched the sunset, then waited for the stars to appear. We located planets, and discussed the possibility of more s’mores. (Is there such a thing as too many, we wondered. We reluctantly decided the answer was yes.)

We returned to our fire and doused it with water, then packed up. We donned our headlamps and began hiking toward the trail.

“You’re leaving?” yelled one of the campers in a tone of disbelief.

We stood silent. Unsure perhaps of what to say. Did we really just hike up a mountain to eat s’mores, watch a sunset, then turn around and hike out—some of us hauling such creature comforts as furniture? Apparently, we did, and from the smiles around me, I’d wager that we’d do it again.

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“Guess so,” said someone in our group.

We heard laughter from the campers.

We laughed, too.

Then we removed our packs and assembled a care package of unopened bags of marshmallows, chocolate bars, and a box of graham crackers, and presented it to the campers who weren’t laughing anymore. In fact, they were speechless as they accepted our gift.

We said our goodbyes and hiked downhill through the darkness, stopping occasionally to admire the moon and stars through the branches, and peer into the dark forest.

Instead of returning to my car sweaty and exhausted, I felt a happy tiredness spread throughout my body. I drove home in the feeling like I’d just left a fancy spa—relaxed and happy, and with a newfound appreciation of the benefits of packing the creature comforts of home.


52 (More) goEast New Year's Resolutions

As we approach the New Year, it’s natural to look back and reflect on the 12 months that just passed. And, while it’s fun to think about our favorite summits, trips, and trails from that period, it’s equally exciting to look ahead and plan what’s next. With that in mind, we’ve gathered some more of our favorite articles from the past year to put together the ultimate outdoor-focused list of New Year’s resolutions. Make these ideas part of your bucket list for 2019.

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Winter

  1. A few of the Unbeatable Speed Records in the Northeast were broken last year. Start training now to find out how fast you can go.
  2. Go winter camping in comfort.
  3. Hike the Adirondacks’ MacIntyre Range and summit three of the High Peaks.
  4. Visit one of these unique ice climbing crags.
  5. Start working on New Hampshire’s other list, the 52 With a View. They’re awesome in the winter, and you won’t encounter the masses found on some of the Whites’ most popular 4,000-footers.
  6. Hike the Lion Head, one of Mount Washington’s iconic winter routes.
  7. Pray for weekend pow, and ski the Whiteface Auto Road.
  8. Ice climb Shoestring Gully.
  9. Learn the dos and don’ts of climbing in the gym.
  10. Celebrate Presidents’ Day by getting presidential in the White Mountains.
  11. Take your skis or snowboard on a trip.
  12. Lighten up the dark days of winter by brightening up your wardrobe.
  13. You’re not going to send your project by sitting on the couch—start training at home and crush it at the crag this year.

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Spring

  1. Don’t stop skiing just yet.
  2. Give your gear room a spring cleaning.
  3. Hike Mount Monadnock, the world’s second-most popular mountain.
  4. Ski Tuckerman Ravine, the epicenter of backcountry skiing in the Northeast.
  5. Break out your mountain bike early.
  6. No need to wait for Rocktober—send something this spring.
  7. Tackle one of Connecticut’s top-notch trails.
  8. Leave the tent behind and camp in a hammock.
  9. Find out if your pup is man’s best friend or man’s best hiking partner.
  10. Vow to keep your mountain bike clean through mud season.
  11. Get outside: Take your climbing from the gym to the crag.
  12. See how it feels to use trekking poles on your next hike.
  13. Take your road bike for a century ride—that’s one hundred(!) miles.

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Summer

  1. Summit the Catskills’ two 4,000 footers—even better, do it in a day.
  2. Hike Mount Washington, the tallest peak in the Northeast.
  3. Paddle the Adirondacks’ Seven Carries Route.
  4. Be a better (nicer) hiker.
  5. Hike the Thunderbolt Trail to the top of the tallest peak in Massachusetts.
  6. Go alpine climbing on the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle.
  7. Kick back with a cold one, and enjoy one of these top brews.
  8. Tick five High Peaks off your list by traversing the Dix Range.
  9. Take the kids for a hike in the ‘Daks this summer.
  10. Prove that big views don’t require big elevations.
  11. Avoid these backpacking no-nos on your next multi-day trip. (Did somebody say Pemi Loop?)
  12. Stretch out your paddling season.
  13. New York City might be so nice they named it twice, but every now and then, you need to escape the Empire City.

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Fall

  1. See great foliage without ever leaving Boston.
  2. Layer up for cool fall temps and go climb High E in the Gunks.
  3. Take a backpacking trip to New Hampshire’s Carter Range.
  4. Get out of Gotham, and get to these fantastic fall hikes.
  5. Peep leaves at these Adirondack hotspots.
  6. Ditch the single-pitch crowds at Rumney, and explore the area’s multi-pitch moderates.
  7. Make stretching after a run your new mantra.
  8. Stop avoiding these New Hampshire 4,000-footers.
  9. Hike Vermont’s tallest peak, Mount Mansfield.
  10. Celebrate the season—vest weather is the best weather!
  11. Do it the old-fashioned way by ditching the digital camera and try taking photos with film.
  12. Take your running off road.
  13. Donate on Giving Tuesday to one of these great Northeast organizations.

Of course, these are just a few outdoor-oriented New Year’s resolutions. We want to hear about what’s in store for 2019, so leave your plans in the comments!


The Top 10 Things to Do Around Whiteface This Winter

Whiteface Mountain, in Upstate New York, has significant history. It is one of the Adirondack region’s 46 High Peaks, home to the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, and features a ski resort with the largest vertical drop in the East. With these factors in mind, Whiteface Mountain has plenty to offer the winter adventurer. But, while the mountain and nearby Lake Placid are well known as skiing and vacation destinations, you have plenty of other options for a winter excursion.

1. Ski or Ride “The Slides”

On the East Coast, The Slides are some of the only true double black diamond trails. These natural landslide routes run adjacent to Whiteface’s main resort trails. However, you will need to hit the mountain during a good weather period, as The Slides are only open a few times a year, based on snow and safety concerns. To go, have a partner, be sure you have the expert skills needed, and realize that these are the real deal. Added to this last point, have your avalanche gear packed and ready to use.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

2. Tour the Highway

The Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway climbs the backside of the mountain. Besides offering vehicle access to the summit in summer, it serves as a wonderful winter touring route for backcountry skiers and snowboarders. This is typically one of the first early-season spots to do some laps. So, slap on the skins and climb the highway for either a mellow trip down the same route, or for access to the slides that bisect the highway for a fast ride down!

3. Enjoy the Après Ski

Recent upgrades and renovations mean that the Whiteface Resort base lodges offer plenty of options to have a few drinks by the fire after you hit the slopes. However, for great drinks, hearty meals, and live entertainment, head just a few miles north on Route 86 to the four corners in Wilmington, where you will find the Pourman’s Tap House. Depending upon when you’re there, stop by for the après ski specials, live music on Saturdays, and weekly wing nights.

Credit: Florin Chelaru
Credit: Florin Chelaru

4. Hike to the Top

Finished with a day on the black diamond runs and looking for more adventure? You can explore the other sides of the mountain by hiking or snowshoeing the marked hiking trails up to the mountain’s summit. To start, you have a choice of options. For one, begin from the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center and travel over Marble Mountain. Or, opt for a longer trek, beginning from Connery Pond and then ascending the mountain’s southwest shoulder. Just be prepared: The summit proper is open and exposed to the High Peaks’ notorious winter weather.

5. Spend a Night Out

If you are looking for a wilderness feel or are on a budget, check out the Wilmington KOA campgrounds, located just a few miles from the mountain and open year-round. The KOA offers everything from simple camping cabins to “rough it” to nice multi-room cabins with kitchens and fireplaces that are great for a group. Additionally, if you are up for a true outdoor experience, get your cold-weather gear dialed and camp in one of the lean-tos that surround the Adirondack Loj, about 15 minutes away.

6. Enjoy the Frozen Waterfalls

Just down the road from Whiteface is High Falls Gorge. At any time during the year, use the groomed trails, bridges, and walkways to view over 700 feet of waterfalls and dazzling displays of ice along the mighty Ausable River. Snowshoeing options exist here, as well.

7. Drink With the Locals

If you are willing to take the 15-minute drive to the sleepy village of Au Sable Forks, pick up some of the best hand-tossed pizza and specialty wings at a local favorite, Lance’s Place. If you are feeling a bit more adventurous, across the street is 20 Main, the area’s longtime backwoods watering hole. Here, you’ll find friendly bearded locals, cheap drinks, and an old-school indoor shuffleboard.

Credit: Chris Waits
Credit: Chris Waits

8. Be an Olympian

If you head just 15 minutes down the road from the mountain, you can make your way to the Olympic Sports Complex. Here, take a ride on a real Olympic Bobsled or Skeleton run. Or, hear the rumble of the sled rocketing down the track with a professional driver.

9. Meet Santa

If you are visiting with children, be sure to visit the North Pole. Who knew that the North Pole was just minutes away on Whiteface Memorial Highway? Home to Santa’s Workshop, the North Pole is a long-operated winter wonderland, where kids and adults alike can enjoy shows, rides, and attractions that center around Santa Claus himself.

10. Come Back in Summer

Many visit Whiteface to explore its wonderful winter history and activities. But, don’t forget about what it offers in summer. You’ll find world-class mountain biking in the resort itself, and the town’s system of trails has expanded greatly in recent years. As well, the Ausable River offers world-class trout fishing, and for taking a dip, you’ll find plenty of great swimming holes, including “Flume,” a local favorite just a few miles down the road.


8 Tips for Taking Good Pictures in the Snow

You want to preserve the memories of your snowy wintertime outdoor adventures, but taking photos in the snow is hard. Sound familiar? The freezing temperatures make your fingers too numb to press the shutter button. The blinding sun reflects off the snow and into your photos. The beautiful snowflakes are moving so fast, you just can’t seem to capture them. Whether you have a DSLR with all the trimmings or a simple smartphone camera, snow photography is no walk in the park. But, if you want to take great pictures, so you can remember your time in this winter wonderland all summer, these eight tips will help you do it.

1. Keep your camera cold

If you’re out in the elements with an expensive camera, your first instinct might be to keep it warm under your coat, but this is actually a bad idea. In warmer environments, condensation may gather on your camera, fogging up the lens to the point it’s impossible to take a good picture until the moisture has cleared. Keeping your camera the same temperature as the outside air ensures it won’t form condensation when you pull it out.

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2. Use manual mode

Often, a camera or iPhone will look at a snowy scene and automatically dial the exposure down. As a result, the snow comes out gray. As a solution, consider using manual mode and then slightly overexposing your photo. Expose for whatever you want to highlight (trees, a person, etc.). If you’re on an iPhone, change the exposure by simply tapping the screen on top of the object you want to expose, and then, you can tap and hold to lock the exposure.

3. Take advantage of shadows and silhouettes

In wintertime, the sun is lower in the sky, and thus creates longer shadows. These winter shadows may add a unique touch to a photo that otherwise would have been drab. As well, don’t be afraid to take several shots, experimenting with the sun’s placement and how you can best use the shadows. Try using the shadows to create leading lines. For an example, maybe tree shadows can “point” to the person who’s the subject of your photo, creating an interesting effect.

Credit: Hailey Hudson
Credit: Hailey Hudson

4. Use color

If all you can see is white snow, find something colorful to help your photo pop. This could be a person wearing a bright red jacket, a blue sky, or non-snow-covered trees—anything nearby that will add some variation into the frame.

5. Invest in fingerless gloves

Shooting in the snow can be dangerously cold, but if you’re trying to press buttons on your iPhone, you’ll need bare fingertips. Purchase some touchscreen-compatible or fingerless gloves, so you can work your iPhone camera while staying warm.

6. Watch out for footprints

There’s nothing worse than getting your settings just right, snapping some beautiful photos of a snowy scene, and only then realizing the photo is full of footprints. Stand in one place as you think about from where you want to shoot, and then, carefully choose your route to that place. Watch out for your shadow, too.

Credit: Hailey Hudson
Credit: Hailey Hudson

7. Use a lens hood

In the winter, photos often end up with a flare from the sun, because the snow is so reflective. As a solution, use a lens hood to shield your lens. For another benefit, it helps keep the snow off your lens.

8. Move around

Photographing your young hiking buddy? Getting low to the ground to shoot at a kid’s eye level will create a much better photo. Likewise, getting up high on a log or hill helps you capture every bit of a big, snowy meadow. This can also help you find something else to add to the photo, such as distant trees, so the picture includes something other than just white.


Video: Akuna Hikes

This Iraq War vet finds healing along the Appalachian Trail. “I knew that’s where I needed to be.”


How to Tell How Much Fuel is In Your Canister

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

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

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

Here are a couple of ways to do just that.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

1. Weigh It

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

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

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

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

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

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

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

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

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

2. Float It

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

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

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

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

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

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

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

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

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Honorable Mentions

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

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

No Substitute for Experience

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

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


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.