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

The 8 Unwritten Rules of Hiking Courteously

In our society, it’s expected that we interact with various types of people on a regular basis. To get along somewhat reasonably, unwritten rules shape and influence many of these social situations. For instance, no law states you must move your grocery cart to the side of the aisle to allow others to pass by in a supermarket. But, we all do that because it’s courteous. Just like in our day-to-day lives, the trails have their own set of unwritten rules. These expectations make being in the woods a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

1. Listening to loud music while hiking

If you enjoy listening to music while you’re hiking, try to monitor how loud it is. When approaching other hikers, turn it down, so that you’re not creating noise pollution. Particularly, please refrain from carrying and blaring portable speakers in the woods. Headphones or earbuds are an alternative, but using them means you will be less aware of your surroundings, including when you approach people.

2. Not giving uphill hikers the right of way

With more and more people heading into the woods, the trails can get very crowded. So, first, keep in mind that you are sharing a narrow trail with other hikers. Particularly, when you’re descending, it’s expected you give anyone ascending the right of way. Some people making their ascent will welcome a rest and let you pass, but as a general rule, the person exerting the most effort gets the trail.

3. Building cairns for no functional reason

Built by trail maintainers to mark the trails, cairns serve a very specific purpose, especially above treeline. For this reason, it’s extremely important that additional cairns aren’t made. Otherwise, other hikers might get confused or even get lost on the trails. As well, building cairns that serve no function goes against Leave No Trace principles.

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4. Offering unsolicited advice to other hikers

Everyone has their own opinions about the right and wrong way to do things. At times, those opinions may spill out onto the trail. However, regardless of how much backpacking experience you have, unless someone is doing something blatantly unsafe or wrong, it’s best to keep your opinions to yourself. We all come into the woods with our own experiences and knowledge, so respect everyone’s right to “Hike Their Own Hike.”

5. Postholing, or damaging monorails in the winter by not wearing snowshoes

Winter hiking can be a very exciting and exhilarating experience. Often, places that you’ve visited in the summer look completely different when covered with snow. The trails also develop into “monorails,” as hikers wearing snowshoes pack fresh snow down into a narrow strip. When people don’t use snowshoes on freshly fallen snow, they begin punching holes into the surface. When the trail eventually freezes and hardens, it becomes difficult to travel along and can even be dangerous. To maintain a well-packed trail in winter, people are encouraged to wear snowshoes, especially on unbroken trail.

6. If hiking with a dog, keep it under control around other hikers

It’s fairly common to bring along a four-legged companion on backpacking trips. Some people bring their pets for an added sense of security, for protection, or as a companion. Nevertheless, it’s important to follow the posted rules about leashing dogs on marked trails, and to keep your pet within eyesight and under control when you approach other hikers. This ensures not only the dog’s safety but also protects the trails from damage. As well, you’re being considerate of other hikers, who might not otherwise want unsolicited attention from your four-legged friend.

7. Don’t stop in the middle of a hiking trail to have conversations

Sharing the trail with family and friends or going with a group can be a great way to learn more about the wilderness from others and lets you make memories in the process. When hiking in groups, always be respectful of others you encounter on the trail. For instance, if you and your party are stopping to take a break or have a conversation, be sure to do so off the trail. Doing so allows other hikers to pass by without having to walk around you. That being said, make sure you’re not damaging fragile vegetation when you step off the trail.

8. Let faster hikers pass

Everyone hikes at their own pace. As such, when you head out into the woods, you will encounter various types of hikers. Some prefer to carry less gear and trail run, others carry a moderate amount and go at a steady speed, and those with heavier packs may travel at a slower rate. In all cases, respect everyone’s right to explore at their own pace. In turn, let faster-moving individuals pass by, and if you’re passing someone, do so respectfully.

 

As more people discover and venture into the great outdoors, it’s imperative to respect each person’s approach and journey. If we agree to treat everyone with the same respect we would want and understand these unwritten rules, the growing number of hikers matters less, and everyone in turn can enjoy the woods.  


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The Top 8 Things New Backpackers Should Never Do

Three years ago, I started hiking in earnest. I set out on my first solo hike, wearing a cotton T-shirt and jeans, and carrying a water bottle and small number of snacks in my pack. I didn’t carry a map, compass, or any of the 10 hiking essentials recommended for every backpacker. Looking back, I cringe at some of the poor decisions I made. My lack of experience and failure to understand the risks I was taking could have landed me in danger. Luckily, I was never injured and, to date, have returned safely from all of my hikes. But, over the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about hiking safely and the unwritten rules of backpacking.

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1. Wearing jeans and cotton clothing

Wearing jeans or cotton clothing while you’re hiking is not only uncomfortable but it can also be dangerous. Clothing is your biggest defense against the weather and elements. If you’re wearing materials that don’t wick moisture away from your body or that don’t insulate well, you will be uncomfortable and risk becoming hypothermic. Instead, wear synthetic or wool materials. Smartwool’s merino blend, waterproof GORE-TEX, and EMS’ own moisture-wicking Techwick are all great examples. Also, always bring along extras, especially socks, a long-sleeved shirt, a wind-breaking jacket, gloves, and a hat.

2. Wearing flip-flops or shoes with poor traction

For hiking, proper shoes are one of the most important items to have. Thus, before you go, consider very carefully what you’ll be wearing on your feet. Most trails’ terrain is going to be rocky, muddy, wet, and slippery, and for this reason, flip-flops and dress shoes aren’t the best choices. Neither will keep you safe and comfortable in the woods. If the most rugged pair you own are tennis shoes, then wear those. But, still keep in mind you may encounter less-than-ideal trail conditions.

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3. Not carrying enough of the essentials

Regardless of whether you’re going on a one-mile nature walk or a 10-mile 46er ascent, you should be carrying more than just a water bottle. For the most pertinent pieces, start with The 10 Essentials. This list covers items every backpacker should carry, regardless of how short the hike may be, and includes the bare minimum for a survival situation, such as a fire starter, compass and map, extra clothes, water, extra food, and a first aid kit. Most are inexpensive and easy to obtain.

4. Not telling anyone at home your itinerary

Cellphone service is never a guarantee in the backcountry. As such, don’t rely on it to contact home in the event of an emergency. Before leaving, always tell someone where you’re going, how long you plan to be gone, and the trails you will be taking. That way, if you don’t return by a certain time, they know to get help, and have key details about your route and location to pass along.

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5. Not carrying a map or researching the trail ahead of time

Before leaving for a hike, it’s essential that you not only look at a map of the trail you’ll be taking, but read the trail description, as well. A topographic map doesn’t provide enough detail, and thus, reading the trail description might mean you’ll opt for one trail over another to reach the summit.

Designed to help you plan your hike, trail guidebooks often offer suggestions based on experience level, and list alternative routes for winter. Additionally, the trail descriptions prove to be useful in the event a route is poorly marked. In this case, because you know what the trail should look like, you have a greater chance of following the correct path. For these reasons, it’s extremely important to read the guidebook before setting out.

6. Underestimating the weather forecast

Before you set out, know what the weather is going to be like—both on the trail and at the summit. For every thousand feet of elevation you gain, you lose an average of 3.5° F. Don’t underestimate the mountains, and remember that although it may be 60° F at the trailhead, ascending a few thousand feet and adding 20 MPH winds will bring the temperatures down considerably.

Additionally, plan for inclement weather by carrying extra clothes, especially socks, a long-sleeved shirt, and a wind-breaking layer. Being prepared may mean the difference between an enjoyable day in the woods and a miserable one.

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7. Not following Leave No Trace wilderness ethics

If everyone left their garbage in the woods, or didn’t bury their waste, imagine how disgusting the trails would be. To keep the wilderness ready for other hikers, it’s essential that you carry out all trash. To prepare, bring an extra Ziploc bag in your pack to hold onto any trash. If you see other people’s trash on the trail, it doesn’t hurt to pick it up, either.

All waste, along with any toilet paper, should be buried, assuming you follow LNT practices and the land manager allows it. Carry some hand sanitizer in your pack, a trowel, and toilet paper. Walk at least 200 feet from the trail, water sources, and the campsite (70 steps), and dig a cathole using a trowel. Catholes should be four to six inches wide and six to eight inches deep. Bury both waste and paper in the hole.

8. Not being courteous to others while hiking

Although you may feel like you’re the only person in the woods, chances are you’re going to encounter other people. Be courteous and respect their right to enjoy the woods, too. Share the trail with them, allow them to pass if they are hiking faster than you, or turn down your music, so they can enjoy the sounds of nature. If you’re hiking in a larger party, keep in mind how loud you’re getting when engaging in conversations, and respect the solitary hikers you may come across by giving them the option to pass you on the trail.

 

Everyone starts out as a beginner, and trying something new means that you will be learning lessons along the way. Although I call myself a moderately experienced hiker, I’m still learning. As new gear comes out, and I spend more time in the wilderness, I become more familiar with what works for me and what doesn’t. The only way to become better at something is to be open to learning from mistakes made along the way. Spend some time researching backpacking basics, practice smart decision-making, and remember that there is no shame in asking for help or calling it quits when a climb becomes too scary or difficult. The mountain will always be there when you’re ready.

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9 Unbeatable Speed Records in the Northeast

By now, you’ve probably heard the news. On June 4th, Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell broke the speed record on The Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Then, the very next day, the duo returned and broke their day-old record, taking their time under the two-hour mark (1:58:07).

Although the Northeast isn’t known for its speed climbing, it is home to numerous speed records involving the region’s mountainous terrain. With the Guinness Book on our minds, here’s a snapshot of some of the Northeast’s most-coveted FKTs (fastest-known times).

Editor’s Note: Records are current as of July 22, 2018.

Peakbaggers

NH48

For many New England hikers, summiting all of New Hampshire’s 48 mountains over 4,000-feet tall is the culmination of a lifetime goal. For others, like Andrew Thompson, owner of the fastest-known time on the NH48, it’s a good long weekend. It took him just three days, 14 hours, and 59 minutes—an incredibly fast time to cover the roughly 200 miles and 66,000 feet of vertical gain!

Adirondacks

The ADK46ers list shows that over 10,000 people have summited the region’s 46 High Peaks. In fact, the first known record dates back to the 1920s. That being said, none have done it faster than Jan Wellford. In June 2008, he picked them off in a staggeringly speedy time of three days, 17 hours, and 14 minutes.

Catskills

Although the Catskills might not have as many peaks over 4,000 feet, achieving the fastest-known time for summiting its high peaks—35 summits over 3,500 feet in elevation—is uniquely challenging. Unlike with the NH48 and ADK46, this sought-after FKT takes a single route through the Catskills, with no car shuttling between trailheads. Approximately 140 miles long, with around 38,500 feet of vertical ascent, the route covers roughly 80 miles of trail, 40 miles of bushwhacking, and 20 miles of pavement-pounding. Amazingly, in May 2018, Mike Siudy blazed it all in a breathtakingly breakneck time of two days, nine hours, and 16 minutes.

Classic Routes

Long Trail

For most backpackers, a trip along Vermont’s Long Trail is a three- to four-week endeavor. For fastest-known time-holder Jonathan Basham, it’s a good way to spend a week off, as it leaves a few days free to explore Burlington or take the Ben & Jerry’s Factory tour. Basham covered the 273 miles from the Canadian border to Massachusetts in an astoundingly fast four days, 12 hours, and 46 minutes in September 2009.

Presidential Traverse

A hike across the White Mountains’ Presidential Range, the iconic Presidential Traverse is a bucket-list trip for many Northeastern hikers. For others, like FKT holder Ben Thompson, this classic route is something to do before lunch. Ben blazed across the Presidential Traverse’s 18-plus miles and almost 9,000 feet of vertical gain in four hours, 14 minutes, and 59 seconds.

Yesterday I took the day off work to witness something incredible. Ben Thompson set a new Fastest Known Time on the Pemi Loop in an absurd 6:06:53. Here’s a picture of him cresting Mt. Truman with Lafayette in the background. … I hung out on the ridge to witness the attempt and was absolutely astonished at his speed and fluidity as he descended Lafayette, four hours in and just after a huge climb, he absolutely flew by. Congratulations Ben, what an effort! … (The Pemi is a 30 mile loop with roughly 10,000 feet of vert over technical mountain terrain, For context, I’m not in horrible shape and it recently took me a little over 12 hours) … #pemiloop #fkt #fastestknowntime #franconianotch #franconiaridge #mtlafayette #nh #inov8 #ultimatedirection

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Pemi Loop

The Whites are also home to another highly coveted route, the Pemigewasset Loop, or simply the Pemi Loop—one of the region’s most popular backpacking trips. The record holders have finished in time to make happy hour at the Woodstock Inn, Station & Brewery. FKT competitors can choose to do the route—more than 30 miles and over 9,000 feet of elevation gain—in either direction. This is one of the most competitive records in the White Mountains, and impressively, Presidential Traverse record holder Ben Thompson also owns this one. He completed it with a zippy time of six hours, six minutes, and 53 seconds in September 2017.

THE TRAIL: The Appalachian Trail covers 2,189 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt Katahdin in Maine. The total elevation gain over that stretch is ~464,000 ft, or the equivalent of 16 Mt Everests. It passes through 14 states and is constantly marked with white blazes that you see in the picture. The trail itself is overseen by the @appalachiantrail @nationalparkservice and @u.s.forestservice, and regionally maintained by thousands of volunteers and local hiking clubs. I found the trail quite quirky, flat farmlands in one section, boulder climbs in another. You’ll meet some amazing people and see all different kinds of small town America. Our nations past is intertwined in historic sections in Maryland and West Virginia. Maine, New Hampshire and Vermud will kick your butt but astound you with views. My perception of states like Georgia and New Jersey are forever changed – surprising me with their beauty and ruggedness. 2-3 million people each year hike some part of the trail, hopefully you will be one of those people 😁

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Appalachian Trail

Perhaps the most competitive speed record is the iconic Appalachian Trail (AT), the renowned footpath that starts at Springer Mountain in Georgia and ends at Maine’s Mount Katahdin. In recent years, some of the world’s most well-known ultra runners—such as seven-time Western States winner Scott Jurek and five-time Hardrock winner Karl Meltzer—have held the FKT on this roughly 2,200-mile trail. Currently, though, Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy holds the record. Self-supported, he cruised its full length in just 45 days, 12 hours, and 15 minutes.

Pacific Crest Trail

Coincidentally, McConaughy also holds the FKT on the Pacific Crest Trail—the AT’s West Coast cousin. However, his bicoastal record might not last long. Currently, Cincinnati teacher Harvey Lewis is putting in a strong effort to beat Stringbean’s AT time.

Shortish and Sweet

Just outside Boston, the Blue Hills’ Skyline Trail is a worthy goal for time-crunched runners and hikers. Roughly 15 miles out and back with over 3,500 feet of elevation gain, its challenges are on par with the region’s larger ranges. Fastest-known time-holder Ben Nephew—a Top 5 holder on many of the region’s other classic routes—rapidly dispatched this one in two hours, 25 minutes, and 44 seconds—fast enough to do it before work.

Another awesome out-and-back goes up and over Cadillac Mountain’s iconic North Ridge and South Ridge Trails. This 12-mile trip climbs almost 3,000 vertical feet along Maine’s rocky shoreline and affords incredible ocean views. Fastest-known time holder Tony Dalisio completed the route in one hour, 48 minutes, and 44 seconds. He partially attributes his tremendously fast time to doing the trip in April, thus avoiding tourists, the route’s biggest obstacle.

It only makes sense that the second-most hiked mountain in the world—Mount Monadnock—would have some seriously fast ascents. What is shocking is how long the speed record up the mountain’s most popular trail—White Dot—has stood. Since 2001, Elijah Barrett has held the fastest-known time, having made it to the summit in 24 minutes and 44 seconds.

Of course, we’ve listed just some of the better-known objectives and their record-setting times. To learn more about the records in your region, the Fastest Known Time website is a great resource. And, if you’re planning on doing one of these routes this summer, we want to hear about it—even if it isn’t record setting. So, tell us about your trip in the comments.


How to Choose a Camping Tent

Shelter is undoubtedly one of the most important items in your pack. While there are lots of options for shelters (hammocks, bivy, lean-tos, etc.), tents are still the most commonly used option in the backcountry. But, because of the huge variety out there, a lot goes into finding the one that’s right for you. What type should you get, and what size do you need? What features should you have? Knowing all the ins and outs will help you decide and ultimately make you satisfied with your (very important) purchase.

To start, think about how you will be camping. Will it be out of your car, kayak, or canoe? Or, at a campsite off a trail somewhere in the woods? What about the season and conditions? And, how many people will be staying in it? Will you be bringing your dog with you, and do you want space for your gear?

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Capacity

How many people need to fit into your tent? Unfortunately, there’s no industry standard for how cozy or spacious a tent should be. Thus, a three-person tent from one brand may feel more crowded than one from another. Generally, car camping tents are a little more spacious than backpacking or mountaineering models, which tend to be more snug and compact to reduce weight.

But, to make it as easy as possible, the tent size is typically noted right in the name. For example, the EMS Sunapee 4 is a four-person tent. If you are planning on purchasing a backpacking tent and want to bring your dog or store your gear inside, you may want to think about sizing up one person larger than your group.

As a good baseline to follow, if you are looking to store gear in the tent and want some wiggle room, you should average about 20 square feet per person. If you are more interested in the ultralight movement, don’t mind storing your stuff outside, or being cozy with your neighbor, closer to 15 square feet per person will work.

GO: 1- to 2-person | 3- to 4-person | 5- to 6-person | Greater than 6-person

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Activity Type

For car camping:

For car camping or camping out of a kayak or canoe, weight is not as much of an issue. As such, consider a more spacious structure with lots of add-ons or neat features. Car camping tents typically weigh significantly more, and are sometimes tall enough to stand up in.

GO: Recreational/Car Camping Tents

For backpacking:

You will want something lighter in weight that you won’t mind carrying on your back for longer periods of time. You may need to compromise, depending on what you care most about—weight, features, comfort, or price, to name a few factors. Generally, backpacking tents will be more cramped, with no room to stand up. For comparison, a three-person car camping tent will feel much larger than a three-person backpacking tent.

Going further, some backpacking tents are classified as “ultralight.” The material feels very thin, and the poles are very lightweight; however, they are often stronger than the traditional, heavier options. The downside is, they tend to be more expensive. But, many hikers find the price is well worth the significant drop in weight.

GO: Backpaking Tents | Ultralight Tents

More often, these structures are categorized as three-season tents, which are designed for spring, summer, and fall weather. The lighter weight withstands heavy rain and even light snow, but not harsh winds, heavy snow, or more violent conditions.

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For winter and alpine camping:

You will need a more resilient tent—particularly, a four-season model, which tends to have more poles and heavier fabric. While some very basic ones resemble backpacking tents in shape, actual alpine or mountaineering tents have a geodesic-type body. The dome structure allows them to withstand high winds and even the weight of snow.

Some four-season tents are single-walled, meaning they don’t have a mesh body covered with a waterproof fly. As a result, they are easier to set up in rougher conditions. However, they don’t always perform well in milder weather, as they get stuffy and condensation can build up easily.

GO: Mountaineering Tents

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Livability and Comfort

Your tent should be comfortable! Pay attention to these factors to make your tent a sanctuary during a storm, rather than an uncomfortable coffin.

Peak Height

Height is just as important as surface area and capacity. Particularly, a higher peak will make your new home feel more spacious. The peak height is measured from the ground to the top of the tent’s outside, which includes the fly. So, to calculate the interior height, it’s a good idea to subtract three inches from the actual peak height.

To sit up and be comfortable, look for a tent with an interior height of roughly 3 feet, 6 inches. A tent with more vertical walls also offers more shoulder room and, in return, will feel more spacious.

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Entrances

Having multiple doors is nice, but they will increase the structure’s weight. But, if you plan on sheltering multiple people, more doors may ease how cramped you feel. You’re also less likely to climb over someone for a bathroom break in the middle of the night.

The door’s location is also important. Many tents have doors along the sides, but some place them at your feet. Side doors are larger and easier to pass through, but having a single door by your feet is ideal for multiple campers and makes the tent more sturdy in rougher conditions.

Vents

Vents and mesh are some of a tent’s most important but often-overlooked features. Ventilating hot, humid air makes the tent feel less stuffy, and helps keep condensation to a minimum. Especially when choosing a single-walled tent, vents are incredibly important.

Storage

Vestibules are floorless storage places for your gear, and are made by staking out the rainfly away from the tent’s body. Typically, five square feet is enough for a full-sized pack. Some tents may have a few vestibules, or may need a separate vestibule extension.

Color

Rather than being simply decorative, color influences how comfortable the shelter will be. Lighter colors allow more sunlight to pass through the walls, making the interior less dark and more pleasant if a storm keeps you tent-bound and out of direct sun for hours…or days!

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A Note About Weight

Tent manufacturers put a lot of information on the tags, including a “packed weight” and a “trail weight.” Packed weight is how much the shelter weighs when you pull it off the shelf—all the bits and pieces included. So, you’re taking into account any dry bags, stuff sacks, tent stakes, and the like.

Trail weight is typically the bare minimum—tent body, rain fly, and poles. Trail weight usually does not include the stakes unless noted, and won’t factor in any included repair kits or splints. In reality, unless you are really into the ultralight movement, your actual trail weight will fall somewhere in between the two, likely closer to the packed weight. This number plays an important role when you decide how much your pack will weigh for your trip.

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What Else Should I Pay Attention To?

Footprints

Another often-overlooked feature is the footprint, which creates a barrier between your tent’s floor and the ground. Not all tents have one, and some must be bought separately. Having a footprint will extend the shelter’s life expectancy, saving the floor from the wear and tear of stones, branches, and the occasional stray pinecone. If you don’t have a footprint available, tarps, plastic sheets, and other materials cut to the floor’s size can be used.

Clips vs. Sleeves

Many tents have plastic clips to attach the structure to the poles, and others will have fabric sleeves. Clips create more space between the tent’s body and the rainfly, providing more air circulation and reducing condensation. Plus, they’re much easier and quicker to set up. Sleeves, however, will be sturdier.

Unique Tents

Some tents have special setup requirements. For instance, some ultralight tents use your trekking poles partially for support, and others have to be staked out tightly to be properly set up. While a hassle if they aren’t set up correctly, these tents allow hikers to drop even more weight. For another lightweight choice, tarp tents are very popular!

Still Deciding?

Don’t be afraid to ask store employees if you can try out a tent. Many locations allow you to open the tents and set them up, so you can see for yourself what the structure is like.

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What Else Do I Need?

Tents have plenty of add-on options! Some can be very useful, and others are just for fun.

Solar washes help restore the tent’s water repellency and also protect it from UV rays, thus extending its life. As well, consider a repair kit. Patches, sealant, shock cords, splints, and accessory cords prove to be valuable if things go wrong in the backcountry.

For your supplies, additional vestibules or extensions expand the room for gear and living space. For some models, gear lofts clip into the tent’s roof to increase your storage options. Particularly, it’s a great place for headlamps, small electronics, and that book you’ve been trying to finish!

GO: Tent Accessories