Video: Traveling the Greater Patagonian Trail

For four months, a team of travellers in their early twenties set out to hike along the unrelenting Greater Patagonian Trail. Engaging with locals along the way, the volunteers are reminded of the stark discrepancy between their ways of life, and are made aware of the looming developmental projects that threaten the previously untouched and untainted areas across Patagonia. In a moving display of companionship, ‘Unbounded’ illustrates that the future of the country rests on the preservation and protection of its breath-taking natural spaces. Watch the full film here.


Top 5 Lessons from Hiking that Make You a Better Entrepreneur

Leaving my stable job to start my own business was one of the most terrifying decisions I have made to date. I had been with my company for two years and had become comfortable with the routine of sitting behind a desk and doing whatever work came my way. But, something inside kept nagging at me—something that demanded a bigger sense of adventure. I tried to satisfy this voice with more weekend hikes and longer, exotic treks. But, I only found that adventure is a lot like eating chips—the more you have, the more you want. The thrill I sought in my spare time empowered me to seek more excitement out of my daytime. More importantly, the familiar adrenaline rush helped me on the path to self-employment.

Looking back, here are the top five ways hiking has made me a better entrepreneur.

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1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

The more prepared you are for a trek, the more enjoyable the experience usually is. The same is true for starting your own business. Being prepared to go out on your own and begin something new—between mental readiness to sources of funding, mentorship, and support—can make all the difference between starting an exciting, risky endeavor and doing a painful, solo slog through the unknown. Both adventures are better met with some prep work and precaution.

2. Let Unknown Places Inspire You

One of the best parts of hiking is finding yourself in places you’ve never imagined. Thankfully, that’s mirrored in the experience of starting your own business. After you have been trekking for a few days, nothing can replace the moment of stopping to look at the beauty of being somewhere you have never been. Entrepreneurship is peppered with these instances. Learning how to do your own accounting, reaching out to new clients, meeting new people, and taking on new projects all play a major part. Often, every step can feel somewhat unknown. Along the way, remember to stop and take a moment to enjoy all the new places and people you have met, and let them empower you to move forward.

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3. Put One Foot in Front of the Other

Hiking’s most basic skill is also the key to being a successful entrepreneur. Every hike is a series of deliberately taken steps. One step in front of the other, through sunshine and rain alike, makes up the journey to your destination. The same is true for any successful business endeavor. Business owners must continue to move forward, no matter the circumstance, to reach where he or she is now.

4. Be Flexible

Sometimes, our preparation pays off, and sometimes, it doesn’t. You first set out to hike a certain path, only to find that weather or damage requires you to pivot around and choose a different direction. While the journey isn’t over, it’s different from how you thought it would be. So, be flexible. Serendipity on and off the trail is a beautiful thing.

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5. Limitless Bounds

Nothing’s like the moment when you truly feel the immensity of your surroundings. You have been hiking for days, and suddenly, the expanse of forest, cliffs, or stars surrounds you. Added to this, you don’t know how far it reaches. Here, you can feel how large and beautiful the world is, and know that there are no limits to your exploration of it.

These moments of boundlessness usually make me commit to my next trek, no matter how much I might be covered in mud or dirt. A similar sensation leads many people to start their own businesses and explore those possibilities, rather than continuing to work for someone else. Especially when you think about turning back, let these moments inspire you to keep moving forward.

 

No one starts hiking and backpacking knowing exactly what they are doing. You often learn skills along the way, from a combination of your own experiences and talking with like-minded people. Being a business owner is no different, and like trekking, it gets even better when you find the comradery of the community. While a business owner’s path is far from clear and definite, the peaks along the journey are so rewarding that you won’t mind.


How to Choose the Right Sleeping Bag

I was a 19-year-old kid, weeks away from leaving on my first camping trip to Alaska. I’d never slept in the woods before, and I hadn’t spent a single night in a sleeping bag. When it came to purchasing one for myself, I had no idea where to start. I was a total rookie. I drove down to the local Eastern Mountain Sports and picked up the only bag within my budget that was rated to 20F, simply because I knew it wouldn’t get that cold in Southeast Alaska in June.

The sleeping bag turned out to be fine for summertime camping in Alaska. But, when I tried to use it a year later on a soggy climb of Mount Shasta, I was downright uncomfortable and freezing. The takeaway? When buying a sleeping bag, you have to look beyond the price and temperature rating. Specifically, take a larger look at the type of camping you’ll be doing, conditions you expect to face, and which features you want to prioritize, in addition to other personal and technical preferences. Below is a guide to help you choose the right sleeping bag for your next adventure.

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Consider How You’ll Be Camping

Are you a backpacker? Mountaineer? Car camper? Before you buy a sleeping bag, stop to think about the outdoor activity for which you’ll be using it the most. When it comes to backpacking and mountaineering, you want to save weight without sacrificing comfort and safety. Every extra ounce you carry on your back equates to energy spent. Car camping, however, is a bit more laid back. You’re not going to carry your sleeping bag around. Instead, your goal should be to maximize comfort and minimize cost, and think less about weight. From here, you can dive into the bag’s more nuanced specs to make your decision.

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Temperature Rating

The temperature rating is essentially the lowest point at which the bag will keep you warm and comfortable. For example, if a bag is rated to 40F, you shouldn’t get excessively cold in the bag, unless the air temperature drops below that mark. With this rating, it is assumed that you’re using a sleeping pad to create a layer of insulation between you and the ground.

The quality varies quite a bit based on the manufacturer and how frequently it’s used. For this reason, look at the temperature rating as a guideline, rather than a rule. In fact, always buy a bag rated a little bit colder than the actual temperature you expect to experience. You can always ventilate the bag if you’re too warm, but it’s harder to warm up if you’re freezing cold. As a general rule, summer bags run from 35 degrees and up, three-season bags are rated between 10 and 35 degrees, and winter bags run from 10 degrees and lower.

EN Rating

Additionally, many U.S. manufacturers have recently adopted a temperature rating standard called EN13537, or simply the EN rating. Originally developed in Europe, the EN rating is based on a standard laboratory test. This is good news for the buyer. It means that, although sleeping bags are made by different manufacturers, users will be able to compare the temperatures and comfort levels between them.

Based on the assumption that the sleeper is wearing a base layer and hat and is using a sleeping pad, and also assuming that women sleep colder than men, the test determines four temperature ratings:

  • Upper Limit: At this temperature, a standard male can sleep without sweating excessively. This rating assumes that the hood and zippers are open, with the arms and head out of the bag.
  • Comfort: At this temperature, a standard female can expect to have a comfortable sleep, in a relaxed position.
  • Lower Limit: At this temperature, a standard male can sleep, in a curled position, for eight hours without waking.
  • Extreme: This is the minimum temperature at which a standard female can stay for six hours without being at risk for death from hypothermia. Frostbite, however, is still a risk.

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Weight

Again, weight is going to be a determining factor. Most backpackers like to keep their bag lighter than three pounds (using something like the EMS Mountain Light 20), and many lightweight backpackers will strive to go under two pounds. Ultimately, you want a bag that’s going to keep you warm and comfortable at night, but that isn’t too heavy to carry on your back when you’re logging miles on the trail.

A lot of times, this balance boils down to personal preference. Are you willing to carry a little more weight for a bit of added comfort at night? Or, are you willing to chance being a little cold at night in order to reduce energy expenditure? Ask yourself these questions before you buy. The same principle also applies to mountaineering. However, safety—will this bag keep me warm enough if conditions get really, really bad?—needs to be given even greater consideration.

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Insulation

Ah, the age-old debate: Should you choose a down or synthetic sleeping bag? It’s not a question to be taken lightly (pun intended). Specifically, insulation type directly correlates with how much the product weighs, compresses, resists water, keeps you warm, and affects your wallet. All of these factors are going to influence your experience in the outdoors.

Down

Compared to synthetic, down bags provide a greater amount of warmth for their weight. They are highly compressible, and thus pack smaller than synthetic. As well, down is durable and can last for a long time. One of the more notable cons, however, is that if traditional down gets wet, its insulating capabilities greatly decrease. Once wet, it takes a long time to dry and can be difficult to clean. Additionally, down bags are also more expensive than their synthetic counterparts.

If getting wet is a concern, hydrophobic down is a new alternative that has gained popularity in recent years. Hydrophobic down has been treated with a water-resisting chemical, which allows the down to dry much more quickly and resists water for far longer. It also lets the down retain its loft when exposed to dampness. A bag like the Marmot Hydrogen uses Down Defender, a specific brand of water-resistant down. As you shop around, research the bag’s specs to see if the down is hydrophobic.

Synthetic

Synthetic bags, on the other hand, are often favored because they are generally more affordable, are even more water resistant, and continue to keep you warm when they get wet. The trade-off? Synthetic insulation weighs a little more and is bulkier than down. It also provides less warmth for its weight.

There are three basic types of synthetic insulation—cluster-fiber, short-staple, and continuous filament. You’ll also come across a few brand-name options, including Thinsulate, PrimaLoft, and Insotect. Popular in footwear and gloves, Thinsulate has very little bulk. PrimaLoft is another great choice, as it’s highly water resistant, and remarkably breathable and lightweight. Insotect, the type used in the EMS Velocity 35, is a strong bet for those seeking additional comfort. Specifically, it allows for superior body support and retains heat exceptionally well.

Again, the choice boils down to personal preference and how you’ll be using the bag. Consider where you’ll be taking the bag, and the type of weather that you might encounter. You should also think about how much money you want to pay, and the weight you’re willing to carry on your back.

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Shape and Size

Sleeping bags come in a number of different shapes, including rectangular, like the EMS Bantam 30, semi-rectangular, and mummy-style. Mummy is preferable for backpacking and mountaineering, because it allows for greater heat retention and protection from the cold while also saving weight. Rectangular bags, on the other hand, are more suited to car and warm-weather camping.

Sleeping bags also typically come in two standard lengths for men and women: regular and long. Although these sizes vary, depending on the manufacturer, regular men’s sleeping bags generally fit those up to 6 feet in height, and long fits up to 6 feet, 6 inches. For women, a regular is typically up to 5 feet 6 inches, with long being just over six feet.

When choosing a size, make sure the bag fits snugly, but not so much that you’re uncomfortable. The less air space there is around your body, the warmer you will be. However, for those who frequently change positions in their sleep, a little extra wiggle room around the shoulders and feet may be preferable.

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Other Considerations

For the detail oriented, here are a few final things to consider before purchasing your sleeping bag.

Zipper

Zippers come on either the right- or left-hand side. A left-handed zipper will be to your left, assuming you’re lying in the bag facing up, and vice-versa.

Stash Pocket

Most sleeping bags come with a small stash pocket to store things like your wallet, headlamp, and other useful items, to keep them handy at night. If you’re a stomach sleeper, make sure the pocket is not in an intrusive spot.

Sleeve and Hood

Some sleeping bags, like the Big Agnes Lost Ranger 15, have sleeves built into the bottom, allowing for a sleeping pad to fit inside. This means that you don’t have to worry about rolling off your sleeping pad during the night. Mummy bags, like the EMS Women’s Mountain Light 20, have a hood with a drawstring to help retain heat. A lot of heat is lost through your head at night, so for cold-weather camping, this is really important. The hood essentially functions in the same manner that the hood on a jacket does, and the drawstring allows you to cinch it tightly to retain even more heat.

Compression and Storage Sacks

For storing your bag, it’s important to have both a compression sack and a storage sack. The former helps you pack your bag down as small as possible for camping and backpacking purposes. When you’re not using your sleeping bag, keep it in the storage sack to preserve the bag’s insulation and extend its lifespan.

 

Equipped with this knowledge, you should be able to make an informed decision to purchase the sleeping bag that’s right for you. Unlike 19-year-old me, take some time to consider how and where you’ll be camping, weight and comfort, and especially personal preferences in order to get a good night’s rest. Once you have the right bag, the only thing left to do is get out there and enjoy sleeping in the outdoors!

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Why Should I Use Trekking Poles?

Improved efficiency, less wear and tear on joints, and increased safety are just a few of the reasons trekking poles almost always find their way onto gear lists like our “Top to Bottom: Gear to Hike the NH 48” roundup. If you’ve been on the fence about adding them to your kit, or you’re wondering why so many hikers you encounter are using them, here are 10 reasons why you should be reaching for your trekking poles as you head out the door.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Increased Stability

The Northeast is home to notoriously harsh terrain. No matter the season, hikers here encounter conditions ranging from snow to mud to bare rock—not to mention wet rocks and roots. Whether you’re heading up, down, or across, trekking poles allow for two additional points of contact with the ground, greatly increasing stability and traction.

2. Reduced Impact on Your Body

The act of repeatedly putting one foot in front of the other in rough terrain while carrying a load (even just a daypack) murders knees, ankles, and feet. Trekking poles shift some of this burden onto a person’s shoulders and arms, reducing the pounding your lower body takes. Furthermore, they can reduce swelling of the hands, a common ailment for many hikers. Incorporating your arms into the activity increases blood flow and reduces fluid pooling in the hands.

3. Give Yourself a Push

Looking to increase your speed? Simply plant your poles and push with your arms. On steep uphills, they’ll take some of the weight off your legs, while on flat terrain, they’ll help propel you along. Even better, use your trekking poles like a metronome for getting your entire body to act in unison for relaxed breathing and a more consistent (and efficient) pace.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

4. Safer Stream Crossings

Between snow melt and spring showers, water crossings reach their peak in the spring. Trekking poles are essential for safe crossings on hikes like Owl’s Head, as they allow you to test the water’s depth, get a feel for the strength of the current, and, once you commit, help maintain your balance as you wade or rock hop across. And, if you do slip, those extra points of contact are usually the difference between a wet shoe and total immersion.

5. Test Out Terrain

Much like how you can gauge the depth of a stream crossing with trekking poles, you can also use them to test other types of terrain. From finding out just how deep that snowpack is to how frozen that alpine puddle is or even how deep that muddy section of trail is, trekking poles are perfect for probing into the unknown.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

6. Clear a Path

Whether you’re dealing with thorns growing into the trail, branches from blow-downs blocking it, or those “super-scary” spider webs hanging across it, trekking poles offer a convenient way to clear annoyances from your path.

7. First Aid Essential

When it comes to situations involving twisted ankles or broken bones, trekking poles are a valuable supplement to your first aid kit. Serving as everything from a crutch to a splint, they come in handy when things go wrong.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

8. Trekking Poles and Shelter

Thanks to the desire of backpackers to lighten their loads, many shelters (like the Black Diamond Mega Light Tarp) and tents now offer a fast pitching option that ditches traditional poles and instead uses your trekking poles to save weight.

9. They’re Collapsible, Too

Most trekking poles are collapsible. So, if you encounter some steep, rocky terrain that requires free hands, just break the poles down, and stow them on the side of your pack. Try the same thing if you’re on terrain that’s conducive to running and that you absolutely want to be done with—for example, the flat section on the way out from The Bonds.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

10. Try Just One

If two is too many, try using just one pole. Switch it from hand to hand while hiking to get the same stability, all with less weight and one fewer tool to manage. We especially like the one-pole trick on outings where we’ll also be carrying an ice axe (like the Lion Head Winter Route); on trail runs that are mostly runnable but have a tricky steep descent (like the descent from South Twin to the Galehead Hut); or in situations where we’ll be transitioning from hiking to climbing and then back (like Henderson Ridge).

Do you have another use for trekking poles that we didn’t list? If so, leave your suggestion in the comments.


10 Energy-Packed Foods to Bring Hiking

You are what you eat, especially when you’re playing outdoors. Hard work while you’re hiking or backpacking requires lots of energy intake, so packing foods that are delicious, nutritious, and lightweight is key. Thankfully, finding tasty foods with plenty of calories, vitamins, protein, and healthy fats is easier than you think.

Shoot for foods that are made of wholesome, unprocessed ingredients in their natural state. The best will contain lots of energy and are ready to go, giving you more time to enjoy the wonders of mother nature, instead of the inside of your kitchen.

Pack around a pound and a half of food per day on short-mileage trips. For longer, more strenuous journeys, have closer to two pounds. You should aim for about one hundred calories per ounce of food, with a good balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat for optimal energy production. These homemade and prepackaged options are a great balance to meet all of your nutrition needs.

1. Nuts

Per average 1-oz. serving:

Calories: 172

Fat: 15 g

Protein: 6 g

Carbohydrates: 6 g

Iron: 3% DV

Calcium: 3% DV

Vitamin A: 0% DV

Vitamin C: 1% DV

Nuts are some of the most nutrient-dense foods available. By packing just a few servings in your bag, you’ll gain lots of protein and healthy fats. These can be packed in their whole, unprocessed form, or in the form of nut butters to spread on crackers or fruit.

 

2. Jerky

Per average 1-oz. serving:

Calories: 116

Fat: 7 g

Protein: 9 g

Carbohydrates: 3.1 g

Iron: 8% DV

Calcium: 0% DV

Vitamin A: 0% DV

Vitamin C: 0% DV

You can make your own jerky with a dehydrator or purchase pre-made varieties. Turkey, goose, beef, and venison jerky are popular. It can be made out of virtually any type of meat. You can also use dried hard meats in casings, such as salami or summer sausage. These don’t have to be refrigerated and pack lots of protein for minimal weight. For vegetarians, soy jerky is also available, although this isn’t quite as high in calories.

 

3. Tuna packets

Per average 1-oz. serving:

Calories: 60

Fat: 3 g

Protein: 6 g

Carbohydrates: 0 g

Iron: 6% DV

Calcium: 0% DV

Vitamin A: 0% DV

Vitamin C: 0% DV

Canned tuna will add too much weight to your pack, but plastic-packaged tuna is high in calories, protein, and healthy fats, along with critical omega-3s. Some tuna products are packaged in olive oil or water, making it an even healthier choice. Just make sure to bring a disposable bag to hold trash items and keep your gear clean.

 

4. Dried fruit

Per average 1-oz. serving:

Calories: 78

Fat: 0 g

Protein: 1 g

Carbohydrates: 20 g

Iron: 1% DV

Calcium: 1% DV

Vitamin A: 1% DV

Vitamin C: 3% DV

Store-bought dried fruits tend to contain unhealthy and unnecessary added sugars that can make you groggy and lethargic. For the best and healthiest dried fruits, make your own at home with a dehydrator, or purchase unsweetened varieties of favorites, such as mango, pineapple, and papaya.

Dried fruit is more compact than fresh fruit and also lasts much longer on the trail. It will add crucial fiber, vitamins, and minerals to your diet, even though it contains relatively few calories compared to other foods.

 

5. Energy bars

Per average 1-oz. serving:

Calories: 135

Fat: 4.5 g

Protein: 10 g

Carbohydrates: 15 g

Iron: 10% DV

Calcium: 17% DV

Vitamin A: 15% DV

Vitamin C: 25% DV

Energy bars are a more processed food that pack easily, but they do tend to contain more chemicals than other trail foods. Several manufacturers offer high-protein energy bars that contain nearly a day’s worth of protein, but watch out for unhealthy added sugars. Nevertheless, these store and pack well and can be quickly eaten on the trail. Aim for granola or energy bars with at least 20 grams of protein per serving.

 

6. Cheese

Per average 1-oz. serving:

Calories: 113

Fat: 9 g

Protein: 7 g

Carbohydrates: 0.5 g

Iron: 1% DV

Calcium: 20% DV

Vitamin A: 5% DV

Vitamin C: 0% DV

Choose hard cheeses that don’t need to be refrigerated or can tolerate some warmth without changing form, such as sharp cheddar. At over 100 calories per serving, these add a substantial amount of fat, calcium, and magnesium, all of which are necessary for rebuilding sore muscles and joints while you’re on the trail.

 

7. Whole grains

Per average 1-oz. serving:

Calories: 124

Fat: 4 g

Protein: 6 g

Carbohydrates: 20 g

Iron: 6% DV

Calcium: 1% DV

Vitamin A: 0% DV

Vitamin C: 0% DV

Whole grains provide plenty of heart-healthy carbohydrates, and many are high in healthy vegetable fats. Grab some crackers and cereals instead of breads, as most breads contain excess water weight with fewer nutrients, thus making them an impractical addition to your pack. Tortillas, wheat crackers, granola, whole grain muesli, and Grape Nuts provide healthy options without taking up a lot of space.

 

8. Chocolate

Per average 1-oz. serving:

Calories: 150

Fat: 10 g

Protein: 2 g

Carbohydrates: 16 g

Iron: 0% DV

Calcium: 0% DV

Vitamin A: 0% DV

Vitamin C: 0% DV

Chocolate should be packed and eaten sparingly, but can provide a great boost of energy and a dash of phytonutrients and carbohydrates. Dark chocolate is the most nutrient dense and adds healthy fats and calories. It also serves as a nice treat at the end of a long day of trekking—an added bonus!

 

9. Seeds

Per average 1-oz. serving:

Calories: 165

Fat: 14 g

Protein: 6 g

Carbohydrates: 7 g

Iron: 0% DV

Calcium: 0% DV

Vitamin A: 0% DV

Vitamin C:0% DV

Like nuts, seeds can be eaten on their own or processed and purchased as butters. The best contain high levels of health fats and include sunflower, chia, pumpkin, and flax seeds.

 

10. Hummus

Per average 1-oz. serving:

Calories: 30

Fat: 1 g

Protein: 2 g

Carbohydrates: 4 g

Iron: 0% DV

Calcium: 2% DV

Vitamin A: 0% DV

Vitamin C: 0% DV

Hummus doesn’t last as long out of refrigeration as these other foods, but it makes a great option for wintertime hiking or adventuring. Chickpeas, the primary ingredient, are high in protein and healthy fats. Hummus is a nice, savory addition to your whole-wheat crackers or breads, and weighs next to nothing in your pack.


5 Tips for Staying Comfortable Hiking in the Mud

Spring’s arrival is often a welcome change for the hikers, backpackers, and weekend warriors among us. It means that we can finally shed those cumbersome layers of wool and down, hit our favorite recently-thawed trails, and enjoy some warm weather for the first time in months. But, with spring comes mud, and a lot of it.

Hiking through the mud presents a unique challenge. Not only can it be exceedingly uncomfortable to trudge through ankle-deep puddles, but it can also increase your risk of injury and have a disastrous impact on the trail itself. Thus, it’s important to know how to responsibly and safely enjoy a springtime trail. Here are a few hacks to make sure you’re maximizing fun and minimizing impact during your mud season adventures.

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1. Bring the Proper Footwear and Clothing

And, make sure you don’t mind it getting soaked and dirty. Springtime hiking might not be the time to break in your brand-new boots, unless you know how to maintain them, as muddy conditions can potentially damage your footwear. Instead, reach for an older, sturdy waterproof pair that you’re not as concerned about potentially wrecking. In addition, it’s always a smart idea to invest in some high, water-resistant gaiters to keep mud and water from seeping in. You always want to keep your feet dry and comfortable when you’re hiking, especially when you’re walking through the cold spring slush.

Footwear aside, you’ll want to wear a good, sturdy pair of hiking pants that can stand up to the elements and have a water-resistant finish to keep the mud from caking on your legs. You’ll likely be getting a little wet, so look for pants that are made of a quick-drying fabric, like EMS’ Men’s True North Pants, to keep you comfortable on the trails. A moisture-wicking hiking shirt and waterproof top are always a safe bet, too.

2. Carry Trekking Poles and Mind Your Footing

Anybody who’s descended a steep, muddy trail knows how quickly your feet can fly out from underneath you without warning. Not only does a slick trail increase the chances of an embarrassing (and wet) fall, it also heightens your risk for a potential injury. For this reason, it’s important to use trekking poles for the added stability and traction they provide. Even if you’re not otherwise a big fan of trekking poles, bring them on muddy hikes. They help you keep your balance, minimize slips, and prevent falling altogether on a precarious descent.

On the topic of footing, it’s a good idea to make sure your shoes are tied snug—ever had a boot stuck in the mud and then tried to pull it out?—and to keep a close eye on where you’re stepping. Walk using smaller strides than you normally would to help maintain balance and keep sliding to a minimum. If there is any ice remaining on the trail, you should bring your MICROspikes, just in case. Also, when hiking in the mud, you should try to go at a slower pace than you normally would. In these conditions, being deliberate and mindful of your footing benefits you more than speed.

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3. Muddy Trails are Susceptible to Erosion, So Stick to the Middle

Once the winter snowpack has melted, trails are at their soggiest and most saturated. As a result, they are more vulnerable than ever to serious erosion damage. For this reason, it’s super important that you stay on the trail’s center and tread as lightly as possible. It can certainly be tempting to walk on the trail’s edges, or off it entirely, in order to go around that large puddle blocking your way. But, doing so would widen and erode the trail. So, do the right thing, and stay on the trail regardless. If you’ve heard or read that a trail is in particularly rough shape in the springtime, consider hiking elsewhere, until the ground has hardened up a bit.

In addition to sticking to the center of the treadway, do your best to step onto rocks whenever possible. Stepping from rock to rock helps minimize trail damage—not to mention, it keeps your footwear dry and in better condition. The conscious springtime hiker will always understand that the muddiest trails are also the most fragile.

4. Consider the Time of Day and Weather

Springtime is known for its fickle weather. Although temperatures can become warm during the day, evenings and nights can still get very cold—occasionally dropping below freezing. This means that the trail is likely going to be softer around midday and will be at its firmest early in the morning and later in the evening.

During mud season, always be aware of these temperature changes. You may want to plan for an early morning hike, as opposed to one in the late afternoon. The trail will be firmer, making for a less messy and more comfortable experience. Time of day aside, you’ll also want to keep a close eye on the weather forecast beforehand. A steady rain can turn an already-muddy trail into a Slip ‘N Slide. If it looks like it’s going to pour, it might not be a bad idea to reschedule your hike for a sunnier day.

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5. Plan for the Post-Hike

One of the best ways to make hiking in the mud a favorable experience is to know exactly what you’re going to do once you’re done. For starters, you should always bring clean socks, extra shoes, and dry clothes to change into after. Seriously, there’s no better feeling than getting off the trail and having warm, fresh clothes and footwear to put on. Conversely, there’s no worse feeling than a soggy drive home. It’s also important to think about where you’re going to put your soaking wet, mud-caked boots and clothes when you get back to the car. Keep plastic garbage bags handy, or use a tarp to line the trunk as you put them away.

When you get home, wash your muddy clothes right away to prevent further damage and mildew from building. And, even though it might not be fun, remember to thoroughly clean your footwear! Leaving the mud on can dry out the fibers, cause cracking, and ruin your footwear’s weatherproofing altogether. Take care of these post-hike essentials, and you’ll be ready to go for next time.


Alpha Guide: Mount Mansfield

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Hike up Vermont’s tallest peak, scramble along an alpine ridge, and bask in 360-degree views, all on an ascent of Mount Mansfield via a section of the Long Trail, the U.S.’s oldest long-distance hiking trail.

The Green Mountain State delivers on this must-do hike up one of the state’s five 4,000-footers. A roughly five-mile out-and-back trip along Vermont’s most-famous footpath, the Long Trail, gains 3,000 feet in elevation on the way to the state’s highest peak. The journey begins by wandering through an idyllic hardwood forest, and eventually earns an extraordinary alpine ridge that delivers you to a rocky New England summit—one of only three places in the state to find alpine tundra. As you take in the views of Lake Champlain, mountain ranges in three states (the Greens, the Whites, and the Adirondacks), and, to the north, Canada, you’ll quickly discover what the Von Trapps meant when they sang, “The hills are alive…”

Quick Facts

Distance: 5 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half day
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery: ★★★★


Season: May through October
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://bit.ly/2GxSR87 

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Turn-By-Turn

When viewed at a distance, Mansfield’s elongated ridgeline resembles a human head, with the various high points named for facial features: the Forehead, Nose, Chin, and Adam’s Apple. The most straightforward way to get to the true summit, the Chin, follows the Long Trail South’s white rectangular blazes beginning on Mountain Road (Route 108).

From Burlington, take Route 89 south to exit 10 for VT-100 South towards Waterbury US-2. Follow this a short way, before turning on VT-100 North. Continue on VT-100 North for just under 10 miles, and take a left on VT-108 North/Mountain Road. After you drive approximately nine miles, the parking lot will be on your right.

If you’re coming from Stowe, there’s a small parking lot on the left side of Route 108, just after Stowe Mountain Resort. Since the lot is small and easy to miss, pay close attention after the resort. If you begin driving uphill on Route 108 into Smugglers’ Notch, turn around; you’ve gone too far.

Once you’ve geared up, walk on Route 108 back toward Stowe Mountain Resort. The trail starts at a break in the trees (44.537126, -72.790910) about 50 yards down the road. Look for an information board and trail marker a short way into the woods.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Getting Started

The hike begins on relatively smooth trail through a hardwood forest. It is well marked and easy to follow. It also starts climbing almost immediately, which is no surprise, considering the trail gains 3,000 feet in a little over two miles and occasionally crosses some small streams.

Around the one-mile mark, the trail becomes rockier, climbing up short, slabby sections. The footing here is not quite as good, but nothing out of the ordinary for anybody who’s climbed some of the Northeast’s 4,000-footers. Trekking poles are helpful.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Taft Lodge

Just past the 1.5-mile mark is the Taft Lodge (44.542551, -72809568), the oldest hut on Vermont’s Long Trail. For a moderate fee, hikers can stay here overnight either on the way to the summit or as part of a longer outing. The lodge, built in the 1920s and recently renovated, sleeps up to 24 and has outhouses and a water source nearby.

Whether you’re day-hiking or backpacking, Taft Lodge is on Vermont’s Register of Historic Places and worth visiting, even if only to have a snack. And, because the lodge is near treeline, it’s also a great place to assess whether you’ll need to add a layer (or two).

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Ridgeline Push

From Taft Lodge, stay on the Long Trail South and continue climbing toward the ridgeline. The trail above the lodge remains rocky, offering hikers regular glimpses of Mansfield’s ridgeline through the thinning tree cover. There are also a few spots to turn around and look south, with Stowe in the foreground and the Green Mountains in the distance. If you’re out of breath due to the elevation gain, spend a few moments trying to spot the unmistakable double-bumped alpine ridgeline of Camel’s Hump, another of Vermont’s classic alpine summits.

In one-third of a mile, the Long Trail South reaches the col between the Chin (the true summit) and the Adam’s Apple. Here, the Hell Brook Trail and the Adam’s Apple Trail join the Long Trail. Since the junction (44.545639, -72.811772) is moderately sheltered, it’s a great spot to add an extra layer before popping further above treeline.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Ridgeline

From the junction, the Long Trail South makes a sharp left, climbing the ridge toward Mansfield’s proper summit, the Chin. This section is open and exposed to the elements. If wind is coming from the west, this will be the first time you feel it.

Near the top of the summit cone, there are a few short-but-exposed sections that require scrambling and careful footwork. As you ascend, try to memorize the hand and foot holds for the descent.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Summit

Mansfield’s summit is a large, flat alpine area that offers plenty of room to spread out. So, find a rock, sit back, and enjoy the broad, open summit (44.5430453, -72.815436) and incredible 360-degree views. Looking west, hikers can see Burlington and Lake Champlain, with New York’s Adirondacks in the distance. To the north is Canada! In the distance to the east are New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Finally, the Green Mountains spill out to the south.

Mount Mansfield is home to 200 acres of alpine tundra, and is one of only three places in the state of Vermont where it is found (Camel’s Hump and Mount Abraham being the other two). In addition to its rarity, alpine tundra is also very fragile and susceptible to human impact. Because of this, please stay on the rocks and in the designated paths when traveling above treeline.

Whenever you can pull yourself away from the summit, just retrace your steps to your car, first by taking the Long Trail North to the clearing. Use particular caution on the exposed portions of the ridge, as they can be harder during the descent. Once you’re back at the junction, continue on the Long Trail to Route 108.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Bonus Points

Hikers not ready to return to their car can make a short (five- to 10-minute) detour from the col to the Adam’s Apple (44.546573, -72.810353). The Adam’s Apple Trail offers great views of the Chin and Mansfield’s other features and is usually much less crowded than the Chin. Since it is also slightly less exposed to the weather, it’s a worthwhile objective if conditions put the true summit out of reach.

A longer detour—and one that requires pre-trip car shuttling or a short road march at the end— is to continue on the Long Trail South from the Chin, crossing all of Mansfield’s features. Over 1.5 miles of ridgeline hiking, you’ll pass the Lower Lip, the Upper Lip, the Mount Mansfield Peak Visitor Center, the parking lot for the Mount Mansfield Toll Road, and, finally, the Nose. From the Nose, hikers can head back to the Visitor Center, and then descend a short way on the Toll Road to link up with Haselton Trail, which ends at the base area of Stowe Mountain Resort. Alternately, arrange to have somebody pick you up at the top of the Toll Road.

Pro Tip: If you do decide to hike the full ridgeline and the weather turns, the Cliff Trail is an early option for bailing out. Connecting with the Long Trail just before the Lower Lip, it descends to Stowe’s Cliff House, near the top of Stowe’s Gondola SkyRide. From there, hikers can follow a marked access road or ski trails to the base area.


Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Kit

  • Traction is at a premium on the exposed sections of Mansfield’s ridgeline. The Asolo Fugitive (Men’s) and Revert (Women’s) are longtime favorites.
  • Lightweight and packable, a windshirt is ideal for any trip above treeline. The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded Jacket (Men’s/Women’s) is perfect for handling the ridgeline’s variable conditions, and much like Vermont’s craft brews, it has developed a cult-like following over the years.
  • A puffy coat is great for cool mornings and cold summits, and is handy to have in case of an emergency. The EMS Alpine Ascender Stretch is a great winter midlayer that’s breathable enough to be worth stuffing in your pack for cool spring and summer days.
  • One minute it’s sunny, and the next, you’re stuck in a downpour. Green Mountain weather can change in a heartbeat, so be ready with the EMS Thunderhead, a reliable and affordable way to ensure you stay dry on your summit bid.
  • In the spirit of the state of Vermont, consider a pair of locally sourced socks from Darn Tough, made in nearby Northfield. Living up to their name, these socks come with a lifetime guarantee.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Keys to the Trip 

  • Depending on the season, you might encounter a Green Mountain Club caretaker at the Taft Lodge. They’re all super nice and great resources for trail information.
  • Vermont takes sustainability seriously when it comes to its trails, so get out before the snow melts, or wait until Memorial Day weekend to climb this ultra-classic mountain.
  • Celebrate a successful summit day at Doc Ponds in Stowe. The bar is packed with Vermont’s best beers (Hill Farmstead, Lawson’s Finest, and Foley Brothers, just to name a few), and the homemade onion dip with housemade BBQ chips is not to be missed.
  • Vermont’s repuation for great beer is well deserved. Since you’re so close, Alchemist Beer’s brewery in Stowe is a must-visit. And, don’t forget to bring your cooler, in case you decide to pick up some souvenirs to bring home!
  • If you’re spending the weekend exploring Vermont, make sure to check out our guides to Exploring Burlington Like a Local and hiking Camel’s Hump.
  • If you’re looking for a great place to camp, the Smugglers’ Notch State Park is just a few minutes away from Stowe Mountain Resort. Sites book well in advance for popular weekends, so make your reservations early.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked Mount Mansfield recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


Maintaining Your Waterproof Shoes and Boots

Investing in a good pair of waterproof hiking boots or sneakers is a smart move. After all, your feet are in almost constant contact with the ground and elements while you’re walking or running. Getting them dirty is part of the adventure, a rite of passage even. But, did you realize you should be putting in some routine maintenance to preserve the waterproofness and materials? Mud can degrade leather by removing moisture, and leftover dirt and sand can actually break down shoe materials through constant friction while you walk. Don’t stress, though. A few minutes can go a long way in extending your shoes’ useful lifespan.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Cleaning Your Footwear

It’s important to keep your shoes clean and free of mud and debris. If you’re like most hikers, you probably change out of those squishy and smelly boots at the trailhead and stuff them in a plastic bag to be forgotten about in the trunk of your car. As tired as you might be after an epic hike or long run, it’s important to not let them sit for more than a day or two.

What you’ll need: water, a vegetable brush and/or toothbrush, and a mild soap or cleaner, like NIKWAX Footwear Cleaning Gel

How To: Begin by removing the insoles and laces. Next, clap your boots together or against a hard surface outside to remove any caked-on muck and stones or gravel that may be lodged in the treads. If sticky gunk like sap is an issue, throw them in the freezer to harden it, and then pry it off with a dull knife. Next, rinse them thoroughly with water while using a brush to scrub grime out of the tough spots. You can use a bit of soap or cleaning gel, but no harsh detergents that may damage boot materials. For extra-stinky boots, use a 1:2 mixture of vinegar and water. If you encounter dusty or sandy trails, use a vacuum with the hose attachment to remove the fine particles from both the outside and inside of your boot. Lastly, don’t neglect your shoes’ soles. Make sure to thoroughly clear them of trapped debris to ensure optimal traction and to prevent breakdown of the rubber.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Conditioning Your Leather Footwear

Full-grain leather, which looks smooth, is the only leather that requires conditioning. In turn, doing so keeps the material soft and pliable, which then prevents cracking.

What you’ll need: cloth and leather conditioner (NO oils like mink) like NIKWAX Leather Conditioner

How To: Leather conditioner is typically applied to dry boots, but check the manufacturer’s instructions first. Apply a generous but sensible amount of conditioner. While the conditioner helps keep the leather soft, too much can reduce the support the boot should provide. Use a damp cloth to remove excess, and buff to polish.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Protect and Waterproof Your Footwear

Luckily, you don’t need to re-waterproof your boots or sneakers after every use. You’ll know it’s time when water droplets no longer bead on the surface and, instead, are readily absorbed into the material.

What you’ll need: Waterproof wax or application like NIKWAX Waterproofing wax

How To: Begin with clean, wet boots with water fully soaked into the material. Generally, you’ll apply the waterproof agent, let it sit for a few minutes, and then, wipe away any excess, but be sure to follow the directions on the packaging. Waterproofing agents come in various forms, such as creams that get dabbed and liquids that get sprayed on.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Drying and Storing Your Footwear

It’s important to let your boots dry thoroughly to prevent mold from forming and materials from breaking down. A low-humidity environment is key, and you can speed up the process by using a fan or boot dryer or stuffing newspaper in each shoe. However, be sure to steer clear of heat, including fireplaces, which can damage materials and weaken adhesives. Dry the insoles separately, and do not put them back into the boot until both are completely dry. Then, store the boots in a well-ventilated area, and avoid garages and attics, both of which are notoriously damp and hot.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

When Should I Retire My Footwear?

If you keep up on shoe maintenance, they’ll last forever, right? Not quite. So, how do you know when to toss ‘em? The number of miles a pair boots or sneakers has traveled can be a decent rule of thumb. You can expect hiking boots to get between 500 to 1,000 miles, while running shoes can typically see between 300 to 500 miles. These large ranges account for the many variables that cause wear and tear, such as ground surface and conditions. Visually inspect your shoes every so often for frayed, cracking, or separating materials. Cracking of the sole, compression lines, and worn treads also clearly indicate you’re due for some new kicks. Also, pay attention to your body. If your feet or joints hurt sooner or worse than usual or if you’re starting to get “hot spots,” it’s probably time to retire your boots.

 

Taking a little bit of time to care for and maintain your waterproof footwear ultimately prolongs its use. Following these basic steps will have you and your boots on the trail to happiness for years to come!


In Defense of the Backyard

We woke up early. Grudgingly. Even the worst of sleeping bags and hardest of ground feel warm and inviting at 5 a.m. Slowly, we stirred and dragged ourselves out of the tents. The fire had died and needed relighting, but a short while later, we were gorging ourselves on pancakes, eggs, and bacon, laughing, hollering, and enjoying a morning outside to the fullest. Stories were shared, most of them well-rehearsed classics and a few untried. We were a rowdy bunch, no doubt, but who would complain? No one could hear us but the birds and squirrels and maybe a few larger creatures.

The earliest rays of light began to cut through the trees, nagging and prodding us to be on our way. We packed up only what was needed and set off, leaving the bulk of the load behind and carrying only some water, a few snacks, and maybe a light jacket. We weren’t going far. Our gear would forgive us for this brief time apart.

The going is slow, as are most things before the sun rises. We trudge along without saying much—just listening. But, just as the trek begins to feel strenuous, it ends.

Our destination isn’t new. We’ve all been here at least a dozen times. It’s a summertime favorite: a small cascade that some go so far as to call a waterfall. At the bottom, the water is just deep enough to take a dip. There’s hardly enough room to truly swim but plenty to submerge and refresh—our shower for the day. We spend a few hours, kicking back and enjoying the scenery and good company. Eventually, one of us is forced to check the time, confirming what we all feared. We grab our things and head back to our camp.

We broke down camp while cursing our office obligations. Bags are packed poorly, carried the stones-throw distance back to cars, and tossed in with loving neglect. Our retreat, grand as it may have been, had an expiration date, which we surely exceeded by a healthy margin. Everyone heads off in their own direction, to work or other commitments. It’s nearly 9 o’clock, Wednesday morning, and we’re all late for work.

Our retreat, grand as it may have been, had an expiration date, which we surely exceeded by a healthy margin.

We hadn’t gone very far. We didn’t reach a 4,000-, 3,000-, or even 2,000-foot peak—or any summit, for that matter. None of us were more than 20 minutes from home. Some of us were biking- or even walking-distance from our own back doors. Zero out of 10 doctors recommend the amount of sleep we got, and caffeine was necessary to get through work the next day. Regardless, that night and the following morning became one of my favorite adventures. It was small, without much planning and nearly no investment, but served its purpose. The work week seemed a little less daunting, and the weekend not so far away. Our only cost was breakfast, the total hike was a mile at most, the travel time measured in minutes, and no time was taken off from work.

This is not to say that there’s anything wrong with traveling: You should every chance you get. There isn’t anything wrong with week-long trips, either: That’s the perfect length in my mind. Finally, this isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with peak bagging. In fact, I race to the Adirondacks and White Mountains every chance I get.

A bed of pine needles may not cradle you like your memory foam mattress, but the night-sky promises better dreams than your ceiling.

But, in the age of social media, it can be easy to think that you need to tour a national park to enjoy the outdoors. Your Facebook and Instagram feeds are filled with photos of expensive trips in far-off places. That friend you haven’t talked to since high school now lives on the slopes of the Rockies. Your uncle takes his old RV across the country each summer. A coworker runs up a mountain before work and comes in with a fresh kale smoothie. That girl you met that one time that seems to know everybody is somewhere new every single month, and we’re all wondering how she can afford it.

You don’t need to travel far to get outside, or weeks off at a time to do so. You don’t need to be a superhuman, or to be rich to catch a sunrise. From what I hear, it’s the same sun no matter where you go.

Credit: Luke Brown

Just get out. There are plenty of incredible places only a short drive from home. How many sites do you drive by twice a day, reminding yourself to check it out some time? You’ve lived in the same town for years: How many of its mundane trails or public park loops have you roamed? If you only have a few hours, take a quick walk in the woods. It’ll do you more good than a few hours in front of a screen. A bed of pine needles may not cradle you like your memory foam mattress, but the night-sky promises better dreams than your ceiling. If you can’t walk very far, who says you need to go for miles? If you work all day, buy a headlamp, and own the night. Not every day needs to feature a life-list objective, if your life is already filled with everyday objectives.


Gifts for Girls Who are "One of the Guys"

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

Courtesy: Ashley Peck
Courtesy: Ashley Peck

Climbing: Petzl Elia Climbing Helmet

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

Hiking and Camping: GoGirl Female Urination Device

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

Courtesy: Ashley Peck
Courtesy: Ashley Peck

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

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

Skiing: DryGuy Green HEAT 2-in-1 Heater

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

Courtesy: MTI Adventurewear
Courtesy: MTI Adventurewear

Paddling: MTI Moxie PFD

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

Courtesy: Mountainsmith
Courtesy: Mountainsmith

All of the Above: Mountainsmith Sixer

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