How to Choose Cross Country Ski Gear

In cross country skiing (also known as “Nordic” skiing) your skis, boots, and poles form a bond with your body that allows you to swiftly glide your way through a snow-covered forest, so making sure you have the right equipment for your outing can mean the difference between an unforgettable day exploring and a day that deters you from ever clicking in again. So how do you choose the right cross country ski set up for your upcoming expedition? It all depends on the type of skiing you’re about to embark upon.

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Types of Cross Country Skis

There are three main types of cross country skis which correspond to the type of skiing you’re hoping to do: Touring, classic, and skate. Each ski type will aid you in a different skiing technique and on a different set of surfaces.

Touring

Touring skis can be used on groomed or ungroomed trails. They are also known as “backcountry” skis because of how rugged they can be. Generally, these skis are longer, light in weight, and a little bit thicker in width to provide more stability to skiers who decide to take on ungroomed trails. If you’re looking to utilize your skis both on groomed trails at your local XC ski center and on your local hiking trails, investing is a pair of touring skis is highly suggested. Those looking to tackle steeper and deeper conditions should also look at purchasing skis with metal edges.

Classic

Classic skis are used on groomed trails that provide a track set, grooves within the snow that your skis glide through. Track sets can be found at your local XC ski center. These skis are long, narrow, lightweight, and have a range in stiffness depending on the performance you are looking for.

Skate

Skate skiing is used on groomed trails. These skis are long, narrow, lightweight, and have a stiff flex to help transfer power from one stride to the next. This technique used for skate skiing resembles that of ice skating.

GO: Cross Country Skis | Boots | Bindings | Poles

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Length

It is a common misconception that you pick your skis based off you height and that the taller you are, the longer your skies should be. This is untrue in many cases. The length of your ski is going to depend on your weight. You need to be able to evenly disperse your weight across the ski properly to get the best kick, which transfers your power to the snow.

However, there will be many instances where your weight may fall into two different length skies. In this instance you want to factor in your ability level. The longer your, ski the faster you generally go. Those who are beginner to intermediate you may want to go with the short size in your weight range so you have more control. Once you get to the upper intermediate and advanced they you will upgrade to the longer version in your weight range.

This basic chart should give you an idea of the right length ski to have, but once you pick out a specific ski, pay attention to the recommendations of the specific manufacturer:

SKIER WEIGHT CLASSIC SKI LENGTH SKATE SKI LENGTH
100 – 110 lbs 180 – 190 cm 170-180 cm
110 – 120 lbs 182 – 192 cm 172-182 cm
120 – 130 lbs 185 – 195 cm 175-185 cm
130 – 140 lbs 187 – 200 cm 177-187 cm
140 – 150 lbs 190 – 205 cm 180-190 cm
150 – 160 lbs 195 – 210 cm 185-195 cm
160 – 180 lbs 200 – 210 cm 190-200 cm
>180 lbs 205 – 210 cm 190-200 cm

 

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Camber and Flex

The camber and flex of your cross country skis plays a huge roll in the performance you’ll get out on the snow. Both of these factors are usually determined based on your weight too, so don’t be bashful when asked—It could be the difference between an enjoyable easy gliding day or a day that makes you feel like you’re constantly fighting an uphill battle.

Camber

Camber refers to the upward curve in the middle of the ski, seen looking from the side. Classic skis tend to have more camber, while skate skis tend to have less. This is because classic skis require grip on the snow while you transfer your weight forward into your next gliding motion, and skate skis rely mainly on pushing from the edge.

To determine the camber, place both skis on the snow, click in, and the ski should level out based off your weight with the part under your foot just “kissing” the snow. Too much camber and not enough contact with the snow will result in a day of minimal grip on the snow and a lot of slipping when trying to glide forward. Too little camber and too much contact with the snow and you’ll stick like glue to it, requiring extra effort to glide forward.

Ski Flex

The flex of your skis refers to the bend or give they have as well as the power transfer and kick you get out of them. Stiffer flex skis springboard you forward a bit more than those that are softer. Again, this is determined primarily by your weight. Your cross country ski’s flex comes into play when talking about speed and turning comfort. Softer flex skis, which have more bend or give to them, grip the snow, making it easier to turn on softer snow and at slower speed. Stiffer flex skis provide you with speed and work best when the snow is firmer. If you are looking to get into racing, ski flex will become a bigger deciding factor in your purchase. The flex you choose should depend on the conditions. However, beginners should look into a softer flex ski until they feel more comfortable gliding along.

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Waxable vs. Waxless Skis

All cross country skis have a wax base. The wax is what allows you to glide across the snow effortlessly as it reduces the friction created between the ski base and the snow. With cross country skis, there are two types of wax: kick wax and glide wax. Depending on the ski you choose, it may use kick wax and glide wax or just glide wax. Kick wax is what will allow your ski to grip the snow in what is called the “wax pocket” on your ski. It helps grip the snow as you shift your weight from ski to ski. Glide wax does just what you are thinking, it helps you glide. It moves across the snow reducing the friction between the ski and the snow.

Waxable cross country skis allow skiers to apply various types of kick wax depending on the snow temperature or hardness. Waxable skis utilize both glide wax and kick wax to enhance overall performance and are applied by heating up the wax and spreading it the length and width of the ski base.

Waxable skis are desired by many who are ultimately looking to compete or get the most out of their ski on any given day. This is because you can change up the wax you apply to the bottom to fit the conditions outside. Everything from air temperature, snow temperature, snowpack, and terrain can come into play. Don’t worry though, there are plenty of all-around waxes you can use too so you don’t have to keep reapplying wax before every ski session.

Waxless base cross country skis require low maintenance as they do not require the reapplication of kick wax throughout the season. Ridges are cut into the base of the ski that mimics the effects of kick wax. So, don’t be fooled by the naming, you’ll still need to apply glide wax to the base of your skis from time to time. Waxless skis require less maintenance, making them great for beginning skiers and those who want to save the time involved in waxing.

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Boots

Your boots are what form the bond between you and your skis. Finding the perfect balance between comfort and performance is important. Don’t forget the fit, weight, and stiffness of these boots to make sure they’re comfortable, but just like the skis themselves, you’ll want to address a few performance factors to find the best pair for you.

Classic Ski Boots

If you’re going to be classic skiing, then you’ll want classic style ski boots. These boots offer more flexibility in the ball of your foot than the other styles. They have a lower cuff, usually around your ankle, for a greater range of motion while striding forward. The soles also range in stiffness to assist with your turning ability and responsiveness. Many boots also feature lace covers to keep your feet warm, dry, and protected while out on the trails.

Skate Ski Boots

Skate ski boots are stiff, responsive, and often feature carbon fiber ankle support to maximize your kick. These boots feature a high ankle cuff, usually Velcro or ratchet system, which assists with transferring power to the skis. Soles are stiff and lacing systems vary to keep your foot locked in for fast skiing.

Combi Ski Boots

Not sure which style skiing you want to take part in? Maybe you enjoy classic skiing but want to get into skate skiing. Combi boots blend classic ski boots and skate ski boots to offer all-around performance no matter which style you’re skiing. Offering a great range of motion for classic, higher ankle cuff for power transfer to your skate skis, and overall comfort, you’ll be out on the trail all day long with these boots.

Touring/Backcountry Boots

If you are using touring or backcountry skis, you will generally look at classic style boots where the flexibility is on the balls of your feet. There are touring/backcountry style boots however. They are often higher around the ankle to keep snow out and provide a bit more insulation for warmth while out on the trails.

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Bindings

Bindings are what keep your boots connected to your skis as you glide your way through the snow-covered forest. Bindings are small but essential for all setups. Make sure you are aware of the pattern of your boot before you select a binding to be placed on your skis—Not all boots are compatible with all bindings.

NNN, or New Nordic Norm, pattern bindings feature two thin ridges that are raised to match the sole pattern on your boot. Boots connect to the binding by a single metal bar that runs across the tip of the boot. The boot to binding paring acts like a hinge as you glide forward in both classic and skate techniques.

SNS, or Salomon Nordic System, pattern bindings feature a single raised ridge that spans the bottom of your boot. Like the NNN pattern binding, the SNS utilizes a single metal bar to connect the boot to the binding allowing it to hinge as you glide along. Note that there is a variation of the SNS, the SNS Pilot, which uses two metal bars to connect the boot to the binding, allowing for superior flex and kicking motion without compromising stability.

NIS, or Nordic Integrated System, is essentially the same as the NNN pattern just attached to the ski in a different way. This baseplate pattern is compatible with the NNN pattern boots.

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Poles

Ski poles will help you propel yourself along the trail while also providing stability for uneven terrain. You want ski poles that have some flex to them, a spiked end to grip the snow for added propulsion and stability, and comfortable hand grips—you’ll be holding these the entire time.

Touring and Classic Ski Poles

When classic skiing, you’re going to want a lightweight and sturdy pole. The pole should reach your armpit when standing flat on a groomed trail. For those who will be racing, you may want to add a few centimeters to the length and look at poles made entirely of carbon fiber. If you’re touring off groomed trails, seek out poles that are durable and have a telescopic option.

Skate Ski Poles

When searching for skate skiing poles, you want to look for ones that are stiff and lightweight. The size of your skate ski poles should be about 90 percent of your height: This mean the tops of them are between your chin and your nose when standing flat on the ground. The length of your poles plays a crucial part in maximizing your stroke efficiency because it allows you to engage your abs and your upper body to generate more speed.

 

Purchasing your first cross country ski package is an exciting time. You’ll have everything you need to hit the trails and take in the snow-covered forest as you slide along the trail. Stop into your local Eastern Mountain Sport and let the experts walk you through choosing the right ski, boot, binding, and poles for your desired cross country skiing technique.


10 Reasons to Wear Sandals During Your Next Adventure

The dog days of summer are fast approaching. Historically, August brings some of the warmest, sunniest days of the year to the Northeast, and it’s prime time to enjoy the abundance of its hikes, camping opportunities, and paddles. By now, you’ve peeled your active wardrobe down a few layers to just a T-shirt and shorts, and you’ve traded the beanie out for a ball cap. But, if you haven’t already, now is also the time to swap out the shoes for sandals—and not just for long walks on the beach or the backyard barbecue. If you need convincing, here are 10 reasons you should consider making sandals your first pick for any summertime multi-sport adventure.

1. Greater freedom of movement

Sandals have no barriers to cram your toes. When you’re wearing boots and shoes, this sensation can be especially painful when you’re descending a mountain (hello, black toenails). An open toe box also eliminates those nagging hot spots on your forefoot.

2. They’re lightweight

Less material than a fully enclosed shoe automatically makes sandals a lighter option compared to hiking boots and sneakers. For those who are especially stoked on the fast-and-light mentality, sandals take this to extremes, cutting down on weight while keeping essential aspects there, like traction and support.

3. More room to grow

Many things may cause your feet to temporarily swell, including high temperatures and exercising. Wearing sandals thus gives your midfoot and forefoot more space if comfort is your primary goal.

4. Leave the smelly socks at home

That’s right. You can ditch the socks for the trip and not risk getting athlete’s foot or smelly shoes. By design, sandals are ultra-breathable, so your feet can sweat. In turn, you don’t have to rely on socks to regulate temperature or moisture like you would if you were wearing a boot or hiking shoe.

5. They’re ideal for wet conditions

Do your summer plans have you traversing a river? How about a paddling trip where you’ll be portaging your boat? For these journeys, sandals are often a first choice. You don’t have to wear socks—they’ll inevitably get soggy—and they dry much quicker than a hiking shoe. As well, many active sandals have a lugged or slip-resistant outsole that performs well on slick surfaces.

Sandals-2

6. Barefoot without the danger!

Many people love to go barefoot in the summer, whenever possible. If it weren’t for sharp rocks, glass, and animal scat on the trails, I’d say follow your heart and ditch footwear altogether. However, some of these factors can really ruin your fun and even sideline you for the rest of the season. Sandals provide a solid compromise, offering protection underfoot and still exposing your feet to the elements.

7. They’re easy to take on and off

Put your shoe horns away. Sandals are far less complicated to put on and take off than lace-up shoes. For this reason especially, sandals make excellent approach shoes to the crag or the trailhead before the terrain becomes too gnarly. Most styles utilize a one-handed closure system, making for a fuss-free transition to more sport-specific footwear.

8. They’re packable

Sandals do not have a rigid exterior, thus making them more compressible and easier to fit into your backpack or luggage. Don’t have any space left in the bag? No problem. Just attach the sandals’ straps to your pack’s daisy chains or gear loops. 

9. Skip the laces

As I mentioned earlier, sandals do not utilize a traditional lace-up system. As such, there’s nothing that will eventually fray and break, and need to be replaced. It also means your laces won’t come untied and trip you mid-stride.

10. They’re exceptionally durable and supportive

Multi-sport sandals are constructed with a sturdy rubber outsole and a supportive midsole, while their straps are either made of strong polyester webbing or leather. In short, these aren’t your grade-school jelly shoes, and they’ll reliably last through many journeys.

 

Don’t sell your other shoes to a consignment store just yet, though. The aforementioned reasons are not meant to cloud your better logic. If your activity requires specialty footwear—as with cycling and rock climbing—do not substitute them with sandals. Additionally, if you will be going on a long trek or will be doing some serious bushwhacking, even the sportiest sandals aren’t enough. Your feet and ankles require a greater degree of protection and support.

Sandals have evolved to meet the needs of more than just the beachcombers, and are now a practical option for many of your recreational endeavors. To those with hesitation, I encourage you to take a walk on the wild side this summer, and even out those sock tans.

Sandals-1


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.


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!


8 Reasons to Choose Waterproof Trail Runners

Anybody who’s working through the Northeast’s 4,000-footers should have a pair of waterproof trail runners in their footwear arsenal. Lightweight and blocking out moisture, they’re the perfect shoe for getting to the summit and back quickly on those less-than-perfect spring, summer, and fall days. Don’t believe us? Here are eight reasons they’re the ideal rainy hike footwear.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Light is Right (Even When It’s Raining)

Everybody knows that a pound off your feet equals five pounds off your back. Since that adage holds true even when it’s dumping buckets, wearing these shoes is a great way to avoid a difficult choice between heavier hiking boots and lighter-but-not-waterproof trail runners. Not only will they allow you to maintain the hiking efficiency that you’re used to from regular trail runners, but they also provide almost as much weather protection as boots.

2. The Skinny on Being Heavy

Boots are also stiffer and less responsive, reducing your body’s efficiency. For every pound you put on your feet, you expend five-percent more energy. Five percent might not sound like much, but on a four-hour hike, that’s more than 10 minutes. Think of it as an extra 10 minutes to linger at the summit after the weather breaks.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Flash the Flats

Waterproof trail runners let you move fast and keep your feet dry on soggy spring days or when you encounter unexpected showers. Since they’re designed specifically for running, you can race across that ridge, sprint ahead of that shower, or see just how fast you can cover that flat.

4. Warming Up to the Idea

Although trail runners might not be as warm as boots, especially traditional full-leather hikers, their waterproof liners add just enough coverage to make them suitable for cool spring weather or a little bit of snow lingering high up on the ridge. Even better, they adapt great on those days that start cold but warm up fast.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. Find Their Niche

Make the most out of waterproof trail running shoes by using them for the right types of hikes and conditions. Longer trips with lengthy stretches of flat ground and numerous short water crossings, like Bondcliff in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, are the perfect place to ditch the boots so you can cover the flats faster. They’re also ideal for shorter hikes, like Camel’s Hump in Vermont, where the support of boots isn’t needed—especially when you’re traveling through rainy and muddy conditions.

Pro Tip: When water levels are high, getting past a water crossing requires more than the right footwear. Check out this guide on safely crossing backcountry rivers.

6. No Need to Give ‘Em the Boot

Spring conditions—mud, rain, and repeatedly getting wet and drying—shorten the lifespan of both shoes and boots. Ironically, getting wet is what commonly leads to the demise of waterproof liners, as moisture brings minute dirt particles into the space between a boot’s exterior and its inner membrane. Here, the particles then slowly abrade the liner. Because waterproof trail runners are traditionally less expensive than boots, it is less painful to replace them when their time has come.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

7. Quivering for a Pair of Trail Runners

Even though trail runners are typically less expensive than boots, no one wants to be constantly replacing a key piece of gear. One of the great things about them is, they are an essential arrow in your quiver, truly shining during mud season and rainy days. Because of this, it’s not uncommon to get a few years out of a pair.

8. The Right Choice for the Right Day

Maximizing your time in the mountains is all about matching the right gear with the right conditions. Waterproof trail runners are perfect for logging miles in damp spring weather or whenever your trip has a high probability of mud and rain. Although they’re a key piece of gear, a lot of occasions still call for traditional hiking boots, as well as non-waterproof trail runners.

 

We want to know which types of footwear you wear hiking. Let us know in the comments!


What's in Your Fall Hiking Backpack?

As the seasons transition from summer to fall in the White Mountains, so do the contents of our hiking kits. To deal with the shorter days, colder temperatures, and potentially icy and snowy trails, it’s important to emphasize layering, having the proper footwear, and carrying enough group gear to deal with any emergency.

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Upper Body Layers

Our usual fall base layer is a sun shirt, like the Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody. Although the sun might not be as strong this time of year, you can still get a burn above treeline. And, when the sun goes behind a cloud, the hood and long sleeves are great for keeping the chills at bay.

A lightweight wind shirt, like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite, is another year-round staple. It’s perfect for the beginning of cool morning hikes and helps keep you warm as you battle breezes on exposed ridges and summits. And, since they’re so lightweight and packable, there’s absolutely no reason not to have one with you.

Whether or not rain is in the forecast, we also pack a raincoat. Getting soaking wet when air temperatures are low is a recipe for an epic survival story or worse. With Gore-Tex construction, jackets, such as the Marmot Minimalist (Men’s/Women’s), will keep you dry in whatever you encounter, without eating up too much pack space.

Fall also marks the unofficial start of puffy coat season. We like to carry two separate puffers, with one being a lightweight or hybrid offering, like the Arc’teryx Atom SL Hoody (Men’s/Women’s), and the other a more traditional midweight piece, such as the Black Diamond Access Hoody (Men’s/Women’s). On cold or windy days, we typically don the lighter and more breathable one just below treeline to keep us warm on the final push to the summit. And, while enjoying the views from the top, we then pull on the other, warmer one. With little weight penalty for carrying two extremely packable, insulating pieces, hikers gain versatility in their layering and better adapt to the conditions facing them.

Lower Body Layers

A lightweight and stretchy soft shell pant, like the Marmot Scree (Men’s/Women’s), delivers the needed mobility and protection for fall pursuits. Pair them with an inexpensive and reliable waterproof rain pant, like the EMS Thunderhead (Men’s/Women’s), to stay dry in the event of inclement weather.

Typically during the fall, if you keep your core warm, you may not need to add a base layer to your lower body. However, if you run cold, the weather looks frigid, or you like to linger, consider wearing something lightweight.

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Footwear and Trekking Poles

Nothing ruins a trip faster than cold feet, and there is no surer way to get them than having inferior footwear. Fall hikers encounter everything from rain to snow and ice, so having a good pair of waterproof footwear is imperative. And, because you may encounter early-season snow, we prefer the extra protection afforded by waterproof boots. The Asolo Fugitive GTX has been a long-time staple of many hikers’ kits, but if you can, stop by a store to try a few different pairs on first. From Oboz to Scarpa to Salomon, EMS is sure to have something that feels just right. A good, comfortable fit is the most important feature of all. Without it, you’re unlikely to even put the boots on.

It’s not just boots that get an upgrade, however. We also move to a heavier sock, going from sneaker-friendly options, like the Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Mini, to a more classic option, like the Smartwool Light Hiking Sock.

Another important addition is a traction device. It’s common to encounter icy sections this time of year, especially when you’re traveling above treeline or at higher elevations. Kahtoola MICROspikes deliver all the grip you need, are proven to last through years of hard service, and easily transition from a fall just-in-case item to a winter must-have.

Trekking poles are also handy, providing extra stability while you navigate everything from slick leaves to the Whites’ icy fall terrain. We’ve both spent years using the Black Diamond Traverse Ski Poles and have found them inexpensive, durable, and up to the task of hiking New England’s tallest peaks. Equally important, they transition nicely into ski season when the trails finally fill with snow.

Accessories

For fall hikes, we typically bring multiple pairs of lightweight gloves, along with one heavier pair of gloves or mittens for the summit. We’ve found a good blend starts with a lightweight, stretchy fleece glove, like the EMS Power Stretch, for getting ready and being on the trail. As well, we include something more robust, like a leather work glove or softshell glove—the Black Diamond Dirt Bag is an excellent example—for above-treeline or more wintery conditions. For summits and emergencies, we also carry a warm mitten, like the EMS Summit, and a package or two of handwarmers.

One of the easiest ways to regulate your temperature is through your head. Because of this, it’s nice to bring two hats on fall hikes: a lighter, baseball-style cap for when we are moving quickly below treeline, and a more traditional winter hat—the Smartwool Cuffed Beanie is a longtime favorite—for when you are exposed to the elements. As one of the great things about layering with hoods, making adjustments to your head’s protection on the fly easily lets you warm up or cool down.

In the fall, we also like to carry either a buff or a balaclava, and sometimes, we even pack both. Buffs are incredibly versatile, ideal for everything from an impromptu hat to a neck scarf to a facemask. In late fall or on particularly cold, windy days, however, there’s no substitute for a high-quality balaclava, such as the Black Diamond Dome.

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Bladder to Bottles

Hydration bladders are great for ensuring you drink enough water in the heat of summer. But, by fall, they pose some challenges, especially late in the season. For example, the bladder’s exposed parts, like the tube and the mouthpiece, have potential to freeze, which makes for a long, thirsty day. Instead, most hikers carry traditional Nalgene wide-mouth water bottles. If the weather does look cold, on the other hand, supplement a water bottle with a Hydro Flask thermos of your favorite hot beverage.

Just In Case

Although spending an unexpected night in the woods is never fun, the consequences increase as daylight hours shorten. Whether it is due to an injury or just getting lost, or to cope with colder nighttime temperatures and potentially wet and icy ground, we carry a lightweight bivy and a Sea to Summit Ultralight Pad to offer some insulation. All the extra layers mentioned above, including the double puffies, multiple hats, heavy mittens, and handwarmers, also come in handy here.

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The Pack

You’ll need to have a little more space to carry the additional cool-weather items. However, don’t let a stuffed backpack prevent you from keeping anything vital behind. With plenty of space and lightweight construction, the Osprey Talon 33 is perfect for carrying all your needs—and a few of your wants—on your next fall hike.

 

Not every item listed above is essential to hiking one of the Northeast’s 4,000-footers this fall, but having the right combination can make your experience safer and more enjoyable—not to mention more efficient. The best advice, though, is to get outside and discover what works for you. If you have a key piece of fall hiking gear, tell us about it in the comments!