How to Find Secret Paddle-In Campsites

You know it when you’ve found it: a special and secluded campsite along the shore to spend a night at during a paddling trip. One where you won’t hear generators running late into the night or over-the-top camp setups, or find the amenities of a typical campground. The simplicity of a campsite only accessible by boat can isn’t appealing to everyone, but for those that do, the best sites stand out and are often returned to year after year. Most of these remote spots are quietly managed by National Forest or other public lands efforts. They’re treasures, part of which is discovering them. Which is why we can’t tell you where they are. But, we can give you some tools you can use to find them on your own.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

1. Pick up an atlas

In the age of digital media, one of the most effective ways to find backroads, campsites, and swim holes is still with an atlas or gazetteer. Familiarize yourself with the various symbols; often these campsites are designated with a square (“Point of Interest”), or tent symbol, not to be confused with that symbol for campground. If you already have a specific paddling trip in mind, like the Saranac River or Maine Isle Trail, a paper map designed for that trip should include smaller campsites that aren’t apart of a larger campground network.

2. Study Google Maps

It’s not going to show you private property boundaries but studying Google Earth is a great way to narrow down your search area away from vehicle-accessible areas. It’s easy to zoom in and download a certain spot to your phone so you can view it once you lose service. Look for coves, islands or other secluded spots along the water.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

3. Talk to locals

Some of the best spots are never written about on popular publications, and instead passed on by word of mouth. A good place to start is by heading into the local outfitter or rental shop. Explain that you’re looking for a remote waterside spot to spend the night (on the lake or river) and see what information they’re willing to give up. Some spots are kept pretty hush, but many folks will steer you in the right direction.

4.  Understand land management

Bureau of Land Management or Forest Service lands aren’t as prevalent in the Northeast compared to out west, but there are plenty of public lands maintained by other groups like the Maine North Woods. These areas often have the most strategically placed campsites, so don’t be surprised if there’s a small fee to stay at them (some can be paid retroactively, but have cash on hand). Otherwise, National and State-managed Forests will be your bread and butter. Understanding where these jurisdictions are, and how they operate will help you determine where to camp.

Courtesy: Dave Moore
Courtesy: Dave Moore

5. Read guidebooks

Paddling Guidebooks can offer some of the best intel on where you may want to be traveling and camping on the water. Even if you aren’t planning to do an entire trip, a guidebook covering a wider area, like the North Forest Canoe Trail or Adirondacks, will give you more than enough information to find the perfect spot for a night away.


Bagging Peaks and Avoiding Packed Parking Lots in Franconia Notch

Thanks to iconic routes like Franconia Ridge, two easily accessible huts, and some of New Hampshire’s most spectacular scenery, Franconia Notch has long been a popular destination for hikers and backpackers. Surging interest in the area has resulted in more cars at the Lafayette Place parking lot than available parking spaces, in turn causing visitors to park on the side of the highway. While parking along the highway has long been illegal, it hasn’t been enforced until this year, with signs, ropes, and cones prohibiting it along both the north and southbound sides. Using the hiker shuttle running between the lots in Franconia Notch is one solution for folks who can’t access their desired trailhead. Here’s another: Avoid the trailheads that start at Lafayette Place altogether and instead hike these super-popular summits via one of the lesser-known trails listed below.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Skookumchuck Trail to Mount Lafayette

Checking all the boxes, the Skookumchuck Trail to the Garfield Ridge Trail to the summit of Mount Lafayette delivers fantastic scenery and minimal crowds while avoiding the hustle and bustle of Lafayette Place.

Leaving north of the notch on Route 3 from the Skookumchuck Trailhead, the Skookumchuck Trail and Garfield Ridge Trail combine to deliver a just-over-10-mile round trip to the 5,260-foot summit of Mount Lafayette, the highest New Hampshire summit outside the Presidential Range. Though slightly longer than the classic Franconia Ridge Traverse, more secure footing and straightforward hiking make this trip quicker, as there aren’t slippery sections of trail like portions of the Falling Waters Trail or disconcerting slabs like on the Old Bridle Path.

Hugging the Skookumchuck Brook for the first few miles, you won’t confuse the sound of the stream for the powerful waterfalls of the Falling Water Trail; however, skookumchuckis a Chinook word that translates to “strong water” or “healthy water.” After leaving the brook, the Skookumchuck Trail climbs steadily through the forest, eventually giving way to low scrub before finally joining the Garfield Ridge Trail above treeline. From here, take in the view of the first crowds you’ve most likely seen all day on Lafayette’s summit a little under a mile away (and moving up and down the Greenleaf Trail to and from the AMC’s Greenleaf Hut).

From the junction with the Garfield Ridge Trail, the path is a gorgeous above-treeline ridge that rivals its counterpart on the other side of Lafayette in beauty but not in the number of hikers. And like its more popular counterpart between Little Haystack (a non-counting 4,000-footer) and Mount Lafayette, this section of trail also crosses a non-counting 4,000-footer, North Lafayette (5,260). Although North Lafayette isn’t one of the New Hampshire 48, its view is equal to any peak in Franconia Notch and is a great place to stop and take a break away from the bustle of Lafayette’s main summit.

From the summit of Mount Lafayette, simply turn around and descend the 3,500 feet of elevation you just climbed.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Kinsman Trail to North and South Kinsman

The common route to the summits of North and South Kinsman is via the Lafayette Place parking lot and past the AMC’s Lonesome Lake Hut. However, an easy way to beat the parking ban—and the crowds—is to hike the mountains from the opposite side via the Mount Kinsman Trail to the Kinsman Ridge Trail.

Located off of Route 116 in Easton, New Hampshire, is the small, wooded parking lot for the Kinsman Ridge Trail. Providing a starkly different experience than the flurry of activity often found on Kinsman Ridge, this route remains quiet as hikers begin the approximately 10-mile out-and-back trip gaining roughly 4,000 feet in elevation and ticking the summits of two 4,000-footers: North and South Kinsman.

The silence of the forest is palpable as hikers on the Mount Kinsman Trail follow its blue blazes past small waterfalls and over slight streams—especially when compared to an ascent of the Kinsmans from Franconia Notch, where the first mile of the trail is shared by hikers destined for Cannon Mountain and Lonesome Lake. Sure, Lonesome Lake and Kinsman Pond are beautiful, but they’re likely to be crowded on most weekends. By contrast, hikers willing to make a roughly 0.25-mile detour off the Mount Kinsman Trail are treated to an additional summit and a fantastic view on 2,470-foot Bald Peak.

Before reaching the summits of the Kinsmans, you’ll join the throngs of other hikers on the Kinsman Ridge Trail, almost all of whom approached the mountains from the Franconia side. From the junction, follow the Kinsman Ridge Trail for roughly a half mile to the summit of North Peak, then for another mile to the expansive summit and astounding view afforded from South Kinsman.

Take in the vast view of Franconia Ridge across the notch, pose for a picture in the throne-shaped cairn marking the summit, and think back to the peaceful moments on Bald Peak before returning the way you came.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Cannon Mountain via Kinsman Ridge Trail

It’s silly to stash your car at Cannon Mountain’s overflow lot only to take a shuttle to hike Cannon via the popular Hi-Cannon Trail. Instead, try the Kinsman Ridge Trail, which leaves from a hiker lot attached to the large parking lot for the Aerial Tramway and avoids the busier parts of the notch.

Not unlike the Hi-Cannon Trail in Franconia Notch, the Kinsman Ridge Trail is a lung and leg burner—the trail climbs just under 2,500 feet over roughly two miles. Thanks to the directness of the trail, and short 4(ish)-mile round trip, hikers comfortable with the at-times-near-vertical terrain are afforded a quick ascent and descent.

Running roughly adjacent to the tramway, it’s not uncommon to spy a yellow or red cable car high overhead whisking visitors to the summit. Roughly a half mile from Cannon’s summit, hikers are treated to the terrain the mountain is notorious for—ledgey, rocky, slabby, and treacherous—as the Kinsman Ridge Trail nears a side trail with access to some ledges. If you explore it, don’t let the stunning view of Franconia Ridge lull you into complacency; a misstep here would be unfortunate.

Signs of civilization become more apparent as you approach the top of Cannon Mountain. Here you’ll encounter hikers lounging and scrambling around the slabs and ledges dotting the mountain’s summit along with numerous tourists transported here via the aerial tram. Fight the crowds and climb the lookout tower for one of the finest views in the White Mountains before seeking solitude on the slabs below.

After resting on the summit, return the way you came or splurge for a ride down via the tram.

 

Do you have a trick for avoiding the crowded parking lots of Franconia Notch? If so, we want to hear it! Leave your tip in the comments below.


The Best Gear for Living Out of Your Car

Creature comforts are the key to well-being and longevity when living out of a car. Past multi-week road trips had left my husband and I exhausted, so as we planned for a yearlong motor adventure across North America, we focused on bringing the comforts of home into nature. A tricked-out Sprinter van would have been the homiest option, but not having $50,000 under our mattress, we retrofitted our Nissan Xterra and became first-time homeowners. We christened it “Tupperware World,” a nod to the Tetris-style stack of boxes filling the interior.

And now, having spent 8 full months in our home on wheels, it’s safe to say we know a thing or two about the best gear for car-life.

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Multi-Purpose Room

Living out of your car is a euphemism for living outside. While the vehicle enables your nomadic lifestyle, the valley, overlook, or beach where you park it is “home.” When home is buggy, crowded, or rainy, you need a place to escape.

The solution: Wherever we park it, up goes a screen room. It’s kitted out with multi-purpose furniture, suiting our needs whether we’re cooking, shooting the breeze, or working. It’s important to choose a screen room that protects from sun, rain, and insects, like the MountainsmithShelter House. Complete the basic layout with a table and chair, like the Eureka Camp Tableand the Travelchair Easy Rider Camping Chair. Be a little extra, and liven up the space with portable speaker like the Goal ZeroRock Out 2 Portable Speaker.

One of the best pieces of gear we’ve bought in years is the MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights, which provide ambient light hanging from the “rafters” of our screen room. Extending short winter days and lighting up the night during summer camp-outs, they make the space warm and homey. For lighting outside of the tent, I rely on the Petzl ReactikHeadlamp.

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Outdoor Kitchen

Granola bars and Chef Boyardi may work for a night or two, but for me, having a kitchen on the road was a must. When we were young and stupid, my husband and I used our backpacking stove during extended car camping trips, which made cooking uncomfortable before we even began. If you plan to live in your car, do yourself a favor and outfit a portable kitchen.

Most outdoor kitchen gear is the same as what you’d find indoors, however, there are a few exceptions. Whet your appetite with cooking gear like the Primus Profile Stove, the MSR Quick 2 Pot Set, and the LMF Titanium Spork. My husband has owned this spork since before we met in 2012, so believe me, it’s bombproof. And while we avoid buying food that requires refrigeration, the Yeti Hopper Flip 8keeps our small supply of perishables fresh.

Most nights we camp at primitive sites, making water a scare resource. Fortunately, you can buy a few specialty pieces that make meal clean-up efficient and earth friendly. We use Sea to Summit’s 10-liter Kitchen Sinkand biodegradable Wilderness Wash. A refillable water jug, like the Reliance Fold-A-Carrier, provides enough water for 1 to 2 days of primitive camping.

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Mobile Office

Search the term “digital nomad” if you’ve ever wondered how people afford to travel for months on end. We mostly work in libraries and local coffee shops because they have internet and power, things that our car does not provide. We’ve met a lot of people this way, a perk to a life that can be lonesome at times.

To be honest though, I envy the van lifers who have portable power sources, such as theGoal ZeroYeti 150 Portable Power Station. Maybe on our next road trip?

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Hygiene

Traveling on a budget requires “boondocking,” or camping at free, primitive sites. It’s a cheap way to travel, but unless you’re Pig-Pen, you’ll need a few pieces of gear to keep clean.

People ask all the time how we shower, to which we respond, “Does jumping in a river count?” When rivers are scarce, we use a solar shower like the Sea to Summit Pocket Shower, which has enough water to rinse two people once. Otherwise the refillable water jug mentioned under the “Outdoor Kitchen” section provides what we need for brushing teeth, washing hands, and other campsite chores.

And what about those campsites without toilets? When not required to pack it out, you’ll need a trowel like the GSI Outdoors Cathole Trowelfor burying poop and toilet paper. FollowLeave No Trace Principle #3to scout the perfect cathole location.

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Sleep Well

To make long term travel comfortable, we built a custom sleeping platform in the back of our Xterra using scrap wood. The internet doesn’t sell mattresses in “Back of Xterra” sizes, so we cut a 3-inch mattress topper down to size, covering it with hand-sewn mattress cover, upcycling fabric from an old top sheet.

Our bedding ranges from 20 degree sleeping bags for cold weather to light blankets for warm weather. Year-round, we use stuffable pillow cases, like the Therm-a-Rest Stuff Sack Pillow.Most importantly, bedding needs to be compact and packable for storage purposes

If your car is too small to sleep in, consider something like the TepuiHyBox Rooftop Tent And Cargo Box, which offers protection from the elements and keeps you from sleeping on the ground. For others, sleeping in a traditional tent may suit your needs, just be sure to pack comfortable bedding.


8 Tips for Your Next Long-Distance Paddle

Don’t get us wrong, long-distance paddling trips are a battle. While they’re not necessarily physically hard, but they demand the skills and mental willpower to navigate a wide variety of circumstances. But for paddlers willing to take on the distance, the trials come with exceptional rewards: access to some of the most pristine wilderness in the world, genuine and informative interactions with small-town locals, uninterrupted views and plenty of vitamin D. A human-powered adventure of this nature, such as the Florida Saltwater Trail, Northern Forest Canoe Trail and rivers like the Mississippi, Susquehanna and Delaware, gives paddlers experiences to take with them beyond the water. For those ready to take recreational to the next level, here’s 8 tips to help you get there:

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

1. Be flexible

On a long-distance trip or any kind, there’s little guarantee that things will go according to plan. At some point, bad weather will roll through, gear will malfunction, and our bodies and mind will scream for a break. There’s only so much planning you can do to prepare for such a feat, so keeping an open mind is crucial. The more you can stop stressing about the circumstances outside of your control, and put your focus into problem solving as things come up, the greater joy you’ll get from the experience. That adaptability is the heart of endurance activities.

2. Know your vessel

Depending on the route and your personal preferences, you may opt for either a kayak or a canoe. Regardless, it’s important to understand your boat before setting out on a long trip. The longer the distance, the more variety in conditions you’ll experience. The size and type may vary from trip-to-trip and paddler-to-paddler, but remember that there will be give and take and nothing will be perfect in every condition. Take your boat out as much as possible prior to a big trip to better understand what it can and can’t handle. How stable is it? Is its composition durable enough to handle a rocky river at lower water levels? Know what elements you can and can’t take it through to avoid learning the hard way.

3. Pack light

It’s easy to cram too much gear into a boat. Lightweight tents, sleep systems and cooking equipment will simplify your portages and daily tasks in camp. Popular gear for backpacking and thru-hiking will work equally efficiently on a long-distance paddle, but keep everything in high-quality dry bags. Carry one set of clothes for paddling, and one for sleeping, plus a cold or wet weather layer. Since you’re on the water, rinsing clothes out couldn’t be easier that carrying extra clean options. Stick to the basics as best you can and remember that the longer you’re out, the less you’ll care about luxury items like camp chairs and books.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

4. Understand your partner well

Or, be ready to find out about them pretty quickly. If you’re in a tandem canoe (or kayak), prepare for long days with little space from your partner. An integral communication system needs to already exist between you, or have the patience to develop one while you’re out on a multi-week trip. A fluid understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses helps when dividing up responsibilities when it comes to paddling, navigation and camp. A long-distance paddle test any relationship but the skills gained from the endeavor will stretch beyond days on the water.

5. Practice navigation skills

Navigating hundreds of miles of waterways, often very remote, can be intimidating. While there are long-distance rivers and trails that already exist, many paddlers opt to map their own unique routes connecting waterways. Both will require sufficient navigational skills without relying on electronic devices. It’s advisable to practice general topographic map and compass skills, be familiar with waterway markers, and have an understanding of your pace in a variety of conditions. Pay attention and study you’re route as you go, so you recognize being off-course quickly.

6. Come up with a resupply plan

Resupplying on a long paddle can be challenging with a boat in tow. It’s easiest to map your route to hit boat launches within walking distance of town amenities (or, like the Mississippi or NFCT, plan your route to travel directly through towns). I’ve had great luck bringing a cable lock or chatting up folks at marinas or boat rental shops about housing our boat for a few hours while I run errands.

Water-Guages

7. Watch water levels

Unless you’re trip strictly follows lakes, oceans or large bodies of water, you should be aware of the water levels and what they mean. TheUSGS Water Datais a reliable resource for current water levels. Keep an eye on the CFS flow measurement (cubic feet per second) and gage height (feet). Directly after a big rainfall they will spike and then settle. They can vary but typically June is a great month for paddling after the snow melts in the mountains, but there can be great windows of opportunity later in the summer or fall after a good spell of rain. Late in the season, rivers will be become unpaddleable below 300 CFS. If you’re paddling water affected by tides, find an updated tide schedule.

8. Invest in a good cart

Chances are, you’ll be portaging your boat at some point. A wheel-able cartmakes things much easier, even for short distances around dams and bridges. Some avid paddlers will build their own custom carts, because many of the of the carts on the market today aren’t built with the durability to endure distance and variable terrain. Weight aside, pick a cart with at least 15-inch tires.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

How to Choose a Headlamp

Whether you’re running down the trail, setting up your tent, or peeking under the car hood, headlamps are a convenient and hands-free way to provide light in the dark. A headlamp should be in everyone’s arsenal for venturing outdoors but with so many choices, what’s the difference between them all? There are many variables to consider when choosing a headlamp and brightness isn’t the only important thing to look at. So how do you know you’re choosing the right one?

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Lumens, Explained

Lumens—which are typically advertised front and center on a headlamp’s packaging and are a good place to start if you’re buying a new light—are the units that measure the total quantity of light emitted in all directions at full battery. Generally speaking, the higher the lumens, the brighter the headlamp, though not all brands measure lumens in exactly the same way, or focus that light the same, which can impact lumen count.

For reference, a car headlight is 1,300 lumens. There are headlamps out there that can reach ~1,000 lumens, but you won’t be able to see what’s right in front of you. The sweet spot for most tasks, like finding gear in your pack, setting up a tent, or walking the dog around the neighborhood is around 150-250 lumens. For extended periods of night-hiking or biking, most folks will prefer 200-350 lumens.

At full brightness, a headlamp is using more battery power, but most headlamps are dimmable, allowing you to fine-tune the right amount of light and battery usage for your task, up to that given maximum lumen number.

Also keep in mind that, as batteries drop from their 100 percent charge, their max brightness will also decrease. Pick a headlamp that is 50-100 lumens more than what you want, since it will likely be operating at standard output most of the time.

GO: 0-49 lumens | 50-99 lumens | 100-199 lumens | 199+ lumens

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Headlamp Battery

The next big aspect of headlamps, which ties directly into its brightness, it how it uses its batteries.

Run Time

When buying a headlamp, most will give you an estimated burn time based on power and battery life—This is the amount of time (in hours) until the lights can no longer produce usable brightness at close proximity. This is a crucial factor to consider. If you’re going backpacking in the summer time, you may only need it to last short spurts while getting ready for bed. If you’re ski touring, will it stay lit during a long pre-dawn approach? Most headlamps will give you burn times for both maximum power, and a lower setting—pay attention to both.

Battery Compatibility

Most headlamps work with two or three AAA lithium or alkaline batteries. Rechargeable nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries also work well with headlamps and perform better in colder conditions, however they can lose power while sitting idle.

Some headlamps are rechargeable as well, which allows you to plug it in after a trip to ensure you’re always starting our with a 100 percent charge. You might also be able to charge them with a solar panel or power bank on longer trips, though they may not take regular batteries if needed,

Pro Tip: On cold winter trips, don’t forget to sleep with your headlamp inside your sleeping bag to preserve the battery life. On a really cold night, the chill can sap the battery by the time you wake up.

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Lighting Features

A good headlamp doesn’t simply turn on and off—It allows you to customize the brightness, beam type, and even color of the light to best suit your needs in the moment.

Lighting Modes

Rather than just offering an on/off switch, most headlamps have multiple brightness modes for performing different tasks and preserving battery power. Check headlamp specs for varying output modes like low, standard and max, or the ability to progressively dim. Each mode will vary in brightness, distance and burn time.

Strobe mode acts as an emergency blinker that’s also helpful in situations where you want to be seen, like riding a bike at night or on a busy road, or navigating foggy waters. Burst mode is offered in certain headlamps which allows for temporary high-lumen beam.

Beam Pattern and Distance

For general camp use, reading or anything up-close, a flood beam is more useful. It gives off light in a wider pattern, rather than throwing it a long-distance, which is ideal for doing things up close like cooking, reading, or getting things ready around camp.

A spot beam gives a tighter view at a longer distance, enabling the user to see further ahead in the dark, which can be nice for hiking down a trail or spotting something on the other side of a lake. Most headlamps will give you the ability to switch back and forth between these two modes.

Color Modes

Many headlamps offer a red-light mode that is great for preserving night vision and battery life and prevents blinding other people in camp.

More sophisticated headlamps may have multiple color modes, including blue and green LEDs. Blue lights are especially important for reading maps at night, since they are the only color that doesn’t wash out red lines on a map, as well as when traveling on the water as blue is the only light that can cut through fog.

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Headlamp Style and Features

Basic headlamps have a fairly slim design which makes them extremely lightweight and versatile. For backpacking, hiking, climbing, etc., the standard design with a single strap around the head and the entirety of the light up front is lightest and easiest to use. But for those running with headlamps, either a much smaller, extremely lightweight headlamp, or a headlamp that separates the battery pack and puts it on the back of the head might bounce around less while in motion. This style typically includes a strap over the top of the head, too, to keep it from sliding down.

Other things to keep in mind are the width of the straps, the tilt of the headlamp, waterproofing, and the positioning and ease-of-use of switches and buttons.


Kitted Out: Fast and Light Peakbagging

Whether you’re pursuing Vermont’s tallest peaks, tackling classic hikes such as the Presidential Traverse, or looking to bag a popular summit like Mount Monadnock, having the right gear is critical for success, safety, and comfort in the mountains. If you’re starting to pull together your peakbagging kit for the summer, here are some tried-and-true pieces to take with you into the mountains.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Pack: Osprey  Talon 22

If you take too big of a pack into the mountains, you’re liable to overpack. By contrast, if you bring too small a pack, you might be forced to leave an essential item behind. For just the right balance, try a pack like the Osprey Talon 22. The panel-loading Talon 22 has all of the features you need for moving through the mountains, and none of the features you don’t—helping keep it airy enough for the “light is right” crowd but durable enough to stand up to a big day in the Carter Range.

Hydration Bladder: CamelBak Crux 2L Reservoir

A key to moving fast in the mountains is minimizing stopping, and by allowing hikers to drink on the move, hydration bladders put an end to time-consuming water breaks. The Black Diamond Speed Zip 24 is hydration compatible, meaning a bladder like the 2-liter CamelBak Crux, will slide right into it. CamelBak has been making bladders since the beginning—they’re easy to drink from, simple to fill, and require minimal effort to fill.

Hiking Poles: Leki Micro Vario Core-Teck

Improved hiking efficiency, reduced wear and tear on joints, and increased safety are just a few reasons why you should hike with trekking poles. Trekking poles like the Leki Micro Vario Core-Tec (men’s/women’s) collapse small enough to tuck away inside/are easily stowed on the outside of a pack when not in use, are adjustable for adapting to a variety of terrain, have interchangeable baskets (making them appropriate for four-season use), and are sturdy enough to stand up to rugged Northeast terrain.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Headlamp: Petzl Tikka

Even if you’re just going for a short trip up a state highpoint like Massachusetts’ Mount Greylock, it’s a good idea to carry a headlamp. A headlamp can save you from epicing in the dark if a trip takes longer than anticipated and can be used to signal for help in an emergency. The Petzl Tikka is powerful with a maximum of 200 lumens and has been a standout of Petzl’s headlamp line for years.  

Sunglasses: Julbo

Whether you’re trying to complete the Adirondacks’ 46 peaks over 4,000 feet or New Hampshire’s 52 with a View, odds are you’ll be spending some time above treeline and in the sun—making sunglasses a good addition to your hiking kit. With options to fit all types of faces and a wide variety of styles, the “right” pair differs between individuals. That said, we love Julbo shades (the crazier the color scheme, the better). Look for something polarized and get a hard case to protect them in your pack.

Puffy: EMS Alpine Ascender

It’s easy to be lulled into complacency by mild spring and summer weather at the trailhead, but be advised that it could still feel like winter at higher elevations—for example, the record high temperature on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington is just 72 degrees. Because of this, it’s a good idea to always pack a puffy coat. The EMS Alpine Ascender delivers the warmth needed for frigid peaks and frosty ridgelines while still being breathable enough to wear on the move.

Hardshell: Outdoor Research Helium II

Mark Twain famously said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.” With that in mind, pack a hardshell to deal with the Northeast’s fickle weather. The Outdoor Research Helium II (men’s/women’s) is a long-time favorite for summer conditions due to its lightweight packability and weather protection (which was essential as we explored Camel’s Hump, a Vermont classic).

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Windshirt: Black Diamond Alpine Start

Probably the layer that gets used the most, a windshirt is perfect for everything from taking the chill off of early morning starts to keeping you warm when the wind is whipping above treeline. The Black Diamond Alpine Start (men’s/women’s) is light and packable enough that it never gets left behind and has proven itself capable of standing up against the region’s coarse rock that would shred lesser jackets.

Sunshirt: Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody

Sunshirts are an integral part of any peakbagger’s kit, especially when above treeline—on Cadillac Mountain’s South Ridge Trail, for example—as they offer protection from the sun, help keep hikers cool, and efficiently wick sweat away from the body. A nice bonus of sunshirts is that they also offer protection from bugs, making them a particularly well-loved piece during the Northeast’s seemingly interminable black fly season. The Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody (men’s/women’s) delivers 50-UPF protection and features a hood to help keep the sun off your head, neck, and face.  

Trail Runners: Salomon Speedcross

Moving fast is essential to picking off multiple peaks in a day on hikes like the infamous Pemi Traverse. Not only is the old saying “a pound off your feet equals five pounds off your back” true, but heavy footwear affects hikers in other ways too. For example, the stiff and less responsive nature of heavier footwear reduces the body’s efficiency—resulting in 5% more energy expended. Shoes are an incredibly personal decision, but in the past, we’ve had luck with the Salomon Speedcross (men’s/women’s). The Speedcross delivers superb traction in a variety of terrains, lightweight, and enough cushion for comfort even the longest days in the mountains. Pair them with Smartwool’s PhD Pro Light Crew Socks (men’s/women’s) for a fantastic fit and smooth stride.

Pants: Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pant

If you haven’t tried the Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pant (men’s/women’s) yet, you’re missing out. Perfect for all but the warmest days, these are staple of our summer peakbagging kits. If you run warm, the Ferrosi Short (men’s/women’s) is awesome, too.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Other Essentials

It’s always a good idea to stash a first aid kit, emergency bivy, map and compass, hat (men’s/women’s) and gloves or mittens (men’s/women’s)— yes, even in the summer, communication device, fire starter, and some extra food in your pack as well. While we hope you never need any of it, it’s nice to be prepared in an emergency.

Do you have a key piece of peakbagging gear that didn’t make our list? If so, let us know what it is and why you don’t hit the trail without it in the comments below.


Alpha Guide: Hiking The Devil's Path

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Not for the faint of heart, the Catskills’ most notorious trail is rugged, wild, and just as challenging as it is rewarding.

Point blank, the Devil’s Path is hard. In its 25 miles, this hike gains over 8,500 feet in elevation while running over some of the roughest terrain in the Northeast. The five Catskill high peaks it traverses—Indian Head, Twin, Sugarloaf, Plateau, and West Kill Mountains—are separated by dramatically steep descents into low notches, requiring hikers to scramble and even downclimb in some spots. The kind of loose rock that makes your ankles hurt just looking at it is seemingly everywhere and, depending on the season, water sources can be few and far between. The challenges this hike presents are unrelenting.

The reward, however, is apparent in the abundant, fantastic viewpoints and the wild vibe of the trail. For being just two hours from New York City, this hike feels a lot more remote than it actually is.

Quick Facts

Distance: 25 miles, thru-hike
Time to Complete: 1-3 days
Difficulty: ★★★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May to October
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/5265.html

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Turn-By-Turn

The Devil’s Path is often thought of as two halves, east and west, with its midpoint being the intersection with NY-214 at Stony Clove Notch. Truth is, once you hit Stony Clove Notch (hiking westbound) you’ve done the bulk of the work with most of the mileage, elevation gain, and the decidedly rougher terrain behind you.

Most folks like to tackle this trip in a weekend, camping close to the trailhead on Friday night and splitting the Eastern and Western sections between Saturday and Sunday. For the brave, doing the “Devil in a Day” is also an option, though an early start and ample preparation are absolutely critical.

From the Thruway (I-87) take Exit 20 and head west on NY-212. After 2.3 miles, take a slight right onto Blue Mountain Road. Continue for 1.4 miles, then take a left onto West Saugerties Road. From there, it’s 5.2 miles to Prediger Road (on the left) and another 0.5 miles to the trailhead parking area.

This is a one-way ticket, so you’ll need to post a shuttle car at the other end on Spruceton Road.

The view from Orchard Point on Plateau Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak
The view from Orchard Point on Plateau Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

The Eastern Section

Beginning at the Prediger Road trailhead (42.13396, -74.10435), the Devil’s Path starts out easy, heading southeast on a wide path over the mostly flat ground. At 0.2 miles the blue-blazed Jimmy Dolan Trail splits off to the right. Bear left and follow those red blazes. Fortunately, for all the myriad obstacles this trail is going to throw at you, route finding isn’t one of them—every junction is very well-signed and the blazes are plentiful.

At 1.7 miles, the trail runs into a T intersection with the Overlook Trail—take a right. In about 200 feet, the trail splits again, with the Overlook Trail heading straight (south) and the Devil’s Path breaking off to the right (west-southwest).

A short distance straight on the Overlook Trail is the Devil’s Kitchen Lean-to (42.11896, -74.08716), a very popular shelter and the first of its kind on the trail. Should you be looking to do this hike in a weekend, the Devil’s Kitchen is a solid Friday night option, and will all but ensure an early start on Saturday morning. You almost certainly won’t be the only one with this plan in mind, though, so don’t bank on a spot in the shelter proper.

A view through the trees on the way up Indian Head Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak
A view through the trees on the way up Indian Head Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

Indian Head Mountain

After the junction with the Overlook Trail, the Devil’s Path begins its first ascent, moderately gaining elevation as it climbs the northeast face of Indian Head. At 2.9 miles the trail reaches Sherman’s Lookout, an open ledge with excellent views back to the east. From here, the trail meanders over the ridge, climbing and descending easily to another great view, this time to the south. Beyond this lookout, the grade steepens and requires some easy scrambling over rocks and roots—a mere warm-up for what’s to come—to the viewless 3,573-foot summit of Indian Head (42.11640, -74.11456), your first of five Catskill 3500-foot peaks on the trip.

Up next is your first, steep, characteristically-Devil’s-Path descent, dropping around 500 feet in 0.6 miles into Jimmy Dolan Notch. Compared with the descents to come, however, this one is relatively moderate. At the low point of the notch (4.5 miles), the eponymous, Jimmy Dolan Notch Trail descends to the right. This is the same blue-blazed trail the Devil’s Path crossed at the beginning of the trip so should you need an early bailout option, this is one will take you right back to the car.

A break in the clouds from Twin Mountain’s south summit. | Credit: John Lepak
A break in the clouds from Twin Mountain’s south summit. | Credit: John Lepak

 

Twin Mountain

Rising to the west, on other side of Jimmy Dolan Notch, is Twin Mountain, the second 3,500-foot peak of the hike. Much like your descent into the notch, the climb out is short and steep, regaining all the elevation you just lost in short order. At 4.9 miles, the trail gains the south summit and rewards your early efforts with a really outstanding view to the south. Continue on a relatively level ridge walk, descending slightly though thick evergreens and climbing again, easily, to the true summit of Twin Mountain (3,640 feet) (42.12559, -74.12903), at 5.6 miles, and another good viewpoint.

A short distance down from the summit you’ll come upon a cave on the trail’s right hand side. A spacious rock overhang makes this a solid, protected spot to post-up for for a breather and maybe even some lunch—if you’re trying to bang this out in two days, the timing will likely work out.

Make sure to enjoy the break though, because past this point, the Devil’s Path really starts to show its teeth. This descent, into Pecoy Notch, gets steep quickly and the pace slows right down. There are a few rock features through this section of the trail that require some serious scrambling and one that’s actually more of a downclimb. These can be dangerous in wet or icy conditions so an abundance of care is necessary to negotiate them safely. Keep on descending into Pecoy Notch where a junction with the Pecoy Notch Trail (blue blazes) at mile 6.3, provides another eligible bailout if needed.

A short spur trail past Sugarloaf’s summit offers a nice view when it’s not in the clouds. | Credit: John Lepak
A short spur trail past Sugarloaf’s summit offers a nice view when it’s not in the clouds. | Credit: John Lepak

Sugarloaf Mountain

From here, the trail presses on to the West and the steep ascent of Sugarloaf Mountain. One fun feature of the eastern section of the Devil’s Path is that the ups and the downs get progressively more difficult for the west-bound hiker. So, that this little section ups the ante—climbing around a thousand feet in a little less than one mile—should come as no surprise. It’s rough, as the trail scrambles over rocks and roots until, after what seems like forever, you reach the summit ridge and level out for a short, gentle approach to the 3,800-foot viewless summit (42.13130, -74.15014) at mile 7.5. A yellow-blazed spur path just beyond leads to a good viewpoint south.

The descent into Mink Hollow is—you guessed it—steep and rough. There are plenty of obstacles to negotiate as you drop almost 1,200 feet in 1.05 miles so the going is predictably slow.

When the trail finally levels out it’s joined by the blue-blazed Mink Hollow Trail on the right at mile 8.55. These two trails run together for a short while before the Mink Hollow Trail departs to the left. Following that will bring you to the Mink Hollow shelter (42.13564, -74.16247) and decent water source. Depending on what time of day you get here, this is also a beautiful little spot to set up camp for the night. If not, it’s still a prime opportunity to take a break and fill-up before the rough hike back up, the latest in a series of progressively harder climbs.

A view from an outlook just shy of Plateau Mountain’s wooded summit. | Credit: John Lepak
A view from an outlook just shy of Plateau Mountain’s wooded summit. | Credit: John Lepak

 

Plateau Mountain

Continuing straight on the Devil’s Path, the terrain steepens just about immediately and the scrambling resumes as you make your way out of the hollow. Intermittent views back towards Sugarloaf make stopping to catch your breath a bit more enjoyable but the ascent is steep. At 9.6 miles, after 1,250 vertical feet of some pretty heavy duty hiking, you gain the summit ridge and top-out on Plateau Mountain at 3,840 feet (42.13780, -74.17419).

As the name would suggest, the summit of Plateau is relatively flat for a leisurely 2.1 miles through dense, fragrant conifers. Roughly 0.4 miles after the summit, the Warner Creek Trail breaks off to the left.

Plateau’s ridgewalk culminates with two excellent viewpoints. Known as Danny’s Lookout and Orchid Point they offer nice views to the North and West, respectively and the open ledge of the latter is another great spot for a rest before heading down to Stony Clove Notch.

Notch Lake and NY-214 in Stony Clove Notch, the unofficial halfway point of the Devil’s Path. | Credit: John Lepak
Notch Lake and NY-214 in Stony Clove Notch, the unofficial halfway point of the Devil’s Path. | Credit: John Lepak

 

Stony Clove

From Orchid Point, the trail continues on to the left, dropping quickly over some large rocks before beginning a long, moderate descent. While ‘moderate’ may sound lovely here, especially after the drama of the previous several descents, the Devil’s Path has another plan for it’s weary hikers: loose, broken, ankle-rolling rocks. If you’ve chosen to split this hike into two days, you may be coming down in the dark here, so take care and make sure that headlamp is charged. Eventually the grade and scree will ease up and turn into a rough staircase as you make your way into Stony Clove Notch.

If you’re making this a two day affair, Devil’s Tombstone Campground (42.15466, -74.20599) is a good place to stop. It’s wildly popular so make sure to reserve a spot in advance. If you’re hiking in the off-season, when the campground’s closed (October to May) consider another option—the campground is regularly patrolled and the fines for illegal camping are steep.

Note: The Devil’s Tombstone Campground is closed for the 2019 season for essential infrastructure updates. Existing reservations will be accommodated but there will be no staff or amenities on site. More information is available here.

The Devil’s Path as it climbs out of Stony Clove Notch. | Credit: John Lepak
The Devil’s Path as it climbs out of Stony Clove Notch. | Credit: John Lepak

The Western Section

The trail resumes across NY-214, winds through the campground, and crosses a footbridge before reentering the woods. Another steep climb begins almost as soon as you get into the trees as the Devil’s Path switches back and forth over rocks and roots, steadily gaining elevation. This is one place to pay particularly close attention to, as some of the switchbacks are hard to see and it’s easy to just keep on walking straight off the trail. The blazes are there, just keep a close eye.

 

The grade eventually eases up and the trail proceeds over the relatively mild terrain in the col between Hunter and Southwest Hunter Mountains. At mile 15.1 the yellow-blazed Hunter Mountain Trail, which leads north to the summit of Hunter Mountain, begins on the right. Continue straight and just past this junction find the Devil’s Acre lean-to ( 42.16544, -74.23084)—another serviceable option for spending the night—and a reliable water source just off the trail to the right.

The next 2.2 miles are among the Devil’s Path’s gentlest as the trail traverses the southwestern flank of Hunter Mountain and descends into Diamond Notch.

The low-point of the notch features Diamond Notch Falls (42.17519, -74.25791)—a lovely place to take a break and get some water—and a junction with the blue-blazed Diamond Notch Trail. If you’re looking for a place to spend the night, this is a good opportunity—take a left and the Diamond Notch Lean-to is just 0.5 miles south. If not, keep on going straight—West Kill Mountain, your final high peak of the trip, awaits.

Buck Ridge Lookout, before the marked—but viewless—summit of West Kill. | Credit: John Lepak
Buck Ridge Lookout, before the marked—but viewless—summit of West Kill. | Credit: John Lepak

 

West Kill Mountain

The Devil’s Path crosses a sturdy wooden foot bridge over Diamond Notch Falls and turns right, paralleling the Brook briefly before swinging left and beginning to climb. The ascent opens with a short bit of rock hopping before easing into a soft, mostly dirt footpath. The grade is steep but steady and the terrain is far easier than any of the previous climbs on the route.

Nearing the top, a few rock obstacles require short scrambles before the climb out of Diamond Notch culminates with a cool rock overhang at 18.7 miles. The trail skirts the overhang to the left and gains the ridge with one final push.

West Kill Mountain’s long ridgeline has four distinct “summits,” and just past the rock overhang marks the first one. Beyond, the trail dips down into an easy saddle before beginning its ascent of the true high point. The enjoyable stroll winds through dense evergreens to Buck Ridge Lookout, an outstanding southerly viewpoint at 19.65 miles. If you’re looking for a breather, here’s a good place to do it.

Another gentle 0.15 miles takes you to the true summit of 3,880-foot West Kill Mountain (42.16787, -74.28959), marked by a cairn and a sign. Continuing on, the Devil’s Path drops, steeply at times, as it traverses West Kill’s ridge. Cross over another small knoll and continue traversing the ridge on your way to Saint Anne’s Peak.

A short final climb up Saint Anne’s Peak (3420, mile 21.85), the westernmost of West Kill’s summits, marks the final real ascent of the journey. Past here the Devil’s path descends steeply to the northwest before swinging back to the southeast. At mile 22.8, the trail meets a brook and takes a hard right.

The remaining 1.55 miles follow the path of the brook, gently rolling over minor elevation gains and losses through a shady evergreen forest until one last, steep descent to the parking area on Spruceton Road (42.19209, -74.32433).


 

In the clouds at the 3500 foot sign, on the way up Twin Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak
In the clouds at the 3500 foot sign, on the way up Twin Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

The Kit

  • In the mountains, two trees are often easier to find than a flat, rockless clearing. Consider eschewing the tent for an Eno Singlenest Hammock. It’s also a whole lot lower-impact, which is a nice bonus.
  • Soaked socks are the worst, so a second pair is critical. Darn Tough Vermont Hiking Socks are wicked comfortable and just about indestructible—just what you’re going to need after a day on this trail.
  • Sacrificing taste for weight is rough but there are a ton of good freeze-dried options out there. Good To-go is an outstanding one with vegan and gluten free meals available. Try the Herbed Mushroom Risotto.
  • Get those meals cooked with the MSR Windburner Stove System. It’s lightweight, packable, and doesn’t skip a beat up high or in a storm.
  • Whether you’re doing it in a long weekend or a single day, at some point, you’re going to be hiking in the dark. A headlamp, like the Petzl Actik Core, is essential—the rechargeable battery is a real plus too.

Above Diamond Notch Falls, before ascending West Kill Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak
Above Diamond Notch Falls, before ascending West Kill Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

Keys to the Trip

  • In drier seasons, water can be hard to come by out here so be prepared to fill up early and often. Do your research before you go: Know where reliable springs can be found and keep an eye on the trail conditions and weather reports.
  • Backcountry camping is permitted below 3,500 feet and at least 150 feet away from trails and water sources. Lean-tos at Devil’s Kitchen, Mink Hollow, Devil’s Acre, and Diamond Notch are good options as well.
  • If you want to go fast and light and not lug too much food (or water) with you, NY-214 crosses the Devil’s Path at its midpoint, making an ideal spot for a supply drop. Just keep it out of reach of the bears.
  • The Devil’s Path is a long, point-to-point hike that requires a shuttle. If you’re going solo, or your party doesn’t have access to a second car, you can book a ride with Smiley’s Transport. It’s always wiser to hike back to your car, so make sure to give them a call in advance.
  • Once you’re out of the woods, grab a post-hike beer at nearby West Kill Brewing. Just 1.7 miles East of the trail’s end on Spruceton Road, this little gem—and its eclectic menu of beers featuring locally harvested and foraged ingredients—is a welcome respite.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked any part of the Devil’s Path recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!


The ABC's of Packing a Backpack

You’ve got your route planned and your gear together and now it’s time to pack your bag for your long-awaited overnight trip. Whether you’re heading out for one night, a week, or several months, the way you pack your bag is an often-overlooked part of staying comfortable on the trail. As a general rule, the better you feel while you’re hiking, the more fun you’ll have, and that’s the whole point, right? The good news is there’s a simple way to remember some of the basics of packing your backpack in a comfortable, useful way:

EMS-Cabin-Techwick-Baselayer-5135

Accessibility

When you put things in your bag, think about when you’ll need them. Sleeping stuff? You won’t need that utill you get to camp, so put that near the bottom. Rain jacket? Probably a good idea to have that puppy near the top so you don’t get soaked digging for it when a storm rolls in a few miles down the trail.

Your navigation tools, like a map and compass, as well as a headlamp, sunscreen, trail food, and your first aid kit are all handy to have in an easy-to-reach spot.

Balance

Ensuring your pack is well balanced is key to a comfortable (and more enjoyable) trip. You want to keep the heaviest items close to the center of your back. Think extra food, tent, and cookset. Pack lighter items, like your sleep system, at the bottom for the heavy items to go on top of. This way, you’re supporting the bulk of the weight with your core and utilizing the suspension of your hip belt most efficiently. You want lighter items on top and near the outside of your bag so you aren’t top heavy or feeling like you’re getting pulled backwards by your pack.

Keep in mind: Water is heavy. If you have one bottle, consider offsetting that with something of equal weight on the other side. If you’re using a hydration bladder think about packing it tight to your back rather than high in your bag.

If you wake up and one side of your body is more sore than the other, that could be an indication that your pack is out of balance.

EMS-SP-17-CAMP-HIKE-000006

Compression

One key to a well-packed bag is utilizing all of the available space. Think about the items in your pack as brick and mortar. Hard items like your stove and sleeping bag are bricks. That extra sweater and tent fly are moldable mortar. Don’t let the gaps between bricks go unused. Stuff clothes around larger items to compress them to their smallest form and save space.

Consider compression sacks for high bulk items like sleeping bags. It’s amazing how small a bag can get in a well-cinched compression sack.

Also think about taking your tent out of the stuff sack and using it as mortar to achieve better compression and balance.

Dry

Having your gear get wet is definitely uncomfortable and is potentially a safety issue if you can’t get dry and warm. The best way to mitigate this? Contractor trash bags. They’re the oversized, burly trash bags used to bag yard waste and the like. Found in regular grocery stores, they are perfect, super cheap liners for backpacks!

Line your empty pack with one and pack everything inside. When you’re done packing, take up the extra trash bag material in both hands, give it a few twists and tuck in the twist so it doesn’t come loose. Voilà! The slippery texture makes it easy to stuff items into them, but they’ll never be quite as effective as dedicated pack covers or dry bags.

Equity

If you’re traveling solo, this doesn’t apply to you. If you’re with one or more people, consider breaking up the weight of your packs equitably, rather than equally. Consider size, experience, and strength differences in hiking partners. Larger, stronger, or more experienced hikers can think about taking more weight to balance the load of the group.

If you’re hiking with kids, or introducing someone to backpacking, they’ll have a much better time with a lighter pack.

EMS-Burlington-2083

Fuel

Be careful with how you pack your stove fuel. Pack it below the level of your food, or even better, on the outside of your waterproof line, to ensure if it leaks, you don’t end up contaminating all your gear and food. Use hard-sided fuel bottles and make sure the caps are screwed on real tight before you pack them away. Just in case, fuel bottles make good counterbalances to water bottles on the outside of your pack.

Glossy

Ok, your pack might not actually be glossy, but strive to make the outside of it streamlined and clean. Strapping bulky items like sleeping bags, tents, and pads to the outside of a pack is common. If you can, consider packing everything on the inside. It helps keep your pack balanced, protects your gear, and reduces snags on the trail. A lot of wear and tear occurs with dropping your bag on the ground, and carrying it through rugged environments. Your backpack is designed for that wear, your tent is not.

Pro tip: If you use a foam sleeping pad, pack it first and have it line the inside of your pack cylindrically. Pack everything inside this “tube.” It adds protection to your pad, the gear inside your pack and keeps your bag looking sleek.


How to Patch a Sleeping Pad

If you use an inflatable sleeping pad you’ve probably experienced the maddening discomfort that occurs when that sleeping pad fails. Whether it’s the hard ground beneath your tent reworking your spine, or the air beneath your hammock turning the temperature way down, the bummer of a deflated sleeping pad has likely driven you to more than one nocturnal fit of manically trying to re-inflate the thing and get back to that much-needed night’s sleep.

Not to overly disparage the inflatable sleeping pad, however—we use them for a reason. They’re comfortable for sure, providing considerably more cushion against rough, uneven surfaces than foam pads. They’re also very packable when deflated, and while they’re not necessarily a lighter-weight option compared to closed-cell foam pads, their virtues grant them some measure of favor in the value-to-ounces equation. They’re also insulating, good in winter and are essential year-round for keeping warm in a hammock (lest you invest in an under quilt).

They are, however, invariably delicate—the very design that affords them their comfort, insulation, and packability also leaves them inherently vulnerable to puncture. An errant rock, twig, or crampon point have been known to evoke a stream of expletives from many a drowsy backpacker.

The good news is that fixing them is not that difficult, and can even be done in the field with the right tools. Here’s how you do it.

Assembling a small repair kit will save you some serious backache should you pop your sleeping pad on the go. | Credit: John Lepak
Assembling a small repair kit will save you some serious backache should you pop your sleeping pad on the go. | Credit: John Lepak

Gather Materials

First thing’s first, prepare a workspace and gather your tools. This is wicked easy if you’re at home, but it can be a bit more challenging in the backcountry. Try and find a place that’s clear of debris and is flat enough to work on. Rock slabs, shelter floors, and the bottom of a tent all work.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Note: You can also go with a packaged repair kit, complete with pre-cut patches, and skip on the Seam Grip and the Tenacious Tape.

Escaping air causes the soapy water to bubble, identifying the area in need of repair. | Credit: John Lepak
Escaping air causes the soapy water to bubble, identifying the area in need of repair. | Credit: John Lepak

Find the Leak

A big hole in a sleeping pad is a big problem, but finding a pinhole-sized leak is a massive pain. This is a good way to do it without going nuts. Inflate the pad and apply warm, soapy water to it in sections. Watch where the soap bubbles: that’s where you’ll find your problem.

If you’re at home, fill a bathtub and inflate the pad, then submerge it under the water. The bubbles from escaping air will be pretty hard to miss!

Cleaning the area ensures the sealant will cure correctly and the patch will hold. | Credit: John Lepak
Cleaning the area ensures the sealant will cure correctly and the patch will hold. | Credit: John Lepak

 

Prep the Damaged Area

Now that you’ve located the issue, deflate the bag, rinse off the soapy water, and dry the area around the leak with a hand towel, wiping it clean. When it’s completely dry, apply a little bit of rubbing alcohol to ensure it’s completely clean—any unwanted residue or debris will interfere with the efficacy of the sealant. If you’re out in the woods, an alcohol wipe from your first aid kit will do the trick. Let it air dry for a minute or two.

A little bit of sealant goes a long way. Make sure your sealant footprint matches up to the size of your patch. | Credit: John Lepak
A little bit of sealant goes a long way. Make sure your sealant footprint matches up to the size of your patch. | Credit: John Lepak

Apply the Patch

Squeeze a small amount of the sealant onto the hole and spread it thinly over the area, making a circle about the size of your patch. If you’re using a repair kit, it should match your selected, pre-cut patch; if not, cut a patch out of the tape to match the size of your adhesive application.

Next, apply the patch and give it some time—overnight should do the trick. A little extra sealant applied around the edge of the patch will help keep it from catching on something and peeling off.

Once the sealant has properly cured, re-inflate the pad and check your work. Obviously, if you’re already on a trip, overnight isn’t a great option. Give it as much time as you can—you can always go back and fix it for real when you get home.

Once applied, a touch more sealant around the edge of the patch will help keep it in place. | Credit: John Lepak
Once applied, a touch more sealant around the edge of the patch will help keep it in place. | Credit: John Lepak

 

Now Keep it in One Piece

Keep your sharps separate: that means no knives, tools, or utensils anywhere near that sleeping pad. If snow and ice is on your itinerary, just leave the crampons and the ice axe outside the shelter. Avoid a hot camp stove and, surprisingly enough, bug spray—deet is a solvent that is known to damage plastic. Natural threats, like twigs, branches, roots and rocks abound—not a ton to be done about it in the outdoors but to steer as clear as possible. Eventually, something will poke a hole, but there’s no reason to rush the process.