Alpha Guide: Great Range Traverse

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With eight high peaks and 10 summits overall, breathtaking views, and rugged mountain trails, the Great Range Traverse is one of the toughest, yet most rewarding hikes in the Northeast.

The Great Range Traverse (or GRT) is undoubtedly part of the conversation around the toughest (and most rewarding) hikes in the Northeast. With a substantial hiking distance, a very solid elevation gain of over 9,000 feet, and covering miles of trail that take you through a variety of landscapes, this line along one of the ‘Daks most picturesque and rugged ranges is a life list item equal to the Presidential Traverse or Katahdin’s Knife Edge. Only one summit that you’ll cover doesn’t offer a view, and when you bag eight 4,000-footers and a shorter mountain with gorgeous viewpoints for most of the hike, you’ll quickly and easily lose yourself further into nature with every step. From dirt and roots to wet rocks, ladders, and cable routes, this hike truly has it all.

Quick Facts

Distance: 21.3 miles, point-to-point thru-hike
Time to Complete: 1-3 days
Difficulty: ★★★★★
Scenery:★★★★★


Season: Year-round (Snow November through May)
Fees/Permits: $10 shuttle from the Marcy Field Parking Lot
Contact: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/5265.html

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Turn-By-Turn

Start from the Roostercomb Trailhead (44.185454, -73.786723), on route 73 in Keene Valley. From Exit 30 on the Northway, you will head west on 73 for approximately 10 miles, and the parking lot will be on your left. Arrive early, as parking spaces tend to fill up quick, and parking alongside the road can be dangerous to yourself and others and result in a ticket. Also, arriving early is important because this hike will most likely take at least 12 hours to complete. The earlier you start, the earlier you will finish!

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Starting off climbing.

Even the beginning section of the GRT isn’t all that easy, with a very steady elevation gain (1,750 feet in total) from the parking lot to the summit of the Roostercomb. You’ll begin on the Roostercomb Trail, a nice trail that skirts the edge of a small, picturesque pond before you begin to climb. Around 1.9 miles in, you will reach a junction with the Flume Brook and Hedgehog Trails. To reach the summit, you’ll take a right at this junction and continue the last 0.3 miles along the Roostercomb Trail. This is a short and step climb at first, before leveling out and rewarding you with one or two fairly good viewpoints until you reach the fairly open and exposed summit at 2.2 miles (44.172718, -73.811523). The view here is a great start to the day, showing you multiple High peaks, including Giant of the Valley, Big Slide, and the beginnings of the Great Range with Lower and Upper Wolfjaw. 

After the fantastic views on Roostercomb, it’s time to continue on your way. You’ll descend that final stretch of the Roostercomb Trail, and after 0.3 miles, you’ll reach the Hedgehog/Flume Brook Trails junction again. This time, you will turn right and begin heading up the Hedgehog Trail. Similar to the Roostercomb trail, there are essentially no lookouts or viewpoints, even as you approach the summit at mile 3.6 (44.159313, -73.810786) This mountain is the only one you’ll reach all day that has no view. 

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The first High Peaks.

After taking a brief rest on the summit of Hedgehog, it’s time to head over to your first official High Peak of the day. After about 0.4 miles along the Hedgehog trail heading towards LWJ, you’ll find yourself at an intersection with the W.A. White trail. You’ll continue ahead, but the W.A. White trail takes over for the Hedgehog Trail as you move towards Lower Wolfjaw. After another 1.1 miles or so, you’ll find an unobstructed lookout, giving you an great view of Lower Wolfjaw. A few moments later, and you’ll find yourself on your first 4,000 footer of the day, Lower Wolfjaw at mile 5.2(44.148090, -73.833092). 

After taking in the scenery, it’s time to head over to Lower Wolfjaw’s big brother, Upper Wolfjaw. You’ll begin with a short but steep descent along the W.A. White trail to the Wedge Brook Trail junction. You’ll continue with some small descents and ascents for a few minutes until you reach another junction, this time with the Wolf Jaws Notch Cutoff Trail. At this point, the W.A. White Trail turns into the Range Trail, as you’re now on the Great Range and not leaving it any time soon! Soon after leaving this junction, you’ll begin a fairly steep climb up to the northeastern shoulder of Upper Wolfjaw. After this, the trail becomes less severe, but still has moderate gain as you come closer to your second 46er of the day. Finally, you’ll reach another junction. To your right you’ll see a (very) short spur trail to the summit (44.140386, -73.845249) at mile 6.3, which offers great, underrated views, including some of your next two high peaks. This is a good spot to drop your pack, eat some food, and let your legs dangle for a bit as you take in the scenery, since you’ve now covered over half of your elevation gain for the day! 

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The easiest peak of the day.

After a breather on UWJ, it’s time for your shortest section of the day, continuing along the Range Trail over to Armstrong. Although this is overall a fairly easy section of trail, there are a few spots that involve ladders, steep rockfaces, and roots that require your full attention when climbing. While there are not many viewpoints along this section, the trail itself offers some gorgeous sections of blowdown, serene woods, and a peaceful setting. After barely a half of a mile (at mile 7.0), you’ll step out onto a large ledge (44.134526, -73.849768), looking west towards Big Slide, Phelps, Tabletop, and more. 

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

A top view.

Begin to descend from Armstrong and head towards Gothics. The Range Trail between Armstrong and Gothics has some moderate descent, and moderate elevation gain, but in no time at all you’ll find yourself in a col between the two, in an area that is filled with blowdown, and gives a good view looking back towards Armstrong. You’ll continue along through this col and begin the short ascent to the summit, which offers multiple viewpoints along the way. After playing hide and seek with the treeline a few times, you’ll break out one final time and find yourself on the summit (44.127805, -73.857417) at mile 7.8. Often chosen as the best view out of all High Peaks, Gothics offers incredible 360-degree views that allow you to look back at where you’ve come from, ahead to where you’re going, and everywhere in between. This is a good spot to take a long break, as you’ve completed roughly two thirds of your elevation gain for the day, halfway through the high peaks of the hike, and you’ve got the biggest mountains coming up next!

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Down the cables.

After a lunch break on Gothics, it’s time to keep pressing onwards. In what some may argue is either the most or least fun part of the day, as you continue towards Saddleback from Gothics, you’ll soon find yourself at the top of the Gothics cable route. This section of exposed rock face is very steep, so years ago metal bolts were installed, with a rubber-coated steel cable running through the bolts to allow hikers something to hold on to while they are ascending/descending this tricky section of trail. There are incredible views for a good portion of this trail, so although it is important to keep your eyes on the ground to pick your steps carefully, it is also advisable to take a break here and there and enjoy the scenery.

After taking yourself roughly 0.6 miles from the summit of Gothics, you will find yourself at a junction with the Orebed Brook Trail, in the col between Gothics and Saddleback. After continuing straight ahead at this junction, you’ll start climbing towards your next High Peak. This is a shorter, and fairly steep section of trail that offers limited views until you reach the summit. Around a mile of hiking from Gothics, you’ll break out from the trees and find yourself on a large, wide, exposed area of rock (44.126294, -73.875139) at mile 8.8. The view on Saddleback is fantastic, allowing you to look back at Armstrong and Gothics, as well as look ahead to Basin and Haystack.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The Saddleback Cliffs.

As you leave the summit of Saddleback, you’ll have to navigate the trail carefully, as it follows along a gradual cliff edge for a few minutes. Following the yellow paint blazes on the exposed rock, you will then see that the trail takes a sharp left, heading down the infamous Saddleback cliffs. These cliffs can prove difficult to even the strongest, most experienced hikers, especially when you need to downclimb. It is very important to pick your hand holds and footholds carefully, keeping three points of contact at all times. Once you are at the bottom of the cliffs, you can look back at what you just descended, and feel proud, for it is no easy feat.

You will now have a fairly flat section of trail for a little while before you begin the ascent to Basin. First, you will have a climb up the shoulder of Basin, before you have a relatively level section before the final push to the summit. The trail in these sections is easy to navigate usually fairly dry, and easy on the legs. After the final climb at mile 8.4, you’ll find yourself on an open summit (44.121236, -73.886480), with incredible views of your final two peaks of the day, Haystack and Marcy.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

A worthy subpeak.

After leaving the summit of Basin, you’ll descend along the Range Trail until you find yourself in a col. You’ll have some fairly flat trail for a little while as you navigate the area between Basin and Haystack. At approximately mile 9.5, you will reach a junction with the Haystack Brook Trail (44.115188, -73.896464). This is a very important spot to remember, as it is your only definite water source for the entire trip until you are done with all of the ascent of the hike. Here at the junction, the Haystack Brook runs across the trail, and typically is flowing quite well year-round until it freezes over for the winter months. There is also a designated campsite in this area, if you decide to turn this into a 2 day trip!

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

After using a filter or purifier to replenish your water stores, you will begin heading up the shoulder of Haystack, called Little Haystack. Here you will reach a junction, with the Range Trail continuing to the right, towards Marcy, but before you head that way you have to hit your seventh High Peak of the day. Little Haystack is a fairly big, completely exposed “hill” that you have to cover in order to continue towards the summit of Haystack. Little Haystack is only 0.5 miles from Haystack, but you do have a fair amount of elevation gain during that stretch of trail. From the second you begin climbing Little Haystack, to the moment you reach the summit of Haystack, you will have incredible views all around you. To your right is a breathtaking landscape that consists of Marcy looming over Panther Gorge, and to your left is a staggering panorama of jagged peaks jutting out of the sky, showing you what you’ve had to cover so far in the day to get where you are. Finally at mile 11.2, you will reach the Haystack summit (44.105761, -73.900672), the third highest peak in the state. This is a great spot to kick back and relax for a bit, because the views are just incredible, and you still have a fairly hard section of trail in front of you before you reach your final summit of the day.

The high point.

Your final test of the day also leads you to the highest point in the entire state, Mount Marcy. Descend the 0.5 miles from Haystack to Little Haystack, which tends to go by fairly quickly. Once you go up and over Little Haystack, you’ll find yourself back at the junction with the Range Trail at mile 11.6. This stretch of trail goes between the Haystack Trail and the Phelps Trail, and can be difficult to navigate at times. It is technical, rocky, muddy, and has its fair share of ups and downs, so be careful during this time. After you reach the junction with the Van Hoevenberg Trail at mile 12.7, you’ll start to begin your final ascent towards Mount Marcy. This final half-mile of trail is moderately steep, but mostly exposed, with views to both sides of you as you make your final climb of the day.

Finally, after 13.2 miles and ~9,000’ of elevation gain on the day, you’ll reach your final summit (44.112781, -73.923694). Mount Marcy’s Native American name was Tahawus, meaning “cloud-splitter.” This beauty of a peak certainly lives up to that name, as at any point in the day you may have blue skies down low but find yourself in the clouds on the summit. I highly recommend you take a good, long break here at the summit (weather permitting), as the hardest parts of your day are done. Eat a snack, have some water, and enjoy the views of every other mountain within visible viewing distance.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Down and out.

Now all that’s left to do it hike the last 8.3 miles down and out, to the Garden Trailhead. Leaving the summit, you’ll spend half of a mile on the Van Hoevenberg Trail before reaching the Phelps Trail junction. At this point, you will turn onto your final trail of the day, back onto the Phelps Trail. As stated before, the Phelps trail at this point is narrow, rocky, covered with roots, running water, and is highly technical. You will need to pay attention and plan every step in order to navigate some of the trickier stretches of trail safely. The next few miles will most likely have you cursing under your breath as you inevitably trip, catch your feet on roots, and stumble down the trail, but after roughly 3 miles of this, the trail becomes your best friend. Wide, flat, and well maintained, the remainder of the Phelps Trail is probably the easiest part of your day. With virtually no elevation gain, and a very gradual descent, you will usually find another little bit of energy to help push through to the parking lot. Finally, you will pop back out into the Garden Parking Lot at mile 21.5 (44.188896, -73.816312).

Pro tip: A shuttle runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the spring, summer and fall months (check the Keene Valley website for more information<<Can we include a link? And does this go directly back to Rooster Comb or just to the airfield?))). If the day looks like it might take longer than expected, be prepared for an additional 2-mile road walk to the Roostercomb Trailhead.


Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The Kit

  • Covering 20-plus miles with 9,000 feet or more of elevation is no easy feat, and regardless of how long such a trek can take you, you’ll need to make sure you are hydrated, but the longer day means you might need to carry along a water filter like the MSR Hyperflow to fill up along the way. This small, compact and lightweight filter can filter up to 3 liters of water per minute.
  • As is the case with most trails in the Adirondacks year-round, there are many sections of standing water and mud along this trail, including between summits and descending from Marcy along the Phelps trail (which can often be flowing with water). In order to help conserve the environment and follow LNT practices, it is always best to go through the mud than try to find a drier way around, and waterproof footwear, like the Oboz Sawtooth II Mid hiking boots will definitely be your friend!
  • The top trail runners in the world can do this traverse in just over five hours, but for most people out there, this trip will inevitably include a portion in the dark. As you should do every time you set out on a hike, make sure you have a headlamp like the Black Diamond Spot and extra batteries to make the trip safe!
  • No one ever wants to have to spend an unexpected night in the woods, but especially with bigger, tougher hikes like the GRT, accidents and unfortunate events do occur. If something happens, you need to be able to survive a night in the woods, and an emergency bivy sack like the SOL Thermal Bivy goes a long way towards backcountry survival.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Keys to the Trip

  • This hike will test even the most in-shape hikers, trail runners and backpackers, so it is vitally important to plan and be well prepared before you set out. If backpacking, make sure you have approved tent sites, with backups in case they are taken, chosen and marked on your map before you go. A good option that follows all DEC regulations regarding elevation and location is the Sno-Bird camping spot, located in the col between Basin and Haystack (44.115334, -73.895874).
  • While it is common hiking knowledge to plan ahead for weather and various conditions, another thing to remember is that this hike is limited in comparison in the Northeast. It is a good idea to have hiked all or most of the mountains and trails beforehand to get the best idea of what conditions may be like, and how stringing them all together in one big day can affect you! It is also important to make sure you are physically fit enough to successfully complete such an endeavor, and a good strategy is to build up your mileage and elevations during hikes leading up to the big day!
  • Be sure to fuel up before and/or after your hike! Depending on which direction you are coming from, the Old Mountain Coffee Company in Keene Valley is a great coffee spot, and is right across the road from Noonmark Diner. Other great options for post-hike eats are Big Slide Brewery and Wiseguys in Lake Placid. Of course, Stewart’s in Keene is always a great option both before and after a hike!

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Current Conditions

Have you hiked the GRT, or even a piece of it, recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


Hiking by Helping: The Art of the Support Team

When my husband Troy told me he wanted to hike Vermont’s 272-mile Long Trail with his friend Brock, I was surprised. 

Troy and I have been hiking together since we met on the Appalachian Trail in 2017, and we’ve barely been apart for the last three years. But the Long Trail is a tough hike, and I knew I’d have a hard time keeping up with those long-legged men. So instead, we decided that I would support them on their journey by meeting them at trailheads in our van, providing food, drink, clean clothes, and dry socks. The Long Trail is remote in places and it would take an entire day to hitchhike into a town to resupply, wash clothes, get cleaned up, and hitchhike back, so keeping them fed would save them a lot of time and energy. By meeting up with Troy and Brock at regular intervals, they were able to make more miles and even take an occasional day off to rest.

Brock and Troy standing at the AT/LT trailhead in Williamstown, Massachusetts. | Credit: Karen Miller
Brock and Troy standing at the AT/LT trailhead in Williamstown, Massachusetts. | Credit: Karen Miller

Our planning began with the Guthook hiking phone app (an electronic guidebook), along with the Green Mountain Club’s Long Trail paper map, and a Vermont Gazetteer geographical guide, which allowed me to figure out which roads would be the best places to meet them, along with services, campgrounds, and grocery stores near the trail itself. A day before they started their hike, we went to Walmart and stocked up on all of the food they’d need for three weeks on the trail. And on August 23, I left them at the Appalachian Trail/Long Trail trailhead in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where they would hike a few miles to the Vermont border, the southern terminus of the Long Trail, and continue north until they reached Canada.

Troy and I have been hiking together since we met on the Appalachian Trail in 2017, and we’ve barely been apart for the last three years. But the Long Trail is a tough hike, and I knew I’d have a hard time keeping up with those long-legged men.

The Long Trail traverses almost all of the Green Mountains’ major summits, including Glastenbury Mountain, Stratton Mountain, Killington Peak, Mount Abraham, Mount Ellen, Camel’s Hump, Mount Mansfield, and Jay Peak. Our first meetup was to be at Kelly Stand Road, after 3 ½ days that included their first major climb, Glastenbury Mountain. The two hikers had big smiles on their faces when they saw me at the van with snacks, beer, and a cleanup station. We discovered a small camping area just down the road, where I served the hungry hikers barbecued chicken and coleslaw before turning in for the night. In the morning, Troy and Brock filled their food bags for another four days while I cooked them breakfast, and they were back on the trail in no time at all.

Troy and Brock filled their resupply boxes with food and supplies before they set out on the trail. | Credit: Karen Miller
Troy and Brock filled their resupply boxes with food and supplies before they set out on the trail. | Credit: Karen Miller

Our next meeting point was Clarendon Gorge, just a few miles from our friends’ home in Rutland. They had invited us to stay for the weekend, which was plenty of time for the hikers to take showers, rest, and resupply their food bags while I washed their clothes and shopped for our next meetup. After their “zero” day, I dropped them back on the trail and they “slackpacked”  nearly 18 miles into Killington, where I met them at the Inn at Long Trail for dinner. At this point the weather was turning colder and wetter, and Brock was getting discouraged. By the time the two had hiked into Brandon Gap a few days later, Brock was ready to head home. We were sad that he wasn’t enjoying his trip, and we hated to say goodbye, but that’s all part of life on the trail. Troy immediately got back on the Long Trail and hiked to Middlebury Gap, our next meeting place.   

By meeting up with Troy and Brock at regular intervals, they were able to make more miles and even take an occasional day off to rest.

Middlebury Gap is about halfway to the Canadian border, and this is where the hike becomes more difficult. Troy decided to take two days off before he would do the big push to the end of the trail. We stayed at Branbury State Park where we took walks, napped in our hammock, ate shrimp and grits, and watched an old Danny Kaye movie on my laptop. Troy was feeling well rested and strong as I dropped him off on the trail again. 

The next few days he would summit Mount Abraham, Lincoln Peak, Mount Ellen, and Camel’s Hump. On September 11, when I met him late in the evening at the Winnooski River, I could see he was exhausted, and cold. I cooked him a pot of Italian tortellini soup, and he slept long and hard into the next morning. I suggested he take another day off, but he was eager to go on, so after a breakfast of bagels with smoked salmon, cream cheese, and capers, he got back on the trail to do 37 more miles to our next meetup, climbing Mount Mansfield’s infamous Forehead, Lips, and Chin, along with Madonna Peak and Whiteface Mountain.

Nothing better than a cold beer after several days on the trail. | Credit: Karen Miller
Nothing better than a cold beer after several days on the trail. | Credit: Karen Miller

When we met at VT15, we took a day off at Elmore State Park, and after getting cleaned up we drove into Waterbury to visit the Green Mountain Club, Ben & Jerry’s, and a laundromat. At this point, Troy was well into the groove of the Long Trail, and eager to finish his trip. After going over the maps he decided he wanted to hike straight through to Canada, where I would meet him at the northern terminus, a place called “Journey’s End.” So the next morning after a hot breakfast, I left Troy at VT15 for the last 51 miles of his hike, while I hung out at Millbrook Campground in Westfield, just a 12-mile drive to the trailhead.

I felt closer to him than ever, knowing that being there for him helped him hike longer and stronger, and brought him back to me safe and sound.

On September 15, Troy hiked several short but steep climbs before his last big summit to Jay Peak. A few miles later, the trail became smoother and greener. “It’s like everything was improving as I got closer to Canada,” laughs Troy, remembering his last hours on the Long Trail. He arrived at the northern terminus at 5:11 p.m., and then took the approach trail to the Journey’s End parking lot where I was waiting for him in the van. My hiker man looked tired and cold, but he smiled broadly when I ran down the trail to embrace him.

To celebrate his success, we drove to Jay Village Inn for the night, where Troy enjoyed a well-earned sauna, shower, and a hearty meal of seafood and fine wine. After a good night’s sleep in a soft, warm bed, we talked about our hiking/supporting experiences over the last three weeks. I felt closer to him than ever, knowing that being there for him helped him hike longer and stronger, and brought him back to me safe and sound. We’re not sure where our upcoming adventures will take us, but next time, perhaps he’ll be supporting me!

Troy’s trail angel waits for the hikers’ arrival at Brandon Gap. | Courtesy: Karen Miller
Troy’s trail angel waits for the hikers’ arrival at Brandon Gap. | Credit: Troy Allen Lair

6 Tips for Finding Free Car Camping

Tired of camping at crowded campsites in your favorite National Park? It might be time to put in some work to provide you and yours with that wild and free car camping experience you’ve dreamed of. Yeah, campgrounds have hookups, potable water, and restrooms, but with these conveniences comes crowsd, fees, and loud generators. If you’re willing to give up some of these conveniences you’ll save your wallet a pretty penny and find a plethora of beautiful free campsites all over the U.S. that give you that solitude and wild camping experience you’ve yearned for. With some prep work and research you might find the new go-to spot for your weekend getaways.

1. Look for Public Land

Look at the area you’ll be visiting and check for public land designations such as National Forest and Bureau of Land Management land. Usually these two designations offer dispersed camping and are the most lenient with campers looking to stay for a while (up to 15 days in many places).

If there are National Forest or BLM lands in the area, check their websites (fs.fed.usand www.blm.gov, respectively) for info specific to the place you’re visiting. These websites often provide ample information on things like stay limits, fire restrictions, dispersed camping rules, weather in the area, and info on food containment for rodents and bears. You might also stop by the local Forest Service or BLM office to ask further questions or look at Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM). If these are not available at their office, it may be available online at the previously mentioned websites. These MVUMs provide free campers with valuable information on land designations in the area, National Forest, BLM, Wilderness, and Residential boundaries as well as a detailed view of the roads that allow us access to these wild places.

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2. Check free campsite databases

Take a peak at websites like freecampsites.net. This user-driven database allows you to find free, paid, and boondock camping all over the U.S. on a map; You can even plug in your location and it will populate sites near you. We’re looking for green tent pins; these are free campsites. What’s also so handy about this database is the info about the sites you’re interested in. Each site has its own page with GPS coordinates, directions, weather info, cell service info, best sites in the area, and reviews/tips from previous campers. They may even provide info about the road to the site which is helpful if you don’t exactly have your dream rig just yet.

3. Seek the road less travelled

Super psyched on finding free camping in Zion this fall? So is everyone else. Consider locations that you think may be less popular during the time you plan to visit. This doesn’t mean rule out your dream location, just do your best to use the tools provided here and maybe make some calls before shooting out there and coming up empty handed. You might also consider campsites just outside of the National Park or attraction you’re hoping to visit on your trip. Yes, it may add a longer drive but, you’ll find the solitude you were looking for and may even discover a new go-to campsite for you to come back to in the future.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

4. Arrive early

Do what you can to get to that dream spot as early as you can. This will ensure that you have a place to sleep for the night. If you need to run errands later, leave members of your group or items that indicate you are reserving this spot for the night such as a tent, car, etc. Opt-out of leaving items that make it look like you left trash and ditched the spot as this will damage the trust that locals and Rangers have for visitors. Again, consider asking your local Forest Service or BLM office if this it is recommended to leave a vehicle unattended as certain places have a high frequency of break-ins.

5. Ask around

Talk with locals in the area or folks at the local gear/camping store. Depending on the amount of traffic in the area, they may be willing to spill the beans on the locals-only spots. Be sure to be kind to these folks, they may be giving you the deets on some of their most prized locations. Treat these people and the sites they recommend with respect!

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6. Make your own database

Take the info you’ve gathered and save pins into your daily navigation apps. Google Maps works best, as it has more accurate navigation on backcountry roads than other apps such as Apple Maps or Waze. Google Maps also has a Satellite layer that allows you to preview the road leading to your site and may give you a sense of what type of road it is (paved, gravel, rock, etc). Using Google Maps, you can save pins allowing you to build your own database for yourself of prospective sites in the places you may wish to visit. Find a Plan A, B, C, etc., to ensure you find a place to rest your head at the end of the day. This will also make it easier to visit the area in the future, as you’ll have an array of options without having to do research all over again.


5 Reasons to Plan a Trip to Gros Morne National Park

Soaring fjords, sandy beaches, barren cliffs, boggy tundra, thick forests, and the Earth, naked. That’s Gros Morne National Park. Situated on the western coast of Newfoundland, the park was established in 1973 to protect a nearly 700-square-mile area of glacial and geological significance. It was later designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of the best examples of the effects of continental drift. The isolated mountain tops are home to the physical remnants of ancient collisions and separations, further shaped by massive glaciers. But even if you’re not into geology, one look at any of the best-known spots in the park makes it easy to see why it’s worth the trip. And thanks in large part to the park’s geological wonders, there’s an incredible variety of outdoor fun to be had.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

1. Explore Massive Fjords

This spot at the top of Western Brook Pond is one of the most famous views in Gros Morne National Park. And it’s one of a few similar views depending on how hard you’re willing to work to get to them. Gros Morne’s fjords were carved by ancient glaciers, and when the glaciers receded, the land rebounded, free from an incredible amount of pressure, cutting the ponds and lakes off from the sea.

Just driving along route 430 gives you glimpses of the fjord, but there’s more than one way to get up close to Western Brook Pond’s towering cliffs. Take a boat tour if you only have a few hours, or sign up for a guided hike if your goal is to stand near the top of the fjord. If you have multiple days and wilderness navigation experience, reserve a permit for one of the backcountry routes to go beyond the top of the fjord. Views of Ten Mile Pond are equally spectacular and can be seen from the top of Gros Morne Mountain, a 10 mile round trip day hike.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

2. Have a Real Wilderness Backpacking Experience

If backcountry experiences described by Parks Canada as “mentally and physically challenging” sound appealing, then you’ve come to the right place. Exploring the Long Range Mountains isn’t for the faint of heart, and requires hikers to be completely self-sufficient. Proficiency in GPS and map and compass navigation is paramount; There are no maintained or marked trails, and plenty of game trails to throw unsuspecting hikers off route. Terrain can be muggy, boggy, snowy, rocky, and slippery, and depending on the season, the bugs are relentless. Weather can change in an instant, and if you get yourself in trouble, rescue can be days away.

Aside from the many hazards, the scenery is incredible. The Northern Traverse, Long Range Traverse, and a combination of the two are the best ways to see the most of the wilderness in the Long Range Mountains, but choose wisely, and read up on documentation from Parks Canada before you go. The more prepared you are for the terrain, weather, and navigational challenges, the better. Permits are required and must be reserved in advance.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

3. Take a Walk on the Earth’s Mantle

“This rock I’m standing on used to be at the bottom of an ancient ocean,” is a pretty incredible realization to have on a hike. Gros Morne Tablelands were once thought to be remnants of molten rock, but when geologist Robert Stevens discovered rocks much older than other rocks in the area lower in elevation, he proved otherwise. The rocks had eroded from the Tablelands, illustrating that the Tablelands aren’t old molten rock. They’re really old remnants of an ancient ocean, pushed up from below during the collision of two ancient continents.

The rock is high in toxic heavy metals and other minerals, making it challenging for things to grow and leaving the majority of the terrain completely bare. But there’s still so much to see. Choose an out-and-back hike ranging from 1.8 to 5.6 miles in length, or a 7.5 mile off-trail loop, all starting from the Tablelands Trail parking area, to get up close and personal with this fascinating landscape.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

4. Watch Beautiful Sunsets Beachside

Whether you’re winding down after a long day of hiking or just love hanging out near the water, there are plenty of beach spots to watch the sunset from. Green Point, home to the park’s northernmost campground, is known for long sandy beaches and beautiful views. After dinner in camp, wander the Coastal Trail for a 3.7-mile round-trip hike as the sun sets. Though less beach and more rock pile, Lobster Cove is a spectacular sunset spot. Explore Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse and take the trails down to the water.

Interested in a more rugged, hard to reach beach? Make the 5.6-mile round-trip on the Green Gardens Trail to Old Man Cove, just be sure to check tidal charts before you head down to the beach or explore the sea caves along it. And just outside the park boundary in Trout River, the short Eastern Point Trail is all beautiful ocean scenery all the way.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

5. Day Hike All Sorts of Different Types of Terrain

Whether you’re a waterfall seeker, wildflower lover, summit chaser, or just looking for a leisurely stroll, there a day hike for everyone. Start with a day in the southern end of the park on the Green Gardens Trail to see Tablelands rock, deep forest, beach views, and sea caves all in one 5.6-mile hike. Then, another day on a landscape that looks and feels like another world in the Tablelands on the off trail loop (7.5 miles round-trip), or one of the shorter out and back routes.

Next, spend a long day climbing Gros Morne Mountain (10 miles round-trip) for spectacular views on a rocky, tree-less summit before heading to the Berry Hill Campground for a shorter day on the Baker’s Brook Falls Trail. The walk to the falls traverses deep woods on narrow boardwalks, perfect wildflower spotting terrain, and ends at a stunning cascade. Finally, finish your multi-terrain hiking adventure with a walk along the beach via the Coastal Trail or Old Mail Road.


The Ideal Car Camper's Kitchen

The benefits of adventuring in the outdoors are too numerous to count, but one excellent reason for getting outside is burning calories, or, should we say replacing them. While it’s awesome to end an all-day epic hiking Mount Mansfield with a burger from Doc Ponds or toast a day climbing the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle with a pint from the MOAT, a lot of the time all you want to do is simply retreat to camp and relax. For those who prefer going back to the campground and avoiding the town, here’s what you need to create those all-so-important—and tasty—meals without leaving the comforts of camp.

20190725_EMS_Conway-3096_Camp_Cook

Plan and Prep Ahead of Time

Before getting into the gear and goodies of a great car camping kitchen, it’s important to stress the benefits of getting as much meal planning and prep as possible done at home. Knowing what you’re going to eat and doing food preparation in advance, such as slicing vegetables, cutting meats, and pre-cooking some items, is an easy way to streamline the process. Once everything is prepped, pack it into see-through Tupperware. This minimizes the tasks you’ll need to do at camp, reduces the amount of stuff you have to bring, and, most importantly, speeds up cook time, which is key after something like a long day on Cadillac Mountain’s South Ridge Trail.

Plastic Bins for Organization

The key to any camp kitchen is being able to find what you need when you need it. To keep things simple, we prefer to divide our gear between two rugged bins with secure tops. One bin is used to store non-food items like pots, pans, cutlery, and paper towels; the other bin is used for any food that doesn’t need to be kept cold along with other necessities such as cooking oil and spices.

Pro Tip: Choose a bin long enough to hold your stove lengthwise. For example, you’ll want a bin about 20 inches long if you’re cooking on the super-popular Eureka Spire Stove.

Hard-Shell Cooler

A cooler is key to creating a restaurant-quality meal at camp, not to mention keeping celebratory craft beers cold. Sure, you can get away with a cheap cooler—but a high-end cooler like the YETI Tundra 45 Hard Cooler is capable of keeping food and beverages cold for a long weekend away, and in some cases even longer. Take your cooler game to the next level with YETI ICE (available in 1 lb., 2 lb., and 4 lb.) and say goodbye to messy old-fashioned ice bags.

Pro tip: Because opening a cooler too often drastically reduces its effectiveness, consider bringing a second soft-sided cooler like the Mountainsmith Cooloir 24 Soft Cooler if you’re planning on frequenting the cooler for beverages of the hoppy variety.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Two Burners are Better than One

A two-burner stove has been a staple of car camping kitchens for decades and continues today. Relatively lightweight and packable, a high-quality two-burner like the Eureka Spire LX Camp Stove that’s capable of running off of disposable Coleman Propane Canisters as well as larger propane tanks offers great versatility and provides plenty of range space for making two dishes simultaneously—for example, bacon and eggs or spaghetti and meat sauce. When it comes time to go, the Eureka Spire LX Camp Stove folds up for easy transportation.

Canister Stove

If you’re a coffee or tea lover, consider bringing a canister stove in addition to your two-burner stove. The Jetboil Flash is capable of boiling 16 oz. of water in a stunningly fast 100 seconds, enabling a quick caffeine hit and freeing up a burner on the “big stove” for food—a valuable commodity, especially when you’re cooking for a large group.

Cast Iron Skillet

Cast iron is heavy and cumbersome, but it’s also easy to clean and wears like…well, iron. Cast iron skillets last forever if properly cared for, which is music to the ears of everyone from environmentalists to those who just like to buy things once. Another versatile kitchen piece, you can cook with a cast iron skillet on your stove or use it over an open flame for “real” campfire cooking. A large ten-inch cast iron skillet paired with a smaller eight-inch skillet is ideal for preparing two-dish meals.

20190725_EMS_Conway-5293_Camp_Cook

Pots

A pot is the perfect complement to the cast iron skillets, as it’s better suited for jobs such as cooking pasta and rice, or simply boiling water for instant mashed potatoes. The MSR Ceramic 2-Pot Set nests within itself so it takes up minimum space and features a lid with an integrated strainer for maximum versatility. Thanks to their lightweight construction, these pots can do double duty and be hiked in on your next overnight on the Pemi Loop.

Water Storage

Sometimes you’re lucky and there’s a water spigot at your campsite, other times getting running water requires a short hike. A collapsible water storage bag like the 6L MSR DromLite Bag eliminates the need to go back and forth to get water for everything from cooking to drinking to cleaning.

Dishware and Cutlery

There are all sorts of clever dishware and cutlery—the Sea to Summit X-Seal and Go Collapsible Container and Kung Foon come immediately to mind—available for enjoying the delicacies created in your camp kitchen, but sometimes the simplest solution is the best. The GSI 1-Person Camp Dish Set comes with a lexan plate, bowl, and mug, along with a plastic fork, knife, and spoon set—essentially everything you need for eating at the campsite.

Pro Tip: Get a dedicated can opener and keep it with your camp cutlery. There is nothing more disheartening than getting ready to make burritos only to discover that you can’t open the can of beans.

Chef’s Tools

While just one spoon and a spatula will usually do, the GSI 3-Piece Ring Set delivers two spoons and a spatula. Combine it with a sharp knife and you’ll have everything you need for crafting killer camp cuisine.

Pro Tip: Add a GSI Compact Scraper or MSR Alpine Dish Brush/Scraper, based on the pots and pans you have, to your camp kitchen. It’s awesome for getting every last bit of food out of the pan and onto your plate, and it helps make cleaning up easy and each scraper is designed specifically to get into all the corners and crannies of the respective brand’s pots and pans.

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French Press

If your adventures are fueled as much by caffeine as stoke, a French press is a necessity. The GSI Glacier Stainless Commuter Javapress Mug combines a French press into a travel mug for an all-in-one way to get a caffeine high along with your mountain high.

Camp Sink

Washing dishes is a hassle at home, much less while camping. If you know the area you’re heading to doesn’t have a communal dish sink, a portable camp sink like the Sea to Summit The Kitchen Sink, 20L, helps make the job a little easier. It’s also worth noting that it helps get your dishes cleaner. Complement your sink with a biodegradable soap such as Sea to Summit Wilderness Wash and sponge for cleaning, along with a small pack towel (which can double as a pot holder in a pinch) for dish drying.

 

Are you a master of campsite culinary arts? Do you have a tip or key piece of gear for creating the ultimate car camping kitchen? Any favorite recipes? We want to hear it all—tell us in the comments below!


Hike It, Help It: Celebrating 200 Years of the Crawford Path

Crawford-Path-Instagram-3

Believe it or not, hiking for fun hasn’t always been a thing. 

Back 200-plus years ago, people were just a little more concerned with plowing the fields, hunting for food, and fighting for independence. Walking in the woods was something you did every day as a necessity—not so much something you did on your time off. 

Mount Washington changed that. 

When the Crawford family built the first recreational footpath to the top of the region’s highest peak in 1819, it wasn’t supposed to be something radical. It was really just a way to make things a little easier for the tourists who came from the big cities to marvel at the snow capped, rocky peaks, towering over New England. Instead, it ignited the area’s second revolution in less than 50 years. 

Before long, hundreds and then thousands of people were making the 8.5-mile trek along the expansive, tundra-like domes of the Southern Presidentials to the top of Mount Washington. More trails were cut, campsites and huts were built, gear was developed, organizations sprung up, and a sport—at least on this side of the ocean—was born, right in our backyard. 

Credit: Chris Shane
Credit: Chris Shane

This summer, 200 years after the Crawford Path—America’s oldest hiking trail—was built, Eastern Mountain Sports wants to celebrate it. 

That strip of dirt leading up Mount Washington still holds some of the country’s most jaw-dropping scenery, and the past time that grew up because of it is a point of Northeast pride, so help make sure the Crawford Path and trails like it stick around for at least another 200 years.

Shop online (men’s/women’s) or swing through EMS locations in North Conway, Concord, and Nashua and pick up a Techwick t-shirt celebrating the Crawford Path’s 200th Anniversary and 20 percent of that purchase will be donated to the White Mountain Trail Collective, which organizes a medley of professional trail maintenance organizations to update and care for the now two-century-old trails in the Whites, ensuring they all last just as long as the Crawford Path.

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Credit: Chris Shane
Credit: Chris Shane

Plus, wear your t-shirt in the Whites and post a photo to Instagram with the hashtags #goeast and #HikeItHelpIt for a chance to be featured on goEast and EMS’s social media.

That’s it! Take a hike where it all began and discover why, of all places, Mount Washington and the spectacular Southern Presidentials attracted hikers before hiking was even cool. And in the process, help EMS support the trails that will keep us hiking for another 200 years to come. 

See you out there!


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