Video: The Omelette Guy of the AT

Welcome to the White Mountains, here are some eggs.


Don’t Be a Fool: Stop Doing These 10 Things While Spring Hiking

April Fool’s Day is a time best known for pranks and jokes. It’s also a time of tricky conditions in the mountains as winter gives way to spring. Mud, ice, snow, unexpected weather, high rivers and more can all add challenges to spring hiking that we don’t see year-round.  Keep reading to avoid being the joker who gets caught unprepared hiking this spring.

1. Lighthearted Layering

Don’t get the wool pulled over your eyes by the warm weather in the parking lot. Instead, be prepared to add layers to your body as the early spring weather in the high mountains rarely aligns with the warm, sunny conditions you had down low. Wide-ranging weather is common this time of year and often a hike that starts in short sleeves will end in a heavy puffy coat.

2. Footwear Folly

Trail runners might seem like a good idea at the car but could be closer to clown shoes up in the alpine. The additional height of hiking boots keeps snow from scheming against you and sneaking in the top of your shoe. Even better, waterproof footwear keeps you from being bamboozled by wet feet while providing a little extra warmth.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Not-So-Silly Snow

The absence of snow at the trailhead is a common hoax this time of year, tricking hikers into leaving their snowshoes behind. Colder temperatures, more snowfall, and hiker traffic packing down snow on trails can cause it to linger at higher elevations throughout the spring—making snowshoes necessary to avoid being duped into post-holing through unexpected snow.

4. Traction Tomfoolery

Melting snow, spring rain, warm days, and cold nights all conspire to make mischievously icy trails. Pack a pair of traction devices for navigating this tricky terrain and to avoid senseless slipping.

5. Muddy Monkey Business

Trying to avoid mud in the spring is a fool’s errand in the Northeast. When you encounter mud while hiking, either stick to hard surfaces to avoid it or walk through it, as walking around it on soft surfaces widens the trail, damages the delicate ground, and leaves behind a long-term record of your mischievous misbehavior.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

6. Worrying Water Crossings

Snowmelt and spring rains increase runoff, swelling mountain streams and rivers, making otherwise benign water crossings deceptively difficult. No laughing matter, take the time to find the best place—i.e., where the water is shallow and slow-moving, or where rocks protruding above the water’s surface form a natural bridge—even if it means spending a few extra minutes searching up and downstream.

7. Trekking Pole Trick

Carrying trekking poles is an easy way to avoid being the butt of the joke when it comes to mud, ice, and water crossings. There are so many reasons to use trekking poles, including that they let you probe mud and water depth, and help increase balance and stability while making tough crossings and moves on slippery rock.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

8. Deceived by the Dark

The days are still short this time of year, heightening the risk of getting benighted. Don’t get hoodwinked and hike without a headlamp; Hiking in the dark is a punchline no one wants to hear.

9. Wait for a Less Foolish Day

Sometimes the conditions just don’t line up—treacherous water crossings, too-slushy snow, and unstable weather are just a few pranksters that can disrupt even the best-laid plans. If things don’t look right, consider picking a different objective or call it a day early.

10. Whacky Weather

It’s undeniable that spring is known for its comically inconsistent conditions. One way to avoid being a victim of this practical joker is by checking conditions. In New Hampshire, the high summits forecast from the Mount Washington Observatory is a great resource for gaining info on expected weather while websites like New England Trail Conditions use community-based reporting to deliver up-to-date trail conditions.

 

Have a spring hiking tip that’s kept you from playing the fool? If so, we want to hear about! Leave it in the comments below.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5 Steps for Setting Up Camp in the Snow

All of those fun, multi-day trips into the mountains you did this past summer don’t need to stop just because of a little bit of snow. Backcountry camping in the winter is not only possible, it’s awesome. There are no bugs, way fewer people, and all of the roots and rocks you slept on in July are under a nice comfy snowpack in March. With the right gear and a little bit of planning ahead, you can get out there year round. But setting up camp in the snow is a little different than during the summer. Follow these steps to make sure your winter abode is comfortable.

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1. Pick Your Spot

Just like the rest of the year, picking the right spot to pitch your tent is super important to ensuring a good—and safe—night outside. First thing first, read up on the local backcountry camping regulations to make sure your spot is legal. These guidelines vary from place to place, but generally mean keeping away from water sources, trails, established backcountry sites (like cabins, shelters and established campgrounds), and sensitive ecosystems.

Natural hazards are important considerations in three-season camping but are especially critical in winter. Stay far, far away from avalanche-prone areas and be mindful of wind and weather—do some research ahead of time and be aware of local conditions. If you’re in the woods, check out the surrounding trees to make sure you’re not in range of anything dead, broken, or otherwise ready to fall.

2. Make a Footprint

Once you’ve got a solid spot picked out, the first thing you want to do is pack down a footprint for the tent. Packed snow will melt slower and insulate better than loose powder and will make things a whole lot more comfortable. Keep your skis or snowshoes on and hop around in the spot you plan to set up until it forms a nice firm base.

Side note: Insulation is key to a comfortable night out in winter. An appropriately rated sleeping bag is a start, but bring an extra sleeping pad and you’ll be straight toasty.

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3. Pitch the Tent

Next, pitch your tent just like you would any other time of year but for one small difference: the stakes. Your run-of-the-mill, three-season tent stakes are probably not going to do great in the snow, so a heavier duty option—like these—are a good way to go. Tying off and burying found objects—like gear, rocks, or fallen branches—is a good alternative too. A buried ice axe makes a solid anchor and keeps those sharp edges away from ripping a real bummer of a hole in your tent.

Provided the weather reports aren’t grim, a three-season tent can be totally workable in winter. The big difference between winter and three-season tents are stronger poles (for snow accumulation) and sturdier fabric (for wind resistance). If the forecast is clear of heavy snow or high winds, you’re golden. Just lash down that rainfly right so the cold air doesn’t creep in.

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4. Use the Snow

The coolest thing about winter camping is that, with the snow, you can really go to town customizing your site to fit your needs. If you need a bit more space for gear you can dig out your tent’s vestibule and stash it there. If the wind is crazy you can build a snow wall and keep yourself in the lee.

5. Break it Down

Before heading out it’s important to make sure you’ve broken down your site in the most Leave No Trace way possible. Break down or fill in those cool man-made features and always pack out what you pack in.

Do you have any other suggestions for setting up camp in the snow? Leave them in the comments!


Understanding the Sleeping Pad R-Value

Shopping for sleeping pads is about to get a whole lot easier.

The second law of thermodynamics states that heat will naturally flow from hot to cold. Without getting too nerdy, this is why we use sleeping bags while camping: They slow down that heat transfer from hot (you and your body) to cold (the outside air). Unfortunately, a sleeping bag is only as good as its loft, and when your body compresses the bag between you and the ground, all of your body heat will easily be lost into the ground. Enter the sleeping pad.

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What does a sleeping pad do?

At first glance to novice campers and backpackers, the sleeping pad just a poor excuse for a mattress, attempting to make the sticks and rocks less noticeable, but it’s real function is to thermally insulate your body from the cold ground. But how well a particular sleeping bag does that job has been hard to quantify.

For many years, sleeping pads were rated in a similar fashion to sleeping bags: with temperature ranges. The problem with this method is that its subjective to both the manufacturer and the user so there is no way to accurately compare the warmth of sleeping pads between brands. Also, a sleeping pad insulates you from ground temperature, which can be very different from the air temperature, and is more difficult to forecast or predict.

More recently, pads have been rated using a number called the “R-Value,” which is a method of rating thermal resistance (how well a material insulates against conductive, or contact, heat transfer). This universal method of rating insulation can now be used to compare the insulating properties of almost any material or product! The problem? Until now, it hasn’t actually been universal. Brands tested their pads to find the R-value using a variety of different techniques and without a standardized method, the numbers listed on sleeping pads were often hard to compare and make sense of—some brands opted to not include an R-value at all.

But, at the end of last year, a coalition of industry brands announced that they would be standardizing the R-value tests and requiring that all pads list the new, easier to understand number by 2020.

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So, how will it work?

So how will the R-Value for a mattress be figured out? A thermal testing rig which contains a hot and cold side is set up with the mattress sandwiched in between the two sides. The hot side is heated with an electric coil, and the amount of energy required to keep the hot side at a constant temperature is measured. A mattress that insulates well, will let the heating coil use less energy to maintain the set temperature because less heat is being conducted through the mattress to the cold side. This measured amount of energy is then converted with some fun math equations into the R-Value that will be assigned to that specific mattress.

Thankfully many of the gear companies have already done much of the legwork for you and have come up with some recommended R-Value ranges for the season or warmth you might be looking for:

“Season” Summer 3-Season Winter Extreme Cold
Recommended R-Value 1+ 2+ 3+ 5+

Much like a sleeping bag, the trade off of increasing R-Value is increasing the weight. A high R-Value sleeping pad will naturally weigh more than a sleeping pad with a lower R-Value using the same material technology.

The good news for consumers who don’t want to own a different sleeping pad for every season, is that R-value is simply added together linearly in order to increase its insulating properties. For example, this means you can stack an inflatable mattress with an R-value of 3 on top of a closed cell foam mattress with an R-value of 2 and have the equivalent of a new mattress with an R-value of 5!

You may be asking yourself why any of this matters. After all, if a company tells you that a mattress is rated for 15 degree weather, why not believe them? The true advantage of incorporating a standardized method of rating is being able to compare mattresses from different companies and not having to worry about marketing tactics or personal bias. Relying on a scientific standard for rating the insulating properties of camping mattresses lets you, the camper, make informed and complete decisions on how to spend your hard earned money.


8 Tips for Winter Hikes Above Treeline

While the mountains of the Northeast may not contain the vast alpine climates of the American West or other regions, many peaks of the Adirondacks, Greens, Whites, and Maine do require extensive travel above treeline to reach summit. Hiking above treeline, especially in winter, can be some of the most spectacular and rewarding hiking around, but it doesn’t come without challenged or danger. The unpredictable and harsh weather, inhospitable terrain, and difficulty of getting help all the way up there makes preparation necessary any time you venture into the Alpine, and these tips will start you in the right direction.

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1. Do the proper planning.

While sound preparation is a must for any safe hiking experience, it becomes even more important when visiting above treeline trails. You should carefully study your route, read trip reports or descriptions of your hike, and take careful note of weather predictions. Higher summit forecasts can be very different than general weather reports, and you should account for being exposed to any wind or precipitation which can often be more intense on exposed summits and ridgelines. As with any hike, be sure to let others know a detailed itinerary and when to expect you in case of emergency.

2. Practice makes perfect.

Before entering an alpine zone in winter, you should have a chance to test and dial in your gear and technique on lesser objectives and more forgiving trails. A windswept cold summit is not the place to find your water has frozen or your crampons don’t fit your boots. Pick a cold and windy day to try a small hike above treeline where you know you have an easy exit to test out your skill, gear, and resolve.

3. Adjust your risk assessments.

A part of more extreme peak bagging that is often learned through (sometimes negative) experiences is decision making and knowing when it is best to bail on an objective. When deciding to travel above treeline, the risks you are willing to take should be adjusted accordingly. Travelling solo or pressing on despite issues can have much more severe consequences here. Have alternative plans, expect the worst, and be willing to bail if needed rather than risk injury or worse.

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4. Carry the proper water and food.

Realize that subzero wind chills and exposure to the elements and weather will change the way you eat and drink. You will be uncomfortable or even dangerously cold if trying to fumble with preparing food or melting snow for water. Carry what you need for fluids in insulated containers to prevent freezing—winter alpine regions are no place for hydration packs whose tubes can freeze easily. Carry snacks that won’t freeze in easily accessible pouches or pockets so you can eat on the move without having to access you pack frequently.

5. Dress for the cold.

You will want to be sure to carry and wear the correct clothing. Typical winter layers may also require a heavy down insulating layer and a waterproof/windproof shell depending on conditions. Don’t over layer as you will still generate a great deal of heat even in freezing conditions. However, think about what you would need to stay warm should you become immobile for hours or, at worst, even overnight. Depending on the duration of your time above treeline, the availability of bailout options, and other factors, it may even be wise to carry basic winter shelter such as a bivy or emergency blanket as needed.

6. Wear the right traction.

While most winter hikes will include the need for traction devices such as snowshoes or Microspikes, this becomes even more crucial above treeline. The above treeline areas of the Northeast are often rocky, icy, and/or exposed—you may even require full crampons for safety. It is better to have all these devices than to find yourself sliding into a possible injury along a fully exposed section of trail. Be sure to be properly trained in crampon technique before using this potentially dangerous equipment.

7. Protect your face and eyes.

Blasting winds and ice over long stretches of ridgeline can quickly create uncomfortable or even dangerous frostbite conditions on any exposed skin. Carry and use adequate gear to protect your face. While a simple Buff may suffice for cold windy hikes in the woods, alpine exposure may require a full face mask, as well as goggles or glacier glasses to protect your eyes. It seems simple, but some forget that hiking with no vision can quickly lead to disaster.

8. Navigate carefully.

The regions above treeline in winter look much like the moon. They can be uniform landscapes of rocky white with at best an occasional cairn to mark routes. Besides studying routes ahead of time, it is crucial to take extra steps to ensure proper navigation. Consider carrying a GPS, and always be equipped with a map and compass. As you enter an alpine zone, take careful note of the direction you came from, the direction you are heading, and any notable landmarks or indicators. It is wise to even take a quick bearing on your compass of the exit and/or target routes. It is not uncommon for a clear summit to become a windswept and engulfed in whiteout conditions in just minutes. If you do get caught in extreme weather, don’t panic. Think carefully for a minute of the information you have and make sound decisions to get below treeline rather than rashly scrambling in what might be a dangerous direction.

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Three Ways to Spice Up Your Dehydrated Meals

Packing your backpack for a long trip is a game of ounces and priorities and striking a balance between utility and weight invariably results in some sacrifices. On some trips, this can mean going with a canister stove and a selection of pre-packaged, freeze-dried or dehydrated meals rather than liquid fuel and a spread of ingredients.

If fast and light is your game, then you already know that some of these meals are good and some are, well, good enough to get you by. You probably also know that packing in a little extra—be it a favorite hot sauce, or fresh veggie—can make all the difference. Here are a couple of suggestions on how to punch up those pre-packaged meals.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Good-to-Go Smoked Three Bean Chili

A solid, hearty chili is a great way to refuel after a long day on the trail and Good To-Go’s Smoked Three Bean Chili is tops. Good To-Go’s mission of creating good food with real ingredients is a familiar one in our daily, in-town lives, but is something of a revelation in the realm of lightweight backpacking food. Several of their meals, including this one, are also Gluten-free and Vegan. Obviously some of the recommended add-on ingredients below are neither. They’re easy to distinguish.

Servings: 1–2

Ingredients

  • Good-to-go Smoked Three Bean Chili
  • ½ c cotija cheese
  • ¼ c scallions, chopped
  • ¼ c cilantro, chopped
  • Picamás Salsa Brava Roja
  • 1 lime

Recipe

  1. Open the packaging and remove the oxygen absorber packet.
  2. Pour 600 ml of boiling water into the bag; stir, reseal, and let steep for 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, assemble your other ingredients and cut your lime into quarters.
  4. After 20 minutes, open the packaging and stir again; add the juice of two lime quarters and distribute mixture into two portions.
  5. Crumble the cotija over each portion of chili and top with chopped scallions, cilantro, and the remaining two lime quarters.
  6. Add hot sauce to taste.

Tip: If you can get your hands-on some smoked venison or merkén (an indigenous Chilean super-condiment spice mix), throw some of that in there too. They’re harder ingredients to come by but can really get things going.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Mountain House Macaroni and Cheese

Mac and cheese is as comfort food as it gets. It’s delicious, it’s hearty and it’ll make you forget all about the aches and pains the mountain so generously shared with you over the course of the day. To get this classic on-the-go, look no further than Mountain House Macaroni and Cheese. Born from long-range patrol rations for the United States military, Mountain House has set the standard for packaged, lightweight, and easy-to-prepare freeze-dried meals for 50 years. The addition of Bajan hot sauce brings a little more depth (and fire) to the meal while the pancetta bumps up the protein.

Tip: Measure and prep ingredients at home and pack in in lightweight containers. It’ll spare you having to bring in a cutting surface or measuring tools and, with exact measurements, you won’t have any leftovers to pack out.

Servings: 2–3

Ingredients

  • Mountain House Macaroni and Cheese
  • ½ c good melting cheese, grated
  • 2 T pancetta, cooked and diced
  • 2 T Delish Bajan Hot Pepper Sauce

Recipe

  1. Open the packaging and remove the oxygen absorber packet.
  2. Pour 475 ml of boiling water into the bag; stir, reseal, and let steep for 10 minutes.
  3. After 10 minutes, open the packaging and add the cheese, pancetta and hot sauce; stir again and let sit for another 5 minutes or until the cheese melts.
Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Backpacker’s Pantry Chana Masala

You can really go wild and mix it up when it comes to what type of cuisine you want to bring into the backcountry these days. Pho, risotto, pad Thai—minus the crowds and the subway fare, it’s just like picking a spot for dinner in the city. Among their numerous and varied options, Backpacker’s Pantry Chana Masala stands out. In fact, in 2016, the Colorado-based company was recognized in Backpacker Magazine’s Editor’s Choice Awards for the dish. This little modification turns the chana masala into a hand-held entrée, cutting down on the dishes you’re going to have to wash afterwards.

Servings: 1–2

Ingredients

  • Backpacker’s Pantry Chana Masala
  • ¼ c plain yogurt
  • 2 T cilantro
  • 4 pieces naan bread

Recipe

  1. Open the packaging and remove the oxygen absorber packet.
  2. Pour 540 ml of boiling water into the bag; stir, reseal, and let steep for 15–20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile place the naan bread in or on your still hot cookware to warm.
  4. After 15–20 minutes, open the packaging and stir again; distribute mixture evenly onto your portions of naan bread.
  5. Top with chopped cilantro and plain yogurt, roll naan bread, and enjoy as you would a taco.

Have another idea for ways to spice-up your dehydrated meals? Share them in the comments!


Explore the Mad River Valley in Winter

When the temperatures begin to drop and the snow begins to fall, the Mad River Valley of Vermont is what skiers and hikers dream about. Miles and miles of trail—groomed and wild, downhill and cross-country, hiking and snowshoeing—are easily accessible within a short drive.

Loosely defined by the path of its namesake river, the Mad River Valley runs from Granville Gulf Reservation in the south to the Winooski River in the north. Anchoring the valley are the three villages of Warren, Irasville, and Waitsfield, which offer no shortage of downtime, eating, or aprés ski opportunities.

No matter what you’re looking for, the Mad River Valley is the place to be, come winter.

Courtesy: Mad River Glen
Courtesy: Mad River Glen

Skiing

Vermont is a the premier destination for skiing on the East Coast and the Mad River Valley is about as good as it gets. Sugarbush Resort, comprised of two mountains, Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen, is the largest option in the neighborhood, boasting 53 miles of skiing over 111 trails.

A short ways up VT-17 is Mad River Glen, the famously throwback, co-op-owned operation. It’s skiers-only and natural conditions over 45 challenging trails. Chances are you’ve seen their “Ski it if You Can” bumper stickers—they’re about as ubiquitous in New England as those “This Car Climbed Mount Washington” ones.

Courtesy: Mad River Glen
Courtesy: Mad River Glen

The mountain breeds an “old school New England skiing” vibe, thanks to its natural snow, narrow trails, plentiful trees, and sing-person chairlift—One of only two remaining in the country. For more advanced skiers, our scouts recommend taking it up Stark Mountain and dropping into the trees off the left side of Upper Antelope, where you’re sure to find the good snow. After that, link back up with Lower Antelope as it winds down the ridgeline in narrow, bumpy steps.

For newer skiers, a plethora of blues and greens intertwine on the other side of the mountain, but experts shouldn’t stay away from this area, either. Well-spaced trees off the side of TK let you break in and out of the trail as you see fit and enjoy some buttery glades.

Legs shot? Stop by General Stark’s Pub (see below) to recharge with a brew and a burger.

Groomed trails at Ole’s in Warren | Credit: Hans-Peter Riehle
Groomed trails at Ole’s in Warren | Credit: Hans-Peter Riehle

Cross-country

The Mad River Valley also boasts significant cross-country skiing options. In the town of Warren, Ole’s Cross Country Ski Center and Blueberry Lake Cross-country Center each has miles of groomed, varied terrain suitable for all skill levels.

For backcountry options, look no further than the Catamount Trail. Running roughly parallel to the Long Trail, the Catamount Trail traverses the entire length of Vermont by way of old woods roads, groomed trails, and snowmobile routes. Difficulty varies from section to section so advance planning is essential.

Descending the Long Trail into App Gap | Credit: John Lepak
Descending the Long Trail into App Gap | Credit: John Lepak

Winter Hiking

Vermont is a hiker’s paradise and it only gets better in the winter. The Long Trail, the nation’s oldest long-distance hiking trail and a Vermont institution, runs right by on its journey from Massachusetts to Québec. There are several outstanding side trails that serve as access points to the LT and two of Vermont’s five 4000-foot peaks—Mount Abraham and Ellen—are right there. It’s also worth noting that the other three—Mount Mansfield, Camel’s Hump, and Killington Peak—are within an hour’s drive.

In and around town, the Mad River Path offers several miles of easy going trails that are good for the whole family. These ice over pretty good in winter though, so despite their relatively chill vibe, traction is a must.

The Skatium in Waitsfield. | Credit: John Lepak
The Skatium in Waitsfield. | Credit: John Lepak

Skating

When the conditions are real grim up high, it’s good to stay down low, and pick-up hockey is a great way to pass the time. The Skatium, a laid-back outdoor rink in Waitsfield Center, delivers. Against the backdrop of the Green Mountains one can play some hockey or just skate around and chill out. Everything you need—skates, sticks and pucks—are available for rent and a warming hut is open to keep the game going.

A light lunch at The Mad Taco in Waitsfield. | Credit: Katharina Lepak
A light lunch at The Mad Taco in Waitsfield. | Credit: Katharina Lepak

Eating and Drinking

Food and drink in the three villages isn’t at all hard to come by, and the diversity of options will keep you interested in the time between the hiking and the skiing. The Mad Taco in Waitsfield is a legitimate taco joint and a favorite of the goEast staff. An arsenal of hot sauces and craft beers round it out. In Warren, The Warren Store is an eclectic general store that serves up excellent sandwiches. If you’re looking to stay in and cook at home, stock up on local meat, cheese and liquor at Mehuron’s Supermarket in Waitsfield.

After a long day skiing the glades at Mad River Glen, stop into General Stark’s Pub at the base, a cozy scene for a generous selection of brews as well as food. Local brewery Lawson’s Finest Liquid’s is the “official beer” of the hotspot, so our scouts recommend grabbing a glass of the Fayston Maple Imperial Stout, from Lawson’s, for a quintessential Vermont taste in a dark, rich, and heavy taste.  It might be a one-and-done.

It isn’t too difficult to stay hydrated in these parts either. Mad River Distillers operates daily tours out of their distillery space in Warren. You can also try their offerings, including their Maple Cask Rum (outstanding in an après ski hot toddy) at tasting rooms in Waitsfield and Burlington. On the beer side of things you can check out Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Waitsfield. Get a taste and some snacks to stay or load up on packaged beer to go.

 

With additional reporting from Ryan Wichelns. 


When Ultra-Enjoyment Outweighs Ultralight

We didn’t need a fire. (It was unseasonably warm.) We didn’t need s’mores. (Does anyone need s’mores?) We certainly didn’t need camp furniture. (We were used to roughing it.) And yet there we were, twelve women from the same hiking club standing in a circle in a dirt parking lot at 4 p.m. in Harriman State Park as our hike leader unloaded dry firewood from the trunk of her car. We handed it piece by piece to the person next to us, who in turn passed it around until we all had a hefty stick dutifully stuffed into our day packs.

The wood was followed by four bags of marshmallows, six large bars of chocolate, and three boxes of graham crackers, evenly distributed among the group. I managed to stuff a bar and a box next to my log. That left just enough room for the foil-wrapped sandwich I planned to toss in the fire for a fast dinner—in an effort to get to dessert sooner—and my seat pad because no way was I was going to eat s’mores with nothing between me and a rock.

Two of the women had little room in their packs for the s’mores fixings. At the time, I wondered: What could they possibly have packed for such a short, relatively easy hike of under two miles that their packs would be full?

What could they possibly have packed for such a short, relatively easy hike of under two miles that their packs would be full?

I knew most of the women, having hiked with them on various trails around the area—the Palisades Cliffs, Bear Mountain, Ramapo Valley, Pyramid Mountain, Norvin Green, and Wawayanda. I’d also joined several on a three-day trip in the Adirondacks. These were skilled hikers who lived to scale mountains. They weren’t the type to pack a lot of non-essentials.

With our packs loaded, we headed along trails wet from three consecutive days of rain (hence, the firewood) toward Bald Rocks, a grassy, mostly level open area with plenty of fire rings and places to pitch a tent or tie a hammock. By dusk, we’d reached our destination and found a site. Around us, campers were tying hammocks to trees and pitching tents.

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We built a fire, and organized the s’mores fixings on a tarp. While several women went on a mission to secure marshmallow-worthy sticks, I pulled out my seat pad. I noticed two women across the fire inserting metal poles into one another, flipping and turning them as though they were creating large-scale origami figures. But these were no cranes or orchids. They’d created camp chairs. After one completed her chair, she reached into her pack and pulled out another pouch. Flip, turn, insert, and voila! She’d assembled a table complete with cup holders strategically placed in the center. They inserted their water bottles into the holders and took a seat. Even through the flames of the fire, I could see that they were very happy (not to mention comfortable) campers.

I tossed my sandwich into the flames, a little disgusted, I admit. Then I approached the chairs.

I pointed to one. “Do you mind?” I asked the woman.

She smiled. “Go ahead,” she said as she rose.

I sat down. It was ridiculously comfortable for a camping chair—more comfy than any camping chair I’d ever tried. I envisioned myself pulling a gooey marshmallow from a stick as I sat in this chair, imagining it tasting a whole lot better than it would from my seat pad. I rose, and picked it up with one finger. It weighed less than the stick of firewood in my pack.

“Nice,” I said, setting it down and walking over to my seat pad, which I felt like kicking into the fire, but didn’t.

I drove home in the feeling like I’d just left a fancy spa.

After our feast, we walked about 50 feet to an open area where others from various campsites had gathered. We watched the sunset, then waited for the stars to appear. We located planets, and discussed the possibility of more s’mores. (Is there such a thing as too many, we wondered. We reluctantly decided the answer was yes.)

We returned to our fire and doused it with water, then packed up. We donned our headlamps and began hiking toward the trail.

“You’re leaving?” yelled one of the campers in a tone of disbelief.

We stood silent. Unsure perhaps of what to say. Did we really just hike up a mountain to eat s’mores, watch a sunset, then turn around and hike out—some of us hauling such creature comforts as furniture? Apparently, we did, and from the smiles around me, I’d wager that we’d do it again.

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“Guess so,” said someone in our group.

We heard laughter from the campers.

We laughed, too.

Then we removed our packs and assembled a care package of unopened bags of marshmallows, chocolate bars, and a box of graham crackers, and presented it to the campers who weren’t laughing anymore. In fact, they were speechless as they accepted our gift.

We said our goodbyes and hiked downhill through the darkness, stopping occasionally to admire the moon and stars through the branches, and peer into the dark forest.

Instead of returning to my car sweaty and exhausted, I felt a happy tiredness spread throughout my body. I drove home in the feeling like I’d just left a fancy spa—relaxed and happy, and with a newfound appreciation of the benefits of packing the creature comforts of home.


How to Keep Your Puffy Jacket Clean

Puffy coats are an essential part of every outdoor adventurer’s wardrobe. Whether you’re a hiker, skier, climber, or backpacker, one (or more) of these synthetic and down-filled jackets probably regularly finds its way into your pack. But with winter now upon us, you’ve also probably been wearing it so much that it begs the question: is your puffer clean? Because keeping your puffy clean improves its performance and increases its longevity, read on for a few tips to keep your precious puffy in pristine condition and, if it happens to get dirty, clean it up.

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1. Top of the Line

Stashing your puffy at the top of your pack offers a handful of advantages. Most notably, it keeps it easily accessible for when you stop—which is always a great time to add a warm layer for sudden shifts in temperature. From a longevity standpoint, stowing your puffer on the top of your pack keeps it out of harm’s way when shoving items in and out of your backpack. It also helps it avoid absorbing moisture from wet items in the pack, or from being doused by a leaky water bottle.

2. Hang in There

Speaking of storage, while many puffies on the market come with stuff sacks or stow in their own pockets, keeping them bundled up is not a good long-term solution. Keeping an insulated jacket compressed can cause flat spots and negatively affect how insulation lofts. Instead, hang your puffy up at the end of the day. It’s good for the disbursement of insulation and loft of your puffer, and also ensures that your jacket dries thoroughly between uses.

3. Look Sharp

Another easy way to keep your puffy jacket at peak performance is by simply being careful when handling sharp objects. Tuck ice axe picks into pick pockets or cover their sharp edges with Black Diamond Pick Protectors. When storing crampons, make sure to pack them with their points facing one another, or use the Black Diamond Crampon Bag to avoid accidentally puncturing your puffy. Carrying skis on your shoulder? Watch those edges!

Pro Tip: If you’re planning on wearing a puffy for a considerable amount of time—and conditions allow—consider adding a more robust layer, like a softshell, on top of the puffy for an extra layer of protection.

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4. Don’t Dig Yourself into a Hole

Despite our best efforts, it seems holes are inevitable on puffy coats (especially lightweight ones). Patching holes early is a good way to keep expensive insulation inside your coat and add years to your jacket’s lifespan. Duct tape is the old standby for many outdoors people, but it can actually do more harm than good since it can further tear the coat when removed, leaves a residue behind, and pulls the insulation out when removed. Instead, use a pre-cut Gore-Tex Patch or Gear Aid Tenacious Tape, both of which are easily stored in a repair kit.

Pro Tip: To avoid losing insulation or further damaging the outer lining, patch any holes on your puffy before washing it. Of course, if the material around the hole is truly filthy, spot cleaning it can go a long way to ensuring that the patch stays put.

5. Clean Up Your Act

No matter how careful you are with your puffy, the time will come when it needs a wash—dirt, oils, and, in some cases, beer all have a way of winding up on your jacket. Keeping your jacket clean is for more than mere aesthetics—it also improves the loft of insulation and revitalizes Durable Water Repellent (DWR) shells, keeping puffies functioning at the pinnacle of performance and extending their lifespan.

While cleaning a puffy can feel daunting, it is actually quite easy:

  1. Most companies advise using a front-loading washing machine for cleaning your puffy coat and warn against using top-loading washers. However, many newer top-loading machines do not use agitators—which can snag and rip delicate items like puffies. If you have access to a newer top-loading washer without an agitator, feel free to use it. No matter if its a front- or top-loader, use the gentle cycle. No washer? No problem, a bathtub or sink also works great.
  2. Get a cleaner designed specifically for your garment, such as Nikwax Down Wash. Traditional laundry detergents can strip down feathers of their natural oils and leave a residue on your jacket’s shell, both of which will negatively affect your coat’s performance. If you are washing a synthetically insulated puffy, a product like Nikwax Tech Wash both cleans insulation and restores the jacket’s water resistance, all without leaving a soapy, performance-inhibiting residue behind.
  3. After your puffy is done in the washing machine, throw it in the dryer on low heat. At low heat, drying a puffy can be a time-consuming process and it often requires a few cycles to get a puffy completely dry. Fight the temptation to speed up the process by jacking up the heat—too much heat can melt everything from the jacket’s outer shell to the synthetic insulation. It’s also possible to air dry a puffy, although it can take anywhere from a couple of days to a week. To air dry, simply lay your puffy on a towel in a warm, dry spot out of direct sunlight and occasionally flip the jacket over.
  4. To help your jacket maintain its loft, throw a few clean tennis balls into the dryer with it, as they aid in re-fluffing your puffy. If you’re hand drying, manually pulling apart insulation clumps can help restore your puffy’s fluff and speed up the drying process.
  5. While everyone loves a nice, clean puffy, it’s advisable to only wash them as needed. Washing can cause extra wear and stress to a jacket and shorten its lifespan.

Do you have any tips for keeping your puffy pristine? We want to hear them! Please leave them in the comments section below.

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