The 8 Unwritten Rules of Hiking Courteously

In our society, it’s expected that we interact with various types of people on a regular basis. To get along somewhat reasonably, unwritten rules shape and influence many of these social situations. For instance, no law states you must move your grocery cart to the side of the aisle to allow others to pass by in a supermarket. But, we all do that because it’s courteous. Just like in our day-to-day lives, the trails have their own set of unwritten rules. These expectations make being in the woods a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

1. Listening to loud music while hiking

If you enjoy listening to music while you’re hiking, try to monitor how loud it is. When approaching other hikers, turn it down, so that you’re not creating noise pollution. Particularly, please refrain from carrying and blaring portable speakers in the woods. Headphones or earbuds are an alternative, but using them means you will be less aware of your surroundings, including when you approach people.

2. Not giving uphill hikers the right of way

With more and more people heading into the woods, the trails can get very crowded. So, first, keep in mind that you are sharing a narrow trail with other hikers. Particularly, when you’re descending, it’s expected you give anyone ascending the right of way. Some people making their ascent will welcome a rest and let you pass, but as a general rule, the person exerting the most effort gets the trail.

3. Building cairns for no functional reason

Built by trail maintainers to mark the trails, cairns serve a very specific purpose, especially above treeline. For this reason, it’s extremely important that additional cairns aren’t made. Otherwise, other hikers might get confused or even get lost on the trails. As well, building cairns that serve no function goes against Leave No Trace principles.

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4. Offering unsolicited advice to other hikers

Everyone has their own opinions about the right and wrong way to do things. At times, those opinions may spill out onto the trail. However, regardless of how much backpacking experience you have, unless someone is doing something blatantly unsafe or wrong, it’s best to keep your opinions to yourself. We all come into the woods with our own experiences and knowledge, so respect everyone’s right to “Hike Their Own Hike.”

5. Postholing, or damaging monorails in the winter by not wearing snowshoes

Winter hiking can be a very exciting and exhilarating experience. Often, places that you’ve visited in the summer look completely different when covered with snow. The trails also develop into “monorails,” as hikers wearing snowshoes pack fresh snow down into a narrow strip. When people don’t use snowshoes on freshly fallen snow, they begin punching holes into the surface. When the trail eventually freezes and hardens, it becomes difficult to travel along and can even be dangerous. To maintain a well-packed trail in winter, people are encouraged to wear snowshoes, especially on unbroken trail.

6. If hiking with a dog, keep it under control around other hikers

It’s fairly common to bring along a four-legged companion on backpacking trips. Some people bring their pets for an added sense of security, for protection, or as a companion. Nevertheless, it’s important to follow the posted rules about leashing dogs on marked trails, and to keep your pet within eyesight and under control when you approach other hikers. This ensures not only the dog’s safety but also protects the trails from damage. As well, you’re being considerate of other hikers, who might not otherwise want unsolicited attention from your four-legged friend.

7. Don’t stop in the middle of a hiking trail to have conversations

Sharing the trail with family and friends or going with a group can be a great way to learn more about the wilderness from others and lets you make memories in the process. When hiking in groups, always be respectful of others you encounter on the trail. For instance, if you and your party are stopping to take a break or have a conversation, be sure to do so off the trail. Doing so allows other hikers to pass by without having to walk around you. That being said, make sure you’re not damaging fragile vegetation when you step off the trail.

8. Let faster hikers pass

Everyone hikes at their own pace. As such, when you head out into the woods, you will encounter various types of hikers. Some prefer to carry less gear and trail run, others carry a moderate amount and go at a steady speed, and those with heavier packs may travel at a slower rate. In all cases, respect everyone’s right to explore at their own pace. In turn, let faster-moving individuals pass by, and if you’re passing someone, do so respectfully.

 

As more people discover and venture into the great outdoors, it’s imperative to respect each person’s approach and journey. If we agree to treat everyone with the same respect we would want and understand these unwritten rules, the growing number of hikers matters less, and everyone in turn can enjoy the woods.  


10 Reasons to Wear Sandals During Your Next Adventure

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

1. Greater freedom of movement

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

2. They’re lightweight

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

3. More room to grow

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

4. Leave the smelly socks at home

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

5. They’re ideal for wet conditions

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

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6. Barefoot without the danger!

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

7. They’re easy to take on and off

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

8. They’re packable

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

9. Skip the laces

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

10. They’re exceptionally durable and supportive

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

 

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

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

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The Top 8 Things New Backpackers Should Never Do

Three years ago, I started hiking in earnest. I set out on my first solo hike, wearing a cotton T-shirt and jeans, and carrying a water bottle and small number of snacks in my pack. I didn’t carry a map, compass, or any of the 10 hiking essentials recommended for every backpacker. Looking back, I cringe at some of the poor decisions I made. My lack of experience and failure to understand the risks I was taking could have landed me in danger. Luckily, I was never injured and, to date, have returned safely from all of my hikes. But, over the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about hiking safely and the unwritten rules of backpacking.

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1. Wearing jeans and cotton clothing

Wearing jeans or cotton clothing while you’re hiking is not only uncomfortable but it can also be dangerous. Clothing is your biggest defense against the weather and elements. If you’re wearing materials that don’t wick moisture away from your body or that don’t insulate well, you will be uncomfortable and risk becoming hypothermic. Instead, wear synthetic or wool materials. Smartwool’s merino blend, waterproof GORE-TEX, and EMS’ own moisture-wicking Techwick are all great examples. Also, always bring along extras, especially socks, a long-sleeved shirt, a wind-breaking jacket, gloves, and a hat.

2. Wearing flip-flops or shoes with poor traction

For hiking, proper shoes are one of the most important items to have. Thus, before you go, consider very carefully what you’ll be wearing on your feet. Most trails’ terrain is going to be rocky, muddy, wet, and slippery, and for this reason, flip-flops and dress shoes aren’t the best choices. Neither will keep you safe and comfortable in the woods. If the most rugged pair you own are tennis shoes, then wear those. But, still keep in mind you may encounter less-than-ideal trail conditions.

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3. Not carrying enough of the essentials

Regardless of whether you’re going on a one-mile nature walk or a 10-mile 46er ascent, you should be carrying more than just a water bottle. For the most pertinent pieces, start with The 10 Essentials. This list covers items every backpacker should carry, regardless of how short the hike may be, and includes the bare minimum for a survival situation, such as a fire starter, compass and map, extra clothes, water, extra food, and a first aid kit. Most are inexpensive and easy to obtain.

4. Not telling anyone at home your itinerary

Cellphone service is never a guarantee in the backcountry. As such, don’t rely on it to contact home in the event of an emergency. Before leaving, always tell someone where you’re going, how long you plan to be gone, and the trails you will be taking. That way, if you don’t return by a certain time, they know to get help, and have key details about your route and location to pass along.

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5. Not carrying a map or researching the trail ahead of time

Before leaving for a hike, it’s essential that you not only look at a map of the trail you’ll be taking, but read the trail description, as well. A topographic map doesn’t provide enough detail, and thus, reading the trail description might mean you’ll opt for one trail over another to reach the summit.

Designed to help you plan your hike, trail guidebooks often offer suggestions based on experience level, and list alternative routes for winter. Additionally, the trail descriptions prove to be useful in the event a route is poorly marked. In this case, because you know what the trail should look like, you have a greater chance of following the correct path. For these reasons, it’s extremely important to read the guidebook before setting out.

6. Underestimating the weather forecast

Before you set out, know what the weather is going to be like—both on the trail and at the summit. For every thousand feet of elevation you gain, you lose an average of 3.5° F. Don’t underestimate the mountains, and remember that although it may be 60° F at the trailhead, ascending a few thousand feet and adding 20 MPH winds will bring the temperatures down considerably.

Additionally, plan for inclement weather by carrying extra clothes, especially socks, a long-sleeved shirt, and a wind-breaking layer. Being prepared may mean the difference between an enjoyable day in the woods and a miserable one.

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7. Not following Leave No Trace wilderness ethics

If everyone left their garbage in the woods, or didn’t bury their waste, imagine how disgusting the trails would be. To keep the wilderness ready for other hikers, it’s essential that you carry out all trash. To prepare, bring an extra Ziploc bag in your pack to hold onto any trash. If you see other people’s trash on the trail, it doesn’t hurt to pick it up, either.

All waste, along with any toilet paper, should be buried, assuming you follow LNT practices and the land manager allows it. Carry some hand sanitizer in your pack, a trowel, and toilet paper. Walk at least 200 feet from the trail, water sources, and the campsite (70 steps), and dig a cathole using a trowel. Catholes should be four to six inches wide and six to eight inches deep. Bury both waste and paper in the hole.

8. Not being courteous to others while hiking

Although you may feel like you’re the only person in the woods, chances are you’re going to encounter other people. Be courteous and respect their right to enjoy the woods, too. Share the trail with them, allow them to pass if they are hiking faster than you, or turn down your music, so they can enjoy the sounds of nature. If you’re hiking in a larger party, keep in mind how loud you’re getting when engaging in conversations, and respect the solitary hikers you may come across by giving them the option to pass you on the trail.

 

Everyone starts out as a beginner, and trying something new means that you will be learning lessons along the way. Although I call myself a moderately experienced hiker, I’m still learning. As new gear comes out, and I spend more time in the wilderness, I become more familiar with what works for me and what doesn’t. The only way to become better at something is to be open to learning from mistakes made along the way. Spend some time researching backpacking basics, practice smart decision-making, and remember that there is no shame in asking for help or calling it quits when a climb becomes too scary or difficult. The mountain will always be there when you’re ready.

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How to Choose a Camping Tent

Shelter is undoubtedly one of the most important items in your pack. While there are lots of options for shelters (hammocks, bivy, lean-tos, etc.), tents are still the most commonly used option in the backcountry. But, because of the huge variety out there, a lot goes into finding the one that’s right for you. What type should you get, and what size do you need? What features should you have? Knowing all the ins and outs will help you decide and ultimately make you satisfied with your (very important) purchase.

To start, think about how you will be camping. Will it be out of your car, kayak, or canoe? Or, at a campsite off a trail somewhere in the woods? What about the season and conditions? And, how many people will be staying in it? Will you be bringing your dog with you, and do you want space for your gear?

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Capacity

How many people need to fit into your tent? Unfortunately, there’s no industry standard for how cozy or spacious a tent should be. Thus, a three-person tent from one brand may feel more crowded than one from another. Generally, car camping tents are a little more spacious than backpacking or mountaineering models, which tend to be more snug and compact to reduce weight.

But, to make it as easy as possible, the tent size is typically noted right in the name. For example, the EMS Sunapee 4 is a four-person tent. If you are planning on purchasing a backpacking tent and want to bring your dog or store your gear inside, you may want to think about sizing up one person larger than your group.

As a good baseline to follow, if you are looking to store gear in the tent and want some wiggle room, you should average about 20 square feet per person. If you are more interested in the ultralight movement, don’t mind storing your stuff outside, or being cozy with your neighbor, closer to 15 square feet per person will work.

GO: 1- to 2-person | 3- to 4-person | 5- to 6-person | Greater than 6-person

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Activity Type

For car camping:

For car camping or camping out of a kayak or canoe, weight is not as much of an issue. As such, consider a more spacious structure with lots of add-ons or neat features. Car camping tents typically weigh significantly more, and are sometimes tall enough to stand up in.

GO: Recreational/Car Camping Tents

For backpacking:

You will want something lighter in weight that you won’t mind carrying on your back for longer periods of time. You may need to compromise, depending on what you care most about—weight, features, comfort, or price, to name a few factors. Generally, backpacking tents will be more cramped, with no room to stand up. For comparison, a three-person car camping tent will feel much larger than a three-person backpacking tent.

Going further, some backpacking tents are classified as “ultralight.” The material feels very thin, and the poles are very lightweight; however, they are often stronger than the traditional, heavier options. The downside is, they tend to be more expensive. But, many hikers find the price is well worth the significant drop in weight.

GO: Backpaking Tents | Ultralight Tents

More often, these structures are categorized as three-season tents, which are designed for spring, summer, and fall weather. The lighter weight withstands heavy rain and even light snow, but not harsh winds, heavy snow, or more violent conditions.

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For winter and alpine camping:

You will need a more resilient tent—particularly, a four-season model, which tends to have more poles and heavier fabric. While some very basic ones resemble backpacking tents in shape, actual alpine or mountaineering tents have a geodesic-type body. The dome structure allows them to withstand high winds and even the weight of snow.

Some four-season tents are single-walled, meaning they don’t have a mesh body covered with a waterproof fly. As a result, they are easier to set up in rougher conditions. However, they don’t always perform well in milder weather, as they get stuffy and condensation can build up easily.

GO: Mountaineering Tents

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Livability and Comfort

Your tent should be comfortable! Pay attention to these factors to make your tent a sanctuary during a storm, rather than an uncomfortable coffin.

Peak Height

Height is just as important as surface area and capacity. Particularly, a higher peak will make your new home feel more spacious. The peak height is measured from the ground to the top of the tent’s outside, which includes the fly. So, to calculate the interior height, it’s a good idea to subtract three inches from the actual peak height.

To sit up and be comfortable, look for a tent with an interior height of roughly 3 feet, 6 inches. A tent with more vertical walls also offers more shoulder room and, in return, will feel more spacious.

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Entrances

Having multiple doors is nice, but they will increase the structure’s weight. But, if you plan on sheltering multiple people, more doors may ease how cramped you feel. You’re also less likely to climb over someone for a bathroom break in the middle of the night.

The door’s location is also important. Many tents have doors along the sides, but some place them at your feet. Side doors are larger and easier to pass through, but having a single door by your feet is ideal for multiple campers and makes the tent more sturdy in rougher conditions.

Vents

Vents and mesh are some of a tent’s most important but often-overlooked features. Ventilating hot, humid air makes the tent feel less stuffy, and helps keep condensation to a minimum. Especially when choosing a single-walled tent, vents are incredibly important.

Storage

Vestibules are floorless storage places for your gear, and are made by staking out the rainfly away from the tent’s body. Typically, five square feet is enough for a full-sized pack. Some tents may have a few vestibules, or may need a separate vestibule extension.

Color

Rather than being simply decorative, color influences how comfortable the shelter will be. Lighter colors allow more sunlight to pass through the walls, making the interior less dark and more pleasant if a storm keeps you tent-bound and out of direct sun for hours…or days!

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A Note About Weight

Tent manufacturers put a lot of information on the tags, including a “packed weight” and a “trail weight.” Packed weight is how much the shelter weighs when you pull it off the shelf—all the bits and pieces included. So, you’re taking into account any dry bags, stuff sacks, tent stakes, and the like.

Trail weight is typically the bare minimum—tent body, rain fly, and poles. Trail weight usually does not include the stakes unless noted, and won’t factor in any included repair kits or splints. In reality, unless you are really into the ultralight movement, your actual trail weight will fall somewhere in between the two, likely closer to the packed weight. This number plays an important role when you decide how much your pack will weigh for your trip.

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What Else Should I Pay Attention To?

Footprints

Another often-overlooked feature is the footprint, which creates a barrier between your tent’s floor and the ground. Not all tents have one, and some must be bought separately. Having a footprint will extend the shelter’s life expectancy, saving the floor from the wear and tear of stones, branches, and the occasional stray pinecone. If you don’t have a footprint available, tarps, plastic sheets, and other materials cut to the floor’s size can be used.

Clips vs. Sleeves

Many tents have plastic clips to attach the structure to the poles, and others will have fabric sleeves. Clips create more space between the tent’s body and the rainfly, providing more air circulation and reducing condensation. Plus, they’re much easier and quicker to set up. Sleeves, however, will be sturdier.

Unique Tents

Some tents have special setup requirements. For instance, some ultralight tents use your trekking poles partially for support, and others have to be staked out tightly to be properly set up. While a hassle if they aren’t set up correctly, these tents allow hikers to drop even more weight. For another lightweight choice, tarp tents are very popular!

Still Deciding?

Don’t be afraid to ask store employees if you can try out a tent. Many locations allow you to open the tents and set them up, so you can see for yourself what the structure is like.

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What Else Do I Need?

Tents have plenty of add-on options! Some can be very useful, and others are just for fun.

Solar washes help restore the tent’s water repellency and also protect it from UV rays, thus extending its life. As well, consider a repair kit. Patches, sealant, shock cords, splints, and accessory cords prove to be valuable if things go wrong in the backcountry.

For your supplies, additional vestibules or extensions expand the room for gear and living space. For some models, gear lofts clip into the tent’s roof to increase your storage options. Particularly, it’s a great place for headlamps, small electronics, and that book you’ve been trying to finish!

GO: Tent Accessories

 


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A Guide to Hammock Camping

For many, a swaying hammock is synonymous with relaxation. The word alone conjures memories of breezy summer afternoons: a cold beer sweating in the heat, dappled sunlight dancing through leaves, and gentle rocking that lulls you into a midday nap. It is the physical manifestation of the word “chill.” But, its portable, lightweight design is just as convenient for camping in the backcountry as it is for lounging in the yard, the park, or on the beach.

I started hammock camping a couple of seasons ago, and on solo overnight trips, it’s my absolute go-to. It’s wicked easy to set up after a long day of hiking, and it’s a significantly more sustainable, lower-impact way to camp. Provided you don’t need all the add-ons for every trip—like a rainfly or bug netting—it’ll even lighten the load in your pack. It is a different game, though, and you have to consider a couple of things before grabbing your hammock and hitting the trail.

From left to right the packed ENO SingleNest hammock, Atlas Hammock Suspension System, and DryFly Rain Tarp, weighing in at 3lbs 1oz. | Credit: John Lepak
From left to right: the packed ENO SingleNest hammock, Atlas Hammock Suspension System, and DryFly Rain Tarp, weighing in at 3 lbs., 1 oz. | Credit: John Lepak

Finding the Right Hammock

First thing’s first: you’ve got to get yourself a hammock. However, the “right one” is really just about finding a combination of size, material, and extras that make sense for you.

Backpacking hammocks tend to come in two widths—single and double wide. Just like it sounds, a single is a good fit for one person, while a double is a bit wider and good if you’re expecting company or just want a little extra room to kick it solo.

The material boils down to weight versus durability. A heavier-duty fabric lasts longer but will add ounces to your pack. A lighter fabric will wear quicker but packs down smaller and keeps it light on the trail.

Extras are in name only. In the backcountry, you’re probably going to want at least a few of them. So, let’s start with suspension. I love the ENO Atlas Hammock Suspension System. It goes up quickly—a bonus after a long day of getting beat up in the mountains. Also cool? They’re designed to lessen the impact your hang has on the trees you’re using.

The Atlas Hammock Suspension System straps are webbed so it’s really, really easy to adjust the hang as needed. The unused ones are good for hanging other stuff too, like a camp light, or clothes that need drying out. | Credit: John Lepak
The Atlas Hammock Suspension System straps are webbed, so it’s really, really easy to adjust the hang as needed. The unused ones are good for hanging other stuff, too, like a camp light or clothes that need drying out. | Credit: John Lepak

Next up? Bugs. Heading out in black fly season or just want to keep the mosquitoes at bay? Check out the ENO Guardian Bug Net. It’s another piece of gear, but it’s worth the weight in your pack if you’re in particularly buggy terrain.

Keeping Warm

Among the unique considerations hammock camping presents, keeping warm is likely the first you’ll hear about. On the ground, it’s easy: just a sleeping bag and pad. In a hammock, however, it’s not so simple.

Most sleeping bags have down or synthetic insulation on the bottom layer. But, when compressed, as it is under a person’s body weight, it’s significantly less efficient than its temperature rating would indicate. On the ground or a tent platform, the surface itself and a sleeping pad, which provides insulation of its own, correct this flaw.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

With a hammock, you can get around this in one of two ways. Insulate the bottom with an under-quilt, which hangs under the hammock itself. Or, place a sleeping pad inside the hammock. Personally, I prefer the latter, and run with a Big Agnes Deer Park 30 Sleeping Bag, a Big Agnes Gunn Creek 30º Sleeping Bag, and a Big Agnes Air Core Ultra Sleeping Pad.

Big Agnes ditched their bags’ bottom layer of insulation for a built-in pocket to fit an air pad. But, really, you can use any bag-pad combo. Once you’re in the hammock, your weight will pin the pad down, and the sides help keep it in place overnight. I dig this setup primarily because, unlike with an under-quilt, I can use it in a tent or for cowboy camping just as easily.

At the end of the day, it’s a matter of personal preference and takes some trial and error to get it right.

Staying Dry

It seems obvious enough, but a tarp or rainfly is critical if you’re out in weather or in a place where weather can move in quickly. For this, I use the ENO DryFly Rain Tarp. It’s light, it’s quick to set up, and it has kept me dry. The trick is, rig the tarp just above the hammock, so when the hammock sags under your body weight, you’re not exposed to the rain and wind blowing in from under the sides.

Motion Sickness

If you’re the type that gets motion sickness, this may not be for you. You’re going to move around, be it from wind or your own tossing and turning. Over the period of a night’s sleep, this may lead to some problems. If you’re unsure, give it a go for an hour or two out in the yard on some sunny afternoon to see how it makes you feel. Laborious, I know, but sometimes, that’s just the way it goes.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Picking Your Spots

In the mountains, two trees are often easier to find than a patch of earth flat enough to pitch a tent. This factor alone is enough reason to give hammock camping a try. It’ll take some time to feel out your preference—the perfect hang is subjective—but you’re good to go with two trees and enough line or a pair of straps (more on that below). Keep it off the trail (human or game), and give yourself about two feet of ground clearance. That’s just enough space to keep yourself from an unfortunate midnight run-in with a curious porcupine. 

Getting Comfortable

All right. You’ve done the dishes, rigged up the bear hang, and are ready to hit the hay. Your hammock is strung up just the way you’ve found yourself liking it in the yard and now’s the time. You’ve made your bed, and now must literally lie in it. Great!

Now, sleeping in a hammock is completely different from sleeping on a surface and takes some getting used to. There’s no one way to get comfy, and just like in the yard, it’s going to take some time to find the best fit. So, try out a few different ways to see what feels comfortable. Shift your bag up or down, and change the tension on the straps—do what feels good, and don’t be afraid to adjust! Hopefully, by the time you’ve tucked yourself in, you’ve also gotten your miles in and crushed a couple of mountains. If you’ve done it well, they’ve crushed you back, and you’re just about ready to sleep the sleep of the dead, anyway.


Alpha Guide: Mount Monadnock's White Dot & White Cross Trails

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

No American mountain has been climbed by more people than this southern New Hampshire classic, and for good reason. 

Mount Monadnock has many distinctions. It’s the second-most climbed mountain in the world, it’s one of only 13 mountains on the list of National Natural Landmarks, and its summit is the only place where it’s possible to see all six New England states at once. On this miraculous mountain, the most popular route is the four-mile loop via the White Dot and White Cross trails. This absolute classic is a must-do trip for every New Englander.

Quick Facts

Distance: 4 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half day for most
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: Year-round. Best from May through October
Fees/Permits: $5/person, and $2 for children ages 6-12. Children 5 and under are free.
Contact: https://www.nhstateparks.org/visit/state-parks/monadnock-state-park.aspx

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Turn-By-Turn

People coming to Mount Monadnock from the Boston area will want to follow Route 2 West to its connection with Route 140 North (exit 24B). After roughly nine miles, Route 140 becomes MA 12 North. Continue on MA 12 until its intersection with US 202, and then, follow US 202 over the Massachusetts-New Hampshire state line through the town of Rindge and eventually into the quaint town center of Jaffrey. In Jaffrey center, take a left onto Route 124 West. Follow 124 West for about two miles, before taking a right onto Dublin Road. From here, simply follow the signs to the parking lot.

People coming to Monadnock by way of Interstates 93 or 95 can simply exit onto US 101 West and take it to US 202 West, and then, use the directions from above. The only difference will be taking a right turn onto Route 124 West instead of a left.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Into the Woods

Hiking Mount Monadnock via the White Dot and White Cross trails is quite straightforward. Leave the parking lot in the direction of the Park Store, and continue past the store toward the restrooms. If nature calls, it’s worth taking the opportunity to go here, as the trail can be busy, and privacy may be hard to come by from here on out. Just past the restroom is the well-marked trailhead (42.845619, -72.088699).

The trail starts off wide, allowing enough room for hiking shoulder to shoulder. And, on busy weekends, it gives hikers the chance to disperse before the terrain gets more technical. Although this section is neither wide nor steep, the trail is littered with chunky rocks and roots, so watch your step.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Choices

After roughly a half-mile, hikers will come to the intersection of the White Dot and White Cross trails (42.851715, -72.091652). Although hikers may do the hike in either direction, the preferred and most common way is to hike up the White Dot Trail and descend via the White Cross Trail, as White Dot’s steep, slabby terrain is easier to negotiate going uphill.

To continue on the White Dot Trail, just follow the painted white dots straight ahead. Soon, the trail begins to steepen, and the day’s first challenge, a series of steep, slick ledges, comes into view. Finding traction here requires careful footwork, however. Over the years, many people have climbed this exact route, leaving the stone polished and smooth in places. Concerned about the slabs? Take an extra moment to evaluate where you are going, and often, an easy path will present itself.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

A short while later, you’ll come across the Cascade Link junction (42.853878, -72.092758). Stay straight. From here, the trail weaves through the forest and scrambles up short sections of steep rock slabs. As the slabs open up, make sure to turn around and take in the view. Here, the Wapack Range is quite prominent.

As you get above treeline, the trail stops ascending and begins corkscrewing around the mountain, and you’ll wonder if you’re staring at the summit. You’re not. It’s a false summit, and you’ve still got a little farther to go. Here, you’ll encounter a series of open ledges, which can be a great place to have a snack if your group is so inclined.

After this, there’s some more slab climbing, until you come to a large sign that marks the intersection of the White Dot and White Cross Trails (42.859726, -72.104698). You’re not done yet, so continue upward.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Final Push

After the junction, the trail steepens, and you’ll be traveling entirely on rock up to the summit. At this point, you’ve surpassed the trail’s most difficult sections, but don’t let your guard down when the summit comes in sight. You’ve still got to get through a few spots requiring fancy footwork. On windy days, it is also a good idea to layer up for this section.

As you work upward, the trail remains well-marked and easy to follow. It does, however, bear sharply right at one point. Fortunately, there’s a large sign (42.860313, -72.107361) there that’s pretty hard to miss.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit

Sine it’s the tallest peak for miles and unprotected, the winds often rip across Monadnock’s summit (42.861385, -72.108063). Luckily, natural windbreaks abound, offering great places to take a break, pull on a puffy, and have a snack. Once refreshed, stand up and take in the fantastic 360-degree view. In the distance to the north, look for the White Mountains. Much closer to the east is the Wapack Range. To the south, you can see Mount Wachusett. And, Vermont’s ski mountains are visible to the west. While you’re admiring the view, try to identify landmarks in all six New England states.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Return

From the summit, retrace your steps on the White Dot Trail. Below the summit proper, you’ll encounter a few smooth, slabby sections, so watch your footing.

As you descend, look for the sign that indicates the White Dot Trail will take a sharp turn. This time, however, you’ll be turning left. Soon thereafter, you’ll be at the well-marked junction for the White Dot and White Cross Trails (42.859726, -72.104698). Since the footing on the latter is a little easier and the incline more moderate, start following the white crosses down. Before you do so, though, make sure to look back uphill to get one last look at the summit.

From the junction, the White Cross Trail meanders below treeline, working through some easy slabby sections and then into the woods. The trail is pleasant and quite moderate as it approaches the White Dot-White Cross junction (42.851715, -72.091652). At the junction, turn right (downhill) onto the White Dot Trail, and you’ll be in the parking lot in no time.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Diversions

Mount Monadnock is forever linked with the great transcendentalist writers and philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Because of this, many spots are marked to note their connection with the mountain. A diversion from the White Cross Trail takes you across the Smith Connector Trail to the Cliff Walk Trail, where you will find “Emerson’s Seat” and “Thoreau’s Seat” at around 2,350 feet. Both “seats” offer fantastic views and perhaps will inspire you as it did them.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Much of the White Cross and White Dot trails are on exposed rock that has been made smooth and slick by the boots of hundreds of thousands of hikers. With traction a necessity, consider a pair of trail runners, like the Brooks Cascadia 12 (Men’s/Women’s), or hiking shoes, such as the Oboz Sawtooth (Men’s/Women’s).
  • These trails can get especially slippery. If you’re unsure of your footwork, don’t want to roll an ankle, or simply hope to stay upright, pack a pair of trekking poles, such as the Black Diamond Trail Back poles (Men’s/Women’s) for added stability and confidence. Need some convincing? We’ve covered all the benefits of trekking poles here.
  • Loosely translated, “monadnock” is an old Abenaki word meaning “mountain standing alone,” and you’ll definitely notice the isolation with the ridgeline winds. Even on nice summer days, bring a windshirt, like the Outdoor Research Ferrosi (Men’s/Women’s), for blocking the breeze.
  • Pick up the Mount Monadnock Trail Map before you go to get psyched, bring it along just in case you make a wrong turn, and consult it after to start planning your next trip. Pumpelly Trail, perhaps?
  • Although Mount Monadnock is near a lot of places to grab a bite to eat or a beer after your hike, it’s not really close to any of them. Instead, pack a picnic in the Mountainsmith Deluxe Cooler Cube, and après at your leisure. Add a lightweight and packable Helinox Camp Chair for a better seat than you’ll find in any restaurant.
  • As you might suspect, the most popular trail on the world’s second-most climbed mountain can be a busy place. Beat the crowds and get an early start by hitting the trail before sunrise with the Black Diamond ReVolt headlamp.

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Tips

  • Before heading up the mountain, stop in the Ranger Station to get the latest on everything from weather to trail conditions.
  • To get excited before your climb, follow the Franklin Pierce University Mount Monadnock webcam.
  • Stay the night at Gilson Pond Campground. With its 35 campsites, plus five remote hike-in sites, why rush home?
  • No dogs are allowed in the park. So, if you were planning on bringing your pooch, you’ll have to make other plans.
  • If you worked up an appetite on the trails, treat yourself to a mountain of ice cream—their portions are best described as “generous”—from Kimball Farm in Jaffrey on your way home.
  • If you’re interested in exploring more of Southwestern New Hampshire, make the short drive to the Peterborough EMS Store and get some local knowledge on Monadnock’s lesser-known trails. Before heading home, stop for a pint at Harlow’s—the unofficial pub of Eastern Mountain Sports.

Current Conditions

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


The Best Beers After Every Adventure

There are a lot of things to love about being outdoors in the summer. Days are longer, so you have extra time for adventuring. Temperatures are warmer, so you don’t have to worry about how many layers to wear—and how many extra ones to pack. And, even though the après scene is strong in the realm of winter sports, few things are more satisfying than an ice-cold beer at the end of a hot summer day spent in the wild. So, to make this your most refreshing summer yet, begin with these beer and activity recommendations. Just remember to drink and play outdoors responsibly, please. Cheers!

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Beers for Backpacking

Whether you’re the type to save a little space for a can or three in your pack or someone who leaves a six-pack in a cooler in your car, there’s no denying that a strong brew and backpacking go together like peanut butter and Nutella. Pitch-A-Tent Double IPA from Hobbs Tavern & Brewing Co. (8% ABV; 76 IBU) is the perfect way to wind down from a high-mileage day while you wait for your freeze-dried meal to “cook.” And, it’s still just as good if you wait to imbibe until you’re back in the parking lot—or your backyard.

Beers for Mountain Biking

If you’re anything like my husband and his friends, you throw back a beer at the end of a hard ride, because you totally crushed it, bro. If you’re like me, you probably have a few new bruises, so you crack open a cold one in an effort to dull the pain that both your body and ego are suffering. Either way, New Belgium’s Fat Tire Belgian Style Ale (5.2% ABV; 22 IBU) is an ideal choice for your post-ride recovery beverage. As an added bonus, New Belgium is a member of 1% For the Planet, so each Fat Tire you drink also helps support amazing things like bicycle advocacy, clean water, and reforestation.

Beers for Climbing

Nothing soothes tender tips better than an ice-cold beer after a day of cragging. As soon as your rack is stowed away, your rope is coiled, and you’ve traded in your approach shoes for your flippy-floppies, it’s time to treat yourself to a parking lot Monkey Fist from Shipyard Brewing (6% ABV; 50 IBU). This delicious West Coast-style IPA is named after a knot (for sailors, but still), and according to Shipyard, it “starts smooth and finishes with a…subtle bitterness,” which is likely also how your day of climbing progressed. I dare you to find a more appropriate brew to wrap up a day on the rock.

Beers for Trail Running

Hitting the trail for a tough sweat session is one of those things I love as an afterthought but really only tolerate as it’s happening. The post-run beer, however, is not only something I love in the moment, but it’s also often what motivates me to even put those miles under my feet in the first place. And, in this instance, Rock Art Brewery’s Ridge Runner (7.2% ABV; 23 IBU) always hits the spot. Ambiguously classified as a “Bold Vermont Ale,” these strong suds easily help you forget about those lung-burning climbs, quad-killing descents, and all the roots and rocks you nearly face-planted.

Beers for Hiking

Day-hiking is great, because it’s just backpacking for a few hours instead of a few days and doesn’t involve carrying all that stuff. There’s no denying that a day of hiking deserves a beer, but since it’s not quite as demanding, I like to end my treks with one that’s a little less intense. Trail Hopper from Long Trail Brewing Co. (4.75% ABV; 40 IBU) is a slightly fruity, super-refreshing session IPA—and an excellent way to end a hot summer hike.

Beers for Paddling

All of these summer sports are tiring, but spending a day in a kayak or on a paddleboard has a particular knack for wearing you out. I don’t know if it’s because of all the sun, or if it’s just because I always forget how much of a workout paddling actually is, but whenever I head out, I’m totally beat when I get back on solid ground—and super thirsty. Dogfish Head’s SeaQuench Ale (4.9% ABV; 10 IBU) is a mixed bag of styles (Kolsch, Gose, and Berliner Weiss) with some lime and sea salt thrown in. Men’s Health dubbed it “the world’s most thirst-slaying beer,” and overall, it’s a great complement to your aquatic adventures.

Call It a Day

Some summer days are so nice, you end up enjoying more than one activity. Maybe you hit the trail for an easy run in the morning, and then, go to your favorite lake for an afternoon paddle. Or, maybe you head out for a little alpine endeavor, like Henderson Ridge. Whatever your multi-sport adventure of choice may be, there’s one beer that’s perfect for the end of a day spent outdoors: Call It A Day IPA from Moat Mountain Brewing Company (8% ABV; 75 IBU).

 

Now, you tell us: What’s your favorite beer, and which activity does it pair with best? Let us know in the comments!

 

Credit: Lauren Danilek
Credit: Lauren Danilek

How to Choose the Right Sleeping Bag

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

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

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Consider How You’ll Be Camping

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

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Temperature Rating

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

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

EN Rating

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

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

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

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Weight

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

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

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Insulation

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

Down

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

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

Synthetic

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

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

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

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Shape and Size

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

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

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

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Other Considerations

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

Zipper

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

Stash Pocket

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

Sleeve and Hood

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

Compression and Storage Sacks

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

 

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

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