Kitted Out: Fast and Light Peakbagging

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Pack: Osprey  Talon 22

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

Hydration Bladder: CamelBak Crux 2L Reservoir

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

Hiking Poles: Leki Micro Vario Core-Teck

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Headlamp: Petzl Tikka

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

Sunglasses: Julbo

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

Puffy: EMS Alpine Ascender

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

Hardshell: Outdoor Research Helium II

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Windshirt: Black Diamond Alpine Start

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

Sunshirt: Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody

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

Trail Runners: Salomon Speedcross

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

Pants: Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pant

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Other Essentials

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

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


Alpha Guide: Hiking The Devil's Path

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

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

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

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

Quick Facts

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


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

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Turn-By-Turn

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

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

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

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

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

The Eastern Section

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

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

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

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

Indian Head Mountain

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

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

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

 

Twin Mountain

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

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

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

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

Sugarloaf Mountain

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

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

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

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

 

Plateau Mountain

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

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

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

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

 

Stony Clove

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

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

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

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

The Western Section

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

West Kill Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

The Kit

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

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

Keys to the Trip

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

Current Conditions

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


The ABC's of Packing a Backpack

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

EMS-Cabin-Techwick-Baselayer-5135

Accessibility

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

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

Balance

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

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

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

EMS-SP-17-CAMP-HIKE-000006

Compression

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

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

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

Dry

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

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

Equity

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

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

EMS-Burlington-2083

Fuel

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

Glossy

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

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


How to Patch a Sleeping Pad

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

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

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

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

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

Gather Materials

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

Here’s what you’ll need:

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

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

Find the Leak

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

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

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

 

Prep the Damaged Area

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

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

Apply the Patch

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

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

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

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

 

Now Keep it in One Piece

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


5 Shorter Local Thru-Hikes to Tackle this Year

Not everyone has the time, savings or desire to head out on a 5 month thru-hike adventure on the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails. Thankfully, for those of us who want to keep our jobs, there are plenty of shorter long-distance trails right here in the Northeast that are just as gorgeous and challenging as a longer trail, giving you the experience of thru-hiking and long periods spend in the woods, without forcing you to sacrifice a large part of your life. Plus, some can be completed in as little as one or two weeks. Here are five favorite thru-hikes that are worth your vacation time this summer.

Courtesy: Haley Blevins
Courtesy: Haley Blevins

The 100-Mile Wilderness

Explore the Appalachian Trail’s most remote section along a substantial stretch of uninterrupted trail. Stretching from Rt. 15 in Monson and continuing to Abol Bridge, the 100-Mile Wilderness offers a challenging adventure deep in Maine’s woods.

Location: Monson, Maine to Baxter State Park

Length: 100 miles (5-10 days)

Terrain: Easy to moderate elevation change with roots and rocks in sections (18,000ft. of total elevation change). Occasional water crossings.

Season: Summer to Fall. The trail can be muddy in early spring and buggy in early summer. Opt for July through October for the best conditions.

Camping: Plenty of shelters throughout. Summer and fall hikers will find themselves sharing shelters and stories with AT thru-hikers as they near the end of their multi-month adventures. Seeking more solitude? There are lots of backcountry camping options (permitted 200 feet from trails water sources).

Resupplying: None. Unless you arrange a food cache through Shaw’s Hostel in Monson.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: The 100-Mile Wilderness travels through some of the most remote country in the Continental U.S. (it doesn’t cross a paved road). It’s a parade of changing scenery, with low elevation forests featuring glassy ponds and waterfalls, to the traverse across the Barren-Chairback Range and climb up White Cap. Have an extra day or two? When you finish, continue another 20 miles up Mount Katahdin and enjoy 360-degree views after a grueling 4,000-foot climb.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

The Cohos Trail

Still relatively unknown, the Cohos Trail extends from the Canadian border near Pittsburg, New Hampshire to Crawford Notch in the White Mountains. Its remote nature guarantees frequent wildlife sightings and varied terrain through dense woods and across steep ridge lines through New Hampshire’s North Woods.

Location: Coos County, New Hampshire

Length: 170 Miles (10-15 days)

Terrain: Rolling hills combined with steep, rocky climbs through lush forests and by remote lakes. A combination of singletrack trail, snowmobile trail and dirt road.

Season: The Cohos can be hiked from May through October. August or September will provide ideal weather, with fewer bugs and more berries. Head out in early- or mid-October to catch the leaves change while enjoying cooler temperatures and a crowd-free White Mountains.

Camping: There are a few newly-crafted shelters, some state and private campgrounds on or just off the trail that provide more facilities, and two B&Bs in the small towns of Stark and Jefferson. Backcountry camping following LNT principles (camping at least 200 feet from the trail and water sources, packing out all trash) is permitted outside of the Connecticut Lakes Region.

Resupplying: A handful of general stores, campgrounds and inns that may accept resupply packages, and opportunities to get rides into the towns of Gorham and Groveton.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: The Cohos travels through diverse ecosystems and terrain including Dixville Notch, Nash Stream Forest, White Mountain National Forest, and Connecticut Lakes regions. It’s a quiet, but challenging trail for both new and experienced hikers. With its panoramic views and frequent mushroom and wildlife sightings, this is a trail for anyone seeking solitude.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

The Long Trail

Stretching the length of Vermont, The Long Trail is authentic, demanding New England hiking. It shares 100 miles with the AT and summits most of the prominent peaks in the Green Mountains, including Killington, Camel’s Hump, and Mount Mansfield. While it’s the toughest of any on this list, that doesn’t go without huge reward and bragging rights: The trail climbs over 60,000 feet in elevation.

Location: Vermont; Massachusetts to Canada

Length: 272 miles (15-25 days)

Terrain: Rugged. Steep, muddy and rocky with lots of elevation change.

Season: June to September. “Vermud” is the real deal on the Long Trail, so it’s best to hike later in the summer or fall than at the height of wet trail season. The trail can be crowded in July and August with end-to-enders and AT hikers, but you’ll have longer daylight and pleasant summer temperatures. If you can tolerate, and have the proper gear for colder weather, October would be a quiet and colorful month to hike. Late fall hikes bring higher chances of snow.

Camping: There are over 70 shelters and nicer lodges (fee required) along the Long Trail built and maintained by the Green Mountain Club. You’ll find other lodging options directly on, or not far off the trail such as the famous Long Trail Inn.

Resupplying: Most hikers will only carry 2 to 4 days of food at a time. Resupplying by sending boxes to locations closer to the trail is also an option.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: Not only is the Long Trail the oldest (established in 1930) long-distance trail in the country, it’s also one of the toughest. Through rocky high peaks and evergreen tunnels, hikers will experience challenging terrain with rewarding panoramic views. The culture of thru-hiker camaraderie and history the generations of passionate outdoors-people who’ve sustained this trail, are something special.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

The New England Trail

Stretching from the Long Island Sound to Massachusetts’ northern border, this trail follows classic New England landscapes: unfragmented forests, traprock ridges, historic towns, river valleys, waterfalls and farmlands. It is comprised mainly of the Mattabesett, Metacomet, and Monadnock (M-M-M) Trail systems and makes for an attainable thru- or section-hike.

Location: Massachusetts & Connecticut

Length: 215 miles (10-20 days)

Terrain: Moderate elevation change on well-maintained single-track trail with some river crossings and some road walking.

Season: Year-round. If you’re not afraid of cooler temperatures, October is a gorgeous time to hike the NET, thanks to colorful leaves, no bugs, and beautiful temperatures (and do-able ford of the Westfield River). Summer hikers will see optimal daylight and more crowds because the trail travels through popular day-use areas. Spring would be marvelous and lush as well.

Camping: With only 8 “official” shelter and tentsite locations, camping can the biggest challenge of an NET hike. Much of the trail crosses private property or State Parks where backcountry camping is not permitted. The map clearly outlines the boundaries of these areas and since the trail crosses roads often, it is entirely possible to avoid camping illegally with the fitness to pull bigger mileage and/or finding a ride into nearby towns for the occasional hotel stay.

Resupplying: Logistics are a breeze on the NET. The trail stays pretty urban for the most part, with opportunities to eat at restaurants and re-up on food at gas stations or post offices (via resupply box) along the trail. In addition, there are many places to get rides into towns for full amenities including grocery stores, lodging and laundry. By studying the maps, hikers can easily plan for major resupplies in Northampton, Massachusetts, Farmington, Connecticut, and Middletown, Connecticut.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: The New England Trail offers the unique experience of hiking through historical woods and townships among sweeping vistas, diverse resources, and plenty of summits. In addition, the trail is so accessible, providing easy logistics and gentle terrain. Highlights include the 12-mile ridge of the Mount Holyoke Range above Northampton, Rattlesnake Mountain overlooking Hartford, and Ragged Mountain.

Courtesy: Andy Kulikowski
Courtesy: Andy Kulikowski

The Northville-Placid Trail

While many people have experienced the joy of the High Peaks region, possibly bagging one of the Adirondack’s 4,000 footers, fewer have traveled the remote valleys between them. From Northville to Lake Placid, hikers can enjoy the solitude of backcountry lakes, rivers and woods.

Location: The Adirondacks, Upstate New York

Length: 136 miles (7-12 days)

Terrain: Moderate rolling hills at low-elevation, with some rocky and wet sections.

Season: June through September is the most appropriate time to hike. Since the Northville-Placid Trail stays at lower-elevation, there’s a few areas the trail runs through swamp lands, which would be buggy in early-mid summer. Days can be warm and humid with cooler temperatures at night. For warmer lakes to swim in, drier trail, and fewer bugs, hike it in September.

Camping: One of the greatest aspects of the NPT is the scenic lean-tos placed along the entire length of the trail close to many of the pristine lakes that are available on a first come, first serve basis. Backcountry camping is prohibited within 150 feet of any road, trail or body of water except at designated camping areas marked with a yellow sign.

Resupplying: In the heart of the Adirondacks, the NPT is remote and does not come within distance of any larger towns, requiring mailing resupply packages or finding a way into a town. Most hikers will send resupply boxes to the tiny towns of Piseco (mile 40) or Blue Mountain Lake (Mile 80) and get a ride into Long Lake, where you’ll find the Adirondack Trading Post and restaurants, laundry and lodging. Lake Placid (the northern terminus) is an outdoor town with many services, including shuttles and an EMS.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: With its mellow terrain and many backcountry lakes to cool off in, the Northville-Placid Trail travels through some of the wildest and most remote valleys of the Adirondacks. Some highlights include the Cedar Lakes, Canada Lakes, Long lake and the High Peaks Wilderness. The conveniently-placed shelters and straightforward logistics make it a fantastic hike for both new and experienced long-distance hikers.


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.

EMS-Winter-Chill-Camping-0033

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.