How to Choose Hiking Footwear

Your footwear might be the single most crucial piece of gear that comes with you on a hike. The interface between you and the trail, your sneakers, boots, sandals, or other shoes (alongside your socks) protect you from whatever’s on the ground, keep you comfortable as you move across it, help support your load, make it easier to move across the terrain, and more. So, naturally, there are tons of footwear options out there for hikers. Finding the right one for you is a little bit like dating: Choosing the right features, components, and fit is a time-consuming and research-intensive process. But if you do a lot of hiking, having your dream shoes will keep you moving farther, faster, more comfortably, and safer. So where should you begin?

READ MORE: How to Choose Socks

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What to Look For in Hiking Footwear

The “boot wall” at your local EMS can be an intimidating thing—shoes of all different shapes and sizes, colors and materials, weird “GTX” letters in the name, and more. Knowing your way around some of these different features and characteristics will help you narrow down your options and pick the right boot for what you want to do.

Height

Each type of hiking footwear hits at a slightly different place on your ankle, and even a few inches can make a big difference in your comfort and ease of movement, but the best height for you depends heavily on the terrain you plan on hiking, how much weight you plan to carry, and your personal preference.

High-cut boots extend well above your ankles and do a good job of supporting them, preventing injury. Especially if you’re carrying a heavy load (like when you’re backpacking), or on a rougher trail, they help avoid rolling ankles, and other strains to those joints. They also help stop dirt from getting into your shoes.

Low-cut shoes—which don’t extend very high at all and fit like sneakers—are lightweight and easy to pack. They’re good for well-maintained trails where you won’t be carrying much weight and want to move quickly with as little weight on your shoes as possible.

Mid-cut boots are the best of both worlds: ideal for when you’ll be carrying a some weight in your backpack, and/or when you need a little more ankle support to hike in dubious conditions.

Waterproofing

The difference between waterproof and non-waterproof boots is pretty self-explanatory: Waterproof boots will help keep your feet dry splashing through puddles and mud, or skipping across streams. However, when wearing a waterproof boot, you will sacrifice some breathability, so on a hot dry day, your feel are more likely to feel damp from sweat in a waterproof shoe than they would in a non-waterproof shoe. Also keep in mind that the waterproof membrane in footwear can’t keep you dry if you step in water that “overtops” the boot, and if that happens, a waterproof membrane could make it harder for your shoes to drain that water than they would without a membrane.

GO: Waterproof Shoes | Non-Waterproof Shoes

READ MORE: Maintaining Your Waterproof Shoes and Boots

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Materials

Most hiking shoes and boots are made with a combination of nylon and split-grain leather or suede. These boots are lightweight and consequently less expensive, and they also are easy to break-in. Other hiking boots are made of full-grain leather. These are durable, heavy, and sturdy, but take longer to break-in and will feel a little stiffer on your feet (at least at first).

Outsole and Midsole

The outsole of a shoe or boot is the bottom of the boot—the part that touches the ground. Outsoles have different types of lugs or grooves to help you grip the terrain. A shoe or boot’s midsole is in the middle of the shoe and affects flexibility or stiffness and cushion. Most lightweight hiking shoes have a soft sole that lets your foot wrap around uneven terrain on easy, short hikes, but soft-sole boots won’t be comfortable if you’re carrying a lot of weight. Hard-sole backpacking and mountaineering boots are the way to go for any trip that’s more intense. Because the soles are stiff and strong, these boots can handle extreme terrain and help you carry lots of weight — but as a trade-off, the lack of flexibility might hurt your feet.

Also pay attention to the material that makes up the outsole. Firmer, more durable rubbers will last longer in all sorts of terrain, but softer, stickier rubber will grip rock and other surfaces better, giving you greater traction.

Upper and Lacing

The upper of a hiking shoe or boot is the part that covers your toes, the top of your foot, the sides of your foot, and the back of your heel. As you consider which hiking shoe to purchase, you’ll want to make sure the upper is very durable and is also breathable—check to see whether it’s made of a lightweight (but still sturdy) material that will let air circulate around your foot. The upper of a hiking boot is also the part with the laces. Look for locking eyelets and sturdy laces to get a precise fit, especially on taller, stiffer boots.

Crampon-compatibility

Most mountaineering boots are crampon compatible. If you’ll be hiking and climbing in snow or ice, you may want to purchase a pair of crampons to attach to your boots. Crampons with a semi-rigid construction and horizontal frames are the best choice to attach to leather hiking boots. For simply walking in the snow, lightweight crampons will work fine. More strenuous activities such as waterfall ice climbing call for steel crampons that can handle tough terrain.

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Types of Hiking Footwear

There are a handful of broad categories for hiking footwear, all of which feature a specific combination of the features above which make them well-suited for a specific activity. Keep in mind: None of these options are only good for a single activity. While some may be better-suited for a specific type of hiking, you’re not locked-in.

Trail Running Shoes

Trail running shoes are actually a type of running shoe—they look more like sneakers than hiking boots—but they work just as well for short hikes, too. They typically have a very grippy outsole and are a durable shoe, making them ideal for any type of hike, even terrain that’s more technical. Trail running shoes are reinforced for extra protection, especially around the toe area. And like many types of shoe, you can choose a pair that has extra cushioning or one that’s more minimalist. Compared to other boot types, these are super light, making them as popular for short hikes as they are with long-distance hikers.

Light Hiking Shoes

Low-cut, lightweight hiking shoes are excellent for novice hikers not carrying a lot of weight or for anyone who’s planning a short day hike on flat terrain. Most hiking shoes are lightweight and flexible. However, they’re more durable and sturdy than trail running shoes. Some are waterproof with an extra lining while others focus on breathability, circulating air around your foot through a mesh upper. Hiking shoes are generally fairly painless to break in.

Day Hiking Boots

Hiking boots are different from hiking shoes in two big ways: They hit higher on the ankle and they have a stiffer construction, offering more protection. Hiking boots are more protective and supportive, but they’re also heavier than hiking shoes. Wear them when you’re heading out on a hike with lots of weight on your back. Hiking shoes are durable, but not quite as sturdy as backpacking boots.

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Backpacking Boots

Backpacking boots have a high ankle cut and are durable, stiff, and supportive, which makes they great for the hikes when you have a long way to go and a lot to carry. Good for just about any kind of terrain and any kind of weather, backpacking boots have aggressive outsoles (sometimes with a place for snowshoes or crampons to attach) and need to be purchased well before your hiking trip so you can break them in.

Mountaineering Boots

Planning to hit the outdoors and do some ice climbing or snowshoeing? Mountaineering boots are the best choice for you. Tall, stiff, and insulated, mountaineering boots are designed for extreme conditions and extreme activities in ice and snow. Most mountaineering boots are meant to be used with crampons.

Performance Sandals

Performance sandals are made for rafting and other summertime adventures. Their textured no-slip sole grips the ground, allowing you to take short hikes with no problem. Make sure you find a pair of sandals that has good toe protection and that are easily drainable.

Approach Shoes

Approach shoes are almost like a cross between hiking boots, climbing shoes, and trail running shoes. Their sticky rubber sole means they’re best used for anything “approaching” rock climbing destinations, so if you anticipate doing some bouldering or rappelling on your hike, wear some approach shoes to help you tackle the terrain leading up to the bouldering problems. Approach shoes are comfortable and okay for long distances, but not good for rough terrain or when carrying lots of weight.

GO: Trail Running Shoes | Light Hiking Boots | Backpacking Boots | Mountaineering Boots | Multi-Sport Sandals

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Trying Hiking Footwear On

It can be hard to truly get a feel for a pair of shoes if you’re trying them on in-store, but there are still some things you can do to see how they’ll perform on the trails.

First, come prepared. When you go shopping, wear or bring the socks you’re planning to hike in, and also bring along any insole or footbed inserts you might use. Second, walk or even jog around the store. Walk up and down a set of stairs or a ramp if you can. Finally, make sure the shoes have enough space for your toes, that they provide good arch support, and that your heel doesn’t lift or move (if it does, you’ll get painful blisters). Try different lacing techniques to dial in the perfect fit for your foot shape.

After purchasing the shoes, wear them around your house or try taking them on a short, easy test hike so you can be absolutely sure they’ll work for what you need.

Be prepared to break in your new shoes or boots — this is another good reason to take a test hike before the big day. Listen to your feet and put in the time: A quick fix—such as soaking your boots—probably won’t be a lasting one.


Video: Color Rush

There’s nothing like fall in Vermont.


52 (More) goEast New Year's Resolutions

As we approach the New Year, it’s natural to look back and reflect on the 12 months that just passed. And, while it’s fun to think about our favorite summits, trips, and trails from that period, it’s equally exciting to look ahead and plan what’s next. With that in mind, we’ve gathered some more of our favorite articles from the past year to put together the ultimate outdoor-focused list of New Year’s resolutions. Make these ideas part of your bucket list for 2019.

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Winter

  1. A few of the Unbeatable Speed Records in the Northeast were broken last year. Start training now to find out how fast you can go.
  2. Go winter camping in comfort.
  3. Hike the Adirondacks’ MacIntyre Range and summit three of the High Peaks.
  4. Visit one of these unique ice climbing crags.
  5. Start working on New Hampshire’s other list, the 52 With a View. They’re awesome in the winter, and you won’t encounter the masses found on some of the Whites’ most popular 4,000-footers.
  6. Hike the Lion Head, one of Mount Washington’s iconic winter routes.
  7. Pray for weekend pow, and ski the Whiteface Auto Road.
  8. Ice climb Shoestring Gully.
  9. Learn the dos and don’ts of climbing in the gym.
  10. Celebrate Presidents’ Day by getting presidential in the White Mountains.
  11. Take your skis or snowboard on a trip.
  12. Lighten up the dark days of winter by brightening up your wardrobe.
  13. You’re not going to send your project by sitting on the couch—start training at home and crush it at the crag this year.

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Spring

  1. Don’t stop skiing just yet.
  2. Give your gear room a spring cleaning.
  3. Hike Mount Monadnock, the world’s second-most popular mountain.
  4. Ski Tuckerman Ravine, the epicenter of backcountry skiing in the Northeast.
  5. Break out your mountain bike early.
  6. No need to wait for Rocktober—send something this spring.
  7. Tackle one of Connecticut’s top-notch trails.
  8. Leave the tent behind and camp in a hammock.
  9. Find out if your pup is man’s best friend or man’s best hiking partner.
  10. Vow to keep your mountain bike clean through mud season.
  11. Get outside: Take your climbing from the gym to the crag.
  12. See how it feels to use trekking poles on your next hike.
  13. Take your road bike for a century ride—that’s one hundred(!) miles.

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Summer

  1. Summit the Catskills’ two 4,000 footers—even better, do it in a day.
  2. Hike Mount Washington, the tallest peak in the Northeast.
  3. Paddle the Adirondacks’ Seven Carries Route.
  4. Be a better (nicer) hiker.
  5. Hike the Thunderbolt Trail to the top of the tallest peak in Massachusetts.
  6. Go alpine climbing on the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle.
  7. Kick back with a cold one, and enjoy one of these top brews.
  8. Tick five High Peaks off your list by traversing the Dix Range.
  9. Take the kids for a hike in the ‘Daks this summer.
  10. Prove that big views don’t require big elevations.
  11. Avoid these backpacking no-nos on your next multi-day trip. (Did somebody say Pemi Loop?)
  12. Stretch out your paddling season.
  13. New York City might be so nice they named it twice, but every now and then, you need to escape the Empire City.

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Fall

  1. See great foliage without ever leaving Boston.
  2. Layer up for cool fall temps and go climb High E in the Gunks.
  3. Take a backpacking trip to New Hampshire’s Carter Range.
  4. Get out of Gotham, and get to these fantastic fall hikes.
  5. Peep leaves at these Adirondack hotspots.
  6. Ditch the single-pitch crowds at Rumney, and explore the area’s multi-pitch moderates.
  7. Make stretching after a run your new mantra.
  8. Stop avoiding these New Hampshire 4,000-footers.
  9. Hike Vermont’s tallest peak, Mount Mansfield.
  10. Celebrate the season—vest weather is the best weather!
  11. Do it the old-fashioned way by ditching the digital camera and try taking photos with film.
  12. Take your running off road.
  13. Donate on Giving Tuesday to one of these great Northeast organizations.

Of course, these are just a few outdoor-oriented New Year’s resolutions. We want to hear about what’s in store for 2019, so leave your plans in the comments!


A Bostonian's Guide to Fall Foliage

For Bostonians, there’s no need to travel far this fall to find the foliage. In fact, whether you’re looking to hike, climb, mountain bike, or paddle, the Greater Boston area has something to satisfy everybody’s cravings for yellows, oranges, and reds. To begin, start with these five great activities, all within an hour of the city, for a quintessentially fall experience.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Boulder at Hammond Pond

It’s strange to find great bouldering, much less an idyllic fall getaway, behind a mall. But, somehow, Hammond Pond pulls it off. Tucked behind The Shops at Chestnut Hill, just minutes outside of Boston, the puddingstone walls, the pond’s gentle waves, and the rustling of hardwood leaves as they fall to the ground—and the occasional grunt of a boulderer working a problem—combine to make you forget just how close you actually are to civilization.

In addition to the wonderful setting, the season’s cool temperatures are perfect for climbing classic Hammond Pond boulder problems, such as Hammond Eggs (V1), Breakfast of Champions (V3), and Hermit Cave (V4). You’ll find the highest consistency and most classic problems in an area called the Alcove, a steep semi-circle of Roxbury Puddingstone. This type of conglomerate rock resembles pebbles thrown into a still-wet concrete wall and is only found in the Greater Boston area. The Alcove’s orientation protects climbers from cool autumn winds, while the rock receives a lot of sun, keeping it pleasant even on the crispest fall days.

Linking a combination of cobbles and cracks, the Alcove’s most difficult problems are found in the middle of the wall, where the angle is the steepest. The easier problems, meanwhile, are located along the outsides, which are angled more vertically. Because of the Alcove’s short height and limited amount of rock, however, make sure to check out traverses that increase the challenge and volume of climbing. Boulderers beware: Many of the problems here were established decades ago. Thus, given the close proximity to Boston, they possess an ego-deflating blend of old-school grading and slick holds.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Climb Rattlesnake Rocks

Tucked just down the road from Quincy Quarries’ graffitied walls, Rattlesnake Rocks is a classic destination for fall foliage. Rather than the Quarries’ vibrantly colored walls, however, the forest surrounding Rattlesnake Rocks delivers a canopy of gold, auburn, and crimson, while cool autumn temperatures ensure the area’s short, coarse granite walls are at their best.

Consisting of smaller crags spread out over a cliffline, Rattlesnake is much quieter than its multi-use neighbor, giving you some freedom to make the most of your “Rocktober.” And, while moving from crag to crag may be an inconvenience, the autumn-hued forest is made for ambling amongst Rattlesnake Rocks’ various walls and routes.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mountain Bike Around Vietnam

No, not that Vietnam.

For Boston-area mountain bikers who prefer to race through colorful fall forests rather than idly admire them, Vietnam—located in Milford, roughly an hour outside the city—is an ideal outing. Infamous in the mountain biking community, Vietnam holds the distinction of being the first land purchased by a bike association. The New England Mountain Bike Association, or NEMBA, bought a 47-acre parcel to protect it in 2003, and today, it contains notorious singletrack, drops, and jumps. Even better, NEMBA’s parcel connects with other conservation land in Milford, Hopkinton, and Holliston to create an approximately 800-acre area. Legendary for its technical riding, Vietnam’s trails are best known for their rock gardens and steep rollers, as well as their natural and manmade drops and jumps.

Fall is the perfect time for a trip to Vietnam. Its often-soggy, low-lying areas are finally dry, and brisk temperatures enhance traction on the area’s steepest lines. While the forest’s changing colors and the rustling of leaves under tires can produce a meditative calm, don’t let your guard down too much. Fallen leaves add another challenge to Vietnam’s already-taxing trails, as they may hide in-trail obstacles.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Hike the Blue Hills

Hikers in Greater Boston anxious to explore brilliantly tinted fall forests need look no further than the Blue Hills Reservation. Just a short drive from the city, the Blue Hills deliver the perfect place for hiking, as the area’s rocky and once-lush prominences transform from dense grays and greens into a cornucopia of yellow, orange, and red shades.

Although the Blue Hills might not have the elevation found among its northern neighbors—the highest point, Great Blue Hill, stands at just 635 feet tall—the area boasts an impressive 125 miles of hiking trails and 22 named hills. All and all, it’s more than enough to keep even the most enthusiastic fall hikers busy. Proving you needn’t drive north, the various high points offer incredible views of everything from Boston’s skyline to the Atlantic Ocean. Of course, New England’s iconic fall foliage makes these views even more spectacular.

Hikers looking to get a quick foliage fix should head for the summit of Great Blue Hill, a roughly mile-long round-trip hike. On the summit, climb the Eliot Tower for an unrivaled view of the city’s skyline and Boston Harbor. On a clear day, hikers can see as far as New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock. So, take a minute to reflect on the leaf-peeping madness (and heavy traffic) you’re missing out on by staying close to home. Or, have a picnic on the open summit, or continue touring the park’s expansive network of trails.

Courtesy: LEONARDO DASILVA
Courtesy: LEONARDO DASILVA

Paddle the Charles

For taking in the foliage around Boston, don’t restrict yourself to land. Another option, the Charles River delivers a different perspective for viewing the season’s leafy spectacle. Whether from the comfort of a kayak or balanced on top of an SUP, you’ll find the river’s calm waters offer a multitude of trip options for leaf-peeping. Along with the awe-inspiring autumn colors, expect to encounter everything from old forests to city skylines, as the Charles snakes from Hopkinton to the Atlantic Ocean.

With ample put-ins and numerous places to stop for a picnic or to merely enjoy the scenery, the Charles River has an adventure for every level. And, while an out-and-back trip requires the least amount of logistics, it’s easy to stage a shuttle for a one-way trip with a little planning.

What’s even better than lazily floating on the calm waters to soak up New England’s stunning fall sights? Through the russet-colored forest, the occasional rumble of the highway lets you know others are fighting their way out of, or back into, the city to look for something you’ve already found.

 

Do you have a favorite fall trip around Boston? If so, we want to hear about it! Leave your favorite Boston-area fall trips in the comments.


3 Adirondack Fall Foliage Hotspots

The Northeast, of course, is known for its extensive fall foliage. Added to this, the season’s cool mornings and sunny weather draw many to the region’s network of hiking trails. To combine the two, there’s no better place than the Adirondack Mountains. The backdrop of rugged peaks, reflections on its countless ponds and lakes, and the hardwood forest’s fiery colors create a spectacular, unrivaled scene around the month of October.

While the massive Adirondack Park covering nearly one-third of the state offers countless destinations, below are three of the finest places that combine top-notch hiking with the warm glow of autumn’s changing foliage.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Giant Mountain Wilderness

One of the most popular High Peaks, Giant Mountain offers some amazing views into the Keene Valley area from its summit. However, within the immediate area, a few other less-crowded hikes are just as rewarding. Start from the northern trailhead on Rt. 9N to travel just 2.4 miles to the short-but-steep spur trail to Owl Head Lookout. Here, you’ll get nearly 360-degree views of Giant, Rocky Ridge, Green, Hopkins, Hurricane, and many other nearby peaks.

Also within the immediate area, extensive hardwood glades provide brilliant colors during the season’s peak. For another longer day, look to climb towards Rocky Ridge Peak from the Rt. 9 trailhead in New Russia. A more difficult trek, this hike encompasses over 4,000 feet of elevation gain, but the views start early and continue to Blueberry Cobbles and Bald Peak. Both along the way are worthy targets in their own right, if you don’t want to complete the whole traverse.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Boreas Ponds Tract

Just two years ago, this area of over 20,000 acres opened to the public via a state purchase. Access is from Gulf Brook Road, located off Blue Ridge Road, just a few miles west of exit 29 on the Northway. A few miles down Gulf Brook Road leads you to a new parking lot for hikers. From here, you can hike or bike a decent dirt road into the Boreas Ponds, enjoying the open forest’s brilliant colors on either side. At 2.6 miles, you’ll come across a bridge over the LaBier Flow, itself a magnificent scene. Hang a right at the intersection just ahead, and you’ll soon arrive at the Dam and southern end of Boreas Ponds.

The view towards Panther Gorge, Mount Marcy, Haystack, and other peaks, with the Ponds in the foreground, is one of the Adirondacks’ finest. This newly opened area will likely soon have established campsites and DEC trails to explore, as well. If you are feeling adventurous, the dirt road continues around the Ponds’ east and north sides, offering more wonderful fall views of a forest that has not been open to the public in over a century. Please be aware that bikes cannot be taken beyond the Dam.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Pharaoh Lake Wilderness

The Pharaoh Lake area near Schroon Lake offers a host of trails, most of which are moderate and well marked. Due to its location being a bit farther south, peak foliage typically occurs a week or so after it does in the High Peaks. As such, it offers some spectacular fall color, even after the northern zones have faded. For a longer trip, consider the region’s great ponds and lean-tos, which are ideal for overnights and backpacking treks.

Pharaoh Mountain itself is, perhaps, the area’s most challenging hike. While just barely rising above 2,500 feet, it requires over 10 miles of hiking, with a steep ascent of 1,500 feet. The rewards are nearly 360-degree views of the southern High Peaks, Pharaoh Lake, and Gore Mountain.

Another slightly shorter hike is Treadway Mountain, which starts at Putnam Pond Campground and tops out on a U-shaped ridge that offers unique views of the area. From its open rock, you’ll spot birch standing in previously burned areas and old-growth forests in the wilderness’ northeastern corner, and with so many bodies of water serving as a backdrop, few views capture fall in the Adirondacks quite as perfectly.


10 Northeast Trees with the Best Fall Colors

Fall is the time for enjoying a tall glass of apple cider, taking a scenic hayride to look for pumpkins, and, of course, crunching through a growing pile of fallen leaves. While most of the Northeast boasts beautiful colors throughout the year, some trees stand out more than others. Here are a few vibrant species you should keep an eye out for this autumn.

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Beech

This species produces wide-spreading branches that extend from short trunks and generally stretch far lower than those from adjacent trees. In fall, they produce pale yellow leaves that sit comparably closer to the ground.

American Hornbeam

Carpinus caroliniana is technically a large shrub, although most consider it a small deciduous tree. Its multi-stemmed body produces simple leaves that turn red, orange, or yellow in the fall. You can find it as far north as some portions of Maine, and as far south as the northernmost tip of Florida.

Quaking Aspen

Commonly known as white poplar, Quaking Aspen is distinguished by its fan-like leaves, which grow in clusters of approximately five. Despite the confusing name—and the fact that it is technically part of the poplar family—it often behaves more like a willow, as its leaves dance even under the slightest breeze. During fall, the tree produces yellow leaves that drop easily when touched.

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American Sycamore

This tree grows rapidly, expanding outward from a short, stocky trunk to produce branches that stretch toward the ground and lobed, alternate leaves that turn a yellow-orange in fall. The American Sycamore is a native plant inhabiting the Northeast’s southern portions, such as southern New York, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania.

Black Cherry

This simple tree has an equally simple leaf that turns a splotchy red or yellow in the fall. Prunus serotina is found throughout just about all portions of the Northeast and even extends into parts of southern Canada.

Black Walnut

In summer and fall, the Black Walnut produces crunchy fruits, many of which are considered highly valuable by candy producers. Their wood is just as valued, used often in furniture and for other ornamental and functional woodworking endeavors. However, the greatest sights to behold are its leaves, which come in stalks of 15 to 23 leaflets and turn a sparkling yellow once October rolls around.

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White Ash

Commercial hardwood mills seek out White Ash for its versatility, and as such, this member of the olive family is used to make baseball bats, tool handles, furniture, and even flooring. Over time, however, this species has become threatened and may be difficult to find. Its delicate leaves, each with five to nine different leaflets, are its distinguishing feature. In fall, they generally turn yellow but may also display a unique burgundy hue.

Flowering Dogwood

With branches that appear to stretch out in a perfectly horizontal formation, Cornus florida creates a rounded or flat-topped canopy. Throughout the year, this deciduous tree’s leaves often appear tie-dyed, and by fall, they change to a red or reddish-purple hue. However, if you look closely as they begin to drop, many retain some of their original green.

Bitternut Hickory

These towering trees grow up to a hundred feet in some locations, so be sure to check the skyline for them. Known as Carya cordiformis, this species is known for dark brown bark with red streaks, along with notable yellow buds in the winter. In the fall, the tree produces golden leaves in clusters of eight, and is commonly found swarming forests, including in upstate New York and other Northeastern areas near lakes.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Sugar Maple

You can find Sugar Maples everywhere in the Northeast, but they tend to cluster in areas where they’re valued for their sweet sap, which is then used for syrup and sugar. Sugar Maples produce tons of shade in the spring and summer, and in the fall, their leaves become vibrantly yellow, red, or orange.

 

Still unsure about where to head first? It’s difficult to predict when the leaves will change, and it’s definitely a challenge to figure out how to time your visit perfectly before they all drop to the ground. However, it helps to call ahead. Many states have foliage hotlines or tourism bureaus that provide information on changing leaves. Most areas generally reach peak foliage sometime in October, so plan your visit then for the best views of the season’s most majestic scenery.


8 Reasons Everyone Should Have a Puffy Vest

If you’re like us, puffy vests hark back to long-forgotten memories of Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future. However, thanks to the advent of active insulation, the puffy vest (Men’s/Women’s) is back and more versatile than ever—so much so that we find ourselves using one everywhere from windy ridgelines in the summer to icy-cold chairlifts in the winter. Best of all, as they’ve gotten more adept in the outdoors, they’ve also gotten more stylish, making them great for both romping in the mountains and cruising around Hill Valley. Here are eight reasons you should add one to your gear closet this season.

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1. It’s the do-it-all layer

Whatever the season, we always have a puffy insulating layer in our packs. Sometimes, if it’s cold enough, we’ll even carry two. But, often, what we really want is to keep our core warm on the move without overheating. And, this is where puffy vests with active insulation really shine: They provide enough insulation to keep you warm, and due to their breathable fill and sleeveless fit, they also prevent you from overheating while you’re in motion. Seriously, when was the last time you went on a hike, climb, or ride and complained your arms were cold? Keeping the core warm is what counts.

2. You hardly ever need to take one off

As climbers in the early 2000s, we were inspired by Mark Twight’s book Extreme Alpinism and adopted many of the ideas presented into our own outdoor activities. One that’s stuck through the years is the “action suit”—a couple of layers that are rarely taken off during activity. An active insulation vest fits perfectly into this system, especially when it comes to cold-weather pursuits: It provides enough warmth when the pace slows, while its ability to breathe and vent heat is great for fast summit pushes.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. They weigh nearly nothing

Along the same lines, there is no sense in carrying around a jacket with sleeves if you don’t need them. And, simply choosing a vest over a jacket offers considerable weight savings. For example, look at the listed weight for one of our favorite active insulation pieces, the Outdoor Research Ascendant: A large men’s Ascendant Hoody tips the scales at 13 oz., while its counterpart, the Ascendant Vest, comes in at a mere 7.8 oz. Imagine how much you’ll save if, instead, you swap out that old heavy fleece jacket.

4. They take up less room in your pack

Speaking of that fleece jacket, opting for an active insulation vest saves space, too. Because vests use less material and fill than jackets, they take up far fewer inches in a pack—enough that you’ll be able to sneak in an extra layer for the next trip, or simply downsize your pack.

5. No annoying bunchy arms

Annoyed by how all your layers bunch in the arms? Or, how the sleeves of your top layer pull up the sleeves of your lower garments? Vests obviously minimize these issues. Furthermore, puffy vests deliver better mobility, with almost as much warmth. And, they are less likely to ride up when you’re reaching above your head for that next axe placement on Shoestring Gully.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

6. There’s less wear and tear

Whether you’re hiking through the near-treeline thicket on a windy fall day, scratching up the Lion Head Winter Route, or transitioning from up to down on an epic backcountry spring skiing mission, you’ll probably be wearing an insulating layer. And, the elbows and forearms on it are going to take a beating, especially if you’re wearing a puffy jacket. Avoid this problem by choosing a vest instead.

7. Improving on a tried-and-true design

Historically, fleece has been the go-to material for midlayers, as its breathability often gave it an advantage over puffies. However, the advent of active insulation essentially nullified that. Particularly, active insulation puffy vests are lighter, more packable, more wind resistant, and warmer than their traditional fleece counterparts.

8. They’re cheaper

Another great thing about puffy vests with active insulation is, since they use less material than their full-sleeved equivalents, they’re typically less expensive.

 

Have another reason puffy vests are the way to go? Tell us about it in the comments!

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3 Early Winter Hikes on the Kank

Fall in the White Mountains sometimes feels ephemeral. One week, you’ll be hiking along in short sleeves, admiring the stunning foliage. The next, you’ll be trudging through the year’s first snowfall, wishing you’d remembered your traction for that icy descent.

Luckily, the period from late fall into early winter is the perfect time to explore the region around the Kancamagus. Specifically, the leaf-peeping crowds have dissipated, while the temperatures and conditions remain comparatively pleasant. For those looking to experience the Kank beyond the overlooks, here are three hikes from the highway that offer something for everyone.

Credit: Hannah Wohltmann
Credit: Hannah Wohltmann

The Hancocks

One of the most popular hikes off the Kancamagus is the 9.8-mile lollipop loop hike of both South and North Hancock. Leaving from Hancock Notch Trailhead, this hike ticks off two New Hampshire 4,000-footers via the Hancock Notch, Cedar Brook, and Hancock Loop Trails. It remains fairly low in elevation, reducing your chances of encountering snow and ice, and stays in the trees for a long portion, keeping you from prolonged exposure to cold wind. And, because this hike gains and loses the majority of its elevation in short, sustained sections, it’s not surprising to find yourself done with the almost-10 miles a little bit faster than anticipated.

Deciding which direction to hike the Hancock Loop Trail is the hardest part, however. As a tip, head to South Hancock first. It’s a little bit easier to traverse from the South to the North Peak than vice versa, despite the latter actually being higher than the former. Also, North Hancock tends to have better views. Specifically, a large slab here gives you a chance to enjoy a snack as you look out at the Osceolas and the Sandwich Range. Thus, doing it this way lets you save the best for last.

However, summiting South Hancock first also leaves the day’s steepest part for the descent, which can be an adventure in slick or snowy conditions. So, to prepare, don’t forget to bring MICROSpikes and trekking poles.

Credit: Tim Sackton
Credit: Tim Sackton

The Tripyramids

Accessing the Tripyramids from the Pine Bend Brook Trailhead lets you tick off two other 4,000-footers: North Tripyramid and Middle Tripyramid. At about 10 miles round-trip, with almost 3,500 feet in elevation gain, hiking the Tripyramids is much like the Hancocks. Specifically, hikers spend the majority of their time at lower elevations, protected from the elements by the forest. In fact, even their summits are mostly forested, allowing hikers to find shelter from cold weather around the day’s highest points.

While the views here aren’t going to make any “best of” lists, you can look out at Waterville Valley from North Tripyramid, while Middle Tripyramid offers a nice sight of its sister to the north and Passaconaway and Whiteface to the west.

Hikers approaching from the Kancamagus should be prepared for steep terrain. And, even in dry conditions, the section of trail connecting the two summits can be challenging. It’s also worth mentioning that, despite the trek being below treeline, temperatures and conditions change from the parking lot to the summit, so pack accordingly.

Credit: Ben Themo
Credit: Ben Themo

Hedgehog

For hikers looking for a little less mileage, there is Hedgehog Mountain via the Downes Brook and UNH Trails. Although you won’t ascend a 4,000-footer, it will get you to the top of a “52 With a View” peak, and delivers greater vistas and more exposure than its taller neighbors. In fact, at just 2,532 feet, Hedgehog is the shortest “52 With a View.”

Because of the lower elevation, Hedgehog is perfect for those late fall days when snow and ice are starting to accumulate on the higher summits, but you’re not quite ready for hiking in full-on winter conditions. Those tackling Hedgehog are treated to an almost five-mile loop trip that delivers moderate grades, open slabs, and great views of the Presidential Range and Mount Chocorua. Much like when you hike the Hancocks, the hardest decision of the day—other than how long to lounge on the ledges—is which direction to go. We’ve always liked to go clockwise, which allows us to tackle the ledges earlier in the day while our legs are still fresh.

A word to the wise: Don’t be fooled by the minimal elevation. Hedgehog delivers terrain similar to the region’s larger peaks. Because of this, pack not just for the trek, but also for the season. Still bring traction devices for potentially icy terrain, a windshirt for the exposed ledges, and a puffy coat for the summit, in addition to other essentials.

 

Just because the leaves are almost all off the trees, that doesn’t mean it’s time to put the hiking boots away. Now is one of the best times for hiking in the Whites, so get out for a short trek before snowshoes become required gear. Already took one of these hikes from the Kank? Tell us about your trip in the comments.

 


What's in Your Fall Hiking Backpack?

As the seasons transition from summer to fall in the White Mountains, so do the contents of our hiking kits. To deal with the shorter days, colder temperatures, and potentially icy and snowy trails, it’s important to emphasize layering, having the proper footwear, and carrying enough group gear to deal with any emergency.

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Upper Body Layers

Our usual fall base layer is a sun shirt, like the Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody. Although the sun might not be as strong this time of year, you can still get a burn above treeline. And, when the sun goes behind a cloud, the hood and long sleeves are great for keeping the chills at bay.

A lightweight wind shirt, like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite, is another year-round staple. It’s perfect for the beginning of cool morning hikes and helps keep you warm as you battle breezes on exposed ridges and summits. And, since they’re so lightweight and packable, there’s absolutely no reason not to have one with you.

Whether or not rain is in the forecast, we also pack a raincoat. Getting soaking wet when air temperatures are low is a recipe for an epic survival story or worse. With Gore-Tex construction, jackets, such as the Marmot Minimalist (Men’s/Women’s), will keep you dry in whatever you encounter, without eating up too much pack space.

Fall also marks the unofficial start of puffy coat season. We like to carry two separate puffers, with one being a lightweight or hybrid offering, like the Arc’teryx Atom SL Hoody (Men’s/Women’s), and the other a more traditional midweight piece, such as the Black Diamond Access Hoody (Men’s/Women’s). On cold or windy days, we typically don the lighter and more breathable one just below treeline to keep us warm on the final push to the summit. And, while enjoying the views from the top, we then pull on the other, warmer one. With little weight penalty for carrying two extremely packable, insulating pieces, hikers gain versatility in their layering and better adapt to the conditions facing them.

Lower Body Layers

A lightweight and stretchy soft shell pant, like the Marmot Scree (Men’s/Women’s), delivers the needed mobility and protection for fall pursuits. Pair them with an inexpensive and reliable waterproof rain pant, like the EMS Thunderhead (Men’s/Women’s), to stay dry in the event of inclement weather.

Typically during the fall, if you keep your core warm, you may not need to add a base layer to your lower body. However, if you run cold, the weather looks frigid, or you like to linger, consider wearing something lightweight.

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Footwear and Trekking Poles

Nothing ruins a trip faster than cold feet, and there is no surer way to get them than having inferior footwear. Fall hikers encounter everything from rain to snow and ice, so having a good pair of waterproof footwear is imperative. And, because you may encounter early-season snow, we prefer the extra protection afforded by waterproof boots. The Asolo Fugitive GTX has been a long-time staple of many hikers’ kits, but if you can, stop by a store to try a few different pairs on first. From Oboz to Scarpa to Salomon, EMS is sure to have something that feels just right. A good, comfortable fit is the most important feature of all. Without it, you’re unlikely to even put the boots on.

It’s not just boots that get an upgrade, however. We also move to a heavier sock, going from sneaker-friendly options, like the Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Mini, to a more classic option, like the Smartwool Light Hiking Sock.

Another important addition is a traction device. It’s common to encounter icy sections this time of year, especially when you’re traveling above treeline or at higher elevations. Kahtoola MICROspikes deliver all the grip you need, are proven to last through years of hard service, and easily transition from a fall just-in-case item to a winter must-have.

Trekking poles are also handy, providing extra stability while you navigate everything from slick leaves to the Whites’ icy fall terrain. We’ve both spent years using the Black Diamond Traverse Ski Poles and have found them inexpensive, durable, and up to the task of hiking New England’s tallest peaks. Equally important, they transition nicely into ski season when the trails finally fill with snow.

Accessories

For fall hikes, we typically bring multiple pairs of lightweight gloves, along with one heavier pair of gloves or mittens for the summit. We’ve found a good blend starts with a lightweight, stretchy fleece glove, like the EMS Power Stretch, for getting ready and being on the trail. As well, we include something more robust, like a leather work glove or softshell glove—the Black Diamond Dirt Bag is an excellent example—for above-treeline or more wintery conditions. For summits and emergencies, we also carry a warm mitten, like the EMS Summit, and a package or two of handwarmers.

One of the easiest ways to regulate your temperature is through your head. Because of this, it’s nice to bring two hats on fall hikes: a lighter, baseball-style cap for when we are moving quickly below treeline, and a more traditional winter hat—the Smartwool Cuffed Beanie is a longtime favorite—for when you are exposed to the elements. As one of the great things about layering with hoods, making adjustments to your head’s protection on the fly easily lets you warm up or cool down.

In the fall, we also like to carry either a buff or a balaclava, and sometimes, we even pack both. Buffs are incredibly versatile, ideal for everything from an impromptu hat to a neck scarf to a facemask. In late fall or on particularly cold, windy days, however, there’s no substitute for a high-quality balaclava, such as the Black Diamond Dome.

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Bladder to Bottles

Hydration bladders are great for ensuring you drink enough water in the heat of summer. But, by fall, they pose some challenges, especially late in the season. For example, the bladder’s exposed parts, like the tube and the mouthpiece, have potential to freeze, which makes for a long, thirsty day. Instead, most hikers carry traditional Nalgene wide-mouth water bottles. If the weather does look cold, on the other hand, supplement a water bottle with a Hydro Flask thermos of your favorite hot beverage.

Just In Case

Although spending an unexpected night in the woods is never fun, the consequences increase as daylight hours shorten. Whether it is due to an injury or just getting lost, or to cope with colder nighttime temperatures and potentially wet and icy ground, we carry a lightweight bivy and a Sea to Summit Ultralight Pad to offer some insulation. All the extra layers mentioned above, including the double puffies, multiple hats, heavy mittens, and handwarmers, also come in handy here.

@fredetterissweb

The Pack

You’ll need to have a little more space to carry the additional cool-weather items. However, don’t let a stuffed backpack prevent you from keeping anything vital behind. With plenty of space and lightweight construction, the Osprey Talon 33 is perfect for carrying all your needs—and a few of your wants—on your next fall hike.

 

Not every item listed above is essential to hiking one of the Northeast’s 4,000-footers this fall, but having the right combination can make your experience safer and more enjoyable—not to mention more efficient. The best advice, though, is to get outside and discover what works for you. If you have a key piece of fall hiking gear, tell us about it in the comments!


A Leaf-Peeper's Guide to the Northeast's Fall Foliage

Fall is in the air. The mornings are crisp and cool, and at higher elevations, speckles of fall colors amid the summery green have begun to emerge. The woods have fallen silent as birds hunker down and ready themselves for their great migration. Photosynthesis also slows to a stop. For the winter, the bright green, sugar-producing factories within the leaves shut down, giving those red, orange, and yellow pigments time to shine. Not long from now, a blanket of fall-ripened leaves will be scattered along the Northeast’s trails. It’s officially leaf-peeping season, the best time of the year to hike and climb. Those pesky black flies are gone, the air is the perfect temperature, and the scenery is unmatched.

2017’s fall foliage predictions are promising. If September weather permits, we may be looking at a particularly vibrant autumn. While the 2016 drought would normally affect the forest unfavorably, the several large snowfall events followed by warming this past winter resulted in plenty of snowmelt to recharge the soil moisture, leading to healthy forest foliage over the summer. Typically, trees stressed by drought cause the leaves to change earlier. However, fall’s projected higher temperatures combined with sun and cool nights could counteract this pattern by delaying foliage change. Therefore, this season’s peak foliage timeline is very close to the average.

Credit: Lida
Credit: Lida

When will the foliage peak?

Based on the National Fall Foliage Prediction map, the Northeast’s first peak foliage period starts later this month.

Northern NY, VT, NH, ME Remaining VT, NH, ME, Upstate NY MA, CT, RI, Northern PA, Remaining NY NJ, Remaining PA, MD, DE
Aug. 20 Minimal
Aug. 27 Patchy
Sept. 3 Partial
Sept. 10 Near Peak
Sept. 17 Peak
Sept. 24 Past Peak
Oct. 1
Oct. 8
Oct. 15

These estimations all depend on the weather from September through October. So, before planning your fall trip, check the weekly foliage report to get the most up-to-date information.

Where can I see the best fall foliage?

If you time it right, there are plenty of places to view the fall scenery:

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Lake Placid, NY

A small mountain town in the Northern Adirondacks’ High Peaks Region, the Village of Lake Placid is situated on Mirror Lake and has plenty of shops and restaurants to explore. Just six miles out of town, you can find the Adirondack Loj at Heart Lake. For an easy hike with relatively little effort, head to the summit of Mount Jo, a 2.6-mile round-trip hike with spectacular views of the High Peaks. Epic views from the top are, in fact, screensaver worthy. And, that’s no joke: Apple has a fall scene from the top of Mt. Jo as one of their screensavers. If you are looking for a more challenging hike, the High Peaks are accessible from the same parking lot.

Estimated peak foliage range: Last week of September to the first week in October

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Woodstock, NY

A historic mountain town in the heart of the Catskills, Woodstock prides itself on fostering a connection with art and nature. Here, Overlook Mountain has been an important spiritual centerpiece, and this hike up has no shortage of interesting features! In fact, a fire tower at the top looks out over the gorgeous Hudson Valley. At its base sits a Buddhist temple for hikers to respectfully explore. On the way up this gentle grade, you will run into the remains of the Overlook Mountain House.

Estimated peak foliage range: Third to the fourth week of October

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Stowe, VT

Stowe, VT is well known for its picturesque fall scenery and outdoor recreation during the winter. This quaint, warm town has everything from biking and hiking to art events and museums.

The Pinnacle hiking trail is a 3.1-mile round-trip beginner hike near Stowe and offers a view of Mount Mansfield that will knock your socks off. Alternatively, for more of a challenge, you can hike Mount Mansfield itself—an eight-mile loop—that will get you to the very top of Vermont at 4,393 ft.

Estimated peak foliage range: Third and fourth weeks of September

 

There are, of course, hundreds more locations where you can view the Northeast’s fall foliage. Even a simple walk in the woods or a car ride down an old country road can be a breathtaking experience. Just get out there, wherever you can, and try to enjoy the fall colors!

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