How to Choose a Kayak

Buying a kayak is a big investment, but with a little research you’ll ensure that it’s a wise one. Keep reading for guidelines to choosing a kayak that fits both your paddling bucket list and your budget.

Where will you use your kayak?

Your first step in choosing a kayak is deciding where you’re going to use it most often. Will you be paddling on sheltered ponds or Lake Champlain? Like Champ, a one-size-fits-all kayak is a mythical beast, so a good rule of thumb is to buy a kayak for the water you’ll paddle most often, and rent when you venture elsewhere.

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Sheltered lakes and ponds, slow-moving rivers, and marshes

Known as “flat-water,” these areas are known for calm water and relative protection from wind. Recreational kayaks are built for flat-water, with easy entry and exit suited to spontaneous swimming, wide seats for a relaxed ride, and durable construction that’s compatible with bumping along river shoals. Sold in both Sit-On-Top and Sit-Inside styles, recreational kayaks are great for relaxed days on the water, family outings, and beginning kayakers.

Exposed lakes, wide-open rivers, ocean

Known as “open-water,” this environment is characterized by windy, choppy conditions. Touring kayaks are sit-inside boats designed to slice through rough waters while stabilizing the paddler via a snug seat, allowing for efficient paddling. The extended length of touring kayaks creates increased storage space, making this a logical choice for overnight trips.

READ MORE: ESSENTIAL GEAR FOR KAYAK TOURING

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Your Favorite Fishing Spot

Fishing kayaks come in both recreational and touring models, the difference being enhanced features for anglers. Think molded-in rod holders, Captain’s chairs, and in higher-end models, pedal driven systems that allow for hands-free maneuvering.

GO: Recreational Kayaks | Touring Kayaks | Fishing Kayaks

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Sit-on-top vs. Sit-inside

Sit-on-Top Kayaks are straightforward and user-friendly. Designed for recreational use on lakes, slow moving rivers, and marshes, consider a sit-on-top if you’re looking for the following:

  • Stability: Getting in and out of the boat is easy from shore, or from the water in case you take a mid-paddle swim (intentionally or not).
  • Getting wet: The open design guarantees you’ll get splashed.
  • Self-draining design: Water drains through “scupper holes,” meaning that you’ll never have to pump water out by hand, and if you flip over, your boat won’t get swamped.
  • Freedom to move around: The open design gives you more options for lounging, dipping your feet in the water, or stretching out.
  • Beginner and kid-friendly recreation.
  • Sturdy design: Many are built from plastic, resulting in impact and UV resistant kayaks.

Sit-Inside Kayak sare streamlined and more efficient for paddling from Point A to Point B. They are designed to handle rough conditions, like those found in large lakes and bays, though designs vary from extremely lean sea kayaks to less-lean but more comfortable “day touring” kayaks. Consider a sit-inside kayak if you’re looking for the following:

  • Staying dry: Sitting in the cockpit, with the option to add a spray skirt, keeps you drier and warmer.
  • Long distance day trips: Multiple points of contact in the cockpit give you stability and control in rough water. A streamlined design also allows for more efficient paddling.
  • Multi-day capability: Bulkheads provide dry, interior storage for gear.
  • Intermediate to advanced trips: Knowledge of wet exits and solo kayak draining are necessary in the event that you capsize in open water.
  • Light weight options: High-end touring style kayaks come in lighter, albeit more expensive, materials like fiberglass.

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Storage Space

What do you need to take with you?

Recreational kayaks typically provide enough storage space for a half-day on the water, with features like a water bottle holder, a small bulkhead, and in sit-on-top models, deck space sized to carry a small cooler.

Touring kayaks typically sport at least two bulkheads capable of storing overnight gear. Unlike recreational kayaks, they are not designed for storing bulky items (like coolers) on the deck.

Fishing kayaks are designed with fishing gear in mind, with features ranging from storage space for live fish to transducer compatible scuppers.

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Kayak Specs

Materials

The most common materials used in kayak construction are plastic and composites consisting of fiberglass and/or carbon-fiber. The most noticeable differences between plastic and composite boats are weight, durability, and price. While plastic kayaks are heavier than composite, they are significantly cheaper. On the other hand, composite kayaks are much lighter and more graceful on the water. Plastic kayaks can be launched on rocky shores, tossed into the back of a truck, scraped over shoals, and rough-housed without much concern. In contrast, composite kayaks are more delicate, making encounters with underwater objects and rocky shores situations to be avoided. Generally, composite kayaks are a good investment for serious touring kayakers and experienced paddlers looking for an upgrade, while plastic kayaks are the recommended starting purchase.

Weight

Buy a kayak that you can haul and launch yourself if you plan to adventure solo. Will you just be dragging it from your backyard to the waterline or will you have to get the kayak on top of your car to transport? Check the kayak’s “Tech Specs” for weight information. In many cases, the lighter the kayak, the higher the price.

Length

The longer and narrower the kayak, the faster and more smoothly it travels through water. Touring kayaks range from about 14 to 18 feet, and while they take more effort to turn, they travel more efficiently. Most recreational kayaks are in the 8- to 13-foot range, sacrificing cruising efficiency for stability. Their shorter length makes it easier to make tight turns, a benefit when navigating marshes or downed vegetation.

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Kayak Fit

Not every kayak fits every body. Pay attention to a few specs, and sit in the boat if possible, to make sure it fits you and is comfortable to spend time in.

  • Weight: Kayaks are designed for a maximum load capacity, including you and your gear(don’t overlook this if you plan to overnight from your boat). Overburdening a kayak can cause you to sit too low in the water, compromising your ability to paddle.
  • Cockpit width: Especially important with touring kayaks, which are designed to fit snugly. You want enough contact with boat to maintain control without feeling like your circulation is being cut off. With other types of kayaks, however, a roomier cockpit allows for easier entry and exit.
  • Cockpit Length: This is something to be aware of if you have longer legs than the average person. Check the “Kayak Description” measurements to make sure you’ll fit, or to make entry and exit easier.
  • Number of paddlers: Solo or tandem kayak? Individual kayaks give everyone more freedom, but a tandem kayak is a good option for mixed skill levels.

READ MORE: BEST PADDLING ACCESSORIES FOR COMFORT IN THE COCKPIT

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Transporting your Kayak

How will you transport your kayak from storage to the water? Before you choose a kayak, consider whether your vehicle is capable of transporting it. Kayak racks exist for every type of vehicle, from trailers to rooftop docks, but it’s important to first make sure that your car can support the type of rack that your kayak requires. If transportation and storage are an issue, consider an inflatable kayak.

Try one on for size

If you’re still not sure which type of kayak you want to buy, try renting until you find a style you like. Rental fees are a small price to pay if it allows you to buy the right kayak on your first try. EMS Schools offers guided kayak outings in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, as well as rentals at many locations.


The Best Gear for Living Out of Your Car

Creature comforts are the key to well-being and longevity when living out of a car. Past multi-week road trips had left my husband and I exhausted, so as we planned for a yearlong motor adventure across North America, we focused on bringing the comforts of home into nature. A tricked-out Sprinter van would have been the homiest option, but not having $50,000 under our mattress, we retrofitted our Nissan Xterra and became first-time homeowners. We christened it “Tupperware World,” a nod to the Tetris-style stack of boxes filling the interior.

And now, having spent 8 full months in our home on wheels, it’s safe to say we know a thing or two about the best gear for car-life.

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Multi-Purpose Room

Living out of your car is a euphemism for living outside. While the vehicle enables your nomadic lifestyle, the valley, overlook, or beach where you park it is “home.” When home is buggy, crowded, or rainy, you need a place to escape.

The solution: Wherever we park it, up goes a screen room. It’s kitted out with multi-purpose furniture, suiting our needs whether we’re cooking, shooting the breeze, or working. It’s important to choose a screen room that protects from sun, rain, and insects, like the MountainsmithShelter House. Complete the basic layout with a table and chair, like the Eureka Camp Tableand the Travelchair Easy Rider Camping Chair. Be a little extra, and liven up the space with portable speaker like the Goal ZeroRock Out 2 Portable Speaker.

One of the best pieces of gear we’ve bought in years is the MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights, which provide ambient light hanging from the “rafters” of our screen room. Extending short winter days and lighting up the night during summer camp-outs, they make the space warm and homey. For lighting outside of the tent, I rely on the Petzl ReactikHeadlamp.

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Outdoor Kitchen

Granola bars and Chef Boyardi may work for a night or two, but for me, having a kitchen on the road was a must. When we were young and stupid, my husband and I used our backpacking stove during extended car camping trips, which made cooking uncomfortable before we even began. If you plan to live in your car, do yourself a favor and outfit a portable kitchen.

Most outdoor kitchen gear is the same as what you’d find indoors, however, there are a few exceptions. Whet your appetite with cooking gear like the Primus Profile Stove, the MSR Quick 2 Pot Set, and the LMF Titanium Spork. My husband has owned this spork since before we met in 2012, so believe me, it’s bombproof. And while we avoid buying food that requires refrigeration, the Yeti Hopper Flip 8keeps our small supply of perishables fresh.

Most nights we camp at primitive sites, making water a scare resource. Fortunately, you can buy a few specialty pieces that make meal clean-up efficient and earth friendly. We use Sea to Summit’s 10-liter Kitchen Sinkand biodegradable Wilderness Wash. A refillable water jug, like the Reliance Fold-A-Carrier, provides enough water for 1 to 2 days of primitive camping.

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Mobile Office

Search the term “digital nomad” if you’ve ever wondered how people afford to travel for months on end. We mostly work in libraries and local coffee shops because they have internet and power, things that our car does not provide. We’ve met a lot of people this way, a perk to a life that can be lonesome at times.

To be honest though, I envy the van lifers who have portable power sources, such as theGoal ZeroYeti 150 Portable Power Station. Maybe on our next road trip?

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Hygiene

Traveling on a budget requires “boondocking,” or camping at free, primitive sites. It’s a cheap way to travel, but unless you’re Pig-Pen, you’ll need a few pieces of gear to keep clean.

People ask all the time how we shower, to which we respond, “Does jumping in a river count?” When rivers are scarce, we use a solar shower like the Sea to Summit Pocket Shower, which has enough water to rinse two people once. Otherwise the refillable water jug mentioned under the “Outdoor Kitchen” section provides what we need for brushing teeth, washing hands, and other campsite chores.

And what about those campsites without toilets? When not required to pack it out, you’ll need a trowel like the GSI Outdoors Cathole Trowelfor burying poop and toilet paper. FollowLeave No Trace Principle #3to scout the perfect cathole location.

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Sleep Well

To make long term travel comfortable, we built a custom sleeping platform in the back of our Xterra using scrap wood. The internet doesn’t sell mattresses in “Back of Xterra” sizes, so we cut a 3-inch mattress topper down to size, covering it with hand-sewn mattress cover, upcycling fabric from an old top sheet.

Our bedding ranges from 20 degree sleeping bags for cold weather to light blankets for warm weather. Year-round, we use stuffable pillow cases, like the Therm-a-Rest Stuff Sack Pillow.Most importantly, bedding needs to be compact and packable for storage purposes

If your car is too small to sleep in, consider something like the TepuiHyBox Rooftop Tent And Cargo Box, which offers protection from the elements and keeps you from sleeping on the ground. For others, sleeping in a traditional tent may suit your needs, just be sure to pack comfortable bedding.


How to Choose a Headlamp

Whether you’re running down the trail, setting up your tent, or peeking under the car hood, headlamps are a convenient and hands-free way to provide light in the dark. A headlamp should be in everyone’s arsenal for venturing outdoors but with so many choices, what’s the difference between them all? There are many variables to consider when choosing a headlamp and brightness isn’t the only important thing to look at. So how do you know you’re choosing the right one?

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Lumens, Explained

Lumens—which are typically advertised front and center on a headlamp’s packaging and are a good place to start if you’re buying a new light—are the units that measure the total quantity of light emitted in all directions at full battery. Generally speaking, the higher the lumens, the brighter the headlamp, though not all brands measure lumens in exactly the same way, or focus that light the same, which can impact lumen count.

For reference, a car headlight is 1,300 lumens. There are headlamps out there that can reach ~1,000 lumens, but you won’t be able to see what’s right in front of you. The sweet spot for most tasks, like finding gear in your pack, setting up a tent, or walking the dog around the neighborhood is around 150-250 lumens. For extended periods of night-hiking or biking, most folks will prefer 200-350 lumens.

At full brightness, a headlamp is using more battery power, but most headlamps are dimmable, allowing you to fine-tune the right amount of light and battery usage for your task, up to that given maximum lumen number.

Also keep in mind that, as batteries drop from their 100 percent charge, their max brightness will also decrease. Pick a headlamp that is 50-100 lumens more than what you want, since it will likely be operating at standard output most of the time.

GO: 0-49 lumens | 50-99 lumens | 100-199 lumens | 199+ lumens

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Headlamp Battery

The next big aspect of headlamps, which ties directly into its brightness, it how it uses its batteries.

Run Time

When buying a headlamp, most will give you an estimated burn time based on power and battery life—This is the amount of time (in hours) until the lights can no longer produce usable brightness at close proximity. This is a crucial factor to consider. If you’re going backpacking in the summer time, you may only need it to last short spurts while getting ready for bed. If you’re ski touring, will it stay lit during a long pre-dawn approach? Most headlamps will give you burn times for both maximum power, and a lower setting—pay attention to both.

Battery Compatibility

Most headlamps work with two or three AAA lithium or alkaline batteries. Rechargeable nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries also work well with headlamps and perform better in colder conditions, however they can lose power while sitting idle.

Some headlamps are rechargeable as well, which allows you to plug it in after a trip to ensure you’re always starting our with a 100 percent charge. You might also be able to charge them with a solar panel or power bank on longer trips, though they may not take regular batteries if needed,

Pro Tip: On cold winter trips, don’t forget to sleep with your headlamp inside your sleeping bag to preserve the battery life. On a really cold night, the chill can sap the battery by the time you wake up.

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Lighting Features

A good headlamp doesn’t simply turn on and off—It allows you to customize the brightness, beam type, and even color of the light to best suit your needs in the moment.

Lighting Modes

Rather than just offering an on/off switch, most headlamps have multiple brightness modes for performing different tasks and preserving battery power. Check headlamp specs for varying output modes like low, standard and max, or the ability to progressively dim. Each mode will vary in brightness, distance and burn time.

Strobe mode acts as an emergency blinker that’s also helpful in situations where you want to be seen, like riding a bike at night or on a busy road, or navigating foggy waters. Burst mode is offered in certain headlamps which allows for temporary high-lumen beam.

Beam Pattern and Distance

For general camp use, reading or anything up-close, a flood beam is more useful. It gives off light in a wider pattern, rather than throwing it a long-distance, which is ideal for doing things up close like cooking, reading, or getting things ready around camp.

A spot beam gives a tighter view at a longer distance, enabling the user to see further ahead in the dark, which can be nice for hiking down a trail or spotting something on the other side of a lake. Most headlamps will give you the ability to switch back and forth between these two modes.

Color Modes

Many headlamps offer a red-light mode that is great for preserving night vision and battery life and prevents blinding other people in camp.

More sophisticated headlamps may have multiple color modes, including blue and green LEDs. Blue lights are especially important for reading maps at night, since they are the only color that doesn’t wash out red lines on a map, as well as when traveling on the water as blue is the only light that can cut through fog.

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Headlamp Style and Features

Basic headlamps have a fairly slim design which makes them extremely lightweight and versatile. For backpacking, hiking, climbing, etc., the standard design with a single strap around the head and the entirety of the light up front is lightest and easiest to use. But for those running with headlamps, either a much smaller, extremely lightweight headlamp, or a headlamp that separates the battery pack and puts it on the back of the head might bounce around less while in motion. This style typically includes a strap over the top of the head, too, to keep it from sliding down.

Other things to keep in mind are the width of the straps, the tilt of the headlamp, waterproofing, and the positioning and ease-of-use of switches and buttons.


Kitted Out: Summer Mountain Biking

Whether you’re tackling uber-classic singletrack in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom or simply sneaking in one of these great early season rides, having the right gear can not only make mountain biking more enjoyable, it can also make it safer. From all-day epics to post-work training rides, this kit will get you on the trail, railing turns, and sending it through summer.

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Helmet: Bell 4Forty MIPS

Between rock gardens and roots, mountain biking in the Northeast is so perilous that even the best riders are bound to hit the dirt (not in a good way) every once and awhile. To protect one of your most vulnerable and valuable parts, wearing a helmet is a must. The Bell 4Forty MIPS features the added protection of MIPS technology, offers deep rear coverage for extra security, and has enough ventilation for humid summer rides.

Helmets with MIPS technology add an extra level of protection over traditional bike helmets, as MIPS (multi-directional impact protection system) is designed to reduce rotational forces and lessen the transfer of that energy to the brain. In short, choose a helmet with MIPS.

Sunglasses: Julbo Shield

The growing popularity of fatter tires and the ability to run them at lower air pressures (thanks to tubeless tire setups) has led to more debris being kicked up than ever before. Protect your eyes from tire-flung debris as well as branches and bugs with a good pair of sunglasses. You can’t go wrong with shades from Julbo—their aptly named Shield sunglasses provide the ideal blend of protection, breathability, and good looks.

Hydration Pack: Camelbak M.U.L.E./L.U.X.E.

Despite increased competition from waist packs and the people preaching “no pack,” hydration bags remain a staple for most mountain bikers. There is simply no better way to carry all the gear needed for a day on the trail than a bag—just ask backpackers, hikers, climbers, and backcountry skiers. Released in 1996, the Camelbak M.U.L.E. (men’s) and the L.U.X.E. (women’s) have been reliable performers for over 20 years.

Pro tip: Buy the hydration pack with the largest possible bladder; A large bladder works equally well for short trips (simply don’t fill it all the way) and long trips (by filling it to capacity).

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Jersey: Louis Garneau H2O Jersey

Save the tight-fitting spandex jerseys for road rides. The Louis Garneau H2O Jersey (men’s/women’s) features a relaxed yet performance-oriented fit, is lightweight and wicking for the hottest summer days, features highly breathable fabric where a rider’s hydration pack sits, and has a single zippered back pocket for stashing your keys or phone. Try one out the next time you ride at Maine’s Carrabassett Valley.

Shorts: Louis Garneau Leeway/Latitude Shorts

Leave your spandex shorts at home, too. The Louis Garneau Leeway Shorts (men’s) and Latitude Shorts (women’s) come with comfortable padded liners, feature stretchy-but-tough baggy outers, and have zippered pockets for securely stashing small essentials. Best of all, they allow riders to hang out and have a post-ride beer without making everyone around them uncomfortable.

Gloves: Giro Rivet II/Riv’ette

Full-finger gloves increase grip, add comfort, and provide some insulation on crisp morning and evenings. Additionally, gloves provide protection from thorns, thickets, and in the event of a crash. The Giro Rivet II (men’s) and Riv’ette (women’s) provide the protection mountain bikers crave while delivering a barely there feel.

Shoes: Giro Privateer/Manta

There’s a lot of debate over the best type of pedal for mountain biking—flat or clipless. The primary benefit of flat pedals is that they offer a rider more confidence and less fear when tackling tough terrain. The notable advantage of clipless pedals is that they allow a rider to both pull and push the pedal, providing a more efficient and powerful stroke. No matter what type of pedal you use, invest in a good, comfortable pair of bike shoes. For those riding in Greater Boston and beyond, a clipless shoe like the Giro Privateer (men’s) and Manta (women’s) is a solid choice.

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Socks: Smartwool PhD Cycle Ultra Light Crew 

Nothing says newbie more than a rider on the latest bike and kitted out in the nicest new gear sporting white cotton socks. Socks like the Smartwool PhD Cycle Ultra Light Crew Socks (men’s/women’s) will not only complement your kit but also add a bit of comfort to all your rides.

Pro Tip: High socks in lighter colors make it easier to spot ticks after a ride!

Lightweight Jacket: Louis Garneau Modesto 3

Weather in the Northeast is variable to put it kindly. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to tuck a lightweight jacket into your pack. A jacket like the Louis Garneau Modesto 3 (men’s/women’s) weighs next to nothing and adds valuable weather protection and warmth when needed.

Floor Pump: Blackburn Chamber HV

As mentioned earlier, mountain bike tires are getting larger by the day. Because trying to fill fat tires with a mini pump will exhaust you before even getting on the bike, we suggest owning a floor pump. The Blackburn Chamber HV is built specifically for mountain bikers with rugged construction and an easy-to-read dial for setting tires at the perfect pressure.

CO2 Inflator: Genuine Innovations Air Chuck Inflator

While adding air to your tires at the trailhead is hard enough with a mini pump, it’s even worse when you pop a tube on the trail and need to pump up a new tube. Here’s a solution—stash a CO2 inflator and a CO2 cartridge or two in your hydration pack in case of a flat. The Genuine Innovations Air Chuck Inflator is a nice choice and comes with two cartridges.

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Tubes

It’s been our experience that the worst things happen when you’re as far as possible from the car. Packing a spare tube in your hydration pack, even if you’re running a tubeless setup, is a good way to avoid doing the long walk of shame out of your favorite trail system.

Tire Levers: Muddy Fox Tire Levers

Sometimes you get lucky and mountain bike tires just pop off when changing a tire: other times, it’s a struggle. Muddy Fox tire levers weigh practically nothing and you’ll be glad you snuck them into your hydration bag if you need them.

Multi-Tool: Blackburn Bike Tradesman

Any number of things can go wrong on a mountain bike and it’s best to plan for the eventuality of a mechanical failure. The Blackburn Bike Tradesman is equipped with all of the hex and torque keys you’ll need to make on-trail adjustments. We love that it includes a quick-link tool and are extremely appreciative of the integrated quick-link storage (make sure to use it and always carry a backup quick-link).

Après: Yeti Rambler Colster

Just because ski season is over doesn’t mean après beverages have to end. The Yeti Rambler Colster is perfect for keeping your beverage cold and covert when you’re winding down post-ride.

 

Lastly, before hitting the trail, give your mountain bike a good once over as detailed in our article Tuned Up: Your Spring Mountain Bike Walk-around—issues are much easier to resolve at home than on the trail.

Did we forget an essential piece of your kit or miss a critical item you never leave home without? If so, we want to hear about it! Leave your must-have item in the comments below.

 


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.


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.


A Dirtbag’s Guide to the KonMari Method

Whether you have a whole “gearage” to store your outdoor essentials or are living in the tight confines of a 150-square-foot Sprinter van, everyone can benefit from getting more organized. After all, the more organized you are, the easier it is to get outside with all the gear needed for your chosen adventure. That’s right, no more embarrassing moments showing up to the trailhead without your pack, the ski resort without your helmet, or the crag without your harness (all things one of us has done over the years). Also gone are those stressful moments packing when you just can’t remember (again) where you left your headlamp!

Who is Marie Kondo?

These days, when talking about organization, one person stands out like a booty carabiner just below the crux of a climb: Marie Kondo. If you haven’t heard of Marie Kondo, she’s the Alex Honnold of home tidiness thanks to her incredibly popular book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, and her Netflix show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.

If you prefer reading guidebooks and endlessly rewatching Free Solo on Hulu to either Marie Kondo’s book or television show (we don’t blame you), and you’re simply looking for a few tips for cleaning up your dirtbag existence, you’re in luck. Below we’ve distilled the KonMari Method down to a few simple steps.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Tackle Categories

Decluttering and organizing your gear room with the KonMari Method might seem overwhelming at first, especially if you participate in numerous gear-laden sports (i.e., you have backcountry ski stuff, climbing gear, a backpacking kit, too many trail runners to count, and probably some sort of big floating thing for a water sport). And unless you’re super-organized, it’s probably all a mess, too.

If tackling the organization of all that stuff at once sounds overwhelming, try this instead—focus on the gear for a single activity at a time. Collecting, laying out, and going through all of your gear for one sport at a time will help you get a better picture of what you have, what you need, and, most importantly, what you don’t. Take your climbing rack, for example. Do you really need four red C4s? Probably not, unless you’re going to Indian Creek sometime soon.

Everything Has a Place

One of the simplest lessons you can take from Marie Kondo is to make sure all of your gear has its own proper, functional place to reside. When designating places for your gear, try to keep like items near each other. For instance, store your climbing gear near your climbing shoes, climbing helmet, and chalk bag. That way you might actually bring your helmet the next time you go climbing (getting you to wear it, however, is another story).

At the end of an adventure, don’t just dump your pack in the corner—make sure that all of your gear is returned to its designated place. This includes going through all of your pockets (jacket, pants, pack, etc.) to ensure no small items, like your Buff or headlamp, are hiding and not returned to their proper spots.

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Just Say No to Nostalgia

Everyone seems to have an item (or items) that they just can’t get rid of for sentimental sake. But whether it’s your first fleece, your all-time favorite set of skis, or the cam that held your first whipper, this stuff isn’t doing an overcrowded gear room any favors. So why are you holding on to it? If you find that once-favored item is being moved a lot more than used and eliciting more frustration than joy, it’s time for it to go.

The same can be said for swag. If your gear room is cluttered with t-shirts from 5ks that you never wear, logoed pint glasses that collect dust, or an endless amount of koozies and bottle openers that you never use, it’s time for them to go.

For the same reasons, now is the time to get rid of the gear from the sport you no longer participate in. Indeed, even if you plan on getting back into something like rock climbing in the future, all your gear has a natural lifespan and you’ll be safer (and better attired) if you invest in some new duds after a lengthy hiatus.

Only Keep Joyful Items

The KonMari method isn’t about discarding items, it’s about deciding what to keep. When going through your gear room, hold each item in your hand and ask the question: Does this bring me joy? It might seem silly—after all, how much joy can an old pack evoke?—but you’ll be surprised how quickly the answer will come to you.

That softshell you never wear because of its weird color (no wonder it was on the clearance rack)? Gift it to a friend who desperately needs a gear upgrade. Those old climbing skins that need to be reglued but you’re holding onto as a backup “just in case”? It’s time to toss them. The toe-crunching climbing shoes that never quite broke in enough to wear? Put them on eBay.

Store Bags in Bags

Participation in a variety of outdoor sports often results in a ridiculous number of bags—backpacking bags for multi-day trips, crag packs for climbing, and hydration packs for mountain biking are just the tip of the iceberg. All of these bags take up a lot of space!

Marie Kondo has a simple solution for reducing the room needed to store all of your bags and make it easy to find what you need when you need it. She suggests simply nesting like bags inside one another.

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Make Gear Yours

We’ve had a long tradition among friends of showing up to the trailhead, crag, or hill with new gear still in its package or with the tags still on. The fun of the tradition was making a big production of unwrapping the new gear in front of everyone and hopefully getting some joy by sparking some envy. Much to our chagrin, the KonMari Method advises against this.

According to Kondo, we should take the tags off of our gear right away. Clothing and gear with tags still on has not yet been made our own—they’re products, not possessions. When we take the tags off, we not only assert ownership, but we’re more likely to start using it and stop saving it.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Kondo says in her book: “Even if we remain unaware of it, our belongings really work hard for us, carrying out their respective roles each day to support our lives.” This feels especially true of outdoor gear, so we should take special care in treating it well by giving it a place to rest that gives the item time to breathe.

This element of the KonMari Method is easily applied to outdoor gear—for example, store your climbing gear out of the sun, kick or scrape any mud off your boots before putting them in their rightful place, and wash your smelly, dirty puffy when it needs it.

 

These are just a few ways to use the KonMari Method to tidy up your gear room and put yourself on the path to a neater, more organized outdoor existence. If you like the results, maybe stop thumbing that Rumney Guidebook or take a break from Free Solo and pick up Marie Kondo’s book or check out her Netflix show.

If you have any tips for organizing your gear room or have applied the KonMari Method to your gear room, we want to hear about it! Leave your story in the comments and help convince us that our treadless trail runners are no longer bringing us joy.

TK_EMS-Conway-7946


Understanding the Sleeping Pad R-Value

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

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

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What does a sleeping pad do?

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

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

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

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

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So, how will it work?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Video: The Wildest Product Testers In The Biz

How do you know that bear canister is actually bear-proof?


How to Tell How Much Fuel is In Your Canister

On a cold, wet, and windy morning in late October, our party huddled in Stony Clove Notch, the halfway point of the Catskills’ infamous Devil’s Path. We were sitting, shivering in the lee of a boulder, and watching a pot of water try to boil when, without warning, the fuel ran out. We checked it, shook it, tried again and again to light it, but that was that—it had kicked. There would be no hot breakfast this morning. There would be no coffee. No. Coffee.

We’d walk off the cold on the climb out of the notch, but we learned two valuable lessons that day. One, nothing takes the wind out of your sails quite like running out of stove fuel, and two, always bring enough.

Because canister stoves use stock container sizes—a common knock when debating the merits of liquid versus gas backpacking stoves—it’s not super easy to tailor the amount of fuel you’re bringing into the backcountry. Short of hauling extra canisters (heavy), or only packing-in full canisters (wasteful), your only option is to measure just how much fuel actually remains in that used canister you’ve got hanging around.

Here are a couple of ways to do just that.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

1. Weigh It

To measure a fuel canister’s contents, weighing it is a reliable and fairly accurate method. This is optimally performed with a digital scale. Kind of a specialty item, these scales aren’t crazy expensive and are a fantastic tool to have in the kitchen if you’re the cooking type. They are not, however, ultralight or especially useful in the field. So, you’ll need to do this exercise at home, before the trip.

Gather two fuel canisters of the same brand—one with some gas left and one empty. Since the exact mixture, manufacture, and packaging vary from company to company, it’s important that the canisters be of the same brand.

This is when you’ll need that digital scale, and since there’s a bit of math involved here, it couldn’t hurt to grab a scrap of paper and a pen—or to open up that calculator app. 

Weigh the empty canister, and record its value. This measurement gives you a baseline for what the container weighs by itself.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Next, weigh the semi-full canister and record this measurement. Now for the arithmetic: Go ahead and subtract the weight of the empty canister from the semi-full canister. The resulting value tells you how much gas you’ve got left.

Fuel weight to burn time ratios vary from stove to stove, however. So, a little research on your specific setup will be necessary to find out how long those ounces will last. Measure that against the needs of your trip, and you’ll have a good idea of what to pack.

Side note: If you’re using Jetboil canisters, the Jetboil JetGauge Canister Weight Scale offers accurate weight measurement in the field. It’s small and packable, and goes one step further for you, converting the weight into a percentage value to represent the remaining fuel. 

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

2. Float It

At home, a digital scale is a luxury, but in the backcountry, it’s an impossibility. Fortunately, thanks to physics and the fuel canister’s natural buoyancy, there’s still a way.

The principle is simple: A full canister weighs more than an empty one. Ergo, the more fuel in the canister, the lower it will float. Start at home with two canisters of the same brand—one full and one empty. You’ll also need a permanent marker and a pot or bowl large enough to hold your canister and a sufficient amount of water to float it.

Fill the vessel with just enough water to submerge a single canister. Then, gently add the full one, tilting it slightly to free up any bubbles that got caught in the concavity underneath. Also, be sure not to get any water in the little area around the valve, as this will skew your reading.

Let the canister settle, and check the water line. Once it’s not moving around as much, take it out of the vessel, and mark the water line with a permanent marker. For accuracy, a good move here is to eyeball a feature printed on the canister that lines up with that water line.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Now, repeat the process with the empty canister. At this point, you’ll clearly notice the difference in where the water line hits.

Finally, line up both canisters on a flat surface and copy the marks from one to the next, so that each has an approximate “full” and “empty” line. Provided you’re using the same brand of fuel moving forward, you can keep one of these marked canisters to use as a template to mark future ones.

Some companies, like MSR and Jetboil, have taken to printing “fuel gauges” on their canisters. This cuts the advance work out of the picture and allows you to measure your available fuel on the fly.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Honorable Mentions

There are no doubt hordes of OGs out there who swear by the shake method, and that’s cool. For reference, this is when you shake a used canister to see if there’s anything left and make a judgement by touch and heft. It can work, too, but only to a very rough degree of totally subjective accuracy. The method also relies heavily on experience. So, if you’re new to your camp stove, keep away from this approach.

You can also combine your knowledge with the information provided by your stove’s manufacturer. For example, an MSR Reactor stove set up with a 1L pot should—according to the manufacturer—burn through an 8 oz. canister in approximately 80 minutes, producing 20 liters of water in the process. Unless you’re on a trip that requires melting snow as a water supply, that’s enough to last a single person for a week—10 days if you’re stretching it. If you can keep track of just how many times you took your canister out, and roughly how much you used it each time, you can get a decent estimate. Unlike weighing or floating, though, you’re still essentially making a guess rather than taking a measurement.

No Substitute for Experience

At the end of the day, preparedness relies on experience, and there’s no way to get that but to spend the time. The more you get out there, the more you’ll know about which type of stove fits your needs, and how much fuel you’ll need to bring along. Waking up without coffee is a bummer, but when you’re really out there, a working stove—that you know how to use and are comfortable with—can be the difference between a good trip and a serious situation.

So, give these methods a shot and let us know which works best for you.