7 Hacks for Cold Weather Camping

Camping in the winter can either be fun or a complete disaster. Among the cold, wet weather, and heavy gear, a lot can go wrong. Fortunately, if you know how to do it, winter can also be one of the most fun times to camp. To prepare, take a look at these tips to make your winter camping trip the highlight of your season.

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1. Bring extra water

It might seem like extra bottles of water are only necessary for those sweaty summer camping trips, but it’s all too easy to get dehydrated in the winter. Sweat evaporates more quickly in cold, dry air, and you could be left dangerously dehydrated, even if you don’t notice the moisture soaking into your shirt. So, bring extra water (or extra fuel to melt snow), and make sure to keep drinking, even if you don’t feel thirsty.

2. Use a foam pad

Sleep with two pads, including an extra foam one between your standard inflatable pad and the ground. Not only will this protect your inflatable pad, but R-values are additive, meaning you’re boosting the amount of insulation keeping you warm underneath. Don’t have a foam pad? A yoga mat will work, too.

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3. Do your research

This is no time to be stingy: Invest in high-quality gear before heading into the elements. You don’t want to be stuck in frigid temperatures when you discover your jacket isn’t as insulated as you thought. Instead, read reviews, try all of your gear on, ask for recommendations, and take things out for a test-spin before you head out for real.

4. Hand warmers are your best friend

Hand warmers are versatile: Use them for their intended purpose—on your hands—and you can even put them in your boots and in your sleeping bag. They help dry out damp shoes and also bring relief to sore muscles after a long day of hiking in the snow. To keep your drink liquid and warm, place them around the outside of a cup or bottle. And, since batteries get finicky in cold weather, this wintertime essential could help there, too.

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5. Pack a flint fire striker

It’s especially important to know how to start a fire in the snow. First, make sure the spot you choose is protected from the wind. Then, in case your matches or lighters get damp, pack a flint striker, too—they’re cheap and easy to bring along. Grab some tinder, and you’re good to go.

6. Keep your food warm

Use wooden utensils instead of metal ones, as the latter gets very cold. That chill could then get transferred to the food you’re cooking or into your hands every time you try to take a bite. To keep your coffee, hot chocolate, or beverage of choice warm, bring along a thermos. You can also store water bottles upside down. Ideally, they’ll freeze at the bottom first, so you can still drink from the top.

7. Eat fatty foods

Your body needs fuel to produce heat, and your metabolism processes fat more slowly than carbs. So, if the weather forecast is frigid, pack lots of fatty foods. Cheese, olive oil, and nuts are good options. Other good meals and snacks to fuel you through your winter camping trip include instant oatmeal, granola, dried fruit, instant soup, macaroni and cheese, and chili.

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Video: How Are Petzl Headlamps Made?

We’re reaching back into the archives to give you a first-hand look at the development of the trusty Petzl headlamp.


How to Choose Rock Climbing Shoes

In rock climbing, your shoes are your weapon. You go to battle with the rock, but having the right equipment for the right battle means the difference between victory and defeat. So, how do you choose the best shoe for your upcoming expedition? Well, it all depends on the type of adventure you’re about to embark upon. To begin, let’s break it down by which features are the most important and give you the best chance at sending it your first time:

Courtesy: 5.10
Courtesy: 5.10

Shoe Stance

A climbing shoe’s “stance” is basically the shape of it—specifically how much the toe is turned down below the heel. The degree goes a long way to determining control and pressure. There are three main stances: Aggressive, moderate turn down, and neutral. Each better suits a different style of climbing, whether that’s bouldering, crack climbing, or big wall climbing.

Aggressive

Aggressive shoes turn your toes downward while providing maximum heel tension and putting your feet in the power position for bouldering and sport climbing routes. All about precision, aggressive shoes allow you to focus power on the smallest of holds and propel yourself up a problem or route. Due to their asymmetrical shape, they are not meant to be worn for long periods of time, though. Bouldering problems and difficult single-pitch sport climbs are where these shoes excel.

Moderate Turn Down

Moderate shoes provide climbers with less of a camber than aggressive shoes. This allows them to excel in areas like slabs routes, longer multi-pitch climbs, and especially crack climbing. You sacrifice some precision but gain comfort and versatility with a moderately downturned shoe.

Neutral

Neutral shoes are the choice of many beginner climbers because of the all-day comfort they provide. Your toes lie flat within the shoe and get to be more relaxed than with any of the other stances. Don’t be fooled, though. Neutral shoes are not just for beginners and, in fact, are the choice of many big wall climbers looking for comfort while they scale long multi-pitch walls—think El Cap or Indian Creek.

GO: Aggressively Downturned | Moderately Downturned | Neutral

Courtesy: La Sportiva
Courtesy: La Sportiva

Lacing Systems

Believe it or not, the type of lacing system could mean the difference between topping out on a route or taking a whipper. Essentially, it keeps what’s in between your foot and the wall itself secure. The last thing you want is to lose a shoe when you’re three pitches from the top.

Lace-Up

As with traditional shoes, lace-ups make you pull to tighten and then are finished off with a bow or whatever knot you prefer. This system allows you to tighten your shoes as much as you want and at every spot along the lace’s length, allowing for the best all-around foot fit. Laces ensure your foot is completely locked in, wrapping the shoes around like shrink wrap, so you can really feel the wall when you go for the smallest of footholds. The only downside is, you don’t want them coming undone in the middle of a route. Imagine being 500 feet up and having to figure out how to tie your shoe in the middle of pitch seven.

Velcro

Grip, rip, and go. Velcro shoes are built for speed and on-the-fly adjustments when you’re climbing. A majority of aggressive shoes have Velcro straps, as climbers can put them on quickly before going after a bouldering problem or single-pitch sport route. On-the-fly adjustments are definitely a huge plus. 40 feet up a wall and you feel like your heel is slipping a little bit? No problem. Just reach down, adjust the strap to lock your foot in more, and keep sending it! However, compared to lace-ups, Velcro shoes don’t provide the same level of tightness and control. But, depending on the type of climbing you’re practicing, that may not be a concern.

Slipper

Can’t tame your excitement and just want to get on the wall as soon as you get there? Slip-on shoes cut all the time out of lacing up or strapping in. Instead, elastic material simply hugs your foot. That’s not their only benefit, though. They make great training shoes, because they have a softer outsole and midsole and therefore strengthen your feet quicker. Their lower profile also makes them great for thin crack climbs. Go ahead and wedge your foot up in there. Just don’t get your foot in too deep, or you may lose your shoe.

GO: Lace-Up | Velcro | Slipper

Courtesy: La Sportiva
Courtesy: La Sportiva

Outsoles

The outsoles are constantly battling to keep you on the wall or boulder. The rubber is what forms the bond between your feet and the rock. That’s one partnership with which you have to feel confident and trust completely.

Rubber Hardness

When you’re climbing, you have to trust every foot placement you make. Being confident that your foot will hold becomes a mental game, which is why having the proper rubber hardness makes all the difference. Soft rubber will be stickier, thus making it perfect for smearing and slab climbs where the footholds are tiny or nonexistent. They latch onto the rock, providing you with the best traction to top out.

Be cautious, though. Stickier rubbers degrade faster, so, for challenging, more technical climbs, you may want to think about a harder rubber. For gym climbing, crack climbing, multi-pitch big walls, and beginner climbers, you will want a harder rubber for its durability. You can wedge, lock, and heel-hook all day while trusting that your shoes will hold up and perform without question.

Thickness

Feeling the features of the rock while you climb aids in the mental game climbing brings forth. Having shoes with thicker rubber soles—typically between 4 and 5.55 millimeters thick—gives you the control and durability to edge all day. Thinner-soled shoes give you the ability to slab and smear, letting you feel the smallest of holds while you scale upwards. Once you’ve refined your technique and are dialing in your body movements on the rock, you might want to look into thinner soles, which are typically between 3 and 4 millimeters thick.

Edges

Climbing shoes continue to evolve as the limits on what can and cannot be climbed are pushed. Shoes with defined edges on the outsole give climbers the ability to balance on the smallest of footholds. They focus your foot’s pressure on a specific part of the rock as you reach for the next hand hold.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more “natural” feel on the rock while you climb, many brands have developed no-edge technology shoes. In this case, the rubber has a rounded, rather than defined, edge on the shoe’s sides and toes. The technology mirrors your foot more naturally. So, picture it like the way your foot naturally curves with your skin covering it; technology basically recreates this, just with a shoe. This allows for optimal edging, as the technology maximizes the amount of contact your foot has with the rock. However, these shoes tend to be on the higher-performance scale, thus costing more.

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Shoe Materials and Fit

It’s important to consider the materials that make up your climbing shoe, as they ultimately help you determine the best size. Unlike regular shoes, climbing shoes are supposed to be tight and a little uncomfortable.

Unlined Leather

Unlined leather shoes expand quite a bit as you break them in—sometimes, up to a full shoe size. When trying on a pair, you’ll want your toes right up against the end of the shoe, with your toes knuckled upward against the leather. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but as you break them in, your shoes will fit like a glove around your foot.

Lined Leather

Lined leather shoes tend to have minimal expansion when they are broken in—usually less than half a shoe size. The fit should be snug but not too uncomfortable, to the point your toes are curling in. This material also ensures the shoes do not stretch too much in crucial areas, like the toe box and heel.

Synthetic Materials

Synthetic shoes have very minimal stretching. You want the fit to be comfortable from the day you try them on. Synthetic materials also benefit from breathability and moisture-wicking technology, keeping your feet dry and comfortable as you climb.

GO: All-Around Shoes | Bouldering Shoes | Slab Shoes | Steep Shoes

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So, Which Shoes Should I Get?

Big wall/multi-pitch climbing: Comfort is key with long multi-pitch climbs. So, pick a shoe with a neutral stance that utilizes a harder rubber outsole with good thickness. This ensures the shoe not only lasts longer but also performs consistently as you scale 1,000-plus feet over multiple hours.

Bouldering: Get aggressive! Bouldering calls for a Velcro shoe that has a large downturned stance with defined edges to pinpoint small holds and overhung ledges. You’ll want a thick rubber outsole and a shoe made from lined leather or synthetic material. This ensures the shoe doesn’t stretch much and focuses the power where you need it most while also allowing you to strap in and out quicker.

Gym climbing: Look into either a lace-up or slip-on shoe to help build foot muscles. A neutral stance, unlined leather shoe with a softer rubber outsole will help you practice smearing the wall and deliver ample comfort for long periods of time, helping you improve endurance.

Single pitch/sport climbing: Select either a moderate downturned shoe or an aggressive stance Velcro shoe. These help you focus all your foot power and weight on the smallest of holds and let you adjust tightness on the fly. As well, go with a thinner yet harder rubber outsole with no-edge technology. This allows you to really feel every part of the wall, giving you a boost of confidence with every move upward.

Purchasing your first pair of climbing shoes is an exciting time. It’s the beginning of a bond among your feet, mind, and the rock. Stop at your local Eastern Mountain Sports and let the experts walk you through the process of choosing the right shoe for your climbing career. Happy climbing!


How to Choose a Backpacking Stove

Energy gels and bars are great for day trips in the mountains. But, if you’re spending more than just a day out, odds are you’ll eventually want something more substantial (and warm) to eat, which often involves using a stove. Which stove, you ask? Well, that depends on what exactly you want to heat up. These days, there’s a camp stove to satisfy everyone, from those who simply want to boil water to forest-bound foodies. For the best option to cook your next backcountry breakfast, campsite cuisine, or mountaintop meal, keep reading.

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Fuel Type

Backpacking stoves are distinguished by fuel type, and fall into three main categories: canister, liquid fuel, and alternative fuel. Canister and liquid fuel stoves represent the majority you’ll see on the trail. However, in recent years, alternative fuel stoves have seen a surge in popularity.

Canister Stoves

Powered by prepackaged canisters holding a pressurized butane-propane blend, canister stoves are incredibly easy to use—just screw the stove to the canister and fire it up. Coming in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, canister stoves vary from simple, super-light burners to full integrated systems. Requiring very little maintenance (shy of changing fuel bottles), they deliver reliable performance in three-season conditions and are also quick to light. Big picture, you don’t have to worry about fuel leaking out of the bottle.

Canister stoves do have some drawbacks, though. For one thing, it can be difficult to gauge just how much fuel is left. Another issue, some super-light stoves have difficulty supporting a larger pot, while the larger, integrated systems may be tall and tip prone. Additionally, for models without built-in pressure regulators, cold weather or high altitudes can freeze and depressurize a canister, causing the stove to stutter. Also, compared to white gas, prepackaged fuel is expensive and may be harder to find outside of the United States. Lastly, the prepackaged canisters cannot be refilled and recycling them may be frustrating, as most municipalities have special rules in place.

Pro Tip: If you’re going to use a canister stove in cold weather, storing the fuel canister in a warm place—your jacket pocket while you’re moving or your sleeping bag while you’re sleeping—will make it less likely to depressurize.

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Integrated Canister Stoves

With an integrated canister stove, all the individual components (canister, burner, pot, and lid) work together. Due to their interlocking nature, they have a high energy transfer rate between the burner and pot and excel at heating water quickly. They are quick and simple to assemble and, on many models, nest inside the cooking pot for easy storage while you’re moving. And, for folks who hike in varying group sizes—sometimes solo, sometimes with friends—you can customize the pot for your particular outing.

Liquid Fuel Stoves

Reliable and time tested, liquid fuel stoves are known for their versatility and ability to run in a wide variety of conditions. More commonly powered by white gas, some models, such as the venerable MSR Whisperlite International, use any kind of liquid fuel—kerosene and diesel included. This makes them popular with people who travel to locations where canisters or white gas could be hard to acquire. Unlike canister stoves, liquid fuel stoves use special refillable bottles. In turn, backpackers easily know much fuel they have at any given time, can reuse the same container, and only bring as much as they’ll need.

One downside is, they require priming, a finicky process. Liquid fuel stoves also need periodic maintenance. The jets and fuel hose can get clogged, especially when fuels other than white gas, which may have more impurities, are used, and the O-rings occasionally need to be replaced. Another drawback, liquid fuel stoves tend to be heavier and don’t pack as well as canister options. And, since spills suck, don’t forget to keep your fuel bottle sealed at all times when not in use.

Some stoves, like the MSR Whisperlite International, can operate using either liquid or canister fuels, making them even more versatile.

Should I use a canister or liquid fuel stove?

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Alternative Fuel Stoves

Alternative stoves use everything from wood to denatured alcohol to solid fuel tablets. Wood-powered stoves, for instance, burn twigs and small sticks and let you hike without carrying a fuel canister or bottle. Denatured alcohol stoves are super-lightweight, have very few parts, and use a fuel that is inexpensive and readily available. Solid fuel stoves are light and inexpensive but, as a drawback, may leave a residue on your cook pot.

In recent years, alternative fuel stoves have seen an increase in popularity. But, because they each have unique limitations—most notably, they do not burn as hot or boil water as quickly as canister or liquid fuel stoves—their use remains niche. Still, they make nice complementary stoves to more traditional options.

GO: Canister Stoves | Liquid Fuel Stoves | Canister or Liquid Fuel Stoves

Courtesy: MSR
Courtesy: MSR

Other Considerations

When choosing your next backpacking stove, fuel type is just one consideration. Weight, boiling time, simmering ability, and lighting method are other factors that should influence your purchase.

Weight

It’s easy to be lured by a stove’s lighter weight. However, when comparing stove weights, remember to account for the fuel and required cook set, especially when comparing standard models to integrated systems.

Boiling Time

Almost all backpacking stove manufacturers tell you how long it takes for a particular stove to boil a liter of water. And, if boiling time is your most important criterion—say, for that cup of coffee or that Good To-Go Thai Curry—consider an integrated canister stove. Their extremely efficient transfer of heat from the burner to the pot often results in the fastest boiling times. Just don’t expect to replicate these exact results on your next backpacking trip on the Pemi: Stoves are typically tested at sea level in 70-degree Fahrenheit temperatures with no wind.

Simmering

For a stove that does more than boil water, you’ll want to choose a model with a simmering option. Liquid fuel stoves generally offer the easiest degree of heat control. However, with a little practice, more complex dishes can even be cooked on an integrated system.

Lighting Method

Many stoves today ignite via a button (or “piezo”). This handy feature increases the ease of operation, but we still suggest carrying matches or a lighter just in case. However you light it, once your stove is going, don’t ever cook inside the tent—carbon monoxide kills!

Courtesy: MSR
Courtesy: MSR

So, Which Stove Should I Get?

Although most models you’ll find at EMS are fairly versatile, here are a few activity-based suggestions:

Solo or fast-and-light: Consider a simple canister stove. If that’s not light enough, check out a denatured alcohol or solid fuel option.

New to backpacking or just eating freeze-dried meals: Integrated systems are easy to use and boil water very efficiently.

Going out with a large group: Liquid gas stoves are perfect for large groups, and for this reason, they’ve been a staple of NOLS and Outward Bound trips for years. Pro tip: Going out with a large group and love coffee? Supplement your liquid gas stove with an integrated stove for quickly brewing that crucial cup of coffee in the morning.

Can’t decide: Check out the MSR Whisperlite Universal, which can use either IsoPro canisters or liquid fuel.


How to Buy Climbing Ropes

Whether you’re new or a seasoned sender, the process of buying a climbing rope is surprisingly confusing. Multiple styles, various widths and lengths, and other features make it difficult to know where to even start. While they’re versatile, knowing what you plan to do with your rope and what you’re looking for narrow down the choices and help tailor your purchase.
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Dynamic or Static?

Climbing uses two kinds of ropes: dynamic and static. The former is used for belaying the climber (i.e., holding a climber who falls), while static ropes are designed for anchors and hauling. To “hold a fall,” these ropes stretch when weighted. Elongation then dissipates the fall’s energy and reduces the force placed on the climber and their gear. This process dramatically reduces the potential for injury or catastrophic failure of anchors and gear. Unlike dynamic ropes, however, static options stretch very little, making them ideal for building anchors but dangerous to climb on.

GO: Dynamic | Static

Elongation

The UIAA’s two measurements—dynamic and static elongation—indicate how much a rope will stretch. Dynamic elongation is how much a rope stretches during its first UIAA fall. More elongation means a longer fall, but also less force exerted on gear and the climber. The maximum amount of dynamic elongation allowed by the UIAA is 40 percent.

Static elongation measures how much the rope stretches with an 80kg weight hanging from it. The maximum amount of stretch allowed for single and twin ropes is 10 percent, while half ropes can stretch 12 percent.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Single, Double, or Half?

Single

Climbing article assetThe most common type, single ropes are easily identified by the “1” marked in a circle on their ends. That simply means, when you’re climbing, you only need that one rope.

Thanks to their incredible versatility, they are the logical choice for almost every application. Indeed, they are used in all manners of climbing—top rope, sport, trad, multi-pitch, ice, and mountaineering. First-time rope buyers, take note!

Single ropes, however, are not perfect for every application. So, if you’re planning on doing long multi-pitch climbs like Lost in the Sun (which has seven 60-meter rappels) or just really enjoy pitches that wander, a two-rope system might be a more suitable choice.

Twin

With a circled infinity symbol (∞) on their ends, twin ropes are the simplest of the two-rope systems to use. Designed to be used as a pair and clipped simultaneously for protection, they offer multi-pitch rock and ice climbers two main advantages. First, they add redundancy to the system, as the leader is attached to two (as opposed to one) ropes. Second, in contrast to single ropes, where a climber can only rappel half the rope’s length, the two ropes allow climbers to make full-length rappels. Because you climb with two, they are typically narrower in diameter than a single rope.

Twin ropes, however, are still susceptible to rope drag on wandering routes. As well, they may complicate rope management at belay stations—something that can be particularly challenging for newer climbers.

Half

Half ropes—sometimes called double ropes—are the other two-rope system. The main difference is, unlike twin ropes, they are clipped to alternating pieces of protection. If this is done correctly, half ropes reduce drag on wandering routes. Because they are clipped independently of one another, half ropes also lessen the force a fall puts on protection. For this reason, they’re a favorite of climbers operating on delicate mediums, such as an ice formation. For identification, a “½” mark is added to their ends.

GO: Single Ropes | Twin RopesHalf Ropes

If all of these options sound appealing to you, you’re in luck! Rope construction and technologies are improving so rapidly that manufacturers can construct one that meets the standards for two, and sometimes all three (e.g., the Sterling Nano), of the aforementioned categories. If in doubt about a rope’s intended use, simply check the rope tag—located on both ends—and look for the corresponding symbol.

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Diameter and Weight

Rope diameters range from less than 8mm to more than 10.5mm. Traditionally, single ropes are wider (9.0 to 10.5mm) than twin and half ropes (7.8 to 9.0mm). In general, thicker ropes are heavier and more durable, and skinnier ones are lighter and less durable. For this reason, thicker ropes are typically used for activities like top roping, and skinnier ropes are better for sport climbing. Climbers looking for one rope to do it all will be happy with a rope ranging from mid-9mm to low-10mm, as they offer a good blend of performance and robustness.

Because the way rope manufacturers measure the diameter isn’t standard—for example, some are measured under slight tension—the rope’s weight can help paint a clearer picture of its intended use. Heavier ropes tend to be built for longevity, while lighter ones are constructed with performance in mind.

Length

Ropes today come in a wide range of sizes. You’ve got gym-friendly 35-meter lengths to pitch-stretching 80-meter monsters. As a general matter, 60 meters is the most common, and will work at the majority of crags for everything from top-roping to ice climbing. That said, due to the recent trend of developers putting up longer sport routes and rope weights falling dramatically over the last 15 years, 70 is quickly becoming the new 60. A good recommendation is, be familiar with standard pitch lengths at your crag and purchase accordingly.

As leading in the gym has grown in popularity, ropes shorter than 60 meters have, too. They offer a more affordable (and more transportable) option, but if you take these ropes outside, be extra cautious and confirm the rope will be long enough for the route. Don’t be the fool who lowers your climbing partner off the end of a too-short rope!

GO: Under 50 meters | 50 meters | 60 meters | 70 meters

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Dry Treatment

Ropes lose a considerable amount of their strength when wet. Furthermore, a wet rope weighs significantly more than a dry one. Because of this, most ropes come with the option of a dry treatment. More expensive than their non-treated counterparts, dry-treated ropes are favored by ice climbers and mountaineers for obvious reasons. But, dry-treated ropes offer a host of advantages for most climbers. Particularly, a dry treatment decreases rope drag and helps ropes run smoother through gear. More importantly, the same treatment that keeps your rope from absorbing water also helps to keep dirt out of your rope, thus extending its lifespan.

Dry ropes come in three forms: ropes with dry-treated sheaths, ropes with dry-treated cores, and ropes with dry-treated sheaths and cores. Treating the sheath (i.e., the rope’s outer shell) helps repel water, reduces the rope’s friction on the rock (thereby reducing abrasion), and gives the rope a nice slick feel and handle. For the core, dry-treating reduces the amount of water a rope will absorb and also reduces the likelihood of dirt and grime working its way into the core, the rope’s most important part. Dry-treating both the sheath and core combines the two treatments and offers the most water protection. However, it is also the most expensive and perhaps best reserved for ice climbing, mountaineering, and other climbing done in wet conditions.

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Middle Marker

Middle markers aid in a wide variety of ways, such as indicating it’s safe to lower a climber to ease in threading rappels. Most ropes today feature some kind middle-mark indicator—with features such as changing patterns, a distinctive mark, or a special weave to highlight a rope’s midpoint. Bi-color ropes offer the clearest indication, but also tend to be the most expensive. Ropes with colored middles offer a cost-effective solution, but the color can fade with use, and the middle mark can be difficult to see in fading light.

UIAA Fall Rating

The United International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) tests climbing ropes to see how many falls they can hold before failing. For single ropes, the test involves dropping an 80kg weight on the rope. With twin ropes, 80kg is used for both ropes. For half ropes, a 55kg weight is dropped onto a single strand. Single and half ropes must withstand a minimum of five falls, and twin ropes 12. Any rope that meets the UIAA fall standard is considered safe for climbing.

As a note, the lab tests subject ropes to more force than they’ll likely encounter in a real-world scenario. More so, the outdoors subjects ropes to hazards like sharp edges and worn fixed draws. So, get in the habit of inspecting your rope, especially if you’ve taken a big whipper.

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So, Which Rope Should I Get?

Although most ropes are pretty versatile, here’s a quick breakdown by activity:

Multi-pitch ice climbing: You want a rope that is long, skinny, and dry treated. Consider half and twin ropes—or, even better, ropes that rate as single, twin, and half—if your ideal routes involve long approaches and rappels, or if you’ll often be climbing as a party of three.

Top-rope cragging: Pack a beefy, durable single rope in the low-10mm range.

Sport climbing: For clipping bolts, a 60- or 70-meter single rope of medium diameter (9.4-9.8mm) is ideal.

For multi-pitch rock climbing: Bring a 60- or 70-meter rope of medium diameter (9.4-9.8mm). As with ice climbing, consider half and twin ropes—or ropes that rate as single, twin, and half—if your ideal routes involve long approaches and rappels, or if you’ll often be climbing as a party of three.


The Top 8 Things New Backpackers Should Never Do

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

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1. Wearing jeans and cotton clothing

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

2. Wearing flip-flops or shoes with poor traction

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

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3. Not carrying enough of the essentials

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

4. Not telling anyone at home your itinerary

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

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

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

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

6. Underestimating the weather forecast

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

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

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7. Not following Leave No Trace wilderness ethics

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

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

8. Not being courteous to others while hiking

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

 

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

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What is a Lumen? Shining a Light on Headlamps

Choosing the right headlamp can be daunting. From a wall full of lights that all look similar, covered in numbers that mean next to nothing, how do you pick the right one? To begin, understanding the lumen is the first step toward getting what you need. But, there’s more to know if you want to have the perfect headlamp for your next adventure.

So…what is it?

A lumen is the technical measurement of the amount of light emitted in all directions by a light source. More simply, a lumens rating indicates how bright a headlamp will shine with a fully charged battery. The more lumens a light has, the brighter it is.

Headlamps and other lights run the gamut of brightness. You’ll find anything from the 30-lumen, kid-friendly Black Diamond Wiz to the ultra-powerful, 750-lumen Petzl NAO+. The great thing about these headlamps is, they all have enough lumens for general use. Even those with the lowest lumen count provide enough illumination for an evening stroll around the campsite or a storm-bound day spent in the tent reading.

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How many lumens do I need?

But, for other activities, you might need more lumens. So, how many should you get? The answer to that question is activity dependent. For movement-based activities, like night hiking or backpacking, a headlamp with a minimum of 150 to 200 lumens is best. There are exceptions, of course, like hiking the Presidential Range under a supermoon.

For faster-paced activities when you need to see farther ahead so you don’t trip (think nighttime trail-running), a light with more than 250 lumens is ideal. And, for activities like alpine climbing and mountaineering, when you might need a really bright light to briefly scope the next pitch or skirt some sketchy terrain, a lamp with a super-bright option (e.g., more than 350 lumens) will be really useful.

Most major manufacturers list a headlamp’s lumens on its package. It’s worth noting, however, that the majority will only be able to reach that number with fully charged batteries. More so, the higher power at which you operate your headlamp, the more battery power it consumes. Thus, it may make more sense to use a lower brightness to conserve battery life, rather than operate at the full 300 lumens.

Does the ability to adjust brightness interest you? To begin, make sure to check out the lights in Petzl’s Active series, like the Petzl Actik Core. A few Black Diamond models fall into this group, including the Icon and ReVolt.

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So, lumen count is the only thing that matters. Right?

All that said, lumen count isn’t the be-all, end-all. It’s also important to consider how the headlamp directs the lumens. Generally referred to as the headlamp’s “beam,” the focusing of the lumens—from pinpoint to diffuse—greatly influences the activities for which the headlamp is ideal.

Types of Beams

A good example of a “general use” model is the 300-lumen Petzl Actik, which lets you toggle between wide and regular beams. Toggling makes the Actik ideal for use around the campsite, where the regular beam is perfect for precision tasks like cooking. The wide beam, meanwhile, is key for navigating around a site without blinding your fellow campers.

Alternately, a headlamp like the 300-lumen Black Diamond Spot has a more focused beam. Thus, it’s ideal for people doing precision work in the dark. Threading rappel anchors after being benighted, checking a climbing partner’s knot before an alpine start, and searching your pack for a midnight snack are all occasions where you benefit from a focused beam.

Some headlamps, such as the Black Diamond Sprinter—built for runners—are engineered to excel at one specific task. The Sprinter uses neither a wide, diffused light nor a concentrated proximity light. Rather, it produces a strong oval beam that is bright enough to illuminate potential hazards on the road or the trail, and shines far enough ahead so that you can anticipate upcoming terrain.

Reactive Lighting

A clear sign of just how far headlamps have advanced in recent years is Petzl’s reactive light technology. These advanced headlamps, like the Petzl Reactik, use a sensor to analyze the amount of ambient light in your environment, and adjust the brightness accordingly. This feature is particularly useful: It ensures you’re receiving just the right amount of light, it uses the headlamp’s battery as efficiently as possible, and it reduces any fiddling with buttons or dials. You can even control the Reactik’s settings via an app to prioritize everything from battery power to brightness.

Courtesy: Black Diamond
Courtesy: Black Diamond

Out Like a Light

The best thing about buying a headlamp at EMS is that there are no bad choices. Almost every model found on our shelves will provide enough lumens for whatever task you ask of it. And, for those looking for a headlamp to perform in a specific instance, manufacturers are rising to the occasion to fill those niches.


How to Purchase a Stand-Up Paddleboard

Getting the stand-up paddleboard that’s “right” for you can mean the difference between falling in love with the sport and having another expensive piece of equipment gathering dust in the garage. Since SUPs come in a variety of lengths, widths, and shapes, we’ve created this simple guide to demystify the board buying process. Read on for some helpful tips to find the one that’s ideal for you.

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What are your goals?

Before shopping for an SUP, consider how you intend to use it. Whether you’re using the board for touring, surfing, yoga, whitewater, or just family fun, knowing its intended use simplifies the process, as boards feature designs unique to each activity.

Not sure about your intended use? Consider an all-around board. They’re the perfect choice for someone who wants to do it all. Better yet, if you later decide that you want an activity-specific board, all-arounders are great to have in your quiver, as you can lend one to a paddling partner.

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Size and Shape Matter

Walk through the paddle shop at any EMS, and you’ll notice that some SUPs look very different from others. Some are long with ample deck space, while others are short and have an increased rocker. Here are some basic ways to understand the differences.

First, the longer a board is, the faster it will glide through the water, and the easier it will be to paddle in a straight line. Because of this, touring and racing SUPs tend to be longer. But, these are also less nimble, and for an activity like surfing, you’d want a shorter board.

Second, the wider a board gets, the more stable it becomes. Wider options are therefore popular with new paddlers, who are still building confidence balancing on the board, and with tall paddlers, due to their high center of gravity. Just be forewarned: The wider a board gets, the slower it moves through water.

Third, the larger the volume, the more weight an SUP supports and the more buoyant it is. Almost every manufacturer posts a weight limit for their boards, and it’s important to note. Just be sure to factor in not only paddler weight, but also everything you’ll carry on board. For example, will a child or dog be riding with you? What about gear? If you fail to account for these factors, you could find your SUP sinking below the water.

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Hull Shape

SUPs also have two different types of hulls: planing and displacement. Those with planing hulls, similar to the Surftech Universal CoreTech, look like a traditional surfboard and ride on top of the water. Planing-hull boards represent the majority stocked at EMS, and handle everything from surfing to all-around use.

Boards featuring displacement hulls, like the BIC Ace-Tec Wing, take their cues from kayaks. Particularly, they’re shaped to push through the water, rather than ride on top of it. Popular with those who want to tour or race, these SUPs are more efficient at moving through the water. Thus, you’ll get a faster speed and cover greater distances. As the main drawback, they are less maneuverable and playful than SUPs with planing hulls.

Some companies blend the two types—for example, the BIC Cross. These hybrids suit recreational paddlers, as they offer the speed and tracking of a displacement hull with the stability and playfulness of a planing board.

Material Matters

Stand-up paddleboards are constructed in three different ways—solid, soft top, and inflatable. Each method has its unique characteristics.

Borrowing from traditional surfboard construction, solid boards feature a foam core wrapped in fiberglass and epoxy resin. As the most common type of SUP, these deliver a fast and smooth ride when compared to other compositions. Because of their popularity, solid boards typically have the widest variety of available shapes and sizes. They even offer more material variations. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see wood and carbon fiber replace fiberglass in higher-end models.

Soft-top paddleboards, like the Perception Jetty, are a popular option for many first-time and recreational paddlers. Much like solid boards, these feature a foam core; however, it’s wrapped in soft fiberglass. Usually less expensive and more durable than solid boards, they provide a more comfortable platform. If you happen to fall, they also give you a better landing.

Inflatables, like the NRS Thrive , are a common alternative to solid boards. Inflatable stand-up paddleboards feel almost as rigid but are far less susceptible to dings and dents. Additionally, the design solves a few other issues posed by traditional boards, including portability and storage. Particularly, you can deflate and stash one in the trunk of your car for transporting, or tuck it into a closet when it’s not in use.

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Almost Fin-nished

Fin size and alignment also influence a board’s paddling characteristics. Today, a single fin is the most common configuration, and for fin adjustments in relation to performance, two simple rules apply. The first is, longer fins provide more straight-line stability, thus making them popular with newer paddlers. As such, shorter fins generally deliver more speed and better maneuverability. Secondly, the farther back you place the fin on your board, the more stability it will provide. Conversely, the closer the fin is positioned to the nose, the faster the SUP will be.

Many SUPs today are further manufactured with slots for side fins, also called thrusters. Although some paddlers will opt to use side fins for flat-water paddling, they increase your board’s resistance, thus making it slower, and are best left off.

Deck It Out

If the paddleboarding bug bites hard, you could find yourself spending a lot of time standing on your board. Although it’s not essential, a high-quality deck pad can go a long way toward your comfort. Especially for yoga, a full-length deck pad should be considered. In all cases, a deck pad also increases traction on your board, making it easier to stand on.

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What Else Do I Need?

You’ll need a few additional items before you head out.

Of primary importance, a paddle is essential if you want your SUP to move. In fact, having a good paddle is one of the best ways to increase your board’s performance. A quality adjustable paddle can move with you from board to board, and can be used as a loaner when you decide it’s time to upgrade.

Wearing a PFD isn’t just a good idea—it’s also the law. High-end personal flotation devices are designed to stay out of the way when you paddle, making them infinitely more comfortable than the life jackets of yore. Also gaining in popularity for paddleboarders are inflatable PFDs. These clever devices look like waist packs, deliver a barely-there feel, and can be inflated in the event of an emergency.

Lastly, get yourself a leash, so that you’ll stay connected to your board when you fall off. Nothing screams newbie more than swimming after a rogue paddleboard, and it would be a shame to see your new board float away.

 

Still not sure about what you want? Keep your eyes out for a demo in your area to try a few different boards. Better yet, schedule a lesson with the Eastern Mountain Sports Kayak School to get some paddling pointers as you pick the brain of someone who makes a living on the water.


5 Tips for Traveling Stress-Free With Your Outdoor Gear

When traveling abroad in search of adventure, packing duffel bags of gear to put on a plane can be one of the most stressful parts. Between over-packing, losing bags, breaking gear, or just not getting to your destination with everything you thought you needed, a lot can happen between point A and point B. But, there are ways to eliminate many of these issues. So, follow these tips to keep things as simple and stress free as possible.

Courtesy: Holidayextras
Courtesy: Holidayextras

Watch for Extra Fees

You have to consider a few factors when you’re flying with a lot of gear. First, make sure you are thorough in the flight planning process, so nothing gets damaged and you don’t end up needing to pay more than you had anticipated.

Specifically, pay close attention to baggage policies. Is a checked bag included in the price of your super-cheap ticket to Iceland, or is the add-on charge going to run you another $100? Many airlines also don’t include carry-on bags. If you plan on needing one, check the airline’s policy before you book.

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Protect the Pointy Objects

Climbing gear can be notoriously heavy and sharp—two characteristics that aren’t the best for airline travel. But, with a little thought and planning, traveling with climbing gear can be a breeze.

Pack ice axes, crampons, ice-screws, and any other sharp gear in your checked bag, because you won’t be able to carry it on the plane. Keep these items in stuff sacks or separate compartments away from clothing, climbing ropes, tents, and other soft materials to avoid any unwanted tears or core shots.

Check the Scale

Nobody likes showing up to the airport with an overweight bag. The fees are a pain, and re-sorting your gear in front of the check-in scale is an embarrassing waste of time when you’re in a rush.

For starters, make sure your luggage stands up to the size requirements for both checked and carry-on baggage. Don’t be the person trying to shove a full-size backpack into the overhead compartment.

At home, be sure you know the weight limit for your checked and carry-on baggage. Then, pick up a cheap baggage scale, or throw your bags onto the bathroom scale. As a tried-and-true technique, weight yourself first, and then, weight yourself again while holding your bags and wearing your backpack. Simply subtract your body weight to determine the weight of your baggage. Overall, it’s a bit easier than trying to balance anything on a small bathroom scale.

Still overweight? When packing heavy gear, ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” Ahead of time, plan out climbing gear with your partners, so you don’t bring more than necessary. Sharing a trad rack and distributing the group gear to even out the load can save a lot of weight.

As another option to offset the weight of a checked bag, put small but heavy items like cams and carabiners into a carry-on bag. And, if you are on a winter trip with lots of outerwear, try wearing some of your bulkier, heavy clothing in the airport to save space.

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Follow the Rules

The TSA discourages camp fuel, and in taking it along, you could lose your stove for good. So, empty and thoroughly clean out your fuel bottles before flying. Giving your stove a cleaning isn’t a bad idea, either.

Make sure to pack your pocket knife or multi-tool in your checked baggage, as knives are not allowed in carry-on luggage. When packing your camp lighters, however, put them in your carry-on. Interestingly enough, they are prohibited in checked baggage, unless they are in a DOT-approved container. Additionally, leave any aerosols at home, including bug spray in a can and bear spray. These cannot be brought along in your baggage.

When you’re traveling internationally, you’ll find that some countries take serious measures to keep out invasive plant species, as they can negatively affect the local ecosystems. New Zealand, for example, screens incoming travelers’ luggage as they go through the customs process. If travelers failed to clean their gear, customs confiscates it upon your arrival at the airport.

To avoid losing all of your camping gear, clean everything thoroughly before packing it:

  • Remove the dried soil from your boots.
  • Hose-off all parts of your tent, including the stakes, which often hold a lot of soil.
  • Check your pole baskets for any caked-on dirt.
  • Then, let everything dry completely before you pack it up.
Courtesy: Doug Letterman
Courtesy: Doug Letterman

Keep It Safe

It’s not uncommon to sweat bullets as you wait for your bags to come off the carousel. But, broken or missing gear is only one expensive problem. It’s a far bigger issue to get to a distant location just in time for a trip, only to realize you’re missing the essentials.

So, label all of your gear in a unique way, in a place where it can be read and where it won’t be rubbed or broken off. As a tip, use something like Eagle Creek’s Reflective Luggage ID Set. Paper gear tags, however, are not strong enough. Don’t be afraid to use a permanent marker to put your contact information directly onto your bags.

If you paid for a budget flight, especially an international one, several airlines won’t insure your bags. As a note, most non-budget American airlines usually include it. Gear is expensive, so it might be worth picking up temporary travel insurance, if you don’t have it already.

In travel, hold onto your luggage tags and receipts. Have proof that you handed over your bags to an airline, especially when traveling with expensive items.

It’s also not a bad idea, depending on where you’re traveling, to use a TSA-safe luggage lock. Don’t use a regular lock, however. It’s almost guaranteed to be cut off during an inspection. TSA locks, instead, can be opened by officials and then placed back on once you leave the airport.


Why Should I Use Trekking Poles?

Improved efficiency, less wear and tear on joints, and increased safety are just a few of the reasons trekking poles almost always find their way onto gear lists like our “Top to Bottom: Gear to Hike the NH 48” roundup. If you’ve been on the fence about adding them to your kit, or you’re wondering why so many hikers you encounter are using them, here are 10 reasons why you should be reaching for your trekking poles as you head out the door.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Increased Stability

The Northeast is home to notoriously harsh terrain. No matter the season, hikers here encounter conditions ranging from snow to mud to bare rock—not to mention wet rocks and roots. Whether you’re heading up, down, or across, trekking poles allow for two additional points of contact with the ground, greatly increasing stability and traction.

2. Reduced Impact on Your Body

The act of repeatedly putting one foot in front of the other in rough terrain while carrying a load (even just a daypack) murders knees, ankles, and feet. Trekking poles shift some of this burden onto a person’s shoulders and arms, reducing the pounding your lower body takes. Furthermore, they can reduce swelling of the hands, a common ailment for many hikers. Incorporating your arms into the activity increases blood flow and reduces fluid pooling in the hands.

3. Give Yourself a Push

Looking to increase your speed? Simply plant your poles and push with your arms. On steep uphills, they’ll take some of the weight off your legs, while on flat terrain, they’ll help propel you along. Even better, use your trekking poles like a metronome for getting your entire body to act in unison for relaxed breathing and a more consistent (and efficient) pace.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

4. Safer Stream Crossings

Between snow melt and spring showers, water crossings reach their peak in the spring. Trekking poles are essential for safe crossings on hikes like Owl’s Head, as they allow you to test the water’s depth, get a feel for the strength of the current, and, once you commit, help maintain your balance as you wade or rock hop across. And, if you do slip, those extra points of contact are usually the difference between a wet shoe and total immersion.

5. Test Out Terrain

Much like how you can gauge the depth of a stream crossing with trekking poles, you can also use them to test other types of terrain. From finding out just how deep that snowpack is to how frozen that alpine puddle is or even how deep that muddy section of trail is, trekking poles are perfect for probing into the unknown.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

6. Clear a Path

Whether you’re dealing with thorns growing into the trail, branches from blow-downs blocking it, or those “super-scary” spider webs hanging across it, trekking poles offer a convenient way to clear annoyances from your path.

7. First Aid Essential

When it comes to situations involving twisted ankles or broken bones, trekking poles are a valuable supplement to your first aid kit. Serving as everything from a crutch to a splint, they come in handy when things go wrong.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

8. Trekking Poles and Shelter

Thanks to the desire of backpackers to lighten their loads, many shelters (like the Black Diamond Mega Light Tarp) and tents now offer a fast pitching option that ditches traditional poles and instead uses your trekking poles to save weight.

9. They’re Collapsible, Too

Most trekking poles are collapsible. So, if you encounter some steep, rocky terrain that requires free hands, just break the poles down, and stow them on the side of your pack. Try the same thing if you’re on terrain that’s conducive to running and that you absolutely want to be done with—for example, the flat section on the way out from The Bonds.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

10. Try Just One

If two is too many, try using just one pole. Switch it from hand to hand while hiking to get the same stability, all with less weight and one fewer tool to manage. We especially like the one-pole trick on outings where we’ll also be carrying an ice axe (like the Lion Head Winter Route); on trail runs that are mostly runnable but have a tricky steep descent (like the descent from South Twin to the Galehead Hut); or in situations where we’ll be transitioning from hiking to climbing and then back (like Henderson Ridge).

Do you have another use for trekking poles that we didn’t list? If so, leave your suggestion in the comments.