No-Stove Backpacking With the Hydro Flask

Camp stoves are overrated.

They’re finicky, take time, burn fossil fuels (well, most of them, anyway), and are heavy. But, even for the simplest of backpacking meals, hot water is a necessity. So, what if, instead of carrying all this extra equipment to boil water on-location, you could just heat your water up at home, take it with you, and, then, add and serve later?

If no-stove backpacking seems ridiculous, it’s for good reason. First off, stoves now-a-days are efficient, fast, and lightweight. Secondly, in situations where you have a nearby stream or another body of water, it’s far easier to just bring along a stove and find, carry in, and heat up your water on-site for dinner.

But, it’s also a curious plan. Is it possible to boil your cooking water at home in the morning, store it in your pack during your hike, pull it out in the evening, and still have it hot enough to cook your Good To-Go meal?

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

The Test

I already have a collection of Hydro Flasks that I love. So, even though I’ve never tried using using them in such a long-term and high-stakes situation, I decided they would give me the best shot at success.

Before heading out on a quick overnight to a spot on the Adirondacks’ Northville-Lake Placid Trail, I boiled enough water to fill both 32 oz. Wide Mouth and 20 oz. Standard Mouth bottles, as well as a non-double-walled steel bottle and my trusty Adirondack Nalgene, all for the sake of comparison. Then, I hit the trail!

As the most obvious thing right off the bat, the Nalgene and stainless steel bottle were hot to the touch—almost too hot to pick up with my bare hands. Comparatively, the Hydro Flasks felt like nothing had changed.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

But, after a full day of hiking, with camp set up and my stomach calling out to me, I was only a little surprised to see steam come soaring out of both Hydro Flasks when I took off their insulated lids. This made rehydrating my dinner a snap, and I was chowing down quicker than I ever have! Needless to say, the other two bottles didn’t make the cut. By dinnertime, the water was only slightly above an ambient temperature.

While boiling dinner water at home is definitely an option for some backpacking situations, storing water in a Hydro Flask might be more useful while cooking at night. With the stove already running, heat enough water for the next morning’s breakfast cereal or oatmeal, and hold onto it overnight just to save time in the morning. But, however you choose to take advantage of it, a Hydro Flask’s insulating prowess will get you a long way toward a delicious backcountry meal.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

How to Make a Custom Map

Even in the age of GPS devices and cell phones that can pinpoint your location within feet, nothing is as simple, useful, and trustworthy as a good map.ut maps haven’t been immune to the same technological advances that brought us our fancy electronics.

Rather than visiting a store to search through set USGS Quads, atlases, or pre-set maps, today’s adventurers have the ability to customize their own to their exact specifications. The type of map, its details, the trails and points displayed on it, and its area can all be tweaked and adjusted, so that when you head outside, you have the exact combination you need. To make your own, the data is out there, if you can figure out how to put it together.

What are “layers?”

Layers are map sections that can be examined on their own or, through a program, overlaid onto another map to compare and contrast details. For example, when you visit Google Maps, you can choose between street maps, satellite images, and even terrain. By adding traffic conditions or bicycle routes, you’re overlaying one layer on top of another to view even more data.

There are almost too many types of map layers to count, but these are some of the most commonly used ones:

goeast-google

Google Maps

With 1 billion monthly users, Google Maps is probably the most well-known mapping site. It offers three different layers, including Street, Terrain, and Satellite, and has a few additional ones that can be turned on and off, including bike paths and traffic.

If you are trying to get to or return from the trailhead, Google Maps is definitely the best choice for avoiding the traffic and then finding some food after. However, while it adds some vague trails, other stronger options can help you find your way in the outdoors.

goeast-usgs

USGS Topo

Using U.S. Geologic Survey data, the basis for decades’ worth of maps, the USGS topographical map is the most common layer for reading and navigating the outdoors. At a basic level, USGS maps show you roads, dirt roads, and trails, as well as clearings and many other manmade structures. Caltopo.com contains the full USGS map layer, which covers the entire country.

If you plan on traveling off the trail, a USGS or similar topographical map is a must-have for navigation. As you’re outdoors, use the elevation and land features to keep track of your position.

To add to the information you get from the USGS’ basic topo lines, layer in slope shading. Slope shading highlights based on the slope angle, which then shows where hills and mountains get more or less steep and helps you identify cliffs for rock and ice climbing. For backcountry skiers and snowboarders, this feature assists with planning approaches and descents while minimizing avalanche risk.

goeast-satellite

Satellite and Aerial Imagery

Satellite images show texture and visual details that most map layers can’t capture. If you plan to check out specific terrain features or vegetation cover, this type assists with examining these facets more closely. Both Google and Bing Maps have satellite imagery, but the latter uses images from late winter or early spring. This combination allows you to see through the canopy and get more detail in the forests than you would from summertime-only images. As a result, you can look at the area around the cliff to identify trails that might not be mapped otherwise—a benefit to rock climbers looking for approach and descent trails.

Bing maps also have bird’s-eye view aerial imagery, and Google Maps offers a 3D function. Both options create more up-close imagery and provide a perspective different from straight satellite views. In the outdoors, bird’s-eye view can be useful for inspecting cliff faces for climbing routes or even looking at new areas in more detail before you make the trip out.

As another asset, Caltopo lets you layer topo maps over a satellite image to see contour lines on top. Doing so might help you make better sense of an otherwise-2D image—for instance, before finding climbing slides in places like the Adirondacks. First, the satellite images allow you to see the slide itself and pick out your route, and then, the topo map adds terrain information and even trails before and after.

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Map Builder Topo

Map Builder Topo is a Caltopo layer that uses USGS contours as a base, but then adds in a huge number of up-to-date trails and other waypoints. This layer is helpful for figuring out the best trails to get to where you want to go.

Caltopo allows you to add lines and waypoints, which can be measured for distance and elevation gain. If you are planning a hike, trail run, or even a paddle and want to know the route statistics, this tool gives you a good start. One fault, however, is it makes no distinction between hiking and biking trails. Thus, if you use it to go exploring with your bike, you might find yourself on gnarly terrain or trespassing on hiking-only trails.

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OSM Bike

The Open Cycle layer uses many of Map Builder’s trails, but softens the contours. Here, color-coded brown and blue indicate hiking and biking trails, respectively. As a result, this tool is essential for developing bike touring and bikepacking routes.

In addition to trails, it also highlights popular roads for cycling, as well as bike paths and lanes. When you want to get off the bike, it indicates important landmarks, such as campgrounds, hotels, hospitals, bike shops, coffee shops, and breweries.

Keep in mind that Open Cycle Map is open source. As such, the cycling community constantly updates it with the latest trail information.

Almost all of the map layers above can be accessed on Caltopo.com, one of the many free online mapping sites. So, before you plan to visit an area, take the time to review each map layer’s specific details. In doing so, you might even find something worth traveling to on its own.

Make Your Map

After you’ve decided on the layers forming your map’s core, you can customize it even further. Caltopo.com allows you to add waypoints, tracks, and more facets, just like you would with GPS software like Garmin BaseCamp.

Then, once you have your map set up with all the data you might want on your hike, paddle, or climb, print it out yourself. Use Rite in the Rain or National Geographic waterproof printer paper for a durable, outdoor-ready map, and then, hit the trails!


Top 3 Boston Area Hikes for Mother's Day

Looking for a family-friendly hike in the Greater Boston area, but don’t know where to start? Well, for a Mother’s Day activity, here are three of our favorites, all close to the city. So, get the family together, hit the trail, and enjoy some of the best scenery and recreation Greater Boston has to offer. And, to top it off, we even suggest a way to treat Mom on the way home!

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

1. World’s End

World’s End is a 250-acre Trustees of Reservations property in Hingham, Mass., comprised of four drumlins created by a retreating glacier. Over four miles of carriage roads originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted link these together. The hiking is moderate and offers incredible views of the Boston skyline, Hingham and Boston Harbors, and the surrounding South Shore communities.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

Hiking the Park

Navigating around the park is easy, especially if you print a copy of the trail map ahead of time. While you’re there, prioritize hiking the mile over Planter’s Hill, across the “Bar” (an isthmus connecting the property to the outermost drumlins), and then up onto World’s End proper. That route traverses the property’s open fields, regularly looks out over the skyline and harbor, and has numerous benches for picnicking or sitting and enjoying the scenery. It will also take you by A New End, a kid-friendly spiral mirror-sculpture that is part of the Trustees’ “Art and the Landscape” initiative.

When you travel at a leisurely pace, this out-and-back loop takes between 1.5 to two hours, and can be adjusted to suit your schedule and interests.

If you are thinking of visiting World’s End on Mother’s Day, note that the Trustees do charge a $6 fee for non-member adults. As well, make sure to go early, as the parking lot fills up quickly, especially on bluebird days.

If you don’t end up bringing a picnic, Hingham Center is just a few miles away. Stars, located on Hingham Harbor, is a great place to take Mom for lunch on the way home.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

2. Great Blue Hill

If you are seeking something a little more strenuous, consider climbing Great Blue Hill in the Blue Hills Reservation. Standing 635 feet tall, Great Blue Hill is the tallest point within 10 miles of the Atlantic Coast, south of Maine. From Eliot Tower on the summit, you can see a panoramic view of the Blue Hills Reservation, Boston Harbor, and the city’s skyline.

Hiking Up

The most straightforward way up Big Blue is the Red Dot Trail, which starts from the Trailside Museum parking lot, just off Route 138 on the Milton-Canton town border. Signs and red circular blazes clearly mark the trail, which climbs over rocks and slabs as it meanders first up to the Summit Road and then to Eliot Tower. The ascent is family friendly, is less than a mile in length, and takes between 25 and 40 minutes at a casual pace.

The courtyard at Eliot Tower has several picnic tables—the perfect place for lunch or a snack before you continue. Next, hike the Eliot Circle Loop, a short, flat trail that circles Big Blue’s summit. It takes hikers across the Eliot Memorial Bridge, past the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory, and then back to Eliot Tower. If you have time, consider taking a tour of the observatory, the oldest continuously operating one in the country.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

Descending Big Blue

You have several options for getting off Big Blue. The easiest is heading back down the Red Dot Trail—the same way you came up. For a slightly longer route, however, continue on the other half of the Red Dot Trail as it heads north, before it eventually loops back to the Trailside Museum. Both of these descent routes are well-marked and also clearly shown on the Blue Hills Reservation trail map.

Because Big Blue is a popular weekend destination, try to time your hike before the mid-morning rush or after the afternoon crowds have dwindled. If you have kids, combine it with a trip to the Trailside Museum, an interpretative center with free outdoor wildlife exhibits. In the warmer months, their river otter exhibit is the main attraction! And, if all the hiking has built up your appetite, stop by Amber Road Café in Canton Center for breakfast or lunch on the way home.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

3. Borderland State Park

Another option worth checking out, Borderland State Park, located along the borders of Sharon and Easton, has over 20 miles of hiking. The trails offer something for everybody, ranging in difficulty from moderate strolls on old farm roads to more strenuous and rocky single-track hiking paths.

What to Do

A must-see in Borderland is the Ames Mansion, a three-story stone home built in the early 1900s. A great way to visit the park and the mansion is to hike Borderland’s Pond Walk Trail. When done clockwise from Borderland’s two main parking lots, the trail makes a three-mile loop on dirt carriage roads around Leach Pond and finishes close to the mansion.

For those looking to increase the mileage, consider adding one of the several loops off Pond Walk Trail on the northwest side of Leach Pond or one of the other options described on the Borderland trail map.

If you are looking to treat Mom to dessert after your hike, stop by Crescent Ridge Dairy Bar in Sharon. Although the lines are sometimes long, the ice cream is worth the wait.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

Mud Season—Now What?

What are the two most dreaded words in the English language?

Mud season.

The scourge of hikers. The nemesis of backpackers. The evil overlord of fun in the spring. What is it about mud season that brings about these feelings?

Well, for starters, hiking any High Peak (mountains over 4,000 feet) in the Adirondacks is out. And, for a good reason, I’d say. According to our friends over at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), avoiding sensitive, high-elevation trails above 2,500 feet until they’re dried and hardened helps prevent irreparable damage.

But, what if you say, “To heck with it. I’m hiking. It’s only a little mud. What’s the big deal?”

It is a big deal—a pretty darn big deal, actually. So says Brendan Wiltse, and he should know: He’s spent the last seven years studying this kind of thing as the Science and Stewardship Director of the Ausable River Association.

“During mud season, trail conditions at high elevations often result in hikers deviating from the established trail or hiking along the sides, causing trail widening and erosion,” Wiltse says. “Soils at high elevations are often thin and prone to erosion. It only takes a few hikers walking on these thin, saturated soils to cause damage to the rare plants that live there.”

So, what can you do? You can embrace mud season. Realize that it will typically be you and very few other hikers out on the trails. Add in no bugs and warmer weather, and you have yourself a good time coming. And, during this season, please consider the following as alternatives until the Adirondack High Peaks have had the chance to dry out and get themselves ready for some boot-stompin’ summer hiking.

Credit: Kristi Brennan
Credit: Kristi Brennan

Baxter Mountain

How much summit fun can be packed into one tiny mountain? If your name is Baxter, apparently a whole bunch. The one-mile hike up is a pleasant stroll in the woods, with a 725-foot elevation gain before you pop up onto the summit. Make sure you find the path through the woods that will take you along the summit ridge line.

Hike: Hammond Pond Wild Forest, 2 miles RT, easy hike.

Credit: Kristi Brennan
Credit: Kristi Brennan

Hurricane Mountain from Route 9N

The best “Oh my God, no!” moment is when you step out for a view at 2.8 miles and see the fire tower still looks impossibly far away. Spoiler alert: It really isn’t that far—only 7/10ths of a mile to go! From here, it is a quick roller coaster of a hike through some pretty forest, before you get spit out onto the summit rock. Oh, and the views? They’re to die for. So, pack a lunch, and stay to enjoy the summit—in any season.

Hike: Hurricane Mountain Wilderness, 6.8 miles RT, moderate hike.

Credit: Kristi Brennan
Credit: Kristi Brennan

Jay Mountain

It ends in a 1.5-mile ridge hike. Need I say more? How about gentle switchbacks that your knees will thank you for, stellar views of Whiteface, and rock cairns taller than you? Still not enough? If a 1.5-mile ridge hike doesn’t make your heart go pitter-pat, then you probably should find a new outdoor hobby.

Hike: Jay Mountain Wilderness, 8 miles RT, moderate hike.

Credit: Kristi Brennan
Credit: Kristi Brennan

Mt. Jo

For a return on your investment, this is one of the best hikes out there. A mere 1.1 miles and 700 feet of elevation gain will get you some of the prettiest High Peak views from a non-High Peak summit. And, there are not one but TWO ways to reach the top: the Short Trail (steeper) or the Long Trail (less steep but longer).

Hike: High Peaks Wilderness Area, 2.2 miles RT for the Short Trail and 2.6 miles RT for the Long Trail, easy to moderate hike.

Credit: Kisti Brennan
Credit: Kisti Brennan

Ampersand Mountain

Which mountain do you summit when you want to feel as if you have worked for your hike AND you want 360-degree views? Ampersand. Not only are the sights gasp-worthy, but there is plenty of rock to pull up and sit a spell.

Hike: High Peaks Wilderness Area, 5.4 miles RT, moderate hike.

Credit: Kisti Brennan
Credit: Kisti Brennan

Haystack Mountain

No, not the High Peak. It’s mud season, remember? This one is just outside Saranac Lake and offers a mighty pleasant walk through the prettiest woods I’ve seen since the last time I hiked through trees and duff in the Adirondack Park. (Am I right? Isn’t every bit of the park absolutely gorgeous?) Don’t get too complacent, however, as the eventual elevation gain is serious enough to break a sweat, but the views from the open rock ledge are worth every droplet.

Hike: McKenzie Mountain Wilderness, 6.6 miles RT, easy to moderate hike.

 

Not sure what else is on the recommended “OK-to-hike-without-eroding-the-trails-further” list? Follow this link to a DEC page that will give you a full list of recommended mud season hikes, and make sure to also sign up for updates.


Beyond 48: The Northeast's Hardest Hiking Checklists

For many people, just getting to the top of a New Hampshire 4,000-footer is a big accomplishment. For others, summiting all 48 of the state’s 4,000-footers is the ultimate goal and a sign that you’ve “made it” as a New England hiker.

But, for a select few, the White Mountains and New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers get in your blood. So, the idea of stopping at just 48 seems ludicrous. For these people, they move on to tackling more challenging ways to summit the New Hampshire 48, whether by linking them, attempting them in different seasons, or exploring them by different trails.

The view from the Southern Presidentials. | Credit: Sean Greaney
The view from the Southern Presidentials. | Credit: Sean Greaney

The Big Hikes

In many cases, hiking your first 4,000-footer involves getting out of your comfort zone, accepting a new physical challenge, and returning to your car with a blend of jubilation and exhaustion. Perhaps it’s the desire to recreate this feeling that leads some to move on from the 48 summits to the White Mountains’ classic long, hard hikes.

Presidential Traverse

The most notable, the 18-plus mile Presidential Traverse climbs over 8,500 feet while summiting seven New Hampshire 4,000-footers. For planning out your journey, this includes Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, and Pierce. Some ambitious hikers even continue the extra couple of miles to tag the summit of Mount Jackson.

Carter-Moriah-Wildcat Traverse

Although the Presidential Traverse gets most of the attention and has more climbing, many insist that a Carter-Moriah-Wildcat Traverse is more difficult. Helping it earn this reputation, its steep rock trails and 7,200 feet of climbing take you over six 4,000-foot summits. Here, that list covers Moriah, South Carter, Middle Carter, Carter Dome, Wildcat A, and Wildcat D. However, losing the majority of the elevation previously gained and having to reclaim it near the middle at Carter Notch really make the Carter-Moriah-Wildcat Traverse feel difficult.

Pemi Loop

While traverses are great, sometimes you want to go big but only have access to one car. Here is where the Pemi Loop rules. The route, as you may know, combines two of the White Mountains’ classic traverses—Franconia Ridge and the Bonds—into what Backpacker Magazine has labeled the country’s second-hardest day-hike.

Covering over 30 miles and 9,000 feet of elevation gain, this legendary loop hike tags the summits of nine New Hampshire 4,000-footers. This time, you’ll reach Flume, Liberty, Lincoln, Lafayette, Garfield, South Twin, West Bond, Bond, and Bondcliff. The truly ambitious and fit will then add the summits of Galehead, Zealand, and North Twin for an almost 40-mile day that summits 12 peaks.

Credit: Hannah Wohltmann
Credit: Hannah Wohltmann

Gridding

Although the big hikes present equally large challenges, they can all feasibly be done in a day. For those looking for a longer-term commitment, on the other hand, you can attempt “gridding.” Gridding is defined as hiking every New Hampshire 4,000-footer in every month of the year. These journeys amount to a grand total of 576 summits and appeal to those of us who love checking boxes off our lists.

Until this January, completing the grid was considered a multi-year objective—that is, until Sue Johnston of Littleton, NH, became the first person to do it in a calendar year. And, according to the definitive website for gridders, 48×12.com, only 70 people have completed the whole shebang.

Named for the 48 x 12 spreadsheet used to document ascents, gridding adds the challenge of facing each and every mountain in all possible conditions. That covers the snow and ice of winter to the mud of spring to the heat and humidity of summer to the treacherous leaves of fall.

Credit: Jeff Jacobsen
Credit: Jeff Jacobsen

Red-Lining

If the idea of gridding sounds overly ambitious to you, red-lining will sound downright crazy. While hiking the New Hampshire 48 and gridding revolve around summiting the White Mountains’ highest peaks, red-liners seek to hike every mile of every trail, including viewpoints, campsites, and spur trails (approximately 1,420 miles) found in the AMC White Mountain Guide.

If that sounds like a lot of mileage, take into consideration that many of the trails are out-and-backs or crisscross with others. Typically, this forces red-liners to hike far more miles than just the 1,420 miles required.

Named after the act of highlighting completed trail sections, red-lining is most frequently done over multiple years. What’s truly incredible about it is, considering its relative closeness to major metropolitan areas and hiking’s surging popularity, only 35 people have finished the endeavor. One includes EMS customer Bill Robichaud, who we featured back in 2015:

Redlining the White Mountains

While summiting all 4,000-footers is an incredible accomplishment, you don’t have to stop there! New Hampshire’s White Mountains can be explored and experienced in so many different ways. Whether you want to repeat your favorites, tackle the hardest, grid, red-line, or invent some new way to keep the challenge alive, just remember that the 48th summit doesn’t have to be your last.


A Guide to Backpacking Jersey's Batona Trail

Weaving through seemingly endless pines, the Batona Trail in southern New Jersey provides a rare opportunity for tranquil solitude in a densely populated area. Short for back to nature, the trail traverses several state parks and protected areas, giving hikers an unparalleled Pinelands experience.

The scenery is flush with Pitch Pine and Scrub Oak, with intermittent groves of Atlantic White Cedar. The Pinelands are known for the tea-colored streams and rivers, rich with the tannins of leaves and pine needles left undisturbed for years and quietly flowing past sandy banks. The area has a unique history, and the trail itself connects with several sites, allowing passers-by a glimpse of the Pine Barrens’ interesting and storied past. While the Batona Trail is a roughly 50-mile thru-hike and always a multi-day backpack, day hikers and kayakers have ample opportunities, as well.

Credit: Joseph Lasky
Credit: Joseph Lasky

Things to Know

If you are considering a hike in the area, keep the following in mind:

  1. Depending on the season, ticks are common. So, treating your clothing with permethrin and using DEET-based repellents will reduce your risk of tick bites. Checking your clothing regularly throughout the day is also a smart practice. Rattlesnakes can be found on the trail in the summer, as well.
  2. Camping should be done in designated areas. So, planning daily trail segments needs to be done with campsite locations in mind.
  3. Potable water is located at several campsites, and water from streams can be treated or filtered.
  4. The Pinelands are typically dry and susceptible to forest fires. So, any cooking done away from campground fire rings must be completed with a stove.
  5. There are ranger stations at Bass River, Batsto Village, and near Four Mile Circle, but not at the northern terminus of the trail (Ong’s Hat). Maps are available at these locations, as well as online.
  6. Keep your eyes out. Though the trail is supposed to be for hikers, occasionally sections may be shared with dirt bikes.
Credit: Joseph Lasky
Credit: Joseph Lasky

Getting Going

Because of its relatively flat nature, the trail is equally enjoyable whether you start from the Bass River or Ong’s Hat terminus. The more popular and perhaps easier-to-find terminus is at Bass River State Park. The trail is clearly marked with pink blazes, and a road crosses in several places, allowing for early exits in case of an emergency.

Bass River immediately immerses you in the heart of the Pinelands, where you quickly leave behind the state’s bustle for the serenity of the forest. From the start, the trail follows an embankment. These are relatively common and used by cranberry farmers to direct water. The hard-packed sand surface remains consistent for nearly the trail’s entirety.

Buttonwood Hill Camp is approximately 15 miles from the start. Getting there makes for an ideal first day, and it sets up an exciting second day.

Credit: Joseph Lasky
Credit: Joseph Lasky

From the Highlands to the Swamps

Leaving Buttonwood Hill and hiking for 3.5 miles, backpackers have the option to head down a short spur trail to visit Batsto Village. This site has preserved the history of the iron ore and glass-blowing industries that defined the Pineland’s economy from the colonial period through the late 19th century. The visitor’s center also provides information on the region’s unique ecological features.

After leaving the village, the trail follows along Batsto Lake and Batsto River, though views of either are few and far between. The section from this point to Lower Forge Camp is one of the lowest in elevation. As such, you’ll find swaths of Atlantic Cedar swamps, which break up the nearly constant “highland” Pitch Pine and Oak.

Depending on the time you spend at Batsto, Lower Forge Camp and Batona Camp are both practical options for camping. Lower Forge is 10 miles from Buttonwood Hill, and Batona is 15. As well, Lower Forge is situated on a creek, while Batona has a potable water well.

The Carranza Memorial is located close to Batona Camp and makes for an interesting short stop. Emilio Carranza, the “Lindberg of Mexico,” was a famed long-distance pilot in the 1920s who crashed in the Pinelands.

Credit: Joseph Lasky
Credit: Joseph Lasky

Hill Climbing

From Batona Camp, the trail passes through swamps before rising to Tea Time Hill, a rare and easily noticeable elevation gain. Then, you continue on to its highest point, Apple Pie Hill, which hosts a fire tower that is still in use. This spot has visitor parking, and other than Batsto Village, this will be the trail’s most populated location. The views are delightful, so stop to take in just how expansive the Pine Barrens are.

The trail then descends from the hilltop and passes along several cranberry bogs. Depending on the time of year, the embankments may be flooded. Here, waterproof boots may be helpful.

The last camp along the trail, Brendan T. Byrne Camp, is roughly 10 miles from Batona Camp, and is another 10 miles from the end. You will likely see day-hikers between Byrne and Four Mile Circle, but the last section to Ong’s Hat is much less traveled.

Other than the obvious sense of accomplishment that accompanies completing a multi-day trek, hikers have the added satisfaction of being in a place called Ong’s Hat. This location was apparently named for a man, Ong, whose hat got stuck high on a pine branch. Be warned: With few services available, Ong’s Hat is virtually a ghost town.

 

No other ecosystem like the Pine Barrens exists in the Northeast. As you hike, you’ll discover it’s home to several endemic plant and animal species that can’t be found anywhere else.

Credit: Joseph Lasky
Credit: Joseph Lasky

Top 9 Exercises to Get in Shape for Hiking Season

Whether you spent the winter hitting the gym, on the slopes, or binging Netflix, your body could probably use a spring tune-up in preparation for warmer weather and lots of summer hiking. Hiking seems much more enjoyable when you can focus on the stellar view and keep up a conversation with your buddies, rather than thinking about your next break while you huff and puff uphill. Plus, you’ll decrease your chances of getting injured if you’re less fatigued and more physically prepared.

Stretch First!

Before you start anything, make sure you limber up. Stretching is crucial to prevent muscle imbalances and to recover from hard workouts or hikes. Remember, dynamic stretches are meant for warm-ups (arm circles, leg swings), and static stretches (ones without movement) are for cooling down. Hiking relies greatly on your calves, hamstrings, quads, and IT band, so make sure you’re keeping these muscles happy.

Here is an extremely effective quad stretch: Get on one knee (proposal style) near a wall, with your back facing it. Scoot back, until the knee on the ground is a few inches from the wall, and fold the bottom of your leg up behind it. You’ll likely have to lean forward to get into this position. Then, slowly start to lean back while straightening up. Be careful not to go too far too fast. Eventually, your back should be parallel to the wall, although this may take some practice. Hold this stretch for a few minutes, and focus on steady breathing. It’s helpful to do this on carpeting or to place a mat under your knee, but you can even do it outside against a tree.

0_Stretch_Female

Most of the moves listed below include weights, but if you don’t have access to any, you can wear your hiking pack stuffed with books or water bottles. You may also opt for beginning without weights, as your own body weight will provide good resistance. The moves may seem difficult at first, but the goal is to work multiple muscles at once while raising your heart rate—similar to what your body experiences during a hike. You can work these into your normal routine by doing three sets of 10 to 15 reps or by alternating intense periods of “work” with shorter periods of rest.

 

1_Jump-Squat_Male

1. Snowboard Jump Squats

Muscles Used: Quads, glutes, hip flexors, core, calves, hamstrings, lower back

How it Helps: This will build the speed, strength, and aerobic capacity needed to scale mountains by fully engaging the lower body and core. The explosiveness of the movement will help you powerfully climb those steep sections.

To Do: Stand with your feet wider than your shoulders and your toes pointed slightly outward, and hold a set of dumbbells between your legs. Squat low and pulse three times before simultaneously jumping and spinning clockwise in the air. The goal is to land 180 degrees from where you began, maintaining the same wide stance. Squat low, pulse three times, and again jump and spin, but this time, do it in a counterclockwise motion. If your balance isn’t great, you might want to practice these a few times without weights.

 

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2. Walking Lunge with Overhead Weight

Muscles Used: Quads, glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, core, deltoids

How it Helps: Increases leg power and speed and improves core stability while you move. This results in a stronger, faster, and better-balanced hiker.

To Do: Start with your feet together and a dumbbell or plate in your hands. Raise the weight overhead, and with your right leg, take a large step forward into a lunge position. Push off your back (left) leg, and then, bring it forward past your right leg into another lunge position. Keep the weight raised overhead the entire time. Keep alternating legs, in a walking manner. Try to move between legs fluidly, not letting your foot hit the ground while you transition into the next lunge. This may be difficult at first, but will help improve balance.

Alternatives: Hold the weight out in front of your chest, or hang it at your side.

 

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3. Wall Balls

Muscles Used: Quads, glutes, calves, hamstrings, abs, chest, lower back, deltoids, biceps, triceps

How it Helps: This total body conditioning and functional movement engages numerous muscles while increasing cardiac capacity. This makes a strong hiker who isn’t sucking wind at the first incline.

To Do: Stand facing a wall, a few inches in front of it, while holding a weighted medicine ball at chest level. Sit back and bend into a deep squat position, keeping the ball at chest level. Rise up quickly, and throw the ball above your head, so it taps the wall. Catch the ball at chest level and repeat. Try getting in a few sets of these first thing every morning. No medicine ball? Fill a basketball or soccer ball with clean sand and patch it up.

 

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4. Bulgarian Split Squat with Press

Muscles Used: Quads, glutes, hamstrings, deltoids, shoulders

How it Helps: Increases leg and arm strength while improving balance, which aids you in traversing steep and uneven terrain.

To Do: Stand a few feet in front of a bench or step, with the toes of the left foot on the bench and a dumbbell in your right hand at shoulder height. Lower into a deep lunge, briefly pausing at the bottom of the movement. Rise back up, pressing the weight above your head as you do. Repeat, lowering the weight to your shoulder as you lower into the lunge again. Do a set of 10 to 15 before switching legs.

Alternative: Hold a set of dumbbells at your sides.

 

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5. Plank Knee Twist

Muscles Used: Abs, obliques, glutes, hamstrings, deltoids, calves

How it Helps: Strengthens your core, which helps to keep you stable while hiking and to prevent back injuries.

To Do: Get in a high plank position (arms fully extended and palms on the floor). Bring your right knee to your left elbow. Return to plank position. Bring your left knee to your right elbow. When returning to plank position, be sure not to drag your foot or lazily put it back into place. You should be fully extending your foot backward, in a smooth and controlled motion.

 

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6. Wall Sits with a Twist

Muscles Used: Quads, glutes, hamstrings, abs, obliques, lower back

How it Helps: Improves balance and posture by strengthening your core. Hiking with good posture and a solid core is key to preventing injuries, slips, and falls.

To Do: Stand with your back against a wall, with your feet slightly wider than your shoulders, as you hold a dumbbell or plate with both hands. Slowly slide down the wall while walking your feet out until the top of your legs are parallel with the ground. Your feet should be far enough out that your knees do not extend over your toes. Keeping your shoulders against the wall, move the weight from the right side of your body to the left, gently touching the wall at each side. To get some fresh air and increase the burn, do these outside against a tree, and try to reach as far as you can around the side of the tree.

 

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7. Curtsy Lunge

Muscles Used: Glutes, hamstrings, quads, inner thighs, biceps, lower back

How it Helps: Strengthens the lower body while increasing your range of motion and improving balance. This allows hikers to tackle tough terrain with confidence.

To Do: Begin standing with your feet together, holding a set of dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing forward. Sweep the right leg behind and past the left leg, lowering into a curtsy. As you descend, curl the weights up, so your forearms are parallel with the ground (bicep curl). Push off the right leg, lower the weights, and return to your starting position, pausing only briefly before switching to the left leg.

 

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8. Climbing Stairs or Step-Ups

Muscles Used: Quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, lower back, core

How it Helps: Climbing stairs greatly mimics climbing a mountain, making it an ideal way to train for hiking. Step-ups are a multi-joint movement that will strengthen your legs and stabilize muscles that keep you strong and limber on your feet.

To Do: Get after ‘em wherever you can: in your office building, a nearby stadium, or the stair climber at the gym. Have a shortage of stairs? Do step-ups instead. All you need is a bench or a sturdy surface higher than where you are standing (12 inches or higher is preferable). Hold dumbbells at your sides, and alternate the foot with which you step up, or do sets of 10 to 15 on each leg to really feel the burn.

9. Running

How it Helps: Hiking can really put your cardiovascular system to the test and is a great way to build endurance, allowing you to take fewer breaks and comfortably keep up conversation.

To Do: Hit the trails to get comfortable moving on uneven terrain and navigating obstacles like rocks and roots. Trail running also helps to strengthen your ankles and the muscles, ligaments, and tendons that stabilize them while you hike. This helps to prevent common injuries like a sprained ankle. You can also train with interval runs, or fartlek (“speed play” in Swedish), by alternating periods of sprinting with periods of walking or light jogging. And, don’t forget to work hills into your run. Not only will hills amp up the cardio quickly, but they also strengthen leg muscles. Try to run at least three days per week: a longer trail run done at a comfortable space, a 20- to 30-minute interval run, and an exceptionally hilly run.


Clean Waterways: The Guide to Greener Soaps

You can’t deny the benefits of Leave No Trace (LNT) camping and hiking. Most who enjoy the outdoors agree that carrying out everything you brought in is the only way to keep trails and campgrounds litter free and natural for your next visit and for others years down the road. Nothing is worse than arriving at a remote location after a great day of hiking, only to find a trashed campsite.

At a time when people are increasingly mobile and are seeking to explore more remote areas, the “pack-it-in, pack-it-out” philosophy is more important than ever. Some of the nicest campsites I have ever found have included a great view of a nearby lake, river, or stream. But, have you ever wondered how your camp might be impacting those waterways you walk beside, swim in, or enjoy paddling? For one, keeping your cookware and yourself clean on the trails with conventional soap has unforeseen consequences for water recreation, for wildlife, and for our waterways’ health.

Credit: Chris Sferra
Credit: Chris Sferra

What are Phosphates, and How Do They Work?

Phosphorus occurs naturally in soils and is one of the environment’s most important nutrients. Phosphates, however, are refined and used in most everyday soaps and detergents. These act as a builder, which enables the soap’s cleaning components to work. In action, this compound removes films, sweat, or grease, allowing you to get yourself or your dishes clean.

While algae and aquatic plants need naturally-occurring phosphorus to grow and survive, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Understand that phosphorus from humans doesn’t just come from soaps and wastewater. As rain runs off the land into waterways, large amounts further wash into streams and rivers.

In areas where agriculture uses phosphorus-based fertilizers, many nutrients end up in a body of water as a result. Excess quantities generate significantly more algae and aquatic plants, which then negatively impact wildlife and recreation.

How does this hurt waterways? Too many phosphates can harm water quality, clog up waterways with excessive vegetation, and create oxygen-deprived dead zones. Over time, this change creates dirtier water and reduces aquatic wildlife. Anyone who has tried to paddle along a lake or river with too much vegetation can relate to the frustration of constantly getting caught in the weeds or cleaning off a heavy paddle laden with plants every few strokes.

Kayak

How Can You Apply LNT to Waterways?

1. Use phosphate-free and biodegradable soaps on the trail

EMS carries Sea to Summit Wilderness Wash and Dr. Bronner’s, two great all-purpose soaps in easily packable, small containers. Both are free of harmful chemicals and phosphates and are biodegradable. Soaps are usually deemed biodegradable if bacteria can break them down to at least 90-percent water, CO2, and organic material within six months. This simple step ensures you aren’t adding anything unnecessary to the land and waterways while you are out there enjoying them.

2. Less is more!

Both of these brands come in small bottles, and the soap is highly concentrated and designed to be diluted. So, save yourself a few bucks, and reduce your impact by diluting a few drops in a small pot before you wash your dishes or your face. If you follow this rule, that green soap will last for many more trips to come.

3. Employ the 200-foot rule

Biodegradable soaps cannot decompose properly if they are washed directly into a body of water. Instead, the breakdown from bacteria and microbes occurs in the soil. To ensure you are reducing your footprint, do your washing at least 200 feet away from a water source. Then, try to dump wastewater into a hole a few inches deep, which can be covered when finished. This way, nature can work its magic and break the soap down before it washes into the stream.

As outdoor-lovers, we are constantly looking for ways to go farther, lighten our loads, and reduce our impacts, so we can continue to do what we enjoy for years to come. As you gear up for warm-weather adventures, be a steward for your sport by using greener soaps and doing your part to protect the waterways we know and appreciate.

The Seven Carries Route in the Adirondacks. | Credit: Marcus Johnson
The Seven Carries Route in the Adirondacks. | Credit: Marcus Johnson

The Dirtbag's Almost-Quiche

The dirtbag lifestyle can certainly hold you back from many of life’s fancier accoutrements. But, with a little creativity and imagination, your kitchen productions don’t need to be one of them.

When it comes to the meal that delivers the fuel required for a long day of dirtbagging, this is one easy, filling, and delicious dish that won’t leave you and your companions broke or out of Coleman fuel, and doesn’t take anything you don’t have easy access to—for instance, nothing that requires immediate refrigeration.

My girlfriend and I were staying in a one-room cabin while volunteering in Northern California, sans electricity, which meant we had to get creative with our meals on a propane stove. But, this recipe is doable on any camp stove or the single-burner in the back of your van. I was the early bird and was sick of eating the standard scrambled egg breakfast in the morning, so, with a little extra time, this became the go-to morning kick-off. This meal is great for car-campers, van lifers, and dirtbaggers alike and serves enough for two people.

Ingredients

  • 2 Kale leaves
  • ¼ Onion
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic
  • ½ a handful of Ginger Root
  • ½ Red Pepper
  • ¼ cup Walnuts
  • ¾ cup Almond Milk
  • 4-6 Eggs
  • ½ Avocado
  • Cheddar Jack Cheese

Directions

Prep: 20 minutes

Bake: 20-30 minutes

Ready in: 40-50 minutes

 

Sautée last night's veggies over whatever stove you have; In our case, a Biolite. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Sautée last night’s veggies over whatever stove you have—in our case, a Biolite. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Mix eggs and almond milk. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Mix eggs and almond milk. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Prep:

  1. Sautée some veggies (ideally, leftovers from last night’s dinner) in a single pan.
  2. Grab a pot and cover the bottom with avocado or olive oil.
  3. Scramble the eggs in the pot.
  4. Add ¾ cup of almond milk to the eggs.
  5. Add 2 to 3 handfuls of walnuts.
  6. Stir the pot’s contents, until you have an even mix.
The second pot or pan distributes the heat better. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
The second pot or pan distributes the heat better. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Cook until firm on top. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Cook until dry on top. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Bake:

  1. Take a third pan, and place it over top of the burner. By adding an extra layer between the stove and the pot you’re actually cooking with, you’re dispersing the heat slightly more and creating a more reliable simmer.
  2. Place the pot with the egg mix on top of the pan and cover it.
  3. Let your soon-to-be “quiche” bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until it is relatively dry on top.
  4. In the last few minutes it’s on the stove, sprinkle cheese on top of the quiche as desired.
  5. Let your “quiche” cool for 5 minutes.
  6. Cut up your quiche and top with avocado and cheese.
  7. Add salt/spices/Sriracha to taste!

Top 5 Reasons to Hike the AT SoBo

Each year, thousands of people head to Georgia or Maine, looking to start their journey across almost 2,200 miles of wilderness. Most of these Appalachian Trail hikers choose to work their way north, giving them time to build up strength for the harder sections later and to get the full (social) AT experience.

So, if going northbound on the AT is the more popular option, then why should someone start their thru-hike in Maine? It turns out, heading down the trail might be the way to go.

Mount Katahdin in Maine. | Credit: Chris Bennett
Mount Katahdin in Maine. | Credit: Chris Bennett

1. Get the toughest part done first

One of the biggest complaints against going southbound (SoBo) is the beginning: It can be boring, especially when compared to the finale. When starting in Maine, hikers spend day one on Mt. Katahdin, the highest and toughest mountain on the trail. Even after the 4,200-foot ascent, the mountain is immediately followed by the 100 Mile Wilderness, which requires eight to ten days without resupply—which means you’ll need to carry all of your food. Plus, the Presidential Range and New Hampshire’s White Mountains loom in the distance, making the first few weeks a challenge, to say the least.

From the start, this route is only for those of strong will and even stronger bodies. But, once the trial by fire is over, it’s a (relatively) easy hike from there on out.

Credit: Aaron Anderstrom
Credit: Aaron Anderstrom

2. Finding shelter is less of a hassle

Half of the northbound journey’s allure is the social aspect. With so many other hikers headed the same way, it’s easy to find a group to join you. The downside? Finding room in the shelters along the trail becomes a pain.

When traveling southbound, you can worry less about shelters being crowded. At the beginning, there aren’t too many other hikers trying to camp out—they’re all in the Southern areas—and by the time you start running into northbound hikers, a majority of them have either dropped off the trail or have spread out. So, while the solitude might be overwhelming at times, at least you’ll know where to sleep when night rolls around.

A section of the AT through the Smoky Mountains. | Credit: Patrick French
A section of the AT through the Great Smoky Mountains. | Credit: Patrick French

3. No time crunch to the finish

Among the many things that go into planning a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, scheduling around the seasonal closure of Maine’s Baxter State Park is one not to overlook.

For people traveling northbound, timing is more important if they want to finish in one go. If hikers go too late, they may risk getting shut out of the trip’s last leg when Baxter State Park closes in mid-October for the winter. But, southbound backpackers don’t have that problem; once the park opens in May or June, there is no rush to finish, as none of the Southern parks close for the season.

One water crossing in a Maine portion of the AT. | Credit: Adam Joseph
One water crossing in a Maine portion of the AT. | Credit: Adam Joseph

4. Less time in cold weather

Despite leaving several months later than northbound hikers, those heading southbound have to worry more about summer than winter weather. Most hikers going south leave around June or July, once Baxter State Park is open, and are usually traveling through the summer and fall months. Only during the last month or two does the winter weather start to kick in, though, by that point, you’ll be much further south.

On the other hand, backpackers heading north are usually dealing with winter weather in March and April, and still have cold conditions to look forward to in New Hampshire and Maine when they arrive in September or October.

The Pochuck boardwalk on the AT in Vernon, New Jersey. | Credit: Matthew Charpentier
The Pochuck boardwalk on the AT in Vernon, New Jersey. | Credit: Matthew Charpentier

5. Join an even more prestigious group of hikers

Hiking the Appalachian Trail is without a doubt an impressive feat for anyone to accomplish, and being a part of the 2,000-Miler club is something to be proud of, no matter how long it took or what route worked out best. However, out of the thousands of people who have completed the journey, only about 1,250 hikers, as of 2014, have completed the SoBo Appalachian Trail. That means, anyone who joins that list will have a little bit more to brag about at the next thru-hikers’ bar.