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.

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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.

 

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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.


10 Tips for Spending the Night in a Lean-To

Shedding the weight of a tent on the occasional backpacking trip can be a big relief. After a long day of hiking, outdoor adventurers can take a deep breath when they remove their packs and lay down in one of these five-star backcountry hotel rooms.

Lean-tos are comparatively lavish accommodations for being so deep in the wilderness. Solid, usually dry wood floors, a storm-proof roof overhead, and a sleeping bag view worthy of only having three walls make these shelters prime campsite real estate and an option every backpacker should have in his or her quiver.

But, for those more familiar with nylon-enclosed nights out, these cozy shelters can take a little adjustment. Optimize your stay by considering these tips:

Carry Leanto in the Adirondack Park. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Carry Lean-to in the Adirondack Park. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

1. Understand the lean-to’s rules

Parks have rules in place to ensure the lean-tos’ longevity. Oftentimes, tents are not allowed to be set up inside, and only certain materials can be used to block off the shelter’s front. Lean-tos, as well, may have a fire ring, but some only allow the use of camping stoves. So, check the park’s website before heading out on your trip!

2. Have a backup plan

Sometimes, your map will bring you to an empty spot where there used to be a lean-to. Or, the shelter where you planned on staying may already be full. Although, with a shelter able to hold eight people on average, it’s a courtesy for inhabitants to squeeze until that limit is reached. So, always make a Plan B in advance.

3. Find a nearby stream

When you arrive, check your map and go exploring to find a stream. Filling up your water supply right off the bat ensures that your campsite duties run smoothly, from boiling water to washing dishes. Just make sure you filter out anything you don’t boil!

Fifth Peak Leanto in the Adirondack Park. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Fifth Peak Leanto in the Adirondack Park. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

4. Keep everything organized

Organization is key in making sure any overnight outdoor adventure is enjoyable. Keep your gear organized inside the shelter, and divide tasks up between the people in your party to ensure smooth sailing at your campsite.

5. Bring a pair of camp shoes

Having a pair of clean camp shoes keeps all the dirt and mud from your hike out of the lean-to. It also gives your feet a chance to breathe and your shoes and socks some extra time to dry out. And, because you’re probably not bringing a tent, your pack has ample space to carry along something light.

6. Find out if a composting toilet is nearby

When nature calls, knowing the location of the throne makes life much less hectic. If the area has no composting toilet, be considerate and hike at least 150 feet from water, trails, and campsites and dig a cathole.

Nightime at the Adirondack High Peak's Uphill Leanto. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Nightime at the Adirondack High Peaks’ Uphill Leanto. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

7. Bring your normal camping sleep setup

Although lean-tos offer a flat, cozy place to spend the night, the humble amenities only include a wooden floor. To prepare, be sure to bring a sleeping pad and sleeping bag.

8. Leave no trace!

This is the golden rule for enjoying the outdoors. Lean-tos and established campsites help minimize human impact on the forest, and odds are in a given season, hundreds of people will stay in any single lean-to. So, do your part, and keep both the shelter and the surrounding area clean and free of garbage.

9. Be prepared

Lean-tos are only closed on three sides. This means, if the wind is strong enough, rain can get in. Bugs and wildlife also have no problem sharing the lean-to with you. And, during the winter, snow can pile up outside and may blow inside the shelter.

To create a shield in front, consider bringing a nylon tarp and rope, but be sure to read the lean-to’s rules in advance, as nails are not allowed. If snow is predicted, bring a lightweight shovel, because you may need to dig your way out in the morning.

10. Respect the area

Lean-tos are a gift and should be respected and appreciated. If something needs to be repaired at a shelter where you stayed, let a park official know, or even volunteer your own time to do it. Keep your trail-karma high by always leaving the lean-to area better than how you found it!

 

The next time you stay in a lean-to, keep this information in mind. Can you think of any other tips? Share them here in the comments section!

Credit: Edmund Falkowski
Credit: Edmund Falkowski

7 Tips for Wet Weather Hiking

Spring is upon us, which means that the temperatures are rising and more adventurers are heading outside. But, sometimes, a rainy forecast or a surprise storm challenges our spring trips. Don’t let it discourage you, however. If you’re prepared, it should hardly slow you down! Embrace the wetness with these tips:

1. Pack Garbage Bags and Ziploc Bags

Garbage bags and Ziplocs are cheap, light, and effective solutions for rainy weather’s challenges. Keep one or two in your pack throughout the season for emergency waterproofing, and pack less-critical items inside them. On the other hand, more important stuff, such as phones, headlamps, and other electronics, should be packed in more waterproof, durable, and trustworthy roll-top dry bags.

Rainy Hiking

2. Dress for the Occasion

Water’s thermal conductivity is 26 times that of air. So, your body loses heat four times as fast when you get wet! A 60° F sunny day is beautiful, but a 60° F rainy day can pose hypothermia risks if you are not prepared. As a solution, shells and rain jackets make adventuring in inclement weather possible and are much more breathable than garbage bags. As well, synthetic clothing like EMS® Techwick® will help prevent hypothermia.

For selecting the right gear, check out our “Top 7 Rainy Day Hiking Essentials” to see if you need to make a stop at your local EMS. As well, if your equipment’s water repellency needs to be restored after the winter season, read “A Guide to Picking the Right Nikwax Product” beforehand.

3. Pack Extra Calories

Hiking in muddy conditions is physically demanding, and wet trails can take more out of you than an easy dry hike. So, be sure to pack extra calorie-dense foods to keep yourself fueled up.

When backpacking, be aware that, in a downpour, you may not be able to cook food, so items like trail mix and energy bars are a safe bet. Finding shelter to get out of the rain while you take a break to eat can make a big difference, too.

Rainy Camping

4. Optimize Overnight Trips

For extended trips, make sure you have a way to dry your clothes and boots out. As backup, always carry dry clothes in a waterproof bag.

Additionally, when you’re pitching your tent, find high ground and avoid basins, or you may wake up in a pool of water! Try to get as little water as possible inside the tent, and if your structure needs it, lay a footprint down when you set up camp. If you are attempting this during a storm, look for sheltered areas where you will be safe if a tree falls.

5. Respect the Woods and Stay on the Trail

Whether you are out for a day hike or an extended trip, spring is a very delicate time for the trails. Even though there may be puddles and mud on the path, stay inside the trail’s edges to minimize erosion and widening.

6. Have an Emergency Plan

In case of a surprise storm, making cautious calls is the key to having an enjoyable experience. Lightning is always serious, so read up on lightning safety before planning any trips. If you happen to be outdoors during a storm, seek lower ground, avoid open areas and isolated trees, and never set up camp near water, as it is a strong electrical conductor.

7. Keep Morale Up!

Hiking in rainy weather challenges you in new ways, both physically and mentally. But, whether the weather turns for the worse or the weekend forecast is foreboding, the outdoors can still be enjoyable. During your journey, notice what looks and sounds different when you are outside in the rain. Odds are good that few people will be out. And, if the rain subsides and the sun comes out, you may even catch a rainbow!

Credit: Gregory Robben
Credit: Gregory Robben

10 Tips to Tackle the New Hampshire 48

Some of us are goal-oriented hikers. It’s nice to have some larger objective to work on and have something to guide and motivate us to get out more. If you live in the Northeast, and especially if you enjoy hiking New Hampshire’s peaks, making your way to the top of all of them is a seriously worthy objective.

New Hampshire has 48 peaks at 4,000 feet or more in elevation, all of which are serious undertakings individually. But, put them all together into one big to-do list? That’s a goal that takes some serious dedication and hard work.

Each year, hundreds of people hike their way through these lists, exploring different routes and trails and getting well-acquainted with peaks and places that had only been names on a map before. And, at the end, it would be hard to deny finishers are some of the most experienced, expertise-packed hikers in the state.

Interested in starting your own checklist of the New Hampshire 48? According to our experts, there are just a few special things you should know:

Credit: Hannah Wholtmann
Credit: Hannah Wholtmann

1. Buy the AMC White Mountain Guide

The most recent copy of this essential guidebook has all of the most up-to-date information on trails, great views, time estimates, mileage, and other key factors. It also comes with folding maps that are helpful to check out before the hike. And, in the back, you’ll find a complete checklist of all 48 peaks for you to tick off. You can also find the official list here

2. Join a Facebook group for local hikers 

A page like “Hike the 4,000 footers of NH!” is a constantly updated, crowdsourced resource. Recent information like road closures and trail conditions is always easy to find. Plus, the group serves as a massive community and a great, experienced pool of people to ask questions and get advice.

You can also use websites and forums like trailsnh.com, newenglandtrailconditions.com, and vftt.org for up-to-date trail conditions.

3. Check the weather

Keep an eye on it a week before, a day before, the night before, and the morning of your hike. The White Mountains’ notorious weather can change in an instant, so it’s best to monitor it as much as possible to avoid surprises and keep you safe if it looks like it might turn ugly. 

Courtesy of Hannah Wohltmann
Courtesy of Hannah Wohltmann

4. But don’t always be deterred by it!

If you wait for good weather on every hike, however, you’d never finish. As long as you have the right gear, getting after it in inclement conditions, like rain, can be just as fun. And, it will show you a whole other side of the mountains you’re climbing.

Obviously, don’t go hiking when it’s stormy or too rough, but a little rain never hurt! Similarly, don’t let the winter slow you down. For this latter point, get a pair of snowshoes first, and take to peaks like Mount Pierce and Mount Hale to make the leap into winter hiking.

5. Take on your list with friends

If the motivation for completing all 48 peaks isn’t enough, having friends with which to work through the list adds an extra level of excitement and drive. Encouragement when the trail gets tough or even when you’re not feeling up to hiking can go a long way. Plus, an adventure with friends, especially when you complete such a major accomplishment, can be extremely rewarding.

6. Pick a mountain to finish on

Your final hike is a big day, so plan ahead to make it special. Do some research to figure out which mountain you want to do your celebrating on.

7. Don’t forget other peaks!

They may not be as tall, but New Hampshire (and the Northeast at large) has plenty of other mountains just as enjoyable as the New Hampshire 48. Hike a shorter one like Mount Cardigan or Mount Willard, or even head over to New York and start ticking off their Adirondack 46. Don’t lose sight of all the other great things to do in the region!

Supermoon
Mount Washington during a Presidential Traverse under a supermoon. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

8. Double-, triple-, or quadruple-up!

48 mountains don’t have to become 48 hikes. Lots of these peaks are close enough together that you can (or might even have to) swing through multiple ones in a day, thus saving you time.

If you’re feeling really ambitious, think about taking on something like the Presidential Traverse. With one very long day, you can bag eight of the largest on your list, plus a few extras, and it’s as rewarding of a day hike as you’ll find anywhere. For longer trips, the route also makes a great weekend overnight.

Peter Barr, all smiles as he finishes four lists at once on top of Mount Carrigain. | Courtesy of Peter Barr
Peter Barr, all smiles as he finishes four lists at once on top of Mount Carrigain. | Courtesy of Peter Barr

9. Join the community!

Aside from being recognized for your major accomplishment, as well as getting a scroll and a cool patch to sew on your backpack, joining a club of hikers more than 10,000 strong is a solid opportunity to contribute to a great organization and support group.

They also offer recognition if you go on to complete all of New England’s 67 4,000-footers or if you complete New England’s 100 highest peaks. They also recognize those hearty souls who brave the elements and dare to climb both lists’ peaks in winter.

Once you finish one of these lists, following just a couple of steps will make it official:

  1. Simply visit the AMC Four Thousand Footer Club’s webpage, and fill out an application.
  2. Be sure to include the date of your final peak, as well as a brief account of one meaningful hike you had along the way.
  3. Submit a $10 application fee, so you can receive your scroll, which is personalized to include your name and completion date, and your patch. 

NH48 Patch

10. Get recognized!

Each year, the Four Thousand Footer Club has a reunion and recognition ceremony for list-finishers at the end of April in Exeter, New Hampshire. This year, EMS is supporting the event, giving away dozens of raffle prizes and celebrating alongside hundreds of accomplished hikers. Not a finisher? No problem: The event is free and open to all, and is a great opportunity for meeting aspiring hikers to get into the game.

Please visit their website for more details, and come to the event at Exeter High School on April 22nd to see what hiking the New Hampshire 48 is all about!


Winter-Summer Pairings: Shoulder Season Multisport Days

As we head into spring, many outdoor people find themselves conflicted on which sports to pursue. Should they get a head start on their favorite summer activities? Or, should they wring the last bit of life out of their favorite winter sports? Around this time each year, I find myself torn between the desire to get back on the trails (or rock) and—with the knowledge that, once the snow melts, it will be months before I can ski again—my love for spring corn. Luckily, New England is full of great opportunities for those of us who can’t decide what we want to do.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Bag a 4,000-footer and ski the resort

New England springs often offer cold nights and warm days. This means the snow is firm in the morning and soft in the afternoon, so the ski trails aren’t always in prime condition until later in the day.

Waterville Valley is perfect for days like this! With the Tecumseh Trail leading directly from the Waterville Valley parking lot to Mount Tecumseh’s summit, you can tag a 4,000-footer in the morning and ski in the afternoon. Being the shortest of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers, Mount Tecumseh is one of the easier hikes to tick off your list (roughly six miles round trip and with 2,500 feet of elevation gain). This leaves you with plenty of energy to enjoy the steep runs located off Waterville’s aptly named Sunnyside Triple trail in the afternoon.

Cliip a Dee Doo Dah (5.3) at Rumney. | Credit: Tim Peck
Cliip a Dee Doo Dah (5.3) at Rumney. | Credit: Tim Peck

2. Ski and send

Over the years, Cannon Mountain has developed a loyal following of skiers and boarders more interested in amazing terrain than in on-mountain amenities. If you’re like me and consider a chairlift an amenity, they even offer an $8 uphill pass that allows you to skip the lifts and skin uphill on designated trails. Even better, in good seasons, the mountain will close for the year with an abundance of snow still on it, offering great skiing for only the price of the calories and sweat it takes to get you to the top of it.

Coming from south of Franconia Notch in the spring, I love to blend a morning of earning my turns at Cannon Mountain with clipping bolts at Rumney on the way home. With an abundance of crags close to the parking lot, many of which get great afternoon sun, this trip is the perfect way to bid farewell to skiing and usher in climbing.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Mount Wachusett, multisport playground

For years, I was lucky enough to live close to Mount Wachusett in Princeton, Massachusetts. While the mountain may be limited in terrain, it is in no way limited in opportunities for an incredible multisport spring day. Whether you’re skinning up the mountain before it opens, riding the lifts, or lucky enough to be getting turns after it has closed for the season, the skiing is almost always fun. As well, the mountain’s more limited terrain won’t have you feeling like you’re missing out as you leave to pursue other activities.

Much like Mount Tecumseh, Mount Wachusett’s summit is attainable simply by following trails leaving from the ski resort’s parking lot. Combining a morning on the slopes with a quick trek to the summit is a fantastic way to get your hiking legs under you without missing a chance to ski the soft spring snow. My favorite route has always been following the Balance Rock Trail to the Semuhenna Trail to the Harrington Trail to the summit.

Of course, as good as Mount Wachusett’s hiking trails are, the roads surrounding the mountain are basically tailor-made for cycling. After a morning on the slopes, I love to challenge myself with any number of loop rides that start in the ski resort’s parking lot and climb over the mountain. I like to descend Route 140 and hook up with Route 62. From Route 62, you can connect with Mountain Road to climb up and over Mount Wachusett.

If combining hiking or biking with skiing isn’t interesting enough for you, Mount Wachusett is also located only a few minutes down the road from Crow Hill, one of Massachusetts’ oldest and most notorious crags, and is roughly an hour away from some of New England’s most popular bouldering at Lincoln Woods in Rhode Island.

Although I am not big on playing in the water, one of my friends insists the ultimate multisport opportunity afforded by Mount Wachusett is the chance to play on frozen water in the morning and moving water in the afternoon. For those that don’t know, Mount Wachusett is roughly an hour away from popular surf spots in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

 

While spring is the season in which we say goodbye to our favorite winter sports and welcome in our summer activities of choice, there are a few magical weeks where your outdoor options are almost unlimited, making it perfect for the person who wants to do everything.


MntnReview: The Simple Beauty of the Car Bivy

Backpacking tents seem to get more high tech, weigh less, and pack smaller every year. Conversely, car camping tents get larger and deliver more living space and creature comforts while being less bulky, setting up easier, and offering more features. In spite of tents’ many advances, many outdoor people continue to use the car bivy, a tried-and-true dirtbag method for sleeping in the outdoors.

car bivy [kär bi-vē] n : The experience or act of forgoing the comfort of renting a room, or the inconvenience of pitching a tent, in favor of sleeping in the car.

To many people, the idea of someone sleeping in his or her car is pretty sad, but for a select group, the car bivy is the most practical—and least expensive—way to get close to their outdoor objectives. Whether in a campground, at a trailhead, or covertly on the edge of a Walmart parking lot, this method provides a low-cost, no-frills sleeping option.

While it may sound strange that individuals who often possess thousands of dollars’ worth of high-tech equipment, wear clothes made of expensive, cutting-edge materials, and also probably own an expensive tent (or three) would intentionally sleep in the car, it happens all the time. The truth is, by cutting corners on the cost of a motel or campsite, a hardened outdoor person can devote those funds to new boots, a new jacket, some other “must-have” piece of outdoor gear, or simply a campsite when it’s really needed.

My sleeping preference will always lie with beds. However, the practical outdoor person in me has spent a fair number of nights curled up in the back of my Subaru wagon, sleeping in the bed of a friend’s truck, or trying to get comfortable in the driver’s seat of a rental car. While seasoned dirtbags will tell you about the year they traveled the U.S. in their Saturn, I believe the car bivy is at its best when used for a day or two at most, and truly excels when you are only looking to get a few hours of sleep before an early start—for example, driving to a trailhead and briefly knocking out before a big day and an alpine start. 

EMS - BIG SUR -5229-Camping

Picking the Right Rolling Bed

The same qualities that lead people to the car bivy in the first place are, ironically, also the qualities that ensure they will probably rent the worst possible vehicle. Before heading to Mount Hood, I knew my climbing partner and I would spend somewhere between one and three days sleeping in the car. Yet, I never let that stop me from renting the cheapest (read: smallest) model available.

When booking a rental car from the comfort of your living room, it’s easy to talk about roughing it. The reality is, it’s easy to envision yourself in the mountains, but it’s harder to picture what life will look like if you’re storm-bound in a compact car jammed with skis, packs, jackets, food, and all the other gear that coincides with a ski mountaineering trip. Sleeping in the driver’s seat is hard enough. It can be almost impossible if you’re unable to push the seat back or recline it.

Taking Care of Your Car Bivy

The crazy thing about the rental car bivy is that, even when renting the cheapest available, it still tends to be nice. I’ve never had a rental with more than a few thousand miles on it, and most would pass for new. But, it’s a shame how disgusting they are when returned after a few days of serving as a bedroom, living room, kitchen, and mudroom in the outdoors.

While on Mount Hood, we took great care not to drag too much sand and mud into the car from the parking lot. But, there was no avoiding the skis de-icing in the trunk, our boots airing out in the backseat, and heaps of layers in various states of drying draped anywhere we could find space. Oh, and as the car obviously doesn’t have a shower, after a few days of ski touring, the vehicle’s unique smell only gets more pungent. By the end of the trip, the car stunk, and despite driving around with the windows open for a few hours before returning it, I’m afraid that smell isn’t going away.

Despite all of the car bivy’s negatives, I still had a fantastic time. In fact, the moment I got back, I began plotting my next adventure—one that will most likely involve another car bivy, complete with a too-small vehicle. In the end, the disjointed sleep, weird food, weirder bathrooms, strange smells, and all the other challenges presented merely added to the adventure. Maybe, then, the reason this method has grown to prominence is, why else would you get up at one o’clock in the morning to climb a mountain, other than you have to get out of the car?

[Credit: Tim Peck]
Credit: Tim Peck