Kitted Out: Trail Running in the Mud

April showers bring May flowers…but also mud. A whole lot of mud. So much mud, in fact, that the New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation advises and requests that all hikers keep treks below 2,500 feet in elevation to help maintain the structural integrity of the trails that we all love and enjoy. So, the question arises, what do you do in the meantime? One option in the spring is some trail running, and when it comes to spring trail running, the muddier, the better.

Before you set out on a muddy trail run, you need to make sure you’re properly equipped to deal with the conditions you’re likely to encounter. Below is a list of the items to carry with you on any spring trail run:

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GPS Watch & Phone: Suunto Spartan Trainer HR

A good GPS watch, like the Suunto Spartan Trainer HR, paired with a smartphone and a Strava account is the perfect way to track your runs and keep a tally of how many miles you’ve covered, elevation change, and any training progress you’ve made. Good waterproofing and battery life, a heart rate monitor, plus a low profile and sleek design give you the ideal trail running watch. Most GPS smartwatches will sync to your phone via an app, and then you can create and connect to a free Strava account to keep track of your miles, personal bests, and progressions!

Lightweight Rain Shell: Marmot PreCip Jacket

If it’s spring and you’re on a trail, chances are you’re going to get muddy. Typically, it’s also cold enough where just a lightweight top will be warm enough, so it’s best to bring along a lightweight rain shell like the Marmot PreCip jacket At only 13 ounces, it’s incredibly lightweight, packable, and breathable, but also gives you just enough coverage on top to prevent getting soaked, keeping your core a little bit warmer so you can add on those extra miles without getting hypothermic.

Running Hat: Outdoor Research Swift Hat

A lot of times during the spring season, it’s not just muddy, it’s also raining! Throw on a hat, because hoods on any jacket are tough to keep up when you’re running. Lightweight and moisture-wicking are two features you definitely need for any trail running cap, and the Outdoor Research Swift hat is the perfect head covering for any day on trail.

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Waterproof Trail Runners: Salomon Sense Ride GTX

If you’re on a muddy trail, you’re going to want to keep your feet dry. A wet foot is an unhappy foot when it comes to running, and trail running is no exception! A good waterproof trailer runner, like the Salomon Sense Ride GTX, combined with a water-repellent gaiter, will be able to keep your feet dry and happy while you tackle those trails. With a more cushioned, relaxing ride, the Sense Ride GTX is unique due to its waterproofing: Instead of a traditional waterproof booty inside the shoe, the Sense Ride GTX uses Gore Invisible Fit technology, which incorporates the waterproofing into the outer material, and lets the shoe feel more like traditional mesh on your foot.

Gaiters: Outdoor Research Flex-Trek II

To go along with your waterproof shoes, you’re going to need some protection above the ankle. Mud, sticks, rocks and more can get down inside your shoes, and ruin an otherwise great day out on the trail. Water-repellent, low-height gaiters, like the Outdoor Research Flex-Tex II gaiters are lightweight, have a low profile, and you’ll never even notice you’re wearing them.

Moisture-Wicking Top & Shorts: EMS Techwick Essentials/Essence Crew and Impact Training Short

EMS’ Techwick is the way to go when it comes to lightweight, comfortable moisture-wicking clothing. On top, a great choice is the Techwick Essentials/Essence Crew (men’s/women’s), which comes in a variety of styles and colors. This shirt is soft and comfortable, lightweight, and wicks moisture nearly as fast as you can produce it, which is certainly helpful when you’re heading full steam through wet, muddy trails. When it comes to below the waist,  the EMS Techwick Impact Training Short (men’s/women’s) is a versatile running short that will wick away moisture and keep you running comfortably. These shorts are lightweight, comfortable, and most importantly, breathable, which is a must for any adventure where you’ll be exerting yourself. With 3 pockets, you gain an advantage over most other running shorts, which typically only come with one at best.

Running Socks: Smartwool PhD Run

You’ll want a thinner, lightweight sock that keeps you warm even if it gets wet, and also doesn’t carry odor like normal cotton socks will. Merino wool socks are the way to go and with a variety of sizes, heights, and thicknesses, Smartwool gives you plenty of options. Specifically, the Smartwool PhD Run Lite Elite Pattern Low Cut feature top-tier comfort and moisture management.

Trail Running Vest: CamelBak Circuit Hydration Vest

It doesn’t matter if you’re heading out for 5 miles or 50, you should always make sure you’re prepared with the right gear, but carrying it while you’re running can be a hassle. A good trail running vest will let you carry water, nutrition, and small supplies without sacrificing a smooth, comfortable fit that won’t bounce as you fly along the trails. The CamelBak Circuit Hydration Vest does all of these, comes with a 1.5-liter bladder, and has another 3.5 liters for gear storage (extra socks, snacks, and even stashing another shirt).

Nutrition & Hydration

You want to make sure you’re properly fueling and hydrating, even during a muddy trail run. For proper hydration and electrolytes, Nuun Active Effervescent Electrolyte Supplements are the go-to for endurance activity performance. Coming in a variety of flavors from strawberry lemonade to fruit punch, grape and more (some even have caffeine to give you that extra boost), Nuun tablets just get dropped into your bladder and after a few minutes, you’re good to go! For quick snacks on the go, Clif and Gu make gels that are a little messy and sticky, but easy to consume mid-run. Finally, my personal favorite snack for on the trail are gummies. Clif, Gu, and Honey Stinger all make some really delicious flavors that will help keep you going, and staving off hunger while you tackle the vert and chase those views.

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What to Look for in an Early-Season Overnighter

The transition from winter is an awakening of the senses in the forest. The din of a pond teeming with newly-roused frogs, the impossibly clean aroma of snowmelt-swollen brooks mixed with budding flora, and the warmth of the sun on bare skin as it makes its way through the still leafless trees. These are the harbingers of spring, invigorating signs that we can go outside again.

Early season outings have their advantages and chief among them is the temperature: it’s not frigid, but not sweltering either. It’s warm enough to shed some of the heavier winter gear but it’s cool enough to keep the bugs and the crowds at bay. It’s also a time when water is plentiful, and a trail that might be dry as a bone in high summer will yield more than enough to keep that filter pumping.

On the flip side, being out in the spring in the northeast means you’re going to get wet. Wherever you’re going, bring rain gear, good (waterproof) footwear, and a change of clothes to stay dry in camp. Breaking out the hammock in lieu of a tent—and getting out of the mud—is also a smart move this time of year.

Any way you look at it though, it’s great to get back out there. Here are some tips on what to look for when selecting a spring backpacking trip.

The warmer lowlands and foothills can offer a reprieve from the snow and ice of the northeast’s mountains. | Credit: John Lepak
The warmer lowlands and foothills can offer a reprieve from the snow and ice of the northeast’s mountains. | Credit: John Lepak

Stay Low

For the high peaks of the Northeast, winter is a very long season where snow, ice, and some nasty chill can hang around until late. Ergo, if spring is what you’re looking for in a backpacking trip, it’s best to stick to lower elevations where the warmer temperatures creep in first. Fortunately, the Northeast boasts more than a few lowland backpacking routes, each with their own degree of natural splendor, rugged wilderness, and physical challenge. Spring will inevitably come for the mountains of the Adirondacks or the Whites, but in the meantime, the valleys are where you can find the change of season.

Cranberry Lake 50, Adirondacks

Located far in the northwestern corner of the Adirondack State Park, Cranberry Lake and its namesake hiking trail offer one of the top lowland wilderness experiences in the Northeast. Ample camping, arresting vistas, and real remoteness make this 50-mile loop hike a legitimate classic. Do it in early spring before the bugs wake up.

Lower Pemigewasset Loop, White Mountains

While the traditional Pemi Loop traverses the great ridges and summits of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, the lowland route—linking the Franconia Brook and Lincoln Brook Trails in an 18-mile loop around Owl’s Head with an overnight at Thirteen Falls Tentsite—is a wild, super remote alternative. Be prepared for a lot of water and know how to make a crossing safely.

Spring reaches the southern ranges like the Catskills, Taconics, and the Berkshires first. | Credit: John Lepak
Spring reaches the southern ranges like the Catskills, Taconics, and the Berkshires first. | Credit: John Lepak

Southern Exposure

Spring’s claim on the region moves from south to north, making landfall along Long Island Sound long before the snow starts to melt in the Great North Woods. This is great news for those hardy lovers of the cold among us, as the combination of elevation and location work to extend the ice climbing and skiing seasons well beyond the calendar’s winter. If that’s not your game, it’s best you turn your eyes to the south: friendlier climates make destinations like the Catskills, the Taconics, and the Poconos perfect for that first big trip of the season.

South Taconic Trail, Taconic Range

Stretching 16 miles along the New York–Massachusetts border, the South Taconic Trail is a gem of a hike all-too-often overlooked by the area’s backpackers. Steep climbs are rewarded with grassy summit balds and panoramic views atop Brace and Alander Mountains, and cool side trips—like the New York–Connecticut–Massachusetts boundary marker and Bash Bish Falls—make for a great weekend outing.

Burroughs Range Traverse, Catskills

Doable as a 10-mile shuttle or a 15-mile loop, the Burroughs Range is a Catskills classic that bags three peaks above 3,500 feet: Wittenberg, Cornell, and the tallest of them all, Slide. The opening climb is steep but gains what’s arguably the best summit view in the region. Beyond that is a rugged ridge walk that includes the Cornell Crack: a fun—and tricky—semi-technical rock obstacle.

Trailside shelters are great for shoulder season hiking when rain and mud tend to be at their worst. | Credit John Lepak
Trailside shelters are great for shoulder season hiking when rain and mud tend to be at their worst. | Credit John Lepak

Seek Shelter

Another excellent way to open the spring hiking season is by zeroing in on trails that have a good network of shelters. Backcountry shelters can vary greatly, from the full service huts of the Appalachian Mountain Club to the humble, trailside lean-to. Lean-tos are typically three-sided structures with a roof—just enough to keep you out of the temperamental early-spring weather and up off of the mud. Even on chillier nights, they can be down right cozy with a tarp lashed over the opening (though you should check with the land manager so make sure this is allowed—In the Adirondacks, closing off lean-tos is forbidden). Shelters are regular occurrences on long-distance trails, so Northeastern stand-bys like the AT is a good place to start.

AT–Mohawk Loop, Connecticut

This scenic hike in Connecticut’s rural Northwest Corner connects the Appalachian Trails of old and new—the blue-blazed Mohawk Trail actually follows the original path of the AT prior to being rerouted west of the Housatonic River in 1970’s—to make a 40-mile loop. The trip is replete with shelters, campsites and stellar views of the Litchfield Hills.

Harriman–Bear Mountain State Parks, Hudson Highlands

Despite being within an hour of New York City, Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks offer wilderness, an extensive network of trails and abundant shelters fit for overnight trips of any size. Link the AT with the Ramapo–Dunderberg, Long Path, and Red Cross Trails for a 22-mile loop that takes in some of the park’s greatest hits including an incredibly tight scramble, aptly named the “Lemon Squeezer.”

What are your favorite early-season backpacking locations? Let us know in the comments!


How to Hike During Mud Season in the 'Daks

The valleys and lower elevation mountains are starting to thaw, the grass is starting to appear again, and things are starting to warm up. All tell-tale signs that mud season is here.

In the Adirondacks, we know this also means that trails will soon be a lot more crowded. In the last few years, the number of people who want to get outside in the Adirondacks has steadily increased, and for good reason: It’s beautiful! Total visitors in the Adirondack Park has risen from 10 million in 2001 to more than 12.4 million in 2018. Of that, 88 percent of visitors come to the Adirondacks to hike, so we may see a record number of hikers this year.

But right now, just as hikers are awakening from winter hoping to get out and enjoy the trails, the trails are at the height of their vulnerability. Between mid-April and early June when the snow melts and the spring rain begins, the ground is still semi-frozen and it causes muddy conditions that cause irreparable damage to trails as people trek across them.

The good news is that there are a few things that you can do to stay on the trails this spring without damaging them.

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Follow Leave No Trace

The best way you can help protect your public lands is to Leave No Trace. Following the first principle—Plan Ahead and Prepare—will help you follow the other six, keep you safe, and protect the wild place you’re visiting:

  • Research your trip ahead of time, overestimate the difficulty of a hike, consider the needs of everyone in your group
  • Know the rules and regulations of the land you are visiting. Lots of public lands and specific trails are seasonally closed to hikers to prevent damage.
  • Check the weather and trail conditions before you go so you can pack and dress accordingly.

Walk Through, Not Around Mud

Wearing waterproof shoes will make sure that you’re always comfortably able to walk through, not around mud, preventing trail damage.

When hikers step through flat areas with insufficient drainage, it makes a mud pit. Then hikers tend to step around a mud pit, making the mud pit even larger, and larger. Then hikers will step around the mud pit, and trample vegetation around the trail, creating “herd paths”. Then these herd paths become muddy themselves and the cycle continues. Make sure to stay on the trail to prevent trails from widening needlessly.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Choose Your Hikes Carefully

Steep trails with thin soils are the most at risk for damage during this time of year, so picking a trail at lower elevation is the best thing you can do to help reduce your impact. A south-facing trail is generally a good pick because the trails are drier.

Near the High Peaks Region, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation suggests a few alternatives that will give you a great experience, without compromising the trails. These other hikes would also make great springtime alternatives. Or, for a different, less crowded experience, try one of the many low elevation loop trails in the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness, Cranberry Lake Wild Forest, or West Canada Lake Wilderness.

 

In the Adirondacks, we generally use this time of year to let the trails rest and plan our adventures for the next season. But if you must itch the hiking scratch and enjoy the Adirondacks, please do so responsibly.  


How to Choose a Rain Shell

When you need a good rain shell, you really need a good rain shell. When the clouds open up or the wind kicks in, having a good layer between you and the elements is essential to keeping you moving, happy, comfortable, and safe in the mountains. But the diversity of rain shells available to shoppers today is incredible, with jackets ranging from under $100 to pushing well above $500. So what is the difference between these shells? And, more important, what type of raincoat is “best” for what you want to do?

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Waterproofness and Breathability

No matter the outdoor activity, you’ll want a jacket that’s waterproof and breathable (i.e., a jacket that prevents rain from penetrating the shell while also moving perspiration from the inside of the jacket to the outside). Because waterproof/breathable jackets must account for moisture in both directions—shielding water on the exterior and moving moisture from the interior—they compromise some of both attributes to balance performance.

For example, a rubber rain slicker is great at keeping water out, but because rubber doesn’t breathe, wearing one while doing anything active will leave you soaked in sweat. Likewise, a Techwick t-shirt excels at moving moisture, but don’t expect it to keep you dry during a rainstorm. Fortunately for consumers, the industry has developed two ratings (a waterproofness rating and a breathability rating) to indicate how a jacket will perform and make comparing products easier.

Waterproof Ratings

A raincoat’s water resistance is measured by how many millimeters of water it will hold before it leaks—most commonly represented as 20K, 15K, and 10K. To paint a clearer picture, imagine putting a one-inch by one-inch tube on your 10K-rated raincoat—you could fill that tube with water to a height of 10,000 mm before water would begin to leak through. That’s almost 33 feet high!

READ MORE: 10K, 20L? What Waterproof and Breathability Ratings Really Mean

Jackets rated to 10K are generally capable of handling light rain and snow for a short amount of time, while 15K-rated jackets can protect against moderate rain and snow for a longer duration. 20K-rated jackets provide the best defense against moisture and are able to guard against heavy rain and wet snow.

Breathability Rating

A shell’s breathability is also represented as 20K, 15K, and 10K, only this time the number is representative of the amount of water vapor it can move through one square meter of fabric—from inside to out—over the course of 24 hours.

Jackets with breathability rated to 10K are ideal for  less vigorous activities where you’re less likely to break a sweat, like commuting and travel while 15K jackets are slightly more breathable and better-suited for things like alpine skiing or ice climbing. Jackets rated to 20K provide maximum breathability and are the choice of athletes moving quickly through the mountains: hikers, climbers, and anyone doing something more physical.

While these jackets are rated for breathability, it’s worth noting that numerous factors, such as the temperature and humidity, can affect the breathability of a jacket.

Air Permeability

Although breathability and air permeability are often used interchangeably, there is a subtle difference between the two. A waterproof/breathable raincoat needs water buildup or pressure inside the jacket to push moisture out—meaning moisture transport stops when a person stops moving. Conversely, air permeable shells constantly allow air and moisture in and out. However, because air permeable shells allow constant air exchange, they are not completely windproof like traditional waterproof/breathable jackets.

Air permeable shells are still in their relative infancy and can cost substantially more than a traditional raincoat. Keep your eyes peeled for more of these slick slickers in the future.

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2-Layer, 2.5-Layer, and 3-Layer Construction

Rain shells are constructed in three different ways: 2-layer, 2.5-layer, and 3-layer. In many respects, how a jacket is constructed explains its performance better than its waterproof/breathability rating, with 3-layer raincoats being the highest performing and 2-layer jackets being the lowest.

3-Layer Raincoats

3-layer rain jackets are constructed by bonding three layers of fabric together, with a waterproof/breathable membrane sandwiched between a face and liner fabric. The body-facing liner fabric helps prevent sweat and oils from clogging the microscopic pores of the waterproof membrane (for improved breathability), while also helping disperse moisture on the jacket’s inside. Because of this, 3-layer jackets often don’t feel as clammy as other types of shells. The multiple layers also make these shells the most rugged and durable of the three types of raincoats—making them the best choice for people who spend a lot of time outdoors and in wet weather. There is, however, a performance premium, as 3-layer shells can be heavier than other options.

2.5-Layer Raincoats

Most shells found at Eastern Mountain Sports, and other retailers, are 2.5-layer shells. 2.5-layer shells are made of a face fabric that’s bonded with a waterproof/breathable membrane with an inner coating (the half layer) designed to protect the membrane from abrasion and microscopic-pore clogging sweat, oil, and dirt from your body. Balancing performance and affordability, 2.5-layer shells breathe well and are durable, packable, and reasonably priced, making them a great choice for enthusiasts on a budget.

2-Layer Raincoats

The improvements in technology and the subsequent reduction in prices of 2.5-layer jackets have, for the most part, relegated 2-layer jackets to urban and non-technical use. Two-layer raincoats feature a waterproof/breathable membrane bonded to an outer face fabric. Because 2-layer shells lack the half-layer found on the insides of 2.5-layer coats, they often use an additional hanging liner of mesh (or other lightweight material) to protect the membrane.

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Waterproof/Breathable Membrane

The most well-known waterproof/breathable membrane is GORE-TEX, a high-performance fabric that has set the standard for rain jackets for the last 25 years. There are now several types of GORE-TEX membranes in addition to the original: Active (for, you guessed it, highly aerobic activities), Pro (for the most extreme conditions), and Paclite (for lightweight, super-packable shells).

Almost every company making outdoor clothing has a proprietary waterproof/breathable membrane. For EMS, it’s System 3; for The North Face, it’s HyVent; and for Marmot, it’s MemBrain. They are all great and, because they are company-specific, sometimes mean that you’ll be getting a more reasonable price on the jacket.

The final membrane worth mentioning is NeoShell. Manufactured by Polartec, it’s most interesting because it is as waterproof/breathable as the other membranes, without requiring as much internal pressure buildup to force the exchange. In other words, NeoShell provides more natural thermoregulation.

Durable Water Repellents (DWR)

Almost all waterproof/breathable rain shells feature a durable water repellent finish (DWR). The DWR finish found on raincoats is what causes water to bead up and roll off the outside of the jacket. However, this finish wears off over time and with use. When the DWR finish wears off, the jacket’s surface fabric can soak through, negatively affecting the breathability of the jacket and giving the jacket a cold, clammy feeling.

Luckily, reapplying the DWR treatment to your shell is easy.

READ MORE: A Guide to Picking the Ridge Nikwax Product

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Other Features

With all the technical aspects of today’s raincoats covered, there are still some other features that you should consider before purchasing your next raincoat.

Hood

An overwhelming majority of raincoats have hoods. After all, how good can a jacket designed to protect you from the rain be with a giant hole in the top? A nice touch found on many of the hoods on today’s jackets are adjustments to ensure a proper fit. Another consideration, especially if you plan to use the raincoat for mountaineering, ice climbing, or skiing, is if the jacket’s hood can accommodate a helmet.

Rain jackets typically come with one of two types of hood configurations: storm hoods and drop hoods. Storm hoods are directly integrated into the jacket while drop hoods have a separate collar that the hood pulls over. Drop hoods are particularly popular with people participating in winter sports, as they protect a person’s face from the elements even when the hood is down.

Seam Taping vs. Welding

Rain shells are built by combining multiple sections of waterproof/breathable material together. Manufacturers use two methods to secure these pieces—typically the body, arms, and hood—together: stitching and welding (attaching pieces with adhesive or fusing the pieces with ultrasonic bonding), both of which result in seams.

Welding seams is the lightest and least bulky option. The other advantage of welded seams is that there are no holes in the fabric, so water can’t sneak in.

Rain jackets that are stitched together require seam tape to waterproof the holes created by sewing. There are two common methods of seam taping: “fully taped” and “critically taped.” On a fully taped shell, every seam is covered with tape, while a critically taped shell typically only has the most critical seams taped.

It’s not uncommon to find raincoats using both methods of construction with high-usage, high-stress areas like arms and shoulders while incorporating welded construction into zippers and pockets.

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Denier

The denier of the fabric used to make a raincoat is another clear indicator of the jacket’s overall durability. The denier of a fabric refers to its density—the higher the number the denser (and therefore stronger), the fabric is. So if you’re planning on doing a lot of abrasive outdoor activities, get a jacket with a high denier number.

Zippers

Zippers are another chink in a rainshell’s armor. Manufacturers address this in one of two ways: a laminated zipper or a storm flap. Laminated zippers offer users a waterproof zipper option and are lighter and more packable, but they can also be tricky to zip. Less effective but more affordable, a storm flap is simply an additional piece of fabric that covers the zipper that prevents it from being directly exposed to rain and snow.

It’s also not uncommon to find jackets with both types of zippers—for example, the main zipper with a storm flap and pockets with laminated zippers.

Venting

Even the best rain jackets can fail to keep up with a user’s breathability needs during strenuous activity. Because of this, most rainwear features some manner of venting. The most common style of venting is pit zips or underarm vents. However, some jackets use other methods, like large pockets on the torso that double as vents. No matter what system is used, the idea is the same—to allow better air circulation.

Packability

Another consideration when choosing a rain shell is how packable it needs to be. If you’re using a shell for alpine skiing, the answer may be not very, but if you’re pursuing light-and-fast hikes, a super-packable shell might be very beneficial. Be aware, however, that ultralight raincoats typically have to make a sacrifice in order to achieve their lighter status, which means they’re either not as rugged or waterproof as more robust models.

Fit

Fit is another important characteristic to deliberate before buying your next raincoat, since the way the jacket fits will affect how you use it going forward. When sizing your raincoat, consider whether or not you plan on layering underneath it. If so, keep in mind that you’ll need extra room to accommodate those layers. Indeed, you may even find that you’ll need different rainwear for different conditions.

 

Do you have any tips for selecting a rain shell? If so, we want to hear them—leave them in the comments section below.

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3 Low-Elevation Vermont Hikes for Mud Season

Days are longer, the sun is shining, and temperatures are becoming more tolerable. This seems like the perfect time to dust off those neglected hiking boots and hit the trails. However, the end of winter marks the beginning of mud season.

Mud Season?

This is the time of year with snowmelt, heavy rains, and completely saturated hiking trails. During mud season trails are often closed to help preserve landscape and fragile alpine foliage. As hikers tramp on wet soils, they result in erosion, damage to the trail, and destruction of surrounding vegetation. In Vermont specifically, the Green Mountain Club asks hikers to stay off muddy trails until Memorial Day weekend. The trails that are usually closed are above 3,000 feet, such as trails on Mount Mansfield, Mount Ellen, Camels Hump, Smugglers Notch, and most parts of the Long Trail.  It is recommended to hike at lower elevations, stick to trails with southern exposure (which are often dryer), avoid spruce-fir forests, and to walk though the mud rather than on the vegetation beside the trail—or to just turn around altogether.

So, do you just stay inside? Of course not! There are plenty of opportunities for hiking outside during mud season in Vermont, if you know where to look.

Credit: Carolyne Riehle
Credit: Carolyne Riehle

Mount Philo

One of the best Vermont hikes in and out of mud season is Mount Philo in Charlotte. While the summit may seem low at only 968 feet, and the trail only .75 miles long, the views of the Lake Champlain Valley are well worth it. This is a wonderful hike for the entire family, a great challenge for beginner hikers, and extremely enjoyable for the more experienced.  On the summit you will find welcoming Adirondack chairs allowing you to relax and enjoy the views, the 1930’s Lodge house that has grills and nearby restrooms, and plenty of picnic tables to bask in the warmer weather. Even if the trail is too muddy, you can always walk up the access road to reach the views. There won’t be any vehicles using the access road in the early mud season, making it a safe trip.

Credit: Carolyne Riehle
Credit: Carolyne Riehle

Mount Elmore

A bit more challenging mud season hike is up Mount Elmore (2,608 feet) in Elmore State Park in Wolcott. This is a 4.3-mile loop via the Fire Tower Trail and the Ridge Trail.  The best part of the summit is the fire tower—On a nice day you can see all the way to Mount Washington from the top. However, the view from the Fire tower isn’t the only extraordinary thing to see: A quick side trip brings you to Balanced Rock. This is a giant boulder that appears to defy gravity as it remains poised at a ridiculous angle on the smaller rock below.  After the hike, you can enjoy the warmer temperatures with a snack on Lake Elmore beach, embracing the beginning of spring.

Credit: Carolyne Riehle
Credit: Carolyne Riehle

Island Line Rail Trail

If you really want to make sure that you are not harming the fragile trails during mud season, it may be time to check out the Island Line Rail Trail that runs from Burlington, through Colchester, all the way to South Hero. This is a 14-mile asphalt and gravel trail that rolls through the Burlington waterfront, crosses Lake Champlain on the spectacular Colchester causeway, and finishes with a bike ferry to cross a 200-foot gap to South Hero island.  Throughout this trail there are views of the Adirondack Mountains across Lake Champlain, as well as beach spots to stop and rest. Once you reach the Colchester Causeway you are sandwiched between views of the Adirondack Mountains to the west and the Green Mountains to the east.  If you would rather not walk this, you can always rent a bike at one of the local shops in Burlington.

Remember to use discretion when you are on the trails, and turn around when the mud becomes too much. These trails are meant to be enjoyed for a long time, so please help make sure they remain preserved.


Don’t Be a Fool: Stop Doing These 10 Things While Spring Hiking

April Fool’s Day is a time best known for pranks and jokes. It’s also a time of tricky conditions in the mountains as winter gives way to spring. Mud, ice, snow, unexpected weather, high rivers and more can all add challenges to spring hiking that we don’t see year-round.  Keep reading to avoid being the joker who gets caught unprepared hiking this spring.

1. Lighthearted Layering

Don’t get the wool pulled over your eyes by the warm weather in the parking lot. Instead, be prepared to add layers to your body as the early spring weather in the high mountains rarely aligns with the warm, sunny conditions you had down low. Wide-ranging weather is common this time of year and often a hike that starts in short sleeves will end in a heavy puffy coat.

2. Footwear Folly

Trail runners might seem like a good idea at the car but could be closer to clown shoes up in the alpine. The additional height of hiking boots keeps snow from scheming against you and sneaking in the top of your shoe. Even better, waterproof footwear keeps you from being bamboozled by wet feet while providing a little extra warmth.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Not-So-Silly Snow

The absence of snow at the trailhead is a common hoax this time of year, tricking hikers into leaving their snowshoes behind. Colder temperatures, more snowfall, and hiker traffic packing down snow on trails can cause it to linger at higher elevations throughout the spring—making snowshoes necessary to avoid being duped into post-holing through unexpected snow.

4. Traction Tomfoolery

Melting snow, spring rain, warm days, and cold nights all conspire to make mischievously icy trails. Pack a pair of traction devices for navigating this tricky terrain and to avoid senseless slipping.

5. Muddy Monkey Business

Trying to avoid mud in the spring is a fool’s errand in the Northeast. When you encounter mud while hiking, either stick to hard surfaces to avoid it or walk through it, as walking around it on soft surfaces widens the trail, damages the delicate ground, and leaves behind a long-term record of your mischievous misbehavior.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

6. Worrying Water Crossings

Snowmelt and spring rains increase runoff, swelling mountain streams and rivers, making otherwise benign water crossings deceptively difficult. No laughing matter, take the time to find the best place—i.e., where the water is shallow and slow-moving, or where rocks protruding above the water’s surface form a natural bridge—even if it means spending a few extra minutes searching up and downstream.

7. Trekking Pole Trick

Carrying trekking poles is an easy way to avoid being the butt of the joke when it comes to mud, ice, and water crossings. There are so many reasons to use trekking poles, including that they let you probe mud and water depth, and help increase balance and stability while making tough crossings and moves on slippery rock.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

8. Deceived by the Dark

The days are still short this time of year, heightening the risk of getting benighted. Don’t get hoodwinked and hike without a headlamp; Hiking in the dark is a punchline no one wants to hear.

9. Wait for a Less Foolish Day

Sometimes the conditions just don’t line up—treacherous water crossings, too-slushy snow, and unstable weather are just a few pranksters that can disrupt even the best-laid plans. If things don’t look right, consider picking a different objective or call it a day early.

10. Whacky Weather

It’s undeniable that spring is known for its comically inconsistent conditions. One way to avoid being a victim of this practical joker is by checking conditions. In New Hampshire, the high summits forecast from the Mount Washington Observatory is a great resource for gaining info on expected weather while websites like New England Trail Conditions use community-based reporting to deliver up-to-date trail conditions.

 

Have a spring hiking tip that’s kept you from playing the fool? If so, we want to hear about! Leave it in the comments below.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

How to Choose Hiking Footwear

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

READ MORE: How to Choose Socks

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What to Look For in Hiking Footwear

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

Height

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

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

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

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

Waterproofing

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

GO: Waterproof Shoes | Non-Waterproof Shoes

READ MORE: Maintaining Your Waterproof Shoes and Boots

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Materials

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

Outsole and Midsole

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

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

Upper and Lacing

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

Crampon-compatibility

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

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Types of Hiking Footwear

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

Trail Running Shoes

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

Light Hiking Shoes

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

Day Hiking Boots

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

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Backpacking Boots

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

Mountaineering Boots

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

Performance Sandals

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

Approach Shoes

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

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

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Trying Hiking Footwear On

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

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

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

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


3 Great Early Season Mountain Bike Rides South of Boston

Spring can be a challenging time for mountain bikers. We’re anxious to resume riding, but unpredictable weather often leaves trails muddy and impassable. Thankfully, some popular destinations dry faster than others. So, if you have the need to ride but your local spot isn’t quite ready yet, check out these locations.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Trail of Tears

With sandy, dry soil and mild winters, Trail of Tears in Cape Cod’s West Barnstable is the perfect place for logging early-season mileage. Offering a 20-plus mile trail network on a large parcel of conservation land, it features fun, mostly fast, and flowing non-technical singletrack, with twists and turns through a classic Cape Cod forest. Riders will also come across occasional boulders to roll over and small rocks to jump off along many of the trails. Just be ready for the occasional short, steep hills, which often leave even the fittest riders gasping for breath at their crests.

As you cruise around Trail of Tears, it’s easy to get lost in the rhythm and forget you’re even on the Cape. The woods are immersive, and stopping at the observation deck at the top of the North Ridge Trail reinforces this, as no beaches, traffic, or roads are in sight. It’s almost as if you’re in the woods of Vermont, New Hampshire, or Maine.

Of course, if you’re worried about getting lost, you shouldn’t be. NEMBA hosts rides on both Wednesday and Friday nights, allowing you to get a free tour. However, if you can’t make it, here’s a map. And, because Trail of Tears is the home turf of many Cape Cod NEMBA members, the trails are impeccably maintained, so you can let it rip.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Otis

Located a short drive over the Bourne Bridge, Otis is one of New England’s best early-season riding destinations. While nicknamed after its proximity to Otis Air National Guard Base, the spot is actually located within the Town of Falmouth’s conservation lands and the Frances A. Crane Wildlife Management Area, rather than on the base itself. And, if it weren’t for the hordes flocking to the Cape between late May and August, Otis could be a bonafide summer biking destination.

While very similar to Trail of Tears, Otis takes everything up a level. The singletrack is slightly rootier, rockier, and more challenging. More so, in riding up, over, and in between a series of drumlins, you’ll encounter a surprising amount of steep climbing that leaves many rethinking the Cape’s supposed flatness. Throughout the trail network, look for rock gardens, drops, and jumps, some of which add an extra layer of fun and may take a few tries to send cleanly. The cherry on the cake is the Gravity Trail, built in a natural half-pipe reminiscent of some of the classic trails found in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Don’t leave without checking it out.

Since space is tight, Otis has a well-deserved reputation as a difficult place to navigate. Indeed, the trails twist and turn, almost on top of each other at times. Fortunately, Otis hugs Route 28, providing an easy landmark and a bailout back to the car. If you ever doubt your location, just head toward the sound of traffic or pedal west, and then, take Route 28 South. Of course, this is easier said than done. Did we mention these trails are twisty?

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Wompatuck

Wompatuck State Park in Hingham, Massachusetts, is another great location. Built on land formerly occupied by the Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot Annex, it’s a bit closer to Greater Boston than the other two options and home to miles of fantastic mountain biking on single- and double-track.

Wompy has trails for riders of any ability. Ones around Prospect Hill are a must-do for those seeking out singletrack. From the park’s lower left quadrant, riders can take either a moderate (but steep) doubletrack or one of the four singletrack trails to the top. There, they can swoop back down the same fast and flowy terrain as it winds down the hill. Definitely worth checking out, the section between the S4 junction at the top of the hill and the S2 at the bottom offers some of the state’s longest switchback singletrack. Also, consider the descent between the S5, S7, and S10 junctions.

Wompatuck is full of surprises. As such, think about exploring the rest of the park’s trails. Around some corners, you’ll find abandoned military buildings dating back to the 1950s, many of which aspiring artists have spray-painted. Off to the sides, you may spot training sites, with ramps, jumps, and logs to play around on. And, near Wompy’s Visitor Center, you’ll find the Pump Track, an all-ages training course packed with berms, bumps, and jumps.

Although many of Wompatuck’s trail junctions are marked, the many intersecting trails make it easy to get disoriented. To plan a ride that sticks to the area’s singletrack, check out the Friends of Wompatuck’s interactive trail map. Then, keep it open as you ride to ensure you don’t get lost.

Do you have a favorite place to ride early in the season? If so, we’d love to hear about it! Leave your favorite early-season riding destination in the comments, so others can explore.


10 Post-Ride Rituals to Keep Your Bike Clean

If you’re like us, washing your bike is the last thing you want to do after a mountain bike ride. However, allowing mud to accumulate on the frame, chain, and shocks is a great way to ensure that your bike will spend more days in the shop than on the trail. So, after your next adventure, follow these simple steps to keep your bike clean during mud season and beyond.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Rinse

Begin by rinsing off the worst and most obvious mud. Start from the top and work your way down, using a gentle spray. High pressure may blow dirt into places you don’t want it, or blow grease out of spots that need it. In the process, make sure to hit the usual mud-collecting culprits: the underside of the frame, seat, and steerer tube of the fork.

2. Degrease

After the initial rinse, apply a degreaser like Pedro’s Oranj Peelz Citrus Degreaser to your chainring(s), cassette, chain, and jockey wheels. For the pro look, apply it using a small paintbrush to ensure total coverage.

Pro Tip: Cut an old water bottle in half, and fill it with degreaser. When it’s time to work on your bike, stick it in the bike’s bottle cage, get your brush, and everything you need to clean your drivetrain is right in front of you.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Soap

While you let the degreaser soak in, cover the rest of your ride (except the disc brake rotors and pads) in a bike-specific soap, designed for use on all types of bikes. As such, you can scrub away with the confidence that it won’t harm the frame, components, or accessories and, equally important, will wash away grease from critical parts.

4. Scrub

After a few minutes of soaking, dig out a stiff-bristled brush and scrub your drivetrain—specifically, the front chainring(s), rear cassette, chain, and jockey wheels. Next, gently scrub the rest of your bike with a sponge (automotive sponges work great) and warm water, which does a much better job at cutting through grime than cold water. If your bike has a suspension, take special care to wipe any dirt from the fork’s stanchions and the rear shock’s shaft. If you don’t know, dirt can get dragged into the suspension when it moves in travel.

When you’re done with all this, do one more quick rinse to ensure you’ve gotten all the soap off the bike.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. Extreme Clean

If you had a particularly muddy ride, skipped a few post-ride baths, or simply want to give your ride a pro-level cleaning, then put it in a bike stand and remove the front and rear wheels. With the wheels off, it’s easier to clean all the hard-to-get places, and you can really scrub the rear cassette when it’s off the bike.

Even better, spend a few dollars on a chain keeper. A chain keeper makes cleaning and lubing your bike’s chain easy, and saves your drivetrain from unnecessary issues caused by back pedaling.

6. Dry It

You towel off when you get out of the shower, right? Give your bike the same courtesy, and wipe it down after its bath. This helps remove any dirt you may have missed, and prevents water from corroding metal parts or leaking into bearings and pivots. To be extra thorough, give your bike a couple of bounces to shake free any water hiding in its nooks and crannies.

Next, grab a rag and wrap it around your bike’s chain while pedaling backward (or pedaling forward, if you’re using a chain keeper). This removes moisture from the chain and helps keep it clean by getting rid of any dirt and debris missed in the initial cleaning.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

7. Lube Up

To prevent rusting and minimize wear on your chainring and cassette, lube the chain. We prefer drip-on-style lubes as opposed to sprays, because they make it easier to get the solution on the chain and keep it off your bike’s frame and disc brake rotors. Drip the lube on the chain just before the lower jockey wheel, spinning the pedals backward (again, forward if using a chain keeper) until the chain is covered. After the chain is lubed, wipe off any excess with a rag, as it can collect dust and dirt and do more harm than good.

While some people lube the chain before their rides, we prefer doing it during the post-ride cleaning. This way, the lubricant has an opportunity to soak into the individual chain links. It also makes it less likely that your chain will collect dust and dirt during the ride.

Pro tip: While you’re lubing up the drivetrain, give your clip-in pedals a few drops of a dry lube, like WD-40 Bike Dry Lube, to keep them clicking and releasing smoothly all season.

8. Look It Over

With your bike clean, give it a quick visual inspection—especially if you’ve crashed—to make sure the frame has no cracks or, in the case of carbon, deep scratches or gouges. If you encounter any cracks in the metal or damage to the carbon, have a pro check it out right away, as failure can be dangerous.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

9. Gear Up For the Next Ride

To ensure that your next ride has no surprises, finish up by giving everything a once-over. Cycle through the gears to make sure the bike is shifting well and to work in the lube. Check your brakes to make sure they’re functioning, not rubbing. Spin your wheels to make sure they are still true. If you’re concerned about anything your inspection revealed, bring it into one of Eastern Mountain Sports’ bike shops.

10. Start Planning

With your bike put away clean and in working order, there’s nothing left to do but sit back and plan your next ride. Maybe check out the riding around Boston’s South Shore? And, if you haven’t ridden yet this season, make sure to get some additional pre-season tips.

 

Do you have any tips or tricks for keeping your bike clean during spring rides? If so, leave them in the comments section.


5 Tips for Staying Comfortable Hiking in the Mud

Spring’s arrival is often a welcome change for the hikers, backpackers, and weekend warriors among us. It means that we can finally shed those cumbersome layers of wool and down, hit our favorite recently-thawed trails, and enjoy some warm weather for the first time in months. But, with spring comes mud, and a lot of it.

Hiking through the mud presents a unique challenge. Not only can it be exceedingly uncomfortable to trudge through ankle-deep puddles, but it can also increase your risk of injury and have a disastrous impact on the trail itself. Thus, it’s important to know how to responsibly and safely enjoy a springtime trail. Here are a few hacks to make sure you’re maximizing fun and minimizing impact during your mud season adventures.

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1. Bring the Proper Footwear and Clothing

And, make sure you don’t mind it getting soaked and dirty. Springtime hiking might not be the time to break in your brand-new boots, unless you know how to maintain them, as muddy conditions can potentially damage your footwear. Instead, reach for an older, sturdy waterproof pair that you’re not as concerned about potentially wrecking. In addition, it’s always a smart idea to invest in some high, water-resistant gaiters to keep mud and water from seeping in. You always want to keep your feet dry and comfortable when you’re hiking, especially when you’re walking through the cold spring slush.

Footwear aside, you’ll want to wear a good, sturdy pair of hiking pants that can stand up to the elements and have a water-resistant finish to keep the mud from caking on your legs. You’ll likely be getting a little wet, so look for pants that are made of a quick-drying fabric, like EMS’ Men’s True North Pants, to keep you comfortable on the trails. A moisture-wicking hiking shirt and waterproof top are always a safe bet, too.

2. Carry Trekking Poles and Mind Your Footing

Anybody who’s descended a steep, muddy trail knows how quickly your feet can fly out from underneath you without warning. Not only does a slick trail increase the chances of an embarrassing (and wet) fall, it also heightens your risk for a potential injury. For this reason, it’s important to use trekking poles for the added stability and traction they provide. Even if you’re not otherwise a big fan of trekking poles, bring them on muddy hikes. They help you keep your balance, minimize slips, and prevent falling altogether on a precarious descent.

On the topic of footing, it’s a good idea to make sure your shoes are tied snug—ever had a boot stuck in the mud and then tried to pull it out?—and to keep a close eye on where you’re stepping. Walk using smaller strides than you normally would to help maintain balance and keep sliding to a minimum. If there is any ice remaining on the trail, you should bring your MICROspikes, just in case. Also, when hiking in the mud, you should try to go at a slower pace than you normally would. In these conditions, being deliberate and mindful of your footing benefits you more than speed.

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3. Muddy Trails are Susceptible to Erosion, So Stick to the Middle

Once the winter snowpack has melted, trails are at their soggiest and most saturated. As a result, they are more vulnerable than ever to serious erosion damage. For this reason, it’s super important that you stay on the trail’s center and tread as lightly as possible. It can certainly be tempting to walk on the trail’s edges, or off it entirely, in order to go around that large puddle blocking your way. But, doing so would widen and erode the trail. So, do the right thing, and stay on the trail regardless. If you’ve heard or read that a trail is in particularly rough shape in the springtime, consider hiking elsewhere, until the ground has hardened up a bit.

In addition to sticking to the center of the treadway, do your best to step onto rocks whenever possible. Stepping from rock to rock helps minimize trail damage—not to mention, it keeps your footwear dry and in better condition. The conscious springtime hiker will always understand that the muddiest trails are also the most fragile.

4. Consider the Time of Day and Weather

Springtime is known for its fickle weather. Although temperatures can become warm during the day, evenings and nights can still get very cold—occasionally dropping below freezing. This means that the trail is likely going to be softer around midday and will be at its firmest early in the morning and later in the evening.

During mud season, always be aware of these temperature changes. You may want to plan for an early morning hike, as opposed to one in the late afternoon. The trail will be firmer, making for a less messy and more comfortable experience. Time of day aside, you’ll also want to keep a close eye on the weather forecast beforehand. A steady rain can turn an already-muddy trail into a Slip ‘N Slide. If it looks like it’s going to pour, it might not be a bad idea to reschedule your hike for a sunnier day.

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5. Plan for the Post-Hike

One of the best ways to make hiking in the mud a favorable experience is to know exactly what you’re going to do once you’re done. For starters, you should always bring clean socks, extra shoes, and dry clothes to change into after. Seriously, there’s no better feeling than getting off the trail and having warm, fresh clothes and footwear to put on. Conversely, there’s no worse feeling than a soggy drive home. It’s also important to think about where you’re going to put your soaking wet, mud-caked boots and clothes when you get back to the car. Keep plastic garbage bags handy, or use a tarp to line the trunk as you put them away.

When you get home, wash your muddy clothes right away to prevent further damage and mildew from building. And, even though it might not be fun, remember to thoroughly clean your footwear! Leaving the mud on can dry out the fibers, cause cracking, and ruin your footwear’s weatherproofing altogether. Take care of these post-hike essentials, and you’ll be ready to go for next time.