Essential Gear for Kayak Touring

Kayaks create opportunities along bays, lakes, and rivers that allow us to experience the outdoors in a completely unique way. Gliding quietly through placid waters by rhythmically paddling can be meditative and brings us closer to wildlife that would typically feel threatened by hiking’s comparatively loud noises.

Of course, kayaking presents its own set of challenges and considerations. Although a significant amount of backpacking gear translates well to kayak touring, a number of kayak-specific pieces and concepts are necessary when you’re preparing for an extended amount of time on the water.

A word about touring kayaks: Storage requirements are a primary consideration when selecting the right vessel for a multi-day trip. A 12-foot, closed cockpit kayak offers enough storage for a weekend trip. With packable gear and food, a 16-foot kayak can handle enough supplies for a week-long trip.

Keep in mind that these are guidelines, and that paddler and gear weight, camping style, food selection, and paddling conditions all play a role in trip duration. Closed cockpit boats with hatches protect your gear from water and prevent gear loss if your kayak capsizes. Touring kayaks often come with a skeg to assist with tracking or a rudder to assist with both tracking and changing direction. While you can tour with a boat that has neither, a paddler with a skeg or rudder uses less energy in maintaining direction, especially in windy conditions.

Credit: Joseph Lasky

Safety

First and foremost, any amount of time paddling requires safety gear. Personal flotation devices are required by law in many places and are a universal best practice. Additionally, here some necessary items to properly outfit a paddle trip:

  • Bilge pump: Durable and easy to use, bilge pumps can quickly clear the cockpit of water you may take on.
  • Whistle: Kayaks sit low in the water and are difficult for boaters to see, so a whistle can help make your presence known.
  • Sponge: While bilge pumps remove most water, sponges can clear out low-lying water that a bilge can’t suction up.
  • Paddle float: Even paddlers with effective self-rescue techniques can benefit from the assistance of a paddle float when water conditions are rough.
  • Spare paddle: Any weather or area conditions that can break a primary paddle will likely require a high-quality spare.
  • Throw bag
  • First aid kit
Credit: Joseph Lasky
Credit: Joseph Lasky

Keeping Dry

With safety items out of the way, which pieces of gear let you make the most of your paddling time? If you are a backpacker or hiker, your standard compact gear is additionally useful for kayak touring. A compact tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, stove, and cookware are all necessary for multi-day touring. Take a look at this article for some ideas on minimizing space and weight on your trip.

Storage

As far as paddle-specific gear is concerned, clothing and storage are two vital areas. Storage is simple: dry bags. Kayak hatches are never guaranteed to be waterproof, so dry bags effectively keep items dry that need to stay that way. These bags come in a variety of sizes and colors, with some companies offering clear options that allow you to see the contents without opening the bag.

I typically use separate bags for my tent, sleeping bag, clothing, and gear, while food is kept in sealed containers within a bear canister. Rather than storing everything in fewer but larger bags, using four smaller bags allows me to pack more precisely and access items more quickly. I use three 10L bags and one 20L bag. Keep in mind that bags larger than 20L may be difficult to squeeze through a hatch.

Clothing

It is important to consider weather and water conditions when selecting paddle clothing. Warm conditions permit lightweight, UPF-rated layers, such as these. Cold weather and water conditions require layers that will keep you warm when paddling and in case of capsizing.

Two options exist: wetsuits and drysuits. Wetsuits trap a thin layer of water between your body and its material, usually neoprene, which is then heated by your body and creates an overall insulation system. Companies also offer separate, thin neoprene tops and bottoms, such as the NRS HydroSkin series, that are practical when a full wetsuit is undesirable.

In general, wetsuits work well for most paddlers in temperate summer and shoulder-season climates. However, during the worst cold-weather conditions, drysuits shine. An effective drysuit prevents water from entering at the wrists or neck, allowing its wearer to sport clothing layers underneath without fear of soaking.

Credit: Joseph Lasky
Credit: Joseph Lasky

Tips and Techniques

1. Treat Your Kayak

Treating your kayak with aerospace protectant spray will prevent sun damage throughout the paddle season. Additionally, this product lubricates rubber hatches, making access easier while you’re paddling.

2. Pick the Right Paddle

Paddles come in various lengths and styles. Your body type and paddling style dictate your optimal paddle length. Touring kayakers generally maintain a low paddling angle, which is less powerful and conserves more energy than a high angle. I use an Aqua-Bound Eagle Ray for my primary paddle, which is an efficient touring choice for my low-angle style, and a four-piece Sting Ray, a paddle with solid all-around performance for either high- or low-angle styles, for my spare. Since it is a four-piece, I can either strap it to my deck in a conventional fashion or slide it on top of my gear in the front hatch.

3. Balance Your Load

Do your best to maintain a low center of gravity and balanced weight dispersal when packing your kayak. A high center of gravity will decrease the boat’s overall stability, and unbalanced weight will impact the kayak’s tracking. Safety gear should be kept in an immediately accessible place (for example, on the deck). As well, I usually keep a bottle of water and an energy bar or another snack in my cockpit behind the seat for convenient access.

4. Consider a Spray Skirt

Spray skirts can be intimidating for many newcomers. But, you’ll soon find that they are practical, increase comfort, and create options in the event of a capsize. Skirts prevent water from entering the cockpit, keeping your legs drier and warmer. Many come with pockets for maps or snacks as well.

Importantly, if you are familiar with how to roll a kayak, skirts prevent flooding and allow you to roll when capsized. If you are new to skirts, please take the time to practice exits—dry first, and then wet exits—so you are well prepared to evacuate the boat in case of an emergency.

5. Don’t Forget Gloves

I consider gloves a necessary component for my overall paddling enjoyment. They prevent blisters and keep my hands warm during cold-weather paddles.

6. Wear Durable Footwear

While launching from a pleasant sandy beach doesn’t require much planning with regards to footwear, putting in or pulling up on a rocky coast does. Without proper footwear, you’ll find that carrying boats across rocky terrain can be painful and dangerous. Keen, Chaco, and Teva all offer durable sandals that alleviate this issue. Paddle socks made of neoprene are also practical and comfortable when you’re handling cool conditions.

Credit: Joseph Lasky
Credit: Joseph Lasky

This information should get you started on planning your next multi-day paddle. As always, please follow Leave No Trace principles when out in the backcountry, and be sure to post some of your ideas, advice, and kayaking experiences.


Explore Like a Local: Summertime Fun in Lake Placid, NY

The name Lake Placid immediately conjures images of winter sports, given that the Olympics have been held in this beautiful Adirondack town not once, but twice. Even today, it’s such a winter staple that numerous U.S. Olympic teams train regularly in the area. Summertime in the area can be overlooked, but the lack of snow and ice hardly diminishes Lake Placid as a destination, and you definitely don’t need to be an Olympian to take advantage of it all. With a plethora of hiking, climbing, paddling options, and more, Lake Placid is a true year-round outdoor destination.

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Warm-Weather Activities

Hiking & Trail Running

With 46 High Peaks, or peaks originally thought to be over 4,000 ft., along with numerous lakes, the Adirondacks have many different trail types to choose from, particularly near Lake Placid. One popular, family-friendly hike is Cobble Hill, which is visible from town and just across Mirror Lake. A family with kids can make the summit in under an hour and enjoy views of town and the High Peaks area.

If you’re up for a longer hike and are looking for a big payoff, set out for Indian Head, a low summit with truly amazing views of Lower Ausable Lake (pronounced awe•SAY•ble). The land is part of the privately owned Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR), but hikers are allowed to access the three-plus mile dirt road that leads to the trailhead. Allow for at least five hours round trip and bring plenty of water! Public parking is available in the St. Huberts parking area on Route 73, south of Lake Placid.

The Ausable Chasms are a natural wonder of the Adirondacks, and hiking the area’s trails is well worth the $17.95 admission price ($9.95 for kids).

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Rock Climbing

The Adirondacks have over 250 climbing areas, and Keene Valley, just south of town, serves as the epicenter, given its wide variety of climbs. Just a short drive away, the Beer Walls await both beginners and experts alike. Route 73 has convenient parking, and it’s a quick hike to the top of the climbing area. All the routes here can be led, but top-roping is the standard means of access. Climbing routes range in difficulty from 5.4 up to 5.13, and the views of Keene Valley are spectacular.

The EMS Climbing School guides lead climbing trips to all of the local spots and for all different levels of expertise. The school is located in the lower level of the town’s EMS store.

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Paddling

Let’s face it: This is Lake Placid. Whether you set out on Lake Placid proper or Mirror Lake, which abuts Main Street, this is one spectacular spot to hit the water. Surrounded by mountains in all directions and the town on one side, these lakes are remarkably beautiful. At dusk and dawn, prepare to be thrilled by the call of the loon and other indigenous creatures. Lake Placid allows motorized boats, while Mirror Lake is reserved for human-powered crafts (electric motors are allowed but rarely seen).

Our EMS store on Main Street backs up to Mirror Lake, and we rent kayaks, tandem kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) directly on the water. Seriously, you can launch a boat from the back of the store. How cool is that? Click here for more info.

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Swimming

In addition to the lakes, the area has other wonderful places to swim. A particularly scenic spot is at the base of the Flume Falls on the Ausable River, north of town. Park in the Wildfire Flume Trailhead lot, and walk a short ways down the river to the base of the waterfall. There, you’ll find a bucolic swimming hole, surrounded by small cliffs from which to jump. Folks have been known to string up an illicit rope swing, and the Department of Environmental Conservation dutifully cuts it down a few times per season.

Mountain Biking

Whether you want to ride the Olympic Cross Country trails, bomb down Little Whiteface, or hit technical single-track trails, Lake Placid has it all for beginners and experts alike. You can access some trails right from town, so pick up a local trail map to find the course that best suits you.

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Camping Options

“Options” is the optimal word. The area surrounding Lake Placid offers traditional tent campsites, cabin rentals, canvas cabins, and lean-tos. As one convenient option close to town, the ADK Wilderness Campground sits alongside a lake and offers multiple camping options, along with restroom facilities, or hike into the wilderness itself for free camping with fewer facilities.

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Dining

There are plenty of good post-hike food and drink options in the area, but as soon as you arrive in Lake Placid, head straight to Smoke Signals (campsite set-up or hotel check-in can wait). Choose a spot in its exposed brick interior or on the patio overlooking Mirror Lake; then, order marbled Brisket and a side of Mac & Cheese. You may not be hungry for a day afterwards, but you’ll thank me. If, however, that looks like too much to handle, the barbecue Tacos Trio, the Hanger Steak, and the BBQ wings are all terrific. Other excellent dinner options are Lisa G’s and The Cottage.

Assuming that you’re hungry the next morning, The Breakfast Club, Etc. awaits just down the street. As the restaurant is known for its hearty fare and Bloody Marys, you may have to wait a bit for a seat on busy weekends. I recommend the BC Röstis (pronounced ROOST•ee—it’s Swiss!). Picture a cast iron skillet on a slab of wood, filled with hash browns covered with bacon, covered again with cheese, and topped off with two eggs. Side effects include loss of appetite, rapture, and, in rare cases, food coma (easily cured by a nap).

As one compelling reason to visit in the summer, Donnelly’s Soft Ice Cream is only open Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day. You pick the size and a cone or cup; they, however, pick the flavor. That’s because they make one flavor a day, always twisted with vanilla. There will be a line, but it moves fast. Donnelly’s is a bit of a drive (14 miles or 25 minutes) from Main Street in Lake Placid, but that gives you time to digest your lunch or dinner! Emma’s Ice Cream in town is also very good, and they allow you to choose your flavor.

Roundup

All that and nary a mention of the area’s winter activities? You’d be hard-pressed to find a better spot for a summertime mountain getaway. Swing by the EMS store while in town to get local beta, upgrade your gear, pick up camping supplies, rent a kayak or SUP, or take a climbing adventure through the school. We hope to see you soon.


How to Make a Custom Map

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

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

What are “layers?”

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

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

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Google Maps

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

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

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USGS Topo

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

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

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

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Satellite and Aerial Imagery

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

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

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

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Map Builder Topo

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

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

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OSM Bike

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

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

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

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

Make Your Map

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

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


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.

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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

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.


Get Renewable: The Biolite CampStove

I won’t sugarcoat it: I took a leap of faith in bringing my new Biolite Stove along for this weekend’s trip, and I was a little skeptical. But, in this sense, skeptical doesn’t just mean a little suspicious of whether not it will work. Instead, it meant I might not be eating until tomorrow. Sure, it was just a weekend overnight in the middle of the Adirondacks’ Cranberry Lake, not a weeklong bushwhack through Denali. I could survive 24 hours off the CLIF bars and saltwater taffy I brought along, but it wouldn’t be super pleasant.

I trust gas. It’s always there, until it’s not. It always works, unless it doesn’t. And, it’s harmless, unless you count the environment. O.K., so it’s not perfect, but it definitely gets the job done. A stove that runs on sticks? It wasn’t without a couple question marks.

What if there weren’t any sticks around? What if there weren’t enough? Could I really cook an entire venison steak with sticks? Oh yeah, I didn’t just bring soup or something simple. I went all in. But, what better way to test a stove than when you need it to cook a big slab of meat to avoid going hungry? The pressure was on.

How It Works

The Biolite CampStove Bundle includes everything you might need for a gourmet backcountry meal: The stove itself, a 1.5-liter pot, and a grill that sits overtop the stove. The stove itself is a marvel, one in which 21st-century tech meets serious backcountry utility. The main chamber is where your fire lives, and it’s also where you drop in your biomass fuel, such as sticks, pinecones, pellets, etc. The yellow power module, which mounts easily to the side when you extend the stove’s burly metal legs, has two functions: Fans inside of it push fresh air into the fuel chamber, continuously stoking the fire and keeping it ripping while simultaneously using the fire’s heat to both run the fan and send power to an external-facing USB jack. That means the material you’re using to cook your meal is also keeping itself hot and charging your phone while you’re at it.

The stove packs down inside of the pot to be about the same size as another stove, pot, and fuel canister, which means, as long as there’s fuel nearby and you don’t need to bring Biolite’s ultra-efficient Biofuel Pellets, you’re not sacrificing any weight or volume in your pack. And, for car camping or paddling trips like mine, tossing in the grill top (or pellets, if need be) is a no-brainer.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Putting It To The Test

Although it might not be as simple as turning a nob and lighting a match to get going, even those not the most fire-capable will be able to get the Biolite roaring. Having your sticks ready to go helps, but the fan stokes the flames quickly and gets them hot easily. In fact, just about everything was easier than I expected, from just finding enough sticks, to getting the stove ripping. With the heat so concentrated (way more than a campfire), it needs far less material to get to cook your food than you would think.

Boiling water or heating up anything else in the pot was a piece of cake, and when I threw the grill on top, dinner came out more gourmet than anything I’ve ever eaten in the woods. The entire surface got hot enough to cook my steak, and temperature regulation was as easy as adding or withholding burning material or adjusting the vent’s opening between the grill and stove. Bon appetit!

In addition to the cost savings of not needing to keep repurchasing white gas or IsoPro™ canisters, plus the bonus of being able to charge my phone, headlamp, or GPS while I cook, the Biolite’s true beauty lies in getting away from polluting petroleum and keeping fewer aluminum canisters out of landfills. It just feels good knowing my backcountry cooking is completely renewable—and it’s a whole lot more fun.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Your Guide to New Hampshire Leaf-Peeping

It’s that time of year again! The weather is cooling off, kids are going back to school, and the leaves are beginning to change. If you’re lucky enough to be living in New England for this fall weather, then you have plenty of places nearby to go leaf-peeping. This guide will help you capture the very best spots in New Hampshire, the epicenter of New England’s fall colors.

The Great North Woods

The Great North Woods’ leaves are the first in the state to turn and peak. If you are in the area or are looking to visit, the “week of peak” lasts from October 2nd through October 9th. Take Route 3 up through Pittsburg and Colebrook to enjoy colors from the road. If you’re looking for hiking trails, visit Dixville Notch State Park or John Wingate Weeks Historic Site to soak in the amazing colors. Visit around dusk to catch the golden light hitting the trees!

Credit: Hannah Wohltmann
Credit: Hannah Wohltmann

The White Mountains

The White Mountains attract thousands to hike and take in sweeping views of the leaves! The “week of peak” this year is October 9th through October 16th. Taking a drive up the Kancamagus Highway, from Conway to Lincoln, will leave you breathless, as you see the vibrant colors contrasting against the mountains behind them. There are plenty of photo opportunities: panoramic views, covered bridges, and waterfalls.

If you’re looking for an easy hike through the Presidential Range, Lookout Ledge offers incredible views of Mount Adams’ and Mount Madison’s foliage. Lookout Ledge Trail is the most direct route to the summit, at about 1.3 miles with an elevation gain of around 1,000 feet.

Chocorua Lake offers a great opportunity for leaf-peeping by water in the Whites. Bring your kayak or canoe and paddle out to put yourself in the middle of it all!

Credit: Hannah Wohltmann
Credit: Hannah Wohltmann

Dartmouth/Lake Sunapee

The Dartmouth/Lake Sunapee region in western New Hampshire’s “week of peak” will be around October 16th through October 23rd. Begin your drive in Claremont and follow Route 12A along the Connecticut River. You will pass old barns and covered bridges – a photographer’s dream! From here, travel Route 11 east towards Lake Sunapee or ride to the top of Mount Kearsarge at Rollins State Park in Warner.

Lake Sunapee is another great place to leaf-peep in western New Hampshire, as it’s the state’s fifth-largest lake. Break out your boat, and enjoy the array of colors surrounding you!

Credit: Hannah Wohltmann
Credit: Hannah Wohltmann

Lakes Region

The eastern side of New Hampshire – the Lakes Region – offers spectacular views of leaves peaking – not only from the roads and mountains but further reflected in the area’s many bodies of water. The “week of peak,” similar to the Dartmouth/Lake Sunapee region, will be around October 16th through October 23rd.

Driving through Holderness or Tamworth Village is beautiful any time of the year, and the leaves make it better! There are also many smaller hikes in the Lakes Region, including the ever-popular Mount Major Trail in the Belknap Range. Mount Major offers views of Lake Winnipesaukee, the surrounding Belknap Mountains, the Ossipee Range, and part of the White Mountains. If you’re looking to enjoy the leaves around Lake Winnipesaukee, take a cruise on the M/S Mount Washington!

Credit: Hannah Wohltmann
Credit: Hannah Wohltmann

Monadnock

Southern New Hampshire takes a bit longer to peak, but when it does, it’s always worth it. The Monadnock region peaks around October 23rd through October 30th. A suggested driving loop would be to follow Route 32 south through Swanzey to Route 119 in Richmond, and then follow Route 119 through Fitzwilliam, where you can pick up Route 12 and travel north to Keene. Another great drive is following Route 101 from Marlborough to Peterborough, or taking Route 10 from Keene north to Gilsum.

For hikers, Mount Monadnock is a moderate trek with 360-degree views encompassing all six New England states at the top, and will help you capture the fall foliage beautifully!

Credit: Hannah Wohltmann
Credit: Hannah Wohltmann

Merrimack Valley

The Merrimack Valley region offers plenty of beautiful drives for people to enjoy the leaves peaking! This year’s “week of peak” will be around October 30th through November 7th. Route 101 through Bedford, from the Bedford Village Inn to the Amherst line, is a great way to catch the rainbow of leaves this fall. Route 111 through Salem and Windham also has plenty to offer. Or, as another option, take a drive around Henniker, Hopkinton, Concord, and Bow.

Credit: Hannah Wohltmann
Credit: Hannah Wohltmann

Seacoast

Last to peak but certainly not least, the Seacoast Region offers leaf-peeping opportunities in their “week of peak” from October 30th through November 7th. There are many places where you can experience foliage in this area: Drive along Route 101 east or Route 1 north along the coast, take a walk through College Woods in Durham, NH, or visit Odiorne State Park to hike the trails. Adams Point is another great place to soak up the colors right on the water. Wherever you are, Seacoast has plenty of places to enjoy, especially later in the fall season.

 

New Hampshire is one of the most beautiful places in the world to see the leaves change, whether you’re driving, hiking, or just enjoying the views on the water. Have a happy and safe fall, and don’t forget to share your favorite photos with #goEast for a chance to be featured!


Explore Like a Local: The Outdoor Mecca of North Conway, NH

For those seeking the perfect launching pad for outdoor activities, look no further than North Conway, NH. Located at the edge of the White Mountains, the town is surrounded by a wealth of natural wonders and offers visitors terrific après adventure options.

NEARBY ACTIVITIES:

Rock Climbing

Situated just a few minutes from the end of the main drag, Cathedral Ledge and White Horse Ledge loom over the surrounding area. They offer some of the best climbing on the East Coast, from beginner level (a 5.3-rated climb at White Horse Ledge) to advanced (a 5.14a-rated climb on The Mordor Wall at Cathedral Ledge). Take a class with the certified pros at the EMS Climbing School (learn more here), and send famous routes like Thin Air, Fun House, and Toe Crack.

north-conway-rock-climbing-2 north-conway-rock-climbing north-conway-rock-climbing-3

Leaf-Peeping

Every year from late September until the end of October, tourists from around the world drive the famous Kancamagus Highway (Rt. 112) for its breathtaking vistas and unparalleled fall foliage. The 36-mile stretch from Conway (just south of North Conway, as you might expect) to Lincoln, NH, traces the Swift River and offers many spots to pull off the road. Caves, waterfalls, mountain vistas, and hiking trails (and, of course, the foliage) are just a few of the abutting attractions.

Hiking

Trails abound in the vicinity of North Conway. The Appalachian Trail passes just north of the town along the Presidential Range, encompassing nearby Mount Washington. If you are traveling by car, you can head up the Auto Road (read more about Mt. Washington below), and park in a small lot where the AT intersects with your route. From here, take the Madison Gulf Trail (part of the AT) a mere 0.2 miles to the Lowe’s Bald Spot side trail (0.1 miles) for terrific vistas from atop the Bald Spot, a group of rocks overlooking the Great Gulf Wilderness. For more accessible options, head to the Kancamagus Highway, and select one of the many trailheads along the scenic road.
north-conway-hiking

Trail Running

Many of the hiking trails serve well for trail runs. A particularly appealing option is Boulder Loop Trail, along the Kancamagus. It’s a 3.5-mile loop of moderate difficulty that leads to terrific views of the surrounding mountains. As an added bonus, there’s a historic covered bridge leading to the trailhead.
north-conway-trail-running

Paddling

The Saco River runs parallel to White Mountain Highway, which serves as the town’s Main Street, and offers easy access to paddling adventures. Whether you are kayaking, tubing, canoeing, or paddleboarding, the Saco is a terrific option, given its average three-foot depth, meandering path, scenic views, sandy beaches, and rope swings along the way.

Camping

Not surprisingly (we work for EMS, after all), we highly recommend camping in the vicinity of North Conway. There are many wonderful spots, but Fourth Iron Campground is a particularly appealing option. Open year-round on a first-come, first-serve basis, it’s a walk-in tent site near where the Saco meets the Sawyer River. With parking nearby, the campground features eight sites, each with its own bear box.

Another good choice is Barnes Field Group Campsite. As its name implies, this is a larger site well-suited for groups. It’s situated north of town at the foot of Mount Washington and has easy access to hiking and cross-country skiing trails. Keep in mind there’s a fee mid-May through mid-October, and reservations are recommended. By winter, the site remains open on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Mount Washington

A trip to the top of Mt. Washington is an unforgettable experience. Whether you take the Auto Road in warmer months, ride the old-fashioned Cog Railway, or hike to the summit, the subarctic environment and incredible winds at the peak are something you’ve got to see at least once.
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The EMS-sponsored Mt. Washington Observatory sits at the top (a 6,288-foot peak) and conducts climate research year-round in what is acclaimed as the world’s worst weather. The fastest wind speed of all time (231 MPH) was recorded at the summit, and the average daily wind speed is a brisk 34 MPH. Visibility can extend to 130 miles on a clear day.

With these factors in mind, be prepared for cold weather when you get to the top, regardless of the month. The local EMS store in North Conway can outfit you with everything you need to be comfortable.

Mountain Biking

The proprietor of the local ice cream shop (see below) told us that he moved to North Conway for the excellent mountain biking, accessible from downtown. The East Side Trails are a network of bike trails with easy, moderate, and difficult options. West of town, there are other easier routes that are informally known as the Marshall Preserve trails.

Skiing

If you’re visiting in the winter months, be sure to try out a few of the seven ski resorts surrounding North Conway. Attitash, Cranmore, Wildcat, Bretton Woods, Pine Mountain, Black Mountain, and Loon are all nearby.

Ice Climbing

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced ice climber, the EMS Climbing School offers personalized instruction to fit your needs. Available seven days a week, our guides will take you to an appropriate site, such as Cathedral Ledge or Frankenstein Cliffs in nearby Crawford Notch State Park.

Conway Scenic Railroad

Nursing an injury? Sore from too many outdoor adventures? See the White Mountains from the comfort of a scenic rail trip. Tours ranging from approximately one to five hours depart daily from the town’s center. A dining car is available on select outings.

DINING

Speaking of dining, start your day at Peach’s on Main Street, a terrific spot for breakfast, brunch, or lunch. Think family home converted into a restaurant: Dining tables are spread throughout the small rooms, and the back of the house looks out over woods. And the food! An EMS colleague summed up the experience well when he said, “Man, these pancakes are LEGIT.” The same could be said of everything else we ordered.

Skip lunch. Instead, go straight for ice cream at #PieWholeStuffer (aka 18°C) right in the center of town on White Mountain Highway. Made out of simple ingredients and spun right on the premises, it’s absolutely the best ice cream I have ever tasted. The selection changes daily, depending on what’s in season, so I would recommend covering your eyes and pointing randomly at the display case. You can’t go wrong.

For the ultimate in après adventure dining, I would recommend firing up your JetBoil MiniMo at the campsite and enjoying Good To-Go’s dehydrated Pad Thai (you need those if you don’t have them).

But, if beer on tap is an important consideration for you, then spend an evening at the Red Parka Steakhouse & Pub in nearby Glen (just a few minutes north of North Conway). The steaks and ribs are excellent, but the main attraction is the pub itself. The old-school ski theme sets just the right mood for reliving the activities of the day. The Red Parka isn’t the only game in town, though. Horsefeathers, Moat Mountain, and the Muddy Moose are just a few of the local spots that will take care of you after a long, active day.
north-conway-dining

SHOPPING

Eastern Mountain Sports is located right on White Mountain Highway, and there are some other stores in the area (hey, I’m biased).
north-conway-shopping

LODGING

Choose from the Velocity, Refugio, or Big Easy series of EMS brand tents. Very comfortable. Oh, there are plenty of fine hotels in the area, but this is North Conway: Do it up in style, and camp like you know you want to!


The NYCer’s Guide to Fall Foliage Outside the City

Get excited, NYCers, as fall is here! That means brisk air, apple picking (did someone say cider!?), fall brews, and, best of all, foliage! So, where do you go when you want to get out of the city and maximize your fall experience?

Credit: Michael Martineau
Credit: Michael Martineau

Northern New Jersey/Delaware Water Gap

Prime Foliage: November 5 – November 19

Distance from NYC: 30 minutes – 1.5 hour drive

Often overlooked, Northern Jersey and the Delaware Water Gap have several great state parks to explore, all within an hour and a half of NYC. You can take a stroll around a lake, summit one of the many mountains with views of the city skyline, or kayak down a river with the leaf colors popping above. Visit High Point State Park and hike the Monument Trail, walk around the lake and head up to Pond Eddy to kayak the upper section of the Water Gap, or, my personal favorite, summit Bearfort Mountain via the Ernest Walker Trail.

Why visit? Northern NJ and the Delaware Water Gap give you a few options that are very close to NYC. You can even head out in the morning and be back in time for a late lunch with friends. These areas also have smaller crowds, so you may have the trails all to yourself.

Credit: Michael Martineau
Credit: Michael Martineau

Connecticut

Prime Foliage: October 22 – November 12

Distance from NYC: 1 – 2.5 hour drive

If you’re looking for a day of hiking followed by a stop for some fresh cider, Connecticut has you covered, as it’s home a bunch of orchards and state parks that provide everything you’re looking for during peak foliage season.  Those looking to stay closer to NYC should check out Sleeping Giant State Park to rock climb the face or hike the Tower Trail, known for views all the way to Long Island Sound, and then drive just 20 minutes to Lyman Orchards for some fresh cider and apple picking. Feeling more adventurous? Head north to Kent to explore their awesome little town, Kent Falls State Park, and Macedonia Brook State Park, and then stop at Ellsworth Hill Orchard & Berry Farm.

Why Visit? Close and very easy to get to from NYC, Connecticut will give you the perfect fall day with friends or loved one. Spend the day exploring, or find a nice B&B and make a weekend out of it.

Credit: Michael Martineau
Credit: Michael Martineau

Hudson Valley, NY

Prime Foliage: October 22 – November 5

Distance from NYC: 1.5 – 2.5 hour drive, or take Metro-North

Leaf colors during prime foliage, hiking right along the river, and small towns with great atmosphere – should I keep going? There are many great places along the Hudson River to explore, from Cold Spring to Cornwall-On-Hudson to Beacon. Each town has a variety of fall activities you can do, and all have access to some great hiking. Local hiking favorites are Breakneck Ridge, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Storm King. Once you’ve conquered one of these mountains, head into town for a celebratory beer, most likely brewed in the area, and a burger, because you’ve earned it.

Why Visit? The Hudson Valley is very accessible for NYCers, mainly because you don’t need a car to get up there. The Metro-North will drop you off right in Cold Spring, so you can explore the town for the day. Couple the ease with the beautiful fall colors while you look over the river, and the group of friends you brought along will be thanking you for an awesome day.

Credit: Michael Martineau
Credit: Michael Martineau

Catskills, NY

Prime Foliage: October 15 – 29

Distance from NYC: 2 – 3 hour drive

If you want to hike a bigger mountain, but you do not want to drive all the way up to the Adirondacks, head to the Catskills. Mt. Wittenberg, North Point, Giant Ledge, and the Dickie Barre, Peters Kill, and Awosting Falls loop are just some of the great options to take in the fall colors. On top of the great hiking spots and The Gunks, easily offering the best rock climbing on the East Coast, you’re bound to find a fall festival in the area. Most of the ski mountains, including Hunter, Windham, and Belleayre, hold Oktoberfest celebrations and farmers markets. For those not looking to hike or climb, you can take some really beautiful scenic drives in this area, and find a few great breweries for some tastings.

Why Visit? The Catskills have a little bit of everything. The best part is, you can make it a day trip if you stay in the southern parts, like New Paltz. In the end, a fall day here is a day very well spent, and you’ll agree after experiencing it. 

Credit: Michael Martineau
Credit: Michael Martineau

Adirondacks High Peaks Region

Prime Foliage: October 1 – 15

Distance from NYC: 3.5 – 4.5 hour drive

Take in the morning’s brisk and clear air, and then, hit the trails, where you’ll find red, yellow, orange, and purple leaves all around you as you climb in elevation. Emerging above the tree line will fill you with instant excitement, because this will be your first glance at the Adirondack Park’s peak foliage from above. That first view leaves you speechless, and it’s hard to put into words the full effect and beauty of the High Peaks Region during the fall. I highly suggest spending a few days up there, so you can take it all in and fully enjoy everything.

Look around Lake Placid and Saranac Lake for access to the best hiking, paddling, and atmosphere. As there are so many hikes with incredible views, it is hard to only list a few, but Mt. Jo, Cascade Mountain, Indian Head, and Giant Mountain are all among the best. For those looking to experience the foliage without having to hike, take a drive up to the top of Whiteface Mountain via the Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway or the gondola to the top of Little Whiteface, for high peaks views without the work.

Why Visit? The Adirondacks High Peaks Region is the mecca for fall adventure. The colors are just incredible, and the towns just add to the experience. Do yourself a favor and head up there for a few days during foliage season, because you will not be disappointed.


The Mother-Daughter Switch

Every expedition has a beginning. Mine started in my apartment, where, every night, the sound of the Saranac River lulled me to sleep. When I wasn’t sleeping, I stared at the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) poster hanging above my desk. The NFCT was literally in my backyard and provided everything I wanted in a trip: 40-plus days away and a low budget.

The NFCT extends 740 miles across New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Quebec, and Maine. The trail spans 22 rivers and streams, with some upriver, 58 lakes and ponds, 63 portages, and 13 different maps. My partner, Jon, and I estimated it would take us 41 to 50 days to complete, which meant our pace would have to be a minimum of 14.8 miles per day.

Beginning the Journey

We began our journey in Old Forge, New York. Everything went as planned for about two weeks, until Jon contracted Lyme disease. Lyme made him feel arthritic and feverish, conditions not conducive to six-plus hours of paddling, lining, and portaging. At the time, we didn’t know he had Lyme, but thought he had strained his back. Thus, we camped in Enosburg Falls, Vermont, the Dairy Capital of the World, for a week to see if his condition would improve.

I remember calling my mom to notify her of the tribulations we had experienced so far. Up to that point, we had to deal with the situation of the two escaped Clinton Correctional Facility prisoners and a torrential downpour that made paddling downstream on the Saranac River impossible. After the tick situation, I told my mom that Jon was unable to continue, and I was going to exchange my gear for a one-man Kevlar canoe and finish by myself. She innocently said, “Maybe I could finish with you, but you’ll have to talk your dad into it.”

I asked, “Will you have a problem taking orders from me, your daughter?” It was an odd question, but an important one. My mom instantly asked, “Why would I? You know what you are doing with the paddling, and I don’t.” She was right: She had zero paddling experience, so I wasn’t sure how successful we would be, but I was thankful to not have to call it quits.

Credit: Sydney Aveson
Credit: Sydney Aveson

Leadership

I learned my first leadership lessons in life from my parents. They had the responsibility of keeping my sister and I safe, guiding us through the ups and downs, and influencing us to be the best we could be. Through my parents’ decisions, I learned what and what not to do. However, when my mother became a member of this expedition, we turned that relationship upside down. I became the unequivocal leader, because I had more experience and knowledge.

I have been asked by a number of people if that mental shift was difficult. My response was a resounding “No.” The transition was effortless and natural. I have to give much of the credit to my mother for this, because she was completely open-minded about everything. She fell into her role as a student seamlessly, most likely because she’s a teacher.

My mom’s first day on the water included a challenging upriver section on the Missisquoi River. We had to line up a breached dam with razor-sharp rebar and Class II rapids. I was hoping to ease her into the trip with a short and easy day, but instead, we worked hard for 8.5 hours and paddled upstream for 11.5 miles. The lack of campsites and takeouts left us with no other option. In hindsight, it was probably one of the trip’s hardest days, as paddling upstream is like going against a never-ending treadmill.

Credit: Sydney Aveson
Credit: Sydney Aveson

Once she got through that day with zero complaints, my worries fell away. Not even hurdling over dozens of beaver dams got the best of her. The hardest part for her, however, had nothing to do with the paddling or the portaging. It was my strict policy for carrying only one luxury item. Weight was an important consideration, because we would have to carry everything during 55-plus miles of portaging. My item was a collection of Q-tips and hers was deodorant, which she rarely used.

We were both allowed one book, as well, which she fought wholeheartedly against, because she reads a book a day at home. Here, though, she barely got through one during a month of camping, so, in this case, I guess daughter knows best.