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!


Video: The Misfit Season of Fun

It’s the only time of year you can literally do it all.

 


6 Springtime Waterfall Hikes in New England

Melting snow and muddy trails may put a mild damper on high elevation springtime hikes, but one of the major benefits of melting snow is the ferocity it adds to some of the already impressive waterfalls in New England. Impressive flows and spraying water can make them some of the most scenic hiking objectives in the area. Don’t miss these ones this spring.

Courtesy: Chris Luczkow
Courtesy: Chris Luczkow

Arethusa Falls

Regarded as perhaps the most scenic waterfalls in New Hampshire, Crawford Notch’s Arethusa Falls is an incredible reward at the end of a moderate 1.5-mile hike that should not be missed! The height of the plunge is nearly 200 feet, and while it serves as a popular ice climbing spot in the winter months, once the warmer temperatures add to the snow melt, the massive cascade becomes even more worth the sweat.  During spring and early summer, the flow is impressive,  but by the end of the summer, it’s likely to significantly decrease, so plan your visit early.

The hike itself begins at the end of Arethusa Falls Road. Only 0.1 miles into the Arethusa Falls Trail, you have the option of cutting left to the Bemis Brook Trail. This offers a steeper climb with the addition of two other waterfalls until you reach the main event.  If you were hoping for a longer hike, you can always add the Frankenstein Cliff Trail to your loop for a total of 4.2 miles.

Courtesy: Richard
Courtesy: Richard

Glen Ellis Falls

At 65 feet tall, Glen Ellis Falls in Jackson, New Hampshire is impressive even in times of low water, but even more magnificent in spring.  The falls itself drops over the headwall of an ancient glacial valley and features deep green pools that tempt you closer to the water. Don’t underestimate the danger of the fast running water: Swimming is prohibited in the area.

Nestled in Pinkham Notch, there is a designated parking lot off Route 16, and a short 0.2 mile hike will lead you to this breathtaking view. There is a short waterfall just upstream from the main falls, and a second just downstream, and the series of staircases will get your blood pumping as you take in the magnificent sight. As the waterfall is easily accessible, it is also extremely popular. However, the crowds will be sparser in the early spring, which is definitely one of the better times to visit.

Courtesy: SridharSaraf
Courtesy: SridharSaraf

Falling Waters Trail

The Falling Waters Trail is a popular trail to the summit of Little Haystack Mountain in Franconia Notch State Park. The trail features three stunning waterfalls and finishes with breathtaking views from the summit. The first waterfall seen on the trip is Stairs Falls, soon overshadowed by Swiftwater Falls: a 60-foot tall mix of cascades and smaller plunges. The last waterfall, and by far the most impressive of the three, is the 80-foot Cloudland Falls. This features a horsetail-like drop. The best views are off the main trail as you get a bit closer to the falls. The hike is definitely worth just reaching the waterfalls, even without summiting Little Haystack.

Courtesy: Doug Kerr
Courtesy: Doug Kerr

Moss Glen Falls

Situated at the end of an incredibly easy 0.1 mile hike from Stowe, Vermont is a spectacular 125-foot combination of several falls one after another. Moss Glen Falls culminates with a 62-foot slide leading into a plunge followed by several cascades. In high water, such as in the early spring, this is essentially a single falls of nearly 75 feet.  This makes the total drop (125 feet) one of the largest in the state. There are so many angles and varyingly dramatic views of the falls, it is essential to view them from below as well as from above. The lower views are accessible by wading your way upstream into the gorge, but if you want to access the gorge above the falls, use the trail to the left.  This is a favorite swimming hole spot in the summer, but be aware that the rocks are extremely slippery.

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Warren Falls

Though small in stature, Warren Falls has some incredible features. Consisting of a rumbling series of cascades along the Mad River in Warren, Vermont, Warren Falls are made of three distinct tiers, totaling only about 20 feet in height, broken up into individual drops of about 7, 10 and 3 feet. The pools below each drop make for excellent swimming holes, but only when the river is running low. This would not be recommended in early spring, as the recent snow melt will only increase the water level. These pools are clear and surprisingly deep, with the pool after the final tier being nearly 20 feet deep.

Warren Falls is located just off of Route 100 south of Warren. There is a large dirt pullout on the west side of the road. A trail begins from the right side of the pullout and follows the river downstream. It is a quick walk to the falls.

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Screw Auger Falls

The waterfalls of the Gulf Hagas Gorge in Northeast Piscataquis, Maine are among the most popular in the state of Maine.  Often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East” The gorge consists of a series of waterfalls, cascades, and is part of the Appalachian Trail Corridor. However, a 7.5-mile trail will allow you to view various waterfalls in the area.  A majority of the crowds flock to see Screw Auger Falls, which is the most photogenic of all the waterfalls on this hike.  Here the brook drops about 15 feet into a punchbowl formation, often used as a swimming hole. However, if you continue along the rim of the gorge. you will encounter Buttermilk Falls, Billings Falls, and Stairs Falls.  When you enter through the entrance gate (it does require an entrance fee), ask about the water level, as the trail can be slick and more dangerous in high water.


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.  


4 Steps to Safe Stream Crossings

Springtime means water. With rain in the forecast and the temperatures inching higher and melting the snowpack, streams and rivers swell to their highest levels of the year, which for hikers and backpackers, can make traveling through the woods more difficult. Stream and river crossings might be an important part of your trip, but with them raging, it might also be the most dangerous part, which makes knowing how to get from one side to the other an important skill to have.

While your hike might depend on a river crossing, though, it’s important to know the limits of your abilities and not take unnecessary risks. Sometimes water levels can be high enough that a safe crossing just isn’t possible. Know your limits and don’t be afraid to turn around. That hike will still be there in the summer when water levels have dropped.

But if a crossing is something that you can achieve, follow these steps to get across safely.

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Step 1: Scout for a Spot

When crossing over swiftly moving water, looking for the perfect spot is the most important step to safely cross. Don’t automatically assume that a direct line from blaze to blaze on either side of the river is the path you should follow. The amount of water flowing downstream won’t be consistent on every section of the trail, and the safest crossing point will be different due to weather conditions.

You should stay clear from bends where the water speed picks up, instead look for where the river widens. This means that the water in that area is much shallower, making it a better spot to cross. Take a look downstream and consider what you’re up against if you do fall. If you see any stuck logs, debris, or rocks that you wouldn’t want to come in contact with, find another spot. Check the other side of the stream for a solid exit point to get you back onto dry land as quickly as possible. Keep in mind that when the river bank is steep, the chances of slipping back into the water is high. Look for a lower exit point to cross safely.

Courtesy: Anastasia Petrova
Courtesy: Anastasia Petrova

Step 2: Unstrap Your Pack

Before crossing over, unclip the hip and sternum straps on your pack. In the event that you lose your footing and fall in, your pack should be easily removable from your body, so that it doesn’t fill up with water and compromise your mobility. If you find yourself in this situation, drop the pack and save yourself first.

Always keep your shoes on when crossing. Good footwear will provide much better footing, traction, and protection rather than crossing barefoot, even if it means your boots will be wet—don’t worry, they will dry.

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Step 3: Cross the Stream

You should always face upstream and shuffle sideways slowly. Using trekking poles can make a big difference in helping keep you supported. If you don’t have trekking poles, grab sturdy sticks to help make things easier. Make slow, steady movements in a slightly downstream direction toward the opposite side of land. It’s important that you maintain a point of contact with the bottom as much as you can, so only move one foot once the other one is fully stable.

If you are hiking in a group, use that to your advantage: Crossing in groups can assist with maintaining stability. For groups of three, try forming a triangle, facing each other while holding onto the waist of the person next to you. Put the strongest member of the group on the upstream side and move together slowly. For groups of more than three, stand in a line while facing the current, keeping the strongest person in the lead bracing with trekking poles, while everyone else holds onto the waist or pack of the person in front of them. Simultaneously take small steps together in one set direction and one foot at a time.

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Step 4: Swim Out

Swimming should only be attempted in flat, calm water, but if you accidentally slip and become submerged, drop your backpack, point your feet downstream, and get on your back—this will allow you to use your feet to defend against hazards and keep your head protected. Swim quickly to shore.


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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Tradition or Truth in New Hampshire’s White Mountains

The goal of climbing New Hampshire’s 48 mountains over 4,000 feet in elevation and joining the Four Thousand Footer Club has a 60+ year history dating back to 1957. However, over the past few years, the United States Geographical Survey (USGS) has been re-examining the topography of the White Mountains using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), and has made a shocking discovery: at least one of the 48–Mount Tecumseh, the shortest of the 48 4,000-footers—is actually 8 feet shorter than previously thought, putting this now-3,995 foot peak in jeopardy of being excluded from the AMC’s list of recognized 4,000-footers. And while 8 feet is small potatoes in most contexts, for the list-conscious hikers among us, it’s a huge deal.

But, the potential “losers” list may be broader than just Tecumseh. To date, the USGS hasn’t yet made all of the survey data collected public and the AMC has only evaluated the new information pertaining to 26 of the 48 4,000-footers. Still, with more accurate mapping technology available and more survey data to be reviewed, it’s safe to assume that low-lying 4,000-footers besides Mount Tecumseh could be in jeopardy of losing their status as 4,000-footers. Mount Isolation (4,004 feet) and Mount Waumbek (4,006 feet) are two candidates that come to mind. “The NH45” doesn’t have the same ring.

Of course, during the new survey, some mountains could find themselves picking up elevation. For example, at 3,993 feet, Sandwich Dome is just 7 feet shy of the magical mark under the old standards—is it possible it’s “grown”?

Likewise, some peaks could see their prominence (to qualify as a 4,000-footer, a peak must have a minimum rise of 200 feet from all surrounding peaks) increase, thus making them new additions for the 4,000-footer list. Indeed, according to the new data, Guyot now has sufficient prominence on the side facing South Twin. However, the data from Guyot’s other side has either yet to be released or analyzed. But if substantiated, it would mean that a full Pemi-Loop would net a peak-bagger 13—not 12—4,000-footers in one trip.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

How Will This Affect List-Conscious Hikers?

Revising the list of 4,000-footers in New Hampshire is certain to send shockwaves through the peak-bagging community. For many pursuing the NH48, this will surely alter their plans—possibly adding new peaks to their lists while subtracting others. For those with more committed projects—like gridding—changes to the list could significantly complicate their quests. Meanwhile, for those competing for a fastest known time (FKT) for completing New Hampshire’s 48 4,000-footers, subtracting Tecumseh could save a speed-hiker a couple of hours (including drive time, of course).

The flux in elevations of the New Hampshire 48 thus begs the question: How, if at all, will the AMC adjust the list? Will it just change the list to reflect the mountains’ true elevations? Or will it continue to include some of these now-“lesser” peaks on the list even though they no longer technically qualify? Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time the list keepers in the Northeast have faced the question.

History of AMC Changes

In the past, the AMC has adjusted the list according to a peak’s true elevation. In fact, the story of the New Hampshire 4,000-footers begins with just 46 peaks, ironically mirroring what was thought to be the number of Adirondack peaks over 4,000 feet in elevation. It wasn’t until the USGS published a new South Twin Mountain quadrangle that the New Hampshire 4,000-footers became 48 with the addition of Galehead Mountain in 1975, followed by Bondcliff in 1980. The most recent change came in 1998, when new survey data lead to Wildcat D replacing Wildcat E on the list of 4,000-footers.

Despite these changes, the AMC has not, to our knowledge anyway, ever just subtracted a 4,000-footer from the list. Indeed, even when they swapped the Wildcats, they made clear that ascents under the old standard would still “count.”

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

An Adirondack Tradition

With a tradition dating further back than New Hampshire’s (Robert Marshall, George Marshall, and Herbert Clark first completed the Adirondack 46 in 1925) more than 10,000 hikers have followed in their footsteps since, according to the ADK46ers—the ADK46 list is more steeped in tradition than true elevation, as more recent USGS surveys have shown 4 peaks to fall short of 4,000 feet, while one peak found to meet the essential elevation has been omitted (MacNaughton Mountain). Despite the updated information, the ADK46ers continue using the same list of 46 peaks that was used back in 1925. And, as two Tecumseh traditionalists—to be clear, we’ve hiked the mountain a lot—this could be a great solution in New Hampshire as well.

 

Given all this, what do you think the AMC should do? Would you be excited to see a new list and a new challenge? Or, would you prefer the AMC keep the tradition of the 48 alive? We want to hear! Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.


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.