Layers 101: How to Dress While Snowshoeing

Trekking the winter trails can be peaceful and exhilarating, and snowshoeing is a great way for people of all ages to experience it first-hand. Yet given the lower temps, managing thermal and moisture comfort become critical. You’re wearing more layers than you would in summer, and you’re exerting your body more as you trek through the snow. But with the right layers and approach, it can be safe, comfortable, and fun.

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The Four Tenets of Layering

  1. Stay warm but don’t sweat. The whole point of wearing layers, instead of just throwing your big ski jacket overtop when you go snowshoeing, is to stay just as warm as you need to be comfortable, without sweating. Getting wet and sweaty while snowshoeing, aside from just being uncomfortable, could cool you down to the point of being unsafe. Having multiple thin layers allows you to take them off or put them on as needed to hit that Goldilocks zone of warmth.
  2. If it works for you, it works for you. There is no law about how many layers you should wear, how thick or thin they should be, whether wool, down, or synthetic is better, or how much money you should spend on layers. Experiment with different options to find out which works best for you.
  3. No two days are the same. Just because you wore these layers the last time you went out, doesn’t mean they will work today. While large parts of your system can remain the same, you may need to add or remove layers for certain days, change your base layers from lightweight to heavyweight when it gets cold, or bring an extra big parka for summit days. Watch the weather and choose what will work for today.
  4. Leave the cotton at home. While cotton clothing is soft, comfortable, and likely hanging in your closet already, it is not recommended for use on the trails, especially during the winter. Cotton fabric retains moisture and holds it against your skin and can create an unsafe condition, particularly in cold, wet weather. Cotton socks can also retain moisture on your feet and contribute to blistering. It’s ok to carry a cotton bandana to wipe the sweat away, but not as one of your primary clothing layers.

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Break it Down: The Layers

These layers generally break down into three categories: Base or under-layer, the mid or insulation layer, and the outer or shell layer. After that, layers for your hands, neck, face, and your eyes are all important, too. You will need all of these layers for snowshoeing, but use them strategically as you go.

Number 1: The Base Layer

This is the “long underwear” layer, or any fabric layer that touches your skin. It comes in different weights from light to heavy, and includes your shirt and pants/leggings. The intent here is to add just enough warmth while effectively wicking moisture away from your skin. This smooth base layer also creates a ‘slip’ between your skin and the outer garments which reduces rubs and blistering.

Look for synthetics like polyester, or wool layers for colder days.

Number 2: The Midlayer

This is your insulating layer and it should keep you just warm enough while you’re snowshoeing without causing you to sweat. You will likely need a couple of garments, like a fleece or light sweater, as well as a vest or puffy jacket. Vests work great because they keep your core warm which can allow heat to radiate to your arms and legs naturally.

Midlayers themselves can be layered. Many start with something lightweight and breathable, like a fleece to wear while you’re hiking, because they add just a little warmth. But you may want a second insulating layer, like a down or synthetic parka, similar to the EMS Feather Pack, to pull on when you stop or when you venture above treeline. These are lightweight and pack well into small spaces, so it won’t take up much room if the spend most of the day in your pack. Down is an excellent choice and is super-lightweight and insulates exceedingly well, but can be pricier than synthetic options. Just know that you have to keep this layer dry, when it gets wet it loses much of its insulating value and takes a long time to dry-out. Synthetic insulation is a nice alternative to down. It’s also lightweight and will dry-out quicker than down, but aren’t as lightweight and packable.

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Number 3: Shell

This is your weather protection (wind and precipitation), so you’ll need a jacket and pants like the EMS Thunderhead line that are both waterproof and breathable, with taped seams, and zippered ventilation options. Ideally, the shell layer is not insulated, in order to keep your layering options flexible. Use your mid layers to stay warm, then add the shell when it’s really windy or precipitating, especially above tree line. If you do wear it while you’re moving, features like arm pit zippers can help you stay ventilated.

There are multiple options for a waterproof/breathable system: A laminate lining system like EMS’s System 3 Technology, or GORE-TEX. Each provide the same basic service, at different price points.

The Extremities

Socks are also critical during winter hikes. Wool or synthetic materials work well. Wool blends make great socks too, as does Merino wool, a softer, fine wool material. Don’t forget to bring a spare pair!

Much like your other layers, you should have a pair of gloves or mittens for warmth, and an outer waterproof glove/mitten shell. Try using a pair of fleece or polypro gloves, then add a GORE-TEX mitten shell when its wet. A pair of thin polypro glove liners are nice because you can take your hands out and adjust your snowshoes, without exposing your skin to the cold.

A warm hat is always good, but try using a headband if you’re getting too hot. Knit caps are great, but make sure they have a fleece lining for additional warmth and wind protection. Balaclavas, scarves, neck gaiters work well for face and neck protection, and if it’s really cold and windy, consider using a face mask or balaclava, especially if you’re venturing above tree line.

There are plenty of layer options out there for you to choose from, and since each of us has a different physiology, be sure to find what works best for you. Remember to stay just warm enough, but not too warm, and add that layer when you stop for a break to preserve heat.

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So How Do I Use This?

There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to dressing for winter adventure, including snowshoeing.

Option 1: Start Warm

This is a very common approach, to begin in a comfortable state then remove those extra layers as you warm-up on the trail. It’s a logical technique, just keep in mind that you have to shed those layers proactively as you go so that perspiration and moisture does not build-up inside your clothing. If you start to sweat, it’s already too late as wet clothes can quickly create a safety hazard for your or your fellow snowshoe hikers.

Option 2: Start Cool

Another option for snowshoeing is to begin cool, and only wear the minimum layers you’ll need when you’re fully warmed up. This means starting out cool, even cold, knowing you will soon warm-up as you go. It takes a little fortitude at first, but it does work. And you’ll be less likely to sweat out those extra layers, making this the most popular option.

Make Adjustments

Regardless of the route you take, remember that layers aren’t meant to be stagnant. Not warming up as much as you thought? Put a layer on. Did you overshoot? Take a layer off. Stopping for a break? Keep a warm layer close at hand to throw on when you come to a rest to trap body heat, then take it back off before you start moving again. Add and remove layers as needed as your activity level changes, as the weather changes, and however you think you need to to stay comfortable without sweating.


10 Tips For Taking Spectacular Winter Photos

Winter in the mountains is equal parts magical and challenging. With rocks and roots buried in snow, vicious flies and mosquitoes a distant memory, and the thick, humid air of summer replaced with a crisp chill, there are countless benefits to exploring the mountains in winter. When it comes to photography, no other time of year allows for such dramatic and otherworldly images. From alpine trees caked with rime ice to waterfalls frozen in time, the landscape takes on a special character that beckons to be explored and photographed. Hostile conditions in winter are more often the norm than the exception, however, and having a safe and productive winter outing takes a level of preparedness that far exceeds that of other seasons. So what kind of gear and techniques will set you up to take the best winter photos?

Credit: Joey Priola
Credit: Joey Priola

1. Protect Yourself

Just because you climbed a mountain or went outside to take pictures, doesn’t mean you’re not exposed to the same conditions as you would be if you were simply out on a hike. Having the right layers and gear are critical to keeping you comfortable and safe. In addition to snowshoes, skis, MICROspikes, and/or crampons, items such as a warm and lightweight jacket and pants, balaclava, and ski goggles will help keep you warm and protect your skin from the biting cold and wind while you’re taking photos.

Perhaps the most critical piece of clothing for the winter photographer is hand protection. Finding the perfect balance between keeping hands warm while maintaining enough dexterity to change lenses and adjust camera settings can be a tricky task. Pairing a thin and windproof glove with a warm pair of mittens can provide the best of both worlds: The base layer glove provide just enough protection and supple dexterity to handle the camera, but the mittens can slide on quickly before your hands get too cold.

Carrying extra pairs of gloves is always wise, as gloves that have become sweaty on an ascent can become hazardous if a prolonged photo session upon reaching the exposed alpine zone is planned. I’ll often pack an extra pair of buckskin or leather gloves to change into before breaking out above the tree line, as these types of gloves provide excellent wind protection and dexterity.

Credit: Joey Priola
Credit: Joey Priola

2. Protect Your Camera

Protecting the camera from harsh winter conditions not only ensures that the best possible photos will be taken, but also prevents often expensive photo gear from being ruined. A snow/rain camera cover comes in handy when photographing in snowstorms or near a spraying waterfall, and costs much less than replacing a camera body that’s been ruined by water damage.

Condensation can also be a problem in winter, especially when taking the camera from the cold, dry outdoor air to a warm and relatively humid house, cabin, or car. Allowing the camera to gradually adjust to temperature differences limits the chances of condensation forming on the camera and lens and potentially making its way inside the camera. Leaving the camera in a camera bag inside your pack overnight after bringing it inside will allow it to gradually adjust to the swing in temperature and limit the formation of condensation.

While these tips will help to avoid damaging your gear after you’ve finished your outing, a challenge that’s often faced while out in the field is moisture from snow or waterfalls accumulating and freezing on the front of the lens. Periodically checking the lens glass for snow and ice accumulation will prevent the frustration of having an excellent photo rendered useless. While snowflakes can typically be simply brushed off the lens using a microfiber cloth or an air blower, special care needs to be taken if ice has accumulated on the lens. Trying to scrape off ice can lead to scratches which could permanently mar an expensive lens or filter. This is another situation where the ever-useful hand warmer can save the day. Gently holding one against the ice helps it melt, and the resulting water can be easily wiped or blown away.

3. Seek Out the Unique Beauty of Winter

One of the greatest aspects of winter photography is that even familiar destinations take on an entirely new character and appearance when the temperature drops and snow begins to fall. The typical summit views of grey rocks and green evergreens is transformed into a fantastical world that the majority of people will never experience first-hand. Crafting photos that fully capture the raw, surreal, and sometimes savage beauty of winter is equal parts challenging and rewarding, and focusing your efforts on the most eye-catching and awe-inspiring spectacles of winter will increase the odds of coming away with impactful photos. While the range of winter photography subjects is limited only by the imagination, nothing seems to epitomize winter more than evergreens blanketed with snow or rime ice.  Shooting at tree line, the highly dynamic mountain environment where the forest ends and the alpine zone begins, is the perfect place to seek out snow covered evergreens and krummholz encased with rime ice. Whether a wide-angle lens is utilized to craft shots of snow-coated trees in the foreground giving way to mountains in the background, or a macro lens is employed to capture an abstract photo focusing on the intricate shapes and detail of ice-covered tree branches, nowhere else represents the unique beauty of winter quite like tree line on a mountain.

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Credit: Joey Priola

4. Choose Your Location Based on Conditions.

Knowing the optimal conditions for a given location that are conducive to the best photos is an important aspect of photography, especially in winter when conditions can change more rapidly than in other seasons. In addition to the typical weather forecasts, ski resorts often post snow reports and have webcams, which make for a very useful resource if one is located in the general vicinity of your planned hike.  Maybe you’ll discover that a low snow level will preclude a previsualized shot of evergreens coated in snow, and you’ll be able to call an audible before even leaving your house and switch focus to a different winter photography subject, such as frozen waterfalls.

5. Use a long exposure for waterfalls.

Partially-frozen waterfalls can produce some of the most impactful winter photographs, especially when photographed using a long exposure to give the water a silky-smooth appearance. Exposure lengths can vary from ¼ to multiple seconds, depending on the light level of the scene. A tripod is essential for these longer exposure lengths, and neutral density filters that limit the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor can also come in handy if a longer exposure is needed to achieve the desired effect.

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Credit: Joey Priola

6. Utilize Live View

One of the trickiest parts of winter photographing is carefully composing a photograph in hostile conditions. While it’s easy to look through the viewfinder to compose a shot during other times of year, it can be difficult or impossible in winter. This is especially true when photographing from mountain summits, where high winds often require ski goggles, which impede the eye from being placed against the view finder, to be worn. Utilizing the camera’s live view function, which is found on practically all digital cameras, is a much easier way to compose a shot in harsh winter conditions. Live view displays what the camera is seeing on the LCD screen on the back of the camera, aiding in setting up the desired composition.

7. Get the Exposure Right in the Field

With bright snow and dark trees, rocks, or water often present at the same time in a winter scene, properly exposing a photograph can be challenging. One of the best ways to ensure that a winter photograph is properly exposed is to utilize the “histogram” function that’s found on almost all digital cameras. The histogram displays the distribution of tonal values in the image, from 0 percent brightness (black, on the far left of the histogram) to 100 percent brightness (white, on the far right of the histogram). Keeping an eye on the histogram is a great way to avoid one of most common pitfalls of winter photos: overexposing snow so that it becomes a white, detail-less blob.  Coupling the histogram with the live view takes things a step further, as it enables you to view how the histogram changes as the exposure is changed, even before taking a shot. Checking that the highlights aren’t “clipped” and that the histogram isn’t getting cut off on the right, white side ensures that bright snow won’t be overexposed and will retain detail.

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Credit: Joey Priola

8. Focus Properly

While intentionally blurring portions of a photograph, such as the aforementioned long exposure to blur/smooth moving water, can be a great creative effect, more often than not the desire is to produce a photo that is sharp throughout. This requires the camera to be focused properly, and the winter season makes this more challenging than other times of years. In extreme cold temperatures, the camera’s autofocus abilities can fail. In addition, as the autofocus function relies on the presence of contrast at the focal point to render a sharp image, the autofocus function can have trouble properly focusing at times of low contrast, such as a snowy scene in soft light that is common in winter. Manually focusing the image is often the best method to produce sharp photos in winter, and is another advantage of utilizing the live view function. To do this, zoom in on the composed image in live view, and then turn the focus ring on the lens until a sharp image is achieved. For wide-angle landscape photos, a general rule of thumb to attain an image that is sharp from front to back is to focus on a point that is approximately 1/3 the distance from the lens to the background. To further ensure that a sharp photo has been obtained in the field, zoom in at 10x on the LCD screen after taking a shot to confirm that it’s sharp throughout, and refocus if needed.

9. Pack Extra Batteries.

Cold temperatures sap battery life, and there’s nothing more frustrating than getting partway through a photo outing and having your camera battery die. Packing a couple extra batteries for your camera, and extra batteries for a headlamp/flashlight, can be a trip-saver when they’re needed. Extra batteries will be rendered useless, though, if they’re left unprotected at the top of your pack and subjected to the cold as you hike. Stashing batteries towards the center of the pack, where they’ll be insulated by the surrounding pack contents, can help spare batteries to maintain life. Double-bagging batteries in a plastic bag and placing a hand warmer outside of the bag that contains the batteries can provide extra insurance in truly frigid winter conditions.

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Credit: Joey Priola

10. Freeze the Action

Capturing outdoor athletes in action can yield powerful winter photos that make the viewer feel as if they’re a part of the scene. Skiers carving turns, with fresh powder billowing in their wake, are excellent subjects that highlight the exhilaration of the winter season. Freezing the fast-paced action of skiing can be a challenge to the photographer, though, and it’s easy to come away with blurry images. To ensure that the subject is tack sharp, utilize a fast shutter speed of 1/1000 second or less. If such a short shutter speed makes the image too dark, open up the aperture to allow more light in or bump up ISO, the sensitivity of the camera sensor to light.


Tired of the Winter? These 7 Southeast Adventures Will Warm You Up

If you’ve had enough cold and snow for the season, why not plan a late-winter/early-spring vacation in the Southeast? In just a few hours you can fly into Atlanta, Georgia, or Jacksonville, and feel the sun on your face! Whether you’re a hiker, paddler, cyclist, or camper, you’ll want to check out these seven Southeast activities that are sure to warm your spirit for adventure during the Northeast’s coldest part of the year. 

Joe King gets his feet wet on the Florida National Scenic Trail. This 30-mile section of Big Cyprus is located at the southern terminus, and borders the Everglades. | Courtesy: Aaron Landon
Joe King gets his feet wet on the Florida National Scenic Trail. This 30-mile section of Big Cyprus is located at the southern terminus, and borders the Everglades. | Courtesy: Aaron Landon

Get Your Feet Wet at Big Cypress National Preserve

Big Cypress, bordering Everglades National Park, is the southern terminus of the Florida National Scenic Trail and offers a very challenging 3-day, 30 mile hike through an otherworldly wet cypress forest. This is considered the toughest backpacking trip in Florida, but if you can handle being wet most of the time, and don’t get too freaked out by the vast loneliness of hiking through a swamp, you’ll come away from this experience a changed person. If you want to continue north on the Florida Trail, keep going and you’ll reach Billie Swamp Safari within the Seminole Indian Reservation where you can sleep in a real Seminole Chickee hut.

Cumberland Island’s 50 miles of trails meander through pristine maritime forests under live oak canopies. Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair
Cumberland Island’s 50 miles of trails meander through pristine maritime forests under live oak canopies. | Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island is Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island, featuring pristine maritime forests, undeveloped beaches, and wide marsh views. There are many miles of rustic hiking trails, backcountry campsites, historic sites, and lots of wildlife, including sea turtles, turkeys, wild hogs and horses, armadillos, and abundant shore birds. To make the most of your time on the island, set up camp at Yankee Paradise, a primitive campsite located in the middle of the island. From there you can explore Cumberland’s breathtaking seashore, Plum Orchard Mansion, Dungeness Ruins, and the Settlement, an area located in the north end of the island that was settled by former slaves in the 1890s. Make your camping and ferry reservations in advance because the number of visitors to the island are limited.

The Dirty Pecan ride and Thomasville Clay Classic are two gravel rides featuring stunning scenery beneath live oak canopies. | Courtesy: Phillip Bowen
The Dirty Pecan ride and Thomasville Clay Classic are two gravel rides featuring stunning scenery beneath live oak canopies. | Courtesy: Phillip Bowen

Cycle Through the South

The 40th Annual Florida Bicycle Safari will be held April 18-23 this year, and includes six days of riding in North Florida and South Georgia. “The Florida Bicycle Safari is much more than just a ride,” says Louis McDonald, Safari Director. “We’ve planned six days of cycling, food, games, live entertainment, and plenty of Southern hospitality at Live Oak and Cherry Lake. Our riders are from all over the country. Different routes are offered each day, including two century rides. Being the 40th anniversary, this year’s event is going to be our biggest yet!” 

And if gravel riding is your thing, the Dirty Pecan ride will be held on March 7 in Monticello, Florida, followed by the Thomasville Clay Classic on April 13 in Thomasville, Georgia. “I really love being off paved roads where there is little to no traffic,” says cyclist Cheryl Richardson, a member of the North Florida Bicycle Club. “Both of these rides feature beautiful tree canopies and spectacular scenery the entire route.”

The Okefenokee Wilderness Area offers over 400,000 acres of wetlands and swamps to explore with seven overnight shelters. | Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair
The Okefenokee Wilderness Area offers over 400,000 acres of wetlands and swamps to explore with seven overnight shelters. | Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair

Paddle the Okefenokee Swamp

A multi-day paddling trip though Georgia’s Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is a bucket list must do. There are wooden platforms throughout the swamp where you can pitch a tent at the end of each day of paddling. You’ll see lots of alligators, birds, and rare plants—The swamp is a photographer’s dream come true. You can bring your own canoe or kayak, or rent them at the park’s concessioner. They also offer guided paddling trips to suit your needs. Other activities include fishing and hiking. The Okefenokee will leave you spellbound.

The Pinhoti Trail’s Cheaha and Dugger Mountain Wilderness areas offer an otherworldly hiking experience. | Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair
The Pinhoti Trail’s Cheaha and Dugger Mountain Wilderness areas offer an otherworldly hiking experience. | Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair

Hike Alabama’s Pinhoti Trail

Start your 335-mile hike at the southern terminus, Flagg Mountain, and meet famous hiker and author, Nimblewill Nomad, who is now the caretaker there. The Pinhoti traverses through Talladega National Forest, Cheaha Wilderness, and Dugger Mountain Wilderness before entering Georgia, where it eventually meets up with the Benton MacKaye Trail, and onto Springer Mountain. Appalachian Trail hikers consider the Pinhoti a great practice hike before attempting the AT.

Providence Canyon is a hidden gem in the state of Georgia, with just enough elevation changes and glorious scenery to make it fun for all ages.
Providence Canyon is a hidden gem in the state of Georgia, with just enough elevation changes and glorious scenery to make it fun for all ages.

Visit Georgia’s Providence Canyon State Park 

Called Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon, Providence Canyon is a hidden gem. Massive gullies as deep as 150 feet were caused by poor farming practices during the 1800s, yet today they make some of the prettiest photographs within the state. Hikers who explore the deepest canyons will usually find a thin layer of water along the trail, indication of the water table below. The hike is not strenuous but has enough elevation changes to make it fun! Guests who hike to canyons 4 and 5 may want to join the Canyon Climbers Club. Backpackers can stay overnight along the backcountry trail which highlights portions of the canyon and winds through a mixed forest. This is a great trip for families who may prefer to stay in the developed campground and take day hikes. 

South Carolina’s Palmetto Trail includes the mysterious Swamp Fox Passage, where you can expect to do a little wading through Wadboo and Dog Swamps. | Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair
South Carolina’s Palmetto Trail includes the mysterious Swamp Fox Passage, where you can expect to do a little wading through Wadboo and Dog Swamps. | Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair

Hike South Carolina’s Palmetto Trail

South Carolina’s Palmetto Trail is a new trail, and still in progress (350 miles of the trail are completed; the entire trail will be 500 miles long). Swamp Fox Passage is the longest section of the cross-state Palmetto Trail at 47 miles, and traverses four distinct ecosystems through Francis Marion National Forest, including swamps made famous as hideouts of Revolutionary War hero, Francis Marion. This trail is both dry and wet, and hikers will enjoy wading through Wadboo and Dog Swamps, along with Turkey Creek. Swamp Fox Passage is close to Charleston, so be sure to give yourself an extra day or two to explore the city.


8 Short Winter Hikes in Southern Maine

Cabin fever? Want to introduce yourself and your family to the fun of winter hiking? Consider these short explorations in Southern Maine, and glimpse what so many of us love about the “fourth season.”

Credit: Bryce Waldrop
Credit: Bryce Waldrop

Bauneg Beg Mountain

This lovely moderate 2-mile hike begins with a drive to the trailhead through the bucolic countryside of North Berwick, Maine. The trail head is easy to find and has ample parking. You’ll find the trails are wide and easy to follow, and all ages can enjoy walking the rolling terrain through a mix of open hardwoods, and shady evergreens. You’ll step through old stone walls on your way to the summits, where you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding landscape, including some distant peaks to the north. One route follows some steep rock scrambling, so consider using “Ginny’s Way” for a milder ascent to the main summit.

Credit: Bryce Waldrop
Credit: Bryce Waldrop

Mount Agamenticus 

The “First Hill” in Southern Maine, Mount Agamenticus (or Mount A) offers both forest solitude and an open summit with 360-degree views of the seacoast. And the best thing about Agamenticus? There is so much to explore, you can take a new route each time and experience it all over again. Numerous trail options take you through a mix of hardwoods and evergreens and over streams that gurgle year-round. Stay on the Ring Trail for an easier circuit, or hike up one of the many rocky routes to the broad, open summit. At the summit, you’ll find plenty of space to explore, including viewing platforms and interpretive panels that describe the local wildlife and distant views.

For families, Agamenticus has a fun “Story Walk” along the Ring Trail, featuring colorful pages from a nature-themed children’s book. The kids will be excited to follow the trail and find what happens next.

Short on time, or not able to hike up? No problem, take the road to the summit parking area where you can easily enjoy the beautiful views. Bring your lunch or coffee and sit and relax atop Maine’s first hill.

Second Hill at Mount Agamenticus

For a slightly longer walk on Mount A, try visiting Second Hill and savor the peace and quiet of this less-populated trail. Routes are easy to follow and offer you a different perspective on the wooded seacoast region. Second Hill is a nice stop for lunch, and it has plenty of space for kids to explore and a nice little summit sign for fun pictures.

Credit: Bryce Waldrop
Credit: Bryce Waldrop

Highland Farm Preserve

Easily accessible on Route 91 between York and South Berwick, Highland Farm Preserve offers easy to moderate hiking and cross-country ski trails through woods and open meadows. Created in 2009, this preserve is part of the Mount Agamenticus to the Sea Conservation Region (MtA2C). Trails are well-marked and an easy walk will bring you through open meadows, and alongside stone walls and old family cemeteries. You can enjoy the meadows, or expand your hike along wooded trails for up to 2-miles. Kids might enjoy a short climb up to the ridge where you can take in views, and find a second family cemetery.

Tip: See if you can find the tall stone cairn, a secret gem of Highland Farm Preserve!

Credit: Bryce Waldrop
Credit: Bryce Waldrop

Brave Boat Headwaters Trail

A great starter hike for young families, and only a mile from the busy Kittery Outlets, the 1.5-mile Brave Boat Headwaters Trail is a lovely winter walk. Nearly level, this gentle loop brings you through a wooded area with towering mature trees before rounding a point where you can enjoy numerous vistas of expansive Spruce Creek. Take note of waterfowl which remain active throughout the year, and look for animal tracks in the snow: You’ll forget you’re barely a mile from I-95.

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Vaughn Woods Memorial State Park

This is a wooded oasis along the Salmon Falls River in South Berwick, Maine. Enormous hemlock and pine surround you as you walk 3+ miles of wide, easy-to-follow trails. The Park is very family-friendly and simply a joy to walk in winter. Trails and bridges are well-maintained and great for all ages and abilities. Look for evidence of winter wildlife as you traverse gentle hills and icy streams, while the sun streams through the evergreen roof. The River Run trail offers great windows onto the Salmon Falls River, or take the side trail over to the Hamilton House and enjoy the vista for this prominent Georgian-style mansion.

Credit: Bryce Waldrop
Credit: Bryce Waldrop

Orris Falls Conservation Area

The wooded region where York, Eliot, and South Berwick meet provides a rich habitat and numerous opportunities to explore Maine’s local wilds. This fun series of trails offers everything you want in a hike: streams, boulders, waterfalls, wetlands, a beaver pond, a gorge, and an enormous balancing rock. The natural features alone will keep the kids motivated and delight hikers of all ages.

The trail has few markers but is easy to follow, and trail junctions are marked with signs. The route provides an excellent mix of terrain for a fun hiking experience. Kids will have a ball traipsing over streams, through little ravines, and atop ridges. Look for tracks from abundant wildlife, and a nice example of a beaver dam just before the turn for Orris Falls, where the stream tumbles into a 90-foot deep gorge. Continue to the Orris Family homestead site and wonder what it might have been like to live here in the 1800s.

Families: Balancing rock is only 1/2 mile from Emery’s Bridge Road and so worth it. Talk to the kids about glacial erratics and they will impress the science teacher at school on Monday!

Credit: Bryce Waldrop
Credit: Bryce Waldrop

Kennebunk Land Trust – Alewive Wood Preserve

This is a pleasant, multi-use 2.5-mile loop trail in West Kennebunk that rewards you with lovely Alewife Pond. The trailhead is on Cole Road, mid-way between Alfred Road and Walker Road, and has parking for about 6 cars. The teardrop-shaped route is well-marked with red blazes, but occasionally shares a multi-use trail, so look for small signs indicating where the hiking trail veers off. There are also a few unmarked routes that crisscross the trail, so keep an eye on the red blazes.

All along you’ll find yourself wandering through new growth evergreens and hardwoods, giving the feel of a young forest with plenty of sunlight streaming in. A separate spur trail, marked with blue blazes, will lead you to Alewife Pond. This trail follows the shore briefly to a secluded spot with benches and nice views, making it a great place to pause for lunch or a warm drink before heading back.


Video: Winter Car Safety Essentials

Don’t drive off without this stuff.


4 Winter Hikes for Aspiring Catskill 3500ers

Rough terrain, remote locations, and harsh weather make tackling any of the Northeast’s peak-bagging lists a difficult achievement. Whether it’s the high peaks of the Adirondack 46’ers, the 4,000-footers of New England, or the summits of the Catskill 3500 Club, membership is hard-earned.

Unlike the stewards of New England and the Adirondacks, however, the Catskill Club challenges its aspirants in a different way, by requiring that four of its 35 listed peaks be gained twice—once in winter—for a total of 39 climbs. It’s a wrinkle that ups the ante and affords hikers two unique experiences on some of the region’s finest summits.

As with any winter outing, be prepared for frigid temperatures, shorter days, and potentially nasty weather. Always be sure to check the forecast and trail conditions before heading out. If you’re new to winter hiking, start here.

So which are the must-do winter climbs in New York’s southern range?

A view along the Wittenberg–Cornell–Slide Trail, just shy of the Slide’s broad, flat summit. | Credit: John Lepak
A view along the Wittenberg–Cornell–Slide Trail, just shy of the Slide’s broad, flat summit. | Credit: John Lepak

Slide Mountain

At 4,190 feet, Slide Mountain is the tallest peak in the Catskills and, together with Hunter Mountain, complete the region’s contribution to the NE115 list. It’s Slide’s superlative status that makes it a mega-popular place to be at any time of year, so be prepared to negotiate the crowds on the weekend.

On a bluebird winter weekday though, it’s about as good as it gets. The Curtis–Ormsbee Trail, though neither the most direct nor the easiest route to the top—but decidedly less crowded than the alternative—is an outstanding bit of hiking. Those willing to take on the extra effort though are rewarded with two stellar, sweeping viewpoints, from which several of the Catskills’ higher peaks are visible.

The allure of ticking another 4,000 footer—and a winter one to boot—is also hard to deny. There are a good lot of harder hikes in the Catskills, but Slide definitely has that 4,000 footer-vibe about it.

A 6.6-mile loop hike linking the Curtis–Ormsbee and Wittenberg–Cornell–Slide Trails is one of the best short hikes in the Catskills. For the more ambitious, a full traverse of the Burroughs Range—one of the region’s premier hikes—is an awesome longer (9.8 miles as a shuttle, 14.5 miles as a loop) option.

Black Dome Mountain is front-and-center while descending from Blackhead’s viewless summit. | Credit: John Lepak
Black Dome Mountain is front-and-center while descending from Blackhead’s viewless summit. | Credit: John Lepak

Blackhead Mountain

High and rugged, the peaks of the Blackhead Range loom large over the northeastern Catskills. From west to east, Thomas Cole, Black Dome, and the eponymous Blackhead account for the fourth-, third-, and fifth-highest mountains in the region, respectively, and are traversed by a network of well-signed, well-maintained trails.

It’s easy to see why the architects of the Catskill 3500 Club’s bylaws chose this place—and specifically Blackhead Mountain (3,940 feet)—for one of their four required winter hikes: the ice.

As winter lays siege to Blackhead’s upper reaches, the steep eastern ledges grow dense with thick, accumulated ice, making an approach from this direction substantially more challenging. In fact, the hardness of the ice and the steepness of the terrain often demand that hikers ditch the light traction for real-deal crampons—a pretty unique requirement for a day hike in the Northeast.

The most popular way to bag Blackhead is by way of a 4.3-mile loop from the parking area at the end of Big Hollow Road on the Batavia Kill, Escarpment, Blackhead Mountain and Black Dome Range Trails. Doing it clockwise will have you ascending the heavy ice and descending on gentler ground with prolific views of Black Dome, the best on the hike.

The viewpoint just north of Panther’s summit, a little bit obscured by low clouds and flurries. | Credit: John Lepak
The viewpoint just north of Panther’s summit, a little bit obscured by low clouds and flurries. | Credit: John Lepak

Panther Mountain

Panther Mountain (3,730 feet) and its north–south running ridgeline are best known for offering some of the best views in the Catskills. For better or worse, this is a widely known fact, and a nice weekend day can draw a crowd, particularly at Giant Ledge, a bit south of Panther’s summit.

The snow and ice of winter will thin the crowds a bit, especially past Giant Ledge where the higher-precip years, snow can really pile up enough in the col that even the most intrepid post-holer will turn back (hint: bring snowshoes). Beyond, the moderate ascent is made easier with a good snowpack. Some ledge work will still need to be negotiated and switching between spikes and snowshoes will add some time to the trip, but that’s winter hiking for you.

The terrain is generally moderate and enjoyable, but this hike is all about the views—views that are magnified with winter’s absence of leaves. Unlike in leaf-out season you can really feel the scale of the place the whole time—not just at the viewpoints.

The most direct route up Panther—a 6.4 mile out-and-back on the Phoenicia–East Branch and Giant Ledge–Panther–Fox Hollow Trails—can be made from the south, starting at the hairpin turn on CR-47. A northern approach from Fox Hollow, with a substantial view just before the summit offers a longer (8.8-mile), far-less-traveled option for those looking to avoid the crowds.

The view from the Pine Hill–West Branch Trail, just north of the summit of Balsam Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak
The view from the Pine Hill–West Branch Trail, just north of the summit of Balsam Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

Balsam Mountain

Balsam Mountain (3,600 feet), in the Catskills’ Big Indian Wilderness Area is the shortest and most westerly of the required winter 35’ers. Though the summit itself is viewless, a little ledge just to the north offers an outstanding easterly view, and the broad, flat character of the ridge makes for a pleasant, relaxing stroll—all the better with a good snowpack.

The main attraction of Balsam, however, is its location. Proximity to easily accessible trailheads, shelters, and other high peaks make it a great mountain to revisit: alone, as a day hike, or as a longer, overnight trip by linking up with the semi-trailed Eagle and Big Indian Mountains to the south.

Despite its generally moderate grades, winter on Balsam presents would-be summiteers with yet another unique seasonal challenge: water crossings. Climate change certainly hasn’t made mountain weather any more predictable and unseasonable thaws can cause high water, making even the simplest of brook crossings a challenge. Be adequately prepared and know when to turn around.

Beginning at the Rider Hollow Road trailhead and linking the Mine Hollow, Pine Hill–West Branch, and Olivrea–Mapledale Trails makes for an excellent 4.9-mile loop up and down Balsam’s western flank.


Safety Tips for Trail Running in Winter

When the cold weather comes and the snow starts to fly, many of us retire the trail running shoes until late spring. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are a few suggestions that will allow you to continue to run with comfort and safety through the winter months, so you can enjoy yourself and stay in shape.

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Lighting

An important consideration in the winter is the lack of light available to run in. The days are obviously shorter (around 9 hours of daylight in the Northeast). This means morning and late afternoon runs are certainly in the dark. In addition to this, the sun is also lower in the sky making it quite dark in the woods even in the middle of the day. For these reasons you want to make sure that you have a headlamp available for all of your runs. Since the cold can affect the power of your light, an extra set of batteries or even a spare lamp is a good idea as well,

The Petzl Swift RL is a great choice because it will automatically adjust the light based on the level of darkness present. This saves you from the aggravation of removing gloves and fumbling with buttons or switches as conditions change.

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Appropriate Footwear

In the winter it is extremely important to consider the type of footwear you will use based upon your chosen activity and environment. You need to make sure that whatever your choices are, they will keep your feet adequately warm in the cold and provide enough traction to negotiate snow and ice on the trail. This does not mean that you have to put on big, insulated winter boots to hit the winter trails. Nobody wants to run in those. There are other things you can do keep your feet and toes warm enough.

The first is to wear a good pair of wool socks. Wool has the wonderful ability to keep its insulating properties even when wet. If your feet sweat or if you get snow in your shoe, the wool will continue to provide a level of warmth. If it is particularly cold, I choose to wear a good pair of ski socks like the SmartWool PHD Ski Light Elite or Slopestyle Medium socks. Because they are knee high, they help to keep your legs warm as well as your feet.

If you have feet that are sensitive to the cold, another thing you can do to keep your feet warm is to use foot or toe warmers. The Yaktrax brand have chemicals that are air activated and can stay at 105 degrees for up to five hours.

As for the best footwear choices, I recommend finding a trail running shoe that uses a Gore-tex lining. While they are not insulated for warmth like a winter boot, they do make the shoe waterproof and insulated from the wind. A couple of great examples are the Salomon Sense Ride GTX (men’s/women’s) or the North Face Ultra 109 GTX.

Traction is the second important factor when considering winter footwear. Falls are considerable hazard in trail running, especially in the winter when you add in snow and ice. Modern trail running shoes do a great job of providing traction for most cases. They have deep lugs and grippy material on the soles. But much like a good tire on black ice, there are some conditions where they are just not enough.

Kahtoola NANOspikes are a great choice if you are going to be running over trails with periodic ice or packed snow. They use carbide spikes that are narrow enough so that they can go over dry pavement, but deep enough to bite into ice and snow. Kahtoola MICROspikes, on the other hand, are the choice for trails that are completely frozen with snow and ice. They use deeper stainless-steel spikes that really dig in.

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Hydration

The winter can make staying hydrated a challenge. When you’re in the cold you have a tendency not to feel thirsty even when you need water. If you are not careful, your water may start to freeze and make it impossible to drink it from your container of choice.

Using a hydration pack and bladder is a good way to go in the winter for a couple of reasons. The first is that the water is generally close to your back so your body temp can help prevent it from freezing. You just want to make sure that you blow back the water into the bladder after each time you drink so the water does not freeze in the tubes. Insulated bladders are available, like the Camelbak Stoaway, that protect the water from freezing. If you already have a bladder, you can get insulated tubing to switch in to it.

If you decide to go with water bottles, there are some important considerations to make. While it might be tempting to use insulated metal bottles, they are not a great choice because they are extremely heavy for running and their caps may freeze. It is probably best to use a 32-ounce Wide-Mouth Nalgene. Make sure you use a large mouth bottle because the small mouth increases the risk of freezing. Fill the bottle with heated water. Consider adding electrolyte tablets like those made by Nuun. The salts decrease the freezing point and the flavor makes warm water more palatable. Put the bottle in an insulating container or if you don’t have one, into a thick wool sock. Then keep the bottle as close to your body as possible.

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Clothing

Layers art critical for any winter activity. You always want to check the weather first and look at the real feel temp to factor in wind. Then pick clothes for 10 to 20 degrees warmer than that temperature. During exertion, your body will generate heat and over-dressing can be dangerous because you will sweat too much.

The base layer should be a long sleeve shirt that is highly breathable and wicking. Either wool or synthetic is fine, just stay away from cotton or blends. A couple of good choices would be the Smartwool NTS Mid 250 or the EMS Techwick Midweight Top. Whatever your choice, you want to make sure that you tuck this shirt in.

For the middle layer, you want something that provides good warmth but is lightweight. There are many great choices like running jackets, down puffies, or synthetic hoodies. I prefer to run with a hoodie made from the Power Stretch Fabric made by Polartec. It is very breathable, it wicks moisture, allows for easy movement, and is warm. The EMS Equinox Hoodie is a great example.

In snow, sleet, or rain you need to combine these layers with a shell of some kind. If it is particularly cold, nearly any kind of lightweight shell will do because the cold snow sheds easily. If it is a little warmer and there is wet snow or mixed precipitation you should go with a fully waterproof but breathable rain shell with a hood so that you remain reasonably dry.

When it is under 30 degrees, you definitely want to wear full length running tights that have some wind protection. The EMS Northshield Pant is an example of one. If it is getting down below 20 you need to start thinking of using a fleece lined tight or perhaps doubling up by using tights under a running pant.

Needless to say, in winter weather you need to be wearing a hat and gloves. When you choose a winter hat the most important consideration is to be sure that it wicks moisture. If it just soaks up the sweat it is not going to be much of a help. So once again, you want to be thinking of synthetics or wool. When it gets below 20 degrees you should probably double up with a hood.

Thin running gloves or glove liners are usually adequate at 30 degrees or above. If it gets much below that or is windy you need to start considering heavier gloves. I have found that mittens work better for me when running in cold temperatures because they trap the heat generated by the hands during exercise. I like the Karrimore Peak Mitten because it they are very lightweight, and packable, but extremely warm.

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Three Beginner-Friendly New Hampshire Ice Climbing Destinations

If you haven’t busted your ice tools out yet or you’re a beginner just looking to enter the sport, now is the time to do it. But before you head out, consider exploring one of these three awesome New Hampshire locations as the perfect spot to get in the…swing of things.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Kinsman Notch

Blending a mix of beginner-friendly ice with steep columns and big bulges in a fun, craggy setting, Kinsman Notch is a destination where you can find something for everybody, no matter who’s in your crew. Located just outside Woodstock on Route 112, getting to the ice at Kinsman requires a short-but-steep, 15-20 minute walk uphill on an easy-to-follow path. You’ll know you’re at the ice when you see a short, steep pillar straight ahead and the approach trail begins to level out as it bends left.

Kinsman’s first crag contains two fun climbs: Pot O’ Gold (the WI4 pillar) and Killarney (an easier route up the ramp to the right). Whether you’re leading or top-roping—walk around right for good trees above to build anchors—these climbs are well worth doing.

Just a little ways left of Pot O’Gold are several other popular flows. The first is Shamrock—a long, wide flow that ranges from WI3 to WI4 depending on the conditions and the precise path you take. The next flow is Hanging By The Moment, two steep columns on either side of a large rock; these are among the hardest climbs in the area. The final flow in this area is Leprechaun’s Lament. It has three distinct parts with the left-most flow (WI2+) being the easiest, the middle curtain going at WI3, and the right-most ramp falling in between the two in terms of difficulty. All three climbs allow access to the top ledge, which climbers can use to set up anchors above the WI3 curtain as well as some of the more challenging routes on climber’s right.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

If all these climbs are occupied, climbers can follow the typically beat-in path further left for about 200 yards. Soon you’ll see the Beast (WI4+) and the Ramp Route (WI3-4), two multi-pitch routes with steep first pitches followed by some mellower sections above. If climbing columns is your thing, don’t miss the Beast!

If the multi-pitch routes are already taken as well—which is possible because Kinsman is a popular weekend destination—there’s an additional wide flow another 50 yards left of the Beast. Known as Blarney Stone, this is a great place to get some sticks in while the parties ahead of you get pumped out.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Champney Falls

Champney Falls is an excellent location for beginner and intermediate climbers looking to challenge themselves on steeper ice. Located about 30 minutes outside of North Conway Village, climbers will find parking at the aptly named (and well-signed) Champney Falls Trailhead. From the trailhead, follow the normally well-packed Champney Falls Trail as it climbs gradually for roughly 1.5 miles and take the obvious spur into the gorge. Inside the gorge, there’s a small cave which is perfect for stashing gear in—opposite the cave is a wall of ice ranging between 25 and 40 feet.

There are two options for setting up top ropes at Champney Falls. For those uncomfortable leading, it’s possible to scramble through the woods to the top of the cliff. This is a popular destination and you’re likely to have a packed-snow path to follow. If not, a rusty wire fence leads to the top, providing a guide to the clifftop. The other option is to lead the ramp in the back of the gorge—depending on the season, this ramp can range from running water to  snow to a big fat flow. Either way, pack a reasonably long static line for building anchors; the sturdiest trees are quite far back from the edge.

The routes at Champney are all fairly vertical. With the exception of the snow ramp/ice flow, the routes in the back of the canyon are the longest and steepest (WI5). As the routes move toward the front of the gorge, they lessen in both height and difficulty with a normally yellow-ish ice section in the middle going at WI4 and giving way to shorter and bulgier ice in the WI3 range. Some short-ish mixed lines that are fun to play on also form at the mouth of the canyon from time to time. Champney Falls is a popular destination and can accommodate only a few parties, so if you’re heading there on a weekend in prime ice season, you’ll want to get an early start.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The North End of Cathedral

There’s good reason the North End of Cathedral is one of the busiest single-pitch ice crags in New Hampshire—the approach is only about five minutes. Located on Cathedral Ledge Road just after the winter gate, the North End is the most accessible ice in the North Conway area. It sports several large flows offering everything from mellow slabs to steep ice.

The three most popular flows at the North End are Thresher, the North End Slab, and the North End Pillars. In good conditions, the latter two are wide flows that can accommodate multiple parties at once.

Of the three flows, the easiest is the North End Slab (WI2). It is also the longest climb in the North End, climbing a moderately angled ramp that is fantastic for first timers. For climbers planning on top roping the route, be aware that a 60m rope will be too short; climbers can instead build an anchor partway up the climb and top rope from there.

Thresher Slab | Credit: Tim Peck
Thresher Slab | Credit: Tim Peck

The North End Pillars (WI3-4) are located just to the right of North End Slab. A very wide flow, there’s often room for multiple parties on these easily accessible steep columns and they are a great place to practice climbing vertical ice. Climbers interested in top roping can access the good tree anchors at the top via an approach trail on climber’s right.

The final flow at the North End—Thresher (WI3)—begins a bit left of the North End Slab. It starts with a few sporting moves up a chimney, then ascends a slab and bulges toward the trees. One note of caution—you’ll need more than a single 60m rope to rap back to the ground. Of course, there’s an easy solution, enjoy this stellar route as a party of three.

Now that you have the beta on these three awesome areas, it’s time (if you haven’t already) to bust out the tools and get climbing. Make sure to tell us in the comments how you fared!


10 Tips for Staying Warm While Backcountry Skiing

It gets cold in the Northeast. Unbearably cold, sometimes. But low temps shouldn’t be an excuse for missing that next backcountry powder day. Read on for 10 tips for staying warm this winter while backcountry skiing.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Don’t Dawdle in the Parking Lot

Arrive ready to go—dressed, skins on, and fully packed—so that you can jump right out of the car onto the skin track. Screwing around in the parking lot ensures you’ll start your tour off too cold.

2. Start a Little Cold

Starting overdressed is a certain way to overheat, guaranteeing damp baselayers for the rest of the tour. It also ensures that 10 to 15 minutes into the day, you’ll need to stop and de-layer, starting a cycle of body temperature fluctuations that are difficult to manage.

3. Timely Layering

Everybody knows that layering is key to staying warm in the backcountry. But an underrated aspect of this process is knowing where and when to add or subtract a layer. For example, on the steep climb up a Tuck’s gully, don’t wait until you’re already roasting from the climb to shed that outer layer. Likewise, on something like Mount Moosilauke, which has a lengthy above-tree line segment, pause below treeline to add appropriate gear before venturing into the cold, windy terrain above.

4. Lots of Lightweight Layers

Instead of carrying a few heavy layers, carrying a variety of lightweight layers allow greater adaptability to conditions. For example, carrying two lightweight puffies instead of a single heavy one is a favorite backcountry ski trick, especially if one of those puffies is made with active insulation. On particularly cold days, this allows you to wear a puffy in the skin track or slide it under your shell on the descent, rather than reserving it for transitions.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. Pack for Success

Pack the layers you’ll use most often near the top of your bag so the whole group doesn’t have to pause while you dig that critical piece out of the bottom of your pack. Likewise, stash essentials like gels, a hat, and a buff in your pockets—this way you can get an energy boost and warm up on the move, without stopping to take off your pack.

6. Plan Group Breaks

Instead of everybody on the tour taking haphazard breaks, get the group on board with regular group breaks—we like to plan hourly breaks or at obvious transitions (up/down or significant terrain changes). This is a great way to improve group efficiency and keep everybody moving and warm.

7. Fuel Up

It’s difficult to stay properly fueled in the winter—you burn more calories, you don’t realize how much you’re perspiring, and you lose fluid through respiration. Dehydration + hunger is a certain recipe for getting cold, so make sure to eat and drink at every break to keep the furnace burning and the stoke high.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

8. Some Like it Hot 

Water not cutting it or freezing in your bottle? Try a thermos filled with a hot drink—it’s one of our favorite mid-outing pick-me-ups. Store your drink of choice in a Hydro Flask so that it’s hot when you want it. Likewise, a sippable soup in an insulated container is a lot more appealing than a frozen Snickers bar.

9. Do Your Homework

Pick the right tour for the forecast and snowpack, then research your route so you’ll stay on track. (Looking for more ski touring tips? Check out What Guides Think About Before Ski Touring in Tuckerman Ravine.) For example, there’s no need to sit on the couch because it’s freezing in the Presidentials; some great cold-weather options are Mount Cardigan and Granite Backcountry Alliance glades like Maple Villa and Crescent Ridge. They’re all at much lower elevations and minimize wind chills by staying mostly in the trees.

10. Pack a Dry Set of Clothes for the Ride Home

There’s nothing worse than driving home in damp baselayers. Ever so slowly, that dampness sucks out your energy, delaying your recovery for tomorrow’s powder day. Whenever you finish your tour, change into a dry set of clothes right away.

Do you have any tricks for staying warm while ski touring? If so, we want to hear them! Leave them in the comments below, so we can all stay warm this winter.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

4 Tips for Finding Wintertime Solitude in the Adirondacks

Finding peace, solitude, and quiet in our day-to-day lives gets harder every day. Sometimes I head into the woods looking for a more social natural experience. I like to see other people on the trail or at a campground. It makes me feel even more comfortable if I am alone, or it is getting dark. In some circumstances, I’m expecting to see other friendly dogs for my dog to meet, other hikers to chat with on the summit, and the trail to be worn from other snowshoers so my walk will be a bit easier.

But other times, I am seeking solitude. I want to experience the quiet, untrammeled parts of wilderness. I want to experience the natural world as many people have before me, for hundreds of years. I want to hear birds, and water rushing. I want to have a chance to see wildlife. I want to find an overlook to enjoy the view in seclusion where I can fully let my body relax, look over valleys, rivers and marvel at nature’s wonders.

The reality is that we must share our wildlands; They belong to all of us. However, there are a few things you can do to find a little more solitude if that is the experience you’re seeking when planning your next outing in the Adirondacks this winter.

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Venture into the wilderness outside the High Peaks.

The High Peaks Wilderness area gets a lot of attention for being home to the tallest peaks in the Park. But there are many other Wilderness areas that offer unique outdoor recreation opportunities. There are many mountains, lakes, rivers, and ponds that have trails that connect and offer opportunities to explore the Adirondacks. 

Avoid using apps to find your hikes.

These apps can be helpful, but especially in the Adirondacks, there are so many trails that are not listed on them. You can find more reliable and comprehensive information (and quieter places to visit!) listed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), town websites, regional land trusts, or the Champlain Area Trails. If there is a trail listed on apps or on a review site with many recent reviews, consider picking another location.  

Explore summer destinations.

Snowshoe/ski into popular paddling areas and primitive campgrounds that would be otherwise busy in warmer seasons. Make sure to call the land manager (many times the DEC) beforehand for permission to use the closed seasonal roads first.  

Start from a quieter town.

Whether you’re a local or coming from far away, consider planning your outing in a town that is a bit sleepier during the winter season. You will be much more likely to step out of your car and into solitude. Plan ahead if you’re hoping to make it an overnight trip, as some businesses may be shut down for the season. This may mean bringing your own provisions and cooking a cozy meal in your AirBnB. For locals it may mean bringing dry clothes and a thermos of something hot to keep in your car for a comfortable ride home. 

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It’s our responsibility when we get to any natural place, to leave it better than we find it. Even if we are the only person that visits a place, the next person will feel like they have just discovered a place for the first time too. That also means thinking about how you share your experience on social media after your trip.  

It’s also worth mentioning, that if you’re going to take the responsibility of venturing into more remote, less populated destinations, you should especially be prepared for the conditions for the outing. Understanding the safety implications of where you are going, what you’re doing, and if there is cell service where you are. Even if you’re only planning to be out for a day, have enough gear to survive overnight in case you get stranded. 

At the end of the day, no matter what, even if you’re sharing your experience with many other people, a day spent in the Adirondacks is a good day. However, there are many places in the Adirondacks where you can go and have a quiet winter day. There is a certain magic when we have a moment in winter solitude to experience the gifts of Mother Nature and realize why it is all worth protecting for everyone. 

How do you find solitude, and when do you enjoy a more social nature experience?