8 Reasons Not to Be an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker

How many times have you said to someone, “Someday I’m going to hike the entire Appalachian Trail.” Probably a hundred times, at least? You’ve been reading AT books and trail journals, you drool over gear at the outfitter stores, you argue with your friends about how to hang a bear bag, and you brag about what great shape you’re in.

But maybe thru-hiking the AT is not for you. For every four thru hikers who start out at Springer Mountain, only one will make it all the way to Katahdin. Some don’t even make it up the approach trail. And why is this? It’s because thru hiking the AT is hard—really hard. Hikers drop out for all sorts of reasons, from injuries and family issues to boredom and loneliness.

But here’s the good thing: You don’t have to be an AT thru hiker to prove yourself to anyone, or to challenge your body beyond what it’s capable of doing. There are lots of fun challenges out there that will give you bragging rights and make you a well-rounded outdoor adventurer.

If you’re considering an upcoming thru hike, consider these 8 reasons not to do it, and what you can do instead. And just maybe, a thru hike on the Appalachian Trail will be in your future…or won’t!

Grayson Highlands is a favorite spot on the AT, known for its wild ponies, black bear, bobcat, red fox, ruffed grouse, deer, and wild turkey. | Credit: Troy Lair

Reason 1: Because you don’t want to sleep in the woods for 5 to 6 months.

Leaving your comfortable life to hike 5 to 6 months on the AT, covering over 2,000 grueling miles, sleeping on the hard ground in all sorts of terrible weather, is not for everyone, especially anyone who is a fan of their comfy bed at home, clean clothes, and food that wasn’t cooked on a Pocket Rocket.

Do this instead: Take a long section hike.

You don’t have to set aside 6 months to “complete” the AT—Section hiking, or doing it piece by piece as day hikes or shorter backpacking trips is an equally good way to get the Appalachian Trail experience. One of our favorite sections: Hike the AT from Damascus, VA to Pearisburg, VA for 165 miles. You’ll go through some of the most beautiful sections of the AT, including Grayson Highlands, with their wild horses and abundant wildlife, and if you’re in good shape you can probably do it in two weeks.

Avery Reekstin tackles the 4,000 footers of New Hampshire. | Credit: James Golisano

Reason 2: You don’t want to quit your job.

You’re young, you’re just out of college, and recently landed a great job in your field. Do you really want to give that up with the chance that you may not find another good job when you finish your thru hike?

Do this instead: Hike all of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot summits.

You can have a major goal and impressive outdoor adventure in various different locations without giving up that much time. Instead, pick a peak bagging list like the New Hampshire 4000 and chip away at it on weekends.

Try a new sport if you’re not into hiking, like whitewater kayaking. | Courtesy: Nantahala Outdoor Center

Reason 3: Because you have bad knees.

You love to hike, but your knees say no way. Not everyone is built to take on a challenge like the AT. Your knees are not going to get any better or stronger on a long AT hike, in fact, you may very well suffer a painful injury walking miles a day. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a new outdoor pursuit, and learn a new sport.

Do this instead: Take up whitewater kayaking.

There are lots of challenges out there besides long hiking trails, and whitewater kayaking is one of them. It’s a thrilling sport, an adrenaline rush like no other! But don’t just jump into the water quite yet. Visit the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) in the heart of the Nantahala National Forest in NC, and take one or more of their whitewater kayaking courses. You’ll learn lots of new skills, like how to read the water, and how to “roll.” And since the Appalachian Trail passes right through their property, you’ll get to schmooze with thru hikers, too! And it’s easy on your knees.

Reason 4: Because you have small children at home.

You’re not getting any gold stars for leaving your kids at home while you’re hike the AT for 5-months. Your young children need you at home. But that doesn’t mean that an AT thru hike isn’t in your future.

Do this instead: Get your kids into hiking.

Kids love to hike in the woods. Start out with short walks, and keep them busy by identifying plants, trees, bird song, and insects. Take them on trails that have a wow-factor, like a beautiful waterfall, or swimming hole. Buy them their own hiking gear, like trekking poles and backpacks. Before long, they might want to join you for AT section hike trips, or other missions like these in the Adirondacks or these in New Hampshire.

Reason 5: Because you don’t have any money.

Let’s face it, you need money to hike the Appalachian Trail—It costs about $6,000 to support yourself on the trail, and that’s likely without any income. And that doesn’t even cover the cost of your gear. You may think you can live on less, and maybe you can, but you’re going to want to stay in towns, eat at restaurants, pay for shuttles, and have money at the end of your hike to rent a car to buy a plane ticket to get home.

Do this instead: Stick close to home.

Not everyone who hikes the Appalachian Trail does it as a thru-hike. Parcel it out into a section hike and take on the pieces closer to home which require less traveling and expense.

Fran Leyman hikes the Beehive Dome Loop Trail in Acadia National Park. | Credit: Carey Kish

Reason 6: Because you’d rather be at the beach.

Spending your summer in the mountains might be nice for a lot of us, but it means forgoing beach days and the ocean escapes you might be used to, here and there. What if there were a way to have the best of both worlds?

Do this instead: Visit Acadia National Park in Maine.

Acadia National Park is a coastal wonderland for folks who love the beach and love to hike. The Beehive Dome Loop Trail is a challenging hike that borders on exposed via ferratta. “The views of Great Head, Sand Beach, and Newport Coveen route are spectacular,” states Carey Kish, author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast, and editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. “Over the top, the trail meanders on to the Bowl, a brilliant blue tarn tucked into the ridge below Champlain Mountain that makes a great place for a swim and a picnic lunch.”

Reason #7: Because you’ve had a recent surgery.

If you’ve had a recent surgery, spending 6 months walking probably isn’t in the cards. Save it for next year.

Do this instead: Get a professional personal hiking trainer.

For avid hiker Alys Spillman of Savannah, GA, who recently had foot surgery, she knew she’d have to get some help to get back on the trail safely. “I used Trailside Fitness to help with my recovery,” says Alys. “It’s an online training guide that’s helping me reach my fitness goals. I’m not ready for a thru hike yet, but these small shakedown hikes I’m doing on the weekend are getting me back in the game!”

Reason #8: Because your gear is old and heavy.

That old backpack and heavy boots might have been good enough for your grandfather, but they’re not right for you. A heavy tent and worn-out rain jacket will drag you down every minute you’re on the AT, causing you to get discouraged from the very first day out.

Do this instead: Spend a year buying new gear.

There’s no reason you need to rush to drop all that money on new gear in the month before you leave. Delay things a year, make a budget, do your research, and buy a piece of lightweight gear each month for a year. By next spring you’ll have everything you need for a successful thru hike!


Explore Follensby Clear Pond By Canoe

As the days grow longer, the temperature rises, and frozen lakes and ponds return to their liquid state, the serene waters of the Adirondack Mountains beckon the outdoor adventurer to stow away their snowshoes and skis and break out a canoe or kayak for long sunny days of aquatic exploration. Home to over 3,000 lakes and ponds (including classics like the Seven Carries), a paddling destination suited for every taste can be found in the vast Adirondack Park, but for a fine introduction to what backcountry canoe camping in the Adirondacks is all about, head to Follensby Clear Pond in the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest.

Credit: Joey Priola

Finding Camp

While small enough (roughly 1.5 miles from end to end) to explore in a day, the beautiful waterfront campsites, plentiful wildlife, and options for further exploration make Follensby Clear an ideal basecamp to call home for a few days. After launching from the parking area at the south end of Follensby Clear Pond on State Route 30 (where a dock facilitates the loading and unloading of boats), glide through the placid waters as you bid adieu to civilization. Trace the sinuous shoreline, keeping an eye out for herons hunting in the shallows, and scout out the numerous campsites that pepper the shore. Note: The DEC periodically closes campsites and builds new ones in popular locations such as Follensby Clear, so give the regional DEC office a call ahead of time to find out the most up to date status. Contact info and other details and regulations can be found at the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest DEC website.

While the closest campsites are a mere stone’s throw from the parking lot, press on to the quieter northern half of the lake to avoid most of the day-tripper traffic and to discover primo island campsites (including one of the only lean-tos in the area) as well as a large and beautiful campsite on a peninsula that extends from the western shore in the north end of the pond. All campsites are first come, first served and have an outhouse or open-air “thunderbox” as well as a fire ring, but no picnic table or food storage lockers. While bear canisters aren’t necessarily required in the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest, they’re highly recommended to avoid having pesky rodents and raccoons getting into your food bag, even if it has been expertly hung.

Credit: Joey Priola

Side Trips

Once camp is established, spend your days either lounging around camp or heading out to some of the enticing destinations that make for perfect daytrips from camp.

Horseshoe and Polliwog Pond

For a half-day loop that visits three additional ponds and has very short portages, find the portage trail on the west side of Follensby Clear, located about midway up the pond and just southwest of the island that has the lean-to campsite. Take the short portage trail down to the landing at the eastern corner of lovely Horseshoe Pond and explore the interesting peninsula (complete with a killer campsite) that can be seen across the pond from the landing. After enjoying the solitude of Horseshoe Pond, paddle to the northwest corner of the pond to make the short portage to small and boggy Little Polliwog Pond. The portage trail intersects with the Horseshoe Pond Trail, which makes for a nice leg stretcher and heads north to Polliwog Pond or south back to Horseshoe Pond. Once on Little Polliwog Pond, paddle northeast to the downhill portage trail to much larger Polliwog Pond and take your time exploring Polliwog as you work your way to the northeast corner of the pond and the short portage trail back to Follensby Clear Pond.

Fish Creek Ponds to Upper Saranac Lake

For a longer, seven-plus mile excursion from Follensby Clear that’s best saved for a calm day, paddle back towards the launch site at the southern end of Follensby Clear and carefully work your way along the shallow creek that’s just east of the launch site and parking area. This creek section of the paddle is short but in late summer may require a wet carry through some shallow sections, so dress accordingly. After entering the east side of Fish Creek Ponds, head south to the channel that leads east to Fish Creek Bay on Upper Saranac Lake (be aware of motorboat traffic, particularly on summer weekends). Continue paddling east out of the bay, and if the weather is calm, continue to Buck Island and its interesting shoreline dotted with campsites and perfect picnic spots on sunny rock slabs. Return the way you came to arrive back at Follensby Clear.

Credit: Joey Priola

Whether the day has been spent paddling to distant waters or relaxing at camp, there’s no finer way to end a wonderful day on the water than by taking a dip and laying out in the sun to dry. As night approaches, light up a campfire and listen to it crackle as the haunting call of loons echoes across the lake, quite possibly the most Adirondack way to cap off an exhilarating day of paddling in the vast Adirondack wilderness.


Sweaty vs. Wet: Should You Get Waterproof Hiking Shoes?

The decision between waterproof vs. non-waterproof hiking boots, shoes, or trail runners is among the most contentious arguments in the outdoors. Advocates on both sides of the issue are quick to point out the superiority of their preferred footwear while spotlighting the shortcomings of the other. But the truth is that both waterproof and non-waterproof footwear have their pros and cons, and understanding them can help you make an educated decision about which type of footwear is right for you.

Credit: Tim Peck

Why Go Waterproof

Waterproof footwear is worth its weight in gold when conditions call for it. But many hikers swear by waterproof footwear even when the skies are clear. After all, why would you want to rock hop across a stream or mud puddle when you could simply plow right through it?

The main reason for choosing to wear waterproof footwear all the time is that it keeps your feet dry (for the most part), which is particularly important in regions like the Northeast, where the weather seems to change by the minute. Waterproof boots and shoes allow you to deal with a variety of conditions common to the Northeast—from crossing shallow streams to navigating puddles to trudging through snow—without having to worry about your feet getting wet.

Credit: Tim Peck

Why Opt for Non-Waterproof

Those who favor footwear of the non-waterproof variety agree that shoes and boots featuring a waterproof membrane have their place when it’s raining heavily, but otherwise believe that it’s unnecessary.

The primary reason for choosing non-waterproof footwear is that waterproof membranes trap sweat inside the boot, leading to your feet getting wet from the inside out, especially in warm temperatures. Conversely, non-waterproof shoes (particularly those with mesh uppers) help move sweat from your feet and socks to the shoe where it evaporates. Similarly, waterproof membranes are also a barrier to footwear (and your sock and feet) drying out once they’re wet on the inside. So, if you’re recreating in dry, warm conditions, non-waterproof footwear is likely the better choice.

Non-waterproof footwear fans are also quick to point out another obvious deficiency of waterproof shoes: That no shoe is truly waterproof, anyway. Water can sneak in the top of a shoe when crossing too-deep puddles and streams, rainwater can simply fall in through the top, and water can run down your legs into the shoes.

The Case for a Quiver

Every outdoor person dreams of ultra-versatile gear that excels at everything, but the fact is that gear that does everything well, rarely does anything exceptionally. If you’re the type of hiker who’s going out in all seasons and all types of weather, you’ll want a few pieces of footwear.

For example, waterproof footwear is a wise choice for soggy spring hikes in cooler temperatures, while non-waterproof footwear is an ideal option for the dog days of summer which are typically dry.

Warning: A quiver can start off as simply owning a pair of waterproof shoes and a pair of non-waterproof shoes, and evolve into a much more niche undertaking—such as owning waterproof boots for early spring, hiking shoes for rugged terrain, trail runners for moving fast, waterproof trail runners for logging lightning-fast miles in cool and damp weather, and winter-specific waterproof boots for hiking in cold, snowy conditions.

Credit: Tim Peck

The debate over whether to go waterproof or not is sure to rage on, but in the end, we have better things to argue over—like what do with all the hikers visiting the mountains these days. If you can only have one pair of shoes, think about the conditions you hike in most often and how sweaty your feet get before making a decision and if you have the luxury of owning multiple pairs of footwear, consider having a pair of each represented in your quiver.

Got a hot take about waterproof footwear? We want to hear it. Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.


The 6 Northeast Backpacking Classics that Should be on Your List This Summer

High, alpine summits, pristine waterways, and dense, impenetrable forests—for a region as densely populated as the Northeast, there is plenty of wilderness available to keep even the most avid hiker busy for a while. In the parks, preserves, and forests of New England and New York, it seems the trailheads are endless—and while the day hiking of these places are in their own right spectacular, the real gems are accessed with a couple of days, a solid pack, and a readiness to put in some work. Here are some must-do classic backpacking trips that you should put on your list this summer.

The view from Gothics looking toward the heart of the Great Range. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Great Range Traverse

Often described as one of the Northeast’s tougher routes, with more than 9,000 feet of elevation gain in over 20 miles, the Great Range Traverse in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains is as classic as it gets. Over its course, the Great Range Traverse climbs eight 4,000-plus-foot summits—including Mount Marcy, New York’s highest—and offers unrivaled, wide-open views of the vast High Peaks wilderness. Often attempted as a single day outing, the Great Range Traverse is dotted with campsites and is best approached as a multi-day outing, leaving time to savor the absolutely magnificent setting.

Looking back over the Lakes of the Clouds to Mount Washington. | Credit: John Lepak

Presidential Traverse

It’s hard to imagine a more revered or sought-after northeast backpacking trip than the Presidential Traverse. It’s 21.7 miles (thru-hike-style) follow the high ridge of New Hampshire’s Presidential Range through a sustained and airy alpine zone, summiting eight 4,000-foot mountains—including the inimitable Mount Washington, the Northeast’s highest—in the process. It’s not uncommon to do a Presi Traverse in a day, but the huts of the Randolph Mountain Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club provide plenty of options to stretch the trip or to wait out the range’s notoriously harsh weather, making it ideal as a 2 to 3 day trip.

A Catskills sunset as seen from Orchard Point on the Devil’s Path. | Credit: John Lepak

Devil’s Path

With an ominous moniker and a reputation to match, the Devil’s Path in New York’s Catskill Mountains, is as challenging as it is classic. Despite their relatively low elevation, the Catskills are known to be steep and rocky—in its 25 miles (as a loop), the Devil’s Path gains more than 8,000 feet in elevation. Add to that the absolute dearth of water in high summer, and you’ve got yourself a real task at hand. It’s not all hard times though—plentiful backcountry campsites, stellar views, and a genuine wilderness round this trip out as an definite must-do, again ideal for a weekend or long weekend.

A view deep into the Pemigewasset Wilderness. | Credit: John Lepak

Pemigewasset Loop

Affectionately known as “the Pemi Loop,” this circuit hike traces an incredible 28-mile loop around the western half of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, accessing some of the White Mountains’ highest, most coveted ridgelines, including the soaring, airy Franconia Ridge and the wild, remote Bonds. The gains are stiff but the payoff—at least 10 of the region’s 4,000-foot summits and the views that come along with them—is more than worth the effort. And though it can be done in a day as a burly trail run (not-so-affectionately known as the “Pemi Death March”), the Pemi Loop is best savored, as a 2- to 3-day backpacking trip, taking advantage of the numerous, well-spaced-out campsites and huts to enjoy everything the wilderness has to offer.

Sweeping views from the Monroe Skyline section of the Long Trail. | Credit: John Lepak

Monroe Skyline

Vermont’s Long Trail is doubtless on the bucket list of hikers all over the northeast, but it’s 272 rugged miles—following the high ridge of the Green Mountains from Massachusetts all the way up to the Canadian border—may be a bit ambitious for a long weekend. Fortunately, the best of the LT can be found in the Monroe Skyline, a 47.5 mile (one-way) segment that tops three 4,000-foot peaks and several lower ones that—like the open summit of Burnt Rock Mountain—offer some of Vermont’s finest vistas. Being a long-distance trail, the LT is dotted with well-spaced shelters—perfect for a couple days out in the woods. The route is best done in 4 or 5 days.

Courtesy: Haley Blevins

100 Mile Wilderness

In the Great North Woods of Maine, as the Appalachian Trail nears its northern terminus at Katahdin, there is a 100-mile stretch of trail undisturbed by paved or public roads. The 100 Mile Wilderness is as remote a backpacking experience as there is in New England and, should you find yourself there early or late in the season, may be one of the last places in the northeast to find true solitude in nature. This may be a bit heavy for a few-days’ hiking—despite the low elevation relative to others on this list, the hiking can be rugged and most folks complete this section in 10 days or so. The trail is crossed at points by logging roads, including the Kokadjo-B Pond Road near its midpoint, enabling time-pressed hikers to tackle a “half-a-wilderness.”


How to Waterproof Your Backpack

If we in the Northeast never hiked in the rain, we wouldn’t be doing a whole lot of hiking would we? It is still possible to have an enjoyable hiking, backpacking, or camping trip in wet weather, but it certainly comes with its challenges. One major challenge is keeping you and your gear from becoming soaking wet, which is not only a safety concern for clothing and sleeping bags, but can also make for a heavy, sloppy, and uncomfortable trip. Rain jackets and pants are easy to think of for traveling in the wet, but when it comes to keeping your pack and its contents waterproof there is more than just one option. 

Option 1: The Pack Cover

So here’s an obvious solution to keeping your pack dry: Wrap it in a waterproof material! Pack covers are a simple and effective way to keep your pack and its contents out of  the elements. 

These covers come in a variety of sizes that approximately match the size of your pack (so you may need one for your backpacking pack and one for your daypack, for example), with a shape not unlike a giant, oblong shower cap. To that effect, what holds the cover onto the pack is the elastic stretched along the edge. Simply stretch it on when it’s raining, and peel it off when it’s time to get into your pack.

The main limitation with rain covers is that you need to take them off to access anything that is inside your backpack or its pockets, exposing everything to the rain or snow when you do. Of course, if you’re slick and organized you can still minimize the time that the cover is off. 

Another consideration when using a rain cover is that although it will keep your backpack dry, it could make you slightly wetter, as the water runs off and onto your shoulders. That in mind, if you have a pack cover on, you’ll likely have a rain jacket on as well. 

Option 2: A Pack Liner

There are certain activities and situations where having a cover on the outside of your backpack is not the best option. This could include trips where wet weather is a possibility but not too certain, and more commonly when you will be carrying things on the outside of your pack, like trekking poles or an ice axe (Sharp items are best kept apart from the waterproof fabrics for best results). 

Enter the pack liner bag. This is essentially the same as the pack cover, besides two things. The first is obviously that these line the inside of your backpack’s main compartment, with all of your things inside of the liner. The second is that these liner bags tend to have more of a closure on them, making them less like shower caps and more like a roll-top dry bag that you’d see on a river trip, only thinner. 

Using a liner means you can use all of your pockets and move axes on and off the pack at will, and while the backpack itself may get wet (and potentially heavy), the important things stay dry on the inside. 

 

Option 3: Dry Bags

Of course there is a great difference between water resistance against rain and complete waterproofing. This is the domain of the dry bag. These are specialized bags and backpacks designed for use in water like in paddling sports, where complete immersion in water must be accounted for. 

Dry bags are typically made from very heavy duty PVC and polyester with a roll-top closure, which create a dependably dry interior for whatever fits inside. While pack covers and liner bags are waterproofing additions to backpacks, a proper dry bag like the NRS Bill’s Bag are more like a waterproof sack with additions to mimic a backpack. 

These are not what you’d carry on a backpacking trip, as they are not made for carrying comfort, but they will keep things dry better than any alternative and are great options for car camping or paddling trips where you want durable waterproofing and won’t be carrying them on your back for extended periods. 


Don’t Be a Fool: 10 Things to Avoid While Spring Backpacking

After a long winter, spring is time to bust out the backpack, hit the trail, and fill up on mountain time. It’s also a particularly tricky time of year for traveling in the mountains—not winter anymore but not summer yet, it’s easy to get fooled by everything from weather to trail conditions to ourselves. Keep reading to ensure a safe and fun first backpacking trip into the mountains this year.

Credit: Tim Peck

Duped into a Big Trip

You were pounding out Northeast classics like the Pemi Loop and Carter Range Traverse in the fall, but tackling a big backpacking trip is no barrel of laughs if you haven’t hiked or donned a heavy pack all winter. Start small, build fitness, and work out the kinks before tackling bigger objectives. Not to mention, if trail conditions are still wintery, you’re going to move slower than you expect.

Whacky Winter Trail Conditions

The joke’s on you if the nice weather in your backyard tricks you into not packing your winter gear. Ice and snow linger at higher elevations much longer than you think—it might not just be Mother Nature pulling your leg if you leave your traction and flotation devices at home.

Credit: Tim Peck

Temperature Tomfoolery

Spring weather is a prankster. It’s often warm and sunny just long enough to have you consider leaving behind layers only to spring unexpected cold, rain, or even snow on you. Have the last laugh by packing a hardshell, rain pants, more layers than you think you’ll need, and accessories like a winter hat and gloves.

Belly Laughs

Whether it’s the extra effort needed to negotiate tricky shoulder-season trails or extra calories to keep you warm, spring backpacking works up an appetite. Fuel your trip with plenty of nutritious and delicious food like this backpacker special to avoid a side-splitting adventure.

Credit: Tim Peck

Tent Trickery

A “three-season” tent implies that it is suitable for use in spring, summer, and fall, but that is not always the case. While a lightweight three-season tent is fine for camping at protected sites and platforms, it’s a joke for the extreme weather found above treeline on early season attempts of the Presidential Traverse—avoid chicanery and don’t test it in the high winds that dominate Northeast ridge lines in the spring. Also, remember to only camp above treeline when there’s two or more feet of snow on the ground.

Sleeping Bag Surprise

Spring and rain go hand in hand, which makes choosing a sleeping bag that can fend off water and insulate when wet extra important. Using a sleeping bag filled with synthetic insulation or hydrophobic down is a favorite trick of seasoned backpackers.

Pad Put On

Shoulder-season backpacking commonly means sleeping on warmth-sapping surfaces and a sleeping pad with the “right” R-value can prevent buffoonery at bedtime. An insulated pad is a popular choice, as is pairing a closed-cell foam pad with an air pad for a silly-comfortable (and warm) combination.

Credit: Tim Peck

Waterproof Wind Up

Wet weather is no laughing matter for spring backpackers, especially when it soaks essential gear. Work a waterproof pack cover, pack liner, or individual dry sacks into your bag of tricks for storing stuff like your sleeping bag, extra layers, and food.

Gear Gag

Gear has a funny sense of humor, especially after a long winter. Before hitting the trail, spend an evening checking that your gear is in order—make sure all your tent’s pieces are in the bag, your sleeping pad holds air, the batteries are charged in your headlamp, and your stove starts. The more kinks you can work out at home, the less kooky things will be in the backcountry.

Have the Last Laugh

Creating a list of everything you need before packing your bag is a good strategy if it’s been a while since you last backpacked—forgetting those little-but-essential items like a lighter for your stove is a sure-fire way to look foolish.

Have any other tips to keep spring weather from making you a laughingstock on your first backpacking trip of the year? If so, we want to hear them! Leave them in the comments below.

Credit: Tim Peck

Doggie Decorum: Trail Etiquette for Hiking with Your Dog

In recent years, there has been a big increase in traffic on the trails of the Northeast. But it’s not just extra boots on the ground—it’s paws too, as more and more dog owners are venturing into the mountains with their four-legged friends. Adventuring with your canine can add enjoyment to an outing, but it also adds responsibility: you’re accountable for your pup’s actions as well as your own. While there is no Emily Post’s Etiquette for hiking with your pooch, following a few rules can help keep you (and them) out of the dog house.

Credit: Tim Peck

Dog-to-Human Ratio

The key to hiking with a dog is for the person to maintain control—and the lower the dog-to-human ratio, the less likely a person is to get overwhelmed. Because it’s simply easier to manage one dog instead of multiple dogs, a one-to-one ratio is recommended.

More: Shop Dog Gear

Know Where You Can Hike

Dogs are largely welcome on the trails of the Northeast, but there are some places where you will have to leave your four-legged hiking pal at home. For example, dogs are not allowed on Mount Monadnock, in Baxter State Park, or in many wildlife refuges. However, Acadia is one of the country’s most dog-friendly National Parks, with pooches allowed on all but a few “ladder” trails. So before you go, do a little research and if dogs are not allowed at a particular destination, find another place to hike.

Credit: Tim Peck

To Leash or Not to Leash?

Keeping a dog leashed or letting them roam free is one of the most contentious aspects of hiking with a dog—dog owners must balance their desire for their four-legged friend to have the same freedom they enjoy while not infringing on the experience of others. The rules of an area are a good starting point on whether or not you should leash your pooch. For example, in the White Mountain National Forest, dogs may hike off-leash but owners must carry one and use it at developed areas, like in parking lots and campsites.

While an area’s regulations provide a good framework for making a decision about leashes, just because dogs are allowed to hike off-leash doesn’t necessarily mean that your four-legged friend should have free reign. For example, in the White Mountain National Forest dogs must “be under verbal or physical restraint at all times.” That means when you issue a command, your dog responds the first time it’s given—if you have to repeatedly call your dog to “come,” it’s a request, not an order. Along the same lines, a dog hiking off-leash should always stay in sight of its owner; You’re not in control of your dog if you can’t see what they’re doing.

Equally important, whatever the rules permit, keep in mind that you’ll likely want to keep your pooch on a leash in environmentally sensitive areas like alpine zones as well as in areas where there are real objective hazards.

Is My Dog Able to Hike Off-Leash?

A lot of hikers love letting their dogs hike off-leash, but it’s not for everyone or every dog. In addition to exceptional obedience, an off-leash dog must be well socialized to both humans and other dogs and able to pass within close proximity of them without incident. They also must have a low prey drive and not take off after that squirrel or chipmunk you come across on the trail (nor chase after snacks from another hiker’s pack).

If you can’t decide between leash or no leash, consider that there are a lot of variables outside your control when hiking with your dog and even more when you allow them to hike off-leash. Pay attention to both the season (hunting season, for example, might not be the best time to let your furry friend have the run of the woods) and the surrounding wildlife that might see your pal as a midday snack. Finally, if your off-leash pooch really bolts, it could be a lot of work to find them again, and will most likely ruin your day.

Credit: Tim Peck

Who Has the Right of Way?

When hiking with your dog, you forfeit the right of way and should yield to other hikers. When approaching another person or party, step aside and have your dog heel out of “sniffing” range. Keep in mind that not everyone loves dogs or wants to get sniffed, licked, or jumped on.

Communicate

The key to having a happy experience with your pup is communication, both with your dog and with others. Your dog should know what is expected of them and follow basic commands like “Come,” “Leave it,” “No,” “Sit,” and “Stay.”

Similarly, communicate about the needs of your dog to other hikers. If your dog is uncomfortable around strangers, make clear to them that “my dog isn’t friendly.” This might not tell the whole story—your dog might just be excitable or nervous—but it sends a clear message for people to keep their distance and is a good step toward ensuring a positive interaction for you, your pup, and others.

Likewise, it’s up to you to monitor your dog’s interaction with other hikers. And let’s face it—not every dog’s behavior is perfect on every outing. Whether it’s aggressively barking, growling, charging, or, in some cases, chasing, if your dog offends other hikers or interferes with their hiking experience, get immediate control of your pet and then apologize. Half-hearted statements like “he’s usually a good boy,” are excuses, not apologies, and can jeopardize access for all the well-behaved pooches out there.

Credit: Tim Peck

Leave No Trace

We should all aspire to minimize our impact on the places we recreate and should hold our pets to the same standard. When hiking with dogs, this means picking up their poop. Dog waste contains pathogens that contaminate drinking water and nutrients that promote algae blooms and reduce oxygen for creatures living in lakes and rivers. Carry poop bags and use them. If you find the odor unpleasant, consider double bagging or retire an old dry bag or Nalgene bottle to dedicated defecation duty.

And just because your dog does its business in the first half-mile of trail, that’s not an excuse to bag it and pick it up on the way back out. You’re definitely going to forget. Either bag it and walk it back to your car, or carry it for your entire hike. Don’t leave doggy bags along the trail.

 

Hiking with your dog is a great exercise, an awesome way to bond with your furry pal, and a lot of fun. Following some simple petiquette will generally help to avoid any issues with other trail users, reduce your impact on the environment, and ensure everyone has a pawsitive experience.


Opinion: When the Parking Lot is Filled, Find Somewhere Else to Play

Everybody has their “signature spot” in the White Mountains—the place they return to again and again for their dose of the great outdoors. You’ve seen it change and transform from season to season and year to year. And if you’ve been to that spot on a recent weekend or holiday, you’ve likely noticed something else: a lot more people. The Whites have gotten pretty crowded over the last few years, especially recently, as users discovering the outdoors in the wake of the pandemic are (understandably) flocking to these same destinations for the same reasons as us. Sure, New Hampshire’s motto is “live free or die,” but crowds are stressing these precious resources more than ever. It’s time to do something about it.

Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit. Overflowing parking lots and cars parked along the side of the road are as common as black flies in spring and bad weather on Mount Washington. Being unable to find parking should be a sign to all of us: It might be the morning to try out something different. It’s also up to land managers to enforce parking restrictions to help control the crowds. Keeping our wilderness pristine could start with all of us recognizing that a packed parking lot means there are already too many people on the trail.

It has been the practice at Katahdin for years—Limiting the number of day hikers on the mountain is done not through a permit system, but by requiring hikers to make a reservation to park.

The idea of limiting access to popular hikes through parking is not a new solution. It has been the practice at Katahdin for years—Limiting the number of day hikers on the mountain is done not through a permit system, but by requiring hikers to make a reservation to park. But a permit system, like the one mountaineers are required to use to “reduce crowding and protect natural features” before summiting peaks like Mount St. Helens is another option. From May 15 to October 31, just 110 climbers are allowed on the mountain per day.

The recent enforcement of prohibitions on highway parking in Franconia Notch proves that parking restrictions have merit. Now, if you’re hoping to hike Franconia Ridge but the roughly 200 spaces between the north side and south side of Route 93 parking lots are full, you’ll either need to use the recently implemented shuttle or consider “bagging” these classics from a different access point.

Credit: Tim Peck

Of course, the Franconia Notch shuttle service presents its own set of issues. On one hand, the shuttle has put an end to cars parking—and people walking—along Route 93, which is a major traffic safety improvement. And it may, in theory, encourage some hikers to go elsewhere, without fully mandating it. But in reality, the shuttle has done little to reduce the steady stream of hikers going up and down super popular trails like Falling Waters, the Old Bridle Path, and Hi-Cannon.

That brings us to the heart of the overcrowding problem: our own routines. In the end, it may be up to us. Every weekend, thousands flock to the Whites for day hikes and bigger weekend-long outings. Undoubtedly, recreationists are a huge economic boon for the region, and we have no quarrel with their general presence. But when recreationists arrive at the same trailhead at the same time with the same objective, our presence leaves a mark. Crowding at trailheads stresses surrounding neighborhoods, while too-many hikers on the trails themselves result in overuse, path widening, and stress on the wildlife that call these areas home 24/7. And as places like Katahdin and Mount St. Helens have shown us, if we don’t start taking personal responsibility for how busy these places are and do our part to mitigate the crowds on our own, someone else just might—and we might not like their solution.

And as places like Katahdin and Mount St. Helens have shown us, if we don’t start taking personal responsibility for how busy these places are and do our part to mitigate the crowds on our own, someone else just might—and we might not like their solution.

Wondering how you can play your part? Well, Mike De Socio offered one option in his recent goEast piece, “Why I Hike on Weekdays.” But even if you primarily recreate on weekends, there are still things you can do. For instance, consider starting your activity at off-hours, i.e., earlier or later in the day or even recreating at night. Another way to mitigate the crowds is to visit some of the Whites’ less-traveled regions—for example, these three White Mountain 4,000 footers everyone avoids.

We hate crowds as much as anyone, but looking at bumper-to-bumper trail traffic means that we’re a part of the crowds we despise. If we all don’t start finding new places in the Whites to play, we might find ourselves shut out altogether.

Credit: Tim Peck

Opinion: How to Handle the Flood of New Backcountry Users

It should come as no surprise that there are more people than ever who are exploring the outdoors and recreating in new places. It has been the work of outdoor companies, guiding outfits, educational programs, and town recreation departments (just to name a few players) to get people outside for decades. The result? More and more people have been encouraged to “escape to the wilderness” and pursue a healthier lifestyle among the trees and mountains. But the fact that this romantic and well-intentioned message has truly taken hold of us inevitably means it’s taken hold of others and we’re all escaping to the same getaways. 

Social media, the Covid-19 pandemic, and unprecedented access to recreational spaces have all converged to push more people outdoors. By now we’ve all noticed how parking lots are full, there are lines for popular climbs, and it might feel harder to be alone outdoors. Not to mention the risk to our “secret spots.” So, what should we do?

But the fact that this romantic and well-intentioned message has truly taken hold of us inevitably means it’s taken hold of others and we’re all escaping to the same getaways. 

Let’s start by talking about what we shouldn’t do. Outdoor activities, especially adventure sports, have a long history and pervasive reputation of elitism, gatekeeping, and hiding a disdain for competition of space behind an open-armed welcome message. Outdoor athletes and recreationists are not bad people, but they understand a notion that was aptly put by rock climbing pioneer Royal Robbins decades ago, “a simple equation exists between freedom and numbers: the more people the less freedom.” 

Isn’t that a big reason why we like going out into the wilder places? I can get a lot more skiing in if I go to a resort, or a lot of climbing in at a gym, so why make the effort to hike for hours for a couple ski runs? Or a few pitches of climbing? There’s a lot to unpack there, but it’s a question to keep in mind as we think about how we might treat the new wave of outdoor users, and the changing landscape of the places we’re used to having to ourselves. 

Let’s all remember when we were first starting out. We were all newbies at one point or another, and everyone needs experience to learn. How do you gain experience? Get out and make mistakes, figure it out, and get some mileage in, maybe with a mentor or a group of peers. With more beginners venturing out of their comfort zones and into the woods than ever, there is no reason for us to make their journey harder by being judgmental, alienating, or protective over places that aren’t ours. It’s not your terrain. 

I’m a New Englander, and recognize my own aversion to sunny, cheerful salutations to everyone I pass, but it’s not hard to be a kind person, or at least to pretend to be one for a moment. Look out for each other! If something is obviously unsafe or needlessly risky, say something. On the other side of the coin, it’s no fun to be patronized. I know that I wouldn’t appreciate a stranger accosting me for not taking the Ten Essentials on a Sherburne lap, or reminding me how “steep the trail is up there.” Somewhere on the spectrum between the crusty curmudgeon and the mansplainer there is a happy space for a real peach of a neighbor. 

The other bird that tends to get the worms is the one that goes someplace else. Meaning having a plan B, C, and D can save the day if you show up to a feeding frenzy.

So what do we do now?

The early bird gets the worm. No matter what “the worm” is to you, you’re more likely to get it if you show up before anyone else. Depending what you’re going for, that might be pretty darn early. The other bird that tends to get the worms is the one that goes someplace else. Meaning having a plan B, C, and D can save the day if you show up to a feeding frenzy. Keep in mind that there has been a documented rise in accidents that seems to stem from this dispersion of users into less familiar and more remote terrain. This is certainly not advice to get in over your head if your favorite local spot is a little busy, so remember your limits, and also remember that the mountains aren’t going anywhere. 

That being said, one thing that won’t be around for long is our pristine wilderness. The great environmental bummer of our time is our impact on the places we love and profess to care about. Far worse than any complaint of having neighbors at the crag is how we are disfiguring and destroying our valuable natural spaces, and at an alarming rate. One thing that we can be sure of is that the number of people getting out into the woods will only increase, and that the variables we can control have nothing to do with who is using the outdoors. Here is an opportunity to remembering share—Leave No Trace principles, to model good stewardship, and to help out our community and conservation programs in maintaining sustainable use of our crags, trails, and parks. Don’t just let someone else take care of it, because if we all assume that someone else will care for the outdoors, then there will be nothing left to enjoy. Donate some cash, volunteer some time, and be a part of the solution. 

Now might be a time to start thinking about where the outdoor recreation world is heading, how it’s evolving, and how our activities might need to evolve as well. We no longer live in a world where “because that’s how it always was” is helpful or meaningful when it comes to our adventure sports. The conversation instead should be open to anyone, constantly in motion, and working towards protecting the land and the communities that we all depend on. 

Credit: Tim Peck

10 Tips for Transitioning from Hut Trips to Winter Camping

Trekking through a beautiful winter landscape with the promise of a warm hut at the end of a long, cold day is an experience that keeps hut goers coming back year after year. But this winter, when huddling up around a blazing wood stove with friends and friendly strangers doesn’t conjure the same cozy thoughts as it once did, some adventurers are making the transition to camping. With a few adjustments to gear, planning, and expectations, you can trade your bunk for a sleeping pad under the stars this winter.

Credit: Sarah Hunter

1. Rethink your stove and fuel

If you’ve become accustomed to using a full hut kitchen with shiny stainless steel appliances, or you’ve been putting in your breakfast and lunch order with the cook before you tuck yourself into your bunk, winter camping may feel like a long fall from grace. To make matters worse, your beloved backpacking canister stove, which has nourished you on many an outdoor adventure, may need to stay behind. Many of these stoves utilize a combination of isobutane and propane, and these often won’t work when the temperature hovers around freezing, and they stand no chance of working at 10 degrees or less. Instead, you’ll need a camp stove that runs on white gas. If you’ve never used one, you’re in for an altogether different experience—one that might involve a few spontaneous creative combinations of curse words. Read the directions and practice before you go. It gets easier and less terrifying each time.

2. Get organized

Winter camping requires more gear than a hut trip, and that means more gear to organize. You may have a fanny pack filled with items you need easily accessible (map, compass, hand warmers, snacks), a backpack filled with items you need while traveling (layers, more food, thermos, headlamp, and a first aid kit), and a pulk sled with group gear, skis or snowshoes, sleep system, more clothes, stove, food, shovel, and emergency supplies. Make a list (or a drawing) of your bags and the items they contain. Study it. You can’t spend time searching for something when you need it. You may need to know how to locate any one item of gear at any given moment. 

Credit: Willow Sherwood

3. Dial in your sleep system

Your sleeping pad, bag, and bivy system work together to keep you warm. A sleeping pad with an R-value rating of 6 or more (or multiple pads to reach that rating—they are cumulative, so 3 pads with a 2 R-value will get you to 6), combined with a 0-degree sleeping bag is a good choice for New England winter camping. But the ratings on the pads and bags are usually designed to keep you alive at the established temperatures, not to keep you comfortable. Bring a winter liner, quilt or a wool blanket to provide additional warmth, and test your sleep system out before you go. If possible, pick a clear, cold night and set yourself up in your yard or in a front country campsite where you can hop in your car and drive home if necessary. 

Tip: Sleeping bags lose their insulating properties over time (even when stored properly: uncompressed), so if your bag is older, don’t assume it’s as warm as it once was. (Also, you might be older, and might require more warmth than you once did.)  

4. Dress like a child

Think A Christmas Story here. Big, bulky snow pants and a parka. The sleek layers that keep you surprisingly comfortable when you’re in motion won’t work once you’re in camp. Bring enough clothes to keep you warm while staying put. These extra clothes can be brought into your sleeping bag for added warmth in the night, too.

Credit: Sarah Hunter

5. Bring an ax and a bow saw

In general, trails that lead to huts are maintained throughout the winter and it’s usually fairly easy to get intel on the status of the hut trails. Winter camping is (strangely) not embraced by as many folks and so it’s entirely possible (likely, even) that you could be the first group heading out to your campsite or lean-to. Give yourself plenty of time to maneuver blow downs, and bring tools to help clear the trail in case you encounter something you can’t navigate. The saw will come in handy for building a fire, too (use dead and down wood only).

6. Get ready for things to take longer

If you pride yourself on your ultra-fast break-camp time on your hut trips, winter camping will be different. Unless you chose your trip-mates extremely well, you’re not likely to wake up to coffee brewing. Instead, expect to start your day by slowly inching your way out of your warm bag into the frigid air, wrestling cold boots onto your feet (even though you keep them in your bag, they’ll be stiff), and melting a lot of snow for water. 

Credit: Sarah Hunter

7. Allow at least one luxury item

Winter camping is tough. Some things make it less tough. A comfortable camp chair is an ingeniously simple and beautiful thing and it might just be your favorite thing after a day of hauling your pulk sled through miles of thick blowdowns.  If it’s light and it will help make you comfortable, bring it.

8. Remember your ABCs: Always Be Consuming (Calories)

You need energy to stave off the cold. Bring a variety of your favorite foods so you don’t get bored. Eat regularly, and plan to eat more than you usually do on a cozy hut trip.

Credit: Sarah Hunter

9. Keep an eye on the weather

Weather is a factor in every backcountry trip, in all seasons, but its importance is elevated on winter camping trips. Without four walls and a wood stove, you’re vulnerable to dangerously cold temperatures. Make plans, but watch the weather in the days leading up to your trip, including the extended forecast, as fronts can move faster than expected, and be flexible with your dates. Since most intrepid adventurers tend to be detailed planners, flexibility can be one of the toughest components to winter camping, but it’s key to the safety and success of your trip.

10. Leave your itinerary with friends or family

This is a good practice anytime you head into the backcountry, but it’s especially critical in winter. Mistakes, accidents, and the unexpected can happen on any trip, but the margin for error on a winter camping trip is substantially reduced. Make sure people know where to find you and when to expect you back. Don’t deviate from the route you share with others. The goal is always to go out on the next trip.

Camping in the winter is a truly spectacular adventure.  If you can gather the proper equipment, enlist a group of like-minded adventurers, and maintain a positive attitude in the face of adversity, you’re in for a real treat.  It’s tougher than a hut trip, but with great effort, comes great reward.