Fall Hikes on the Connecticut Shoreline

There’s something special about the Connecticut shoreline in the offseason. Boardwalks and beaches once teeming with beachgoers stand mostly empty and the memory of summer is palpable. To some, it can be a bit creepy—to others, peaceful. Either way, gone with the summer sun are the crowds, and just like any other ecosystem in fall and winter, the coast gets its opportunity to rest, to regenerate, and to become a refuge for those seeking quietude and connection with nature.

Caught between I-95 and the Long Island Sound, the Nutmeg State’s 332 miles of coastline is a mix of densely populated cities and towns, gradually dissipating as the distance from New York City increases. And though much of it has been urbanized or carved up into tidy lots for beach homes, the pockets of nature that remain—in the form of state parks and beaches—are pearls in a strand that runs from Greenwich all the way out to the Rhode Island border.

Short trails and easy terrain characterize the spots below so whether you’re looking to mix up the trail running routine or you just want a chill hike that can end in a lobster roll, heading down to the shore is the right move.

The wide beach path at Sherwood Island is ideal, easy terrain in a gorgeous setting. | Credit: John Lepak

Sherwood Island

With open lawns, sweeping ocean views, and sandy beaches, it’s no wonder why Sherwood Island State Park in Westport is Connecticut’s first state park. And while this little gem in the state’s densely populated “Gold Coast” is hardly a wilderness, getting a moment to yourself in such a setting is nothing to pass up.

Sherwood Island’s beach is split in two—East Beach and West Beach—each with a small loop trail at its end. The western loop runs through a stand of oak trees over roughly paved ground while the eastern loop navigates a grassy maze of paths flanked by a salt marsh to the north. In between, a gravel path just off the beach offers friendly ground over which to stroll or run. Combining the loop trails on the west and east ends of the island with a run along the beachside path and back weighs in at 3.3 miles.

Charles Island and its tombolo at low tide, as seen from Silver Sands State Park. | Credit: John Lepak

Silver Sands

Silver Sands State Park in Milford is a quintessential Connecticut beach: more pebbles and shells than sand, picturesque salt marshes, and an immaculately weathered wooden boardwalk, all framed by the calm, lapping water of Long Island Sound.

What makes Silver Sands unique though is that, at low tide, the Sound reveals a rocky land bridge—known as a tombolo—that reaches out into the water, connecting the beach with nearby Charles Island. Tricky currents on either side of the tombolo make crossing a foolhardy endeavour in even just a few inches of water, so correctly timing your trip is essential. Consult a tide chart, pick a day where the tides are at their most extreme—when the moon is either new or full— and leave the beach at least an hour before the low tide. A roundtrip hike across the tombolo, around the island and back will run 2.5 miles.

Please note that access to Charles Island—and use of the tombolo—is forbidden from May 1–August 31 as the area is closed for the protection of nesting birds.

View from the short—but lovely—trails at Meig’s Point, the southeasternmost point of Hammonasset Beach State Park. | Credit: John Lepak

Hammonasset Beach

Drawing an estimated one million visitors annually, Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison is one of Connecticut’s most popular destinations. In a typical summer, its two miles of wide, sandy beach regularly fill to capacity, and its large campgrounds are abuzz with activity. And while Hammonasset still draws visitors in the off-season, a trip here in the fall can feel like a completely different place.

On the far southeastern edge of the state park, the beach fades away to rocky shores and coastal wetlands—this is Meig’s Point. A handful of short-but-lovely trails stretch out from the Nature Center in the center of Meig’s Point that, when combined with a tour of the beach, can make for a really enjoyable walk or run. An out-and-back starting from West Beach and ending at the terminus of the Moraine Trail will net you around 5.0 miles of beach, bluff, and beautiful views of Long Island Sound.

Salt marshes and coastal woodlands at Rocky Neck State Park. | Credit: John Lepak

Rocky Neck

Much like Hammonasset Beach, Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme is an incredibly popular summertime destination for Connecticut residents seeking sun, sand, and surf. The beach itself, bounded by a busy passenger railroad, is a bit developed (and can be a little noisy), but the draw of Rocky Neck for hikers and trail runners are its coastal woodlands and its salt marshes, both of which are accessible via a network of well-marked and well-maintained trails.

A large stand of woods separates the park’s western boundary—the tidal Four Mile River—from the salt marshes at its interior. The trails within weave and wind through dense mountain laurel and coastal hardwood forest with occasional views to the river, the salt marsh, and Long Island Sound. It is, in some places, paved, but the majority of the trails here vary between wide, easy former woods roads and rocky, rooty singletrack. The densely packed trails at Rocky Neck make for a bit of a choose your own adventure in terms of distance, but the most pleasant of rambles will get you between 2.0 and 4.0 miles, easily.

A boulder on the edge of Fishers Island Sound at Bluff Point State Park. | Credit: John Lepak

Bluff Point

Undeveloped shoreline is exceedingly rare in Southern New England, and that’s what makes Bluff Point State Park and Coastal Reserve, a wooded peninsula in the city of Groton, such a special place. At over 800 acres, characterized by nearly untouched coastal forest and rocky shore, it’s the largest such tract of land remaining on the Connecticut coast.

The main artery through Bluff Point is a wide, graded gravel road. The ground is easy and flat and intermittent views of the Poquonnock River to the west open up to broader views of Fishers Island Sound as you head south. Despite its proximity to a densely-populated city, and the ease of the graded path, Bluff Point has a distinctly natural feel. Gradually, the woodlands give way to sweeping views and rocky shoreline where large boulders, fascinating rock formations, and the dramatic, eponymous Bluff Point take center stage.

A chill and peaceful loop on this gravel road takes it all in over an easy 3.6 miles.


Shoulder Season Running vs. the Northshield Jacket and Pants

The air is getting crisp, the leaves are starting to turn, and the sun is setting just a little bit earlier every evening. It’s finally fall, and just like every other year, fall is a time of transition—a time to pack up the summer gear and start training for those big time winter objectives.

Whether you’re skiing powder or climbing ice, “training” could mean a lot of different things—but one necessity across the board is cardio. For many of us, that means breaking out the running shoes and hitting the road. This, in turn, means braving whatever weather the Northeastern shoulder season may have in store. On any given day you may be cruising under clear skies, pushing through the rain, or slipping and sliding in the snow.

The EMS Northshield Jacket (men’s/women’s) and Pants (men’s/women’s) were made for just these conditions, and last spring, I had the chance to put them to the test in my own backyard.

A DWR coating will keep you dry on shorter runs in the elements | Credit: Katharina Lepak

“Shield” is in the name, after all

Were my aspirations not tied to the mountains, running into a cold, driving rain would be near the bottom of my list—but committing to lofty goals means bearing down and building a base of fitness on which to try that next climb. In that spirit, I ran the Northshield through its paces in the snow, the rain, and everything in-between. On shorter runs, around the neighborhood or on local trails, its DWR coating did the job and kept me warm and dry. On longer, colder runs in the elements, I still found it effective as a breathable insulating layer, but would definitely recommend adding a lightweight shell over the top to keep the precip out if you were running a marathon in the driving rain.

Thumb loops and reflective accents round out the features that make the Northshield work in the elements | Credit: Katharina Lepak

Cool morning make for the best training

Whether Spring or Fall, shoulder season in the Northeast can be chaotic, and the conditions can vary wildly from day to day. Just because it snowed in the morning doesn’t mean it won’t be 75º and sunny by the afternoon, and in many instances—like mountain running, for example—you can count on such a shift. Being prepared is incredibly important and such unpredictable circumstances underscore the importance of layering.

The Northshield makes an excellent addition to any layering system. It’s ability to block the wind made it useful even in milder temperatures and it’s a solid pre- and post-run layer—great for warming up and cooling down. On warmer runs, I found myself opting for one piece—either the jacket in combination with a pair of shorts, or the pants with a t-shirt—rather than both.

It was in the cold that the Northshield really excelled though. Whether I was doing a chilly pre-dawn tempo session or on a long run through that lovely precip grab bag known as “wintry mix,” the Northshield kept me toasty the whole way through. Both the jacket and the pants are adorned with heavier windproof panels on the front—sensible for running headlong into cold weather—while the back is lighter, more breathable, and lends itself to a less bulky feel.

Shorter days inevitably mean running by headlamp | Credit: Katharina Lepak

Stay seen

As winter approaches, the days get colder and darker, and more and more often, runs have to happen in the dark. Before my day job adopted a work-from-home policy back in March, my runs would always have to take place on the fringes of the day—either before or after a lengthy commute into the city. This would invariably mean running in the dark, with a headlamp. Even still, packed days at home wind up pushing workouts later and later, and running in the dark is a necessity.

I was initially skeptical of the Northshield’s colorway for this purpose—black is hardly ideal for running at night and in my neck of the woods, where the roads are dark, curvy, and hilly—not the safest combination. After giving it a go, however, it became clear that the reflective accents on both the jacket and the pants succeeded in affording a huge amount of visibility on the unlit backroads of my neighborhood. I would still strongly recommend including a headlamp, and a hi-vis vest or hat in your kit though, should running in the dark be on your agenda.

Overall, the Northshield jacket and pants are versatile layers, well-fitted to shoulder season running | Credit: Katharina Lepak

Verdict: The Northshield is a capable shoulder season training compabion

Overall, I found EMS’ Northshield jacket and pants to be an excellent fit for shoulder season running. They kept me warm when it was cool, and dry when it was snowing or raining. They’re versatile enough to be used in tandem or as separates—as conditions dictate—and have found their way into my regular running clothes rotation. Also worth noting, they’re wicked comfortable—great for those rest days spent chilling out around the house picking through guidebooks, poring over maps, and planning that next big objective.


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FAQ: How You Can Enjoy the Trails While Social Distancing

We get it. Shelter in place orders, quarantines, and social distancing are complicated. Different municipalities and states have slightly different rules, so it can be hard to know what you can and can’t do. And especially for those of us who like to get outdoors, the instinct to “get away” and head off the grid might be at odds with some of the directions we’re hearing these days. The simple answer—just stay home—frankly may be the best thing we can do to slow the spread of this virus, and the easiest way to ensure we’re not doing anything that could cause problems for ourselves and other people. But at the same time, we need fresh air to maintain our own health and sanity. So how do you balance those two competing needs?

Step one: Know the rules in your local area. Read and understand the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, then study up on any regulations and guidelines that have been put in place by your state, county, or municipality, as well as any closures of local parks, trailheads, and facilities. Whether you’re under a full shelter in place order or not, it’s good practice for us all to be following the same general guidelines to help slow down this virus. These answers have been written to apply to the vast majority of people—most orders allow for some level of physical exercise—but be sure you understand what your local recommendations and requirements are.

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If I was told to shelter in place, can I still go for a hike/bike ride/climb?

Yes! Getting exercise is not only important for your sanity, but it’s also a vital part of keeping your immune system up and running. But while at this time of year we might normally be thinking about driving to the next state over to climb a 4000-footer or dusting off our climbing shoes, we need to scale back quite a bit during this crisis. For starters, staying close to home to avoid being a part of the virus’s spread, keeping 6 feet of distance between yourself and any other people, and staying home entirely if you’re sick at all, are critical. And as you would anywhere else, practice good hygiene by washing your hands and using hand sanitizer, coughing into your elbow, and drinking enough fluids to keep your immune system healthy.

How far away from home can I go for a hike?

The simple answer is that this might be a great time to get reacquainted with your local neighborhood park and staying on the trails nearest to home. If you need to do much driving to get there, consider finding someplace closer. Stopping for gas (inevitable at some point, even if it’s not on this particular trip), or to get snacks, or use the bathroom increases your interaction with public spaces and the chance that you could pick up or spread the disease. While most parks and public lands are still open, check before you head out, just to be sure.

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Should someone from an at-risk group do things differently than someone who is less at-risk?

Let’s get one thing straight: Everyone is at risk. While younger, active people have definitely been impacted less by the virus, they have been shown to be the biggest transmitters of it. Without any symptoms, it’s easy to assume you’re safe and continue on your day-to-day, but if you are carrying the virus, you could be spreading it without even knowing.

That being said, older people and those with underlying health conditions should be extra precautious to avoid picking up the virus themselves, and should consider staying even closer to home.

What if I’m not going to a populated area, and just headed to a quiet little mountain town instead?

Bad idea. While heading up to isolated North Conway, Keene Valley, or Millinocket might seem like a good way to escape the virus, each visitor to those towns increases the risk that the virus will appear there. And more than most places, the virus is something that those towns simply can not handle, thanks to smaller hospitals, fewer medical professionals, and less equipment. Steer clear of these places to avoid putting the local residents at risk. Once again, it’s best to stick close to home.

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Can I go with friends or should I go solo? What about my dog?

Avoid large groups and keep a healthy distance from everyone—6 feet is recommended. If you want to get out with a buddy rather than going solo, that will always increase your safety on the trail, but consider doing some things a little differently. Maybe now isn’t the best time to be meeting new hiking buddies on Facebook or elsewhere. Stick to friends who you know and trust to vouch for their health and sanitation. Also consider driving separately to trailheads. It’s difficult to maintain 6 feet of separation with a buddy if you’re in the same car. Sharing a tent with a friend might also be out, for now.

Experts don’t believe your pup can get this particular strain of coronavirus, so get them some fresh air, too! Just be wary of strangers petting your dog and potentially transmitting the virus to its fur, before snuggling up with the pup at home at night.

Am I allowed to get sendy?

With emergency workers and medical professionals a little preoccupied by the virus, now might not be the best time to go particularly hard and put yourself at risk of injury. Dial it back, make conservative decisions, and stay safe to avoid needing to take a doctor away from someone who is really sick. Carry a first aid kit, stick to trails you know, and don’t do anything particularly risky or challenging, right now. On a similar note, while getting exercise can boots your immune system, overexercising and pushing yourself physically can take a toll.

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What if I see other people on the trail?

Again: 6 feet of distance. Say “hi” and be your friendly self, but give others as wide a berth as possible. If that not possible, either because of the trail or the number of people on it, consider choosing a different place to go that day. Think about your objective when you pull into the trailhead. If it’s too crowded, you could be putting yourself or the others on the trail at-risk.

Is it safe to go skiing even if all the resorts are shut down?

Earning your turns can be one of the best ways to milk every last day out of your ski season if the resorts are shut down, and skinning at the resort is one of the best ways to be introduced to ski touring generally. But keep in mind: Uphilling during the open season includes the promise of groomed trails, marked obstacles, ski patrol assistance, and avalanche mitigation. With the resorts closed, it might as well be a day in the backcountry. Be prepared for that. If you don’t have ski touring experience, consider going with a friend who does (staying 6 feet away from them, of course), carrying all the gear you would have for a day in the backcountry, and having avalanche safety knowledge. And again—Keep it mellow.

Have another questions? Leave it in the comments!


Getting "In The Flow" of Trail Running

Road running requires conditioning and form. Trail running requires these, too, but it additionally requires skill and coordination in order to negotiate obstructions. In this way it is like skiing or mountain biking: When everything is going flawlessly, it is known as being “in the flow.” In trail running you are “in the flow” when you are taking all the right steps, dodging each obstacle perfectly, and seeing everything you need to see. This is the state with which we as trail runners seek to be in. Here are some techniques that those new to trail running can use to help them get “in the flow.”

Vision

The first technique has to do with your eyes. When you start running on the trails the natural tendency is to look down at your feet for roots and rocks that might trip you. This is especially the case if you already have tripped (everybody trips in trail running). The problem with this is that this gives you little time to react. Things go much more smoothly if you are able to keep your vision 6 to 8 feet ahead of you. This allows you to see and anticipate obstacles and use your peripheral vision to avoid them.

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Shorter Steps

One of the most common mistakes that runners make is over-striding. On the road, this leads to inefficiency. On the trail it can lead to injury. When you take long strides on the trail you dramatically increase the likelihood that you will trip on an obstruction. In order to avoid this, trail runners need to take much shorter strides. It seems like this should be a simple adjustment—just take your current running stride and shorten it. In practicality this is harder than it seems.

A way to determine the optimum stride length for the trail is to do a good quick jog—in place. When we run in one spot we tend to have a good natural cadence with our legs underneath like they should be. After the minute is up, try to duplicate that cadence while running forward. You should notice that your strides are shorter.

Toes Up

In addition to shorter strides it is important to keep your toes up when you step. I wouldn’t even attempt to get into the debate about which is better—heel striking or mid foot striking—that’s for running gurus. But I will say that in trail running—where there is an endless supply of tangled roots, downed tree branches, and gnarly rocks—it is a good idea to stride with your toes up to prevent them from getting under any of those obstacles and sending you head over heels.

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Elbows Out

Another technique that will help you, is to swing your elbows out wide. This movement can help you keep your balance much like a surfer might use to stay on his board. It can be especially helpful on downhill sections and combined with fast feet and shortened strides.

Walking and Power Hiking

When I run on the road I never stop to walk. I am out there to run and anything less seems like a failure. I know it is silly but I also know that I am not the only one who feels that way. One of the great things about trail running is that it knocks that “run at all costs” attitude right out of you. There are sections of trail that are just impossible to run—hills that are too steep, wet rock scrambles that are dangerous, or downhill sections with loose footing.

Even the best trail runners in the world find that in these conditions running is no longer efficient and that is better to hike. When hiking an uphill section that is steep, you want to make sure that you lean forward to keep your weight under your feet. You can even put your hands just above your knees on your quad muscles. This will keep you forward and you can even push on them to get leverage. This is known as power hiking.

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Trekking Poles

When trails are particularly difficult you might consider using trekking poles. These might seem like something that would be used for strictly hiking, but many trail runners—including professionals—have been using them more and more in recent years. Poles help you to generate force by using your arms as well as your legs and can take some pressure off of your knees. They are best used on climbs or descents since running is much more efficient on flat sections. If you decide to use poles for only part of the time you will need to make sure that you have a running vest or pack that allows for stowing collapsed poles for when you are running. You will also want to make sure that the poles you use collapse small enough so that they are easily stored or secured.

There are three main techniques when using poles. Diagonal poling is when you step with one leg, and plant the pole with the OPPOSITE arm. It is the most natural technique since it mimics natural walking or running. This can be very effective because it helps you develop a rhythm. It is best use when things are starting to get difficult but you can still go at a good clip or when going down.

Another technique is called off-set poling. This is when you step with one leg and then plant the pole of the SAME arm. With this technique you only stick the pole on every other stride. This method is great for when uphill portions start to get really difficult.

The last way to use poles is called double poling. This is best used on really steep hills and can be used both up and down. This move is comparable to cross-country skiing where you plant both poles out ahead of you, then pull yourself through. This move can take a little practice to get used to and is best done with one pole coming down ever so slightly before the next.


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Newsflash: Belgian Karel Sabbe Smashes Appalachian Trail Speed Record

41 days, 7 hours, 39 minutes.

Thats the new fastest known time (FKT) along the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail after the 28-year-old Belgian dentist and ultrarunner Karel Sabbe topped out on Katahdin to finish the thru-hike on Tuesday.

The new record is the latest in a rapid arms race that the AT has been host to in recent years, with numerous runners upping the ante and besting each other’s times on the Georgia-to-Maine trail. Until Tuesday, the record belonged to Joe McConaughy who set his FKT last year—Sabbe broke McConaughy’s record by more than 4 days. For his hike, however, Sabbe utilized a support team to provide him with food and other aid, lightening his backpack. McConaughy completed his hike unsupported.

“Nobody had averaged more than 50 miles on the Appalachian Trail. More than proud, I feel privileged for having lived these incredible adventures. It was a blast from start to finish!” Sabbe wrote on Instagram.

 

In the year 60 B.C., Julius Caesar wrote: “Of all Gauls, the Belgians are the bravest.” Over 2000 years later there is still some truth in that sentence. We have set a new speed record on the epic Appalachian Trail !! The Fastest Known Time is now 41 days 7 hours 39 minutes, which is over 4 days faster than the previous record, held by an incredibly strong and unsupported @thestring.bean. I want to thank my dear friend @jorenbiebuyck from the bottom of my heart as without his incredible crewing and support I would never have made the PCT as well as the AT speed records. Fun facts: nobody has ever held overall Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail speed records at the same time. Nobody had averaged more than 50 miles on the Appalachian Trail. More than proud, I feel privileged for having lived these incredible adventures. It was a blast from start to finish ! Thanks @skinssportwear for making this possible, without you there would have been no new FKT. Thank you everybody for the support!  #AppalachianTrailSpeedRecordAttempt  #teamSKINS #BestInCompression #HOKAONEONE#TimeToFly #TraKKs #Suunto #Selfpropelled#Ledlenser #kleankanteen #nordisk #trekneat #ultramarathon#speedrecord #AppalachianTrail #ultrarunning #ultratrail #trailrunner #trailrunning

A post shared by Karel Sabbe (@karelsabbe) on

In 2016, Sabbe also broke the speed record on the Pacific Crest Trail (breaking the FKT of none other than Joe McConaughy), a title he still holds, making him the first to hold both records simultaneously, according to him. Not a professional runner, Sabbe burst onto the ultrarunning scene with his PCT record two years ago and spends most of his time as a dentist in Ghent, Belgium.

During his record-setting run, Sabbe’s mornings started shortly after 3 a.m., seeing him push most days for around 53 miles. His final day on the trail, he ran 100 miles for 32 hours up the steep sides of Mount Katahdin to capture the record. Sabbe shared his final steps on Facebook:


At-Home Training for Climbers

While we’re always psyched on climbing, the sad reality is you don’t always have enough time to visit the crag, boulders, or even the gym—especially during the work week. Lucky for us, there are numerous ways to stay strong and build climbing fitness without leaving the house. Try some of our basement beta, and you’ll realize that training in the home gym during the work week can translate to sending on the weekend.

Courtesy: Beastmaker
Courtesy: Beastmaker

Hangboard

Hangboards are one of the most popular at-home training aids. While that might be because they’re small, easy to mount, and inexpensive, these devices are also very effective. Climbers literally hang from a variety of different-sized pockets and holds to build finger strength. As a side note, this is why hangboards are also sometimes called fingerboards.

Pull-Up Bar

Although less climbing-specific, a pull-up bar suits anyone who wants to take a break from their fingerboard, rest sore fingers, or simply work larger muscles. In fact, you can use it in all manners to build climbing strength. To start, the classic pull-up is a great exercise for increasing pulling power. Then, Frenchies—pausing to lock off at certain angles through the movement of a pull-up—are a fantastic method for building endurance and simulating the pause climbers take when clipping a bolt or placing gear. Allez!

Courtesy: Sestogrado
Courtesy: Sestogrado

Rock Rings

No room for a hangboard? Don’t have a wall you’re comfortable drilling into? Live a life on the go? If you answered yes to any of these questions, rock rings may be the best solution. Used as a pair, these individually molded grips are suspended using a cord that can be hung from any number of anchors. Think about a basement beam, a backyard tree, or even a swing set at the local park. Although lacking the diversity of a hangboard, rock rings let you move freely. In turn, the motion places less strain on your joints compared to doing pull-ups or Frenchies, which involve a fixed position that may be hard on the elbows.

Courtesy: Reading Climbing Centre
Courtesy: Reading Climbing Centre

Campus Board

If you have a bit more room available, consider a campus board. Wolfgang Güllich devised its simple, utilitarian, and effective design to train for sending the world’s first 9A, Action Directe. On a series evenly spaced rungs on a slightly overhanging wall, climbers move up and down without using their feet to primarily build power. Additionally, you can increase finger and core strength and improve accuracy when moving between holds. Because of the physical demands, it’s not recommended for new or young climbers.

Crack Machine

Climbers looking to crush cracks can build a crack machine to practice technique and gain strength. Simple and easy to construct, crack machines feature two stiff wooden boards mounted to resemble a crack. And, while advanced constructors will create adjustable machines, most basement builders will find it easier to create multiple cracks in the sizes they want to train—primarily finger and hand. The best part is, a little goes a long way, and you can climb both up and down when training.

Home Wall

For those with room to spare, a home wall is the way to go. From mild to wild, a home wall can range from a simple mounted piece of plywood to a full build rivaling the rock gym. Whether it’s freestanding or mounted to the wall, the most important components are the holds. Consider a wide variety of shapes and sizes for increased diversity and fun in setting. Overall, the best home walls tend to be the most frequently used ones and ultimately do their job—getting you strong for climbing.

Courtesy: Moon Climbing
Courtesy: Moon Climbing

Moon Board

For pro climbers and those truly dedicated to getting strong, try a Moon Board. Back in the ‘80s, legendary U.K. climber Ben Moon devised the first Moon Board in his basement in Sheffield, England, and by the 2000s, the trend had caught on. Compact and simple in design, Moon Boards have a uniform size and configuration: 8.06 feet wide, 10.40 feet high, and positioned at a 40-degree angle. The holds are placed in fixed locations, creating a wall that is the same, no matter where it’s located. Because of the universal layout, it’s possible to project the same route as your buddy across the country, or your favorite pro climber.

As such, serious climbers can find thousands of established problems posted on moonboard.com and the MoonBoard App. Even better, with the addition of an LED system, you can download and illuminate the problems to make route finding easier.

Books

Strong fingers and abs only get you so far, especially if your training plan is haphazard, your mental game is lacking, or your technical skills are weak. If any of that rings a bell, check out one of these books for training your brain.

  • If you have the hangboard or home wall but are unsure of how to best use them, The Self-Coached Climber offers excellent advice for developing your own training plan. And, for something even more programmed, check out the training plans available from Uphill Athlete and the Mountain Tactical Institute.
  • For climbers truly looking to train their mind, The Rock Warrior’s Way is an insightful read about mental training.
  • The Mountain Guide Manual: The Comprehensive Reference—From Belaying to Rope Systems and Self-Rescue is an incredible technical skills guide that will greatly improve your climbing systems’ efficiency. Practice them at home, and you’ll find that you’ll have a lot more time to spend sending at the crag next weekend.

Have a training technique we didn’t mention? If so, tell us about it in the comments.


Stretch Out: 7 Yoga Poses for Paddlers

Waters have thawed, temperatures are rising, and the days keep getting longer. So, it’s time to dust off your paddling gear and head to your favorite aquatic playground, if you haven’t already. While you have plenty of things to think about as you prepare for the start of paddling season, be sure to give your body the attention it deserves, too. To help you out, here are seven yoga poses to practice before your first (or next) paddling sesh—or after. Or, if you’re on a stand-up paddleboard, you can even practice these poses while you’re still on the water.

Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Thread the Needle

Strong shoulders are key for paddling, whether you’re in a kayak or on a paddleboard. This pose is a great way to both wake them up before getting onto the water and stretch them out when you get back to shore.

Begin on all fours in tabletop pose, with your knees directly under the hips and wrists in line with the shoulders. Use an inhale to lift your right arm out to the side, and then, send it underneath the left arm as you exhale. In the process, bring the right shoulder and the right side of your head to the ground, as the left arm reaches out in front of you. Rest here for about 10 breaths before returning to tabletop and repeating on the other side.

  • Variation: To make the pose a little more “active,” you can reach the non-threaded arm up toward the sky, or rest the back of that hand on your lower back.
  • Variation: To make it a little more “restful,” either begin in child’s pose instead of tabletop, or ease the hips down toward the heels once you’ve settled into the twist.
Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Side Plank

As with most sports, core strength is also vital for paddling. Standard planks are an efficient way to strengthen both the core and your arms, but since paddling’s mechanics mean that one side of the body works at a time, side planks are particularly beneficial for kayakers and SUPers.

From tabletop, step back into high plank, with your feet together, and press through the heels to create a strong, straight line from the heels to your head. Shift your weight into your right arm as you rotate onto the outside edge of the right foot, and lift your left arm toward the sky. Keep your feet stacked if you can, or take one of the variations offered below. Hold for as long as you comfortably can, and then, repeat on the left side.

  • Variation: Take things down a notch by bringing the right knee down to the floor, so that your lower leg and foot point behind you.
  • Variation: Challenge yourself (and work your core a little more) by lifting up your left leg.
cobra
Credit: Ashley Peck

Cobra

Sitting in your boat for hours at a time can lead to a stiff lower back. As well, keeping your arms raised in paddling position may leave your shoulders, chest, and arms feeling fatigued. Fortunately, cobra pose may help with all of that.

Lower yourself all the way to your belly from plank, with your legs together and stretched out long behind you. If you’re extra motivated, go ahead and throw in some push-ups here. Keeping your hands under the shoulders and elbows close to the body, press the tops of your feet, your thighs, and your pelvis into the floor, and push through the palms to begin lifting your upper body.

Lift yourself as far as is comfortable. You may be able to fully straighten your arms, or you may need to keep a bend in the elbows—either way is fine. Focus on opening up the front of your body by gently lifting your sternum while simultaneously “squeezing” your shoulder blades together. Hold for five breaths, and then, release back down to the floor on an exhale. Repeat two or three times. 

Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Down Dog Twist

Even though it may feel like your upper body does most of the work, your legs also play an important role in paddling. They help steer and stabilize your boat while you’re kayaking, and they’re kind of important when it comes to the “SU” part of SUPing. The beauty of down dog twist is that it stretches the leg muscles just like traditional downward-facing dog while also stretching out the shoulders a little more and helping build rotational core strength, which is where your paddling power comes from.

When you’re finished with cobra, press back up to tabletop. Then, begin working your way into downward-facing dog, but with your feet a little bit wider apart than the usual hip distance. On an exhale, reach your right hand back toward the left leg, taking hold of your calf or ankle—whichever feels best—and let your gaze come under the left armpit. Hold for a few breaths, return to down dog on an inhale, and then, repeat on the opposite side.

Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Chair Twist

Similar to the way down dog twist addresses the shoulders and core while stretching the legs, chair twist does the same while strengthening the legs. In addition, both of these twisting poses can help strengthen the lower back, which in turn helps you avoid paddler’s back pain.

Start in a regular chair pose (feet together or hip-distance apart, lowering the hips toward the floor, and keeping your weight in the heels) with hands at heart center. Use an inhale to lengthen through the spine, and then, bring your right elbow toward the left outer thigh on an exhale. Peek down at your knees to make sure they stay facing forward and are even with each other. Keep pressing your palms into one another to stretch out your shoulders, or spread your wings (right hand toward the floor, and left arm reaching high) to open up through the chest. Stay here for about 30 seconds, and then, switch sides.

Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Boat Twist

Even if it weren’t so appropriately named, boat twist would still be an important pose for paddlers to practice. Just as traditional boat pose improves core strength and balance, so, too, does boat twist—with the added benefit of working the obliques to continue building rotational core strength.

Bring yourself to a seated position with your feet flat on the floor. Inhale to lengthen through the spine, and then, exhale to lean back into boat pose with the knees bent and lower legs parallel to the floor. Keep your core engaged, and twist toward the right on your next exhale, reaching your right arm back and sending the left hand toward your feet. Hold for five breaths before returning to center, and then, repeat on the other side.

  • Variation: If you can extend your legs in boat pose, try crossing your right leg over the left, and holding onto the inside of your left foot with the left hand as you twist to the right. When you switch sides, do the opposite.
Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Half Lord of the Fishes

We’ll wrap things up with one more twist, since having a strong, fully mobile torso is so vital to both kayaking and paddleboarding. Again, even if half lord of the fishes didn’t have such a perfect name, it would be a pose every paddler should practice regularly. In addition to the benefits of the other twisting poses we’ve done, this one also provides a gentle stretch through the hips, which will feel particularly amazing after you spend the day sitting in a kayak.

Start seated with your legs extended in front of you. Hug your right knee in toward the chest, and then, cross the right leg over the left, so that your right foot is on the floor next to your left thigh. Bend your left leg to bring the left foot toward your right hip. On an inhale, sit up nice and tall. As you exhale, twist toward the right, pressing your right hand into the floor just behind you for support and bringing the left upper arm to the outside of your right thigh. Hold the twist for up to one minute, and then, repeat on the opposite side.

  • Variation: If bringing the left arm to the outside of the right leg is too intense, simply use the arm to hug your leg instead.