Why You Should Always Pack a Car Kit

Everyone loves to talk about gear—we can fill a long ski tour simply discussing what the right ski width for an East Coast ski is or preaching the benefits of wearing bright clothing. Over the years, however, the gear that has proven the most valuable has also been the least flashy: our “car kit.”

Credit: Doug Martland

What is a Car Kit?

“Car kit” is the name we’ve given to a handful of essential gear that we keep in our cars when traveling to the mountains. Our car kit includes a variety of items ranging from backup gear to first-aid equipment to rescue kits and have proven to help save everything from days to lives in the mountains and roads. Much like backcountry ski packs and climbing racks, the car kit has evolved over time, with items added and subtracted as experience and knowledge are gained.

Originally, our car kits were self-contained in a few small plastic containers, but they have spread through our vehicles over time. For example, the spare headlamp and sunglasses that are key components of the car kit have proven better-suited to living in the glove compartment.

Credit: Doug Martland

So, what’s inside?

The foundation of any quality car kit is built on having backups to essential gear, just in case that absent-minded person in your party shows up without it. A key to the car kit is that it’s all spare gear you’re not dependent on, that way it’s there when you need it. A few items that form the foundation of our car kit are:

  • Headlamp
  • Sunglasses
  • Socks
  • Mittens
  • Winter hat
  • Multiclava
  • Puffy (An old one kept compressed doesn’t take up much space. Yes, keeping a puffy compressed is bad for it, but we’re sure the person who forgot theirs won’t complain.)
  • Multitool (Preferably one with pliers.)
  • Hex wrench
  • Food (A few energy bars and a couple of gels are great for spring, summer, and fall. For winter, add something less likely to freeze, like trail mix.)

It’s also not a bad idea to adjust your car kit seasonally or add a couple of sport-specific items. For example, carrying a backup set of MICROspikes if you’re a winter hiker, an extra set of goggles if you’re a skier, or a helmet if you’re a biker. Also, add items like hand warmers in the colder months and sunscreen in the summer.

Supplemental First-Aid Kit

Not everybody carries a large, comprehensive first-aid kit into the woods and the car is the perfect place to stash everything you need to complement the contents of the kit in your pack. A car kit is especially useful when recreating close to your car (think sport climbing on the Parking Lot Wall at Rumney or running laps in some Granite Backcountry Alliance glades), and when you’re deeper in the backcountry—where it can take a search and rescue group significantly longer than you think to organize and arrive at a scene of an accident or medical emergency—the car kit may prove a vital supplement. If manpower allows, someone can run back to the car and retrieve the kit to further the process of self-rescue.

Having a supplemental first aid kit in the car is also great for situations where your primary kit accidentally gets left at home or you don’t have your primary kit with you—think witnessing a car accident while commuting to work.

Some key items for the supplemental first-aid kit include:

  • Bleeding control (A tourniquet, pressure bandages, gauze pads, roller gauze, tape, extra medical gloves, and a boo-boo kit.)
  • Airway management (A light CPR mask and, if you have the training and knowledge, oral and nasal airways.)
  • Exposure management (An extra puffy, a sleeping bag, and/or a chemical warming blanket like a Ready Heat II—think a blanket made of chemical hand warmers—are great ways to supplement your efforts to keep an injured party warm.)
  • Some basic medications like Advil and antihistamines
  • A battery pack for your phone (Getting a call out from the backcountry can be taxing on your phone’s battery, but a portable battery like this one from Goal Zero can help ensure you don’t run out of juice.)

Also keep in mind that you might be evacuating the injured party, especially if help is many hours away. If you’re not already carrying a ski sled (winter), guide tarp, or foldable rescue litter as part of your primary kit, stash one in the car.

Credit: Doug Martland

Car Gear

Because the trailheads and parking lots we frequent are anywhere from an hour to a few hours from our homes, a tow truck, or cell service, the last bit of our car kit is directly related to our cars. A fair amount of this kit is winter-specific, as the odds of getting stuck or having a car not start are higher at this time of year. Our car gear includes:

  • Jumper cables to greatly increase the odds of getting a jumpstart
  • Kitty litter or a bag of sand (Vital for gaining traction in icy parking lots)
  • Compact shovel (An old avy shovel is ideal for digging a car out of a snowbank or after a storm)
  • Candle lantern (This can help save the batteries of your headlamp if you need to overnight in your car.)
  • Sleeping bag (That sleeping bag mentioned above serves double duty here, but hopefully you’ll never have to spend a night in your car)

Final Thought

Keep in mind that your car kit should evolve. History has a way of repeating itself, so take the lessons learned on those bad and disappointing days and prepare for them in the future.


The Gear You Need to Ice Climb at Hillyer Ravine

The deep, dark recesses of Kaaterskill Clove, in the eastern Catskills, are home to some of the area’s best ice climbing. Noteworthy areas include the popular roadside destination of Moore’s Bridge, the looming pillars of Kaaterskill Falls and the long, tiered waterfalls known collectively as The Ravines. The Ravines—including Hillyer, Viola, Wildcat, and Buttermilk—offer some of the Cats’ best long, moderate routes: All weigh in at between four and six pitches in length with a difficulty in the WI3 to WI4 range. The relatively long, strenuous approaches make for a full day affair and lend a remote, backcountry vibe to each. Moreover, their northerly aspect makes for reliable ice throughout the season.

The most accessible of the bunch is Hillyer. Hillyer Ravine climbs about 200 feet in four moderate pitches with each going at around WI3. Substantial ledges separate one pitch from the next and, though you won’t likely see the same number of people here as you would elsewhere in the Cats—the rigor of the approach and the dearth of parking thin the crowds out a bit—there is plenty of room for multiple parties to set up shop. The wide second and third pitches in particular offer a ton of climbable ice and an entire day could easily be spent doing laps on these two pitches alone.

All in all, a day in Hillyer Ravine is a day well spent. And, like any day out, proper preparation and equipment is key—here’s what you need to bring to climb Hillyer.

Credit: John Lepak

Beal Booster 9.7mm Dry Rope

No single tier of Hillyer Ravine stretches higher than 50 feet so a single 60 meter rope will be more than enough—but be sure it’s a dry one. Dry-treated ropes have a coating that prevents water absorption which, on ice, is critical. A frozen climbing rope can ruin your day real quick. The Beal Booster 9.7 mm Dry Rope is a good bet to keep things running smoothly and safely.

Black Diamond Momentum Harness

Whether you’re climbing ice, rock, or indoors, a harness is compulsory. For ice, get one with adjustable leg loops—to account for thick winter layers like the Black Diamond Momentum (men’s/women’s). A couple of Petzl Caritool Evo Holders are a good add for racking screws on the way up and tools on the way down.

Petzl Nomic Ice Tools

There are many types of ice axes, each with their own specific utility. For vertical ice like what you’ll find on Hillyer, a pair of technical ice tools—so defined by their bent shaft, curved pick, and offset grip—are the way to go. The Petzl Nomic is a balanced, workhorse of a tool that’s great for the variety of terrain you’ll find in the Ravines.

Black Diamond Cyborg Pro

Like ice axes, crampons also come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, each designed for a specific function. Crampons with vertical front points like the Black Diamond Cyborg Pro, clipped into a pair of stiff-soled mountaineering boots like the La Sportiva Nepal Evo GTX will get you up Hillyer—and most other routes in the Cats, for that matter—no problem.

Ice Rack

The overwhelming majority of routes in the Catskills are doable with a fistful of ice screws. A couple of Petzl Laserspeed Ice Screws in the 13 to 17cm range will have you covered in Hillyer Ravine. A good bit of cord is definitely handy for building belays between pitches too—20 feet of Sterling 7mm Accessory Cord, two Petzl Attaché Locking Carabiners, and a sturdy tree will make you a nice monopoint anchor.

Tip: The guidebook, An Ice Climber’s Guide to the Catskill Mountains, provides greater detail on what constitutes a typical Catskills ice rack—as well as everything else you need to know about the area.

Outdoor Research Vigor Midweight Sensor Gloves

Keeping your hands warm and dry is a constant challenge on any winter outing and this rings especially true for ice climbing when your arms are elevated and circulation is limited. A pair of gloves that split the difference between warmth and dexterity—like the Outdoor Research Vigor Midweight Sensor Gloves (men’s/women’s)—will help ward off the dreaded screaming barfies while allowing you to still place screws and clip ropes effectively. Bring two pairs so you can easily replace one if they get soaked.

EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket

Staying warm and dry is incredibly important in any winter activity, and layering properly is the best way to do it. The layers you’re going to want to use will largely depend on the conditions but, on a backcountry climb like Hillyer Ravine, it’s important to be prepared for everything with lightweight, packable options. In warmer weather, when things get wet, a light hardshell, like the Marmot Precip Eco Jacket (men’s/women’s) makes things a lot more comfortable. In colder weather, an insulated jacket like the EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket (men’s/women’s) keeps the heat in while gearing up, belaying, or having lunch.

Trail Spikes

Clocking in at one mile with 1000 feet of elevation gain from the parking area to the base of the climb, Hillyer Ravine’s approach is a stiff one. Conditions on the well-worn climbers’ trail vary but you can bet on the need for traction. Toss a pair of the new EMS Ice Talons in your pack and you’ll be ready for whatever.

Tip: Hillyer Ravine shares most of its approach with neighboring Viola Ravine and it’s not uncommon to tick both in the same trip by climbing one, rappelling the second, then reversing the order.


The Gear You Need for Uphilling at Magic Mountain

Uphill skiing continues to grow in popularity among seasoned and novice human-powered skiers alike thanks to reliable conditions and low objective hazards. Magic Mountain in Londonderry, Vermont has been at the forefront of the uphill movement with its “Hike One Ride One” program that famously rewards uphill skiers with a token for a free lift ride when they successfully reach the 2,850-foot summit of the mountain—a 1,700-foot climb.

Although the free-ride program is temporarily suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions (read the full details here), Magic Mountain’s awesome terrain, great snow, and soulful ski culture make it a must-visit. Make your visit even more enchanting by showing up with the right gear for uphilling.

Credit: Tim Peck

EMS Merino Wool Baselayer

Uphillers access the goods via a designated skinning route on Magic’s left side, either an uphill trail in the woods or, if snow cover is low in the woods, up the resort’s leftmost trail (Lower Magic Carpet to Up Your Sleeve to White Out). Skinning up even low-angle terrain like that found on Magic Carpet generates a lot of heat and makes the heavy baselayers you use for riding the lifts too warm for this aerobic activity. EMS’s Merino Wool baselayers (men’s top and bottom; women’s top and bottom) wick sweat and keep you comfortable on the uphill and offer enough insulation for the descent. Wool naturally fights odors too, which is great if you’re heading into the Black Line Tavern at the end of the day.

EMS Field Glove

A leather work glove, like the Outdoor Research Askel or EMS Field Glove, offers enough dexterity for ripping skins and buckling boots behind the Red Chair Double’s top shack at Magic’s summit while providing enough insulation to keep you warm while dropping down Black Line.

Credit: Tim Peck

Osprey Kamber/Kresta

With your car and the base lodge always a short ski away and no need for a full backcountry ski kit, a small 20-24 liter pack is perfect for uphilling at Magic. The Osprey Kamber 22 and Kresta 20 have all the ski-specific features of bigger bags—like a way to divide wet and dry gear and glove-friendly zippers and buckles—in an uphill friendly size.

Smith Camber/Compass

From the tree skiing on Warlock, to tired legs from the skin to the summit, to that newbie tackling Sorcerer for the first time, danger is always lurking on the slopes—even at a place as bewitching as Magic. Tuck a helmet like the Smith Camber or Compass into your pack and don it for your descent.

Credit: Tim Peck

Giro Block

Goggles go in and out of the pack a lot while uphill skiing, making a good pair of goggles that you won’t lose sleep over if you happen to scratch them, like the Giro Block, an important piece of your kit. They’re even more essential for those super-fit skiers who seem almost as fast as Magic’s old Black Lift and are bagging multiple laps a day.

The North Face Thermoball Eco

Whether you’re waiting for your ski buddies in the parking lot, transitioning from up to down next to the Black Line Quad, or enjoying a post-session hangout next to the firepit, a puffy like The Northface Thermoball Eco (men’s/women’s) is essential to falling under Magic’s spell.

Credit: Tim Peck

Turtle Fur Chelonia 150 Double Layer Neck Warmer

Neck warmers, gaiters, and tubes have long been a staple of resort, backcountry, and uphill skiers alike and are even more relevant in the age of COVID-19. From sealing in warmth while dropping into the Gonnif Glade to serving as a face covering at places where people congregate, like the top of the Red Chair Double. Make sure to have something like the Turtle Fur Chelonia 150 Double Layer Neck Warmer or Stria Totally Tubular Headwear close at hand.

HydroFlash Wide Mouth 20 oz. Bottle

Sure, you can leave food and a drink in your car or grab something quick at the Base Cafeteria, but it’s good to carry something to eat and drink with you on the mountain—after all, you’re “earning your turns.” Energy bars and PB&Js are great for sustenance, but having something warm to drink—like hot cocoa in an insulated Hydro Flask bottle—can lift your spirits on bitter Vermont days and reenergize tired legs.

Credit: Tim Peck

Osprey Snowkit Duffel

Nestled in southern Vermont, Magic is a popular day trip for skiers and riders from New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. The Osprey Snowkit Duffel makes traveling to and from the mountain easy. It keeps your kit together for transitioning quickly from car to slopes in the morning and has a dedicated, ventilated compartment for stashing your sweaty boots at the end of the day.

Teva Ember Mock

After a long day ticking vertical, your feet are probably dying to slip into something more comfortable. Teva Ember Mocks (men’s/women’s) are stylish enough for inside if you scored a coveted reservation at the Black Line Tavern and warm enough if you prefer the parking lot après.

Make the most of your day at Magic Mountain and leave your ski partner spellbound by showing up with the right gear for a day of uphilling.


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Gear Nerd: How Does MIPS Save Your Noggin?

You’re cruising along sweet deep powder carving down the slope with the wind whipping on by and a giant grin on your face. And then suddenly…the slope isn’t where it should be and you’re about to experience what it’s like to be a snowball. Lovely.

Fortunately for you, you’re smart and you’re wearing a helmet. Because you’re wicked smart you picked a helmet with MIPS. Maybe this won’t hurt so bad?

As you’re lying in a snowbank catching your breath and checking to make sure everything still feels intact, you might be wondering just exactly how your helmet and the MIPS technology works.

Courtesy: MIPS

What is MIPS?

Identifying a MIPS helmet (whether it’s a ski helmet, a bike helmet, or something else) is pretty easy. From the outside, it looks pretty standard, but flipping it over puts the business end in full view.

All helmets have at least 2 layers: the hard outer shell and a thick inner foam layer. If something falls straight onto the top of your head, or you make a perfectly head-on (pun intended) impact with a tree, these two layers crush and absorb a lot that impact before it can get to your skull and brain.

But that’s not how most accidents work. More likely, you fall off your bike and your helmet hits the pavement at an angle, or you side swipe a branch after losing control on your skis. It’s those indirect impacts where the MIPS layer really comes in.

Taking a look at the inside of your helmet and you’ll find a thin piece of yellow plastic inside the foam layer. The pads sit on this one so it’s what comes in contact with your head. But it also moves in relation to the rest of the helmet thanks to some elastic. The result is a helmet that can “slip” back and forth, or side to side, when it’s on your head.

But how does that help you in a crash?

With a non-MIPS helmet, your brain and skull would have played a wild game of ping pong: As the helmet hit the ground, it would force your entire head to rotate violently, sloshing your brain inside your skull. But the MIPS layer let the helmet slip without your head, redirecting the energy by allowing the low friction layer to move 10 to 15 millimeters. When your helmet hits the snow, the outer two layers slide along the MIPS layer and your head, absorbing more impact and redirecting it away from your brain.

So where can I find it?

MIPS helmets are becoming more and more popular every year, making their way into ski, bike, climbing helmets and more. Look for the little yellow circular “MIPS” logo to know that the helmet features the technology.


Merino Wool: Our Tester Wore The Same Shirt for Over a Week Without Stinking

While I think we can all agree that this year hasn’t exactly shaped up to be anything fantastic, our super odd physically distant world does make for a great time to do gear testing that might… erm… stink?

After writing up a total nerd article last month about the science of merino wool, it only seemed to make sense to put all those cuticles, cortexes, and matrices to the test. How many days and sweaty activities did it take to make the EMS Merino Wool Crew Neck Base Layer stink?

Fortunately for me, I was already working remotely, my Thanksgiving plans were nonexistent, and my housemates (husband and two dogs) are tolerant of my quests in the name of science. Needless to say, scientific quests are rather common around here and usually involve more than just a potentially smelly shirt. Mud? Random plants? Moss and microscopes? Yep!

To start, I set some ground rules:
• I have to wear the shirt from the time I get up to the time I go to bed.
• There will be no washing, no odorizing sprays, etc. Just lay it out and let it be.
• There will be no avoiding sweaty activities just because I’m stuck in the same shirt for as long as this takes. If I’d workout in a clean shirt, I’d work out in the Merino.

So, how’d it go?

Day 1: Work followed by three hours of the messiest thing I could possibly do on the first day of wearing a shirt: glazing a big batch of pottery in a freezing cold studio. I somehow managed to keep all the glaze off me, which might have been the biggest accomplishment of the week.

Day 2: Errands. Boring.

Day 3: Mountain biking at Musquash (Londonderry, NH) as I chased my husband around the woods on his new fat bike. He’s just plain fast. Also, some wood stacking and around the house chores.

Day 4: Work. Boring.

Day 5: Mountain biking and trail work at Litchfield State Forest. ‘Tis the season for downed trees!

Day 6: Mountain biking at East Hampstead to tackle the long and hilly Skunk Skull. Felt like I was dragging, but eight Strava PRs (entirely fueled by gummy bears) proved otherwise. I promptly sat on my rear the rest of the day.

Day 7: I wanted to bike, but the weather had other ideas. So, I decided to organize the basement. Much sweat and dust were experienced but I made an abundance of food anyways.

Day 8: I ventured to Pine Hills (Plymouth, MA) for a physically distant group ride on an oddly warm day. I somehow managed to bike uphill both ways.

By the end of day eight, the stink was far from a full-blown locker-room smell. But just a faint whiff of “This experiment is over” had me tossing it in the wash.

Credit: Jillian Bejtlich

What did I learn while wearing the same shirt every day for 8 days?

First, merino wool actually does suck up moisture and odor. To help me sort of benchmark the performance, I spent the week prior to the test putting some of my other favorite shirts to the test:

  • Cotton long sleeve shirt: Obviously a terrible idea, but all in the name of science! Needless to say, it was a sweaty and miserable ride almost immediately. The shirt hit the dirty laundry bin right after.
  • Standard mountain biking jersey (all polyester): 1 day and 1 ride. While I didn’t stay too soggy, I had to change after the ride since I couldn’t deal with how I smelled.
  • EMS Active Wool Long Sleeve Shirt (84% Polyester / 11% Wool / 5% Spandex): 2 days and 1 ride. I probably could have pushed it one more ride, but I was starting to get a bit ripe.

Second, layering matters. With the exception of one day, it was a chilly week of testing meaning that the shirt alone wasn’t enough to keep me warm. And while the merino did an excellent job wicking, it can’t get rid of the moisture if trapped by other layers. After trying sweatshirts, vests, jackets, and fleece – I found it was best paired with vests and/or high-quality mid-layers made for moisture management, like the EMS Vortex Midlayer.

And last but not least, I am not one of those women who can work up a sweat and look (or smell) pretty after. Yet, the merino wool actually did pass every single pit sniff test. I just kept smelling like my deodorant, which was an improvement all around.

All in all, I’m super pleased with how the shirt performed. It’s already gone back into rotation for mountain biking, hiking, and more. And I think it will be the ideal shirt to bring on trips when I need to pack light. One shirt to rule them all? Looks like it.


Skin Care: Taking Care Of Your Touring Setup

Climbing skins may not be as sexy as skis, bindings, or boots—after all, they’re hidden on the bottom of your skis or in your pack most of the time—but they are an essential part of any backcountry touring kit and a critical component to uphill performance. Read on to learn how to get the most out of your skins this winter.

Credit: Tim Peck

Before You Tour

Check to make sure your skins fits to your skis. Ideally, a skin should fit snug to the ski and leave just the metal edges of the ski exposed. Skiers looking to use one set of skins for multiple sets of skis should size for their narrowest pair—wall-to-wall coverage isn’t essential, especially not when working with super-wide powder planks.

Next, test the glue’s tackiness. If the glue is not sticking at home, it’s probably not going to stick on the tour either. It’s possible to reglue skins—it’s a messy, frustrating job—but possible and better for the environment.

Finally, consider hot waxing your skins with low-fluorinated wax to improve glide, increase water repellency, and prevent glopping (the build-up of snow on the bottom of the skin).

Credit: Tim Peck

On the Tour

Treating your skins well while touring is a sure way to maximize uphill performance. This means avoiding puddles and open water like the plague. Wet skins just don’t adhere to your skis very well, and even if they do maintain stickiness, they’re heavy.

On warmer days, you also want to avoid the glop. Glopping typically occurs in the spring, when the sun heats the snow to its melting point. The wetness sticks to your skins, then when you hit a cold spot it freezes, encouraging more snow to stick to your skins. If snow starts building up on your skin bottoms during the tour, pause, scrape the skin, and apply a layer of skin wax (you keep some in your repair kit, don’t you?). Pay attention to your form and stride—keeping the skin continuously in contact with the snow surface helps reduce snow build up.

Credit: Tim Peck

At the Transition

When it’s time to transition from the up to the down, remove your skins, clear away any snow buildup, and fold them up, sticking glue side to glue side. This reduces the likelihood that the glue will stick to something else, contaminating the skin surface. Store the folded skins in your pack or jacket, either on their own or in the skin-specific bag that likely came with them.

If it’s windy, pay close attention to how you remove the skin, otherwise it’s liable to become a gluey mess. One option is to flip your ski upside down, peel half the skin and fold it in quarters, then repeat the process for the second half of the ski.

Credit: Tim Peck

Preparing For Another Lap

Nothing kills a second (or third) lap on a pow day like poorly performing skins. Focus on these three things when putting your skins on for another lap:

  • Ski surface: Before putting your skins back on your skis or boards, scrape any residual snow and ice off your bases, then wipe off any moisture, as these will impede the skin-to-ski connection.
  • Skin fit: Smoothly stick the skin on the ski, working from tip to tail, keeping tension for the entire length. Rushing with powder fever is a sure way to misalign the skin, making it easier for snow and water to come in contact with the glue and interfere with the skin-ski bond.
  • Reassess snow conditions: When the snow is wet or sticky, rubbing on a quick layer of skin wax during the transition is a great way to prevent glopping and keep the skins from wetting out.
Credit: Tim Peck

Post Tour

When you get home from your tour, don’t leave your skins in your pack or, worse, in the car. Instead, unfold your skins and hang them up to dry. Room temperature works best; Too much heat can damage the glue, reducing skin longevity.

After your skins are dry, give the glue a quick inspection for contaminants. If you find contaminants, try heating the area with a hairdryer and using a ski scraper to scrape off the gunk. Then store them in a cool dry place. Some skiers choose to store their skins with “skin savers” (i.e., the mesh pieces that likely came with your skins) if they won’t be touring again for a while, but be forewarned that these increase air contact which may not preserve the glue as well as plain folding.

Credit: Tim Peck

Troubleshooting

Stuff happens to skins no matter how many good practices you follow. Summon your inner scout and be prepared for these common issues:

  • Icy skins: A ski edge or pant leg is a great way to remove a mid-tour accumulation of ice on a skin—the savviest skiers carry a scraper for this. Just scrape the skin back and forth to get rid of the buildup, then re-affix the skin to the ski.
  • Frozen skins: If scraping icy skins isn’t solving the issue, you can try warming them—this works well if you’re about to descend—by tucking them into your jacket and putting your body heat to work.
  • Broken tips and tail loops: Tricky to fix in the field, you can often MacGyver a broken tip or tail loop with a ski strap or two (make sure to add a few to your repair kit). Most skin companies sell replacement tips and tail loops for DIY repairs, which can usually be completed in 30ish minutes.

Develop a good skin care routine this winter for maximum fun, minimal frustration, and to avoid getting yourself into any sticky situations.


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