Video: Mandatory Gear

“Back in the day, that was part of the mandatory gear…to find a women willing [to adventure race].”


How Warm is Your Jacket, Really? The Down Equation

Mother nature knows what she’s doing, at least if down fill is any indication. Decades after it was first borrowed from birds to keep us warm, down—with only a handful of improvements—is still one of the premier technologies for keeping us warm. The problem? Many of us don’t understand it or how it works, which means when it comes time to buy a jacket, we’re left in the dark. The tag on that jacket has a lot of numbers on it, many of which tie into how warm, compressible, and lightweight it will be while you’re wearing it or stuffing it in your pack. You just need to know how to make sense of them.

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A High Point in Warmth

Synthetic insulation seems to get better every year, but down still reigns supreme for many users, environments, and activities. Lightweight, packable, and warm are just a few of the characteristics that have kept down as the go-to insulation of outdoor adventurers for almost a century. On the 1922 Everest expedition, mountaineer George Finch drew many suspect looks from his team members for his departure from traditional tweed and wool outerwear in favor of an eiderdown-lined coat and pants with a shell made of a bright green hot-air balloon fabric. Finch would go on to climb to a height of 8,360 meters—an altitude record at the time—and set the stage for down to become the favored insulation of those who work and play in the cold.

Put simply, down is the fluffy group of soft feathers that sit between a bird’s (usually a goose or duck) outer feathers and skin. Under a microscope, the plumes are a network of tiny filaments, woven and and networked together to trap air between then—This is why down is so warm. Microscopic pockets between filaments trap body heat next to your skin.

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Not All Down is Created Equal

No down is the same, which is why we need a system to explain how warm one particular jacket is over another. We use two big metrics to sort this out: the quality of fill used, which is measured by down fill power, and the amount of insulation used, which is measured by fill weight.

Down Fill Power

Just like so many other materials, some down is a higher quality than other down. Generally speaking, the “fluffier” a plume of down is—meaning, how much loft it has—the warmer it will be, and the higher quality it will be. This is fill power.

Fill power is calculated by a lab test that determines how many cubic inches of loft a certain weight (one ounce) of down produces. The higher the number, the more loft and the warmer than down will be for its weight. For example, a down fill rating of 800 means that one ounce of down covers 800 cubic inches. In general, jackets ranging from 600- to 1,000-fill power are considered high quality.

Down Fill Weight

But remember one key piece about fill power: It measures how warm down is for its weight. If the weight of the down feathers in a jacket is equal, a jacket with higher fill power will be warmer than one with a lower fill power. But not all jackets have the same weight, which is why we also need to consider that piece of the puzzle.

Down fill weight indicates how much insulation is used in its construction. Sometimes listed in grams, other times in ounces, though often not at all (more on this ahead), the fill weight is simply the weight of the down that was used to make a jacket.

Consider the EMS Featherpack Hooded Down Jacket and the EMS Ryker Down Parka. The Featherpack Jacket is made with roughly 140 grams of 800-fill down, while the Ryker Parka is made with 300 grams of 650-fill down. Because it has more than twice the amount (or weight) of down inside, the Ryker looks much larger and will likely be warmer, even though the Featherpack uses much higher quality down. On the other hand, the Featherpack is far lighter and will compress much smaller thanks to its 800-fill down, making it a better option for weight- or pack space-conscious users. It’s easy to get lured into thinking that a jacket made with higher fill power is warmer than a jacket with a lower fill power, but that’s not always the case.

Long story short, how warm your jacket will be is a function of both fill power and down weight. A jacket with a high fill power but low down weight may not be as warm as a jacket with a high down weight and low fill power. But a high combination of both means a super warm and super light and compressible jacket.

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Putting it All Together

A challenge in choosing a down coat is to balance your need for a high fill power (lightweight and compressibility) with fill weight (warmth). This is often complicated because many manufacturers are quick to highlight fill power, but are less likely to divulge fill weight. If the fill weight of a jacket you’re interested in isn’t available, your next best option is to find one in person and compare its weight and compressibility against other jackets with known fills. If that isn’t an option either, the best you can do is look at the jacket’s total weight, account for features like pockets and zippers, along with the shell material, and then guess at the fill weight.

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Choosing a Down Jacket

Putting all this together, down jackets with high fill powers are a great choice for hikers, backcountry skiers, and ice and alpine climbers who want a puffy that provides maximum warmth while taking up a minimum of space and not weighing too much. They’re also great for those looking for a super-warm jacket that maintains a sleek cut. Conversely, those less interested in packability and compressibility—like, say, a sport climber with a short approach—might look to jackets that use down with slightly less fill power, but use more of it so that they can stay warm as they belay somebody on their project.


You’re Buckling Your Ski Boots Wrong

You’re probably buckling your ski boots wrong. But you’re not alone.

In a past life as a ski boot fitter, it felt as if the standard operating procedure for a boot shopper was to jam their foot into the new shell, haphazardly buckle it, and then complain that it hurt. They are the fortunate ones: They could try a larger boot right there, realize that that doesn’t feel right either, and then ask for help.

But for the countless skiers who head onto the slopes with painful feet and simply accept that some pain is the nature of ski boots, they would probably enjoy their day a whole lot more if they knew better how to put their boots on correctly. Pain and discomfort in your boots isn’t a given, if you know a handful of tricks, understand the right way to buckle-in, and are willing to ask for help.

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Courtesy: Atomic

1. Only one sock goes in the boot.

Before you even think about sliding your foot into a ski boot, make sure you are wearing the right sock. A high quality ski-oriented sock, such as the Smartwool PhD Ski socks may seem expensive, but they are padded where necessary, and seamless in problem areas like the toes. Forget the two sock system as well: Only one quality sock is needed for proper wicking. Two socks aren’t actually warmer, either. Wearing two pairs can constrict blood flow, making your feet colder. In addition to the sock, make sure your pants or thermals do not go down inside the boot, which would cause additional pressure points in the cuff of the boot on your leg. Only socks go in the boot.

2. Keep your boots warm before putting them on.

Rooftop cargo boxes are great for skis, but they are no place for a ski boot on the way to the resort. Also avoid packing your boots into your car the night before an early morning drive to the mountain. A cold boot is up to 30 percent stiffer than a warm boot, and a warm boot will be much easier to flex apart in order to fit your foot in. Not to mention, you’ll just be starting your day off cold. 

3. Start with everything unbuckled.

It may seem obvious, but I’ve seen countless skiers struggle to get their foot into a ski boot, while having 2 or 3 latches still buckled lower down on the boot. Do yourself a favor, unbuckle and fully unlatch every single buckle before trying to put the boot on. 

Courtesy: Atomic
Courtesy: Atomic

4. Put your boot on, the right way.

You are wearing the right socks, your boots aren’t frozen, and are completely unbuckled. It’s now time to put them on!

From a seated position, hold the boot cuff with one hand and grab the tongue with the other hand—often there are grab handles in both of these places. Pull the tongue forward and to the side as much as possible, to open up the center of the boot, this will let your foot slide in very easily. If you need to fight your foot inside the boot, you’re not pulling it open wide enough, or the boot is too cold to get open.

Next, fit the tongue back into the liner without misaligning it. This can be a bit tricky, but a misaligned tongue can cause a painful pressure point when bucked. Make sure the tongue is seated against the inside of your ankle and shin cleanly and that your sock doesn’t have any wrinkles. With the tongue aligned, lift up your leg and give the heel of the boot a whack on the ground in order to set your foot fully into the heel of the boot.

Time to buckle. Always go with a top down approach, starting with the velcro strap. This will bring all of the buckles closer to each other while also restraining your foot in the correct spot in the boot. After lightly buckling everything, stand up with your foot flat on the ground and bend your knee a few times, flexing the boot. This action continues to align your foot inside the boot through the typical ski motion, and pushes your heel further to the back. 

Now, go back through the buckles and tighten as necessary. It’s important to remember that your feet can compress or swell depending on the time of day, so its best to tighten by feel instead of always going back to the same buckle. And don’t be afraid to adjust them throughout the day—tightening them as your feet settle further into the boot, or loosening they as your feet swell.

Feel like you’re somewhere between notches on a buckle? Remember to use the micro-adjustments by twisting the buckle to either shorten or lengthen it slightly for the perfect fit.

As you ski throughout the day, remember to flip the buckles open when you are in the lift line or on the lift. This will help to aid in blood circulation for your feet, keeping you warm.

Courtesy: Rossignol
Courtesy: Rossignol

5. Don’t settle.

Lastly, as a boot fitter, we understand that ski boots are expensive and everyone has uniquely shaped feet. Almost no boot will fit 100 percent perfectly out of the box. Before giving up on a boot that doesn’t feel quite right, try bringing it to a professional boot fitter and seeing if modifications are possible. There are a multitude of fitting techniques that can be applied to help alleviate fit issues with ski boots, including heel lifts and arch supports, fully- or semi-custom insoles like Superfeet, thermofit liners, moving buckles, or stretching the shells. 


Video: Winter Car Safety Essentials

Don’t drive off without this stuff.


10 Backcountry Ski Tools for the Tech-Savvy

Whether it’s avalanche airbags, magnetic goggle lenses, or shred-recording apps, technology is revolutionizing backcountry ski gear. With Cyber Monday upon us, here are 10 favorite tech pieces likely to be working their way into your backcountry kit in the near future.

Courtesy: SPOT
Courtesy: SPOT

1. SPOT X 2-Way Satellite Messenger

Whether you’re day tripping in Tuckerman Ravine or on a multi-day tour in the Chic Chocs, the pocket-sized SPOT X 2-Way Satellite Messenger is a standalone device (meaning it works independently of your mobile phone) with its own dedicated phone number that allows you to send messages, post to social media, send out an SOS, along with a host of other neat features.

2. Pieps iProbe II

Every second counts after an avalanche, especially if somebody is buried. The Pieps iProbe II works in coordination with a beacon to speed up searches and find burial victims faster using audio and visual cues. When deployed, the probe automatically turns itself on to narrow down burial sites—beeping and lighting up as you get closer to a buried transceiver.

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Credit: Smith

 

3. Smith I/O Mag Goggles

Awesome optics, huge field of vision, and multiple lens options have made Smith I/O goggles a long-time part of our ski kits. Although interchangeable lenses are nothing new to ski goggles, Smith’s I/O Mag goggles up the ante. Taking advantage of magnetic locking mechanisms on the lens, swapping lenses is easier than ever and fingerprints obstructing your view are a thing of the past.

4. Scott Patrol E1 Avalanche Backpack 

At first sight, the flux capacitor on the Scott Patrol E1 Avalanche Backpack seemed straight out of the future. On closer inspection, it’s a supercapacitor, but that doesn’t make it any less wow-worthy. Unlike traditional and lithium-ion batteries, supercapacitors can be taken on planes with no restrictions, are not sensitive to changes in temperature, and last for 500,000 charging cycles. Don’t you wish the rechargeable batteries in your headlamp would last that long?

5. DPS Phantom Wax 

Waxing skis or taking them to the shop to get tuned has long been an annoyance to skiers more interested in nabbing runs than scraping wax. DPS Phantom Wax needs only a single application to deliver a permanent solution for keeping your skis sliding. Unlike traditional ski waxes, Phantom Wax changes the chemical composition of your ski’s base, eliminating the need for regular reapplications.

Courtesy: Black Diamond
Courtesy: Black Diamond

6. Black Diamond Guide BT Avalanche Beacon

Black Diamond’s first foray into avalanche beacons has us thinking that it’s time to upgrade. The Guide BT (the BT stands for Bluetooth) is able to update its software, alter the beacon’s settings, and manage its battery all through an app accessed via your smartphone or tablet.

7. Salomon Shift Bindings 

A binding capable of delivering the performance of an alpine binding with the uphill ability of a backcountry binding has been something that ski-tourers everywhere have been dreaming of for years. Enter the Salomon Shift, which offers a fully certified alpine mode for downhill charging and pin-type toe for touring efficiency. This binding rips on and off piste and is a great option for skiers looking for a “quiver of one” binding.

8. The North Face Futurelight Fabric

Skiers are always on the lookout for layers that will keep them dry when it’s wet, breathe when they’re working hard, and keep them warm when it’s cold. Enter Futurelight, manufactured using a process called nanospinning—in which a fibrous material is extruded and repeatedly layered on itself into an ultra-thin and flexible web-like structure—to create thinner, more breathable, waterproof membranes. Proven to be up to the task of the most serious ski missions, Hilaree Nelson (O’Neill) and Jim Morrison put Futurelight to the test on their first ski descent of Lhotse Couloir.

9. Ski Tracks App

99 cents won’t buy you much at even the most budget-conscious ski resort these days. However, for less than a dollar, the Ski Tracks app will track just how much value you squeezed out of that three-figure lift pass. Working with your smartphone, the Ski Tracks app records metrics such as maximum speed, number of runs, distance skied, and total vertical. Don’t forget to thank us the next time you’re boasting about how much vertical you shredded.

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10. PeakFinder App

After years of arguing over which mountains are in the distance, the PeakFinder app is making it easy to know the answer without having to dig out a map. Using augmented reality, the Peakfinder app turns your phone into a directory of surrounding peaks and quickly displays the names of the mountains and peaks your looking at. Best of all, it even works when you’re offline!

 

Is there a piece of ski tech you’re particularly excited about this season? If so, let us know about it in the comments below.


How to Choose a Kayak

Buying a kayak is a big investment, but with a little research you’ll ensure that it’s a wise one. Keep reading for guidelines to choosing a kayak that fits both your paddling bucket list and your budget.

Where will you use your kayak?

Your first step in choosing a kayak is deciding where you’re going to use it most often. Will you be paddling on sheltered ponds or Lake Champlain? Like Champ, a one-size-fits-all kayak is a mythical beast, so a good rule of thumb is to buy a kayak for the water you’ll paddle most often, and rent when you venture elsewhere.

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Sheltered lakes and ponds, slow-moving rivers, and marshes

Known as “flat-water,” these areas are known for calm water and relative protection from wind. Recreational kayaks are built for flat-water, with easy entry and exit suited to spontaneous swimming, wide seats for a relaxed ride, and durable construction that’s compatible with bumping along river shoals. Sold in both Sit-On-Top and Sit-Inside styles, recreational kayaks are great for relaxed days on the water, family outings, and beginning kayakers.

Exposed lakes, wide-open rivers, ocean

Known as “open-water,” this environment is characterized by windy, choppy conditions. Touring kayaks are sit-inside boats designed to slice through rough waters while stabilizing the paddler via a snug seat, allowing for efficient paddling. The extended length of touring kayaks creates increased storage space, making this a logical choice for overnight trips.

READ MORE: ESSENTIAL GEAR FOR KAYAK TOURING

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Your Favorite Fishing Spot

Fishing kayaks come in both recreational and touring models, the difference being enhanced features for anglers. Think molded-in rod holders, Captain’s chairs, and in higher-end models, pedal driven systems that allow for hands-free maneuvering.

GO: Recreational Kayaks | Touring Kayaks | Fishing Kayaks

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Sit-on-top vs. Sit-inside

Sit-on-Top Kayaks are straightforward and user-friendly. Designed for recreational use on lakes, slow moving rivers, and marshes, consider a sit-on-top if you’re looking for the following:

  • Stability: Getting in and out of the boat is easy from shore, or from the water in case you take a mid-paddle swim (intentionally or not).
  • Getting wet: The open design guarantees you’ll get splashed.
  • Self-draining design: Water drains through “scupper holes,” meaning that you’ll never have to pump water out by hand, and if you flip over, your boat won’t get swamped.
  • Freedom to move around: The open design gives you more options for lounging, dipping your feet in the water, or stretching out.
  • Beginner and kid-friendly recreation.
  • Sturdy design: Many are built from plastic, resulting in impact and UV resistant kayaks.

Sit-Inside Kayak sare streamlined and more efficient for paddling from Point A to Point B. They are designed to handle rough conditions, like those found in large lakes and bays, though designs vary from extremely lean sea kayaks to less-lean but more comfortable “day touring” kayaks. Consider a sit-inside kayak if you’re looking for the following:

  • Staying dry: Sitting in the cockpit, with the option to add a spray skirt, keeps you drier and warmer.
  • Long distance day trips: Multiple points of contact in the cockpit give you stability and control in rough water. A streamlined design also allows for more efficient paddling.
  • Multi-day capability: Bulkheads provide dry, interior storage for gear.
  • Intermediate to advanced trips: Knowledge of wet exits and solo kayak draining are necessary in the event that you capsize in open water.
  • Light weight options: High-end touring style kayaks come in lighter, albeit more expensive, materials like fiberglass.

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Storage Space

What do you need to take with you?

Recreational kayaks typically provide enough storage space for a half-day on the water, with features like a water bottle holder, a small bulkhead, and in sit-on-top models, deck space sized to carry a small cooler.

Touring kayaks typically sport at least two bulkheads capable of storing overnight gear. Unlike recreational kayaks, they are not designed for storing bulky items (like coolers) on the deck.

Fishing kayaks are designed with fishing gear in mind, with features ranging from storage space for live fish to transducer compatible scuppers.

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Kayak Specs

Materials

The most common materials used in kayak construction are plastic and composites consisting of fiberglass and/or carbon-fiber. The most noticeable differences between plastic and composite boats are weight, durability, and price. While plastic kayaks are heavier than composite, they are significantly cheaper. On the other hand, composite kayaks are much lighter and more graceful on the water. Plastic kayaks can be launched on rocky shores, tossed into the back of a truck, scraped over shoals, and rough-housed without much concern. In contrast, composite kayaks are more delicate, making encounters with underwater objects and rocky shores situations to be avoided. Generally, composite kayaks are a good investment for serious touring kayakers and experienced paddlers looking for an upgrade, while plastic kayaks are the recommended starting purchase.

Weight

Buy a kayak that you can haul and launch yourself if you plan to adventure solo. Will you just be dragging it from your backyard to the waterline or will you have to get the kayak on top of your car to transport? Check the kayak’s “Tech Specs” for weight information. In many cases, the lighter the kayak, the higher the price.

Length

The longer and narrower the kayak, the faster and more smoothly it travels through water. Touring kayaks range from about 14 to 18 feet, and while they take more effort to turn, they travel more efficiently. Most recreational kayaks are in the 8- to 13-foot range, sacrificing cruising efficiency for stability. Their shorter length makes it easier to make tight turns, a benefit when navigating marshes or downed vegetation.

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Kayak Fit

Not every kayak fits every body. Pay attention to a few specs, and sit in the boat if possible, to make sure it fits you and is comfortable to spend time in.

  • Weight: Kayaks are designed for a maximum load capacity, including you and your gear(don’t overlook this if you plan to overnight from your boat). Overburdening a kayak can cause you to sit too low in the water, compromising your ability to paddle.
  • Cockpit width: Especially important with touring kayaks, which are designed to fit snugly. You want enough contact with boat to maintain control without feeling like your circulation is being cut off. With other types of kayaks, however, a roomier cockpit allows for easier entry and exit.
  • Cockpit Length: This is something to be aware of if you have longer legs than the average person. Check the “Kayak Description” measurements to make sure you’ll fit, or to make entry and exit easier.
  • Number of paddlers: Solo or tandem kayak? Individual kayaks give everyone more freedom, but a tandem kayak is a good option for mixed skill levels.

READ MORE: BEST PADDLING ACCESSORIES FOR COMFORT IN THE COCKPIT

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Transporting your Kayak

How will you transport your kayak from storage to the water? Before you choose a kayak, consider whether your vehicle is capable of transporting it. Kayak racks exist for every type of vehicle, from trailers to rooftop docks, but it’s important to first make sure that your car can support the type of rack that your kayak requires. If transportation and storage are an issue, consider an inflatable kayak.

Try one on for size

If you’re still not sure which type of kayak you want to buy, try renting until you find a style you like. Rental fees are a small price to pay if it allows you to buy the right kayak on your first try. EMS Schools offers guided kayak outings in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, as well as rentals at many locations.


The Best Gear for Living Out of Your Car

Creature comforts are the key to well-being and longevity when living out of a car. Past multi-week road trips had left my husband and I exhausted, so as we planned for a yearlong motor adventure across North America, we focused on bringing the comforts of home into nature. A tricked-out Sprinter van would have been the homiest option, but not having $50,000 under our mattress, we retrofitted our Nissan Xterra and became first-time homeowners. We christened it “Tupperware World,” a nod to the Tetris-style stack of boxes filling the interior.

And now, having spent 8 full months in our home on wheels, it’s safe to say we know a thing or two about the best gear for car-life.

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Multi-Purpose Room

Living out of your car is a euphemism for living outside. While the vehicle enables your nomadic lifestyle, the valley, overlook, or beach where you park it is “home.” When home is buggy, crowded, or rainy, you need a place to escape.

The solution: Wherever we park it, up goes a screen room. It’s kitted out with multi-purpose furniture, suiting our needs whether we’re cooking, shooting the breeze, or working. It’s important to choose a screen room that protects from sun, rain, and insects, like the MountainsmithShelter House. Complete the basic layout with a table and chair, like the Eureka Camp Tableand the Travelchair Easy Rider Camping Chair. Be a little extra, and liven up the space with portable speaker like the Goal ZeroRock Out 2 Portable Speaker.

One of the best pieces of gear we’ve bought in years is the MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights, which provide ambient light hanging from the “rafters” of our screen room. Extending short winter days and lighting up the night during summer camp-outs, they make the space warm and homey. For lighting outside of the tent, I rely on the Petzl ReactikHeadlamp.

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Outdoor Kitchen

Granola bars and Chef Boyardi may work for a night or two, but for me, having a kitchen on the road was a must. When we were young and stupid, my husband and I used our backpacking stove during extended car camping trips, which made cooking uncomfortable before we even began. If you plan to live in your car, do yourself a favor and outfit a portable kitchen.

Most outdoor kitchen gear is the same as what you’d find indoors, however, there are a few exceptions. Whet your appetite with cooking gear like the Primus Profile Stove, the MSR Quick 2 Pot Set, and the LMF Titanium Spork. My husband has owned this spork since before we met in 2012, so believe me, it’s bombproof. And while we avoid buying food that requires refrigeration, the Yeti Hopper Flip 8keeps our small supply of perishables fresh.

Most nights we camp at primitive sites, making water a scare resource. Fortunately, you can buy a few specialty pieces that make meal clean-up efficient and earth friendly. We use Sea to Summit’s 10-liter Kitchen Sinkand biodegradable Wilderness Wash. A refillable water jug, like the Reliance Fold-A-Carrier, provides enough water for 1 to 2 days of primitive camping.

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Mobile Office

Search the term “digital nomad” if you’ve ever wondered how people afford to travel for months on end. We mostly work in libraries and local coffee shops because they have internet and power, things that our car does not provide. We’ve met a lot of people this way, a perk to a life that can be lonesome at times.

To be honest though, I envy the van lifers who have portable power sources, such as theGoal ZeroYeti 150 Portable Power Station. Maybe on our next road trip?

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Hygiene

Traveling on a budget requires “boondocking,” or camping at free, primitive sites. It’s a cheap way to travel, but unless you’re Pig-Pen, you’ll need a few pieces of gear to keep clean.

People ask all the time how we shower, to which we respond, “Does jumping in a river count?” When rivers are scarce, we use a solar shower like the Sea to Summit Pocket Shower, which has enough water to rinse two people once. Otherwise the refillable water jug mentioned under the “Outdoor Kitchen” section provides what we need for brushing teeth, washing hands, and other campsite chores.

And what about those campsites without toilets? When not required to pack it out, you’ll need a trowel like the GSI Outdoors Cathole Trowelfor burying poop and toilet paper. FollowLeave No Trace Principle #3to scout the perfect cathole location.

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Sleep Well

To make long term travel comfortable, we built a custom sleeping platform in the back of our Xterra using scrap wood. The internet doesn’t sell mattresses in “Back of Xterra” sizes, so we cut a 3-inch mattress topper down to size, covering it with hand-sewn mattress cover, upcycling fabric from an old top sheet.

Our bedding ranges from 20 degree sleeping bags for cold weather to light blankets for warm weather. Year-round, we use stuffable pillow cases, like the Therm-a-Rest Stuff Sack Pillow.Most importantly, bedding needs to be compact and packable for storage purposes

If your car is too small to sleep in, consider something like the TepuiHyBox Rooftop Tent And Cargo Box, which offers protection from the elements and keeps you from sleeping on the ground. For others, sleeping in a traditional tent may suit your needs, just be sure to pack comfortable bedding.


How to Choose a Headlamp

Whether you’re running down the trail, setting up your tent, or peeking under the car hood, headlamps are a convenient and hands-free way to provide light in the dark. A headlamp should be in everyone’s arsenal for venturing outdoors but with so many choices, what’s the difference between them all? There are many variables to consider when choosing a headlamp and brightness isn’t the only important thing to look at. So how do you know you’re choosing the right one?

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Lumens, Explained

Lumens—which are typically advertised front and center on a headlamp’s packaging and are a good place to start if you’re buying a new light—are the units that measure the total quantity of light emitted in all directions at full battery. Generally speaking, the higher the lumens, the brighter the headlamp, though not all brands measure lumens in exactly the same way, or focus that light the same, which can impact lumen count.

For reference, a car headlight is 1,300 lumens. There are headlamps out there that can reach ~1,000 lumens, but you won’t be able to see what’s right in front of you. The sweet spot for most tasks, like finding gear in your pack, setting up a tent, or walking the dog around the neighborhood is around 150-250 lumens. For extended periods of night-hiking or biking, most folks will prefer 200-350 lumens.

At full brightness, a headlamp is using more battery power, but most headlamps are dimmable, allowing you to fine-tune the right amount of light and battery usage for your task, up to that given maximum lumen number.

Also keep in mind that, as batteries drop from their 100 percent charge, their max brightness will also decrease. Pick a headlamp that is 50-100 lumens more than what you want, since it will likely be operating at standard output most of the time.

GO: 0-49 lumens | 50-99 lumens | 100-199 lumens | 199+ lumens

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Headlamp Battery

The next big aspect of headlamps, which ties directly into its brightness, it how it uses its batteries.

Run Time

When buying a headlamp, most will give you an estimated burn time based on power and battery life—This is the amount of time (in hours) until the lights can no longer produce usable brightness at close proximity. This is a crucial factor to consider. If you’re going backpacking in the summer time, you may only need it to last short spurts while getting ready for bed. If you’re ski touring, will it stay lit during a long pre-dawn approach? Most headlamps will give you burn times for both maximum power, and a lower setting—pay attention to both.

Battery Compatibility

Most headlamps work with two or three AAA lithium or alkaline batteries. Rechargeable nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries also work well with headlamps and perform better in colder conditions, however they can lose power while sitting idle.

Some headlamps are rechargeable as well, which allows you to plug it in after a trip to ensure you’re always starting our with a 100 percent charge. You might also be able to charge them with a solar panel or power bank on longer trips, though they may not take regular batteries if needed,

Pro Tip: On cold winter trips, don’t forget to sleep with your headlamp inside your sleeping bag to preserve the battery life. On a really cold night, the chill can sap the battery by the time you wake up.

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Lighting Features

A good headlamp doesn’t simply turn on and off—It allows you to customize the brightness, beam type, and even color of the light to best suit your needs in the moment.

Lighting Modes

Rather than just offering an on/off switch, most headlamps have multiple brightness modes for performing different tasks and preserving battery power. Check headlamp specs for varying output modes like low, standard and max, or the ability to progressively dim. Each mode will vary in brightness, distance and burn time.

Strobe mode acts as an emergency blinker that’s also helpful in situations where you want to be seen, like riding a bike at night or on a busy road, or navigating foggy waters. Burst mode is offered in certain headlamps which allows for temporary high-lumen beam.

Beam Pattern and Distance

For general camp use, reading or anything up-close, a flood beam is more useful. It gives off light in a wider pattern, rather than throwing it a long-distance, which is ideal for doing things up close like cooking, reading, or getting things ready around camp.

A spot beam gives a tighter view at a longer distance, enabling the user to see further ahead in the dark, which can be nice for hiking down a trail or spotting something on the other side of a lake. Most headlamps will give you the ability to switch back and forth between these two modes.

Color Modes

Many headlamps offer a red-light mode that is great for preserving night vision and battery life and prevents blinding other people in camp.

More sophisticated headlamps may have multiple color modes, including blue and green LEDs. Blue lights are especially important for reading maps at night, since they are the only color that doesn’t wash out red lines on a map, as well as when traveling on the water as blue is the only light that can cut through fog.

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Headlamp Style and Features

Basic headlamps have a fairly slim design which makes them extremely lightweight and versatile. For backpacking, hiking, climbing, etc., the standard design with a single strap around the head and the entirety of the light up front is lightest and easiest to use. But for those running with headlamps, either a much smaller, extremely lightweight headlamp, or a headlamp that separates the battery pack and puts it on the back of the head might bounce around less while in motion. This style typically includes a strap over the top of the head, too, to keep it from sliding down.

Other things to keep in mind are the width of the straps, the tilt of the headlamp, waterproofing, and the positioning and ease-of-use of switches and buttons.


Kitted Out: Summer Mountain Biking

Whether you’re tackling uber-classic singletrack in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom or simply sneaking in one of these great early season rides, having the right gear can not only make mountain biking more enjoyable, it can also make it safer. From all-day epics to post-work training rides, this kit will get you on the trail, railing turns, and sending it through summer.

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Helmet: Bell 4Forty MIPS

Between rock gardens and roots, mountain biking in the Northeast is so perilous that even the best riders are bound to hit the dirt (not in a good way) every once and awhile. To protect one of your most vulnerable and valuable parts, wearing a helmet is a must. The Bell 4Forty MIPS features the added protection of MIPS technology, offers deep rear coverage for extra security, and has enough ventilation for humid summer rides.

Helmets with MIPS technology add an extra level of protection over traditional bike helmets, as MIPS (multi-directional impact protection system) is designed to reduce rotational forces and lessen the transfer of that energy to the brain. In short, choose a helmet with MIPS.

Sunglasses: Julbo Shield

The growing popularity of fatter tires and the ability to run them at lower air pressures (thanks to tubeless tire setups) has led to more debris being kicked up than ever before. Protect your eyes from tire-flung debris as well as branches and bugs with a good pair of sunglasses. You can’t go wrong with shades from Julbo—their aptly named Shield sunglasses provide the ideal blend of protection, breathability, and good looks.

Hydration Pack: Camelbak M.U.L.E./L.U.X.E.

Despite increased competition from waist packs and the people preaching “no pack,” hydration bags remain a staple for most mountain bikers. There is simply no better way to carry all the gear needed for a day on the trail than a bag—just ask backpackers, hikers, climbers, and backcountry skiers. Released in 1996, the Camelbak M.U.L.E. (men’s) and the L.U.X.E. (women’s) have been reliable performers for over 20 years.

Pro tip: Buy the hydration pack with the largest possible bladder; A large bladder works equally well for short trips (simply don’t fill it all the way) and long trips (by filling it to capacity).

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Jersey: Louis Garneau H2O Jersey

Save the tight-fitting spandex jerseys for road rides. The Louis Garneau H2O Jersey (men’s/women’s) features a relaxed yet performance-oriented fit, is lightweight and wicking for the hottest summer days, features highly breathable fabric where a rider’s hydration pack sits, and has a single zippered back pocket for stashing your keys or phone. Try one out the next time you ride at Maine’s Carrabassett Valley.

Shorts: Louis Garneau Leeway/Latitude Shorts

Leave your spandex shorts at home, too. The Louis Garneau Leeway Shorts (men’s) and Latitude Shorts (women’s) come with comfortable padded liners, feature stretchy-but-tough baggy outers, and have zippered pockets for securely stashing small essentials. Best of all, they allow riders to hang out and have a post-ride beer without making everyone around them uncomfortable.

Gloves: Giro Rivet II/Riv’ette

Full-finger gloves increase grip, add comfort, and provide some insulation on crisp morning and evenings. Additionally, gloves provide protection from thorns, thickets, and in the event of a crash. The Giro Rivet II (men’s) and Riv’ette (women’s) provide the protection mountain bikers crave while delivering a barely there feel.

Shoes: Giro Privateer/Manta

There’s a lot of debate over the best type of pedal for mountain biking—flat or clipless. The primary benefit of flat pedals is that they offer a rider more confidence and less fear when tackling tough terrain. The notable advantage of clipless pedals is that they allow a rider to both pull and push the pedal, providing a more efficient and powerful stroke. No matter what type of pedal you use, invest in a good, comfortable pair of bike shoes. For those riding in Greater Boston and beyond, a clipless shoe like the Giro Privateer (men’s) and Manta (women’s) is a solid choice.

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Socks: Smartwool PhD Cycle Ultra Light Crew 

Nothing says newbie more than a rider on the latest bike and kitted out in the nicest new gear sporting white cotton socks. Socks like the Smartwool PhD Cycle Ultra Light Crew Socks (men’s/women’s) will not only complement your kit but also add a bit of comfort to all your rides.

Pro Tip: High socks in lighter colors make it easier to spot ticks after a ride!

Lightweight Jacket: Louis Garneau Modesto 3

Weather in the Northeast is variable to put it kindly. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to tuck a lightweight jacket into your pack. A jacket like the Louis Garneau Modesto 3 (men’s/women’s) weighs next to nothing and adds valuable weather protection and warmth when needed.

Floor Pump: Blackburn Chamber HV

As mentioned earlier, mountain bike tires are getting larger by the day. Because trying to fill fat tires with a mini pump will exhaust you before even getting on the bike, we suggest owning a floor pump. The Blackburn Chamber HV is built specifically for mountain bikers with rugged construction and an easy-to-read dial for setting tires at the perfect pressure.

CO2 Inflator: Genuine Innovations Air Chuck Inflator

While adding air to your tires at the trailhead is hard enough with a mini pump, it’s even worse when you pop a tube on the trail and need to pump up a new tube. Here’s a solution—stash a CO2 inflator and a CO2 cartridge or two in your hydration pack in case of a flat. The Genuine Innovations Air Chuck Inflator is a nice choice and comes with two cartridges.

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Tubes

It’s been our experience that the worst things happen when you’re as far as possible from the car. Packing a spare tube in your hydration pack, even if you’re running a tubeless setup, is a good way to avoid doing the long walk of shame out of your favorite trail system.

Tire Levers: Muddy Fox Tire Levers

Sometimes you get lucky and mountain bike tires just pop off when changing a tire: other times, it’s a struggle. Muddy Fox tire levers weigh practically nothing and you’ll be glad you snuck them into your hydration bag if you need them.

Multi-Tool: Blackburn Bike Tradesman

Any number of things can go wrong on a mountain bike and it’s best to plan for the eventuality of a mechanical failure. The Blackburn Bike Tradesman is equipped with all of the hex and torque keys you’ll need to make on-trail adjustments. We love that it includes a quick-link tool and are extremely appreciative of the integrated quick-link storage (make sure to use it and always carry a backup quick-link).

Après: Yeti Rambler Colster

Just because ski season is over doesn’t mean après beverages have to end. The Yeti Rambler Colster is perfect for keeping your beverage cold and covert when you’re winding down post-ride.

 

Lastly, before hitting the trail, give your mountain bike a good once over as detailed in our article Tuned Up: Your Spring Mountain Bike Walk-around—issues are much easier to resolve at home than on the trail.

Did we forget an essential piece of your kit or miss a critical item you never leave home without? If so, we want to hear about it! Leave your must-have item in the comments below.

 


Kitted Out: Fast and Light Peakbagging

Whether you’re pursuing Vermont’s tallest peaks, tackling classic hikes such as the Presidential Traverse, or looking to bag a popular summit like Mount Monadnock, having the right gear is critical for success, safety, and comfort in the mountains. If you’re starting to pull together your peakbagging kit for the summer, here are some tried-and-true pieces to take with you into the mountains.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Pack: Osprey  Talon 22

If you take too big of a pack into the mountains, you’re liable to overpack. By contrast, if you bring too small a pack, you might be forced to leave an essential item behind. For just the right balance, try a pack like the Osprey Talon 22. The panel-loading Talon 22 has all of the features you need for moving through the mountains, and none of the features you don’t—helping keep it airy enough for the “light is right” crowd but durable enough to stand up to a big day in the Carter Range.

Hydration Bladder: CamelBak Crux 2L Reservoir

A key to moving fast in the mountains is minimizing stopping, and by allowing hikers to drink on the move, hydration bladders put an end to time-consuming water breaks. The Black Diamond Speed Zip 24 is hydration compatible, meaning a bladder like the 2-liter CamelBak Crux, will slide right into it. CamelBak has been making bladders since the beginning—they’re easy to drink from, simple to fill, and require minimal effort to fill.

Hiking Poles: Leki Micro Vario Core-Teck

Improved hiking efficiency, reduced wear and tear on joints, and increased safety are just a few reasons why you should hike with trekking poles. Trekking poles like the Leki Micro Vario Core-Tec (men’s/women’s) collapse small enough to tuck away inside/are easily stowed on the outside of a pack when not in use, are adjustable for adapting to a variety of terrain, have interchangeable baskets (making them appropriate for four-season use), and are sturdy enough to stand up to rugged Northeast terrain.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Headlamp: Petzl Tikka

Even if you’re just going for a short trip up a state highpoint like Massachusetts’ Mount Greylock, it’s a good idea to carry a headlamp. A headlamp can save you from epicing in the dark if a trip takes longer than anticipated and can be used to signal for help in an emergency. The Petzl Tikka is powerful with a maximum of 200 lumens and has been a standout of Petzl’s headlamp line for years.  

Sunglasses: Julbo

Whether you’re trying to complete the Adirondacks’ 46 peaks over 4,000 feet or New Hampshire’s 52 with a View, odds are you’ll be spending some time above treeline and in the sun—making sunglasses a good addition to your hiking kit. With options to fit all types of faces and a wide variety of styles, the “right” pair differs between individuals. That said, we love Julbo shades (the crazier the color scheme, the better). Look for something polarized and get a hard case to protect them in your pack.

Puffy: EMS Alpine Ascender

It’s easy to be lulled into complacency by mild spring and summer weather at the trailhead, but be advised that it could still feel like winter at higher elevations—for example, the record high temperature on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington is just 72 degrees. Because of this, it’s a good idea to always pack a puffy coat. The EMS Alpine Ascender delivers the warmth needed for frigid peaks and frosty ridgelines while still being breathable enough to wear on the move.

Hardshell: Outdoor Research Helium II

Mark Twain famously said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.” With that in mind, pack a hardshell to deal with the Northeast’s fickle weather. The Outdoor Research Helium II (men’s/women’s) is a long-time favorite for summer conditions due to its lightweight packability and weather protection (which was essential as we explored Camel’s Hump, a Vermont classic).

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Windshirt: Black Diamond Alpine Start

Probably the layer that gets used the most, a windshirt is perfect for everything from taking the chill off of early morning starts to keeping you warm when the wind is whipping above treeline. The Black Diamond Alpine Start (men’s/women’s) is light and packable enough that it never gets left behind and has proven itself capable of standing up against the region’s coarse rock that would shred lesser jackets.

Sunshirt: Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody

Sunshirts are an integral part of any peakbagger’s kit, especially when above treeline—on Cadillac Mountain’s South Ridge Trail, for example—as they offer protection from the sun, help keep hikers cool, and efficiently wick sweat away from the body. A nice bonus of sunshirts is that they also offer protection from bugs, making them a particularly well-loved piece during the Northeast’s seemingly interminable black fly season. The Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody (men’s/women’s) delivers 50-UPF protection and features a hood to help keep the sun off your head, neck, and face.  

Trail Runners: Salomon Speedcross

Moving fast is essential to picking off multiple peaks in a day on hikes like the infamous Pemi Traverse. Not only is the old saying “a pound off your feet equals five pounds off your back” true, but heavy footwear affects hikers in other ways too. For example, the stiff and less responsive nature of heavier footwear reduces the body’s efficiency—resulting in 5% more energy expended. Shoes are an incredibly personal decision, but in the past, we’ve had luck with the Salomon Speedcross (men’s/women’s). The Speedcross delivers superb traction in a variety of terrains, lightweight, and enough cushion for comfort even the longest days in the mountains. Pair them with Smartwool’s PhD Pro Light Crew Socks (men’s/women’s) for a fantastic fit and smooth stride.

Pants: Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pant

If you haven’t tried the Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pant (men’s/women’s) yet, you’re missing out. Perfect for all but the warmest days, these are staple of our summer peakbagging kits. If you run warm, the Ferrosi Short (men’s/women’s) is awesome, too.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Other Essentials

It’s always a good idea to stash a first aid kit, emergency bivy, map and compass, hat (men’s/women’s) and gloves or mittens (men’s/women’s)— yes, even in the summer, communication device, fire starter, and some extra food in your pack as well. While we hope you never need any of it, it’s nice to be prepared in an emergency.

Do you have a key piece of peakbagging gear that didn’t make our list? If so, let us know what it is and why you don’t hit the trail without it in the comments below.