Gear Review- Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet

Until recently I would rarely wear a helmet while skinning uphill. I run hot and would usually carry my ultralight climbing helmet inside my touring backpack until it was time to rip skins and descend. After over a week of touring both up and down with the new Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet that’s changing, and I feel better protected for it! After reading some statements from Bruce Edgerly, co-founder of BCA, I feel like this helmet was designed specifically for me!

Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet Review

From BCA:

“Our goal is to save lives,” says Bruce Edgerly, BCA Vice President and co-founder. “Asphyxiation is only part of the equation in an avalanche: about 30 percent of fatalities are caused by trauma, mainly through head and chest injuries. We think skiing and snowboarding helmets are an essential piece of backcountry safety equipment, but they need to be lighter and better ventilated.”

The BC Air’s minimal weight of 340 grams/11.9 oz (in size S/M), paired with an abundance of ventilation in the form of passive channel venting, provides direct airflow between head and helmet. This venting system moves moisture and heat to avoid clamminess on long days. The balance of lightweight breathability is intended to allow wearers to forego removing the helmet on the ‘skin track’ portion of the day, thus increasing safety in avalanche terrain while maintaining comfort. For sweaty ascents, earpads can be removed when maximum airflow is needed.

The goal, as Edgerly notes, is “to be able to leave your helmet on all the time: whether you’re going up or coming down the mountain. Do you turn your transceiver off on the uphill? Do you put away your airbag trigger? Of course not. And you also shouldn’t be taking off your helmet.”

Integrated headlamp clips allow users to maintain visibility during non-daylight hours to aid in safety during dawn and dusk backcountry missions. Also included: a Boa® fit system allows for a snug fit across a range of head sizes so that the BC Air can offer maximum protection without slippage.

A full ASTM snow sports certification of the BC Air touring helmet provides proper safety in the event of a crash or impact. This further discourages those looking for a lighter option to choose a climbing helmet that’s not correctly rated for skiing and riding-related head impacts.

“We’re always excited to address the ‘bigger picture’ regarding safety,” Edgerly explains about BCA’s new venture into headwear. “By addressing the trauma side of backcountry safety, we’re broadening our scope and increasing our ability to save more lives.”

How I Tested

This past March I wore this helmet on three Spring tours to the Gulf of Slides, two tours on the west side of Mount Washington, and one quick mission out and back on Hillman’s Highway. One the westside tours saw temperatures in the mid-fifties with almost no wind and strong solar gain. A week later the same tour was made in more winter like conditions with temps in the mid-20s. During all 6 tours I but the helmet on at the trailhead and left it on for the entirety of the tour. I wanted to see if BCA’s claims of superior ventilation would hold up. I learned some other nice advantages of having a helmet like this that I will get into below.

Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet Review
The author topping out Hillman’s Highway on 3/30/21 in t-shirt conditions! Photo by @colbydeg

Protection

The best attribute of this helmet is the level of protection it offers. With a full ASTM snow sports certification this helmet can actually protect me from a serious crash. The ultralight mountaineering helmet I usually tour with is not rated for the types of impacts possible when riding avalanche terrain. And that’s not the only extra level of protection I started to think about while touring with this helmet. Now, any time I am in avalanche terrain, I can have this important piece of PPE on regardless of whether I’m in uphill mode or not.

Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet Review
The author on a colder day of testing over on the west side of Mount Washington

Convenience/Faster Transitions

Another realization I made was how wearing my helmet throughout my tour led to some improvements in efficiency. First, since I wasn’t storing my helmet inside my touring pack like I usually do I opened up storage room in my 32 liter touring backpack. It was definitely easier for me to fit my full guiding kit in my backpack with the helmet on my head, and for quick recreational missions with a partner or two I could see me reaching for a smaller/lighter touring pack than what I would usually carry.

Anyone that rides in the backcountry with me knows I like to work on my efficiency at transitions (going from skinning hill to ready to descend). In my avalanche classes it is clear this is a skill most backcountry travelers could improve upon. In a group of seven riders I often time the gap between the first person clipped in and ready to ride and the last person, and it’s usually between 10-15 minutes! I realized while transitioning at the top of our run already having my helmet on was one less step needed to be finished with my transition.

Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet Review
Acc

Comfort/Sizing

I have a large head and often struggle finding helmets that fit my dome well. The L/XL size of this lid fits perfect! The Boa system makes it feel custom molded and I found it easily adjustable for when I was wearing it over my bare (and bald) head or over a medium weight wool hat during a colder tour. A soft plush sleeve over the chin strap might be good for some but I removed it as it felt almost to warm and fuzzy on my neck and I don’t mind a bare nylon chin strap. The breathability of the helmet really is the stand out feature in comfort though… air just moves through this helmet freely and even after skinning uphill for 2.5 miles and gaining 2k of vertical in mid-fifty degree low wind temps I felt zero discomfort. Seriously I am very impressed with how breathable this design is! I didn’t even realize that the ear pads are removable if you need even more breathability until I started writing this review so I admit I haven’t tested it with the ear pads removed, but will update this when I have.

Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet Review
Trauma protection for the up and the down- photo by @calbydeg

Summary

It really feels like BCA was targeting me when they designed this helmet. For years I’ve justified touring with an ultralight climbing helmet not rated for full ski protection. Even though that climbing helmet had great ventilation I still opted for carrying it in my pack on the uphill portions of my tour regardless if I was in avalanche terrain or not. For just a few ounces more I can now tour with a proper ski helmet and still be comfortable. This is a solid addition to BCA’s long line of safety orientated products meant to reduce risk and injury in the case of an accident. Bulky warm helmets are fine for lift serviced skiing, but backcountry riders need to count ounces and value breathability comfort over the long skin track… the Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet can save you weight while still providing true protection in the event of an accident. 10/10

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above help support the content created on Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you. Thank you.

Tech Tip- How Not to Fall while Skiing Tuckerman Ravine

Spring Ski Season is here! Some advice how to not fall in Tuckerman Ravine!

Northeast Alpine Start

(originally posted April 2018, updated March 2021)

With the arrival of April the Spring skiing (and falling) season has started in Tuckerman Ravine. After watching a couple tumble almost 500 feet down “The Lip” last year I thought some advice on fall prevention might be prudent.

Skiing Tuckerman Ravine
Approximate fall

First tip…

Timing

The snow conditions in Tuckerman Ravine vary greatly this time of year from day to day and often hour to hour. The best type of snow for descending this time of year is referred to as “corn snow”. This is snow that has undergone multiple freeze thaw cycles and looks like little kernels of corn. Backcountry skiers jest that we are “harvesting corn” when the conditions are good. But corn snow is all about timing.

Try to ski too early in the season or the day and the corn hasn’t formed yet. Conditions that promote the formation of…

View original post 1,160 more words

Gear Review- Arc’teryx IS Jacket

This winter I have been testing the Arc’teryx IS Jacket and I’ll sum up my experience with two words. Bombproof Furnace! In the category of synthetic belay jackets this one is a beast. Let’s look at the manufacturer description and specs then I’ll jump into some of the finer details and my opinion on the model!

Manufacturer Description

Created for alpine, ice and expedition climbing, the Alpha IS is the single-layer solution for severe alpine environments. The GORE-TEX outer delivers durable waterproof, windproof, breathable protection. Thermatek™, a DWR treated continuous filament synthetic, insulates without absorbing moisture. The combination results in a jacket providing comprehensive weather and thermal protection at a weight 18% lighter than the equivalent midlayer and hardshell system.

Specifications

Weight 610 g / 1 lb 5.5 oz

Fit Regular Fit, Hip Length

Centre back length: 78 cm / 30.75 in

Men’s Top Sizing Chart

Activity Ice Climbing / Alpine Climbing / Expedition

How I Tested

I used this jacket for about a dozen day trips this winter including summiting Mount Washington with wind chills around -30f to -40f, alpine ice climbing on Mount Willard with ambient air temps around 10f, top-rope guiding at Cathedral Ledge, and while standing in snow pits teaching avalanche courses in Tuckerman Ravine during mixed precipitation weather.

Performance

As I mentioned in the introduction the Arc’teryx IS Jacket is a FURNACE! This is thanks to the exclusive “Thermatek” syntheric insulation which has amazing heat retention properties while being so light and packable. From Acr’teryx:

Exclusive to Arc’teryx, ThermaTek™ is a continuous filament, synthetic insulation that is treated with DWR (Durable Water Repellent) to make it highly hydrophobic, which means that it repels moisture very efficiently. The lofty insulation is then laminated to a backing fabric to ensure an even distribution and insulation.

Key Advantages

  • Arc’teryx’s most efficient insulation when used in humid and wet conditions
  • Very resilient and durable
  • The fastest drying fill insulation in our collection

While I am not a fan of this color (it is also available in a much more visible “Magma” color), I found the black color to be even warmer if the belay stance was in the sun.

I also said this jacket is BOMBPROOF, both against all forms of precipitation and winds but also against abrasion. The weather protection comes from the N40p-X 2L GORE-TEX membrane. water-tight zippers, and DWR treatment. The abrasion resistance is thanks rugged shell fabric and fully taped seams.

Weight/Packability

Manufacturer listed weight is 610 grams, 1 pound and 5.5 ounces. My home scale weighed my size large sample with the storage sack at 680 grams, 1 pound and eight ounces. The jacket easily stuffed into the included stuff sack with measures about 10 x 6 x 6 inches and could be compressed further.

Sizing/Fit

Despite my measurements being a little closer to a medium I went with the large size so it would easily fit over my other layers including a light weight puffy. The sleeve length was perfect and I choose to wear this over my harness at belays. To be honest I don’t know how Will Gadd was leading steep ice while wearing this jacket… it’s too warm! The hood is generously sized enough to easily fit over my helmet.

Features

There are a lot of small design features I liked in this jacket. The elasticized cuffs easily kept snow out and warmth in. The large internal drop pocket kept my water warm and handy while hanging around ice cragging. The stiffened visor kept freezing rain off my face while explaining the Alpha angle to students in an avalanche class in Tuckerman Ravine. The “almost” waterproof chest pocket kept my iPhone protected during moderate rain over the Christmas vacation week. The hood easily fits comfortably over my climbing helmet.

Improvements

There isn’t much I would change with this piece. A softer piece of material in the “chin” area might be nice but most the time I was wearing this jacket with a buff on anyways. The shell and internal fabric is a bit on the “noisy” side, but that’s such a minor observation I don’t think anyone would notice unless you were trying to stalk a deer or something. And as mentioned, I’d like this more in the Magma color as I prefer high visibility colors for winter mountaineering and ice climbing!

Summary

The Arc’teryx IS Jacket is basically the brand’s highest end synthetic belay parka and hard shell jacket in one piece. With a high level of heat retention and protection from wind and rain this really is designed for harsh conditions. I would be hard pressed to find a synthetic puffy and hardshell combo and stay this far under two pounds! Granted the jacket commands I high retail price, but when you consider the price of a separate belay parka and hardshell of this quality I can start to see why it comes in where it does. If you climb in warmer, less harsh, conditions than our local Mount Washington, you might prefer to keep the “puffy” and hard shell as two separate pieces for more versatility, but if you are looking to simplify your clothing system for extreme cold or wet conditions this would be a piece worth looking at!

Arc'teryx IS Jacket Review
Arc’teryx IS Jacket Review

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

A media sample was provided for review. Affiliate links above help support this blog at no cost to you.

Gear Review: Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack

This season I’ve been backcountry skiing with the updated Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack and I’ve put in enough miles in the skin track to now share some opinions on the pack. Bottom line is this is an excellent pack for extended days in the backcountry with innovative organizational features, plenty of room for a full guiding kit, and a comfortable carry system.

Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack Review

Organization/Accessibility

Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack Review

The best feature of this pack is the level of organization you can achieve. It starts with a well sized snow safety avalanche tool pocket with dedicated sleeves for my Ortovox Alu 240 PFA probe, shovel shaft, and Primo snow saw. It also easily accommodates the shovel blade of my Ortovox Beast Shovel or my Ortovox Pro Alu III Shovel (pictured). The outside flap of the avalanche tool pocket has both an internal and external zippered pocket, the latter of which keeps my AIARE field book, snow crystal card, snow thermometer, Rutschblock cord, and Suunto MC-2 compass handy. I use the internal zippered pocket to keep my Adventure Medical First Aid Kit easily accessible. A hip pocket on the waist belt keeps my compact binoculars handy for scouting lines and getting a better look at that crown line. A fleece lined top pocket keeps my Revo goggles accessible and scratch free. I was also impressed with a zippered internal mesh climbing skin pocket sized well for keeping my G3 Minimist Universal climbing skins organized after transitioning for descent. I slide my SAM Splint and SWAT-T Tourniquet into the hydration system ready sleeve inside the back panel.

Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack Review

Capacity/Ski-Carry

With 34 liters of standard internal space this already is a roomy bag for a day tour. This newest incarnation of this pack now has a roll-top closure that can give you another 10 liters of storage which helps this pack cross over into a multi-day adventure or a semi-technical tour where you might need to carry a harness, a few screws, a rope, etc. When the skin track ends and the boot ladder begins you can carry via A-Frame or Diagonal (I tend to always opt for A-Frame). The system will also carry a snowboard or snowshoes, and includes an external helmet carry option as well. There’s an easy ice axe attachment for my Black Diamond Raven Ultra Axe when I’m heading into steep terrain. Here’s a look at what I can easily pack in this bag:

Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack Review

Comfort

The pack fits my 5′ 9″ 17 inch torso frame quite well. Snow resistant fabric in the back panel and closed cell foam padding on the shoulder straps and waist belt don’t hold snow which keeps me dryer during a long tour. The sternum strap height can be optimally adjusted. I found the pack carried my full 25 pound kit quite well on both the skin up and the ride down, with my only issue being remembering to re-buckle the “load lifting” straps which must be un-buckled when getting full access through the back panel. My other full back panel access touring pack doesn’t require that step, and if I forgot to re-attach one of the straps I would quickly notice the load shifting around when I started skiing. Not a big issue, just a small step I need to pay attention to.

Summary

This is a fantastic touring pack built by a well known company with a lot of thought put into the design. Despite an impressive amount of organizational capability it doesn’t feel like a pack that has “too many bells & whistles”. It rides and carries well and feels like it will handle hundreds of days in the backcountry with ease. If you are shopping for your first dedicated backcountry touring backpack or looking to upgrade your existing pack this would be a great model to consider!

Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack Review
The author out on a short tour in Crawford Notch State Park while teaching an AIARE 1 Avalanche Course

Purchase

You can find both men’s and women’s versions of this pack here on Backcountry.com in a few different capacity options. Moosejaw, for the most part, only has stock of the women’s models viewable here. REI does have the 20L and 30L versions found here.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Tech Tip: Prepping Ice Screws for Easy Cleaning

A little pre-season maintenance can make cleaning the ice out of your ice screws a breeze. This is particularly handy for ultralight aluminum ice screws that are more prone to having tough to clean ice cores but is also useful with stainless steel ice screws.

If you found this video helpful please help me by subscribing to my YouTube Channel!

Links to the products below:

Hoppe’s #9 Silicone Gun & Reel Cloth

Petzl Laser Speed Light Ice Screws

Black Diamond Express Ice Screws

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Prism Ice Screw Case

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Affiliate links above help support the content created on this blog. When you make a purchase the author receives a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you.

Gear Review: Sierra Designs Cold Canyon Hoodie

Sierra Designs Cold Canyon Hoodie Review

The Sierra Designs Cold Canyon Hoodie is a versatile mid-layer that can function as a stand-alone outer layer during high output activities during dry conditions. I’ve been testing on all Fall and I’m ready to share my opinions on the piece. First, the description from the Sierra Designs and the manufacturer specs:

The Cold Canyon Hoodie gives you stretch grid fleece that moves with you and vents heat with ease. Thumb loops allow for easy layering as a mid-layer, while a nylon wind breaker front sustains heat when moving quickly, allowing flow everywhere else.

Features

  • Heavy weight stretch grid fleece provides breathability and warmth
  • Thumb loops for easy layering
  • Nylon windbreak on chest cuts wind while moving and still vents throughout
  • Fitted hood
  • 2 zippered hand warmer pockets

Materials

  • Shell: Stretch Grid Fleece
  • Lining: Nylon

Tech Specs – Size M

  • Center Back Length: 28.5 in / 72.4 cm
  • Sleeve Length: 36.87 in / 93.66 cm
  • Weight: 18.75 oz / 531.55 g

Performance

I tested this jacket in the White Mountains from September to December while hiking a few of the 4,000 footers and rock climbing at Rumney, Cathedral, and in Huntington Ravine. All told I put about a dozen days into getting a feel for this jacket. The grid-fleece is a pretty great fabric. It is soft and brushed on the inside with a denser weave on the outside. The result is it traps a decent amount of heat for such a thin fabric and the outer weave seems to block a little bit of wind without sacrificing any breathability. When the winds do pick up the nylon chest panels provide even more protection. For a fleece mid-layer it seems pretty technical, with thumb loops ,a well sized hood, and a large sized zippered chest pocket.

Fit

I found this jacket to run pretty big. I went for a size large for my 5′ 9″, 180lb build and I think a medium would have been a better fit for me, especially in the sleeves which feel a bit too long, so consider sizing down if you want it to be a less casual fit. If you have particularly long arms you might stick with your regular size.

Summary

The Sierra Designs Cold Canyon Hoodie is definitely a nice addition to an active outdoor wardrobe. Other than running a bit big and weighing a bit more than a less technical fleece there isn’t much to complain about here. The MRSP is right around what I would have guessed in terms of value, and if you can catch it on sale this would be a great choice for a versatile mid-layer. In fact Sierra Designs is running a one-day “flash” sale for the non-hooded version of this jacket, so if you don’t need a hood and are just looking for a solid fleece mid-layer check out the Sierra Designs Cold Canyon Fleece Jacket, which is 40% off today only!

Purchase

Women’s Sierra Designs Cold Canyon Fleece <- 40% off today only

Men’s Sierra Designs Cold Canyon Fleece <- 40% off today only

Woman’s Sierra Designs Cold Canyon Hoodie

Men’s Sierra Designs Cold Canyon Hoodie

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above support the content created at this blog and when you make a purchase through them the author receives a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you.

Holiday Outdoor Gift Guide 2020

It’s that time of year again when your mailbox gets flooded by gift guides from various companies. The last few years I’ve shared a selection of hand-picked curated gifts for the outdoor person in your life. Check out my 2020 best gifts for outdoor folks below!

Epic Water Filters Outdoor Nalgene Bottle

Epic Water Filters Nalgene Outdoor OG Bottle Review

Really a great gift for anyone on your list this classic 32 ounce Nalgene water-bottle has a built in filter so you can have great tasting safe water anywhere! My full review of it is here.

MyMedic First Aid Kits (from $35)

Holiday Outdoor Gift Guide

Like water bottles everyone needs a first aid kit. MyMedic has an impressive line of kits to choose from starting with the basic version of “The Solo” for $35 all the way up to more expensive kits designed for working EMTs/Paramedics.

Rocky Talkies

Holiday Outdoor Gift Guide

An incredible rugged and easy to use pair of hand held radios can greatly improve safety while enjoying mountain sports. You can read my full review of these here and get 10% off with promo code “AlpineStart10”.


Luci Solar String Lights

These are 40% off through tomorrow with promo code “THANKFUL”! Awesome for outdoor light both at home and while backpacking that really is a killer deal. I’m also a fan of the new Luci Base Light that can charge your smartphone while also providing great back-up light. We have that model and a few of the Original Luci Lights that we use while car camping and during power-outages at home.


Hydro Flask ($25-$40)

IMG_1645
hydro-flask-options

This socially responsible company makes the coolest water bottles and tumblers out there! Super high quality stainless steel technology keeps cold drinks cold for 24 hours and hot drinks hot for 6 hours! Customization and tons of color and style options means there is a Hydro Flask out there for just about everyone!


Friendly Foot Shoe Deodorizer ($11)

Friendly Foot Shoe Deodorizer

I’m pretty sure the 10 seconds of silence from my girlfriend after asking her to marry me was enough time for her to accept that she loved a man with some seriously stinky feet. Luckily she said yes and I would soon find this foot powder, seriously the only product that works on my feet! 10 years later she is quick to remind me if she notices my supply running low. This one is a PERFECT stocking stuffer, pick it up on Amazon here.


Darn Tough Socks ($15-$27)

Darn Tough Socks
Darn Tough Socks

Possibly the best socks I’ve ever owned and made right over the border in Vermont! For mountaineering and ice climbing check out this model! These socks come with an unconditional lifetime guarantee and make an excellent stocking stuffer!


MaxxDry Heavy Duty Boot and Glove Dryer ($55)

MaxxDry Boot and Glove Dryer
MaxxDry Boot and Glove Dryer

Every home in the Northeast should have one of these! It’s effective enough that I can easily dry my boots and gloves along with my wife’s in just a couple hours. No balancing them over the floor base heaters or getting them too hot near the wood-stove and risking early de-lamination! You can pick on up on Amazon here.


Petzl Nao+ Headlamp

ONECOL

The Petzl Nao+ is the best headlamp for anyone who gets after dawn patrol or squeezes in late night pitches after work!


Shop Local!

While I do love these online deals I want to take up this space by encouraging you support local businesses, especially small specialty climbing shops, with your business! To that end if you can physically visit these stores please do!

Ski The Whites, Jackson, NH

Eastern Mountain Sports, North Conway, NH

International Mountain Equipment, North Conway, NH

Ragged Mountain Equipment, Intervale, NH

Outdoor Gear Exchange, Burlington, VT

Summary

Well there’s my small contribution to the every growing list of Holiday Gift Guides that are undoubtedly hitting your mailbox this season. My suggestions are heartfelt and I hope they help you find something for the outdoor person(s) in your life!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Affiliate links above support this blog.

Gear Review: Epic Water Filters Outdoor Nalgene Bottle

Over the last few months I’ve been using the Epic Water Filters Outdoor OG Woodsman water bottle and I’m ready to share my thoughts on it. Basically this is a traditional 32 ounce Nalgene wide-mouth water bottle with a super convenient and effective internal water filter.

This system could not be any easier to use. Simply remove the lid with the attached tube and filter, fill the bottle with water whether from faucet or stream, put the lid back on, flip up the mouthpiece, and drink! The water flows through the filter and tube with little effort on the part of the drinker.

The lid attachment point is robust, far stronger than the flimsy attachments that often break on traditional Nalgene bottles. The included Nite Ize steel carabiner allows easy attaching to the outside of the backpack if you prefer that style of carry.

Here’s a short YouTube video I made about this bottle:

Summary/Who is this for?

Who doesn’t need a water-bottle and safe drinking water? This is a much more environmentally friendly and cheaper option than buying bottled water. Perfect as a daily use bottle for work and the gym I also consider it part of our emergency preparedness kit. Hiking, back-packing, rafting, hunting and fishing are all sports where a water-bottle and ability to treat water is a must. This bottle combines the two in a simple and effective way and has now become a part of my everyday kit. This would also make a great gift for any outdoorsy person in your life and has therefore earned a spot in my upcoming Holiday Gift Guide!

For a complete list of everything the included Outdoor Filter removes you can review this PDF.

Purchase direct from Epic Water Filters

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

How to Prepare for a Winter Hike in the White Mountains

Winter Hiking Tips White Mountains

A quick look at hiking forums online confirms what I am expecting… unprecedented new winter hikers will be visiting the White Mountains this winter. In order to help these newcomers more safely enter the sport of winter hiking I’ve compiled a list of resources and advice below.

Weather

Likely the single most over-looked piece of information prior for a first winter hike is obtaining an accurate regionally specific weather forecast. If you are planning a winter hike in the White Mountains you should consult the Higher Summits Forecast for a few days before your planned hike and the morning of! Things change fast in the mountains and the forecast is published around 4am which should be in time for you to get an accurate update before you leave the car.

Gear

The second most likely mistake to make is not bringing the right equipment. Every one on the hike should at a minimum carry “The Ten Essentials“. I’ll list some of my personal recommendations below and add some opinions/advice.

Cell Phone– While this one isn’t officially on the list it should be. The mistake is thinking this can replace any of the other 10 essential items. You should not rely on having service or any battery life left. A mapping app does not replace a physical map. The phone’s flashlight does not replace a real headlamp. Cell phones are susceptible to cold weather, so they should be kept warm, inside a chest or thigh pocket. Most importantly, leave the car with a fully charged phone and immediately put the phone on AIRPLANE mode! While on airplane mode you can still take pictures and use the phone’s GPS chip to track your hike if you are using pre-downloaded mapping apps. If you are not on airplane mode your battery we die quickly as your phone searches for a signal in out of service areas.

Personal Locator Beacon– With cell phone service not guaranteed many experienced hikers are choosing to invest in a personal locator beacon (PLB). While a bit expensive (what insurance isn’t) a PLB works through a satellite network so you can request help, or let worried family know you are just running a little late, from virtually anywhere. The best kind of PLB’s allow for two way communication and custom messaging. It’s much easier for search and rescue to respond when we have a message about what the actual emergency is. One of the most popular models on the market that can do that right now is the Garmin InReach Mini.

Headlamp– You might think you can finish the hike before dark but everyone in the group should carry their own headlamp. For serious winter hiking I like headlamps that can really throw some light and perform well in the cold, like the Petzl Swift RL Headlamp. A more budget friendly option would be the Petzl Actik Headlamp. I actually stuff a Petzl Zipka Headlamp into my first aid kit as a back-up headlamp for when someone forgets theirs. I also use lithium batteries in all my headlamps for long life and excellent cold weather performance.

Map– The AMC publishes 6 great maps that cover the entire White Mountain National Forest. You could also learn how to make your own custom maps for free on a website like CalTopo.com, if you have your own quality color printer (or have UPS Store/Staples print them for you). Do not solely rely on your cell phone app to keep you from getting lost. Battery life can quickly drain in cold temps and we do reach temperatures below the operating range of the phone display’s.

Compass– Figuring out direction is the most basic part of wilderness navigation and there is no better way to do that than to use a compass. A solid basic model is the Suunto A-30L Compass. My personal all-time favorite professional grade compass is the Suunto MC-2 Pro Compass. Don’t know how to use a map & compass together to properly navigate? Take a quality Wilderness Navigation Course and/or get a good book on the topic!

First Aid Kit– There are lots of commercial first aid kits of various sizes and quality. For the last two decades I’ve started with the Adventure Medical Kit Ultralight and Watertight Series, the .7 size, and supplemented it a little. I’m also happy with a new My Medic Solo First Aid Kit I’ve started carrying. Any first aid kit I grab I usually stuff some extra medications in it, a spare Petzl Zipka Headlamp, a small knife, a fire-starter, and some chemical hand warmers.

The rest of the list includes; extra clothes, food, water, sun protection, etc.

Timing

Many rescues, accidents, and near misses share something in common… late start times. Darkness comes quick in the winter months so an early start increases your overall safety and leave wider margins for unexpected mishaps. Many experienced winter hikers prefer to hit the trail right at dawn. Starting a 4000 footer at 11am is riskier than starting a 4000 footer at 7am.

Knowing when to turn back

One of the hardest skills to develop as a new winter hiker is determining when to turn it around and head back towards safety. We want to be challenged and meet success on our hiking trips but we must be careful to always balance the delicate risk vs reward scale. Many books and articles have been written on the topic of lost life in the Presidential Range and greater White Mountain Region. You can learn from these tragedies and remember to stay humble… we are all prone to making mistakes. Some books on the topic worth checking out:

Not Without Peril

Where You’ll Find Me <- my short blog post about this event is here

The Last Traverse <- currently reading to review

Guided Instruction

For many the best way to get into winter hiking is to do so with people who are already experienced at winter hiking. The Appalachian Mountain Club has a very long history of helping people learn to recreate in the mountains safely and responsibly. They have tons of courses and guided hikes designed for the aspiring new winter hiker.

If you’re goal is to travel above treeline in the winter there are a host of well established guide services that offer quality programs and can rent you the specialized equipment you might not want to purchase yet as you’re just dipping your toes into the sport of winter hiking (like plastic mountaineering boots, crampons, mountaineering axe, etc). Better yet their guides will teach you how to properly pack, adjust layers during the day, walk with crampons on, self arrest, with an axe, etc).

Here’s is a list of some of the most known companies that run trips in the White Mountains;

Northeast Mountaineering <- disclaimer I work for this company

EMS Schools

International Mountain Climbing School

Ragged Mountain Guides

Synnott Mountain Guides

Redline Guiding

Chauvin Guides

Acadia Mountain Guides

REI Adventures

(if you are a guide service that leads winter hikes in the White Mountains and were not included in the above list please contact me to be added)

Get Educated

Other than the knowledge you can gain from the above guided experiences there are two skills every hiker should obtain early on in their hiking career, Wilderness Navigation Skills and Wilderness First Aid Skills. While you can learn some of these skills from sources like YouTube nothing beats hands on training with quality instructors.

More Info

Check out the Hike Safe website. It has great information to help you plan your hike including “The Code“. Also please consider purchasing a Hike Safe Card from New Hampshire Fish and Game. This purchase adds crucial funding to a very tight budget for search and rescue in NH and might help you avoid incurring the cost of a rescue should you need one.

From NHFG website:

It is important to note that people may still be liable for response expenses, if they are deemed to be reckless or to have intentionally created a situation requiring an emergency response.

Summary

Winter hiking is an amazing sport and one I have enjoyed for over thirty years. It can be magical, beautiful, spiritual, exhilarating, and grandiose. It can also go from a fun outing to dangerous and deadly quite quickly. My best advice is to start off slow, read some books or articles on it, seek advice from quality outdoor retailers, join a hiking group, start with smaller hikes and save Mount Washington or the Franconia Ridge for when you’ve got some experience under your belt. Maybe hire a guide or instructor and take a formalized course. Most importantly though… please come home at the end of your hike.

Winter Hiking Tips White Mountains
The author enjoying a cold day up on Mount Washington a few winters ago

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Affiliate links above support the content created on this blog. If you make a purchase through one of them the author receives a small commission at no additional cost to you. The author is also a guide who works for Northeast Mountaineering, which was listed alongside other guide services in the area. You are responsible for your own safety. The use of any information in this post is at your own risk.

Gear Review- Patagonia DAS Light Hoody

This year Patagonia has released a lighter version of their iconic DAS “Dead Air Space” synthetic parka and after a month of testing the Patagonia DAS Light Hoody I can honestly say it’s a amazing piece! Without a doubt you won’t find a warmer and more bomb-proof synthetic belay jacket under 12 ounces.

Patagonia DAS Light Hoody Review

For insulation Patagonia used 65 grams of down-like “PlumaFill”. This 100% recycled insulation truly feels as warm as high quality down yet has the advantage of still retaining heat should it get wet. You’ll have to go out of your way to get it wet though thanks to the almost seamless Pertex® Quantum Pro fabric with both a PU dry coating and a DWR (durable water repellent) finish. That’s about as close to waterproof as you can get while still having functional breath-ability and makes this jacket stand above the Micro and Nano Puff jackets with their sewn through quilted patterns.

A two way zipper for easy access to your belay loop, size-able chest pocket, helmet friendly hood, and two handwarmer pockets round out the features. The cut of the jacket is roomy, closer to a true belay jacket than a typical “light puffy”. I went with a size large for my 5′ 9″ 180lb frame and there was plenty of room to layer under it but it didn’t feel to baggy. My only suggestion is the left hand pocket that can be turned inside out to stuff the jacket needs to be a little bigger, it’s a bit of a challenge trying to get the jacket to stuff into that pocket.

Here’s a quick video review I did on the jacket:

Summary/Who is this for?

The Patagonia DAS Light Hoody is a pretty versatile piece. It’s an excellent choice for a fast & light ice climber/alpinist belay jacket if conditions are typical. It’s a great insurance piece for the back-country skier or rider who doesn’t plan to stop moving but wants to be prepared for any contingency and winter hikers will find it an excellent addition to their gear closet. If you’re looking for some cold weather protection this is a jacket you should be looking at!

Purchase from Backcountry <- 20% off coupon applies! Link below!

Purchase from Patagonia

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above support the content created on this blog at no additional cost to you. Thank you!