Gear Review: SOL (Survive Outdoors Longer) Survival Gear and BIVVY SACK GIVEAWAY!

September is National Prepardness Month so it was well-timed that I received a handful of SOL products from Adventure Ready Brands. The company was founded in 1973 in Littleton, NH and manufactures the world-famous insect bite treatment, After Bite®, a full line of well-known insect repellents such as Ben’s® and Natrapel®, first-aid such as Adventure Medical Kits® and Easy Care First Aid kits, survival products with Survive Outdoors Longer®, and burn remedy products such as AfterBurn®.

In the following video I show the features of the products I received and share some opinions on them. Adventure Ready Brands does not sell direct to customer so I tracked down some outdoor retailers that have these items in stock and provide direct links to the products at these retailers below. These are affiliate links, so if you do end up buying something after using the link I will see a small commission at no additional cost to you. Hey, thank you! Thank really helps keep this blog going!

SOL Rescue Floating Signal Mirror from Backcountry.com

SOL Rescue Floating Signal Mirror (Two Pack) from Amazon.com

SOL Fire Lite Fuel-Free Lighter from Backcountry.com

SOL Fire Lite Fuel-Free Lighter from REI.com

SOL Fire Lite Fuel-Free Lighter from Amazon.com

SOL Stoke Pivot Knife & Saw from Backcountry.com

SOL Stoke Pivot Knife & Saw from REI.com

SOL Stoke Pivot Knife & Saw from Amazon.com

SOL Stoke Camp Hatchet from Backcountry.com

SOL Stoke Camp Hatchet from REI.com

SOL Stoke Camp Hatchet from Amazon.com

SOL Emergency Bivvy with Rescue Whistle & Tinder Cord from Amazon.com

To enter the giveaway for a brand new SOL Emergency Bivy Sack just click the Rafflecopter link below for all the ways you can earn entries! Contest at 11:59pm EST on September 30th, 2021! Good luck!

SOL Emergency Bivvy GIVEAWAY!!!

CONTEST OVER! Congrats to Angel L.!

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

Media samples were provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start.

Gear Review- AKU Rock DFS Approach Shoes

It’s no secret I have a thing for approach shoes. I’m lucky that I get to demo so many models each year. Occasionally a pair really stick out to me as a well designed high performing standout. The Italian made AKU Rock DFS Approach Shoes are this season’s stand out and I’m excited to finally share my experiences and thoughts on this shoe and brand!

Let’s start with how I tested:

Test period: Early May – Late August

Use: Day hiking in the White Mountains, approx. 50 miles and 16,000 feet of elevation gain/loss. Summited Mount Washington, Cardigan, Jackson, and Mount Chocorua wearing these.

AKU Rock DFS Approach Shoes Review

Manufacturer Description:

The DFS Rock collection uses a ground breaking Dual Fit System (“DFS”) to give you both maximum comfort during your approach and high performance fit while climbing and scrambling. The Rock DFS has two separate lace zones that utilize lightweight webbing that wraps around and under your foot which enables you to customize your shoe for the fit you want. The Rock DFS midsole incorporates a lightweight EVA foam for cushioning and a polyurethane heel for durability and support. The midsole is then wrapped with sticky climbing rubber to protect your shoe and to provide extra grip. Together with a Vibram Approcciosa sole with Megagrip, the resulting Rock DFS offers a high-performance approach shoe for all day comfort.

DUAL FIT SYSTEM
AKU’s DFS collection of approach shoes allows for optimum enjoyment and maximum confidence over the most demanding terrain. Whether you’re on flat trails or going vertical, AKU DFS shoes will take you there in comfort.

VIBRAM APPROACH
The VIBRAM Approach sole is designed to make quick work of trails while giving also giving you the confidence to edge and smear on your climb.

AKU ELICA TECHNOLOGY
ELICA Technology ensures an anatomical fit to provide better stability and weight distribution across your boot sole to reduce pressure points and encourage better hiking form.

  • Upper: 1.6mm Suede Leather, Air 8000 & Microfiber
  • Lasting board (stiffness): Soft Flex
  • Footbed: Ortholite Hybrid
  • Midsole: Dual Density EVA & PU
  • Outsole: VIBRAM® Approach
  • Upper protection: Rubber Rand
  • Weight Per Shoe: 380 Grams

AKU Rock DFS Approach Shoes Review

Opinions:

It is hard for me to pick the attribute I liked the most out of these shoes so I’ll randomly start with…

Comfort

Out of the box these fit my feet perfectly. AKU suggests to order a half size smaller than your “normal AKU boot size” for a “performance fit”. I’ve never worn an AKU boot before so this suggestion wouldn’t help me. I went with my normal US 8.5, EUR 42 that works well for me for LaSportiva boots and shoes and the fit was perfect. The toe box had plently of room while still maintaining a slim profile, and the heel cup was shaped perfect for my feet with zero slippage while ascending granite slabs. The footbed and midsoles offer great cushioning over our rocky and root ridden trails. The soft flex lasting board also kept my feet from feeling sore after many above tree line miles.

Advanced Lacing

The two separate “lace zones” definitely helps these shoes standout in the category. There is a typical toe to top of ankle style lacing system then a shorter quick lace system on top of the lower part of the foot. The idea is you can have them laced comfortably for a long approach and then crank the quick pull system tight for more technical scrambling. While it might sound gimmicky at first in reality this system works great! I wore them comfortably laced up the famous Huntington Ravine Trail (often referred to as the most dangerous hiking trail in the White Mountains) then tightened the secondary lacing system for the 1000 foot semi-technical scramble out of the ravine. The snug more precise fit was comforting both on these section and while technical rock climbing YDS 5.5 face climbing across the road at Square Ledge.

Traction/Grip

AKU Rock DFS Approach Shoes Review

AKU uses a Vibram Approcciosa sole with Megagrip and with a “soft flex” lasting board I found the traction of these to be excellent. I tested them on wet rock slabs and steep muddy trails around Ripley Falls. The performance in this category is excellent.

Durability

The thickness of the outsole combined with the full circumference rubber toe rand gives me confidence in the overall durability of these. It is sometimes difficult to talk about durability after just a few months of use but close inspection of these inspires confidence in all levels of construction. They truly look and feel “Italian” made and I would predict these easily lasting over 1k miles.

Company Values/History

Liking a product a company makes is already a bonus for me, but when that company is authentic and socially responsible that’s icing on my cake! If you’d like to learn a little more about AKU’s history and philosophies check out this five minute YouTube video:

Summary

This is the first AKU shoe I have ever demo’d and I’m highly impressed with the brand after this experience. I’ll definitely be trying one of their mountaineering boots, hopefully this winter. If you are shopping for a new pair of approach shoes or a great below the ankle day hiker this is an Italian made model that performs as advertised and doesn’t break the bank. I plan on summiting many more of New Hampshire’s 4000 footers in these (between finding time to test other brands/models). I highly recommend trying a pair of these.

Purchase: You can purchase these directly from AKU. The men’s models come in both the regular version and a Goretex model, as well as a Mid version for those who desire more ankle support. The women’s model is currently only available in the Goretex version.

The author purchased these for purpose of review. Affiliate links above help support the content created on Northeast Alpine Start. Thank you.

Gear Review: Adventure Medical Kits MOLLE 1.0 Trauma First Aid Kit

I’ve been sent a few of the new models from Adventure Medical Kits to review and will be sharing some thoughts on these models the next few weeks. The first one I am covering is the MOLLE Bag Trauma Kit 1.0. Reviewing a first aid kit is a bit of a challenge as a big part of my role as a climbing guide is to avoid and prevent injury before it occurs. However with over 16 years of guiding and volunteer rescue experience I have some opinions of what should be in a first aid kit, so I hope to share some of that experience with you if you are in need of a first aid kit. Let’s start with a pretty solid disclaimer:

The absolute best thing you can do to prepare yourself for a medical emergency in the wilderness is take an actual Wilderness First Aid Course. No first aid kit, book, or self-study, can better prepare you for handling an injury or illness in the mountains than a quality course taught by professionals on the subject. I highly recommend the amazing instructors and staff at the renowned SOLO Schools in Conway NH. They offer courses all over the country so please consider finding one that you can make it so you will be better prepared for the unexpected!

Now for the details of this kit, let’s start with the manufacturer basics and an inventory of what is included:

Revie

Manufacturer Description

MOLLE BAG TRAUMA KIT 1.0 Be ready for anything when you’re in the field with the AMK Molle Bag Trauma Kit 1.0, designed to work with your tactical modular bag system and to equip you with the supplies you need to venture 1 – 2 days away from your base. The 2-foot QuikClot dressing included stops life-threatening bleeding fast, while the bandages, dressings, and medications enable you to address other wounds, bleeding, and fractures or sprains, while keeping the patient comfortable as you make your way back to camp or await rescue.

  • Stop Bleeding Fast
    Control bleeding with QuikClot® hemostatic gauze, which acts on contact to stop bleeding five times faster. The gauze is impregnated with kaolin, a mineral that accelerates your body’s natural clotting process.
  • Wilderness & Travel Medicine: A Comprehensive Guide
    Know how to provide life-saving medical care. Written by wilderness medicine expert Eric A. Weiss, MD, this book includes over 50 improvised techniques and 100 illustrations for treating outdoor injuries and illnesses.
  • Manage Pain and Illness
    A wide array of medications to treat pain, inflammation, and common allergies.
  • Metal Buttoned Straps
    With integrated metal buttoned straps, this kit easily attaches to your favorite gear for easy access.

KIT DETAILS

  • Size:7.87 x 5.51 x 3.54
  • Weight:.9 lbs
  • Group Size:1 Person
  • Trip Duration:1 – 2 Days

Supply List

  • 3 – Triple Antibiotic Ointment
  • 8 – Antiseptic Wipe
  • 3 – After Bite® Wipe
  • 4 – Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer (Aspirin 325 mg)
  • 2 – Antihistamine (Diphenhydramine 25 mg)
  • 4 – Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer (Ibuprofen 200 mg)
  • 4 – Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer (Acetaminophen 500 mg)
  • 1 – Petrolatum Dressing, 3″” x 3″”
  • 1 – Wilderness & Travel Medicine: A Comprehensive Guide
  • 1 – QKCLT Z-Fold Gauze 2 Ft
  • 2 – Trauma Pad, 5” x 9”, 1 ea.
  • 3 – Adhesive Bandage, Fabric, Knuckle
  • 5 – Adhesive Bandage, Fabric, 1″” x 3″”
  • 2 – Sterile Gauze Dressing, 4″” x 4″”
  • 2 – Sterile Gauze Dressing, 2″” x 2″”
  • 1 – Sterile Non-Adherent Dressing, 3″” x 4″”
  • 1 – Cloth Tape, 1/2″” x 10 Yards
  • 2 – Bandage, Butterfly Closure
  • 2 – Latex-Free Glove
  • 14 – Moleskin, Pre-Cut/Shaped
  • 1 – Bandage, Elastic, Cohesive Self Adhering, 2″”
  • 1 – Splinter/Tick Remover Forceps
  • 3 – Safety Pin
  • 1 – EMT Shears, 4″”

Here’s a short video where I open the kit up and go through the contents with some comments:

Opinions:

As mentioned it can be difficult to review a piece of outdoor gear that you hope to not use, and are less likely to use with proper preparation and planning. That said a first aid kit should be part of every outdoor enthusiasts “kit”, and this one is well designed for military and hunting/fishing use. The ballistic nylon is coated and the bag itself feels quite robust and weather resistent. It’s a good baseline in your emergency preparedness plan but there are a couple items I would add. The most obvious for me is a SAM Splint… since the description specifically mentions the contents “address… fractures or sprains” I think a SAM Splint would have been a great addition. Granted, those who have gone through a quality Wilderness First Aid course will learn multiple ways to implement splinting material, and you can easily add one yourself for around $15 from Amazon.

The other addition I’d like to see in most first aid kits is a disposable CPR mask. Granted, you need training to use a CPR mask but these disposable masks cost less that $1 each and I think they belong in every first aid and attached to every set of car keys in the country. If you would like to become certified in CPR you can easily find a course from the Red Cross here.

One of the best things included in this kit is the book, “Wilderness & Travel Medicine: A Comprehensive Guide” by Eric A. Weiss, MD. This updated book is over 200 pages long and is in a great format. I especially like the “Weiss Advice” insets and “When to Worry” side bars… This is a great book to brush up on your skills after a Wilderness First Aid course or to pre-study before you take your course!

Adventure Medical Kits MOLLE Trauma Kit 1.0 Review

Some other opinions around these details:

Size (listed above)… this is a big kit for most hikers/climbers/skiers… this is well suited for military/hunting/fishing or as part of your vehicle/home emergency preparedness plan.

Weight– Less than a pound and can be even lighter if you leave the book at home.

Group Size– Listed as “1 person” this is where I feel AMK is underselling the kit. This is definitely a “group sized” first aid kit in my opinion, suitable for 3-4 people for a few days.

Duration– Same as above, listed as 1-2 days I think this kit is suitable for up to week long trips (especially if you supplement it a little bit with personal first aid items).

Summary

This first aid kit is specifically designed to attach to “MOLLE” type packs making it great for those who already use these style of packs (mostly military/law enforcement and some hunting/fishing enthusiasts). It is probably not the right choice for ultra-light hikers, climbers, trail runners, etc (no worries I have a couple other models to review soon more geared to that user-group). There is plenty of extra room in the ballistic pouch to add your own additional items (mine would be SAM Splint, EpiPen, extra headlamp, a couple glow sticks, and a bottle of iodine). If you are already a MOLLE user or looking for a solid kit to add to the “go bag” this is a good place to start!

Purchase: You can find the Adventure Medical Kit’s MOLLE Bag Trauma Kit 1.0 at here at Cabela’s.

A media sample was provided for review. Affiliate links above support the content created here at no additional cost to you. Thank you.

Gear Review- Osprey Poco Kid Carrier

This is a different kind of “review” than I normally post as both my kids have now outgrown our beloved Osprey Poco Premium Kid Carrier that we used for over 7 years and close to 250 trail miles in the White Mountains. In fact this item was probably the most important item I owned when I first started blogging with my “Adventure With Alex” blog… a father/son hiking journal… If you scroll through some of those older posts of the now suspended blog you’ll see this iconic backpack all over the place, including probably our most memorable which was Alex’s first 4000 footer, Mount Washington!

Plus

While our days using this pack have ended seeing Osprey continue to improve the design and create what I felt was the best kid carrier on the market 10 years ago, including a new “LT” model that is about 3 pounds lighter than our older “Premium” model, has inspired me to share this with other newer adventurous parents who might follow me!

If you’re looking for the best kid carrier backpack available consider one of these three models…

Osprey Poco

Osprey Poco LT <- lightest and most affordable

Osprey Poco Plus <- deluxe with removable kid sized day pack and most storage

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Tech Tip- Snap Bowline with Yosemite Finish

The bowline is an excellent knot for securing your climbing rope around an object, most commonly a tree. You might be securing the bottom of a stacked rope while top-roping to “close the system” while also creating a handy ground anchor if needed, or fixing a rope for a single strand rappel while scrubbing your next project. In this short video I demonstrate the traditional “scouts” way of tying it as well as the alternative “snap” method (I refer to this also as the “handshake” method). I also demonstrate an alternative way of finishing the knot with a Yosemite finish. If you like this type of content please subscribe to the YouTube Channel and I’ll keep producing videos like this throughout the summer!

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

Space Available Wilderness Navigation Courses!

Wilderness Navigation Course
Being able to determine a bearing from physical map and then follow it in real life is a critical skill for traveling in the mountains. Here students are putting morning classroom instruction to practical use while trying to hit a target .4 miles through dense forest.

I’ve partnered with the Appalachian Mountain Club for years to teach my own custom 8 hour Wilderness Navigation course and one of the three scheduled courses are sold out but there are some spots available for the June 19th and Sept 25th courses. You can see more details and reserve you spot at one of these two links:

June 19th

https://activities.outdoors.org/search/index.cfm/action/details/id/126518

September 25th

https://activities.outdoors.org/search/index.cfm/action/details/id/124874

I also offer this course locally on a private basis through partnership with Northeast Mountaineering. Rates for that can be found here:

http://www.nemountaineering.com/courses/wilderness-navigation/

I also can travel outside my local area to offer this curriculum to high school and college outing clubs. Just send me an inquiry at nealpinestart at gmail dot com (or use the contact form on my “about page”) for details.

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

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.