Gear Review (Preview)- Ortovox Diract Voice Avalanche Transceiver

Today Ortovox officially added two new avalanche transceivers to the market, the Diract and the Diract Voice. While a few preproduction samples have been checked out by other avalanche professionals I received a post production model about a week ago and want to share some preliminary opinions and thoughts at this revolutionary avalanche transceiver. A more in-depth review will be published after I’ve had some considerable real world field time with this model. I know a lot of people may be looking for a new avalanche transceiver before the snow really starts to fly and I hope this “first look” report will help you decide if you should consider the Ortovox Diract or Ortovox Diract Voice avalanche transceiver!

Initial Setup

Ortovox Diract Voice Review

After unboxing the initial set up was straight forward. As soon as you open the box instruction on the lid include a QR code directing you to download the Ortovox app for either iOS or Android. I selected English from the nine available languages and register the device through the app while synced to my smartphone via Bluetooth. Registration is a great idea since not only will up be sure to receive any important software update notifications it automatically extends the two year warranty by an additional 3 years giving you 5 years of total protection on your investment! More information and links to the apps along with some video tutorials can be found here: https://ortovox.com/us-en/service/information-user-manuals/avalanche-transceivers/diract-start

Ortovox Diract Voice Review

After registering the device I was instructed to calibrate the internal electronic compass used to ensure the device is held level in SEARCH mode and to analyze orientation when buried for the “Smart Antenna” technology (more on that later). I chose to do this outside in the yard away from the house and my cell phone to ensure no interference.

Voice Direction

Let’s start with the obvious biggest feature of the Ortovox Diract Voice. This is the first ever avalanche transceiver that gives the user verbal feedback during the stressful times of an avalanche rescue. Like others, I wasn’t exactly sure about the name Ortovox chose for this new model, but a quick Google Translation search revealed that “diract” is the Hindi word for “direct”. And that is what this avalanche transceiver attempts to do… direct your actions during the course of an avalanche rescue with important voice prompts. I demonstrate this in this video with some initial hands on practice in a nearby field:

POST PRODUCTION NOTES:

While filming the first couple test runs with my iPhone in AIRPLANE mode the transceiver experienced electronic interference which caused a false signal while outside the range of the transmitting transceiver and caused the transceiver to instruct me to start a fine search while still 18 meters from a second transceiver. Both of these errors were user-error, not software error! Any electronic with a GPS chip, Bluetooth, WiFi, radio transmitter, or microchip, should be more than half a meter away from a transceiver in search mode, or better yet powered off completely! I’ve left these first test runs in the final video as they demonstrate how the voice commands work and I believe that is useful. Twelve more test runs were conducted (6 filmed by the drone) and no other errors were observed.

My overall impression of this novel idea is positive. As an avalanche course instructor with over 100 avalanche courses taught I really do believe voice prompts can help rescuers react appropriately. Reminders like the initial “Run in 50 meter search strips and look out” encourage both urgency and situational awareness. Directional corrections like “run to the left/right” can help keep the searcher on the “flux line” while they are constantly conducting a quality visual search (often a part of rescue new rescuers struggle with). Getting outside of the fine search area the transceiver clearly tells you “You were closer!” When I publish my updated full review (ETA mid-winter) I will cover every voice command that’s possible and how best it fits into the rescue strategy.

There is one voice command I would have liked to have seen integrated. If the transceiver registers a number less than 1 meter during the search I would have loved for it to tell me to “Start probing here!” I have observed for years students will spend too much time on the fine search trying to get the lowest possible number when in reality if they are actually searching for a human sized target (and not a small stuff sack) and have a number under 1 meter they should halt the fine search and start probing. A probe strike is imminent. In that same line of thought it would be great if the transceiver could tell a quality fine search was carried out and if 1.6 meters in the lowest number after the fine search it could also direct the user to start probing.

That said a practiced rescuer should be able to make these transitions without the voice command, so the omission of this one command is no deal breaker!

Internal Lithium Ion Rechargeable Battery

Ortovox Diract Voice Avalanche Transceiver Review

The next biggest innovation in both the Diract and Diract Voice is the use of an internal lithium ion rechargeable battery. I think this is a great choice from a design point and I’m confident other manufacturers may follow suit as there are few disadvantages and many advantages. First of all having an internal rechargeable battery means no more pulling half used alkaline batteries out when they reach 60% and adding them to the draw of “not full batteries” I have in my gear room. This is better for the environment. The next advantage is you do not need to remember to remove your batteries at the end of the winter season. I’ve seen quite a few transceivers ruined with corroded batteries when owners left their batteries in them over the course of a humid summer. With this style battery it is best to not constantly “short charge” they battery, i.e. plugging it in every night to get it back to 100%. The user manual states to not charge until under 80%, and even states “once the battery charge falls below 40%, the device should be charged as soon as possible”.

The technical specifications claim that a full battery will provide a minimum of 200 hours in SEND followed by 1 hour of SEARCH. I will do some extensive testing of this battery over the next month and update this post accordingly by for now I’ll say I’m quite confident in this performance. After 2 hours of SEND and about 30 minutes of SEARCH my battery is still reporting 100%. Depending on how often you tour I imagine you’ll only need to recharge once or twice a season. I will be teaching rescue skills weekly from December through March and will report back detailed battery performance.

As for concerns about not being able to access or self-replace the lithium-ion battery Ortovox has had a third-party verify that this battery is good for at least 450 “cycles” and will still produce enough power to meet the 200 hours of SEND followed by 1 hour of SEARCH performance. A “cycle” is basically each time you charge the battery, which is why “short charging” is discouraged. Ortovox is working on a consumer focused solution for when it does become time to replace the battery, which based on my estimates of heavy use, won’t be needed for 5-7 years, if even then. The truth is with these numbers and proper charging habits the battery may last as long as the widely recommended “upgrade/replace your transceiver” suggestion of ten years. If that holds true that equals about 30-60 AA alkaline batteries from my own use staying out of a landfill!

The software is designed to self test the battery at every start up and will display a percentage, along with a alert if 30% or less, or “empty”. It also checks the health of the battery so if you ever do reach the end of the life of the battery it will display “Battery service necessary” and direct you to the Ortovox website for service/repair.

Finally it should be noted that you can not charge the battery when it is under 0 degrees Celsius. This may concern some users but I feel with proper planning this should never be an issue. My plan is to let my battery deplete for during day trips to within 40-50% capacity then recharge to full (one cycle). If I am heading out on a week long trip somewhere (Iceland this April?) I’ll recharge it to 100% for the trip. If you are spending two months on some amazing expedition I’m sure you can get the transceiver above 0 degrees Celsius in your sleeping bag if you need to recharge it.

Standby Mode and Auto-Revert

Ortovox Diract Voice Avalanche Transceiver Review

The next unique feature of the Ortovox Diract and Diract Voice is the addition of a “Standby” mode. Typically avalanche transceivers have only two modes, SEND/TRANSMIT or SEARCH. In a rescue scenario we teach everyone in the group not caught in the avalanche to switch their transceivers to SEARCH so that rescuers don’t waste time by “finding” people who are not buried in the snow. The issue is in a group rescue scenario you often do not need 5 people searching for a signal on a debris pile. For example if one person is missing and there are 5 rescuers you might only have 1 or 2 people actually searching with their transceivers while the rest of the group spots from a safe location and starts assembling probes and shovels to be ready for the extraction part of the rescue. These rescuers can utilize the standby mode to get their transceiver to stop transmitting, and, especially in the case of the Diract Voice, quiet the scene. We don’t need all the beeping and voice commands confusing the overall scenario. While in Standby mode the transceiver does have a motion sensor that is monitoring your movement. If no movement is detected in 90 seconds a loud alarm and display warning will indicate the unit will revert back to SEND in 30 seconds if 1) no movement is detected (i.e. you were caught and buried by a secondary avalanche), or 2) You press the FLAG button to cancel the revert.

Intuitive Design

Ortovox Diract Voice Avalanche Transceiver Review

The next thing I’d like to talk about is the shape and layout of the unit. Applicable to both models these transceivers are a slim design that fits comfortably in my hand and in my dedicated transceiver pocket on my ski pants. While I traditionally prefer to pocket carry my transceiver I believe I’ll start using the harness carry more often due to some innovative choices by Ortovox. The first is the decision to move the Recco technology from the transceiver to the carrying system. The second is the harness pocket holds the transceiver perfectly and adjusts with ease.

The layout of the controls is simple but well thought out. I am able to operate all functions on the transceiver with one hand regardless.of using my dominant (right) hand or not. With only two buttons and the SEND/SEARCH switch operation is really intuitive. To test the intuitiveness for a non-trained user I asked my 10 year old son to turn the transceiver on, put the unit into SEARCH mode, return to SEND mode, and power off the device. He accomplished all four tasks in less than two minutes with no further instruction.

Smart Antenna Technology

A feature of all Ortovox transceivers I have long been a fan of is the patented “SMART-ANTENNA-TECHNOLOGY ™. This basically makes locating your signal faster regardless of what orientation the transceiver is buried in by using intelligent position recognition and automatically switching to the best transmission antenna. Ortovox transceivers are the only transceivers that use this technology and I believe it’s an excellent feature.

Smart Display

The LCD display is quite visible in bright daylight and the brightness is adjustable via the free Ortovox app. I’ll be leaving it on the brightest setting while testing the battery performance this winter. The screen has a smart light sensor so when the transceiver is stowed in either a pocket or the carrying case it will shut off. After removing it from the harness a quick press of either of the two buttons will waken it.

Range and “smart” Search Strip Width while in SEARCH

Ortovox Diract Voice Avalanche Transceiver Review

I tested the Ortovox Diract Voice in an open field with a measured distance with the following results. I will update these this winter with other models buried 1.5 meters down in the snowpack. While in SEARCH for an Ortovox 3+ transceiver a signal was always acquired around on average between 30-40 meters with on result of 28 meters when the transmitting transceiver was in a poor coupling orientation. These results support Ortovox’s suggestion of a 50 meter search strip width in this open terrain with no interference. Yet another innovation feature of both the Ortovox Diract and Diract Voice is the unit somehow analyses the surrounding area for interference and adjusts the recommended Search Strip Width to be optimized. For example, in the open field (and even with my cell phone interference) the Search Strip Width was displayed as 50 meters. In my house while testing the Auto Revert function and surrounded by Wifi, electronics, etc the displayed Search Strip Width was reduced to 20 meters.

Multiple Burial Capability/Flagging (Signal Suppression)

The Ortovox Diract and Diract Voice transceivers have an intuitive system for helping the user manage the incredibly complex scenario of a multiple burial. The first is the display with indicate multiple signals with little “person” icons on the bottom of the display (up to three). This is another moment where I would have loved if the voice command could have verbally alerted me with something like “Multiple signals detected”. This addition would really help a searcher understand the bigger picture faster and manage their resources appropriately. Once you have finished your fine search and achieved a positive probe strike you can press and hold the flag button to have that signal suppressed, at which time the transceiver will direct you to the next closest burial. From my limited testing and reading of the manual there is not an option to “un-flag” a flagged victim. Should that be needed (and it shouldn’t if you use this feature with the caution taught in rescue courses) you will need to place the transceiver back into SEND then revert to SEARCH to remove all “flagged” targets. <insert info on any verbal instructions during FLAGGING>

Summary

This is a big moment in the history of avalanche transceivers. While there are a few great transceiver manufacturers out there I’m not surprised that Ortovox was the first to produce a transceiver that is so different from everything else out there. The benefits of a talking transceiver might vary by the user. Those who consider themselves “experts” in avalanche rescue will likely feel the effects of the voice commands less important as they are used to “listening” to the visual and audio clues of the various transceivers they have used over the years. In my opinion those advanced users might decide to upgrade to the Ortovox Diract (without voice) simply for the solid performance and benefit of the internal battery over transceivers that burn through alkaline batteries. Those who are new to avalanche rescue, or (gasp) rusty on their rescue skills (take an Avalanche Rescue course!), will likely find the voice commands from the Ortovox Diract Voice to be quite beneficial at guiding actions during the stressful moments of an avalanche rescue.

As mentioned this is an initial “first look” type review as I’ve only had this transceiver in my hands for about a week. I will test it throughly this winter while instructing over a dozen avalanche courses and will update my findings and opinions likely by late January. If you were planning on upgrading or buying you first avalanche transceiver this Fall in preparation of the winter I hope this information has helped you decide if the Ortovox Diract or Ortovox Diract Voice is the right transceiver for you, and if it is you can purchase one from these online retailers:

Purchase from REI.com

At the end of the day as an avalanche educator I’d be remiss if I didn’t end this review with the classic avalanche educator’s disclaimer. The BEST transceiver in the world is the one you practice with most! When was the last time you practiced avalanche rescue? How about taken an avalanche rescue course? Make avalanche rescue practice part of your seasonal preparation! There are SO many courses out there, if you are looking for one here’s some links to get you started:

AIARE Avalanche Rescue with Northeast Mountaineering <- the course provider I work for

AIARE 1 with Northeast Mountaineering

AIARE 2 with Northeast Mountaineering

Find courses with other AIARE providers all over the country at this link: https://avtraining.org/

You can also check out this free online training tool from Ortovox: https://www.ortovox.com/safety-academy-lab/avalanche-basics

Beyond Level One Online Avalanche Course*

Yet another way you could up your Avy Savvy brain is taking IMFGA Guide Mark Smiley’s newest online course “Beyond Level One*”. This is a massive online course designed to be taken over the course of a whole season with 120 episodes and contributions from some of the best avalanche professionals in the industry! I have taken other online courses from Mark and the quality is top-notch! I will be enrolling in this course myself to see what Mark has created and am especially excited about how much of the content I will be able to absorb à la podcast style!

Disclaimer: Traveling in avalanche terrain is dangerous and nothing in this review is intended to be “instruction” or assumed to be accurate. The author is a member of the Ortovox Athlete Team and received this transceiver at no cost as part of that partnership.

*Affiliate links above help support Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you. Purchasing a transceiver or online course through those links earn the author a commission. Thank you.

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.

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- 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.

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.

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.

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.