Category Archives: Ask an Expert

10 Essentials for Every Hiking Trip

10 must-have items for hitting the trail.

The 10 essentials are ten systems (formerly individual items) you should bring on every hike.  They are an asset in an emergency and increases your chance of survival if you must spend a night out.  The list has evolved over time from a list of individual items to a list of functional systems – largely a change in mindset, but not of the individual items required.  These items are to help keep you alive and safe, but not necessarily comfortable.

1. Navigation

Paper map and compass.  Never hit the trail without it.  A small simple compass that attaches to a zipper works for most hikes.  Typically they come combined with a thermometer or whistle.  If you are going to be bushwhacking, invest in a larger one.

A map is priceless when you need it.  A good map will have up to date trails and 20 foot contours. Map scales vary, but 1:24,000 is the best (highest resolution) with 1:75,000 being 3 times worse resolution, but does show more on the page.  If you need a map that I do not have up, send me a message and I can make it within a few days – [email protected] or message me on Facebook.

You can purchase a map at most outdoor stores or print them from home.  Most pages on this site have a PDF map of the hike in 1:24,000 resolution with 20 ft contours – free to download and print.  Commercially, the National Geographic series is very popular, with a 1:75,000 resolution but expensive.  Adirondack Mountain Club publishes a series of paper maps that accompany their guidebooks for about $8 each.

2. Sun Protection

The level of protection you need for your skin and eyes varies from person to person, but sunscreen and sunglasses should be considered.  Lip balm is useful depending on the weather.


Sunscreen should be included for most all outings, especially when paddling, summiting mountains, or if it is expected to by a clear day.  Remember to protect your face in the winter.

Paddlers should remember that you can get sunburn when it is cloudy due to reflections off the water.  Hiking under a tree-canopy lessens the effect of the sun, but taking an extended break on a summit at high noon is enough time to a sunburn.

Consider travel sized sunscreens.  They are small and fit easily in your pack.  Sample sizes are even better if you can find them.


Eye protection will vary on personal taste and how much time you expect to spend in the sun.  Hikers rarely use them during the hike, but may opt for them on summits.  Paddlers should consider them, particularly polarized glasses that reduce glare off the water.

Look for a durable and flexible pair – it is only a matter of time until you step on them.  A keeper strap may be a good idea too.

Remember that the sun will reflect off water and snow, doubling your exposure to the sun.  This is why it is extra important to have sun protection while paddling or in the winter months.

3. Extra Clothes

Are you prepared for the conditions of the day?  What if you were to get caught after dark? Accidentally fall into a mud puddle?  Get caught in an afternoon thunder storm?  Ready for 40+ mph summit winds?

A good trip is ruined quite quickly if you are not comfortable.  In warmer weather consider bringing a lightweight rain jacket.  It triples as rain protection, wind protection and a slight amount of warmth.  An extra long sleeve shirt should also be considered if the weather is not favorable.  Zip-off  are equally  very versatile, providing the option of both shorts and pants with minimal extra weight and bulk.  An extra pair of socks is also a good idea.

In colder weather, you should have enough clothes such that if you were to stop moving with all your clothes on you would be plenty warm.   This typically means extra layers and possibly a warm jacket.  Ideal jacket systems separate the rain/wind protection (shell) from the insulating protection (fleece or down).

4. Headlamp

Getting caught after dark is far more challenging if you cannot see.  During day hikes a low-cost basic headlamp is all you need.  More advanced headlamps are desirable on overnight trips.

For detailed information on headlamp selection, read our headlamp guide.

5. First-aid Supplies

In the backcountry injuries will happen, even to the most careful journeyer.  You should be prepared for cuts, scrapes, blisters and other minor injuries.  Also prescription medicine, pain reliever and ear plugs should be considered.

Ditch the store-bought varieties and make your own.  Start in your medicine cabinet with a ziplock bag.  You likely have everything you will need already.  Consider how long your trip will be and how many people will be with you.  Adhesive butterfly bandaids are a must.  Also some sort of tape with loose bandages.

Why it matters: On a recent 4-day trip I cut myself rather deeply with a knife early on the first day – a stupid mistake trying to setup a tarp in a downpour.  Fortunately I was prepared and was able to change the bandage every day and it did not otherwise impact the enjoyment of the trip.

6. Fire

Are you prepared to start a fire in the rain?  You need both a fire starting device (two types are better) and some kindling.  I suggest matches and a lighter – packed in two different places.

I typically use a lighter and keep it with my stove.  I also keep waterproofed matches in my emergency kit, in case my lighter is lost or malfunctions.

Expert Tip: Take a book of outdoor matches and wrap them tightly in kitchen plastic wrap.  This keeps both water and moisture away from the matches.  In total the book will weigh only one gram!

Starting a fire requires more than just a flame.  What will you burn to start the fire?  Normally leaves or similar kindling will do the job, but if it has been raining for awhile, it is not so simple.  I keep a small fire starting log in my emergency kit.  I also have TP (toilet paper), a notebook and other flammables that I could use in an emergency situation.  Emergencies require using gear in non-conventional ways and when it comes to fire, look through your pack and make mental notes of what would burn.

7. Hydration

Running out of water on the trail will happen to everyone eventually.  Having tablets or an emergency straw filter in your kit will set your mind at ease, while keeping you safe.  A filter weighs more and is better suited to longer hikes.

On day hikes when you do not plan on stopping to gather water, bring what you think you will need, then some.  On longer days hikes or overnight hikes, plan your water stops regularly.  It is not unusual for some streams to dry up in late summer, particularly at the higher elevations.

8. Food

Bring what you think you will need, then some extra.

9. Knife

A small pocket knife, ideally with scissors is all you need.  The Victorinox Classic SD makes a great knife to put in your emergency kit.  It weighs 0.75 ounces, $20 and includes a blade, scissors, file, toothpick and tweezers.
Victorinox Classic SD

10. Emergency shelter

An emergency blanket (reflective blanket, space blanket, etc) is very small and light, but has tons of uses.

Additional Items to Consider

  1. Signaling Device – A whistle or mirror.
  2. ID and money – You never know when you will need your ID and some money.  The ID will help any emergency responders.  The money is useful if you forgot something and want to bater with another hiker/paddler.  Leave the rest of your wallet at home.
  3. Parachute cord – Small cordage always finds a use.  With today’s fibers, 15 feet of high-tech cord will fit in a film canister!
  4. Equipment repair – Consider duct tape, super glue, thread and needle, and stove/sleeping pad repair kits.
  5. TP and Trowel – Don’t leave home without it.

One more item…Your Brain!

The most imporant essential that you need to bring is your brain.  Read, practice and and gain knowledge and it will pay off in dividends.  Keep calm and work through any challenges purposefully.

Creating Your 10 Essentials Kit

An essentials kit needs to be small and easy to carry, otherwise you’d be less likely to carry it.  You probably already own all the required items, so get them together into one place.

Repackage bulky products into manageable sizes.  Do you need an entire tube of sun tan lotion? 100 Band-aids? Of coarse not, so why bring them.  Repackage items in ziplock bags and small containers.

State to Sell Lake Tear of the Clouds – Enraging Environmentalists

Albany, NY – Deep in the new NYS budget is a back-room deal to sell 518 acres surrounding Lake Tear Lake of the Clouds, located on the south side of Mount Marcy, to a downstate company for $3.15 million dollars.  Acid Rain Recovery, Inc. intends to harvest the unique “tears” from the lake, which has a retail market value of over $1.885 billion dollars per year.

Governor Cuomo applauded the project saying it will “Create thousands of jobs while reducing hydrogen [from acid rain] in streams, ponds and rivers of Upstate New York”.  Environmentalists disagree and say the tears should remain forever wild.


President of Acid Rain Recovery, Noah Rondeau, explained that the tears found in Lake Tear of the Clouds are a special blend of hydrogen and oxygen in a two to one ratio.  Latest scientific studies have shown that this ratio can be beneficial in human biology.  Beyond use as artificial tears, it has been shown to be useful additive for dieting and as a recovery formula following exercise.

This unusually cold and drawn out past winter, including the media-hyped polar vortices, has increased the rate of tears found in the lake due to the effect of seasonal (winter) depression on the clouds (see SAD).  In everyday language, the clouds were cold and SAD, and thus cried more tears than usual.  Scientifically, colder weather increases the likelihood of the tear generation within clouds, particularly when the air temperature lowers to reach the dew-point.

Tear Rejuvenation Program

Rondeau also explained the impact of over 100 years of acid rain on Lake Tear of the Clouds.  Coupled with the cold winder, the lake’s tear population was frozen solid and in dire need of rejuvenation.  He suggests importing new tears from a nearby spring. He says the spring is close, but most do not believe that the spring is near enough.

Refresh Optive
Refresh Optive be re-branded as “Adirondack Mist”

The cost of tear rejuvenation program will be funded by pharmaceutical company Allergan.  Allergan in exchange will recycle the tears removed from the lake for use in their artificial tear eye drops re-branded as “Adirondack Mist” (formerly Refresh Optive).

The site was chosen because of its unique near alpine elevation (4,293 ft) at the head of the Hudson River.  Further, removal of the excess hydrogen ions from acid rain in the lake will purify the entire Hudson River to New York City.  The DEC suggests that New York City will begin drawing drinking water directly from the Hudson in approximately 5 months.

Part of the program include damming all other streams entering the Hudson River all the way to NYC and redirecting the dam water to New Jersey.  Scientist think the dam idea is stupid, but do not have a better dam idea to offer.

The Bottom Eating Acid

A worse-case scenario discussed by the DEC is the impact of the acid rain on the lake bottom.  Continued exposure to the unfiltered acid has resulted in the degradation and erosion of the lake bottom.  Continued erosion has caused politicians to fear the lake bottom will erode all the way to China, causing the newly dammed Hudson River to dry up.

To counteract the problem, the DEC is recommending that hikers visiting the lake carry a rock up the trail and throw it into the pond while making a wish.  Rocks are available for free at the trailhead for transport, but you must sign a waiver saying that you will share 50% of your wish with the state.  Millionaires will have a 110% tax.

Pile of Rocks
Pile of Rocks – The state purchased the special granite rocks at a cost of $3,000 per pound.

Other Thoughts

Hiking and camping will not be impacted by the deal, but hikers should bring tissues to prevent tear contamination in the lake.   The DEC has mentioned spontaneous crying is a serious environmental concern.

While normally the land deal would require a constitutional approval, Cuomo said the constitution does not apply to his ideas and issued a message of necessity, making the deal effective immediately.


Have a happy [and hopefully not gullible] first of April.  All above references are in jest only.  If you enjoyed a bit of light hearted fun, please pass this along to your friends.  Click your favorite social platform below to share.

Bear Canisters: A Buyers and Renters Guide

Bears are strong, curious, smart and hungry.  It was once a safe bet to hang your food in a tree, but curiosity and intelligence taught bears that “rope = food” — your food!  The next evolution of bear defence was necessary, the bear canister.

Why use a bear canister?

No one benefits from bears getting your food – you have to pack out sooner than expected and the bears begin to rely on human food.  This lead to serious overcrowding of bears and higher than normal bear-human encounters.  Worse yet, bears were more sensitive to starvation since the peak season of camping ends in late August…well before the winter hibernation.

So, use a bear canister to protect your food and to protect the bears.  This helps you on your trip, everyone on future trips and for the long-term management of the bear population.

When to (and not to) use a Bear Canister

First, canisters are required while camping in the Eastern High Peaks Zone for all food, food containers, and toiletries (April 1st – November 30th).  In general outside the high peaks, they are useful on camping trips when bears are out of hibernation.  They protect your food from bears and also from smaller, pack-chewing rodents (field mice!).

  • They are only required if you are camping overnight – not on day hikes.
  • Camping an island far from mainland – this one is your call.  I’d still hang my food to protect from smaller animals and mice.

What to look for in a bear canister

There are a handful of manufacturers of bear canisters, with nearly a dozen models, so what should you look for?

  • Size: How much food do you need to carry? One person’s food or two?  How long?  Containers come in sizes for 2-3 days, 4-5 days and 6-7 days.  Your canister needs to be large enough for your longest outing, times two if you will have food for two people. Expert Tip: You do not need your first day’s food to fit in the bear canister since you will eat it before nightfall.
  • Weight: The big drawback of bear canisters are they are HEAVY.  Small canisters weigh about 2 pounds while larger ones weigh over 3 pounds.  Consider the weight carefully when purchasing.  If you can deal with the small size, the 3-day Bare Boxer Contender is the absolute lightest on the market at 1.6 pounds.
  • Ease of use: What is required to open the canister? Tools or just your hands.  This is a major benefit of BearVaults, since they open relatively easily without tools.  Others require having a screw driver-like tool with you.
  • Translucent or Black Sides: Transparent sides make it really easy to grab something from the bottom of your canister.  Black sides make it very difficult to see what is inside since your only viewpoint is through a small opening.  Worse, once your hand is in the opening, little light makes it in either.  Some mention that the clear canisters can heat up in the sun, which is true, but so do the all-black canisters.    Don’t let this bother you, no matter your canister, keep it out of the sun.
  • Hard or Soft sides:  Your vision of a bear canisters is likely the rigid-sided variety, but there are also soft-sided models available.  Ursack makes a canister out of bullet-proof fabric that prevents bears from getting at your food.  The benefit of the Ursack is that it is lighter and packs easily since it is flexible.  The downside is that the bear cannot eat your food, but will squish your food, slobber all over it, and make it essentially inedible.  This means you will have to leave the back country early to get more food.  For this reason the Eastern High Peaks Zone requires a hard-sided canister.
  • Cost: Most canisters range from $60 to $100, but the carbon fiber Wild Ideas Expedition costs $300!  Our suggestion is to look at the $60 – $100 canisters and chose the one that works best for you.  The good news is they all will last a long time, after all they are designed to be bear-proof so how can you break them?

Smaller Models – 2-4 Days

There are four models designed for a weekend (ordered by size):

Bare Boxers Contender ($55+s/h, 1.6 lb): The smallest and lightest bear canister.  This makes a great weekend canister if you can pack carefully. More…

Lighter1 Lil’ Sami ($85+s/h, 1.8 lb): A creative design that combines a bear canister and pan into a single item.

BearVault BV450 ($67 locally, 2.1 lb): A smaller version of the popular BV500 designed for 3 days worth of food.  BearVaults are the only canisters that do not need to use a tool.  See the note below on the BearVault Brand.

UDAP No-Fed Bear ($70+s/h, 2.4 lb):  In essence a larger model of the Bare Boxer contender, but smaller than the Garcia Backpacker’s Cache.

Wild Ideas Scout ($232+s/h, 1.8 lb): Made out of carbon fiber, this canister is both light and large (nearly twice the size of the bare boxer).  This comes at a price though – $232.  Factory direct rentals available by mail.  More info

Larger Models – 5-7 Days

Bare Boxer Champ ($70 + s/h, 2.7 lb): A larger version of the Bare Boxer above – difficult to find.

Backpacker’s Cache Garcia Model 812 ($70 locally, 2.7 lb): A proven, time-tested bear canister that is also extremely popular as a rental.  Available a most local retail outlets.

Wild Ideas Weekender ($249 + s/h, 1.9 lb): A larger version of the carbon fiber scout.  Very lightweight of its size, but expensive too! Factory direct rentals available by mail.

Lighter1 Big Daddy ($90 + s/h, 2.7 lb): A larger version of the Lil’ Sami, this unique design has a lid that doubles as a pan.

BearVault BV500 ($80, 2.6 lb): Clear with a wide opening…this was a popular canister that competed in popularity with the Garcia.  BearVaults are the only canisters that do not need to use a tool.   Unfortunately its security came into question and local retailers stopped carrying it.  See the note below on the BearVault Brand.

Counter Assault Bear Keg ($80, 3.5 lb): Similar to the Garcia, but slightly larger and heavier.  If you do not need the extra size, stick with the popular Garcia.

Wild Ideas Expedition ($300,  2.3 lb): Lightweight carbon fiber makes this huge canister easy to carry.  It is 50% larger than Garcia, but nearly a half pound lighter than the Garcia!  The price tag though makes this only for the most serious large group hikers.  Factory direct rentals available by mail.

Renting – Vendors, Considerations and Costs

Renting a bear canister for a 1-weekend per year trip can be a significant cost saver.  Most outdoor stores rent them by the day, weekend and/or week.

Vendors include nearly every outdoor store in the Adirondacks, Interpretive Centers (north and south side of high peaks), plus nearly every EMS store outside the park.  Call ahead to reserve it and updated rental prices.  Standard prices are around $5/day, but cost varies widely.  Call ahead to reserve and for more details.

Another consider to keep in mind is that you need to pick up and drop off the canisters when the stores are open.  This might mean starting your trip later in the day or arriving the previous night early enough to get to a store before closing.  Also consider the extra cost of gas/mileage and time before making your decision to rent rather than purchase.


  • The Mountaineer (Keene Valley): $3 per night
  • High Peaks Interpetive Center (ADK Loj): $5 for 2 nights, $10 for 3-4 nights, $15 for 5-6 nights, $20 for 7+ nights.
  • Cloudsplitter (Newcomb): $5 first night, then $3 for each additional night
  • Adirondack Buffalo Company (North Hudson): $5 per night
  • Hoss’s (Long Lake): $5 per night
  • Blue Line Sports (Saranac lake)
  • Adirondacks Interpretive Center (Newcomb)
  • EMS Stores: Price varies but is generally more expensive than above.

Please add a comment below or mail [email protected] for any list updates.

BearVault Issues

Talk about bear canisters with someone and you might hear stories of ingenious bears breaking into bear canisters, and how BearVault canisters are “illegal” in the Adirondacks.  Let’s set the facts straight (as of Spring 2014).

The BearVault line-up of bear canisters revolutionized the bear canister market in the early 2000s.  The clear sides, huge opening  and no need for a tool to open it are big improvements over the Backpacker’s Cache Garcia, which is the otherwise most popular canister on the market.

Fast forward to 2007 and enter a skittish, tiny 125-pound bear named Yellow-Yellow, named for her two yellow DEC ear tags.  Through trial and error she learned to open the canisters much like a human would.  Utilizing her incisor tooth, she pushed the stop bump and spin the lid open.

This caused quite the commotion for five years, which mythical stores abound.  Was she the only bear? Did she teach her cubs to open the canisters?  False reports of bears opening improperly closed canisters.  Yellow-Yellow is a legend.

She died in fall 2012 and since then there have been no known bear break-ins of BearVaults in the Adirondacks.  Therefore BearVaults no longer carry the warning in the high peaks.

Most local outlets no longer sell the BearVaults, so finding one is difficult, but you have an old one or are given one from a friend/relative for a trip, go ahead and use it.

Other Thoughts

  • Use it as a stool!
  • Do not attach anything to the canister.  For example if you wrap a strap around the canister, a bear will happily pick it up and walk away with it.
  • Consider how you will carry the canister when purchasing.  In the pack? Outside the pack?  They are large and can be difficult to carry.  Some carrying bags are available to make it easier to strap to the outside of your pack.
  • A benefit of the hard-sided canister, compared to a soft-sided canister like a Ursack, is that your food will not get squished and force you to leave the back country early.

The Complete Buyer’s Guide to Hiking Boots

Boots choose you, you don’t choose the boot!

Picture a moose wading in a backcountry pond, a mountain vista, or a pair muddy hiking boots — all invoke iconic images of the wild.  Hiking boots are a big deal, but before you go buy a pair, let’s take a look at them in detail and find which are suited best for you.

Purpose and Features

Let’s break down the various parts of a hiking boot, then you can pick what is best for you:

  • Traction– Slipping causes injuries.  A good hiker will have aggressive traction.
  • Rigid Soles – Walking across jagged rock surfaces puts a lot of stress in one place.  Good soles spread that pressure out over a larger area, taking stress off your feet.
  • Durable Material – A pair of your favorite running shoes will get beat up quickly on an Adirondack hike.  All the breathable (mesh) materials are not designed for running against rocks, mud and downed branches.  Good hikers will have more leather and durable synthetic materials.
  • Waterproof / Water-resistant – A good hiker walks through puddles.  Walking around puddles widens trails and leads to environmental issues.  A good hiker will be water-resistant at least, waterproof can be even better.  Caution: Waterproof is not always better since they are typically hotter, which leads to heat blisters.  If you only plan to hike in July and August, in good weather, a water-resistant shoe can actually be preferred.
  • Ankle Support – The bread and butter of a hiking boot.  Every hiker will eventually twist an ankle.  It is just a matter of how often and to what degree.  High-top boots help support your ankle to minimize risk.  They also are useful in keeping mud out of your boots.  For day hiking, use of a high-top boot is a preference.  If you have ankle issues, are moving into the wiser years of life,  or are carrying a large load (personal weight and/or backpack), than consider high-top boots as required equipment.  If you are athletic, with no ankle issues and no pack, then consider them optional.
  • Weight – Okay, this is not something a boot does, but is sure does matter!  If it were not for the weight, a heavy-duty hiking boot would be worn 99% of the time in the back woods.  Weight on your feet will zap 4-6 times more energy than weight on your back, so the lighter the better.

Types of Hiking Footwear

Now that you know what a boot needs to do, let’s look at the four categories of hiking footwear.  From trail runners for the very athletic day hike to heavy hiking boots designed for carrying large loads deep into the back country.  Let’s break them down:

Heavy Hiking Boot:

The heavy-weight boots of the back country are rugged, rigid and supportive – and comfortable.   They are designed to support your feet on multi-day hikes carrying serious loads (camping gear and then some).  They excel in all the categories, but the trade-off is weight – they are heavy at three to five pounds for the pair!

If you are just starting out, skip over the heavy-weight hikers.  The additional weight will make your first hikes miserable because you will grow tired too fast.  Remember a pound on your feet equivalent to adding 5 pounds on your back.

Light Hiking Boot:

The staple of the hiking industry, the light hiking boot can be used from day hikes to multi-day treks.  It is a great compromise of all traction, sole support, durable materials, waterproof/water-resistant, and ankle support.  If you’re not sure if you should be in a hiking boot or shoe for day hikes, err on the conservative side and get a boot.  You will eventually want a pair if you begin doing longer, strenuous hikes or overnight hikes, so why do it right from the start?

A good light hiker will weigh in the 1.75-3 pound range.

Hiking Shoe:

If you are not looking for the ankle support, a hiking shoe provides most of the benefit of a light hiking boot in a slightly lighter and more agile form.  It provides the same traction, rigid soles and durable materials as a light hiker, but without the ankle support.  Also mud and water infiltration is easier with this low-top variant – though waterproof version do exist.

Weight reduction is the main advantage of the hiking shoe.  While it may only be a few ounces, it adds up and you will notice the difference.

A good hiking shoe will weigh in the 1.5-2.25 pound range.

Trail Runners

Designed for the athletic day hiker, these shoes are the back country version of running shoes.  They are lightweight and comfortable, which means hikers can travel many miles quickly.

The downside is they offer the least amount of support.  There traction is adequate (but no more), their sole support is generally weak, but adequate given they designed for an athletic person carrying no extra weight.  They typically consist of more durable materials than running shoes, but are not expected to last as long as leather shoes.  Finally they offer no ankle support.

Trail runners should be reserved for day hikes by those already in shape and on modest hikes.  Be wary of jagged rocky ravines with these.  My largest complaint is the lack of weight distribution.  Hiking down a ravine like found on Algonquin (towards Lake Colden) will leave you feet sore.

A trail runner will weigh in the 1-1.75 pound range.

Fitting new Hikers

Now that you know what you are looking for, head to your local outfitter and try some on.  Some points to remember:

  • Let the right boot find you, don’t pick the one you want and convince yourself it fits. This is really important.  You will wear these boots for many, many years.
  • Get to the store in the afternoon when your feet are swelled.  This will mimic the natural swelling during hiking.
  • Once you think you have found the right pair, wear them around the store for a while.  Spend the time looking at new gear, checking out the new guides and maps.  Just wear them.  If they feel better after 30 minutes, they are likely the right ones.  If they feel worse, move on to another pair.
  • There is an incline in any reputable outfitter.  Walk up the ramp looking for any motion in your heel.  This is what causes heel blisters.  Walk down stomping aggressively looking for toe jamming.  This mimics hiking down a mountain – which can lead to serious toe issues if there is not enough space up front.
  • Try at least 4 pairs of boots, even if the first ones feel perfect.  The worse you will do is waste 30 minutes, while solidifying your thoughts.
  • The goal is not to be a minimalist here – get what you will need for today and tomorrow.
  • Wear the socks you would normally hike in.  This is obvious, just remember to bring them.  If you forget hiking socks, the outfitter will usually have a pair to borrow.
  • Do your best to get it right the first time, but do not be bashful about bringing the boots back to store if not fit well (don’t abuse it though).

What about Insoles?

Insoles are designed to replace factory insoles to provide an addition custom fit.  For most people, you should avoid them — If the boot does not fit well, do not try to use after-market insoles to force it.  That said, there are some special cases where insoles should be considered.

  • Flat Feet or High Arches – If you have unusually flat feet or high arches, you will have trouble finding boots that support correctly.  Consider after-market insoles designed for flat feet or high arches.  This only applies to 1 in 10 people – probably not you.
  • Rejuvenating Old Friends – Have a pair of leather boots that look like they have another 300+ miles in them, but are not as supportive as they once were?  $30-$40 insoles can extend the life of the boots, but they do not work miracles.  Soles wear out and leather stretches out, so this only works sometimes.

Breaking in your New Hikers

The stiffer the boot, the more time you should spend breaking it in.  This is not a difficult process, but it should not be overlooked.  Breaking in does two things.  First is shapes the boot to any irregularities of your feet.  Second it hardens your feet to any irregularities of the boot.

Breaking in is easy…get outside with your boots on.  You do not need hike a mountain, just get outdoors with your boots on.  Mow the lawn, walk through the woods, head out to a local park…get outdoors!

There is one caveat though, stay off hard surfaces (roads, sidewalks, stone dust trails, etc).  Hard surfaces do more harm than good.  In fact, most long-distance hikers can travel hundreds of miles without issues, but a simple one-mile road walk will cause blisters on both feet!  Boots are designed to not flex much, but walking on pavement requires flexing. Again, stay away from pavement.

There is no rule on when boots are broken in, but like when you first begin hiking, start small and work your way up.

Expert Tip: If you are replacing a pair of boots, buy your new pair while there is still some miles left on your old pair.  Keep them for the longer hikes until you are comfortable with the new pair.

Headlamp Buying Guide – Five Considerations

Buying a headlamp?  Not all headlamps are created equal.  In this article we breakdown five things you should consider when buying your next headlamp.

First things first…LEDs only!

Walk down your favorite store’s headlamp isle and you will see LED headlamps everywhere.  Where did all the incandescent bulbs go?  Into history.  Let’s look at the LEDs versus incandescents:

  • Brightness: Incandescents.  If you have unlimited power (eg. your car) and need lots of light (search and rescue) use incandescents bulbs.
  • Energy Efficiency: LEDs are significantly more energy efficient.  The lumens per watt runs 5-8x higher for LEDs depending on the model.
  • Durability: LEDs are both long-lasting and shock-resistant.  In fact I’ve never seen an LED go out – both personally and with thousands of customers at a backpacking outfitter.  No spares need to be carried – in fact they are not even replaceable.
  • Size and Weight: LEDs are smaller and lighter – Smaller power consumption typically means smaller AAA vs the larger AA batteries used in incandescents.
  • Low battery behavior: LEDs slowly lose brightness, not all at once.  We’ve all experienced incandescent bulbs go from fully on to a faint glow over the course of a few seconds, rendering them useless.  LEDs dim slowly over many, many hours, so if your caught out an extra hour or two with low batteries, you will still see, just maybe 20 feet instead of 25 feet.

Okay, now that we are set on LEDS, let’s get into the five considerations:

1.) Lumens and Beam Pattern

How much light do you need?  How should it be directed? A bright long-distance spotlight or a dim up-close reading light?  Before even looking at headlamps, figure this out.

  • General Campsite Use: The focus here is lots of even, spread out light.  Spotlights should be avoided…your fellow campers’ eyes will thank you.
  • Hiking at night: A mixture of spot and floodlight is needed to see ahead, but also what surrounds you.
  • Night trail running or biking: Definitely need a spotlight to shine well down the trail.
  • Backup light: Using this for backup only? A general purpose light should do the trick.

2.) Size and Weight

LED headlamps have become quite small and light (pun intended), but finding the right headlamp for you is a trade-off.  After all, the best headlamp in the world is useless if you leave it home because it was too heavy or too bulky.  Let’s break down four use types:

  • Heavy use: If you plan on using your headlamp significantly (caving, nighttime hiking, running, etc.), then do not let size and weight deter you from a larger, bright, long-lasting light.  The few ounces of extra weight pay off dividends when you see that stick you would have otherwise tripped over.  These typically have external AA battery pack and weigh about 11 ounces.
  • Moderate use: If you plan most of your activities during the day, and only need your headlamp for general campsite use, midnight walks to the outhouse, occasional pre-dawn hiking, then a good mid-range AAA headlamp with multiple features (spot and flood modes) will serve you well.  These typically use AAA batteries and weigh 3-5 ounces. Our pick: Black Diamond Spot
  • Light use: Hiking during the summer, where it is light past 9:00pm? Using your headlamp at a campground?  A light-duty, two-LED, flood-light style headlamp works well here since most of your activities (meals, setting up camp) is done under the sun.  These are typically inexpensive, lacking the range and multiple modes of the “moderate use” lights.  They use AAA batteries that will last a very long time and weigh 2.5-3.5 ounces.  Our pick: Petzl Zipka or Tikka Headlamps
  • Backup only: If you already have a primary headlamp and want to bring a backup, or are doing a day hike and expect to be back well before dark, an ideal backup/emergency light would be small and light so you always carry it, but also very reliable.  These lights will not have the brightness and distance of your primary, but should give you sufficient light to get home.  These can weigh under an ounce and generally use a watch-style battery.  Our pick: Petzl E+Lite

3.) Multiple Output Features

Another advantage of LEDs is that their brightness can controlled easily.  Nearly all headlamps have a “High”, “Medium” and “Low” mode.

Fully featured headlamps have both a spotlight LED (for long distance) and wide-angle LEDs for general camp use.  Combining the two popular uses (trail and camp) into a single headlamp will always keep you happy.

Red LEDs:  These are used for around camp and map reading in the dark, since red light does not degrade your night vision nearly as much as white light.  A nice feature, but you can live without it.

Strobe Light: The main use of the strobe light is for signaling.  It is easy for designers to include it, so they do.  With it, the marketing team also gets to include a useless battery life number — “batteries last up to 3 weeks!”  Ignore the number and just remember the strobe is there if you ever need to signal someone.

Expert Tip: A great use of the strobe feature is to signal friends who are meeting you after dark.  Turn on the strobe feature and hang your headlamp near the trail.  They will not miss it!  Include a note around the headband so someone walking by does not become concerned or take it thinking it was “lost”.

4.) Brand Name

Brands are often over-hyped.  Typically I’m not a big brand guy, but in the case of headlamps, I’ve seen too many off-brand failures.  I’ve bought and used many headlamps over the years (too many to count!) and I have never had a problem with my name-brand headlamps.  I cannot say the same about my off-brand experiences.

Case and point – Bass Pro Shops Ascend headlamp.  I was looking for a general around the house headlamp and I got a great deal on this (about $20 on clearance) – with both spot and flood lights.  Things started out fine, but after a month or two the light would randomly turn off in use.  Batteries were changed, no different.  It still happens to this day.  I do not trust it in the back woods and only use it around the house and for walking the dog.

Brands to look at are:

  • Petzl
  • Black Diamond
  • Princeton

These companies have spent R&D money creating reliable lights that will work when you need them to.  They cost a few dollars extra, but after you buy two or three of the others, you will be money ahead.

5.) Batteries and Operational Costs

Some newer, ultra-compact headlamps use watch batteries.  They are bright and make great occasional-use or backup headlamps, but get very expensive if you use them regularly.  There are three primarly types of LED batteries:

  • AAA Battery Cells — These are the most popular, and hit a nice balance of size, power and availability.
  • AA Battery Cells — Used on larger LED lights and newer single cell headlamps (only one battery).  A bit heavier, but readily available at any store and might also be what your camera/GPS uses.  The single cells are a nice compromise if you use AAs for your camera.
  • Watch Batteries — Small and lightweight, these are great for tiny LED headlamps, but they can get expensive, particularly given the shorter burn time.  Replacement batteries can be very pricey (~$6 for 2) while on the trail, but can be bought in bulk for significant savings (~$1 each).  I suggest these for backup lights only.

Caution: Be Wary of LED Marketing

LED headlamps are great, but marketing departments have pushed a few things too far.

  • Don’t believe battery times: “120 hours of battery life” – thats great right?  Not really.  Yes, the headlamp will still be “on” after 120 hours, but the light produced will be rather useless.  One of the benefit of LEDs over incandescent bulbs is that they are not an “all or nothing”.  They steadily become dimmer as the batteries die.  This is good since it means you will rarely be out in the woods with no light. The downside here is that marketers use 120 hours as their cutoff, since the light is still on.  To you and I, we would say the light was “dead” at about 20 hours or less.
  • Waterproof: Most headlamps are rated as water-resistant or waterproof.  LEDs are naturally reasonably water-resistant, but if you expect to be out in the rain, and your life will depend on the light, bring a backup.  I do not fear bringing a light out in the rain, but knowing a backup is at hand makes it a bit easier.
  • Durability: Light, small and durable do not always go together.  Most name brand lights are well made and of little concern here. Non-name brand lights are a different story, test the battery compartments and buttons before purchasing.  Typically they are the failure points, or at least eventually become an entry point for water, which in turn kills the light.
  • Red Lights: There are two types of red LEDs.  True red LEDs and white LEDs with a red filter.  The former are great for preserving your night vision while the latter leave a lot to be desired.  Most higher end companies use true red LEDs while the lower companies use red filters — don’t waste your money on these filtered LEDs as they do not preserve night vision, their intended function.

Now you have the facts, so get shopping.  My two personal favorites over the years has been the Black Diamond Spot and Petzl TIKKA lineup.  The former has a very strong spotlight (and flood option), but is a bit larger.  The latter is smaller but lacks the strong spotlight.

Have a question?  Ask it in the comments below or on Facebook.