Monday, February 8, 2016

Winter Fat Biking in Maine's 100-Mile Wilderness Region

A growing trend is on full, balloon-tire display in northern Maine this season. The fat bikes are rolling, lodge-to-lodge and in between, on AMC's extensive trail network east of Moosehead Lake in northern Maine.

For those who haven't yet seen this new species of bicycle, fat bikes feature super-sized 3- to 4-inch wide tires that perform well on loosely consolidated surfaces—sand, mud, snow—that can cause problems for regular bike tires. The giant tires also provide extra cushion and a smoother ride over rough terrain, such as bumpy, hard-packed snow.

Riding the winter woods of northern Maine on a Specialized Hellga fat bike. Photo: Erika Spanger-Siegfried
The big drawback of fat bikes? Besides their cost (most start around $1,000 and go up rapidly from there), fat bikes put a lot of rubber on the ground and feature some serious rolling resistance as a result. The result is some quality heart-pumping, quads-cranking exercise. And in northern Maine, fat bikers can get the blood flowing like never before.

In late January, a colleague of mine savored the winter serenity on a three-day lodge-to-lodge self-powered journey between Gorman-Chairback Lodge and Cabins and Little Lyford Lodge and Cabins. While she preferred the slip-sliding fun of cross-country skis, two of her friends took the higher-friction option of fat bikes.

To follow their route, check out the winter trail map of the area—the group began from the winter parking area, followed the Trout Brook and Long Pond trails to Gorman-Chairback, the Lodge-to-Lodge route to Little Lyford, and then the more challenging Hedgehog Gate Trail all the way back. Conditions were reportedly close to perfect for biking—hard-packed snow with minimal ice—though warming temperatures on the final day led to sticky snow on tires and skis that slowed down the home stretch.

Like skiing, fat biking is conditions dependent. Even with the giant tires, ice and very soft snow can still make fat biking difficult to impossible. If you're considering it, definitely check the latest conditions!

In terms of rules about their use on AMC's Maine trails, AMC's lodge manager reports the following:
"We don’t have any specific restrictions on fat bikes but generally ask folks to be mindful of the conditions. If it is warm weather/soft snow and the bikes are noticeably damaging the quality of the trail for other recreational users (aka skiers) please ride on the snowmobile trail routes (road networks) instead of the wooded ski trails. This is mostly self-regulating as if it is doing any substantial damage to the trail, the person riding the bike is effectively having a miserable time and will by nature seek the harder packed snowmobile trail as it is much easier riding in that scenario."
Not heading up to northern Maine? Here are seven other great places to hit the trails on your fat bike.

Enjoy the winter!

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Are Your Survival Skills Ready for Real Life?

Are you prepared to handle a survival situation in the backcountry? You may think so. You probably even carry some basic survival gear. It’s likely, however, that you are also packing some significant misconceptions about what a survival scenario actually looks like.

Here’s the fundamental thing to understand: Survival situations typically occur when it’s dark or getting dark, when the weather is bad, and/or when someone suffers a potentially debilitating injury. 

Compare those scenarios with the way survival skills and techniques are typically taught in classes and presented in books and videos: Weather conditions are comfortable; injuries are absent; and the setting is generally daytime, with adequate light. This seldom-discussed disconnect between depiction and reality can mean that you are actually much less prepared for a real-life emergency than you might think.

Let’s look at these three components of a survival situation and how you can prepare for, or prevent, them.

This peril is greatest for day-hikers who don’t expect to be out past nightfall and neglect to pack a headlamp or flashlight. That simple oversight can have serious consequences.

If your outing takes longer than expected, darkness—and a temperature drop—may catch you by surprise. Without a light, continuing to hike can become difficult and even dangerous. An unplanned night out can abruptly turn into a reality. What’s more, darkness compounds the situation, making survival tasks, such as constructing an emergency shelter, more difficult.

The simple solution, of course, is to always carry a light, avoiding a survival situation before it begins.

Wind, rain, and cold not only increase the possibility of hypothermia, they also make essential survival tasks significantly more difficult.

Have you ever tried to build a fire in the rain, when dry wood is scarce? Or set up an emergency shelter in a raging storm? Neither is easy, to say the least, and may be impossible, depending on conditions.

To best prepare, carry extra clothing for warmth and protection from the elements, including cold nighttime temperatures. You should also pack a heavy-duty trash bag— an essential survival kit item—and know how to turn it into an emergency poncho.

Try this experiment: Attempt to unfold and then wrap yourself in a space blanket, a commonly carried piece of survival gear, using only one hand. It’s exceptionally difficult and illustrates the type of challenge you could face in the wake of an injury, especially if you are alone. Simple tasks can become remarkably hard—even more so in windy and wet conditions. Worse yet, a major leg injury could immobilize you. Do you have the gear and skills needed to deal with such scenarios?

You should always carry a first-aid kit, but you should also evaluate your survival gear for use in the event of a debilitating injury. For example, some fire starters and pocket knives can be operated with only one hand, and in the event of a leg injury, a garbage-bag survival poncho requires much less mobility to construct than an emergency tarp shelter.

Be aware, prepare, and you’re more likely to stay alive out there.

Photo: iStock

Monday, January 25, 2016

Tuckerman Ravine Avalanches and a Key Snow Shovel Tip

The big snow in the Mid-Atlantic and New York regions has put avalanche safety on my mind, especially after watching these two videos of skier-triggered avalanches in recent years in New Hampshire's Tuckerman Ravine:

If you're planning on heading up to Tuckerman or Huntington Ravine, always check the latest avalanche advisory from the Mount Washington Avalanche Center, which posts daily updates throughout the winter season. And if you're hitting the slopes, make sure that everybody in your group carries the avalanche safety essentials—shovel, probe, and beacon—and knows how to use them should the worst happen.

There's a lot to know and learn when it comes to avalanche safety and equipment, but I did want to highlight a key point about one of the essential items: your snow shovel.

Metal not Plastic!
If you have to dig out a buried avalanche victim, you will be contending with some extremely hard snow. Following an avalanche, the disturbed snow will rapidly set, or sinter, and become hard-packed and difficult to penetrate or move. It's much more like digging through concrete than shoveling fluff.

Voile Telepro T6
Which is why a metal shovel blade is vastly superior when it comes to avalanche safety. A plastic blade simply does not have the strength, sharp edge, or heft needed to effectively dig through avalanche debris. So do not be tempted by lighter weight plastic versions, and definitely do not be tempted by something like a Snow Claw, which is all but useless in an avalanche rescue scenario.

My personal favorite shovels are the Voile Telepro series. I particularly recommend the styles with D-handles, which are much easier and more comfortable to use with mittens. (Most shovels feature T-handles, which I find to be difficult and uncomfortable to use with bulky gloves or mittens.)  Telepro shovels are definitely a bit heavier than other options, but well worth it in my opinion.

Stay safe out there.

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Snowshoeing 101: A Round-Up of Everything You Need to Know

I've covered a lot of ground on snowshoes, both in the snowy backcountry and in many an article over the years. Snow is falling even as I write this, conditions in New Hampshire and Maine are prime for some quality stomping, and further inspiration awaits on the National Weather Service's in-depth snow information page for the Northeast.
As we enter into the snowy heart of winter, here's a round-up of key snowshoeing advice:

Winter Walkers: How to Choose the Right Snowshoes
If you know nothing about snowshoes, this high-level primer is a great place to start. From traction to bindings to sizing, you'll quickly get a handle on the key features to consider when shopping for a pair of snowshoes.

The Best Boots for Snowshoeing? Five Key Features to Consider
Snowshoes are only half of your snow-stomping footwear set-up. Choosing the right pair of boots to strap in makes a tremendous difference in comfort, warmth, and performance.

Photo: MAD Hippies Life/Flickr

Snowshoe Poles vs. Trekking Poles
A pair of snowshoe poles is invaluable and nearly essential for balance and control in variable snow conditions and terrain. But don't get suckered into spending money on a pair of so-called 'snowshoe poles'—it's much easier (and cheaper) to upgrade your trekking poles instead.

Photo: Ryan Johnson/Flickr
Understanding Flotation: What Size Snowshoe Do You Need? 
Snowshoes reduce how deep you sink into the snow, a feature known as flotation. The exact equation for how much you sink—er, float—depends on three basic factors: the size of the snowshoe, how much you weigh, and the density of the snow. The right size snowshoe for you will depend on where and how you use them.

Get a grip. The MSR Revo Ascent 2.

The Latest, Greatest Snowshoes for Serious Winter Adventure
If you're considering tackling the high peaks of the Northeast this winter, this round-up is for you: a review of the best, toothiest, and most aggressive snowshoes to consider for steep terrain, variable and icy conditions, and the full spectrum of Northeast winter.
Stomp on!

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Best Pyramid Tents: A Review of the Options

I love pyramid tents. They are lightweight, compact, simple to pitch, bomber in weather, and spacious with headroom to spare.

They do have one big drawback, of course. There is no floor, so you'll be setting up shop directly on the ground or snow. You'll need to select your site carefully in rainy weather to prevent water from running into and collecting inside the tent. And bugs can usually find their way in.  But if you can handle these minor inconveniences, there are few shelters that offer as much space and protection for so little weight.

These days a multitude of options are available. Here are four of my favorites:

Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid
This ultralight one- to two-person shelter sets up with a single trekking pole. The rectangular footprint measures 104 x 60 inches, with a variable peak height of around 56 inches. The standard silnylon version ($260) weighs in at a scant 20 ounces, not including stakes or guylines, the cuben fiber version a featherweight 12.5 ounces ($460). For more, check out this entertaining and thorough review.

Mountain Laurel Designs offers a range of other pyramid tents and accessories, including the roomier Duomid XL (24 ounces, $365), capacious Supermid (29 ounces, $385), and inner bug protection nets for all styles.

Black Diamond Mega Light
This is the classic pyramid tent. Black Diamond has been making it for well over a decade, with virtually no changes to its time-tested and proven design. The square footprint (86 x 86 inches) and 57-inch peak height provide room for up to four (or ample space for two). And unlike many other pyramid tents, it comes with its own carbon fiber center pole; no trekking poles are required (though you can pitch the tent with them if desired).

As pyramid tents go, however, it is on the heavier side (2 pounds, 13 ounces, including center pole, stakes, guylines, and stuff sack; $289).
Mountain Hardwear Hoopla
One drawback of pyramid designs is the fact that the walls slant inward relatively quickly, which reduces headroom and usable space. The Hoopla solves that problem with a circular pole ring near the top, which makes the walls more vertical and increases headroom substantially; and a hexagonal footprint, which also increases space. (Both these features, however, do make pitching the tent slightly more complicated and time-consuming.)

The shelter requires a trekking pole for the center pole support, can accommodate up to four people, and weighs in at a lightweight 2 pounds, 3 ounces, including stakes, guylines, and stuff sack ($375).

Brooks-Range Mountaineering Stubai
For big winter and mountaineering trips, this capacious shelter features a five-sided pentagonal footprint and can accommodate up to five people. Unlike most other pyramid tents, it features ground flaps around the perimeter that can be covered with snow for a rock-solid pitch. Two tiers of tie-out loops provide additional options for an ultra-strong setup for the most severe conditions.

It makes for a great communal cook tent and shelter for base camp or a lightweight shelter for a larger group. Like the Mega Light, it comes with its own center pole, or you can use trekking/ski poles for set up (3 pounds, 5 ounces, not including guy lines, center pole, or stakes; $299).

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Cut the (Cat) Crap: Do Anti-Fogging Treatments Really Work?

As I highlighted in the current issue of AMC Outdoors, there really is a product called Cat Crap. It's been my go-to anti-fogging treatment for goggles for many years. That's not to say there aren't other options, many of which perform adequately.

Photo: Joe Shlabotnik/Flickr
Regardless of which anti-fogging product you choose, however, it's important to understand one thing: There is no truly fog-proof treatment for your goggles or glasses in existence, especially if you're out in very cold conditions. Based on my experience, different products all help reduce fogging, but none of them completely eliminates it. Which is why it's so important to first hew to the following guidelines.

Anti-fogging basics
1. Don't funnel your moist breath into your goggles or glasses.
A fully zipped jacket collar, neck gaiter pulled over your lower face, or poorly venting face mask can all direct your warm, moisture-laden breath upwards and onto your eyewear lenses. Sort out your clothing system before you hit the cold-weather trails to avoid this.

2. Minimize sweating.
While it's impossible to completely eliminate sweating, you should avoid episodes of profuse perspiration, which create ample amounts of moisture around your head and face that make fogged lenses much more likely.

3. Go big on the goggles.
Larger goggles generally provide better airflow, which helps reduce the likelihood of fogged lenses. "Over-the-glasses" (OTG) goggles are larger styles designed to fit over regular glasses and a good option for minimizing fogging.

Anti-fogging products
Though it's hard to beat Cat Crap, a range of other options are out there. Some of the better ones include Fogtech DX, available as either a liquid treatment ($11.98 on Amazon) or disposable wipes ($1 to $2 per wipe, depending how many you buy); TYR Anti-Fog Spray, an inexpensive but reasonably effective liquid treatment ($3.99); and Oakley's Nanoclear Hydrophobic Lens Cleaner Kit ($20), a well-reviewed liquid treatment that provides nanoclear vision, whatever that means.

As a general rule, definitely choose liquid treatments over wipes—though they are slightly messier and less convenient to apply, they last much, much longer.

Alternatively you can invest in some newfangled goggle technology. Some higher-end models feature small, battery-operated fans to help eliminate moisture, while others feature heated lenses that keep moisture at bay. Expect to pay $150 or more for either option.

“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Top Equipped Posts of 2015

Another year full of gear. Here's my annual round-up of the top posts from the past year, both by traffic and by personal favorites.

Most popular posts from 2015

6. The Blizzard is Here! Don't Just Shovel It—Build a Quinzee!
Photo: Chewonki Semester School; Flickr
A quinzee is a giant pile of snow that you then hollow out to create a shelter—essentially it's a build-it-yourself snow cave. Knowing how to construct one is a useful winter survival skill, a fun activity to do with kids, and a potential use for mountains of post-blizzard snow.

5. Like to Kill Ticks? Put Them in the Dryer
Photo: Mislav Marohnić/Flickr
I hate ticks and their quest to find a blood meal from my succulent flesh. If you're like me, you probably prefer to keep your blood to yourself—and to avoid potential exposure to Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Fortunately, there's one sure-fire way to kill any ticks that might have hitched a ride on your clothing.

4. 2015 Foliage Update—Late but Likely to Be Spectacular
Warm fall weather delayed the onset of peak foliage by several weeks in 2015, as this series of foliage maps illustrate.

3. National Geographic: New Hampshire Hike One of Top 20 in the World
Photo: Marc Chalufour
National Geographic Adventure published a round-up of the world's best hikes, based on the recommendations of 20 accomplished outdoor adventurers. The globe-spanning collection includes trails in Iceland, Uganda, Newfoundland, and New Zealand, among other places—as well as a classic adventure right here in New Hampshire.

2. Use Hand Warmers? One Simple Trick Makes Them Last Longer. A Lot Longer.
Photo: Heat Factory
Most disposable hand warmers provide several hours of quality heat, but what if you only need warmth for a limited time? Don't waste perfectly good heat by throwing out a hand warmer after only a short use! Save it for when you need it with this über-simple technique.

1. Forget the Apple Watch. Put a Multi-Tool on Your Wrist Instead
This latest creation from Leatherman is the Tread, a bracelet composed of interconnected steel links, each one featuring a different set of tools, including multiple screwdrivers, hex wrenches, a small cutting hook, and more. All told, the Tread contains 25 individual tools and weighs in at 5.3 ounces.

Author's Favorites

And here are my personal three favorite posts from 2015.

3. The World's Wooliest Sheep: Average Sweater Output per Shearing
Photo: RSPCA
Meet Chris. He is an Australian Merino sheep who wandered from his flock and roamed on his own for six years. When he was finally found and sheared, Chris was toting nearly 90 pounds of wool--enough to knit an estimated 30 sweaters and set an unofficial world record.

2. If 8 Feet of Snow Instantly Melts, How Deep Is the Puddle?
If there's one map that captures the magnitude of last winter's snowfall, it's this one.

1. Best Backpack Ever Made? The Whipsnake 37 Trillion
  No post made me laugh harder in 2015. Enjoy! 

Happy New Year!

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.