Even when you’re sleeping in huts every night, hiking in the White Mountains requires considerable planning. With New Hampshire’s notoriously unpredictable weather, it’s wise to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. That means shells for rain, layers for warmth and good footwear for all that granite. Here’s what we took on the final part of our Mountain Series, a three-day hut-to-hut excursion.
MORE OF THE MOUNTAIN SERIES Heli-Hiking in the Bugaboos | At the Foot of the King: A Short Hike in the Swiss Alps | Don’t Underestimate the Whites
Zamberlan Tofane GT
Heavy leather mountaineering boots may seem like overkill for what amounts to a series of day hikes, but we’ve been wearing the Tofane GTs for three years, and now, broken in, they’re as comfortable as house slippers. The payoff for their substantial weight is unmatched protection and support. The uneven trails of the White Mountains were no match for these Italian brutes, which kept ankles from twisting and soles from being beat up by sharp rocks. The Gore-Tex-lined full-grain leather means there’s no need for dancing around mud puddles, and the Norwegian-welt Vibram outsoles grip well on wet tree roots and steep granite equally. A rubber toe rand will keep the most vulnerable leather at the front in good shape for years to come.
Yes, the Tofane GTs are expensive. But these aren’t boots you wear for a season or two and then replace. Handmade in the Dolomites by a storied Old-World brand, these are heirloom boots which, if treated well, could be worn by your grandson when he tackles the White Mountains. Like anything of quality, they improve with age; just give them the attention they deserve and break them in on some shorter hikes before tackling anything epic. The reward will be a lifetime of happy feet.
Outdoor Research Helium II
When we tried the original Helium jacket a couple years ago we couldn’t find much wrong with it. Obviously, OR’s design team has tougher standards than we do because they created an even better version: the Helium II. It’s lighter, more breathable and more waterproof than the original. The best rain shell is the one you don’t notice in your pack on sunny days but that performs well when the skies open up. We didn’t need to pull it out in the Whites thanks to sunny days, but it passed the test regardless: compressed to the size of a Clif Bar and weighing a mere seven ounces, it was the last thing on our mind while we worked up and down the peaks. Back home, though, we’ve been able to test out the merits of the Pertex Shield fabric and can vouch for its waterproof/breathable qualities. A solo chest pocket means there’s not much onboard storage, but that’s an acceptable price for going light and fast.
Westcomb Cayoosh LT Sweater
A down jacket is insurance. You hope you never have to use it, but when temps drop and you’re lost on a ridgeline or stuck on an impromptu bivouac with night falling, you’ll be glad it’s stuffed in the bottom of your pack. The Canadian-made Cayoosh LT is slim cut for movement, with Polartec WindPro side panels that give flexibility not found in puffier jackets. The 800-fill down comes from geese raised by Canadian Hutterites (think Amish of the Great White North) for food and then humanely dispatched. It is supremely warm and possibly the lightest down jacket we’ve tried. While days in the Whites were plenty warm, nights at the huts were chilly and the Cayoosh was a welcome embrace.
Ibex Shak Lite 1/2 Zip
Our love of wool is well known, though we usually go for the fleece of the New Zealand merino. Ibex keeps things stateside with the Shak Lite, sourcing its wool from the regal rambouillet, a hearty beast raised in Montana, and then assembling it in California. Provenance aside, the Shak Lite performs as well as it looks. Worn as a mid-layer, it stayed warm even when we got sweaty under a shell, and it warded off stink as only wool can. In the huts, the Shak Lite helped maintain a modicum of refinement during after-dinner single malts. Our only gripe was a mysterious imprint of the Ibex logo on our white baselayer after a particularly sweaty slog with a pack. We recommend a preliminary washing before wearing. Follow instructions to avoid shrinkage.
When shooters like Jimmy Chin, Dan Patitucci and Christian Pondella use F-Stop backpacks for hauling their camera gear into the mountains, it’s a pretty good indication that the bags are something special. Often, camera backpacks hold bodies and lenses adequately but lack the chops for true backcountry use. F-Stop took input from some of the best photogs around and built a line of pro-level packs and accessories that excel in the vertical world but do equally well around town.
The Kenti is the smallest of the lineup but there’s a lot to love about it. We particularly liked the crescent side pockets that allow access to cameras and lenses without taking the pack off. Just swing it off of one shoulder, unzip and you’re shooting. Though they’re snug, the pockets will each fit a pro-sized DSLR body with a 200-millimeter lens attached. A drybag-style roll-top closure makes it easy to load snacks, layers and a shell, and everything stays dry thanks to the highly water-resistant ripstop nylon packcloth — though for downpours, we’d still opt for the rain cover. An outer back zipper expands to hold smaller stuff and multiple compression straps allow for onboard carry of trekking poles. Fully loaded, the Kenti carries all that weight like a true technical daypack, with wide padded and highly adjustable shoulder and waist straps.
For longer excursions, consider the bigger Satori, which is large enough for multi-day backpacking trips and makes use of F-Stop’s removable padded camera organizers to hold camera gear.
Balega Moh-rino Trail Crew
More wool, but with a twist. Balega’s Moh-rino Crews are made from a blend of South African merino and mohair, the latter of which is the soft hair of the Angora goat and adds some welcome softness to the renowned qualities of the merino. The toe seams are specially linked to prevent rubbing over the miles, and a deeply cupped heel allows for a locked-in fit. A thinner ribbed section across the top of the foot aids in ventilation. These socks are stretchy and comfortable and didn’t leave our feet feeling clammy, even after a long day of hiking. They’re fairly thin, though, so if you wear a high volume boot or are used to thicker socks, you might need to double up or wear a liner sock.