Appalachian Mountain Club

Hiking FAQs


Welcome to the Appalachian Mountain Club!  This FAQ page is designed for new members who are not sure how to choose a hike to match their ability level or what to bring for a day in the outdoors, and for special considerations during winter hiking. The New York-North Jersey Chapter lists 10 to 24 hikes every weekend so it is important for new hikers to be honest in your self-assessment – we want you to enjoy yourself!

 

NEW HIKERS

Who may participate on an AMC hike?

Club hikes are intended for adults (18 years and over) unless otherwise noted. All participants must be physically able to participate in the activity described in the Schedule and they must also be equipped with appropriate clothing, gear, and supplies for a day in the woods. Non-members may hike a few times as guests, and should join AMC if they wish to continue hiking with the club.

How can I decide which hike would be best for me?
Hikes are rated based on pace, terrain and distance, followed by the letter H (organized by the Hiking Committee), W (organized by the Walks and Outings Committee), S (organized by the Singles and Sociables Committee) or Y (organized by the Young Members Committee). These are explained in the front pages of the Schedule. For example, a good beginner hike would be a 2C5(H), which means the pace (2) is a moderate and steady; the terrain (C) is mainly gentle rolling hills and hiking trails; and the distance (5) is estimated at 5 miles. If you are a new AMC hiker, start with a slower, easier hike rather than a faster, more difficult one. Never choose a hike solely because of its location!
For information about hikes offered by the various committees, please consult the Schedule and the chapter website. All AMC hikes and walks are open to all AMC members regardless of age or marital status, but are especially geared to the groups the different committees serve.

Does AMC offer any special programs for new hikers?
Yes. The Open House evenings for prospective and new members are held at the AMC NYC Office. If you are new to the club and/or hiking, this will show some items that will make your first hike more enjoyable, and help you to prepare for seasonal conditions. All current and prospective members are welcome. Orientation nights for new and long-term members are usually scheduled for one Monday each month. Join in for an informal discussion of how you can become involved and really enjoy your AMC membership. These events are held at the AMC NY-NoJ office, 5 West 63rd Street, Suite 220 and other locations. Please check the current schedule: Open Houses and Orientation Sessions

Where can I find trail descriptions of AMC hikes?
There are many guidebooks available, including the New York Walk Book and the New Jersey Walk Book, which are considered classics. Harriman Trails: A Guide and History by Bill Myles offers detailed information about trails inside this 50,000-acre treasure, and historical information about its past, its people, and its archeological sites. Another very good hiking guide is 50 Hikes in the Lower Hudson Valley by Stella Green and H. Neil Zimmerman.

The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference website has a wealth of information about area hikes and offers a discount on guidebooks purchased in combination with trail maps, and discounts on all purchases to TC members. Also visit the New York New Jersey Trail Conference, which describe many area hikes.

Do I need to register for AMC hikes?
Unless otherwise noted, all hikes are “show and go,” which means that you meet the group at a designated time and place. Please familiarize yourself with the hike codes and transportation codes so you can avoid calling the leader for information that is readily available to you. Only call if you have a question that is not answered in the hike description, or if the leader requires that you confirm that the hike is on, or if the size of the group is limited. Please call the leader at the time designated in the hike description in the Schedule. When you join an AMC hike, you must sign the liability waiver at the meeting place and give a contact name and phone number. This is for your own safety.

Do I need a car to get to AMC hikes?
No. Most hikes meet at locations accessible by bus or train, and public transportation codes, included in hike descriptions, are covered in the Transportation Codes. New hikers should confirm the bus or train schedule with the transit company as the times could change.

Where in the Port Authority Bus Terminal can I buy a bus ticket?
See the ticket counter locations in the Transportation Code section of the Schedule. Buy a one-way ticket because most hike leaders try to match bus riders with drivers for the trip back. If you have never taken the bus before, ask the driver to announce your stop. You can also ask other hikers if they are getting off at the same stop.

Where can I buy a train ticket?
Most Metro North and NJ Transit stations have vending machines. Some stations have both ticket agents and vending machines. Arrive at your station early enough to purchase your ticket before boarding the train because there is a substantial surcharge on tickets purchased aboard. Buy a one-way ticket because most hike leaders try to match train riders with drivers for the trip back.

Are there any fare discounts especially for hikers?
Metro North offers a 10-trip off-peak Manhattan to Cold Spring ticket book that saves 10 to 15 percent off the one-way off-peak fare. It is valid for one year and can be used by more than one person, even when they are traveling together. Senior hikers (over 65) get a 50% discount, even when purchasing tickets on the train. You can save an additional 5% when you buy your tickets online and have them mailed to you.

Short Line Bus Senior hikers (over 62) receive a fare discount of 50% at all times.

NJ Transit Rail offers a variety of discount fares, including Off-Peak Round Trips, Ten-Trip Round Trips, and Senior (over 62) discounts.

If I am driving, where do I meet the group? 
Drivers should plan to arrive at the meeting place described in the Transportation Codes at least ten minutes before the bus or train arrival time so you can don your boots and be ready to go when the train or bus arrives.

Where do I get driving directions to the meeting place?
You should consult your road atlas, or a map site online, to find the town. In addition directions can be found by accessing our webpage dedicated to directions to frequent AMC meeting places. The Transportation Codes gives detailed directions on where to park. Please read the directions carefully because if you park in an off-limits area you are likely to get a ticket or be towed. And please do not call the hike leader for travel directions unless you have tried all possible ways of finding the location and still have questions.

If I get a ride back to the city, should I offer to share the cost of gas and tolls?
Passengers should offer to share the costs equally with the driver. Ask the driver; as a rule of thumb, a ride from Harriman to Manhattan would be $5.00. Also see the Car Transportation guidelines following the Transportation Codes.

Can I wear my jeans and a sweatshirt?
Cotton is not recommended except in very hot weather, and jeans are not comfortable for hiking. In the cooler months, we still get very hot and sweaty while hiking. When stopping for breaks, we cool down quickly and wet cotton clothes can cause hypothermia posing a risk not only to the hiker but to the group as well. Most hikers wear synthetic clothes, in layers, because they wick moisture away from the skin and dry quickly. You will also need a water resistant windbreaker with a hood in case of a sudden rainstorm. If you don’t own one, you can get an emergency poncho in many large drugstores. In cold weather, a fleece or wool hat is needed, a fleece or wool headband if you get too warm in a hat, and extra items in your backpack might include a fleece vest, a windbreaker, two or more extra pairs of gloves in case the first pair gets wet; an extra shirt to change into for the ride home, and always, an extra pair of hiking socks. A leader can refuse a hiker if he/she deems the hiker is not attired in a manner appropriate to the conditions. Also see our Winter Hiking FAQs.

Do I need hiking boots or can I wear sneakers?
Hiking boots are probably more important for new hikers than for seasoned pros who nimbly hop among rocks and across ledges! It’s more important to have a properly fitted boot and good socks than to make a fashion statement, so go to a sporting goods retailer who knows how to fit boots. There is much to choose from, so take your time, and do check out sale items. A good boot fitter can also make suggestions about socks. Most hikers would agree that good hiking socks are just as important as properly fitted boots when it comes to preventing blisters and foot pain.  A leader may refuse a hiker who does not have appropriate footgear.

How do I choose hiking boots that will be right for me?
All the top brands, from EMS and L.L. Bean to Asolo and Solomon, produce boots of comparable quality within each price range. The difference between boots lies in the use for which they were designed, which affects the cost. For example, boots for hiking on woodland trails will cost around $70 or $80, while a boot designed for hopping along ledges and sticking to steep rocks will cost around $160, whether it’s made by Garmont, Merrell, or La Sportiva. Boots designed for heavy-duty winter use, such as the Vasque Alpine, made with one-piece uppers and a steel shank that allows for the safe use of crampons, cost around $250. If you need a boot with a waterproof Gore-Tex liner, that will add more to the price. For most winter hiking, though, a mid-weight waterproof boot with a good tread, a wicking polyester sock liner worn under your wool socks, and a pair of waterproof gaiters will probably suffice when paired with some sort of cleats or creepers to prevent falls on ice.
So the first step in choosing hiking boots is to determine what kind of hiking you’re most likely to be doing. Then go to a retailer known for expertise in fitting boots. A good boot fitter will measure your feet and take note of any conditions, such as pronation, that might require a supportive foot bed in order to get the best possible fit. Take along the socks you like wear for hiking. Be patient, and if you don’t think the selection is broad enough, go to another store. Some stores that offer expert boot fitting will even take returns on boots that have been worn if the boot turns out to be a bad fit; Eastern Mountain Sports is one.

How can I tell if the boots are properly fitted?
The boots should be snug at the heel but roomy enough for you to wiggle your toes. One way to test for a good fit is to move your foot forward in the unlaced boot so that your toes touch the front of the boot. There should be just enough room for your forefinger to fit between your heel and the back of the boot. If you are an in-between size, have the boots fitted to your larger foot and try using a more cushioned insert, or heavier socks, in the boot for your smaller foot. Sporting goods stores that cater to hikers will have a slanted ramp that you can walk up and down to test the boots for comfort when walking up and down hills.

Do I have to break in the boots before wearing them on a hike?

Before you wear a pair of new boots to hike over hilly, rocky terrain, you might want to wear them around town for a day to be sure they fit comfortably.  Unless you have bought heavy-duty, full-grain leather backpacking boots, which will take several wearings before they lose some of their original stiffness, most boots will begin conforming to your foot after a few miles of walking. On your first outing with new boots, take along some extra socks of different weights in case you need to make adjustments for a more comfortable fit.

How can I prepare for winter hiking?
If you’ve ever wondered what staying “comfortably cool” could possibly mean at sub-zero temperatures, AMC hike leaders generally offer a weeknight event in the fall to explain the principles behind the mystifying array of high-tech fiber clothing and gadgets. In addition, the almost weekly Open House evenings for prospective and new members are especially geared to this subject as winter approaches.

Traction aids such as Stabilicers or Microspikes may also be necessary, particularly in icy conditions. Some of our leaders require that hikers have them. See the individual hike description or contact the leader if in doubt. These items can be purchased at tents and Trails, Campmor, and EMS.

Are there any discounts available to hikers who need to outfit themselves from head to toe?
Yes. AMC members get a 10% discount on AMC maps and books at the AMC Store. AMC members also get a 10% discount at all non-sale items at Tent & Trails, located at 21 Park Place in Manhattan, near City Hall. Eastern Mountain Sports has an annual Club Day, on which members of AMC, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, and other outdoors organizations are offered a one-day discount on all items not already on sale. New York-New Jersey Trail Conference members receive a 25% discount on NY-NJTC trail maps and guides and a 10% discount from a number of area sporting goods retailers.

How much food and water should I bring for a day hike?
Bring lunch, trail snacks, fresh or dried fruit, a minimum 2 quarts of water (3 quarts when the temperature is over 80 degrees), and in cold weather, a thermos of hot tea or soup in addition. Never skimp on water because it is your responsibility, not the leaders’ or any of the other hikers’, to have enough. After you have hiked various distances in different weather conditions, you will have a better idea of how much water and food you need. You should always carry some extra food, such as high-energy bars, in case you experience a delay or if you feel hungry on the trip back home.

What else should I bring?

  • Daypack
  • ID card
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent and topical benadryl during bug season
  • Small first aid kit with band aids, Ibuprofen, moleskin for blisters
  • A few feet of duct tape rolled onto a ballpoint pen (for everything from kit repairs to blister first aid) 
  • Small amount of toilet paper
  • Kleenex
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Plastic bags for carrying out your trash (including toilet paper)

Optional items:

  • Sunglasses
  • Bandanna
  • Whistle
  • Trail maps and compass
  • Pocketknife
  • Headlamp or small flashlight
  • Foam pad to sit on during breaks
  • Mylar “space blanket” – takes up little space, useful in case of downpour or emergency

What is the role of the leader and the assistant leader?
It’s the leader’s responsibility to plan and organize the hike and to guide the group, from the designated meeting place until the time of departure. The leader’s decisions about the route and group conduct are final. The assistant leader is there to assist the leader, who may delegate certain roles to that person. Some leaders also bring a particular expertise to their outings, such as orienteering, natural history, geology, botany, local history, etc. AMC leaders are volunteers who want to provide an enjoyable day in the woods, so it is important to follow their guidance and to observe all park regulations and club rules. Keep in mind that hiking involves a certain element of risk and that your personal safety is your responsibility, not the leader’s and that lack of preparation on your part can adversely impact the group as a whole.

What is the role of the sweep?
The sweep is appointed by the leader before the hike begins, and it is this hiker’s role to remain at the very end of the group so he or she can make sure that nobody is left behind. For the safety of the group, the weakest or slowest member of the group should never be appointed sweep. Always stay in front of the sweep. If you need a separation break before the leader calls one, shout ahead to request that leader stop. Never leave the group for a solo separation!

What if I want to go faster than the group or if I can’t keep up?
It is best to remain with the group even if you feel that the pace is too slow. If you do go ahead, the leader will assume that you have left the hike, and will note the sign-in sheet accordingly. If you find that you cannot keep up with the group, it is best to turn back at the very beginning of the hike, after notifying the leader. Remember to read the hike descriptions carefully so you can chose a hike appropriate for your ability.

What is a separation?
Literally, separating the group by gender for a bathroom break in the woods. Usually one group goes ahead, then calls back to the other when ready to resume the hike.

What is “low impact hiking”?
Low impact hiking practices help preserve the trails and woodlands we enjoy on hikes, so please stay on trails and on rocks where possible to avoid trampling the vegetation, and during a separation, stay at least 50 feet away from a water source and at least 10 feet away from the trail. Bring a plastic bag to carry out whatever you pack in, and please carry out what others have carelessly left behind.

How can I find out about AMC’s short notice hikes?
If you would like to receive information about last-minutes hikes or walks not listed in the AMC Schedule, send an email  to hikeamc-subscribe@yahoogroup.com. Include your full name and AMC membership number, which appears on the mailing label of your AMC Outdoors magazine and can be accessed online in the Membership Center.

Can I bring my dog on AMC hikes?
No, unless the description specifically states that the hike is “dog friendly.”  On those hikes, it is required that the animal be on a leash at all times in compliance with the rules and regulations of the park.

Can I use my cell phone on a hike?
No, cell phone usage is not allowed except in the case of an emergency or special situation in which case it should be used away from the group.  Otherwise cell phones should be turned off.

 

WINTER HIKING

What kind of clothing do I need to keep warm?

As you will soon find out, cold is usually not the issue as long as you are moving. But when you stop, you will quickly cool down, and if you’re wearing too much clothing, you’ll quickly overheat. Layering is the key to being comfortable. And keep in mind that it’s easier to stay warm than it is to get warm once you feel chilled.

Most guides will advise you to start out with three layers. The base layer (closest to the skin) is usually some sort of moisture-wicking long underwear. A wicking turtleneck with a zipper at the neck makes a good base layer. Winter hikers find that long underwear on the legs is not necessary unless the temperature falls below 30 degrees, or if it’s very windy.  You may feel otherwise. Silk and cotton should be avoided because they are not moisture-wicking fabrics and will not dry when they get wet from perspiration. The waffle-type of long underwear you wore as a kid was probably cotton and should be avoided.

The second layer is for keeping you warm. On top, this can be either a wool sweater (an excellent insulator even when wet) or a fleece jacket. On most days, this layer will be taken off once you get warmed up. On your legs, wear either water-resistant hiking pants or nylon wind blocking pants. If you invest in this type of pant, look for ones with side zippers the full length of the leg that you can open and close in order to regulate your body temperature. The long zippers also allow you to get your pants on over your boots easily.  Many people wear running tights, with a pair of shorts over the top so they can have pockets.  A pair of wind- or waterproof pants can easily be donned over tights when the temperature drops. Running tights come in different thicknesses, allowing you to wear what is most appropriate for the temperature.

For the top layer, you need some sort of water- and wind-resistant jacket.  The wind/rain jacket you wear during the warmer months should suffice as long as you also bring a down or a Gore-Tex jacket to keep warm during lunch and to wear on the way home.  A down jacket is not essential, but this extra layer would be useful should an emergency come up on the trail.  On windy days, a base layer and the wind jacket may be all that is needed.  If you don’t have a Gore-Tex jacket, you will need some sort of water- and wind-resistant coated nylon jacket.  If you decide to invest in Gore-Tex, let the salesperson know what activities you are planning to do.  Jackets made for skiing and snowboarding have too many insulating layers for hiking.

If it is very cold (below 30 degrees), it’s a good idea to carry extra layers, and always bring an extra pair of hiking socks.  Always put your warm layers on as soon as you stop for lunch or any other extended break longer than a minute or two because it’s easier to stay warm than it is to get warm once you feel chilled.

How do I keep from hands and feet from freezing?

Hands and feet are the most vulnerable to cold.  Winter hikers like to wear glove liners on their hands at all times because they keep you warm while allowing enough movement to adjust snowshoes or crampons.  If it is very cold, add waterproof mittens or fleece gloves.  If you wear glove liners, bring several pairs because they do get wet.  For socks, most people wear a sock liner and a wool or performance type of sock.  Men’s nylon dress socks work well as sock liners.  Most of our members wear leather hiking boots in winter, which need to be waterproofed with something like Nikwax or SnoSeal. Stream crossings can be  high in winter and sometimes stepping on an underwater rock is far safer than stepping on an icy exposed rock.  If you easily get cold feet, you may want to consider buying waterproof boots.

If you don’t have a pair of water resistant, knee length gaiters, they should be at the top of your list of new purchases. Gaiters are not worn to keep your legs warm, although they help. You must have these for winter hiking to keep the snow from getting into your boots at the ankle. Many hike leaders will turn back someone who does not have gaiters when there is snow on the ground.

A comment about hats

It goes without saying that a hat is necessary.  Again wool and fleece work the best.  Some people prefer a headband instead of a hat.  Hikers are constantly putting hats on and taking them off to keep from overheating. If you prefer wool hats and are prone to sweating, you can try wearing a fleece headband under your hat to keep the hat from getting wet.  A balaclava is lightweight and goes along way in an emergency to keep your entire face and neck warm.

Is there anything else I need to bring?

  • Some items that are optional in the summer become more critical in winter. For example:
  • Sunglasses may be absolutely necessary when glare levels are high.
  • Hiking poles, or a walking stick, are necessary. Although very surefooted hikers can get away without poles, you will often encounter water crossings that can only be navigated with a pole.
  • Don’t forget your bandana.  Your nose will get drippy on a cold day and tissues shred too easy.
  • You need some sort of insulating pad to sit on at lunch time.  A warm fanny on a cold rock always results in a cold fanny!  A closed foam pad will keep you warm. You can purchase a pad made for this use, or you can keep an eye out for a discarded piece of closed cell foam packing material.
  • A headlamp with extra batteries is also essential due to the short days.  Be sure to turn your batteries to the opposite poles to keep your lamp from accidentally turning on in your pack.  Extra batteries should be carried close to the body and kept warm on cold days or they will deplete.

What should I bring for food and drink on the trail?

Keeping hydrated in winter can be quite a challenge.  Although you may not feel thirsty, you will be loosing fluids just as fast as you do in the summer.  On very cold days, boil your water before setting out. It will cool down by the time you drink it. In freezing weather, water bottles need to be insulated.  An old wool sock works well for this purpose.  Turn the bottle upside down to prevent the water from freezing at the neck.   Often times you will need to force yourself to drink, but a dehydrated hiker will feel chilled faster, and faces the same risks that occur in the warmer months. Some people also bring a thermos with a hot drink for comfort.

Consuming enough calories is also a challenge on cold days.  Any hiker that does not eat enough will get chilled and run out of energy very quickly.  Keep some kind of food handy in your pocket. This is not the time to worry about your diet — you will burn plenty of calories on the trail.  Gorp with plenty of chocolate is a favorite.  Food carried in your backpack will freeze at temperatures below ADD INFO. If you plan to be out in extreme weather, put your lunch in an insulated bag. Don’t expect a lunch break to last longer than about 15 minutes.  On days below 30 degrees, it could be even shorter.

Just what are Microspikes, Stabilicers, crampons, and snowshoes?

Many leaders require that you bring equipment such as Microspikes, Stabilicers, crampons, and snowshoes.

Microspikes: These will keep you from slipping on hard-packed, icy trails. Some leaders like to find less-used trails to avoid ice, but this is not always possible, especially when a snowfall is followed by a warm spell that causes melting.  Some leaders may require instep crampons which are more secure than Microspikes, but harder to walk on when there are bare patches or rocks.

Stabilicers: These work similar to Microspikes, but are heavier to wear and carry.

4 Point Crampon or 6 Point Crampon: If you decide to hike regularly throughout the winter, you might prefer 6 point instep crampons rather than 4 point because they stay in position better and provide more stability.  Ten-point crampons are needed on solid ice pack, such as you find in the spring at the upper elevations in the Catskills.   Always carry your crampons in winter because trail conditions are not always predictable.  In all cases, crampons need to be pre-adjusted to fit your boot at home.  You should also practice putting them on and off with glove liners on.

The New York-North Jersey Chapter also sponsors snowshoe hikes.  If the leader requires snowshoes, don’t show up without them because he or she might decide to spend the entire day off-trail in deep snow – without the required gear you would be turned back.  Before purchasing a pair of snowshoes, ask around for advice.  Find a snowshoe with a binding that is easily operated.  You also want to buy the smallest snowshoe that suits the snow conditions.  The length is dependent on your body weight plus your pack weight and how deep the snow is.  In Harriman, a small woman can get away with a 21 inch snowshoe and some men can get away with 25 inch snow shoes.  Talk with other hikers and salespeople.  Whatever you purchase needs to have crampons on the bottom to allow you to grip into the snow or ice while going up and down hill.  Be very careful not to choose snowshoes made for walking on flat golf courses or fields because they do not function for hiking up and down hills.  You can sometimes find good deals on websites such as eBay and Campmor.  Keep in mind that is very difficult to walk in snowshoes without poles.  You should also practice putting on and taking off your snowshoes at home.

A final word of advice about winter hiking

Although all this sounds like a lot of information – and gear – winter hiking is really pretty easy.  The only way to find out what works best for you is to go out and try a hike. For your first outing in the snow, you could even go to your local park for a quick, energetic hike. Hikes in areas such as Fahnestock and Breakneck Ridge may require more clothing and equipment than what is needed in Harriman as these areas are higher, can be windier, and get more snow.  If you are not sure what to wear, bring lots of thin layers.  Talk with your leader and other hikers.  Ask to see their gear.  On some hikes, the main topic of conversation is gear.  Once you learn what works for you, winter may become your favorite hiking season.