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Active Outdoors

Test driving the trails

Hiking around this summer, I've had a chance to try out a few new pieces of gear.

The Appalachian Mountain Club unveiled two of the latest editions of its pre-eminent guidebooks in April - White Mountain Guide ($24.95) and Maine Mountain Guide ($23.95).

The books have been in hiker backpacks for scores of years and are invaluable. Yet, there are those hikers who find them heavy to carry while others, sometimes new hikers, find piecing together hikes a tad cumbersome.

When deadline time came around for the White Mountain Guide (29th), Hurricane Irene swooped in and caused a heap of hurt across Northern New England. A deadline extension was granted to the book's White Mountain-living co-editors Steve Smith and Mike Dickerman, and they got in what they could about a number of trails impacted by the storm.

The book also contains some new trails like a few sections of the Cohos Trail (the pathway from Crawford Notch to the Canadian border), the Mud Pond Trail in Pondicherry and a couple of North Conway area trails like the Moat Mineral Site Trail.

Not only is the book extensive with its 500-plus trails, so are the six maps by cartographer Larry Garland of Jackson, complete with well-appreciated segment distances.

Of course, the guide's a thick book, with more than 646 pages. The maps don't fit in the back like guides past. There are those who might find this troublesome in a world of apps and GPS. Get over it. Photocopy the hike or just carry the guidebook on the trail. No matter where you are, you'll have coverage.

The same holds true for the 10th edition of the Maine Mountain Guide. It, too, is getting thicker. That's because they added a slew of new trails, including trails from the seemingly forever expanding Maine Huts and Trails network. There are some 75 "new" mountains and about 200 "new" trails, increasing the book to some 402 pages from 258 and the maps fit in the back (seven on two maps). And, egads, there is even a map for Tumbledown Mountain smack in the book on page 138. Who says old dogs can't learn new tricks? There are five in-book maps also including western Maine's Pleasant Mountain and a couple in Acadia National Park.

Editor Carey Kish is an avid hiker and he's included lots of under-the-radar mountains in unheralded locations from Bridgton to Norway and beyond. He's also beefed up the suggested hikes in the back of each section, a boon to those who like the greatest hits sections of the guides. With so many new opportunities, it looks like the ninth edition is bound for eternity on the shelf.

Like its White Mountain cousin, the maps are colorful, accurate and GPS-based.

I beat on hiking boots. I bought a pair of Nevados in April at an outlet store for 40 bucks and three months later (after climbing the Bonds and peaks in Ireland), retired them. Zero arch support.

That's not the case with Tecnica's Stardom II GTX ($185) boots. They cost more than the outlet boots, but there is plenty of support underfoot.

Ankle and arch support are key for me. The suede boot is also stylish, but who notices in the mud. Though there's Gore-tex and its waterproof protection, the boot also contains small slits for ventilation. I forgot about those and had a scare when I thought I saw my socks through the side of the boots the first time out. The boots did get soaked inside and out in a number of downpours while hiking, Gore-tex or not, but for me, the sturdiness and comfort kept me dry at heart.

I picked up a Black Diamond Mercury 65 ($249.95) as I wanted a rugged backpack for both overnights on the trail and something suitable for air and land travel. The lightweight pack is sturdy with plenty of room. It has a zipper that allows it to open like a piece of luggage and has easy access to inside stuff. I like the suspension system that allows movement like a marionette and the zippers for little items in the hip straps. I found the number of straps a nuisance at first and was concerned they might get caught in an airport luggage conveyor. So, I put it in a huge plastic bag at the check-in. No problem.

(Marty Basch can be reached through onetankaway.com.)’

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