Mud Season is nearly upon us. Here’s how to have fun hiking in the slop!
Consider the environment and trail conditions-
As the snow melts and temperatures warm, many hikers start to dream of getting back onto their favorite trails. After a cold and dark winter, sunny weather is enticing for anyone who loves to be outside. While spring weather may seem perfect and the sunshine and warmth suggest that it’s the perfect time to start hiking again, trails still bare the effects of winter weather for months as the ground fully thaws and the snow melts away. In the Northeast and other parts of the country, this transition period between deep winter and the best days of spring is known as Mud Season.
Mud Season is, as the name describes, a period when trails, campsites and dirt roads turn to thick, wet mud. There is a scientific reason behind this phenomenon, one which makes Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Upstate New York particularly susceptible to a mud-filled early spring. During cold New England winters, the ground freezes deeply, then is swiftly covered in deep layers of snow. When the temperature warms in the spring, the snow melts, but can’t seep into the still-frozen ground. The top layer of soil becomes saturated with water, forming a wet mud that dissipates slowly. The result is a muddy mess that only gets worse when hikers walk on the trails or ATVS and cars take to the roads.
While mud probably isn’t enough to defer many hikers, it is important to take into account the impact that hiking on a fragile, soaked trail has on the environment. Walking off of the established trail to avoid big puddles or sustained muddy sections will contribute quickly to erosion and create herd paths that damage nearby vegetation. Consider whether you can handle staying on the trail even when it gets muddy and you start to get covered in mud. If this doesn’t sound fun to you, cancel your hike until the ground dries out.
Even if you are the kind of hiker who likes trouncing through the muck and relishes the idea of being covered in mud from head to toe, you still may not be able to get onto your favorite trails. In order to protect heavily traveled trails, the state of Vermont closes all trails on state land from 4/15 until the Friday before Memorial Day (5/22 this year). Trails in other parts of New England and the Adirondack mountains remain open, but dense mud and remaining ice and snow are prevalent. If you still want to go hiking during mud season, make sure that you have the proper gear (see below).
Dress appropriately for the mud and wet weather-
As with any nasty weather or conditions, the right gear is important. Mud Season is tricky, since you will see the sun and feel the warm air, then pack as if it were a summer hike. Make sure you bring the following pieces of gear to make sure that your Mud Season hike is enjoyable.
For summer hiking, many people have moved toward lightweight, breathable trail runners that are cool and comfortable. Even for longer hikes with a lightweight packs, trail runners are perfect choice for moving quickly. In cold weather and especially when trails are wet and muddy, waterproof shoes are a necessity. While trail runners are great in the summer, when a wet foot will dry over the course of an hour of hiking, your feet will certainly get wet during mud season and will not dry. The result is discomfort or blisters over long mileage as well as the potential to contribute to hypothermia or frostbite when the temperature drops low enough. Look for shoes or boots with a waterproof membrane, such as Gore-Tex, eVent, or a brand’s own proprietary material, which will keep your feet dry and will breathe as you move.
For muddy, wet or snowy trails, gaiters are important accessories to keep moisture and crud out of your boots. Most gaiters are constructed from waterproof/breathable fabrics like Gore-Tex or eVent and will act as a buffer between your waterproof shoes and your pants. Gaiters keep mud off of your lower legs as well and are great for deep snow.
Typically, most hikers have heard and abide by the common warning against cotton, however wool socks are more important than ever during mud season. Since your clothing and footwear is likely to get wet and muddy during mud season, wool socks, which stay warm even when wet are a perfect option. Synthetic socks will certainly not kill you when they get wet, but wool will keep your feet happier and more comfortable on wet spring days.