For the past seven years, Aislinn Sarnacki has covered the outdoor beat as a reporter for the Bangor Daily News. Thanks to her expertise and wide range of skills, Sarnacki’s column, Act Out with Aislinn: Adventures in the Maine Wilderness, has an ever-growing stream of devoted followers, with nearly 3 million page views since its inception. She has descended into ice caves, climbed Katahdin (Maine’s highest peak), and hiked more than 300 trails in the Maine wilderness. While Sarnacki’s job has her doing everything from taking survival courses to kayaking, she spends most of her time hiking the woods of Maine.
We asked Sarnacki about the gear she carries, why hiking boots need a real heel, and why every time you venture out on a day hike, you should pack for a night of survival.
Asolo Nilas ($270)
In college, Sarnacki worked at an outfitter and sold hundreds of hiking boots. “You really get what you pay for,” she says. “With hiking boots, often the ones that cost more weigh less, which is important on a hike.” Right now, Sarnacki relies on Asolo boots for navigating the northeast trails, which are thick with rocks and roots to trip over. They’re waterproof and have a stiff sole and plenty of ankle support. “I’ve had my Asolos for four years, and they’ve yet to wear down. I can climb wet rocks—the grip is fantastic—and perhaps the most important feature, they have a true heel that catches rocks or roots if I slip [to help maintain balance]. It’s the same idea as a heel that catches a stirrup.” At $270, the Asolo Nilas is a four-season investment. They weigh in at just over a pound, and the Gore-Tex lining keeps your feet dry.
New England Alpaca Sock ($29)
If Sarnacki has a mantra, it’s “never wear cotton on a hike.” Common knowledge to many, cotton holds onto moisture. “If you have synthetic, wool, or alpaca, it can wick away sweat where wet cotton gets cold,” says Sarnacki, who loves hiking in New England Alpaca Socks from Maine Alpaca Experience, owned by locals Robin and Corry Pratt. While much of the alpaca used to make the socks come from the Pratts’ Northern Solstice Alpaca Farm, the rest comes from other New England alpaca farmers who contribute fiber to a mill in Massachusetts where they make the socks. After all her years in the woods, Sarnacki is a big believer in alpaca. “What I noticed right away was it kept my feet a comfortable temperature. It can keep them cool on a hot day and warm on a cold day, and it helps them stay dry.” The alpaca fiber is also soft on Sarnacki’s sensitive skin and fights odor—even when she wears the socks several days in a row.
Patagonia Torrentshell ($130)
“If you hike in Maine, we’re talking rain gear. And like hiking boots, it’s about fit,” says Sarnacki, who prefers longer designs that accommodate her tall figure. She uses the Patagonia Torrentshell in all seasons because it’s more breathable than old-fashioned fisherman jackets, and it blocks the wind—key for peak bagging. “I use it as an extra layer, as a windbreaker, for rain, and in the winter with several layers under it. When I’m not wearing it, I bunch it up into the outside pocket of my CamelBak Mule.”
Royal Robbins Bug Barrier Discovery Zip N Go Pants ($110)
As for pants, Sarnacki recommends Royal Robbins Bug Barrier Discovery Zip and Go Pants. “These are ideal for a place where the weather is changing. They have zip-off legs, so you can convert them into shorts mid-hike,” she says. “And they also have [bug repellent built into the fabric]—another plus to protect your legs.”
CamelBak Mule ($110)
“You can never have enough water, and I hike with my dog, so I always end up needing more…I don’t go on a hike without iodine tablets.” For hydration, Sarnacki uses the CamelBak Mule It’s designed for mountain biking, but she uses it while hiking because it features an extra pocket meant for a bike helmet that she uses to stash wet clothes.
SteriPen Ultra ($100)
Sarnacki never leaves home without a SteriPen. “It has a UV light that scrambles the DNA of the microbes in water so you won’t get sick from giardia or who knows what else,” she says. Bonus: The SteriPen Ultra charges by USB or solar panel, so it’s always ready to go, even on long backpacking trips. (The SteriPen also won Outside’s Editor’s Choice Award in 2013.)
Skeeter Skidaddler (from $14) and Tick Spoon for Dogs ($7)
“I would rather wear a bug-net jacket than wear DEET,” says Sarnacki, who relies on Skeeter Skidaddler 100 Percent Natural Insect Repellent, made from essential oils without DEET or citronella. The company also makes a “furry friend” version without cedarwood or patchouli oils, which can bother some dogs. And speaking of dogs and bugs, Sarnacki always brings a tick spoon to pry the critters out of her pup’s fur. “It looks like a measuring spoon with a slot in it, which is ideal because then you’re not pulling their hair out as you would with tweezers when removing a tick.”
According to Sarnacki, you often don’t notice you need a first-aid kit until you reach for one and don’t have it. “I used to hike without one until I fell. My legs bled, and I had nothing to clean it up. I looked like a crazy person. Now I never hike without one,” she says. Sarnacki recommends carrying one kit per group and adding a roll of athletic tape to prepacked first-aid kits. “You can use it to wrap a sprained ankle, splint together fingers, and I pack it for my dog, because he’ll get a cut on a foot pad and tape is great for covering it up. Many premade kits don’t include Benadryl, so I add that, too.” And she never goes on a hike without an emergency blanket. “It’s amazing how quickly you can get lost in the woods in Maine. If someone’s coming to rescue you, it most likely won’t be until the next day,” Sarnacki says.
Sarnacki recommends having both a fire starter and her favorite cheat: “I coat cotton balls in Vaseline and put them in a plastic sandwich bag. They will burn like crazy.” She also packs lip balm in her first-aid kit as an emergency fire starter.
Patagonia Women’s Active Hipster Undies ($24)
“I wear Patagonia underwear for hiking.” And, of course, no cotton allowed. Sarnacki suggests the women’s Active hipster style, which are made from recycled polyester, nylon, and spandex. Designed never to chafe, the undies are breathable and wick sweat away from the crotch.
Petzl Actik Core Headlamp ($70)
Sarnacki uses the Petzl Actik Core, which comes with a rechargeable battery and a USB cord. It’s reasonably priced and features a red light and whistle built into the strap.
Want to hear more from Aislinn Sarnacki? Her second hiking book, Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path, hits bookstores June 1.