Mud season in the mountains of the Northeast begins as the snow melts and the landscape and trails turn soggy. Depending on the elevation, weather, snowpack, and region, it can stretch anywhere from March through June, with the greater heights of northern New England and New York experiencing the worst of it in May and June.
Before you head out, consider your destination—and choose less soggy destinations and regions when possible. It’s makes for better hiking for you and better protection for otherwise easily damaged trails.
If you do head out into mud season, it’s helpful to know a few things. First what to wear to keep the muck out of your socks. Second how to navigate muddy trails and terrain with minimum damage.
It’s not just mud; squishy brown puddles are everywhere on the trails in spring. Even if conditions aren’t deep enough to suck over the ankles, water can easily sop in if your footwear isn’t waterproof. Whether you’re wearing low-cut trail runners or ankle-high boots, waterproofing is real nice in the Northeast squish. That means a waterproof-breathable line such as Gore-Tex or the equivalent. You can also add extra protection by treating your boots with a PFC-free waterproofing coating, like Nikwax’s Fabric & Leather Proof solution.
It’s no fun to have slimy mud overtop your footwear and seep into your shoes. A higher ankle collar helps prevent it, or you can go up to the next level of protection with a pair ankle gaiters.
Ankle gaiters encompass a range of sizes that are designed primarily to cover only the tops of the boots above the ankle. The styles go by various names—low gaiters, trail gaiters, ankle gaiters—in rough order of how high, durable, and tough they are. Keep in mind that the linchpin aspect of gaiter protection in mud season is the lower seal around your shoe or boots. If it is not tight, water will easily rise underneath it. If it’s really loose, mud can squish its way in as well. A range of options are available, including the classic Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain Low Gaiters ($35).
Hikers can chew up and cause substantial damage to trails during mud season because the ground is so soft. If you are out in such conditions, follow Leave No Trace practices and walk through the mud, not along the vulnerable margins of the trail, which will spread damage across the trail corridor.
To aid in this mission, a pair of trekking poles is particularly useful. They help you probe the depth of the muck ahead of you, help keep your balance as you step on the small and large branches that have often been dropped in to fill bog holes, and maintain your balance on slippery, wet roots. Become the four-legged mud monster you were meant to be!