By most accounts, Ruthie Puckett has a dream job. She’s the resident manager of LeConte Lodge, a backcountry hotel that sits on top of 6,593-foot Mount LeConte inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. She lives at the lodge from March through November, knocking out a list of duties that run the gamut, from keeping the water system from freezing to performing on-mountain hiker rescues.
Her day begins at 5:30 a.m., when she starts preparing breakfast for her crew and guests. While there is a full list of managerial duties Puckett has to attend to during the workday, if all goes well, there are a few hours in the afternoon where she gets to explore LeConte and the surrounding ridges. And that includes hiking in the snow, whether it’s for a rescue or just for fun.
“We get winter weather very early up here,” Puckett says. “We had a 22-inch blizzard on Halloween last year. It started snowing that evening, and we woke up to waist deep drifts. We had to do a couple of rescues in that storm.” We asked Puckett to detail her favorite pieces of winter hiking gear. Here’s what she had to say.
NO. 1 Kahtoola Micro Spikes
I don’t go anywhere without them from October to May. They offer the best traction for the price that I’ve ever seen. They’re very durable and the design is wonderful. They’re all steel, so they won’t snap like some spikes. I take them on every rescue. $69.95; kahtoola.com
NO. 2 Outdoor Research
I feel invincible with these on. Last year was the first year I’ve ever used them. Being from Alabama, I put them on for the first time and wore them for six months without anyone telling me I was wearing them backwards. Here’s a tip: Put the Velcro on the front. $60; outdoorresearch.com
NO. 3 Osprey Atmos 65 Liter
This is my favorite big pack. It’s so comfortable, and so well made. The hip belt is like the Cadillac of hip belts. It’s really snug, but also thick, so it distributes the weight better, and it’s soft, so you can tighten it without having it dig into your hip bones. $260; ospreypacks.com
NO. 4 Deuter Airelite
I take this on every rescue. It has a back vent so it’s not sitting directly on you, which lets your back breathe. But it’s still snug enough where I can run in it if I have to, and it doesn’t bounce around. I keep it loaded with my rescue gear so I can grab it and go. $109; deuter.com
NO. 5 Keen Koven Mid
I’m a big believer in waterproof boots, and these have proved to be up to the task. We’re in rain all the time, so it’s important that your feet stay dry. Plus, they’re pink and brown so they look good. $120; keenfootwear.com
EDITOR’S PICK Motorola Talkabout T460 Two-Way Radio
With a 35-mile range, the T460 ensures you’ll never lose contact, even when you don’t have cell signal. The walkie-talkies also have built-in flashlights, emergency signals, and options for hands-free communication. $99