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Backpacker Magazine – March 2008

33 Top Tips From Trail Pros

Here's how Aron Ralston, Ed Viesturs, Les Stroud, and others get out and back again–and how you can, too.

by: The Backpacker Editors

Andrew Skurka, Photo by James Q. Martin
Andrew Skurka, Photo by James Q. Martin
Kristin Hostetter, Photo by Steve Howe
Kristin Hostetter, Photo by Steve Howe
Aron Ralston, Photo by Annie Marie Musselman
Aron Ralston, Photo by Annie Marie Musselman
Colin Angus, Photo by Blake Gordon
Colin Angus, Photo by Blake Gordon
Rodden & Caldwell, Photo by Boone Speed
Rodden & Caldwell, Photo by Boone Speed
Buck Tilton, Photo by Steven G. Smith
Buck Tilton, Photo by Steven G. Smith
Les Stroud, Photo by Laura Bombier
Les Stroud, Photo by Laura Bombier
Tyler Stableford, Photo by Drapper White
Tyler Stableford, Photo by Drapper White
Michael Brown, Photo by Brad Bull
Michael Brown, Photo by Brad Bull

On every trip, I bring a journal—and write in it each night. I always include a gear note at the end: This worked, that didn’t. When I get home, I refine my list. If I packed three pairs of underwear and only wore two, then I make a note. The next time I pack my duffel bags, I spread everything out and check off one piece at a time. And that includes my stainless steel, insulated plunger pot—I love fresh ground coffee at basecamp. Even on summit day, I brew up those little instant bags: you warm up, you’re stimulated, and off you go.” —Ed Viesturs, the first American to climb all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks without oxygen

I always carry a tattered copy of the I Ching–it provides wisdom when I need it. And I never leave without my Leatherman Wave I've done everything with it from open open bottles of wine to carve sea urchin spines out of my heel to bend little fork art pieces out of boredom...everything short of sawing off my own arm. I even gave one away to help bribe a Malian checkpoint guard to let us pass. He refused to take anything but money–until he saw my knife.
Jimmy Chin, adventure sports photographer.

"Learning resourcefulness is key for what I do. In Quebec, I once used Luekotape to protect my shins while bushwhacking through raspberry thickets. It was like wrapping my legs in duct tape to create makeshift gaiters–perfect, until I had to remove them. I also carry a 1.7-ounce digital voice recorder so I can walk and talk instead of writing in a journal. And I wear running shorts with a built-in liner–learning to pee while walking does take some practice, but I figured it saved me about six hours during my last seven-month trip."
–Andrew Skurka, the first hiker to finish the 6,875-mile Great Western Loop

"All Viking men have nicknames for their cutting edges. I call mine 'Baby.' And I've used it to process road kill, pick my toenails, carve gourd canteens, make a splint out of a tree branch for someone's fractured tib-fib, skin pack rats, and split kindling. The most important quality I look for in a knife is simplicity of design: The more specialized a knife is, the more useless it becomes for general survival purposes."
–Cody Lundin, founder and director of the Aboriginal Living Skills School in Prescott, AZ

"I've tested countless amounts of gear in my 15 years with BACKPACKER, and there's one thing I bought 16 years ago that I still use on every trip: the Therm-a-Rest pocket pillow. I can't sleep without a pillow, and a wadded-up jacket slips around too much. I stuff some clothes inside the soft, flannely case–and I'm zonked out."
–Kristin Hostetter, gear editor
Today's version of Kristin's pocket pillow is the Trekker Pillow Case; 2 oz., $11; thermarest.com

"At 25,000 feet on the north side of Everest, my friend and I couldn't get the stove to light. I had an idea: Get our oxygen masks out and crank them up on both sides of the stove. Poof!–the stove was going and we were happy. A few minutes later, though, we smelled burning rubber and found my mask was on fire. It turned into a useless mass of melted goo. This reminds me of how useful an inflatable kayak pump can be for fanning stove or campfire flames–just don't get it too close."
–Michael Brown, founder of Serac Adventure Films



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ALL READERS COMMENTS

nick
Feb 13, 2009

i never get all the hate i read in these comment sections...not that i worship the ground he walks on, but didn't ralston climb all of colorado's 14rs during the winter...that is no small task and it at least deserves some respect

Keebler the Elf
Feb 04, 2009

The Sea To Summit waterproof stuff sack also work great for a pillow. It is a little small but otherwise very comfortable

Matt 09 thru hiker
Nov 05, 2008

from river trips to bagdad sleeping holes i have had my trusty camelback that i fill every night and close the valve, i cant find a better pillow

Anthony
Jul 10, 2008

Anyone know of good set up or backpack for backpacking for photographers. is there a backpacker style that is slightly modified for a photographer taking a SLR 2-3 lenses, flash etc. hit me back at rellima@hotmail.com would be great, Cheers

Anthony

little bee
May 07, 2008

Gauthier's advice wins. Nice to get such verification from a pro. 'cept for the iPod part. Leave the iPod home and listen to the sounds of nature.

CuzinVinny
May 07, 2008

Like I would ever take outdoor advice from Aron Ralston! The guys a jerk and is in the same league as the jerk from Into the Wild.

Survivalist...no...a-holes.

Yeager
May 07, 2008

I created an expanded Excel spreadsheet w/all my mountain climbing gear essentials. I always have a running total of ounces which is very critical for an solo minimalist. My (4) page spreadsheet covers everything from my food to the specifics of all my gear. Amazing how many people I have emailed this to for their own modifications. chris.yeager@mac.com

Michael
May 07, 2008

Years ago I went on my merry way for a 5 dayer. You know, it's the lack of the simplest thing: my pot handle! Okay, I know it wasn't a big deal, just a nice bit of convenience. So when I got home, I developed my "Backpacker's Checklist". Now I just whip out a page and touch each bit of gear and "check it off the list" as I put it into my pack. I actually sold them in 20 sheet pads at REI, but alas, that was an earlier era for me.

Steinsato
May 07, 2008

So where exactly are the 33 Top Tips this article is boasting? All I can find are 6 short paragraphs about a few items they seem to always bring with them?

Scooby
May 07, 2008

While the first person who commented on this story is as much of a douchebag as he believes the writers of the story are, I have to agree that this is a really lazy piece of journalism. I could have written this after spending an hour in the library. If you're going to hunt down big names, do it, or lessen your expectations. I'm sure tips from top park rangers would be just as valuable as a guy who has summited a dozen peaks. It's the "real life" element that makes people want to read.

BC
May 06, 2008

Wow! 6 "real" quotes...Brown doesn't count for those us below 18,000ft and Skurka is a douche. And then 4 pages of lifted quotes out of books that I could walk the 3 feet to my bookcase to read? Friggin' linkbait. Don't lure me to your site with schattastic promises and then try to get me to subscribe to your schattrastical magazine. Mundane douchebag journalism.

cgbob
May 06, 2008

Good Point Mr. Big,

Oh, just one thing...
I believe we all STARTED as the weekend warrior, we've all had that one or two (or five)experiences where we didn't perhaps follow the best course of action and put ourselves in harm's way. I can certainly recall carrying to much gear , not properly packed, and realizing I had everything I needed except what I needed at that particular moment. But then again, I'm not Mr. Big...
Thank you BACKPACKER magazine, for providing the best of all aspects of the packing lifestyle. From down and dirty EXPERT advice to adventure pieces to lighten the mood and learn from. I belive the real Experts are those who can tell the difference.
Tally ho!

Trailblazer818
May 06, 2008

Ed Viestur's journal is similar to the lists that I have been recommending for years to Boy Scouts. We call the two lists, "Shudda's" for the things that you should have brought and "Shudd-na's" for the items that you should not have brought on backpacking trips. As to coffee makers, I bring a brew bag. Hey, we're a'sposta be ruffin it!

Woodman
May 06, 2008

I'm amazed with Skurka saving 6hr. in 7mo.
I guess smelling any roses is surely out of the the plan. Wow!
Great Job! I guess?

Mad Hatter
May 06, 2008

Come on BackPacker you really are pandering to the Mall Set. Aron Ralston, I read his book, an accident looking for a place to happen and you hold him up as an authority. Give me a break.

AJ
May 06, 2008

While I agree with Brittany, that Aron's escape from Blue John is quite amazing. I'm glad to know that his new found fame is being channeled to fight for our wilderness as well. However, Disappointed has a valid point. His choices do go against many fundamental safety principles; and is one of the main things that put him in his Blue John situation. Had someone known where he went, or had others been with him; his situation would have been different... I don't know how much I would trust advice on what to carry from him. Definitely a good lesson in perseverance and not giving up though...

Mr. Big
May 06, 2008

I feel like BACKPACKER is becoming the voice of weekend warriors who think a good backpacking trip consists of 5 of your most drunk friends and 60 pounds of thoughtless gear purchased at REI. "Experts" are people who gained fame from being stupid, people who have lugged senseless gear for miles on end without a thought to improve their situation, or people who are willing to eat a few bugs here and there to prove they are more manly then the next guy. Most equipment in BACKPACKER is from mass marketing even if carrying something so heavy, so big, and so durable, is simply useless and kills the pleasure of being outside in the first place. BACKPACKER, please get back to basics. Understand that the adventure is the story - not the portable coffee maker or the 5 changes of clothing. Understand that the experts are the people who have tried their best, failed, and learned from it, and people who have found new and innovative ways to make the experience better by exploring alternatives to lighten the load and fabrics which make more of an impact.

Lon
May 06, 2008

Andrew Skurka - You've got to be kidding.

Lon
May 06, 2008

Andrew Skurka - You've got to be kidding.

Bill
May 06, 2008

My problem is that I have too many favorite things, and getting my pack weight down is always interesting! While I was a scoutmaster, I would find boys forgetting things such as jackets, sleeping bags, etc..... I guess that is where I got my habit of packing extra gear :)

Bill
www.ScoutLists.com

Disappointed
May 01, 2008

To Aron Ralston and Backpacker,
Why would you want to promote such an idiot? He breaks common sense rules that you publish every day yet you put his picture up and endorse his blatant disregard for safety? Hopefully a big name isn't needed to make this magazine; rather you should be promoting smarter people who won't get themselves in his situation from the get go.

Brittany
Apr 29, 2008

This is to Aron Ralston.
You have inspired me so much.
I just wanted to say thank you for doing what you did. Many people wouldn't do what you did that day in the canyon. I really do appreciate that.

A. Buskey
Apr 28, 2008

I don't put foot on the trail without triple-checking for my $1.00 plastic poncho. Recently, I survived a 15 minute thunderstorm that went from sprinkle to horizontal rain with hail in heartbeat - and I was caught on a high ridge. I threw on my poncho and crouched down on a nearby log and hoped for the best. After the wild storm, the shirt I was wearing was bone dry. Bonus points that I had caught a nice pool of water in my lap.

B. Fohlmeister
Apr 27, 2008

After 4 years my trusty boots turned on me, probably from all the wading I did that day hiking in Escalante, giving me 7 blisters. I was dreading the hike out the next day. I found that instead of making moleskin donuts for each blister, I used "corn pads" shaped like donuts. They come in small sheets with numerous pads. I had no pain on the hike out. Now I don't leave home without them!

Hans Johnson
Apr 18, 2008

I survived a 30 below 0 blizzard with a 20+ sleeping bag, a thermarest, my 4 season tent, and a Nalgene bottle. I boiled water at about 10pm, put it in the nalgene, and slep with it in my sleeping bag. At 6am the water in the bottle was still just warmer than my body temp and i was cozy all night long.

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