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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.

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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