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September 2005

Secrets of the Guides

Camp like a pro with 83 field-tested tips and techniques from experts who earn their paychecks in the backcountry.


Build better balance

In uneven terrain, don’t try to match each step with a pole plant. Use poles only when necessary, and you’ll develop better agility.
– Molly Loomis, Alpine Ascents International

Take more steps, use less energy
On steep slopes, hike in a zigzag pattern. By going back and forth you’ll shift the greater burden from leg to leg, giving each a periodic rest. And learn to pick the easiest off-trail terrain. Going uphill, choose big, stable rocks to walk on; you won’t lose power pushing off. Going down, look for small, fine scree, which absorbs impact.
– Peter Amann, IFMGA Mountain Guide

Prevent blisters
Get boots that fit a half size looser than your street shoes, and don’t lace them tightly. They should almost come off in mud. Giving your foot more space and the ability to bend naturally will eliminate friction.

– Kathryn Hess

Hike and gather
When it’s raining, collect kindling while on the trail and carry it in a small stuff bag so you’ll have dry wood in camp.
Howie Wolke

Silence the bear bells
Making incessant noise in grizzly country prevents you from seeing other wildlife and may incur the wrath of other hikers. Use sound judgment. If you’re hiking into a headwind and/or visibility is poor, it’s time to sing out, “Hey bear!”
Howie Wolke

Do a system check
Whenever I start hiking, whether it’s from camp or just a short rest stop, I look up (at the terrain, the weather) and I look down (at my boots, to see if they’re tied securely, and at the trail, to check the footing). After I take five steps out, I look back. Someone has usually left something behind – trash, a glove, a bag of gorp, sunglasses.
Skip Horner, Skip Horner International

See more wildlife
Sit in front of a tree, rock, or bush. This helps disguise the outline of your body, making it less likely that animals will spot you.
– Howie Wolke

Exploit your rainfly

Use your tent fly as a waterproof liner inside your pack. Stuff the fly in first, creating a big pouch with the remaining material flowing out the top. Pack everything in, then fold the remaining fly material back into the bag.
Molly Loomis

I never leave home without…
Sure, cotton kills – when you’re up at 14,000 feet and it’s hailing. But when you’re lower, and you’re parched and hot, you want a cotton T-shirt. By retaining moisture, it aids cooling. At any elevation I always bring a pair of cotton boxers to sleep in. That way I have something fresh to change into, so I don’t have to stay in the manky long johns I’ve been wearing all day.
Conan Bliss, Alpine Ascents International

Stay hydrated, carry less water
For summer days on glaciers or snowfields, I carry only a liter bottle filled with lukewarm water. Whenever I take a drink, I add a bit of snow. This way my bottle stays mostly full all day. When adding snow, look for the wet or granular type. Scrape away the surface to find denser snow, which has higher water content. Do this from the start – not when you’re down to an inch of liquid. It’ll save you 2 or even 4 pounds of water weight.

Peter Amann

Lose a pole
When you’re scrambling on steep terrain, use only one trekking pole. Hold it in the uphill hand, which keeps your balance close to the slope. Adjust the pole length so you can grip the handle comfortably.
Peter Amann

Warm your hands, Part I
Store chemical handwarmers in a hard plastic container. If you pack them loosely, they might rub against something and accidentally activate, which means they won’t do their job when your hands are cold – and you really need them.
Joe Lentini, EMS Climbing School

Warm your hands, Part II
An hour before arriving in camp, put handwarmers in your gloves. They’ll help dry out sweaty gloves, and make setting up camp much more pleasant if you need bare hands for a few moments.
Maury McKinney, International Mountain Climbing School

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