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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.


Improve any water
In the desert, you drink what you find. If the water is full of gunk, strain particles with a handkerchief. Mix with a sports drink, tea, or soup mix.

Liz Tuohy, NOLS

Drink in the evening
If water is limited, drink more in the evening than during the day. This allows your cells to absorb the water while you rest in the cool of the evening instead of sweating it out immediately in the heat of the day.
– Tammi Hinkle

Top off
When water is plentiful, drink up. Staying hydrated regularly will help your body weather the stress of a day without water.
Scott Christy, NOLS

I never leave home without…

They’re not just for rain. Low gaiters will keep your ankles and socks free of painful cactus spines and sharp grass seeds.
Liz Tuohy, NOLS

Wear lightweight shoes
Heavy leather boots are hot and cumbersome in canyon and desert terrain. Use approach shoes instead. They improve ankle mobility on uneven rock surfaces, helping create a better sense of balance.
Julia Cozby

Sleep on foam
Seems obvious, but hikers often forget: Self-inflating mattresses puncture easily in the desert. Pack indestructible closed-cell foam.
Liz Tuohy

Stay dry at night
Often, the flattest places in slickrock country are slight depressions where water tends to pool. Look instead for campsites that don’t collect water, like the top of a gentle dome.
Scott Christy

Stay warm at night
In a canyon, sleep on a ledge 6 feet above the bottom. It will be warmer because you will be out of the nightly cold-air sink.
– Liz Tuohy

Fix blisters
Smear a thick glob of petroleum jelly on the outside of your sock, right over the sore spot. You’ll get relief from the rubbing.
– Molly Loomis, Alpine Ascents International

Burn Potato Chips
Put a flame to these greasy snacks, and you’ll get an instantaneous and hot fire.

For 20 years, Craig Van Hoy has led expeditions to such peaks as Aconcagua, Vinson, and Everest. He guided Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind climber to summit the world’s highest peak. But Van Hoy says his most satisfying work isn’t on mountaintops. For 3 months out of each of the last 5 years, he’s taken a break from Go Trek & Expeditions to teach fifth graders in Washington state’s Evergreen School District how to tie knots, paddle canoes, and otherwise fend for themselves in the outdoors.

Laura Tyson says she’s spent more than 1,000 nights in the backcountry during her guiding career. She put in 15 years leading Outward Bound courses in Colorado, then established The Women’s Wilderness Institute. Through this Boulder-based nonprofit, Tyson guides all-female backpacking, rafting, climbing, and mountain biking trips throughout the West. “For many years, the wilderness was really a man’s domain,” she says. “But women are really catching up and realizing that it’s ours, too.”

Whether scaling the cliffs of Mali’s Bandiagara or bouldering in New York’s Central Park, Joe Lentini has been climbing nonstop since overcoming his fear of heights more than 30 years ago. He’s taught thousands of beginners how to belay, and as director of the EMS Climbing School for the last 28 years, Joe is EMS’s longest-serving employee. “If you had my job,” he says, “you’d be here for a long time, too.”

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