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Essential National Park Skills: The Ultimate Park Pass

Write your own ticket to new adventures with these 10 territory-expanding skills.


©Marc Muench

The Park: Great Smoky Mountains

The Skill: Keeping yourself and your gear dry

The stats say it all: The Smokies average 6 to 8 inches of rain monthly from May through August. Without all that moisture, the range wouldn’t be so lush-or even have the valley fog that gives them their name. But staying dry can be the biggest challenge of a trip here. Try these tricks.

On the trail

>>> Strip down to a single light layer and your shell, and open all the pit zips and vents. Overdressing leads to overheating; you’ll just get wet from the inside out. It’s far better to stay a bit chilled-you’ll sweat less.

>>> Wear rain pants over waterproof low gaiters (which are cooler than high ones) instead of gaiters over pants. This keeps water from running down your pants and into your gaiters and boots.

>>> Tuck a lightweight umbrella into your pack’s compression straps to shield your head in a downpour. A wide-brimmed, waterproof hat will also be cooler than wearing the shell’s hood.

>>> Pack everything inside waterproof bags or stuff sacks and use a snug-fitting pack cover.

In camp

>>> Sleep in a synthetic bag. It won’t absorb moisture like down does.

>>> Bring a tent with a roomy vestibule so you can stow wet clothes away from dry items. When pitching it, face the door away from the wind to minimize the amount of rain that blows inside when you enter and exit.

>>> Use a pee bottle to reduce the number of trips out into the rain.

>>> Load as much gear into your pack as possible inside the tent when breaking down camp in the rain. Leave the rainfly over the canopy while undoing clips.

>>> Build flexibility into your itinerary so you can wait out a deluge.

>>> Pack a small towel to soak up condensation and any water that gets inside.

The Park: Yosemite

The Skill: Pitching a tent without stakes

One uniquely beautiful characteristic of the High Sierra back-country-endless granite slabs-can complicate pitching a tent, especially in big winds. These two methods are the best we’ve found, whether your tent is freestanding or not.

>>> Run extra tent cord from stake loops and guy points to trees, exposed roots, rocks, or any natural objects available, or to stuff sacks filled with sand or stones.

>>> Lay a stake, or better yet a thick stick or trekking pole, horizontally through each stake loop and weight them with rocks. It’s the same concept as using a deadman as a snow anchor.

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