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Beginner Skills

Secrets of the Guides: 10 Tips From Outdoor Pros

No one knows the ins and outs of the trail like professional guides. Learn a few of their secrets to take your trips to the next level.

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At backpacker, our dream is to help you make every hike you go on the best one yet. That’s why we’re sharing this free excerpt from our members-only story, Secrets of the Guides: 38 Tips From Outdoor Pros. Outside+ members get access to that and hundreds more exclusive trips, skills, stories, and gear reviews. Not a member? Sign up today and start planning your next best hike.

1. Get ready faster.

The easy way? Don’t unpack. When you finish a weekend trip, leave all the stuff you use for nearly every adventure—stove, sleeping pad, first-aid kit, repair kit—together in your pack. Have an organized rack or bin for each sport: climbing, paddling, etc. That way, you can just add activity-specific items and clothes to fit the trip and you’re ready to go.

secrets of the guides
Photo by Louisa Albanese

2. Build your endurance.

Everyone who’s ever hired a guide has seen “guide strength.” Bryan Pope, of Earth Native Wilderness School, reveals his workout.

Form is paramount; improper body position risks injury. This workout uses light weights (15 pounds, max; none if you’re just getting started), common exercises, and lots of reps to build lean muscle for all-day strength.

Combine this workout with a 3- to 7-mile hike or run, three days a week.

Lower Core Circuit (x3)

Quads/Glutes: 20 reps each
Sumo squats
Squat side-walk with exercise band

Hamstring: 20 reps
Bird dogs

Hips: 20 reps
Scissors

Calves: 20 reps
Calf raises

Core/Back: 20 to 30 reps each
V-ups
Beetles

Upper Core Circuit (x3)

Chest: 20 reps each
Pushups
Single-arm chest press

Back: 20 reps each
Pull-ups
Reverse flies

Shoulders: 20 reps
Arm circles

Triceps: 20 reps
Bench dips

Biceps: 20 reps
Zottman curls

Core/Back: 20 to 30 reps each

Russian twists
Supermans

Complete step-by-step instructions (with photos)

3. Pack for density.

Gear lashed to the outside of your pack is less secure. To get everything inside, pack up tight. I roll my sleeping bag up, wrap my ultralight sleeping pad around it, then put them in a compression sack. That saves almost half the space. –Matt Schonwald

4. Dial in Your Gear.

We were on the Spearhead Traverse in British Columbia, and one client had purchased ski crampons before the trip but never learned how to put them on. There’s no excuse for getting into the field with gear you don’t know how to use. Ask the salesperson, experiment at home, use YouTube. Whatever works. –Shane Robinson

5. Bring Less Fuel. 

If you’re making freeze-dried foods for dinner, presoak the meals while you’re setting up camp to reduce fuel consumption and cooking time.

6. Get Psyched!!

I remember walking into a rock gym with a client—a young guy in his 20s, who was just getting back into athletics after losing an arm serving in Iraq. He took one look at the wall and said, “Ah, I’m f****d, I can’t do this.” It was time to get our psych up. I told him to take 10 minutes to clear his head of all expectations. Then, we broke the whole challenge down into achievable steps and developed an action plan for each step. In so doing, the client and I freed our minds from the idea that climbers must have two arms. He made a few moves up the wall, got some momentum—and then realized he could do it. The smile on his face after he lowered down off the top was all-time. –Rob Coppolillo

shelterGoñi Montes

7. Know Why You Came

I guide out of New York City, and every vanload of clients I drive up to the Catskills seems as diverse as the city itself. I often feel like a gateway from the streets to the summits.

Recently, I was guiding two women in their late 50s. They were Brooklyn-born and raised and said they’d never been hiking before. Both seemed pretty fit and moved well up the trail to 3,720-foot Panther Mountain.

At the summit, they embraced and were more moved by the moment than anyone else I’d ever guided in nine years of doing this. Curious, I asked why they were feeling it so hard, and they said that two years earlier, they’d each received diagnoses from their doctors that the onset of diabetes was not a question of if, but when. They’d both decided that day to end their sedentary lifestyles. Soon after, they set a goal to climb a mountain—any mountain. That was their vision and how they stayed motivated. Over the next two years, they’d worked at their goal, losing 180 pounds between them.

And while that Catskills peak might have seemed like Everest to them, they had one thing that all successful adventurers have: humility. They’d set their goals way out in the future and worked toward them over time. They didn’t act entitled; they didn’t think the mountain owed them anything. They were there to make good on a promise they made to themselves. The mountains were just a venue.

To see that in action, well, that’s not only why I guide—it’s why I go outside, too. –David DiCerbo

8. Carry less water.

For warm days on snowfields, pack a bit of snow into your water bottle every time you sip from it (starting when it’s full). Dig down away from the surface to find snow with higher moisture content.

secrets of the guides
Rab SawtoothPhoto courtesy

9. The Perfect Hoodie

On cool days, guides reach for lightweight softshells for versatile layering. “I need my Rab Sawtooth Hoodie,” Rob Coppolillo says. “I ski tour, ice climb, and rock climb in it. It’s breathable and durable.” You won’t find the Sawtooth on shelves anymore, but the brand’s Kinetic Plus is a good substitute.

10. Pack Miso.

This easy-prep soup is perfect for both cold mornings and evenings when you want something savory—and it replaces lost electrolytes.

Become an Outside+ member to read the full story, Secrets of the Guides: 38 Tips From Outdoor Pros, today.