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5 Packing Tips from Outdoor Pros

Advice from people whose lives depend on good organization

Advice from people whose lives depend on good organization

If you don’t thoughtfully pack your bag before hiking, backpacking, climbing, or skiing, you’ll be uncomfortable at best—or dangerously unprepared at worst. I asked several pro outdoor athletes and industry experts, all of whom have packed thousands of bags for their adventures, for tips to ensure ultimate preparedness.

Pack for Your Route

Exum Mountain Guides’ Zahan Billimoria says he’ll spend up to 45 minutes carefully loading his daypack for a climb in the Tetons, making sure he’s carrying only what he absolutely needs for that day’s adventure. He doesn’t bring extra water if he knows there are water sources along his route. Cutting this extra bulk and weight makes the trip easier and allows more space for other essentials, like food. “I don’t skimp on calories. I always bring a ton of food. To me, the anxiety of wondering if I have enough food is enough to ruin my day,” Billimoria says.

Make a List

Those of you who are ultraorganized might turn your nose up at this one, but for people like professional big-mountain skier Angel Collinson, having a list is key. “I am an absolute junk show every time I pack,” she says. “[My room] looks a pile of laundry you haven’t done in months.” A prewritten list of essentials keeps Collinson from showing up at the airport without an avalanche beacon or her favorite ski socks. The inside of her suitcase might not be the prettiest, but “you don’t have to be OCD about it as long as it gets in there,” Collinson says.

Emergency Essentials Get Their Own Bag

Pro skier Brody Leven is constantly on the move. One day he’s ski touring with buddies in the Wasatch, and the next day he’s on an airplane to Norway for a bike and ski tour. Like Billimoria, Leven brings only what he absolutely needs: his emergency kit is always on that list—and it always gets its own drybag. “I put all of the essentials in a one-liter drybag—my first-aid kit, repair kit, and an emergency bivvy—and I always have that with me no matter what sport I am doing.” After each adventure, Leven restocks his first aid and repair kits.

Balance Your Pack Weight

Sam Theule isn’t a pro athlete, but he has completed all three of America’s best-known thru-hikes—the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail (a total of 7,950 miles). He knows a thing or two about good packing. Balancing weight is key for Theule, because it keeps his pack’s fit right and prevents chafing. To pack for good balance, Theule puts his food (the heaviest items he carries) dead center, and then tries to balance out each side. One technique: place one water bottle in each side pocket and alternate drinking from each.

Always, Always Bring a Headlamp

Richard Bothwell is the executive director of the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) and has been guiding for more than 20 years. His tip is simple: “You never hear the story about the people who went for a day hike, had headlamps, were delayed, and used the lamps to hike to safety. That’s a boring story,” Bothwell says. You do, however, hear the story about the people who get lost and stuck in the dark without a headlamp and had to call search and rescue. So, always carry a headlamp.

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