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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.

Kids Are Better Friends When They Spend Time Away From Screens

From the New Yorker

In the summer of 2012, 51 children visited a summer camp just outside Los Angeles. The children were typical Southern Californian public school kids: an equal mix of boys and girls aged 11 or 12 years old, from a variety of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. All of them had access to a computer at home, and roughly half owned a phone. On average, they spent an hour texting friends each day, about two and a half hours watching TV, and just over an hour playing computer games.

For this one week, the children would leave their phones and TVs and gaming consoles at home. Instead, they hiked and learned to use compasses and to shoot bows and arrows. They learned how to cook over a campfire and how to tell an edible plant from a poisonous plant. They weren’t explicitly taught to look each other in the eyes, face-to-face, but in the absence of new media, that’s exactly what happened. Instead of reading “LOL” and staring at smiley-face emojis, they actually laughed and smiled. Or didn’t laugh and smile, if they were sad or angry.

On Monday morning, when the kids arrived at the camp, they took a short test called the DANVA2, which stands for the Diagnostic Analysis of Nonverbal Behavior. It’s a fun test—one of those tests that goes viral on Facebook—because all you have to do is interpret the emotional states of a bunch of strangers. For half the test you look at their faces in photos, and for the other half you listen to them read a sentence aloud. Then you decide whether they’re happy or sad or angry or fearful.

That may sound trivial, but it isn’t. Some of the faces and voices are easy to read—these are labeled “high-intensity”—but many of them are subtle. Like deciding whether the Mona Lisa is smiling inside, or whether she’s just bored or unhappy. I tried the test and got some of the answers wrong. One guy sounded mildly depressed, but the test told me he was actually mildly afraid.

The summer camp kids had the same experience. They made an average of 14 errors across the 48-item test. Four days of camping and hiking later, the kids were ready to file onto buses to return home. Before they did, the researchers administered the DANVA2 again. They reasoned that a week of face-to-face interaction without distraction from gadgets might make the kids more sensitive to emotional cues.

Mark and Oliver are way better brothers to each other when they don’t have phones.

Steak Marinade Recipe

We are a big fan of this marinade.  I generally let it sit for a couple of days in the fridge and I also use a Jaccard Meat Tenderizer before using the marinade.  Here is what Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools has to say about it.

Jaccard Meat TenderizerThe Jaccard SuperTendermatic 48 blade meat tenderizer is simply the best tool I have ever found for turning tough but flavorful cuts, like flank steak and skirt steak, from chewy and hard to eat into tender and easy to bite and chew. To use the tenderizer you simply place it over the piece of meat on a cutting board and push down like an ink stamp forcing the blades through the meat. I am a professional chef and serious foodie from Texas, and I simply cannot imagine making either a chicken fried steak or a good fajita steak without it.

I spent years perfecting a marinade for beef fajitas, fine-tuning my seasonings, timing, cooking, and carving. I wasn’t satisfied with the finished product until I found the Jaccard tenderizer. I now a have a beef fajita that is tender, delicious and moist. When you take a bite it separates instead of pulling the whole piece of meat from your fajita. Likewise, my chicken fried steak was a real challenge. Traditionally a steak is run through a cuber which “tenderizes” the steak using a pair of rollers with interlocking grids to mechanically crush the steak. In my opinion this method smashes and “mushes” (highly technical term there) the meat without tenderizing. Yes, it does result in a “softer” mouthfeel, but it does absolutely nothing to create a steak that is easier to bite through and chew. The Jaccard, by cutting through the muscle fibers and connective tissue, actually creates a steak that is easily bitten off and chewed without the smashed / mushy mouthfeel.

To be fair, we do use a hammer-style tenderizer to flatten and shape our chicken fried steaks, but without the Jaccard you can pound a flank steak until it falls apart without making it any easier to bite or chew. However, if you smash it flat and use the Jaccard the same piece of meat will fall apart in your mouth. This tool is so superior to the traditional hammer-style tenderizer that I use it on almost every beef, poultry, or pork cut I cook, and I cannot stress enough how awesome it is.

When you are done that, pour the marinade below over it it and let it sit.


  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 3 tablespoons dried basil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon dried minced garlic (optional)


  1. Place the soy sauce, olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, basil, parsley, and pepper in a blender. Add hot pepper sauce and garlic, if desired. Blend on high speed for 30 seconds until thoroughly mixed.
  2. Pour marinade over desired type of meat. Cover, and refrigerate for up to 8 hours. Cook meat as desired.

Travelling the World with One Lens

Outdoor Photographer has a neat article on a professional photographer travelling the world with just a Canon 40D and a Tamron 18-270mm camera.


I brought a Canon EOS 40D and the longest, most versatile lens then available for that camera, a Tamron 18-270mm ƒ/3.5-6.3. This outfit gave me the 35mm equivalent of 29-432mm with a stabilized (Tamron calls it Vibration Compensation, or VC), reasonably fast, autofocus lens. Sure, sometimes I wished for more wide-angle when under an architectural masterpiece, and sometimes I wished for more telephoto reach when we saw elusive wildlife, but 99% of the time, that 29-432mm was all I needed. My only accessory was a polarizer for my lens. I also had two extra batteries and a good-sized JOBY GorillaPod tripod. We photographed every day, almost all day, especially when we got to a new place and didn’t need to “move on” till we decided it was time. My equipment held up fine for the entire 21 months. 

Of course if it was me, it would be an Olympus PEN EPL-7 and an Olympus 14-150mm lens but you get the idea. 

Urban Giants

Between 1928 and 1932, Western Union and AT&T Long Lines built two of the most advanced telecommunications buildings in the world, at 60 Hudson Street and 32 Avenue of the Americas in Lower Manhattan. Nearly a century later, they remain among the world’s finest Art Deco towers—and cornerstones of global communication. “Urban Giants” is an 9-minute filmic portrait of their birth and ongoing life, combining never-before-seen-construction footage, archival photographs and films, interviews with architectural and technology historians, and stunning contemporary cinematography.