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.
Professional daredevils Rex and Melissa Pemberton were drawn together by a mutual passion for risk and adrenaline. Now they have a marriage based on love, trust, and the strange, stoic acceptance that their life partner could die at any moment.
For the next five months, they jumped and climbed across Australia, scuba-dived on its reefs, and leaped off Malaysian skyscrapers. In September 2007, at Colorado’s Royal Gorge, where they spent three days among a tribe of fellow BASE jumpers hucking themselves from a 956-foot-high bridge, he told her he loved her. He told her right after he realized the downside of finding your perfect match—right after he first felt the fear that hasn’t left him since.
Their helmet cameras documented the moment, the last of their 5 jumps: Melissa goes first, with a whoop and two backflips. She free-falls for three seconds and at about 500 feet pulls her chute, which opens cockeyed. Her lines cross and send her into a spin, back toward the rock face. She struggles to untwist the lines, and the video bounces between flashes of rock face, sky, and red-and-white parachute canopy. Rex, still above, sees that she’s in trouble.
“Fuck!” Melissa yells. She kicks herself away from the wall and keeps falling. She slams into the cliff again, tries to kick away with her left leg, and snaps her tibia and fibula. Finally, she plunges toward the rocks below until her chute catches on a small outcropping. Pieces of rock torn loose by her parachute cascade in a shower around her. She hangs 200 feet off the ground, and Rex thinks he’s just watched her die.
“Ohhhh fuck! Fuck!” he yells, then shouts for the high-angle rescue climbers on standby above.
“Is she moving?” His voice is now a pained moan. “Is she moving?”
“She’s moving, Rex,” a friend says. “She’s OK.”
“I think I broke my leg,” Melissa yells. “I’m passing out.”
“Don’t pass out,” Rex shouts. “Are you bleeding?”
“No,” she says. “I’m going to pass out.”
“Did I tell you that I love you?” he yells.
Melissa laughs. “I love you, too,” she says.
3. Become a Weather Warrior
As a culture, we are plagued with a “pandemic of inactivity,” says Louv, who argues that rain, sleet, heat, or snow are no reason to stay inside. Show your kids how to tap into the beauty of all the seasons. In winter, freeze sheets of black construction paper and use them to catch and examine falling snowflakes (they won’t melt on contact) with a small magnifier. Keep an “instant snowman” kit at the ready: rocks or black buttons for eyes; hats and scarves; a carrot nose; twig arms.When spring rains come, make a rain-gauge. In summer, plan family picnics in the park; come fall, hunt and gather leaves, acorns, seed pods, and other collections in a clear, glass “wonder bowl” on the kitchen counter.
4. Expand Perimeters
An acquaintance recently told me that when her son was high school, he used to get up at 5 a.m., fill two glass jugs with boiling water, and drive an hour across the Golden Gate Bridge with his friends into San Francisco to surf before class. When he was done, he’d rinse himself off with the hot water and drive to school in time for the first bell. I love this story because it reminds all of us that as children grow, their geographic boundaries will expand naturally. It’s our job as parents to allow this to happen. Keep little ones close at hand or within view outside but as they grow, encourage them to develop their own relationship with nature, whether it’s through finding their own contemplative “sit-spot” to quietly observe the plant and animal life and weather or, as they reach middle school and high school, exploring the neighborhood by bike, meeting friends for nature walks, or starting their own hiking clubs.
You can read more about the ultimate adventure mobile here.
Katie Arnold looks at some myths and solutions to travelling with kids. Here is my favorite.
Kirkby: The tendency is to try take everything you think you might ever need. We do the opposite: We only bring the things we absolutely have to have. Hair cutting scissors? You can buy those in Bangkok. An extra sweater? You can pick that up on the road. We went as light as we could. A lot of gear is harder and more time-consuming to pack and exhausting to carry. I knew I needed to be able to carry everything for all of us, so Christine could hold the boys close in congested places. I had 150 pounds in two duffles, one on my back.
Pitkanen: Our essentials were water, snacks, sun hats, and wipes. We always let our boys bring a special stuffy, a little piece of home, and a couple books. And they each brought a pencil case full of whatever toys they could fit in it, which were mostly Legos. On the ship, I had a little activity bag full of new little things they could pull out everyday. Afterwards, I left it on the ship for the crew to give to their kids. We also had a little reward system for good behavior, and when they got to five points, they got local currency to buy something. This made them very interested when they went to markets.
From Katie Arnold in Outside Magazine.
Unlike river trips, backpacking is less about what you bring and more about what you leave behind. It takes surprisingly little to make a home in the wilderness. A snug, well-lit tent, a couple pouches of dehydrated food, the ones you love curled up beside you in the silent, star-filled evening. As darkness settled over the river, we were all beginning to settle more deeply into the canyon.
In the morning, everything was bright, the gorge just waking up, and my fear had lifted. Pete and I ran along the River Trail, winding three miles south to La Junta, the confluence of the Red River and the Rio Grande, with one eye on the trail for snakes, the other on the river, moving sure and fast beside us. Steve and the girls fished the eddies and checked out petroglyphs etched into a jumble of boulders. On the mile-long hike back out, the girls played musical packs again. At least Pete wore his the whole way.
On backcountry adventures, the ratio of prep work to fun can make or break a trip. One night on a family river trip would be insane. Two nights is never enough, and three just barely satisfies. But backpacking is so minimalist and required so little prep that a single night was all we needed to give us our wilderness fix and leave us hungry for more. And when we got home, I discovered the best thing of all about going light and not-so-fast with kids: There’s almost nothing to unpack.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that used Volkswagen Eurovans (out of production since the mid 1990s) are having a major renaissance, thanks in part to savvy road warriors who are retrofitting the boxy, bakery-truck-like pop-up campers with Subaru engines so they’ll run forever. When our friends purchased a 1991 Eurovan earlier this year and graciously offered to loan it to us for a Thanksgiving adventure do-over, I jumped at the chance to find out of the right vehicle, the super-sexy van du jour, could turn us into happy campers.
I’m the daughter of a roamer, so I come by my restlessness honestly. My father, a National Geographic photographer, loved nothing more than to drive around the country in his GMC Safari van, taking pictures. He preferred the vast, lonely prairies of the Dakotas, empty of people and flashy distractions, where there was nothing taller than a silo to break the horizon.
Steve and I pinpointed our own big empty on the map—the enormous canyons of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Southern Utah and set out the day before Thanksgiving. Compared to the Airstream, the van drives like a dream. We could get it up to 75 without much effort and our girls, ages four and six, and dog had plenty of room in back to spread out. All that was missing was a piece of limousine glass to drown out the sounds of “Dora the Explorer” from the backseat so we could pretend that we were carefree adventurers ready for anything that might come our way.
Wedged in the no-man’s land between Lake Powell and Bryce and Zion canyons, Escalante is one of the most remote places in the Lower 48—five hours south of the closest city and ten from Santa Fe and seemingly everywhere else. We camped the first night on the banks of the San Juan River outside Bluff, Utah. In the morning it was so cold that I cowered in our 15-degree doublewide sleeping bag on the downstairs bed and scratched Happy Thanksgiving into the frost on the inside of the window.
The Airstream’s propane heater had seemed to us like a CO2 deathtrap but in a pinch we could still turn on the oven and let it heat the interior for an hour or two. Even with the broken windows, which we classily covered in duct tape and black garbage bags, the thing held its heat respectably. The van, on the other hand, was as insulated as a tin can. Whatever body heat we generated down below leaked right out of the canvas pop-top, where the girls slept. The hot bottles we’d filled with boiling water just before bed were chilled by midnight, when the little one elbowed her way into our bag, and by morning, the water jug had frozen solid.
But we were parked beside our favorite desert river, headed for even wilder country beyond, and buoyed by the novelty of driving a car that was also our bedroom.
Then the van tried to kill me.
We had just finished a short but spectacular hike in Natural Bridges National Monument, an out-of-the-way spot off Highway 95. It was past noon. There was no way we were going to make it to Boulder, Utah, in time for our 3 p.m. dinner reservation at the legendary Hell’s Backbone Grill. Still, I was rushing to change out of my grubby camping clothes and into a semi-presentable Thanksgiving outfit, as though the extra 30 seconds of speed would make a difference. That’s when I accidentally slammed the van’s hatch onto my head.
Steve saw me crumple to the ground. When he looked at the blood spurting out of my scalp, he said “Oh?” in a maddeningly calm voice. Steve’s the kind of stoic, even-keeled guy you want around in a crisis. Except when you’re the crisis and you’ve just bashed your brain in and blood is streaking down your forehead. He was moving as slowly and deliberately as a slug, as though we weren’t miles from medical help or cell reception. As though the park visitor center hadn’t put a sign in the window saying “Closed for the holiday. ” As though a ranger might waltz up at any moment wielding a first-aid kit.
Steve strolled languidly toward the van to retrieve a roll of toilet paper, which he pressed against the gash in my head. I could see the girls peering out the back, their mouths and eyes pulled into cartoonish O’s. After a few minutes the blood slowed to a trickle and I wobbled to my feet. Steve parked me in the front seat and hopped behind the wheel. This was the crux moment: We could turn left and drive back to the nearest town, Blanding, Utah (pop. 3,000), and try to find an open clinic (doubtful) or we could turn right and drive three more hours into the heart of the canyons and try to make it to tiny Boulder (pop. 200) in time to eat turkey. Either way, we would have to hurry.
Adventuring with children is an endurance sport in its own right, an exercise in patience and unpredictability that requires constant monitoring of risks and stamina, theirs and yours. We’d thought that adding a van into the mix might alleviate some of the uncertainty and ease the occasional discomfort. A warm(ish?) place to sleep! A roof over our heads! But the truth is, shit happens, whether or not you are driving a retro camper—sometimes precisely because you are.
I sat next to Steve, pressing a cold can of beer and pieces of toilet paper to my head, blood slowing to a trickle, shushing the girls and trying to decide what to do. Even in my brain-jangled haze, I knew there was no clear right answer. Sooner or later, with or without stitches, the gash in my head would heal. But if we played it safe and turned back, we would be modeling caution and prudence to our girls—both essential skills in a life of adventure. If we kept going, we would be practicing one of my basic tenets of exploration, and of life: When in doubt, stick with the plan.
I didn’t doubt that the van was capable of taking us to Boulder and back. Or that if we continued on, into the heart of the canyons, we would be alternately ecstatic and miserably cold. I knew that the girls, always game and often hardier than their mother, would rally hard and rise to the challenge of winter camping. I knew that we would burn through our daylight hours hiking some of the most remote and stunning country in the Southwest, just as I knew I would lie in my sleeping bag each night praying my brain wouldn’t implode while I slept and that I would wake in the morning grateful to be alive. I knew that adventure, like parenthood, is never a simple matter of right or wrong, easy or hard, but instead a happy, riotous, occasionally maddening mashup.
As my head pulsed dully, I understood something else: We did not need the van, just as we had never needed the Airstream. Adventure lives in us, not in the vehicles we drive. Sleeping out, beneath a sky of stars, close to the ground, is still the simplest way we know to be in nature, to be a family.
We turned right.
I’d spent the past two-and-a-half years reporting on obstacle racing, a sport whose meteoric growth was greatly fueled by CrossFitters looking for a place to test their strength. I wanted to see what a straight-up CrossFit competition was like. Instead, my press pass was denied.
“Outside Online has published headlines and articles about CrossFit and the CrossFit Games that lead us to question Outside Magazine and Outside Online’s editorial intentions,” said the email from CrossFit Press, which arrived after we reached out to Greene. The email listed four Outside articles to which CrossFit had taken offense: a report on a Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study that suggested CrossFit has a 16 percent injury rate, a report on the subsequent lawsuit between CrossFit and the journal (published by the National Strength and Conditioning Association), the NPFL story, and another story digging deeper into injury statistics.
No mention was made, however, of the stories we’ve published trumpeting CrossFit’s stars like four-time CrossFit Games champion Rich Froning, pointing readers to the regimen’s best boxes, or even promoting CrossFit-inspired training plans. Outside has covered all aspects of the fitness trend since it began.
With that in mind, we asked CrossFit to reevaluate its decision. CrossFit is important to us and to many of our readers. We were eager to cover the games. Again, we were rejected. This time, our email didn’t even elicit a response.
Denying our press pass is like the NFL writing, “Dear ESPN, We can’t let you cover the Super Bowl, because you covered the traumatic-brain-injury concerns of NFL players.” By CrossFit’s logic, every major media outlet in the United States should be blackballed, from the New York Times to USA Today, because we’ve all covered CrossFit injuries.