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Keeping Hydrated at Burning Man: Tips and Tricks

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

“Adding some flavorless electrolytes to a batch of sangria reduces it’s dehydrating effect.”

This post comes from Todd Shimkus, Web Ninja Master and occasional blogger at TMS. When Todd’s not managing our website and online store, you’ll find him climbing the Sierra’s infinite granite or floating through powdery clouds of cold smoke.

Burning Man is held in a dry lake bed in Nevada’s high desert. Daytime temperatures can soar over 100° F and the relative humidity is almost non-existent. Alkali dust covers everything that enters the Black Rock Desert and it sucks the moisture out of you in a process similar to mummification. Burning Man’s Emergency Services Department reports hundreds of cases of dehydration each year.

The desert is trying to kill you.

Steve Jurvetson -

Wild horses enter a desert battle scene from stage left.

Fortunately, dehydration is an easily preventable malady. Dehydration can be prevented, and even reversed, through…are you ready for this?…HYDRATION. Liquid water, when taken orally, is absorbed in the stomach and small intestine, and directly into the bloodstream. The water is then transported to the sweat glands where it is excreted onto the skin as a cooling mechanism, and finally evaporated by the hot sun – thus completing the vicious cycle of hydration.

How much water?

How much water do I need? The official Burning Man survival guide requires 1.5 gallons per person, per day. Granted, this equation factors in a little extra water for things like cooking and washing, but you should probably drink at least a gallon of water each day. “Piss clear” is a popular mantra in Black Rock City, and even the name of a long-running newspaper on the playa. It is sound advice, as the color of your urine is a good indication of your hydration level. The darker the color, the more dehydrated you may be.

Hydration should be a constant activity. This is especially true if you are consuming diuretics like caffeine, alcohol, or any chemical stimulants. These substances are known to increase dehydration so you will need to compensate for the extra water loss. I recommend double-fisting. If you are enjoying an ice cold beer in one hand you should intermittently drink water with the other. It’s almost [but not entirely] impossible to drink too much water.



H2O is not the only part of the hydration equation (yes, the term is slightly misleading). Electrolytes are also critical to staying hydrated. Electrolytes are water-soluble ions in the form of salts, acids and bases, and are necessary for basic cellular function. The human body requires several electrolytes to function normally, including sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), chloride (Cl-), calcium (Ca2+), magnesium (Mg2+), bicarbonate (HCO3-), phosphate (PO42-) and sulfate (SO42-).

How do we get these electrolytes? Well, lots of ways:

  • Salty snacks – Munching on some salty snacks throughout the day will replenish the salts lost by sweating throughout the day. Roasted and salted nuts and seeds, pretzels, crackers, chips, cheese, and a whole host of other tasty treats. Bacon, which is often the foundation of the burner food pyramid, has plenty of sodium and potassium.
  • Coconut water – High in potassium, young coconut water is renowned for its ability to re-hydrate. Whole young coconuts pack the most electrolyte content but are perishable and may not survive long in the desert heat. Cans or cartons of coconut water, on the other hand, do not require refrigeration and their containers will pack out easily.
  • Electrolyte mix and tablets – I love Nuun electrolyte tabs. One tablet turns a bottle of water into a fizzy and tasty concoction of electrolytes and fruit flavors. I typically keep a tube on me for my playa travels to add a little extra electrolyte goodness to my water bottle.
  • Electrolyte add-ins – Electrolyte add-ins are virtually flavorless electrolyte concentrates that can be added to water or other drinks to impart those magical ionizing salts that make us tick. Elete electrolyte mix is all-natural and made with four essential electrolytes: sodium, magnesium, potassium and chloride. Since it has very little flavor I like to use it as an additive for cocktails. Adding some flavorless electrolytes to a batch of sangria reduces it’s dehydrating effect.
  • Powdered sport drink mixes – You can find powdered Gatorade, Powerade or some other variety of flavored sports-ade at any grocery store. This is more economical than buying a case of bottled sport drinks and you end up with less waste to schlep at the end of the week. These drinks typically contain a lot of refined sugar and artificial colors, so keep an eye out for a low-sugar or “natural” version – unless you like the idea of drinking lots of salty Kool-Aid.
  • Homemade rehydration solution – A quick online search for “electrolyte drink recipe” will yield hundreds of thousands of simple re-hydrating drink recipes. Most contain a little table salt, some form of sugar, a little baking soda, and some citrus (for flavor and vitamin C). Take a look around and find one that works for you.


Choosing the right vessel

What is the best way to carry your water or electrolyte-rich hydration solution around fabulous Black Rock City?


The author awaits a RARE desert downpour.

That comes down to personal preference, but I would strongly discourage bottled water and soft drinks. Not just because it is wasteful, but they are also inconvenient. There are no trash or recycling containers at Burning Man. If you head out for a long adventure on the playa with a few containers of bottled water you will find yourself carrying around the empties all day.

Refillable water containers are definitely the way to go. But what kind?

  • Hydration packs – Colloquially known as “Camelbacks” or “camel packs”, these hydration reservoir equipped backpacks are a really convenient way to travel with plenty of water and other playa essentials. Contrary to popular belief, there are many brands besides Camelbak that manufacture high-quality hydration backpacks. Some people don’t like wearing hydration packs on the playa since they can appear too utilitarian and unfashionable to go with their steampunk / gypsy / hot dog / bedouin / robot / geisha / chicken / Santa / martian ensemble. Many crafty burners decorate their hydration packs to better coordinate with their style.
  • Water bottles – Fill a reusable water bottle from the big jug at camp and you’ll be adequately prepared for a long expedition to the deep playa. Make sure it is at least a liter. Any less and you’ll be selling yourself short. My go-to has always been my 40 oz stainless steel water bottle with a carabiner that I can attach to a shoulder bag or sling. If you want to keep your drink cold consider a double-walled bottle and a handful of ice from the cooler
  • Soft bottles – These hybrid water vessels get their own category because they are both and neither  hydration reservoirs or water bottles. Soft water bottles are great because the bottle gets smaller as your drink gets smaller, and when it’s gone you are left with a flat plastic sheet that you can roll up and tuck away. This is a great alternative to hydration systems if you aren’t too fond of sucking water through a hose.

You can never bring too much water to Burning Man but you can definitely bring too little. Err on the side of caution. Worst case scenario, if you over-pack that liquid goodness you get to wash up at the end of the week or gift it to your neighbors. Stay moist, and see you on the playa!

Wild Horses photo credit Steve Jurvetson -
Black Rock/Emigrant photo credit Patrick Nouhailler

High Altitude Disc Golf in Tahoe: Tips & Tricks to Playing at Elevation

Friday, July 19th, 2013

 These tips and tricks come from Justin Weilacher, a friend of TMS and avid disc golfer (PDGA #41309) residing in Sacramento, CA. With extensive knowledge of the game from years of experience playing in a variety of environments and weather conditions, Justin is a great resource for all sorts of disc golf advice. Read more from Justin at his blog,

Bijou Disc Golf Course

Bijou Disc Golf Course in South Lake Tahoe

One of the coolest things about disc golf is how the flight characteristics of your discs change as the elevation changes. This facet of disc golf adds an element of challenge to the game that few other sports have. There are many tricks that can help you adapt to this change in flight patterns that you might find useful during your next trip to the Tahoe disc golf courses.


Driving from the tee and the fairway will be where you can sense the most dramatic difference in flight characteristics. At the Tahoe courses, you will quickly see that your driver discs are far more stable than when you are at your home course closer to sea level. There are a couple ways to combat this shift in stability on your drives.

First, you can ‘disc down’ to a less stable disc. If you frequently throw a Destroyer (-1,3) at sea level you might decide to throw a Tern (-2,2) instead. The lower turn will keep your disc straighter and the lower fade will keep the disc dropping to the ground more like you are accustomed. Second, you can throw the same disc but reduce the weight of the disc. The lower weight will allow you to spin the disc faster which will keep the disc closer to its fade and turn numbers.

The third option is the one I prefer; I don’t switch out a lot of discs in my bag. I will replace a Firebird with a FL – Firebird long. Other than that, I keep with the same disc types but pull my beat discs out of storage to replace my existing discs. This accomplishes most of what disc-ing down accomplishes because the beat-up discs are already floppier than their newer counter-parts. It also lowers the weight slightly as they have lost a few grams due to wear. Finally, disc-ing down preserves my current disc’s flight characteristics. I throw almost exclusively Innova Star plastic because I like the way the discs wear out. This allows me to carry discs at multiple states of wear which fills niches in my driving strategy. If you throw some of the softer plastics like I do, your current bag selection will not throw the same after a long weekend of serious Tahoe disc golf. So pull out some of your old plastic or pick up a couple more under-stable options at Tahoe Mountain Sports.

Hole 13 Bijou Disc Golf

Hole 13 and wildflowers at Bijou Disc Golf Course


Changes in your short game are the trickier adjustments to make. It’s easy to see the way your disc flies differently over 300+ feet. (more…)

How To Pick A Backpack: Which Deuter Back System Is Best For You?

Thursday, May 9th, 2013


deuter german engineered


Over the past century Deuter back systems and technologies have been re-designed time and time again. The brand is centered around three core principles: quality, innovation and sustainability. Their packs: function, fit and ventilation. Since Deuter has a handful of different back systems designed for all sorts of disciplines, we thought we’d make the shopping process a bit easier to help you choose the best pack. Since we have such a great relationship with Deuter here at TMS, even if you don’t see the pack you want on our website, or it’s currently out-of-stock, go ahead and give us a call. We’ll order it immediately and Deuter will drop-ship it straight to you!

After reading, click here to visit our YouTube page where we have numerous videos detailing specific Deuter backpacks.


 Deuter SL systemSL – Women’s Fit
Deuter’s SL packs (Slim Line or Short Length) are designed specifically for ladies or smaller, slender guys. The shoulder straps are set closer together and are more narrow with softer edges. The back/torso length is shorter and the hip belt has a conical shape (like a cone) for a more anatomical fit. As a testament to the fact that they fit smaller guys better, the youngest person to climb Mt. Everest was 13-year-old male Jordan Romero, and he did it wearing the ACT Lite 60+10 SL. Any pack with a VariQuick torso adjustment is compatible with SL shoulder straps (sold separately), so you can customize an SL fit without having to buy a new pack. Examples of  Deuter SL packs: ACT Trail 20 SL, Quantum 55+10 SL. For the taller hikers, this fall you’ll be able to get packs with a new Deuter EL back system. EL stands for Extended Length, and Deuter EL packs will be perfect for guys taller than 6 feet or with extra long torsos.



Deuter aircomfortDeuter Aircomfort
The Aircomfort system is a little different on several packs, but they all share one important feature: sweat reduction. It reduces perspiration up to 25%, thus greatly improving your performance and comfort. With 3-way ventilation, one at either side and one at the bottom, you’ll feel good hauling your pack load all day long (comfortable up to roughly 40 lbs.), even in hotter temps and damp climates. Examples of Aircomfort packs: AC Lite 22 , Futura Vario Pro 50+10

deuter aircomfort


Deuter Air contactDeuter Aircontact
Aircontact systems spread the weight of your load evenly and keep your pack’s center of gravity close to your body’s center of gravity. These systems reduce perspiration up to 15% by leaving an air chamber between the breathable back padding and allowing warm air to escape and be replaced by cool, refreshing air. The Aircontact system is used in Deuter’s larger backpacking backpacks, and is meant for loads heavier than 40 lbs. Examples of Aircontact packs: ACT Zero 50+15ACT Lite 45+10 SL

Deuter Aircontact



Checking Out The Cross-Country Resorts In Tahoe

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

This guest post is brought to you by Tim Hauserman, an outdoor enthusiast residing in North Lake Tahoe who quenches his thirst for the outdoors by exploring (and documenting) trail treks on soil and snow in the greater Tahoe region and beyond. He wrote the official guidebook to the Tahoe Rim Trail, and contributes to a number of different publications.


Skate Skiing North Lake Tahoe

Tim cruises along with good momentum from one skate ski to the next.

Winter recreation at Tahoe tends to divide itself into several worlds. Of course, there is that busy, crazy, big parking lot, fancy stores, and lots of people world of downhill skiing that everybody out of the area thinks is Tahoe skiing. I try to stay out of that world. Then there is the world of skinning, hiking and skiing in the beautiful backcountry where the lifts don’t run. That’s good stuff, although I don’t do it myself. There is the backcountry touring/snowshoe world which happens in mellow places like Tahoe Meadows and Page Meadows, and finally there is the cross-country ski world that happens at resorts like the place I work, Tahoe Cross-Country Ski Area in Tahoe City. That’s my favorite Tahoe winter world.

Tahoe Cross Country Resort

All sorts of skiers find sources for joy at the Tahoe Cross-Country Ski Area.

Once you find yourself at Tahoe Cross-Country, Tahoe Donner Cross Country or Royal Gorge Cross Country, here is what you will find:

-Cross-country skiing at the resorts is divided into classic style or striding, which happens in the tracks, and skate skiing, which occurs in the skating lane next to the tracks. The styles necessitate different skis, boots and poles. The majority of season pass holders skate, while the majority of tourists who rarely get out on the snow stride. Many folks do both. The skating is best in older, faster snow and striding is best in new, cold snow.

-Skate skiing attracts the runner/bike-riding crowd that is looking for an aerobic workout. I am totally biased in my opinion that skate skiing is the greatest sport on earth.

-The learning curve for skate skiing can be a bit daunting. Having some downhill or classic skiing experience is certainly helpful, but for most people it takes a few times before frustration turns to rapture. Take a lesson. Most beginners are challenged in the same ways and your instructor will have some tips to make your experience more enjoyable.

-A few quick skating tips: It is primarily about transferring your weight from ski to ski and always being on one ski. Keep your feet together but your tips out at a wide angle. It is okay if the tails cross. Work on your balance and getting a longer glide. Practice without poles. And take a lesson. Tahoe Cross-Country gives free skate skiing lessons on Wednesdays at 10 and 1, and Saturdays/Sundays at 9:15.


You can find cross country skis for both skate skiing and striding, along with boots and poles for each sport at Tahoe Mountain Sports in Kings Beach, about 10 minutes east of Tahoe Cross-Country Ski Resort in Tahoe City.


dog friendly cross country trails tahoe

Dog-friendly trails can be found at most XC resorts.



Kids at Tahoe Cross Country

Kids from the Tahoe Expedition Academy get an early start on their XC skills.








Good Ol’ Raisins and Peanuts – The Best GORP Recipes

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

This post comes to you from the staff at Tahoe Mountain Sports. Each of us compiled a list of our five favorite GORP ingredients and added them to the pot. As expected, there were a lot of sweets in that pot. Apparently we’ve all got pretty serious sweet-teeth in both the office and on the trail. Here it is. The ultimate list. The items we deemed the best GORP ingredients, from all our outdoor adventures combined.

Consensus: Mixed nuts, dried fruits, and anything dipped in chocolate or yogurt.

Staff picks:

mixed nuts trail mix

Start with your favorite nuts. Buy in bulk and save big.

Todd (Web Guru)-

“Just ‘good old raisins and peanuts’ in mine. -Nah, I’m not that boring!”
Mixed nuts, Reese’s Pieces, Craisins, Pretzels (bonus points for yogurt pretzels), Sesame sticks

Pam (Owner)-

“Truthfully I don’t really make GORP or trail mix, but if I did my dream recipe would be:”
Oat Clusters (vanilla almond), Gummy Worms (or anything gummy), Peanut M&M’s (not plain ones), Yogurt covered pretzels (the pink ones!), Carob whoppers (chocolate dipped malt balls)

Ryan (Sales)-

Reese’s Pieces, Cherries, Banana chips, Walnuts, Almonds

Dave (Owner)-

Dried fruit (Preferrably Pineapple, but mango or apricot are also acceptable.), Peanuts, Cashews, Big plump yellow raisins

dried fruit for trail mix, gorp

Most fruits are also sold dehydrated, so be creative!

Meaghen (Sales)-

Pistachios, Dried mango, Chashews, Sunflower seeds, Dried bananas

Adam (Web Content)-

Cashews, Cranberries, Almonds, M&M’s, Pumpkin seeds


Pick out whatever sounds best to you and throw it all in a bag!


m&m's - candy for trail mix

Don’t forget to add something sweet!


candy for trail mix

Anything gummy seems to work for some people.










Keep in mind that anything dipped in chocolate or yogurt will melt on warm days, so keep the weather in mind and store your GORP properly. For example, if your mixture includes M&M’s you probably shouldn’t keep it in a plastic bag in your back pocket while trekking across the desert – unless you like clumps of melted chocolate and the taste of a dirty palm.

If you notice we missed something incredibly tantalizing on the taste buds, please comment and let us know! We’d hate to think we were depriving ourselves of a glorious GORP recipe.

Head to the bulk bins at your local grocery store for the best chance at low prices and a wider selection of goodies for your own killer concoction. And in case you’d like more variety or would rather stock up on whole food trail bars and organic energy supplements, we’ve got those too.


ProBar Whole Food Energy Bar
ProBar Whole Food Energy Bar
MSRP: $3.95


The Do’s and Don’ts of Cliff Jumping

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Adam Broderick manages the web content at Tahoe Mountain Sports. When he is not in the office, he tries his best to be in the field doing something awesome.

We all know how fun it is to free-fall into a pool of water. That short moment of succumbing to gravity and feeling weightless is liberating, to say the least. There are, however, a few key points to keep in mind when cliff-jumping. A drop doesn’t have to be over twenty feet tall to necessitate basic guidelines – even a five foot rock-drop-gone-wrong can pose serious ramifications. Please leap safely, no matter the level of gnar. Here are a few tricks and tips to help boost your safety, confidence, and naturally, your stoke-factor.

Cliff Jumping Rocks!

The Do’s

Do: Always scout your landing. Use whatever means are available. Examples include, but should never be limited to, fishing line w/ weights; avalanche probe [link] pole or tent pole at least the depth of your predicted submersion; a big breath of air and a deep dive to physically inspect your landing zone – This is one of the only times being upside down and frantically flailing your arms is appropriate. For some, this may be the most liberating part of the whole experience.

Pre-huck investigation

 Always jump as far out and away from the rock as possible, unless you’re aiming for a particular hole and over-shooting could cause serious damage to life or limb.

Do: Scream as loud as you can all the way from take-off to landing.
Call out to any potential onlookers so they don’t miss the awesome show you’re about to provide. This could include sunbathers, passing hikers, or the guy fishing on the other side of the lake.

Do: Be sure to claim a good jump with a solid fist-pump and a shouts of joy upon re-surfacing.

Fist pumps are under-rated.

If jump height exceeds roughly 25 feet, be sure to point your toes downward prior to impact. The last thing you want is your feet to rebound off the water’s surface and force your knees toward your chin. An old friend of mine once broke his jaw and two ribs this way.

Do: Depending on the rocks that line the shore and the climb out of the swimming hole, you may want to wear foot protection.  Think practically: rocks are usually sharp. Wear the shoes you’ve been hiking in, as long as they will dry fast enough to prevent blistering throughout the rest of the day, or pack a pair of  sandals that you can leave at the water’s edge. If the trek to your jump-zone isn’t too extensive you may think of hiking in sandals with straps, made by companies like Chaco.

Water at swimming holes is usually colder than most places, due to snow melt, lack of sun, or stagnant water. According to my high school chemistry teacher, running water is warmer than stagnant water.  You may also consider packing a towel and leaving it next to your shoes/sandals so you can warm up as soon as you exit the water. Beach towels can be heavy on a hike, especially when water-logged, but a camp towel packs down to a small and manageable size, and dries at an incredible rate.


The Don’ts

Don’t: Disregard warning signs. If a sign is posted, someone’s probably been injured doing what you’re about to do.

Don’t: Dive head-first until you’ve already gone feet-first or know for a fact that you won’t break your neck on a rock or the bottom.

Don’t: Follow your friend off the rock. Nine times out of ten you may calculate your distance and timing impeccably. It’s that other ten percent you need to consider.

Don’t: EVER give away your favorite jump location unless you want to see a crowd on your next
visit [Ultimate fail on my part - this is Round Lake, accessed via Big Meadow off Hwy 89 :)]

Don’t: Try to do a gainer unless you know you can do a backflip. This will ultimately lead to pain in either your head, back, or ego. Most likely all of the above.

Huck-wiser. Please Jump Responsibly.




Eight Things You Forgot to Bring to Burning Man

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

This year’s installation in playa preparation is for the virgin burners. There are plenty of all-inclusive packing lists for surviving a week in the Black Rock Desert, but this is not one of them. I wanted to focus on a few key things that are often overlooked when packing for Burning Man.

Kluft-photo-Black-Rock-Desert-Aug-2005-Img 5081

After Summiting Denali, Reflections on Training for the Climb

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Brad Miller and Clay Kimmi of Adventures for Action set out last May to climb the West Buttress of Denali (Mt. McKinley) to raise awareness and funds for the International Health Partners of the United States and Tanzania (IHP-TZ). This blog post is the third in a series Brad and Clay are writing for Tahoe Mountain Sports, who is helping to gear them up for Denali. In past posts, Brad mused on the difficulty of big mountain training and how they were training for the summit.

Anyone who participates in a big mountain expedition inevitably gets asked the same few questions over and over again. One of which is this one:
“Did you train hard enough?”
In the case of Clay and I the answer is yes and no.
However, when it was all said and done, we were definitely prepared enough to get up Denali, which we did in a very respectable time. After being stuck in weather for 4 days at 17,000 feet, we were able to summit on day 12 and were down on day 15. We were definitely up for the task.
Climbing Denali is definitely not easy. We both had times where one of us would crash and were hurting by the end of the day.  More than once I had to fight tooth and nail just to stay awake in camp long enough to quickly choke down as much food as possible before passing out in my sleeping bag.
Most amateur climbers occasionally have a few of those days where you think that you should have trained harder because you feel like you just can’t go on.  But, those days are one of the reasons we all get out there in the mountains.  Those days are the tests we seek; they are the proving grounds.  During the times when you feel like you are at the end of your reserves, you have the opportunity to grit your teeth, dig deep and find the hidden strength to succeed.  And, after all, that is what big mountain climbing is all about.


Once on the mountain, Clay found that there was a distinct hole in his training regiment that left him hurting up to 14,000 feet.  When I asked him if he thought his training was adequate, his to-the-point reply says it all:
“Overall . . . no.  It was quite simply the lack of sled training that kicked my ass.  Not living and training at altitude was a small part of it, but the lack of strength training with the sled was what really affected me.”
No matter how much altitude you do with a heavy pack, everything changes when you pull a 70 lb sled. You have another item to deal with that is constantly trying to foul and trip you up.  You use different muscles than when just packing loads on your back. And combining all of this with skis makes everything that much more difficult.
In Kansas, Clay focused on stair climbing and running. While those activities certainly helped prepare him for the mountain, he neglected training with a sled and paid the price. Having trained up to 70 lbs with a pack while in his hotel stairwell in Kansas City, he felt fit and prepared. However, adding another 70 lbs on a sled that constantly fought upward progress showed him just how possible it is to take yourself to the end of your energy reserves while hauling heavy loads.
In addition to the hard work of pulling a sled up, Clay, a Kansas dweller, was not able to practice skiing downhill with a pack and sled. This missing skill set was desperately missed on our descent.  Add to that bad breakable crust snow conditions, the descent was a constant fight instead of a pleasant cruise back to base camp.
In reflecting back on how he trained, Clay said that aside from obviously adding a heavy sled element, he would have focused more on interval training in place of long distance running as he feels the intervals were more beneficial.


For my part, training in the Tahoe region served me well.  Throughout the summer months I was able to pack very heavy loads to altitudes of 10,000 feet on a regular basis.  The winter months allowed me to train in a manner that exactly reflected the work we were to undertake on the mountain.  Being able to work up to a 65 lb pack and 70 lb sled while skinning  up and skiing down packed forest service roads helped my mind and body comprehend and prepare for the task ahead.  Doing all this work at an altitude of over 6,000 feet made me that much more fit and I feel like Clay underestimates how much working out at 700 feet set him back.  Although he spent a week in Colorado before flying to Alaska, I don’t think this “acclimation trip” helped him much.  To access Denali’s West Buttress route you fly in to base camp at 7,200 feet. While my blood was already accustomed to this “daily living” altitude, Clay had to immediately started acclimatizing and so was handicapped from the start.
I agree with Clay that interval training was very important, surprisingly so in fact.  It is counter-intuitive to think of interval training as preparation for mountain climbing because there are no sprint-rest periods like in soccer or football.  What we discovered, however, was at 17,000 feet and above, a simple slip or stumble that requires a fast movement to correct constitutes a sprint.  These snap reactions skyrocket your heart rate and breathing and intervals definitely helped in recovery during these situations.  Intervals also greatly helped me lower what I call my working heart rate — the heart rate level I maintain when slowly slogging up the hill in a pace where I can climb for an hour or two without stopping to rest.

Mammut Alyeska Jacket
Mammut Alyeska Jacket
MSRP: $698.95

11 Tips to find the Best Campsites on your next Wilderness Adventure

Monday, May 28th, 2012

Max Neale, Review Editor for Outdoor Gear Lab, shares some tips on how to choose the best campsites and where to set up your tent for the next time you hike into the backcountry. Max regularly contributes reviews and tales from the road on our blog.

A good campsite can make or break your wilderness experience. When traveling long distances or through remote areas, I break the campsite selection process into two steps.

At the macro level, I look at maps an hour or two before bedtime and identify — based on my average speed and the desired time I want to bed down for the night — a general area to sleep. At the macro level, I look for an area that is:

  • Off trail, so you don’t interfere with other people’s wilderness experience
  • Flat, where you’re most likely to find a level place to lay down
  • Near resources such as water and firewood
  • If the bugs are bad, in a breezy area away from breeding grounds such as swamps and slow moving water
  • Not in the bottom of a valley where the air will be colder and dew and frost will be greater
  • Not near animal paths or ideal habitat, which might lead to an unwelcome nighttime guest
  • Finally, away from natural hazards such as flash floods, potential rock fall, and avalanche

Once I’ve identified a site at the macro level I zoom in and focus on micro level details. Specifically, I look for a campsite that’s:

  • Dry, because wet ground is more thermally conductive and can promote condensation in your shelter
  • On a surface that’s not prone to being flooded by rising groundwater during rain
  • Covered in soft materials like leaves, pine needles, sand, or moss, which will be more comfortable and warmer than compact ground (Note that it’s also important to camp and travel on durable surfaces. Weigh your comfort with your potential environmental impact. Camp in established sites while in a high use areas.)
  • Next to or under something that will act as a windbreak and reflect heat back to your shelter. Trees, bushes, and rocks can work well.

Finally, once I identify a potential campsite, I lie down and mark the location of my head and feet with a rock.

Happy camping! And may you find some of the best campsites out there.

Mountain Hardwear Drifter 2
Mountain Hardwear Drifter 2
MSRP: $194.95
Sierra Designs Lightning HT 3
Sierra Designs Lightning HT 3
MSRP: $349.95


How we’re training for Denali: from Tahoe to Kansas

Friday, May 4th, 2012

Brad Miller and Clay Kimmi of Adventures for Action set out this May to climb the West Buttress of Denali (Mt. McKinley) to raise awareness and funds for the International Health Partners of the United States and Tanzania (IHP-TZ). This blog post is the second in a series Brad and Clay are writing for Tahoe Mountain Sports, who is helping to gear them up for Denali. Brad mused on the difficulty of big mountain training and inspiration from his brother in his last post.

Training for a big mountain is a funny thing.  Oftentimes people who have their sights set on a far away peak don’t live anywhere near the mountains.  Those of us who are lucky enough to reside in a mountainous domain are still challenged by the fact that the mountains we live near are usually much shorter that whatever goal we have in mind.  Clay and I have found ourselves in both of these situations and it has made for an interesting 9 months of training. I live in Tahoe, which is a great area if you are in training for a mountain goal.  Although the peaks top out around 10k feet, the plethora of mountains means I have plenty to keep me busy. Clay on the other hand lives in eastern Kansas, where the hills roll and the mountains are but a distant memory.  He has had to adapt his training regiment to suit his surroundings and busier life.  Here, in our own words, is how we manage training for mountain climbing with and without mountains.


I have always subscribed to the sport-specific method of training; the best training for a sport is to play the sport itself.  Of course, I cannot go climb Denali all year, but expedition climbing a big mountain (as opposed to light and fast alpine style) is all about carrying lots of gear, and Tahoe affords me ample opportunity to prepare myself for really heavy loads.  Having so many peaks out there helps me have lots of fun peak-bagging and seeing new places, and helps stave off the inevitable boredom that training eventually educes.

During the summer months I found myself hiking on dry dusty trails up to the many close summits that surround Tahoe.  My two favorite trails for weight training became the “direct” approach to Pyramid Peak and the Ralston Peak trail.  The Pyramid trail is a steep 4000-foot climb over a short 3.5–4 miles.  This allows for a really tough day that can be completed relatively quickly.  The trail offers spectacular views of Lovers Leap to the south and is the perfect outing for anyone who wants a stiff challenge.

The Ralston Peak trail starts higher and is thus shorter.  It is also less steep, more scenic, is a little closer to Meyers, which all together provides a shorter day.  It is also, in my opinion, the best-kept secret in Tahoe day hikes.  Although no one ever talks about Ralston except to backcountry ski, this peak overlooks Echo and Aloha lakes and rewards hikers with some of the most magnificent views that Tahoe has to offer.

Besides being a climber that was in descent physical shape to begin with, I began my Denali training 9 months ago in the summer of 2011.  I stayed pretty casual about it but tried to get out at least once a week for a steep day hike.  I began with a 40 lb pack and eventually worked my way up to 60 on the trail.  Because Tahoe did not produce a heavy winter this year, I stayed in trail hiking mode for many months, gradually increasing weight, distance and height.

Along with hiking I continued body weight strength training; pushups, climbing hangboard and pilates to build and maintain overall strength.  I do not lift heavy weights, in part because as a climber I avoid adding mass, but mainly because I do not have access to a gym with weight lifting equipment.  I also began running, which I hate, but I find running important as it adds an aspect of high-output cardio that helps me maintain a lower working heart rate while on a mountain.  Running is also a great way to get a quick workout when you are pressed for time or can’t get out for a long day.  I began with jogging a mile or two and worked my way up to five, where I capped my distance runs.  In the 3 months prior to departure I added interval training, starting slow and working up to one hour of intervals at 45 seconds of fast running and 75 seconds of walking for recovery.  Interval training is great and I like it much more than distance running.  It is a fantastic cardio workout, can be done on a bike, is a great way to burn fat if needed and is a good way to change things up to add variety to your workouts.

When it finally snowed in Tahoe I switched my regiment to more specific activities.  On Denali we will be traveling on skis and pulling a heavy sled along with carrying a pack.  Fountain Place Road, one of Tahoe’s service roads offers a great “day one” simulation in that it rises 1500 feet over 4.5 miles (a little taller than base camp to camp one on Denali.  In times of good snow coverage, I skinned up Fountain Place road, carrying my pack and pulling a sled.  Once on top I could dump weight and ski down the road creating a realistic gear cache scenario and a shorter day out than just hiking.  This not only allowed me to gain sport-specific strength and experience what working day to day will feel like, it also allowed me to test my gear and dial in my sled system.  Again, I gradually added weight until I was able to carry a 65 lb pack and pull a 70 lb sled, hopefully 20 or more lbs beyond what I will haul on the mountain.

As the weather has turned warmer I have heard the climbing-sirens’ irresistible call and have spent more time on the rock, which is probably not the best choice but keeps me sane and physically strong.  I have also hit the road more, putting in long rides on my cyclocross bike.  With little lake level snow I have abandoned the sled and mainly run and ride for my cardio workouts, but I do so knowing I can now handle the weight and feel that if I hit the mountain tomorrow I am ready for the challenge.   Tahoe has helped me prepare well.


Oh my goodness, I miss the mountains!  When I graduated from the University of Kansas in the winter of 2005, my stint in the flatlands was done.  I KNEW that I would never again be subjected to the unrelenting monotony of the Great Plains.  I gratefully migrated upstream to the rugged, majestic beauty of the mountains.  Love at first hike!  Rolling amazing terrain to hike, bike, run, climb, snow slide and swing ice tools… everything that I had longed for in the days of my youth in Kansas City.  The mountain lifestyle got in my blood and, as with many of our ilk, became my lifestyle.  My days of laziness and inactivity were a thing of the past!  I found myself getting cranky if I was not out pushing myself mentally on the sharp end or post holing at altitude with the dogs “helping” to break trail.  Training was never really on my mind, but the daily hike, climb or ride became the norm.  I found grace in the seasonal migrations, following the snow uphill toward Summit County, CO, and then sliding with the melting snow down to the Left Coast for summer gardening and High Sierra playing.  The grace of my waste vegetable oil–powered suburban and dumpster-diving for food made the free flow quite literal.

Ahh the days of yore…. writing about them brings a big ‘ol smile and loads of gratitude for that lifestyle.  Training was not something that ever crossed my mind.  Daily, I would scratch whatever itch popped up and stay in darn good shape in the process.  Alas, change is the only constant in life, and a wedding in October of 2011 lured me back to Kansas City.  I had a blast welcoming a new cousin-in-law to the family, and a 10-year reunion two weeks later seemed like a good way to wait for the snow to start falling in the high country.  Well, there must be something about the combination of family, friends and loads of connections that can spring the trap of opportunity.  I got snagged, hook, line and sinker, and found myself teetering on the edge of moving back to the flatlands.  Fortunately, a climb of Rainier at the end of September 2011 with great friends led to a promising opportunity of another sort – a trip back to Alaska.

So, this past fall, I found myself with one of the most challenging decisions I have made in a long time: leave the mountains where I had found my bliss playing in the hills, connection to the Creator and a groovy seasonal lifestyle, or return to the flatlands to pursue exciting new opportunities and create a more sustainable future in community with family and friends.  Hello conundrum!  After loads of wrestling with pros and cons, ups and downs, ins and outs, the return to the homeland won.  BUT, the caveat was that I had something BIG to look forward to – a trip to attempt Denali.  I realized that this meant a huge change in my lets go play out the back door in the mountains mentality, to getting psyched up to train with a heavy pack running up stairs over and over.  I love challenges, and generally thrive when they are presented.  However, the abrupt and somewhat rude transition from earning my turns at 13,000’ after work to dripping sweat in a poorly lit stairwell in a tall building in Kansas City, Missouri, was, well, shocking.

I found that the surreptitious access to a hotel stairwell had replaced ducking ropes for powder turns; 330’ at a time with an elevator descent had replaced my hike off of 6 chair to Snow White Chutes at 12,000’ and descending with graceful turns down to the chairlift for another lap.  Every week as I add another gallon of water to my pack or push for another lap in the dingy stairwell, I am motivated by the slopes of the Great One.  It is a change to say the least.  The miracle of the interweb continues to provide a constant level of motivation.  Videos, blogs and trip reports all help to keep me motivated, knowing that others are out there getting the goods in the alpine realm.  Regular trips also help keep the stoked meter up.  An annual trip to Red Rocks in Vegas provided an opportunity to pack in some serious climbing.  A return to Colorado to collect gear and dial in my ski/skin setup allowed me to solo some ice and grab some turns for sanity’s sake.  Most recently, a trip to New England allowed for the first time exploration of the Gunks and Northern New England.  Variety is a spice that I love, and it has certainly helped with the transition in both living location and training.

Finding ways to stay motivated with little to no vertical relief is far and away the most challenging part of living in Kansas City.  The land that I had been caretaking in the San Luis Valley, CO, has an unbelievable view of the Sangre De Cristo mountains – 6000’ of vertical from valley floor to the summits of the Crestone Group of 14’ers.  I placed my hangboard to maximize that view, and each session my inspiration and motivation came from the majesty before me.  I went from that view to 33 lonely flights of stairs in a dark stairwell.  Lets get psyched!  I have never been a gym person and the idea of spending federal dollar notes to go sweat with suburbanites makes me want to puke.  Time to reinvent and revamp the daily routine!  I have found myself doing things that in the past I thought were crazy.  However, necessity is the mother of invention, so the knobby tires came off the bike and slicks went on, the harness went into storage and the running shoes were found.  No skis, snowboard or ice axes to play with this year – they were left for a lonely winter in a barn.  I had gallon water bottles, ankle weights and a heart monitor to play with this winter.  Learning intimately about interval training, hill repeats, periodization, nutrition are all part of the arduous and sweaty process.  I have managed to find ways that I feel actually simulate some of the motions that will be encountered on the mountain.  I spent a week shoveling, wheelbarrowing and raking more than 200 cubic feet of compost on a suburban permaculture project.  If pushing 6 cubic yards of compost in a wheelbarrow through mud is anything like pulling a sled on a glacier than I am feeling pretty ready for this!

In the past several months, I have carried heavier loads, ran and ridden longer distances and durations than I ever thought possible.  Pushing my body to the edge of its capability in new ways has proven to be an interesting and delightfully surprisingly change from simply playing.  The necessity of changing both my mentality and mode of training has helped me to change my view on exercise.  I am aware of the importance of daily physical activity on a deeper level.  Living in Colorado, being active literally came with the terrain.  Living in Kansas, exercise has become a necessity for sanity, yet one that does not come without motivation.  Finding that motivation daily to go out and push myself is one that I still am challenged with. Fortunately the dangling carrot of Denali gets me stoked!


Tips for big mountain training

1. Form a training log.  Google docs is a great way to share what you and your partners are doing and helps keep you honest.

2. Carry water or other eject-able ballast.  Water is heavy and allows you to dump your load at the summit to save your knees on the descent.  Rocks can be used if you don’t want to waste water but water allows you to really fine tune your pack weight and increase by small amounts.  You can also be a Trail Angel; more than once I have filled up the canteens of hikers who misjudged their water needs.

3. Use trekking poles.  For a long time I thought trekking poles were lame.  That all changed when I started packing really heavy.  Poles help reduce knee strain and have saved me from terrific falls many times.

4. Variety is key.  When training over the course of many months, it is easy to get disheartened and bored.  Do many different activities to keep your spirits up and mind fresh.

5. Utilize rest and recovery.  Remember, you build muscle during recovery, not activity.  Find the right number of days a week you need for rest and recovery and stick to them.  Occasionally take longer breaks off to go on a trip and mentally recover. Fuel yourself with healthy, nutritious food.

6. Dial your system.  Use training days to test gear and figure out your systems, allowing you to hit the mountain ready to climb.

7. Find a partner.  If you can’t train with your climbing partner, find someone else who will motivate you to work out with.

8. Take a few training runs up other mountains.  Meet with your partners to check each other out while having fun.  Practice skills and make sure everyone is up to date, fresh and has good group chemistry.

9. Take skills training if needed.  Some skills are better learned from instructors.  Avalanche avoidance/rescue and glacier travel and crevasse rescue fall under that heading.  Make sure you have the skills to rescue yourself and others, regardless if you are using a guide service.

If you have any big mountain training or Denali training tips specifically, share them with us in the comments. [Denali photo by bdearth/flickr]

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