How to

How to: Stay Dry

Spring-like, 60 degree days in February and March are absolutely beautiful. Don’t be fooled by the sunlight, though, the weather can turn from snow to rain quickly and destroy your day if you are caught unprepared. Learn from my experience: The coldest I’ve ever been was in March, biking in great weather, until a nonstop sleet storm hit me hard in my shorts and a cotton sweatshirt.

The simplest advice I can give is to always pack an outer waterproof layer. Shells or windbreakers are necessary if there is even a chance of precipitation. Shove it in the bottom of your pack and forget about it. It’s not that heavy and the comfort/survival factor it gives on a windy, rainy ridge is well worth the extra pound. Forty-five degrees feels nice after temperatures in the teens for weeks in a row, but 45 degrees with rain while biking an hour away from any kind of shelter is dangerous.

Improve your chances of staying dry by using a waterproofing agent to enhance the water-wicking ability of your jacket. Scotchgard Heavy Duty Water Shield is more or less the gold standard, but a cheaper solution called Thompson’s WaterSeal gets the job done. Just follow the directions on the bottle and your jacket will be that much more efficient. A cheap, old rain jacket can be transformed into something that beads water like expensive Gore-Tex with a much lower investment.


Photo by Chris Hammock


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Back to Basics

Back-coun-try ski-ing: (adjective) A. the kind of skiing where you don’t have to keep behind ropes or bounds of the resort; B. the kind of skiing where you don’t have to wait in line for a chair to get up the mountain; C. the kind of skiing where you can get some of the longest powder runs of your life, repeatedly. Most importantly, backcountry skiing is defined by high risk for a high reward. The avalanche control work that keeps resort skiing safe isn’t repeated to the same extent in the backcountry, meaning you need to go in prepared for worst case scenario.

The best way to familiarize yourself with backcountry skiing is to take a class. You’ll learn how to read terrain, understand the basics of snow mechanics, and recognize the warning signs nature gives you. Snow is complex — but it does have characteristic patterns. These classes teach you how to recognize these patterns and know when a given snowpack is stable or not. The Utah Avalanche Center and the University of Utah both offer classes, and workshops take place frequently around the valley.

For gear, renting is your best option when breaking into the sport. There is no need to get top-of-the-line skis with the lightest boot combined with the thinnest touring pants possible: yet. You can find cheap gear online, but the most essential equipment is (hopefully) not for purchase: a touring partner. Although they may cost you a burger or drink to convince them to go with a noob, it’s worth it if they save your life, or vice versa. Other essentials include a beacon, shovel, and a probe. In the event of an avalanche these are your first line of defense for survival. If you get caught in an avalanche, you will appreciate your touring partner being equipped to dig you out. Avalanche airbag backpacks are also becoming a common part of the avalanche safety set. These packs deploy when you pull a lever, helping to keep you toward the surface of the snow.

With the instruction and the gear, you’ll need a place to go. Step one is always to check the avalanche report on the Utah Avalanche Center’s website to see current danger ratings, recent avalanche activity, and what kind of terrain to look out for based on weather patterns. For your first couple times out in the backcountry, seek low angle terrain in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, such as Grizzly Gulch or Mill D. Once you get there, it never hurts to dig a pit to evaluate the snow. It’s a lot of work, but carving your own line down powder no one has touched all season is worth every step of preparation and uphill skiing.



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How to: Tie a bowline

One of the most useful knots you can learn to tie is the bowline, a knot in which the loop does not slip.  As my dad taught me, there are three important rules to tying a knot:  1)  it is easy to tie, 2) it does the job, and 3) it is easy to untie.  The way to correctly tie the bowline knot is to first grab the rope and make a loop.  Then, using the free end of the rope, thread the end through the loop and go around the opposing rope and back through the loop.  This is the saying to remember the bowline:  Make a hole, the rabbit goes out the hole, around the tree, and back in the hole. Detailed photos and video tutorial here: http://www.animatedknots.com/bowline/#ScrollPoint

Bowlines can be used to tie a loop at the end of a rope to be used for hanging a bear bag or a hammock.  The knot can also be used as a safety harness to put around someone as the knot will not tighten and restrict circulation during the event of a rescue.

Detailed photos and video tutorial here: http://www.animatedknots.com/bowline/#ScrollPoint


Photo courtesy of animatedknots.com


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How to: Select a Ski Boot

When Harry Potter is preparing for Hogwarts, the big-ticket item he buys is a wand— an extraordinary instrument that channels his inner magic, transforming it to action. When skiers are preparing for the slopes, the big-ticket item they buy is ski boots— magical instruments that channel their strength and agility, transforming it to smooth turns and beautiful lines. Ski boots are the primary way that skiers connect with their skis and interact with the snow. Choosing a well-fitting ski boot is integral not only to making sure you fly down the hill like a pro, but also to ensure comfort and safety while skiing.

Flex: Ski boots may be measured by flex, or how difficult it is to flex a boot forward. An easier flex is more forgiving and translates strength easily into motion and maneuverability while absorbing jarring impacts. Increasingly stiff flex ratings help heavier, stronger, and more aggressive skiers to communicate with their skis and charge through more challenging terrain at higher speeds.

Based on your skier type, recommended flex values are:

  • soft flex (60-80 for men, 50-60 for women) for beginning to intermediate skiers.
  • medium flex (85-100 for men, 65-80 for women) for intermediate to advanced skiers.
  • stiff flex (110-120 for men, 85-100 for women) for advanced to expert skiers.
  • very stiff flex (130+ for men, 110+ for women) for expert and racing skiers.

Liners: Different liners will fit your foot in varying degrees of comfort and precision. This depends on if you are riding full days (and may nap wearing them because they are so comfortable) or you are ripping across a pitted traverse and dropping cliffs.

All boot liners will compress over time to better fit your feet, however, more aggressive or racing boots often have thinner liners that will “pack out” less. Thermoformable liners respond to your natural heat to better form to your feet after a couple days of skiing. Custom moldable liners can be artificially heated and worn to form to your feet with the most precision. This can alleviate pain for those with wide feet or ankles and prevent bone spurs from aggravation due to rubbing in ill-fitting boots. Added foot beds can also make a comfortable fit for those with high arches or unique feet.

Shell type: Varying boot shells can impact the customizability of your fit and the maneuverability of your skis. Three-piece shells offer a more progressive flex pattern in boots that allows you to evenly flex through your entire range of motion for added smoothness and balance on unpredictable terrain. Still, they do translate less energy into the skis for forward power. Four-piece shells offer a more limited range of flex that can be jarring and stressful on the body in off-piste conditions, but they efficiently transfer power into speed while skiing.

Harry Potter didn’t become the most powerful wizard after he got his wand; he had to wave it around quite a bit before he got the hang of it. As you select your ski boots, you will still need to adjust sizing and ski them for at least a couple full days before they start to feel like your own. So, put on your boots and start feeling the magic!


Photos by Claire Simon


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How To: Purify Water

The most appealing aspect of backpacking is undoubtedly the remoteness. Few things are better than entertaining the fantasy that you are the first person to trot down that lonely dirt trail in a very long time. The last thing you want is for your range to be limited, and one of the most limiting factors is water.

The sticker about water is that it’s heavy, very heavy. Trying to pack around all your water for a week’s trip is absurd. You’ll find a broken back and dehydration before the remote peace and solitude you set out for. This means that gathering water as you go is your only option, and to do this safely you need to purify it. Fortunately, there are more than a few ways to do this.

The age-old tactic is boiling. Once water hits the magical 100° C (212° F) mark, it will begin to boil. It is at this temperature that all the nasty microbes that would result in a week in the outhouse are killed off, and the water becomes safe to drink. At higher elevations water boils at a lower temperature. There’s a whole bunch of technical, sciency stuff behind this, but the gist of it is that less atmospheric pressure means less energy to boil the water, and less energy means less heat. In order to ensure all those microbes are dead, you should boil water for longer at higher altitudes.

This tactic works very well in the winter. Grab some ice, or snow if no ice is available, and melt it down. You have a warm, safe drink ready to go. In the summer, this is the opposite of what you want. Why take that nice cool stream water and heat it up when it’s already baking hot outside? Boiling also requires some kind of stove. Although there are lightweight cook systems out there, they all are heavier than most of the other purifying techniques.

The next most common practice is using a pump purifier. This is a reliable, long-lasting method of combating dehydration. Essentially, a small tube extends into the water source and sucks water up into a big filter and then spits it out, all clean and pure, through another tube into your water bottle. You are safe to drink that water immediately and it will be as cold as the source you pulled it from. However, pumping enough water for several liters quickly becomes tedious and tiring and the pump itself still weighs a decent amount.

The last solution, and my personal favorite, is a chemical purifier. These come in the form of iodine drops or chlorine tablets. They are specially sold at outdoor retailers for purifying water and have explicit instructions on how to use them. Do not buy a bag of chlorine and start DIY purifying your water. You will be DIY poisoning yourself. These purifiers are lightweight, easy to use, and require very minimal effort. However, they do take time to work. You will not be able to drink your water immediately after adding it so some forward thinking is required.
Whatever your trip, don’t be limited by water. There is more than enough H2O spilling around the backcountry for you to take advantage of.   



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How to: sleep warm in the winter

Dragging yourself into the snow and away from the cozy confines of your heated home can be difficult. However, for those of us addicted to the outdoors, we find ways to make adventuring in the winter bearable. Here we’ve got some tips for staying warm while sleeping in the snow.

Gear: An insulated sleeping pad is worth every pound, and you can find some for even less weight than that. Look for at least an inch of thickness to keep you off the cold ground. Bring a sleeping bag rated at 10 degree Fahrenheit or lower. Down sleeping bags help retain body heat extremely well, but be sure to keep it dry. Four-season tents are preferred because of their insulation, plus, you don’t want mesh fabric letting bitter cold wind sneak through.

Location, location: Pick a spot with a lot of trees around to block wind. Steer clear of sites by a river or lake, low-lying meadows, or summits, as they tend to be colder. When setting up your tent, check that the door is facing away from the wind.

Prep: Eat a big dinner filled with fats and proteins, because it will take your body a longer time to digest them. Go to the bathroom before bunkering down. And then go again. You do not want to wake up in the middle of the night to relieve yourself. Do some jumping jacks or crunches, as this will create body heat you can trap in your bag (just make sure it’s not so much that you start sweating).

Stay dry: The age-old trick of sleeping naked to stay warm only works if your other option is to sleep in wet clothing. Take all wet clothing off, and choose synthetic, silk, or wool fabrics for PJs. Make sure everything is dry on your body too, such as feet and hair.

Layer up: Throw all your extra clothes at the bottom by your feet. Tuck everything in tight so you don’t lose heat. Place a water bottle filled with hot water (maybe left over from cooking dinner) into the sack with you. Wear a hat and cinch the sleeping bag tight around your head.

Trying winter camping for the first time can be daunting, but once you master sleeping warm, you’ll keep your backpack ready for adventure all winter long.



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Retort Cooking Meals

Early morning sunrises are best enjoyed with a warm cup of coffee and … oatmeal? Ugh, not again. There are only so many days a person can reasonably wake up and eat brown mush without going crazy. Sometimes, a full meal is worth a little extra weight. Retort cooking is by far the best way to do this during the winter, and below are a few of the simplest meals to satiate your hunger and keep you away from that natural cement.

Breakfast- Boil Bag Eggs

This meal can be as simple or intricate as you like. All that is absolutely required are a few eggs. Crack them straight into the bag and squish around until scrambled. If desired, add your favorite fillings. Personally, I’m a fan of ham, cheese, and jalapeños. Squeeze the air out of the bag and seal tight. Immerse in boiling water and make sure the bag doesn’t touch the side of the pot, or it will melt. After five to ten minutes, remove the bag. The egg will be formed into an omelet shape. Feel free to fork it or go after it like a burrito.

Lunch- Bacon Mac ‘N Cheese

The beauty of retort is that very complex meals can be enjoyed in the wild in almost no time at all. This is certainly one of those instances. At home, cook however much bacon you prefer until very crispy. Crumble and set aside. Melt a couple tablespoons of butter in a pan and add equal parts flour. Stir for roughly five minutes, watching the butter so it doesn’t burn. Slowly add milk and continue whisking. Keep adding until butter-flour mixture is fully incorporated and is just a little thicker than water consistency. Stir in grated mozzarella and cheddar. Season with salt, pepper, and ground mustard, then add bacon and cooked macaroni noodles. Bag into individual portions and then reheat in boiling water when ready to eat.

DinnerBeef Stroganoff

At home, sauté onion and mushrooms in a large pot until soft, then remove. Cut sirloin steak into inch-sized cubes and coat in flour. Brown in the same pot with a little oil and butter. Add a cup of beef broth, some salt, and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a boil then simmer for 15 minutes covered. Add the onions and mushrooms back into the pot and add a little more flour and broth. Bring back to a boil and simmer for another 20 minutes to finish cooking beef. Bag into individual portions. Once ready to eat, reheat and stir in a couple spoons of sour cream. Pour over noodles or eat as is.

Dessert- Camp Apple Pie

Buy and individually bag apple pie mixture. Heat in boiling water and pour into a mug. Crumble over graham crackers and brown sugar. Simple as pie!



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How to: Not fall into a frozen lake

Chances are, if you’re outside this winter, you’ll encounter a frozen body of water. Here are a few items you should check off your list before you step onto the ice.

  1. Take stock of the general ice situation. Is the ice on top of a small, shallow lake or a wide flowing river? Deeper water and water with a current beneath are less stable.
  2. Check out the color and surface of the ice. Clear or blue ice is safer than white, gray, or black ice. Obvious large cracks are a bad sign. Also, snow can insulate the ice, making it weaker.
  3. If walking with a group of people, spread out. That way, weight is better distributed across the ice and if you do fall in, they are less likely to fall with you.
  4. Think about the weather and time of the season. Early season and spring ice is more dangerous than mid-winter. Still, warm winters can make weak spots, so get in touch with the local ranger station to check conditions.
  5. If possible, measure the ice. You can eyeball ice depth, but it’s hard to tell without actually measuring — using an ice auger, ice tool, or even a long log. Stay off any ice under three inches. Four inches of ice is generally enough to walk on. The thicker the ice, the better, and the more weight it can handle.
  6. If you do fall in the ice, have an escape plan. Bring a rope and ice claws (which you can make with wooden doweling and nails) so you can get yourself out or help a friend who’s fallen in.

Walking out on ice can be fun to get a new perspective on an area. Also, top-of-ice travel can get you from from one point to the next much quicker than skirting around a lake. If anything, use common sense when crossing ice. Falling into frozen water is no joke, especially miles into a hike in the mountains.

Photo by Chris Hammock


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How to: Start snowshoeing

Utah is known for its wide range of hiking opportunities up and down the Wasatch Front, and these don’t disappear in the winter months. If anything, the frozen waterfalls and snow-topped pines add even greater beauty to the hikes. Snowshoes help make winter hiking possible, so here are some of our tips for those strapping on snowshoes for the first time.
Prepare for the weather — look up weather conditions in advance. Wear layers that can easily be shed. As you get moving, your body will heat up. I usually bring two light jackets and a wind breaker. I also wear the same snow pants I go skiing in, as well as a good pair of snow boots. Don’t forget to bring gloves and a hat. If you don’t have snow shoes of your own, you are in luck. Renting gear from Outdoor Adventures is only $15 for the weekend. If you don’t have snow boots, it will be an additional $12. However, the total price is about $10 cheaper if you only rent for a single day.
One of my favorite places to go snowshoeing is in Millcreek Canyon, just past where the road is blocked from Nov. 1 to July 1. About halfway up the canyon, the unpaved road is the perfect hike for beginners. The canyon also offers dozens of hikes off the main road ranging from one to three miles and up to 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Another great location to snowshoe is Jeremy Ranch. Fifteen minutes up I-80 from Salt Lake, the Porcupine Creek trail is flat for eight miles.

Photos by Peter Creveling


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How to: Winterize Your Bicycle

Winter is fast approaching here in the Salt Lake Valley, and if you are like the large number of college students whose main form of transportation is bicycle or foot, it can be a hassle to get around. It’s time to prepare your two-wheeled ride for the snow. These simple hacks will make your winter cycling a little easier.


The first thing you need to do to is replace your brake pads. You can get them for less than $10 at any local bike shop or online retailer. Having fresh brakes on your bike is like having good soles on your shoes. The sidewalk can get very icy so when the rubber hits the road, or hits the snow in this case, you have a better chance of staying upright.


Cooking Spray isn’t just for the kitchen. Pam spray or coconut oil spray is a cyclists’ best friend in the wintertime. It can be used as an undercoat for a metal frame and cleats, or temporary lube for your chain. It will make wiping off all that sludge and grime much easier. Spraying it on your frame before you go out also gives your bike a buffer from the elements.


Checking your bike’s tire pressure is always important, but especially on snow and ice. Invest in a small, portable tire pump that will fit in your pack. When filling your tires, fill them at a slightly lower psi so they are flexible and better in bumpier road conditions. Shoot for somewhere around 70 to 80 for narrow road tires and 50 to 60 for hybrid tires.


Thanks to good old daylight savings, the sun sets around 5 p.m. in winter months. Being seen is the most important measure you can take, besides wearing a helmet, to protect yourself from accidents or injuries. Most bike lights run on batteries and the cold will zap them of their juice much faster than in the summer. Try storing your lights in your backpack or attaching them to your helmet when you go indoors to maximize the battery life. Reattaching them before you ride can seem like a hassle at first, but so will having to replace your batteries all winter long. Plus, Mother Earth will thank you for it.

Happy cycling winter warriors.

Photo by Alaynia Winter


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