Get Your Mountain Shit Together

5 tips to make you seem like a trek expert

A Cold Start - Photo Credit Henk Morgans

In this post we cover the major mistakes that make trekkers inefficient, slow and sick. Follow these tips and give yourself the best chance of trekking success!

Scenario A

Hi, I’m Chase. That’s me in the blue jacket, freezing my balls off at 5000 metres above sea level at around -10 degrees. I’m only wearing a Gore Tex Outer Shell, a thin wool sweater, and an ever thinner base layer.

You might ask yourself… Why don’t you put some god damn clothes on?

Well, dear reader, because in 5 minutes time, I’ll be hiking up a steep snow slope with 25 kilos on my back. Due to the activity, my heart rate will spike and then settle to around 115 beats per minute. My body will then naturally warm itself, making my clothing choice just right.

Short term pain, long term gain baby!

I’ll settle into a nice pace up the front of the pack, talk some shit about how easy the approach is, even with 25 kilos in my pack (it’s actually 20kg don’t tell the boys). The day’s gear carry to Camp 1 on Ama Dablam will be standard mountaineering procedure. Aaaalright!!

Every now and again I’ll stop, take a swig of water whilst waiting for the next climber to take a photo (a.k.a. sneaky rest). But other than that, I’ll rarely stop on the approach. I have a Clif Bar and some nuts in my pocket, my Camelbak hose on my shoulder for water (it won’t freeze because I sip small amounts regularly to prevent altitude induced dehydration) and my small camera is in my breast pocket to keep the battery warm.

Minimal Fuss. Not much Stopping.

Scenario B 

“Hi, I’m Chase. I’m a super warm but terribly inexperienced mountain go-er. I caught a few extra minutes snooze by leaving my packing to the last minute, stuffing all my shit into my pack with no regard for if or when I might need things. I have no idea where anything is, but hey…it can’t go far right? I mean everything’s on my back!!

It’s god damn cold right now, so I’m gonna put on every layer that I own, in the hope that it will get me warm ASAP!

(5 minutes later)

Mmmm, I’m cozy. But what’s this? A giant, steep, snow slope?

Well now I’m sweating. Should I…?

Shit. Better stop and take one of these 5 layers off.

Hang on, now that sweat is starting to freeze, Ahh I forgot it’s -10c and water freezes sometimes!

Ohhh… AND now everyone’s waaaay ahead of me. I better go hard and catch up…

Ahh! Now I’m sweating more, and over exerting myself, increasing the likelihood of getting Acute Mountain Sickness in some form.

Damn I’m hungry, where’s that Clif Bar? Better wash it down with some water!!

What did I do with that water hose thingy??…….”

Which scenario do you prefer?

I’ve got 1 hot tip for you before your trek or climb.

Get Experienced. Whether you do it in the mountains, big or small, or whether yo do it at home in the bush, desert or even the suburbs if you have to. Just do it. That trail time, in the real world, outside of the gym, is invaluable, for more reasons than just fitness.

I also have 5 more tips, some of which you may have picked up already from the tone. Here we go!

Tip 1 – Start cold:
In good weather, start your trekking day by wearing only 1 or 2 layers. Even if it’s a bit cold, because after 5-10 minutes you’ll be cruising at a perfect temperature when everyone else will be stopping to remove their layers!

If you ignore my advice and start warm, at best, you’ll look like a rookie, and I don’t want that for you. Because you took the time to read, and you’re better than that.

For bad weather- just add your outer shell over the top of a base and mid layer (use your common sense here obviously).


Tip 2 – Get your shit together
Know exactly where the crucial items in your backpack are located. You’ll figure out why pretty soon after your shoe laces come undone or you forgot to fill your water bottle. Five minutes of mucking around equates to about 500 yards worth of trek that your trekking crew would have already covered. Yes, it’s important that you go at your own pace, but over exerting yourself at altitude to catch up is not the answer.

Tip 3 – Pack with Purpose
Keep your rain jacket at the top of your backpack. That’s something you might want to access VERY quickly in the mountains, because the weather can change in an instant. Keep your snacks in your waist belt pocket, and get yourself a hydration bladder. Place anything bulky and light at the bottom of your pack. Pack the heavy things in the middle and close to the thoracic region of your back.

Tip 4 – Snacks at the Ready

The work that your body does at altitude will be supplied by glycogen, which comes from the foods you ingested for dinner and breakfast. That glycogen reserve will probably be depleted within the hour, then, the glucose in your bloodstream will be converted to glycogen, and finally once that’s gone, hooray, fat and amino acids derived from muscle protein will be used for fuel.

If you’re looking to lose weight you might think that’s cool, but you’ll probably need those fat reserves for the hard part of your trek or the crux of your climbing. As a general rule try to eat something small every 2 hours.

Test it out: Pay attention to your body and notice if you get sluggish around that 2 hour mark without a snack.

A month at altitude and a gut infection left my climbing partner Nathan Sharp a strong contender for Mr. Puniverse
A month at altitude and a gut infection left my climbing partner Nathan Sharp a strong contender for Mr. Puniverse


Tip 5 – Drink regularly
Risk of dehydration at altitude is greatly increased due to the higher gaseos exchange from your breathing at a decreased air pressure, causing you to lose more water vapour via the breath. In addition to this, the increased level of work your body has to perform in an (effectively) low oxygen environment means you are likely to sweat more, further increasing your chances of dehydration.

Many of the symptoms of dehydration are similar to AMS, which means at best, your dehydration is a hassle for your team to treat you as suspected AMS case. OR at worst, lacklustre attitudes towards common dehydration cause misdiagnosis of AMS and potentially costs someone their life. Dramatic but true.

So just drink water (and occasionally add electrolyte powder, more on this in other posts).

So to summarise this very brief and somewhat blunt article, the most crucial part of your training is getting out into the wilderness with your pack on, and finding out what works for you and what doesn’t.

Trial and Error. For example, if you don’t know how hot or cold your body runs when you hike, you’ll be mucking around all day, stopping, taking layers off and putting them back on again.

Experienced trekkers aren’t necessarily the fittest ones, but they are probably the most efficient. They are organised, use less energy and take it easy. They have their clothing layers sorted, snacks at the ready, water bottle or Camelbak in a reachable location, as well as having the camera handy, hostlered at the hip ready to snap that first legitimate YETI photo that will make you super rich and famous.

By the way, if you haven’t got your ideal backpack set up yet, click the link on the picture below and watch this quick video on setting up your back pack. Find out what works to me personally, and then try it out,perhaps it will work well for you.

Backpacking Tips for Your Trek
Words by Chase Tucker
Chase is a leading expert in the mountain health and fitness world. Chase has trained hundreds of people to tackle anything from the Inca Trail to the 7 summits, and has been featured on 7 news, ABC News and in Wild Earth and Wild Magazine as a contributor.

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