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5 Basic Hacks For Easier, More Painless Bootpacking

TGR's Jon Desabris and Jon Grinney make their way up the Mt. Glory bootpack this week. Ryan Dunfee photo.

The 1,700 vertical-foot bootpack up Mt. Glory off Teton Pass here in Jackson Hole is a daily tradition for many Jackson locals, as the pounding one-hour hike gains you awesome backcountry skiing in every direction. But whether you're hiking Glory or doing a small hike inbounds at your local hill, bootpacking can be an awkward, exhausting pursuit. 

We here at TGR thought we'd pass along a few hacks we've learned over years of sweating it out off Teton Pass that should help you get to the top with less energy and more comfortably. With all these following tips, the goal is to set yourself up as much as possible for an aerobic workout in which you're being efficient and staying comfortable and dry so that you're not a cold, sweaty, exhausted mess for the ride down.

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The temptation is instead to overdress, fog up your goggles, and wear out your body with poorly-secured skis or boards and by keeping your boots tight and your shoulders above your head as you battle up the bootpack. Don't do it!

Tip #1: Layer Down to Start

In general, wear one less layer than you would skiing around and riding lifts inbounds. Jon Desabris photo.

It's going to be cold at the start of the hike – you either just left your car at the trailhead, or just got off the top of the lift – and the temptation is to layer up so you're perfectly comfortable at the start of the hike. But in five minutes, you'll be a sweaty mess stopping to rip off layers in the wind. Strip down a layer before you leave for your hike; you should feel cold at the start. I tend to run pretty hot, and unless it's really cold, I usually only sport a shell and a baselayer, with a baseball cap and a thin balaclava to stave off the wind without heating up.

Tip #2: Don't Wear Your Goggles Hiking

Nothing will ruin your outing faster than hopelessly fogged goggles at the top of the hike. Stash them in your pack or jacket instead. Ryan Dunfee photo.

If you remember nothing else on this list, please do yourself a huge favor and stash your goggles in your pack or your jacket for the hike up. Nothing will ruin your day faster than sweating in your goggles for an hour on the hike up, having them fog up at the top –after which point they freeze and are completely unusable on the run down that you just donated an hour and several hundred calories to enjoy. Stow them away so they'll be dry and ready for vision enhancement at the top, and bring along some sunglasses if need be.

Tip #3: Got A Pack? Strap Your Skis or Board Up High

If you're on a hike where you're going to be carrying your skis or board, strap it on relatively high to keep your board(s) from knocking your boots as you try to hike. Generally, this means fastening the bottom strap on your back just below the back binding or heelpiece. If you've got an A-frame ski carry system, bring a Voile strap to secure the tips to each other. 

Pull all your pack's straps tight – especially the ones that pull the top of the pack towards your shoulders – so the weight of your gear is sitting as close to your body as possible, and isn't clanging around and tiring out your upper body.

Tip #4: Loosen Up Your Boot Buckles

A loose upper cuff will allow you to lean into the slope on steeper sections. Jon Desabris photo.

You're going to want to loosen the boot buckles and power strap on the upper cuff of your boot so that you can comfortably lean into the mountain without having to waste energy balancing on your toes the whole time. The more of your boot you can keep flat to the snow, the less energy you'll use.

Tip #5: Choke Down on Those Poles

The temptation is to hold your poles way up high. Don't do it! Jon Desabris photo.

Balancing with your ski poles on the way up is a big help and energy saver, but the temptation is to hold your pole handles up high like when you're skiing. I see many people trying to navigate steep sections like this, and end up with their hands way above their shoulders, quickly wearing themselves out.

Instead, choke down and continuously adjust your grip on your poles so your hands are in a comfortable, level position. Jon Desabris photo.

Instead, try choking up on your poles so that your hands are comfortably below your shoulders. As much as possible, you're trying to mimic a casual summer hike, keeping your arms below your shoulder, balancing with your core, and walking aerobically with an easy rhythm – picture your Grandma on a hike – versus doing a series of giant Crossfit lunges and fighting your up the mountain. 

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More well-traveled backcountry skiers eventually invest in adjustable ski poles with grips that extend lower down on the pole, or simple wind a strip of duct tape a third of the way down the rental shop poles they stole so they have something to grab onto during a hike or while sidehilling on the skintrack.

On the bootpack, I'm constantly readjusting my grip my poles, moving up the pole if it's flatter or farther down as it gets steeper. On more vertical sections, I'll even just jam the poles flat against the snow sideways so I can lean farther into the slope, nearly crawling on my hands and knees. If I'm going horizontally across the slope, I'll keep a longer pole on my downhill side and a shorter pole on my uphill side. The goal is to keep your shoulders and arms level and make the balancing as easy on your core as possible.

About The Author

stash member Ryan Dunfee

Former Managing Editor at Teton Gravity Research, current Senior Contributor, current professional hippy at the Sierra Club, and avid weekend recreationalist.