10 Adventure Questions

Local adventure enthusiast and expert James Hedges answers some questions on a variety of topics related to adventuring.

Photo By Brendan McIlravy

How is the Sierra Nevada different than other areas of the west when it comes to adventuring?

“[Internationally acclaimed photographer and mountaineer] Galen Rowell has traveled the world and he came back to the Eastern Sierra and still found that it was the most alluring, beautiful, accessible place for just about any type of activity. You can do anything in the Sierra. You’ve got skiing, hiking, paddling, snowshoeing. You’ve got something for everybody. Where does everyone from the Bay Area go to get their winter fix? They come up to Lake Tahoe and the Sierra. People in Southern California come up to Mammoth and the Sierra Nevada. The skyline, features and terrain, the range of national parks located along the Sierra Nevada make us unique. The history and the geology of the Sierra Nevada is something that draws a lot of people. It’s definitely the intersection of many things that people truly want to be involved in.”

What do you find to be the most popular adventure sports in this area?

I’d say the number one thing is hiking, because when you’re hiking and you have snowshoes on the bottom of your feet, you’re still hiking. It’s something that anybody can do. You don’t have to be an expert or somebody who’s been doing it for years. You can get out there with the dog, with family, with friends. Biking is probably up there, too, both mountain biking and road biking. And I would say paddling [kayaking] is coming into its own. Of the things that are going on in this area, those are the main categories of involvement for people. If you want to say true adventure, though - what some people consider to be ‘hard adventure’, I’d have to say mountaineering and then your harder-core white-water rafting.”

What’s the hottest new backpacking gear on the market?

“There’s a great stove called the Jet Boil stove. It’ll boil half a liter of water in 90 seconds. And it’s extremely fuel efficient. It uses an Iso-Butane canister. Also, the whole ultra-light craze is huge. Like taking a backpack which would normally weigh 6 to 7 pounds and taking it down to 3 and a half pounds. This includes ultra-light tents and sleeping bags. Ultra-light is huge right now. You can take your major pieces of gear and be 15 pounds or below. That includes your sleeping bag, backpack, sleeping pad and a tent, which is impressive. And it’s becoming more affordable. Now you have a much wider range [of ultra-light products] to choose from and it’s not as expensive.”

Internal frame backpacks vs. external frame. What’s the dif?

An external backpack takes an aluminum frame and attaches the bag to that. The frame is not super adjustable. The main reason why someone would buy an external frame backpack is because they’re on the trail and not doing a lot of ‘scrambling’. So having a pack a pack that fits extremely well is not going to be noticed as much when you’re doing general hiking. It’s also going to be a little bit less expensive. A great category to start with kids. The Boy Scouts is probably one of the biggest purchasers of external frame backpacks because you can extend the torso length out and it’s less expensive. External frames are also further away from your back, so it tends to ‘breathe’ easier under hot conditions. Plus you have more lashing points for your sleeping bag, tent, etc. When you shift over to an internal frame backpack, you’re looking at a pack that is very customizable. We can switch out the shoulder straps to fit a variety of different sizes from extra small to extra large for different torso lengths. You don’t want to buy a pack that’s too big and doesn’t fit you, so internal frame packs offer the advantage of a custom fit.”

Is cross-country/Nordic skiing dying out?

“Cross-country skiing is alive and well. It’s actually growing for a couple of reasons. It’s technology. The skis are shorter and wider, fitting a wider range so they’re more stable, so a lot more people are wanting to get out there and do it. Those are called ‘mid-length’ skis. A few companies are doing some nice back-country stuff with cross-country skis. You can go out for your first time and have fun.”

What about Alpine skiing and Snowboarding?

“There’s been a significant boom in snowboarding. It’s hard to keep track of what product is out there and what board is going to do what. Ski manufacturers have had to re-think what they were doing and that’s when you started to see the advent of an ‘all-mountain ski’, which is a ski that will allow you to go powder, hard-pack, moguls, crud, things like that. It started to appeal to a lot of people. Now you’re starting to see a lot more people getting back into skiing, because equipment is more versatile and people are getting more value for their money.”

Why hiking boots? Can’t people just wear some good athletic shoes?

“They can, and they’re going to be miserable. They tend to get more blisters, more stress fatigue. When you think about the structure of the human foot, it’s a lot of little bones with tendons and ligaments holding it together. There’s a lot of uneven terrain in our area. If you take a really soft shoe and you step down on a rock, it’s going to protrude up into the shoe - not into the shoe - but it’ll ‘deform’ your foot. Imagine walking on a gravel road without shoes, mile after mile. Torsional rigidity, especially when carrying a pack, is important for stability and hiking boots are better here. They also fit better in a high-top version because they ‘lock-down’ your heel. They don’t provide ankle support [contrary to popular belief], but do help protect you from cutting and scraping your ankle on rocks and keeping debris from getting down inside your shoe. Those are the main reasons to have a high-top. When people ‘roll’ their ankles, it’s usually because of fatigue or because they’re distracted.”

What’s better in a sleeping bag, down or synthetic?

“When down gets wet it doesn’t insulate. When synthetic gets wet, it will still insulate you. Other than that, I prefer down 9 times out of 10. It usually packs smaller. Take your lowest grade down and the highest grade synthetic and the synthetic isn’t going to pack as small. The whole idea of fill material in a sleeping bag is to give you loft to trap dead air for insulation. Where synthetics come into play is in moist environments or high humidity. Not good for down. Also, if you’re going to ‘beat up’ your bag, like firefighters for example. Materials will break down after time the more you compress them and they’ll lose insulating value. Higher grade downs will break down faster than a lower grade down, for example. It’s important to store your bag properly to preserve the fill material.”

Do I need a wilderness permit to go hiking or camping anywhere in the Sierra Nevada?

“I would say you need to refer to whoever the managing agency is for the area you’re considering going into. There are so many regulations which change regularly. Contact the agencies first. Websites are great places to go for this. Do the research. Regardless, if you’re going into an area, follow the premise of “leave no trace” whether you need a permit or not. There are more and more people getting into the outdoors, so follow the leave no trace policy. Pack it in and pack it out. Also, clean up your dog waste. Fire permits are huge, whether it’s a campfire or running a stove. Again, check with agencies first.”

What are the top ten vital supplies to have before embarking on an adventure into the wilderness?

“There’s a great resource, REI.com. On the left-hand bar, it talks about how to choose gear under ‘Expert Advice’. Click on that and it will take you to the ‘Ten Essentials’ for hiking, camping, biking, whatever you’re interested in.”

James Hedges is Assistant Store Manager for Action Sports at R.E.I. in Reno