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11 Ways to Improve Your Climbing Without Climbing

Stop suffering with lightweight backpacking gear at the crag. Go heavy when you car camp—literally bring the kitchen sink—and watch your attitude, if not your climbing, soar.

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After a lifetime of climbing, camping, and being on the road, Gear Guru’s creaky, old bones wish they’d known 40 years ago what they know now: Be comfortable, pamper yourself, and invest in luxurious car-camping gear, and life will go easier on you. A good meal and a restful night’s sleep will do as much to get you up your project the next day as spending all winter flogging yourself on the hangboard—trust me, the whole “dirtbag mystique” thing is overrated.  Here are my recommendations for setting yourself up for success on the rock, while you are off the rock.

  1. Get a cot. Sleeping on the ground is for animals. A cot keeps you off the hard, cold ground and is more comfortable than a sleeping pad. Don’t skimp and get a “backpacker” model with short legs and narrow width. You want long legs and width so you can flop around. Aim for 30 inches wide. You are packing the thing in a car, don’t fret over weight.
  2. For extra cush, and to insulate on frosty nights, snag a “memory”—type foam pad to overlay on your cot. Your elbows and shoulders will thank you.
  3. Bring your pillow from home. Your neck will be sore from belaying. For years, I used a rumpled-up jacket or my clothes for a pillow. That sucked. Your neck gets used to your home pillow, and any change can disrupt your sleep. Your home pillow solves this, and doesn’t cost anything extra to pack in the car.
  4. Sleeping bag: Get a big one. I like a large rectangular bag for car camping so I can splay out, and a cotton lining for comfort. In the summer, I prefer blankets from home to a sleeping bag so I can roll the blankets down to let fresh air in as needed. Why not?
  5. Tent. Bigger is best. Don’t spend your life crawling like a worm into some sort of sick bivy shelter designed for Latok. Even when I’m by myself, which, frankly, is most of the time, I pitch a four-person tent with a tall door I can almost walk through. A big tent will let you bring your new friends over for toddies and board games, and gives you a palace to store your things and hang out in during nasty weather.
  6. Folding chairs and a folding table. Kinda like the cot. Spend as little time as possible on the ouchy ground—including while cooking, eating, and hanging out. If your tent is large enough, you can set these up inside.
  7. Forget about a dinky white-gas pump-up stove that smells and burns everything. A double-burner propane stove is clean, almost odor free, lets you fix coffee and eggs at the same time, and will turn down low enough to simmer curries.
  8. Seasoned iron skillet from home. Not much point in having a stove that will simmer if your thin aluminum pan burns everything anyway. A big, heavy iron skillet that you inherited from grandma (or got second-hand at a thrift shop) dissipates heat so food cooks evenly and slowly, bringing out the flavors. You can even kinda bake if you have two skillets: Place the second hot one upside down over the one with the food in it. Skillet pizza coming up!
  9. Don’t mince around, trying to chop and garlic with a dinky Swiss-army knife or the like, or you’ll inevitable nick a finger, ruining your sendathon weekend. Bring a large chopping knife from home, paired with a small cutting board or a big plate as a cutting surface, and take care of business quickly and safely.
  10. Large, quality cooler. Pay extra for a top-end cooler that’ll actually keep your vittles cold and has sturdy hinges and latch that won’t crap out on you. Go big. My 100-quart cooler takes two to carry it if fully provisioned.
  11. Eat as well as you do at home. You have a large cooler, a heavy skillet (or two), a big knife and stove. Use that gear to prepare quality meals. On the road, I try to eat the same things I do at home, and pack condiments, spices and good oils from the casa. Disrupting your diet with grim road food will literally eat away at your quality of life, and power you down when you want to climb at your level best.