Since 1991, Lisa Densmore Ballard has carved out a career as a freelance professional journalist who specializes in all things outdoors. A three-time Emmy-winning host and field producer for PBS, she has covered a myriad of sports and adventures for a number of networks, including ESPN, VERSUS, the Outdoor Channel, ABC, NBC, CBS, The Travel Channel, The Weather Channel, Turner Sports, and the list goes on.
Since moving from New Hampshire to Montana four years ago, Lisa has concentrated more on writing and photography than television production. Her award-winning articles and images have appeared in such publications such as Backpacker, Adirondack Explorer, Wyoming Wildlife, Outdoor America and Colorado Outdoors. Her assignments have taken her to mountains in such far-flung places as Bhutan, Ethiopia, Tanzania and the Peruvian Andes. “If you can see it hiking, backpacking or trekking, I’ve probably taken a picture of it,” says Lisa, who spends as much time in the backcountry as at home. She is author of seven books: Ski Faster, Best Hikes with Dogs: New Hampshire & Vermont, Hiking the Green Mountains (VT), Hiking the White Mountains (NH), Hiking the Adirondacks, Best Easy Day Hikes Adirondacks, and Backpacker Magazine’s Predicting Weather.
Gear Institute: Hello Lisa. Tell us what you up to these days.
Lisa Densmore Ballard: This summer, I’m looking forward to two multi-day backpacking trips in particular: in Montana’s Glacier National Park and Wyoming’s Wind River Range. Looking ahead, my next “bucket list” trek will hopefully be in the Altai Mountains in Mongolia.
Gear Institute: As a guidebook author, you spend a lot of time on trails. What gear always seems to finds its way into your pack?
Densmore Ballard: My headlamp, a Tikka made by Petzl, is always packed. It’s really small and I wrap it around my wrist when I crawl in my sleeping bag in case I need light during the night. It throws an even, bright light (no rings), and the batteries last forever.
When I’m backpacking, I rely on an MSR Micro Rocket stove. I love that little stove. It’s super light, stores easily inside a pot or cup, and is fairly fuel-efficient. For those backcountry camps, I use an Eddie Bauer Stargazer 3-person tent. I love this tent. We got it to write a product review a year ago, and it’s now our favorite! Lots of headroom. Lightweight. It is easy to put up and take down, with good ventilation. I usually backpack with my husband and we like to bring along a 3-person tent for the two of us since we usually need to squeeze in our dog, too. It’s just nice to have the extra room.
I’m not sure this counts as gear, but I always pack Aqua Mira water treatment. I’ve tried just about every way to purify water and keep coming back to it. I trust it to kill stuff in the water and it tastes the best. Let me rephrase that. It doesn’t taste at all, which is the point.
Gear Institute: You also have some sponsors who support your work. Give them a shout-out and tell about your favorite gear from them.
Densmore Ballard: I’ve been wearing Lowa Renegade GTX Mid WS hiking boots for a number of years. Unless I’m carrying a heavy pack (over 40 pounds), they are the most comfortable hikers—take ‘em out of the box and go. I need the Gore-tex construction in the northeast as we hike a lot of wet trails, and in the Rockies for shallow stream crossing (rock hopping across creeks) and when it’s muddy. They’re light and supportive, and they hold up over lots and lots of miles.
I also use the Lowa Focus GTX QC WS a lot. This boot has great support and stability with a little more flex in the forefoot than a heavier backpacking boot. The partial rubber rand helps protect my toes in rocky terrain, e.g. traversing a scree field, but it’s not a full rand so lighter weight. Overall, this boot is well built but not heavy. I wear it year-round, on the trail and off. It’s so comfortable, and it looks nice.
If I’m carrying a heavy load, I always bring along a pair of Leki Super Makalu trekking poles. I have several pairs. At age 53, my joints are still in really good shape considering all the climbing I’ve done, but when going downhill it helps to use poles.
Gear Institute: You’ve traveled the world in pursuit of good outdoor stories. Are there any special packing tips, tricks, or techniques you use when you head out?
Densmore Ballard: I put almost everything in large zip lock bags or drybags. You never know when it’s going to rain or snow, or something in your pack might leak.
Also, I’ve always got a lighter and fire starter as well as a wilderness first aid kit in my pack in case of emergency.
When it comes to sleeping bags, I always add 10 degrees to their ratings, e.g. if a bag is rated for 20 degrees, I assume it will keep me warm down to 30 degrees at best. I don’t have much body fat. And I always bring a full-length pad. It’s a lot warmer and more comfortable than a ¾-pad. I figure it’s better to sleep soundly and carry a few extra ounces. If I’m trekking in another country, I always bring my own bag and pad even if an outfitter supplies them. I put the pad on top of the one provided for an extra-cushy mattress.