When Shelby Mann first started hiking, she made a ton of mistakes. From getting lost solo hiking, to almost getting caught in an avalanche, to suffering a preventable injury, Shelby learned a lot of things the hard way.
Those early experiences taught her that — especially for newcomers — the outdoors could be a scary place. However, she also knew that with the right amount of knowledge and preparation, anyone could be become a competent outdoorsperson. That’s why she eventually founded Ground Up Adventures: to keep our trails (and those adventuring on them) safe.
“Having a greater understanding and being more knowledgable means less fear on the trails, less search and rescue calls, and most importantly — more fun and safe decision-making while hiking,” she reflects on her stated mission.
For over a year, she’s been working as a brand ambassador for Sea to Summit. Her background as a Colorado hiking/backpacking guide initially made her a great fit for gear testing, but her long-term dedication to holistic outdoor education has made for a deeper, lasting relationship with the company.
We sat down with Shelby to hear more about what she does, the lessons she’s learned along the way, and what Sea to Summit gear she recommends to those exploring nature’s playground.
GJ: Tell us about what you do — why did you become a hiking guide?
Shelby: I operate an outfitter called Ground Up Adventures and am a hiking/backpacking guide and outdoor educator in Buena Vista, Colorado.
I started GUA years ago when I was doing research full-time at a hospital in Denver and found myself escaping to the mountains every weekend just to get through the week.
I gained an immense amount of outdoor experience solo hiking in the Rockies, and eventually saw a lot of individuals on the trails making the same mistakes I once did. I took a ton of outdoor education courses, from off-trail navigation to avalanche safety.
As I was deciding I wanted to guide, I noticed there weren’t any outfitters in Colorado specializing in outdoor education with the purpose of making trails safer for everyone. Thus, Ground Up Adventures began — so you can learn to climb your mountain from the ground up!
What is one of your favorite aspects of the job?
Seeing people prove themselves wrong or expand what they’re capable of in real-time. It truly is one of the most rewarding experiences and I love being able to hear about all of their adventures after our trip together.
I once had a client come on a 5-mile hike with me to learn more about Rocky Mountain hiking, and the next week he was conquering not one, but two, peaks all on his own. Those stories never get old.
How do you prepare? Research? Lessons learned? Chatting with other pros? A mix?
Genuinely a mix of everything! As a previous researcher, I’m a firm believer that the more sources you have, the better. I typically start with online research and chatting with other professionals in the field. Then, once I get a base opinion, I go out into the field and test it myself.
As it relates to gear, I think one of the best ways to test it is to do it at home or close to home, in as close of conditions as you can to your intended use for it. If I’m testing a new sleeping bag for example, I won’t immediately go backpacking miles into the backcountry to test it, I’ll try it out dispersed camping closer to home first.
What are some essentials that you always have on your adventures?
I always have the 10 essentials (navigation, headlamp, first aid, fire starter, sun protection, multitool, extra food, layers, and water, as well as an emergency bivy or shelter), and I keep some of these items such as clothing and headlamps, in dry bags to make sure they stay protected from moisture.
I almost always bring tuna and crackers as my extra food, so I also like bringing a long spork (biased to the Sea to Summit Alpha Light Spork).
Lastly, I ALWAYS have a rain jacket and small towel with me. You never know when weather can come in, and it’s always smart to be prepared!
How did you first hear about Sea to Summit? What was your first Sea to Summit product?
I first heard about Sea to Summit on a snow-cave backcountry camping trip when my friend was using a STS liner in his sleeping bag for extra warmth. Shortly after, I heard of them again at a local outdoor store in Colorado. I was looking for a small dry bag.
I had always seen the big bulky heavy duty dry bags for kayaking and bringing on the boat, but never a lightweight one. The Ultra-Sil dry bag was actually my first Sea to Summit product; I remember picking it up and asking the employee: THIS is going to keep my gear dry?!
What Sea to Summit product is your favorite right now?
That’s a hard pick, but I would have to say my Telos TR2 tent. I’ve used it on essentially every backpacking trip, including personal and guided trips for the past year, and it still amazes me.
It’s very lightweight, yet still has a durable tent frame, and is incredibly spacious for a two-person tent. It keeps me dry even in the gnarliest alpine storms. I love that I can easily pack the different pieces (body, poles, and rainfly) separately. I spend a lot of nights in a tent each year, and this is by far my favorite and most versatile one.
We sent you an eVac Dry Bag. What’s your first impression?
Instant gratitude! You guys have solved a problem of mine that I’ve had for some time: dry bags that are hard to get the extra air out of! Not to mention, they’re very light for how durable they are. It also packs easier due to its oval base shape, which is really nice for backpacking.
Sea to Summit really paid attention to the details with these bags, including the white interior to make it easier to see your gear inside.
How would you use it for your adventures? Specific gear protection? Specific trips? For organization?
Dry bags help me organize my gear — I usually use different colored bags for separate items to know what they are. The eVac Dry Bag is ideal for my sleeping bag and clothing.
While in the field, it’s essential that my down sleeping bag stays dry, and the eVac Dry Bag ensures this. I recently took it on a very wavy paddle boarding trip and was amazed at how dry even the exterior of the bag stayed. That said, I would definitely recommend it to other folks.
I think most people getting outdoors can find a use for dry bags, and if you’re going anywhere with water or potential for storms, you’ll never regret adding one to your gear collection.
But more broadly, Sea to Summit makes extremely high-quality, durable gear. Their customer service is amazing and I’ve been trusting them on my outdoor adventures for years. I have my clients use Sea to Summit gear, too, because it’s proven so reliable for me. I’ve never been disappointed with a Sea to Summit product!
Last question: What’s next on your list of adventures?
I’ll be wrapping up my season here in Colorado shortly, this summer flew by! Right about the time that the snow will be starting to hit on the high peaks here I’ll be heading to Patagonia, Argentina to lead a trip of hikers on an 8-day mountain adventure!
I can’t wait to see spring in Patagonia. After that, it’s time for more winter adventures!