Both Ariane and I have used Alcohol Stoves for years now. After recently buying the Toaks Alcohol Stove, we wanted to test the efficiency and burn time between our Whitebox Alcohol Stove. I’ve had my Whitebox Alcohol Stove for 8 years and have always loved it.
I compared price, total burn time, and how fast to boil.
The conditions of the test were outdoors, 2 cubs of water in a 900 mil pot with lid. Winds were light to variable 5-10 mph. Both used Denatured Alcohol.
Specs on the Toaks:
Material: Titanium (Grade 1 or 2, no coating)
Weight: 0.7 oz (20g)
Capacity: 2.7 oz (80g)
Weight: 1 oz
Capacity: 2.5 ounces of fuel
Considering the weight and cost. The Whitebox Stove still comes out to be the better stove for the price and burn time. It is .3 ounces heavier, but that is just the stove. The Toaks comes out to be the same if you add the wire screen you need to place your pot on top of and the wind screen. AND you will pay a lot more for the Toaks.
I think it’s a matter of preference if you like Titanium over Aluminum.
Cold weather could obviously affect both stoves. But haven’t tested that yet. Have you?
Do you use an Alcohol Stove? If so we would love to hear what you use and how you like it?
Compression, compression, compression. That is what I think about when looking at new lightweight backpacks. How do can they compress, and is the way they compress going to benefit my overall gear system. When I tried on the Granite Gear Crown VC 60 ultralight backpack, I have to say I was impressed. It’s overall design and durability puts this pack high on my favorite pack list. At 2.2 lbs this is a pack you have to consider on a long distance hike.
With it’s 60 liters of capacity I would find it hard pressed to fill the bag all the way. This pack can carry a full load of gear that is for sure. With it’s roll top feature, you will be able to use this pack in Winter and still keep it as a lightweight system since your layer 4 winter jacket would nicely fit on the top. Since it compresses down, I can utilize unusable space. Again, compression!
The compression of this pack is what I truly like however. The two crisscross of of Linloc compression straps on the side of the pack provides and excellent compression system. The pack design of the Linloc straps can be utilized to attach a rolled up sleeping pad, a tent, or tent poles. Also, there two compression straps that run over the top of the main compartment and provide additional carrying capacity.
Make it even lighter! The frame itself is removable so the pack can be used for ultralight loads without the frame. This takes the pack weight itself to almost a 13 oz pack.
What’s the VC stand for? Vapor Current. At first glance, you’ll notice the ventilation channels molded into the cushy back pad. These channels allow air to circulate from bottom to top, taking advantage of convection to aid in evaporative cooling. This facilitates circulation without shifting the pack’s center of gravity away from your back. Beneath the molded foam, the VC frame has a full length (all the way up to the load lifters), HDPE die-cut sheet that supports loads up to 35 lbs.
Will this pack handle a Long Distance Trek?
I say YES! As more and more ultra lightweight packs hit the market, it will be the durability and stitching that will ultimately stand the test of time. I like the VC Crown because of it’s CORDURA® fabric. If you are like me, you are hard on your packs. Ultimately, a strong fabric will make the difference.
TIP: Ultra lightweight packs means you should have lightweight gear. The maximum weight for this pack is 35lbs. I would subtract 5 lbs to that. Light weight packs maximize their performance when you pack your gear correctly AND carry other light weight gear.
After my Thru-Hike in 2003, I wanted to give back to the Appalachian Trail as to what was so freely given to me. So, each year I invite a small group of Hikers about 7 miles from the start of Trail (Springer Mountain) to provide shuttle services, some food, hot coffee, and lots of encouragement and love. We have never had any kind of debate that we were providing a little “trail magic” to Thru-Hikers. However, in 2017 it was a little different.
After a few hours of setting up our tent, and tables, a GATC Ridgerunner stopped by (he was camping at Hawk Mountain Shelter a few miles away). He explained that we weren’t really doing “Trail Magic” but a “Hiker Feed”. I was perplexed. A Hiker Feed? What’s that? He went on to explain that “trail magic” is a random act of kindness, and a hiker feed was just feeding hikers. Mmmm? But we were doing more than just feeding hikers. Mr Ridgerunner also suggested that we don’t do trail magic right near the trail, but off the trail. Ok, maybe I get that, but was still a little perplexed on the hiker feed vs trail magic gig.
Apparently, this is a controversial topic. Outside Magazine wrote an article back 2016: Are Trail Angels Taking the Magic Out of Long-Distance Hikes?
Some argue that so-called trail angels, who hand out ?food and water (and beer!) ?to weary through-hikers, ?are cheapening what should be a life-altering experience
Another article from The Trek ask’s “Trail Magic – Love it or Hate it“.
I have seen and heard many comments of individuals who believe Trail Magic should not be given to hikers; a view I most certainly cannot agree with
I see both points. In 2003 there was barely any kind of the Social Media we have today. In 2003 the big debate was whether to bring a cell phone on the trail and was THAT ruining the wilderness experience. I personally have seen a lot of garbage on the trail have picked up full bags of it. But NEVER have I seen ANY person providing Trail Magic/Hiker Feeds be the cause of that garbage. NEVER. So I’m perplexed at the controversy with my only withstanding personal debate as to if it indeed has gotten so saturated that is is hampering a trail experience.
Maybe next year, we will only hand out Leave No Trace cards instead of Hot Dogs. It seems that might be a bit boring, but needed. I can only expect that the popularity of the AT will bring out more Trail Magic. In the 7 years I/We have been providing trail magic we have: shuttled hikers, fixed their gear, provided first aid, sent home gear, and one time even taught someone how to use their pocket rocket. Yes, that is true. So I take a little step back when someone tries to redefine the Appalachian Trail and the experience Thru-Hikers will have on it. BUT, I get it. It’s beginning to get crowded for sure.
What’s your opinion? WE sure did get a lot of comments on our YouTube Channel.
One of the drawbacks from getting older is that my eyesight just isn’t the same anymore. I have fought over the years wearing sports glasses, sunglasses, contacts, my regular glasses, the list goes on. Being active, I rarely keep a pair of (fill in the blank) for any long period. They usually break in my pocket or I lose them.
Recently my Eye Doctor recommended a pair of sunglasses/glasses/sports goggles, that have been perfect for all kinds of reasons.
A cross between a sunglasses and a goggle the Adidas Climacool Elevation is great for Skiing, Snowboarding, Backpacking, and simply sitting on the beach soaking up the rays. The Adidas Climacool Elevation model A136 has been around for a couple of years now but no one has managed to copy it or – beat it!
The best part: I don’t need a second pair of glasses to read a map. (Can’t see close) If you need prescription lenses then simply snap in your specially made prescription glasses into your Climacool Elevation glasses.
ClimaCool by Adidas is a dynamic ventilation technology.
The ClimaCool Technology for eyewear (made up of the specially engineered vents on the pad) allows for air to be directed in a way that does not disturb the eyesight but rather manages moisture and prevents fogging providing a more comfortable wear throughout. The foam pad surrounds the entire frame front and is easily detachable. It can then be replaced with the sadle nose strap and be transformed into a cool looking sunglass.
The Adidas Elevation is very versatile. within minutes you can change the side and lenses to produce a goggle suitable for windsurfing in low lighting, canoeing or climbing as the image below shows. Everything is configurable to meet your needs. You can take apart the stems and snap on a band that fits around your head incase you are in a situation they may drop off.
A spare set of lenses are included, these are orange lenses which are suitable for low lighting – they enhance contrast and show up lumps and bumps in the ground – so making them ideal for skiing or snowboarding. Just pop out the lenes.
There are quite a few places to buy these. Consult your Eye Doctor to make sure your prescription is good to go. My Doctor was able to send my bi-focal prescription out and they couldn’t be better.
Let’s discuss some backpacking cookware and how the Sea to Summit X Pot (1 liter) did on our field test.
I guess the first thing we need to talk about is: How are you going to use your Cookware System? I love to cook in the backcountry. So I may bring a extra (lightweight) pan to cook additional foods in. Like bacon, eggs, or bagels. But for some, you may only use it to boil water. How you cook and what you are going to cook is important before you go out and start buying cool gadget cookware.
There is of course the difference in metals. Some cookware is made out of an Aluminum base, and some cookware is Titanium. The most common rationale for choosing titanium over an aluminum one is weight: But just a quick FYI, Titanium is actually heavier than Aluminum as a metal. However, you need more aluminum to equal the same amount of (strength as) titanium. Makes sense right?
Probably the reason Aluminum doesn’t last as long if you cook it over the fire. (Like I do)
So when you are determining how you cook, you also have to take a look at as to what you are going to eat on the trail. Again, I use a 900 mil Titanium pot because I love to put stuff in the pot. Not only hot water, but multi-use my hot water by cooking stuff in bags that are in boiling water. Uncle Ben’s Rice in a Bag for example.
Then there is the SnowPeak Titanium Cups. Weights 2.4 oz. You can pick these up for around 30.00. You are limited however when it comes to creative cooking. But great for just boiling water.
PRO TIP: Campbell’s® Hot N Handy© Classic Mug Mug holds 14 oz and weighs 2.4 ounces. AND has a lid. It’s BPA Free. The huge TIP here. It costs 5.00 and weighs the exact amount as the SnowPeak 450 Mil Titanium Cup.
The other piece of Gear that we love is the MSR FLEX Skillet. In fact, we have put this in our backpack to replace our old (bacon cook pan), yea, we love bacon. AND it only weighs Weight 7 oz.
Our review of the Sea to Summit 1 liter X Pot is we like it. However it’s NOT going in our backpack. We love this for Car Camping and cooking soups and our famous Texas Chili. But we think it has a lot of gear failure after long term use on a Thru-Hike or just wear and tear use. Also, if you are using an Alcohol Stove, this pot will NOT work. The flame is just too wide for this pot. Again, we love Sea To Summit Gear. Just don’t think this pot will last through a long distance hike. Very pack-able however.
Do you have a favorite cook system? Let us know and share what works for you.
To many times we hear of hikers on a simple day hike becoming dehydrated and having to make a 911 call. In fact, just recently an Alaska teen was hospitalized in critical condition and his family members were treated for dehydration after they ran out of water on a hike at Phoenix’s South Mountain Preserve.
Dehydration is defined as excessive loss of body water. There can be different circumstances as to why one becomes dehydrated. However, when hiking in the backcountry, it usually means not carrying enough water, or having ample water in your system when temps are high, humidity is high, are you are physically active.
How much water do you need when Backpacking? The hotter the temps, the more water. That seems to be a no brainner. However, Altitude is also something to consider. The higher you are climbing the more water you will need, even in cooler temps. The average human must consume a minimum of 3 quarts of water per day up to 12,000 feet, and up to 10 quarts above 12,000 feet
Remember: Physical strength has nothing to do with becoming dehydrated. It’s the amount of water your body is consuming. In the high heat. You sweat around 1/2 to 1 quart of fluid every hour you are hiking.
This fluid/electrolyte loss can exceed 2 quarts per hour if you hike uphill in direct sunlight and during the hottest time of the day. www.nps.gov
Remedies: First, don’t wait til you feel thirsty. Odds are, you are already dehydrated. I always takes sips from my 3 liter platy on a continuous basis on my hike. Some good gulps, (at least 10 ounces)every 20 minutes when the heat is on. Less in the Winter. I also consume a gallon of water at least an hour before a hike. Sometimes I have to force myself to drink it, but it has always allowed me to stay hydrated. No matter what the temps.
I also gauge my hydration levels by my urine. A useful rule of thumb for avoiding dehydration in hot or humid environments or during strenuous activity involves monitoring the frequency and character of urination. If one develops a full bladder at least every 3-5 hours and the urine is only lightly colored or colorless, chances are that dehydration is not occurring; if urine is deeply colored, or urination occurs only after many hours or not at all, water intake may not be adequate to maintain proper hydration.
What I carry: Before I even begin to pack, I determine what my water situation will be? Will I have access to water? Can I get water by filtering? Lakes, River, Creeks? Or will it be dry, desert like? In the East, you are probably going to find creeks and rivers. Water purification is essential. Gauge your miles. How many miles are you hiking? Hiking in the desert will require you to double your water.
I carry a 3 litre platy, a 32 oz Nalgene bottle (Usually I put Gatorade or even Tang). I also carry a Katadyn Micro filter. This enables me to filter while I drink. I try and use this as much as I can. Rule of thumb, never pass up a water supply and always use it to your advantage.
Symptoms may include headaches similar to what is experienced during a hangover, muscle cramps, a sudden episode of visual snow, decreased blood pressure (hypotension), and dizziness or fainting when standing up due to orthostatic hypotension. Untreated dehydration generally results in delirium, unconsciousness, swelling of the tongue and in extreme cases death.
Dehydration symptoms generally become noticeable after 2% of one’s normal water volume has been lost. Initially, one experiences thirst and discomfort, possibly along with loss of appetite and dry skin.
Always make sure you plan and prepare your backpacking trip and know how you are going to stay hydrated.
We often get questions about Tarp Tenting in the snow. In fact, if you have the right gear, you can be as comfortable under a tarp in snow, than any other regular tent trip in the Winter.
I use the Equinox 10 X 12 tarp. It takes about 20 minutes to dig a 3′ deep pit and pitch the tarp above it. There are many options including burying the sides under snow to fully prevent wind vs keeping it somewhat open to help with condensation. If you use your poles to support the tarp (and choose a flat site or a slightly rougher nylon tarp–snow really slides off of silnylon) you can cover your tarp with snow for insulation much like a snow cave but without the 2 hour time needed and guaranteed wet-through gloves.
However, tarp tenting in the Winter is a bit different from just pitching it anywhere. I usually look for a place out of the wind. Under a huge pine tree. Or even next to a rock crop. If you get a heavy snowfall, the extra protection will keep your tarp from falling in. One time it started sleeting, and sleet is heavy. Understanding how your tarp reacts to different weather issues may help you when that crappy weather moves in at night.
Tarp tenting in the snow is as much fun, and enjoyable than without snow. Looking out in a panoramic view underneath your tarp worth it.
Select a area that is sheltered from exposure or strong winds if possible. I almost always hang my tarp between trees, it can help block the wind from your tarp if needed.
Try to avoid any vegetation and set your tent up on snow if possible. Snow is the ultimate “No Trace” campsite because all signs of your camp will disappear when the snow melts in the spring. Snow can also act as a insulator in some cases
Pack down the snow where you want to set up your tent before you set it up. You don’t want your body heat to cause deformation in the snow. Also, you want to make sure you have a good r-value sleeping pad. The best choice here is a “insulated pad”. Otherwise the air in the pad will make it feel like you are sleeping on a refrigerator.
If the wind is gusting, dig a hole 1-2′ deep in which to set up your tarp. This will reduce the amount of wind that blasts your tent. Digging out a 1′-2′ deep pit under the vestibule area of the tarp makes getting in and out of your tarp a little easier. Also make sure your Tarp is all the way to the snow level. You can build a small wall of snow around your tarp to block the wind.
Attach 4′ – 6′ of cord to each of your tent stake-out points so you can use rocks or logs for anchors if the ground is too frozen to drive in stakes or the snow is too soft to hold a stake. Regular tent stakes will NOT work in snow. Instead you can use snow flukes or special snow stakes or skewers for anchoring your tarp.
When camping on deep snow, you can fill 1 gallon size freezer bags with snow and tie your stake-out cords to them for deadmen anchors instead of using stakes.
Cooking in the backcounty can be a blast if you have planned your meals accordingly. When planning your backpacking trip, the first rule of thumb is bring what you like. Why would you grab a typical freeze dried meal that you have never eaten or not even sure if you like? Then, start looking at weight. The biggest mistake I’ve ever made while planning a long backpacking trip was to stuff my food bag with food I normally didn’t eat.
There are plenty of food items that don’t need hot water poured in a bag for me to enjoy after a long day of hiking. In fact, many foods now come pre-cooked. Which is why I run to that section of the grocery store. Pre-cooked meals mean I only have to heat them up sometimes without boiling water to do it. For example: Pre-cooked bacon is amazingly good. Nothing like a small bagel with some cheese on it that makes a tasty breakfast.
The first thing I do is make a list of what I like to eat. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Things I would eat at home, but on a smaller, lightweight scale. I like cereal in the morning, but that doesn’t mean I bring a bowl and milk. However, I would bring a breakfast bar, or some powdered milk to mix with cold water. Make an extra 2 cubs of powdered milk, then make some hot chocolate at night.
Another way to avoid cooking during a backpacking trip is to have lots of prepackaged, ready-to-eat food such as fruits, trail mix, and energy bars. Dried fruit is an even better choice than fresh fruit if you plan to stay out for a long period of time. Individual boxes of cereals or raisins are also great, both as a quick breakfast and as mid-afternoon snacks. Most of these snacks also pack a good energetic punch, so they will provide a quick pick-me-up when you’re on the go. Dehydrated fruit by the way goes great with Oatmeal and some hot water. It’s also great to eat for electrolytes.
Be creative: Lots of meals can be prepared on the spot if you just bring along the right ingredients. A good example is burritos or wraps. Just pack corn or flour tortillas, some mayo or ketchup (small, individual packs are best, like the ones you can find in restaurants). Sometimes I have made a pizza wrap with shredded cheese, one small bag of tomato sauce, small package of pepperoni, in a pita bread. You can also make some awesome burritos with Knorr Meals, and pre-cooked steak strips.
What about emergency food when storms keep you stuck in your tent. For unexpected multi-day delays, snow storms or emergencies such as getting lost, high-calorie snacks are life-savers. High-calorie food also makes good meals for ultralight hiking. Some ultralight backpackers swear by peanut butter eaten straight out of the package, using it as their main source of food for days at a time. Jiffy makes small packaged Peanut Butter that are easily packed.
Then of course we have backpacking, or hiking food that’s freeze-dried or dehydrated. This can reduce weight by sixty to ninety percent. If you’re carrying a backpack or other hiking gear with a few days worth of camping food and supplies this can make a BIG difference. This is why I mix it up. I tend to eat my creative food (or dry food) first. I reduce the weight, then it’s on to the freeze-dried food my extended days.
TIP: DO NOT throw those freeze dried bags away. Recycle them. You can buy other dehydated foods like Knorr Foods that you can’t poor hot water in. But you can poor those Knorr Foods into a recycled freeze dried bags (like Mountain House bags) and boom.
Hiking food offers trade offs. While it isn’t usually gourmet that doesn’t mean it has to be bad. After all, a gourmet meal is in the eye of the beholder…or backpacker
TIP: Good to Go Meals offer a great alternative to those who need and want a special diet out in the backcountry. More importantly, they are really good.
Some extra items that help. Ziplock baggies. I can’t tell you how many of these I have gone though. Also, a waterproof food bag. You don’t want your food water logged. I found this out the hard way one time. Just remember planning is everything. Winter food should be different than summer food, but it should all be food you like.
Are you that Backpacker/Hiker that loves to play in deep snow? I am. So when I wanted to buy my snowshoes and snowboots I automatically look lightweight. There are many choices out there when buying a snowshoe boot. However, with the hundreds of choices you have, what is the most practical? For most of us, this piece of gear may not be used as much as other gear items. Unless you live in the Tundra, you may want to look at just how much you will use your Snowshoe Boot. In the “Gear World”, one thing is for sure, some one will come out with better, lighter boot. So find a boot that is comfortable, and make it your best winter friend. I bought the best snowshoes that I could afford based on how much I use them.
Heavier & Warmer vs. Lighter & Less Warm:
For myself, this is an easy question. I asked myself: How long will I be out there? How many miles, and how cold will it be? When I answer those questions, my answer is heavier & warmer. Nothing is worse than having cold feet. Not to mention it’s highly dangerous.
The best boot you can find is the one that is going to be flexible at the ball of your foot. What kind of terrain will you be in? If you are going on a long multiday trip in the backcountry, will you experience a lot of snow? You can choose leather boots, plastic mountaineering boots, snowboarding boots or even running shoes. Since the snowshoe bindings fit most types of boots, you have a large selection to choose from and you may already own boots that are comfortable as well as work well with your snowshoes.
Remember that backpacking up a mountain is a lot different than flat. Choose a boot that will be fit the terrain that you most hike in. You might wear a much different boot when backpacking (Mt. Washington) for example, than on a long distance in trip in Minnesota. Even with no snow, I would change boots depending on the terrain.
Test your boots. Before you buy, bring your snowshoes with you. Make sure your snowshoe straps will fit around your boots. Before you go out into the backcountry wear your boots. More importantly, make sure your boots fit properly. People often make the mistake of buying boots that are too tight. This is bad. The tighter the boot the less circulation your feet get. Make sure you have plenty of room. Wool socks, with a liner perhaps will make your feet cozy and warm.
A good boot manufacturer I like is Baffin. I use the Baffin Tundra and these boots have always worked for me. They are warm and sturdy. You can even buy an insert if your feet are prone to get cold.
When I set out to Thru-Hike the entire Appalachian Trail in 2003, one of the things I first did was get in shape. I mean, you are walking over 2,000 miles up and down every day right? However, not that long into my hike I realized I wasn’t battling the physical part of it. Although, (and let me be brutally honest here), I hurt like nobody’s business the first four weeks. What really took me by surprise was the mental part of the hike. The loneliness, isolation, being wet all the time, being hot all the time, being cold all the time. One could say it’s physical, but the mental hardiness is as important as the physical part of your long distance hike.
There are two dominant schools of thought when it comes to the necessity of physical conditioning before a long distance hike. The first one asserts that the only way to prepare the body for the rigors of hauling a heavy pack up and down mountains is to haul a heavy pack up and down mountains. This being the case, the long distance hiker simply limits mileage and duration for the first few weeks, slowly increasing both as the body adjusts, increases its fitness, and hardens. You will get in shape as you go. No doubt about it. I prepared physically, but nothing does it compare to when you are actually out there.
My recommendation is: Do your best to prepare physically. Take your time in the beginning. You are NOT in a race and hike your OWN hike. Getting to know your gear before you go is VERY important. Practice a number of weekend trips before you carry a pack up and down mountains. Do you know how to pack your backpack up in a pouring rain without getting your sleeping bag wet. Nothing will give you the mental shit’s than knowing you’ll be sleeping in the wet spot tonight. Know your Gear!
The truth is — I’ve been backpacking for years and I’m still learning and five to six months is a long time to hike in the backcountry. You will be hot, cold, tired, wet, lonely, and scared. You will itch, ache, and smell bad. The smell bad part is a huge one by the way. You will be hungry all the time. You will get homesick. After awhile, hiking becomes your job, and you’ll be bored. You’ll want to quit. The hardest part of completing a thru-hike is knowing you don’t have to. No one is making you hike day after day. You can go home anytime. The trick is to keep that far-away goal in the back of your mind while focusing only on the immediate day’s hike. Don’t think of hiking 2,000 miles; the longest trail is just a series of week-long hikes. From one town to the next. Rest. One day at a time. Just this next climb. Beating the Mental breakdown is keeping a positive attitude about why your hiking in the first place. It can be a journey where you will meet and become friends with people from all different parts of the world. You will see the beauty of the trail and what it brings YOU. Laugh when you hurt, smile when you smell, and enjoy it. You may only get one change to hike your long distance hike.
My recommendation: Bring your Ipod and regularly download new songs to listen to at camp. Laugh at yourself. Don’t be seduced by town you are re-supplying in. Have all new clothes brought you to half way in. This gives you a good feeling and reduces the odor you’ve been hiking in for awhile. Stay in contact with others and let them be inspired by you. They may be living vicariously through you.
Mix up your food choices. I seriously could eat anything out there and still be hungry. However, I became sick of freeze dried food out there. I started buying pre-cooked food and started cooking gourmet. Was the food heavier, yea a little, but I really enjoyed cooking it. Spaghetti, sauce, sausage was eaten a lot on the trail.
THE BIG TIP: Don’t buy ANY BOOKS, OR BELIEVE ANYTHING YOU HEAR Before you’re Thru-Hike. IT’S YOUR EXPERIENCE AND YOURS ALONE. Nobody can tell you how to psychologically prepare. They think different than you and everyone’s experience on the trail is different. Sure, they can give you some pointers, and some advice, but in the end all your planning will probably go out the window anyway.
If I had to instill one thing in a new backpacker or a wanna be Thru-Hiker (AT or PCT) makes no difference, is this: BE GRATEFUL YOU ARE EVEN OUT THERE. Gratefulness when it sucks the most will be your most important piece of gear. And nobody can teach you that.
Wow! 2017 will mark 20 years of backpacking for me. That’s crazy!!! No wonder I make sounds when I get out of a chair. What I’ve learned from all those years out on the trail? Backpacking is hard!
I’ve been on this earth for 50+ years. What I’ve learned about life after 50+ years? Live is hard! But the single most important thing I’ve learned from both. Trusting the trail makes life a lot less fearful and lot more plentiful. “the trail” isn’t always something you are just hiking on. Sometimes, it’s the journey your on.
Not sure of the day it struck me that completely and without a single guess, trusting the trail was a no brainier. It was as comfortable to me as a good pair of hiking boots. Maybe it was all those miles, all those trails, all those locations deep into the wilderness, that always showed me how to get home. Even the times I was a little lost, the trail always pointed me in the right direction, when I was hungry, it provided food, and when I was alone, provided company. Although truth be known, it hadn’t always been that way.
I grew up on the concrete sidewalks of Chicago. City boy for sure. Not what you would call “the Wilderness”. I didn’t even start backpacking until I was in my 30’s. Moreover, my camping experience was pretty limited. Once or twice at the most. 1998 afforded me a job working for an IT company in central Illinois when Internet was just beginning. The years previous to that was working in the Insurance business selling insurance. Words can not describe how much my blood boiled at the thought of sitting in a cubicle for the rest of my working career without doing something big. Putting on a tie everyday for work brought me deeper and deeper into the abyss. I just wasn’t living the kind of life that was calling to me. Who was calling, I had no idea, I just refused to answer. That inner voice that whispers in your ear “what are you doing”?, where are you going? We all have heard it, and we all have ignored it. Even at my earliest age, I remember wanting to do something creative and different from what everyone else was urging me to do. Learning to ignore that inner voice I think is called denial.
Denial of who you are and what you can do is, the single biggest mistake one can make in their life.
The most common phrase I have ever heard in my life is “Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it”. I hate that saying. Makes me want to scream. However, so true. I probably said outloud everyday how much I hated my job. Hated, hate, disgust, every negative adjective in the world to describe how much I couldn’t stand what I did to earn a living. It was cut throat, brutle, ugly, and manipulative. I was in the middle of a Merge and Acquisition and the new owners were demons from the outer banks of hell. Everyday I wanted to quit and go.
On a night of cocktails and more cocktails, a freind had mentioned she had just got done backpacking the Appalachian Trail.
I literally asked her “what the hell is an Appalachian Trail”?
It was 1997 and the answer to that question changed my life forever. The Universe gave me everything I wanted. I wanted out, it put me right on the trail. Camping, hiking, backpacking for the next 4 years was all I did dreaming about Thru-Hiking the AT.
In 2002 our company was sold, and they immediately starting laying off key employees. I was one of them. That voice once again started bantering at me repeatedly, and through a much heated debate with my inner voice, in the Fall of 2002, I sold everything I had, and I began to prep for a Thru-hike on the AT. In March of 2003 I left Illinois for Georgia and arrived at Springer Mountain to finally do something that was bigger than myself, to face my biggest fear, to calm that inner voice, and to hike 2168 miles.
Things I’ve learned after 20 years of backpacking:
All the books is the world that “supposedly” tell you how to “psychologically prepare” are just crap until you decide to get out there. It’s your journey!
When I started the Backpacker.TV way back in 2008, video was mainly on YouTube and the GoPro wasn’t even a thought. The goal of the site was to curate some of the best video content (about backpacking) and bring it all to you in one place. Oh, how the times have changed.
This last year has been a doosy of a time. Not only did I meet my equal partner, Ariane Petrucci, we started a guiding business Full Moon Adventures. We bought a 1976 Airstream and are in the process of rehabbing it. Next year we will travel from National Park to National Park, exploring everywhere we can get into a Wilderness.
The idea came to us that we should share that with you. At the same time, teaching all we have learned from backpacking. In fact, 2017 represents for me (Scott) 20 years of backpacking. Ariane has been climbing and backpacking for well over 10 years. That’s a lot of mileage.
So we wanted to do something different, something unique. We love teaching and it always seems so far away when you shoot a video, upload it, then wait for comments. Or answer comments for that matter. Sometimes it seems like days (sometimes even more) before you really get to interact with that person.
We want to build a community where people who love the backcountry can share in real time.
Nothing like hiking in the snow and soaking up the beauty of winter. It’s one of my favorite times to go backpacking. Last year, I went up into the GSMNP in January with 12 inches of snow up by Newton Bald. I couldn’t even find the fire ring. With no leaves on the tree’s, I was able to watch a beautiful sunset and sunrise.
However, large, late-lingering snowfields that obscure portions of the trail are a possible hazard in winter. In the early morning, such snowfields can be frozen ice-hard, and be just as slippery. Even mountaineers equipped with ice axes, which supposedly give them the ability to stop a slip while snow climbing, have often discovered at great cost how easy it is to slip, fail to catch themselves, and immediately accelerate out-of-control on steep snow. Usually snowfields that obscure trails will have a deep, rutted path pounded into them by hikers who cross after the snow softens in the midday sun. Following the beaten path can be safe at any time. Danger arises, however, when unwary hikers venture off the path onto steep snow when the snow is frozen hard.
When the snow softens towards midday, a snowfield can present an additional hazard. Very often the edges of the snowfield, and even the center, can be undercut by melting, particularly if water is flowing underneath. It’s easy to break through the thin remaining bridge of snow and drop abruptly a foot or more to the rocky ground underneath, endangering your knees and ankles. Tread lightly, particularly near the edge of the snowfield and in low-lying areas where you suspect a stream may be flowing underneath.
After the snow melts, steep mountain slopes present a different hazard: rock fall. In regions where the rock is naturally rotten, rock fall frequently occurs spontaneously, particularly during a hard rain or when the sun melts the frost holding shattered cliffs and gully walls together. A bigger threat, even in regions where the rock is basically sound, is hikers dislodging stones that then tumble onto hikers below them. In loose terrain, hikers should never travel with one person directly above another. If a gully is too narrow to permit side-by-side travel, one person should move at a time, with the others waiting in a safe place.
Experts say one the best times to hike in winter snow is late winter, around March. Specifically in the Northern regions. National Parks such as Yellowstone, and Glacier Park offer great winter snowshoeing. By March, the snow is more compact, and has more layers.
In recent post’s, I’ve posted on some common mistakes new backpackers have made while wandering into the backcountry. While it’s important to make sure you have proper equipment, it’s even more important to let people know where your going, and how long you will be out. I found this web site that has some good common sense tips to avoid mistakes.
Not Having a Plan:
Yes, this I do call a mistake. Having a plan can prevent you from getting lost and go a long way towards ensuring your safe return.
Plotting your route ahead of time on a map, assessing the difficulty and perhaps technical nature of that route, making sure you have all necessary gear given the terrain and weather potential, and estimating the time necessary to complete the route are all part of an effective plan.
This may seem like overkill when it comes to a fairly short hike on a trail you’ve been over umpteen times before, but it’s still a good idea to think things over and make a mental review, not to mention make sure the trail map–or, better yet, the topo map of the area–is in your pack. You never know when you may need to look at what’s near the trail if, for example, a section is impassable and you’re forced to re-route, or if you need to look for a short-cut or alternate path due to weather.
Noone Knows Your Plan
If, on that rare occasion, something goes wrong on your trek, what good would an itinerary be if no one else knows about it?
It’s not uncommon that Search & Rescue teams get called to look for an overdue hiker, climber, skier, etc. and the reporting party has little to no idea of where their friend or loved one went. “He went to hike the Inner Basin Trail from Lockett Meadow to Fremont Saddle and back, starting at about noon” is obviously much more helpful to SAR than “he’s hiking somewhere in Northern Arizona.”
Leaving an itinerary and expected time of return (with a little buffer for that unplanned stop for pizza), can literally make a life or death difference.
Being Unprepared for the Unexpected:
In the mountains, I’ve experienced days that have literally gone from summer to winter in a matter of hours–from t-shirt weather to snow squalls between valleys and summits. Calm sunshine to driving rain and lightning in mere minutes.
A carefree walk in the woods can turn into a long night with a broken ankle, waiting for help.
That log jam you carefully crossed on your way out may actually be gone by the time you come back.
Who knows? Stranger things have happened, believe me. So it’s always nice to be prepared with extra food, clothing, first aid supplies and a little bit of emergency shelter just in case. I also like to bring along about 50 feet of tough but lightweight nylon cord, which has a myriad of uses.
Do I know how to use ALL my equipment? (ALWAYS test your gear)
The thing about maps, compasses and most GPS’s (except maybe for some fancy-shmancy auto types) is that they don’t talk much. So carrying them with you is only one half of the equation; the other is actually knowing what to do with them. Watch our video on the 10 essentials
When I say know how to use your gear, the first things that come to mind are navigational tools. One common misconception, for example, is that a compass always points north. No, in fact it points wherever you point it. Know how to use your GPS, if you are even carrying one. One error that many hikers make after buying that pricey new GPS with all the bells and whistles is that they become out-of-the-box users. If nothing else, learn how to set waypoints and do “go to’s” in order to return to your starting point.
Something to keep in mind is that mechanical devices can fail and break. The batteries can run out and maybe you forgot to pack extras. So it’s always a good idea to bring lower-tech backups like that compass and most definitely a map.
Knowing how to use one’s gear would also apply to things like water purification products and tools, ice axes, crampons and snowshoes, backpacking stoves and firestarters, and so forth. If it’s in your pack, know what to do with it.
Leaving the Group
There’s safety in numbers.
And I say, if you go with a group, stay with the group … or at least let someone know if you’re going to stop for a break or step off the trail to see a waterfall or something.
When hiking with a group, I believe in having a prior agreement amongst all members about how to handle different paces and preferences for stopping for breaks, so everyone is on the same page. Keeping at least one group member in sight at all times is the way I prefer to do it.
Backpacking/Hiking can be fun and rewarding, but just make sure that you do your homework. If you are new to backpacking, make sure you sign up for our video series 3 biggest mistakes new backpackers make.
This weeks inspiration comes to you from Mountainsmith Gear. It’s truly a awe inspiring video shot in some rarely seen areas “between the three political and economic powerhouses of Iran, Russia and Turkey called the Caucasus region.
After four tree climbing expeditions to three different continents, professional tree climber, explorer, and cinematographer Dave Katz ventured into the Republic of Georgia on a mission to fuel his love of exploration while raising awareness for at-risk forests.
Dave goes on to mention on their blog site:
In November of 2015, however, my grant application from the Petzl Foundation was approved and, for the love of exploring, I was on my way.
This video is truly inspiring, and that is why we picked it for our inspirational video of the week.
In this podcast we share 5 important tips on what you should know before backpacking down into the Grand Canyon. People often make mistakes when underestimating just how hard the hike will be. Especially if you are backpacking to the Colorado River.
First: Always refer to the Grand Canyon NPS site for info and permits before you go. Plan and Prepare is the key. It’s your responsibility to make sure you understand everything that there is to know about the Grand Canyon before you assume anything.
Second: Just because you are going with a guided service, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your due diligence.
Ariane talks about how small you become when you are in the Grand Canyon
Scott & Ariane explains what caching your water means and why
1 mile per hour is about average
Surprise Valley…it’s a surprise
If you have stories about your Grand Canyon adventure or have any questions, please post them here. We would love to hear from you.
Apologies for some parts of the audio on this podcast. There are a few spots where you will hear a buzzing sound that last for a few minutes. We are working on a solution so we can bring you a quality show. However, please enjoy the content of this podcast. This podcast is all about Winter Backpacking and a look inside of our own packs. We also talk about the 3 layering system plus we add a layer of our own.
Winter backpacking is a beautiful time of the year where you can really see the mountain views. However, it’s important that you bring the right clothing and the right sleeping bag. We talk about which is right for you.
Scott & Ariane share what to look for in Winter Sleeping Bag
The 3 layering system explained
Don’t leave the house without your beanie
Scott & Ariane leave you with 2 great tips on how to stay warm at night
Thanks for listening. Have a question? Ask us in the comments below, we love hearing from you. Also, if you have particular gear that you bring on a winter backpacking trip, post it! Us backpackers love talking gear.
As technology has brought us more connected, is often why we head for the wilderness also. It’s often argued that we are becoming desensitized to our surroundings. Often we want to just get away and renew our soul with nature. However, with all the folklore of what happens to people while hiking alone in the woods, sometimes we look for people to hike with us. While backpacking/hiking clubs do have different meanings, a hiking club is often used to describe a group of individuals who regularly enjoy hiking, often together in groups. If you are an avid hiker or if you just enjoy going hiking, you may want to think about joining a hiking club. For one, hiking with someone that loves hiking just as much as you do can be fun and exciting. It is also important to mention safety. When you hike with multiple individuals, especially experienced backpackers/hikers, you are less likely to have an accident or find yourself in a dangerous situation. I have been on several long hikes before, and often wondered “what if I get hurt right now”. Although, one has to argue, hiking by yourself is very rewarding also.
One of the better places to find backpacking clubs is Google obviously. However, there are alternatives. Meetup.com has many hiking/backpacking clubs. You can tell right away if they are current or older clubs, how organized they are, and how many are expected are going on each outing.
The positive aspect of joining a outdoor club:
When examining all of the benefits of joining a hiking club, it is important to remember that not all hiking clubs are the same. There are some hiking clubs where members only meet up for hiking adventures, but then there are hiking clubs that do much more. For instance, there are hiking clubs that have monthly or even weekly meetings. These meetings are often used to plan hiking trips, discuss the latest in hiking gear trends, and so forth. In all honesty, you will find that the benefits you are presented with will all depend on the hiking club that you choose to join.
When it comes to choosing a hiking club, there are a number of important factors that you should take into consideration. For example, you will find that many hiking clubs charge their members small monthly or yearly fees. You will want to find a hiking club that is easy to afford. You may also want to take your schedule into consideration as well. Do you have time to attend all monthly or even the weekly meetings? If your hiking club has scheduled meetings, you will want to attend them, not just attend the scheduled hiking adventures. This will help you grow comfortable with those that you will hike with and visa versa.
The negative aspect:
Some hiking clubs don’t understand the impact they have in the Wilderness. They will bring 30 or more people in the wilderness with little regard to Leave No Trace principals. These are the hiking/backpacking clubs to stay away from. These clubs are not concerned with being good stewards of our wilderness lands, they are more interested in being a dating service. Make sure you understand what kind of club you are joining.
Remember, meeting new people and sharing the backcountry can be a lifetime worth of memories. Have fun, but always make sure you are a voice for practicing good outdoor ethics.