Do you have that special piece of backpacking gear that just makes you feel warm and cozy? We absolutely do! On our LIVE Show we discussed what our favorite “GO TO” piece of Gear is. We also share our New Year Resolutions and what we want to accomplish in 2017.
So we did a field test of the MSR Flex Skillet and I fell deeply in love with this pan. A durable, nonstick surface makes this hard-anodized aluminum skillet perfect for everything from stir-fries to the perfect pancake. Conveniently nests inside a Flex™ 4 Cook Set and outside a Flex™ 3 Cook Set. It does weigh 7 oz which in my standards would be considered a bit heavy. However, you have to be who you are in the backcountry and both Ariane and I love to cook. So the MSR Flex Skillet gives the chance to enjoy easy clean up with the non stick service.
There are also some really cool companies that we think are on the move in 2017. One of those companies is Eddie Bauer and their First Ascent Gear line. Now don’t get confused with the first version of First Ascent. That gear also rocked. But this version is a re-brand. But even now, this gear looks really bad ass.
Another company we think is going to rock out gear is of course, Sea To Summit. They have really been innovative is the last few years and they keep coming up with new and lightweight gear.
We wrap up with a Primus Stove give a way and some New Year Resolutions.
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.
Well yeah, of course I used to want the security of mesh walls zipped snug around me when sleeping outdoors. What would harm me in there if nothing could get in? I was safe from it all – safe from the outside.
And then it hit me, I was out here for the outdoors! I was no better inside those ‘safety walls’ then outside of it. Mesh was mesh after all and what was it really protecting me from aside a few mosquito bites anyhow. With the rain fly on I couldn’t see a damn thing out there anyways. I was stuck, inside, with absolutely no connection to the reason I was out there in the first place. I was there to experience the outdoors and I was secluding myself at an arms distance from all it had to offer. So I took it upon myself and embarked upon a journey to feel comfortable among the crawlers of night. No mesh, no barrier. I learned how to tarp tent.
I was first introduced to the idea two years ago when backpacking Virginia’s Mount Rogers with a new friend of mine. For a six day loop, I packed a single layered lightweight tarp tent. Our first night out there wild ponies came galloping into camp, babies in tow, lingering for a few minutes. Only I didn’t see them as my tent’s opening was facing in the other direction. The second and third night, there was the brightest moon shinning over head illuminating the pine forest in magical ways. Yet my enjoyment in seeing it was limited due to tiredness. By the fifth night, the storms had rolled in and it was a fight to even stay upright with the winds whipping so harshly on the ridge. Heavy rain eventually had overtaken our camp and I was summoned to my quarters, quarantined until the downpour lifted. Eventually, I had to make my way into the harsh reality of Mother Nature as my bladder needed to do it’s ‘thang. I unzipped my barrier only to see my friend was cowboy camping deluxe-style across from me. He had already eaten his dinner, was sitting upright snug in his sleeping bag and basking in the beauty surrounding us. I looked around us, it was indeed beautiful – a 360 degree view of the storm flogging us. He clearly had the better deal. I joined in and we sat there for hours enjoying the closeness of the storm’s grandeur while staying completely dry. The winds whipped loudly about us though we weren’t at all effected, a wall of water fell in front of us though didn’t soak us, the clouds whirled about and witnessed the ever-changing anger in the sky. That night was one of those beautiful experiences that remind me of exactly why I love The Great Outdoors. The next morning was no different – though the wind had died down and the fog had rolled in, the rain was still steady. Being our last day on the trail, we were in no rush to leave. After enjoying two cups of coffee comfortably under his shelter that morning, I knew that tarp was gonna be a game changer for me.
Though despite all I enjoyed about it, I still remained cautious to sleep in the open. I wouldn’t actually attempt to remain under it overnight for another few months. I had learned over the years to fear the idea of bugs at night. Though only at night. I’m unsure exactly why, perhaps it is the idea that one fears what cannot be seen. Or simply, my history of bug bites and laundry list of allergies attached to them. The idea of them crawling on me and not knowing freaked me out. Regardless of why, it took me time to build the confidence for action. I knew if I wanted the experience the tarp provided, I’d have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
And therefore, one night, after everyone had already tucked themselves in for the night, I found that confidence to just go for it – I was gonna sleep out in the open! I approached my friends tarp, nudging him on the shoulder unknowingly waking him up seeking a spot beside him. He agreed. Once settled, I leaned in close whispering the words ” just so that you know, I might freak out”. Well. Likely not the best thing to say to someone half asleep. He shot up, inquisitively demanding I explain just what that means. Although I wasn’t sure I could, I wasn’t even sure I knew. I think it was because of bugs – the multitude of bugs I had been watching crawling about earlier. Despite his sleepy state, he was overly kind to have eased my mind by spraying bug spray about the circumference of my sleeping pad. And after one extremely restless night later, I had survived! Not a single bite.
It took many uncomfortable nights of sleeping underneath that tarp before I now can honestly admit I absolutely love everything about tarp tenting. Since then the tarp has provided countless memorable experiences, both solo and with friends. Protection from above, adventure below. The tarp is my preferred sleep system. It is everything I want and need. And after countless bag nights over the years, only twice have I ever woken up with a story to tell otherwise. Here is how I see it, a few spider bites to the hand cannot compare to a payoff of sleeping more exposed to nature. The views, the airflow, the exposure to what I love about nature.
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.
To Filter or Purify? That is indeed the question! A conundrum many that are new to backpacking face. So how exactly do you decided which safety measure to take when there are countless options available to you? It is actually very simple if you break it down in answering these three questions: Where are you going? What sources of water will be available to you along your route, at camp? What do you see yourself realistically using?
First it’s important to know where you are going, as that automatically reduces half of your options upfront! In most cases, hiking within the Unites States it is generally safe to use Filtration only. If your adventure finds you oversees, that’s when you typically want to Purify your water. Each have pros and cons just as everything does in choosing gear so let’s break it down even further, so you understand the differences and the why’s behind the answers!
Filtration: A filter either gravity fed or mechanically pushes water through an internal filter, straining out bacteria, protozoa and debris. Typically filtration alone will NOT filter viruses, as the pores sizing within the filter are not small enough to deter it slipping through. Filtration options range from lightweight to moderate weight though they are easy to use with guarantee of a quick return on clean water.
Purification: A purifier is generally an approved method that treats both bacteria and protozoa as well as eliminating viruses. It typically includes chemicals in the form of tablets or through the use of a UV light source. Most purification methods also treat Cryptosporidium, though this is only effective after an extended waiting period. Chemical treatments however do not strain out any preexisting particulate, and typically can negatively affect the taste of the water. Tablets are your lightest weight option while UV light sources require batteries (extra weight and costs) adding more functioning pieces equaling possible failure on guarantee to work properly.
Here’s a different look at the breakdown of each system since the types of harmful pathogens you’re likely to encounter wherever you go should be your biggest concerns in choosing your method.
Bacteria – eliminated by all the above systems – filters, chemical treatments, and UV purifiers.
Viruses – eliminated through iodine, chlorine dioxide and UV purifiers. Very few filters on the market eliminate viruses and are typically much heavier and more expensive.
Cryptosporidium – eliminated by filters, chlorine dioxide tablets (4hrs wait time), drops (1hr wait time) and UV purifiers (technically speaking they only paralyze or break down the toxic DNA of organisms, halting its reproduction only short term if exposed in great length to sunlight). Iodine tablets are useless in this case.
Particulate aka floating particles of the great outdoors – technically not necessarily harmful to you, but not necessarily something most people find to be appetizing. Eliminated by filers only. Back flushing your filtration system regularly is important to keep filtration effective.
You may ask the question, well why not just BOIL it?! You can, absolutely…and we DO! Often, we both filter and BOIL. Boiling water is certainly the safest method of purification. Whether you’re out camping, or in a country with inadequate or un-sanitized drinking water, boiling water will kill all germs bacteria and parasites. Giving a general rule of thumb by rapidly boiling your water for one to three minutes you’ll have water safe enough for drinking. Though in actuality the correlation of time to temperature truly does matter if you want to get technical (30mins at 160°F/ 3mins at 185°F/ instantaneously at 212°F)…but in actuality who’s bringing a thermometer with!?! Boiling water uses a significant amount more in fuel and therefore if the amount of fuel you bring is a concern to you or you don’t have a reliable source of heat, this may not be your safest method to rely on. It is generally a good idea to use boiling as a back up method, not your main source of purification. One last mention is boiling water will NOT remove chemical toxins nor will it remove any seen sediments or particulates.
Basically, we have a Four Levels of Water Identification in accessing a need for BOIL:
Level 1. WALK AWAY! This is never safe to drink! An exception might possibly be in a dire emergency situation having knowledge there is still risk in getting sick, boiled three times a charm or not! You’ll know it when you see it – these are typically stagnant agricultural ponds with animal excretion nearby or in and sediment film on top.
Level 2. SAFE TO FILTER! And maybe also BOIL! This is not a creek or river, instead is a stagnant pool but you know it’s filled fully or partial with fresh rain water. You have no way to know what or who has contaminated the water, other than the debris and particulate on top but it’s a fresh pool. This is when we opt to boil in addition to filter if this is our only water source.
Level 3. GREAT FOR COOKING! Typically a questionable creek. This is a viable water source, due to its movement of flow, but not entirely trustworthy for reasons identified nearby. If you’re already planning on cooking a hot meal for dinner, save time filtering your water and just boil instead! You’ll be just fine, unless you really just feel more comfortable doing both.
Level 4. GO FOR IT! This is your best possible scenario! Typically a fresh water lake, rivers or creeks actively flowing at a good rate per second. Mountain springs are not exactly abundant all over, but when you do find one (bubbling upward from the ground) that is already filtered fresh spring water. In many cases this is okay to drink from without filtration…if you dare! However, if downstream from the initiating source of the spring, use caution and filter – you just never know what is cascading down from above…
Now, with the decision made – filtration vs purification – you can now focus on what type of system you prefer using within the retrospective grouping. It helps to pay attention to your habits at home, simply because you want to stay as true to what you will be most comfortable with when you’re out there. Close your eyes…visualize yourself using each system from beginning to end – is this system realistic for you, will it be a good option for YOU? In regards to Filtration, you’ve got the Life Straw – Sawyer Mini/ Squeeze – Katadyn Hiker/Hiker Pro/Gravity Camp – Platypus Gravity Works – MSR MiniWorks EX – just to name a few…
So how exactly do you choose from all these options!!? That’s where knowing what sources of water will be available to you along your route is key! Will you be crossing along several small creeks or rivers along the way or are you in higher elevations where your source of water is further below you? Knowing this can answer definitively what system will be best for you!
Reviewing now only our own personal favorite Filtration Systems, rather than continuing on with talk of Purification. First and foremost, the Sawyer Mini – our personal favorite when hiking in the Southeast or even lower elevations because we are sure to cross several accessible streams along our path! It’s a quick and easy way to grab a safe and refreshing water refill. With the Sawyer Mini weighing only 1.4oz it’s an extremely lightweight and convenient option to carry. Often we combine that in a gravity fed filtration system inserted in between a dirty and clean platy bag. This saves us significant cost in comparison to buying pre-packaged gravity systems and allows for multi-use of our gear = the accessibility of the Sawyer Mini on the trail, turning no-hands required gravity fed system in camp!
The Katadyn Base Camp gravity fed filtration system is our choice system when we have large groups with us, as it is large enough to supply a large amount of filtered water without resupply. It’s best feature is its wide mouth entry to easily and quickly access enough water to fill the 10Litter capacity it holds. This system uses a carbon filter, the same as in the Katadyn Hiker/Hiker Pro pump filter. The only downside to this is weight, especially when packed out after use.
Slightly heavier in weight but a necessity when in higher elevations when our water source is slightly more inaccessible below us, the Katadyn Hiker pump is a fool proof way to ensure safe drinking water. Being a bit bulkier as it has slightly more components involved, this carbon based filter total weight is only up to 11ounces. This requires you to do all the work in filtering your water – but perhaps that means you’ll appreciate it more!
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!
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.
When someone first try’s out backpacking for the first time, often they get a “sticker shock” when they start pricing out gear. Of course, the first thing they get is the 10 essential list that they run out and buy at REI or their local outfitter. That’s why we wanted to do a show on buying the 10 essentials on a budget. Let’s face it, gear can get a bit pricey, so there is no reason why you need to run out and spend a ton of money. Some are not even sure backpacking is going to be a regular thing for them, so the 10 essentials often sit in a box somewhere deep in your closet.
The first step to remember is the 10 essentials can be found in a lot of different places. For example: did you know that Walmart has a pretty big camping section and that most of your 10 essentials can be found there or on their online store.
First, let’s list the 10 essentials: We have linked all the items on this list with what can be found at Walmart for a LOT LESS money. AND it’s good quality gear.
Navigation (map and compass) *Always carry and emergency whistle
Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen) *Get this at CVS or Walgreen’s in the Travel Section.
Insulation (extra clothing) *Learn the 3 Layering system
Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles) *We use Firesticks that you can break up use
Repair kit and tools *Make sure Duct Tape is in your Pack
Nutrition (extra food) *Always a good idea to bring extra food that you don’t need to cook.
Hydration (extra water)
Hydration and Insulation are important features of the 10 essentials and would advise to do your research first.
The Emergency Shelter is a big one. I have always used the Space Blanket since I can make a shelter and use it to reflect heat.
TIP: Think about what if your Backpack goes missing. Or a Bear carries it away. Or you just get turned around and can’t find it. Where are your 10 essentials? I always carry my space blanket, first aid kit, and the ability to make fire in a small bag that fits into my Hiking Pants or a hanging on a Carabiner hooked on to my belt loop. That way I always have the ability to have shelter, fire, and first aid if I loose my backpack.
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.
One of the more popular comments we get when we teach backpacking is “what happens if I get lost”? It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Any Search and Rescue person would tell you it’s normally day hikers, but on occasion it happens to backpackers. The Geraldine Largay who got lost on the Appalachian Trail should all remind us it can happen, and to be aware of our surroundings when backpacking, even on a well marked trail.
Before you set out into the backcountry, here are a few tips to make sure you don’t become lost. Learn how to use a map and compass. Call ahead, read a guidebook and study maps of the area you’ll be hiking to become familiar with trails, roads, rivers, streams, mountains and other features. Use these as reference points as you hike. Once you’ve planned your hike, leave your trip plan with family and friends – then make sure you stick to this plan. Learn how to use a GPS. They are good investments if you plan on hiking a lot. NEVER rely on your Cell Phone. If you don’t have service you may not be able to call out. However, you should always dial 911 even though you cell phone say’s you don’t have service.
Take your map, gps and compass with you. That way, if you become disoriented, you can stop, refer to your map, or gps and try to reorient yourself. Experienced hikers say that most people find their way after studying a map and the surrounding terrain for five minutes, so don’t panic if you can’t immediately figure out where you are. Also, take a whistle; if you become lost, blow it loudly at regular intervals to attract attention.
You may need to be on higher ground in order to identify landmarks such as streams and ridges. Just don’t wander far from your original route; remember, this is where rescuers will start looking for you if your friends or family tell them your planned route.
Still lost? S.T.O.P: Stop, Think, Observe and Plan. Decide on a plan and stick to it. If the last known location is within a reasonable distance, try to go back to it. If you can’t find any recognizable landmarks by backtracking, stay put.
IF YOU CAN’T RESCUE YOURSELF
1. Stay warm and protect yourself from the elements. If possible, stay near an open space; move into it to be visible from the air and ground. Make sure that if you are in a clearing, you can light a signal fire. Fire is good, but know how to make smoke. Helicopters can see smoke, not a small fire. Just don’t burn down the forest. A reflective CD also works to alert aircraft that maybe searching for you. Just in case you can’t get a fire going.
2. Try to remain hydrated.
3. Put bright clothing on, or put out something that’s bright to attract attention.
4. Continue to blow your whistle at regular intervals.
5. Don’t lie on bare ground. Use the equipment you brought to protect yourself from the elements. Wind will make things much worse. If anything keep yourself from wind. Use leaves or pine to make insulation.
6. Stay together if you are in a group. Common mistakes are separating.
One of the things I do is to carry a small bag outside my backpack. Just in case I loose my backpack. Usually carry it on my belt. I have a small first aid kit, a space blanket, lighter, some kindling, and a piece of cotton soaked in Vascaline. A soaked piced of cotton soaked in Vascaline get can wet and still be used to get a fire going.
If you do a lot of backpacking, it’s not a bad idea to invest in a Wilderness Survival Class. They are not that expensive and will teach you a wonder of good practices for the “just in case”.
The majority of hikers, and backpackers never get lost. But it’s always good to plan and prepare. The most important part, is to always make sure people know where you are going.
Lots of websites out there to reference for getting lost. Research before going, may save your life.
Wow! Lot’s of info on how to choose a backpacking stove right? What’s the best, which one is the lightest, or the fastest too get water to a boil. It really is a daunting process if you are new to backpacking. We put this video together to explain how to choose the right one for YOU!
Backpacking stoves are pretty simple in their logic right? Small, packable, and they need to boil water. Where it get’s complicated is which one do I use? Or better yet, what fuel is the right one?
Ask yourself 3 basic questions first:
Where am I going?
How long will I be gone?
Is weight important?
Where you will be going is important because it will automatically help you in choosing the right kind of backpacking stove. Why? Will you be in cold weather, warm weather, low elevation or high elevation?
How long will you be on the trail is important also since it’s the amount of fuel you may need to carry.
And of course, is weight important to you. Why? Because there are plenty of stoves out there that are extremely light weight and you can make yourself.
For new backpacking just getting started, we recommend the MSR Pocket Rocket. It’s sturdy and easy to use. Not a lot of moving parts so it won’t break down in the field. The drawback is the MSR fuel canister that is NOT refillable. Yes, you can recycle if you rip the can apart and separate the metals. But they are NOT environmentally friendly.
However, there are much lighter stoves and fuel that is better for the environment. We love the White Box Alcohol Stove for people that don’t have to boil water in under a minute. You can also make your own alcohol stove with a little DIY project and some creativity. Why not?
Do you have favorite backpacking stove? We would love to hear your story or see your comments. Let’s talk stoves!!
You might be surprised how fast you can overpack your backpack. There are 3 “big ticket” essentials as I call them, that are not only important, but impact your total pack wieght. Keep in mind, though, it is a process. You have to be willing to be flexible with your gear. You will, undoubtedly, think of something new practically every trip. Here is a compilation of Backpack Weight Reducing Tips.
2-3 lb Pack, 2 lb Sleeping Bag, 2 lb tent: These are my “big ticket” items. These 3 very important items are going to be half your weight. Choose wisely. Your gonna carry it. Seek out a good 2 -3 lb pack that is relatively comfortable with 30 lbs in it. Since, most of the time, you will be carrying less than that, the suspension of that 2-3 lb pack should be adequate for you. Get a quality 2 lb, goose-down (or dry-down) sleeping bag. How do you choose what rating it is? When season do you do most of your backpacking in? Normally, if you go for a 20 degree bag, you will be fine in almost all 3 seasons. (Spring, Summer, and Fall) I generally bring my 20 degree bag almost all year round since I’m higher in elevation and mountain weather can be cold at night even in summer months.
Look for TITANIUM cookware: Pots, stoves, anything metal, if made of titanium, will be significantly lighter than any other metal. It ALL counts
Water Is Heavy: (1) If you know the area you’re in and can be sure there are watering holes up ahead, pack only enough to get to the next water hole. Also, (2) if you drink as much as your innards can hold before you hit the trail and at each water fill-up, thereafter, you won’t need to carry as much, after you get going. This is a crucial step before any hike anyway. I use the Sawyer Mini. I love this because I can drink water on the go. I don’t neccessarily have to carry a lot of water if I am going be crossing a lot of creeks and streams.
It’s all about Compression: Use the right size compression sack–wasted space means unnecessary weight. Compresson, compression, compression. How you pack your pack is as important as what you put in it.
Go tiny: Sunscreen, bug-juice, toothpowder/paste, condiments, prescription medicine, antacid, vitamin I (ibuprofen), toilet paper, and anything else for which you can measure usage according to time (weeks, days, hours). Weed out portions of these items that will be appropriate for the time you’ll be in the backcountry. In other words, know the environment your in? Are you in the woods where there are tons of Mosquitos? or in alpine country where blistex might be better.
WANT VS NEEDS: This is the decision I make every trip. What do I want to carry and suffer with, or what can I leave home. All the little stuff they sell at your local camp store, like little battery operated fans to keep you cool, and the solar shower, is going to be left at home. About the only extras I carry are emergency blanket, compass, whistle, and special needs, like asprin.
Just remember this article when your hiking up hill for a few hours. See you on the trail
Trail etiquette is huge! It separates you from knowing what you’re doing, from people not liking you. I have seen this a hundred times on the trail. For example: If you bring your dog, leash it during meal time. Some other questions I get such as, “Can I take this shortcut off the trail”? The first answer is NO, the second answer to this is to read and learn the principals of Leave No Trace. In fact, when we take our new students out on the trail for their first backpacking trip. We have a Leave No Trace Awareness Class right there at the trail head.
On of the first rules of trail etiquette is simple: stay on the trail. The more heavily used the wilderness and the more fragile the landscape, the greater the importance of this guideline. Some beauty spots, like that flower field, should be treated like works of art. Few people are so boorish that they would trample across a painting if it were laid out on the ground in front of them. Alpine meadows should be treated with equal respect.
Staying on the trail also means refraining from cutting switchbacks, the places where a trail makes a hairpin turn and almost doubles back on itself. It’s tempting to the ill-informed to leave the trail just before the turn and take a “shortcut,” regaining the trail just after the turn. This too is an invitation to severe erosion, which, once started, is extremely difficult to stop. For the same reason, you should avoid walking side-by-side on a trail unless it was built to accommodate such traffic.
Trail etiquette includes a few other pointers, some of which are backed up by actual regulations. Harassing wildlife is also prohibited. Enjoy animals from a distance. If you want to photograph them, buy a long lens (300mm or longer) or content yourself with composing a landscape photograph with the animal as part of the scenery. It’s not worth a Selfie and disturbing wildlife. Wildlife doesn’t care about your Facebook Selfie. Feeding animals is also prohibited. Handing out tidbits corrupts the animals’ normal eating habits and increases the population artificially, beyond what the land can support in the off-season when all the tourists are gone. In wilderness areas and national parks, every facet of the land is protected. That means that visitors shouldn’t pick the flowers. It also means leaving antlers, bones, wind-sculpted driftwood and all historic and prehistoric artifacts in place. This includes pot shards and arrowheads as well as other objects.
Respect the trail, it respects you. It gives you everything that you need. Make it better for the next person who comes along. Pick up garbage if you see it on the trail. 🙂
See you on the Trail.