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?
From the moment I weighed my pack at Amicalola State Park (25.7 lbs) and registered for my trek on the Appalachian Trail, I knew it was going to magical. What I didn’t know was that from all the hundreds of people that hike the trail, the hundreds that visit the trail, and the hundreds that hike up to Springer Mountain to start their Thru-Hike, I would be completely alone to watch the sunset. In my first few hours of my Long Distance Hike, it was already so magical.
As day 1 ended. I was officially on the AT and moving North. My body was going to have to get use long days and long mileage on the trail. Yea, I was sore the first few days for sure. But after camping all by myself on Day 2, I was refreshed. My goal was to try and stay away from as many people as I could and soak up the trail in a private way.
Have to admit I was a little nervous about the Norovirus spreading rapid on the AT. A lot of hikers were going down and it a bit discerning.
Day 3 was another awesome day. Great weather, and clear nights. One more long day and then hike into Neel Gap and Mountain Crossings where I’ll take my first shower and sleep with a roof over my head.
My total pack weight feels really good. So happy about my Hyperlite Mountain Southwest 3400 Pack. So far so good as food and water goes. We will see when I get my legs and body really working how much more food I’ll start eating. I have been sleeping in my tent and staying away from the shelters. But then again, no storms to speak of…so far.
Finally on Day 4 I hiked up and over Blood Mountain and was greeted by friendly faces and a hot meal. Blood Mountain has a lot of folklore to how hard the hike up is, but it’s not really that bad. The views were awesome however. I’m really happy it was good weather. After a quick little tour, a snack and some photo opps, I was on my way down.
ALL my Trail Updates can be found on our Facebook Page. Here is LIVE Stream from the one I did at Mountain Crossings on Easter Sunday. I would love to hear from our outdoor community. It does really inspire me when I hear from everyone.
Hope you like the video. If you have any questions about my Trek on the Appalachian Trail, please ask, I always respond to comments.
The thought never occurred to me when I was young that someday I would be hiking in a thunderstorm, relentless downpours and outright suck ass weather. I mean, who really dreams about THAT? Hiking uphills until you think the Universe has played a mean trick on you. Hiking downhills that seem to never end. Yea, it didn’t start out this way. But now, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Hiking the AT wasn’t always on my bucket list. For sure spending 5 months smelling my own body odor just wasn’t ranking high on my accomplishment list either. But I guess when you love the outdoors as much as I do, it’s only a matter of time before doing something that is bigger than yourself calls to your soul.
When we started doing our LIVE shows on our FB page and I heard from other backpackers who shared there story on trails from all over the country. I knew it was time for me to share my trail story with you. I also needed to re-test myself, and feel accomplishments and the hardships of a long distance hike once again.
I hope you can come and share my journey with me. Hearing from our outdoor community keeps us going.
If you have questions about my gear, or any general questions that you have? You can always connect with me.
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.
How do you buy your backpacking gear? Do you buy all of it online? Or do you physically go into your local Outfitters Store? We do both. Buying backpacking gear, or we should say “the right” backpacking gear can be a daunting experience. You get advise from social media or friends and just about everyone has their opinion.
The truth is….You have to buy what’s right for YOU! You try on shoes yourself when you need new shoes right? You have a specific preference based on what you know fits. Same thing with gear. My rain jacket I love, but that doesn’t mean you will love it. It has to feel comfortable and (has to keep you dry). So, we put together some “GO TO” online shops that we absolutely love.
If you do buy your gear online, which are your go to web stores? We share our top 4.
The Best Deals For Outdoor Gear –
1. thebackpackerstore.com – This is NOT a website, but a database of ALL outdoor online stores that put “daily deals”out there that change (of course) daily. Lot’s of categories and coupons to use also. Most gear is overstock and 35-75% off.
2. campsaver.com – Campsaver is a great resource for backpacking gear. In fact, had the lowest price for the Hyperlite 3400 backpack (that we just recently bought). It generally has coupon codes for first time buyers also.
3. altrec.com – We’ve been shopping at Altrec for years. They have great Customer Service and some great deals on outdoor gear.
4. moosejaw.com – Moosejaw is another place to recieve great online Customer Service. Rumor has it that Walmart maybe going to buy them. If you are looking for some discounted prices on gear, always check them out on your top 3 list. We do.
If you have some good places to look for gear, let us know. Us Backpackers are always looking for gear deals right?
After 10 years teaching backpacking, we put together our top 10 suggestions for new backpackers. For people just learning or getting ready for a backpacking trip, it can be pretty intimidating knowing you will be out in the wilderness. Rest assured that there is no reason to be worried. However, we have seen a lot of mistakes that could be pretty easily avoided if people learned some basics before buying their gear, or just heading out.
If you have some we might have missed, let’s hear from you.
1. Plan and Prepare
2. Make sure your backpacking is fitted correctly
3. Learn how to pack your pack
4. Test your gear BEFORE you hit the Trail
5. Make sure you know your Water Filtration System and how to use it.
6. Practice How to hang a Food Bag (or Bear Bag)
7.Treat your Blisters, BEFORE they are actual blisters.
8.Reduce your pack weight by a little meditation before you pack it
9. Clean your GEAR after your trip.
10. Trust the Trail. It will always provide everything you need.
Join our LIVE show every Thursday on our Facebook Page 12:00 AM EST
3 Mistakes New Backpackers make. If you are new to backpacking, we will send you 3 free videos to get you started. www.thebackpacker.tv/3-mistakes
If you are like us, then you love your cup of coffee in the morning. Anytime we are on the trail backpacking into the wilderness, the first thing we do in the morning is get out our stoves and get our water HOT. There is nothing better (in our humble opinion) then to look out from your tarp, gaze into the woods, and sip your hot piping cup of coffee.
We put together a list of what we think is some of the best coffee for backpacking based on price, weight and taste. We started with what we usually bring on the trail.
Rating System: High “Like”. Medium “Like”. Low “Like” on Taste. Same for Price.
Starbucks Via Instant Pikes Place
We give this a High “Like” for it’s strong coffee taste and caffeine. However, we give this a “Low” Like for Price.
You can purchase this at REI online or locally.
Cafe Bustelo Espresso Instant Coffee
Instant Micro-ground Ready Brew Coffee
We give this a High “Like” for it’s taste and a High “Like” for price.
You can purchase this at Target online
Nescafe Clasico Instant Coffee
We give this a Low “like” on this coffee. It’s powered and not real coffee. However we give it a high “like” for it’s price.
You can purchase this at Target for 99 online
Folgers Instant Coffee Crystals
We give this a Low “Like”, and a High “Like” for the price.
You can buy these in bulk at Amazon online. We have seen these go for a 1.00 for 7 packs. Check the expiration date however.
Folgers Coffee Singles
Folgers Coffee Singles Are Single-Serving Coffee Bags Made W/Mountain Grown 100 Percent Pure Coffee
We give this a High “Like”, and a High “Like” on Price.
These tea bag coffee packs are REAL coffee grounds. We have used these for years and love them. TIP: put two in a cup to get a stronger cup of coffee. You can buy these at Walmart Online and get a much better price point per cup.
Trader Joe’s Instant Coffee w/Creamer & Sugar
All dressed up with creamer & sugar
Pack of 10
Made with 100% Arabica Coffee
We give this a Medium “Like” for taste but a High “Like” for price. For just $1.99 – that’s about 20¢ a cup! AND you don’t have to pack creamer and sugar. You can buy these at Trader Joe’s. If you want the price break, you have to buy them IN the Store.
Trader Joe’s Pour Over Brew in a Bag
Self contained filtered coffee system with rich taste of French Press
Included are six pouches of Brazilian Dark, Medium Roast Arabica
2 servings each pouch, just add water and you decide the strength
We give this a High “Like” for taste, but a Low “Like” for packing it in your pack. We give it an extra High “Like” for the price. At 1.49 you can squeeze two cups of coffee from one bag. It’s real coffee. So you can’t go wrong with the taste. However, they are big and bulky and hardly going to fit nice and snug in your food bag.
You can buy these at Trader Joe’s. OR Amazon if you want to buy in bulk. If you want the price break, you have to buy them IN the Store.
Folgers Cappaccino French Vanilla
Instant Micro-powdered Coffee
We give this a Low “Like”. However, that is just us. We have seen many backpackers use this. We just are not cappuccino drinkers. We give this a Medium “Like” for price however. We found that Target had the best price.
We probably missed some of your favorite coffee. This is what we usually see on the trail. Post what you like. Do you even drink coffee in the backcountry? Maybe Tea?
Drinking a morning cup of hot coffee while backpacking or camping is amazing…But what's the best coffee you can buy? Instant? Real grounds? We will do a LIVE taste test and let you know. We may start talking a bit fast however, so try and keep up. www.thebackpacker.tv
Posted by TheBackpackerTV on Thursday, March 16, 2017
Backpacking in the cold, especially in the Winter months can be a beautiful experience. After all, there isn’t any foliage and high elevation views can be pretty spectacular. That’s why it’s important to understand the Layering System. We like the 4 layering system and there are many articles out there explaining it.
There are three main components to a layering system.
The first layer is next to skin: The main job of this layer is to wick sweat away from your skin, then dry quickly so you don’t get chilled. Cotton sucks at this because it takes forever to dry. I still am amazed at how many hikers I still see wearing a cotton t-shirt. Big NO NO. Our favorite base layers are wool. They are very efficient, warm when it’s cold, cool when it’s hot, and they don’t stink up like so many synthetics do. The bad news is that wool tends to dry slowly when it gets wet (either from precipitation or sweat). Synthetic materials (polyesters) also make good base layers, and people with very sensitive skin often find wool itchy, so poly is a good wicking, quick-drying option. Perhaps the best of all are wool/synthetic blends which are becoming more and more popular because they have the quick-dry ability of synthetics, with the warmth and ant-stink talents of wool. A note about fit: For cool or cold weather, your base layer should be snug, because if it’s not touching your skin, it can’t wick sweat. That means your sweat sits on your skin until it evaporates, which leaves you shivering.
Second Layer is Insulation: This is the layer that traps your body heat. It can range from lightweight fleeces and wool sweaters to full-on puffy down jackets; it just depends on the season. In all but the coldest of weather, your insulation will remain in your pack while hiking, so your body heat can escape and dissipate. But as soon as you stop moving, put it on so you won’t get cold as your sweat dries.
Third Layer is the Shell: The job of a shell is twofold: it cuts the wind and keeps you dry. In summertime, you can get away with a wispy windshell, but for more challenging weather and extended trips, you want a waterproof/breathable shell (like Gore-Tex or eVent) that keeps water out, but lets sweat vapor escape, so you don’t get wet from perspiration inside your layering system.
The Forth or Optional Layer is the RainJacket: When it’s cold, many people have their second layer as a lightweight pull over. Third Layer is then the lightweight puffy down jacket, THEN the forth layer is your windshell or rain jacket. In our video we like the 4 layering system as you can see.
The main principle of layering is that you are regularly adding and removing layers to keep your body temperature even. An example. We start off on chilly morning hike wearing my base layer and a light fleece. As our body warms up, we stop and take off the fleece. At lunch break, on a breezy ridge, we immediately put the fleece back on, and possibly our outer shell to cut the wind. After lunch, it all comes off (except the base layer) and we start trekking again. If it’s starts raining or a big thunderstorm roll in. We throw on our rainjackets and open up the pit zips (underarm vents) and continue. We always make sure our extra layers are conveniently located in the outer pockets of my pack, so we can always reach them.
What is your Winter Layering system when you go backpacking? We would love to hear from you.
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.
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!