Long-Distance Hiking and Backpacking Skills, Summary Post

As hikers get ready for another season on trail, I thought it might be helpful to provide links to a few of my popular articles.

Safety first:


Long Distance:


2017 PCT Hiker Survey Results:

PCTA Words of Wisdom:

Let me know if you have questions or would like me to cover additional topics in the future. Have a fantastic hiking season!


Finding Happiness . . . 7 years in the making

Facebook just reminded me of my first backpacking trip. 2010 was a GREAT year!

I started off with an inexpensive pack from Big 5 and a five pound Sierra Designs Tent.


  1. Capacity matters: buy pack after gear otherwise you might find yourself short of space
  2. Fit matters: just like your favorite pair of jeans
  3. Pockets and compartments don’t matter: so much wasted time searching for stuff
  4. Weight matters: grams = ounces = pounds = PAIN

Thankfully I’d already discovered the world of long distance hiking, and kick ass hiker blogs, so after that miserable yet enlightening trip, I got busy making lots and lots of changes.

Since then so many miles and smiles and memories. Unforgettable experiences. I found my tribe, my happy spot. 

Link to more jabber on Long-Distance Hiking

Hiking with Geospatial PDF Maps

More and more I’ve been seeing references about Geospatial PDF mapping. I finally had an opportunity to research and thought you might be interested in my findings.


Although I try to stay current with technology, sometimes I find myself saying, WHAT?

The word geospatial is used to indicate that data that has a geographic component to it. This means that the records in a dataset have locational information tied to them such as geographic data in the form of coordinates, address, city, or ZIP code. GIS data is a form of geospatial data. Other geospatial data can originate from GPS data, satellite imagery, and geotagging. Source: GIS Lounge


Whether you use a standalone GPS unit or a mapping app on your phone, there are times when established trails aren’t visible on any available digital maps. This was the case for a local BLM recreation area I recently hiked.

This is what the area looks like on my mapping app. 

This is what the area looks like on the BLM standard PDF map. 

This is what the area looks like using CalTopo in Map Builder Topo format.

You can see the CalTopo map is far more detailed than either of the other two options. I could just print out the map and use it for navigation, but what if there was a way to know exactly where you were on the map?


(1) Download a PDF Geospatial Reader app. The most popular seems to be Avenza. I haven’t played with the app much, but it appears powerful with a store to purchase map sets. But you can also use it as a free interactive reader which is what I did.

(2) Download a geospatial map. You may be able to find maps available in this format. Check out this list from the National Park Service. If there’s not one available, you can also create your own which is what I did using CalTopo.

Step 1: On the CalTopo website, after finding your area of interest and marking any details you’d like included, select print, center the red box using the red dot to move it around, change the parameters in the format box to “Geospatial PDF,” then select “generate PDF.” Note: you can make the map details small for this step as you’ll be able to zoom on your phone.

Step 2: I was working on my computer so I saved the file to my computer, then sent it as an email attachment to myself so I could download to my phone. You can also open the CalTopo website on your phone and go to your account where you’ll see a tab for PDF, then download directly to your phone.

(3) Open downloaded map using a Geospatial PDF reader such as Avenza. 

(4) Adjust your phone settings. You’ll need to have “location” turned on. To save battery, you can leave phone in airplane mode.

(5) Select the “location” icon to see your location as a blue dot on the map. It’ll follow you as you hike. On this network of trails, it was very helpful. Note: the location icon is denoted by the yellow star in this photo. 

I was also running my mapping app so I could track my hike. It was great having the option to flip back and forth between the Geospatial PDF map and my track. 

I could have created a track on CalTopo and uploaded to my phone mapping app; however, with so many trail options, I wanted the flexibility to explore on the fly.

Have you been using Geospatial PDF maps? If so, do you have other tips to share?


FYI, you can now print your own standard PDF USGS 7.5 minute, 1:24,000 base Quad Maps

Dear Friends & Family, If I become a Missing Person . . .

Recent missing hiker stories compelled me to do some research on how I could better prepare my family and friends should I become MIA. This is what I’ve done to hopefully be found sooner than later. 

Dear Friends & Family,

When you don’t receive two InReach checkin messages from me (usually about 12 hours apart), these are the steps to take.

1. Do a little detective work

Call my cell phone, send a locate and text message to my InReach, check my InReach map, check my facebook postings, check my google timeline, post an inquiry to my private tracking page, message me on my facebook. Search for my phone (use Google Android Tracking Manager).

If no response nor additional checkins after another 12 hours (therefore missed a total of 3-4 checkins), it’s time to get the authorities involved. Yes, there’s a chance that my InReach is broken or lost, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. My consistent checkins will help authorities understand your concerns.

2. Contact law enforcement

Who to contact? Authorities in the county, city or national park from which I last had an InReach checkin (most likely a sheriff’s department). (TIP: You can start with a 911 call and dispatchers should transfer you to the applicable jurisdiction.)

What to say? You want to file a missing persons report (there is NO waiting period to file a report).

Details you’ll need for the report (TIP: Provide your emergency contact or support team a USB drive with the following):

√ Nicknames or aliases used by the person (include trail name if applicable)

√ Address and phone number (include cell carrier so phone can be pinged)

√ Physical description, including height, weight, age, hair color, eye color, build, etc. (TIP: include copy of your driver’s license and a current photo.)

√ Description of the clothing and shoes the person was last seen wearing, include size, color and brand if known (TIP: include photos of you wearing your various layers of clothing, including hat, sunglasses, pack, shoes, etc., plus your shoe tread and print.)

√ List of possessions the person might be carrying, with name/color/model of items such as backpack and tent (TIP: include photos of your pack, tent, sleeping bag, contents of resupply box, etc.)

√ List of scars, tattoos, and other identifying characteristics (TIP: include photos)

√ List of medications the person was taking, as well as allergies, handicaps, and other medical conditions (TIP: include photo of insurance card and doctor names)

√ List of relatives or friends of the missing person, along with contact information

√ List of places the person has been recently (TIP: include your trip itinerary. ReConn Trip Record provides a detailed form. Also a link to your SPOT or InReach map if applicable)

√ Description of the person’s car with license plate, make, model, color anything unique (if applicable) (TIP: include photos)

√ Description of the situation surrounding the person’s disappearance (TIP: discuss any weather, terrain, medical condition concerns)

Keep a record of the report. Make sure you obtain a case number for your missing person’s report. Write down the name of the person in charge of your case.

3. Push officials for Search & Rescue (SAR) help. You are my advocate and need to be the squeaky wheel. Stay in contact with assigned authority. Ask them to check on any recent phone activity.

4. Contact the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs). The US Department of Justice operates this system. NamUs lets you upload information about a missing person for use by law enforcement officials, agencies, and individuals. The site helps missing persons cases wrap up sooner by providing this information to the public.

5. Things you can do behind the scenes while officials are doing their thing.

√ Create a facebook group with the specific purpose of collecting and dispersing details in one place. Some have suggested Reddit is a better option.

√ Create a document/spreadsheet to help keep track of and coordinate activities.

√ Spread the word:

√ Create a post to my facebook asking if anyone has seen or heard from me and link it to a new group page asking friends to share to their page and hiker groups etc.

√ Create a flier with and have it posted at nearby trailheads, towns, roads, etc. Post the flier on the new facebook group page to be shared among social media including Instagram using most popular hash tags. The flier should include recent photos, contact number for authorities, link to facebook group page, date missing, last known location, etc.

√ Contact nearby forest service offices, ranger stations, national parks, BLM, fish and game, etc.

√ Contact nearby hospitals and coroners office.

√ Contact media (TV, newspaper, radio, etc).

√ Contact local hiking, equestrian, ATV and hunting/fishing groups.

√ Solicit search assistance (coordinate with authorities and/or SAR).

6. Stay optimistic, I’m a survivor!

I’ll do my very best to prevent you from ever needing this information. Just in case, THANK YOU for doing your very best to help find me.

♥ Jan ♥


  • Dedicated Web or Facebook Page:

I created a private facebook page several years ago to help with the process. I post my itinerary and include a link to my InReach map. There’s also a file which includes my emergency contacts, medical information, cell phone provider, credit card info and the “what to do if” page. Photos of me, my gear, shoes, shoe tread, vehicle, license plate, typical resupply box and contents, etc. are on in a shared google album.

  • Emergency Device:

I carry an InReach because I like the signal confirmation it provides as well as the capability of two-way texting. I subscribe to the lowest level plan which is about $12/month. With that I send out a checkin each morning and evening I’m on trail, plus I send a map checkin whenever I transition between trails or go off-trail as well as when I leave and return to my vehicle. I also use it for weather updates and urgent communication. On the home screen it includes my phone # as well that of an emergency contact.

I strongly encourage carrying a device, especially when hiking solo, whether it be a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) or a satellite communicator such as the InReach or SPOT devices.

  • Identification:

Keep your ID readily available for those cases when you can’t speak for yourself. I was involved in an accident where I was in shock and couldn’t answer any of the basic questions. After that I created a sheet I carry with me which has all the important information like name, address, medical history and allergies, emergency contacts, medical insurance, etc. Another option is Road ID.

  • Emergency Contacts:

Keep your phone updated with ICE (In Case of Emergency) contacts. Many phones have that as a special designation so others can access without needing your locked pad code.

  • Password List:

Consider having your list available to at least one of your emergency contacts. I have mine in my Safety Deposit Box.

  • Preferences:

Notify your family and friends of your preferences. Some hikers don’t want a search activated. Be sure everyone knows so SAR resources are not wasted and families stressed unnecessarily. If you are interested in rescue, how soon do you want to be reported missing? I have mine set to 24 hours, which most likely means SAR will not be activated for another 24-48 hours.

  • Hiker Ethics:
    • Be a responsible hiker
    • Carry the 10 essentials (and know how to use them)
    • Designate emergency contact or support team and provide them with your itinerary, etc.
    • Consider taking the Wilderness First Aid course


Resource Links:

If you have other thoughts, please comment so I can update my post. Special thanks to all my angels who keep an electronic eye on me. I appreciate being held accountable and knowing that I have friends who CARE!



Snow Travel Skills – Living to Adventure Another Day

Snow in October, it’s a rare treat in far Northern California. It has many of us excited about early season play.

I was introduced to snow hiking and snowshoeing about six years ago, and fell in love.

On several occasions my naivety could have left me severely injured or dead, but I think this incident was my wake-up call. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” My right foot punched through the snow and got trapped, snowshoe and all. Meanwhile my left leg was at this very awkward position. I felt helpless and would have had a difficult time digging myself out. Thankfully I had a partner this day, who lent a helpful hand. 

It seems every year about this time, hikers on long-trails find themselves racing the clock of Old Man Winter.  In the Northern Cascades, hikers play Russian Roulette. Some have the skills, most do not. Alternates exist, but border fever rages strong. Is it worth the risk? With permission from the photographer, I’m sharing these images as a way to further discussion about skills needed for snow travel.

What do you know about avalanche risk and survival rates? This is a route I like to snowshoe annually. I’d always been nervous about sliding down the steep slope but until I learned about avalanche risk, I had no idea of the gamble I was taking. (Note: minimal danger on this date)

The slope above our path.

What about cornices? I was hiking Section P of the PCT in California early season one year. It snowed while I was camped on the ridge above Castle Crags. The next morning as I hiked north, there was snow on the trail. When I reached the ridge above the Deadfall Basin, I was confronted with this cornice. 

As now a seasoned winter traveler, I knew about cornice danger. Below are a couple of photos that illustrate the risk. Step on the edge and down, down, down you go.

Getting back to my PCT experience, I took time exploring the slope hoping for a safe route. The trail is on the left below the peak, which if you look closely has a snow fracture, a slab avalanche biding it’s time. 

What did I do? I retreated. I wanted to live to hike another day. As a side note, I met a thru-hiker the next day who was following me (he’d jumped the Sierra). He saw my footsteps stop at the ridge, and thought maybe I was a day hiker. Having minimal snow travel skills, he plunged over the cornice. Thankfully he survived, but the experience scared him so badly he wanted nothing further to do with snow and got off trail. “I’ve been lucky many times, but I’d rather be prepared through education and experience, than rely on luck.

Are you prepared to cross snow bridges?

How are your navigation skills? 

Are you hypothermia aware and prepared?

Do you have the right equipment, training and experience for terrain and conditions? 

Do you have the skills to read snow conditions? 

As my friend Steve, an experienced mountaineer, said “the snow does not care if you are novice or have experience. Anyone entering the backcountry and traveling up and down or traversing moderate to steep slopes, especially north facing slopes should take a basic mountaineering course (ice axe clinic). The combination of an avalanche safety awareness and training course along with a basic mountaineering course plus rockfall awareness and some common sense may just be enough to save someone’s life as long as they follow safe procedures.”

And John, an experienced mountaineer and avalanche forecaster, had these thoughts “How long ago did the snow fall? What was the old snow surface layer? What is the old snow stratigraphy? What is the new snow stratigraphy? What was the wind like during and after the storm? What is the temp history?

Ned, another experienced mountaineer and lifelong mountain educator, shared this “Here’s the concern regarding deep powder snow on dry ground, early season (vs. on old consolidated snow): Rocks, logs, little trees, boulders, etc. keep snow from moving downhill (as in a powder sluff), but when the new snow is deeper than those low retainers, there’s nothing to hold the snow above them and they can slide if there is enough weight, steepness, poor bonding, or triggers (like the traversing tracks of hikers or skiers). An indicator of a really hazardous condition caused by deep, wet snow are those ‘pinwheels’ or little snowballs spontaneously created by the weight of the snowpack and its steepness.” Mountain Education, Inc. provides classes specific to PCT hikers.

Carolyn (aka Ravensong), not only an experienced mountaineer but one who lives and plays in the north cascades and who is playing a key role in trying to keep late season PCT hiker’s alive, shares her words of wisdom, “PCTers late in the season on early snow years are unfortunately at high risk for tragedy, which is significantly heightened by having no education or experience in winter conditions of the North Cascades- ‘Alps of America.’ PCTers may be entering the field of winter mountaineering in late September and October. When a base layer covers the rock of an avalanche zone and there is 6+ inches of new snow the avalanche risk enters the ‘red’ zone. No one one can be entirely accurate on when one will occur, even with years of experience. Most PCTers believe they know about traveling across snow from the Sierras ‘old snow’. They do not have the basic knowledge of ‘new snow’, key factors in choice of route and alternates, methods used by mountaineers in winter conditions, rescue process, risk to rescuers and most important understanding their level of knowledge and experience in winter mountaineering. Key factors can be found in Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills, Chapter 22: Key Factors How to Stay Alive.”

Scott, a facebook friend, had these very helpful tips. “First rule of thumb is to stay off of new snow for 48 hours (in the Northwest anyway. Really cold places like Rockies present their own problems with slope instability at any time.) Second rule of thumb is to stay off of slopes between 45-60 degrees as much as you can. Third rule is to spread out so only one person crosses at a time. If one person sets off a slide, the other can watch and hopefully see where they end up so they can dig them out. MY rule is to know where not to stick your neck (or other body parts) while in avalanche country.

Take the Avy 1 Course.  “At the end of the course the student should be able to plan and prepare for travel in avalanche terrain, recognize avalanche terrain, describe a basic framework for making decisions in avalanche terrain, learn and apply effective companion rescue.”

What’s in your pack? Do you have adequate gear for emergencies? I carry a lot more during the winter than the summer as conditions just aren’t very forgiving (link to my list). Yes, that’s my blood!

Ready to make new friends?

Are you prepared for group think?  As Otter said, “Group mentality with humans is strange. People do stuff in groups they never would do alone.”

“Once the first person goes thru the others see this and follow. Sometimes they go places they shouldn’t and wouldn’t go by themselves, but they just go. It’s so hard to turn back after over 2500 miles. Imagine the difficulty in turning back…, let’s say you hiked 40 of the 60 and reached a place where you were too scared to go. You would have to not only hike back the forty over tough terrain. You would have to tell everyone you did not make it because you could not get past a spot that maybe they made it over. Because of these factors thru hikers don’t turn back as often as they should. Generally as a group I’m surprised we have had so few bad accidents. One person’s danger ceiling is another person’s danger floor depending on their expertise, experience and nerves. So you got to do what’s right for you and your group and not worry about what others are doing.”

There is a ton of information available on the internet, and through local resources such as gear shops, to help you gain the skills needed to become an experienced and competent snow traveler. The purpose of this post is to stimulate thought, action and responsibility. Please don’t become a statistic because of laziness or ignorance. 

It’s all fun and games until it isn’t. Knowledge is power!

Let’s Talk Poo

Openly conversing about number two is a completely acceptable and popular topic in the wilderness, second only to food, and at times as controversial as politics and religion.

Sharing is Caring:

  • Are you healthy?
  • Are you clean?
  • Are you practicing LNT (Leave No Trace)?

There are some pretty funny videos and books out about this topic, but for this post, I’ll limit it to what’s in my kit and my methods of staying clean and healthy while practicing LNT.

My Poo Kit: Poo Kit

  • Ditty Bag – Appropriately color coded, sh*t brown of course.
  • TrowelDeuce of Spades, nothing but the best for this gal, and even better because it was in my Christmas stocking.
  • Wipes – Dried (I just open package and let air dry); Wysi are sold as dry wipes.
  • Antibacterial Wipes  I prefer unscented but hard to find; I’m still experimenting with better options.
  • Garbage Bag – Black doggy poo bags from your local pet store are a great option.
  • Freezer Bags – I like the pint size, one for antibacterial wipes and another for dry wipes.


The bidet bottle is filled with water and a couple drops of Dr. Bronner’s soap. My kit has 2 dry wipes and 2 antibacterial wet wipes per day, with a few extras of each thrown in for multi-day trips.

My Method:

  • Dig a hole with my trusty Deuce of Spades trowel, preferably according to LNT specifications (6-8″ deep hole, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails).
  • Prepare for the big event (essentials out and ready).
  • Do my business.
  • Spray my hiney hole with the bidet bottle.
  • Wet a dry wipe with the bidet bottle solution and clean that hiney hole.
  • Place dirty wipe in doggy trash bag.
  • Use antibacterial wet wipe for final clean of privates, front then back. It may cause drying which I counteract with A&D Ointment.
  • Place dirty wipe in doggy trash bag.
  • Find a stick or rock and stir my business, mixing well with natural elements such as dirt. It should no longer be discernible, the natural composting process has been expedited, and it’s less likely animals will find buried treasure.
  • Fill the hole with natural elements. Do NOT cover with the magic rock. It will slow down the natural composting process. If you’re in a heavy use area, you can stand a stick up in the pile which to some signifies a poo burial site.
  • Toss the poo stick or rock away from the poo burial site, making it less likely an animal will find your business.
  • Cleanse hands with another antibacterial wipe (or sanitizing gel)
  • Place dirty wipe in doggy trash bag.
  • Collect my tools of the trade and stash back into that brown ditty bag.


Relax, eat, drink, hike and get ready for the next big event!


What’s in your kit? What’s your system?





Confessions of a Hiker – Inconsistently Consistent

Whether we want to admit it, we all have baggage and struggles. In a recent email, Shroomer (Scott Williams) included a few words of wisdom that resonated with me.

The more I get out, the more miles I put in, the more energy I have for everything else in my life. When I can fill my week with miles, all the rest is wonderful.


I’ve always been an all or nothing kind of gal, struggling to find balance even when fully aware of the consequences.

While it’s easy to rationalize and make excuses for these inconsistencies, the bottom line is I consciously make choices which sabotage my efforts. It takes discipline to prioritize the things that matter. Since hiking matters to me, and this blog is about hiking, I’ve focused on my personal successes, challenges, and failures in this area. Maybe you’ll find similarities, or maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who consistently maintains their fitness level . . . but struggles with inconsistency in other areas of your life.

I’m most successful with consistency when:

  • I have a deadline

Example: Epic backpacking trip of X miles scheduled in X months

  • The consequence is dire

Example: Must be able to hike X miles per day at X elevation gained/lost

  • I’m accountable

Example: I’ve posted hikes to a meetup group or I have a regularly scheduled date with friends

  • Peer Pressure

Example: I want to be compatible when hiking and backpacking with friends

I’m less successful with consistency when:

  • Life interrupts
  • I’m sick, injured or exhausted
  • I’m traveling
  • Conditions aren’t ideal

Once I’ve broken the chain of consistency, it is a challenge to get back on track.

My challenges tend to be:

  • Losing fitness level and/or gaining weight means more work and less fun
  • Reestablishing the habit takes discipline and commitment
  • Moving hiking to the top of the list means moving something else down or off the list

WHY are we inconsistently consistent?brokenChain3

It doesn’t make sense, when our brain knows otherwise. With consistency, the rewards and happiness factor skyrockets through the roof. With inconsistency, the heart sinks.

What can we do to improve consistency?broken chain

  • Allow imperfection

It’s okay to take a couple days off, just don’t let a couple days become a week, then a month.

  • Maintain accountability

Have hiking dates with friends and have your next trips scheduled. Meetup has been my Field of Dreams (I even wrote an article about my experience).

  • Plan for the inevitable 

For me, that means if I’m sick, take a couple days off then start walking. When I’m traveling, take breaks to walk or hike, plan travel accordingly. When I’m staying with friends or in an unfamiliar area, make fitness a priority. If I don’t want to be outside in inclement weather,  plan for an inside workout.

  • Reach out

It’s good for us to be humble, to ask others for help getting back on track. Use your friend and family network, use social media . . . Sometimes it’s hard to find our own motivation.

  • Consider cross training

Change is good! If you’re feeling burned out or lacking motivation or the weather doesn’t inspire, find something that keeps you moving. Besides hiking, I walk, cycle, snowshoe and workout at the gym. Classes can be especially helpful during the winter months.

  • Post photos of personal achievements
  • Memorialize Shroomer’s quote 

The more I get out, the more miles I put in, the more energy I have for everything else in my life. When I can fill my week with miles, all the rest is wonderful.

What are your tips and tricks?

Here are some thoughts by others that may provide a few tools to help us find long-term success:

True Confessions

Shroomer’s personal comment hit a nerve. I’d been wrestling with trying to get back on track. I was in search of that magic link in the chain that had broken. I had a fantastic year of hiking and adventure, but the brakes came on unexpectedly toward the end of August when wildfire smoke threw out the cease and desist order (I have asthma). In early September I spent a couple of weeks with a friend who doesn’t hike, followed by another week with family. Thankfully by the time I returned home, I was ready to get back on track. The wilderness was calling my name. I had two fantastic weeks exploring the Trinity Alps . . . and then the chain snapped. I got injured!

The pain was too severe to walk let alone hike. I was down and out. Depression quickly set in. The pounds accumulated. The sizes grew.

I reached out to friends and was offered a change of scenery. That was exactly what I needed. A new place to explore and to test out baby steps that turned into short walks and eventually longer walks. Then it snowed, and I had a new goal. I love snowshoeing and fresh snow and while my body is not healed sufficiently yet, it will be soon and I need to be ready physically. I prioritized hiking and dieting. I’ve reconnected with my meetup group, creating accountability.

I’ve worked hard over the years to eliminate the “all or nothing” cycle I seem to own as part of my genetic make up. It’s easy for me to rationalize defeat when I get off track, but am thankful for the fight I also own to get back on the horse. I’m sure this won’t be the last time I fight the consistency monster; however, it’s reassuring to know I’m not alone in being inconsistently consistent, afterall I share it with Shroomer!


Link to more of my posts focused on Hiking and Backpacking Skills