2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . Preparing for the Unexpected


Lessons Learned:

  1. You can’t plan for everything.
  2. Accidents happen.
  3. The unexpected is to be expected.

Injury:

If you hike enough miles, you’re going to get injured. Knowing how to minimize injuries helps as does finding the balance of what to include in your first aid kit, because yes weight matters. These are a few of the injuries I’ve sustained.

  • Blisters – Thankfully now that I have my sock/shoe combination perfected I rarely get blisters but when I feel a hot spot or discover a blister my treatment includes covering the spot with Leukotape-P. Leave it on until it falls off. If it’s a blister, I’ll drain it first using a needle, floss and alcohol wipe. If it’s night I’ll wait to tape until it drains overnight leaving the floss extended through the blister and removed in the morning.
  • Tendonitis – This is one of the most challenging injuries to deal with on trail. You can try stretching and resting but truly the only cure is longer rest that you can provide hiking so the goal is to get off trail. I’ve learned to tape to prevent one type of tendonitis I’m prone to get in an ankle when hiking very steep terrain.
  • Cuts/Scrapes/Abrasions – Most of these can be ignored. For more serious ones, I carry antiseptic wipes, triple antibiotic ointment, gauze and leuko tape. The worst cut I sustained was hiking in snow when I sliced open my palm on a rock. I used my buff to apply pressure and stop the bleeding, then used steri-strips to close the wound. Cactus and yucca are my worst enemies. For the times I’m in areas of jumping cholla I carry full size tweezers and a comb.
  • Stings/Bites – While these tend to be more irritating than serious for most people, I get bacterial infections and am sensitive to bee/wasp stings and biting flies in particular. I now carry benadryl and pepcid as the combination recommended by my doctor. I’ve used a few times and it works. I also carry some type of anti-itch relief as bites drive me bonkers. In areas with ticks, I carry a tick key and do regular checks. Thankfully I haven’t ever had a seriously embedded tick and in fact have had few encounters.
  • Black Toenails – Once I switched from boots to trail runners these became a bygone memory. I also use a narrow heel lacing technique to keep my foot from sliding forward as well as wear shoes with a wide toe box.

Accidents:

I feel like for the amount of miles and types of terrain I hike, my accident rate is about the best I could hope to achieve. My goal is to be as careful as possible but I know I take risks I shouldn’t however it seems most of my accidents happen on easy terrain.

  • Broken Ribs – I was hiking out after a few days on trail with a friend. We’d done some off trailing and taken some risks. But no, two miles from the trailhead, I slipped on a bit of sand that was on a waterbar. There happened to be a limb that grabbed my ribs as I slid to my butt. Gravity worked against me between the pack and the limb. I was able to hike out and drive two hours home. The next few weeks were painful and limiting but I didn’t need medical intervention, just time.
  • Broken Wrist – On my 9th day of hiking on a section of the PCT in Oregon, I walked off the trail. It was flat and wide with no obstacles but I think I just lost my focus. This incident was bad as my wrist dislocated and ended up not only broken in three places, it also became my one and only inReach activation with SAR involvement.
  • Slips and Falls – These happen more often than I’d like to admit. I remember falling off a log during a water crossing that could have had serious consequences. For me I’d rather walk through water with my shoes on than attempt rock jumping or a log balance beam. I’ve also learned how to use my hiking poles to brace myself during steep downhills, as well as adopting the crab and dog techniques knowing four points of contact are better than two.

Ailments:

I’ve been lucky and haven’t ever been sick on trail. I carry something for stomach issues and diarrhea. Thankfully I’ve never had giardia either. The worst I’ve had is soft stools which can make for quite a mess requiring extra wipes so I plan for that situation. Using a bidet is helpful.

Weather:

I’ve learned to check point-specific weather, like the forecasts available on NOOA, the day before and morning of a trip so I can pack accordingly. I also use the weather feature on my inReach, although I’ve found it to be 50/50 on accuracy.

  • Lightning – This has been the most scary weather to experience on trail. I spent so many hours in the lightning prevention position when hiking the JMT. I was glad I’d done some advance research.
  • Rain, Rain, Rain – Multiple days of rain is my least favorite weather. I’m a sunshine gal and don’t enjoy hiking in the rain and definitely don’t like dealing with wet gear. But to avoid hypothermia, it’s important to add a few items to your pack and know best practices.
  • Snow – The biggest concern for me is damage to my 3-season tent, so I make sure to knock off accumulation during the night. I’d rather hide out in my tent than hike through a wet snow storm. Hypothermia is real and my quilt keeps me toasty warm especially if I avoid getting wet and chilled first.
  • Wind – There are a few concerns with wind, the first is dust in my eyes which I try to remedy with eye drops which I always carry. Strong winds can damage tents so I try to set up with the narrow end facing the wind. I’ve also learned to use my hiking poles for extra support. One of the worst is blowing sand. It’s nearly impossible to avoid and will seriously damage zippers.

Equipment/Technology Failures:

  • Phone – Of all my gear, this is probably my most dependent item and the one I cringe at losing or breaking. I rely on my phone for navigation and although I’m usually prepared with a paper map and compass, the phone is my security blanket. I try to take extra precautions to protect this precious resource but the reality is stuff happens. My phone fell out of my pants pocket once when I was climbing rocks. Thankfully I was able to find after backtracking and amazingly it wasn’t broken. Sometimes apps stop working or I forget to download maps for offline use. I carry a back-up battery to help keep this important item charged.
  • Tent – Zippers seem to be the first item to fail. Keeping them clean helps but in buggy areas having them fail is a serious irritant. Most of the time you can clean and tighten to extend the life. Other times you need the zipper replaced. Losing stakes is probably the most common but thankfully you can usually find a substitute items such as rocks.
  • Hiking Poles – For me four legs are better than two so broken or lost poles are a bit of a nightmare. Sometimes you can repair other times you can use a stick. One surprise was when carpenter ants ate the cork during the night. I used a glove to cover the handle until I could get to town.
  • Water Filter – I remember the time I filtered the wrong direction through my Sawyer Squeeze tainting both my filter and clean bag. Thankfully I had water treatment tablets with me so I treated the water in my clean bag which then allowed me to backflush my filter. I always carry a few tablets because treating water is essential in my opinion and since I hike solo most often I need to be self sufficient.
  • Stove – I’ve run out of fuel or had a bad canister of fuel. Sometimes igniters fail so I bring a mini lighter which would also be used for an emergency fire and for sterilizing a needle. What do you do if you’re solo, you cold soak. It might not be the most tasty meal but it’s nutrition.
  • Air Mattress – Eventually even when super careful, most likely your pad will develop a leak. If you can find the leak, it’s pretty easy to repair in the field. Tenancious tape is a great multi-use repair item. I’ve never had success finding leaks even in the best of situations. In every case I end up returning to the manufacturer for replacement. You might just have a few uncomfortable nights, but you won’t die.

Navigational Errors:

Getting misplaced isn’t fun. I take this very seriously and try to be as prepared as possible so I can stay found and avoid wasting time and energy wandering around, although it happens occasionally. The key is not to panic and try to return to the place you were last on trail or in a known location. I’ve had this happen when having to negotiate my way around down trees or other trail obstacles. If I’m flustered the next step is to take a break where I can eat, drink and study maps. Thankfully I’ve never needed to activate the inReach but it’s my security blanket just in case.

Trail Conditions:

My rule of thumb is to be prepared to turnaround. I’d rather reverse direction than die attempting something I consider beyond reasonable risk whether that be eroded trail or sketchy snow, scree or swift water crossing. I also take extra precautions for major water crossings by stowing my electronics and down gear in waterproof bags.

Wildlife:

I’m always alert to wildlife signs especially bear and big cats. I see plenty of prints and scat but haven’t seen a mountain lion. I regularly see bears but they’ve all acted as bears should and ran once they saw, smelled or heard me. In some areas mountain goats can be a problem. Although they hung out in or near my camp in several places in Washington, they’ve never bothered me. Deer can be pests; they might steal your clothes or hiking poles for salt. Mice are a huge problem in some places like Washington, and as such I recommend hanging your food in a rodent safe bag. Rattlesnakes cause me far more concern than bears.

Creepy Peeps:

These have been few and far between and I’ve never felt endangered until my recent dog bite incident. I recall one sketchy hitchhiking incident that we bailed from before getting into that uncomfortable situation. I always have my radar on high alert near roads, trailheads and campgrounds, and avoid camping in those areas.

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2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . Eats Drinks and More


Lessons Learned:

  1. I prefer simple and don’t mind repetitive.
  2. Food is fuel; fuel is power.
  3. Try before you carry.
  4. Quantity, quality and quickness matter.
  5. Homemade is best.
  6. It’s an evolving process.
  7. Repackage for weight savings and portion control.

What I take depends a bit on whether I’m prepping from home or on the road, whether I’ll be out for a few days or multiple weeks, and whether I’ll be mailing food in a resupply box.  Basically I’m lazy but I prefer homemade meals and I’m budget conscious. I don’t cook, instead I use boiling water to rehydrate. Figuring out how much food and drink is part science part art. It’s a formula each person needs to figure out for themselves. The biggest challenge is adjusting your personal formula for conditions and situations such as:

  • Day 1 vs 5 vs 21 (hiker hunger kicks in around week 3)
  • Base elevation
  • Temperature
  • Calories burned

Breakfast:

A few times a year, I’ll make huge batches of muesli. I’ve started using Bob’s Red Mill Old Country Style Muesli as the base, then add flax, chia, brown sugar, raisins, cinnamon, nuts, etc. I fill snack size ziplocks using a wide mouth funnel. In camp I pour into a 16-oz Ziploc Twist N Loc Container, add hot coffee and let it sit 5-10 minutes. Yes, I said coffee. I use the Starbucks VIA packets and add one to full pot of water boiled in my Jetboil. It’s my two-in-one prep. I can drink hot coffee while waiting for my cereal to hydrate.

Lunch:

I tend to favor wraps. Most often I’ll bring hard boiled eggs, cheese sticks or extra sharp cheddar and tortillas. I usually throw in a bag of spinach or slaw and maybe an avocado or hummus/avocado spread. It’s convenient that these come in single serve containers now. They say refrigerate but I’ve traveled with them in my pack for several days without issue (except in extreme heat).

Dinner:

Keeping it simple I have a few items I rotate between with all repackaged in snack size ziplock bags. The requirement is calorie dense, tasty and suitable for quick rehydration with boiling water.

  • Mixed grains, beans and greens – I usually make and dehydrate a huge batch with rotating spices.
  • Idahoan potatoes – I prefer the 4 cheese variety and usually buy the family size.
  • Rice noodles with pasta sauce – This is my favorite meal. I make my own sauce and bring a cube of Lotus rice ramen which I crunch up and add to the dry sauce and then rehydrate together.
  • Other meals – I like to dehydrate what I normally eat at home. This might includes some of the following:
    • Turkey, barley, vegetable soup
    • Beef stew with potatoes and carrots
    • Teriyaki turkey, rice and veges
  • Knorrs rice sides are a reliable option. If I don’t have time to prepare meals in advance this is a regular in my rotation.

I’ve had terrible luck rehydrating pasta so as much as I like macaroni and cheese or other noodle-based dishes, they stay home. There are plenty of other options such as rice, quinoa, barley, couscous, and ramen.

Snacks:

Hard boiled eggs are my favorite. You can now buy them in 2 packs at most grocery and convenience stores.

For other protein options I usually brings nuts and might bring jerky or peanut butter. I prefer salty to sweet snacks.

I’ve tried lots of bars and have found I don’t like protein bars. I try to buy my favorites by the box when they are on sale so I always have them conveniently available. My current favorites are:

  • Nature Valley Almond Butter Biscuits
  • Nature Valley Crunch Oats n Dark Chocolate
  • Nature Bakery Fig Bar
  • Luna Bars (Lemon, Blueberry and Peppermint)

Drinks:

I don’t like sweetener in my water and will only go that route for really bad tasting water. I tried several options while on the Arizona Trail and found I preferred cold vanilla coffee, grape or orange flavoring, and recently discovered Cusa powdered teas. I suffer in the heat and have found Himalayan Pink Salt Crystals preferable to electrolyte tablets or drink additives.

How much water? That’s a challenging question and one I discuss further in my post “water, water, water.”

Related Posts:

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Disclosure: Amazon affiliate links may be included which provide me a tiny kickback to help pay for this site.

2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . Water, Water, Water


Lessons Learned:

  1. Water is heavy
  2. Invest in your formula
  3. Don’t carry what you’re not going to drink
  4. Cow slobber/sh*t water needs flavoring
  5. Trial and error is required to find your vessel and treatment solutions

How Much to Carry?

At 2.2 pounds per liter, water is one of the heaviest items in your pack. So rather than arbitrarily starting a trip with 3-4 liters, I’ve learned it’s better to research available water sources. I’d much rather stop every few miles and replenish my water supply than carry the extra weight.

Figuring out how much to carry is based on a formula adjusted for conditions.  It takes time to build your own formula.

I drink more when I’m:

  • hot
  • ascending
  • at altitude
  • snowshoeing

When I started backpacking, I would track how much water I was carrying and how much I had left when I got to a water source. Then I could calculate how much I was drinking per mile and per hour based on conditions. The goal was to get to a reliable water source with none or very little in my pack.

This gets trickier in unreliable water areas and since I worry about dehydration I tend to carry extra as insurance.

Unless you camp near water, you also need to calculate how much water is needed for dinner, breakfast as well as hiking to camp and to the next water source. In general 3 liters is my magic number.

How to Carry?

I’ve found through trial and error that I like soft water bottles like Evernew. I have one marked for dirty water. The 1500ml size is my preference. I sometimes also carry a 600ml plastic bottle for when I want to add flavorings to my water. I’ll be testing CNOC 2L Vecto bags over the upcoming months.

I started with a bladder in my pack but discontinued because I didn’t like

  • worrying a about a leak
  • not knowing when I needed to refill
  • taking apart my pack to refill

I’ve tried a variety of bottles and while they work for some people they never found a permanent place in my pack.

Capacity is a consideration. I prefer smaller 1.5 liter storage containers to 3 liter because they fit my hands better and I feel like I have more flexibility when it comes to how many to fill. However, I switch to 3 liter in the desert where I have to carry larger quantities between sources.

Remember water is heavy, so figuring out where to carry that weight in your pack is an important consideration.

How to Treat?

Like most other things in backpacking I’ve tried several different systems. I currently use the Sawyer Squeeze filter although I prefer using the water treatment tablets such as Aquatabs Water Purification Tablets. I will be testing the Katadyn BeFree filter over the upcoming months.

Prefilter/Scoop:

Filter:

  • I squeeze from my “dirty” Evernew bottle into a clean bottle (I use a black hair tie around top to flag as dirty).
  • It’s time consuming.
  • I’d prefer using inline so I can scoop and go but the current Squeeze version doesn’t work.
  • I really hate protecting the Sawyer Squeeze from freezing and have had to replace a couple times when I’ve forgotten (sadly the BeFree has the same issue).

Chemical:

  • Carrying water for 20-40 minutes without being able to drink is not very weight efficient
  • I like drinking at a water source (cameling up) so I can be hydrated without carrying extra weight but with chemical treatment it’s not an option.
  • I’m lazy and sometimes compromise especially in cooler temperatures.
  • I prefer Aquatabs Water Purification Tablets over Aquamira liquid drops.

Flavoring and Additives:

  • Although I prefer unflavored water, I’ve had to in nasty situations especially in cattle country.
  • There are a lot of options but my favorites remains cold coffee or Orange/Grape Crush.
  • Electrolytes are important when sweating and drinking a lot. There are plenty of options but I’ve found I prefer to eat pink Himalayan salt rather than having flavored water.

How to Drink?

I prefer drinking from a hydration hose as I’m hiking. I can’t reach bottles easily and don’t like to stop to drink. I got the Blue Desert SmarTube Hydration System to use with my Evernew bottles (ebay is best reseller). Many attach their Sawyer directly to a bottle and squeeze as they go. This can be an efficient system.

How to Clean?

When I get to town, it’s time to refresh my water systems. My preference is to use a little bleach in my water bottles, drinking hose, etc. If I’m on a long-distance hike without access to bleach I use denture tablets. Backflushing the Sawyer Squeeze takes a bit more effort than simply using the provided syringe or another system. I’ve had the most success following Sawyer’s advice of soaking it in a very vinegar hot water solution before banging the sides and flushing. I’m hoping for easier maintenance with the BeFree system. I know it won’t last as long at an estimated 250 gallons versus 100,000 gallons with the Squeeze. I average 1-1.5 gallons a day when backpacking and usually backpack at least 60 days per year so that means around 100 gallons per year. At less than $20, I consider it reasonable to replace my filter every year or two.

When and How to Cross?

Water crossings are an accident waiting to happen. I’ve had several minor injuries trying to keep my feet dry. Logs and rocks can be tippy and slippery. Vertigo is common when looking at rushing water. If I have a choice I’ll typically walk through (ford) rather than worry about injury. In swift water, I carefully evaluate crossing options. I honor the saying, “turnaround don’t drown” when I can’t find a safe crossing. Camping and waiting until morning is an option during snowmelt.

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Disclosure: Amazon affiliate links may be included which provide me a tiny kickback to help pay for this site.

2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . Electronics and Technology


Lessons Learned:

  1. A good power bank (battery) is essential.
  2. Invest in learning how to use devices and apps.
  3. Apps have improved my experiences.
  4. Electronics are a tool but dead weight if not utilized.
  5. Photography is a huge part of every adventure.
  6. Accident insurance is worth every penny.

Although hefty, electronics have become a weight penalty I’m willing to accept as I find great value and enjoyment from technology. I still prefer carrying a camera to using the one on my phone as I don’t find the quality comparable. Additionally my phone uses far more battery than my camera. I also prefer map apps on my phone to a GPS device. I find phone apps to be more user friendly with more flexibility. Having a satellite communication devise is non negotiable. It holds me accountable and keeps me more responsible while also offering a safety and security.

Phone:

Rarely do I have cell signal while hiking and backpacking. I keep my phone on airplane mode and primarily use it for the following functions:

  • Map Apps – I currently use Gaia as my primary digital mapping and tracking app. I pay for premium membership which includes helpful layers such as National Geographic, National Parks, USFS, snow levels, fire history, geology, etc. You can find great tutorials on YouTube and the Gaia blog. I also use Avenza and wrote this blog post with helpful tips, Hiking with Geospatial PDF Maps (Avenza).
  • Trail Specific Apps – There are general apps such as All Trails and REI’s Hiking Project which help you find nearby trails and provide user comments as to current conditions.
  • Park Specific Apps – I’ve gotten in the habit of checking the app store before going to a State for National Park as often they have their own apps which are helpful in planning and gaining insights.
  • Identification Apps – This is one of my favorite features of smart phones. I have several wildflower apps. It’s worth checking to see if there are ones specific to a particular area you’re visiting. Another favorite app is Peak Finder where I can take a photo of mountains and it adds names and elevations. It helps me later when I’m looking at my photos. Other fun apps I use are related to geology, astronomy and scat and tracks. I also have helpful apps such as ones focused on first aid, knots, and slope angles. One in particular helps me level my car when using it as a sleeping vehicle.
  • E-Books – I spend a lot of my down time reading so having books available on my phone is a necessity.
  • Screen Shots – I use this in conjunction with my maps to note location on map showing feature I may have photographed with camera. I also use it to note time I was at certain places and the associated stats from my tracker.
  • Camera/Video – I tend to use my phone for selfies and videos.

Battery life is an important feature for me since I’m fairly dependent on my phone, especially as a navigational aid. It’s at the top or near the top of the list when I’m looking for a new phone. Tip: investigate best ways to extend battery life on your particular phone.

Satellite Communicator:

My inReach is my security blanket, plus it keeps me accountable and responsible. I’m diligent about using it consistently so if my pings disappear hopefully someone will notice and begin the process of finding out if I need help or if I had a technology failure.

The key function is SOS which utilizes a satellite network. After carrying this device for several years, I had to push the SOS button in 2018. It worked as expected. Be sure to set up your emergency contacts online in advance. Here’s the link to the details of my experience: Life Interrupted . . . Forever Grateful for the SOS Button

One of the reasons I chose inReach over other units was the two-way texting option. Competitor products may have this as a feature now as well. Not only do I use this for check-ins but also for urgent issues. Examples:

  • While hiking the PCT in Washington, my power bank (external battery) was failing. I was able to contact a friend who had a replacement shipped to my next resupply town.
  • It had been raining for multiple days and I wanted/needed a hotel room. I texted a friend and she made a reservation and texted back with confirmation.
  • My mom fell and broke her hip. My niece messaged me and I was able to stay in touch while she underwent emergency surgery.

Most of these devices require a subscription service. Garmin has several plans including a flexible option which allows for putting the unit on vacation mode. Since I’m on a budget I have the safety plan which includes unlimited preset messages. This allows me to have tracking without paying the tracking fee. I send a message at the beginning and end of my trip indicating the location of my car, every evening and morning from my campsite, and each time I change trail or find myself crossing sketchy terrain including uncomfortable water crossings. I can also text any major change of plans.

I’ve been using this unit for many years without incident. I consider it an essential item and wouldn’t hike without a satellite communicator.

Camera:

While phone cameras have significantly improved over the past decade, I still prefer my camera for a few reasons.

  • Battery Life – I can usually get about 500 photos per battery on my camera, which can then be recharged from my external battery; however, I usually carry an extra in case of battery failure. I’ve also had memory card failures so I keep one in my emergency kit. Yes there is a small weight penalty for these non-essential items but because photography adds to my experience it’s worth it to me. Taking photos on my phone drains the battery quickly.
  • Photo Quality – I’ve never had a phone that takes the same quality images.  When I compare side-by-side photos taken at the same time, there is no contest. If I were just taking photos for instagram or facebook, my phone would be fine.
  • Photo Processing – I takes tons of photos. It’s rare I come back from an outing with less than 500-1000 images. I download the memory card to my computer where I can review, edit, organize, back up and share.

External Battery (Power Bank):

  • Size – There are lots of options from which to match your needs. I carry an Anker with 10,000 mAh. It usually keeps my phone charged for up to a week, even while running my Gaia tracker, plus if needed I can use for camera, inReach and headlamp. Anker has been a reliable brand for long distance backpackers for many years. You’ll want to do plenty of research to determine price, weight, fast charge, input/output options, etc. This Anker power bank (Amazon link) is a good starting point.
  • Cords – I found short cords to provide more efficient charge than longer ones (Amazon link). Research indicates it’s most efficient to recharge your phone when it’s no less than 30% and to stop at 80%.
  • Wall Charger – If you plan to recharge along your journey, you’ll want a light, small and fast charger. Once again I recommend Anker but don’t have one to recommend as I haven’t done the research recently.
  • Solar Charger – There are very few instances I’d carry a solar charger. Those include when I plan to be out for more than a week and/or I’m primarily dependent on my phone for navigation. Even then I’d be more likely to bring two power banks. The reasons are:
    • Weight of solar charges are usually more or similar to a power bank.
    • You still need to carry a power bank as few devices accept the trickle charge provided by a solar charger.
    • You need to be disciplined about placing the solar charger in direct sun during your breaks (while keeping the power bank in the shade)
    • Solar charges aren’t very efficient when they aren’t in the direct sun for long periods of time. While you can mount on your pack, the panels are rarely in alignment with the sun.

Insurance:

I have a history of having accidents with my electronics while hiking.

  • Camera #1 – dropped in a creek, but rescued and saved with the rice/freezer method, only to break the screen a few months later when I sat on it on a concrete bench.
  • Camera #2 – chipped the lens

Then I discovered Squaretrade Accident Insurance.

  • Camera #3 – dropped in the sand, outside my insurance period. I think I might have bought 2 years, now I buy 4 years.
  • Camera #4 – dropped in the sand. Sent in for repair under accident insurance.
  • Camera #4 – dropped on rock, shattered screen. Sent in for repair under accident insurance.

When I purchased my inReach and my phone, I added the insurance. It’s worth the peace of mind knowing something might happen on that first outing. The cost is very reasonable and is related to the price you paid for the item.

Loss Prevention:

  • Add your name and phone number to your items to help it find it’s way back to you
  • Add some duck tape or other easily identifiable tape to make it easy to differentiate your items from another hiker especially in areas where you might be sharing recharge plugs.

Related Posts:

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2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . Campsite Selection


Lessons Learned:

  1. Weather conditions should be a primary consideration.
  2. Views with a flat sleeping surface are my highest priorities.
  3. Being near water isn’t necessary.
  4. Condensation sucks.
  5. Campfires are overrated.

I rarely plan my campsites in advance preferring to hike until I’m tired or until I find an amazing view or setting. As the afternoon grows long I’ll start looking at my maps. This is where learning to read topography lines helps, although they only tell part of the story. Reality may mean rocky or wet terrain, or you might find a bunch of down trees or widowmakers from recent fires. There might be a lake but it might be surrounded by willows making access nearly impossible. Of course there is always the possibility you might find fresh bear scat or a bunch of other humans. Since I rarely use campgrounds or stay in areas requiring permits, my tips are primarily for dispersed or wild camping.

Severe Weather:

  1. Wind
    • Hide in the trees to minimize direct gusts (avoid widowmakers)
    • Position your shelter with narrow end into wind
    • Avoid sandy areas or you might get sandblasted
    • Secure tent with stakes prior to erecting
    • Reinforce stakes with rock weights
    • Use extra guylines
    • Pack earplugs if you’re a light sleeper
  2. Rain
    • Avoid low spots where rain might puddle under your tent
    • Consider semi-open areas or you might hear drip drip drip from the trees all night
    • Usually rain is accompanied by wind
    • Pack earplugs if you’re a light sleeper
    • For multiple days of rain while backpacking
      • Add a polycro sheet to line inside of tent as many tents will wet through even with ground cloth
      • Add a plastic garbage bag to keep wet stuff separated from dry stuff
      • Add kitchen gloves to wear over your regular gloves
      • Consider a rain poncho
  3. Cold
    • Avoid damp areas near creeks and meadows as they tend to be chillier
    • Pay attention when hiking toward end of day as you may feel temperature drop zones
    • Sheltered campsites are better to minimize wind chill
  4. Lightning
    • Avoid areas where you are the tallest object or where you are near the tallest object.
    • Avoid being on surfaces such as granite where lightning radiates rather than absorbs.
    • Most likely you’ll experience rain and wind with the lightning.
    • Try to find a dry surface to camp on as water conducts electricity.

Condensation:

You can minimize condensation by

  • selecting a campsite that isn’t damp or near wet meadows
  • encouraging ventilation by finding a little breeze and leaving doors open

I prefer sleeping without my rainfly so I prioritize finding locations that are less likely to generate condensation.

Ground Surface:

An air mattress can temper ground imperfections, but slope can interrupt sleep.

  • Lie on your tent or ground sheet prior prior to erecting your tent to determine if ground is sufficiently flat (I need my head higher than my legs).
  • If the door needs to face a particular direction consider sleeping on the opposite end if that’s how the ground slants.
  • If your mattress is sliding around inside your tent consider adding a few drops of tent sealer to the bottom of the air mattress or a few stripes on the floor. Sleeping at an angle helps at times.

Dry Camping:

The group I started backpacking with were destination campers. Usually the goal was to camp near a lake or creek which makes for easy water collection and camp cleanup. Having water nearby also makes it easier to follow campfire rules.

When I started long distance hiking, I found the joy of hiking until I was tired and then finding a place to set up camp. It was great not having to reach a particular destination. I just needed to be aware of water sources and collect adequate water for the night and morning.

Spending time in areas with limited water made it evident animals would be nocturnal visitors to those sources, making these areas less safe and noisier. Another benefit of camping away from water is fewer bugs.

I’ve also learned over time I prefer quiet campsites, free of loud water sounds like those made by crashing waves or raging waterfalls. Trickling streams or soft creeks add white noise, but for the more gregarious I need my earplugs.

Compromise:

  • I give up views frequently when I’m long distance hiking as I can’t plan for premier campsites.
  • Group camping dictates use of previous campsites to ensure LNT whereas when solo camping provides a lot more options.
  • Companions may have different preferences. For example if you’re hiking with a hammock user or someone with a large tent footprint, your priorities may become secondary.
  • When solo, I might spend an hour looking for the perfect campsite whereas I’d never subject a companion to such craziness.

Leave No Trace Principles (link):

“Selecting an appropriate campsite is perhaps the most important aspect of low-impact backcountry use. It requires the greatest degree of judgment and information, and often involves making trade-offs between minimizing ecological and social impacts. A decision about where to camp should be based on information about the level and type of use in the area, the fragility of vegetation and soil, the likelihood of wildlife disturbance, an assessment of previous impacts, and your party’s potential to cause or avoid impact.”

Links:

2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . Navigation and Planning


Lessons Learned:

  1. All miles are not equal.
  2. I’d rather hike than plan.
  3. Flexibility and back-up options are good plans.
  4. Learning to read maps is a valuable skill.
  5. Navigation skills are gained through experience.
  6. Being lost or disoriented is frightening.

Planning:

  • I remember being a planner. I enjoyed the process but somewhere along the line it became more of a burden and I learned to be prepared but not to worry about the details. This philosophy works better when:
    • I’m hiking solo and don’t have to provide expectations or details to others
    • My time is flexible and I can enjoy the journey rather than worry about being driven by time and location
  • These days planning for me includes:
    • Usually having a paper map.
    • Downloading digital maps for offline use.
    • Photographing pages from my trail books or taking screen shots from web pages or saving web information to an offline app such as Pocket.
    • Obtaining permits and getting updated trail/road conditions information from ranger stations and visitor centers.
    • How many days of food do I want to carry?
    • Where’s my first water source?
    • How do I get to the trailhead?
  • Many hikers like to plan for each night’s campsite with daily mileage goals. With limited vacation, many have to get permits 6 months to a year in advance. The process becomes more complicated the more people in a group. This process leads many to what I call analysis paralysis whereby worry or detailed thinking takes priority over actually doing.

Mileage:

Predicting daily mileage is a huge challenge since a trail is rarely consistent. These factors slow me down:

    • Heat
    • Technical terrain
    • Trail obstacles
    • Sustained elevation gain
    • Routes requiring navigation skills
    • Carrying too much weight (usually water or seasonal extras)
    • Being out of shape

I track most of my hikes using a phone app. I’ve done this for many years and one of the best tools is daily mileage per hour versus active miles per hour. The daily average takes into account breaks, for me that means a lot of photo and breathing stops. I also pay attention to elevation gain and loss since those affect my average and also are a telltale sign of my current fitness level.

Navigational Skills:

  • Map Reading – I love maps, so learning to decipher the details has been fairly easy although there are still a few things that give me pause. There are plenty of resources to help you gain map and compass skills but practice and curiosity have been my keys.
  • Digital Maps and Tracking – Using the tracking feature on digital maps has improved my skills and confidence in areas such as these:
    • I can compare where I think I am intuitively to where I am in reality.
    • When a trail disappears on the ground, I can verify that I’m nearby and heading in the correct direction.
    • When there isn’t a trail, I can verify I’m heading toward my trajectory and can adjust based on topographical lines.
    • I like to mark my track with waypoints that might be useful on future trips or during my exit such as water sources and campsites. I’ll indicate whether the water source is seasonal or is a wet feet crossing.

I currently use Gaia as my primary digital mapping app and pay for premium membership which includes helpful layers such as National Geographic, National Parks, USFS, snow levels, fire history, geology, etc. You can find great tutorials on YouTube and the Gaia blog. I also use Avenza and wrote this blog post with helpful tips, Hiking with Geospatial PDF Maps (Avenza).

I don’t have an internal compass or landscape memory. I work really hard at “staying found” as they say when teaching map and compass classes. I know I’d struggle if I couldn’t depend on my phone but I’m very aware of that possibility and try to take precautions. Obviously I could drop and break it, lose it, or run out of battery (although I carry an external battery to minimize this risk).

Itinerary and Safety:

I’m the first to admit that I’m not very responsible when it comes to leaving a detailed itinerary with friends and family. Of course this directly relates to my lack of planning, and even more so to my disdain to commitment. My way of staying responsible and accountable is a little different than many but works for me.

  1. I have a network of friends/family who I text my loose itinerary which basically says the trailhead from which I plan to start, how many days of food I’m carrying, and my exit date ETA.
  2. I’m faithful about using my inReach for check-ins. I send a message at the beginning and end of my trip indicating the location of my car, every evening and morning from my campsite, and each time I change trail or find myself crossing sketchy terrain including uncomfortable water crossings. I can also text any major change of plans.

I wrote this blog post after working with SAR teams on rescues where they lost significant search time not having this information, Dear Friends & Family, If I become a Missing Person . . .

Links:

2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . Solo, Partner or Group


Lessons Learned:

  1. Finding available and compatible partners is challenging.
  2. Being in the right place at the right time opens opportunities.
  3. There are pros and cons to each option.

Groups:

As is common, I started my backpacking career by joining an adventure group where more experienced folks would host outings. It’s a great way to meet people, learn about trails and gear. These trips created some great memories with lots of laughter and fun. Naturally, subgroups were formed based on compatibility and personality. I’ve also taken advantage of permit opportunities by joining up with a group when invited.

  • Positives:
    • Introduction to trails and gear
    • Mentorship by the more experienced
    • Safety in numbers
    • Shared gear and knowledge
    • Assistance available
    • Unlimited conversation
  • Challenges:
    • Group think and decisions can be sluggish
    • Conflict is common between the slowest and fastest hikers, the bossy and the timid, etc.
    • Sticking to a planned itinerary is more important
    • Campsite choice is more limited
    • Breaks and chores seem to be more lengthy
    • Less likelihood to see wildlife and to experience silence

My worst experience was with a guy who did a great job planning and communicating our group trip. We met several times in advance to talk about the itinerary, gear and logistics. However, on our first day as we carpooled to our destination, the plan was already falling apart. The next day, was even worse as the planned miles became a march for more and more which was a problem for at least one participant. This person was shy and wasn’t able to say this isn’t working instead she trudged on getting hurt and being miserable as a result. Another member was really upset as he’d scheduled time off work and now the leader was pushing to end the trip early. All in all it was poor communication and revised itineraries that weren’t in the best interest of the group.

Partner(s):

If you are dependent on group outings, you may find yourself limited on number of trips per year. Are you available when those trips are scheduled? Do you want to go where they are going? Finding one, two or three friends or adventure buddies might be easier.

Is two the right number? If you have a compatible partner, it might be perfect. It takes time to find that partner and they might not be the perfect one in all situations. It’s rare that compromises aren’t needed.

How about three or more? Sometimes having a third member of the team helps with decision making and provides additional conversation and perspectives. Much like groups, the more there are is not necessarily merrier. I consider more to mean more complicated.

A few years ago I wrote a blog post about this very issue (Partnership Commitments, Compatibilities & Compromises). You might find it a useful tool although I’ve learned some people don’t necessarily have enough self-awareness or experience to answer the questions honestly. Perception vs reality may be quite different, or might be biased in favor of an opportunity no matter what.

Some of my best memories are with companions. If you’ve followed me on my jaunts, you know that my Team J&J (Jan and Joan) adventures have been epic. I couldn’t ask for a better partner. Joan has supported me and I her. We bring to our team unique skills and perspectives, where one may be weaker the other stronger. We’ve tested our friendship and compatibility by working together to overcome challenges. I’ve shared more miles with Joan than any other companion and look forward to many more J&J jaunts.

Solo:

This is the ultimate freedom. Pick your time, date, location. It’s easier to get permits and to find campsites. All decisions are yours and yours alone. But there are some negatives:

  1. Fun – Having the right partner or group can make the adventure more fun. I love being silly, laughing and giggling, singing and dancing. Those elements are missing when I’m solo.
  2. Sharing – I enjoy sharing moments and miss not being able to do that in the moment. Sure I can take photos and share on my blog later but it’s not the same as witnessing something special together.
  3. Decision Making – I might be more conservative when solo, or at least more cautious. The consequences for a mistake are bigger.
  4. Assistance – Having a friend who can help with obstacles is a huge advantage. I have to work harder getting over and around things solo. I also might turn around if it’s something I worry about not being able to get back up or down. If I were to get hurt, it’s up to me to figure out how to get out or get help.
  5. Equipment Failures – You need to be fully self supported and know how to make the best of a situation when you don’t have a friend with items to share if yours breaks such as water filter, stove or electronics.

When hiking solo, I’m more in the moment. I don’t have any distractions. I stop when I want to stop. I can take tons of photos, or sit by a stream or lake. I can go swimming or spend a day reading. I might want to hike off trail to the top of a ridge. I’m a slow hiker so it’s nice not feeling the pressure to go faster or keep up. But I cherish my partner and group times. Those are some of my best memories. I like mixing it up. I’m grateful for those who are willing to compromise on my behalf so we can hike together.

Links:

2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . Bug Management


Lessons Learned:

  1. Prevention is better than consequences
  2. Pesky pests are my enemy
  3. Be prepared for war
  4. Life is better with pain and itch relief
  5. Evasion is a great solution

Prevention:

  • Pre-Treatment

I consider Sawyer’s Permethrin my secret weapon in this war against unwanted pests. I spray my hiking garb (long sleeve shirt, skirt, tall gaiters, shoes, gloves and hat), as well as my pack and the mesh on my tent. This treatment lasts 6 weeks or 6 washings so I usually try to time it with my first big bug outing. Tip: read the instructions especially regarding cats and also take precautions to protect yourself.

  • Protection

I prefer wearing body armor in the form of clothing rather than repellent, but since I’m also sensitive to heat I usually have some exposed skin that needs protection.

      • Clothing – long sleeve shirt, skirt, tall gaiters, shoes, gloves and hat plus headnet
      • Chemical – I start with least harmful and work my way up the spectrum if needed. These are my product preferences for ticks, biting flies and mosquitoes.
  • Evasion
    • Running is not a great solution, but it does work for short stretches.
    • When all else fails, hide in your tent. That’s my tactic during those highly pesky dusk and dawn hours.

Treatment:

I tend to get bacterial infections from bites and am extremely sensitive so for me it’s worth carrying something for pain and itch management.

First Aid:

  • Tick Key (don’t forget to save the tick)

Gnats:

These things are evil. They drive me batty and it seems they show up when I find myself without my headnet. One little trick I’ve learned is to hang something from my hat or buff that swings in front of my face while walking. I find that tall dry grass works best but I’ve also used pine needles.

Links:

Disclosure: Amazon affiliate links may be included which provide me a tiny kickback to help pay for this site.

 

 

 

Disclosure: Amazon affiliate links may be included which provide me a tiny kickback to help pay for this site.

2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . What’s In My Pack?


Lessons Learned:

  1. It’s an evolving process of trial and error.
  2. Choices are unique.
  3. Compromise is expected.
  4. Keep it simple.
  5. Weight matters.
  6. Plan for repairs, revisions and replacements.
  7. Label your stuff; loss happens.

Base Weight:

My standard base weight is 14-16 pounds. The items in italics are seasonal/conditional extras.

  • Pack
    • Gossamer Gear Mariposa
    • Gossamer Gear Pack Liners x2
  • Shelter
    • Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 with ground cloth
    • Gossamer Gear Titanium Hook Stakes 6.5″ x 8
  • Sleep System
    • Custom DIY Quilt (modified from ZPacks 900-fill down 10-degree bag)
    • ZPacks Dyneema Dry Sack (for quilt when raining)
    • Big Agnes AXL Air Mattress (replaced with Thermarest Xtherm when temps drop below freezing)
    • Gossamer Gear 1/8″ Thinlight Foam Mattress (also part of pack frame)
    • Klymit Medium X Pillow with Buff as pillowcase
  • Kitchen
    • Jetboil Ti-Sol Stove and Cookpot (no longer sold) (in water shortage areas I’ll forego cooking)
    • Ziploc Twist ‘N Lock 12 oz container (for rehydrating meals)
    • Nylon Ditty Bag and 1/4 Sheet Disposable Towel
    • Sea to Summit Long-Handled Spoon
    • Ursack and Opsak (replaced with Bear Canister when required)
  • Hydration
    • Sawyer Squeeze, Full Size (may use water treatment tablets instead in below freezing temps)
    • Evernew 1500ml Bags, quantity 2-4 with one marked as dirty bag (may bring 700ml SmartWater Bottle)
    • Scoop and Prefilter (made with Platypus 0.5L, Steripen Filter Cartridge and, SmartWater Bottle Flip Top)
    • Insulated Tube, Mouthpiece and Bottle Adapter
  • Sleep Clothes
    • Icebreaker Merino Tights
    • Ibex Merino Hooded Long Sleeve Top
    • Smartwool Merino Socks
    • Smartwool Merino Glove Liners
    • DIY Down skirt, slipper leggings, mittens (winter below freezing conditions)
    • DIY Microfleece Balaclava
  • Clothing Layers
    • Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Hooded Jacket
    • Patagonia Hooded Houdini Rain/Wind Jacket
    • Melanzana Beanie
    • Gloves/Mittens (various depending on conditions)
    • Rain Gear (Frogg Toggs UL Jacket, Pants and/or Poncho)
  • Extra Clothes
    • Underwear x1
    • Injinji Toe Socks x1
  • Toiletries
    • Poo Kit (Bidet, Dry Wipes, Dr Bonners, Deuce of Spades Trowel, Doggie Poo Bag, DIY Ditty Bag)
    • Toothbrush, Paste and Floss
    • Eye Drops
    • Lotion with Sunscreen
    • Foot Ointment
    • Ibuprofen and Vitamins
    • Lens Cleaner
    • Disposable Towel (1/4 size)
    • Earplugs
    • Odor Neutralizer Bar
    • Diaper Pins
    • Ziplock (pint size freezer bag)
  • Electronics
  • First Aid and Emergency Preparedness
    • Inhaler primary and backup
    • Pain reliever (ibuprofin, excedrin, norco)
    • Stings/bites (benadryl, pepcid, anti-itch & antibiotic ointments, antiseptic and alcohol wipes)
    • Blisters/cuts (Leukotape-P, gauze, moleskin, steri-strips, needle)
    • Tummy/intestinal (pepcid, imodium)
    • Heat exhaustion/dehydration (Pedialyte)
    • Repairs (super glue, tenancious tape, needle and floss)
    • Hydration tube bite valve (backup)
    • Chapstick (backup)
    • Hairband (backup)
    • Water treatment drops (backup)
    • Mini lighter and fire starter
    • Emergency Poncho
    • Sharpie for notes
    • Ziplocks x2 (pint size freezer bag)
    • Compass
    • Multitool (Leatherman CS)
    • Pepper Spray (grizzly spray when applicable)
    • ID, emergency contacts, medical history, advanced directive, permits in opsak
  • Miscellaneous (seasonal/situational)
    • Bug Management:
      • Bug headnet
      • Bug repellent
      • Tick Key
    • Sunscreen
    • Umbrella (rain and sun)
    • Excessive Rain
      • Polycro Sheet (layer in tent)
      • Larger plastic bags (use to separate wet gear during night)
      • Utility gloves (layer over merino or separate to keep hands dry and warm)
    • Snow/Ice:
    • Desert:
      • Comb and full size tweezers (jumping cholla)

Things I Don’t Carry:

  • A chair
  • Camp shoes
  • Extra hiking clothes
  • A weapon, hunting or fishing gear

Things I Wear and Carry:

Things I’ve Carried Since My First Trip:

As I reviewed my list, I realized I’ve changed everything over the years. There are quite a few items I’ve carried at least 5 years, in fact many probably 7-8 but even those might have been modified. This kit keeps me comfortable and happy through most conditions.

Ongoing Challenges:

  1. I’d love a lighter less bulky tent
    • Stake-dependent shelters are frustrating in hard rocky ground
    • Single wall shelters have condensation issues
    • Dyneema shelters are so expensive
  2. It’s about time to replace my well-loved pack
    • The GG models change slightly year-to-year and are expensive to return
    • All cottage company models require an investment in return postage
    • I’m tempted to make my own
  3. Simplifying water treatment is always on my mind
    • The Sawyer Squeeze takes time and has to be protected during freezing temps
    • The Katadyn BeFree has enough negative reviews to cause hesitation; the custom bottles don’t excite me.
  4. It’s time to do a pack shake down again with weight creeping up to 16 pounds; 12-14 would be better. Yes I know the changes I could make. Like I said at the beginning it’s all about compromise.

Related Posts:

Disclosure: Amazon affiliate links may be included which provide me a tiny kickback to help pay for this site.

Note: The purple mat is not part of my gear.

 

2020: What’s stopping YOU from living YOUR BEST Life?

I recently wrote a post about stewers vs doers (link). For many it’s easy to become stuck in a type of paralysis playing the What If game making it extremely challenging to go from a stewer to a doer. I think this image puts risk into perspective.

Are you a worry wort or a carefree risk taker or more likely somewhere in between? Does your worry prevent you from doing? Does it cause you to limit your adventures? Do you weigh yourself and your pack down with the what ifs?

In a book I was reading this morning this quote stood out and seemed applicable to so many situations, “No use wasting time being afraid of something you can’t do anything about.”
My goal is to go prepared mentally, physically and with the right skills, gear and safety equipment so that I can be free to worry less, laugh more, live more, adventure more . . .
What have you done to successfully transition from spending too much time worrying to more time living? What advice do you have for others in same situation?