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.

Links:

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:

Links:

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 . . . 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.

 

The Abundant R’s of Winter

We might not hibernate but winter typically signals a period of slowing down, spending more time indoors, and for me doing a lot of R’s. Funny as I thought about this post, every descriptor began with an R so I decided to run with it.

Rest, Recovery and Rehab

My body says thank you for slowing down, tending to aches, pains and neglected areas.

Recondition, Revise, Repair, Replace, Recycle

It’s a time to evaluate my clothing and gear. Broken zippers, holey socks . . .  With discounts at their best from November through January, winter is the time to replace or upgrade gear. It’s also a good time to see if I have clutter worthy of selling, donating or tossing.

Replenish

My food and resupply bins are usually looking quite sparse by this time of year. Nothing says prep quite like the dehydrator, boxes of bars and Minimus.biz.

Reorganize

Might as well put things away where they belong when done with inventory and restocking. When it’s time to play I want to be able to grab and go.

Rewind and Reflect

This is typically the time of year I catch up on photo processing, blog posts and my map track. What were my highlights and lowlights? Yes, my broken blog photo links have been my lowest low of the year. I’m still working to resolve.

Research

While I’m reminiscing about my joys of the previous year, it’s also a good time to starting planning for the upcoming season. Where oh where shall Jan jaunt in 2020?

Reconnect

The holidays and winter provide great opportunities to reunite with friends and family. It’s when I need more social time. My hiking groups tend to provide motivation along with face-to-face interaction during the dark, wet, chilly days of winter.

Rally

My coping strategy is to spend time being active outside at least an hour a day. This has made a huge difference in my moods. Embrace winter! I’m glad I enjoy snowshoeing and hiking in brisk temperatures.

Repay

Generosity seems to be in the forefront of our minds during the holiday season. It’s a good time to not only make my annual financial donations but also to thank those who’ve helped me during the year. I think about ways I might want to contribute in the upcoming year. Do I want to volunteer or teach? If so, where, when, how?

Resist

For me that means resisting the urge to overeat, be lazy and shop the sales (as I sit here staring at 5 down jackets, a tent, pack and sleeping pad).

Rejoice

I’m still alive and I’ve added another chapter to my book of memories! Hopefully it was a year with few regrets, good health and lots of laughs. If not, I can still sing my thanks for living to hike another day. I’m Alive!

Reset

Winter is my most challenging season. The shortened hours of daylight combined with rainy days can lead to the blues. I like many people experience Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD). I feel a bit like a caged lion or maybe more like a tigress. Recently Anish (aka Heather Anderson) posted her thoughts on the changing seasons. One phrase caught my attention, “We’re in a season of darkness now. Look to nature. She sleeps.”

Life is simpler on the trail.
So many of us crave that simplicity.
It’s a place where we find our natural rhythm.
A sustainable pace in sync with sun, wind, moon, blossom, and Fall.
We’re in a season of darkness now. Look to nature. She sleeps.
She is not frantically racing, acquiring, preparing.
That time is done.
Now it’s a time for drawing inward.
Relying on that which was set aside already.
Holding tight to the fire within.
Awaiting the return of the light.

When it seems like there is too much busy-ness this time of year I take my cue from Mother Nature. I step back. I draw in. I take a break. Winter is for resting, preparing for another year. The trail gives us calm because it connects us to the essential ebb and flow. Holding on to that off trail is what keeps me balanced.

I know if I focus on the R’s of winter, I’ll be ready for the greens of spring.

2020: What are YOU waiting for?

The reality is time doesn’t stand still. Can you believe it’s gonna be 2020 in the blink of an eye?

I’ve met many people who think big but just can’t seem to convert that energy into wonderful memories of adventure. If you fall into this category, what’s stopping you? How many fantastic opportunities have you missed out on? More importantly how many future ones have you lost because your friends have given up on you?

  • One of the first people I mentored on PCT prep fell into this category. I worked with her on gear, training, realistic expectations, etc. but in the end it was enemies within that kept her from taking those first steps.
  • I’ll never forget a gal I met on a meetup camping trip. She’d come with her ex-husband. She told us she’d been trying to attend events for several months. Fear had immobilized her. She’d get as far as the carpool or meeting location but couldn’t get out of her car. By recruiting her ex for that first encounter, she felt safe and as a result became an active member of the group.

I think of my friends who set goals, make plans and take actions. They are the ones who have chosen to live in the moment. They know tomorrow may not come. Our health is not guaranteed. The forest we dream about may disappear in a wildfire. Other trails may be lost to floods, avalanches or neglect. Today’s perfect weather, wildflower explosion, or snow conditions could just as easily be the opposite. Air quality has become an issue with what the all too frequent large and long-lasting wildfires. Is the risk of waiting worth it? What will you regret not doing?

  • A friend works full time, he’s 60+ and yet makes adventure a priority. Sometimes that means getting up at 3:30am on his day off, driving 5 hours so he can spend the day snowshoeing up some mountain he’s been eyeing. He’s also been known to grab those enviable sunrise photos, and when I’m invited I say YES!
  • Another friend who also works full time, uses much of her vacation time section hiking the PCT. It’s a huge investment in money and time. The logistics are overwhelming. She balances life with a husband, pets, and the desire to meet her goal of PCT completion. She prioritizes an active lifestyle by squeezing in mini trips locally to ensure fitness prior to her vacation adventures.

I can go on and on about both doers and stewers. I’m sure you have stories of your own. If you’re a stewer, what’s stopping you from becoming more of a doer?

  • Chores or obligations?
  • Fitness level?
  • Money?
  • Companions?
  • Knowledge?
  • Time?
  • Weather?
  • Gear/Clothing?
  • Transportation?

These barriers can be overcome once you decide to prioritize yourself.

If you want to be a hiker, backpacker, snowshoer, rock climber, runner, whatever . . . just do it! Tiny steps lead to bigger ones. First steps don’t need to be epic. Just get out of your comfort zone and take that scary leap. Stop saying I wish I could but . . . Instead start saying YES I can and will.

Make 2020 your year of change!

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:

Beginners:

Long Distance:

Navigation:

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!

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!