There are plenty of mistakes to be made when going backpacking, especially if you are a newbie. Luckily for you, there are many of us who have gone before you and who have learned the hard way. Take note from our experiences and save yourself a load of grief. These tips will make your backpacking experience a lot more enjoyable, and will save you a lot of discomfort along the way.
For outdoor lovers, it can be frustrating and even a bit depressing if you live in a place that is far from any wilderness areas. Sure, most cities and towns have parks, but for people who are into backpacking, mountain climbing, and a little peace and quiet, parks just don’t cut it. Ben and I recently moved to an area that is about two hours (minimum) from the nearest mountains. While that is definitely doable for a day trip (and trust me, we’ve spent plenty of days and nights in those mountains!), it’s not exactly convenient. Our ideal situation would be living in a place where we could walk out our back door and be in the mountains or be on a great fly fishing creek.
Over the past year of being an outdoor lover living far from the wild, I’ve learned three tricks for coping. Here you go!
- Schedule wilderness time. That’s right…put it on your calendar. Designate days in which you will take the time necessary to get yourself to the mountains. Treat it like an important business meeting and DON’T CANCEL. Just go, no matter how busy you are or how unpleasant the drive sounds. You’ll feel so much better once you are breathing that fresh, wild air.
- Pack ahead of time. Make sure your gear is packed up and ready to go in your vehicle ahead of time. Waking up at 4am in order to hit the road, and then still having to pack up is tough. You’ll be more likely to just scrap your plans and take a raincheck on your adventures. So, pack up the night before or a few days before. You’ll be so glad you did once your alarm goes off.
- Allow as much time as possible. Try to allow yourself as much time in the wild as possible. It will make the long drive feel less grueling. If you can, try to make your excursion an over night one, or better yet, a few nights.
What are your tips for making time for the great outdoors, even if you live far away from the mountains?
Spending time together in the backcountry, free from distractions and creature comforts, can teach you a lot about your significant other. Here are a few reasons why backpacking should be on the top of your 'To Do Together' list! Click here to read.
To make a long story short, I had one hell of a time finding a backpack. I am a thin, petite girl with little to no extra padding to protect me from the pressure of thick straps - supporting dozens of pounds of gear - digging into my shoulders and hips. I went through backpack after backpack, and each one left my collar and hip bones bruised, cut, and rubbed raw, and my back aching. Each time I would wear one of the other backpacks, I would be in pain and close to tears after just a few minutes on the trail. It got so bad, and I had been through so many backpacks with no improvement, that I was about ready to give up backpacking all together. Which was a heartbreaking thought.
Then, my husband saved the day and found me the Banchee 50 from The North Face, and my backpacking days were saved! The Banchee 50 is comfortable and durable. My collar and hip bones remained bruise free. I was able to actually enjoy myself while trekking into the mountains with 20-30 pounds of gear on my back. I couldn't wipe the stupid grin off of my face during my first trip with the Banchee 50. We were a match made in heaven.
My Recommendation: Ladies, TRY THIS PACK. I can't rave about it enough. Comfortable, efficient, durable...what more could you ask for?The Banchee 50 ($199 at www.thenorthface.com)
Spring is right around the corner, can you feel it? Depending on where you are in the country right now, you can probably feel it a bit more than others. Well here in sunny Northern California it feels like Spring is really starting to blossom. With the coming of Spring, I find the motivation to kick my workouts into high gear in anticipation of little dresses, short shorts, and, more importantly, backpacking in the mountains.
The countdown to warm weather and outdoor activities is on. The mountain roads and trails are opening up in just a few short weeks. Now is the time to commit to getting in your best shape so that you can fully enjoy all that the great outdoors has to offer. Because if you hit the trail after a winter of hanging out on your couch without training first, you will be in for a less than stellar surprise.
1. Give your stairs some lovin'. If you have stairs in your house, use them to your own benefit. Walking or running up and down stairs is great training for hiking. It's also just a great workout in general. Do enough stairs at a fast enough pace and you can get a good cardio session in. Plus, stairs are great for your booty.
2. Walk or jog. Now that the weather is going to be warming up it is a great opportunity to get outside in your neighborhood and go for a quick walk or jog. Just getting your body moving is important, and the fresh air wont hurt either. If the weather's not so nice where you are, get your steps in on a treadmill. If you don't have a treadmill, head to your local gym. No excuses! Walk instead of drive, park farther away from the door when going to the grocery store...find little ways to get yourself moving.
3. Work Out in Your Living Room. Find a fun workout that you can do in your living room before or after work. There are so many online that you can choose from. An online workout, or a fitness DVD, make it easy to fit in a workout without having to commit the time it takes to get to and from where you are going. Just turn on the workout and get to it. (My favorites: www.toneitup.com, barre3 workout DVDs or MyBarre3 online, and Ballet Beautiful. I do one or more of these types of workouts every day in preparation for hiking and backpacking.)
4. Rock Your Backpack. A really great (albeit, nerdy) way to train for backpacking is to wear your backpack around the house or out for your walk or jog. You can start out with it empty and gradually add weight to it to build up your strength. It's amazing how heavy your backpack can feel when you haven't worn it for a few months. Best to start wearing it ahead of time to get reacquainted.
5. Squat It Out. Squats are something that you can do anywhere. They will build up your leg strength which is so important for hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, fly fishing, trail running...just about any outdoor activity you can think of. The benefits of squats are unlimited. So do them. Check out this link to make sure that your form is correct. Then, get yourself this amazing tank top.
I am lucky to be able to live an adventurous life and to be able to write about it. I live for long weekends of backpacking in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, or heading East to go fly-fishing on the major rivers of South West Montana. And I am fortunate enough that whether I am swimming with sharks off the North Shore, or spending a lazy day at home, my husband is right there by my side. We are the perfect adventure buddies.
I am blessed to be able to go on so many adventures and to have so many amazing experiences with the man I love. I am also blessed to be able to inspire others. Especially when it comes to other women. In my opinion, fly fishing and backpacking and pushing one's self beyond what is comfortable or normal is important for everyone, but in particular for women. Whenever I hear a friend of mine talk about needing to go hiking more, "like Anna", or try fly fishing out after seeing photos of me gripping a big Brown, it gives me a rush. Because these activities have changed my life. They have opened new worlds up to me, and to see others show interest in trying them is thrilling and satisfying.
[Adapted from the article 'An Adventurous Life' By Anna M. Cohen. Check back soon for more details on where you can read the full article.]
I must confess: I am a worrier. As much as I love the wild, I fear it. As much as I long to push my limits, I worry that I will push too far. When I am out getting my adventure on, I am constantly considering every possible way that I might die or be brutally maimed. It's a constant battle for me. I am far from fearless.
But, that is one thing that I appreciate most about the wild - that it makes you embrace your fears, and sometimes even conquer them. Being afraid is a part of adventure. It's a part of discovering yourself and what you are capable of, and learning to push through fear is a valuable lesson that can be applied in every aspect of life.
When I'm in the backcountry, miles from civilization, I am afraid of many things. I'm afraid of bears, falling off a cliff, and getting struck by lightning. But I've learned that you just have to push through, grab your fears by the horns, and hang on tight. You'll be in for one hell of a ride if you do! And when you look your fears right in their glowing red eyes, you might just see that you are bigger than them and that they aren't so scary after all.
Spring has sprung and it's about time! It was a long winter and it is easy to start feeling a bit stir crazy when your outdoor activities are limited. With the warming of the weather, it's time to start planning those backpacking trips and getting ready for those wilderness climbs.
During the winter months it is normal for us to slack on exercise in favor of snuggling up with a blanket by the fire. Nothing wrong with snuggling or blankets or fires, however when spring rolls around, it can be quite the rude awakening to realize that all of that winter snoozing left you feeling weak, out of breath, and totally unprepared for a long trek. When it's time to load up your pack and head out into the backcountry, you want to be ready.
Here are a few ways to jump-start your spring and get back into the swing of things, physically:
1. Make a list. Write down your goals [i.e. hikes you want to do, backpacking trips you have planned, climbs you want to try, a beachy vacation that you want to get in shape for...]. That way you can see everything laid out before you. If that isn't motivation to whip your butt into gear, I don't know what is.
2. Create a routine. Make a plan of when and where and how often you are going to exercise. If it's before work five times a week, then set your alarm a little earlier and go to bed a little sooner than you normally would the night before. Then, [and this is easier said than done,] stick to it. Routines take anywhere from 21 to 66 days to form, depending on who you ask. So when your alarm goes off at 5:30am or you get home from work at 7:00pm, don't give into the urge to "take the day off". Just do it.
3. Mix up your workout regimen. It's easy to get bored if you do the same work out every day. So, try picking a few different ways to exercise and rotate through them on various days of the week. When prepping for a backcountry adventure, it is important to not only get good cardiovascular exercise in, but also to build up strength and endurance. Try alternating between running, going on hikes, and yoga.
4. Find workouts that you love. If you enjoy what you are doing, you will be more likely to actually do it. All the good intentions in the world wont make you go out for a run if you absolutely hate running. If a spin class is more your thing, do it! If jump roping floats your boat, do that.
I love taking barre3 classes. They are fun and they really build up your strength and endurance - plus you get a great cardio work out, mixed with toning and stretching. Perfection!
And if hiking is the only form of "working out" that you can stand, go hiking more.
If crowded trails aren't your style, check out my post on "Why It's Good to Get Off the Trail" for some tips on how to find more remote places to hike.
5. Start now! It is not too early to start training for your backpacking trip this June. Start your new exercise routine, and make sure you strap on your loaded pack at every chance you get. Even just walking around your house with it on will build up your strength. You don't want the first time you put on your pack this year to be when you're heading out into the wild for three nights.
This is going to be a great year of outdoor exploration!
Let me know your favorite ways to get physically ready for adventure in the comments below!
When it comes to planning an adventure, fantasizing and daydreaming are the easy parts. It is the details that become the challenge. Some people are able to just drop everything, jump in their car, and hit the road, seeking out adventure wherever their journey takes them. No preparation, no plans... Something about that is appealing. The unknown. The spontaneity. The risk. But, if you are like me and my husband, Ben, you enjoy mapping out the route you are going to take and pinpointing places in your road atlas that you want to be sure to hit. The planning process is part of the rush that we get from going on an adventure. It is the phase in which we get to look into different areas and learn about their history and their geographical wonders. It adds to the anticipation.
To begin with, Ben and I work on compiling a list of all of the places that we want to be sure to visit on our trip. We search the web for cool, little known areas. Google maps is great for getting links to pictures that users have uploaded from each area. This allows us to scout the area and get to know the terrain a little bit better. In the case of an area not having any user pictures uploaded, one can assume that not many people have been there. This can be a good thing if your goal is to get away from people and really experience
the wild without the risk of a crowd. The terrain feature in Google maps is a great tool for determining how steep an area might be. This is important when planning backpacking trips.
Once we've pinpointed all of the places that we want to hit, Ben and I work on putting together a route. We'll figure out the most direct [or the most scenic] way to get from point A to point B. After the general route has been mapped out, we start to figure out roughly how much time we are going to need in each place. For instance, a backpacking trip in The Crazies will require four days, and we need to set aside a good couple of days for fly fishing at each river that we will pass.
One of our favorite parts of planning our adventures is learning a bit about the places that we will be visiting. Ben and I research each place that we will be visiting online and sometimes, if there seems to be a lot of history and information available, we even buy a few books. To prepare for an upcoming adventure, Ben bought us a book about Lewis and Clark's journey through the Missouri Breaks. We plan on floating down a good stretch of the Missouri river and camping in some of the spots that Lewis and Clark made their camps. It makes the experience all the more special if you know a little history about where you are going and who has been there before you.
Most importantly, when planning an adventure, be flexible. Because even with all of the careful research and mapping of routes in the world, it is always wise to expect the unexpected. Unpredictability is the very essence of adventure.
Now, get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!
My first taste of the backcountry involved a lot of sweat, a lot of apprehension, and a pack that weighed over a quarter of my body weight. I had done a bit of hiking, but nothing involving a backpack or more than a few miles, and certainly nothing that involved sleeping out in the middle of nowhere. My husband and I had researched a wilderness area called Horseshoe Basin. 12 miles round trip and promising excellent scenery, we figured this would be a great way to initiate me into the world of backpacking. We packed up only the necessities, working hard to eliminate excess weight. We analyzed maps and read up on forums and decided that limiting the amount of water we carried was the best way to cut weight. The area we were going to be hiking in had plenty of streams, and water sources would be abundant. After all was said and done, my pack weighed 30 lbs, and on my barely 100 lb, inexperienced frame, it felt at least five times heavier than it actually was.
My husband and I headed East of the Cascades to Okanogan County. The trail head was at the end of a very long, very windy, very unmaintained “road” near the top of a small mountain. We set out as the sun was just making it’s first appearance over the mountain tops. The air was still chilly and with our packs strapped on tight, we plunged into a thick forested area through which the path wound for what seemed like hours. It was about a mile in that the heat started to scorch us. The sun inched higher and higher into the clear blue sky above the tree tops. The trail broke out of the trees and opened up onto alpine meadows, blooming with colorful wild flowers and tall grasses. It was breathtaking. It was hot.
The straps of my pack began to feel like they were cutting into my shoulders and my hips. My husband plowed on ahead, his stride sure and strong. He didn’t seem to be suffering like I was, although this wasn’t his first rodeo. He was an avid outdoors-man and he was no stranger to the backcountry, or to hauling a heavy load on his back. I felt myself growing weaker by the moment. The alpine meadows gave way to a burned down forest. A wild fire had torn through the mountains not many months before and dead, blackened trees lay scattered for miles in every direction. At least in the alpine meadows I had had the beauty of the flowers and the sweeping view to motivate me. Now, in this barren graveyard of skeleton trees I felt defeated.
I threw down my pack and booked it to a large boulder just off the trail - the only thing remotely close to a shady place to rest. I crouched beside the boulder, rubbing my shoulders, panting, and on the verge of tears. I realized with sinking certainty, that I had been defeated. I did not have what it took to be an adventurer. I had daydreamed that I would embark on my first backcountry quest with undiscovered, unharnessed, unshakeable strength. Now, as I huddled pathetically by a large rock in the middle of an unbelievably hot, desolate wasteland, the acknowledgment of my inexperience and weakness was nausea inducing.
My husband, upon realizing that I was no longer behind him, circled back and found me in my sorry state. With a gentle smile, he asked what was wrong. I told him that I was not cut out for the wild. My pack was too heavy, it was too hot, and my legs felt like jello. I told him that I could not go on and that we should turn back. My husband would have none of it. He gave me the bottle of water that we brought with us, and I drank deeply, sucking down the warm liquid that offered little to no relief from my suffering. I handed the bottle back to him, wiping my mouth with the back of my sweaty hand. My husband stowed the bottle and held out his hand to me. “Let’s go,” he said, confidently. He hauled me to my feet and helped me ease back into the straps of my pack.
And we carried on. With every step, my body ached more, and the sun beat down harder. But then, gradually, something amazing happened. I realized that despite my discomfort, I was pushing on, keeping up with my husband, and feeling more and more capable by the minute. The landscape changed again and we began winding in between tall cliffs and more alpine meadows. Patches of snow appeared sporadically in the shadowy places. The heat became more bearable and I didn’t mind the burning in my shoulders and hips so much. I realized that my body was very capable of doing this. I had only to push through my mental barriers to release the adventurer strength within me. I was backpacking! I breathed in the fresh, mountain air and looked around me as I walked, drinking in the beauty of the backcountry - so remote and so unlike any place I had ever been.
Finally, we wound down the side of a cliff, came around a corner, and there it was: our destination. A beautiful valley lay before us, and on the opposite side, a grassy mountainside rose up into a bright blue sky. My husband and I smiled at each other. We trekked across the valley and up the other mountainside, where we found a relatively flat bank with a killer view. We set up camp, built our own water filtration system out of t-shirts, gravel, grass, and some charcoal that my husband had grabbed from the burned out forest we passed through earlier. The water that we filtered was the cleanest tasting water I had ever had the pleasure of guzzling.
That night we sat on the mountainside and watched the sunset together. The last blazing light of the day lit the wildflowers around us on fire so that they glowed in a supernatural way. It was so quiet. So still. The air was so crisp. The sun finally slipped behind a distant peak. It was a brand new world that I was in. In that moment, the backcountry welcomed me with open arms as one of it’s own. I fell in love on that mountainside, both with my husband all over again for believing in the strength that I had inside of me, even when I didn’t, and with the backcountry and all it stood for and all it had to offer. The wild places wove their way into my soul and I’ve never looked back.
'I know that our bodies were made to thrive only in pure air, and the scenes in which pure air is found.' - John Muir
If you've been in the backcountry over night, you know what I'm talking about when I say that there are few things that taste as good as a re-hydrated meal eaten right out of the bag in the middle of nowhere after a long day of hiking. Dehydrated meals are a must for any true backpacker. And boy, do we love them. Here are the top reasons why freeze-dried meals are the shizz:
1. There is no better way to pack in the calories needed for long days of trekking it through the wild.
2. They provide you with a hot meal at the end of a long day. Think how nice a warm pouch of Chili Mac would be after a 12 mile hike, eaten as the sun starts setting over the mountains and that cool night air starts to creep in. You can't beat it. Hot meal. A must.
3. Some of them actually taste really good. Try these meals from Mountain House: Chicken a la King, Lasagna with Meat Sauce, Beef Stroganoff, Chili Mac with Beef, or Mac and Cheese. Steer clear of the 'Breakfast' options...just my advice.
4. Easy clean up when you eat right out of the bag! No bowls required. Just rinse the bag out when you're done, roll it up small, and stuff it in your pack. No muss no fuss.
5. They fill you up. No really. You wont be hungry after downing a Mountain House Entree pouch.
Freeze-dried suppers are a life saver on a cool, wilderness night. That's why we, the adventurers, the explorers, the backcountry men [and women], love them so.
My backpack weighs nearly half as much as I do. It's nearly as big as I am. It is stuffed to full capacity, strapped on tight. Inside are all the essentials: 0 degree Marmot [Marmot.com] sleeping bag, sleeping pad, first aid kit, tooth brush, headlamp, extra layers of clothing, and enough Mountain House meals and Clif Bars to keep me fueled for days. Everything else needed is strapped onto my husband, Ben's, back. We're a team. We've got a system.
Ben laughed the first time we loaded up my Gregory backpack and cinched me into it. It's huge. I'm tiny. It's funny, really. I weigh a whopping 100 lbs. I'm little and blonde and most people wouldn't expect me to be able to rough it in the backcountry with a huge pack full of gear on my back. Ben ends up carrying more than I do, but that's alright - he's bigger and stronger than I am. I still pull my weight and I love breaking stereotypes. And the end result is always worth the struggle and sweat.