beginner questions

Chanell's Story / What comes after "I want to go backpacking"?


If you've never been backpacking and you want to go, what comes after saying, "I want to go backpacking"?

If you missed Chanell's intro story, you'll want to take a read. She asked some great questions that are on the forefront of her mind after publicly announcing that she wants to go on her first ever backpacking trip. To recap, here are her top five initial questions:

  1. What do I need?
  2. How do I find where I want to go? 
  3. Where do I get what I need at a reasonable price? 
  4. What am I missing? 
  5. It can't be this simple - what else do I need to be asking? 

Most beginners have the same questions about what gear they need and where to go. (I'm surprised Chanell didn't have any questions about bears, but I'm sure those will creep up soon enough.) Let me dive in with my responses to these questions, and we'll see how helpful they are - or not. Do they make sense? Does it still leave her baffled? Does it help her get one step closer to standing on the trail? You all are invited to chime in too, in the comments below. 

1. What do I need?
Chanell, here's a general gear checklist. I use it to make sure I don't forget my essentials. It's written in the general because there are different considerations for different seasons, altitudes, location. You can use it as a guide to think about what you'll need for your trip. For the specific things I take, here's my gear list.

Depending on where you're going and the weather, you'll use that info to determine what clothes you'll need. I don't recommend buying anything until this aspect nailed down.


2. How do I find where I want to go?
This is a great question! Because there are so many choices, I think it would probably be helpful to  filter your options. Here are a few questions to consider:

  • Is there a place you've heard of that you'd like to explore? 
  • How far are you willing to drive? (E.g. 1-2 hours? Half day? Full day?)
  • How many days do you want to be backpacking? (Exclude travel time)
  • Do you want to see anything specific? A lake? Waterfall? Awesome mountaintop view?
  • What kind of backpacking would you like to do?
    • Fairly easy (1-5 miles, not a lot of ascent or descent)
    • A good challenge, but not too hard (4-7mi/day, more steep uphill and downhill)
    • Challenging (7+ miles/day with at least one pass - that means hiking up to the top of a mountain range)
    • Let's get it (You're game for 10+ miles, passes, etc.)

3. Where do I get what I need at a reasonable price? 
I just wrote a post about ways to find gear for cheap or even free here


4. What am I missing?
The first questions that pop into my mind when I'm thinking about a planning a backpacking trip are as follows:

  • When is the best time to go? Can I go then? 
  • What do I want from this trip?
  • What kind of a physical challenge am I looking for?
  • Am I equipped for this trip? If not, what do I need? 
  • Do I want to go solo or with people? If the latter, who? 
  • Where can I find more info and trail recommendations on the area? 
  • Which ranger station is the one that knows the most information about the area?

5. It can't be this simple - what else do I need to be asking?
There's plenty more to come as we get closer to your departure. Let's focus on question #2 and find you a place to go! 


What would you add? 

Chanell's Story / Starting at "I want to go backpacking"


I reconnected with a college friend recently and while gabbing on about what we're up to now, she said she wanted to go on her first backpacking trip...and go solo! I squealed internally and then we decided that we'd do this together: I'll give her info and guidance and she'll follow them. Basically I'm going to be her private backpacking tutor, if you will. 

I want to see if I can give Chanell the guidance she needs to get on the trail and we'll learn together about all the questions and barriers a complete newbie has to overcome to get from "I want to go" to "I can't believe I'm here!"

She'll be guest posting about her progress every other week(ish), so I hope you follow along! Here she is... #GoChanellGo



Hi Snowqueen & Scout Community!

My name is Chanell and I want to backpack in the wilderness. 

*Whew* That’s something that I've never shared publicly. Ever.

I know a lot of friends – and family – who would be surprised, even incredulous at that statement. And I completely understand. Over the years, I’ve watched friends journey into the wilderness and I've found myself looking at them skeptically too.

But recently I've found myself wanting to do something similar. OK, before I get ahead of myself, let me start from the beginning because some background will help give context…

Over the years, I’ve used many adjectives (and some nouns) to describe myself. Today, at age thirty-two, the most consistent ones seem to be: quirky, idealistic, spontaneous, and thoughtful. Also, African-American. I want you to know that I identify as a woman of color. [Note: Chanell will be writing sharing more about this topic of being a Black woman and what that means for being in the wilderness in an upcoming blog post. Stay tuned!]  I’m a military brat by birth. I was born in Fort Gordon, Georgia and moved around the mid-west until I was ten. But I’ve been in Northern California for twenty-two years so I’m officially claiming “Californian."

It's safe to say that as a child, my family was definitely NOT into the outdoors. We didn’t go camping or hiking. While we spent a lot of time in the county (rural Mississippi to be exact) and went on a good amount of cross-county road trips, we weren’t the type of family that was going to pitch a tent and hike around the mountains. In fact, there was a healthy (or strong?) fear of the wildness. It was bit like, "Why would you go walk around bear country and wonder why the bear ate you?" kind of mentality. The logic was basically: the bears and ticks and God knows what else could have the wilderness, we’ll take the roads and streets and suburban tract homes. And I was A-Okay with this logic.

Even when I attended the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2001 – which was literally living in the redwoods – I had NO desire to explore anything. In fact, I spent a good amount of time complaining about how many hills and trees and (fear of) mountain lions I had to deal with just to get to class. I had a number of friends who couldn’t stop talking about the natural beauty of Santa Cruz and offered to take me on hikes through the campus. I remember thinking, "Hmm, do I want to hike through God knows what or take the asphalt path to the coffee shop?" For me, it was a no-brainer! Coffee shop wins every time! After Santa Cruz, I moved to very urban places filled with transit, buildings, and concrete. That was an intentional decision: I didn’t want to live in suburbia but I didn’t want the rustic lifestyle either.

Fast forward – right around 2007 – my life was pretty difficult. I was living in San Jose but I felt so confined by my profession, my (perceived lack of) choices, and the tension between how people saw me versus who I wanted to be. I remember the tears and pain around being silenced, not being supported, and not being able to find my true self in my current situation. An old friend invited me to North Lake Tahoe in the midst of this difficult time and I happily accepted.

In my ten years of living in Northern California, I had only been to Tahoe once. And it was an extremely short trip in the middle of summer. So when I drove up this time, I took my time. I wanted to experience something different from my current life and Tahoe exceeded my expectations! It was winter and the landscape was stunning. I was driving in snowstorm and I remember feeling such excitement at seeing Mother Nature at work. I remember pulling over and walking through the storm. I felt such childlike delight at the flurries, the blinding whiteness, and the rough bark of the trees. For the first time, I could breathe. I felt free.

My friend lived a very rustic lifestyle and for the weekend, and I was a part of that lifestyle. When the weekend ended, I told my friend I wish I could stay up here. But I didn’t. I went back to my life in San Jose. I know that trip sparked something inside of me: a deep appreciation for nature – in its many forms – and a strong sense of wanting to live my life in a way where I felt free.

Eight years later, I’ve made a lot of strides to becoming who I want to be, who I am meant to be, and - most importantly – who I feel called to be. But life is a journey and things don’t happen overnight. As I get older, I am more and more humbled by that knowledge. As I stay on this path for my own journey, I am embracing the knowledge that I want to spend more time in nature.


Over the years, I’ve seen friends do the John Muir Trail (JMT) and felt an urge within me to do something similar. I’m looking for a transformational experience within myself. When I was in Tahoe in 2007, I was on my own for parts of it and I was free from the distractions of my life to really grapple with my sadness, my frustration, and my heart.

I’ve found Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart to be magical in its teaching. It is a religious text but the knowledge (at least in my mind) is universal. He states, “Solitude is the furnace of transformation.” And that’s what I’m ready to experience on my first backpacking trip in the wilderness.

I hear the call for me to be in the wilderness, to release myself from distractions, to appreciate the simplicity and beauty, and to see myself for who I was, who I am and who I want to be.

But in the midst of this call, I’m realizing I have no idea where to begin!

These are my top five questions on my mind as I think about my first solo backpacking trip:
    1.    What do I need?
    2.    How do I find where I want to go?
    3.    Where do I get what I need at a reasonable price?
    4.    What am I missing?
    5.    It can’t be this simple – what else do I need to be asking?


Part of what I admire about Chanell's story is her background. Having not spent much time outdoors or even desired to, I love how she's walking towards this new challenge. 

What do you resonate with about Chanell's story? I'd love for you to share your thoughts! #GoChanellGo

Question / What are those patterns on dead wood?

Q: Have you seen this kind of pattern on tree branches or trunks? What are they called?

A: These patterns are called an insect gallery. The trails are created as larvae eat their way through the cambium layer of the tree. The normal passerby will likely see these galleries on dead branches and trunks of trees. They're absolutely gorgeous, and somehow, they also give me a bit of the shivers.