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Gear / How to find backpacking gear for free (or cheap)

Before you decide to go buy a bunch of gear without having much backpacking experience, please take a moment to pause.


[Take a deep breath and relax. Feel the excitement in your body and let go of any anxiety you have about acquiring gear. Seriously, take one big deep breath now.


An alternative way of approaching your first backpacking trip.
We are bombarded with messages to buy buy buy. Our pervasive consumer culture permeates every aspect of the outdoors industry too. No surprise, just ironic. (I mean I even have ads and affiliate links on my lil ole site.) 

When you want to get into backpacking, it can feel particularly overwhelming to figure out what to buy. A visit to REI might leave you feeling depleted because of all of the options and the lack of knowledge to make the best decision. (I mean your life is on the line, isn't it? We're talking about your survival in the woods!) Naturally, each purchasing decision feels big. A sleeping bag suddenly isn't just about a sleeping bag, it's about your survival, your life. 

[Is it time for another deep breath?]

I want to offer another framework. Instead of thinking of your first backpacking trip as "a big survival adventure that requires a huge financial cost where you suddenly acquire a whole crap-ton of gear you may never use," consider it as an invitation to invest in one backpacking experience. Just one.

You will be okay. 
I want to acknowledge that there's a lot of fear around going backpacking. The thing that people will attest to being one of the most empowering experiences ("Wow, I can't believe I carried everything I need to survive on my back") can be the thing that causes the most concern ("What if I don't bring what I need to survive, or it's not enough?"). 

Those fears are normal. They lessen with experience, but they are very real. Be smart, listen to your gut, don't take foolish risks in the wilderness and study up before you head out. You will be okay. And trust me, you're thinking will change rather quickly. 

Buying gear is scary because it asks you to commit to something you don't know if you even like.
Even with generous return policies by many of the major companies, it still feels like a big commitment to buy a $300 tent, doesn't it? What if you don't even like backpacking after all? Or what if you do like backpacking, but the tent was difficult to set up and the zippers were loud (don't worry, all zippers are strangely loud!). Ugh, now you have to go return the used tent and worse, if the sales rep asks you if there was anything wrong with it, you have to come up with something to say. Well skip it. Get it out of your head and go straight to the next point. 

Don't buy any of the major pieces of gear. Borrowing from friends or renting is the way to go.
Ask your coworkers, your family, your friends if they've gone backpacking before. Do they have a backpack, sleeping bag, pad, and tent you can borrow? Ideally, find a backpack from another woman so it's sized a smidge better for you. If you can go light, try to seek out lighter backpacking gear too. You'll thank yourself for it later. 

If you don't know anyone at all, try renting gear. Here are some places to consider to rent gear for your first backpacking experience. 

When you borrow/rent, the gear won't feel just right or as comfortable and light as you'd like. That's normal since you won't even know what you like the first time around. Just pick one and go for it. It doesn't have to be the "right one." You'll learn what you like and don't like on the trip and those lessons are valuable. It's a 100% learning trip, so keep that in mind.

Go on your first trip, enjoy it, learn, and then decide if you want to go again. You might catch the backpacking bug (no pun intended). If you're not sure if it was your thing, borrow gear again and try it out a second time. Apply what you learned. You'll know when it's time to start purchasing gear when you find yourself wanting to go back again and again. (And how to purchase gear is a whole other blog post!)

Any questions? Know any other gear rental resources you'd recommend? 

Backpacking Snack Ideas / Snack Down, Part 1

Do you ever cringe at spending $2-3 for a bar you've never tried? What if it doesn't taste good?! What a waste! 

I often buy the same bar over and over because I know it won't disappoint especially when I'm hungry on the trail, but there are often a hundred different bars to choose from! As a curious person, I want to know if there's another treasure out there in that massive mix. Sadly, it seems like there are more misses than hits, and the risk feels a bit too expensive.

So I'm trying something new here. It's the Snowqueen & Scout Snack Down! (Get it? Like "smack down." Hehe.)

I'll choose some random bars and let you know the info I'm looking for in a product, like price, calories and protein (plus a few other bits of info like sugar content and if it's gluten-free). Then, I'll share my thoughts on the texture and taste. 

NOTES
*The price will vary depending on where you buy them. The prices I list is how much I paid at a local grocery store.
*No one provided these bars to me. I paid for them with all the pennies I saved. ;-)

CLICK on the images below for more info & to ZOOM in

The pictures below correspond with the order of images above. 

Winner of this Snack Down is #4: CLIF Mojo. Even though it was too salty, for the price and the amount of protein it has, it's the most worth it. 
Runner-up: #3: KIND Almond & Coconut. It's low in protein, but it's the tastiest one of this batch. It's one that I can imagine wanting to eat when I'm tired and feeling low. 

Which one would you try?

Pooping in the Woods / What's your poop kit look like?

Okay, a couple days late, but here's Day 7: A QUICKIE ON POOPING IN THE WOODS.

I'll be frank here, I (really) dislike pooping while squatting over a small hole, when my nose is closer to my poop than it ever would be if i were sitting on a toilet. This process is both fascinating and gross, but mostly gross. I don't like it. Period. Did I mention I don't like it? 

With that said, I've accepted it as an essential part of my wilderness journey. So why not talk about how to do it effectively. The Pacific Crest Trail Association's WILD page does a great job of explaining it too, but here's my take:

POOP KIT SUPPLIES

  • Trowel (0.6oz, one of the lightest ones out there!)
  • Toilet paper
  • Soiled TP Bag (STP Bag)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Bag to hold all of the above
  • Total weight: 1.9oz

STEP-BY-STEP

  1. Dig a cat hole about 6-8" deep.
    • TIP: If you are the type who has to go as soon as you wake up, then make sure you dig your cat hole the night before. When there's urgency, you're cat hole will likely be too shallow because you'll say, "Ahhh, this is good enough!" Well, it's probably not. So plan ahead!
  2. Get your STP Bag open and ready for the next TP deposit
  3. Squat down to take care of business. Make sure to aim into your your cat hole.
  4. Get some TP ready, think about application so you're utilizing all of it. No big wads and wasting here!
    • TIP: Use a smooth rock to do a big first wipe to conserve TP, then use just a couple squares to do the finishing wipes. Toss the rock in your cat hole. 
  5. Carefully fold the dirty TP in on itself to cover up your poopy TP and place inside your STP Bag. (Your quads should be burning right about now!)
  6. Quick, pull up your undies and pants. 
  7. Remove air and seal up your STP Bag.
  8. Give your poop a swirl with some dirt (to help with decomposition), fill your cat hole all the way and do your best to return the earth the way you found it. 

RULES TO ABIDE BY

  • Do not bury your TP. Not cool. 
  • Make sure you dig at least 6-8" deep. If you know you usually have a big load, dig deeper and wider. 
  • Don't just poop on the ground and roll a rock on top of it. That's straight irresponsible.
  • Be at least 200' from water, campground, and trail. The further away, the better. 

TIP: Add some baking soda to your STP bag for odor protection. Want more odor control? Add a half drop of essential oil and rub it on the inside of the bag.

What's in your poop kit? Do you have any fun tips or tricks you've developed for pooping in the woods? Please share them in the comments!

*Disclaimer: I received the trowel mentioned in this post for free, to try out and review. I'll be providing a closer look at how well it digs in a follow-up post.

Backpacking Hacks / Flag your tent stakes

First, a game.
Can you find the tent stakes? (click IMAGE for the answers)

Have you ever walked away from a tent site and wondered if you remembered ALL your tent stakes? Or were down low to the ground looking for that one stake you couldn't find? If you haven't had the experience yet, it can be annoying. 

I mean, if you've already left camp, do you hike back? But that would mean more miles and time...or maybe you can do without one tent stake?!? Arghh..."Why are they designed to be camouflaged?!"

Tent stakes are strangely easy to forget if you don't systematically collect each one. They're also hard to see. To aid the process, here's a little tip for how you can make your tent stakes stand out without adding any additional weight! Just add flagging! 

I tested reflective flagging, pink, and without, and found that the regular (without reflective strips) was really effective.

SQS-tentstakeflagging.jpg

How to make them

SQS-tentstakehowto.jpg
SQS-stakeweightcomparison.jpg

*Notes
(1) You might not have those convenient holes in your tent stakes, so I encourage you to play around and see how you might think of a way to make your stakes stand out.
(2) Reflective flagging isn't necessary; regular flagging works great, as you can tell in the game above.
(3) My tent stakes are for the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 tent. They come it at 0.4oz/stake.

Lighten Your Load / Classic BIC vs. Mini BIC

My packing mantra is: Every ounce counts.

When you're packing for a trip, it's important to scrutinize every single item you're thinking about taking. Know exactly why you're taking it and make it worth the weight (i.e. is it multi-purpose?). We'll cover this topic more as the #100daysofwilderness project progresses.

For now, here's a simple way to reduce some weight and space with one kind of fire source: lighters.

Classic Bic lighter vs. Mini Bic lighter
WEIGHT COMPARISON

SQS-weightcomparison.jpg

Classic Bic lighter vs. Mini Bic lighter
SIZE COMPARISON

Bonus Tip: Choose bright colors so it's easy to find when you put it down. Forget camo. You want your lighter to be found.