Ask Liz / Do you just do day trips or do you spend the night in the woods?

THE SIMPLE ANSWER: Both. I go on day trips or spend the nights in the woods, depending on what I'm feeling up for.


Here's the full question: "Hi Liz! Long time listener, first time caller... Seriously tho. Do you do just day trips or do we spend the night?"

First of all, whoever you are, you CRACKED ME UP. Thank you for that.

Well First Time Caller, I do day trips if I don't feel like spending the night outside, but still need some wilderness rejuvenation. Sometimes even hiking a couple miles will satiate me. But if I want some extended time in the quiet, away from technology and away from the voice of comparison that invades my head when I hop on social media, then I go backpacking. I spend the night in the woods. I can usually tell when I really need to go.

Honestly, it's way easier to just stay at home where there's a comfy bed already set up, running potable water available at a flick of my wrist, and no pack on my sweaty back that I'm carrying for miles. (And often times, I prefer it.) But I think some deep part of us knows we want -- no, we need -- the challenge of carrying a pack, hiking miles and miles, and immersing ourselves deep in the wilderness. Our souls need it.

I'm curious First Time Caller, what inspired your question? 


Ask Liz / How do you pack enough water?


This is a great question and one I've heard echoed by women who have never gone backpacking. So whoever asked this, you're not alone. Carrying pails of water isn't an option, so how do you account for all the water you'll need while backpacking?

Carry two 1-liter light plastic bottles of water. I keep them in my backpack's side pockets and drink from one bottle until I finish it. I'll fill the empty bottle and treat it as soon as there's a viable water source. Since I use aquamira to treat water, it takes a minimum of 15 minutes until the water is potable (drinkable). I'll stay hydrated with that second bottle of water. So I always have one liter of water available and one getting treated.

Photo credit:  The Dancing Wind

Photo credit: The Dancing Wind

Sometimes I carry a collapsable 1-liter water bottle if it's late in the season (which means water sources might be dried up), if the area's been in a drought, or worse, both. This gives me the ability to go for longer stretches without having to find and treat water.

I used to use a water bladder, but found that I never really knew how much water I had left because it was such a hassle to pull it out. I tended to be dehydrated. (Yikes!) I'm a lazy backpacker, what can I tell you? So this two bottle system's been working well for me. Easy. Convenient. Ultralight.

TIP: 1 liter of water = 2 lbs, so you don't want to carry a ton of water if you can help it.

Do your research. Check maps to see where the water sources are and call a ranger to find out confirm that those creeks/streams/lakes/rivers aren't dried up. They'll have the most up-to-date info.

Hope this helps! I hope you find abundant and refreshing water sources!


Firsts / Lisa's first backpacking trip as an adult!

I got a chance to reconnect with an old colleague during my last visit to the Bay Area. Meet Lisa. She is the Partnerships and Communications Assistant at HopeLab (my last workplace), she has two teenage kids, and holds a curiosity and vitality about life I find irresistible!

Lisa was buzzing with energy while telling me about her upcoming backpacking trip with her friend Liz (not me, another Liz). This would be her first one since she was just a young lass. Lisa showed me the new hiking shoes she was considering (in her favorite color, purple, of course) and gear she was borrowing, and we gabbed on and on about what she was hoping for during this trip.

Well she went on her first backpacking trip recently and told me all about it! I laughed out loud, squealed, and related to her stories and pictures. I hope her story inspires you to go on your first backpacking trip. (P.S. Look at how adorable she is in her dress + hiking shoes!)


Snowqueen & Scout: Tell us briefly about your background in backpacking.
Lisa: The last time I backpacked was about 28 years ago when I was 20! My very first trip was with the community center when I was in 3rd grade and I went a few times with my family while growing up too. 


For this most recent trip, where did you go, how many days were you gone, how many miles did you hike, and what did you see? 
We went to Emigrant Wilderness, north of Yosemite. We arrived late Thursday night and threw up the tent in a random spot near a fire road. We started hiking on Friday and finished around 6pm on Sunday. In three days, we hiked roughly 24 miles total (including the "Oh Shit" four-mile detour which I'll talk about later). 


You mentioned your hiking partner Liz when we chatted in a previous conversation. Tell us about how she was a partner to you both pre-trip and during your trip. 
After a group conversation about the movie “Wild,” Liz totally made our trip happen. I often say something sounds like a great idea, but don’t follow through with it. This would have absolutely been one of those things without Liz’s enthusiastic planning and follow up. She got input from one of our colleagues on the best places to go backpacking, researched it, got a map, determined our route, and called the ranger station to learn about permits and restrictions. The week of the trip she called the ranger station and made arrangements for our free permit to be left at a pick up spot since we would arrive after they closed.

During our planning phase she would check in with me and let me know what she was doing in terms of training and getting equipment together. That really motivated me to keep up and keep my own prep going!

During the trip she was a great partner because we kept a similar pace, had similar endurance and were on the same page about when to call it a day. We really had to work together to pick up the trail at certain points and to negotiate some of the stream crossings. She also had a lot of great ideas about food, equipment & hygiene that she shared. Liz created what I called the “Bidet Bottle.” I will totally try it on my next trip. It's a water bottle with a squirt top for cleansing yourself during bathroom stops. I thought it was brilliant!

Did you have any "OH SHIT" moments? What happened? 
We were fortunate that we didn’t have many of these at all. There are two that stand out. The first OH SHIT moment was after we left camp the first night. We missed the trailhead to Gem Lake and continued on a trail going to Wood Lake. Liz and I didn’t realized we were not on the right trail until we came to a river crossing and could not figure out where to go from there.

Up until then, there had been small stream crossings, but this was much bigger. We definitely did not want to cross it without knowing where to go on the other side. We didn't want to risk having to cross back if we couldn't pick up the trail, so we decided to backtrack. We finally ended up back at a familiar stream crossing. It was challenging for Liz to cross the first time so she wasn’t thrilled to go back across. But once we crossed the stream, we very quickly saw the trail marker we had missed. Not sure exactly how far that detour was, but it potentially added up to four miles to our total!

The second OH SHIT moment was when I stumbled and fell forward onto my knees. That wasn’t so bad, but the weight of my pack pushed me forward and I had to land on my right hand. I felt really powerless to stop the momentum and that was pretty scary. I was super lucky that I really didn’t scrape my knees or tear my pants. I came out of that fall with only a light scrape on my hand. 

What are two highlights and two lowlights you'd share with your closest friend? 
Highlights: I loved skinny dipping for the first time! I loved being naked outside in general!
Lowlights: My lady parts did not smell good by day two and I need to learn to dig a deeper hole for shitting in the woods. Also although Liz is not my closest friend, it was still fun talking about all of these things on our trip!

First breakfast on the trail. This picture doesn't do any justice.

First breakfast on the trail. This picture doesn't do any justice.

What would do differently next time? 
I would like to plan more time to stop and appreciate beautiful places and I would stop more frequently for small meal breaks. I would maybe play in the water more! And I definitely need to come up with a better hygiene plan as well. 

Was there anything you took that you'd definitely not take again? And conversely, is there anything you didn't take that you wish you had? 
I got such great advice on what to bring from Snowqueen & Scout and from a colleague who is crazy about backpacking so I don’t feel like I had anything that I didn’t need. The things I didn’t use are things that I think I couldn’t avoid bringing anyway (i.e. gloves, stuff to start a fire, a compass, most of my first aid stuff). I also brought sunglasses, two bobby pins and ear plugs I didn't use, but I would probably bring those again next time. I did have a small drinking cup that I left behind because it seemed unnecessary, but I'll take it next time. And did I already mention that I really want to try Liz’s idea of rinsing with water at potty breaks next time?! 

Describe those last steps out to the trailhead on Sunday night. What were you feeling? 
The last few miles Liz and I were both feeling sad that it was coming to an end. But by the time we were close to the trailhead, I started feeling better about the trip ending! When I saw the car, I knew there would be clean clothes and shower wipes available, and we would be on our way to a fast food meal! I was pretty excited about those things. 

But as we drove away from the trailhead, I felt a little sad again to be leaving the amazing quiet, peace and beauty. We drove with our windows down because we were already missing all the mountain fresh air. And although it was great to have no cell service on the trail, it was nice to be able to check in with our significant others after we finished.


Would you go backpacking again? If so, what about it draws you back? If not, why not? 
I will absolutely go again! I loved the beauty and serenity. I loved experiencing all kinds of conditions and environments and I loved pushing myself when I was tired or hot. I loved getting to a new beautiful location or seeing some new spectacular sight or view. I loved the simplicity of not really cooking or washing dishes, not having to choose what to wear each day, not having to wear makeup or worrying about my hair. I loved the freedom of not having too many choices and decisions to make, not being tied to my phone, and being totally self-sufficient.

We were just in our bodies, feeling them work and really only had to worry about basic needs – food, water and finding somewhere to sleep. It was exquisitely awesome!

In what ways are you a different Lisa now, than the Lisa before you went on your first backpacking trip?
I’m different in that I love backpacking and can’t wait to go again! I would even go on a short trip by myself. I NEVER thought I would have any interest in that. I had never been backpacking without a man in the group. Being single after a 22 year marriage, it feels good to have the confidence that I don’t “need a man” to do things with me, particularly something like go out into the wilderness. In the past when we'd car camp, I was always afraid of animals like mountain lions and bears. I liked knowing my husband would be there to help or protect me.

It turns out that I’m totally ok on my own! I wasn’t afraid and I didn’t spend any time worrying about it. There wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle on our own. Feeling confident, self-sufficient and empowered is a great thing.

Anything else you'd like to share? 
Thank you, Liz, for all the great info and inspiration on your blog and in person!

Aww, you're so welcome Lisa! Thanks for sharing your story with all the ladies out there who are new to backpacking. I so appreciate your candor and reflections and I can't wait to hear more stories of future backpacking trips! #GoLisaGo

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.

Question: How heavy should my backpack be?


Here's an unsatisfying answer: It's different for everyone.

There are a lot of recommendations out there for what weight your backpack should be. And if you've spent any time researching online, you might feel like you're still not sure how all that info translates to you specifically. Honestly, I don't know what's optimal for you either, but I do believe you're smart & savvy enough to figure it out.

But first, let me offer an alternative to reframe the question. Instead of asking how heavy your backpack should be, what if you asked: What pack weight will make my experience easier and more enjoyable?

Here are a few simple tests that might help provide some information to answer that question.

  1. Load & Test (Low metric accuracy, but highly experiential)
    Load up your pack with everything on your checklist (including food + water) and take it on a local hike. If you don't have time or access to do that, find some stairs and walk up and down 10+ flights of stairs and then around the block a few times. Notice how your pack feels on your hips and shoulders. Pay attention to how tiring or not it is to move around. This test will get you the closest to mimicking life on the trail. It'll be telling. 
  2. Jump on the scale (Medium metric accuracy, non-experiential)
    Jump on a scale without your pack and note your weight, then jump on a scale with your fully loaded pack. Find out how much your pack weighs. If you gasp at your sudden weight gain, go through your pack and examine every single item and its purpose. Remove everything that's extraneous. 
  3. Calculate (High metric accuracy, non-experiential)
    Load your pack and weigh it using test #2, or if you want to be more accurate, weigh each item by ounce and calculate the total. (That's what I do.) Then calculate what percentage of your body weight you'll be carrying. For example, my pack weight is about 19.4% (26 lbs) of my body weight (134 lbs), and I find that weight to be very reasonable to carry. 

    Let's look at someone who weights 140 lbs for reference:
    10% of body weight   =   14 lbs (Bowling ball)
    15%   =   21 lbs (A average sized car tire)
    20%  =   28 lbs (Microwave)
    25%  =   35 lbs (Six gallons of water)
    30%  =   42 lbs (5-gallon jug of water for a water cooler)
    35%  =   49 lbs (Large bag of dog food)
    40%  =   56 lbs (Large bag of dog food + 5lb bag of sugar)
    50%  =   70 lbs (A labrador)

  4. Imagine yourself... (Low metric accuracy, non-experiential, but FUN!)
    I just made this one up and it cracks me up, but I think it's worth trying. Imagine you have an annoying blister on your ankle, your hips are feeling tight, the sun is beating down on you, you haven't been able to poo in two days, and you turn a corner only to see what seems to be a thousand switchbacks. "OMG, please God no!" With your current pack weight, would you be able to prance up the mountain or would you have to slowly trudge along in this scenario? 

It took me over two years, multiple trips, and some honest(ly embarrassing) feedback to figure out how to get my total pack weight down to 26 lbs. There was a ton of trial and error in this process. 

I encourage you to think of every backpacking experience as an opportunity to learn. Take note of what works and what doesn't on every trip, and implement those lessons learned the next time around. The lighter your pack, the easier and more enjoyable your experience. Remember, every ounce counts