basics

Firsts / Your first time backpacking will suck.

And that's exactly why you should do it.

Yeah I know, not something you want to hear right? But let me share why. 

The first time you go backpacking, you'll likely have borrowed someone's old heavy backpack, oversized tent, a heavy (but hopefully warm) sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and big ole pot and stove. You'll take more clothes than you need and lots of other little things that "don't weight much" but actually do. You will feel all that weight on your hips and shoulders, and especially so because that backpack probably won't fit just right for your frame. You won't even know why it's so uncomfortable, but it will be. And with all that extraneous weight, you'll really feel it on your hips.

But you know what? Most people have awkward first time experiences in backpacking and in life. Think about your first kiss ever. I bet you were thinking, "OH MY GOSH, I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT'S HAPPENING RIGHT NOW. WHERE DO I PUT MY LIPS...AND, NOW MY TONGUE!!! WHAAAAA?!" (If you haven't had your first kiss yet, you're in for a fun ride! I was a bit of a late bloomer and had my first kiss at age 25. Hehe)

Anyway girl, you are not alone. Anyone's who's gone backpacking numerous times will say that it's a continual process of learning. I'd bet they could tell you a story of their first backpacking trip and how they royally screwed up. There are always going to be ways to improve your process, your gear, your attitude, etc. So you are free to experiment!

But the real reason why you should still try backpacking is because I believe something deep will shift inside of you. It's simple, but significant. You won't even be able to name it necessarily; you'll just know. If I had to take a stab, it's that you will experience feeling incredibly capable.

You might already feel capable in lots of other capacities (professionally, relationally, physically, etc), but there's something unique to wilderness backpacking that can't often be mimicked in a non-backpacking context. Backpacking brings us back to a forgotten way of being in a developed world, carrying just what we need, struggling and surviving in the thick of wild natural grandeur. We are invited to simply be, to walk, to eat, to pay attention without our modern-day distractions. I think the appeal of backpacking is that it brings us back to something ancient that we unknowingly, but deeply long for.

After your first backpacking trip, you'll likely experience this feeling of accomplishment, of satisfaction, of believing you are capable of doing more, of digging deeper, of curiosity ("What can I do next?") It's feeling empowered, plus more. Funny thing is that you will feel different inside, but not much will have changed on the outside, except for your dirty feet and hair. But that small internal shift will mark you for a lifetime.

Your first backpacking trip might suck, but so what? 

Gear / Some spoony comparisons

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You gotta eat, so what utensil are you going to take?

I'm a super simple eater in the backcountry because I don't want to deal with making and cleaning up complicated meals. Boil water, wait, eat: that's all I want to do. This doesn't mean I don't like to eat tasty and healthy food; my meals just need to be a 1-step process.

With this approach, I've found I can simplify the tools I need to one thing: a spoon. 

(L to R: Sea to Summit spork, Light My Fire Spork, GSI Pouch Spoon)

I've used the Sea to Summit spork for a while now and honestly don't really like it. I got the spork version because I thought I'd need it one day if I wanted to try someone else's food out on the trail. Well, I can report that I've never needed a spork to have a bite of someone else's good lookin' food. In fact, the spork aspect of it can be quite annoying. 

The blue Light My Fire spork is a 3-in-1 utensil I found on the Teton Crest Trail last fall. Too bad for whoever lost it because they were probably slurping up their food for the rest of their trip. The spork is functional, but has too many features for my needs. 

That last GSI Outdoor Pouch Spoon is my husband's, so I threw it in the mix. It's the "heaviest" of the three by 0.1 oz, but the one I prefer most. 

The one I've had my eye on lately is the 0.56oz Snow Peak Titanium Long Spoon, but for a whopping $19.95, I can't get myself to pay up! The long handle and compact size are certainly enticing.

Of these, which one seems most appealing to you?

Lighten Your Load / Towels: It's not really about towels

I've gotten a few questions recently about what kind of towel to take on a backpacking trip, so I want to share my take on towels in the backcountry. But the towel question isn't really about towels, it's about getting clean. So here's my take on "what towel you should take." ;-)

First, we need to redefine showers 
When you're going backpacking, you'll need to let go of your notion of a shower. You will not have a clean shower with warm flowing water, suds all over your head and body, a plush bath mat to step onto and a large cotton towel to wrap yourself in afterward. This is okay though, because nature's showers are way simpler, more exhilarating and saves water!

Everyone has different standards of cleanliness in life, and this is definitely true in the backcountry. For me, I can tolerate getting dirty, sweating, and all that, but it's important for me to get that feeling of clean at the end of the day. It helps me wind down, relax, and sleep better.

My "showers" are typically standing under a waterfall, jumping into an ice cold alpine lake, splashing around in a river or trying to dunk my head in a small creek to just get a refreshing feeling on my scalp. If it's a few days on the trail, I don't use soap because it's slightly more complicated. (And I'm all about SIMPLICITY on the trail.) Simply rinsing myself off in a body of water makes me feel clean and refreshed - especially if the water is ice cold!

What I use
Tiny REI towel (15.5"x15.5")
Water source (river, lake, creek, whatever!)

A tiny towel? But how will I cover my valuables?
Since I'm not getting completely naked, there's nothing really to cover up. I used to have a larger lightweight towel because I thought I needed it, but I've gotten along fine with the tiny towel. Notice the size and weight difference.

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How I use my towel
I drench my tiny towel and rinse off my arms, legs, pits, neck, face, etc. (I'm usually down to my sports bra and underwear at this point.) I'm not using any soap in this process because I'm typically standing in or near a small creek or river and using soap in a water source is a HUGE NO-NO. After I'm done wiping down all those sticky/dried sweaty areas, I'll wring out the water from my towel and dry myself using the same towel. Even if I'm just rinsing my feet, I feel a thousand times better washing my feet, drying them, and putting my dry & clean sleep socks on. [Ahhhhh....] This is obviously nothing like drying yourself off with a plush towel after stepping out of a steamy warm shower, but it works! You get dry and that's the point. 

Getting clean (even if it's just washing my feet and face) at the end of the day helps me sleep better. If I'm sticky or dusty, I tend to wake up at night feeling uncomfortable. Good sleep means a refreshing new day and a matching good attitude. 

A couple notes worth mentioning

  • I don't use moist wipes/towelettes because it's more trash to pack out. I've replaced those with this reusable micro towel.
  • If you need to wash your vjayjay, I wrote a quick how-to here. Personally, I don't rinse my vagina in non-potable water because I'm weary of the risks. If I don't drink non-potable water, I definitely don't want it near anything so private. Ever since I got giardia, I'm extra cautious about channels for those little critters to get inside me! 
  • If I do need soap, I use Dr. Bronner's castille soap (repackaged into a tiny container) and will only use a tiny amount, away from the water source. "Biodegradable all-natural" soaps used directly in water is actually harmful to the environment. It was meant to be absorbed directly into the dirt, at least 200 feet away from water sources. 

In conclusion...
Get a highly absorbent micro towel that functions as a cleaning rag AND your drying towel. Because when you can get clean after a hard day's effort, you'll feel better, rest better and therefore your life will be awesome. Haha, something like that.

Oh and hey, some the links above are affiliate links. This means I earn a tiny bit of change if you end up buying something using that link. #MakinSomeChange

Lighten Your Load / Trash compactor bag vs. Rain cover

First, apologies for my long pause of #100daysofwilderness. I went on a trip to the Bay Area and then spent the last week processing a decision not to go on a reality TV show. It was kind of emotional! Excuses excuses...really I just lost motivation this past week, but I'm back now! 

Okay, so I'm all about shaving ounces and tenths of ounces off my pack weight, so let me share why I'm a 99% trash compactor bag lady convert (that doesn't roll off the tongue very easily). This information is great for beginners so you don't waste money on a rain cover when you can use a trash bag!

Below is my REI rain cover (4.2oz) versus my trash compactor bag (2.3oz). That's a 1.9oz difference!

First, definitions.
Rain cover - A cover that goes over your backpack to protect it and the contents inside, from rain (or other moist elements).
Trash compactor bag (TCB)- A plastic bag that tends to be thicker and more durable than a traditional trash bag, hence less chances of leaks/rips/tears.

If you dig around on ultralight/lightweight sites, you'll notice many people recommending trash compactor bags instead of buying a rain cover. Have you noticed that yet? Well, when I first saw that suggestion, I was like..."Eh, I don't want to get the outside of my pack to get wet....everything's going to be messy in my pack....I don't believe in wasting plastic bags....etc." Really, what I thought was that it just looked cooler and more official to have a logo-ed rain cover. I admit, it was a bit naive of me to think but hey, it was what it was!

Why I'm 99% converted
Trash compactor bags are awesome because of the durability, weight, and effectiveness. It's compact and slides in nicely into your pack and does it's job. After you insert it, just roll it up on top and everything inside it will stay dry, granted you don't open it wide open in the rain. There are things about a rain cover that I'll miss, like the fact that it covers my entire pack, not just the core of it, or how I can access the bottom of my pack with the zipper. (But why would I need to access my sleeping bag during a rainy hike anyway?)

Why I'm hesitating that 1%
With the way my pack is designed, the TCB only protects the stuff in the main compartment of my pack. What about the contents of my brain (that's the top large pocket that usually flaps over, not my literal brain)? You can mitigate that issue by carrying an ultralight umbrella, keeping brain contents inside a large freezer ziploc bag, or getting a backpack that only has a one main compartment. 

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Would you try this? Why or why not? 

Gear Checklist

When I'm preparing for a trip, I have to go through my gear many times to make sure I packed everything. The checklist below is where I've landed for optimizing simplicity without compromising all of my comfort.

Below are gear checklists you can print and use as you prepare for your trip.

Here are four options: Glacier, Map, Fall, & Printer-Friendly.

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Is there anything you'd add or delete on this list?