Monthly Archives: January 2013
A couple weeks ago I started a series about my “Real” Big Three categories of gear that I think is sometimes forgotten but just as important. The first thing on my list was clothing, and now the second thing on my list is food! Everyone knows that a well fed backpacker is a happy backpacker no matter how much weight you like to put in your pack, but sometimes food is more of an afterthought. In my very humble opinion, food is very easily the most important thing I put in my pack. It is a backpacker’s fuel for their bodies and when you get past all of the fancy gear and technical stuff, if your body isn’t working, you are not going anywhere. You could also file water under this but water gets a good amount of attention. There are three things I think about when I’m prepping my meals for a trip: 1. Calories, 2. Nutrition 3. Weight
Calories is always the first thing I try to think about because calories are what your body runs off of. So no matter how much it weighs or what it costs, it HAS to provide me with the energy my body needs. I like to aim at a minimum of 500 calories a meal and then 200-300 in snacks that I eat 1-2 a day depending on how many miles I’m doing which usually gives me a minimum of 2,000 calories a day. I have a low metabolism, am short, and don’t eat very much on trail so that number will be lower than many people. Many of the guys I know take anywhere from 2,500 to 3,500 calories a day.
Nutrition is the second thing I consider because I believe that healthier food helps my body run more efficiently than junk food. With that in mind I try to eat backpacking meals that are made with natural ingredients or I make my own. There are a few options for nutritious options for pre-made meals Hawk Vittles is my favorite. But there are also a lot of options for making your own meals. There are stores like Whole Foods and Sprouts that have pre-dehydrated ingredients that you can make into your own meals and then there are many recipes out there to work with. Websites like Trail Cooking and Wild Backpacker offer some of the largest repositories of recipes and books like Lip Smakin’ Backpackin’ (My personal favorite!) offer printed recipe collections.
Weight is always important to me in what I carry and food is no exception. There are so many great foods that are packed with healthy calories that weigh very little. Starches like noodles, rice and other grains that are packed full of healthy and natural calories and they taste great with all kinds of flavors. Some of the other things that help is adding a variety of dehydrated fruits that have really great sugars that are also really flavorful and healthy. I dehydrate everything to keep the weight down and it just happens to have the added benefit of making fruits last longer and taste sweeter. The most recent change I have made is to add 1-2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil of my choice. I go between Olive oil and Grapeseed oil. Grapeseed oil has 130 calories per tablespoon and olive oil is fairly close to the same thing. It is a little bit of weight for a huge punch of energy.
If a meal hits all these marks, it makes it onto my favorites list. Things like my favorite GORP that hits 500 calories matched with homemade beef jerky that tops the meal out at an average of 700-800 calories is my favorite lunch because I can eat it while hiking and it fits into the hip pockets of my SMD Swift. Fruit leathers and granola bars make up my favorite snacks. Red Beans and Rice Wraps and Stir Fry are two of my favorite dinners. What recipes do you love when you are on the trail?
As I sit here in Northern Arizona, it is a whopping 15 degrees outside right now with a low last night of -5. It has got me thinking about a three series post I’ve been wanting to do for some time now and this seemed like just the right time since the temperature outside has into sharp relief the sheer importance of the topic. So I am going to post a short series on the Big Three. No, not Pack, Shelter, Sleep System. Those are the biggest weight items and they are very important especially when you are trying to cut down weight, but there are three essential things that everyone takes with them on any trip and are not typically the first things you hear talked about, but if you don’t have them or they don’t work the way you thought, they can literally ruin a hike. What are these three things? Well you’ll just have to come back to find out all three!.
Now I can hear some of you already, “Not having a good pack shelter and sleep system ruins a hike pretty fast!” And that’s true, but if you tend toward being what Andrew Skurka calls in his book, The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide, an Ultimate Hiker, you might only spend 6-8 hours using your shelter. Having a bad shelter or sleep system can give you a bad night and we all know if you don’t have a good night’s sleep it’s nearly impossible to have a good time, but what about the things that you spend the other 16-18 hours a day using? Yes your pack does make it on that list, but so much is out there dedicated to picking the right pack that I don’t feel the need to bring it all up here. So I will move on to the first thing on my list of “Real” Big items: Clothes.
When I started researching about backpacking, before I had discovered the lighter side of things, I relied on what was out there on the internet. One of the biggest resources I used was REI’s Expert Advice pages. They are a great source of information for anyone who has no clue where to start and I think most people start with some pretty weird ideas of backpacking that they can help to make more realistic. Like me, for example, my idea of backpacking was something I’d seen in a movie once when I was a kid. A group of teens all hoisting external frame packs, bouncing down a meadow-laden trail magically already deep into the mountains, all smiling of course! As absurd as this image is, it was what got me interested to begin with, so when I discovered REI and saw that wall of backpacks that looked remarkably like what I’d always imagined, I was hooked from that moment on. It didn’t take me long to realize that image was not as realistic as the magic of Hollywood made it seem, but fortunately I found out I could bounce down a meadow-laden trail with a big ole’ smile on my face, just not with those absurd packs.
When I started, most of the things that I found on clothing talked about layering and how you needed a base layer, a mid layer and a shell. A few of these articles were what I assume now must have been fairly old, because they talked about how you needed long underwear, then a shirt, a light fleece, a mid weight fleece, a puffy jacket and a rain shell. Obviously this is the most reliable under any and all conditions, but as I found out quickly fleece is heavy and bulky and there are better options out there for the individual conditions that each area can bring. Thankfully, I read the REI Expert Advice article entitled Ultralight Backpacking. A lot of the things it says seem really silly and inaccurate to me now, but it got me started and I took the concept and ran. But that meant restructuring everything I thought I knew about backpacking clothes!
Before I decided to commit to UL backpacking, clothes were simple; heavy, but simple: just take everything. After, I found myself questioning every last piece, some I had already laid down the money for, most I had not, thank God. Something that I have discovered is clothes don’t and can’t work the way the other systems in my pack. It’s not as simple as the three Summer, Fall/Spring, and Winter kits. Choices change depending on season, temperature, precipitation, humidity, terrain, foliage, and whether you’re on or off trail. The key for anyone who is working with a limited budget, is to buy one or two items to fit most of the situations we encounter in our local areas where most hiking is likely to be done and which fit your personal hiking style best. This means that every list will and should look a little different. No one backpacker; whether an ultimate hiker, ultimate camper or somewhere in between, whether you live on the west coast, east coast or another country altogether, will probably have the same system or items in their pack. I emphasize this because it is one on those things that I really didn’t get when I first started out. I thought I could find a list of someone who lived in the same area as me and just copy it, but even if such a list would work in the area, there is no way to know if it will work for me and my particular hiking style.
It takes not just skill, but experience to be totally comfortable on any given hike and my favorite way to get that experience in between trips is day hikes and recently I have gotten some really great day hike testing for my Winter/Fall clothing. Something I learned, my heavy weight long john top is too much until the temps get below 20 degrees and that my wind jacket is my favorite shell when it is dry and cold. Over the last few years of hikes I have learned that no matter how silly I look, I love to wear my light long john bottoms under my shorts while hiking. Here is my basic clothing system based on temperature and not taking into account weather. The things highlighted in gray are still things I need to acquire. What choices do you make when deciding what clothing to take on a hike?
As per my New Year’s post, Richard and I have been looking for day hikes in the area and we found one last week that will probably become one of our favorite trails. This particular one is called Willow Lake Trail and is a 5.75 mile loop located on the edge of Prescott, Arizona. The first two miles is the flat land you’d expect in Arizona but the last two miles is just short of bouldering over some of the beautiful granite dells that dot the Northern Arizona landscape. It’s not what most people expect when they think Arizona but that is what I love about Northern Arizona, it’s just not the desert people think it is. If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you will know I grew up in Arizona and while I never live here full time again, I love visiting and hiking the places that grew up around. When you enter the trail and head right from the main parking lot the trail heads away from the lake and take you through a field. It’s all dead now but I can imagine in spring it is green and beautiful. It follows a road a little but then it turns back toward the lake and that is when the fun starts. The trail heads right up and over the dells that border the lake. We were bouldering more than we were hiking. The trail was marked with white circles and it was difficult to find them at times. The views were amazing and even though Jaeger has little three inch tall legs, he climbed all over the dells like a champ! There were a few times we had to carry him, but it wasn’t for his safety but our own since he could run down some sections we had to take slowly. We weren’t too excited about getting pulled the whole way down! There are several trails that lead to other parts, some going up more and some going down to the lake. This trail is full of interesting and unique terrain and was a lot of fun to hike!
I’ve never been one for New Year’s Resolutions, but I like to at least sit down and think about some of the things I would like to do in the new year. So I put together a list of just a few of my goals for this 2013 backpacking year.
1. Get both my Hammock and Ground backpacking Fall/Spring gear lists below 10 lbs and officially hit Ultralight status for 3 season backpacking! This is something I’m really close to getting. I would have hit it in 2012 but after moving and changing jobs it just didn’t happen, but my list of things I need to make it, is pretty short.
2. Increase the number of day hikes and backpacking trips by at least 50%. This is something I’ve been really unhappy I haven’t been able to achieve in 2012 and I’m putting my foot down this year. I’m the only thing holding me back from this and I will spend more time in the great outdoors!
3. Make even more of my own gear. I have sewn my whole life and I’m pretty handy at making my own gear so it has been something I have wanted to do more of lately.
So there are a few of the things I’d like to accomplish this year. How about you?