- Nov 10, 2019 at 1:42 am #3617977
DH and I started learning how to backpack this Fall. I thought it would be interesting to document our efforts and I wrote up summaries of our first three outings, including our ongoing gear selection. I intended to just post it as a thread here, like a mini-journal, but it didn’t work well with photos. So I made a quick blog instead. I can’t promise I will remember to update it in the Spring for part 2, but I plan on trying. Here’s the links if anyone is interested in reading about some Midwestern super newbies. (It’s probably pretty cringe worthy for experienced folks, but I promise we’re progressing.) Any tips that don’t involve tarps, bivies, or $500 pieces of equipment are very welcome!Nov 10, 2019 at 1:21 pm #3618008matthew kModerator
I’m glad you are trying backpacking and enjoying it. You have already dropped quite a bit of weight out of your pack without spending much money and should be congratulated on that.
You mention some questions about whether your pack is fitting properly. People here can help out with pack fitting questions if you want. A photograph from the side would be helpful. Also, be aware that how you pack your backpack can have a huge impact on how it carries weight and whether it pulls away from your body.Nov 10, 2019 at 1:28 pm #3618009matthew kModerator
One purchase you should probably make is an accurate digital scale. Then, weigh everything and make a spreadsheet (or use lighterpack.com). This will help you analyze where your weight is and will facilitate further conversations about how to lighten your pack (I’m assuming you want to do that since you have a membership here).Nov 10, 2019 at 3:40 pm #3618020Paul WagnerBPL Member
@balzaccomLocale: Wine Country
First of all, congratulations. You are doing everything right. Your first trips are perfect examples of what experts recommend. They’ve given you a chance to test all your gear, stay close to an escape hatch, and live to tell the tale. You’ve learned some really valuable lessons, and you’ve had fun. Absolutely perfect.
Second, I would worry less about how your pack looks, and more about how it feels. Every body is different, and if you can carry your pack full of gear without problems, it fits. Period.
In terms of sleeping, base layers are your friends. Ideally, you should be warm but not sweaty thoughout the night. Sounds to me as if you are too warm early in the night, leading you to sweat. Then colder temps arrive and you are damp and cold. I tend to start sleeping with my bag open and I’m warm enough. Then as it gets colder I zip up and snuggle in. My wife starts out cold, and zips up right at the start. You do need to get this right before your trip to the Rockies..
And if you want to read our blog (we’ve backpacked over 1500 miles over the past ten years…all shorter trips, no long through-hikes) go to backpackthesierra.com
You’ll see we’re still learning…Nov 11, 2019 at 12:31 am #3618073KarenBPL Member
Interesting blog posts. I have been learning about backpacking all my life, but since I’ve been out in the woods since about age 5, I didn’t have to do it all at once, as you’re doing. Good for you! I hope you do end up really enjoying it. Those dunes look great.
One note on sleeping – whether a quilt or sleeping bags, never put you face into the bag. Breathing into the insulation will definitely make it wet. People use lots of solutions if the head is cold, from balaclava, neck gaiters, or weird homemade nose warmers. It is tempting to nestle in, but you will end up damp.
The snake phobia could prevent you from exploring some of America’s most amazing places. If you can learn more about them, handle them, etc. maybe you can ease it? I had pet snakes as a kid, and caught lots of wild ones, so although they do make me jump when one suddenly zips across the trail, it doesn’t bother me to be around them. My parents urged me into the woods and grasslands, rather than scaring me with stories of poisonous serpents! Good luck, that seems a tough problem but not without a solution.
i hope you both keep on adventuring and challenging yourselves! It’s so worthwhile.Nov 12, 2019 at 2:11 am #3618247
Matthew – Thanks! I’ve being trying very hard to balance weight and cost. We are trying to drop weight, but TBH in part because I have an eye towards having room for some extras on our long trip, like a couple street outfits for the 8 days we’ll be cities/towns. I thought about using lighterpack, but I worry I’ll break the system if I try entering my +16oz iPad as part of my base weight. :D In all seriousness, we do appreciate lighter packs. We’ve been city traveling the last five years with backpacks (45L and 32L) on 2-3 week trips and they get lighter each trip. I’ll consider the scale. I am interested in how much our clothing, etc. weighs, although I might just bring a bag of stuff to the office to use the postal machine instead for now.
Posting a pic of my bag packed is a good idea, I might do that my next free weekend. Probably Paul is right though that I’m worrying over how it’s suppose to look, rather than how actually fits/feels. I think my concern is that while it feels fine now, it not looking like Google shows me it should means that on a longer trip it’s going to start hurting or some other unknown problem will occur.
I did notice a big (positive) difference on the second trip when I didn’t have the tent poles to one side or my trail runners at the top of my bag. (One day on the first Dunes trip, I wore walking sandals and had my runners at the top in case I decided to switch.) So I can see how packing plays a role. In general, we’ve been going sleeping bag, tent, food, and then miscellaneous with clothes in the gaps and fleece/rain jackets and snacks on top.Nov 12, 2019 at 2:15 am #3618251
Paul – We are having fun as we plod along learning! If anything, feeling like we’re learning new skills is almost as much fun as the hiking. Having an easy out available has also made us a lot more confident in otherwise pushing our comfort zones. That’s one of the reasons I think Kettle Moraine will be our first non-campground trip next Spring. I can think of no better escape hatch than cell service and family 20 minutes away.
See above my response to Matthew re my pack. I like your definition of fits and in that sense, then yes, it fits. I do otherwise like the size and back padding of my bag and I haven’t found any other one I like better, so it’d be nice to keep this one.
I did burrito wrap myself up right away knowing it would get even colder later. I’ll try starting with just base layers and the quilt loose next time to avoid overheating early on. We’ll have plenty of cold nights to practice this the spring.
Thanks for blog link, I’ll check it out! We have no through-hike goals and are more interested in reading about shorter trips.Nov 12, 2019 at 2:18 am #3618254
Karen – The funny thing is both DH and I grew up with the woods in our backyards. My family did go camping a lot but only summer car/boat camping with all the things, and so not many skills were transferable to hiking/backpacking. I knew how to pitch a tent and that it shouldn’t be packed wet. I can get a fire going if you give me a bottle of lighter fluid! Our camping areas didn’t have trails, and while I grew up in a rural area, it’s all farms and private woods for hunting not nature trails. So hiking wasn’t a thing and we are starting mostly from scratch. At least my childhood camping makes me feel like I’m returning to nature, whereas I think DH at first felt a bit more out of his element. (But he’s really enjoying himself too.) If my family had lived where his does, I might have gotten into backpacking earlier, since their nearby camping area has lots of trails and it connects with the long distance Ice Age Trail.
I’ll try not burrowing under the covers in the future to prevent moisture. I don’t start out like that but just end up there, even at home when it’s an even 70 F inside. I’m not sure it a cold head thing, but maybe I’ll try a beanie next time to see if that’s what’s making me burrow.
Snakes… I tried touching them a few times at school events as a get over this fear thing and I was exposed to them a lot by virtue of where I lived. (Didn’t work.) To be fair, we did have rattlesnakes in the woods behind our house. But I think the odds of me stepping on one was low and my Mom was primarily concerned about having to constantly check me for ticks or me getting lost. Same with her warnings about the water snakes in the rocks by the river. Pretty sure she was more worried I would trip, bash my head, and drown in the water. Her warnings never made me fear the woods or river etc., just the snakes. Both my parents found it weird I never got over my fear based on how often I ran into them growing up. I felt like an unwilling snake whisper, they were everywhere I went.
So long story short, I’m too stubborn to let my fear of snakes keep me from going places where they are. The ones at the Dunes really freaked me out because they weren’t just darting away into the grass. I’ve had that on prior hikes and those glimpses make me unhappy but only momentarily. These snakes we practicality tripped on, and they slithered but didn’t flee. Bleh. Probably too cold for them to move fast. The more I see them again, likely the less time it will take me to recover my happy vibes after an encounter. But hopefully I only run into the darting away variety in the future.Nov 12, 2019 at 4:02 am #3618266KarenBPL Member
You might want to check for good books on backpacking at your local library. They probably have some good recent books both on techniques and places to go near you. That will really help you hone your gear to only what you really need. Of course, plenty of know it alls here too! ;)
Starting a campfire with lighter fluid sounds nasty. Those backpacking books will give you some tips for cleaner, nicer fires!Jun 29, 2020 at 10:14 pm #3655425
We’ve have some updates on our progress. Mostly with Covid we’ve been upgrading our stuff…which obviously isn’t as awesome as just getting out there. It sometimes feels like we’re adding more than taking away, although with some of the upgrades we are shaving off some weight. Maybe I’ll get a scale and start weighing everything before our (hopeful) RMNP trip. I understand the concept of accounting for each thing to see where the weight it going and where things can be cut. It’s the same for finances…Except I worry about becoming a bit obsessive over it and it being bad for my budget as a result! Maybe if it comes with a rule that any future changes has to come from just leaving out something or using something we already own, then I can get a scale.
I have read some guide books in the meanwhile, including a Wilderness Navigation book, in an attempt to be more prepared/knowledgeable. Apparently Illinois is so devoid of places to backpack that the Chicago Public Library didn’t even have any Illinois specific backpacking books. I feel like it’s hard to learn practical things from books, but we’ve been supplementing with youtube videos.
You’ll see we’ve just started getting back at it and started with the Kettle Moraine State Park – Northern Unit. I’m getting better at adjusting my sleep layers and I have come to peace with my pack. We’re still enjoying the process of learning and while not in our trip report, I think we’re getting better at map reading. We only checked our phone GPS once, and that was to see how far before we should see a turn versus trying to figure out where we were. It’s hard not to use the gps when you know you have it there. To be fair the trail itself is also very well signed with markers, so maybe we haven’t improved our map reading after all. haha. We also went with family so that made the trip much different than our other ones – in a good way. My husband’s half brother is 11 and it was really fun having him along because he’s still young enough that everything seems so exciting to him.
We have a trip this upcoming weekend to SW Michigan that we’re preparing for and that I’ll report back on. It will be our first dispersed camping trip, so I’m excited and anxious all at once. We intentionally picked a part of the forest/trail that seemed less popular to try avoiding crowds. (Well, and because I think we can get there and back on a tank of gas.) So I’m not sure how scenic it will be, but it will be nice to be outside in general.
For the RMNP trip, the reason we started all this in the first place, we have a campground site booked for the first night and wilderness permit for the rest. Actually we have two campground sites, because we got a notification that the park was closed during our dates…even though it’s not. But the park is reducing site availability and implementing time reservations. I tried calling/emailing to see if the notification should be ignored or if it meant that our site was one of the ones they were closing. I haven’t gotten a response so I booked another one just in case, since it was the last one left. Regardless, we’re still waiting to see how the Covid situation looks closer to August before making a final call if we’re going. So far both Illinois and Colorado’s numbers look okay. But we shall see.
Here’s the full gear updates and trip report.
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