Various lessons learned on a recent overnight hike

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    AK Granola
    BPL Member


    I learn on every hike. I sometimes think I should know it all by now, but I don’t. Fellow hikers are frequently complementary that I seem like a “pro” (much of that thanks to tips on BPL, and probably because my pack is never over 25 pounds fully loaded),  but I’m always taking mental notes of what to do next time, even as I enjoy the current hike. Here are my lessons from yesterday’s hike on the Pinnell Mountain Trail, Alaska (pictured, with my fellow hiker).

    1. When your hiking partner says they’re bringing a new tent, ask if they added guylines! They don’t come with the tent. Fortunately I had packed my tent repair kit inadvertently; normally I wouldn’t bother if the other person is packing the tent. I had about 10 feet of cord that we were able to cut and use for several tie downs needed in 25 mph wind.

    2. My friend’s Jetboil rocked! Gonna get one for above treeline hiking. With black clouds overhead and a stiff wind, she had our water boiled in 3 minutes. We scarfed a nice hot dinner, had everything repacked, and took shelter behind some rocks as a cloudburst opened up above us and the wind blew it into our faces. My Pocket Rocket would have taken much longer, if we could have made it work at all in that wind. I’ll jettison some other bit of weight to compensate for the Jetboil. On alpine tundra, weather is rarely gentle enough for “simmering while doing other camp chores.” Ha! We don’t cook where we camp anyway, so fast is good.

    3. Footwear choice is weather dependent, (always changing my mind on this one!) I’ve used trail runners, but my favs are my Goretex Salomon mids. I used Lone Peak Altras this time, and while very comfortable and good grip on wet rocks, my feet were cold, even in wool socks, even hiking hard. It’s difficult to guess what weather will be up here in Alaska, but the Goretex keeps my feet much warmer. And they’re damp no matter what; the tundra is always wet, and nothing ever dries out on a given trip; quick dry doesn’t exist in any form; the Altras got wetter than the Salomon would have, and my feet were just cold all the time. Warmth is more critical sometimes than light weight. I also felt a bit less sure-footed on rocky unmaintained trail and wet tussocks, but maybe that is just a learning process with each new shoe.

    4. Bring that emergency blanket. The last time I hiked this trail, we needed it, desperately and used it extensively. This time I didn’t bring it. We were fine, but I could totally envision, if we had continued, that it might be needed, especially if an injury occurred.

    5. Don’t make last minute changes. I had initially packed my regular hiking fleece gloves (I think they are OR). But while packing I noticed they smelled bad! Probably forgot to wash them from last time, so I threw them in the wash and grabbed a different pair. My hands were cold! I have my favorite pieces of gear that work well, and I’d have been better with stinky gloves than inadequate ones. It seems every time I do a last minute substitute I regret it! Stick with the plan and the gear that is totally proven.

    6. When the time off is already guaranteed, have some alternative trails in mind, just in case. We initially had chosen a different trail for this weekend, then changed plans when someone got killed by a bear near our intended trail, and with only two of us, we didn’t want to pursue that plan. So we chose one we had both already hiked. Next time we’ll have a couple of backup ideas if needed, perhaps for trails we haven’t done. Not regretting this one, but we hadn’t considered all the options and some might have had better weather.

    Conclusion: While there are always challenges, every hike is worth it! Not really a lesson learned, but a truth that just gets reinforced each time. Despite the nasty headwinds, the scenery was magnificent, the wildflowers and birds prolific, and the company great. No regrets!






    AK Granola
    BPL Member


    Forgot one more – always put extra water in the car at the trailhead, in case you arrive thirsty!

    Bob Shuff
    BPL Member


    Locale: SoCal

    Great tips.  Well done.

    In Boy Scouts we call this exercise “start, stop, continue”. It’s great to share the lessons learned as soon as possible after the trip.  My son now has one thing to stop doing, one thing to start doing and one to continue as we’re driving home.

    Yes on water!  We like to have shoes in the car.  Typically flip flops for our SoCal trips.  I used to have an old pair of Ugg boots when I went skiing or snowboarding.

    if looking at the Jetboil, consider also the MSR Windburner.  It works much better in a heavy breeze that will extinguish the jetboil.

    Brad P
    BPL Member


    I’d say never take a tent you haven’t set up at least once.

    The day you stop learning is the day you die.

    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member


    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    never take anything you haven’t set up first?

    all’s well that ends well

    Jenny A
    BPL Member


    Locale: Front Range

    Part of the fun of backpacking (or doing anything you enjoy, really) is learning and modifying to enhance the experience. I almost always come home with a short list of things to do differently next time or things to try.  It’s fun to tweak stuff!

    And I also would encourage you to take a look at MSR’s WindBurner to compare with the Jetboil.  Jetboil gets kudos for “inventing” fuel-efficient canister stoves, but MSR upped the bar considerably when it comes to use in windy conditions.

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    `1) +1.  Yeah, if you’ve never set up the tent before, you only have 0.5 tents with you.  The parts might all be there.  Or they might not.  You will probably figure it out.  But you might not, especially if it’s cold, wet, and dark. If you haven’t set up your tent this season, you have (on average) 0.87 tents with you.

    2) Jetboils work.  But anything with a good windscreen does, too.  Some HX pots / stove combos function as an integral wind screen at a lower cost and weight.

    3) (Goretex shoes aren’t drier but are warmer): This is a very intriguing thought for me.  I (a native Californian) adopted low-cut breathable hiking shoes / trail runners 40 years ago with the introduction of the Nike Lava Dome let me leave regular running shoes are home.  The breathability eventually let the socks dry.  But you’re right, here in Alaska, as soon as you get off trail, your feet will be wet continuously.  They might as well be warm while they’re wet.  I went with Manfred & Sons for their first day into the Brooks Range and then doubled back to the car.  I crossed that damn, very cold river 80 times, and I could feel the cold water flowing through my shoes each time.  The conductive losses though soaking wet socks and shoes was surpassed by the convective losses of water passing through the shoe.  I know that warm + wet = fungus, but I’ve also learned that applying some anti-fungal topical lotion beforehand avoids that.

    Diane Pinkers
    BPL Member


    Locale: Western Washington

    Every time I go out, I make a list of stuff I didn’t use.  Emergency equipment may make the list, but rarely gets cut, i.e., first aid kit or repair kit, although they may get modified to reduce bulk or weight. Anything non-emergency that makes the list twice gets left behind.  Rain gear never gets cut in the PNW, even if it didn’t get used.

    Michael Sagehorn
    BPL Member


    <p style=”text-align: left;”>What I’ve learned from overnight and longer hikes flys in the face of this light weight obsession. Hiking clothing- khaki shorts, wool ragg socks, Sundowner boots,   Poly shirt-long sleeve, and hat. In camp- lightweight wool trousers, Pendleton wool shirt, wool watch cap, and moccasins. Wind/rain parka for wet and cold. I don’t bring electronics, cameras, toys. Maybe a fishing rod. Most of the “lessons” are learned from decisions about navigation and pace, not gear. Wear wool, avoid stupid risks, and a little soreness is ok.</p>

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