Sample backpacking food list for 5 day, 4 night hiking trip.

One of the most important things to consider when doing multi-day hiking is food. When you are hiking many miles (for me that is over 15 miles a day) for several days in a row, you have to ensure you consume enough calories for your body to burn. Not eating enough or not the right type of food can cause you to tire easily, cramp, and in general feel bad. The wrong type or not enough food can also have a negative effect on your outdoor experience.

During my highest mileage day (just over 26 miles) I discovered this. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I have hiked similar miles and terrain in the past, but about midafternoon I was just tired and didn’t have any energy. Looking back, I just didn’t eat enough (and often enough). This caused me to not have the energy to complete the hike in the time I wanted.

Another thing to consider is the type of food you carry and eat. It is more difficult but not impossible to eat healthy on the trail. Fresh fruit and vegetables don’t carry well and only last a day or two on the trail. Dairy products don’t either with the exception of hard cheese that will last several days. Most prepackaged dehydrated/freeze dried meals have a very high sodium content and full of other preservatives.

So, what should you NOT eat? I wouldn’t suggest eating prepackaged meals for every meal. They are expensive, bulky, and most are not the healthiest options available. Some people make and dehydrate their own meals to eat healthier and this is on my list to do one day. To help prevent intestinal distress, I avoid spicy foods and items that cause issues such as beans, cabbage, or other “gassy” foods. Intestinal distress is one thing I do NOT want on the trail. Although I do carry a few treats or candies, I try to avoid bringing a lot of junk food that I see many other people eat. Examples are Pop-Tarts, a lot of candy bars, or items that contain a large amount of sugar with little nutritional value. I’m also not one to eat the same thing/flavor every single day at the same time, so I have to carry a variety of different foods.

What DO I eat? One general rule before I proceed is eating several small meals/snacks often instead of the standard three meals a day. I’ll give you an example eating schedule and food list for a 5 day hike. This particular trip is a planned 5 day (four night) solo hike on the Pinhoti Trail in Alabama. I planned my camping spots so I camped near or on water. As this is a planned hike, my plans could change as I hike, but I at least have a daily goal.

Often I’m headed to the trailhead on the first day of my hike, so I eat breakfast on the way so that’s one less meal to carry. If I plan on reaching the trailhead a couple of hours after breakfast I’ll plan on having a snack before I start hiking. I’ll hike for a couple of hours and have my midmorning snack if I haven’t already had it or lunch depending on the time of the day. For lunch, I generally don’t cook, but eat something that doesn’t require cooking. For my meals I’ll generally bring a powdered drink mix for a change from water. I’ll take a long break, take of my socks and shoes and let my feet air out, and rest a bit.

I’ll hike to midafternoon and then take another short break. I’m normally tired and need a boost. I’ve started having coffee with protein powder as an afternoon snack. The caffeine and calories are enough to get me to my next meal. This can be either hot or cold depending on the weather. Depending on the mileage, I’ll often eat my evening meal before reaching camp. This will give me the fuel and energy to hike a few more miles before camp and help keep food smells away from camp. After I reach camp, I’ll often have a snack that doesn’t require cooking, maybe some hot tea or hot chocolate if it’s cold.

This is a hiking trip, so I will be concentrating more on hiking than camping, so I plan on breaking camp fairly early. But before leaving camp, I will need something in my stomach to get me going. I will eat a small package of instant oatmeal and coffee. After hiking for a couple of hours, the metabolism will have kicked in and now I will be ready for more calories. Hikers often call this “second breakfast.” My daily second breakfast is a small package of peanut butter, a protein bar (a different variety and flavor from the one I ate the previous night), and a flavored drink mix. Sometimes this will be eaten while hiking, and other times I may take a short break to eat.

This brings me back to lunch. At this point, it will be a repeat of the above with a variety of foods. Here is a breakdown of my packed food. The exception would be the last day where I plan on finishing midafternoon so I won’t pack an evening meal or bedtime snack. I also pack what I call my “snack bag.” In the snack bag is a little extra food just in case I need the calories or am delayed. In this particular snack bag, I have some Ramen noodles, hot chocolate, and some soup mix.

Here is a detailed breakdown of my planned food for the hike (click the link for a larger view):

Pinhoti Food


That comes to a total of just over 5.5 pounds in food. If you notice that some of the weights are different for the same item (oatmeal, protein bars, and Complete Cookie) it is because I carry a variety of flavors and the slightly vary in weight. You may also notice that I eat the same thing on multiple days, but at different times. This satisfies my need for not always eating the same thing at the same time every day. This isn’t the healthiest foods available, but for me it worked. You may also notice the mileage difference. You not only have to consider the mileage but the terrain and elevation change. The shortest mileage day on this trip (day 3) also had the most elevation change (it was almost all up) and I didn’t want to overestimate my mileage. It is easier to slow down than to speed up.

This particular trail had limited access points so I had to plan my pickup point in advance. The next available trailhead was almost 20 miles from where I planned on stopping. If I made great time, I did have that as an alternative but there wasn’t a resupply point as the trail was almost entirely in a National Forest.



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What I wished I knew before I starting backpacking and hiking, but didn’t…. Part 7: Staying clean on the trail (HBA)

This is the 7th part of a series

HBA stands for Health and Beauty Aids.   I don’t know why I started calling it that, but I did. It pertains to all things related to how do you stay clean when you are on the trail. Well, I’ll be honest. You don’t really stay all that clean…. I mean, I’m not NASTY, but I’m not exactly snuggle with the wife clean, either…. I brush my teeth in the morning and at night. I clean the face, pits, and privates (in that order, by the way) every night – especially when I’ve been sweaty most of the day. But clean? Not really. There’s a term of “hiker funk” for a reason. If you are hiking all day, every day, for multiple days in a row, it’s really a losing battle to stay shower fresh. It uses a lot of energy. The items needed to stay shower fresh are heavy. Everyone else stinks. You get used to it. Really, you do. Plus, I will tell you when you have a certain degree of hiker funk even the bugs leave you alone.

So, what do I do? I carry a bandana on my shoulder strap. During the day, I use it to wipe sweat out of my eyes or to insulate against hot items (my mug on the stove, for instance). When given the opportunity and conditions (near water but not IN the water) I’ll rinse it out and use it to wipe off the areas in the order listed above (face, pits, and privates). I do carry a small amount of a natural soap (I use Dr. Bronners but there are others) when I need a deeper clean. I collect water (I’ll explain later) and use it away from the water source to clean up. I brush my teeth two times a day and carry a small container of dental floss. I have a travel size deodorant for short trips. Given the right conditions and temperature, a swim in a lake can be a “bath.”

One of the biggest questions that comes up is “How do you go to the bathroom?” Well, the answer is, just like you do at home, but outside! I mean, you do have to improvise a little…. This is where men definitely have the advantage because one type of bathroom break (the easy one) is a no brainer. You go out of sight of others, away from water, and do your business. The other type (that typically takes longer) does take a little more preparation.   I highly suggest a lightweight trowel. You need/should dig a hole. Do your business in the hole. Wipe. Cover the hole.

For this situation, I carry what I call my “poop kit.” It’s in a waterproof bag (it can be a Ziploc bag). In the bag is toilet paper and/or wipes and some hand sanitizer. If there’s not facilities (called a “privy” on the trail), you get out of the sight of others (200 ft off the trail), away from a water source, dig a hole, lower the pants, do your business, wipe, cover the hole, and march on. The true LNT people carry their used toilet paper out with them. I’m not a true LNT person. As a note, when you squat to do the deed, make sure your pants are well out of harm’s way. Don’t ask me how I know…..

That should cover the basics of staying “trail clean.” It is a relative term. One thing I didn’t address is keeping your hands clean. This is highly important to keeping yourself from getting sick. I use a combination of hand sanitizer and actual soap. When enough water is available, I will use a small amount of soap, really scrub my hands, and rinse. Other times I use hand sanitizer. You should also want to clean your feet at least once a day. This will help prevent blisters as you remove the dirt and grime that eventually build up when hiking.

These items can be heavy – especially if you carry full size items. Look in the travel section at your local store. You’ll likely find small containers of soap, shampoo, toothpaste, a travel toothbrush, and other items that you may want to carry backpacking. One thing I didn’t mention is powder. I HIGHLY suggest carrying a travel size container of medicated powder. IF you have chaffing issues, clean and powder the affected area. The medicated powder will sting, but you’ll be in much better shape the next morning. Of course, if you can solve the chaffing issue by changing out a clothing item, that’s even better.

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How I pack by backpack. Every single time.

I’m taking a short break to the series to give some more details. I had an earlier post about packing my backpack and thought it needed a more in-depth entry. I will start with my backpack fully loaded and unpack it and show how and where everything goes. I’ll start with a picture of my Ohm 2.0 ULA front and back.

The first items will be things attached to my backpack. As you can see from the previous picture, my Garmin eTrex Venture HC (the yellow device) is attached to the top for the best reception. I generally don’t use it for navigation and if I need to mark something, it is easy to access. The lanyard on my GPS is looped around the cord that tightens the top so the GPS device won’t unexpectedly fall off. The next item is my SPOT GPS Messenger. This is a device that also drops a track at a predetermined interval (I think I have it set at every 10 minutes) and I can send predetermined messages to selected individuals to let them know I’m OK. It will send messages by email, text, or both to up to a total of 20 messages by pushing a button. I have this on my right shoulder strap so I can ensure it’s working by glancing down and seeing the blinking lights. I have it programmed to send messages to my wife and mom which gives them the warm fuzzy when I’m hiking where there is no cell signal. I use a clip on knife which is attached to my backpack when hiking and a belt loop when in camp. As I stated earlier, a small knife to open food packets is really all most people need. My headlamp is attached to the side of my pack and restrained by the cords on my pack. This keeps it from swinging (one of my pet peeves) but handy should I need it. The last item is a bandana I keep on my left shoulder strap. It is mostly used to wipe sweat out of my eyes, but I also use it to insulate my hands when picking up my hot container from my stove. The bandana can also be used for a multitude of other things.

Now I’ll address my hip belt pockets. My backpack has a small pocket on both sides of my hip belt that I use. Often snacks go in here or the cargo pocket of my pants. I have my camera with a StickPic already attached. The camera is an Olympus TG-1. It is waterproof, dustproof, and shockproof. This is important since it can get wet if it is raining, which often it is. The StickPic allows me to slip my camera over the end of my trekking poles for selfies if I so desire. I don’t desire that often. I have a tube of Burt’s Bees lip balm year round. Chapped lips in the woods is not fun and I find myself using it often. The last item that is always in my hip belt is my compass. I do use it often. The lanyard on my compass is also looped around a strap so I don’t lose it, either.

The Ohm 2.0 backpack has two large deep pockets on either side of the pack. I can reach these while I’m wearing the backpack. In the right pocket is a water bottle and the fuel for my stove. I use an alcohol stove so I use denatured alcohol. The container is…..different. One of my backpacking buddies works in a surgical unit. That metal container originally contained ether. I like that it’s aluminum because it is on the outside of my pack I don’t want to use a plastic container that can be cracked or crushed (and leak out all my fuel). The container is aluminum so it doesn’t weigh that much. I also store it in a Ziploc bag so if it does leak a bit, it won’t get all over my gear. You can’t tell in the picture, but on the top of the metal container is one of the small plastic measuring cups that come with many cold medicine bottles. I use this to measure out (ration) my fuel.

The left side pocket on my pack contains another water bottle and my water filtration system stored in a cuben fiber pouch. My water filtration system consists of a CNOC collection bag, a Sawyer mini filter, a section of tubing with an attachment to fit on the collection bag, the backflush syringe, and one of the Sawyer 32 oz. bags. I rarely use this spare bag, but I have it just in case something happens and I need extra water or if my main bag fails. I also have a short piece of cord that I can use to hang up the water collection bag at camp and use the system as a gravity fed system which gives me water on command. I learned the hard way that when doing this sometimes the tubing will fall below the filter and all your water drains out of the bag. To stop this, I do have a clamp on my tube where I can “turn off” the water at camp. I have a separate post about my water filtration system on my blog. The only difference between that post and now is the addition of the CNOC collection bag. I REALLY like this bag. The orange section at the top comes off and the end of the bag opens up to easily fill with water. This does away with the need to have a scoop or funnel to fill the bag as I did previously.

The ULA Ohm 2.0 backpack also has a large elastic pocket on the back of the backpack. The back pocket contains my map (not pictured), a Therm-a-Rest sit pad, my Luci solar light I use at camp to light up my hammock area, “poop kit” which is wipes and hand sanitizer, and my tent stakes in a Ziploc bag. I may store other items here depending on the conditions.

The Ohm 2.0 has a small mesh zippered pocket on the inside where I stash a few items. One of those item is my battery backup with cord. This one was gifted to me by my father-in-law and can be recharged either by solar power but can also be plugged in. This device is slightly more rugged and has a larger capacity than my other battery backup so it goes in the woods with me. I store it in a Ziploc bag with the cord that attaches to my phone. Not pictured are the cord and plug were I can plug it in to recharge. When I was packing for this trip, that wasn’t an option so I didn’t include it.

Also located in the zippered pocket is my first aid kit, a few fire starter, a spare set of batteries for my GPS, and a pack hanger from Dutchwaregear. My first aid kit has a few basic supplies including Pepto Bismol tablets, an assortment of band aids, some aspirin in a container, a few gauze pads, a spare mini Bic lighter, and a tick key, whistle, push button light, and the smallest Swiss army knife I’ve ever seen.

The location of the next few items really depends on the weather, but for this particular trip on the inside of my pack on the very top was weather protection. I have my Patagonia Nano Puff jacket. It’s a synthetic filled jacket so it isn’t sensitive to moisture the way down jackets are. I also have Frogg Toggs rain pants although I rarely use them, and a GoLite Rain jacket. I really like this rain jacket. It can double as a wind breaker. The jacket has a hood, pockets, armpit zippers, and will contain itself in one of the pockets. Sadly, this company is no longer in business, so I’ll have to look for a replacement in the future.

Just under (or maybe on top) of my weather protection is the rest of the current day’s food. I’ll probably post a separate entry discussing my detailed food plan. In this case, my snacks are contained so I can easily reach them at lunch or mealtime.

When I get to camp – especially if it is raining – one of the first things I want to set up is my tarp. In this case, I have my Warbonnet Superfly in a cuben fiber bishop bag and in MountainGoat mesh tarp storage sleeves. IF it’s raining, this may be on the very top as I want to get of the rain as soon as possible. I do have a separate blog entry about my tarp if you are interested in the details.

Beside my tarp is my cook system. I do have a separate post about my cook system. It has changed slightly since then. My cook system contains a Fancee Feast stove Zelph Stoves. You can easily make your own version of this stove, but I purchased the stove and the lid for my Imusa mug from Zelph. Also included is a fire striker to light the stove (and a secondary fire starter), a homemade cozy for my coffee mug, a coffee mug I made from a Fosters beer can, a windscreen, another cozy made for my main cookpot, my Imusa mug cookpot, a long handled titanium spoon, and all of that is contained in a cuben fiber bag.

My remaining food for the trip (along with a few other items) I keep stored in my Ursack. Where I spend most of my time, bears are not an issue and I really only need protection from rodents and the Ursack works for me. I also include my personal hygiene items in my Ursack. For personal hygiene, I carry a travel toothbrush, some toothpaste, dental floss, deodorant, a small container of natural soap, and a small travel washcloth.

Under all of these items, I have the remaining items stored in a trash compactor bag. These are the items I need to keep dry. Everything on top of the trash compactor bag can get wet or is already protected from water by either the original packaging or in Ziploc bags. The first item (on top) inside the trash compactor bag is my hammock. I use the Dutch Halfwit hammock from Dutchwaregear. Under my hammock are my quilts. These will vary depending on the conditions, but in this case I have a Hammock Gear Incubator under quilt that is rated to 20 degrees. I stuff it in the trash compactor bag without storing it in another bag. In the large bag is my top quilt. In this case, I have a top quilt made from a down quilt from Costco, but I also have a Hammock Gear Burrow top quilt rated to 20 degrees. I do this so I can tell them apart and often when I set up the hammock, I just throw my top quilt in my hammock in the beginning and fluff after camp is made. The small bag contains an under quilt protector from 2QZQ. This goes over my under quilt to protect from rain and wind. This is optional depending on the weather.

One of the last things I’ll need at camp are spare/sleep clothes. These are stored at the very bottom of my trash compactor bag and at the bottom of my backpack. My clothes are stored in another cuben fiber bag. The only spare clothes I take (once again depending on the weather) are a pair of shorts and T shirt to sleep in, a spare set of Darn Tough socks, a change of underwear, and possibly a fleece or wool toboggan, a thin wool base layer, and a set of gloves. I only use my sleep clothes to sleep in after cleaning up a bit after reaching camp and eating if I didn’t eat earlier on the trail.

Here is a picture of the trash compactor bag I use. I have used it for several years, but have a couple of spares should this one develop a hole.

I did replace the thin foam back cushion in the backpack with a piece of closed foam padding. This was originally a cheap sleep pad. I took out the original piece and traced it on the foam then cut it out. This gives me more cushion from my pack and I can also use it around camp for insulation or cushion when lounging around camp.

That’s it. That’s all I take. The only thing that really changes are my quilts depending on the temperature, and the amount of food I take depending on how many days I plan on being in the woods. Now, how much does all of that weigh? I’m glad you asked. This particular load was for a 5 day trip with partial days both the first and last days. Total weight including food and water is just over 25 pounds. Of course, this weight will decrease as I hike and eat as I’m carrying all my food for the whole trip.

I pack almost exactly the same way for every trip. Depending on the weather, I may add or remove a few items, but things are generally in the same place every time. This helps me when I’m looking for or needing an item, I don’t have to empty the entire backpack.

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I joined Patreon

Up to this point, I have funded all of my adventures.  This blog never ceases to amaze me that it receives a ton of traffic from primarily the United States, but also from all over the world!  It is very humbling to know that people are interested in my random thoughts and/or experiences.

I was talking to some good friends that are involved in social media and they suggested I set up a Patreon account.  After some convincing, I did.  You can support me from as little as $1.00 USD a month to as much as you would like.  I’ll use the money collected (if any) to fund future experiences, gear for reviews, and I’ll allow my supporters to have a strong influence (within reason) of what that looks like.

IF you’re interested, the link is here:


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What I wished I knew before I starting backpacking and hiking, but didn’t…. Part 6: Tools/ miscellaneous

This is the sixth part of a series.  Please read the other sections.

I labeled this section as miscellaneous because it doesn’t fit any of my other categories. There could be pages upon pages written about each individual topic as many are hobbies within themselves. However, for the beginner, I didn’t feel a need to get too detailed but generally give what I have observed from the average backpacker (if there is such a thing).

Cellphone. Nearly everyone has a smartphone that can do many things including operating as a Kindle or reading device, play movies, perform GPS duties, most newer phones have really great cameras in them, can even operate as a flashlight in a pinch for a short time, AND operate as a phone for text messages and phone calls! For the beginner, carrying a phone instead of all of these individual items is very common and I often still carry my phone on certain trips. There are really two main drawbacks from using your phone for everything. One is durability. The woods are full of rocks, water, mud, and icky stuff that your phone doesn’t like. A durable and waterproof case is a must. The other issue with using your phone is battery life. Most phones now have built in batteries so it isn’t as simple as swapping out a dead battery for a fresh one. There are ways around this that I’ll address later, but for the beginner on an overnight trip, a phone is a no brainer.

I do feel as if I have to give a word of caution here, however…. We get spoiled with having a signal for our cell phone everywhere we go. There are MANY places that isn’t the case when you are hiking in the backcountry – even just a short distance from the road – so plan accordingly. I set my phone in airplane mode (or turn off) when I’m hiking so it won’t drain the battery looking for a signal (because there’s not one). Many of the functions can still be used such as the camera, GPS apps, music downloaded to your phone, etc while the phone is in airplane mode. Also, dim the screen brightness as that also helps extend the battery life. I believe many new people believe there’s always going to be a signal where they can call for help if they need it. That is often not the case.

GPS device. I wouldn’t recommend purchasing one until you decide this hobby is for you. There are affordable models out there that do a great job, but for the beginner, if you want GPS functions, there are many apps that can be downloaded for free or purchased. I personally use the Gaia app and have a blog post comparing the data from the app to my stand alone GPS device. I would suggest BEFORE buying a dedicated GPS device (or really even hiking) that you learn how to navigate using a map and compass. The military teaches it for free (at least that’s how I learned) or some outdoor stores/clubs will have an orienteering class. A compass is cheap, I’ve never had one break, and doesn’t rely on batteries. I often plan my hike on paper (map) and track my accuracy electronically (GPS). IF you rely on the GPS only, things can go bad very quickly if your GPS fails.

Camera. My phone takes some really great pictures. In fact, some of my favorite pictures have come from my phone, not my camera. If you already have a camera, I’d suggest taking it. There are often settings on a camera that aren’t available on a phone and more often than not, the camera will take a better picture. I use a “point and shoot” type camera that suites my needs. I have been with others that have taken their larger (and heavier) 35mm cameras with several different lens. What was said about phones also applies to cameras. There are a lot of rocks, water, mud, etc in the woods…. The camera I use is a “rugged” point and shoot model that is waterproof and shockproof and would suggest something like that for backpacking.

Kindle/iPad/Books. I don’t personally take any of these items. I go to the woods to be in nature by myself or with friends. I enjoy being “unplugged.” You may have a different opinion, and that’s ok. IF I was to take something, it would probably be an old fashioned book. I do know hikers that do this and use the pages they have read to start the fire. Do what works for you.

Light. Yes is the answer. You will need at least one light source. I’d suggest having one set of extra batteries or a backup especially for extended trips. It never ceases to amaze me how early it gets dark in the woods. Trying to set up your shelter, cook, start a fire, looking for firewood or something in your backpack, and nearly everything you do after dark will require a light. I would suggest getting a headlamp. It’s basically a flashlight you wear around your forehead. Wearing a headlamp keeps both hands free to do whatever you are doing. My first overnight trip I didn’t have a headlamp and was holding my flashlight between my shoulder and neck in a very uncomfortable position trying to set up my gear. It wasn’t fun.

I would suggest a headlamp with a night mode although I suspect all models sold now would have one. Night mode is most often a red light but green and blue are also colors I have seen. This keeps your night vision more intact which means when you turn off your light your eyes are semi adjusted to the dark and you can see better. Also try to angle your headlamp down slightly otherwise when you look at someone your light is shining right in their eyes. I also have a small keychain push button light in an inside pocket of my backpack for backup.

Spare batteries/Recharging options. With all the electronics, how do you plan on keeping the items operating on longer trips? Sometimes it is easy to replace the batteries such as in a headlamp, camera, or GPS. Cell phones, some cameras, and other devices that have a built in battery pose a different set of difficulties. How to recharge your items? It all depends on where you are, how much you use the device (or how fast they drain a full charge), and how long you plan on being in the woods. The most common solution is a backup battery device with the cables to charge multiple items. The backup battery device gets recharged in town on resupply days or after the trip depending on the variables above. The answer comes through experience but it’s something to consider. One thing I see newer people consider are solar charging devices. In the woods, I’m often covered by shade and solar devices require a lot of sunlight and a fairly long time to be effective. In your environment they may be a solution, but they are not very practical here.

Knives/Sharp things. Once again, yes is the answer. One of the things I see newer people carry are large survival type knives. Hopefully you do not find yourself in a survival situation on a simple overnight trip. I find that I most often use my knife to open food packets, not to construct shelter from large trees. I would carry something smaller than you think you need. I also bought a cheap multitool and carried it for several trips. I discovered that I never used and it and it has sat in my box of gear ever since. If you are one of the people that can’t leave the house without your multitool, then carry it by all means, but know that your blade will get 99% or more of the use.

Before I talk about collecting firewood and the need for an axe or saw, I must bring up something called Leave No Trace (LNT). Their website ( can give you lots of great information. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is a national organization that protects the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly. To make it simple, my version is to take only pictures and leave only footprints. In the purest form, LNT does not recommend fires. However, to most people camping isn’t camping without a camp fire. I would just suggest being responsible and reasonable.

To be perfectly honest, I camp mostly during the Fall, Winter, and early Spring and I most often have a fire. It’s a relatively small fire and I ensure the ground around the fire and overhead is not combustible. I also most often camp in a designated Wilderness area without established campsites. There are many places that are popular and all the firewood has been collected and burned over the years by the many visitors. I don’t camp there. Most often where I camp there is wood that can be collected and burned without the use of an axe or saw. The really only exception where a small hand saw would be helpful is a large downed tree. Of course, never cut anything living (it won’t burn well, if at all) and be respectful of your environment. I carried a hatchet on one trip and I’ve never carried a saw. My camping partner does often carry a saw, so that helps our ability to collect firewood.

Sitting. The picture of friends sitting around a campfire cooking hotdogs or roasting marshmallows is the postcard for camping, isn’t it? If you have ever sat around a campfire, how and where did you sit? Most often this is done in a setting where everyone can bring their big comfortable chair. That isn’t exactly the case when backpacking. Some people pull up a log or rock. Some people sit on the ground. Others carry a small stool or pad to sit on. I have a small backpacking chair I carry on all but the longest multiday hikes. I have discovered at my age after a long day hiking/backpacking, my back and legs need a break and my chair does the job. The options here are endless but just remember, without some type of insulation barrier, the rocks, logs, and ground will steal body heat and you will cool down quickly.

Trekking poles. Some call them hiking poles. Why do you need them? You may not and I probably would buy other items first, but I really like mine! I use two, although some people only use one. The two trekking poles help keep me from slipping when I’m going downhill – especially when it is muddy or slippery. I’ll put them out in front of me to steady myself if I start to slip. They help me keep my balance when I’m tiptoeing across rocks crossing a stream. I also use them to clear spider webs strung across the trail, push limbs out of my way, and even to slightly propel myself forward on flat ground (think ski poles and skiing). Some people say their knees aren’t as sore when they use trekking poles. I use them on my tarp to elevate one side to set up “porch mode.” So I even use them around camp.

The two most common materials for trekking poles are aluminum and carbon fiber. Of course, aluminum is more durable but heavier, while carbon fiber is lighter and not as durable. The price of carbon fiber has come down drastically, so don’t discount them for a beginner. The handles are generally cork or a synthetic (plastic) material. I prefer the cork handles. They just feel better in my hand and I’ve never had a blister from using them. Some trekking poles come with a shock absorber or spring, but I prefer the ones without. To me, it’s just something else to break and I get a better “feel” of the ground with the models without the spring. While there are models that don’t collapse (think of skiing poles) most models do so they can be easily stowed when not in use. The two most common locking devices are a twist lock and a flip lock. I prefer the flip lock as the twist lock seems to come loose through use at the worst possible time. I highly recommend them and would suggest trying a cheap pair and see for yourself before investing a lot of money on trekking poles.

Insect control. In all except the coldest environments, yes is the answer once again! Nothing is worse that feel as if you are being eaten alive by various insects without any way of relief. While it will greatly depend on your environment and season, there are insects/bugs out nearly all year in many areas of the world. Not only do they make the experience unpleasant, but they can actually carry disease so it is something that must be considered. Regardless of your precautions, one word of advice (even around town) is not to wear anything heavily scented. This draws the insects to you. While I don’t have any scientific proof of this, I have made this observation more than once.

I use a chemical called Permethrin. It can be bought online or in outdoor supply stores. It’s even available at Wal-Mart in the sporting goods department. I spray/soak my outer clothes and some gear in advance and the chemical is active for over a month, which has been shorter than my longest trip. This will repel/kill ticks, fleas, chiggers, and other creepy crawlies. You want to make sure you treat your clothes several days in advance and allow your clothes to dry fully before your outing. As a note, it is lethal to cats when wet, so you do have to be careful. I do wear gloves and use in a well ventilated area. When it is dry, there is no smell and will survive several washings. It works for me, but there are other options if you are concerned about chemicals. There are other areas where the flies and gnats are so bad a head net or net suit is required for protection. I hope not to visit those areas any time soon….

Fire starting device. Once again, the answer is yes! You should always have the ability to build a fire. I find the easiest and cheapest is a miniature Bic lighter. They weigh next to nothing but can literally be a lifesaver. You could get cold, wet, need to start a signal fire, etc. ALWAYS have a way to start a fire even if you don’t plan on it.

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What I wished I knew before I starting backpacking and hiking, but didn’t…. Part 5: Cook system

This is the fifth part of a series.

The fourth item on the “Big Four” is your cooking system. When it comes to cooking, the choices are nearly endless but break down into several categories. You can cook over a wood fire, have a canister stove, an alcohol stove, or not cook at all. We’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each method. I am not one of the people that can eat the same thing every day for multiple days in a row, so I generally use a couple of methods within an extended trip for variety. There are generally two categories of cookware: aluminum and titanium. Regardless of where you start, one common beginner mistake it to bring too much food! Food options and actually cooking will be addressed later in the food section.

                Cooking over a fire when camping is cliché but common. When I first started, I often planned on cooking over the campfire for overnight trips and still do on occasion. For prolonged trips, however, it isn’t practical. If your food isn’t cooked or preserved, it can spoil quickly. Gathering firewood takes a lot of energy – especially at established campsites where firewood has been gathered and burned by previous visitors. Add in a couple of rainy days before (or during) your trip, and sometimes making a fire is difficult, if not impossible. In the warmer weather, do you really want a fire? All of these are things to consider. For the beginner overnight trip in the cool weather, I still cook over the fire.

                The most common stove I see in the woods is a canister stove. These are the stoves that attach to a pressurized gas canister. They are very easy to turn on and off, and easy to light with some even have built in lighting mechanisms. I don’t know that I’ve ever had one NOT light so they can be very convenient. One of the major disadvantages is that it is difficult to determine how much fuel is left in the canister. This may cause either running out of fuel or replacing a canister before it is truly empty. Possessing several partially filled fuel canisters are a common issue with someone using this type of stove. Some types of canister stoves can seem quite loud when operating in the quiet early morning.

                The last type of stove that is gaining in popularity is the alcohol stove. These can be made out a variety of materials including uses aluminum cans, containers, and there are some models precision machined out of solid aluminum. They can be handmade or purchased from a variety of vendors. The advantages of an alcohol stove is generally they are much lighter, extremely quiet, and easy to operate. Alcohol stoves use a variety of alcohol (denatured alcohol or methanol are the two most popular) and the flame is nearly invisible during the day. There is not an on or off switch and it can be difficult to put out the fire if the alcohol is spilled. You must “ration” fuel for extended trips so you can still cook on the last day (this takes practice). For these reasons, this type of stove is not recommended for younger backpackers and care must be used regardless of the age of the user. In some areas, they are illegal during burn bans because there isn’t an off switch.  

                The last option of preparing food is not technically cooking. There is a growing trend of going “stoveless” or NOT cooking. Some people don’t cook to save the weight of a stove and fuel while others want to be able to eat at a moment’s notice. The food variety is more limited in this type of food preparation, but there are still plenty of options. One could carry “open and eat” type of food that requires no preparation (think of Pop Tarts, jerky, chicken and tuna in a pouch). Another popular option is sandwiches/wraps which I often eat for lunch when I don’t want to break out the stove. During the warmer temps, I will often use a food preparation method called cold soaking. I will add water to the food and seal it in a container and let it soak and rehydrate while I hike or do other activities (like setting up camp). This method takes longer, but if you’re not in a hurry and don’t mind cold food, there are lots of options. Cold soaking can be used for oatmeal, pastas (longer soak time), grains, or really any food that just requires water.

                Cookware breaks down into two materials – aluminum and titanium. Generally speaking, aluminum is slightly heavier, not as durable, but cheaper.  Titanium is slightly lighter, more durable, and more expensive.  I have used both in the past.  One thing that I noticed is that aluminum has a better heat transfer than titanium.  If you are wanting to simmer food over a stove, I would suggest aluminum cookware because I have experienced hot spots/scorching with titanium.  If you are going to boil water and pour the hot water into something else, either material will work.          

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What I wished I knew before I started hiking and backpacking, but didn’t…. Part 4: Shelter

This is the fourth part of a series.

The second “Big Four” item is shelter. You should NOT go build yourself a shelter out of tree branches except in survival situations. It devastates the environment, is time consuming, and takes a lot of energy. There are three basic approaches to shelter. The minimalist tarp, a tent, or hammock. I started my outdoor adventure with a tent as many people and it is probably the easiest way to go camping for the beginner. A quality tent for the occasional camper can be really affordable and easily picked up at a number of stores or ordered online.

                Some people prefer to sleep on the ground under a tarp. I call this the minimalist tarp. It’s not fancy and it works in nice weather.  However, when it begins to rain or the temperature drops, I’m not sure how they stay dry or warm. Others just cowboy camp or don’t set up anything and sleep under the starts.  These are not for me, but they are the lightest option. 

Which is better, a tent or a hammock? Tents can be set up nearly anywhere and hammocks rely on having two trees or two things to attach each end of the hammock and tarp. Tents are easier to assemble while hammocks take some practice to get right. Tents are more readily available from just about any outdoor outfitter and generally cheaper for the beginner. Tents systems can be lighter. If you have never camped before, I would suggest starting with a tent.

One thing to consider is a way to insulate against the cold on all sides. In a tent this is done by using a sleeping bag and a ground pad. Sleeping bags are filled with either a synthetic material or down.  Synthetic bag are usually cheaper, weigh more, don’t compress as much, and aren’t rated for really cold weather.  Sleeping bags are more expensive, weigh less, compress down very small, and some models are rated for below zero degrees Fahrenheit. As with all down products, a down sleeping bag is nearly worthless if it gets wet so you must ensure it stays dry so it can keep you warm. The sleeping pads come in many different styles and prices, but generally are either inflatable or semi rigid foam.  They are really there to prevent the ground from stealing all of your body heat, although there are thicker models that are actually comfortable.  Of course, the thicker and comfortable models cost and weigh more than something simpler.  You will need a ground pad if you are sleeping on the ground in all except very warm temperatures. A closed foam pad is much cheaper and you don’t have to worry about air leaking out in the middle of the night.  The can be pretty cheap and some models fold up to save space in/on your backpack.  Keeping warm in a hammock can be done by using pad and sleeping bag or down quilts on top and under the hammock. Of course, the down quilts are much more comfortable but more expensive. 

IF you want to plunge into hammocks, they do have some advantages. Hammocks don’t care about uneven or rocky ground. When it rains when using a hammock, all of the mud and rain are a foot or two beneath you. I think it is easier to set up/take down a hammock system in the rain while staying dry. The biggest plus is hammocks are much more comfortable (once you get it figured out). I would suggest make a commitment in one direction (tents or hammocks) before you buy too much expensive gear.  You can buy a cheaper hammock and tent and see which one you think you will prefer before investing a lot of money.

After a few years of sleeping on the ground, I began sleeping in a hammock under a tarp. The possibility here are nearly endless. There are many different styles, vendors, and ways to hammock camp. If you are interested, the best source I have found is and nearly every question can be answered there. I personally use a tarp, hammock, and down quilts. I have several different items from different vendors that I mix up and use depending on the conditions and temperatures. I have been dry in driving rain and warm down to about 15 degrees Fahrenheit, but it does take practice to get it right. If you consider a hammock, I suggest getting a long and wide gathered end to start. These can be easily made with very little/no sewing on your own. There is one brand of hammocks (ENO) that are very popular and sold at many outfitters, but if you are over 5 feet tall they will be too short. A long and wide hammock allows you to lay on the diagonal and nearly flat. I often sleep on my side just as flat as my bed.

My wife makes fun of me, but regardless of your gear, ALWAYS try out/test your gear before taking it to the woods. I would rather it fail (not keep me warm or dry) where I can just go inside rather than miles from my car. Miles from the car is not when you want to realize your new tent is missing the main tent poles or your hammock setup is missing a critical component. It has happened….

There are lots of options (and prices) when it comes to shelter.  It is helpful to know the temperature/weather conditions you intend on experiencing the outdoors as that will give you a great starting point.  Get out and experiment, ask questions, and find what works for you.

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