How to Pack for a Backpacking Trip

There’s a crazy range of what people believe is necessary on a backpacking trip. First, you have Jerry. You’ll see Jerry hiking with a 75L pack, sleeping bag dangling behind him and maybe a full-sized skillet. The second individual you may see is Carl. I once ran into a dude, now called Carl, on the Appalachian Trail doing a thru-hike. He had one of those drawstring bags you used to tote your middle school gym clothes around in. That was his entire pack. He was living out of that for 6 months straight. Carl was an animal, and also was not amused at how many questions I was asking him about his gear. I’d love to be that lightweight, but I currently have a base weight of 16 pounds which is a happy medium. Here’s a breakdown of what will get you through a backpacking trip:*

A little about ultralight backpacking

Ultralight backpacking, once on a certain level, is about how far you’re willing to sacrifice comfort/ease for weight. For example, going for lighter weight shelters (bivvy, tarp etc.) can sometimes mean it will be less durable or less comfortable. If you forgo the mesh of a tent, you could fall prey to thirsty mosquitoes waiting for an ultralighter to naively set up camp on one of their settlements. So, I definitely recommend going on small trips to test out how far you’re willing to go. Packing your backpack should be mostly about what you’re comfortable with using.

The Gear

Pack
You don’t have to go as big as you think. I carried my AT gear in a 36L and a 40L. Osprey is a classic that hikers choose. They’re starting to branch out into lighter bags. My initial bag was an Osprey Kyte 36L, however, which weighed almost 4 pounds. I swapped it out for a Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40L (about 28 oz) in Virginia and did not regret my decision at all.

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Sleeping Bag/Quilt:
Quilts are a sleeping bag without the mummy hood and the back of the sleeping bag. In a normal sleeping bag, you’ll squish the down that is underneath you while you sleep. Reducing the loft (aka you squishing the sleeping bag under your butt), decreases the down’s ability to keep you warm. So, a quilt doesn’t even bother having the part you would normally squish–it relies upon your sleeping pad to keep your body heat circulating within the bag. Also, down packs in smaller than synthetic bags which will save you pack space. Once you get used to them, quilts are awesome. I used the Nemo Siren 30 Degree Quilt. Again, check the weather before you go out. Don’t be caught sleeping under a 30 degree quilt in 10 degree weather (trust me, it’s not a walk in the park).

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(Picture from https://www.nemoequipment.com/product/siren/)

Sleeping Pad:
Sleeping pad preferences are based on a few things: comfort, R-value, durability and packability/weight. The most comfortable pads are the inflatable ones, but they are at a higher risk of popping if you’re putting them through a lot. Self inflatable pads that utilize air and foam are heavy, but are still usable if they spring a leak. I ended up with the Z-Lite Thermarest and cut it in half. Personally, I was able to sleep well on it, it was small and it didn’t weigh much. The R-value was a bit low for how cold the hike was in the beginning, but I still managed. R-value is a ranking system that describes how well the pad will insulate you. (My pad is the yellow egg-carton looking thing on the rock in the midst of that gear dump)

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Stove System:
Hikers can go stove-less which will save space, but not necessarily weight. If you have a stove, your food will most likely be lighter since it can be dehydrated. I know I love a warm meal at the end of a hard day’s hike. So I packed the MSR Pocket Rocket and the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Soloist Cookset (I removed the mug).
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Shelter:
There are a wide variety of options: freestanding tent, non-freestanding tent, bivy or tarp. A freestanding tent uses the classic poles you normally see, and you do not absolutely have to stake it into the ground. A non-freestanding tent utilizes ropes and poles with which you are required to strap/stake the tent to the surrounding environment. A bivy is basically a tube slightly larger than your body. It has waterproof lining underneath you and mesh above your head held up by a pole. A tarp is a tarp. You hang/strap/stake it down, and it does not provide bug protection. I kept it safe with the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1.

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Filter System: There are tablets, chlorine and filters. The filter route doesn’t require a wait time, and it’s usually pretty simple. I went with the Katadyn BeFree, but most people used the Sawyer Squeeze. Both work really well, but I was kind of obsessed with my Katadyn. Also, the bags that come with the Sawyer filter tend to break easily while my Katadyn bag lasted like a champ. (My friends, below, are using the Sawyer Squeeze.)

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The Wearables

Shoes:
With a lighter(ish) pack, I decided to go with trail runners for my thru-hike. I loved the lightweight support and the quick drying time. I tried both the Brooks Caldera and the Altra Lone Peaks. The Brooks did well with cushion and the Altras did well with creating room for your toes to spread out in the wider toe box. To accompany the shoe, I donned Dirty Girl gaiters to make sure no dirt or sticks would get inside my shoes. It may take some time to let your ankles get used to trail runners. Don’t get too upset after the 500th time you roll your ankle; I promise, it’ll get better.

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Side Note: CAMP SHOES. Some people are vehemently against these things, but after a two-week rain storm, I had to try some. With lackluster lightweight options in the Field and Stream, I was about to leave empty handed. My mom then chucked a pair of Sperry-looking shoes across the aisle and into my hand. It was a miracle. These things make you look a little douchey, but they’re so light, comfortable and dry quickly. Bonus, they’re not too bad for going into town and looking like a normal human. Check these Columbia shoes out.

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Poles:
Leki poles have a great lifespan and warranty. Once the tips are worn down, you simply replace the tips as opposed to buying all new poles. Poles help distribute the weight on your back, and they also save your knees a bit on the descents. I don’t like to hike without them.
Base Layers:
Wool. Wool. Wool. It sounds scratchy, but it’s not. Wool is a natural fiber that regulates temperature, and it will keep you warm despite finding yourself drenched from a storm. It will, however, wear out a bit faster than synthetic materials. Always have one set of base layers to wear while hiking and one pair to keep dry in your pack for when you get to camp. Note: the green shirt you’ve seen in basically every single picture of me on the AT was wool, and I wore that all the way from Georgia to Maine.

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Mid Layers:
Fleece is a great way to stay warm while wet as well. I had a Patagonia R3 hoody for the entire AT, and had my puffy shipped to me for the colder areas. Make sure to pack a buff, gloves and a beanie for the cold.

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Outer Layers:
Even through snow storms, I did not carry an official winter jacket. I put on my base layers, my fleece, (sometimes) my puffy and slapped my rain gear on top of those layers to keep the snow and cold away. I had a lightweight rain jacket and some cheap REI rain pants. I sent my rain pants home as soon as the weather started to be consistently warm. So, check the weather for your adventure before deciding to opt out of the rain pants.

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The Miscellaneous Essentials

Map/GPS:
You can bring a map and compass, use the AllTrails app or snag the Guthook app.
Toiletries:
I know you’re in the wilderness, but don’t let basic hygiene go out the window. Pack the toothbrush, toothpaste and hand sanitizer. What I also found worth the weight were baby wipes; ladies, I don’t know about you, but I get pimples between my boobies if I don’t clean them for a while. There’s also TP. You can use leaves instead of toilet paper if you’re feeling ballsy (click HERE for a pro/con list of what options are available for your wiping duties). What is not mentioned in that post is something I heard about on the AT. Through the grapevine, I discovered that someone started using a Mio bottle as a bidet. They rinsed and cleaned the bottle then filled it with water and proceeded to squirt their butt in attempts to clean themselves. It’s an idea I’m intrigued by, but cannot attest to how well it works as I’ve not been adventurous enough to try the bougie backpacker bidet.
Headlamp:
You could use your phone light, but some areas (ex. Mount Katahdin) will fine you if you have to be rescued and do not have a headlamp with you. Also, who knows if you’ll decide to night hike or not.
First Aid Kit:
Just throw in ibuprofen, medical tape, gauze and some Neosporin-type cream. Anytime you need items like a splint or a tourniquet, you can create those from clothing or sticks in the forest. Get creative and you won’t have to carry those heavy and awkwardly shaped wraps and splints.
Insect repellent:
Whether you go the natural route or go the DEET route, you will need bug repellent. Do it for your sanity, please.

I didn’t buy all of this gear overnight. You look at the prices, and I’m sure that your eyes start to bug out from your face. I had a lot of gear from when I was younger, I asked for gear for my birthday and Christmas and I also utilized friends with gear discounts. Building a gear set that you’re stoked on may take a while, but it’s worth it in the end. Feel free to hit me up with any questions, or let me know what gear you’re in love with yourself!

*Please note that this is based upon what worked for me. Everyone is different, and you should truly “hike your own hike.” I’m writing this to just give ideas of gear in case anyone is a bit lost on where to start.

How to Overcome Dumb Thoughts of Inadequacy and do the Outdoorsy Thing

There you are. Staring at a picture of Alex Honnold completely smashing a route, with zero ropes of course, and you’re wishing you could rock climb yourself. It’s a feeling of desiring to do it, not knowing how to get into it and also not wanting people to think you’re an entirely incapable noob. What if you go to the climbing gym or hit up some outdoor routes and you suck? Isn’t that embarrassing? I know I’ve felt this way, but it’s time to slap yourself out of it and, thanks Nike, “just do it.” Here’s how:

Take on an IDGAF attitude

Does it really matter what Joe from the gym thinks about your form? Do you care what Lindsay thinks about your ski line? No. Why does it matter? If they judge you for not being perfect then they’re not worth being around. Don’t judge yourself because you feel like others are judging you. So what if you look like a Jerry? If you’re out there trying, that’s all that matters.

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Find the right people

Find those people who are willing to take a few moments and help you with a new route, that scary ski jump or a technical climb. The outdoors community is mostly supportive and helpful. Everyone wants to share the excitement and love they feel when they get outside. Realize that people are stoked to help you learn and improve.

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Understand that it’s awesome to have a challenging project

Sure, you see Bob killing a climb or being able to ride more miles than you, but you have the excitement of working up to that. It’s fun to work toward a goal. There’s that drive and sense of purpose that wakes you up in the morning and leaves the adrenaline pumping for hours.

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Send it in your own way

You finally reach the top of the 5.9 climb that you’ve been working on since you started. It might have been a shaky send, but you’re there. You did it. That’s awesome. Revel in the awesome.

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Celebrate the send

Tell your friends. Grab a margarita. Do a cannonball into a lake with a war cry bellowing from your mouth. You achieved something no matter how small of a step it might seem in the scheme of getting to be at Honnold-level rad.

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Just put on those helmets, those boots, those skis and those harnesses. Leave self-doubt behind, or at least pretend until you forget all about the doubt. Breathe that fresh mountain air with some helpful friends and send it the way you want to send it.

Remnants of a Thru Hike

Coming back from the AT, it seems as though I’ve been plopped in the middle of a bustling street as I wander slowly, a bit lost, through the throngs of people who have a destination. There’s an odd disconnection I feel that can’t really be explained. A trail friend was complaining how it’s been hard to participate in small talk. You can no longer ask people how many miles they did, talk about how gorgeous the view you all passed that day was or what they’re cooking for dinner. Even talking with some friends, I feel slightly off and removed. There’s this fog I’m trying to see through that appears to have no end. I’m stuck in the thick of it. I can hear others, but I can’t quite reach them properly.

As life does, it moves on while you’re gone. People have grown, moved away, gotten married or had children. I think this is all part of some culture shock that should pass as I spend more time away from trail life. Nonetheless, being done with a thru-hike has me feeling these type-a ways:

 

Shoot, it’s time to find a job.

I’ve spent nearly 6 months in the woods occasionally talking to the animals lurking within the forest. There was a stretch of 10 minutes where I did a call and response sequence with some crow on a branch. A crow. Luckily, no one saw me. Unfortunately, it’s clear that some signs point to slight delusion. How am I supposed to dress up, talk properly and impress someone in an interview?

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How can I adventure while being stable?

There’s a sense of accomplishment and duty that comes with being employed. You have a purpose, you’re working toward goals and, hopefully, giving back to society in a way. Jobs are good. Adventures are good. Finding the work/rad adventure life balance sounds daunting. Some people have a hard time finding availability to even go to the gym let alone bag wild trips to beautiful mountains.

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Welp, it’s me. Living at my parent’s house. Broke and alone.

It’s the millenial dream, right? Just hanging out. At home. With your parents. So what I’m saying is, if you’re around and are equally bored, please hit me up.

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Did the hike even happen?

There’s only so much time I can spend talking about the trail, reiterating my stories to my parents (because, let’s be honest, those are the only people I’m hanging out with these days).

People will ask about it by saying “how was your hike?” I can only muster an “ it was great.” How can I begin to condense my entire hike into one elevator speech? It almost diminishes the hike to summarize it, but no one wants the 6-month-long explanation. So, you answer a few short questions and the conversation moves on without a sense of actually relaying how the hike made you feel. It was amazing, it sucked, it struck you with emotions when you least expected it. There were moments when a view made you hold your breath for fear of ruining the stillness. Friends ebbed and flowed as you let a variety of people enrich your trail life. Trail angels filled your world with hope, happiness and help. On the fourth climb of the day, your body screamed while your legs pushed on. Teeth bared, you make it to a summit and the strain is all worth it.

All of that seems so far away now.

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Don’t let hiker hunger take over.

On trail, you eat like an animal. Get. Those. Calories. Men become emaciated, and ladies get cut. However, back at home, you’re not walking 20+ miles each day. I have to actually eat normal-human portions, and lift weights.

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(I pulled a sneaky, BYOA – bring your own avocado- in Hot Springs, NC. Dedicated to the ‘cado)

 

It’ll all be fine.

It sounds like I’m floundering, I am a bit, but life will work out. I’ll get a job and make it a priority to go on sweet outdoor adventures. (Hello, PCT hike eventually?)

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Let me know what you think about transitioning from adventures back to “real life!” If you’re interested in following more of my adventures on Instagram, hit up @SeeBagsGo.

Thru Hiking to Happiness

Self-confidence/self-esteem/happiness with yourself, whatever you want to call it, I’ve struggled with it since those lovely tween years. I could point fingers and say it started with the stereotypical pressures of being a dancer, but some people handle that pressure with the utmost grace. I guess I wasn’t prepped to deal with the constant scrutinization of my weight, body or how much I ate. Teachers would tell me to lose a few pounds and “tone up” despite having a normal figure, and I’d see dancers around me starting to starve themselves and be rewarded for that. We stared at ourselves in mirrors as we danced and saw every tiny flaw that we could possibly perfect whether it be the body or the dance technique. Seeing my imperfections so much, I started dreading being seen or heard by others. I felt insignificant and unworthy.

My insecurity manifests in my daily life as awkwardness, but that’s why you love me, right? I used to weigh myself 5 times a day. I would avoid looking at people so I wouldn’t have to talk. I’d let someone else give their opinion first so that I could pretend to agree with it in hopes that agreeing would save me from putting my own ideas out there. I can thankfully say I’ve improved on these things in the past few years, but my AT thru really has been chicken soup for my insecure soul.

How does taking a simple walk in the woods work such wonders on your mental state? It does sound a bit extreme, I know. Do the trees whisper “you’re amazing, you got this!” as you traipse through the forest? Some might say yes. I know a hiker who thought all the birds tweeting at her were giving her sounds of encouragement. Another hiker I was with laughed and said that he thought their calls were just mocking his ineptitude. Everyone has their own interpretation, clearly, but here’s what has gotten me out of my shell a bit:

1) Holding Yourself Accountable

Making my own decisions and goals that only I care about if I reach. No one is bothered if I don’t do the 20 mile day that I set out to do. There’s no pressure, it’s just living out my trail life in the exact way that I want to. That simple. It’s just me doing what I want to do, and it works out for me. I’ve kept myself alive, I’m making miles and I’m slowly getting to Maine. Realizing that my choices and decisions are valid is a huge step toward accepting myself.

2) Viewing my Body as a Tool

You see some of your parents’ old tools in their basement. They may have their quirks, you have to jiggle the wrench handle a few times before it can do the job, but it works. Despite what imperfections I can see with myself, my body is climbing mountains every single day. I’ve made it over 1,400 miles now. My legs are extensions of my trail runners. My back is an extension of my pack. The body I have is strong and can accomplish more than I ever imagined.

3) Everyone is Gross

All thru hikers smell like a pile of poo, they have dirt smeared all over their body and they drip sweat. There’s no mirror to scrutinize each part of my body or face. There’s just equally gross people around me who could care less about what I’m wearing or how I smell. It’s freeing to not worry about how I appear to others. All I can see is how far I’ve hiked, and how much I’ve achieved in the day.

4) Talking is Easy

There’s a sense of community and trust between hikers. We all have miles, gear and crazy trail stories that we can bond over during dinner or setting up camp. Most hikers are stoked to hear about other’s experiences, and it’s made me aware of how important each of our days are. No one is out here to nit-pick your stories or conversation. The genuine nature of people out here helps me feel less anxious to share my thoughts.

5) The Forest is Yoga for those Who Hate Yoga

I get a lot of questions concerning what I think about during those long hours hiking. Honestly, for most of it, I think of nothing. I stare at the ground, because if I look up for two seconds I’ll be face planting into the ground, and think of nothing. I hear my breath, I hear the birds and I hear the slight squeak of my pack. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to meditation. When my mom drags me to yoga, I can’t ever seem to “clear my mind” as the teacher encourages. So, the hike is truly a time where I can let everything fall away and just be. Lesson of the day: if you hate yoga as much as I do, getting outside is just as good as Shavasana.

There’s never a simple, easy or real “cure” for insecurity, but the trail has come pretty darn close for me. It’s the most relaxed and happy I’ve ever been. My body is strong, I’m seeing how capable I am and there’s an immense sense of support from the trail community. So, hike yourself happy, folks.

If you want to follow more of the day-to-day happenings, follow me on Instagram: @SeeBagsGo

P.s. if you’re wondering why it looks like I’m wearing the same clothes in every single picture. It’s because I am.