Gearing up for backpacking season!

It’s that time of year…

When the mountains are calling more than ever.

When the weather is warm enough to sleep in a tent.

When my most recent Google search history looks like: “wilderness permits” and “mileage to so-and-so lake”.

When I have so many fun trails at my fingertips to explore in my California backyard…

It’s backpacking season!

Wilderness backpacking (not to be confused with travel backpacking!): hiking on trails taking me far away from civilization and carrying everything I need to survive for a few nights in the wilderness. Sleeping in a tent miles from my car. Preparing food on a tiny one-pot stove. Taking a dip in refreshing mountain streams and lakes. Being surrounded by stunning natural landscapes.

It is liberating and challenging to do this. But the best kind of challenging. The push yourself up the mountain challenge. The set up your tent in the gusty wind challenge. The be prepared to scare off a bear if you see one around the next bend challenge (by shouting “hey bear”, of course).

Perhaps the best thing about backpacking (and even just hiking) for me is that I’m forced to live in that moment, focused entirely on what’s literally right in front of me on the trail. There’s practically no time or space for my otherwise routine worries, struggles, and fears to sneak their way in and invade my headspace. Nope, not when I’m on the alert for bears (a different kind of fear!) or deciding where to place my feet next or staring jaw dropped at the beauty laid out before me.

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No worries when looking down at this (except maybe for how am I getting down this ridge??)

The beauty is raw and the experience primitive. Sometimes downright uncomfortable. There are bugs, it could be really cold or really hot, it could be windy, it could be wet and muddy or dry and dusty. Everything and I mean everything gets dirty, no matter what. My muscles ache under the weight of a 35-40 pound pack. And I never sleep as well in a tent on the ground as I do in my own bed at home.

But all that, and I mean all of it, the beauty and the pain, just reinforces the fact that I feel so incredibly ALIVE when I’m in the wilderness.

And that is a wonderful thing.

I’m not in this to conquer mountains. Hell, I actually really don’t care how many miles I cover or how many peaks I end up climbing.

Just making it into the wilderness is enough for me.

I prefer mellow trails where I can enjoy myself rather than be huffing and puffing in pain the whole time. Of course, it feels fantastic to climb up a ridge or a peak and take in the vista below, and every trip will have a challenging climb or two, but I don’t particularly seek out the difficult routes. I don’t need to.

Now this is my kind of trail…

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Mellow section of the Pacific Crest Trail in Desolation wilderness

I take it slow and savor my time outside. I literally stop and smell the flowers. And watch butterflies flit about and lizards dart away from the trail. I take a million pictures. I love composing shots and finding some fun angles.

This is my idea of a fun time, my idea of exploring the world around me.

Backpacking is one of the ways in which explore life!

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Gearing up:

Part of the planning of backpacking trips is having the right gear. Over the past month or so, I looked at what I already had and made some big carefully thought out purchasing decisions.

By far the biggest purchase this year is a new pack! Ain’t she purdy?

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It was time… my first backpack bought way back in college (over 10 years ago!) was done a while ago. Last year, I borrowed my sister’s Osprey Ariel 65 for my 3 trips, and I loved all the features, but it didn’t fit me well. The hip belt was too big, constantly slipping down, taking a lot of pack weight off of my hips. No bueno.

My rationale for not buying my own pack last year is that I only backpack 3-4 times a year so I didn’t think that justified the big expense when I could just borrow my sister’s pack. But who was I kidding?? That wasn’t being very fair or honoring of my desire and dream to do this. Because having a well-fitting pack is essential to backpacking.

So with the help of a nice REI dividend this year, I sprung for my own Osprey Ariel 65 in a size that fits me. And in a pretty blue color :)

Another new investment this year: trekking poles!

Holy cow! These things have revolutionized my backpacking!!! I didn’t think I’d buy poles til I was an old old woman, but well, they are so freakin’ helpful, especially with my poor balance and my creaky knees. I want my knees to be able to hike well into being an old old woman!!! I am now a trekking pole convert for life.

My final big buy for this season: new hiking boots! It was time. My previous pair lasted 3 years, with frequent hiking use. So I just picked up another pair of Merrell Moab Waterproof shoes. Love them.

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Sporting my new gear in Point Reyes last week!

Then of course there’s the little stuff that needs to be replenished like headlamp batteries, stove fuel, first aid items, socks, packets of freeze-dried meals, bug spray, and iodine tablets (just in case my water filter fails).

Yup, I spent a good chunk of my hard-earned cash on gear this year (REI loves me!), but all in all, the amount I spent wouldn’t even buy me a plane ticket out of the States. This is local travel at its best! Plus I end up with gear that’ll last a long time.

Just in case you’re wondering, here’s a list of the other backpacking essentials that I already own, use, and highly recommend:

REI Half Dome 2-person tent – perfect size for me and my gear. Has lasted over 10 years!

-REI Lite Core 1.5 self-inflating sleeping pad – apparently REI doesn’t sell these anymore, but this looks similar.

REI Radiant 20 degree down sleeping bag – uh, down is the way to go, no question! 

Primus stove – easy, simple, no “priming” required. Downside: requires non-reusable fuel canisters

Sawyer water filtration system – lightweight, simple, no pumping, no chemicals

Petzl Zipka headlamp – love the tiny compact size!

And don’t worry, Mom, I also carry a powerful whistle on me (in my pocket) in case of any emergencies!

My backpacking plans for this summer:

I just came back from my first trip, an easy solo one nighter in the nearby Point Reyes National Seashore. About an hour and a half from San Francisco, but a world away from the City. It was awesome! Photo essay to come soon!

The next few trips are in the Sierras! Can’t wait to get up there again! The first one is on my own in late June (still researching the specifics! so many possibilities!) and the next two with a few of my best friends.

In mid-July, we’ll head up to the Sonora Pass area for a 3 day trip. And in mid-August, it’s THE BIG ONE. A 5 day, 40 mile loop with a good chunk of it on the famous John Muir Trail.

You bet I’ll be writing about these adventures :)

Summer time in the mountains! And GO!

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