Backpacking - Lessons learned from a backpacking trip near Tucson, Arizona
1) Trekking poles are not needed in all situations, however I won't go anywhere without them, because you don't knon when the trail will get rough. Most obviously, poles reduce the impact of hiking on knee joints and leg muscles. Arm, core muscles, stomach, back, and shoulder muscles support and relieve the leg muscles. With arms holding the poles blood circulation is improved and the heart rate is reduced. The natural motion rhythm caused by using poles can lead to better breathing and reduce the work by your body with each step which should allow you to hike further. I find poles are very helpful by providing balance when crossing streams, hiking down or up rough rocky, steep, bouldery trails, and can help prevent injury. In my thinking this is the absolute best reason to use poles. I fell down twice on a hike that was particularly rocky and steep, and that caused me to start thinking about buying some trekking poles, but when I fell down on another trail a week later, and landed on one of those cacti that has very high density of needles. It took me over 3 hours to remove cactus needles from my leg, knee, arm, hand, shoulder and the back of my left leg. You have to hold the light just right, and using tweezers, pull firmly. After you remove the needles from your body, then you have to remove them from your clothes. They stick to the fabric of blue jeans very nicely, and they're really hard to find. That was a memorable experience that I don't want to repeat. I fell on a cactus, however some who live in areas that don't have cacti think it's not for them. Well, what if it was a sharp rock that I fell on? I might have broken a bone, or badly scraped my skin, or badly bruised my arm or leg. Worse yet, what if I was out in the middle of a wilderness, far from hospital or doctors and broke a bone in my leg and couldn't hike out? With no cell phone coverage in the wilderness, it could get bad. Even satphones can fail, or be time delayed. Bottom line: I won't go hiking anywhere without my trekking poles.
2) sleeping - I was too sore, or not relaxed enough or something, but I didn't sleep much. Over the course of three nights, I slept probably less than 6 hours, although I rested many hours. Probably spent an average of over 11 hours per night partly because it was cold at night (winter), partly because it was dark too, and I was tired and sore. Afterward when I was looking on the internet, I learned that Sleeplessness is the number 1 complaint of backpackers. I think taking something like advil or aspirin for the soreness of my muscles might help me be able to sleep. Also being in better shape might help reduce the level of soreness as well. Plus maybe there are more measures that could be taken.
3) food - We had Mountain house freeze dried backpacking prepared meals. They were very tasty and easy to prepare. But, what I noticed was that it was mostly carbs and meat, which is not all bad, but I think I need more veggies and fruits in my backpacking diet. I'm wondering if I could buy freeze dried veggies and fruits and mix them into these pre-made meals, because the meals are good tasting and nutritious but I think they could be enhanced with these added veggies and fruits.
4) conditioning - I injured my knee by hiking 13 miles in early January, and so I've been doing less hiking than I normaly would do. By not having my boots on the ground in this month time period prior to the backpacking trip hurt me. I think the fact that my muscles were very sore from hiking with the 35 pound backpack on my back tells me that I need to do more conditioning and exercise more with a fully loaded pack.
5) Water treatment - Overall things worked well, except that squeezing the 1 liter bottle in the first phase of the process for 0.1 micron filtering required quite a bit of squeezing to get 2 gallons per day through that filter. Maybe a small and light hand pump could be found to help in this regard.
6) When backpacking, it makes sense to get up with the sun, when it gets light outside, because it's hard to sleep when it's bright outside, and because often it makes sense to go to bed earlier than one normally does at home. For that reason, it makes sense to attempt to synchronize your circadian rythems with the sun as much as possible before one goes backpacking. These rythems are set over a number of months though, and so it may not be possible to change your bodily timing in the short term.
7) pack weight minimizing - I've thought of some ways to cut off about 4 pounds by taking less and lighter and fewer things. That takes me down to about 29 pounds pack weight, but I would like to figure out how to reduce that even more - by another 5 pounds ideally, but not sure how to do that. Although I really like my pack and I think it's a good sturdy pack, it weighs 6 pounds empty, and that seems like too much weight to me. Maybe I'll look at finding a lighter pack that is sturdy and comfortable. My shoulder straps bear down on my shoulders too much also.
8) Planning - Prior to the backpacking trip, it is useful to discuss the intenerary / trip plan with all of the participants, including contingencies. That way all the participants have a clear idea of what is intended, and individuals can act independently to support the plan in case of an emergency such as an injury. Also the participants can express concerns in advance of the trip about schedule, goals and logistics. Probably just one person should come up with a strawman itinerary, but then the stakeholders could review the strawman, and all of the assumptions and background information is shared. Not that the plan was bad for this trip, but rather everybody felt like it would be more democratic if the plan was reviewed before the trip, even if there ended up not being any changes to the plan.
9) Bear proofing foodstocks - We used one of the hikers pack for the hoisted foodbag. It was too big. It was too heavy. If the backpacking trip wasn't in winter, the rats, mice or squirrels might have chewed through the pack. one hiker was unable to keep her pack organized because it was being used for this purpose. It would have been better to have a dedicated foodbag. Also the hoisting process seemed like it was too much an ad hoc process, and not very repeatable, and difficult to deploy. I think a better process needs to be developed to overcome these shortcomings.
10) On the third day, one of the hikers water bladder leaked into her pack. I'm thinking that one should probably get some 1, 3,and 5 and 10 gallon ziplock bags, and put the gear into those, and put those into our packs. That keeps things organized, and dry, such as sleeping bags, cell phones, toilet paper, and other things that want to stay dry.
11) leather gloves could have prevented the blood blisters on my fingers that I got somehow while hiking. Gloves would also have been helpful in handling hot things associated with boiling the water for meals.
12) We weren't able to text to loved ones where we were located for a couple of days because of lack of cell phone coverage One can buy a small handheld satellite tranceiver based on Iridium communication satellites, where you can turn on the subscription by month ($250 to purchase plus $10/month for months when the service is turned on) and with that device, you're NEVER out of touch for 2 way texting. That might be a good investment, and it doesn't weigh much for times when one is truely in a large wilderness area where there isn't any communications.
13) GPS fixes - I didn't research the Wilderness of Rocks trail at all, because I thought it would be duck soup. Turns out I missed a cairn due to overgrowth of weeds along the trail, and we ended up wasting more than 1 hours looking for the trail. My bad. On the next trip, I'll have GPS fixes for all the trails, and when we can't find a cairn, we'll just refer to the next GPS fix, and that should tell us what general direction in which to proceed, which probably will help us find the trail again at the next fix worst case with bushwacking. Ironically I researched the Cathedral Rock trail very thoroughly, because I thought it would be a difficult trail, although I didn't get any gps fixes on that trail, which we didn't even hike anyway, due to some agile changes in the intenerary when we didn't seem to have enough speed or time to complete the original intenerary.
14) "slide - ey" sleeping bags - nylon on nylon slides as we discovered on the unlevel campsite that first night. I think you can buy some light thin rubberized mats that you can place between the bag and the air mattress, and the air mattress and the tent that will prevent sliding. I will research that because there may be times when we just can't find a level camping spot, and I never want to fight sliding downhill every 10 seconds, and trying to sleep through that. I'm thinking that perhaps the tool drawer liners might do the trick, or at least are worth a look anyway.
15) strike anywhere matches - big brother ( our beloved bureaucrats in the federal government ) has stopped USA match companies from manufacturing these handy strike anywhere matches, apparently because crack cocaine makers were using the phosphorous on the matche tips to make drugs. But I think you can buy them from other countries, so I'm going to research and see if I can get some for our camping purposes. If not, I'll cut off a piece of the match box and put that in the tube with the matches so we have a surface to strike our matches that we can use.
16) I lost my water bottle on the last day temporarily, which one of the hikers (walking behind me) noticed while we were hiking on upper Romero trail. I need to tie my water bottle to my pack so I can't lose it, or find a better way to attach it to my pack somehow.
17) We needed to get an earlier start on the trail the first day than what I had arranged, or at least we need to meet our distance goal, starting out early enough to meet that goal whatever it is, or hiking into the night to get to that goal.
18) It's not a bad plan to not "overdo it" the first day out, by planning to hike a shorter distance on the first day.
19) My headlamp didn't get the job done - not bright enough, I need to get a better one, but the one I had did get the job done, so it could be a backup if needed.
20) I think that we all should have reduced the weight in our packs.
21) I think for hiking, it's helpful to get shoes 1 size larger than you think is the right size, and then buy heavy wool socks. I didn't have my boots, and the shoes I had didn't protect me from rocks or water on the trails. Next time I'll bring my boots, and maybe flipflops for around camp.
22) trekking poles are not needed on all trails, but near Tucson, trekking poles are needed - 2 poles are helpful per person on many spots - other spots you can get by with 1 pole or no poles. But for most places 2 poles are needed.
23) A hat with large brim is necessary to protect face, head, and neck from the hot desert sun.
24) in my toiletries kit, I took a heavy toothbrush, I'll get a lighter one, also I took small travel containers of gargle, fluoride treatment, and liquid soap. I took 1/2 full containers, next time for 5 days, I'll take 1/4 full containers. My toothpaste was a mostly squeezed out tube. instead of taking my toiletries kit bag, I'll put my stuff in a Ziploc, it's much lighter. Floss was ok it only weighed about an ounce. I brought a camp cookset. Depending on what we're cooking, I may leave back some or all of those items except for my spork. I took about 1 ounce of toilet paper, but I ran out. I think I'll take 2 ounces of TP next time.
25) I always felt like I didnt' know where to put things in my pack. Next time I think I'll get more organized at the outset in where I put stuff in my pack so it will be most conveniently located when it's needed.
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Last Update: April 17, 2015
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