Before Hitting the Trail – Wake Up, Eat, and Pack
I wake up before or at sunrise as I enjoy hiking in the morning hours and resting at my destination. The temperatures are much cooler, I sweat less, and have found my bodies performance is much better. I get out of my sleeping back and deflate my mattress before leaving. I then remove myself from the bivy/tent. I get my stove going and start boiling water. Instant oatmeal is my breakfast of choice, so I just need water. I put in more water then what is needed to cook oatmeal for quick cleaning and instant coffee or tea. While the water is boiling, I pour my dry oatmeal into a bowl. If my location allows, I have a small campfire shortly after pouring my oatmeal out. Now the campfire isn’t a big grand morning fire, but rather a very small one. Just enough to warm the hands and burn the paper the oatmeal was in. If a fire is not allowed, I have a ziplock bag to stow the paper in until I am able to dispose of it properly. I also stow any part of the paper that didn’t get consumed for whatever reason into the ziplock bag. Make sure it is cooled down though!
Once the paper is consumed and the water is still getting to a boil, I begin to break camp. I start with the mattress by rolling it up. I then proceed to my sleeping bag and do the same. Next, any clothes are items I stowed in my bivy/tent comes out. Next I proceed to “shake out” my bivy/tent before taking out any poles. Make sure it is fully unzipped so any foreign particles that may have joined you the night before falls out. I then check to make sure it is cleaned.
Now at any time should the water be to a boil, I stop where I am, turn off the stove, and mix the hot water in with my oatmeal. It doesn’t take long and the oatmeal is ready to eat (say a minute?). I then eat my oatmeal and enjoy the views around me. Once the oatmeal is gone, I use the remaining hot water to make some instant coffee or tea that morning. With the drink consumed, I finally use the remaining water to rinse out the bowl. At this point, oatmeal residue is pretty much gone from the bowl. I may quickly reheat the water to a boil, which also typically takes a minute or less, and then pour the water on the bowl and spork to clean. I then set the bowl, pot, and spork aside to dry and resume getting camp cleaned up.
The bowl, stove, spork, fuel, and pot tend to go on top of my bear canister, so I can pack those almost near the very end. I then brush my teeth, guzzle down water, and refill my water bottles for the day’s hike. I change my camp shirt to my hiking shirt, put new socks on for the day, and will switch out to a new pair of underwear. Now, if nobody is around I just change in the open. Otherwise if people are nearby, I will do the underwear changing once my mattress is deflated as discussed earlier. I would not want to wake up and see my neighbor in the buff first thing in the morning, so I make sure to be respectful of that.
My hiking clothes are on for the day and now it is time to get the stove and the remaining breakfast items packed. I follow the guide as described in the previous section for packing my bag each day. When the backpack is on, I make sure the straps are still adjusted correctly and do minor adjustments where needed. I then inspect camp and make sure I Leave No Trace before continuing on. If a campfire was used, I make sure it is cold and out. Any created fire rings are disassembled. It isn’t hard to make sure the fire is cold as being so small to begin with, it doesn’t take much water and very little stirring needed.
This entire process takes about 1 hour in the morning. I am not in a hurry as I imagine it could be done even faster. This is more of a casual pace of getting ready for the day. I tend to be on the trail between 630 AM to 7 AM depending on how things roll out. I also find myself become more efficient each day as the routine remains pretty much the same thing over and over until I am done with the trip.
Hiking on the Trail
Now on the trail in the early morning hours, I enjoy watching the sun makes its way up and over the mountains. I walk with two trekking poles as it helps with balance and reducing muscle soreness (see STUDY.). I also carry my camera, Nikon D7000, around my neck and attached to my chest. This way if I come across wildlife, scenery, or whatever I want to take a photo of it is handy. If you are using a smaller camera, consider having it easily available especially if wildlife shows up. Some backpacks have pockets on the hip belt and could work for stowing a camera.
Around two to two and a half hours of hiking, I will find a place to stop for a break. I grab a snack, whether that is trail mix or a cliff bar, as I need some more calories in me at this point. I learned early on that my body needs these breaks and food intake. Pushing to the normal lunch hour for me equated to exhaustion, increased muscle soreness, and enjoying the hike less. While on my break my backpack comes off and I do some stretching. I guzzle water at this point too. I do drink along the way, but most of my intake is on breaks. After about 10 to 15 minutes I am back on the trail towards my destination for the day.
My pace is around 2.25 to 2.5 mph when the trail is a combination of uphill and downhill. If the trail is “flatter” or gradual overall, my pace can be closer to 3.0 mph. I have figured this out through the years of backpacking and hiking. Simply take how many miles you hiked and divide it by how long it took you to get your MPH. For example if I went 10 miles that day and it took me 5 hours, I would have an average pace of 2 mph. I have also noticed my speeds may be faster depending on the physical condition I am in.
While on the trail I may come across other fellow hikers. I always smile and say hello. Sometimes they will stop and we chat for a quick minute or two. In this case I tend to ask where they are coming from or going. I then share my trip info as well as what I have heard about the weather, trail conditions, and water sources. You can learn a lot in a short amount of time if you ask others who are willing to stop and share. However, clue in on the person’s body language as to whether they are done talking, but being polite. We all have different hiking goals and though exchanging info is a wonderful thing, in my opinion, you don’t want to hamper someone if they appear to be in a hurry or done with the conversation. Most people who I have come in contact with don’t mind saying quick hello, how is your trip so far, where are you heading, and have a great day. I have only met very few who won’t say hi back let alone acknowledge you are even there on the trail.
I may come across wildlife while on the trail. Usually birds and small mammals like marmots or squirrels. Occasionally I see some deer and every once and awhile a bear. I have only seen a mountain lion once with her two cubs. That was a little nerve-racking to stumble on, but we both went our separate ways peacefully. Anyway, I am always watching and looking around. When the vegetation gets thicker or a lot of trees obscure my view of the trail ahead of me, I tend to make some noise. Whether I “clear my throat,” whistle, clap hands, or bang my trekking poles, I do this to let larger mammals know I am coming. You really do not want to wake or stumble onto a bear on the trail by surprise. You never know what you will get as a response. Below are a couple visual examples of what I mean by obscured vs. open views.
As I mentioned before, I have my camera handy when backpacking. I tend to enjoy doing photography along the to capture moments on the trail for others to see. I sometimes bring a small journal to write in my observations or log my trip. I thoroughly enjoy doing these two activities while hiking as it breaks up the hike a bit. I enjoy creating a story about my adventure on the blog, so both of these activities contribute greatly to that purpose.
Hours pass by and the temps begin to rise. This is where I take advantage of my hiking clothing. When it is getting warmer and I need to cool down, I unbutton the cuffs of my long sleeve shirt. I do not roll them up just yet as I want to protect my skin from the direct sunlight. Next I unzip the zip-off portion of my hiking pants. Now I am in shorts and I begin to cool down rather quickly. I usually notice a difference with a few seconds to a minute. I may unbutton the upper portions of my shirt to let airflow in. Eventually I will roll up my sleeves for a bit or even take off my hat, but it won’t be long due to my concern for sun burns. I do not like sunscreen when hiking. I find myself getting clammy and “running warmer” when I lathered up on previous hikes.
I typically plan on 10 miles. Sometimes it is more, which isn’t a problem, and sometimes less but those are my average miles a day. Around lunch time I am done hiking for the day and can enjoy my surroundings. I then can set up camp and explore my destination with ease. If my camp site isn’t all what I thought it would be, I sometimes push on to the next one or hike till I find a spot that will work. For example, I arrive at my destination and the creek is not flowing water or has very little. I may press on further down the trail to another spot that will work.
Done Hiking and Setting Up Camp
In the beginning I mentioned parking your vehicle to avoid any hazardous trees. The same goes for when you arrive at your destination each day. Even if there is a fire ring and “camp furniture” around a fire ring, look up and evaluate the trees. I keep in mind, “if this tree was to fall, where we it go? Would I be underneath it?” The obvious ones to me are the trees that are white/grey in color, no bark, and no needs. It is called a “snag” and is just a matter of time before it falls. People have died because they didn’t take the time to look around, so make sure you check out the area and don’t rely on where others have camped before your arrival. At the same time, make sure to be far enough away from water sources (e.g. creeks, lakes). A general guide can be found on the Leave No Trace website. However, your wilderness permit may have different rules so ask when you get your permit.
Now that you have a spot picked out, go ahead and set up camp. I unload most of my backpack during this time. I place my cooking stuff where I want to cook and all my sleeping gear in the same fashion. I setup the bivy/tent first followed up by the mattress. I then unpack my sleeping bag and layout out over the mattress. Once that is finished, I then switch out into my camp clothes if I do not plan to go exploring. However, when getting my dryer clothing out I put my down jacket, rain shell jacket, headlamp, and ski cap in my bivy/tent. This way it is easy to access when night comes. Continuing on, my hiking long sleeve shirt is hung on a tree in the sun to dry and air out and is replaced by a shirt. My boots and socks come off as I put on my Teva’s. This allows my feet to cool down and air out while doing the same for the boots and socks. If I decided to go exploring, then changing out of clothes can wait.
Lunch is needed and it varies from day-to-day for me. Sometimes for my trips I decided to pack some dried meals fully knowing I will arrive at my destination at lunch. Otherwise I pull out trail mix and a meal replacement bar. This is my lunch for the day and I do the necessary cleanup that follows. Nothing really to exciting here and no real need for time efficiency upon arriving either. I am at my destination so I tend to slow down a bit.
When night is approaching or if the temps drop down low enough, I will go to my bivy/tent and grab the jackets, headlamp, and ski cap. If I want a camp fire, am allowed to legally have one, and a ring is present, I will have collected the firewood long before dark to start a fire. My dinner is also dehydrated, so I will boil water and make my meal accordingly. I like to use Mary Jane’s dehydrated meals as the container was designed to cook food inside (add boiling water), eat out of, and safe to burn without worries. Any left over pieces that are not consumed by the fire, following the meal, I would stow away in my ziplock back. I will then pick up the area and put things away for the night.
I may have extra water to soak up with a small lightweight towel I bring. A bandana could do the same too for this part. Depending on how dusty and/or sweaty the hike to my destination is, really hot water on a towel to wipe down ones face and neck is quite a treat. I do not do this ever night, but once or twice is very refreshing. It is a personal preference of mine. Since this part is trending into the hygiene and sanitation side of camping, I encourage you to read this article from REI. I think you will find it helpful.
Regarding water, I like to make sure I have my water bottles filled following dinner. I am able to drink water without filtering in the dark as well as have water ready for cooking the next morning. I will also take a water bottle into the bivy/tent should I wake up thirsty for any reason.
If I built a camp fire, I will make sure it is cold and out before calling it a night. I brush my teeth and use the restroom before bed. Sucks to wake up in the middle of the night to go pee. I try to avoid that whenever possible.
A side note: My camp fires are small. They are not those large or typical campground camp fires. I quickly learned that large fires take longer to gather wood and require a lot more water to put out to meet the “cold and out” standard. For me it was too much time wasted when a smaller fire can do the same thing. My fires are small. If a group is there, then that may be different (e.g. going backpacking with others, random hikers join up at camping spot).