Wednesday, August 15, 2018

10 Things I Have Learned Since My 1st Backpacking Trip

Green Mountain Lookout

My first backpacking trip happened Labor Day Weekend of 2015. It was a 2 night/3 day trek up San Gorgonio, Southern California's tallest peak, which sits at over 11k feet, and just shy of 18 miles R/T. At the time, I didn't realize there were easier backpacking trips out there, I had been doing long 15+ mile day hikes already, so this trip didn't sound too terrible at the time. Looking back now, I wish I had done an easier overnighter for my first time, but coming from Southern California, it's not like Washington, where you can do an easy backpack to an alpine lake and set up for a night. Are there even any alpine lakes in Southern California that have water in them??

Since that first trek and numerous backpacking trips following, here are the top 10 things I have learned on the trail so far.

1. Find the right shoe/sock combo to prevent blisters

Finding the right hiking shoes and sock combo took me almost 2 years to dial in. I remember getting such bad blisters when I first started backpacking. I had quarter sized blisters on both feet at one point. I started researching and trying different boots and trail runners from REI and eventually found that, with the Washington terrain, hiking boots were the way to go for me. I currently hike in Oboz and haven't had any troubles with them and I am on my 2nd pair.

As for socks, I started out with the REI hiking socks, which gave me blisters. They were just a little too thick and not snug enough to my foot. Which caused rubbing, that lead to blisters. My friend Don swore by these hiking toe socks, Injinji, and because of him I bought my first pair and never looked back. These hiking toe socks fit snug to my feet and don't cause rubbing. They say they help with toe blisters too. I used to get bad blisters more on the insides of my heels.

Oboz and Injinji are what works for me. Some swear by Smartwool socks, while others go with any sock in the drawer, you just have to go by trial and error to figure out what works for you.

2. You don't need the newest/ultralight gear to go backpacking

I struggle so much with this. I sit on the computer browsing REI, Enlightened Equipment, Montbell, etc. web pages, just drooling over gear on a regular basis. I WANT IT ALL. But, me trying to be an adult, not spend money and save, I try to not buy things I don't really need.

You can find a $30 tent on Amazon that you can use in the backcountry (make sure to check weather though, and don't get completely pummeled by rain/bad weather in a cheap tent). I would love a new $300 ultralight tent. But is it necessary? Not really. Cody and I have been using, either my 2 person REI tent I bought used for $80, or his 2+ person Half Dome tent he's had for a few years that he bought with his brother. Both come in at around 4 lbs, so they are on the heavier side for a backpacking tent, but they keep us dry and they are both in great shape still.

Check out REI's used gear sales, browse craigslist and offer up for camp gear. You can always find a deal!

3. Be prepared for all types of weather

I remember one of the first backpacking trips I went on and I didn't know what a rain cover was at the time. I was backpacking with Don and Rob near Santa Barbara and I was not expecting rain. Well, 8 miles in, a storm rolled in, with it came a massive downpour. On top of that, we were lost. My pack getting soaked didn't even cross my mind, but that was the first thing Don and Rob's brain went to."Doris do you have a rain cover?" Uhm... what's that? Next question, "Is your sleeping bag and clothes at least in dry sacks?" Uhmmm... what are dry sacks lol. Yeah, I didn't know. But Rob, being prepared, made me take my pack off, and pulled out a trash bag he kept for emergencies and made me stuff all my belongings into it so that my sleeping bag and clothes didn't get soaked. Thank you to Don and Rob, for taking a beginner and showing me what to do!

Since that trip, I have experienced many more bad weather experiences, especially now that I live in Washington and rain usually happens. I make sure I have a rain cover, which is a waterproof cover that goes over my entire pack, and I make sure to pack a rain jacket too. You just never know! Always be prepared for the worse!

(Rain cover btw is this waterproof thing that you can pull over your pack to cover it so it doesn't get wet when it rains)

4. Don't forget bug spray

Bugs love me. They eat me alive. I went on that month long sailing trip in the Caribbean in college and came back looking like a diseased person with over 100 bites. The mosquitoes in the high country are ruthless. They will bite you through your leggings. You forget about the bugs during the winter, but that first summer trip you make and you forget your bug spray. Then you are miserably itchy for the next week or two. No thanks. Bring bug spray, wear a bug net. Keep those bugs away.

5. Don't forget sunblock and to apply it everywhere.

I have a story for each lesson. This one was when I backpacked Mt Whitney. Ohhh that snow glare. I actually remembered sunblock on this trip. But I forgot to put sunblock on the tiny part of my chest that was exposed in the V-Neck shirt I was wearing, I was peeling like a snake the weeks following. It also hurt so bad. So don't forget to put sunblock on every part of exposed skin (like under your nose)! And when hiking in snow and the sun is out, the rays are more intense!

6. Bring camp shoes, your feet will thank you

My feet are usually so tired and sore after backpacking in with all my stuff that the first thing I want to do, besides shrugging off my pack, is taking off my shoes. I didn't used to bring extra sandals, but I have been lately, and I am so much more comfortable with sandals on at camp over the boots I hiked out with!

7. Talk to People on Trail

I have always enjoyed talking to people on trail. Sometimes just a hi, other times asking how their hike is going, I enjoy how friendly the hiking community is. I have also made two great friends from striking up conversations with people on trail!

I was on a day hike once with a group of friends going up Ice House Canyon near LA when we ran into another group of hikers who wanted their photo taken. So my group stopped, we took their photo, and we hiked on. Well we ran into the same group at the top of the summit and started chatting with them. One of the guys in the other group, Sergio, and I started talking and it turned out we worked for the same company but in different cities! Sergio and I then kept in touch via social media, we have since become great friends, going on numerous road trips together, and he's even visited me in Washington since I moved!

Another memorable friend I made on trail is Don. Tizzy and I actually ran into him and his buddy Joe on my first backpacking trip up San Gorgonio. We struck up a conversation on trail and ended up summiting Gorgonio together. Since then we have kept in touch, grabbed ramen, and gone on backpacking trips together.

You never know who you'll meet on trail, they might turn into a great friend!

8. Google Map's directions to trail head of hike are not always correct

Always research and read up on a trail before you head out. There's been a couple of times where I have just typed in the hike name and Google Map will pull up directions, but it leads me to someone's backyard. I would end up close to the hike but not the trailhead.

I like to read directions to the trail and the trail description beforehand, screenshot both, and also download the offline map on Google Maps just in case you lose service when driving to trail head. The offline map still works without phone service and it's free!

9. Bring the 10 Essentials 

I actually had never heard this term before I moved to Washington. But now that I have, the 10 Essentials is a great rule to follow! Before you think, great more rules to follow, you probably already follow these guidelines without even thinking about it! I sure did!

Here are the 10 Essentials:
1 - Navigation
2 - Headlamp
3 - Sun Protection
4 - First Aid
5 - Knife
6 - Fire
7 - Shelter
8 - Extra Food
9 - Extra Water 
10 - Extra Clothes

I remember hiking San Jacinto with Tizzy in 2014 and how we ended up hiking in the dark because we misjudged how long the hike was and we hiked out with one headlamp. Tizzy had the lamp and was leading the way, as I was trailing behind tripping over roots in the dark since her light was of no help to me. Using my phone as a light source only goes so far. Always remember to bring a headlamp just in case! (I found this list from an article on REI)

10. Leave No Trace (aka LNT)

The term LNT is still pretty new to me. There's been a lot of talk lately  about not geotagging and that it's part of LNT. I do not 100% agree with the "stop geotagging" movement going on. I don't think sharing locations is the problem. I think the problem is that people don't respect the land and don't know or understand the proper etiquette of the outdoors. I think everyone has the right to experience the amazing places people share on Instagram. I mean, for the people preaching "stop geotagging it's ruining these sacred places, but oh here's a glamorous shot of me at this secret location", aren't you part of the problem? I think people need to be educated. People need to be educated of why you can't camp at certain places, why fires are banned, and pick up after yourselves.

So here are the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace:
1 - Plan ahead and prepare
2 - Travel and camp on durable serfaces
3 - Dispose of waste properly
4 - Leave what you find
5 - Minimize campfire impacts 
6 - Respect Wildlife
7 - Be considerate of other visitors 

(Pulled from this article)

From talking to Cody the other night, we both agreed:


Just make sure to leave things better than the way you found it they say. Pick up that piece of trash you see, call people out when they don't follow rules, let's make this world a better place.

These are just my personal thought and opinions, hope you found it entertaining, useful, and resourceful.

Until next time friends!


  1. I saw you were on Copper Ridge Labor Day weekend. Im looking for a lost North Face puffy. Grey with pink trim, a women's XS.

    1. We were! But we didn't see any lost jackets on trail :( I think I saw the note left at trailhead. Maybe leave a comment on WTA trip reports, or post it on WHC on FB?