This past Labor Day weekend I ventured to California to reunite with friends and family for a one night backpacking trip in the majestic Sierra National Forest. I like to believe that I can embrace all climates and scenery but after a summer of 115 degrees in the hot dry Arizona desert, I was more than ready for some crisp mountain air.
The trail we chose was Potter Pass to Twin Lakes – a moderate 3.5 mile (7 mile round-trip) hike leading you up to a mighty lookout at Potter Pass and then trailing down the hill, where you arrive at two serenely beautiful alpine lakes. We camped at the upper lake, the larger and more scenic of the two.
Best friends, no Facebook or phone, and a pristine lake complete with your own island as your personal playground – I cant think of a better way to spend a long weekend.
Are you ready for your own backpacking extravaganza?
With any group, there will be a range of experience when it comes to roughing it in the great outdoors. Our group was no different. We had everyone from the R.E.I. outfitted hiker extraordinaire – armed with rope, axe, and waterproof matches – to the woefully unprepared; as in forgets her jacket, does not pack enough food and water, and needs to use the last bits of yours.
While it’s true that not everyone is born with mountain man mojo running through their veins, as a beginner, some forethought can make a world of difference for your own comfort level and that of your group. I have laid out a quick bumble proof guide for beginning backpackers to ensure success on your next woodsy adventure.
1. Have a Plan – Whether the planning is conducted by one person or a group doesn’t matter – just make sure those involved in the initial planning consider the fitness level and hiking abilities of the group. We chose a 7 mile moderate hike because we knew it would be feasible for everyone.
2. Talk to the Rangers – Once you know the location of your hike – make sure to contact the local Ranger Station. Ensure that the trail is open and secure the proper permits. These permits will tell you where you can camp and other important details – like whether you can have a camp fire or not during the given time of year or if you have to take wildlife precautions.
3. Layer Up – Look up the weather ahead of time and make sure to bring appropriate clothing. When hiking into any mountainous region it will always be cooler at night and you will need to layer! I recommend a moisture resistant “wicking” layer first, followed by a warming layer such as fleece, and then topped with a weather resistant layer such as a waterproof jacket. Last but not least, comfortable hiking shoes and extra socks. Hats are recommended if there are sunnier portions of your hike.
4. Coordinate Group Gear – A common mistake is lack of coordination between group members. To avoid doubling up on items and exhausting yourself with an insanely heavy pack, have a group discussion before the trip about how to split up the gear. Who is carrying the tent? Who is carrying the rope? Within a given group, the necessary supplies include a tent, rope, trashbags, first aid kit, cooking gear, matches, multi-tool or knife, flashlight, sunscreen, toilet paper, Map/GPS, and bug spray.
5. Personal Prep – Although big ticket and share-able items such as the tent can be dispersed among the group, it is still important for each person to prepare for individual items. Make sure to have a backpack that is fitted comfortably and has enough space for your sleeping bag, clothes, water, food, needed toiletries, and whatever gear you have agreed to carry on the groups behalf. Check to make sure your sleeping bag is at the appropriate temperature level for your trip. For instance, if your bag says 20 degrees F, this bag will keep you warm at any temperature 20 degrees F and above.
6. Water, Water, Water – This is one of those necessities that not only drags you down if you forget, but the entire group. If there is one thing you need to be self sufficient about, it is to have enough water. A good rule of thumb is to drink a liter and carry a liter at all times. If you are going to be staying for several nights it will be important to have a way to sterilize water, via pumps, steripens, or boiling.
7. Figure out Food – There is nothing more annoying than someone mooching off of your carefully prepared meals and snacks. If your group pre-plans meals make sure these plans are going to suit your diet and metabolism – everyone is different! If the food planned doesn’t float your boat, plan to pack your own. You will be burning extra calories so it is important to make sure you have enough carbs, fats, and protein. Carbs and fatty snacks such as nuts will give you a burst of energy. Protein is important for long term energy release and muscle repair. Also, packing something salty can help you maintain your electrolyte levels. Check out some fun, creative, and practical camping recipes here.
At the end of the day, it does not matter if you are the best at building the camp fire or pitching the tent, as long as someone in the group is capable. What is important is that you prepare yourself, communicate with your group ahead of time, and identify how you can pull your own weight. There is an intoxicating feeling of accomplishment that comes from completing a trek with a group of friends, and it is the individual effort that will make the group effort a success.