Monthly Archives: May 2012

Backpacking Food for the Colorado Trail

I can tell you one thing. There is nothing like a good meal when you have been hiking for days and you need to regain your energy.

Before I get into some of the foods I will be eating on the trip there are just a few little tips that it is good to be aware of when you do your food planning.

Food Facts for Backpacking:

  1. Protein and Carbohydrates have 100 calories per ounce and Fat has 240 calories per ounce. If you want to go lighter with your food you obviously want to pack fattier foods, but you can only go so far.
  2. Aim for 125-150 calories per ounce. This means about a quarter to a third of your calories should come from fat.
  3. Take from 1.25 pounds to 2 pounds per day of food. Everyone is different and the amount of calories you need depend on how long you are going, how many miles you cover, what elevation gain/loss will occur, etc. It takes some experience to get it just right.
  4. Fruits and Vegetables are water heavy and have much less than 100 calories per ounce. Unfortunately the most nutritious foods are water heavy. Take dehydrated substitutes when you can.
  5. It is good to get your protein and fats early in the day, and always eat a few carbohydrates before and during the hiking parts of your day.

With the above facts in mind, here is a basic breakdown of what I am eating while I am on the trail.

Breakfast Foods:

  1. Oatmeal with Dried Cranberries/Blueberries
  2. Pop Tarts of many flavors
  3. Breakfast Tea

Breakfast for me is going to be quick and easy. I plan on packing up camp and hiking right away on most days without really eating a cooked breakfast of oatmeal. On those days I might have a pop tart or an energy bar of sorts. If I start hiking by 7am or earlier I will have a mid-morning breakfast of oatmeal and tea somewhere around 10 or 11am when I reach a good water source.

Snacks:

  1. Sunny Cranberry trail mix (Cranberries, almonds, golden raisins, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds) plus Peanut M&M’s. I love this combo. It is a great mix of protein, fat, and carbs and tastes great.
  2. Regular Granola Bars
  3. Fruit Bars (Pomegranate, Raspberry Cranberry, etc.)
  4. Snickers (Backpacker food for years)
  5. Clif Bars and a few other types of bars for variety.

I am trying out a large number of snack foods that aren’t even listed here as well. My plan is to eat a little bit every hour or two as I am hiking to keep me well fueled. Depending on how the day is going and what the weather conditions are I will probably skip lunch on most days and basically just snack all day.

Lunch:

  1. Breakfast for Lunch or Dinner items for Lunch
  2. Summer Sausage and Cheese
  3. Grits with Dehydrated Peas
  4. Tortillas with Peanut Butter
  5. Tuna wrapped in a Tortilla with various toppings

Lunch for me needs to be easy to prepare and have plenty of fat and protein to help give me that steady energy level for hiking the rest of the day. I most likely will not break out the stove for lunch and try to eat something that I can put together in 5 minutes, rest a little while I eat, then continue on the trail. Again, the time I stop and whether I eat lunch or not will depend on arriving at a water source, if it is rainy or sunny, and how hungry I feel if I am just eating my snacks.

Dinner:

  1. Ramen with dehydrated veggies and/or sun-dried tomatoes with a tablespoon of olive oil.
  2. Instant Potatoes with Gravy or Bacon Bits and Olive Oil
  3. Tuna with Angel Hair Pasta or Couscous.
  4. Lunch Items for Dinner

Dinner is the main meal where I plan on cooking. All other meals and snacks don’t need to be cooked, but it is good for the soul to have some hot meals every now and then. I also plan on having hot cocoa at night just to warm my spirits.

I plan on eating dinner around 4-6pm every night, depending again on when I reach a water source. My goal is to eat around water sources because it makes clean up and hydration easy. My goal for sleeping is to camp as far away from water sources and signs of animals as possible.

Last but certainly not least I plan on eating some 90% cacao chocolate before I go to bed to stoke the furnace and keep my metabolism high and just as a reward for the end of the day. And if I go to bed well fed then I can more easily get up and start hiking right away in the morning with just a little food.

This is the last of my topical posts for now. I leave in exactly one week from today so my next post will probably be titled “Final Preparations” and every post after that for the next month or so will be telling of my story and experience hiking the Colorado Trail.

This is part of the “Through Hiking the Colorado Trail” series…

The 10 Essentials of Backpacking

So we have covered all the big items and all the clothing you normally bring on a backpacking trip. Now it is time to cover the 10 essentials of backpacking and all the other little items that you might bring on a camping trip.

The 10 essentials are mainly described as survival items. For reference I will simply list the 10 essentials here as they are listed on Wikipedia.

1. Map
2. Compass (optionally supplemented with a GPS receiver)
3. Sunglasses and sunscreen (Sun protection)
4. Extra food
5. Extra water
6. Extra clothes
7. Headlamp / flashlight
8. First aid kit
9. Fire starter (matches, chemical heat tabs, canned heat, or a magnesium stick)
10. Knife (Cutting Edge)

To these you can add even more things like water purification, insect protection, repair kits, and signaling devices. Instead of describing how each thing works and what it is for I will try to keep it brief and try to just list all the odds and ends that I have in my pack.

So map and compass are pretty self explanatory. But learning how to use them takes time. You want a simple lightweight compass that allows you to do declination using your map. Most good backpacking maps are topographic maps and you should have a map that provides enough detail for where you are going. I will also be carrying the Colorado Trail Databook which lists all the way points and water sources on the trail.

As far as sun protection goes I already mentioned in my previous post that I prefer to just use clothing to cover most of my body and sunglasses for my eyes. I just don’t use sunscreen at all but it is a personal preference.

There is a reason you should have extra of everything. You never know when you are gonna be stuck outside for longer than you expected. Remember the rule of 3’s. 3 minutes without oxygen, 3 hours of weather exposure, 3 days without water and you could die. Extra water is more important than food and extra clothes is more important than water. Always have an extra layer for whatever weather you expect to encounter.

It is always good to have an alternate source of light, just in case you need to navigate in dark or find an item in the dark. I personally love LED lights that use those flat small lithium batteries. The best one of the market as of this writing is the Photon Freedom Micro LED. These things are small and inexpensive. You could buy 2 or 3 and have them in different places (pocket, backpack, around neck, etc.) If you feel the need to have a hands free model you can always use a headlamp as well. I will be carrying two small LED lights.

The subject of a first aid kit could have its own blog post, but I figured I would talk a little about it here. Whether you are buying or making a first aid kit it is good to think about how each thing in it will function. You need something to clean wounds (high pressure syringe, antibiotic wipes, ointment, etc.), something to cover the wound (dressings, etc.), and something to hold it on (bandages, gauze, athletic tape, duct tape, etc.). If you break something a splint can be made out of wood or other things found in the wild. You simply need a decent amount of tape or an article of clothing to stabilize the effected area. You should also have some moleskin for blisters.

Lastly you need good medicine. Ibuprofen for pain. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) for allergic reactions. Loperamide (Imodium) as an anti-diarrheal (Diarrhea causes too much dehydration while you are in the backcountry and must be controlled). Hydrocortisone cream for burns, cuts, bruises, etc. Depending on your trip you may want to take some stronger prescription strength medicine, but you obviously need to consult your doctor first. Lastly, lastly you should always gain training in first aid before you try to use some of this stuff.

Now to talk about fire starter. I am a big believer in having multiple ways to start a fire. Matches, lighter, flint, firesteel, magnesium, camp stove, etc. I would say that matches are the cheapest, easiest way to start a fire. Specifically you should invest in waterproof and/or strike anywhere matches. You can be in trouble if you have matches that only strike on the box and you don’t have the box or it is ruined from water or something else.

I am just now getting good at using steel and magnesium to start a fire. Magnesium shavings burn really hot and fast and will light practically any tinder very easily. All you need is steel grinding on steel to get the sparks you need to start a fire. Like most things, practice makes perfect.

I don’t plan on starting any fires right now because of the open fire ban, but in an emergency situation I have what I need to get a fire going to warm myself up and dry out my clothes.

And the last of the essentials is a cutting edge, otherwise known as a knife. A knife can do so many things for you. It can help you build a shelter, it can help you get together tinder and fuel for a fire, it can help you produce sparks to get a fire started, it can be used to help you prepare food, and it can be used in self defense. One of the best survival knives out there is the Swedish Mora Knife. Many people swear by it, and the one I bought only costs $15. You won’t find an equivalent knife for the price, weight, sharpness, and durability as this one. I also have a pocket knife with scissors among other things, a paraframe blade, and a SOG Seal Pup. I am not sure which combination I will take but I will definitely be taking more than one.

Here is a quick list of the last few odds and ends I have.

Mosquito net to keep the bugs away from me. Whistle for signaling help. Cotton balls covered in petroleum jelly for tinder. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap (A backpacking classic). Camp towel that is small and like a shammy. Extra 550 paracord. Some extra plastic wrap and aluminium foil for various random uses. And a camp trowel for burying human waste. Feel free to use rocks and sticks for that purpose but having a trowel is much easier and better in my opinion. Oh, and don’t forget toilet paper. 🙂

Now that we have talked about what comes out of the body (oh, and all the other essential things a backpacker needs), we will talk about what we put in the body to fuel it on these long journeys. Until next time…

This is part of the “Through Hiking the Colorado Trail” series…

Hiking the Colorado Trail – Clothing Considerations

In my last post I covered some of the bigger items that you need when backpacking. A backpack, sleeping bag, shelter, water filter, and stove. Today I figured I would cover clothes.

Clothing deserves its own article because there are a ton of things to consider when choosing the right clothing for the environment you are going to be in.

Clothing Rules for the Trail

1. Never wear cotton – The caveat to this rule is that you can wear it if you want to be cold. The problem with cotton is that once it is wet it loses all of its insulating ability and takes forever to dry. This can be inconvenient in warmer situations and deadly in colder situations.

2. Dress one layer warmer than you need – This is mostly a mental or subjective consideration, but you never know when the weather is going to drop 20 or 30 degrees within an hour or two. It can and does happen so always be prepared with an extra layer of clothing.

3. Long sleeves and pants for sunny weather – A lot of people rely on sunscreen to protect them from the sun, but clothes are 100 times better. If you have loose fitting clothes you shouldn’t be any hotter in them than shorts and a t-shirt.

4. Bring proper headgear – Whether it is hot or cold what you wear on your head is probably your main clothing consideration. You should have a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses, and a bandana to wear around your neck to protect you from the sun. If it is cold you should have a wool or fleece cap, sunglasses to protect you from snow blindness, and a balaclava or scarf to keep your neck warm.

5. Layer, layer, layer – In almost every instance wearing proper layers is better than wearing say a jacket that does it all. Layering is a lighter and more flexible solution than an “all-in-one” jacket. Layering also helps you control your temperature better.

These aren’t all the rules but they are a good start to help you think about what clothes you should plan on wearing. With that being said here is my list from the bottom up…

Shoes – Saucony Peregrine Trail Runners. Most hikers seem to be moving toward lighter trail running shoes as opposed to boots. If you feel the need for extra support you can get boots but make sure they are breathable. You may also want to think about using hiking poles. Also a lot of thru hikers talk about Inov-8 shoes. I haven’t tried them yet but I plan on trying a pair in the future.

Socks – Most hikers swear by sock liners for blister prevention and I have to agree with them. You should be able to buy cheap sock liners from any major store. I bought a 4 pack of sock liners for $5 from Kmart and I love them. Sock liners should be ankle length or not be seen when the shoe is on, and should be as thin as you can get. They can be 100% polyester or a blend. I wear wool socks over my sock liners.

I am convinced that wool socks are the best for any situation, and the colder it is the closer to the knee they should reach. I had wool socks on the other day in 40 degree weather where it was alternatively hailing, snowing, and raining, and where I was walking through snow and puddles. My socks were soaked by the end but my feet were still warm which goes to show you how well wool can still insulate even when wet.

Convertible pants – I prefer pants when hiking, but I know some people like shorts in warmer weather. Convertible pants solve this problem. I can take the bottoms off if I am hiking through an open area when it is warm. If it is cold, or if I am walking through some brush I prefer to have pants on to keep me warm and free from scratches, etc.

My pants also serve as a wind pant, and a rain pant. So far they seem to do a good job at both, and I will let you know if I regret not bringing rain pants. My current solution is to use my ground cloth as a rain skirt if I feel the need, but my pants have gotten wet before in cold weather and they still keep me dry.

Underwear/Shorts – As of right now I have a pair of lightweight running shorts that have a liner, and a pair of polyester underwear. The verdict is still out on which is better to wear under my pants, but I like having something decent I can wear while I wash my pants. I think I will take another warmer pair of shorts to sleep in as well. All of these are made our of polyester. As mentioned before stay away from cotton if any cold, wet weather is possible.

T-Shirt – At this point I am still thinking of whether I want a t-shirt as a base layer or not. The reason is that I can take a long sleeve shirt and roll up the sleeves to stay a little cooler. And it is nice to have long sleeves for sun protection and to stay warm. You can find out what I decide in future trail reports.

Long Sleeve Shirt – Currently I am thinking of taking two long sleeve shirts. One will be a polyester synthetic wicking shirt. The other will be a wool shirt. Both have about the same thickness and weight. Seems like the wool stays warmer when wet, but the polyester one dries way faster. Should have a final verdict by the end of the trail.

Jacket – My current preferred jacket is a simple grey fleece insulating layer. It keeps me warm even when wet, and dries very quickly. Again, I want to emphasize that this is a layer than isn’t trying to do too much.

Outer Shell – This might be a good time to say that there are three basic layers. Your base layer, and insulating layer, and an outer shell. An outer shell basically is what protects you from wind and rain. That is it. In my humble opinion, it shouldn’t be part of your insulating layer. I currently use a very lightweight nylon rain jacket made by Burton. It is made for snowboarding, but holds up well to all types of precipitation. Many jackets are made of polyester, but I feel that nylon is much more lightweight and durable, and packs down smaller.

Gloves – I am just not sure if I really want or need gloves for this trip. But I would probably want some wool or fleece gloves for all the same reasons listed above of why fleece and wool are great materials. When it comes to gloves you only really need them to stay warm and do tasks. If I just want to stay warm I can put an extra pair of socks on my hands. Obviously a sock isn’t great for completing a task like lighting a fire, but I think I prefer to go without gloves till I complete the task, then put the socks back on to stay warm. Those are my current thoughts but they may change.

Headwear– I put this all together because it should be thought about together. Your head is your most important body part to be protected. As I mentioned above, I have a wide brimmed hat for sun protections, a wool hat to keep warm, sunglasses to protect my eyes, and a balaclava to cover my nose, mouth, and neck. A balaclava is also known as a “buff” and can be found at most sporting goods stores. I also have a bandana, but I use it for all kinds of things, not just to put on my head or around my neck.

That about covers it. I know it seems like a lot, but it can all be boiled down to a few simple things. Choose the right materials. Choose the right layers. Make sure you can adequately cover every area of your body. With that in mind you should do just fine.

This is part of the “Thru Hiking the Colorado Trail” Series…

The Final Gear List (With Price and Potential Upgrades)

I think I finally have my gear in order for hiking the Colorado Trail. Here is a list of everything I have, what I used to have, what they cost, and what I may replace them with in the future.

Backpack

Used to have the REI Morningstar (5 pounds, $99 on sale), bought a GoLite Quest (3 pounds, $79 on sale), wish for a Gossamer Gear G4 (around 1 pound, $125 or make your own G4 with $40 kit).

Sleeping Bag

Used to have an old Slumber Jack 15 degree sleeping bag (weight?, $50) that treated me well. Also have a Northface 0 degree bag (probably up around 5 pounds, $99), and I barely use it cause it is too warm. Currently using a Ledge Featherlite 20 degree bag (3 pounds, $40). Wish for some type of 20-40 degree quilt, probably GoLite’s Ultralite 800 fill 1 or 3 season quilt. (1.2 – 1.5 pounds, $125-$150 on sale).

Quick Update: Just found what is perhaps one of the best makers of backpacking quilts out there. They are called Enlightened Equipment and specialize in quilts for backpacking. The quilt I am looking at starts at $165 (Revelation X) and can weigh under a pound! So for the extra money I might buy one of these instead. Especially if I am not ready to buy when GoLite still has a sale going on.

Shelter

Used to have an REI 2 person half or full dome tent (5-6 pounds, $200-$250). Switched to Etowah Gear 8×10 urethane coated nylon shelter (1.5 pounds, $45). Also bought a $10 “ground cloth” from Walmart, the Outdoor Products 5×7 nylon tarp. It weighs a half pound and can double as a rain jacket, bivy sack, etc. Wish for a cuben fibre (4-8 ounces, $250 plus) or silnylon tarp (13 ounces, $85 plus). If I had to buy a tent again I would probably buy Tarptent’s Double Rainbow which weighs 2.5 pounds and costs $275.

Pad

Still have a full length Insulmat (2 pounds, maybe $40?) which is equal to their current Adventurer SI. I just decided to switch to a Thermarest Ridgerest 3/4 length which is 9 ounces and cost $20. So far the reflective surface keeps me really warm.

Water Filter

Have always used a Katadyn Hiker (10 ounces, $70) and never plan on giving it up. The price for tablets don’t convince me to buy them for the weight savings. A filter can be used for up to 500 gallons and even at 2 gallons a day I will only filter about 60 gallons altogether on the Colorado Trail. The equivalent in tablets would cost at least $70 so the filter wins at cost savings hands down. For those only doing a few weekend hikes a year, you might want to think about just sticking with some chlorine dioxide tablets.

Quick Update: I just found out about this new filter called the Sawyer Squeeze. Basically it is a filter system that weighs under 3 ounces and can be put on your pop bottle to drink out of like a straw. Or you can just used the supplied pouches and the filter to squeeze water into your clean container. Costs $50 so if I was in the market right now I might buy the Sawyer Squeeze over the Katadyn Hiker.

Stove

Primus Alpine Micro which they don’t make anymore. Equivalent to their Express Stove Kit with Titanium Pot. $75 for the kit, stove weighs 3 ounces, titanium pot weighs just over 3 ounces. Fuel canister weighs 8 ounces for a total of around a pound. Yes, alcohol stoves are lighter, but if you are out for a week or more this stove begins to win out. In cold winter weather you should switch to a white gas stove.

Well that is about it for the major stuff. So with a $79 pack (3 pounds), $40 sleeping bag (3 pounds), $45 shelter (1.5 pounds plus a couple ounces and $10 for rope and stakes.), $10 for a ground cloth (8 ounces), $20 for a pad (9 ounces), $70 water filter (10 ounces), and $75 for a stove kit (about 8 ounces without fuel), that brings the total price to $350 and the weight up to about 10 pounds.

If someone was just getting into backpacking and wanted to go cheaper I would recommend that they buy the Outdoor Products Arrowhead Pack at Walmart for $30. At 2.2 pounds it is probably the lightest and cheapest pack, and most functional pack as far as size goes that you can get at that price. It is big enough to roll your sleeping pad (20 inch width) in and you can stuff your sleeping bag in the inside of your pad. I would use the same $40 sleeping bag, and buy a cheap blue 8×10 poly tarp ($5) and some rope ($5), and stakes ($5). I would also buy the $10 5×7 tarp for a ground cloth and the maybe buy plain blue foam padding for $10. You can buy some chlorine dioxide tablets for around $10, and use esbit tablets with a bought or custom made stove for $7. Or just eat food that doesn’t need a stove at all. So going the cheap way will get you started for about $120 or so.

I have a little over 3 weeks left before I leave for the trip and during the next 3 weeks I will dedicate a whole post to clothing, emergency items, and other miscellaneous items such as knives. Until then…

This is part of the “Thru Hiking the Colorado Trail” Series…