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Lessons From The Colorado Trail

As of June 19th 2013 I officially finished the Colorado Trail. I finished the last stretch from Molas Pass to Durango in three and a half days starting out around 1pm on Sunday June 16th.

I just read over my previous posts and it amazes me that no matter how many hours I put into researching what I needed for the trail, it always takes getting out there and hiking to learn the things that work best for you.

Lessons From The Trail:

1. One of the biggest lessons I learned is that wool socks are great in winter but awful in summer. My feet were way too hot and the hotter your feet are the more likely you will sweat and get blisters. My biggest life savers ended up being a pair of Darn Tough socks. They were made of wool too but have much tighter stitching, are thinner, and more durable. They fit more like a tight glove on your foot then any other sock and that is exactly what you need on the trail.

2. I didn’t necessarily follow my original food recommendations. I ended up eating granola for breakfast as I was hiking (although I still enjoyed pop tarts). I switched to my special trail mix that had peanut M&M’s mixed with the Archer Farms Sunny Cranberry Trail Mix you can buy from target. I’m still pretty fond of that trail mix. A Clif Bar and some type of fruit bar while hiking depending on my appetite. And Ramen noodles with Sun Dried Tomatoes and olive oil that I would carry in those little applesauce pouches you can buy for kids. I still followed my plan on eating dinner around 5pm or so then hiking a few more miles before camp. I usually finished by having some dark chocolate just before bed to help give me some energy in the morning (and as a treat for a good day of hiking) Be sure to take dark chocolate because milk chocolate melts too easily in your pack. Lastly, I may try to go without a stove on a few upcoming trips to see how it works for me.

3. I also learned a very important rule about water. For me, I could go about five miles on just one liter of water. If my next water source was 10 miles away I had to have two liters with me to start. I did two separate sections where the water supply was 20 miles apart therefore I carried a gallon of water (8 pounds of water). This is a rule you discover for yourself. A CDT (Continental Divide Trail) hiker told me he could get by on one liter of water for every 8 miles. Some people may need a liter of water for every 3 or 4 miles. It just depends on how much you are carrying, the terrain, how hot it is, etc. Also I think I may start using Aqua Mira tablets instead of a filter.

4. Always carry a smile. We need to be friendly on the trail. As I mentioned in my Final Thoughts post I had a lot of help from people giving me needed items to hitches into town. Being friendly helps a lot.

5. I just met a guy hiking the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) for his 4th time. He is really making me think about pushing the ultralight limits. I went the cheap way which isn’t really the light way of buying gear. I could use a smaller pack, a down sleeping bag, an even smaller pad, and possibly a smaller shelter system. I feel like I take too much unnecessary gear too. I dumped a lot of stuff after my first week of hiking. As of right now I’m thinking the two most mandatory second clothes items are a change of socks and a change of underwear. You can wash those almost every day and keep cycling them out. Yes, your pants and shirt may get dirty and smelly but you are hiking and don’t really need to worry about having a second set. That being said I feel like having a lightweight pair of running shorts is worth it in case you want to wash those pants. And you can always wear your jacket while you wash your shirt, etc. A guy I met on the trail did just that when he went to do his laundry in town. I also learned from him that soap is very polluting and is another thing that attracts animals so it isn’t really worth taking. Rinsing with water seems to do just fine.

6. I think I am having a hard time justifying carrying around my Nikon D40 with a 55-200mm lens. It does let me capture some great pictures, but the vast majority of pictures I take on the trail are landscape pictures. I mainly take the zoom to get wildlife pictures, but I am rarely fast enough to capture the wildlife I do see. On future trips I may just rely on my smartphone camera (My iphone 4 has done a pretty good job), or get a small pocket camera that is easy to carry and lightweight.

7. It’s about hiking. For me, I don’t do really well sitting in camp for a long time, even if it is in a great place. If I am going to be on a long trail, I am going to hike the majority of the day. If I am going to go sit in a place and camp I am going to backpack in a very different way. If I am just going to hike into a location and stay a night or two, and hike out again a lot of these things go out the window. If you are going to hike the miles you have to go as lightweight as possible. For me, going more miles means I get to see more and possibly do more. If I want to relax somewhere then I do a completely different trip. I think its just good to think about your reasons for doing a long hike in the first place. A lot of people go to just get away from it all, and I don’t think that is a good reason. You have to go cause you want that type of experience. Pushing your limits and really joining with natures rhythms and cycles. When you hike those long miles it is hard to think about anything else then where your next water is or where you are going to sleep tonight. You learn that if you work with nature, she will treat you well. If you don’t work with nature, if you try to do things your way, it won’t work out so well. It is an overall very humbling experience, and yet empowering at the same time if you let it be.

Below is a picture of what I got to wake up to one day on the trail. These kind of experiences make all the miles and pain worth it.

Waking up to Mule Deer on the Colorado Trail

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Colorado Trail – Final Thoughts and Photos

Well I had thought I could post more on my website during the Colorado Trail, but I spent little time in towns. And what precious time I had was spent getting food, calling loved ones, and figuring out logistics.

I posted a lot on Facebook and the pictures from my iPhone are posted there.

The pictures from my Nikon SLR turned out pretty good and I decided to make them available on Google Plus. You don’t have to be a Google Plus member to view them, but you do need to be if you want to comment on them at all.

My Colorado Trail Photos on Google Plus.

Here is one of my favorite photos…

Overall I would say that my trip has been a success, as far as fulfilling the reasons why I went.

I wanted to challenge myself in a unique way physically. I wanted to be in nature. I wanted to explore more of Colorado. I wanted to have a good time with friends and possibly meet some new ones. I wanted some alone time to think. All of these things were fulfilled.

I like to think that the Colorado Trail was everything I thought it would be and nothing that I thought it would be.

It was a true adventure.

For those wondering, I didn’t quite finish the whole trail. I skipped Segment 12 because of downed trees. And I didn’t finish the last 74 miles from Molas Pass to Durango because my friend hurt his knee. I couldn’t push him to do the mileage in the time we had, and I certainly didn’t want to finish alone.

The point where I decided not to finish the trail this year was an emotional one. I hate to admit it but I cried at this point. I am not entirely sure why. Perhaps it was because this was the second time a friend of mine injured himself on my trip and I felt guilty. Perhaps it was because I didn’t want to be alone. Perhaps it was because I saw my goal of finishing the trail this year fade into nothing.

Perhaps it was everything and more. Either way I learned a few things through this experience and that might be the main reason I went on this journey. To learn more about myself and the world around me.

I learned that I need people more than I ever realized. I have always considered myself a pretty independent person, and I truly am. But just because I am independent doesn’t mean I don’t need people.

My faith in the goodness of people was also renewed on this trip. It seemed like every time I needed help someone was there right away. To give me camphor oil (for my shin splint), a mechanical pencil (cause I lost my pen to journal with), and a ride to town (cause every hiker needs a burger and a beer).

Lastly, I think this trip just helped me to dream a bit bigger… To travel a little more… And to truly enjoy everything that life has to offer…

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Hiking the Colorado Trail – Final Preperations

Today is the big day. I am having a big breakfast at the Bagel Deli and then I will be on my way.

Most of my final preparations have revolved around food. I decided to replace my oatmeal with granola. I just wanted to be able to hit the trail early and not have to worry about cooking oatmeal in the morning. I know a lot of people would prefer a hot breakfast in the morning, but I think I would rather have less mess and no clean up.

I also bought about three times as much dark chocolate as I originally had. Ounce for ounce it has more calories and tastes better than just about any food out there.

My final pack weight with my first week’s worth of food is 29 pounds. I am pretty happy with that weight. I have about 12 pounds of food so that makes my base pack weight around 17 pounds. My projected pack weight for this trip has always hovered between 16 and 19 pounds, as I mentioned in earlier posts, so I am pretty ok with how it turned out.

On weekend trips I know I can easily get my pack weight down to around 12 pounds with only about 4-5 pounds of food.

Basically I took out an extra shirt, a camp towel, and camp trowel. I added a stainless steel wood stove and my new knife. Seems like when you take something out something else replaces the lost weight. Going lightweight is kind of hard after a certain point.

In any case, I am very excited to start this journey. I have never done anything like it and that is part of the appeal. The other part of the appeal is the self sufficiency in it all. I have always loved the idea that everything I need is on my back. It is a lovely simplicity.

I am looking forward to the alone time, but I am also looking forward to spending time with two of my good friends in the great outdoors. I have considered taking my Kindle to do some reading while I am out there, but I think I am leaving it behind. To focus on my own thoughts instead of other people’s thoughts. To have my entertainment come from the natural world rather than the digital.

Seems best to end this post with a few quotes…

“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.” -Steven Wright

“But the beauty is in the walking — we are betrayed by destinations.” -Gwyn Thomas

“If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.” -Charles Dickens

“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.” -Ellen DeGeneres

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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.


  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.


  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.


  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…

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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…

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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…

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