Day Hiker to Backpacker

7:56 p.m. on January 22, 2013 (EST)
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Hi, I'm new to the site and new to backpacking. I really enjoy day-hiking, but I'd like to make the transition into backpacking. I have been reading and gearing-up (literally) and I just stumbled on this site. So, I thought I'd reach out for advice.

I've been gathering gear...pack, tent, sleeping bag, pad, etc. I've been reading reviews online and gradually acquiring. The additional reviews on this site are helpful.

The main thing for me is having the confidence to go out and do this on my own. I do hike alone, but usually wrap it up by nightfall. I don't know anyone who backpacks, nor anyone who is interested in trying it with me. So, realistically I know that if I want to do this, I might be doing it solo. Of course I've read this is generally not a good idea, but I've also read how much people enjoy the solitude of going solo. 

I've been looking into some local guided backpacking trips (I live about an hour from Yosemite) so I can be with someone who can show me the ins and outs my first time out. Although that route is a bit pricey. 

I'm also curious about safety since I might be alone. Things like whether or not I should hang food - since I've read that bears in Yosemite have figured out that trick, or if I should carry a bear container, and if I do, where do I put it when I sleep? The list goes on, I have a lot of questions. I stumbled on this site when searching for whether I should carry deodorant :) and found a quite long thread of suggestions on bathing. Very helpful. I was glad to read I'm not the only one with questions about something seemingly so obvious or mundane. I will continue to read the other topics and perhaps that will help.

So, any advice on how to get started and have the confidence to go out there as a solo woman would be great.


9:46 p.m. on January 22, 2013 (EST)
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The best way to get started is to simply get comfortable with your gear/equipment. Just camp in your back yard or car camping somewhere with just your backpacking gear for a few nights . Test everything and learn how it works. Try out your gear at home or car camping in the same temps etc you would expect on a trip.

then head out somewhere where you are only a mile or 3 from your car for the first night in case you need to bail.

After you are comfortable with your gear it's just walking, if you day hike already you should be familiar with following trail blazes etc. You should have a map and compass though and at least know the basics(lots of good articles online and videos for this)

The other major obstacle is food, but in the short term you can use mountain house etc, but it is also fairly eat to put together your own meals.

Local REI stores etc usually have clinics and classes also for free or a small charge. There are also probably local hiking clubs you could go with. The hardest part about going solo is just being confident in yourself(hence the testing everything at home or car camping first). There isn't really reason for it to be unsafe for you, people like to blow that way out of proportion in my opinion. However, there are things you need to know to make it a safe enjoyable outing. Those are how to get shelter, water, and food. Practice putting up and taking down your tent dozens of times in the dark, rain etc. Practice using whatever your water treatment method is. And practice using your stove to make meals.

Almost forgot about bears. I am the oddball out here, I sleep with my food. I do not recommend that though. You need a bearbag, and some areas may require a bear canister. You can look up the PCT method of hanging a bear bag online. You can rent bear canisters in Yosemite I believe, or you can buy them at many outfitters. Beat canister should be kept 100yarda or so from camp. All smellables need to e either hung or in a canister, this includes food, lip balm, toiletries, lotion, toothpaste etc.

I hope that helps you some, and by all means ask as many questions as you want.

And welcome to Trailspace!

10:59 p.m. on January 22, 2013 (EST)
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Thanks for the reply. You've confirmed I'm on the right track at least! I'm going to a class next week at REI. I ordered my tent last week and once it arrives I had planned to test it out in the back yard, even though I thought people might think I'm a bit nutty. The weather is still a bit cold overnight, but that's an even better test to make sure I am warm with my gear. I've been loading my pack with weight and walking nearby on relatively easy non-paved road to get used to hiking with the weight. Some of the trails in Yosemite are challenging even without the weight, so I want to get used to it.

I'm with you on it seems to get blown out of proportion. when I find myself getting all worried about the details, I have to remind myself I'm simply talking about sleeping in nature under the stars. People have done this for thousands of years!  Last I read, no one has been killed by a bear in Yosemite, so it's unlikely I'll be the first. That being said, the last thing I want is to wake up to a bear next to me trying to get my food, so I plan to be cautious.

Thanks for the info, you have given me a vote of confidence to keep moving forward! 

11:01 p.m. on January 22, 2013 (EST)
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BTW, love your dog in the pic! I had a Siberian Husky growing up, beautiful dogs!

11:18 p.m. on January 22, 2013 (EST)
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Yep, just read on Yosemite's website that "Hanging food is illegal throughout Yosemite." and that they have a list of approved bear containers. I just keep learning :)

11:39 p.m. on January 22, 2013 (EST)
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Welcome to Trailspace, Iggies! 

TheRambler has given some great advice, and as you've started to find, there is a wealth of info to be mined from past threads on here. I joined a couple years ago, but spent several months voraciously reading through the forums before becoming a member. 

I also think there isn't great deal of danger for women to trekking solo. Of course anyone backpacking alone needs to have complete confidence and familiarity with your gear and outdoor skills :) 

A lot of areas out west require a bear canister, and you'll need to check each area's regulations for food, campsites, fires, etc. 

I am sure you can find some hiking clubs in your region, and think that would be a great way to find some people from whom you can learn the ropes. Going on some group hikes will give the opportunity to find out who you get along with well, and if you "click" with some of them you can try hitting the trail with them more. 

Oh, and don't feel weird for setting up and sleeping in your tent in the yard, your neighbors will likely think it would be fun, even if they won't admit it, Ha! And if they think it's weird, it's because they're boring ;)

12:24 a.m. on January 23, 2013 (EST)
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Thanks again for the encouragement that I'm not crazy for considering doing this solo. My friends and family think I'm nuts, so it's great to hear from people that this is in fact a safe, sane thing to do! I just have to absorb all of the knowledge I can, and as you both have said get familiar with my gear.

I am a member of the local hiking clubs. Haven't found anyone I click with yet to head out with, and it's mostly day hiking. But I'll keep going and I'm sure I'll find someone.

2:23 a.m. on January 23, 2013 (EST)
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Iggies, since you indeed will need a bear canister, it is a very good idea to see if a canister will fit in your pack. Some packs are "anti canister" haha, seriously though go to an REI etc with your pack and actually put every canister they have in your pack.

If it doesn't fit then you need to return your pack and come up with a new game plan. Not only does the canister need to fit, but you still need to have ample room for all of your other gear as well.


Your not crazy, well that or maybe all of us are. Probably the later =P

6:03 a.m. on January 23, 2013 (EST)
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That's Juno in my avatar pic. She is my faithful trail companion and goes with me all the time.

Speaking of dogs; if you have any reservations about backpacking alone, purely from the being alone perspective, a dog can provide that little bit of comfort to put you at ease. And as a bonus they provide security from 2 leg and 4 leg creatures. One of the best benefits besides companionship she provides is she keeps the mice etc away.

Juno's trail name is "The Mouse Slayer", I often wake to a pile of dead mice in my vicinity that would have probably otherwise got into my gear. On several occasions she has chased raccoons or possums out of shelters/camp as well. It's quite startling to be awoken at like 2am by the "screaming" (she is one of the huskies that doesnt bark)Juno lets out when chasing such a critter though lol.

6:37 a.m. on January 23, 2013 (EST)
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Ah, but dogs are not allowed on trails in national parks and many wilderness areas, and that can be pretty limiting in the western US. We took our dog with us during our 6 month stay in CA in 2011, had to rule out a lot of stuff we would otherwise like to do, and sometimes arranged for a dog sitter and left him behind, which is kind of sad.

9:06 a.m. on January 23, 2013 (EST)
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Yes, that's true. Dogs are not allows on trails in Yosemite which is where I go a lot. Besides the dogs I have now are not very well suited to trail life - Italian Greyhounds, hence the name iggies. I love them dearly, but they are a bit fragile on trails, however then can run like the wind and it's a sight to see.

9:56 a.m. on January 23, 2013 (EST)
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We had a retired racetrack greyhound in the family for a while. Not too smart, but impressive to see him run on the beach!

10:40 a.m. on January 23, 2013 (EST)
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A couple more note of trekking alone. I hiked the Teton Crest Trails solo, and often do here in the eastern mountains. The general reaction from non-backpacking friends is "you're crazy" or "isn't that dangerous?" and "weren't you scared to be alone?"  Of course, for them and their level of experience, knowledge, and ability, yes is would be dangerous.  But driving a car for someone who hasn't learned to yet is dangerous, or flying a plane, or scuba diving, etc.

It is imperative to know your level of ability, as well as your limits. It would have been very foolish for me to have hiked the TCT solo or the Appalachians in winter when I was first getting back into backpacking after college. I simply wouldn't have been prepared on many levels. But after several years of getting out on progressively more challenging trips, and actively expanding my knowledge and preparedness, such technical trips are well within my ability. 

All that to say, take your time working up to big treks and  enjoy those simpler trips and all the paths in the process. Some of my favorite trips and spots are pretty easy with short mileage, but they are fantastic none the less. 

11:20 a.m. on January 23, 2013 (EST)
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Two things:

First, make a list of your gear and post it. There are a lot of people on here with a lot of experience and knowing what gear you have will help them give good advice.

Second, I took a quick look and the Henry W. Coe  state park sounds pretty good. It's about the same distance according to Google map from you as Yosemite valley. The site says "Coe Park is a backpacker's dream come true.  You could easily plan a week-long trip, hiking 10 miles a day and camping at a different site every night.  The park has space for over 60 backpacking parties, with a maximum of eight people per party.  Sites range from less than a mile to over 20 miles from park headquarters."  Sounds ideal for testing your equipment.

1:37 p.m. on January 23, 2013 (EST)
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Hi, thanks for the info. Henry W. Coe state park would be about a 3 hour drive for me, even though it may look to be the same distance on Google Maps. Might be worth a trip to do some testing though. As gonzan states, I need to start small and gradually increase the length and difficulty of my trips.

Here's the basics on the gear:

Pack: Osprey Aura 65
Tent: Mountain Hardwear SuperMega UL2
Bag: Mountain Hardwear Phantom 15
Pad: Thermarest Neolite Xair
Stove: JetBoil Flash
Filter: Platypus GravityWorks
Considering the BearVault BV450

I'm pretty well set on all the other misc gear such as boots, insulating layers, trekking poles, head lamp, water reservoirs, etc, etc. from day hiking.

1:46 p.m. on January 23, 2013 (EST)
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Please heed my advice on bear canisters before you buy one. Take your pack to a store that carries them and make sure it fits in your pack, or make sure you can return the canister without any issues. Also make sure that the bearvault is acceptable in your area. In my area they are still banned i believe. Some black bears learned how to open the bearvaults.

Otherwise it looks like you have a pretty decent setup thus far.

1:57 p.m. on January 23, 2013 (EST)
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Thanks, I do plan to check the pack with the bear canister. The BearVault was on the approved list for this area. Interesting though that they may have learned to open them. Smart critters.

BTW, I've read all kinds of advice on how to pack the bear canister. Some people saying to attach them with straps, others in the top, others in the main, others with the sleeping bag, on and on....what do you usually do, or recommend?

2:50 p.m. on January 23, 2013 (EST)
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Welcome to the site, iggies! Yosemite is a great place to start. You will find areas in the upper valley, much less crowded, especially the area near Cathedral Peak, or the Sawtooths. Bears have been a problem in Yosemite for many years, so much so that in the 1980's many bears had stopped hibernating because they had ready food supplies in the winter. Today it is much different, but bears and other critters are still a problem. Don't sleep with any food!

Today in many parks, canisters are required.

Know your gear. You don't have to be an expert with your gear, but be comfortable setting it up. Know that you will always be learning and refining. Since you have already done a lot of day hikes, you will no doubt have the 10 essentials. Add food, a stove, sleeping bag, tent and pad, and you are there.

Additional things to be aware of; take enough fuel for your stove, alternative fire starters, extra clothes, water purification system, an expanded med kit, and a repair kit. The latter can be purchased commercially, or you can put one together. Safety pins, duct tape(just a few feet), needle and thread.

3:33 p.m. on January 23, 2013 (EST)
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I have a Berikade Expedition it is pricy but it has gotten a lot of use (not all my own).  A bit overkill for you now since you will probably not be going on more than 3 day trips that soon.  It fits in either my or my wife's pack and doubles for stuffing other things in there when not full of food - or as it empties. I take the Berikade everywhere - it is just part of the kit now, bears or no bears, Rockies, Cascades, or desert.  Foot stool, camp chair, bathing basin, stuff stuffer.


The Garcia is good for a single person for several days, but is heavier per  cubic inch of storage and does not efficiently lend it self to good packing (restricted opening). You can rent them from where you pick up your wilderness permits (check to make sure).

I use this for my maps and planning: Price is right...,-118.51210&z=14&t=T

20F down bag in the bottom with rolled/strapped pad (3/4 size Therma-Rest). Bear can in top section centered.  Tent on one side of it with poles, clothes on other in stuff sack.  Cook kit (Lexan cup (with cup measure etched on inside), spoon, Pocket Rocket or MSR wet fuel and .8 liter pot (with stove/cup inside) and lid, two small BICs) some place with a down vest stuffed where it can go.  Nothing on the outside to throw the balance off.

REI and your local (or area) Sierra Club have an assortment of trips planned through the year.  Pick the kind of trip you want to join up with.  Also there are hiking/backpacking connections on the internet such as

In the Sierra you will seldom be 'alone'.  You will get the drift of that when you apply for a wilderness permit. Especially on the weekends you will be passed by and pass several hikers an hour.  And you can meet friendly fellow trail hikers at established (has large bear boxes for food storage) camping areas. 

But hiking alone, is, well, alone. Part of the fun being out there is to share the experience.  Most small groups of 2-3 usually are happy to have along a person who has most of their gear, has some level of fitness and is willing to learn and get involved.  If answering an ad on line, it is best to meet up with them in a neutral environment - restaurant for hamburgers, day hike or just some means to see if you too have any personality clashes.  You will be spending a lot of time together under less than desirable (rain/cold/snow/dark/lost) and at times stressful (at least physical) adventures.

By mid June in the Sierra, there will still be snow cover above 11,000'.  This means that there will be no 'trails', the passes will be an adventure, and some creek crossings might end up with a cold unexpected bath.

Sierra snow trips are a lot of fun starting around March.  At even relatively lower altitudes, you will have around 4' of very dense snow (Sierra Concrete) to walk on, there will be low risk of avalanche and you will enjoy a scene that few have been treated to.  The temps will seldom drop to far below 20F at night and get up to the 70's - at times. From the west you have trail heads that start lower, the crowds have been scared away and you have no problems with spending the night with water.   A personal varmint canister is still required as the bears in the Sierra don't hibernate so long as there is food available.  The most damage I have had over the years has been from small rodents. Never a problem with bears - except for the routine precautions.

For backpacking you need to plan on mosquitoes (DEET used sparingly and often).  A hooded jacket (Precip or better) over 200 (equivalent) fleece will do you for cool evenings and mornings and with thick socks will keep the skeeters at bay while eating or getting ready to go. The jacket and fleece provide for a lot of your 'layering' options too.   There are insect nets that go over a brimmed hat (needed for sun at altitude) and weigh an ounce.  With hi value UV protection, sun glasses and UV lip protection you are good to go for much of the Sierra.

Pick up a copy of Mountaineering:Freedom of the Hills.  It is the guide to Backpacking 101 and is a good read anytime.  Just pick a chapter you are interested in.

Are a few links (There are MANY) that 'specialize' in the Sierra or at least have a forum that answers questions for and provides a way to link up with others of the same intentions.

Unfortunately the Eastern Sierra is a long drive for you.  It is a different Sierra experience than is the western approach (e.g., Yosemite Valley, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Mineral King) and the longer trails to get to the spectacular views of high altitude mountains.  The eastern side generally have trails starting near 10,000' so a lot of the effort to get up high has been taken over by your car.   Instead of 15+ miles to a 11,000 pass it is about 8 miles.  The way the Sierra were formed was an up lift of a large plate sloping down to the west and the eastern side 'broken' off forming a very steep 'back bone' - the High Sierra and most of the 14,000+' mountains in California.

Once you get a backpacking 'buddy' you can share some weight such as a tent and cooking gear.  Usually even though you might be going with a group, most expect you to be 'solo' with your own tent, kit and food.  Unless agreed to and planned for ahead of time.

Except for boots you might be able to test out packs and tents as a rental especially if you are near a REI.  Also with planned groups you can have a show and tell about gear and get to see a few of the MANY options for everything.

Happy to have you join us when we are out there if times and places match up.

6:10 p.m. on January 23, 2013 (EST)
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When checking out that new tent, make sure you have the sprinklers turned on for a while and the tent buttoned up...that is if it has been seam sealed.  Crawl in with a light and a sponge.   Dogs not allowed.  They will ruin the floor with their large nails.  No boots (or crampons -duh!) allowed either.  Take them off and on outside - in the rain if it happens.

If you belong to a gym, you can get a LOT more bang for your backpacking time doing specific exercises for carrying a heavy pack.  Carrying a heavy pack does open you to a risk of injury.  A gym can do those needed muscle building faster and more efficiently. Then when you are on the trail most of the assorted things are ready for it.

BUT!  If you are going to do it anyway, 20 pound bag of kitty litter (really, really cheap stuff) is good stuck in about mid pack and close to your back.  You should be able to cinch it in with your take-up straps to snug it in.  If you get another bag of the litter, you can re-bag it in 1 gallon ZipLock bags doubled up and handled carefully.  Each bag is about 5 pounds.  Soon as you get feeling good with a daily grind of a pack (about two weeks or so), put another bag at the top.  You want the weight up and close to your body.  You can be ingenious with how to do that.  If going up hill, take bottled water on the way up and dump it on some deserving plant before you leave the top.  That will save a bit of wear and tear on your knees too soon in the game.

Stairs are good places to play also.  The best way down (when doing multiple reps up and down) is to take it 3 or more steps very s  l  o  w l  y with a firm two handed grip on the rails. The slower the better.  Don't do this with a heavy pack.

Work on mastering the step/breath approach to going up hill - especially in high altitude.  Breath in on one foot plant, exhale on the other.  If you need more air, take shorter steps - not breaks - to catch your breath.  You want to maintain a constant - generally uncomfortable pace for a very long time (eternity it seems at times).  Keep the heart pumping about the same rate and take smaller steps to keep it that way.

If you have a gym, do your running there on a Precor.  Jogging on the streets is not good for anything below your belly button.  Better to run in grass even if it is only a few hundred yards long.   You would like to be fit enough to jog for 30 minutes while talking with a running partner.  Sometime before you hit the trail you do want a lot of abuse of your lower legs and feet hitting ground - at a jog, however.  It takes time for the tendons and bones to react and repair for the stress of 6+hr days carrying your house.

Make sure than any squats or leg lifts or similar are done without your knee going beyond your toe (vertical line).

6:48 p.m. on January 23, 2013 (EST)
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Thanks for the workout tips. As far as strength training, that's actually one area I'm not overly worried about. I've been working out with a trainer for over 10 years now. Squats, lunges, leg extension, step ups, you name it are daily on the agenda. I'm in pretty decent shape so I think I'll be ok. Totally agree about running on streets...I did that a long time ago and it was horrible on my knees. Those days are over!

However, getting out in the real world and balancing the pack on uneven rocky trails and switchbacks can be a different experience. That's why I just want to get used to balancing the weight on some easy trails and such.

4:01 p.m. on January 30, 2013 (EST)
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take your full pack dayhiking. pitch your tent in your backyard, several times. test your tents waterproofness with a sprinkler. practice staking it out to get a taught pitch, which will be essential to shed wind and rain. and experiment with your stove and food. post your equipment list on here to get some feedback about your choices. lots of good advice\experienced hikers on here. good idea to go with groups for your first few times out. rei\sierra club both have classes and trips. above all, do your research and ask questions. get out there! have fun. 

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