First Backpacking Trip- Need Advice!!

9:20 p.m. on April 30, 2011 (EDT)
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Hey All! I'm really happy I found this site, I've been looking online for the past few days for advice for beginners and this place seems perfect! I'm a complete newbie when it comes to backpacking but it's something I've always wanted to get into, and I have a lot of free time this summer so I'm dead set on actually making it happen. I need some advice on whether or not I'm setting my sights a little too high for my experience level for a first real trip.

Some background info as I'm new here: 27 year old female from southern Ontario, I'm an avid day hiker, not too much camping experience though. I'm planning on driving out to Banff this summer with my boyfriend who is an avid outdoorsman/fisherman and has a lot more camping experience than I do. We plan on camping on the way out there, and have been planning on doing the 6-7 day sawback trail once there. Between us we have a decent amount of gear to start off with, most of it borrowed. I'm so excited about jumping into this but at the same time I'd like to remain a realist and I guess that's where you guys come in. Is a 7 day journey through the rocky mountains for a first backpacking trip unrealistic? How did you guys start off? Do you just jump in and learn on the fly? Am I just worrying too much? We are both in excellent shape, and we're going to be doing some weekend camping trips and long day hikes to work up to this, but I'm pretty obsessed with preparation and I guess I'd just like to hear some feedback from some experienced backpackers, as among my friends I'm kind of an anomaly for even being interested in this.

Sorry for the long post and thanks in advance for any help!!

9:45 p.m. on April 30, 2011 (EDT)
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This sounds like an awesome plan! Some things that come to my mind..

1. Is this bear country? I'm going to assume so,, northern part of rockies. If this is the case you want to study up on food storage, bear containers, etc.

2. There are several great excel spreadsheets floating around online with lists of all the gear you may need or want. It's a good idea to inventory what you have, and compare it to other possible items. With 6-7 days you'll be carrying a fairly heavy load,, so you can minimize this by comparing needs/wants and possibly upgrade heavier items to lighter weight items.

3. Make sure you've had some experience with the map and compass. A lot of trails seemed well marked these days (this may be the case of where you are going), but it's a good idea to be well prepared and studied up on where you are going, in case you happen to get lost. It's happened to me before!

Overall, you made a good choice posting here. A lot of great advice by experienced backpackers will soon follow! I wouldn't worry too much,, the anticipation is half the fun!

9:46 p.m. on April 30, 2011 (EDT)
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Welcome to Trailspace Samson

I've just recently got back into backpacking myself. Tho I have been enjoying various outdoor activities for years. Glad to hear your wanting to try pack'n. It can be alot of fun. Im sure you'll be hearing from some of the good folks here that are loaded with knowledge and experience. I know they've sure helped me a ton! I guess I'll start with pointing ya to "The Ten Essentials". Check out this link.


Feel free to ask any quetions you might have. The only dumb question is the one that was never asked.

10:08 p.m. on April 30, 2011 (EDT)
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I would highly advise getting all of your gear together and doing at least a couple warm-up trips before you. Just a weekend getaway type thing, even if it's only an overnighter. Since it sounds like you are already in good shape you wouldn't have to actually hike very far but at least get out there and get your feet wet. Putting at least 5-6 miles in would be good.

11:54 p.m. on April 30, 2011 (EDT)
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Good boots (that trail has some water and mud on it) for rough trails with rocks. Make sure that you get fitted by a person who has been through a training program that gives a certification.  The process they should put you through is a thorough understanding of your skills and your hiking goals in the next couple of years. They should measure your feet sitting and standing and standing on one leg moving to keep your balance.  They should inspect your previous boots/shoes and spend some time looking at your feet for unusual bumps and skin thickings.  Once you get a boot (HEAPS of toe room), you should wear it around the store for 20-30 mins.  The fitter should be able to push at different places and ask it if is tight or has some pressure.  They should be able to trade out a different kind of boot that will fit better and should have a boot anvil (looks like a large S made of steel solidly connected to floor) that they can work on places that the fitter has marked that she knows where to move the leather a round a bit. You can get generally two kinds of boots/shoes.  Fabric and leather.  I like fabric if my feet are going to be wet.  They dry faster.  Unfortunately they will be more apt to give you feet problems after a lot of use (years).  Leather comes with a shank that can be full (for clip on crampons) and 1/2 or 1/4 shank for more trail work and strap on crampons.  I have always preferred heavier boots for long days on rough trails with a heavy pack.   Others don't - you should find out in the next few years which you like best.  I am not sure that the waterproof breathable fabric liners are worth it considering what they do.

Good pack that fits you well and will carry 20% of your body weight comfortably.  The packs made in the last 10 years are far superior to those the decades before.  If you are going to spend money on a piece of gear this is where you start.  You should rent or borrow or spend a lot of time looking at others on the trail are using before you get one you are going to end up with.  I like internal frame because of the general feel.  I grew up with external as a kid and carried awesomely stupidly heavy loads.  I like my internal.  Sooo many to choose from and depends on what fits you and your style.  But in most cases, so long as it fits (the store should measure from the knot you feel on your spine just above your shoulders down to a line between your upper hip bones (iliac crest). A woman's fit is different from a man's.  They should be able to explain the difference.  I like a couple of external pockets to put small stuff in that I need all the time

Get the best 20F sleeping bag and pad that you can afford.  I prefer down for lots of reasons.  Rent/borrow a couple of different kinds to see if you like one over another before you invest.  I really do like my 20F- down quilt - for summer.

The simple propane canister stove would probably do you for a week.  Any longer than that and the weight of fuel and the kinds of food I like sends me to my MSR Dragonfly.  I used an old brass SVEA stove for years.  I still roar it up just for old time sake.  It works like brand new.

Pots and pans don't have to be titanium unless you have some really well heeled friends that accept dropped hints.  But the size you need is on the order of:

About a liter, and aluminum is about half the price and works better.  I put two plastic stackable cups, Snow Peak stove, fuel can, two small BIC lighters, a Lexan Spoon (spare in bottom of bag some where) and pot grabber inside the pot and I'm ready to go.  If you plan on cooking, a small light weight fry pan has lots of uses if it is deep enough. Most of our meals are based on water and are dense (pasta, rice, pita bread, peanut butter, etc).  You will be exerting around 400-600 Kcal and hour up hill with a pack. You have to figure out how you will be replacing that with many small meals a day and a few bigger ones to take up the slack.  Probably won't do it with freeze dried.  Check the package and calories per serving.  If you pack any food, repackage it into zip locks and crush it flat. Don't forget the instructions AND what it is.

You can use some of the things from your backpack for car camping.  One thing you might find handy is a 12x12 foot light weight tarp with a grommet in the center to hold a trek pole tip set up on a picnic table.  Grommets on edge let you guy it out so you will have shade and rain protection. We made a denim roll-up with pockets for kitchen ware and eating utensils.  Loved our Coleman 2 burner stove.

A large collapsing plastic water container makes a lot of sense.  You can hang it from a tree and one trip might do you for dinner and breakfast and wash ups.

I won't go into tents.  That is an art unto itself. Tarp tents are nice and the more expensive and heavier ones are even nicer.  I like my very expensive Stephenson Warmlite tent.  It has paid for itself many times over in trail sweat.  If you have lots of bugs, a tent makes more sense than laying in the open on a ground cloth (I do that a lot anyway) or huddled under a tarp.

Plan on mosquitoes in the Rockies.  DEET works.  Just don't put it on like sun lotion.  Just a drop warmed up in rubbed hands and wiped off on clothing and exposed skin works for a couple of hours.  About all you normally need, in the evening and early morning when they are active.  But you should have a hooded jacket (I like my $30 Precip), a 200 fleece long sleeve to go under it and to slip on when you stop for a breather on the trail.  Don't forget the uv lip balm, high SPF UV screen, hat, and sunglasses.

Trek poles are not rocket science and neither should you pay astronomical prices. My selection was based on weight, size collapsed, price.  I like Komperdells at $50/pair  Just keep them clean and maintained and the twist lock will probably be all you need.   I like cork handles with no kant, springless.  That little strap is what makes the difference between a hiking stick and a trek pole.  Learn to use them the right way and you will be well rewarded. Check out

Planning on spending a couple of nights in your back yard to make sure everything works the way you expect.  Then, as somebody suggested, take it for a spin locally.

Get these books and skim though both in an evening while putting sticky notes on the parts you want to read in depth.

Mountaineering:  Freedom of the Hills

The Mountaineering Handbook, Craig Connally  ISBN 0-07-143010-5

It is a good companion to Mountaineering:  Freedom of the Hills. Connally puts a good, reasonable approach to getting ready for and doing any kind of hike.

You will save more than the price of the book just on gear, clothing and time it takes to get ready for a hike.

Have fun out there.  That is what it is put there for.

2:33 a.m. on May 1, 2011 (EDT)
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Welcome Sampson. Hopefully your boyfriend will join soon as well. In addition to Speakock's wisdom, which is imparted in possibly the longest single post I've ever seen here, I suggest that you and your man invest in Merino wool baselayer clothing (tees and underwear). Merino is unrivaled in its ability to regulate your temps and keep you comfortable, and it keeps odors at bay like nothing else on earth. The less changes of clothes you have to take, the more there is room for other items and weight reduction. Merino socks are a must in my opinion.

A great water filtration system is a must. I use a Steripen, but many shy away from electromechanical options. Sawyer makes some great models that you can even get at WallyWorld (Walmart) for less than $45. Make sure to take Purel or similar, or anti-bacterial hand-wipes. You will definitely use them.

Most of all, enjoy your adventure! Thanks for being part of this community.

11:54 a.m. on May 1, 2011 (EDT)
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I'm totally blown away by the quality of your responses thanks so much for the replies!! Speacock thanks the advice on boots, packs and books, and Xterro I'm going to check out what kind of water filtration systems our walmart has. Aside from weekend trips I'm definitley going to be spending a few days doing a run through out in the bush at my parents farm.

I'm sure glad I found this site you guys sure know your stuff!

1:56 p.m. on May 1, 2011 (EDT)
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Another great book that is recommended quite often is "The Complete Walker IV" by Colin Fletcher.

...also available in paperback version.

...Good socks with liners come to thought. Blisters/hotspots can wreck a good time so better safe than sorry. :)

Also waterproof gaiters may be a wise thing to carry. Regardless of how waterproof your boots are they are only waterproof to where the gusset on the tongue ends. If the water is a lil deeper you will find out quick. Gaiters can help tremendously for this not to mention aid in keeping trail debris out of your footwear.

Sampson, welcome to Trailspace.

4:13 p.m. on May 1, 2011 (EDT)
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Sorry, didn't mean to add the p in there. Tried to fire this out quick and Im a lil under the weather.

6:08 p.m. on May 1, 2011 (EDT)
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Very sensible Samson to borrow gear until you have a hint of what suits you. But there is one item that you should not borrow, the shoes! These are the most essential part of the equipment. Just find the best shoes and look away when you pay for them :) Speacock had a long description of how to try them. I'll just say this. The stonier the terrain and the heavier the pack, then the stiffer the shoes. Jogging shoes may be ok on soft ground and with a light pack, but not when its the opposite.

If you have not bought a sleeping bag yet, it will be easier to borrow one if you just buy a liner to have inside the bag. Then the sweat from your body will just go into the liner. Useful to have even if you aleardy have a bag, reduces the need to wash the bag and improves the temperature also. Before buying a bag dont let the salesman convince you of how warm the US bag is. Demand to see the EN13537 test of the bag ( That will convince him you are not a pushover!) If the bag does not have this, reduce the temperature rating with at least 10F. (A 20F bag will then become a 30F bag).

And btw welcome from a just recently snowfree north Norway, though the mountains still contain enough of the stuff for at least one month or so.

7:42 p.m. on May 1, 2011 (EDT)
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Being fit and ready for the abuse a multi-day hike will impart to your body is important.  In the rockies and other LARGE mountains, you will probably spend most of one day hiking up hill and most of the next hiking down.  Many people don't expect that.

Almost all of your activity will be aerobic, but you need much more than just running or walking.  If you have the time and the money to do it, a gym with weight lifting expertise is a good start. In southern Calif, the franchises will let me in for $1 a contract, no prepay.  Shop around.  Connect with a trainer for a bit every other week.  You need to know how not to hurt yourself. You want well controlled exercises that work 70% below the belly button and 30% above...alternate days above and below the belt.  You want to be able to (after a couple of months - don't worry the snow won't be gone until late July) do very strenuous lifting, pushing and pulling.  The best thing about it is you get to eat lots as well.  You will have to figure it out but you will need more than you are eating now to build the muscle you will be needing.  Don't worry you won't look like a guy - unless you are using chemicals.

Include an aerobic program.  If you are not jogging now take a look at:

Some good stuff here.  Look at the jog/walk program and read some of the articles. You will need to strengthen the bones, ligaments and tendons as well as your feet for some rigorous all day pounding day after day.  You sound like you are active so you have a good start.

7 days is a good long trip for a first time.  But I'd do it.  The biggest problem is that you will be spending too much time on the trail worrying about if you are going to survive or if the trail is the right one, or if you will make it to camp in time, how long will it take to get from here to there, is the food going to taste good - what if it doesn't - and if there will be water and and and.  The next trip you won't spend a lot of time on that but more on looking around -- and wishing you were in better shape.

You don't want to get into oxygen deprivation while hiking. It is hard to catch up.  The good thing about the Canadian Rockies (Banff, etc) is that you don't go very high and may not even have to worry about altitude affects other than it will slow you down a bit.

Learn the step breath method of getting down the trail.  A loooong set of stairs is perfect for it.  Its a trick you need to know about your body.  To control your heartbeat, you control your respiration.  The higher the heartbeat the more you are exerting, the faster you are panting/gasping and the sooner you will run out of steam.  You want to find out what your best pace is (not his - let him go off and get lost on his own).  Walk up stairs for about 15 minutes at a rate that has you panting but not dying.  You want to be able to ultimately set a rate that you can maintain for hours.  It might be as slow as a mile an hour.  The key thing you want to work on is to inhale on one foot step and exhale on the other and keep this rate up for a long - not so comfortable time.  It will be VERY boring on stairs to find this pace and to nail the technique.  On the trail if you need more air just take shorter steps but don't loose the cadence of breathing.  You are shooting for around 60-70% of your max heart rate.  You can find out by doing 10 minutes on the stairs pushing yourself a bit so that it is uncomfortable but you can keep it going for another 5 minutes if you had to.  That is about 80-90%.  If you go too fast you have to stop more often to catch your breath. That is time consuming, inefficient and will use up too much energy too quickly.  You are supposed to be enjoying all the views not trying to survive a death march.  You will have this all figured out around the 6th day..about the same time that you find you are sleeping all night through.   You will soon find out that it is too bad that you only have 4 sides to sleep on.

Oh.  When coming down the stairs, take the stairs slooowwwllly 3 at time with a death grip on the safety bar.   Rest on the down hill side of the stairs - not going up.

Don't have stairs or stadium seats?  Access to a running machine?  Set it as high an incline as it will go and WALK as fast as you can without running/jogging.

Don't train with a loaded pack.  You will get exercise but you can do a LOT better job of doing what you think you are doing in a gym.

10:00 p.m. on May 2, 2011 (EDT)
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Buying new boots tomorrow, these tips will come in handy! And Speacock there's a set of about 400 steep stairs on the side of an escarpment here where I live, so I'm going to try and practice this step method that you mentioned and see how good of shape I'm really in.

Thanks again for the replies and suggestions you guys are awesome!

3:29 a.m. on May 3, 2011 (EDT)
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A weeklong trip is fairly ambitious for a first time out, especially in foreign territory (no pun intended). Gear lists range from mainstream gear like you'd find at MEC or Canadian Tire to specialized lightweight gear only available at gear shops or online.

Ask 50 people what to take and you may get 50 different answers.  However, the trend is towards lightweight gear if possible, which it may not be if you are borrowing gear from friends.

Use the Internet to find gear lists for the season and area you will be camping. Do a weather check to see how cold it will be. Seasonal temps in the mountains will likely be colder than you might think, depending on when you actually go. At some higher elevations, you may even run into snow in early summer.  I would get a guidebook for the area, study the maps, look at websites and learn everything you can about where you will be before going.

As already mentioned, navigation skills are important for both of you, basic first aid, at least basic cooking skills using a camping stove and animal awareness (bears primarily).

I would not take anything I didn't already know how to use and how to fix. Learn how to start up your stove-a simple gas stove takes little skill to put together or use, but liquid fuel stoves take some practice.  With a liquid stove, I'd take a small repair kit that you should be able to find online or at MEC, depending on the brand.

Practice setting up your tent until you know how to do it without much fuss.

Since there will be two of you, group gear like a stove or tent means taking only one.  I take two stoves with me, but I camp alone and usually in winter.  If you do take two, I'd take a small gas stove and a small canister as the backup. They don't weigh much.

Menu planning is important. There are lots of backcountry recipes online, so that's just a matter of picking things you like, but try them first at home. They all don't taste as good as they look on the package. As a friend of mine said about something she had bought, "looks like the picture, tastes like the box."

Make sure those boots are well broken in before going. Nothing worse than foot problems far from the trailhead.  If you can't walk, you are pretty much in trouble.

Also, don't just borrow or buy gear or clothes at random. You need to think of what you have as systems. This cuts down on redundant or superfluous gear or clothes that just take up space and add weight.  The Complete Walker talks about this concept.

Speacock mentioned DEET. Be wary of it-some people have bad reactions and it may eat up your clothes. It is effective, but nasty. There are more natural alternatives.

If you don't get a water filter, you can use Pure Aqua or Aqua Mira, which are chemical water treatment tablets-much lighter, just follow the directions.  Boiling water also works, but obviously burns fuel.  Not sure about the regs in Banff, but I wouldn't plan on a campfire, unless permitted. Stoves aren't as romantic, but much more efficient.

5:03 p.m. on May 3, 2011 (EDT)
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400 steps is perfect!  A goal would be to get to the top without having to stop.  It might mean you have to do it slower than you might expect.   Then you just try to do it in many repetitions.  You don't necessarily have to increase the speed, but it certainly won't hurt (well, yeah it will :) ).  The idea is to keep a measured pace going at a rate that you can maintain for a long time.  The more fit you are the faster and longer you can last between breaks.   A good long break, laying down with your feet up about every hour (while going up hill) is one of those pleasures you can look forward to. 

Don't forget the camera so that you can use photo ops as an excuse for letting the respiration rate to get below the heart rate.

Once you need two or more breaths per step you are out of the aerobic mode and closing in on the anaerobic death spiral.  At this point it is impossible to carry on a conversation of more than one syllable.   Every question asked of you has to be a 'yes' or 'no' answer or you will collapse because you will miss a breath.

When doing long flights of stairs outside, I leave a pebble at some convenient place as a score keeper every time I get to the top.  Over time I try to get more sets of pebbles than a few weeks before.

The Wonderland Trail (around Mt Rainier in Washington - US) has a stretch of trail that has 'steps' (well, barriers of logs to keep erosion down) for about 4 hours - up hill.  They were placed perfectly so that you could not alter legs to step up unless you did a slow motion skip.  It was left up, left up for a long time.

As others have implied, you should get proficient in breaking camp in the morning.  Try to do it in 1/2 hour or so - tent down, dishes/cookware put away, bags stuffed, sleeping pads rolled, pack ready to put on. I start heating the water, then stuff the bags and drop and pack the tent while she is doing the breakfast thing.  We have the agreement that she cooks - I clean.   The mornings are when many 'burn daylight'.  Unless the camp has a spectacular view, great fishing or wonderful neighbors, you are loosing opportunities to see some better stuff that you can take more leisurely later in the day.

10:38 p.m. on May 3, 2011 (EDT)
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Hi Samson- Speacock's advice has helped me on  my present hike. He also looked at my gear list and had me break it down more in weight..Sounds like a great trip you and your boyfriend are going on..depending on how fast you want to hike. I would suggest if you feel your going to slow" slow down". This was advice I recieved from another thruhiker.They are right. Why miss something you may only have one chance to see and enjoy..As for gear the biggest hurdle is boots and Pack and sleepingbag.. Seems you have the first now just start seeing what your friends are going to loan you and practice maintainence and use. Food wise what ever you want to eat that is easy to prepare and both will enjoy and practice before you leave useing the stove and pans..Welcome to Trailspace Samson

11:40 a.m. on May 4, 2011 (EDT)
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Welcome to Trailspace Samson! It looks like everyone has given you some great advice on gear. I just want to second the recommendation of taking a couple overnight trips beforehand if possible. You want to be familiar with all of your gear, and how it works, and how to troubleshoot it and fix it to make it work in the field if you encounter any unexpected problems. A week long trip is a very nice adventure, I just don't want you to be 3 days in to it and miles and miles from any help and find your water filter or stove breaks for example. Learning how to properly operate items and how to fix common problems is a very neccesary piece of knowledge to obtain before any long trip. Practice setting up your shelter/tent in the dark, in the rain, in the wind. Practice doing it with mittens on(what it feels like when your hands are numb from cold/wind/rain).

I have gone backpacking with many a people that are  "in shape" and after a few hours of steady exertion they begin to break down in a rapid fashion. Backpacking can be challenging and down right hard, especially in the mountains where prolonged ascents and descents are common. Most people that are "in shape" are only used to exercise for a couple hours at most, in backpacking you are going for 6+ hours typically, sometimes 10+, so it takes its toll after awhile. So on that note I recommend what others have said and train your body appropiately in advance if you do not do so already. The recommendation of stadium stairs or a treadmill at max incline are good choices, or just simply walking up hills etc in your area a few days a week. Along the same lines I want to stress not setting your goals too high on your trip. I would aim for no more than 10 miles a day, keeping about a 2mph pace thats a 5 hour day, for a beginner I would not go beyond that on your first trip. This will give you plenty of time to pack well in the mornings, and plenty of time to set up camp in the evening with plenty of daylight left.

If you can post a list of all of the gear you have, down to each individual item, and weights also if you have them. That way we can visually see if your missing something vital or help you eliminate items or make changes for more multipurpose items.

Hope this helps some, and by no means am I trying to scare you away from the sport of backpacking. I just want you to be prepared, a week long trip is a challenge, more so for your first trip.

Once again welcome to trailspace, and we look forward to hearing more from you! And we demand a trip report with pictures when you return from trips!

6:14 p.m. on May 6, 2011 (EDT)
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Thanks Rambler I'll definitely be providing a trip report! We've pushed back our trip until the end of summer so I'll have plenty of time to get into tip top shape for this. When I get our inventory sorted out I'll be sure to post it online here, I'd love the feedback!

7:06 p.m. on May 6, 2011 (EDT)
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End of July and August (looking for low rain months) are perfect.  The glaciers are still pristine, the streams are still a bit high, the flowers are spectacular (and so are the mosquitoes).   You can always do what we did with the kids.  A series of 2-3 day hikes into areas that we might want to come back to again sometime.  And LOTS of day hikes with the car as our base camp.

Its been awhile but the trail up to Twin Falls (from Kicking Horse Pass) with an over look across the valley at Yoho Glacier and then up/down the Skyline trail.  I'm sure this is now a restricted hike.  It really is too nice not to be popular.

You may find fewer on the trail if you go north to Jasper and Canmore and ask in different backpacking forums (similar to this one) but are more oriented to the trails in the parks.

A kitchen scale that measures in ounce/grams is handy.  Amazing how the weight adds up in small measures. A spread sheet is great for the calculations.  And you can figure out early on what you want to move over into HIS pack...and how you are going to break it to him.

6:39 a.m. on May 12, 2011 (EDT)
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Hope you are still lurking around here. You've already got some great advice so far. I'll just chime in because I've been off the site for just a bit the past few weeks wrapped up in work and dealing with tornadoes that hit my city.

Speacock has some excellent advice as far as fitness. Do the steps, incorporate some lunges. Also, make sure you take out your full pack a few times on your day hikes. Being in shape and being in shape for a 7-day trip are two entirely different things. You want to make sure your leg muscles are good and strong. It would suck for you if you wake up on Day 3 so sore that you can't move. Make sure you stretch during the night. Your leg muscles, back. The best stretches I have found is yoga moves. Just go to You Tube and type in yoga stretches back and yoga stretches legs. I do some of the twists after every hike and the soreness is always a lot less than when I do some of the traditional stretches.

One thing I'm a little concerned with, and perhaps some others can chime in on this is acclimatizing. Ontario is pretty much on sea level and the Rockies, well, they are up there. 10,000 feet and greater. You may be in good shape, but you'll still probably be short of breath the first few days you are out there. It seems I read somewhere about some training you can do to help acclimatize. I think it was high-intensity training to help with the anaerobic side of things. I think I may have read it in The Mountaineer's Handbook. I'll go look that at up tonight and get back to you. Speacock might know more about that as well.

1:41 p.m. on May 12, 2011 (EDT)
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Stretching is a controversial topic - always a good bet to get emotions roused in to do it or not to do it camps.  But all agree that if you do stretches, make sure you are well warmed up - after a 1/2 hour of off trail exercise.  On trail, best to wait until after the first 1/2 mile or so.  Don't do any that hurts or over extends anything.  Don't sit huddled in a cramped position at the end of day for the first few days.  Be languid and luxurious in how much space you take up around camp.  You should expect a few of your muscles to let you know they still belong to you. If you find that you have run out of sides to get comfortable on (unfortunately only 4),  I take Benadryl with me as a sleep enhancer.  There are some morning after affects you should be aware try it before you go.  The key to better health on the trail is water - LOTS of water - inside you.  If you make the first day early, after dinner if enough light, take a light stroll for a 1/2 hour or so (with a head lamp and a jug of water) to see what is going on around you.  By enervating the muscles you have been using all day and help flush out by products of the exercise, it might fix many of the kinks you could have the next morning.

If you are very fit, unfortunately you can get to higher altitudes faster than you can if you were a couch potatoe.  That is not a good thing when it comes to altitude sickness (AMS).    The cause of AMS is not fully understood but rather than the lack of oxygen, it might be the body's reaction and adaptation to a reduction in partial pressures --  Boyles Law...remember it from high school chemistry/physics classes?  Apparently being fit doesn't help you in acclimatization but you will be stronger and more able to do things even though you are slowed down by lack of oxygen.  There are many anecdotal remedies and preparations for conquering AMS.  Staying well hydrated is the most useful.  When you become thirsty, it is the body's notification - long over due - that it needs more water -- you are not fully hydrated.  Keep sipping constantly along the trail.  You can not, probably, drink too much water for your trip.  You can sweat too much, however. Not many backpackers get anything more than a few minor AMS symptoms even above 10,000'.  Diamox is sometimes useful for those suffering from Cheyne-Stokes stop breathing as you fall asleep and awaken breathless.  It is a type of sleep apnea that is caused by lower oxygen levels at altitude.  It is not dangerous except you don't get much sleep (in fits and starts for as long as you can hold your breath) for the first few days and your tent partners will wonder if they have a corpse next to them that has stopped breathing.  Diamox does not speed up adaptation to altitude but it does reduce some of the symptoms.  Unfortunately it is a powerful diuretic so you don't get a full night's sleep anyway, and it is a sulfa (related reactions) drug that is prescribed for epilepsy. Don't duplicate dose if you have it.  If you will be below 8,000' at night, it is likely you will have very few AMS symptoms.  If you do, it is not the wisest thing to attempt to tough them out.  Quick, cheap fix is to go down a couple of thousand feet until you feel better, then start up hill slower this time spending an extra night or so on the way up.

8:22 a.m. on May 14, 2011 (EDT)
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I said I was in shape but I have a ways to go before I can comfortably carry a 30-40 pound pack through a week long rocky mountain expedition. Thanks for bringing up stretching Rocklion I think the importance of doing stretching during downtime to, as speacock says 'flush out the products of exercise,' is definitely good advice. I'll definitely be toting some benadryl along too, I'm a pretty light sleeper!

I have also been thinking a lot about the elevation differrences, where I live in southern Ontario we're about 200 meters above sea level. The topographic map I've been looking at tells me that the sawback trial in banff follows a lower valley between peaks but still ranges from 1800-2500 m. I wonder what this elevation difference will feel like?

11:07 a.m. on May 14, 2011 (EDT)
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That is a beautiful trail with some grand vistas. I suspect that you will notice some breathlessness for most of your trip.  Considering that you will be laboring uphill a lot anyway, you might not notice the additional strain.   It takes about 2 weeks to acclimate fully to 1800m.  But millions of people drop in on Denver Colorado (a little less than 1800m) each year and hardly notice the difference unless somebody remarks about it.  You may be in the unfortunate rare few that are affected at those altitudes.  Then it might be a slight head ache (usual first symptom), a lower appetite and some listlessness.  Just be aware that you can have some minor problems.  I doubt it tho and don't worry about it for now.  You will mostly be sleeping below 2500m on that trail.  You are going to have a wonderful trip.  Plan on it!

Almost all of the backpackers above 2500m are from "sea level" (under 500 meters).  Few out there are even close to being acclimated.  If you ever get to 3400m, on a windless day (ha!) try fanning yourself with your hand - as if to cool off.  You may not feel a breeze at all.  At 4300m you will need somebody briskly fanning you with a large brim hat to feel a breeze.  Gives new meaning to those winds that blow you off your feet at high altitudes.

10:25 a.m. on June 7, 2011 (EDT)
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Hey Samson,

A very belated welcome to trailspace! I hadn't yet commeted on your trip planing, as others had it covered with lots of great advice above, but I thought I'd say hello and see how your your preparations are going.

Also, I think Speacock has it pegged with his thoughts on elevation. I do a good bit of my backpacking at around 1850m, which isn't very high but does effect a little. For those of us who live at lowish elevations (my house is at 600m), you will begin to notice a shortness of breath and slight weakness of the limbs once you get over 1200m. This primarily just means you will become winded and tired quickly, something that will get more pronounced the higher you get. You can become dehydrated and prone to headaches quite quickly as well.  The more serious effects of altitude are not likely to be an issue, as they do not commonly present below 2700m. Some people are particularly sensitive, so just be aware and watch for the potential onset of AMS symptoms.

My personal experience with with higher el was quite good: I had not hiked above 2100m until last september when I was in Wyoming, where I backpacked up to a little above 2700m. I didn't really think about the fact I was getting that high up, and certainly didn't experience any symptoms of AMS.

Best of Luck! 

6:33 p.m. on June 16, 2011 (EDT)
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I hope this is not a politically incorrect thing to bring up in this forum, but as a woman I feel I should pass this on.  Remember that you need to pack out everything you pack in. So, depending on the time of the month, if you get my drift, plan accordingly for 7 days of storage.

9:51 p.m. on June 18, 2011 (EDT)
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masondi said:

I hope this is not a politically incorrect thing to bring up in this forum, but as a woman I feel I should pass this on.  Remember that you need to pack out everything you pack in. So, depending on the time of the month, if you get my drift, plan accordingly for 7 days of storage.

 That's a good point to bring up. We cover the hygiene issue, for both women and men, in this article:

Human Waste Disposal in the Backcountry: How to pee and poop in the woods

10:18 p.m. on August 23, 2011 (EDT)
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Hey Samson,

You may already have done your trip, but I thought that maybe some of the discoveries my wife did during her first backpacking experience might be of interest. 

You can read that on a trip report

11:32 p.m. on August 23, 2011 (EDT)
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Hi - it sounds like you have a great trip planned.  Not to rain on your parade, but in my opinion, a 7 day backpack as your "first" is overly ambitious.  Being fairly risk adverse myself, my preference would be to go for a night or two first, but packing as if you were going the full 7 days (well maybe excluding the 7 days of food).  This way you'd get to try out your gear (especially since it's borrowed so you're probably not familiar with it), you can figure out how to pack your packs so they're comfortable, and just generally get a feel for how things will be on the longer trip.

Alternatively, if you're set on going on the 7 day trip as your first, you could consider "camping as if you're backpacking" before setting out into the wilderness.  This way you won't get the feel for your heavy packs, but at least you'll try out your gear and make sure everything works as expected.

Anyway, whatever you decide, enjoy your trip, it sounds like a lot of fun!

1:23 p.m. on August 24, 2011 (EDT)
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Just remember to stop, look up and around occasionally.

3:25 p.m. on August 29, 2011 (EDT)
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I'd recommend the Sani-Fem Freshette urinary director (there are other versions as well). 

On my 2nd backpacking trip, not a single inch of skin could be seen on my bum because it was covered in mosquito bites. All because I had to expose the bum bum JUST to pee. I must have sweet tasting blood coz my friend didn't get a single bite :(

Anyway, assuming you've used the bathroom before in the wilderness on your numerous day hikes, I'm guessing you haven't had an issue before.

But it's just a recommendation :)

Good luck and have fun on your trip!

3:47 p.m. on August 29, 2011 (EDT)
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p.s. and if you're doing a bear canister, slap some reflective tape around it in case you need to get to it in the dark. Or paint with Wite-Out or correction ink.

3:02 p.m. on August 31, 2011 (EDT)
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My little two cents would be that nothing gets you in shape for carrying a pack like carrying a pack.Work up to those stairs with a 15 to 25 lb pack and do a few over nighters as well.Also boots may not show a problem till used on an over nighter with the added weight of a pack.Would not be fun to find this out half way thru a 5 or 6 day trip.Also travel as lite as you can and save your energy so you will enjoy the trip to its fullest.Remember to have funand enjoy the whole experiance.ymmv 

June 19, 2018
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