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How long were you gone...??

Hi everyone...

I see people doing some long hikes, not just in distance but time.  it made me curious...

What is the most TIME you have spent out on a single outing?  A month...longer?  And how did you prepare?  I met one guy that would take the time to hide caches of food and supplies, before going out, and then use those caches as he hiked.  How do you all handle the gear and supply requirements of a long duration hike?



for the sake of this topic there are two basic kinds of extended trips: Thru hikes. and base camps.  Thru hikes all have the group traveling a route they don't anticipate backtracking, and usually relying on minimal equipment such as shelter and sleeping gear.  Base camps can be simply extended camp out using a home base to explore the neighborhood, or it may be an expeditionary style trip, where the base serves as a headquarters and staging point to shuttle teams and supplies up the mountain.

My longest, continuous, thru hike was a trans Sierra ski trip from Cottonwood Pass, above Lone Pine, Ca. to Yosemite Valley, back in the mid 1980s.  If I recall it lasted just under two months.  It was a miserable trip - we scheduled it too early in the season, and contended with just dreadful conditions of an El Niño year.  We spent the summer prior to the trip stashing about a dozen catches in the back country, and the subsequent summer removing the remains of said caches. Most of the caches were 20 gallon galvanized steel trash cans with lids wired down, and suspended off drops via a wire cable.  Two caches were made by one member of the party who thought he would save weight using plastic trash cans, suspended by rope between trees.  Those were looted by critters; one wasn't hung high enough and a bear reached it, presumably when the snow pack built up and allowed access; while the other can appeared to be a target of ravens or squirrels who simply tore a hole through the plastic lid.  This trip was too much work!  

The longest base camp trip I ever did was a February attempt to ascend a certain Alaskan peak of notoriety.  This also was no fun, kind of like a long vacation spent in a walk-in deep freezer, wearing the same three pairs of skin layers the entire time.  We failed to attain the upper ridgeline, due to high winds and limited windows of weather suitable for travel.  We spent a lot of time holed up in tents and caves at various elevations, and ended up climbing up and down the mountain over a dozen times.  Forced cohabitation of claustrophobic shelters is a good way to get to really hate your best friends, or become psychotic.  Eventually our provisions and time ran out - we had two months supplies, all flown to a drop point ten miles from the base camp.  By the time we got back to civilization parts of my face looked like I got dragged behind a car, such was the frost nip and wind burn.  No frostbite, however.

Both of these trips required quite a bit of planning.  In the case of the Sierra hike, the principal challenge was getting the caches to places where they won't be disturbed by human or creature, and documenting their location so they can be located months later, when the terrain looks totally different.  This was accomplished in part with compass triangulations, and photo documentation.  A thru hike of this magnitude also requires contingency planning, determining the best escape routes along the way, should evacuation be required.  With the Alaska trip the planning used a variation of the logistic models the military and other mountaineering expeditions use in their projects.  It is difficult to completely plan out a trip of this nature, however, as the weather has a way of changing everything.  You can plan to stage provisions at various camps, based on estimated time of occupancy, but in the end things - especially food - often aren't where they are needed at the moment.  Nothing more aggravating than descending several thousand feet with pack full of food you toiled to get to high altitude in the first place. 


Snakey said:

Hi everyone...

I see people doing some long hikes, not just in distance but time.  it made me curious...

What is the most TIME you have spent out on a single outing?  A month...longer?  And how did you prepare?  I met one guy that would take the time to hide caches of food and supplies, before going out, and then use those caches as he hiked.  How do you all handle the gear and supply requirements of a long duration hike?



 Your last sentence is the main question of my backpacking and outdoor life, and one I have studied and tweaked over the years.  After you find the large time blocks needed (2 to 3 weeks a month, every month---it's called retirement), then the challenge becomes how much food weight you're willing to carry without resupply.

Food weight is the bugaboo of the Ultralight backpacker in that few ULers would go more than a week without resupply.  On the other hand, I believe it's possible and fairly easy to stretch that week into 3 or 4---the maximum is dependent on food choices, home dehydration, ample stove fuel and careful study.

When Whomeworry says there are two types of extended trips, namely, Thruhikes (usually with frequent resupply), and Basecamps (a "home base")---I have to ponder my trips and find I do neither.  Well, one time I spent 5 weeks at the same spot in Pisgah NF with my backpacking buddy Johnny B but we went out every week for food.

I never basecamp at one spot to do ranging dayhikes as I like to move every day and continue to explore a given area.  (If I didn't pack up and move every day I couldn't justify the amount of food I eat, wink wink).  The only time I pull zero "basecamp" days are in heavy rainstorms or blizzards.  Just sitting around all day in camp is something I can do at home but while out I have a map and an itch to keep moving.

So, there is a third type of long-term backpacking and I guess I would call it Expedition Backpacking, whereby you find a place you want to go, gather up all the maps you need and do ranging loops upon loops to your heart's content.


**  Never leave a car sitting at the trailhead for 3 weeks.  Instead arrange a shuttle and leave your car at home or at a friend's house---or have someone drop you off with a planned evac. (Bring a cellphone to touch base with your ride periodically, if able).

**  On trail bear vault food storage or not?  I prefer carrying all my food at the beginning as I do not like swinging back to the trailhead drop-off point for resupply.  So, my food load is often close to 50lbs for a 21 day trip, including white gas (44oz). 

**  One time on a 23 day trip I did use 2 big BearVaults for food storage and came back on Day 17 to find them swatted down the hill by a black bear.  He chewed on each and worried them to death but did not get the food, although he moved them a hundred feet down the hill.  Save yourself this scenario by carrying everything at the start.


**  Carry or stash an extra emergency Thermarest pad in case your beloved sleeping mat blows out.  This is important.  And carry stove and pad repair kits.

**  Carry an extra white gas MSR stove pump (if you use one), a extra spoon (one will invariably break), a extra hipbelt buckle, an extra bic lighter (had one drain all its gas when the depress button got mashed in my ditty bag), etc.

ADDITION:  I think a normal backpacker can easily pull 15 days w/o resupply, and with planning and a home food dehydration schedule he can stretch this out to 25 days.  Getting scientific with his food a person could probably pull 30 days w/o resupply.  Interesting topic.  My limit is right around 21 days although the longest was 24 days.

A 30 day no-resupply trip sounds interesting and would be a milestone for the long-term backpacker.  The possibilities are mind boggling---Imagine a 5 month Appalachian Trail thruhiker instead pulling those 5 months in a vast forest with only 5 resupplies, one every month.   

If you want minimal food weight over an extended time period you can do what I saw some AT thru hikers doing last week... just eat peanut butter your entire trip.  :)

No backpacking stove or fuel needed.

Most thru hikers I spoke to carried 2-3 days of food at a time and resupplied by hitchhiking into town.

Ed, I didn't see your name mentioned in "Minus 148°" {8=>D  (I recently re-read that book, since I had been in a discussion with a friend and had forgotten some of the details).

Anyway, for Snakey, you could do as a friend has done on his half-dozen John Muir Trail trips (most recent and fastest was 7 days) and will be doing this summer traversing Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska from east to west - do a lot of fishing. He and his sons are actually quite good fishermen with minimal gear. He does carry a certain amount of dried food and peanut butter (mentioned in one of the above posts), along with Nutella. In his early JMT trips, he did the usual "mail a resupply bucket of food to Tuolumne, Reds Meadows, Muir Ranch..." that almost everyone does. On later faster traverses, he carried everything, plus fishing, as he did on his High Sierra "Haute Route" trip (10 days). I believe he is going to have two pickups at villages on the Gates of the Arctic traverse.

On my long expeditions, some of which were month-long, I have done as shown in my avatar - carry everything on my back and/or in the sled/pulk.

Ed's method of caches is no longer allowed in the Sierra. When the rangers find caches, they confiscate them these days and may levy fines. There are still areas where you can place caches. In Antarctic traverses in the early days, expeditions would position a string of caches for the return trip. This didn't always work - Scott's disastrous expedition ended with the deaths of everyone when they had problems navigating on the return from the pole, plus the mental stress of discovering that Amundsen had beaten them to the pole. 

This is great info!  I wondered, just how many places you could live off the land.  I know that sounds corny, but one rule I have had is to stay near water, like following a river...which means that you could potentially fish depending on local licensing.  A big trout could be a big meal.  I sat in a campsite once and starred at a grouse, my mouth was watering as I envisioned the glorious meal it would make.  Of course....I would have had to snare it, which in this case would not have been too hard.  But they call that poaching, unless you are in the dire straights, out of food...after a bear played hockey with your food.  (I wonder what a ranger would do in such a situation) Being near water solves the problem of carrying the weight of water. You need a gallon per day, per person...minimum, more if you plan to reconstitute your food.  Preparations could also include making pemmican, which I have yet to do.  I wonder if that would be doable, making it in the field?  I use a wood-burner where possible (fire restrictions) and that eliminates a lot of weight, with no fuel to carry.  If you carry a titanium grill, such as Purcell Trench grills, you could cook and even smoke meat, which would keep longer.  

whomeworry said:

for the sake of this topic there are two basic kinds of extended trips: Thru hikes. and base camps...


 I would add to that treks in which there is support day to day. Some are tea houses, some are tents. I enjoy trekking and though I do not have to plan for resupply, I do have to plan the carry because some treks limit what porters can carry etc. Just wanted to add that in. I physically prepare by lots of walking every day and hiking on the weekends. My longest was a 21 dayer.

We did a 21 day trip fighting forest fires back when I was in college.  Of course we were resupplied by helicopter with hot food. 

My longest unsupported thru hike for me was just 10 days thru the Alpine Lakes Wilderness when I was 15.  How my parents ever let me do that is beyond me.  My school buddy came with me.

I have spent a month in the woods in a wall tent but that was working, running a tree planting crew. Most trips have been a week or ten days.

I met 2 thru hikers on the PCT last summer. They started near San Diego and I met them in a campground near my house a little way off the trail around Lake Tahoe. They foraged for their food, relying mostly on fish, mushrooms, and odd native plants. They had a deer tag but couldn't fill it. They had a crossbow for small game, but it was slow to deploy and they were not successful with it. They had a dog, small Lab that they had to help feed. She caught some rodents on her own. A .22 pistol on the belt would have changed everything for them.

They were two brothers, disheveled and sorry looking, small guys that could use a few extra pounds. They were very sturdy and I enjoyed talking with them. I took them down to a store about 15 miles each way. They went for beef jerky, candy bars and beer. They proved it can be done.

They really did not like the idea of money and bartered most things, working some for people along the trail. Their next plan was to go to Africa and live with Pygmies.




My longest single-event time on the trail was 30 days for a John Muir Trail thru-hike in 2012.  However I'm not sure how to classify a full summer I spent in the White Mountains of New Hampshire when I was 17 ... some roadside campgrounds, some camping off trail, some in shelters ... I went where and when the whim struck :).

And on that note, I read recently that bear canisters are recommended now in the Whites.  Funny, back then the biggest threat to food was mice and other such critters.

I bet it is hard for Bill say which experiences changed him the most, the JMT or the summer of camping.

I spent a summer in forestry school at Pack Forest with the University of Washington back in 1974. We lived in old bunkhouses with our hardhats and logging boots lined up by the door, and started a fire in the woodstove about half the time. We ate in a big mess hall with long tables and had hot cakes everything morning with coffee in those thick white mugs. Everyday was spent in the woods with some of the best foresters in the world. We learned how to throw a surveyors chain, make topographic maps, cruise timber, build a log house, how to use dynamite, and how to pack mules. At night we played horseshoes and told stories. The kids from the suburbs left in the first week of crawling around in thick brush and Devil's Club. On Friday nights we would go into the nearest little logging town where the log rigs were leftwith their diesel engines running in the middle of main street. Hank Williams played on the jukebox while we played pool with the local loggers. It changed me more than any other experience in my life.

I actually went out there and never came back.

I feel like I can hear banjo music....I don't know why...



Many urbanites do not understand people that make a living out on the land everyday. I am talking about loggers, ranchers, farmers, and fishermen among others. They give them attributes like uneducated, backward, and crazed, which is the inference you make with banjo music and the famous canoeing movie associated with it.

Is it possible that you could be of those urbanites that do not understand people that work outside for a living? Or maybe you are just making a joke.

A joke

No urbanite here...


That is a relief. thank you. I am slow to get the humor.

I wonder if there are many expeditions left.  That would be the long duration hikes.  I know that you see that with Sea Kayakers, who go on very long outings.   

Plenty of them everywhere. You just have to look past the existing trail systems.

one winter i based camped in the white mountains for 2 1/2 weeks in January.  at Hermit Lake below Tuckerman's Ravine (well below the bottom of the ravine. Camping at the bottom of ravines in the Presidentials would be ill-advised because they frequently avalanche).  climbed up some of the mountains from there, all day trips.  a lot of fun.  some of my gear was substandard back then - military-issue winter bag was chilly, and my boots didn't work as well as I would have liked with crampons.  now that i'm older, smarter, and better equipped, I take shorter trips up there, avoid the worst weather, stay warmer, and generally  enjoy it more.  

clothing and gear on that longer outing, we carried on our backs when we snowshoed up the access trail.  we carried a little food and fuel in the packs but most of it in sleds.  the length of the stay was dictated by the amount we could sled in - had we stayed longer, we would have had to head down and resupply both food and fuel.  water wasn't an issue, plenty of snow to melt.    

September 28, 2020
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