Novice looking for advice. Gear, experience, anything.

8:17 p.m. on November 23, 2016 (EST)
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I spent a week vacationing in the great smoky mountains not long ago and fell in love with it all over again. It had been about 5 years since my last visit. I'm a 30 yro avid outdoorswoman from Mississippi that spends my summers fishing and visiting state parks to "car camp" and explore the trails and lakes offered. But my trip to the smokies this time was different. I didn't want to leave the trails. I have collected some decent equipment throughout the years that made my adventures more enjoyable. A good day hike backpack (osprey daylite) that could help me comfortably carry enough water for me and several others in my party (family members who underestimated how much water you need), snacks, and even my dale camera with its heaviest lense, along with a lot of other useful its I have acquired. (If I had been caught on the trail and had to make camp, i was prepared). It was a short trip and I only traversed about 15 miles total with varying elevation changes. I had planned a longer hike from one of our family easy hikes back to our cabin on the park boundary (from Laurel falls, connected to little greenbrier, connected to hightop mountain trail) , but our ascent took too long and my knees gave up. 
3 weeks back and I'm still suffering knee discomfort after I pushed myself through another 6 mile trail after the injury. So now I'm looking at conditioning and the gear I'll need for multi-day hikes. 

On an impulse and great deal from steep and cheap (a backcountry.com site) I bought a small osprey pack suitable for backcountry hiking. I've loaded it down with water to get a feel of maximum weight and so far so good. Then I started packing actual essentials. Here's where I'm lacking and what I need major advice on: (as an aside I need to stay as cheap as possible at least starting out. Don't suggest I spend $500 on a tent. That won't work for me. I'm just now coming to terms with the fact that I will need to spend over $200 for a packable sleeping bag)

I have a camp pad but it's the cheapest thermarest on the market which means bulky. I can modify the bottom straps of the pack to accommodate it but I'm wondering if it's worth it. It's a minor weight convenience but, again, bulky. Should I look for other alternatives? Or is it as necessary as it has been car camping? (Also see next query).

I plan to start this new adventure late spring or summer so I am planning to begin by using a hammock and rain fly rather than a tent. I prefer a sleeping bag in the hammock rather than the eno under blankets. Right now I'm running cheap. I have a 40degree and 25 degree Coleman. They're huge so are not an option at all. I pretty much ditched the 40 degree years ago and only use it as a throw blanket at home. I'm cold natured and even on balmy Mississippi nights during car camping i prefer the 25 sleeping bag. What is my best and yet cheapest alternative? I need this to pack tightly, keep me warm, and not break the bank. This is the one department I'm willing to spend a little more on because I know how bad a day after a bad night can be. But I'm still on a limited budget. Also, I'm a side/stomach sleeper. Mummy bags may be okay in my hammock since there's some roll room there. But I'd like all kinds of suggestions.

Camp stoves. I own two different esbit stoves and love them. If there's a reason I shouldn't plan on using a solid fuel stove to cook dehydrated meals or make coffee please let me know. I think this will take an actual backcountry experience to know but weight is important to me and solid fuel seams my lightest option.

I have the basics ready: first aid (self-made kit with my necessary meds, bandages, Mylar blankets, etc., in a dry sac), camp stove (esbit with fuel), dehydrated food and snacks, water bladder with two additional 32oz Nalgene bottles. Hammock with tree friendly straps. All aluminum climbing carabiners attached to the outside of the pack for future use. Camp shovel. Water filter (will probably acquire tablets in case boiling is a limited option). Multiple light sources. Paracord and other cordage for guy wires.

I'm asking for any and all advice. I plan to start walking with a heavy pack soon to strengthen my knees and then do some local backpacking in Mississippi in the spring. Can't me summer I want to be somewhere remote in the smokies.

11:59 p.m. on November 23, 2016 (EST)
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The first advice I would give you is to start training with just your normal day hike weight. Then start adding weight every week or so until you are at your overnight or longer weight. I bought an esbit stove last summer for solo trips and I have fell in love with it. So I would say stick with that until you get a few trips in, then decide if you want to change stoves. Just make sure you use an existing fire ring or a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil to keep from scarring the ground. I replaced my nalgene bottles with water bottles to save a little weight.Your thermorestshould work just fine strapped to the outside and it will be necessary to keep you warm.The sleeping bag will be the hard part. Since you seem to be willing to bite the bullet on cost, I would just take the pack to the outfitters and stuff bags in it until I was happy. Have fun out there and keep us updated on your trips.

7:13 a.m. on November 24, 2016 (EST)
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In general I would say to start slow rather than let your excitement take you on adventures that leave you injured or feeling negative about the experience. Do one or two night trips rather than a week right out of the gate. That gives you time to work out your gear issues and develop routines for making/breaking camp, cooking, water supply, etc. Once you get your gear and methods figured out on a few shorter trips you'll find that you not only know how to survive on longer trips, but your legs will have gotten stronger. Doing too much too soon often leads to injury or a person deciding they don't like backpacking :)

From your comment about using a hammock it seems you already have shelter. If you like your hammock there's little reason to change to a tent, but you should start getting what you need to make yourself comfortable. I'm a ground dweller myself, but am a big fan of using quilts because they pack so light and small. If you are hanging you'll really want to think about putting your limited money to use in that direction. With a good top and bottom quilt you won't need a pad under you to keep warm. I'll let one of our many resident hammock experts take over on that subject as they can speak with far more experience.

If you like your esbit you should keep it. It is a light option that is used by many backpackers. Your only issue is keeping supplied with fuel if you are doing something like a thru hike but even that isn't as much of an issue as it becomes more popular.

Finally I'll say welcome to Trailspace! Feel free to come back and post questions as you learn. Many folks, myself included, have learned a lot from the great wealth of experience to be found among the community here.

8:48 a.m. on November 24, 2016 (EST)
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Your current sleeping mat will suffice for now, especially if you are on a tight budget.  Do not attach your air mat to the pack (on the bottom) such that the mat sets between the pack and ground when not on your back! It will be just a matter of time that something punctures the mat, an event you'll want to avoid.

Esbit stoves may suffice for soloists, but these stoves do not generate enough heat for group cooking.  There are several cheap over-canister stoves that will facilitate small group cooking without waiting all year for a quart of water to boil.  If you plan to do real food cooking (i.e. not freeze dried, but food that requires simmering or a range of cooking heats) you should get a stove with a relatively large burner head, as this makes for more even distribution of heat on the pot bottom.

As for more generalized advice:

There are three items you do not want to go cheap on the purchase.  Get what fulfills your needs, else pay the price difference in regrets!  These items are your footwear, your pack, and your shelter.  These all will influence your basic comfort; and camping is not fun when you are trying to sleep in a leaky tent with a sore back and blistered feet.  That said there are plenty of good tents under $400, and $200 is about right for a light weight 20 degree sleeping bag. 

Hammocks and other variations of tarp tents require more skill to use that conventional tents.  If you insist on a hammock learn all you can about hammock camping techniques before setting out, or better yet pick the brains of someone knowledgeable of the subject.

There are 20 degree sleeping bags that do not have mummy hoods: the Cat's Meow by The North Face is one example.  If you sleep cold you will appreciate wearing a watchman's cap or balaclava to bed.

If you are hiking in bear country you will need to learn how to protect your food.  Learn how to put up a "bear hang".  Also note some parks require campers to store food in bear proof containers.

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I am guessing by the fact you knees hurt weeks after your hike that you do not get much leg exercise.  This consequence will dog you with each hike requiring effort unless you plan on a life style change, and adopt routines that include lots of walking, some of which crosses steep inclines.

BTW fifteen miles is not a short walk, especially if done while carrying a pack.  Don't let the uber hikers shame you, most people are better off limiting their distances to under ten miles with a pack, which equates to 5 hours on trail, given a nominal pace of 2mph, breaks not included.    

9:46 a.m. on November 24, 2016 (EST)
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Just remember Betsey that the most ingredient in your adventures in the outdoors is you.  Get in shape.  Develop some judgement.  Hike your own hike. Learn everything you can. Equipment is not that important in comparison.

2:25 a.m. on November 26, 2016 (EST)
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Thank you all for the replies. To ask some additional questions and add more back  based on the replies I'd like to begin with my choice in hammock over tent. It has basically been a comfort issue so far. I just sleep better in a hammock than on the ground. I have actually stuck my therma-rest pad inside and then climbed into my cheap Coleman 30 degree bag and been super comfortable in 40 degree Mississippi weather (that may not seam cold, but if you're not from the south keep in mind we experience 90% humidity in the winter that makes the barely cold super cold feeling).

I plan to start with just an over night trek to get my feet wet to actually see what gear I use. No week long excursions. And I'm  basically allowing myself 6 months prep for this. I'm not in th best shape but definately not the worst. My knees are an issue. Mississippi is flat. I can walk for 15 miles in a day in the forests and not feel a thing. I walked up mountains and didn't feel a thing. Walking down on the other hand was torture. I'm still having issues. I think there may have been some minor tears and the ligaments healed too tight. We'll see.   But i definitely plan to do a lot more conditioning  I underestimated how hard age can be without proper maintenance to your body  

i should add a disclaimer to my current camping technique. I call it "car camping" but it's not quite what family campers do. I don't have to hike in. But i basically drive my jeep up, unload my gear, and then live a few days without any modern amenities. I don't bring fans or anything else that plugs in, just my tiny stove, cook pots, and other basics. The biggest difference for me besides the hike in will be the lack of cooler for fresh veggies and my love of campfires to cook them on. But I have no concerns about my ability to feed and take care of myself in nature. I've walked into hunting camps with very little supplies and stayed over night. (For the record, I "hunt" whith my dslr camera). :) -- to the fellow that mentioned that 15 miles was not an easy hike, thank you  it was a total of 15 miles over several days which never sounds bad to a Mississippi girl  but what was the worst was a hike  with my entire family and only two of us took bags. 7 adults and 4 kids  I made sure there was enough water for all because I felt like the parents underestimated (I don't have kids( just an awesome aunt), but they don't spend time outdoors)  plus snacks, plus my dslr, and what I consider my "core" hiking equipment  it was heavier than expected.  and then I started carrying coats that were no longer needed, and then a kid or two that couldn't  walk. Let's just say my knees could not have been prepared for that.

i have the hammock experience.  it is the most comfortable for me within my price range right now. The therma-rest on the ground leaves me achy and while I'm willing to spend on a great sleeping bag I just can't afford any better pad that i can carry.  I love hammocks so much I sleep outside at home during the fall just because I prefer it to my own bed.  And with the comfort level I have with a hammock, I can't bring myself to spend the money on a decent tent  

this brings me to my bit of info that will hopefully add to more suggestions.  I am 5'2" 110lb and small framed through the shoulders and hips (basically straight).  this is why weight matters to me.  I've done well with my osprey daylite pack to carry insanely heavy loads (supplies for a 6mi day hike with fam PLUS dslr - cameras get heavy) and it fits my body in a way to not leave me overly top heavy.  that's why when I found a good deal on the osprey 36 L I couldn't pass it up.  I honestly don't think i could take a larger bulk.  I plan on starting soon with the first suggestion of hiking with my current day hike pack loaded and then working up.  I'll "hunt" with it fully loaded, but we are still talking flat land.  should I push up the weight sooner and get use to my larger pack, and when do you you really know the difference between soreness and injury? 

And then there's my knees. I really didn't expect this  it was always the descent that caused the issue but I definitely went another 6 mi in pain.  does any one have any experience with how to heal from this? The area around my knee caps are even sore to the touch.  However, injury never makes me quit. Its why I get injured. 6 months from now my knees may still complain but I will still hike and love the trees.

last minute aside: has anyone stayed at mt leconte? im thinking that might be an easy transition even though I can't get a spot until 2018  

i love this forum.  I'll peruse the other posts once the holidays are over to gain more infoo but I am so thankful for the responses and help that I have received so far . Just thank you all so much. It's keeping me motivated to have this help

2:37 a.m. on November 26, 2016 (EST)
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One more thing. I will most likely be starting this new adventure solo. All the friends and family I have camped and travelled with have alwaus had their vehicle to charge their phone and are loathe to be without service. Any special precautions I should take being alone? Ive camped alone more thN with others but you're still surrounded by other families. amd o guess o should ask, although I'm annoyed to do so, as a female traveler should I be concerned? 

4:03 a.m. on November 26, 2016 (EST)
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Don't feel annoyed, feel astute! 

There are far fewer predatory threats to women in the backcountry than in civilization.  Typically you will encounter only a fraction of the number of people during a week camping in the backcountry that you may encounter in a few hours in civilization.  And sharks tend to hunt where fish lurk.  It's all in the math, but if you are not a numbers person and don't feel safe on your own, camp near other campers if your are questioning your safety, preferably near two groups of campers - the chances of picking the wrong party to camp nearby are very small; and the odds of both groups posing a threat are almost nonexistent.  Soloists are in far greater risk from accidental injuries than harm from other humans.  Just something to consider.

As for your joint pain; did you have a prior sports injury?  If so get it re-checked, it is not normal to have skeletal pains weeks after an event.  Otherwise I am betting you need to get in much better condition.  I am not talking stronger, per se, albeit that will certainly help; rather I am talking about toughening up you bones and joints.  Bone, ligaments and joints that are not used to physical abuse will act up.  Your conditioning program should start easy and gradually work you up to the level required for backpacking.   At your age it could take a month of a sustained conditioning program to get your body to accept the rigors of backpacking, or up to a year if your pre-existing lifestyle lacked sufficient leg exercise.  As they say no pain, no gain - but balance that advice with the notion of listening to your body.  Bones and ligaments toughen at their own pace, and pushing beyond that will result in needless discomfort, and potentially cause more harm than good.

Ed 

11:58 a.m. on November 26, 2016 (EST)
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Betsey, we lived in Mississippi for 10 years. You are quite right that the state is pretty flat. The High Point is Woodall Mountain at 806 ft above sea level. We did a lot of bicycling (raced all over the state) plus a fair amount of canoeing. But there are hills that offer good backpacking in the neighboring states, esp Arkansas and Alabama.

One problem you have to take care of in all those states is the mosquitoes - they carry a number of nasty diseases, including West Nile Virus and Equine Encephalitis. So make sure your hammock has good screening, plus use lots of insect repellent.

The temperature range never gets very far on the cold side (although one winter we did get about 5 inches of snow on the ground on the north side of town (Jackson) with nothing on the south side where we lived (some slick ice on the roads though - I think we were the only vehicle in town that had tire chains). For the range of temperatures you don't need much in the way of a sleeping bag or quilt. I don't recall if there were Costcos there, but Costco has had a down-filled quilt on sale that is light and plenty warm for those conditions.

As has been mentioned, take it easy on the joints. Until you get in a lot of miles, keep your load below a quarter of your body weight, and do not increase the weight too quickly. 

Another point that has been mentioned above in passing - figure out what you REALLY Need, and leave the rest behind. It is all too easy to see something that looks useful, then find out you never use it. So make yourself a list of what you are taking and make notes on whether you actually used it (the one exception is your first aid kit - you hope you never have to use it, but when you need it, it is the one thing you better have). Well, ok, water is very important. I remember sweating a lot during much of the year. You can do what someone mentioned above - collect some of the bottled water bottles instead of buying the heavier canteens, Nalgene bottles, and insulated water containers.

Ed (WhoMe) made a comment about bear protection - in Mississippi it's more the gators. In our 10 years there, we never saw any sign of bears (except one in the northern part of Arkansas and one in the northern part of Alabama).

4:58 p.m. on November 26, 2016 (EST)
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Your backyard is an important tool early on...it can allow you to experiment quickly and safely at minimal cost. You will eventually want to take short overnight trips away from your yard...but no reason to try that until you have a good idea of what you need and know how to be safe and relatively happy using as little gear as necessary. I have friends all over the income spectrum and for those with limited means I always suggest buying (also bringing) nothing until you have identified the need/want in actual or simulated (backyard) practice. What you're looking to do is not create a "finished" system...but a minimal base from which to explore the outdoors from (most folks are surprised at how happy they can be with only a minimal kit). If you have a backyard spend the night outdoors during a few rainstorms in cooler weather using as few of items as you can...hangout/make food/sleep/change clothes/arrange gear/etc. As you do so you will figure out ways to do these things with less...and likely find some of the areas you wouldn't mind a little improvement and willingness to add to your pack-weight and spend hard-earned income.

Anytime a friend has asked me to look through their "small/dinky stuff" I find that they can cheaply save a lot of weight and space by repackaging all of their items to satisfy their needs for 1-3 days. In the crafts section of Walmart you can find tiny plastic zip-bags for around $1.00 for a lifetime supply of tiny bags to place small items that don't leak in (and to cover small containers that do leak). Used lip-balm containers can be used to repackage most petroleum based products like deodorant/lubricant/salves...simply heat a chunk of the product a little in the microwave and fill an empty container with the liquid. For items that are always liquid I really like the tiny "Visine" containers (.24oz). I use both lip-balm and Visine so sourcing the containers cost me nothing more than the time it takes to throw empty containers into a tin.

Since you have come to a strong conclusion about using a hammock and sleeping cold I would recommend that you start thinking about under and over quilts (down is probably a better choice for you so it can compress into the smaller packs you prefer). Down under and over quilts can be prohibitively expensive...so the Costco suggestion above is a great one. At $20 each you could buy one for the top and the bottom of your hammock and come out way ahead in terms of cost. There is no need to modify the Costco quilt for the top (though a foot-box is nice)...but you will need to devise a way of attaching the quilt to the bottom of the hammock so that air can get trapped between the hammock and quilt. I have seen this done effectively and cheaply with metal snaps (Dritz) and a few feet of shock-cord and 4 plastic cord-locks. Altogether this project could net you a top and bottom quilt system for less than $60 and about an hour of labor (with minimal to no sewing).

3:32 p.m. on November 28, 2016 (EST)
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trekking poles can really help with knees on the downhills.  costco makes inexpensive carbon poles, reviewed on this site.  worth a look at those to save $$.  

the least expensive sleeping bag options to reduce bulk for a good price are synthetic fill bags.  also lower maintenance.  

i use sleeping bags in hammocks.  they work well.  just make sure you have a way to hang a tarp that actually keeps you dry if it rains.  

inexpensive backup batteries can charge most phones 2 times and don't weigh much more than a typical smart phone.  

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