The Cascades are a very photogenic mountain range: a choice location for a first backpacking trip (you can see full resolution versions of these photos and more here). I have done plenty of camping and hiking in my lifetime, but until several weeks ago I had never combined the two. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Work has me traveling to Seattle currently and when a couple colleagues started talking about taking some weekend backpacking trips I jumped at the opportunity.
I’m not in terrible shape, I know plenty about camping and hiking, and I’m a pretty smart guy. I was sure I had things figured out. Oh, but don’t worry: this didn’t go as bad as you might now be thinking. By comparison, Hippie is in great shape (long distance runner), and both Hippie and Pat have been on many excursions: they were fine.
We got a later start than I had expected and we decided the new guy should set the pace (that would be me, and normally a good idea). I was a man on a mission, knowing we wanted to make 7 – 9 miles in the first day and it was already 3:30 PM. We made the nine miles, but at the expense of my feet.
You see, I knew (yet ignored) the four most important pieces of backpacking gear: footwear, footwear, footwear, footwear:
- Shoes: the heel should lock, the toe-box should have ample room for your foot (fail, and fail)
- Socks: moisture wicking is key to minimizing chances of blisters. This means NO COTTON (MAJOR fail)
- Lacing: can greatly improve the shoe’s fit. I have narrow heels yet my foot is wide in front. Loosening the laces at the bottom and tightening them at the top would have worked well for me (see the first point)… and, fail
- Camp shoes: I thought my Vibram’s would be a good idea (so did Hippie). Swollen feet and gloves for your feet are NOT a good combo. Flip flops are great for wearing around camp in the summer and they let your feet breathe.
I also made what I am sure is every backpackers first blunder: I brought way too much. I bought a great pack, then filled it with a bunch of heavy stuff. This has led me to my fifth backpacking axiom (after The Four Footwears):
When preparing for a backpacking trip lay everything out that you think you need, and eliminate everything you are not certain you’ll need. Then, get rid of half of what’s left.
Pat has since introduced me to the backpacking big three. I already had an ultralight pack (2 lbs, 3 oz.). I have since purchased an ultralight tent (2 lbs. 10 oz. with footprint) and sleeping bag (3 lbs.). Add to that eliminating a lot of extra stuff and my pack will be significantly lighter next time. Oh, and I bought some new boots that actually fit, so no bruises and blisters next time. Much of the gear I got on clearance, though I would have bought most of it anyway. I learned my lesson the hard way! I estimate I was carrying a total of 270 lbs. (body weight, plus 50 lbs. of gear, food and water). I’m pretty sure I’ll weigh in at 250 lbs. this weekend when we head into the William O. Douglas Wilderness near Mt. Rainier.
I really enjoyed my first backpacking trip despite barely being able to walk by the end (quite literally), and I learned a LOT. I’m sure this next trip will be even more enjoyable… and I’ll probably learn a ton again, which will make it even better!