These are pretty normal things that the average adventurer may already know, but I didn't. So I'd like to share them with you in hopes that you'll feel super duper prepared for your next outing!
Completely based off of my immediate experience which included fantastic fall weather & no major issues. Thanks for joining me as I replay the scenes from my backpacking trip last weekend in Dolly Sods, WV in my head and into words...
-Sleeping in a hammock is tough. If you lay on your back in that green bean like position the hammock is naturally in, you may wake up feeling as if your knees are bending the wrong way. A sleeping pad helps a little bit with this, but more-so it helps with insulation. My hindsight idea would be to hang my hammock as tight as it will reach to ensure minimal drooping, or just pack a tent. Still, it was nice to be right there with the trees, looking up at the stars every hour or so that you wake up. (Edit: I recently learned that there is a technique for sleeping sideways in your hammock that makes it a lot more enjoyable- Thanks Michael! Check it out.)
-Have a way to boil water & a "camp mug" for tea. In the wild you start to appreciate the little things much more than you did at home. Like hot tea in the morning, and a mug to drink it in that doesn't weigh down your pack. You'll naturally wake up pretty early and in that cool morning air nothing feels quite as comforting as a hot cup of tea. Mug- think hard plastic, lightweight, and with a little handle. My dear friend Leslie brought an extra one for me because I was having a hard time grasping what a "camping mug" was.... it was perfect and light and I finally understood. Then she GAVE it to me! So grateful! Now I'll never go without one.
-Get your pack fitted for you. I bought mine from REI and they fitted it for me right then and there. It made a world of difference the little adjustments he made for me which I would never have known how to do for myself. Even if you order it online or are borrowing from a friend, take it into an outdoor store (preferably an REI) and have them adjust it for your body.
-Keep your snacks in your outer backpack pockets. As well as other things you'll want while hiking like chapstick, camera, pocketknife, and water. You will NOT want to take off your pack to grab a snack. Not because it's extremely hard... inconvenient maybe, but doable. But because of the freedom you'll feel once it's off you will not want to put it back on! It's like you've landed on a planet with less gravity and you float with each step. Save that heavenly feeling for once you make it to camp.
-The practicality of hiking poles outweigh their goofiness. Once again, Leslie saved my butt and brought me her extra hiking pole (yes, 1 pole) when I shot her glares of uncertainty when she said I'd need hiking poles. She had broken one on a previous trip (it's either a pole or an ankle!) and bought a new pair so she brought her extra along for me. That extra point of contact on the ground, even if you're barely putting weight on it, is like having gorilla arms and gives you so much more support! Numerous times my foot slipped on a rock but didn't roll onto my ankle because the pole was holding some weight. Not to mention using it as a counter balance right in the marshes while I step to the side and wiggle my way around it.
-It is hiking etiquette to step off to the side for anyone who's climbing uphill, as to not get in the way of their much needed momentum. Leslie pointed this out to me after it was shown to us. Yes I noticed they stepped off. And yes it definitely seems like common sense now. But without her mentioning it, I never would have made the connection that it was because we were breathing heavy trekking up the hill. Therefore, I wouldn't have shown the same etiquette to anyone else when the tables were turned and would've seemed like an inconsiderate ass.
-Print out a trail map before leaving home. Do not assume there will be maps for you and do not rely on your cell phone. You just never know. Come prepared.
-Listen to your intuition. We were getting close to our planned camp area with only about a half mile to go. We knew what trail number we were looking for and were giddily hiking amped up on sugar from the gobstoppers Leslie brought. (Candy is a plus) Next thing we know, we're walking in an area that is extremely exposed, the trail is getting harder to decipher if it's a trail or some weird road that we shouldn't be on, and something just feels off (picture above). No trail markings in sight and because of our sugar rush, it took us almost a mile to really start questioning what was going on here. I look at my fitbit and we're at 6 miles. We should've reached camp around 4.5 miles. I remember seeing a sign quite a while back that was off the side and said Raven Ridge on it - but we were looking for 524 and in our glee didn't even stop to check the map or question our moving forward (although I thought about it). We decided to head back to the sign
which turned out to be the continuation of the trail we had been on before, we didn't realize it made such a hard left turn. We weren't even able to make it to 524 before it started getting dark. Our intuition hit us the moment the trail got iffy and the vibe got weird, we just didn't listen for a while.
After a hard learned lesson on intuition, we decided to follow our intuition into the woods just off the trail when finding a place to set up camp was now high priority. I brushed away feelings of fear and tuned into joy and feelings of belonging. We found a little site with a fire ring which was nice, but no real trees to hang out hammocks. So I pushed on into a very small clearing through some pines and there it was- the most amazing pine grove I've ever seen, with a fire ring, seats made of large stones, and the most perfect trees to hang a hammock on. We'd found our home.
-Fill up all of your water containers any chance you get. We filled our bottles and reservoirs and extra containers before leaving home, but when we crossed a stream very early on in the hike we didn't even consider stopping to refill. Big mistake. We assumed later once we made it to where we were "planning" to set up camp, we'd go off trail and find the stream that is pictured on our non-official, printed from home trail map. Well it was getting to be dark, we didn't quite make it to where we planned to camp, and we were getting hangry to be quite honest. Both of our freeze-dried camping meals required about 2 cups of water to prepare. That's 4 cups of water that between the two of us, we did not have. We decided to go back on the trail a bit to where we saw a couple had set up camp to ask if they knew where the stream was. They didn't. They only knew of the one early on and said they filled up there. Picking up on our depleted energy, they immediately offered us a bottle of about 4 cups of water they had extra and wouldn't take no for an answer. Trail Magic! Their names were Steve & Claudia. They were our trail angels.
-As a girl, do not buy the "stand up to pee" contraption you saw in the camping section of the department store. I thought it was genius and had to try it out! Not a fan. For one, it just feels completely unnatural in a place that you're already not comfortable peeing anyways. And two, I'm standing there with my butt cheeks out and still dripping onto my pants once the stream slows. Totally not worth the $4 or the awkwardness. Just squat.
-Bring some basic essential oils. I have little 2 ML bottles that I filled up before leaving the house. I used lavender for some quick deodorant. Melaleuca (tea tree) for small scratches and scrapes. Peppermint, on top of the other two, for a bite I got on my arm that was itchy, a little irritated, and warm to touch. It calmed down almost immediately.
-Buy a nice down sleeping bag. I bit the bullet and laid down quite a bit of cash on a nice sleeping bag and it was the greatest feeling ever! Down filling is warmer, lighter, more breathable, and packs down a lot smaller, and although I didn't sleep the greatest in my hammock, I was more cozy than I have ever been in the woods!
-Have a lighter as well as some sort of fire starter, unless you're well experienced in this field. We were not. After wasting a lot of journal paper, our attempts at making a fire were unsuccessful. A skill I'll have to work on! Leslie mentions a group she was with in the past having a homemade, lightweight fire starter made of dryer lint and candle wax. Intriguing! Keep something like that in mind.
A couple other basic little things just to throw out there...
Have a headlamp, or at least a flashlight. Dress in layers. I prefer wool socks with my hiking boots. Chocolate covered espresso beans- do it. Ziplock bags for used TP as to not litter. Bring some sort of water filtration system. A Fitbit or something that tracks your mileage is super useful. Be mindful of your movement and how you hold your weight. Stretch- before, during, after.
Breathe. Stop to take it all in. Take a notebook to write down ideas & inspirations a-plenty!
I think that's about it!
Shout-out to Leslie for showing me the ropes, laughing & learning alongside me!