I see things in numbers. Must be the engineer in me. It was no different when a few members of the 234th Intelligence Squadron and I hit the trail determined to hike to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley. So here are the numbers of our Half Dome hike:
33, 319 number of steps to top of Half Dome and back (Sam counted)
9,600 elevation, in feet, gained and lost to top of Half Dome and back
16 number of miles to top of Half Dome and back
9 number of hours to top of Half Dome and back
1 numbers of time I feel it necessary, in my life, to go to top of Half Dome and back
0410 time we left the house
10 number of minutes we left late
0700 time we hit the trail
90 number of minutes we hit the trail late
1 number of couples lost (left) in parking lot so we would no longer be late
45.24 money I spent on gas because someone forgot their wallet
28.32 money I spent on pizza and soda because someone forgot their wallet
12.18 money I spent on refreshments because someone forgot their wallet
1 number of people that, in the future, will ensure no one forgets their wallet
16 liters of water drank by three of us
3 additional liters of water one of the three should have drank to prevent passing out due to dehydration
1 amount of ‘good’ smacks it took to bring dehydrated person back to reality
400 distance in feet of the final ascent of half dome
2 number of cables the average person needs to make the final ascent and descend half dome
1 number of cables one of us needed to descend half dome (obviously not having a wallet makes it easier to descend half dome)
5 hikers spent 9 hours crossing 16 miles, reaching a summit of 8,694 feet and returning to the valley floor, resulting in 1 glorious trip.
You’re an average Joe (or Jo) and you want to go backpacking. Good for you. But how to start, that is the question. You find plenty of information for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or heading off cross-country on a 50 mile, 5 day excursion. But what about an overnighter? What about leaving early on Saturday and returning Sunday evening? You want to know what trail mix is best not how to prepare a gourmet meal at 10,000 feet. You want to know how much water might be needed, not how to purify urine. You want to know how to start backpacking, maybe going 10 to 15 miles round trip, how to ensure you won’t die your first night out and how to keep backpacking from busting your wallet, just in-case you determine that the struggle isn’t worth the victory.
Us schmucks had the same questions and issues. Fortunately for you, we found the answers to all your questions and we found those answers by plunging into backpacking head-first (literally). We know the right way and the wrong way because we did things the wrong way. We know the right equipment and the wrong equipment because we purchased the wrong equipment.
So take a few minutes to check out the list below as well as their links and all your questions will be answered. Remember, WE SUFFERED, SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO!
What you need to start backpacking:
1. Destination – Where do you want to go?
2. Shoes – the most important thing to consider
3. Equipment – backpack, sleeping bag, tent, etc.
4. Water – too heavy to carry, too important to be without
5. Food – Easier the better
6. Your own Schmuck – Misery loves company
In my humble opinion, the bear canister is the most useless thing in your backpacking arsenal. I understand the reasoning behind the bear canister; I’m just not sure if I believe there’s a need for the bear canister. After all, it is rare to run into a bear and if you do, I think you and the bear will have a lot more on your minds besides the bears craving for your toothpaste.
With that being said, I would still be willing to haul a bear canister if the cost/benefit ratio was in the favor of hauling the canister; but it’s not.
The benefit side of the ratio includes the extremely rare chance of a bear stumbling into your camp site and then wanting to eat or taste items that smell appealing to you. Not to mention, if these two occurrences were to meet and you had a canister, the only benefit would be to the bear and I’m guessing if you asked the bear, he would not see the benefit. In other words, benefit side = low.
Whereas the cost side of the ratio is high and only affects you, not the bear. I mean you have to haul the heavy, unpackable, unattachable, unwieldy canister up the mountain. And just because you’re in bear country, doesn’t mean you’re heading towards a bear. After all, a bear’s territory is acres or square miles. The chances of me heading towards a bear are just as good as me heading away from a bear.
However, as stated earlier, I would be willing to haul the canister if the cost/benefit ratio were tipped in the benefit’s favor. Perhaps in order to tip the equation, the park rangers would consider marketing the bear canister for other purposes, such as:
- A stool to sit upon around the campfire
- A floatation device in the event I fall into a raging river or lake
- A portable bathroom (after all, we are supposed to pack out our waste)
- A water heater. It is black and plastic and would get quite toasty in the sun
- Fuel for the fire. It’s larger than any log I’ve stumbled upon
- A rather large fishing bob (but you will need high test line)
- A footrest
Following is a compilation of the rules and laws of backpacking, current at this time, which we’ve learned the hard way. Heed the following or suffer as two schmucks . . .
Rules and Laws
- It’s All In the Shoes
- Lighter is Better
- Fundamental Law of Backpacking – What goes Down, Must go Up
- (Time + Agony) Going Down ≥ (Time + Agony) Going Up
- Cotton is bad, Nylon is good
One Good Idea – Know the weather of your destination
One Truism – When one suffers all suffers
Vito’s Maxim – The feeling of joy that comes with the completion of an adventure is directly proportional to the adversities that must be overcome during said adventure
After six plus years of backpacking, we can tell you that the twenty-one items following are essential. Backpacker Magazine may say different, but we have learned through trial and error that you don’t want to leave home without these listed items. Backpacker Magazine may also have items listed that we do not, and although you may want to take a knife, map, compass and whistle; in our 82 months and 600+ miles of backpacking, we have never needed a knife, map, compass or whistle. However, in all honesty, the map and compass may have come in handy the few times we got lost. But what do we know …. we’re Two Schmucks.
21 Essential Items In or On Your Backpack
- Sleeping Bag
- Sleeping Mat
- Extra Clothes
- Water and Filter
- First Aid Kit
- Toilet Paper
- Fire Paste
- Camp Shoes
- Cook Stove w/Fuel
- Metal Cup
- Extra ziplock bags
- Hot beverage
Luckily, like the snow before and the rain before that, the ice storm didn’t last forever. However, now that the trail was muddy and covered in snow it wouldn’t take much to turn our uphill trail into a raging, downhill river; a fact that proved itself as soon as the ice turned to rain. Clearly I’m exaggerating when I call our trail a raging river. At best it was a gushing stream, which is still not good when you’re wearing hiking shoes made for Christmas shopping at the Glendale Galleria.
As the water ran over our boots and covered our feet with what was literally ice water, I remember thinking two things; first – my feet are frozen and I’m going to have to chop them off and second – there needs to be rules for backpacking and the first rule should be; It’s All About the Shoes.
Although my first pair of “backpacking shoes” were a Chirstmas gift from my son, I swear they were sewn by the Devil’s cobbler. They may have been called Trailgear but they were not trail-rated! They provided no ankle support, no gripping power and no water resistance. They were not good for hiking, and should never have been used for backpacking; but I am cheap and I owned them, so they were on my feet when the river came rushing down the trail. My feet would have been better protected in the box that had housed the shoes.
Don’t skimp on the shoes. Don’t try and save a few dollars by going with something that “should” do. Splurge on the shoes. Spend more than you normally would. Make sure they fit perfectly. Make sure they have soles that will grip when you boulder hop across streams in Los Padres. Make sure they will provide ankle support when you come crashing down the trail of Yosemite Falls. Make sure they can carry the load of an overstuffed backpack and a useless bear canister. Am I making my point here? Trust me when I tell you, It’s all in the Shoes. A lessoned I learned the hard way when at mile 6 of the Alder Creek Loop Trail, my shoes were filled with water and my feet were frozen.