Mount Rogers is most famous for being the highest point in Virginia with a height of 5,729 feet (1,746 m) above sea level!
There are a few different trail options you can take leading to the summit. This includes the Elk Garden Trailhead which approaches Mount Rogers from the west and is a 9 mile round trip hike. The Mount Rogers Trail approaches the summit from the north and is 12 miles round trip. The most popular hiking route to the summit is from the south approach located in Grayson Highlands State Park via Massie Gap. Not only is this trail the shortest, but also the most scenic out of the three. This trail is an 8 mile round trip hike and I decided to hike up and camp out for the night.
The trails approaching the summit provide the most scenic, sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. On your trek up, you will pass open grassy meadows and even wild ponies! This was something I had not experienced before and I could not believe that this was in Virginia!
Although these ponies may be considered wild, they have learned to become very comfortable with people who pass through the park.
I even had the pleasure of petting a few ponies that came up to me!
Be warned though, these wild ponies are extremely spoiled and were begging me for food.
Not only did I see wild ponies, but there were even some bulls hanging out in the meadow! I did not dare get any closer though!
There were many campsites located along the trail on the way up. It was a popular weekend for camping and most of the camp sites seemed to be taken. I kept continuing along the path and thankfully lucked out with one of the most scenic and last campsites before the top. I was able to get the tent set up just before sun down and the views did not disappoint!
I was spoiled to a breathtaking mountain sunset as the sky lit up in various shades of pink!
I even made myself my own fire and spoiled myself to some smores! Who wouldn’t want to wake up to this!?
The next morning I arose to the sound of drizzling rain. The rain had thankfully died off by the time I decided to pack up which made for a cool morning hike. It was only a few short miles left to the top.
The top of Mount Rogers features the most northern high-altitude Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forests. The only one of its kind in the state of Virginia with only 5 others in existence! This forest, in particular, is one of the few remaining that contain a Fraser fir tree; a high altitude evergreen tree normally found above 5500 feet (1700 m) in elevation.
I had never seen trees like this before and I felt like I was in another world when I entered the spruce-fir forest. It was quite a magical experience and I was still in shock that this was located right here in my home state of Virginia!
Contrary to most hikes, the top of Mount Rogers does not feature an overlook because of the dense spruce-fir forest. Nonetheless, the hike up approaching the summit more than made up for the scenic vistas. When you approach the top, there is a National Geodetic Survey triangulation station disk on the rocks in the middle of the forest. They are easily missed and not the most impressive.
Overall Mount Rogers was one of the most amazing hikes I have ever done in the state of Virginia. The wild ponies, open grassy meadows, the scenic sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the magical Southern Appalachians spruce fir forest definitely make it one of my favorite hikes around. Despite it’s far distance, Mount Rogers is worth the drive if you’re looking for a scenic hike. Plus it is the highest point in Virginia that even features wild ponies!
Grayson Highlands State Park is located near the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. From where I live in Fairfax, Grayson Highlands State Park was 342 miles away and about a 5 hour and 16 minute drive. When you enter the park, the park rangers will direct you to where you need to park at the beginning of the trail head. It was very crowded that weekend and the parking spots were full so many cars parked over on the side of the road.
From Interstate 81 S take exit 50 toward VA 11/Atkins
Take Va-16 S for 47 miles to VA0362 N in Wilson Creek
Turn left onto Nicks Creek Rd for 4.4 miles
Turn left onto VA 16 S for another 17.4 miles
Turn right onto US-58 W for 7.7 miles
Then turn right on VA 362 N for 1.8 miles to enter Grayson Highlands State Park
To reach the summit via the popular Massie Gap look for a huge open field. You will follow the signs and start out on the Rhododendron Trail for about half mile towards the Appalachian Trail. You will then turn left and follow the Appalachian Trail up towards Wilburn Ridge through the Rhododendron Gap. As you continue you will pass the Thomas Knob Shelter to the short spur trail which leads to the grand finale at Mount Rogers summit!
There is a fee when entering Grayson Highlands State Park. For weekends there is a $3 fee and during the week there is a $2 fee.
As an avid waterfall chaser I have always dreamed of visiting the waterfalls of Havasupai. My dream became a reality when I was surprised with permits for my 25th Birthday!
Havasupai means people of the blue-green waters. The Havasupai people live on one of the most remote Native American Reservations in America. The Supai Village is located 8 miles deep into the Grand Canyon and can only be accessed by foot or helicopter. The waterfalls of Havasupai are by far the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen and definitely rank the list of must see waterfalls in the US. These waterfalls attract thousands of visitors each year and getting permits for the campground can be very difficult. It is recommended to reserve early.
Reservations have changed this year and you no longer have to continuously call a phone line. Permit reservations became available February 1st 2018 through their new online reservation system at HavasupaiReservations.com
Sites available for up to 350 campers per night
Available in campground, drinking water, restrooms, and picnic tables
Pricing for 2018 is as follows and includes all necessary permits, fees, and taxes:
One Person, 2 Days / 1 Night: $140.56
One Person, 3 Days / 2 Nights: $171.12
One Person, 4 Days / 3 Nights: $201.67
Weekend nights (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), Holiday weekday nights (February 19, May 28, July 4, September 3, October 8), and Spring Break weekday nights (March 5-8 and 19-22) are an additional $18.34 per night.
There is a requirement to make a reservation for a maximum stay of 4 Days / 3 Nights per reservation in an attempt to accommodate more visitors who desire to visit the canyon.
All reservations are non-refundable and non-transferable.
I highly recommend using a Pack horse and to stay for at least 3 nights. There is more than one waterfall to see. The Arizona desert heat can get VERY hot. We had most of our items carried in from a pack horse which made our hike that much easier since we had to hike 10 miles in the desert beating sun to the campground. The trail into Supai begins at the Haulapai Hilltop More info on the Havasupai Indian Reservation from the National Park Service
Supai to campground
Campground to Mooney Falls
to Colorado River
For those who don’t want to camp, there is a lodging option located in the Supai Village.
You will need to exit onto Historic Route 66 to Route Indian 18. You will travel 63 miles north to Hualapai Hilltop.
Reservations are required before entering the reservation. Guests can hike down 8 miles to the lodge and tourist office, then 2 more miles to the campground.
On your hike in towards the campsite, this waterfall is just off the path to the left. You can hear the rushing water as you walk past and I just had to explore around here to get a closer look.
As we were hiking towards the campground you start the notice the beautiful blue waters of Havasu as well as the famous Havasu Falls!
Havasu Falls tends to get more crowded compared to the other waterfalls due to its easier access and location.
About a half mile hike from the campground is the towering 200 foot Mooney Falls! Be warned, it is a bit of a treacherous hike down to the bottom requiring you to climb down through rocks and down a ladder.
On my 25th birthday I couldn’t believe I had this whole waterfall all to myself!
The most beautiful natural swimming pools I have ever seen! Happy Birthday to me! 8)
Beaver Falls is a 3 mile hike down from the campground and was by far the most tropical, amazing oasis hike I have ever seen!
The turquoise blue waters took my breath away to believe that a place like this existed deep in the desert of the Grand Canyon of America!
The magnificent Beaver Falls! There was so much to explore and see here! I even climbed up on some of the rocks and it made me feel like a kid again!
Havasupai is definitely a bucket list adventure that you have to add to your must do list! Craving an adventure or epic waterfall chase? Havasupai has it all! Excitement and adventure everywhere you look! A heavenly oasis you must see to believe! I promise you won’t be disappointed! So what are you waiting for? You better reserve early before tickets sell out! HavasupaiReservations.com
Being a solo traveler, and even more so, a solo hiker or backpacker can be an intimidating endeavor to undertake. I cannot emphasize enough the need to be comfortable when partaking in anything serious such as hiking or backpacking in the wilderness by yourself. The same goes for traveling as it’s just not worth it to feel overwhelmingly anxious to the extent that it outweighs the joy of traveling or trekking solo.
I, too, have gone through anxiety over being alone on my travels or in the mountains in my prior travels/treks in the past 15 years. Despite being fully prepared, sometimes, the unexpected happens and the best you can do is to stay calm. That way you can assess your situation more clearly and decide on the most appropriate action. But before you even dive into going solo on an extended travel or trek, it’s important to take baby steps to get you to a point where solo hiking/traveling falls within your comfort zone. Here are some of my tips based on my own personal experience with hiking/trekking/traveling solo that will help prepare you mentally for the solo experience:
If you are completely new to traveling or trekking solo, then start out with a day hike or day trip. Then, as you feel more comfortable with solitude and organizing the logistics of your hike or travel, you can build that up by adding more days, thereby transforming it into a weekend trip. There’s no reason to go extremely extravagant on your first time hiking or traveling solo.
Why would you want to spend so much money on a 4-week solo trip only to find out that you dread the experience of going alone? Avoid regrets and do a test run first. Start with a day or two, and then build up.
Study your itinerary
Sure, at some point you will want to be spontaneous. Book the flight and go. But to calm down that anxiety from going solo, it’s recommended that you do plenty of research on your destination or the trail you wish to hike. You can never have enough information, especially if the place you’re traveling to or hiking in is a first time destination. Even with a place you have been to before, I would still recommend doing plenty of research because oftentimes when we go with people, we tend not to pay attention to the logistics the way we normally would when it’s only us that we have to rely upon for guidance.
Get advice and tips from others who have been to the trail or place you are eyeing
This is part of your research and it’s crucial to take advantage of any resources that are out there for you to learn about the trail or place. For example, when I went to China, the resources for the trails in that country were hard to find because it was either the trails were still unknown to the western world or the blogs or information were written in Mandarin. However, still, I managed to find a few websites which turned out to be heaven sent as they helped significantly in planning my trip. An equally better resource is, of course, an actual consultation with someone who had been to the trail or place of your choice. The advice given is usually invaluable as you won’t find such information online or anywhere else. Note that most people are more than happy to share their travel wisdom and experiences so there’s no reason to be shy.
Learn to love yourself
Somewhere along the way on your trek, travel or both, you will get frustrated with yourself. You will make mistakes here and there. Before you venture out on your own, it is important to have a good grasp of self-love. By that, I mean, learn to be easy on yourself. Be forgiving of your mistakes and learn to go with the flow of life. Understand that mistakes are inevitable including yours, and that’s okay. In addition, loving yourself also means taking care of you. While on the trail or the road, eating healthy and maintaining a workout routine are critical.
Learn to smile and be friendly
This should really be a given even if you’re traveling with others. But in the world of solo trekking or traveling, a friendly demeanor can truly save you at times. A smile can easily attract the right stranger to help you with directions or a fellow hiker who can become your trail friend for days. At the same time, be mindful of the level of friendliness that you are exhibiting, especially if you are a female who finds herself interacting with a male. An appropriate level of friendliness is the key. Practice smiling and chatting with strangers in your daily life and you’ll soon make this a habit that will carry over to your solo adventure with ease.
Practice fine tuning your intuition
Expect chats and interactions with strangers when you venture on your own. It’s part of the adventure, and in most instances, it’s really the highlight. Oftentimes, the people you strike a conversation with in far-away places or in the middle of nowhere are exactly the ones that become your long-time friends. At the same time, learn to pay attention to your intuition. You have it for a reason. Your intuition is your imaginary friend – it knows better than you at times even though the actual circumstances in front of you may not clearly support the sense of danger that your intuition is warning you about. So, listen to that intuition the same way you listen to your body when you feel pain. It is nagging you for a reason.
Disregard all the above preparation and go for it (assuming you keep an open mind)
Having said all the above tips, you can still opt to disregard them all and just take the leap into the abyss of solo traveling/trekking. By doing so, you will learn at a faster rate all the above. It’s a crash course that can potentially maximize the lessons learned in a little bit harder way. As long as you are aware of the risks, then, sure, why not just go for it all at once?
So, there you have it. This list is just a start. Preparing your mind for that solo adventure is as important, if not more, as the things you put in your backpack. So, take the time to prep!
My first backpacking trip turned out to be an utter disaster. The trip consisted of a backpacking, snow-shoeing trip up the mountaineering route at Mount Whitney in California. I labeled myself as a failure, and the weak link in the party of 3 whom attempted the trip. Granted it was my first time backpacking and had not been prepared for the struggles that were endured.
My trip started to unravel when I realized I had inadvertently grabbed the wrong sleeping bag for the November camping trip. I remember laying down to sleep and my shivering turned into jaw shattering convulsions of my body attempting not to freeze. It was the only time in my life I was afraid to fall asleep, because I did not think I would not wake up — I wanted to appear tough, so I stayed silent.
I said many prayers the next morning when after an emergency blanket, hand warmers on arteries, and my down jacket literally saving my life I decided to always be properly prepared for my subsequent camping trips.
My next camping trip was also to Yosemite National Park, but it was a trip in September and we were packing in our tubes to float on a lake. My roommates at the time & I paired off to help ensure we didn’t forget anything.
My sense of accomplishment came from my list of things I would need. My camping skills were significantly more adept for summer and fall camping then they were for winter camping to be sure. I was paired with my roommate who I lovingly call Jelly Bean, she had far less equipment than I, so I volunteered to gather the needed supplies and food.
With our packs set and the car loaded, we headed southwest from Las Vegas Nevada to our destination. We arrived around 11 am and immediately set out on the trail. I am a slow hiker & had to be kind to myself during the hike that it was only my second time doing a backpacking trip, so it is ok that I was the slow one in the group. I find that if I use my hiking poles it becomes significantly easier for me, due to the fact that I have a constant fire like pain in my feet from Plantar Fasciitis. If I had one piece of advice to readers here, it is to be kind to yourself during these times — you are doing more than 3/4 of those sitting at home on the couch watching Netflix all weekend. If it takes you longer to climb, hike or walk….who cares…..you are moving and not letting self-doubt and fear stop you from exploring your own boundaries.
My companions were kind and offered frequent stops for me, and encouraged nourishment along the way to help Jelly Bean and myself keep going.
When we finally arrived at our camping location, I was so excited to pull out my two-man tent and use it in the REAL WILDERNESS. I pulled out the tent sack, and after unrolling it realized with a sinking feeling that the only thing contained within was the fly & the little bit of sand from the prior trip.
I panicked……what was I going to tell Jelly Bean……..I just stood there trying to conjure the actual tent with my mind. Jelly Bean came over and asked, “What is wrong Janiel?” …….I replied softly, “Uhhhhh, we have a problem”.
I’m so glad Jelly Bean is a good sport because she just laughed at me and said, “Of course you forget the tent! Guess we are sleeping with the bugs tonight”. I promised her that we would have adequate shelter from the cold, and there are plenty of people who camp with much less than what we had. A lean-to was decided upon, and the comedy continued. We had the fly, a tarp, and there was a large fallen tree and plenty of rocks.
I tied the strings on the fly around a few rocks, threw them over the fallen tree and Jelly Bean did the same for the other side, but just tacked the strings down to a pile of rocks at the other end to anchor it.
There were tree limbs everywhere so we stacked rocks and bark on the side of the lean two where the breeze was coming in & some branches on the other side with pine needles as our door. Sleeping bags were inserted and we still had enough daylight to fix our dinner.
Our other roommates who were John Muir Trail Veterans & highly versed in camping supplies watched us build this with entertainment value to rival that of HBO. After all was said and done, Jelly Bean and I were quite proud of our Lean-to and when put to the test it worked exceptionally well.
So, if you ever find yourself lacking supplies in the wilderness, just be creative, mother nature always provides a way. Despite my forgetfulness, Jelly Bean and I now have a memorable story and a certain pride for surviving in Yosemite with our Lean-to (#wildernessbeasts).
Happy Travels, Happy Tales and see you on the flip side! Big thanks to Camping for Women for allowing me to be a part of this amazing group and hope to share more adventures with you in the future.
Whether you grew up in an outdoorsy family, or are just now discovering the joys of outdoorsmanship, there’s a lot to know and a lot to learn about this wonderful world of exploration and adventure in the great outdoors. And despite what the media and history books might have you believe, women have always been a part of this world as well, if not perhaps in different capacities at different times. Believe you me, we have always found our own ways to take part in the fun! One of my biggest pet peeves about the traditional pubic portrayal of outdoor recreation is that you have to be tough, or strong, or masculine to participate. I would argue that spending time outdoors can help you become stronger, but it is by no means a prerequisite to getting outside, challenging yourself, or adventuring.
As women, we are so often deeply socialized to believe that it’s not safe for us to be alone or outdoors without a man along with us. I think in recent years this myth has become increasingly dispelled, but I’m still frequently surprised by how many women I meet who struggle with this. That said, because many of us in the US (and many other countries) live in a culture where we do worry about these things, there are some best practices we can follow to ensure our safety, boost our confidence, and maximize the fun.
Do your Research
Anytime I’m planning to go out on a hike (especially if I’m planning on going solo), I put in a little bit of research ahead of time. I’m looking to find out things like how long the trail is, if it closes at a certain time, how strenuous, what the conditions will be like, whether there is cell service, what the road condition is, how far away it is, and how crowded or remote it is. A simple Google search can find you most of this information, but many areas also have good guide books, visitor centers, and ranger stations to consult.
Funny story: Last June I decided to solo hike up in the mountains not far from where I live. It was a warm, sunny 80-degree F day. I thought I had done my research – I Googled it, read some blog posts about the trail, looked it up in my guide book. However, when I arrived, I found the road cut off by a wall of snow halfway up the mountain! Turned out, I had completely missed the detail about the trail only being accessible July-September. So don’t just “do” your research. Also keep in mind what to look for, depending on where you’re going! ?
Fortunately when I came across that wall of snow last spring, I had come well-prepared for any conditions. I had plenty of food and water, warm layers that I had been sure I wouldn’t need, a change of shoes and socks, and even had a trekking pole in my car. I parked at the edge of the snow, and hiked in another mile or two and had myself a lovely picnic lunch! My friends often laugh at me for being overprepared whenever we go hiking, but I guarantee you about 85% of the time, someone ends up needing something that I just happen to have thought to bring.
Extra layers, rain gear, a change of socks, extra water, extra snacks, first aid supplies, and a back-up plan I think are the best ways you can be prepared for any outdoor day hike or overnight trip. Take a photo of the trail map for where you’re going, too, if there is one. Whether this is on a kiosk sign, in a guidebook, or online, get a picture of that map, because you may want to consult it later!
Focus on keeping your bearings as you hike. Note which way the water is flowing if there’s a stream or river (you can always backtrack upstream or downstream if you know which way you came from). Keep an eye out for landmarks. Note the direction of the slope if you’re on a mountainside or hill. Listen for traffic if you’re near a major road. If you’re a real nerd like me, you’ll probably try to learn the local flora and fauna ahead of time – what grows near water or in dry areas, which plants are edible, which are dangerous, the geology of the landscape. Being aware of your surroundings and the signs of nature around you is an enormously useful tool for becoming comfortable in the outdoors.
There’s a lot to be said for trusting yourself, and I think it’s actually easier to trust yourself when you’re alone rather than when you’re in a group. In recent years, I’ve become a lot more comfortable calling it quits even when the rest of the group wants to keep going. If you’re exhausted and your body says, “Nope, I’m done,” or if you have that tingling sixth sense that something just isn’t right, trust your gut. Make a plan with the rest of the group to either wait for them, or meet up at an agreed time and place. Stick with a buddy if you can (usually if you’re hiking in a group, there’s probably at least one other person who feels the same way you do!). Clear communication is essential when you’re looking out for your own needs and safety outdoors. Anyone who makes you feel bad about having to stop or turn back is not worth your time.
Attitude is Everything
Whether you’re hiking alone or in a group, attitude really is everything, and it can be the difference between a great experience, or the most miserable day of your life. There’s a practical component to this as well though – having a positive attitude can actually increase your chances of survival in some emergency situations. Sometimes called “The Attitude of Survival,” having control over your state of mind can help you keep calm, clear-headed, and thinking straight even when you find yourself lost, in a sticky situation, or unsure of things. As difficult as it is sometimes, we are almost always in control of our attitudes; it can be hard to switch from being panicked or upset to feeling determined and upbeat, but it can be done and it can empower you to find the strength and resources you may need to change the situation you’re in.
These are just a few of the “tools” I keep in my own personal mental toolbox as an outdoorswoman. What are some of yours? What kinds of experiences have you had that have made you the outdoorswoman or outdoorsman you are today? What tips do you make sure to follow when you’re out adventuring? It’s always great to learn from others who enjoy similar activities and have their own tricks of the trade to share!
Imagine leaping into a fresh-water stream, feeling the icy shock as you plunge in and the buzz as you warm back up again… the most energizing feeling in the world! Stepping into the wild opens the opportunity to discover the world’s stunning beauty, and maybe even encounter rare wildlife too! On top of that, it’s proven to boost your body and mind. So what are you waiting for?
OK, so maybe that all sounds terrifying. Don’t worry though, it did to me once too, you’re not alone!
That’s exactly why I’ve gathered all the useful tips that we here at getcampingwild.com have learned so far about how to start backpacking. So, before you know it, your inner intrepid-explorer will be unleashed!
A Trail Map
Before grabbing your backpack, pick up the map instead. The easiest way to work out what you’ll need is to know where you’re going.
My best advice for getting started is to stay local, because discovering how easily you can access the wild wonders on your doorstep instantly gives you a native feel for how to start backpacking! If you still need some more inspiration, check out our post on The Most Famous Seasonal Campgrounds and see if you can spot one near you.
We’ve been asked a lot of questions about how to start backpacking over the years, like….
Backpacking – will it be hot or cold?
In the wild, this decision is totally up to Mother Nature, and she’s famously unpredictable. But you can get one up on her, and here’s how…
Check your weather forecast
We bet you’re super familiar with the seasons in your region, but keeping an eye on the forecast means you’ll be aware of any freak storms threatening your trip!
Use your map to estimate your altitude
The temperature drops 3.5°F for every 1000 ft you climb, and mountainous areas are known to have a climate of their own, too. When a warm sunny day becomes a hailstorm in minutes – don’t get caught without a raincoat, it’s not fun!
So, What should I wear?
When you are a five-hour trek into the wilderness, there is no hiding from the elements. If it’s cold, you need to stay warm in it, and if it’s boiling you need to be able to cool down. The solution? It’s all in what your wear…
Base layers – long johns and thermal vests are designed to keep your body heat in and the cold out. They’re cheap and easy to find in the underwear section of your closest shopping mall
Sports shirts – made from lightweight, breathable and fast drying fabric, you can get a bargain in discount sports stores
Long pants – either jogging or light trekking ones to protect your legs from stings, scratches and bites.
Small sweater – one of your ‘layers’ for intricate temperature control
Fleece – as warm and cosy as four small sweaters!
Raincoat – make sure it’s a strong, lightweight and breathable one
Plastic poncho – yep, just like those ones you get at waterparks and festivals, they’re unbeatable in sudden downpours!
Hiking shoes – you’ll need fairly firm ones to tackle the undergrowth, but don’t get the heaviest, as they’ll slow you down
Socks – specialised walking socks are vital for your first backpacking trip because they’re made from a silky fabric, so they keep your feet both dry and blister-free
cotton undies/sports bra – your most comfy pairs!
Swimsuit – ready for that freshwater dip!
Hat – be sure to protect your head in sun or snow!
How can you actually carry your whole life on your back though?
None of us are secretly snails. The trick is to simply bring all that you need and ABSOLUTELY nothing more. No really, or you’ll regret it – this is one of the biggest and hardest decisions for how to start backpacking! Especially when experts recommend carrying 30% of your body weight with you. For me, 30% of my body weight is 42 lbs, which is 19kg or litres, and I know I’ll be whining if I walk for five hours carrying that much! So I usually aim for just 15%.
Top tip – weigh your bag after you pack, then weigh it again when you’ve repacked!
Another mistake beginners make is shouldering all their weight. If you do that, we bet you’ll never want to go backpacking again! For a happy and healthy hike, make sure your backpack has a waist strap to carry the load, and an adjustable back to fit you.
Top tip – borrow from a friend for your first trip to keep costs down!
What do you eat and drink?
Bear Grylls might be happy to tuck into meals of bugs and berries, but we reckon you’ll be craving something a little less squirmy! After all, you’ll be burning plenty of calories, so make sure you get three square meals a day, plus a few snacks to sweeten your rest stops!
Here’s our team’s top trail menu, and all you need is a mini campstove, a metal cup with a lid, and a spork…
Breakfast: Instant oatmeal (add honey and raisins for extra goodness!) and a sachet of instant coffee
Morning snack: packet of mixed fruits and nuts or cereal bar
Lunch: Saltines, spread with Nutella or peanut butter, plus your favorite chips and a piece of fruit (apples and oranges have good backpack survival rates)
Afternoon treat: your favorite sweets, whether it’s gummy bears or fizzy worms, they’ll give you the boost you need (marathon runners do it!)
Dinner: Freeze dried packet meals are available in camping shops and just require a little heating, but a packet of instant noodles or pasta will also replace those much-needed carbs!
Top tip: Whatever you decide to bring on your first how to start backpacking trip, and every trip after that, make sure it’s sealed, lightweight, packed full of nutrients and doesn’t need refrigeration. Check out our post 7 Easy Foods For Camping’ for more ideas!
What about water?
Well, it’s a fact that you’ll need to drink much more than you can carry on day one, and another reason why your map is so important. When planning your route, trek via water sources like fresh springs or streams, then purify the water before you drink it.
Top tip: Boiling water for at least a minute kills the bacteria and saves you carrying a fancy filtration kit!
How does the sleeping part work?
There aren’t likely to be organised campsites in the wilderness, so you get to decide which patch of nature to call home for the night!
Step 1. Choose a spot
It is generally advised to sleep near the trail, but not on it – about 100 yards away should be fine. Make sure you don’t block a water access point!
Step 2. Check the terrain
There’s nothing worse than bedding down on spiky rocks, so choose somewhere peaty or leafy
Step 3. Pitch your tent
Be sure to check you have all the parts before you leave home!
Step 4. Get out your sleeping gear
Don’t leave home without a sleeping pad (I use my yoga mat). I’ll let you into a ‘how to start backpacking’ secret; although this is the most important insulating layer between you and the cold ground, some experienced campers don’t realise it!
You should also take a small pillow and sleeping bag to cosy up in. They come in sizes for each season – but the warmer the bag, the heavier it is. When choosing, estimate your nighttime temperature and match it to the range of the sleeping bag. Sleep tight!
Need to know
Now that you’re bursting full of top tips about how to start backpacking, there are a few more things to bear in mind (get it?!)
Did you know that you should:
Always give way to people going uphill
Never light a fire unless it’s allowed in your area
Pick up any rubbish you see, to save the landscape for future visitors, and for the creatures who call it home
For your first ever backpacking trip, we recommend going with a friend or a guide who knows their fauna from their flora. But if you go it alone and you get lost – don’t panic. Retrace your steps to the last place you recognise.
It’s also really important to make sure you’re in good shape before the trip – going running, swimming or working out in the gym is great for you anyway, but it can also be the difference between a good trip or an incredible trip!
And finally, you’ll be glowing with the accomplishment of having earned every single one of those fantastic views! So, take these steps towards how to start backpacking, and get out there to begin your own fantastic original adventure!
In 1996 I met an author who would change my life and never even know it. His name is David Brill, and he is a freelance writer for men’s magazines. He spoke to a writer’s group I was in about his thru hike of the Appalachian Trail in the 1970’s because he had just written a book about it 20 years later. The title of the book is As Far as the Eye Can See and it includes excerpts from his journal as well as his thoughts looking back on his experience.
The day he came to speak to my writer’s group about this book, I had the worst hangover. I had never hiked a day in my life and I had never even heard of the Appalachian Trail, even though I grew up in Kentucky only three hours away. I had decided that if “this guy” wasn’t interesting, I was going to leave and go back to bed. David Brill spoke for about 5 minutes before I realized the magnitude of what he had accomplished, and I was hooked. My hangover was gone. I had to do this.
I bought his book for a whopping ten dollars, got him to sign it, and when everyone else left, he and I were left. He took time to answer my questions. He also asked me if I preferred bourbon or whiskey. I wreaked of alcohol, but no longer felt my hangover. I was excited! I had a goal!
It was seven years later, in 2003, before I actually completed my thru hike. I never even set foot on a trail until 2000, and never carried a backpack until 2001! But I never lost sight of my goal, and on March 25, 2003, I began a journey that would instill an insatiable wanderlust in me that I still haven’t satisfied. On September 3rd, I summited Katahdin in Maine. This day is more important to me than my birthday, especially now that I’m over (cough, cough), uhh, let’s say 40 and leave it at that.
I had a lot to learn before hiking 2,172 miles with what would eventually be whittled down to a 20-pound pack. Here’s what I did to get ready, including some mistakes I made. My dog, Oscar, even got in the action, although he was not exactly an outdoorsman. He made sure to sample the beef jerky though.
Let’s Get Started!
My first consideration when preparing for the Appalachian Trail was about experience. I had never hiked or backpacked or even camped really. There was a lot to learn and that meant getting prepared and getting out in the wilderness to learn how to use my gear. I joined a hiking club and met a lot of people who knew a lot more than I did about backpacking, sleeping, and eating in the wilderness. I went on many weekend trips with them in southern Arizona and western New Mexico. It rained on almost all of those trips, and my friend Steve said I was cursed. Here we were in the Southern Arizona desert, and it rained every damn time I went on a camping trip with The Ramblers, and never when I didn’t. I felt pretty prepared for rain when I started the AT.
Boy, was I wrong! Nothing could have prepared me for that much rain! 2003 is still the wettest year on record for an AT hike. Lucky me. My big toes looked like white prunes for three months. But that’s not what this post is about! If you’re planning a long-distance hike, or just curious how to prepare for one, read on.
A lot of people think they need to be in great shape physically before starting the Appalachian Trail, but that’s not necessarily the case. The trail conditions you, no matter what shape you’re in when you start. But your chances of a successful thru-hike will improve if you aren’t struggling physically at the beginning. One of the best ways to get in good physical condition for hiking is by going hiking. Surprise! Carry your pack, wear your shoes, and get out in the wilderness to walk over roots and climb over boulders. Then go out the next weekend and do the same thing.
I did day hikes with a fully loaded backpack even when I had no intention of camping. As I walked, I took a mental inventory of everything in my pack and how I could make it lighter. My first pack was an Osprey I found on sale at the local outfitter in Tucson. Great pack, but heavy! It weighed 7 pounds! A pack for the AT shouldn’t weigh more than 3 pounds, but it took experience and trial and error – and money – for me to figure that out.
There I go, talking about gear. I love gear. Gear is an important part of preparing for the Appalachian Trail, but preparing mentally is just as important. Even avid backpackers and campers can struggle mentally to keep going, to take that next step over that next rock or climb that next boulder. Even the most experienced might weep at the sight of yet another false summit. I was far from experienced, so I expected some mentally tough days, and I was right.
My longest backpacking and camping trip before I hit the AT was four days and four nights in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico (yes, it rained!), and I planned and completed those four nights and days on purpose. I read somewhere that if you could hike and camp four days and nights in a row, you could complete a successful thru-hike. My friend Steve, a fellow Rambler, and I planned a trip. He said he expected it would rain since I was going. He was right. It was just the two of us. The nights were below freezing. My shoes were wet from trekking in the snow (and rain!) and frozen hard as a rock every morning. I slept with my bladder of water inside my sleeping bag to keep it from freezing. Can’t say I loved hiking and camping on this trip. Love of hiking and camping came later, on the AT.
Preparing physically, whether by hiking, running, weight lifting, yoga, whatever you like to do, can help to prepare you mentally. Just keep going. Most of the time, hiking on the AT really is what you will want to do that day. Hey, beats working, right?
Money. A huge consideration. During a thru-hike, you most likely won’t be earning any unless your stocks are doing better than mine were. Fortunately, lodging along the AT for the entire 2100+ miles is free if you want it to be. I met two Canadians in 2003 who I don’t think spent even one night in town. They each finished their thru-hike spending less than $1000 each. It can be done, but not by me. I enjoy a night in town occasionally, to sleep in a bed, eat restaurant food, and restock at a blindingly bright grocery store filled with temptations I couldn’t carry and people who smelled like soap, which I did not.
As you research town stops along the way, you’ll start to get an idea of how much money you might need to get you through your hike from start to finish. Your biggest expense will be food. You will eat a lot, even while you’re hiking! You will walk or hitchhike out of your way, off the trail, just to get a restaurant meal of fat, cheese, grease, carbs, protein, and quite possibly other things that you would never consider eating if you had not just walked 20 miles with all of your belongings on your back. That said, you won’t spend much money on anything else if you purchased your gear and shoes before you started walking.
Plan to Eat!
There are two theories on resupplying food. The most popular is just to resupply along the way in town stops and buy enough to get you through to the next town stop. In my opinion, this is the least expensive and least troublesome way to resupply. I, however, didn’t figure that out until I’d completed about half the trail. I resupplied along the way, but I also used resupply boxes I packed before I started – a lot of them – and got them weighed and paid postage, and then left them with my sister to mail to me along the way. The problem with this is I probably spent more money doing it this way and, well, plans change. I didn’t even use all the boxes.
Packing these boxes after a trip to Costco was an adventure in itself. I had a small kitchen and no dining room table, so these boxes were everywhere. I came home one day to find a couple of them on the floor and the beef jerky packages torn open! Guess who worked really hard to knock those boxes off the counter? Yeah, my little 20-pound Oscar! He was fat and happy on the sofa when I got home, and I found beef jerky all over the apartment for the next two weeks. He’d hidden it away for later! Lesson learned. Keep your resupply boxes in a room with a door that closes! I had to forgive him though. He stayed with my sister (another sister) during my trek, and had to be neutered at age 13 while I was out having the time of my life.
Even with resupply boxes, I still had to buy certain items along the way. One advantage to having resupply boxes sent to post offices along the way is that if there are certain things you really like, or if someone wants to send you homemade goods, as my family did, then they can put them in the boxes. My sister sent me two dozen chocolate chip cookies, an entire pineapple upside down cake, and a loaf of sourdough bread in one box. Between me and two other thru-hikers, none of it made it past the post office porch.
Resupply boxes add another element of planning that, in my opinion, is unnecessary. There are plenty of opportunities to resupply and vary your diet along the way. Some things you will never get tired of are easily found in towns, like Hershey bars. They travel well in a backpack and no matter how many times they melt in that foil wrapper, they’ll still be good at the end the of a 20-mile day.
Plan to Sleep
Hotels and some hostels are another expense you’re likely to be tempted with. An actual bed, a shower, and a place to dry out your stuff is a welcome change for most hikers. Most hostels are either work-for-stay or very cheap. Hotels can range from $30 a night to very expensive in larger towns if you want to go that route. This is where having a guidebook comes in really handy for planning. I have another post about AT Guidebooks. Town stops are important for several reasons, but you can decide how many of them you want to make and how much time you want to spend in town. Keep in mind, the more time in town, the more temptation to spend money, and eat two pints of Ben & Jerry’s in one sitting. I don’t recommend that.
I saved $3500 to get me through my hike and the next month after it since I wasn’t going back to work right away. I had plenty of town stops and luxuries, including beer and restaurant food, along the way, and still had money to get me through the month of September before going back to work as a teacher. Even though that was 13 years ago, I still think $3500 is more than most thru-hikers start out with.
It’s Time. You’re Ready. Do It.
One last comment on preparing for the Appalachian Trail. Learn from others. Check out www.trailjournals.com and learn from others. Read their accounts. Read your guidebooks. You can read more about guidebooks in my post Appalachian Trail Guidebooks. Buy your gear and use it, especially in the rain. Then get dropped off at Springer Mountain and hike your hike. It’ll be the greatest experience of your life.
For many of us, there is nothing like going into the great outdoors to get away from the stress and strife of modern-day life. Unfortunately, however, while being out in the wilderness is great to unwind, it’s still nice to have some connection to the outside world, which is why we also bring our phones with us. However, trying to get reception can be a huge pain, and if you ever lose your device while out in the woods, it can be almost impossible to retrieve it. For that reason, we are going to go over what to do if you lose your communication and how to find your phone with AVG if it is lost.
If you are worried about losing your signal while out camping, you can plan ahead by bringing other devices that can offer you cell service no matter where you are. These include mobile wireless routers, cell phone boosters, and portable battery chargers to help you maintain access to your device at all times. These are the best ways to stay connected, but that doesn’t mean they are the only ones.
If You Lose Signal
For those that didn’t plan ahead, you can help improve your signal in a couple of ways. First, you can find a clear, elevated area that can give you more direct access to a signal, or you can craft your own makeshift antenna. Chip cans and aluminum foil can help boost your phone’s range if you know what you’re doing. Fortunately, there are plenty of tutorials out there that can help.
Losing Your Phone
If the worst happens and you misplace your device while camping, all is not lost. If you have AVG as your Android security and antivirus, then you can track your phone’s location, even if it’s off. This will help you pinpoint where exactly you left your phone so that you can retrieve it. Fortunately, if it’s in the woods somewhere, then you shouldn’t have to worry about someone stealing it.
Overall, the best way to keep your phone in tip-top shape while camping is to plan ahead and have AVG antivirus installed beforehand.
Many of us live for the time when we get to experience the outdoors. We are constantly planning the next great escape from the city to again be at peace with the serenity, majesty and wonder of nature.
Often in our pressured, busy lives it is so easy to forget a few things that would make our experience in nature all the better. How many times can you recall running late to get away from your routine and in your rush, you overlooked things you wished you hadn’t? If you’re anything like me (human, that is), then you can surely relate.
And let’s face it. On some outings, be they for a short or a long while, there can be so many things to remember, depending on what you are doing and who you are doing it with.
So with the above in mind, a few Camping for Women contributors have come up with some checklists to help make our planning and getting things together a little easier. There are 6 checklists that we have put up initially and more will be added to in the future.
Enjoy the Free Checklists!
The totally free checklists that have been prepared for anyone to download and use below:
The Hiking and Backpacking Checklist by Lynley Joyce
You can also tailor these checklists by adding other things that may be particular to your circumstances, activity or location.
And in the future, Camping for Women plans to add to these checklists with different activities that readers tell us are useful. Future free checklists and any updates to these initial lists will always be accessible from the Resources tab at Camping for Women.
You will be able to download which ever free checklists you like in future directly by going here.
We sincerely hope you get great value out from these checklists and that they save you some time and hassle that often goes with forgetting to take something that you really felt you needed to have.
Be sure to share this resource with your family and friends who love the great outdoors too!
I spent seven years as a backcountry ranger in northern British Columbia, and one of the question I got asked the most was, “do you carry a gun out there?” They seemed genuinely concerned when I told them that I usually just carried bear spray.
To many folks in the north, and I’m sure wherever gun culture is prevalent, bear spray is seen as something a gimmick. I can understand that. I have been approached by an angry grizzly, and let me tell you, that can of bear spray made me feel a little like I’d shown up to a formal ball in my Pjs.
Yet here I am, years later still traipsing around bear country without a gun. Here’s why.
Effectiveness of bear spray
This may be counterintuitive, but bear spray does work better at deterring bears than firearms. It’s nasty stuff, and when an animal with the sense of smell 100 times more powerful than a human’s gets a face-full of it, it’ll usually stop its charge immediately. Bears, particularly grizzlies, often continue their attack, even after a fatal shot. It’s not surprising then that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service report that around 50% of people using firearms in a grizzly encounter still suffered injuries. Those using bear spray suffered from much fewer and less severe injuries.
A 2008 study by biologist Tom Smith looked at 600 bear encounters in Alaska. Bear spray proved 92% effective in the 72 cases that it was used. Four years later, Smith did another study in 2012 looking at bear encounters involving firearms. Depending on how you interpret the study, firearms were somewhere between 58% and 76% effective.
Speed and Ease of Use
Even a good marksman or markswoman will take at least a few seconds to unsling a gun, chamber a round, aim, and fire. Even if you are in ready position with your gun, simply aiming is going to take longer than unholstering a can of bear spray. To make matters worse, a bad shot may just make a bear angrier. Add to that the panic that comes with being face-to-face with and angry apex predator, and I’d say your chances are a lot better with bear spray.
Carrying too much weight isn’t just unpleasant, it can be dangerous. If you are fatigued, you are going to be less aware of your surrounding, less likely to make noise, and slower to react in the event of a bear encounter.
A 12-gauge shotgun is going to weigh 6 or 7 lbs. Compare that to 8-11oz for a canister of bear and there is no contest. While a lighter gun may stand up against a black bear, a grizzly needs some serious power to bring it down.
Just because a bear is angry at you doesn’t make it an evil creature that needs to die. Remember, you are in its home, and it’s usually just defending itself. Sometimes it’s only approaching out of curiosity, and spraying it will simply teach it that humans are best avoided.
That being said a predatory, habituated, or unusually aggressive bears should be reported to the appropriate authorities so they can take action if necessary.
No matter how safe you are with your firearm, it’s hard to predict what kind of bad decisions you’ll make if you are panicked. There are plenty of stories of people inadvertently shooting themselves or their partners while hurrying to get a shot at the bear.
What about Wind and the Short Range?
In good conditions, bear spray should shoot at least 16 feet, but some brands will shoot further. This may seem uncomfortably close, but a bear further away will likely decide you aren’t worth the trouble before it actually attacks. You can also spray a bit earlier to make a cloud for the bear to run through.
In the Smith study, only five of the bear spray cases were effected by wind, and the spray still hit their target. You may get sprayed a little yourself, but it’s a small price to pay.
It’s now legal in many U.S. national parks to carry a firearms, but the ruling is still subject to state laws. Here in Canada it is illegal to carry firearms (with some exceptions for polar bears) in national parks. Oddly, it is also illegal to carry bear spray in Yosemite, so if you plan on hiking there, bring your bear sense.
Things to Note
Now I want to make a few points clear. Carrying any form of bear defence does not replace the need to use your bear sense. Always make noise while hiking, stay aware of your surroundings, avoid hiking alone, keep you camp free of food smell, and know what to do in a bear encounter to avoid an attack.
Also, no matter what you choose to carry, know how to use it. If you choose bear spray, practice unholstering your bear spray and removing the safety, and ALWAYS keep it somewhere where you can grab it. Should you have an expired canister, practice discharging it. If you choose a gun, make sure it’s going to be powerful enough and practice getting it ready and taking aim in a variety of situations.