Camping in Beautiful Bhutan is not as Far Reaching as You Think

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Me at Tiger’s Nest Monastery

By Mary Lyons

When I tell people I went to Bhutan, I get mixed reactions. Sometimes I get asked, “Where’s Bhutan?” Others say, “Oh, is everybody really happy there?” in reference to their reputation for measuring Gross National Happiness. But the response I get most often is, “Wow, I want to go there, but ______…” You can fill in the blank. There’s always a but, and when it comes to Bhutan, there are two main obstacles that prevent people from visiting this amazing country. Number 1 is money. Number 2 is lack of knowledge that results in the misconception that getting there is difficult.

 

SAVE YOUR PENNIES, AND NICKELS… AND DIMES… AND PROBABLY A FEW DOLLARS

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Main building of Bhutan’s airport. It was completely empty except for one custom’s official.

Money is a justifiable obstacle. It can be expensive just to get to Bhutan. I flew from Kuwait to Kathmandu, and then on to Bhutan, for less than 500 USD round trip. However, my friend from Boston who met me there paid 1500 USD, also going to Kathmandu first. Before flying to Bhutan, travelers will have to fly into India, Nepal, Singapore, or Bangkok first. There are two airlines that fly to Bhutan. I know, I know. I couldn’t believe it either. One is Druk Air and the other is Bhutan Airlines. The planes are fairly small due to the decent into Paro, between two mountains. You’ll want to be awake for that.

Most people who are aware of Bhutan’s tourism industry already know that everyone pays a fee per day to go to Bhutan, and it is not cheap. It does, however, include everything but tips, alcohol, and souvenirs.

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Town square in Thimpu and view from my hotel room.

Tourism fees are set by the government and do not vary from operator to operator within Bhutan. I consulted several websites for a variety of tour operators within Bhutan and for the trek I wanted to do, every operator charged the same price. That’s because they don’t charge by the activity you want to do, they charge a fee per day that is set by the government. For groups of three or more, the fee is 250 USD a day. For a solo traveler or a couple, it is a bit more per day. I went with one friend, and we paid 280 USD each per day. I think a solo traveler will pay 300 USD per day. This daily fee is probably the single biggest obstacle for people who want to visit Bhutan.

Wow, that is steep, you say? Actually, it’s not a bad considering what is included. All of our lodging, food, guides, visa, and any entrance fees (not sure there are any…), and a 65 USD tourism fee is included to ensure responsible tourism. The only things not included are alcohol, souvenirs, and tips for the guides. If you know how long you want to stay in Bhutan, you can multiply the number of days by 250 USD (or 280 USD or 300 USD) and you’ll know how much your tour costs without even asking. All the tour companies I checked online post this government set fee on their website. Tourists are not charged this fee for the day of departure.

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We were greeted by this stunning sight after returning to Paro after a short walk to a museum.

There are no hidden fees. You will not be asked to pay for this or that when you arrive. I needed to rent a sleeping bag from my tour operator and I was told up front before arriving what that would cost. However, if you are trekking, you need to have your own gear because it is not available to buy within Bhutan. I rented a sleeping bag that belonged to the manager of Snow Leopard Treks, the local tour company I used. Even in Thimpu and Paro, trekkers cannot find gear, so it is important to bring everything the tour company says to bring with you.

VISA TO BHUTAN? THAT’S THE EASIEST PART!

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Bhutanese people at a local temple at one of the largest prayer wheels I’ve ever seen.

Everyone needs a visa to enter Bhutan except people from India, Bangladesh, and Maldives if they have at least six months remaining on their passports. Everyone visiting Bhutan for tourism purposes must also book through a licensed tour operator, of which there are many. The Bhutanese government does this in order to protect their country and their people from the negative effects of tourism, (not sure this is 100% effective) and also to limit the numbers of people who visit each year so they can prevent environmental damage.  They have never reached the maximum number of tourists allowed in one year, according to my guide, but numbers are growing.

Your tour operator will tell you exactly what to send them in order for them to get your visa. The cost is included in the daily fee. No special documents are required. You’ll just need to photocopy and scan some documents to email to your tour operator.

I recommend booking through one of Bhutan’s many tour operators rather than one in a surrounding country that offers a package including Bhutan. Here’s why. One, your money will go directly to the people of Bhutan. Two, you’ll be certain that you are getting the right information about your tour/trek. Three, you will pay less. There will be no extra fees that go to the tour operator. Tour operators in other countries are just middle men. They have to contact and work with a tour operator in Bhutan to book your tour, and you will pay for that middleman service.

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Me, Big Buddha, and the only decent cup of coffee I had during the entire stay in Bhutan.

 

IF EVERYTHING IS PAID FOR, I DON’T NEED CASH, RIGHT?

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Red Panda is one of two local brews, neither of which is worth writing about.

Wrong! If you plan to buy alcohol or souvenirs, you’ll need cash. Most places do not accept credit cards. Be warned, most souvenirs are made in China. Or Nepal. Or India. Not so much in Bhutan, although most tour operators will take tourists to the Handicrafts Emporium where people with disabilities are learning to create some beautiful works of art, including mandalas, Buddha sculptures, and traditional weavings.

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The other local brew, also not worth writing about. But hey, it’s beer, right.

The main reason you’ll need cash, though, is for gratuities for your guide, cook, and any helpers during your trek. Tipping is most definitely expected. It was impossible to get a straight answer about how much to tip the guides on our trek. I checked my Lonely Planet guide and that was also no help. My guide was not much help either. It is not in their culture to ask or even really discuss money, but he did give me some idea.

 

I’M A SOLO FEMALE TRAVELER. IS IT SAFE TO GO ALONE?

My response to this question is YES! Absolutely. Bhutanese people are warm and welcoming. The crime rate in Bhutan is one of the lowest in the world and they have too much pride to harm anyone and risk “losing face.” Anyone visiting Bhutan will not need to carry large amounts of money because most everything is already paid for.

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Artists at the Handicraft Emporium.

You’ll be the only female on your trek unless you’ve joined another group. Your guide, your cook, and any helpers will be men. The horses might be female. Either way, it won’t matter because you can rest assured you will be safe.

 

WHERE SHOULD I GO ON MY TREK IN BHUTAN?

Trekking in Bhutan depends on how much time and money a traveler has. Regardless of both, there are several trekking options and tour operators will tell you in detail about the trekking options they offer. There are three most popular treks in Bhutan, but none of them will be crowded. To minimize environmental damage, a toilet tent will be provided and you will be very thankful.

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Cheri Monastery day trek is quite easy for most fitness levels.

Here’s some information to give you an idea of what to expect from these three treks.

Cholmolhari Trek – app 13 days including flight days – 8 days, tent camping – includes a trek to Cheri Monastery and Tiger’s Nest and other cultural sights, like the Folk Heritage Museum – No one is allowed to climb Cholmolhari because it is sacred. This trek is challenging and you’ll be rewarded with absolutely stunning views and a great sense of accomplishment. You’ll also see some yak farms and yaks are awesome.

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Me and our guide, Sonam, at Cheri Monastery. The caretaker wasn’t there so we couldn’t go inside.

 

Gangtey Trek – 7 nights, 8 days – 5 nights tent camping –  includes a visit to the Folk Heritage Museum – considered easiest trek in Bhutan – trek through the valley of Phobjikha which is a glacial valley at 3000 meters above sea level – This is the trek for bird watchers or those who want an easier trek, but one that still showcases the beauty of Bhutan.

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Prayer wheels on the way to Tiger’s Nest.

 

Bhutan Culture and Haa Valley Trek (this is the one I did) –  app 9 days total – 2 nights 3 days trekking – 2 nights tent camping – 1 day trek to Cheri Monastery – 1 day trek to Tiger’s Nest – visit to Handicraft Emporium and other cultural sites and temples in Paro and Thimpu – Haa Valley was opened to tourism in 2001 and is still unspoiled by tourism. There is an opportunity to walk around and see the small, traditional town of Haa.  You’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the Haa Valley and Cholmolhari.

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Tiger’s Nest, this time without my big head in the way. Absolutely stunning and not treacherous, although it doesn’t seem that way from this view.

 

No matter what trek you choose in Bhutan, altitude will be a consideration, but in the three treks I mentioned, the highest point is 14,000 feet, but camping is not at that elevation. I did not experience headaches or altitude sickness on this trek, but everyone is different. All treks will have challenging changes in elevation and some steep ups and downs, but your guide will set a pace that everyone in your group can handle. Trekking in Bhutan doesn’t come cheap, but it does come with many rewards.

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This is a yak. Yaks are awesome.

 

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Spinning the prayer wheels. They are everywhere.

 

Beautiful Treks in the North of Italy

By Alessia Morello

If you are a trekking lover, the north of Italy with its thousands of trails is the ideal place to go.

Whether you decide to go trekking in the Alps, Dolomites or Friulian Dolomites, the scenery will always be spectacular and full of pleasant encounters such as deer, eagles, marmots, cows and goats… and yes! Sometimes you can find bears but is very rare to meet them.

In Italy the flags to follow in the paths are white and red, and usually very well marked so don’t worry and always follow the rule n.1 “never leave the path”.

Here my top 5 of the most beautiful Treks in the north of Italy divided into regions:

Trekking in FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA

L’anello delle Dolomiti Friulane – The ring of the Friulian Dolomites

In the middle of the less known dolomites is an incredible 4-day trek that reaches the Pacherini, Pordenone, Padova and Giaf shelters where you can sleep and refresh yourself. You will cross the wonderful and wild valleys of the unknown groups of Pramaggiore, Monfalconi, Spalti di Toro and Cridola.

Prepare yourself on high altitude walks, to the overcoming of many forks at several meters in altitude more than once a day, to established paths and the trek along the beautiful gentian trail and under the symbol of this region: the “Campanile di Val montanaia”. Breathless.

Have a look at a video I made from this area:

 

Il sentiero degli Scalini – The path of the stairs

The Passo dei Scalini Trail is located in the Western Julian Alps and is part of the Jof Fuart group. Starts from Sella Nevea at 1180 m. and arrives at the passo of the Scalini at 2022 meters in 3 hours between woods, alpine huts where the cheese is produced, waterfalls and high altitude views. Carrying on you can arrive at the Corsi Hut at 1874 meters. This shelter is an amazing red building totally surrounded by a semicircle mountain range and hundreds of rock goats.

The walk is not so difficult but long so if you are not trained for this when you arrive at the top turn yourself around and come back.

Beautiful Treks in the North of Italy 1

 

Trekking in VENETO

Trekking from Cortina D’ampezzo to the Croda da Lago alpine Hut

Cortina d’Ampezzo is one of the most famous and glamorous alpine destinations in Italy in summer and winter. During their winter season many famous sky races are organized here and in the amazing summer time it is possible to explore the dolomites through some amazing paths.

This trek is not so difficult but gives you the chance to see stunning views in just 4 hours of walking. The Hut is at 2042 meters but keep walking to the lake above, as the peaks of the mountains reflected in the calm waters of the alpine lake are something to be seen once in a lifetime.

Beautiful Treks in the North of Italy 2

 

Trekking in TRENTINO ALTO ADIGE

Trekking in the Dolomites high panoramic view – Alta via panoramica delle Dolomiti

This itinerary offers one of the most beautiful scenic views that you can admire throughout the Dolomite area! The first part of the trek can also be walked with kids until the hut in 1.5 hours, but the second part is recommended only for trained hikers. From the Valcroce mountain station you climb up Bressanone and through the pastures you reach the Rossalm hut, after which you could proceed to the “Gampenwiesen” meadows.

An amazing trekking that give you the chance to visit Bressanone as well, famous for having the majority population speaking German, for the beautiful churches and gardens, bridges and fountains and its spas. Really recommended!

 

Trekking the Tre cime di Lavardo from Misurina Lake – Le tre cime di Lavaredo dal lago Misurina

If you only have to choose one of these treks I will not make it difficult to choose this one. The tour of the three peaks of Lavaredo is one of the most beautiful landscaping trekking in Italy. It starts already, from 2320 meters, from the Rifugio Auronzo which can be reached by car and rises up to 2454 meters in 4/5 hours. You can find more info here from the official site: http://www.tre-cime.info/it/sesto/sesto/vivere-sesto/tre-cime-di-lavaredo-unesco.html 

Beautiful Treks in the North of Italy 3

 

Beautiful Treks in the North of Italy 4

 

The Dolomites have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site so you can imagine which shows with different scenarios await you.

Italy is famous for the sea but the mountains are also amazing and the food you can find there is healthy and at zero kilometer. This means that milk, butter, meat and vegetables are produced in the same valley you stay during your holiday. Beyond the support you give to the farmers, you can eat fresh food without preservatives and additives.

Sleeping and eating in alpine huts helps small communities to stay alive and to allow us to have unique place to stay.  Another cool thing is that all the treks in Italy are managed and maintained by volunteers for free so spend time in this little villages is really important for the Alpine villages.

So what are you waiting for!?

Italy is waiting for you!

 

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Alessia Morello lives in the north-east of Italy. After working for several years around the world she decide to stop and come back in her homeland and do the things she loves like trekking into the Dolomites with her dog Giorgino and creating posts and videos for her blog. She grew up doing outdoor adventures with the family and now the nature is part of her life. Other interests? Rock climbing, mountain bike trails, cooking vegetarian recipes and having fun!

Follow her travels at www.theitaliansmoothie.com and on Instagram and Facebook.

 

Preparing for a Quest to Conquer Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro 1

By Mary Lyons

Kilimanjaro is the highest peak on the continent of Africa and thousands of people summit Uhuru Peak at 19,300 feet every year. My dream to summit Kilimanjaro was born about ten years ago after I had been living overseas for a year. For the first time in my life, I actually had a disposable income to use for travel. For some reason, my dream to summit Kilimanjaro got put on the back burner for several years, perhaps because it is an expensive venture and I also wanted to include a safari and a trip to Zanzibar.

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Sign at our first camp – Every camp has a sign like this

About two years ago, I decided to bite the bullet, or break the bank I guess, and go to Tanzania to conquer Kilimanjaro. I booked the trip in May 2015, but my departure date was January 2016. The travel company I used in the UK had told me a year before when I contacted them, that I needed to book early because January is peak season for climbing because of the optimal weather.

After I booked the trip, the tour company sent me all the information I needed to prepare, but there were some things that were not clear to me, like who was going to carry what. I was used to carrying everything myself and their info made it sound like I would carry my own clothing, but that wasn’t the case. Other things were abundantly clear, like the bill! High altitude trekking does not come cheap, no matter what company you book with.

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Day 1 Starting our climb at 9000 feet – Everyone was thinking, -This is easy!-

Here are some tips that I hope will help you to prepare for any high-altitude trek should you decided to undertake such an adventure. I feel I should include a disclaimer here. I actually did not make it to Uhuru. Altitude sickness got the best of me, as did lack of sleep due to a snoring tent mate and headaches due to altitude. I did make it to Gilman’s Point, at 18,500 feet, and I’m proud of that, although it wasn’t my goal.

Getting Your Gear On

One of the things I needed to do in the States was buy clothing. I lived in Kuwait during the school year, and it’s impossible to find adequate gear there for such cold temperatures. Temperatures on Kilimanjaro are at zero (Celsius) or below once you get above 12,000 feet, and during the big push on the last day, it’s about -20C. I spend my year between two deserts where I can wear flip flops in winter. I was not prepared for -20C!

This is a list of what I took with me, based on recommendations from the travel company. I did the Rongai Route which was advertised as five days, but the 19km descent from 12,000 feet on the last day meant it was actually 6 days.

CLOTHING AND GEAR

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Me with Meru in the distance on Day 2

Four season Gortex coat with removable fleece inside from North Face (Gortex is NOT necessary! It’s just what I already had.)

Pullover fleece

Long-sleeve Climadry shirt for hiking during the day

Patagonia thermal underwear – 2 pairs, one for hiking on the last 2-3 days + one for camp and sleeping

Short sleeve Climadry shirt for hiking on the first day, starting altitude 9000 feet

Patagonia zip-off leg trekking pants

Marmot rain jacket and pants (you’ll need the pants to keep warm on the last day)

Fleece pants (for the last day where you have four layers on bottom, five on top, ski pants also work)

 

2 pair Smartwool socks (I wore both on the last day)

2 pair sock liners

2 pair Exofficio underwear

2 sportbras

 

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Mustafa and Jonas, both amazing guides – Mustafa got me to Gilman’s Point

1 wool scarf (only used it for the final climb, but actually took it off halfway up)

1 wool hat (in addition to the hood on my North Face coat)

1 pair thin gloves

1 pair insulated ski gloves (only used during the final climb)

Vasque hiking boots (again, Gortex is NOT necessary, do not spend the money on it)

 

Rented a sleeping bag from The African Walking Company for about 40 dollars

Therma-rest ¾ length ¾ inch thick mattress (most companies do not rent mattresses)

 

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Unique vegetation on Kili makes for great pictures

Headlamp

Rain cover for my day pack

Journal and pen

Nikon pocket digital camera (with extra battery – sleep with both to prevent batteries from dying, and carry close to your body during the day)

Two bandanas

Quick-dry pack towel

Facial wipes/toothbrush and toothpaste/sunscreen/night cream and eye cream (Hey, I’m a woman in her 40s! Gimme a break!)

Others in my group carried mosquito repellent. IMO, it is not necessary. The altitude is too high, you’re fully clothed all the time, and malaria is not a concern in Tanzania.

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Kilimanjaro in the distance – I believe this was taken on Day 3 of our climb

2L water bladder with insulated tube to go inside my daypack – In my opinion, there is a significant advantage to carrying a bladder as opposed to water bottles. There were 8 people in my group, and everyone except me carried bottles. Every time they wanted water, they had to take their packs off. I didn’t. During the climb on the last day, their water froze in the bottles. Mine didn’t because it was in my pack next to my body, even though I had five layers between me and the bladder.

 

Weighing In

It sounds like a lot of weight, but your porter will carry everything except your day pack which contains your rain coat and pants, camera and batteries, gloves, hat, scarf if you want, sunscreen, snacks, water, and I carried my journal and a small book.

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The porters passed us every day carrying 27kg each – Here they come!

You will most likely be limited to 15 kg total, not including your day pack contents. I left clothes and anything I didn’t need at the hotel. The hotel where you stay the night before your climb is the same hotel you will return to after you finish.

 

Kilimanjaro – The Air Sure Is Thin Up Here!

Preparing for altitude sickness is foremost on everyone’s mind before they climb Kilimanjaro, but there is no way to predict how your body will react. That said, I do think there are some things you can do to prepare. There was an expert climber in my group who was preparing to climb Mt Everest. I talked to him a lot about altitude. He was also a spinal surgeon from New York. You never know who you’ll meet in Africa. He was also married 🙁

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Kibo Hut at Day 4 Camp

One way to prepare yourself for high altitudes is to expose yourself to them. If you have access to an area with peaks above 12,000 feet, climb them and see how your body reacts. If camping is available at those high elevations, spend the night. I had the worst headaches at night.

Mustafa and Me at Gilman’s Point

To prevent and combat the effects of altitude, drink at least 3 – 5 liters of water a day. Ibuprofen was my friend and when my headaches were persistent, I took 2 every 4-6 hours. Drink when you’re not thirsty and eat when you’re not hungry.

I lost my appetite completely on Day 4, before our midnight ascent on Day 5. I ate some soup at our early dinner, and went to sleep at 6PM, but by midnight, I was running on empty and couldn’t get anything to go down. If I were to attempt it again, I would ask for plain white rice and maybe take saltine crackers with me to eat before ascending at midnight.

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The descent from Gilman’s Point at 18000 feet, looking down at camp at 15000 feet

There’s a medicine called Diamox that is supposed to help with altitude sickness. Make sure you investigate this option thoroughly before deciding whether or not to use it. There’s a reason a prescription is required to take it. It can also have the same side effects as altitude sickness, which is ultimately the reason I decided not to use it.

Most companies offer the option of using oxygen for the final ascent only, for an extra cost.

 

Let’s Make This Happen!

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We saw several of these on our last day after we got back down to 10000 feet
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Jonas was our contemplative guide with a smile like the sun

Peak season for climbing Kilimanjaro is January to March and June to October. January to March means you have a better chance of seeing snow, although you likely won’t see snow until your final ascent. The glacier atop Kilimanjaro is shrinking at an alarming rate. There’s also less chance of rain during these months I have mentioned.

Peak season means it can get crowded on some of the routes, although I didn’t think the Rongai 5-day route was crowded in January. It was busy, but not crowded.

Booking several months in advance is critical if you’re going during either of these peak seasons. If you are planning to hike the Coca-Cola route (Marangu Route) it is especially important to book many months in advance. This is the most popular route, partially because sleeping huts with dormitory style accommodation are used for accommodation along the way. People who prefer not to camp (and not use a camp toilet!) choose this option, but they book up many months in advance.

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Hans was voted most photogenic out of all the guides. You can see why.

Choosing a tour company can be daunting and some people feel it isn’t necessary. I have met people who just went to Tanzania and hired a guide and porter, and started trekking. It can be done and can cost a lot less than booking through a tour company. However, you won’t know what you’re going to get, or how qualified and experienced those guides and porters are. I wasn’t comfortable doing that, especially when I had never hiked at such altitudes before.

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Day 4 trek – Looks easy, right- Clean, flat. Ha! We were near 15000 feet and moving at a snail’s pace

Do thorough research on tour companies before deciding. Prices and departure dates can vary, although not as much as you might think. Tour companies outside of Tanzania are well-connected to companies within Tanzania. You pay the tour company, say in the UK, and they pay the local company who in turn, pays their guides and porters.

The cost of a Kilimanjaro climb will vary, but to give you some idea of costs, they could run from between $200 – $500 a day for a climb depending on season, route, number of people in your group, and the tour company you choose. Mine was expensive, but the quality and level of service cannot be beat.

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This is both a starting and ending point, depending on which route you take. It was our end.

 

It’s Not Glamping, But It’s Pretty Darn Close!

Accommodation on Kilimanjaro can vary widely, depending on the route and tour company you use. But overall, unless you book the Coca-Cola route, you’re going to be sleeping in a two-man tent with a tent mate. Most tour operators will try to discourage one person in a tent because porters are limited to carrying 27kg. They carry these tents from camp to camp, so when someone books a private tent, they actually put a burden on the porters.

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Our tents were the orange ones, spacious and functional

The tents are spacious, and the porters will carry your air mattress and sleeping bag. When you arrive at camp, your tent, mattress, and sleeping bag will be all set up for you and any personal belongings they carry will be inside the tent. Now that’s service! The African Walking Company also provided a toilet tent so that we didn’t have to use the gross park toilets. This was much appreciated!

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Me with our Chief Guide, Florence, who was so charasmatic and born to do this job

Tour operators also provide a dining tent. The meals are amazing. Three hot three-course meals a day are standard with most tour companies. They want you to eat as much as you can because it helps ensure your success in reaching the peak. We were also served tea and coffee in our tent in the morning, but I have some tent rules I follow that I also made my friend follow. They are:

1) no shoes inside the tent

2) no trekking poles inside the tent

3) no uncovered liquids in the tent!

We kept our tea and coffee outside the tent for the most part, but I eventually declined it altogether.

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Meru Peak was visible for much of our trek up Kilimanjaro and was just as photogenic

Tipping the People that Helped You Get There

One of the things I liked most about this adventure was that we were given an actual guide to tipping the guides and porters. There are different levels of porters and guides, as well as the cook and chief guide. The tipping scale gave us a range of how much to tip and luckily, we had a mathematician in our group who could figure out how much we should all put in the pot. These 33 guides and porters were so amazing, we gave them the maximum amount.

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All 33 guides and porters as well as my group of 8 at the tipping ceremony on the last night

I want to include a word about over-tipping. Over-tipping is not beneficial to those who receive it or to climbers who come after you. It instills unrealistic expectations in the guides and porters, and disappointment when the group after you doesn’t over-tip. Please stick to the guidelines supplied by the tour company.

Now You Know

A good tour company will provide you with all the information you need before making a decision about whether or not to book a tour and climb Kilimanjaro. It’s a serious endeavor that takes planning and preparation. Hopefully my two cents worth can help you do just that. I’d love to hear from you! Leave comments and questions below and I’ll be sure to answer them!

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View of Meru Peak from our camp on Day 3

 

How To Start Backpacking and Be Fearless in the Wilderness

backpacking 1

 By Lucy Gomez

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!

backpacking 2You’ll need:

  • A Trail Map
  • A Compass

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…

  1. Check your weather forecastbackpacking 3

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!

  1. 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…

  • backpacking 4Base 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?

backpacking 5None 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…

backpacking 6Breakfast: 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?

backpacking 7Well, 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!

backpacking 8Step 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
  • Bury your poop with a spade
  • Know the phone number for mountain rescue
  • Let others know your planned route
  • 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!

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Microspikes Are My New Best Friends

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By Emily Pennington

“Why have I never used these before?!” I quietly exclaimed to myself as I skipped down the side of an ice-covered ridge in Yosemite National Park. Rather than boulder-hopping and mountain-goating from stone to stone as I had on my way up the mountain, I was suddenly free to move, parading over frozen streams and mini-waterfalls with the grace of a Bolshoi dancer. The reason? Microspikes.

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I’m not entirely sure why it took me so long to buy a pair, or why my little forest-obsessed heart was so afraid and untrusting of winter gear in general. Perhaps Southern California had begun to make a permanent impression, declaring all things cold to be untrustworthy cohorts of the Norse gods, or perhaps I just hadn’t found the right winter monkey posse to push me past my comfort zone. In any case, I am now a convert to the religion of microspikes!

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In case you’re new to the scene, like me, here’s the scoop: microspikes are a step down from crampons, tiny sets of metal spikes attached to rubber that quickly and easily snaps up and around your regular hiking boots. They’re mostly used for hiking and mountaineering when ice may be present on the trail and the slope is not greater than 25-30 degrees. The best part? They aren’t like other winter gear that costs $100 or more! One set of these on Amazon will only set you back about $30, and they work like a dream. I bought the Uelfbaby set with 19 spikes, and I couldn’t be happier. Getting out in the fresh powder atop a frost-bitten cliff in Yosemite has made my Scandinavian bones begin to crave the chilly thrill of winter sports. Snowshoeing, frozen ascents, and cross-country skiing are all in my near future, thanks to the wake up call these little foot bayonets provided. I think this may be the beginning of a tremendously fun and gear-centric snow season! Does anyone have an ice-axe I can borrow?? 😉

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Inspiration for the (Female) Adventurer’s Soul

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By Andrea Willingham

I confess: I’m a sucker for a good story with a strong heroine, and we’re not talking Scarlett O’Hara here. We’re talking that rare breed of female lead that somehow seems to elude most mainstream media, disproportionate to the number of male protagonists that dominate our literary landscape and cultural narratives.

Although this topic has become of great interest to me in the last few years, I have tended to shy away from addressing it, frankly because I don’t want to be pegged as some feminazi whining about the patriarchy. That’s not why I’m writing this. I am writing it because I think there are a lot of other people out there — men and women alike — who enjoy hearing the stories of female characters just as much as I do, and just as much as we all like stories about male characters.

I will be the first to admit that some of my favorite stories of all time center around the dude protagonist. Anyone who knows me knows that Into the Wild was one of my biggest inspirations for going to Alaska myself, and before that, Kingbird Highway fueled my teenage obsession with birdwatching and hitchhiking.

In my early naïveté, I wanted so badly to have the adventures that Chris McCandless and Kenn Kaufman had in their solo treks across the US, following in the legacies of even earlier explorers like Lewis & Clark and John Muir. But I was always torn between the dichotomy of being told I can accomplish anything I want, and that I am more limited because I am a woman, vulnerable by default.

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Oddly enough, I never actually experienced the gender bias myself until I moved to Alaska. Growing up in a family of strong women and graduating near the top of my class in college, nothing ever held me back, though I was aware that my privilege was unique. Yet suddenly when I embarked on my own life of adventure, everyone seemed concerned for my safety and success, probably more so than they would have if I was a big, burly dude. And for good reason.

In rural Alaska, I found myself in a man’s world. For the first time in my life, I was being called at in the streets, followed occasionally when I went out for a walk, offered drinks, sex, and even marriage, and told I was “beautiful” or “cute” by complete strangers. Most of these things are easy to avoid or ignore, but it brought to light the unique challenges faced by female travelers — challenges that possibly make their stories all the more compelling, because they are being dealt with in addition to the usual adversities of any other adventurer.

“A man on the road is solitary. A woman on the road is alone,” writes Vanessa Veselka in her essay Green Screen: The Lack of Female Road Narratives and Why it Matters, in The American Reader. She continues, “This is not cute wordplay, but a radically different social experience. Often, I was asked why was I travelling. But over time, I came to understand that the question was not ‘why,’ but ‘how.’”

My experience has been similar. When I’m in uniform as a park ranger, I’m occasionally met with surprise when people find out I’m from so far away, or that I travel just for the experience of it. “Why would you want to come all the way up to Alaska?” or “Why did you leave?” or “You’re so brave to do this by yourself.” One older lady even said to me (I kid you not), “It’s so interesting they’re letting women do this now. I met another young female park ranger this year, and I just couldn’t believe it!” A lot of people still have an antiquated view of the mustached man with pith helmet, so the idea that travelers today can be any one of us is quite a different pill to swallow.

Are female adventurers less common than their male counterparts, or simply less noticed? Sometimes I think the latter may be true, which is perhaps why I’m so intrigued by their stories when I do hear them. If you are too, check out some the following and feel free to share some of your own favorite heroine books and movies in the comments.

 

Book and Film | Wild

Inspiration 3“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves…” ― Cheryl Strayed

I first heard about this book in the summer of 2013, being criticized for similar reasons that Chris McCandless was criticized for in Into the Wild. In many ways, the story is the same, only this time it’s a woman who goes into the wilderness to escape demons of her past, ill-prepared and misguided in her efforts and judgment. It’s great! It’s raw and honest and lays everything out in the open. Unlike McCandless though (spoiler ahead!), author Cheryl Strayed does not succumb to the deadly forces of nature, and instead lives on to write this memoir. It’s exciting, yet a realistic look at the challenges and torture of hiking over 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail with no prior experience. The movie adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon came out in 2014, and did a surprisingly good job of capturing the spirit of the book. My one qualm with it was that it focused more on Strayed’s emotional grappling with her past and less with her experiences on the trail than did the book.  I would have liked to see more of her trail stories depicted, but perhaps that’s a good argument for both reading the book and seeing the movie – you can get a good taste of both that way.

 

Book | The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost

Inspiration 4This book far exceeded my expectations, capturing the very essence of the coming of age journey that so many young woman travelers experience. I wish I had read it about 7 years ago, when I first traveled abroad. It is the story of Rachel Friedman, a college student who finds her love of travel after spontaneously spending a summer waitressing in Ireland. There, she meets a free-spirited Australian woman who inspires Rachel to spend the next year traveling for the sake of the experience, and together they encounter wild adventurers across three continents, as the title suggests.

It’s a fun read, relatable for anyone who has ever fantasized about traveling the world with their best friend but has absolutely no idea where to start or how to do it. Instead of worrying about that though, Rachel learns to just go for it, inspiring the reader that anyone can do the same.

 

Inspiration 5Book | Life List 

Life List is particularly interesting because it is the true story of a woman who finds her adventurous side after raising a family and spending some 30 years as a humble housewife. At the age of 50, after being misdiagnosed with only a year left to live, Phoebe Snetsinger sets out to turn her hobby of birdwatching into the most exciting quest of her life. She ends up spending the next 18 years traveling the world in search of rarer and rarer bird species. Although she often takes guided birding tours in each place she goes, her journey is far from sheltered, as she encounters accidents, a kidnapping, and malaria among other misfortunes. But despite all this, Phoebe is never deterred and it is truly her enthusiasm, commitment, and perseverance that makes this such a compelling read.

 

Inspiration 6Film | Open Road

This fascinating little film tells the story of a young Brazilian artist who lives a solitary and nomadic lifestyle, on a journey of self-discovery. It has a definite independent film-vibe, excellent character development, and a dash of mystery as the story unfolds and the heroine struggles with the desire for human connections while also holding herself at a distance from others. I think it’s a common struggle for many young people who take off on their own, and this film does a good job of taking you along on the journey without revealing it all too fast. It’s a bit slow-paced and the scenes are acted out so naturally you could almost forget you’re watching a film.

 

Film and Book | Tracks:

Inspiration 7“The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavour is taking the first step, making the first decision.” ― Robyn Davidson

Literally, it’s a true story about a girl in the 1970s who decides to walk 1,700 miles across the Australian desert with 4 camels and her dog. What’s not to love about that? The book has been out for a long time, but I’ve only seen the movie so far and it immediately became one of my favorite movies I’ve ever seen. Like so many other stories of this caliber, it has a number of flashback scenes alluding to Robyn Davidson’s troubled past, but unlike some of the other stories, these don’t seem to completely dominate her motivation for her journey. Ultimately, she is simply on a quest to prove to herself that she can do it. As a character, Robyn is fascinating and you can’t help but empathize with her: she does what she needs to get what she wants, but rejects offers from others to accompany her on her trip because she wants to have the experience alone. Without giving too much away (because you really HAVE to watch this film), she finds that in some sense, shared experiences are what make life worthwhile — and survivable.

 

While I am continuously building up my personal library of strong heroine stories, I will leave you with these for now. I invite others to share their favorite heroine stories as well — and most of all, I hope you will be inspired to go out and live your own. Adventure on!

Inspiration 8

Enjoyed this article by Andrea?  You can see more of her work on her website.

 

The Appalachian Trail – What to Expect and How to Prepare

Appalachian Trail 1
The infamous 2000 mile marker has probably moved due to rerouting of the AT since 2003, but hitting this milestone is a huge accomplishment for every thru hiker. Lucky for us this road doesn’t have much traffic!

By Mary Lyons

How did I get this crazy idea?

Appalachian Trail 2In 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!

Appalachian Trail 3It 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!

Appalachian Trail 10My 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.

Prepare Physically

Appalachian Trail 9A 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.

Practice

Appalachian Trail 7I 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.

Prepare Mentally

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.

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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.

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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?

Plan Financially

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.

Appalachian Trail 8As 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!

Appalachian Trail 5There 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.

Appalachian Trail 5Packing 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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What To Do If You Lose Communication While Camping

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Sponsored Post

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.

 

Maintaining Reception

lose communication 2If 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.

 

lose communication 3If 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

lose communication 4If 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.

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Article provided by Lizzy and our friends over at AVG Anti-Virus.

Free checklists for lovers of the great outdoors

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By Nicole Anderson

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:

 

Free Checklist Hiking and Backpacking

The Hiking and Backpacking Checklist by Lynley Joyce

Click below to download:

hiking-and-backpacking-checklist.pdf (295 downloads)

 

 

 

Free Checklists CampingThe Camping Checklist by Lynley Joyce

Click below to download:

Camping-checklist.pdf (269 downloads)

 

 

 

Free checklists Camping with kids at all stagesThe Camping with Kids at all Stages Checklist by Lynley Joyce

Click below to download:

Camping-with-kids-at-all-stages-checklist.pdf (246 downloads)

 

 

 

Free checklists the ultimate road trip checklistThe Ultimate Road Trip Checklist by Janessa Tice Miller

Click below to download:

The-Ultimate-Road-Trip-Checklist.pdf (252 downloads)

 

 

 

 

 

Free Checklists first aidThe First Aid Kit Checklist by Amanda Parent

Click below to download:

First-Aid-Kit-Checklist.pdf (257 downloads)

 

 

 

Free Checklists post camping

And lastly, but by no means least:

The Post-Camping Checklist by Lynley Joyce

Click below to download:

Post-camping-checklist.pdf (249 downloads)

 

 

 

Use, share and tailor the checklists

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Personal protection against bears – guns or bear spray?

bear spray 1

By Carley Fairbrother

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.

bear spray 2Effectiveness 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

bear spray 3Even 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.

Weight

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.

bear spray 4

Unnecessary Killing

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.

bear spray 5

Human Safety

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.

bear spray 6

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.

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The Law

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.

Sources

U.S. Fish & Wildife Service. Bear Spray vs. Bullets: Which offers better protection? Living with Grizzlies http://www.bearsmart.com/docs/BearSprayVsBullets.pdf

Tom Smith et al.  Efficacy of firearms for bear deterrence in Alaska. Journal of Wildlife Management. 76(5):1021-1102J. July 2012. https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/326124/efficacy-of-firearms-for-bear-deterrence-in-alaska.pdf

Tom Smith, et al. Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska. Journal of Wildlife Management 72(3):640 – 645 · December 2008.  http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/bear_cougar/bear/files/JWM_BearSprayAlaska.pdf

Video

Also, check out this video put together by Carley Fairbrother, together with a giveaway she is running this month: