Our 1st Overnight Backpacking Hike
We did it! Earlier this week David and I headed out on our very first overnight backpacking hike. We regularly head out on day hiking trips, but this would be our first time staying the night and then hiking our way back. What is more exciting is that I have adjusted my work schedule to allow for us to routinely schedule backpacking trips every other week (YES!); possibly even more if we can convince the kids to also start up backpacking (haha! I really doubt it though). We are not getting any younger and I want to explore and do as much as I can before this body of mine gives out on me.
Our goal on this trip? Well, this trip was just to get us out there to test out what we already own with the knowledge that we already have. The only exception would be that we purchased hammocks to sleep in so that we could ditch the tent. We did not purchase anything fancy. They were just starter kits to see how we felt about hammocking vs tenting in order to decide which system we preferred and later invest in a setup that would hold up on longer treks. Research is definitely the fun part for me. I could research products for days... and test... and research... and test again. After this hike I planned on creating a list of what worked, what did not, what would I do different and in what order do I need to change things up. Some changes will just require doing things differently, but others will require purchasing new equipment... which does not always come cheap. Read on to find out what we learned on our first trek out.
So where did we go? We thought about heading further up into the Sequoia Mountains or possibly Shaver Lake / Dinky Creek area to get to cooler temps. After all, hiking and sleeping in 105° weather did not quite sound like our idea of relaxation. Unfortunately, time was not on our side for that far of a drive. We were not going to head out until after David got off of work which meant most likely we were going to be short on daylight hours. That being said, we settled on just hiking in our own backyard. LOL! I know what you are thinking... Is that really even backpacking? Well, we are very fortunate to live in a small valley surrounded by mountains. We can literally walk out of our front door and right on up into the hills. So that is what we did. Fortunately that was what we decided to do because by the time we got everything prepped to go, it was already past sunset. At least we would not have the sun beating down on us. Think positive Happy Hiker!
On the trail... A little after sunset we headed out on the our hike with our backpacks loaded up (more on what was in them later). We took Roxie, our German Shepherd with us, but our little dogs were a bit upset that they were not invited. It is just not safe for them with coyotes being common, wild bore and the occasional mountain lion. Sorry Kiki and Molly! Funny enough, our local wild horse gang was out front and looked like they wanted to join us on our hike, but they gave up a few feet down the street. Haha! I guess they had other plans. It was funny walking down our street to the trail. We got quite a lot of questions about our packs and where we were headed. A few had done the same and others wished they could join us. After a few chats with various neighbors we hit the trailhead and on up the mountain. This was not the easiest hike for our first run with our packs. It is 90 percent uphill and the temperature was still pretty high, although I knew we had a cold front rolling in later in the night that would hopefully save us. It was dark at this point, but the moon was bright so it lit our way. Chatting kept us busy and helped us forget the sweltering heat and pain in our bodies. Note to self... I must find a way to lighten up this pack.
Looking for the perfect spot was no easy task. On the East coast there are a million trees to choose from. That is not quite the case on the West coast and is definitely not the case on this trail. I had originally thought we would only head halfway up the trail which is actually pretty far, but there ended up being no breeze or water at our original destination, so we kept on trekking to the top of the mountain... and then some. No large predators were seen, but we definitely had our fair share of tarantulas and even a scorpion at one point. I just try not to think about it. I would rather not have my light on so I do not see all the spiders walking by. David found it fun to tell me about each one though. Thanks! When we got to the top of the mountain we still did not find the perfect spot. Being that David was in the Army, he prefers to find a location out of sight and off the trail so we do not run the risk of someone less desirable finding us while we are sleeping. After a little bit more hiking down a saddle and back up a bit more, we finally found a spot we were happy with. There were three trees perfect for us both to set up our hammocks and a pretty view of the city down below. Perfect!
Setting up our camp in the dark was quite the challenge. I was really hoping for light while setting up my hammock for the first time, but I guess that is what head lamps are for. Being that it was a hot night, I opted to only set up the hammock and bug net, leaving the tarp in my bag to test out another time. Setup was a little slow being that it was my first time, but I really appreciated the super easy suspension system that was included with the kit. It took no time at all to set up the hammock. David had used his hammock a few times for lounging on our other trips, so he was pretty quick with his setup although his suspension system needs a little updating. The bug net took a little more time to figure out since it was new for both of us. We finally got them up on both of the hammocks, but David decided he did not like the confinement and opted to not use it. I personally do not like the idea of creepy crawlies all over me in the night so I still used mine, but truth be told, there really were not any bugs out that night. We threw our sleeping bags in our hammocks, stored away a few easy to grab items, hung our backpacks from the tree and we were ready to relax. Well, not without a few wet wipes to freshen up, but after that I was finally off my feet.
Oh the sweet feel of relaxation! Unfortunately it was still sweltering hot out, so I opted to strip down for sleep rather than wear pajamas. Just in case though I stored my pants, shirt and socks in my hammock in case the weather report was correct and it finally got chilly. They were perfect to use as a pillow so it was not a total loss. I curled up with my book, "The Perfect Hang", and read a few chapters before bed. Stored in my easy to grab pouch was my water, phone, flashlight and knife. God forbid an animal attack at night, but I at least wanted to be prepared. I also had another pack attached to my ridgeline to hold my shoes. I was not going to leave those on the ground for a tarantula to set up camp in. The thought seriously creeps me out! After a little winding down I was ready for sleep. In a hammock you are supposed to lay diagonally. This gives you more of a flat lay which is a lot more ergonomic and creates less pressure points and weird bends. I thought this would be easy, but I found that when in a sleeping bag this is trickier than you think when trying to sleep on your side. Each time I found a pressure point I would adjust and try again. I will not say it was easy, but I finally found the sweet spot and was able to lay in a relaxed side curl, just like at home. Just at that moment the breeze came in! Oh yes the sweet feeling of cool air. I could hear David mumble something like "Oh!". And then he was snoring. LOL! That is all he needed to fall asleep. I stayed up a bit longer listening to the wind. It was strong and lightly swayed me eventually into a slumber.
Waking up the next day was surprising. I really thought I would have a few sore spots from not sleeping in my bed, but I actually felt great! Alas it was early and I wish I had an eye mask on, but that is just one of the simple things I will remember for next time. It was at this point that I had decided that hammocking with a sleeping bag was not ideal for a side sleeper. It restricted my movement and made it hard to lock in on a diagonal lay without sliding back to the middle. I will have to fix this with a separate top quilt and under quilt in the future, but it is not a deal breaker for short term. I can work with the sleeping bag for now. After laying there for a bit we finally got up to get ready to go. We got dressed, ate breakfast (cold oatmeal) and brushed our teeth (well at least I did). Packing up was a bit tricky learning what order we should do things for optimal ease, but we got it worked out. I ended up throwing all of the miscellaneous items from my hammock in my backpack temporarily and threw my sleeping bag in David's hammock. I then was able to pack up my bug net and roll up my sleeping bag. I could then set my backpack in my hammock to re-organize it before packing up my hammock. The less we have to lay things on the ground, the better. There are stickers everywhere and I'd rather not bring them home. Note to self... do not wear long socks in the summer that gather stickers every step you take.
The hike back home was a warm one. At 9am the sun was already beating down on us and with Roxie there, she had pretty much depleted all of our water being that it was summer and water sources were all dried up. Note to self... get Roxie her own backpack so she can carry her own water! My legs were slightly wobbly from the hike the night before, but we made it back down the hill in pretty good timing. Normally down always seems easier than up to me... although I know everyone is different. Along the way we scoped out possible locations for future hikes. We found a slow drip water source that might work for Roxie and another super close location that we can just test out our hammock setup. By the time we got home we were beat! Thank God for pools because that is exactly where I ran to as soon as we walked in the door!
Backpack: JanSport hiking backpack that David had from over 20 years ago.
Shelter: Wise Owl Outfitters hammock, bug net and tarp (tarp not used)
Bedding: Coleman 40° Raymer sleeping bag
Water: 2 liter water bladder and 1 liter Smartwater bottle
Food: Just add water rice meal, canned chicken, bread, oatmeal, trail mix and granola bars (we ended up not eating dinner, but breakfast was good)
Cookware: Small travel pot, 2 plates and 2 spoons
Clothing: Carhartt wool socks, Smartwool long sleeve undershirt, yoga pants, tank top & underwear
Toiletries: Toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, Chapstick, brush, wet wipes
Other: Knife, gloves, string, lighter, eye mask, head lamp, phone and book
Backpack: Mountaintop 40L hiking backpack
Shelter: Embark 2 person lightweight hammock with Wise Owl Outfitters bug net and basic tarp
Bedding: Ozark Trail 35° cool weather sleeping bag
Water: 100 oz water bladder, 1 liter Smartwater bottle, 2 quart water bottle and Sawyer water filtration
Food and Cookware: Sterno camping green wick cooking can
Clothing: Cargo shorts, t-shirt and dry sport ankle socks
Toiletries: Wet wipes, lotion and toothbrush
Other: 9mm gun, Gerber 21" machete, bungee cords, first aid kit, 550 cord, flashlight and headlamp, lighter, duct tape, fire starting gel
What I learned from this trip...
I REALLY need a new backpack. This is #1 on my new purchase list. The current one is just too heavy and not organized well for backpacking.
I need a top quilt and under quilt instead of a sleeping bag. This is not a priority, but on my list.
I would like to get a hammock with an integrated bug net. The optional net is more likely to hang on the ground. This is not a priority though. The hammock seems ok. Ideally though I would like a much lighter setup.
I would like a small pillow. I already ordered one, but it did not get here in time. Clothes bunched up work ok, but I think a pillow would be much better.
We need new cookware. There are a lot better compact systems. We did not even cook this time, but that is only because we got there too late. This one is not a priority, but on my list.
For summer I would bring shorts and ankle socks instead of yoga pants and tall wool socks. It was just way too hot for that.
I need a storage accessory for my hammock. It would be nice to have one good size storage inside my hammock for my book, phone and extra clothes, one on the outside of my hammock for my shoes and then I could store my water bladder in my hammock side pouch for easy access in the middle of the night. This is super essential, but I could probably think of something simple until I purchase something.
I need a small tarp to place under my hammock for putting on and taking off shoes. This is not super essential though.
Wear an eye mask. It is no fun being woke up too early by the sun shining in your face. On that note, do not face the direction of the sun.
I would like an app on my phone that will track the miles we hike and maybe the elevation as well. I'll definitely get this before our next hike.
Remember sunglasses and sunscreen! How did I forget????
What David learned from this trip...
He REALLY wants a small camping stool. Tasks like taking off his shoes and cooking would be easier with a camping stool instead of just sitting in the hammock. This is at the top of his list to buy.
Both of us REALLY want Roxie to carry her own water. She drinks a lot! We need to get her a dog hiking backpack to wear. This is especially necessary when no water will be at the location. We can probably fit her dog bowl and a sleeping mat in there too.
He too would really like a small tarp to place under his hammock for putting on and taking off shoes as well as changing his clothes.
He would like to pack more clips in his pack to be able to hang storage bags on his ridgeline. Storage is really key when you have a compact sleeping unit such as a hammock.
He would like to purchase a camping stove and compact cooking kit. Same as myself, I just feel this is an item that we need to update.
He REALLY wants a new pair of military hiking boots. He loved his old ones, but needs a new pair. Ankle support is really key for him as well as protecting his ankles from possible spider/snake bites plus the annoying stickers that are everywhere in the summer.