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Backpacking Lessons Learned

My trusty backpack near Puppet Pass in Humphrey's Basin

Backpacking Lessons Learned

- Notes made along the way.

At the end of each of my trips, when I get back home, I take notes on lessons learned. Here is a sequential list of those notes for your general information and entertainment. You can see what I learned and tried starting with my first overnight trip.

My most important lessons were the ones I learned during prep trips. Sometimes these are called gear "shakedowns." It is when you go out for one night to just see how everything works before heading off on a bigger trip. Having the luxury of time to do this is nice. If you can pull this off, I strongly recommend it.

If you are looking for a basic list of tips for beginners, I have another post for Beginning Backpacking Considerations.


My first trip was to Cache Creek.

  • I packed too much food. Left overs from my trip are here:
Left over food
  • I really wanted some kind of seat/ chair at camp. Even my dad's foam pad was nice to have - maybe a solid pad that can convert to a chair? [I ended up purchasing a Crazy Creek roll up chair and now take it on almost every short trip]
  • Pad was comfy, but way too noisy. [This was the Sleepingo Sleeping Pad which was actually very light weight and easy to carry]
  • I need to wear more layers to bed - I got cold even when falling asleep.
  • Love the Sawyer Squeeze! Just bring that, the squeeze bag and emergency tablets. Look into gravity setup while at camp? I spent a lot of time and repeat trips filtering at the creek. [I ended up getting a two liter CNOC water reservoir and using the gravity set up and it works great]
  • Used my dad's top backpack as a day bag. Definitely bring if going to day hike. [I now bring and use the Osprey pack's brain]
  • Pants were also comfy but way too noisy.
  • Tent setup was super easy. [Yay for the Marmot Tungsten 1 person!]
  • Used half the cooking gas (small one) for one dinner (boiling full pot of water) and two coffees and one breakfast (another almost full pot of water).
  • One Chili Mac was not enough for dinner. Had extra of my dad's Jerk chicken. 
  • Phone was in battery saver and airplane mode. Could use GPS but only for partially loaded topo on Google Maps (maybe pay for premium AllTrails or Gaia). Came back with over 40% charge and didn't use extra battery pack. [I ended up seeing a lot of trip leaders and experienced outdoors folk using Gaia, so I went with that]
  • Didn't use the lightweight cord I brought - noticed I had more guideline cord in tent pole bag that I could use if needed.
  • Loved my long sleeve shirt and sun hat. [I really love the long sleeve I picked up at Target, the All in Motion men's cozy 1/4 zip pullover]
  • Boots felt great, used mole skin and took socks and shoes off during breaks.
  • Loved my flip flops as camp shoes and for river crossing.
  • Didn't use bug stuff, didn't rain. Didn't use rain layer. Took out bag liner (maybe only pack if needed or bring bag cover?).
  • Could have used hand sanitizer or wipes. Used the all in one soap, but not regularly. [I ended up just getting a travel sized hand sanitizer and using that - super easy]
  • Loved the bear canister.


My second trip was to Emigrant Wilderness.

    • Bugs were something else. Need something for the dog. She dealt but was not happy. My mesh hat was great. I got bit at the elbows (check my long sleeve - maybe some reinforcement there?) And right above the pants on my back (make sure shirt is tucked in!). My bug stick did not work. Had to keep moving. 
    • Feet were great! No blisters even with a very wet river crossing on Day 2. My right top arch ached a bit on Day 2 as well. I eased off and let the boot do the work and bent my knees more downhill and that helped. My right big toe just gets slammed in the toe box for some reason and the right side of the nail hurts almost right away. Have tried different lacing and cutting back the nail. Still an issue. Maybe a heel lock along with some parallel lacing? https://www.outdoors.org/resources/amc-outdoors/gear/know-this-hiking-boot-lacing-technique-the-heel-lock/ [The heel lock lacing worked wonders - it was amazing. Although my right big toe still has some comfort issues during long hikes].
    • Gaitors were great!!
    • Shoulders and hips were very sore morning of Day 2 at Emigrant. Maybe get it fit? Might be normal? Sore hips seems like it is working correctly. I did feel like I had to keep adjusting the pack higher. The load balancers did nothing. Shoulders were sore in the back. The strap in the front between shoulders felt way to high against my neck. [I ended up going to REI and getting my pack refit, it was set at a bit longer of a torso length and so we adjusted it. It was much more comfortable afterwards and I'm very glad I had someone take a look.]
    • Maybe position the sleeping pad on one side of the pack? Or straight along the back up and down? It got banged around a lot on the bottom. [I still struggle with this a bit. Even straight along the back, it gets cinched down quite a bit.]
    • Bought too much food to start with. Ended up throwing out extra Fritos and Jerky at the trailhead as I didn't want to have extra food in the car.
    • Extra day and short hike at altitude was key. Felt minor hangover effects but stayed very hydrated.
    • Pushed it a bit for me and the puppy. Should break it up into < 7mile days and <1,000 foot gain per day. 
    • Pepper's feet did great.
    • Everything fit great in bear canister.
    • The long spork is too long to really fit in bear box. Good for Mountain Home bags but that may be it. Spork in general is great. [It's the Sea to Summit Alpha light sport - I'm thinking of a bamboo spoon.]
    • That Skurka rice and beans meal was incredible. I used this full recipe.
    • More than enough propane and some to share. 
    • Did not use spices, but just forgot. Probably would have!
    • Was a pain to get food from pack/ bear box during the day. Need to take things out and put them on top for the day.
    • Kept pulling sunscreen, sanitizer, chap stick, snacks and bug stuff from my pack and putting it into my hip pockets. Never touched the emergency stuff, could move them from hip pocket.
    • Did not read much of the book I brought.
    • Gaia GPS saved map worked fantastic. Low power mode and airplane mode on phone and the phone lasted 1 day +.
    • My fleece was great. Used it as an extra blanket, pillow and wore it to begin both hiking days. Wore my blue long sleeve the whole time.
    • I wore my down jacket, warm hat, gloves only in the very early morning at camp Day 2. Didn't need them once the sun hit. 
    • Didn't wear my rain layer but glad I brought.
    • Loved sleeping on the new pad. I think Pepper did too. [This is the Nemo Switchback sleeping pad]
    • I don't like my hiking pants. Seem too thin and keep slipping down my waist. Maybe I should just get used to them...[I had trouble with finding comfortable pants! I ended finding a used Patagonia pair and now I love them.]


    My third trip was my big trip to Humphrey's Basin.
    • Great food! Favorites included the Pad Thai noodle, hot and sour soup, biscuits and lunches with dried pineapple, jerky and cheese (manchego?). Loved the packet of tuna, adding mayo packet and cholula. Salmon pasta was good. Typically was premade with some protein (could be beans) and dehydrated. Then the prep was combining ingredients and rehydrating. Stove was old school with white gas and wind screen. Used a strainer when cleaning.
    • Used InReach for emergency and communications (like SMS and weather reports).
    • Used large bear cans and small stuff sacks for common stuff, referred to as "commissary."
    • Had a hand wash station and gravity water filter. Otherwise used Katadyne water tablets and Nuuns.
    • Brought Country Time (single, 1L servings) and Fruit Punch that we mixed with water and (a small, individual amount of) 151 for Happy Hour.
    • My pillow was my sleeping bag stuff sack with my blue shirt and down jacket. Worked great! Static V2 by Klymit was recommended as a pad.
    • Didn't bring my own water filter and chair. While I would have used them, I don't think they were worth the weight.
    • My cell charger was lighter but it only charged 50%. That lasted 5 to 6 days with minimal use. It was the blue one [a custom one given to me as a work gift]. Should have brought the other one.
    • Need more moleskin. It is amazing. Could look at adding athletic tape to my first aid kit.
    • USGS quads were perfect for cross country planning.
    • Need more practice with my compass.
    • Love my new whistle!
    • We packed out TP. Probably the right thing to do...we used scent locked brown bags.
    • I brought extra sunscreen and didn't use it.
    • The garden gloves helped on talus, but not sure if I would bring again. Maybe some smaller glove/ hand protection if anything.
    • Dogger croc knock offs seemed like great camp shoes. Something light and I could wear warm socks with.
    • 3-5 miles per day, with breaks, 45+ lb pack and 1,000 ft gain was about right. We did 2,000 the first day to get over the pass and 3,000 ft down the last.
    • Made my pack compact down Puppet Pass. Meant strapping my pad on the back vertically, collapsing and stowing my poles and shoving my water bottles in the main side pockets vertically. Very easy to manage the talus like that.
    • Do NOT rinse/squeeze clothes out into lakes. Get them wet, carry them away from the water, then squeeze them out and lay them out to dry.
    • Learned the term "broadcast" to toss your food/water waste in a wide arc.
    • When sediment built up in the filter or the water level in the top reservoir dropped below the filter, we would “prime” it. This was done by elevating, squeezing and backflushing the bottom bag until the water ran clear in reverse. Then we would toss the water in the top and start again. Really not sure about this - I thought you were supposed to use clean filtered water to backflush or there were some suggestions on how to do this. But none of us got sick!
    • When moving off trail to let a horse or mule pass, move to the downhill side. Or ask the leader where they want you to go!
    • They liked having the water away from the trees - so you didn’t have sap dripping into it.
    • Feet: had to consciously relax to reduce pain and stress while hiking. Same for neck and traps. Otherwise my non-hip body parts got VERY tense and ached throughout the hike.
    • Bear boxes at trailheads, but few other services. Backpacking parking at North Lake was very poorly marked and not in an obvious spot - it was near the pack station.
    • Lots of people doing the North Lake to South Lake loop. Looks incredible. Can see Evolution, Le Conte and the Muir Hut. Passes aren't too terrible. Seems like 6 month advance Inyo permits are tough to get.
    • Loved Bishop Pass Trail. Long Lake looked like tons of fish jumping. Apparently the lakes are good to fish in all day. Easy hike up until right before the pass. Good view of the mountains at the pass, but had to work my way down half a mile or so to actually see Dusy Basin.
    • Italy Pass via Pine Creek Pass apparently is very tough, not well maintained and not worth it. Although it is attractive as a direct approach to some great backcountry areas.
    • Royce Lakes Basin was an interesting one. It looks incredibly stark and barren and you can get there from traversing from Pine Creek Pass. Did not look appealing, however the one trip report from a group that actually went there said that it was the highlight, primarily because it was so different.


    My fourth trip was back to Cache Creek.

    • My water filter did not work. I really have to make sure I test that out before a trip - especially for the first trip of the season. Good thing I had my backup tablets.
    • I left my bowl in the car. That was a mistake - never leave your water boiling pot behind. I was thinking about my meals and that all I needed was my cup. I forgot I had to actually boil water for my hot oatmeal and coffee. So I ate my snack bars for breakfast and waited to get coffee on the return drive home.
    • The tent worked great in medium winds - it is really cramped with the dog. But I was very warm, even slept with the bag unzipped for most of the night.
    • Routefinding was very straightforward. Glad I brought my paper map and compass, but didn't need them. Gaia was great along with a photo of the map at the trailhead.
    • Phone kept almost a full charge the whole trip. Didn't need to use my backup charger (but glad I had it with me just in case).
    • Glad I checked the flow rate of the river before going and called the dam release. I was still nervous that it would be too low, but it was fine as a water source (and easy to ford) when I got there.


    My fifth trip was back to Emigrant Wilderness.
    • Too much mileage and elevation gain given that I came down with COVID (at the time I thought it was a common cold). The 3.3 miles and 1,500 gain on Day 1 was OK. But then my symptoms started to hit me the next day. I should have cut my trip short and not continued on my epic 24.8 mile loop with another 1,500 gain.  If I were feeling better and if I was able to do most of the loop as a day hike without my pack, that would have been different.
    • Meal planning was great. Had extra bars and dog food but it was just the right amount extra in case we had to wait another night.
    • I was worried about Pepper’s paws on hot asphalt, but she had shade and dirt shoulders to walk on and was fine. She just didn't like the heat and would move from one pocket of shade to the next and loved cooling off in the river. She handled river crossings amazingly well and is very good at staying on and finding the trail.
    • Watching the weather is important - not just the point and click maps which were very helpful, but the actual storm clouds and listening to the thunder to see where they are moving. I was sheltering when a pack train passed by and I asked the leader if he worried about lightning at the pass up ahead, he said he wasn't and that it seemed the storm was moving away.
    • Gaia was great and phone kept its charge. Didn't use paper maps or compass but glad I had them.
    • Used everything else in my pack.
    • Needed easier access to my towel for stream crossings. Ended up putting it in the brain.
    • Had my rain gear easily accessible and that helped a lot.
    • Should have stopped to put on Deet before the Emigrant Meadow Lake mosquito madness. And my head net. I did a better job of that later on.
    • IT Band stretching (crossing legs and bending down from the hip, then twisting) was fantastic. And I did NOT cinch up my hip straps while hiking, I just let the backpack load fall where it wanted. And I was not sore on my hips or shoulders!
    • With feeling sick, I lost a lot of my appetite. Forced myself to eat a huge rice and bean dinner and I think that helped. Took breaks on the way out to eat jerky and that helped as well.
    • No blisters! Maintained some breaks and took my shoes off at each river crossing and tried to keep them dry.
    • Trails are not created equal. Well traveled ones are easier to follow and have more ways to get across streams. Not well traveled look the same on some maps but take longer with finding the trail and crossing streams. I had a much slower pace from Emigrant Meadow Lake to Blackbird because of the cross country nature of that section.
    • I should not have opted for Brown Bear pass which added mileage and elevation gain to the loop. It also put me in a position where I had to deal with weather at the pass, while Mosquito Pass looked to stay clear (and I knew that the other side of Brown Bear was an exposed open meadow).
    • Water filter worked great. I didn't refill at Grouse Creek on the way out and probably should have.
    • We need to figure out a better way to sleep in the tent. And if I give her my fleece for extra warmth, I need something else for a pillow.
    • I had pain in my right foot on the bottom sole on the way out. I don't know if it was the lacing, the overuse because I was nervous about my left knee or leg muscle tiredness. It never hurt past a certain point and breaks helped.
    • We liked the rain fly on, otherwise we got spooked by all the night time noises. But I could have easily had it off both nights as there was very little condensation and there were spectacular dark night skies. The milky way was brilliant!


    My sixth trip was to Ralston Peak in Desolation Wilderness. It was a day hike - but a big one into the back country and I wanted to include my lessons here.
    • Good amount of food and my Day Hike Gear List was dialed in. I had the right equipment, I felt very well prepared.
    • It was right to hike this one without Pepper. Much of the hiking was sunny and my ascent route up Ralston was over a lot of talus which Pepper would have hated.
    • I again got too low on water. I had a bottle and tablets, but I decided to bypass the last water source (Lake of the Woods or Triangle Lake later on) because I would have had to drop elevation. I did not check my reservoir in my Camelback to see how much was left and I should have. So the end of the hike turned into a sufferfest.
    • Made the wrong route decision on whether to return via the PCT the whole way, or climb Echo Peak. I should have just returned on the trail. I knew Echo Peak would be exposed to the sun and at elevation without much water.  I estimated that I had a net 500 feet elevation gain from the spot where I had to make a choice and it did not seem like much gain. It also seemed that going over Echo Peak would be more of a direct line to the trailhead (although I fully understood there would be slower cross country travel versus the trail). I knew the area was heavily trafficked, so I just hoped there were well worn use paths. The traverse got too spicy before getting to Flagpole Peak, and I was really dragging, so I made a decision to downclimb almost 750 feet on sandy, slippery class 3 granite and manzanita with one class 4 crux move. Oof.
    • Handled the bear encounter very well. As soon as we spotted each other on the trail, I stopped and made sure I was loud/ singing. I waited a while for the bear to move on. Eventually another hiker with a dog came. We discussed where the bear was and where the trail went. Even though the bear had limited space to wander away from the trail, we felt comfortable that we had enough room to pass by without bothering the bear, making noise and going slowly. It worked and I only took my phone out for a photo after we were far past the bear and he was clearly ignoring us. I also checked in with the hiker that she and I both felt OK to continue on solo. Very cool sighting!!
    • My shoes worked great - I noticed a hot spot forming on my right heel, stopped right away and put on some mole skin. Had no other issues with feet, aching or soreness. Loved using my insoles in my Asics. The only issue I noticed was that I frequently rolled my right ankle when on uneven rock. I was able to correct very quickly and had no injury resulting. If I need more ankle support, I should consider my hiking boots.
    • I’m getting better at setting up my tripod quickly. I just need to make sure to check that the photos are taken and saved - I lost one small round of pictures at the top of Ralston.
    • Well, more miles does not mean more happiness. 11.5 miles and 4,000ft elevation gain after coming that morning from sea level was my max - and more than enough. I can and should plan shorter hikes - either mileage or elevation or both. Or plan on taking more, longer breaks throughout the day. I left home at 3:30am and returned at 7pm so in theory I could return later.
    • I don’t need the double caffeine drinks - just one coffee drink is fine for the return drive home.
    • Overall it was an incredible trip. I felt I had prepped well enough, had the right equipment and I got back safe.


    My seventh trip was a big loop to Thousand Island lake by Ritter and Banner peaks in Ansel Adams Wilderness.
    • What an incredible trip!

    • Took too much food (dried fruit and bars in particular). It was tough to fit it all in on the first night. Since I snack throughout the day, my lunches are sometimes smaller: the salami and manchego lasted for three meals. And it was delicious.

    • Brought the perfect gear - my layers and tent and camping chair were all used well. The only thing I ran out of was dental floss (on the first day); I had brought an opaque small floss container, I can consider bringing one of those picks.

    • Very good call to not bring the dog. As much as she is the best dog ever, she would not have even made it to the camp site at Ediza on the second day because of the talus hops. And Pepper would not have gone on any of my day trips due to their cross country travel, so I would have not been able to do them.

    • I liked having a turn around time for my solo day hikes and a “must be back at the latest time” with a somewhat later “OK, at this point it is an emergency and please go for help” time. This is in addition to packing all the essentials in my day pack (navigation, emergency whistle, blanket, layers, food etc) and going over IN DETAIL my planned route trip and stretch goals with my dad before leaving.

    • I didn’t bring my bandana on my first day hike up to Iceberg Lake and I noticed I was getting a lot of sun on my face (had to reapply sun screen). I brought my bandana on my next hike up to North Glacier and it worked great to block the sun on long hikes over snow.

    • I should have turned back climbing the snow up to North Glacier Pass. I thought it would be mostly or all rock. But when I saw it wasn’t, even when I saw someone coming down on the snow, I should have made a new plan or turned around. If I want to hike more on snow, I’ll need more snow and avalanche training. My spikes and ice ax worked great. I probably could have done a glissade/ plunge-steps on the descent but was happy with how I got down safely.

    • It was totally worth calling ahead and buying shuttle passes (when possible) to Reds Meadow. I was also glad I talked to the local ranger station about trailhead parking options.

    • Burgers at Whoa Nellie Deli are always a treat.

    • Having my next day clothes in the sleeping bag made it so much easier! And I was able to do a bit of laundry in the back country.

    • The gravity filter took a bit of setting up - mainly finding the right spot. A good branch that has other small branches below to hold the setup steady and isn’t too sappy was the best, and we used a trekking pole laid across branches for a good hanging perch with a small guideline tied in a loop around the CNOC reservoir.

    • Tripod and mic worked great - although the camera seemed to shift once or twice during extended recordings. Not sure if that was physical or software. And the lighting seemed to automatically adjust during video, that might be a setting I can control.

    • The one night I didn’t sleep well was the full moon without my rain fly. I wonder if it was the bright light keeping me up. I also had my red fleece as my pillow filler instead of my down jacket.

    • Our morning stretch routine helped a lot, I think.

    • I loved having the small hot sauce packets (Chalula, Sriracha), they added a ton of flavor.

    • It was tough traversing talus to our Ediza Lake campsite that second night because it was at the end of the day. It was MUCH easier on the way out after a day of rest (at least no hiking with the pack) and navigating while we were fresh first thing in the morning.

    • We would pause and talk a lot before making any route decisions - like considering traversing from Shadow Creek Trail to the JMT, or crossing the sketchy log bridge at Thousand Island’s outlet - and that was very helpful in order for us to stay on the same page and make appropriate decisions.

    • Took lots of breaks, I made sure to take my pack off and, when on a longer break, my shoes and socks. This helped a ton and didn’t have any hotspots and didn’t even need moleskin!

    • The extra charger was great, it fully charged our phones a couple times and I think was still more than half full.

    • When I was recording video with the mic, it was draining my phone battery VERY fast.

    • When we got to our camp destination, we would set our packs down and scout for a site. This worked great! At Thousand Island I found several just OK spots, and on my way back to Dad I stumbled on the perfect site which was near where we had stopped with our packs and that’s the site we used.

    • Conditioning was great - a month of hiking near Salt Lake City at elevation sure helped. Only repetitive stress pain was one day on the sides of my left knee. I hiked quite a bit and had to ease up, after resting that night it was better the next day. No need for ibuprofen. When I got to the top of North Glacier Pass, I was very tired. It is possible that if I had more energy I would have attempted the summit of Banner. I did have enough time. However I was very concerned about feeling physically and mentally rested for the decent so made the correct call to not attempt.

    • This was just a wonderful trip.

    Can't wait to learn more on the next trip!
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