Weminuche Wilderness – July 2020: Food and Water

My food for the Weminuche Wilderness backpacking trip.

During our past backpacking trips, I had always suspected my brother and I probably weren’t eating enough. However, we had a system that worked and hadn’t had any issues other than being a bit hungry at times. A couple months ago I happened to come across Backcountry Foodie and I decided to do the math. It was no surprise when I discovered the calorie count we were getting was quite low. Haha. Not a huge deal for the short trips that we do, but I decided to try some new things on our San Juan trip anyway. Below I compare how we had been doing food and water, and how we did it on this trip.

Water

Before: For drinking water we would fill up our camelback bladders and drink through a Saywer Mini at the end of our bladder hose. For cooking water and dishes we would fill up the Sawyer pouches and filter through a Sawyer Mini.

This Trip: We primarily used a Sawyer Squeeze screwed onto the top of a 1L Smartwater bottle. We had another smaller widemouth type bottle that we used for filtered water and drink mixes. We also had an Evernew 2L bag that we used to bring extra water to camp if the lake/stream was a little bit of a walk from camp. We had never used drink mixes before, but on this trip we tried out some Ultima Replenisher drink mixes to help replenish electrolytes.

Thoughts: If you can easily get the bottle out of your pack while hiking, I think the Sawyer Squeeze on a bottle is the way to go. The bottle was easy to fill up, the Squeeze has better flow than the mini, and the bottle was much simpler to get in and out of the pack than the bladder. Having the bladder hose to drink through is slightly more convenient (easier to reach than our bottles and drink on the go), but it was much nicer filling the bottles than filling the camelback bladders and getting the bladders back in the packs. The Evernew bag came in really handy several times while at camp. It’s hard to say for sure whether or not the drink mixes made any difference, but it was really nice to have something flavored to drink a couple times a day.

Breakfast

Hydrating oatmeal for breakfast.

Before: We would each have a couple packets of Quaker oatmeal. We would each put the oatmeal into a bowl, I would boil water in my Jetboil, and then pour the boiling water into the bowls with the oatmeal and let the oatmeal hydrate. (320 calories)

This Trip: Lemon Blueberry Oatmeal recipe from Backcountry foodie. I packaged the oatmeal into Ziploc style bags. Instead of pouring the oatmeal into bowls, we poured it into empty Mountain House packets we had brought. We would then pour the boiling water from my Jetboil into the Mountain House packets to let the oatmeal hydrate. After we were finished we would rinse out the Mountain House packets and then use them for the next breakfast. (510 calories)

Thoughts: I thought the Lemon Blueberry oatmeal was just as tasty as the Quaker oatmeal, and just as filling, if not more so. It was a little more of a pain since I had to purchase the ingredients and make it myself, but it was really quite simple. The Mountain House packets weren’t as easy to eat out of as bowls, but they kept the oatmeal warm as it hydrated, which was really nice. It also meant we didn’t have to pack an extra bowl (my Jetboil includes a bowl). For extended trips, I would likely throw in some different meals to change things up, but for shorter trips like this, the Lemon Blueberry oatmeal will probably be my preferred choice. (On this trip, I did cut off the sealing mechanism for the Mountain House packets, as I have noticed on previous trips that after a couple times reusing the packets, the mechanism starts to come apart anyway. To close up the packets while hydrating, we would fold the top over and then put a clothespin on top.)

Morning Snack

Before: some sort of bar (Clif bar for me). (250 calories)

This Trip: no change

Lunch

Before: Trail Mix. It was either a pouch of Great Value Tropical Trail Mix or Power Up High Energy Trail Mix. We would eat a handful or so out of the pouch. (~240 calories)

This Trip: Trail mix. This time I bought the bulk Canyon Runner Trail Mix at WinCo and packaged it into 3/4 cup servings in Ziploc style bags. Both of us really liked this trail mix! (480 calories).

Afternoon Snack

Before: some sort of bar (Clif bar for me). (250 calories)

This Trip: no change.

Dinner

Before: My brother and I would split a Mountain House meal. Prior to the trip I would repackage the Mountain House meals into Ziploc style bags to save room in our bear canisters. I would bring an empty Mountain House packet for making the meal. At dinnertime I would dump the meal from the Ziploc style bag into the Mountain House packet. I would boil water in my Jetboil and pour it into the Mountain House packet for the meal to hydrate. Once it was ready, I would pour half of it into a bowl for my brother and then I would eat the other half out of the packet. After we were finished, I would rinse out the Mountain House packet and reuse it for the next dinner. (~300-350 calories, depending on the meal)

This Trip: I tried some various Backcountry Foodie recipes, and my brother had full Mountain House dinners. As before, the Mountain House meals were put into Ziploc style bags before the trip. As with breakfast, we each had a Mountain House packet we used for hydrating and eating out of, and after the meal we would rinse them out and reuse them for the next dinner. (~600-700 calories for Mountain House meals, ~600-950 calories for Backcountry Foodie meals)

Thoughts: The Mountain House meals are really nice due to their simplicity. Purchase them, repackage them into Ziplocs, pour them into a Mountain House packet at dinnertime, add boiling water, and then let it sit and hydrate. The Backcountry Foodie recipes were a little more involved. I had to purchase the ingredients and make the meals beforehand. For the ramen meals, after hydrating, the remaining liquid had to be removed, and then the spices and oil mixed into the noodles. The Mountain House meals seemed to clean up better than the Backcountry Foodie meals, mainly due to the Backcountry Foodie meals using olive oil. I would dump the remaining water from the ramen into my Jetboil bowl, and since I was reusing the Mountain House packet, my bowl would get oil residue on it, which was kind of annoying. Taste wise, I thought the Backcountry Foodie meals were fine, and I imagine they are quite a bit cheaper than the Mountain House meals. They were also more filling than I expected. To me the Backcountry Foodie recipes seemed healthier since I was making them myself. If I have time to prepare meals before a trip, I’ll likely go with the Backcountry Foodie recipes, but I’ll have to see if I can come up with a little better system for making them while backpacking to avoid getting oil residue on my bowl.

Evening Dessert

Before: Peanut M&Ms. I would bring a sharing size pouch, and my brother and I would eat a handful each evening. (~280 calories)

This Trip: Peanut M&Ms a couple evenings, and a Backcountry Foodie chocolate pudding recipe a couple evenings. (~280 calories M&Ms, 368 calories pudding)

Thoughts: The Peanut M&Ms are really nice since they are easy and don’t make a mess. The chocolate pudding recipe has to be made before hand, and then water added when you’re ready to eat it. The first time I made it, I made it in the Ziploc style bag I had packaged it in, and that was a little bit difficult and messy to eat out of. The second time I made it, I made it in my Jetboil bowl. That was easier mix up and eat out of, but then the bowl had to be cleaned. It tasted great, and was filling, but definitely more of a pain than the M&Ms.

Final Thoughts

I was a little nervous changing so many things this trip, but all in all it went pretty well. Despite my brother giving me a hard time about it, it was fun to experiment with the Backcountry Foodie recipes this trip. They definitely take more effort than Quaker oatmeal and Mountain House dinners, but they also generally provide more calories and seem healthier to me. One downside to the Backcountry Foodie recipes is that a lot of the ingredients come in amounts much larger than needed for just a few meals, which can be a little frustrating. If you’ll be making a lot of meals, I think you’ll definitely get more bang for your buck with the Backcountry Foodie recipes. I also think some of them would be a great idea for trail magic if you do any of that. My brother and I definitely got more calories during this trip, which I’m sure helped, and I’m sure it helped having some drinks to replace electrolytes a couple times a day. Still some things to play with for my next trip though!

Weminuche Wilderness – July 2020: Gear Changes

At the end of July my brother and I did our annual backpacking trip. This year we went to the Weminuche Wilderness in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. You can read the trip summary here. I changed several things up on this trip compared to previous trips. Below I cover the major changes I made and my thoughts on how they went.

Trail Runners & Socks: Leading up to this trip I had been wearing some Lowa boots, and before that had worn Merrell boots. My socks leading up to this trip were Darn Tough socks. With both pairs of boots, my big toe on my right foot was generally quite sore by the end of each trip. It was so bad after my Eagle Rock Loop trip earlier this year that I knew I needed to try something different. I had discovered that most thru hikers switch to trail runners, so I started doing some research on those. I tried several different pairs and landed on the Brooks Cascadia 14. I have really liked Feetures socks for my running, so I decided to give them a try for backpacking. I was quite pleased with the shoe and sock combination at the end of the trip. My feet felt great at the end of the trip. There were some moments where my feet or toes started to get sore while hiking, but it was never anything that lasted. When I would get them wet, they would usually dry out pretty quickly. The main complaint I had with them was getting small gravel in them occasionally. I definitely plan to stick with these for now.

Sandals: Leading up to this trip I had been using a pair of Cabela’s sandals for crossing creeks/rivers and for walking around camp. They worked fine, but I decided to try some Xero Shoes Z-Trail Sandals since they are less bulky and weigh less. The first thing I noticed about the Xero sandals on this trip was that they were more difficult to take on and off. I also thought the Xero sandals were less comfortable. However, I plan on sticking with the Xero sandals since I feel the bulk/weight savings are worth giving up the ease and comfort of the Cabela’s sandals. Since I’m now going to be using trail runners, I’ll likely start changing into my sandals for creek crossings less and crossing in my trail runners instead, so changing in and out of the sandals will likely be less of an issue.

Maps: In the trips leading up to this one, I had brought along a couple different paper maps when available: a wider view topo map (such as a Nat Geo Trails illustrated map) as well as a much more detailed custom USGS quad map from MyTopo. While doing some research leading up to this trip I came across the Avenza Maps smartphone app. I decided to try that out for this trip. Instead of buying a paper Nat Geo Trails Illustrated map, I purchased the digital version on Avenza Maps, and plotted out several possible routes using the app. While it was a little bit of a pain to plot a path in the app, it was definitely nice to get a mileage estimate once it was plotted. For the actual hike, I still brought a custom USGS quad map from MyTopo, but I also played around with the Avenza Maps app. The Avenza Maps app was super handy for quickly figuring out where we were on the trail. However, I did find myself paying less attention to what we should expect on the trail based on the topo map, and thus not paying attention to what we were actually covering on trail, and thus not comparing the two to make sure everything made sense. Not a huge deal on this trip, but I could see a scenario where it would take me longer to realize I had gone the wrong way if I wasn’t checking the app too terribly often, whereas I might notice it sooner if I was paying close attention to what I was seeing vs what the topo map shows. The MyTopo map was much nicer when I wanted to look at a wider view than what could be seen on the phone screen. Finally, the Avenza Maps app uses the USGS quad maps as is, which could mean your route would fall on several different maps. The MyTopo maps allow you to customize the map so that a single map could include multiple USGS quad maps, which could mean your route may fall on a single map. So there are pros and cons to both. I could definitely see doing trips with only the Avenza Maps app, but it also makes me a little nervous relying completely on an electronic device, so I’ll probably keep bringing along a paper map as backup.

Camp Chair: My brother and I generally don’t hike for the entire day. We’ll usually reach our destination by mid afternoon or earlier. After that my brother will do some fishing, if possible, and I’ll usually try to get some pictures or do some reading. After my Eagle Rock Loop trip, I realized that it would be really nice to have a chair to use for reading or watching my brother fish, so I purchased the REI Flexlite Air Chair. This came in really handy many times during this trip. I wouldn’t bring this if I knew I would be hiking most of the time. But if I know that I will likely be done hiking early most of the days, and I have the space and don’t mind the weight, I’ll probably bring this along.

Bear Bag: On our previous trips, my brother and I have both used a BearVault BV450 for carrying our food. As I started to pack my food the day before we were supposed to leave, I realized my food wouldn’t fit in my BearVault. I could make it work if I didn’t bring along an extra day of food, but I didn’t want to take that chance. I checked to see if I could get a BearVault BV500 locally, but that didn’t appear to be possible, so I made a last minute trip to REI and got an Ursack Major XL. This weighed less than my BearVault, which was a big plus, and I was easily able to fit my food in it, along with some of my brother’s food. Thankfully we always had a place to secure it, but had we been above treeline, that would have been a problem with this bag. I was also pretty nervous about a bunch of water getting into the bag or the bag soaking up water if it rained hard. It never rained hard enough on our trip to see if this would happen. There is an odor-proof/water-proof bag you can get that goes inside the Ursack, so I may purchase that at some point to help ease the worry about water getting into the bag and potentially ruining some food. The BearVault is nice since you can pretty much stick it anywhere and it’s sealed from the rain, but if I know I’ll have places to hang the bag and there are no regulations requiring hard sided containers, I’ll likely bring along the Ursack on future trips.

Food/Water: I started to type this out and realized that there was enough to write a whole separate post, so be on the lookout for that post next week.

Sawtooths: Getting My Gear There (and back)

Last year after my trip to the Uinta Mountains in Utah, I posted a blog about getting my gear and myself to the trailhead and back. After looking back on the Utah trip, I decided to make a couple changes for the trip to the Sawtooths this year. I figured I would go ahead and share those changes and a couple thoughts/recommendations.

Why?

Before I get into the details of the changes, I figured I would provide a quick explanation of why I ship my gear instead of flying with it.

  1. There are a couple items I can ship that I can’t take on an airplane (even in checked luggage): bear spray and stove fuel. While I could buy these items in the city I fly into, I hate buying it, only using a small portion of it (or none of it at all), and then having to get rid of it.
  2. I have more confidence in shipping with USPS than with checked luggage on an airline. On my two trips so far, my layovers have generally been pretty short, and it makes me nervous that my bags may not make it from one plane to another if there is a time crunch. I would really hate to get to my final airport and not have my gear show up. With shipping it, I can send it early, and that way if something goes wrong during shipping, there is still some wiggle room.

The one major drawback of this is cost. I have flown Southwest both trips, and with Southwest I wouldn’t have to pay for a checked bag, whereas shipping cost me around $200 round trip for both Utah and Idaho. So there is definitely a trade off. For me, it’s worth paying the $200 and having a lower chance (in my opinion) of the gear not making it. If you fly with another airline that charges for bags, the shipping cost may not be as big of a deal.

So with that said, here were the changes I made this year.

Shipping 1 Package

Last year I shipped two packages. This year I only shipped one (same size). How did I manage that? Mainly by putting my sleeping bag in my carry on instead of shipping it. Last year, I knew it would be several days between when I shipped the packages and when I would pick them up, so I didn’t want to leave my sleeping bag compressed for several days to save room (not good for a down sleeping bag). But once I got to thinking about it after last year’s trip, I realized I could put the sleeping bag in my carry on and compress it, since it would only be like that for several hours (similar to a normal day of hiking). And with taking the sleeping bag out of one of the packages, I figured I could probably fit everything into a single package. Thankfully I was able to make it work. The pictures below show how I packed the shipped package if you are curious.

Larger Carry On

To fit the sleeping bag in my carry on along with everything else, I had to get a different carry on. Last year I used a laptop style backpack. This year I bought a true carry on suitcase that would hold more stuff than the backpack. In addition to the sleeping bag, I had some clothes for after the trip, a couple books, iPad, toiletry items, a pair of shoes, and other miscellaneous items.

Verdict?

The cost to ship my single package this year was nearly identical to what I paid to ship the two packages last year, and one package is definitely easier to carry around than two. So I will stay with the single package going forward. The single package ended up being around 40 lbs., so keep that in mind. I assume if you’re going backpacking, you can lift up and carry a 40 lb. package, but figured I would point it out anyway. A couple things to keep in mind when shipping the package though:

  1. Don’t ship too early. Based on my experience and what I have read online, the post office will only hold your package for 10 days (if you are doing general delivery). You can calculate shipping time on the USPS website, and thus figure out roughly which day you can send it to avoid sending it too early. If you are able to contact the post office, they may be willing to hold the package longer if needed. However, I tried calling the Boise post office that accepts general delivery many, many times (I would say at least 20) over the course of a couple weeks prior to shipping my package, and never got anybody to pick up. If you would like to send it a little earlier, I would suggest contacting the post office before you actually ship it.
  2. Matches: each of the four times I have shipped my package(s), the matches have caused some questioning/hesitation with the postal service employee(s). When I shipped my stuff back to OKC from Boise this year, one of the postal workers in Boise actually had me pull out the matches to make sure they were the proper kind. They have to be strike on box only matches, not strike anywhere matches. So be ready to get questioned on this, and it’s probably a good idea to have them somewhere easily accessible in case you do get asked to pull them out to verify they are the proper type. 

Do you have any tips for shipping your gear or an alternative method you use? If so, I would love to hear about it in the comments. If you have any questions about something I didn’t cover in here or my post from last year, reach out and I’ll see if I can provide an answer or share some knowledge I have gained from doing this a couple times now.