In this video, I share the planning template I’ve been using short backpacking trips and for 14ers adventures this summer. Having a template or checklist helps me go from adventure idea to getting out the door faster without forgetting anything.
Feel free to use this template and customize it for your own adventures!
We’re in the thick of the wildfire season in the Western United States. There are currently 86 active large fires, which have burned 2,678,196 acres in 11 states. To date in 2021, there have been 43,017 fires that have burned 4,946,000 acres. Over 25,000 wildland firefighters across the country are working on these fires and thousands of residents have been evacuated. National Forests are being closed and many backpackers’ trips, including a large group that I was supposed to guide, are getting cancelled or re-routed.
Due to drought conditions, climate change, poor forest management, and an increasing urban-wildland interface, wildfires are an increasingly common and challenging part of living in the West. While wildfires play a critical role in ecological health, they also cause a lot of damage, destruction, and difficulty for humans. Aside from property damage, lost lives, and evacuations, the smoke from wildfires has the potential to negatively affect our health.
As wildfires are now a part of living life in the American West, what can we do to prevent or mitigate damage to our health, especially for those of us who love to spend time outdoors or during times when inhalation of smoke is inevitable?
Health Dangers of Wildfire Smoke
Wildfire smoke is composed of a mixture of fine and coarse particulate matter (PM), and gases, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds. This mixture varies based on fuel, fire intensity, moisture, and other factors. One of the dangers of wildfire smoke is due to the ability of the particulates to become lodged in the lung tissue and other sensitive mucosal membranes and to create inflammation. Systematic reviews have revealed associated between wildfire smoke and all-cause mortality, as well as exacerbation of asthma, COPD, and respiratory infection. Evidence also suggests links between wildfire smoke and adverse reproductive, developmental and neurodegenerative diseases. Potential health risks depend on the sensitivity of the individual and the severity of the smoke.
The severity of wildfire smoke is quantified via a value called Air Quality Index (AQI). AQI is the EPA’s measurement for reporting air quality. AQI is reported on a scale from 0-500+ with higher numbers indicating worse air quality and higher health concerns. An AQI below 100 indicates that air quality levels are generally safe for everyone. See chart below. Real time air quality index map.
Exposure to wildfire smoke may cause coughing, trouble breathing, runny nose, and in some cases symptoms similar to sinus infection, such as headaches, sore throat, and tiredness. Groups particularly at risk for health risks from wildfire smoke include children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with heart and lung diseases. As one would expect, conditions such as asthma and COPD, may be exacerbated by smoke. The main concern for all individuals is damage to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
While inhaling wildfire smoke can certainly be unpleasant and potentially dangerous, in many cases damage does not appear to be long term, though more wildfire-specific studies are needed. Regarding the respiratory system, the lungs of most healthy adults can recover from smoke damage, according toJohn Balmes, MD, a pulmonologist and an expert on the effects of air pollutants. In terms of the cardiovascular system, short and long-term risks includes inflammation in the lungs which can become systemic and affect the whole body’s vascular function; increased risk of blood clots, which may lead to heart attack or stroke; and autonomic nervous system stimulation, which can lead to heart arrhythmia. As with respiratory damage, these effects seem to be temporary and subside when the smoke does.
How to Monitor Fires and Smoke Levels
An essential component of preventing health damage from wildfires and being aware of where large, active fires are burning, how large they are, wind direction and speed, expected precipitation, etc. If you plan to spend time outdoors, it also helps to read up on best practices during wildfire season.
Most public health recommendations for avoiding exposure to wildfire smoke include staying indoors, limiting the outdoor air that is brought indoors, and filtering indoor air. But what if you plan to be outside near an area where active fires are burning or what if you’re in a situation where some amount of smoke inhalation is inevitable? If you’ll be exposed to ongoing wildfire smoke and you’re concerned about potential health risks, and particularly if you’re sensitive to the effects, public health officials advise that the best form of individual protection is a well-fitting N95 or P100 respirator, which filters out PM2.5.
How to Take Care of Yourself After Wildfire Smoke Exposure
As mentioned, the respiratory and cardiovascular systems of most healthy adults will naturally recover from exposure to wildfire smoke in most cases. After you’ve been exposed to wildfire smoke, there are also actions you can take to support your body’s natural detoxification pathways and enhance the excretion of airborne pollutants.
The body detoxifies itself through the skin (sweat), the lungs (breath), the colon (bowel movements), and the liver and kidneys (urine). Engaging in practices that support the body’s natural detoxification processes and support healthy immune function include:
Drinking a lot of water
Choosing high quality whole foods which are rich in antioxidants
Using a sauna
Getting plenty of rest
Using a saline nasal spray or rinsing sinuses with a Neti Pot
Consuming specific foods, which enhance detoxification and support a healthy immune system:
Wild Caught Fatty Fish
Teas with bitter herbs, such as dandelion, yellow dock, turmeric, burdock
Wondering how to stay strong and healthy on a multi-week backcountry trip?
It’s one of the most common questions I’ve been receiving recently from clients and readers and it’s a topic I spend a lot of time thinking about for my own adventures.
Taking care of your body on trail can help you avoid injury, illness, and the general depletion that many hikers experience towards the end of a long hike. While some degree of depletion is inevitable on a long trip, there are definitely strategies to slow the rate so that you can finish your hike successfully (and not be laid out for months afterward)
To that end, I just recorded a video with 5 strategies to stay healthy once you’re actually out on trail. You can find it here in the Holistic Hiker FB group or here if you’re not on FB.
In the video, I discuss:
*the importance of preparation before heading out for your adventure
*the role of your diet in staying healthy on trail and some resources for how to get started
*tips for taking care of your muscles, fascia, and joints on trail
*how to get adequate rest on trail
*how your pack weight influences your endurance on trail (this goes beyond just having lightweight gear)
Go give it a watch and let me know what you think!
Find more free resources to keep you strong and healthy here.
Wondering how to use nutrition to best support your body in repairing and replenishing after a challenging day hike or during a multi-day (or -month) backpacking trip?
I just went live in the Holistic Hiker FB group sharing the strategies I’ve gleaned from researching this topic while writing my upcoming book. This is what I teach clients when they ask:
>>What should I eat after hiking for faster recovery and increased performance the following day?
In the video, you’ll learn: *the benefits of optimizing your recovery nutrition *nutrient timing for maximum glycogen synthesis so you have the oomph to hike/train again the following day *the role of each macronutrient in a recovery meal *some myth busting around the type of protein and carbs that are ideal
In the video, I also share more about some big events in my life this past summer, the reason for the lapse in communication from me recently, and where things are headed next.
As always, thanks for being here.
I hope you’re staying healthy and having a fantastic summer with plenty of time spent outdoors.
This post is the second of two parts about my hike on the Great Basin Trail. You can read part 1, which is an overview of the trail, here: The Great Basin Trail: Trip Report & Guide. This part focuses on the gear I carried, how I prepared, and what I’d do differently.
You can find my GBT gear list and rationale for the selections in this post, which I wrote before I left. For the most part, I was very happy with my gear selections.
Changes I made on trail or would make next time:
I would’ve carried tall gaiters or opted for pants instead of a dress. I love hiking in a dress, but there was A LOT of bushwhacking through sagebrush, mahogany, young aspen, briars, willows, and more. My legs got shredded, scraped, and bloody. I tolerated the discomfort, but the off trail sections would have been less taxing if I wasn’t also dealing with painful, scraped legs.
Two weeks in, once the weather was warming up, I mailed out my stove. I also mailed out my buff (which I wasn’t using), a pair of ankle socks, and a mid-layer fleece I threw in my pack last minute when I saw the potential for snow storms. Speaking of socks, I decided I prefer calf socks over ankle socks, which caused the skin on my Achilles to dry out and become irritated, so I won’t bother bringing any ankle socks in the future.
I swapped out my water filter for chemical water treatment. I highly prefer a water filter over chemical treatment because I don’t like the taste of chemically treated water and I value the health of my microbiome. However, we were often treating many liters of water at once and filtering was taking a long time. I’d still be at a water source filtering when my hiking partners were long gone.
Training & Preparation:
One of my biggest concerns before embarking on this hike (and every long hike) is how my body will hold up to the rigors of 12-14 hours days of backpacking across difficult terrain. As I’ve written about here, here, and here, I’ve been using diet and lifestyle strategies to manage an autoimmune condition since ~2015. That means I prioritize getting my body as healthy as possible before a hike so that I have reserves to draw upon once I’m out there. I know once I’m on trail, no matter how well I try to eat, sleep, and care for my body, a long distance hike slowly wears down the body. Furthermore, even with a healthy hiking diet, there’s limited access to the antioxidant-rich fresh fruits and vegetables that fight oxidative stress and inflammation from hard exercise, sun exposure, and other factors.
Ensuring that my body is prepared for a long hike consists of the following components:
This is what’s covered in the Adventure Ready course and it’s the same process my clients use to increase energy, endurance, and overall resilience before their backcountry adventures. I generally always take care of myself, but I really get serious about 3 months out. The more rigorous the hike, as I expected this one to be, the more rigorous my training.
When selecting food for a backpacking trip, my goal is to follow the same anti-inflammatory eating principles that I do at home, but adapted to the constraints of backpacking. I focus on high fat, whole foods as much as possible (the fewer the ingredients the better) and filter my options through the following criteria:
Ultralight (energy-dense): I prioritize trail food that is energy-dense, meaning high calorie per ounce. I aim for >125 calories per ounce, but some foods fall short of that which I’m okay with if it’s a high protein food. At nine calories per gram for fat compared to four calories per gram for protein or carbohydrate, this makes fat a good option for weight efficiency for long distance hiking.
Nutritious: I want my trail food to promote steady energy by containing a balance of macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) that stabilize blood sugar, either within one food or when combined. I look for foods that combat inflammation rather than contributing to it.
Appealing: It’s a miserable feeling to reach the top of a big climb feeling famished, only to open your pack to a bag full of unappetizing food. Just like with the food you eat at home, there’s no reason the food you eat on trail shouldn’t be delicious. I carry a variety of textures (crunchy, smooth, etc) and flavors (spicy, salty, sour, etc) to keep it interesting.
Simple: There are so many logistics to consider pre-hike that finding a way to make healthy, ultralight eating easy is a priority for me. You may have a different preference on how much food preparation you prefer to do, but most of the meal options I put together contain only a handful of ingredients that can be found in most stores or purchased in bulk and easily assembled at home.
Sample Day of Eating
I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare food for this trip, so I kept it pretty basic. Generally I prefer to mail boxes rather than shop in stores, especially in small towns in central Nevada, which aren’t likely to carry a lot of the healthy foods I like. Furthermore, when I’m in town, I don’t enjoy exploring a foreign grocery store looking for what I need when I’d rather just be relaxing. So, I sent boxes to probably about ⅔ of the towns we stopped in, and in the larger towns or where it would conflict with our schedule (getting to town on a weekend), I shopped in town.
Before leaving, I prepared several trail smoothies and bean dinners. Find the trail smoothie recipe here and the bean dinner recipe (and a few others) here. Super simple, but I enjoy them and they make me feel good. I also bought a bunch of gluten free protein bars, nut butters, and organic tortilla chips.
Here’s what a sample day of eating on trail looks like for me:
Breakfast: Trail smoothie; a bar with 20+ grams protein; nut butter with gf granola
Snacks/Lunch: tuna packets; nuts; seeds; nut & seed butters; organic tortilla or sweet potato chips (ideally w/ coconut oil rather than inflammatory industrial seed oils); salami or meat sticks; moon cheese; cheese sticks; bars (ideally 10+ grams protein and 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of protein to carbs; whole food ingredients, if possible).
Dinner: Beans, dried veggies, organic olive or coconut oil, spices, crushed chips. Meat and cheese. Rice noodles with spices, olive oil, and tuna. Dark chocolate for dessert.
Drinks: instant coffee or tea in the morning, usually mixed into my smoothie; electrolytes in the afternoon (on this trip, it was EmergenC and LMNT).
How Much Food to Pack:
To determine how much food to take, I take past experience into consideration and calculate calories. You can use a free BMR calculator online, and adjust for activity (see this video). Then test it out and take note of how much food you returned with or whether you ran out. Like most hikers, I get hungrier the longer a trip lasts. For that reason, I generally plan for a higher calorie intake later in the trip. For this trip, for example, I ate about 2700-2800 calories for the first two weeks, then 3000-3200 for the last 2.5 weeks. Cold temperatures, a high amount of elevation gain, and cross country hiking over uneven surfaces make me hungrier, so I also try to plan for that. As far as macronutrient ratios, I feel best eating about 50-60% fat, 20% protein, and 20-30% carbohydrates. Prioritizing fat is also more weight efficient than a carb-heavy diet. See this video on macronutrients for backpacking.
Overall, my food choices and amounts worked out well. The changes I would’ve made would be to bring more savory/salty stuff, such as spicy nuts and seeds or meat sticks, and fewer bars. Maybe one bar a day instead of three. I craved salt, as usual, and anything even remotely sweet (such as a date-based bar) often sounded gross, especially in the heat. For the calories, I was a bit on the low side for the level of exertion required by this route, but the deficit wasn’t debilitating.
The GBT is one of the most challenging routes I’ve hiked, but that also made it an incredibly rewarding experience. The degree of difficulty of this route forced me to look at my deeper motivations for being out there. On a route like this, you need a reason to be out that’s bigger than ego validation or checking off a box.
For me, I love just being out there walking, all day, at the mercy of the conditions; moving forward in the face of heat, cold, wind, rain, and the difficulty of the terrain in front of me. To experience all that being in a human body has to offer -the challenges and the rewards – hunger, thirst, sweating, shivering, itchy bug bites and scrapes, thigh-burning climbs, AND taking in endless mountain views, gulping down fresh spring water, and inhaling the scent of sagebrush after a rainstorm… it makes me feel like I’m actually living this life I’ve been given. Extended backcountry travel allows me to reconnect with myself and nature, to see who I become when I lean into discomfort, and to be present to what’s in front of me. The effect is even greater in harsh, remote, desolate landscapes.
Nevada consists of 87.8% public land. That’s more than any other state in the contiguous US. That’s special. And there are so few people out there exploring it. At least, that was my impression since I saw less than 10 other hikers the entire time I was out. This route offers the opportunity to enjoy true solitude and adventure for those who seek it.
Another unique feature of the GBT is the experience of hiking in a loop rather than point to point. A loop that centers on one geographic feature allows the hiker to become more intimately connected to a specific landscape and it’s rhythms. There’s also a sense of timelessness of walking a loop, enhanced by the remoteness of the GBT. From each point on the loop, you can look across basins to see ranges that you hiked days and weeks before. It’s quite an experience.
A snippet from my trail journal on our last full day that I feel sums up a lot: A big day on top of a big week, at the cap of a burly route. The GBT continually asks: What do you have left? Are you up for it? And step by step you move forward. Can I handle what’s in front of me right at this moment? Yep, okay, keep going. I’ll figure out the rest when I get there.
The best source of information on the Great Basin Trail is on Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva’s website. He’s the creator of the route and his site contains a GBT overview, guidebook, water chart, trail journal, and more.
One day towards the end of the trip, we were nearing the end of a 15-mile ridge walk that included summiting several 12,000+’ peaks. My legs were exhausted and I was thinking “I’m not having fun anymore. I want to be done now.” But there was still more ridge walking and hiking to do for the day, so there was nothing to do but keep pushing forward. That moment reminded me of every time I’ve ever been out drinking with Dirtmonger. There’s a point where I’m ready to call it a night and Dirt looks around and says “I’m gonna have another round or two. Anyone else?” This route is very much a reflection of it’s creator, and as such the GBT is always pushing the edge of what feels reasonable or even possible. In the end, it makes for quite a rewarding experience when you persist beyond what you believed you were capable of.
This spring, I hiked 850 miles of the Great Basin Trail. In this post, I’ll provide an overview of the trail and my key take-aways on what went well and what I’d change if I hiked it again. My intention is to provide potential hikers with an idea of what to expect, and to provide insight into my preparation process and considerations before I embark on any long distance trek.
Introduction to the Great Basin Trail
Length & Elevation Gain:
The Great Basin Trail is ~1100 miles, of which I hiked ~850 miles between May 16 and June 17 of 2021. It contains 194,000 feet of vertical gain.
The Great Basin Trail is a loop route and its entirety is located within the state of Nevada. It features a geographic region known as the Great Basin. From Wikipedia: “The hydrographic Great Basin is a 209,162-square-mile area that drains internally. All precipitation in the region evaporates, sinks underground or flows into lakes. The region is bounded by the Wasatch Mountains to the east, the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Ranges to the west, and the Snake River Basin to the north. The south rim is less distinct. The Great Basin includes most of Nevada, half of Utah, substantial portions of Oregon and California, and small areas of Idaho, Wyoming, and Baja California, Mexico. The term “Great Basin” is slightly misleading; the region is actually made up of many small basins. The Great Salt Lake, Pyramid Lake, and the Humboldt Sink are a few of the “drains” in the Great Basin.”
The Great Basin Trail travels through:
27 mountain ranges: Fortification, Wilson Creek, Highland, Chief, Delamar, South Pahroc, Hiko, Mt. Irish, Worthington, Quinn Canyon, Pancake, Hot Creek, McKinney, Toiyabe, Toquima, Monitor, Antelope, Fish Creek, Diamond, Southern Ruby, Ruby, East Humboldt, South Pequop, Dolly Varden, Schell Creek, Moriah, Snake
19 Basins/Valleys: Lake, Delamar, Pahroc, Pahranagat, Garden, Railroad, Hot Creek, East and West Stone Cabin, Ralston, Big Smoky, Monitor, Little Fish Lake, Huntington, Clover, Independence, Goshute, Spring (x2), Snake
17 Wilderness Areas: Fortification, Parsnip Peak, South Pahroc, Worthington, Quinn Canyon, Palisade Mesa, Arc Dome, Alta Toquima, Table Mountain, Antelope, Ruby, East Humboldt, South Pequop, Becky Peak, High Schells, Mt. Moriah, Highland Ridge
The route mileage breaks down to about 30% cross country, 50% road, and 20% trail. A description of each category:
Cross country: In the basin, the cross country hiking includes sections in which the hiker must weave her way through dense sagebrush, along with more open areas, such as playas, with less vegetation. Though exposed, hot, and dry, the basin walking provides a break from vertical gain and navigational challenges. In the mountain ranges, cross country travel includes long, ridgelines above tree line where walking surfaces range from large, stable boulders to loose ankle-rolling rocks and scree. Bushwhacking through sagebrush, mahogany, briars, streams, creeks, marshes, and groves of small, crooked aspen while going up, over, and through the ranges is not uncommon. There are occasionally horse and/or cattle trails which can be found and followed for easier travel through these sections.
Road: Either faint two track or jeep track or dirt road. No pavement. Not your typical “road walk”, these miles are generally pleasant miles through scenic terrain. They provide a welcome relief to the more challenging cross country and trail miles.
Trail: Occasionally distinct, clear, cushy trail, but more often overgrown, faint, or non-existent trail (which may have been marked on a map 100 years ago, but which no longer exists).
The Great Basin consists of basin and range topography, meaning that the landscape exhibits alternating parallel mountains and valleys. Generally speaking, the Great Basin Trail hiker can expect to travel over a mountain range, then drop down into a basin, hike across the basin, and then back up into a mountain range. This repeats throughout the loop with varying mileage in the ranges and valleys depending on which part of the loop you’re in and whether you’re hiking east/west or north/south in that section.
The scenery of the Great Basin Trail is diverse. There are endless horizons, seas of sagebrush, impossibly dark starry nights, and 360-degree ridgeline views featuring layers upon layers of mountains. And that’s just a taste. The best way to get a sense of what the trail looks like is to see my GBT highlights on my Instagram page: @katiegerber_wellness.
Climate, Weather & Optimal Hiking Season:
The Great Basin is known to be a harsh environment. It’s arid, often extremely hot, and weather changes can occur quickly. I started hiking in mid-May near Tonopah on the southwestern portion of the loop and hiked clockwise. In my first week on trail, I hiked through shade-less basin stretches in 90-degree heat and then through rain, snow, hail, and fog just days later. Aside from the storms in the first week or so, there was very little precipitation for the remainder of my hike. Hiking clockwise around the loop, daytime temperatures for most of the trip were pleasant: 60s to low 70s in the mountains and high 80s in the basin. Towards the end of the hike, nearing Great Basin National Park in mid-June, temperatures in the basins got up into the high 90s and became uncomfortably hot. I wouldn’t have wanted to be on the southern portion of the route any later than mid-June. Spring and fall are ideal times for hiking this trail to experience the most moderate temperatures.
The Great Basin Trail requires the hiker to be proficient in off trail travel and navigation. I utilized paper maps (1:24,000 scale printed on 11×17 paper), a compass, and GPS tracks loaded to the Gaia GPS app on my phone. I mostly used the GPS to navigate while hiking, but appreciated having paper maps to give me a better sense of the broader area through which I was traveling. The maps also came in handy when determining detours due to weather and, of course, provide a backup in case my phone broke, got lost, or failed. Plus, paper maps are just fun to look at.
If you’re interested in improving your navigational skills so that you can embark on your next trip with more confidence, check out the Become a Better Backcountry Navigator online course.
Water & Resupply:
One of the most common questions I received while hiking the route was about water sources and availability. Water on the Great Basin Trail was surprisingly plentiful considering that the Great Basin is one of the most arid regions in the country.Ryan ‘Dirtmonger’ Sylva, the route creator, did a fantastic job of scouting out and mapping a surprising number of water sources along the route. These included springs, creeks, and rivers, as well as livestock guzzlers and troughs. His GBT resources include a water chart that lists potential sources along with degree of reliability. Though water was less abundant overall this spring than in previous years, all but one of the mapped sources had water, and the longest water carry was about 45 miles.
Later this month, I’ll be heading out to hike 800 miles of the Great Basin Trail (GBT). If you haven’t heard of the GBT, it’s a roughly 1100 mile route plotted by Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva. The route is a loop contained solely within the state of Nevada and the geographic feature of the Great Basin. It traverses 26 mountain ranges and 19 basins. It travels through barren, harsh, remote, and beautiful landscapes. Water sources are unreliable and resupply points are sparse.
Due to my book editing schedule, I won’t have time to complete the entire route in one outing. However, I’ll still be able to fit in about 800 miles this spring, from Tonopah to Lake Valley Summit, hiking clockwise around the loop.
Ryan plotted this route in spring of 2020 and has provided an incredible abundance of resources for GBT hikers. These can be found on his website, along with his striking photos and compelling route descriptions. It’s worth your time to check out his GBT resources whether you plan to hike the route or not. For those who do wish to hike some or all of the GBT, it would be remiss of me not to mention that it requires off-trail navigation and route finding skills, comfort with hot, harsh, dry environments, and a fondness for desolate, remote places.
The primary factors influencing my gear selections are my intended style of hiking and the expected conditions. My preferred approach to long distance hiking is to hike dawn to dusk, spending time in camp only to sleep and charge up for the next day. Because I like to cover miles, I aim to keep my pack weight fairly light, while still being safe and comfortable.
When researching the route to understand what to expect, I’m looking at average temperatures (adjusted for elevation), average precipitation, wildlife, amount of off trail travel, trail type, terrain type, vegetation, sun exposure, water availability, and remoteness.
The value in researching what to expect is that it helps me:
1) alleviate fears about a hike,
2) ensure I have the items I need (and not the ones I don’t), and
3) understand the skills I need to improve upon before the embarking on the trip.
Gear List Summary
What’s in my pack for this trip?
My gear selections are based on the expected conditions. Because water sources are distant and unreliable, I’ll have a 6 liter water carrying capacity. I’m also bringing my warmer sleeping bag, warmer down jacket, and a midweight fleece as I expect to be sleeping above 8,000’ regularly and hiking along windy, exposed ridgelines. I’ll also be carrying a pack that’s comfortable at 25-30 pounds, as I’ll regularly be carrying more water and food weight, along with warmer clothes.
On Sunday I’m heading out to hike an 800-mile route in the Great Basin of Nevada. And in this email I want to share with you the exact strategies I used to help me prepare my mind and body.
This route traverses 26 mountain ranges and 19 basins. It travels through barren, harsh, remote, and beautiful landscapes. Water sources are unreliable and resupply points are sparse.
After many long distance hikes, here’s my current process that allows me to prepare for soul-expanding adventures so that I can embark on my journey with confidence, resilience, and excitement — and I know it will help you do the same.
*I research the route and the expected conditions*
Will I need this extra shirt? Do I need down pants? How much water carrying capacity do I need? Perhaps, like me, these are the types of things you ask yourself before a hike.
The answer to each of these questions lies in researching your route so that you know what to expect and you don’t have to guess. When you research the expected conditions, like climate, terrain, sun exposure, wildlife, weather patterns, and water availability, you know how to choose your gear and uplevel your skills so that you can head out with so much more confidence.
*I assess the potential route risks and create a safety plan*
A key component of backcountry travel is assessing and mitigating risk. Risks can fall into many categories including weather, injury, navigation, wildlife, human interactions, water, snow, and solo hiking. Mitigation strategies include gear selection, skill acquisition, practice, and education. I mentally rehearse worst case scenarios and create back-up plans. Additionally, I train my mind to remain flexible and adaptable in the field.
*I optimize my physical health with proper training and a diet that creates resilience*
Creating optimal physical health before a trip is multifaceted. It involves creating a physical training plan that creates cardiovascular fitness, mobility, strength, and includes training specificity. Building up slowly is essential to a smooth transition to full time exercise and to avoid injuries.
Beyond physical training, I get my body as healthy and resilient as possible through a nourishing diet, optimizing gut health, and prioritizing sleep and stress management. These practices reduce overall inflammation in the body, build up nutrient stores, and ensure I’m going into my adventure strong.
A long hike is depleting for the body and going in with a full battery improves the likelihood that I’ll stay healthy and finish my hike successfully. It also allows me to have better energy and stay more present while I’m out there.
While it’s possible to come off the couch and start hiking big miles, I’ve been on trips where hiking partners have incurred injury and had to get off trail due to lack of training and overall health. It’s always unfortunate to see someone spend months planning an adventure just to go home after a week.
*I cultivate a mindful state of resilience and anticipate success*
And finally, with all of this in place, I decide that I am capable and resilient. Like anyone else, I have fears and doubts that come up when I’m planning the next big trip.
When that happens, I reflect on the preparations I’ve undergone, reflect on the many times I’ve been rewarded for doing things that felt scary, and I trust in my ability to figure it out (whatever “it” may be in the moment).
>>This is my one precious life and I want to live it fully.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing posts on what’s in my backpack for this trip, a run-down of my food bag, as well as other strategies I’m implementing to keep me healthy and happy on my hike.
To me, the gear, the food, the health, the skills are all a means to helping me get outside where I remember who I am and stay present once I’m out there.
Are you ready to be fully prepared for your next trip?
Backpacking season is upon us and in honor of my birthday today, I’m offering all of my online courses at 20% off until Friday at midnight!!
Want to feel at home in the backcountry?
When you have a methodical process for assessing and mitigating backcountry risk, walking onto the trail is as comfortable as walking into your living room. The Backpacker Academy Stay Safe in the Backcountry Course allows you to embark on your next adventure with a complete backcountry preparation plan, knowing that you’ve thoroughly evaluated and prepared for the risks unique to your route.
Imagine embarking on your next adventure with a deeper understanding of the various tools for backcountry navigation and the knowledge of how to use them. The Backpacker Academy How to Become a Better Navigator Course teaches you how to use observation, logic, and topography to help yourself stay found.
Want to embark on your next backcountry trip fully prepared physically, with your health battery topped off?
Our flagship course, Adventure Ready, is your guide to complete physical preparation for optimal strength, energy, and resilience on your next adventure. Learn to master your mindset, optimize your gut health, dial in your diet, and reduce overall inflammation so that you have better energy, faster recovery, and improved immunity when you hit the trail. Stay present to your experience and enjoy nature without the distraction of aches and pains.
Fear is essential for our survival, but when it runs rampant in your mind, it can hold you back from pursuing outdoor adventure dreams, such as thru-hiking a long trail. At minimum, it can cause you to pack unnecessary items or to make unfounded changes to your itinerary.
If fear has held you back from embarking on a backcountry adventure, you’re certainly not alone. In my experience, personally and from working with hundreds of clients and students, fear is a universal experience. This is particularly true when facing unknown and (seemingly) unpredictable circumstances, such as in nature. In this post, I share how I personally work with and learn from my fear, so that it no longer runs the show.
Even after 8000+ backpacking miles and hundreds of nights spent sleeping on the ground, I still have fears about trips to the backcountry. As I’ve gained experience, skills, and knowledge, my fears have shifted, and I’ve learned how to examine and work with them, instead of ignoring them, suppressing them, or allowing them to run the show.
Fear exists for a reason
This post is not about crushing your fears or becoming fearless. Fear exists for a reason, which is to keep us safe from physical danger. It’s important and necessary. WIthout a healthy amount of fear, we wouldn’t last long. The problem with fear is that we allow ourselves to fear things that aren’t actually life-threatening and we often exaggerate the perceived danger to the point where it becomes an unkillable dragon in our minds.
My approach to fear is to work with it and learn from it, not fight against it or ignore it. I believe my job, as a somewhat rational adult, is to get to the root of the fear, determine its validity, and use it to help me make decisions and learn.
What is there to fear?
While there might be concerns that come up in the planning process, such as fear of leaving a stable income, this post is about the common fears that arise when you think of going on a multi-night trip in the backcountry.
Navigation challenges and getting lost
Cold, wet weather
Sleep comfort (cold temperatures, things crawling into tent while you sleep)
Wildlife – especially bears, bugs, and big cats
Unexpected medical issues
Terrain – river crossings, heights, exposure
These types of fears prevent many people from going out into the backcountry and causes them to miss out on incredible life experiences. Each of these concerns does include some degree of risk, but often it’s much less than we think and the risks can be mitigated.
The following process is how I’ve learned to work with these types of fears and how you can too.
Note that this does not apply to circumstances where I’m in actual physical danger. When real danger is present, fear is a healthy response, one should “listen” to that fear and extract themselves from the source of the danger as quickly as possible.
This process is for working with fear of an event that hasn’t actually occurred.
Acknowledge that it exists, feel the fear, and name it. Get to know the sensations and behaviors that indicate to you that you might be dealing with fear of a situation. Sometimes, you can’t always pinpoint what it is at first, but you may be experiencing a tightening in the chest, a pit in the stomach, anxiety, irritability, and procrastination. Get honest with yourself about what you’re feeling. Example: I’m afraid I might get lost if I go on this trip solo and it’s causing me to feel anxious about my trip, and I’m thinking about canceling.
Write it down.
When things stay up in our minds, they can get blown out of proportion and feel larger than life. Putting your fear down on paper helps you see it for what it is and begin to process it. Write down everything you’re afraid will go “wrong”.
Once you have it on paper, question it. If this thing happens, what’s the consequence? Playing the scenarios through in your mind accomplishes a few goals.
It takes some of the power away from the fear because you’ve dissected it and explored exactly what the consequences might be and how bad they actually are.
It allows you to determine how likely those consequences are to occur.
It helps you to make a realistic plan for how you can avoid the worst case scenario.
It allows you to have a plan for what you’ll do if it happens.
On a piece of paper, write down what you’re afraid of. In a column next to that, write down the consequences if the thing you’re afraid of happened. Next to that column, write out how you could respond if that thing happened. Next to that column, jot down some ideas for how you could prevent yourself from that situation in the first place.
Research the likely conditions.
How realistic is your fear? Researching the likely conditions for your trip allows you to know what to expect. That provides a sense of safety and allows you to prepare yourself with the correct gear and skills. Research conditions such as expected temperatures, precipitation, weather patterns, wildlife, remoteness, navigational challenges, and more. The more data you have on your trip, the more confident you will be. Your fears begin to dissolve when you realize the likelihood of them happening is often very small and that you have a plan if they do.
Once you know what to expect, you can prepare yourself. Educate yourself on how to handle animal encounters or safely cross snow fields, for example. Plan your clothing choices and sleeping bag based on the expected weather conditions. Skilling up for your outing helps to increase confidence and diminish fear.
Avoid the risks you can and brainstorm on how you can make choices that mitigate the risks you can’t entirely avoid. For example, there’s inherent risk in hiking solo, but you can carry a satellite communication device and leave a detailed itinerary with someone at home to reduce the risk.
At least 90% of my anxiety dissolves as soon as I get into action and start doing the thing. Once I take the first few steps of a hike, I’m so glad I didn’t let me fears hold me back. There are very real dangers in the backcountry, but like in other parts of life, there are ways to prepare yourself and mitigate the risk. Remember that your mind is a very powerful force. When you allow your fears to grow unchecked, it can lead to a life of regrets and unlived dreams.
One of my favorite quotes on the topic of fear:
“A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.” — John A. Shedd