My First Backpacking Overnight

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After all the many years of camping and hiking I've done, I had never had a true backcountry overnight until this past summer.  Jesse and I had been slowly collecting lightweight gear over time -- gear is expensive! -- and we finally felt like we had enough support to endure our first overnight.

I thought it would be fun to share a recount of my experience for those of you who are interested in doing your own overnight OR if anyone wants to bestow their expert backpacking wisdom on me, I'd be happy to hear it!

Prepping

Before I get much further, I should note that other than needing to purchase more gear, Jesse and I have been physically ready for a backcountry camping trip for some time.  Mentally being prepped was a different story.  For some reason we didn't feel capable -- we were intimidated by packing, nervous we didn't know enough safety tips, and worried we couldn't lug the weight.

We ended up taking an intro to backcountry camping class from REI which not only provided us with fantastic information, but it gave us the reassurance that we were absolutely ready for a hike-in camp experience.

Picking a trail

The first thing we did was choose a trail.  We wanted something that was close to home so that we didn't spend much time driving.  We also wanted to be able to drive back home if we needed to or if we decided we were ill-prepared.  This was two-fold with picking a trail that was long enough to give us an intro to carrying a heavy pack, but short enough that we could pack out if necessary.

All in all, we decided on camping at Hoegee Campground near Chantry Flats in Angeles National Forest, California.  It gave us the opportunity for a 4-mile (round-trip) highly trafficked hike with only a 700ft elevation change.

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Packing

We created a packing list specifically for this trip.  We found packing to be SO much easier than packing for a camping trip since everything is small and needs to fit in your bag.  If it's too heavy or you don't feel like carrying it, then it gets nixed -- easy peasy!

If you're interested in checking out the packing list we created, you can download it here.  We definitely did not pack everything on this list, but this gives you an idea of where we started from.  It's safe to say you do not need many of these items for a quick overnight ;)

Camping

It was summer, so the sun didn't set until around 8pm.  We began hiking around 5 and got to the campsite around 6:30pm.  The bathrooms at the campground were out of order, which was a super bummer considering it was pretty impossible to find a place to pee without a hiker or camper easily witnessing your bare bottom.  I have no problem going to the bathroom in the wilderness, but I can't say I want to be watched while doing it!

It was a super thrilling experience to finally be on the trail doing an overnight.  

When we made dinner, we got dive-bombed by flies non-stop.  It got so bad that we ended up eating in our tent.

In the early morning, we woke up to a bear rolling our bear cans around.  It seemed a friend of his had been through our campsite earlier since one of the cans was already laying on the ground in a place we hadn't left it.  It was pretty exciting to see our bear cans in use -- we've had them for years and use them on every camping trip, but there's always a bear locker to stash food in so we never had to truly protect our food from the bears.  This time we got to actually watch a bear try (and fail) to get into them!

Overall, the trip was a super success!  Here's some photos from the weekend and more on my thoughts / learnings down further in the post!

Aftermath

Thoughts

  • The whole trip was way easier than I expected: packing, hiking with a bag, carrying my camera, etc.
  • Hiking with a backpacking backpack is actually way better than a day pack because the weight gets distributed through your hips instead of just weighing down your shoulders -- WIN!
  • The concept of physically weighing 40-60lbs more than I normally do and putting that pressure on my legs and feet took some time to get used to.
  • Why did it take me so long to do this?  Why have I never backcountry camped before?

Things I learned

  • Lodge your bear can between rocks so the bear doesn't roll it away.
  • Carry a whistle and keep it in your tent -- just in case you need to scare a bear off.
  • How to eat freeze dried meals.
  • Setting up our ultra-light tent for the first time and how to position my large backpack near me in the vestibule.
  • How to backpack with an enormous DSLR -- I think this one actually deserves its own blog post because it's not talked about enough, so I'll delve into this another time!

Please feel free to share any tips, questions, or comments if you have them!  Hope I can encourage a few people to get out in the world and try their hand at backpacking :)