how to make backpacking not totally suck?
June 2, 2011 9:45 AM   Subscribe

What are your packing and predeparture tips for making light-moderate backpacking trips more enjoyable and less painful and exhausting?

My SO loves hiking and backpacking; I like it alright but even when I'm in good form, schlepping up steep hills for hours is tiring and painful for me, both physically and psychologically. I'm just one of the those people for whom no astonishing view at the top really makes the pain of getting there worth it. It's not that I don't like roughing it or being in nature (I love camping and walking on relatively even terrain, physical exertion, getting dirty, etc.), it's just the particular physical strain of hiking in mountains that gets me. While I know I don't have to go on every trip SO dreams up, staying at home while he goes on adventures for days at a time is not a fun or sustainable solution for me.

I've got a reasonable amount of trips under my belt at this point, I've got good boots, a correctly fitting pack. What other things might I do that will make the whole experience more enjoyable?

I'm curious about any predeparture exercise or nutrition suggestions anyone might have. Should I carbo load or eat more protein the week beforehand? Do more workouts than usual, or take it easy in the days before a trip? But I'd also love to hear any and all packing tips, mental tricks, etc. that you find handy. Also, I'm a female, if that affects things and we're usually talking trips of 1-5 nights tops.
posted by dahliachewswell to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
If you are getting so exhausted that you can't even enjoy the view, you need to either agree to a slower pace, or carry less stuff. That can be from shedding weight in your own pack or having your partner carry some of the stuff that you would have carried.
posted by advicepig at 9:49 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I backpack a lot. By far the best tip I can give is to drop the load in your pack. My ex-food-water pack weighs around 10 pounds, which I think is a good mix between having all the safety equipment and still being very light. Also, lose the boots, go sneakers. Pound on the foot etc. And when you start dropping pack weight, then the whole 'ankle support' thing drops.

There are lots of sites out there to help with ways to drop pack weight, but first focus on the 'big 3' - the pack itself, tent, sleeping bag.
posted by H. Roark at 9:51 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I found that strengthening my hip abductors with an exercise like this helped tremendously to stabilize my knees and avoid pain caused by hiking.
posted by exogenous at 9:58 AM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

In addition to the fantastic advice that has been given so far, I would suggest two things - one of which is a little weird: First, have you tried using a good walking stick? They can make a huge, huge difference. Second (this is the weird one), when I used to backpack and do a lot of hiking in the mountains, I used to train beforehand by doing a ton of elliptical and stair-climbing exercises, and I found for some reason that doing them backwards strengthened the very muscles that always got the most sore when I hiked in the mountains.
posted by The World Famous at 10:03 AM on June 2, 2011

2nding The World Famous. Even better than a walking stick are trekking poles. Its incredible how much easier everything is when you're a quadruped. This is especially true if, like me, one of your big challenges is the stress of not feeling steady on your feet once you start to get tired.
posted by juliapangolin at 10:40 AM on June 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm a man and last year I took my girlfriend for her first backpacking trip ever. Since then, we've done 2-3 more, though none for more than 4 days. She's had a wonderful attitude and been incredibly stoic even though I probably pushed it more than I should have at times.

The other suggestions are all good especially for conditioning so that you don't feel as tired. Here's a few I would add:

I bring along 1-2 bars of high-quality chocolate (1 bar/2 days). I think this can be both nourishing psychologically (esp if you like/love chocolate) and it gives you a carb kick to lift you up. I wouldn't suggest this as your main snack though--either get good energy bars, make a trail mix, or use one of the millions of other energy foods out there. I'm not a huge chocolate fan, but she loves it, and I seem to like it more when I'm using a lot of energy.

Be sure that you're drinking enough water--consider a camelback so that you can drink while hiking. I also bring along packets of Emergen-C as a nutrient/B-vitamin supplement.

Are your clothes comfortable and quick drying? Investing in a few loose-fitting, quick-dry pants and shirts could ease discomfort.

Make sure that the weight in your pack is well-balanced as well.
posted by SpicyMustard at 11:05 AM on June 2, 2011

Ever thought of camping in a hammock? Aside from that, if you're not the type of person where being out there is what really helps to recharge your internal battery then there might not be much that you can do to "enjoy" it more. However, do what you can to lower your pack weight, as that will greatly increase your enjoyment of the trip.

Jungle Hammocks
posted by zombieApoc at 11:42 AM on June 2, 2011

There are two main things that made my backpacking experiences better.

1. Train by walking with a loaded pack. Walk everywhere, all the time, especially on stairs.

2. Pack about 2/3 of what you think is the minimum you will need. Trust me: you won't need it. Wash clothes more often (or hey, wear them dirty if need be), and don't pack heavy eatables.
posted by Decani at 11:56 AM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I second the advice to train with your pack loaded. Fill your pack and go walk anywhere, especially hills and stairs. This helped me immensely.

If you are prone to blisters, get a blister kit. If you anticipate muscle pain, pack a few ibuprofen.

Also, have a fun time! If it starts to not be fun, slow down or take a rest. Stop to rest as much as you need to. Be flexible with your schedule and plan for stops. Backpacking should be challenging and fun, but when it starts to feel like torture, it's time for a rest.

Good luck!
posted by ohohcyte at 12:44 PM on June 2, 2011

Good tips so far, so I might add a tangential one: can you help influence (read: scale back) the types of trip SO dreams up? I can hike all day every day with a heavy pack, but mrs. partylarry is much happier hiking in a couple miles the first day, setting up a base camp and staying there a few nights and doing day hikes from there (sans heavy pack).

Also, I don't know where you're at, but backcountry canoe trips are great for the "mixed doubles" crowd: you both go the same speed no matter the difference in effort or ability, and you can carry more gear in a canoe than on your back. The Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota is one great option (if you time your trip to miss peak black fly season, anyway), and I know there are a number of other good options out there.

One more tip: keep that blood sugar up. You cannot eat enough or snack too often while carrying a heavy pack.
posted by partylarry at 1:04 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ditto on the use of an elliptical machines and / or stairmaster for pre-hike workout preparation. I also fast-walk the treadmill set in the inclined position as well. Strapping on, say, a 5-lb pack for your workouts will further enhance your cardiovascular strength build-up.

Being properly nourished both before and during your hikes will make a huge difference also. The only context in life in which I "snack" is on a big, strenuous hike like the Grand Canyon. On such a hike, my approach generally is to (a) eat a decent breakfast (and a more substantial one than required on a non-hiking day), (b) drink plenty of water throughout the hike, (c) picnic on a decent lunch (again, a bigger one than I eat normally), and (d) snack on things like cashews, fruit, trail-mix, maybe those chocolate chip cookies you normally would never eat.
posted by cool breeze at 3:00 PM on June 2, 2011

Nthing to snack frequently, drink lots of water, train beforehand, and lighten your load. I once watched somebody cut her toothbrush in half to drop that much more weight.
posted by moira at 3:04 PM on June 2, 2011

These are great suggestions, and thanks everyone for being so nice and supportive!

One question: H. Roark mentions hiking in sneakers instead of boots and this is somewhat appealing as sometimes I feel like my feet get more tired out by being in my rigid leather boots. I also have some North Face sneaker-style hiking shoes that i wear day hiking but they definitely lack the rigid, protective sole/shank that I really appreciate in my boots (keeps my soles from getting tired and painful going on rocky terrain.)

Anyone else have any opinion either way, sneaker vs. boot while hiking?
posted by dahliachewswell at 4:29 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a big fan of "approach shoes," which are like sneakers but with the rigid, protective sole/shank of a hiking boot.
posted by The World Famous at 4:31 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Loosing the boots was the most important thing that got me into the mountains again after years of problems with my ankles and knees. That and a backpack with a max weight of 8kg ( i'm a large guy, so that took some ego-trimming :-))
I haven't tried approach shoes, they might be good. The less weight you carry, the less need for stiff soles, though.
Trekking should be fun!
Best of luck!
posted by Thug at 4:58 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

If your hike is at a higher altitude than you are accustomed to, take an extra day at the beginning of the trip and car-camp at a campsite near the trailhead. An extra 24 hours to acclimate makes a huge difference in the first day of hiking.
posted by murphy slaw at 8:48 PM on June 2, 2011

The other day I was shopping in REI, during their annual spring sale, and I noticed some people in the backpacking section trying on big heavy bags and big heavy boots. I overheard the conversations, and it reminded me of when I first started backpacking about 15 years ago. I pained to hear what the sales people were gearing those poor folks up with.

When I started, the salesperson at the local outfitter geared me up with a giant pack and heavy boots and all sorts of interesting but unnecessary and too-heavy equipment. I ended up packing about 45-50 lb of gear during that first hike, and although I planned to do a full 75 miles across varying 3000 ft peaks and valleys, I ended up only making it two days.

Since then, I've learned the long way, that you can get by with much, much less. These days, if I'm travelling in temperate climate, in a non-dry season, I can pack well under 20 lbs for a 4 day hike. I am not as extreme as some. I know of people who have hiked the Appalachian Trail using little more than a tarp and tevas.

I've found that the best place to go to get information on lightweight backpacking is the backpacking light web site. The forums there are great, especially for gear reviews. Check out some of the community member's Google spreadsheets to see exactly who's using what equipment. You’ll be amazed with what people get by with.
posted by TheOtherSide at 7:31 AM on June 3, 2011

« Older Oddest artillery weapon I've ever seen.   |   Help me make Montreal F1 Weekend better than a Max... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.