Recently, I shared my journey from a person who has never camped before to a backpacker. I’ve also shared some tips on how you can prepare for your own backpacking trips (see slides).
Above are the slides, and below is my script on my journey:
Think about the word “adventure”, what comes to your mind?
Many things can be called “adventures”. For me, when I’m thinking about the word “adventures”, outdoor activities are always the first thing that came to my mind. Hiking, backpacking, camping, skiing, surfing. The activities that bring you close to the nature, the wild.
I was not born or grew up adventurous, in my definition for it. I grew up in a family that’s not super enthusiastic about outdoor activities, and in locations where activities like camping or backpacking are not popular. My parents would not feel comfortable to stay in the wild overnight, sleeping inside a tent would never be the first option for our family vacation.
After I came to the United States, and started living in such a beautiful area, I occasionally hiked and biked over the weekend. That basically wrapps up my outdoor activities.
I do admire the adventurers, of course – whether it’s Cheryl Strayed, the woman in the movie “Wild” who backpacked for more than 1,000 miles, or a couple on YouTube showing off their engagement on the tip of a mountain. But I just felt so far away from them. Look at the heavy packs on their back. It’s hard to imagine I’m the person in the picture.
For a life lack of outdoor adventures, getting into them needs some inspiration.
It was not until early this year, that I learned about my friend Yalu’s adventure. A couple of years ago, she hiked the John Muir Trail alone, it was a trail that’s more than 200 miles’ long, stretching from the Yosemite National Park all the way south to Mt. Whitney in Southern California. It took her 26 days to complete the entire trip, with 37 lbs on her back, in the beginning of the trip.
I thought, that was really cool! I’ve never had a big adventure like that. Flipping through her pictures and travel logs, I found it so fascinating. I wanted to do something just like that, John Muir Trail or something similar! But again, the only thing I’ve done were some short hikes in the daytime.
Yalu said, hiking and backpacking, especially long-distance backpacking are very different, I would need to prepare for that.
But what should I do from zero experience to a long-distance backpacker? What does it feel like leaving all my modern life behind? Can I even fall asleep in a tent?
I was completely clueless.
That was in March. More than half a year has passed, my husband Yanbin, also a newbie, and I did some awesome short backpacking trips in Angel Island, Yosemite, Point Reyes and Lake Tahoe. We are still far from a long distance trip, but we’ve made our first steps.
I’m going to share with you my journey on how I got from zero to where I am today, as well as how to plan a backpacking trip and what to bring. If you have thought about backpacking but is intimated by it or never had a chance to do it, I hope to bring you some inspirations to make your first step.
My 1st trip – Angel Island
When I just started – I pretty much didn’t know where to start. Adventures are not something I can just read from books.
Google searches came to rescue. The outdoor store REI conducts regular overnight backpacking trips for beginners. Yanbin and I decided that it would be good enough if one of us went to learn and take back learnings. So guess what, I volunteered.
The trip was an ice breaker for me to backpacking. I was very confident, because I could not possibly do anything wrong with two instructors and several other peers.
I had many first-time moments.
- My first time to stuff a 65-liter backpack – sleeping bag at the bottom, heavy weighed items close to my back, medium weight filled the rest space – I ended up carrying about 25 lbs on my back for 4 or 5 miles’ walking. Not too terrible, actually.
- My first time to use hiking poles – they made it easier for knees hiking uphill and especially downhill.
- My first time to pitch a tent – thanks to modern design, it took less than 10 minutes.
- My first time to cook and eat in the wild – boil water, eat dehydrated food
I was not very sure whether I would fall asleep in the wild, but in fact, nothing can wake me up – I heard nothing about the surprise visitor to our campground.
The next morning, we noticed one person’s backpack was dragged to a different place, by a raccoon for sure, because he left an empty sandwich bag in the backpack. That was probably my most important lesson from this trip – never leave anything that smells like food in the backpack or in the tent, like food, toothpaste, lotion. Or you may have some unwanted intruder around or even inside your tent.
The 2nd trip – Angel Island Again!
Immediately following my first trip, I booked a one-night camp space on Angel Island again — because that was what I was familiar with — this time, to get my husband Yanbin onboard. I cannot wait to be his coach.
The benefit of traveling with a companion is that you share the weight – food, equipment, water. Each of us carried about 20 lbs on our backs.
We had a quiet night in the tent. The next morning, we woke up with sunrise on the horizon.
Angel Island doesn’t have its first batch of visitors until 10 in the morning, other backpackers were probably still in their camps – so we enjoyed a quiet, beautiful morning hike around the island all by ourselves. It’s romantic, isn’t it?
The biggest lesson from this trip though – We brought 4 instant noodle bags for dinner and breakfast – because they’re light enough and have the calories we needed. We REALLY got sick of them. Eating the same thing two times in a row was such a pain.
After those two trips, reading books about backpacking started resonating. I started piecing things together from YouTube videos. I joined a few Facebook groups where backpacking enthusiasts share their trips and learnings. The world of information about backpacking all started making sense.
We felt we can handle more nights, longer distances or try something new.
- 2 nights
- We had our longest hike 18-mile in one day. It was awesome.
- A squirrel stole nuts from us, it was as fast as a flash. Note to self, do not put food at a place I can’t see or beyond my arm length…
- 2 nights
- We stayed in the camps and hiked some of the most beautiful places that you can only access by feet.
- For the first time, we didn’t stay at an established campground. We found a flat ground and pitched our tent.
- We practiced putting food inside a bear canister, so that we didn’t have to worry about attracting bear to our tent.
We had some short car camping trips to Mt Diablo, Crater Lake National Park, Yellowstone National Park. We would never do this if I didn’t have the first trip in Angel Island.
We hope to backpack around Lake Tahoe or the John Muir Trail, both a long and challenging – we need to be physically and mentally prepared.