How I converted from being a day hiker and car camper to first time backpacker.
I’ve been a regular hiker for almost eight years now, and over the last several years, I’ve significantly increased the number of hikes I do. A year ago, I started leading hikes for a women’s Meetup group, meeting many women who spend a lot of time in the wilderness. Being a part of a community of women who hike and backpack regularly, I get to hear about all of their adventures, and this has made me decide that I wanted to give backpacking a try. I didn’t think this would be something I was interested in, but the more I hike, the more I want to be out there and not have to turn around and go back immediately. The best way to spend more time in the wilderness is to backpack!
About six months ago, I decided that I definitely wanted to become a backpacker, so I started researching everything about it that I could, including what gear I would need. I read tons of gear reviews, watched how-to videos, made lists of what I wanted to buy, and then started purchasing what I would need.
I also got out all of my hiking books, added a few new backpacking trip books to my collection, and researched where to go. I looked for trips that would be easy for a beginner, in areas I was already familiar with so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed the first time out.
At the same time, I helped to organize a series of beginning backpacking classes for the Meetup group that I lead hikes for. The classes are taught by a young woman with significant outdoor leadership experience and a desire to share this info with people getting started. In these classes, I learned what to take with me, how to pack it in a backpack, how to plan a trip, and much more.
And, last November, I took a two-day wilderness first aid class through REI so I could learn how to use my first aid kit and be better prepared for emergencies if needed. Even though I love to spend a lot of time in the wilderness, I’m not much of an adventurer when it comes to doing things that are completely unfamiliar. Instead, I’m a thorough researcher, and I like to be well informed as much as I can before diving into uncharted territory. At least, uncharted for me.
The last thing I needed to figure out was what I was going to eat. A lot of people rely on readymade freeze-dried meals available at outdoor stores, but I had heard mixed reviews on how they tasted, plus, they are rather expensive at around $8 to $15 per entree. I’m a picky eater, and I like to cook and make up recipes, so I tested out my new backpacking stove at home a couple of times.
I did all of my research and gear purchasing over the colder fall and winter months, so by spring, I was all ready to go and just needed the weather to cooperate. Earlier in the year, I led a hike to Siouxon Creek in Southwest Washington. This has been one of my favorite hikes for awhile, and this time, I scoped out several campsite areas, hoping to return when there would be more daylight and it wouldn’t be too cold overnight.
With a forecast that called for highs in the mid-to-upper 70s and overnight lows in the low 40s, conditions were perfect for my first trip, so I found a friend to go with and we made plans for the weekend. I loaded up my pack with all of my new gear, hoping to keep the weight as low as possible. Fully loaded, including food and 2 liters of water, my total pack weight was 25 pounds.
We arrived at the trailhead around 2:00 in the afternoon with our two dogs and began the hike in. The trail heads downhill several hundred feet, then crosses a small tributary creek on a high bridge. After the bridge, the trail rounds a corner and at just over a quarter of a mile in, there is a large area with campsites beside the main creek. Wanting to go in farther than this, we continued on. We passed another campsite near the creek at a half-mile in, but I really wanted to reach an area with several campsites just past Horseshoe Creek Falls. Never having carried this much weight before, I did much better than I thought I might. We could have gone farther ahead to additional campsites, but with a view of one of my favorite waterfalls, I was ready to stop and set up camp. This area has three separate rustic campsites, and the first two were already taken, so we decided to go ahead and stop here, taking the last available spot.
We set up our tents and decided to go for a short hike to see Siouxon Falls, less than another half mile ahead on the trail. Along the way, we passed a small creek, which was a great source for filtering our water about five minutes from our campsite. A quick trip back to this creek with our water filters, and we had plenty of water to make our dinners.
My friend wanted to have a campfire, so she collected firewood and then we made our meals. After dinner, we went back to the waterfall to take a few photos at dusk, then spent the rest of the evening relaxing next to the fire.
My dog was having a hard time settling into the idea of staying overnight, and she startled at every movement she saw around her. My friend’s dog is a little older and has been backpacking quite a few times, so she did just fine. When it was finally time to go to bed, Astrid was so tired that I hoped she would fall asleep easily in the tent, which she did for at least half the night. It might have been longer, I’m not sure since I didn’t know what time it was when she startled awake the first time. After the third time, with her lunging at the tent door, I decided to get up with her to make sure she didn’t pee in the tent. Plus, I had to go too. Back in the tent, we then slept on and off until it started getting light outside and birds started chirping. Astrid was aware of the birds and didn’t go back to sleep, but she seemed content to lay in the tent with me. That is, until we heard our campsite mates getting up and moving around.
We got up and made breakfast, which was instant oatmeal, and had coffee. But before I could do any of that, I had to feed the super hungry puppy. Apparently, being in the wilderness had made her particularly ravenous, because she could have kept on eating all morning.
We decided to do a short day hike since we still had several hours before we had to leave, so we left our campsite and headed farther in on the trail. We hiked another two miles and checked out several additional campsite areas, marking them on our GPS devices for future use.
About another mile down the trail, several large campsites are grouped together and strung out along the creek. We stopped shortly after this since we needed to turn around and go back to camp to breakdown and repack our gear, getting ready for the trip home.
All in all, my first backpacking experience was great. The things that I thought were going to be challenging for me weren’t bad at all. I was able to carry the fully loaded pack, and sleep outdoors in the wilderness! And I want to do it again!