Back in the Black: The Basics, Part Two
Welcome back. So you made it through my ranting and raving. You’re a glutton for punishment, I guess, since you decided you needed more. In the second installment of Back in the Black, I will go over backcountry weather basics and basic gear that you would probably want on your hike. So sit down, buckle up, keep all appendages inside the ride at all times, and remember, no flash photography. If you’re new to my blog or you just didn’t read the first installment, get you some edumacation here. Also, if you want to learn about me, further edumacate yourself here.
Come Hell or High Water
Mother Nature always finds a way to rain on our parade. Not always a bad thing, especially when sauntering through the middle of the desert. Being able to interpret the local weather paired with the wonders of modern technology we can better predict and prepare for the weather on our hikes.
Rain, Rain, Go Away
It’s rather worrisome when you are walking through the riparian areas and you notice the wind shift and some dark clouds roll in. It starts to rain and you start seeing Zeus playing with his rod again. Shit! Where am I gonna go? Aw man, I’m all wet now. (Go to 0:33) With weather determining not only your enjoyment of the backcountry, but also your safety, I like to know what might come. I do this by checking forecasts and historical weather data. These can be relatively easy to find on the internet. The historical is important because it gives me patterns of what has happened. What was the worst weather in the recent years, the average, and the best. With that information I head toward the forecasts from several different sources looking at Doppler and the highs/lows, precipitation, and sunrise/sunset. This gives me a rather complete picture of what I can expect and what I should bring for clothing and gear.
On the Spot or inReach
Now you’ve done your research and you are prepared for the possible weather. You strike out on the trail and you notice the weather change. Watching the clouds and noting the change in wind direction and speed can tell you a lot about what deluge may or may not be coming. With the knowledge of the past and the skills to understand the present along with some technological aide such as the Garmin inReach or weather radio you are good to go. There are many books and pocket guides out there that you can read or take along with you that show you how to do a spot forecast and as always the google monster.
Blanket and Stick
Every hiker’s favorite topic. Gear. No longer are the days when our tent weighs five pounds and our clothes are 100 percent cotton. There is a clique within the backpacking community known as ultralighters (ULers), and as with any group there are the extremists or purists and those who just want to experiment or enjoy both worlds. We all know that carrying large amounts of weight for an extended period on uneven terrain is not fun. Well, carrying lots of weight period isn’t fun. Schwarzenegger fans aside. So what do you throw onto your blanket?
The Big Three
Pack: I suggest you buy this last if you’re updating your gear. Many styles exist and some work better in different conditions than others. Somewhere around 40L is good for multiday trips, maybe longer depending on your ability, skills, and comfort.
Sleeping system: I recently made the change to a quilt, which is fantastic. Before that I used a mummy bag. I found 15-20 degree works for just about any weather and sport. Layering will solve chill and overheating issues. Insulation from the ground also helps the system to stay warm. So a good pad will go miles.
Shelter: Tarp or double wall. Knowledge and comfort will guide this choice. Whether you choose the tarp life or you enjoy the easy free-standing comfort of the double wall tent.
The Shirt off your Back
Layering: Clothes play a big role in comfort. Whether you’re battling your way up the Himalayas or cruising around on the Hayduke, layering is how you will stay comfortable. Ultimately, it’s how you will bring the least amount of clothing necessary.
Footwear: Boots are great and there are many styles, however, they aren’t the front-runners anymore. Trail runners have become the choice among the ranks. Preferred because they breathe great, dry quickly, and are relatively more comfortable and affordable.
The Kitchen Sink
Cooking: Two schools of thought exist here, and they are not mutually exclusive. Whether you want to heat up your food or want to forget the fuel canister and just use a jar to soak your food in. The idea behind cold soaking, which has in recent years become ever more prevalent, is that you don’t have to carry a stove and fuel and sit and wait to boil water. Now, you just toss your dehydrated food into a jar, add some water, get walking, and boom, cold and hydrated food.
Water: Whether you choose the mechanical route through water filters such as Sawyer’s popular Squeeze or Katadyn’s BeFree or, you use NanoPure tablets, bleach, or AquaMira. The end state is relatively the same, potable water. Good source finding is always key, however, not always manageable. The Arizona Trail is known for not having reliable or the best water sources; often they are cow tanks. So prefiltering is a good practice. Find the flow if any, dip below the surface about an inch, and use your buff or shirt to help filter the biggest debris. Not always possible, but a good practice when possible.
First Aid and emergency: I normally only bring Leukotape, which I use for blisters and cuts. I also bring a concoction of pills. Between ibuprofen, anti-diarrheals, and backup water purification tablets. Depending on the activity and the duration consider bringing a more robust kit, including ace bandages and gauze.
Navigation: Having multiple sources is great. I use primarily topographical maps that are of the sections or immediate area of where I am hiking. I also have digital versions such as Guthook’s, which provides updates on trail conditions and available water.
Electronics: I fancy myself a connoisseur of light, thus I will always have a camera of some sort with me. I also venture alone 90 percent of the time so I also have a personal locator beacon (PLB). I also have my phone for entertainment and communication both social and personal. There are multiple ways to cut the weight and still have the items that ensure safety and enjoyment in the backcountry.
You’ve gotten all your gear on the blanket, time to tie it to your stick and set off. For more information go read Mountaineers: The Freedom of the Hills, also take a look at Andrew Skurka’s Ultimate Gear Guide.
Signing out for now,
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.