That’s Why They Call it a Trial Run: 6 Mistakes and 6 Lessons

Welp, I supposed a “trial run” is called such for a reason. Kisha and I embarked on a trial overnight backpacking trip to get acclimated to pack weight and elevation. Neither of us really anticipated the extent of the tribulations we would face. But boy did we walk out with some valuable lessons learned.


  1. Puffy jackets can only keep you warm if you remember to pack them.
  2. Cell phones should be in a secure pocket, preferably with a zipper.
  3. Backpacking burns lots of calories, which should be replenished regularly.
  4. Down quilts are warmer when they have adequate time to re-loft.
  5. Water is good for you.
  6. Wet tents are better off attached to the outside of your pack.


  • Duration: 2 days, 1 night
  • Distance: 8.6 miles (according to AllTrails)
  • Actual Distance: 10 miles (according to Kisha’s Garmin…mine projected 10.75 miles)
  • Elevation Gain: 1,768ft. (according to AllTrails)
  • Recorded Elevation Gain: 2,031ft. (according to Kisha’s Garmin)
  • Trails: Derrick, Highline, Horton Creek (counter-clockwise loop)
  • Daytime High Temp: 57 degrees Fahrenheit (projected)
  • Overnight Low Temp: 34 degrees Fahrenheit (projected)
  • Precipitation Methods: rain, hail (“baby hail” and “dent your car” size), snow


In late March, Kisha and I picked out the final weekend of April for a quick overnight trip (because we had that Friday off). We had had a few different places in mind, but we narrowed it down once temperatures in the valley (Phoenix area) soared to triple digits. An easy choice: we’ll head north!

After a long work week (which ones aren’t long by this point in the school year?) and a late night attending school events, I laid out and prepared my supplies the night before our trip. Though last minute, I was pretty thorough, consulting lists I’ve made over the years to ensure I was not forgetting anything.

Since it was so late that night, I had laid all my things out but had not packed them into my backpack. (“Save that for the morning,” I said. “It’ll be fine,” I said.) Thus, I placed my gear into a coat closet where I store much of my outdoor equipment. I wanted to ensure my cats didn’t make a bed of my expensive quilt or puffy jacket overnight (they are irresistibly comfy, after all).

When the morning came, I packed everything from my gear pile in the closet into my pack. After filling my water, I gave my pack a final weigh-in: 42.1 pounds. Heavy, but manageable (especially for an overnighter).

All my gear laid out the night before (if only ALL of it made it into my pack the next morning…)


As the weekend approached, temps where we live in the valley dropped from triple digits into the 80s. Projected daytime highs for our trail up north were in the high-50s, and overnight lows were in the low- to mid-30s. So, dressed in T-shirts and shorts, Kisha and I left a comfortably warm valley and headed to the mountains.

Mistake #1

As we ascended into what is known as “Rim Country” here in Arizona (referring to the Mogollon Rim), my car’s temperature gauge displayed lower and lower numbers. About an hour and a half from home, I had an alarming realization: my Enlightened Equipment puffy jacket was still hanging in my coat/gear closet at home.

After calling myself some not-so-nice names, I determined I would be fine with the thermal layer that I packed in conjunction with my rain jacket and a (lightweight) sweatshirt I had in my car. I would be fine.

Lesson Learned: Double- (or even triple-) check your pack list and gear closet or storage space to ensure you packed everything you think you’ll need. One additional close look at my gear closet would have caught that puffy jacket.

And We’re Off!

Upon arriving at the trailhead, we observed the “Day Use Only” signage. So we parked at a campground down the road about a half-mile or so. As we were getting our packs out of the car, an older gentleman approached us. He was in the area to operate a radio for the Zane Grey Highline Trail Runs that would take place the next day. That’s when he and Kisha realized they knew each other from previously volunteering at the Mesquite Canyon Trail Run. We chatted a bit about trail runs and races and then the ominous weather forecast for the evening. He kindly offered to give us a ride up to our actual trailhead, which we happily accepted.

Got a ride to the trailhead from a kind race volunteer, only to trip and stumble as soon as we stepped up to the sign.

We got on trail around 2:00pm (a bit later than either of us intended, but we weren’t punching any clocks). The weather was cloudy with temps in the low 60s, but ultimately, we were both comfortable hiking in our shorts. I wore a sun hoodie, which did little to cut the chill of the breeze when we did encounter it. However, the weather was as pleasant as can be when it comes to backpacking… for a bit anyway.


Not long into our trip, it started to rain. We felt droplets here and there for a while, but that graduated to a heftier pour. Since we knew the overnight lows were projected to be 34 degrees, we didn’t want to risk our stuff getting wet. So we stopped to put rain covers over our packs. Our covers were easy to access, but no sooner than we were able to cover our packs did the pour cease. Seeing as the precipitation would likely continue, we decided to leave the covers on. So we continued on our happy way.

We needed to cover our packs nearly right away because of intermittent rail and hail.

Mistake #2

Within minutes of leaving our rain cover stop, I had my second alarming realization of this trip: my phone was no longer in my shorts pocket. When I hike with my phone in my pocket, I have a habit of tapping the outside of the pocket to confirm it’s still in there. I had put my phone there for easy access to take pictures throughout the day. But upon tapping my upper thigh, I was met with the squish of my leg rather than the hard surface of my phone.

Stopping dead in my tracks, I had the “Oh my God” moment. Kisha assured me it had to be somewhere in my pack, as she had been just behind me the whole way so far and hadn’t seen it fall. Trying to ward off panic, I eagerly searched every open crevice to no avail.

Realizing the most likely place it would be had to have been where we stopped to cover our packs, I marched right back down the trail. Picking out the precise tree where we stopped, I scanned the ground for a baby-blue rectangular block, which was futile. Refusing to accept that my phone flopped out of my pocket somewhere on the miles of trail behind us, I plopped my pack onto the ground to scour the spaces under the rain cover.

Alas! My phone was nestled in the bottom rim of the drawstring adhering the cover to my pack. Miracle #1 about this is that the phone did not slip out as we continued on the trail. Miracle #2 is that I didn’t smash it to smithereens when I put my pack back on the ground.

Lesson Learned: Keep phones in a zippered or otherwise-closeable space. My phone rode the rest of the way zippered in my hip belt pocket. Moving forward, I will be purchasing a shoulder strap pocket specifically to put my phone in.

Making Camp

After hiking a rather exposed ridgeline under the rim, we descended into a more thickly forested valley. We had covered about five miles and gained over 1,700 feet (depending on whether we believe AllTrails or Garmin more) in about four hours, and both Kisha and I were feeling great. We were confident we’d make it to the next trail junction to make camp. That’s when we heard the water of Horton Creek.

Horton Creek

After fangirling over how beautiful it looked, we crossed the creek and looked for a spot far enough away from the water as well as the two other groups of campers we came upon. Our site wasn’t perfect, but we were ready to pitch the tent and get cooking. We were both pretty hungry for a nice meal.

Mistake #3

I have to preface this by noting that both Kisha and I have pretty extensive experience in endurance activities. Kisha has run multiple ultramarathons, including the Javelina Jundred 100k race (which we are both training to run together this October). I have also completed some long trail runs and a marathon, and have been on several backpacking trips. Despite our combined years of experience, neither of us had the wisdom to stop ourselves during our hiking to eat a snack.

This mistake snowballed when we finally sat down and fired up our stoves. Just as Kisha’s water boiled, a sudden, out-of-nowhere pelting of hail accompanied by a drastic drop in temperature began to assault us. I attempted to continue preparing something to eat, but the onslaught of hail doused the flames on my stove. Feeling the hole in my stomach, I managed to stuff one Power Crunch bar down my throat in an attempt to fill that void.

Hail quickly squandered our dreams of eating a warm meal.

As the hail grew to “dent-your-car” size, we were exiled to our tent, leaving behind a buffet of backpacker meals and snacks in the bear canisters far from our tent. Being in active bear country, we did not want to risk eating in our tent.

Thus, we went to bed hungry.

Lesson Learned: Take snack breaks frequently. You never know what will impede your next opportunity to eat.


Though we had pitched the tent after arriving at camp, neither of us had set up our sleep systems (as dinner was our priority after the tent). In doing so, we had bolted into the tent with nothing laid out and the ground just outside of the vestibule becoming growingly saturated. Maneuvering around the tight space of the enclosed two-person tent, we both inflated our sleeping pads and laid out our quilts. By the time we got ourselves relatively situated, we had observed that the hail had evolved into snow.

Hail evolved into snow rather quickly; the rainfly of the tent kept it at bay.

Mistake #4

After we changed in the still-tight space of the tent, we both sought refuge from the dropping temperatures by retreating into our Enlightened Equipment Revelation quilts. Once we settled in, we both felt helplessly cold. My quilt is rated to zero degrees, so I knew something about the setup was askew. 

I decided to utilize the straps that come with the quilt to help create a warmer bubble for myself. Prior to this trip, I had never needed to use them, despite having slept in colder weather, but this particular night’s storm sent some chilly drafts through our tent. Upon securing the quilt in place using the straps, I found I was able to achieve warmth. (If anyone is curious about how this works, check out this video of how to use the quilt straps.) However, one section of me (my butt and thighs) was still cold. Kisha had the same issue.

This led to my revelation that my Revelation needed more time to loft. Because we hadn’t laid our quilts out after being compressed in our packs all day, they hadn’t had enough time to re-loft, which is essential to their insulative function. Though I was rather chilled in the one region, I found I was sufficiently warm after a couple of hours, even though temperatures undoubtedly dropped further.

Lesson Learned: Give your quilt time to loft if you’re hoping for a warm and cozy night’s sleep.


The Morning After

Despite continuous rain with on-and-off thunder and lightning, I slept rather impeccably. (Thanks Enlightened Equipment and Nemo!) However, I woke up feeling flat-out awful. My head was aching something fierce, and nausea threatened me with every minute movement.

Mistake #5

Similar to the mistake of not fueling with enough calories, I was severely underhydrated during the hike the day before. Though I had hydrated well the day and morning before, I neglected to drink enough while hiking throughout the afternoon. I attribute this to my hydration system. 

After covering our packs to protect them from rain, my water bottle pockets were inconvenient to reach. I had been using the Cnoc Vesica, but it was difficult to keep it in an easy-to-access place. Hence, I will also be purchasing a water bottle pocket so I can keep my primary hydration within mouth’s reach. On this trip, I realized I was not as fond of the Cnoc Vesica design as I had anticipated. Therefore, I am leaning towards going all in on Smart Water bottles (in addition to my Cnoc water storage bag – that thing is amazing). Perhaps I will try the Vesica with its own strap pocket…I am undecided at the moment!

As a result of not hydrating adequately, I suffered all morning from a dehydration headache accompanied by nausea. Unfortunately, I regurgitated the water I drank in the morning, followed by any foods I attempted to consume. This left me feeling extremely weak. The frigid morning weather (and lack of my puffy jacket) did not help.

After failed attempts to eat ramen noodles, I resorted to sipping the broth.

Lesson Learned: Dehydration is no joke. Make sure your water is easily accessible so that you can drink often, no matter the weather.

Packing Up Camp

After failed attempts to eat or keep anything down, I decided we needed to just get a move on. Kisha helped me pack all of my things. Unfortunately, much of our equipment was wet or damp from drippage off of the rain fly (otherwise, that REI Half Dome kept us surprisingly dry).

Mistake #6

The tent was the final piece that we needed to pack. There was space for it at the bottom of my pack, where it had ridden the day before. In my dehydrated, post-vomit stupor, I just stuffed it into the bottom of my pack. My logic was that many of my supplies were already damp, and we were hiking out that day anyway, so hopefully-warm-and-fed Rachel could deal with it later that afternoon.

In terms of a longer trip, we will not have this luxury. I know better than to stuff a soaking wet tent into a pack with the rest of my belongings. Moving forward, I plan to use the looped straps at the bottom of my pack to carry the tent out. This will make it easier to lay it out in the sun during a lunch break.

Lesson Learned: Don’t let laziness compromise packing equipment up correctly. The integrity of your gear will thank you.

In the foggy morning after, I was pleased by how dry we were able to stay through the overnight storms.

Hiking Out

Leaving camp, I was weak from a lack of nutrients and hydration, which was only exacerbated by the bitter cold. All of my energy was funneled into putting one foot in front of the other. Runners from the Zane Gray race passed us, and I mustered up the most enthusiastic “Good job, runner,” that I could manage for each of them. 

As we made our way down the trail through on and off rainfall, I began to feel much more like myself. I enjoyed hiking alongside the beautiful creek with the peaceful sounds of its flowing. I sipped on my water with some LMNT electrolytes that were able to revive me. My encouragement to the passing trail runners increased in zeal. I was finally able to eat a tortilla (and keep it down).

A tortilla and citrus LMNT electrolytes were all I could keep down.

By the mid-morning, my trail-loving self had been resurrected. Despite the hellishness of the previous twelve hours, I was thoroughly relishing my experience. I conscientiously remembered what I love about being outdoors and appreciated each moment.

Kisha and me hiking along Horton Creek.


  1. Backpacking is fun even when it’s not fun.
  2. “As much as it might suck, we learned we can survive a storm.” – Kisha
  3. Tough times are immeasurably easier when you have the right friends to help you through them.

While this trip did not go as anticipated, I walked out of the wilderness a bit humbled, wiser, and ultimately grateful. After pushing through the misery, which I could not have done as successfully without Kisha, I fully absorbed my incredibly beautiful surroundings.

Whatever shenanigans the Tahoe Rim Trail will throw at us, we will be ready for it.

Kisha and me enjoying views of the Mogollon Rim.

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Comments 1

  • Amy Hues : May 5th

    Your writing is incredible! This is a great read and I’ve shared the link with a couple friends who love to hike! Your experience will be helpful for others!!!

    Proud to know you and proud OF YOU!


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