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Notes for next time: Gear, supplies, food & logistics

What's going (on the ground) and what's staying (in the suitcase). My gear + supplies weighed in the low- or mid-10’s, including the 2.5-pound bear canister. Food for 10+ days added almost 20 pounds. With few exceptions, I never carried water, preferring to simply dip-and-drink from some of the best water sources on the planet.

What’s going (on the ground) and what’s staying (in the suitcase). My gear + supplies weighed in the low- or mid-10’s, including the 2.5-pound bear canister. Food for 10+ days added almost 20 pounds. With few exceptions, I never carried water, preferring to simply dip-and-drink from some of the best water sources on the planet.

An assortment of takeaways from my Kings Canyon High Basin Route thru-hike earlier this month. They are mostly a reminder for me, but maybe they’ll have some value for you, too. If any prompt a question, leave a comment.

Gear

  • Pack weight. Take a handheld digital scale to the trailhead for a final weigh-in of all gear, supplies, and food. This will be more accurate than estimating a starting pack weight based on spreadsheets for gear and food.
  • Navigation. Using my smartphone + GaiaGPS as a backup to my detailed paper maps was exceptionally handy in few spots, notably when climbing to passes that were out of view such as Gardiner Pass and King Col. There were a few whiteouts too, but since I had done the route before I didn’t need the extra help. Read more about my navigation system.
  • Pack liners. My pack was big at the start, and two 20-gallon trash compactor bags were necessary to adequately waterproof my belongings.

Clothing

  • Last-minute I decided to leave my puffy jacket in the car, partly because I already had three tops: a hiking shirt, bug shirt, and fleece half-zip. This worked fine, and it would have been okay even if had taken only two layers. On a solo trip, I am either hiking or in bed; on a group trip, a puffy is hugely beneficial for all of that “camping” time.
  • If there is any chance of even light bug pressure, I must remember to treat my hiking shirt with Sawyer Permethrin Spray in order to avoid needing a separate bug shirt.

Rain gear

  • In the Mountain West, wet is usually accompanied by cold. In such conditions, staying dry is ideal but unlikely. The second-best option is to keep the rain out but to become damp with trapped perspiration. It’s entirely unacceptable to have a rain jacket “wet through” and soak me with cold rain. Rain gear with very high hydrostatic head — which necessitates a trade-off with fabric breathability — will deliver this outcome. My 2-layer rain gear did not.
  • In light of the weather forecast at the trailhead, which called for a few wet-ish days followed by nicer weather, my 300-weight fleece gloves made the cut but my 2-oz rain mitts did not. This was a dumb decision, since my hands are the first thing to go when I get cold and wet, as happened on Day 3. If I make this same calculation again, I’ll at least throw some non-latex medical gloves in my kit as a backup solution. At that point, however, I might as well just take the rain shells.
On sandy trips in the Southwest I've seen Salomon Quicklaces fray, but never elsewhere. The solution is easy: isolate the frayed section with an overhand knot, and with a lighter burn off the frayed section and singe the loose ends.

On sandy trips in the Southwest I’ve seen Salomon Quicklaces fray, but never elsewhere. The solution is easy: isolate the frayed section with an overhand knot, and with a lighter burn off the frayed section and singe the loose ends.

Footwear

  • The Quicklaces on both Salomon Synapse shoes frayed and were on the verge of breaking. This surprised me, since it had happened before in the sandy Southwest but never in the High Sierra. The solution was easy: isolate the frayed section with an overhand knot, and with a lighter burn off the frayed section and singe the loose ends.
  • The stock Salomon insoles perform abysmally when wet. If there is any chance that they will get wet during a hike, replace them with something else. The OrthoLite open-cell foam absorbs and retains water; it loses its rigidity and “accordions” inside the shoe, especially in the toebox; and the adhesive used to laminate the layers together must be water-soluble, since the layers began separating.

Camping

  • Versus my experience last year with a flat tarp on the Wind River High Route, I was much happier with my full-sided mid. The combination of a mid + water-resistant bivy works great for high routes in the West: solid storm protection when I need it, but otherwise I’m cowboy camping inside of a bug-proof enclosure that requires 1-2 minutes to set up and break down.
  • The Sidewinder Ti-Tri + Zelph Modified StarLyte Stove + Evernew 900 ml Titanium Ultra-Light Pot is a slick setup. It’s ultralight, very stable, and super fuel-efficient, requiring no more than a half-ounce of alcohol fuel per 2.5 cups (600 ml) of boiling water. On group trips earlier this year I was frustrated by its slow boil times, but in a solo setting I found that I could get it going and then tend to other duties (e.g. setting up the shelter, looking at tomorrow’s maps) while my dinner cooked.
  • So long as I sleep on thermally neutral ground (e.g. forest duff), a non-insulated sleeping pad like the Big Agnes Air Core — which is lighter and WAY less expensive than the insulated versions — is perfectly sufficient. My takeaway was the same in April in the Southwest, where common sleeping surfaces were dry sand and sun-warmed slickrock. Even though I’m 6 feet tall, the Small size is okay since I can insulate and cushion my lower legs with my framed backpack.
Food for 10+ days. When I calculated the cost/benefit of a mid-trip resupply, I determined that it was more efficient to carry all of my food from start to finish. This had the added advantage of increased flexibility: for 10 days I could go where ever I wanted, when I wanted.

Food for 10+ days. When I calculated the cost/benefit of a mid-trip resupply, I determined that it was more efficient to carry all of my food from start to finish. This had the added advantage of increased flexibility: for 10 days I could go where ever I wanted, when I wanted.

Food

  • No surprise, no bears in any of my camps. When you camp where no one else does, or few do, your campsite will not be party of their nightly rounds.
  • When I prepared my dinners I pre-salted them with what I thought was a sufficient amount of salt, and I didn’t take extra salt. I should have — my dinners all needed more salt.
  • My dinner entrees were on a 3-night rotation: Curry Couscous, Polenta + Peppers, and Pesto Noodles. Each requires olive oil, which I stored successfully in a 16-oz Platypus SoftBottle. Since marker too easily wears off the bottle, I used electrical tape to mark 2-night servings.
  • With 20 oz of water, all of my dinners are soupy, which is the way I like. One advantage is that long before a boil I can add the ingredients without burning them to the bottom of the pot. The exception is Parmesan, which if added prematurely becomes a sticky mess. Two of my meals were packaged accordingly, but the Pesto Noodles was not — the noodles, sun-dried tomatoes, and spices should be bagged together, and the Parmesan on its own.
  • For breakfast I had a 4-oz protein bar, which had staying power through 8-9 AM (after a 5-5:30 AM start). From that point on, I had budgeted five snacks of 3-4 oz each. For the first few days of the trip, I was happy with just four, leaving one leftover. By Day 4 or 5, I was eating  all five. Late in the trip, I was happy to have six, though it was unnecessary. My caloric consumption was certainly not even to my caloric burn, but my body seemed to function okay even when hungry, i.e. no loss of energy level.
  • Protein intake was probably inadequate. For prolonged exercise of moderate intensity, research suggests about 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. At 155 lbs, this puts me at 105 grams per day. I was probably getting 75 percent of that, which I think is part of the reason I wasn’t fully recovering at night.

Supplies

  • Camera. For the next 10-day trip, take 3 batteries and two 16 GB cards for your Canon S110.
  • Communication. After using the Delorme inReach SE 2-3x per day for 10 days, the battery was at 70 percent.
  • Foot care. Besides the Bonnie’s Balm, which I used almost nightly, I did not need anything out of my foot care kit, e.g. Leukoptape, Blist-o-Bans
  • Repairs. None.
  • Water purification. Water in the High Sierra is abundant and generally pure, especially in the low- or no-use areas that I was in. I carried Aquamira Drops and never considered using them. And I didn’t get sick. YMMV.

Logistics

  • For any itinerary up to 1-2 weeks depending on the location, loop hikes are the way to go — the travel logistics are incredibly EASY. Drive your car to the trailhead, park your car, hike, return to your car, go home. Don’t waste your precious vacation time hitchhiking or taking shuttles.
  • There were ample backcountry permits at 3pm on a Tuesday at Road’s End, even for two of the most popular trailheads in the park — Bubbs Creek and Woods Creek.
  • For High Sierra trips, I continue to use San Jose (SJC) instead of Fresno-Yosemite (FAT). There are more flights and less expensive flights between SJC and Denver. And normally I have enough points with Southwest Airlines to fly free.
Posted in on July 28, 2015
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34 Comments

  1. Benjamin on July 29, 2015 at 12:04 am

    I’m curious as to why you went with the Big Agnes Air Core over a NeoAir Xlite. The Big Agnes pad weighs over twice as much and is less insulating.

    I wish you’d do more of these articles, they are really fun to read and think about!

    • Andrew Skurka on July 29, 2015 at 6:31 am

      The Air Core is the updated version of my pad, the Clearview Mummy, which I bought on closeout from Backcountry for a little over $30. The Small specs at 11 oz but I’ve never confirmed that — feels about right.

      If I was willing to spend $170 on the X-Lite, I certainly would have. But I wasn’t. And I’ve been just fine with an non-insulated pad, even in temperatures in the 30’s and 40’s.

      • Darren Parker on July 29, 2015 at 7:46 am

        Excellent article. The fact that you have a budget to adhere to makes it so much more interesting. Thank you.

      • Benjamin on July 29, 2015 at 8:55 am

        Ahh, yeah, I assumed it was a price thing but was just checking. I wasn’t sure if you had a particular complaint about the XLite.

        Though, just so you are comparing Apples to Apples here, the XLite size small is $130.

        It’s still $80 more expensive, so definitely a good reason to consider other options.

  2. Nicolas on July 29, 2015 at 7:53 am

    Hello Andrew,

    America’s Test Kitchen has a couple of great videos on the science of cooking. The following one about salt may interest you:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0v32jYkSi0

    As always, thank you for the practical advice: it’s important to be diligent at taking notes throughout a trip and thereafter to keep on learning and improving.

    Cheers.

    • Andrew Skurka on July 29, 2015 at 8:07 am

      Good video, thanks. Basically:

      1. If you salt early, you’ll need more salt, but the salt will be more widely dispersed.
      2. If you salt late, you’ll need less salt, but the salt will essentially just be a coating.

      I’m not sure how well this applies to my backpacking dinners versus their examples of meat and fresh vegetables, but probably at least to some degree. I bet that if salt is added early, it penetrates more deeply into things like noodles and freeze-dried vegetables as they are hydrating; whereas if I add salt just before eating, it probably does not get as deep. Since I have normally added it at the end, this explains why all of my meals felt under-salted.

  3. Vadim Fedorovsky on July 29, 2015 at 8:08 am

    Andrew, you say: “The combination of a mid + water-resistant bivy works great for high routes in the West: solid storm protection when I need it, but otherwise I’m cowboy camping inside of a bug-proof enclosure that requires 1-2 minutes to set up and break down.”

    What I don’t understand is how do you know it won’t rain on you during the night on nights when you decide to only use the bivy?

    Thank you.

    -Vadim

    • Andrew Skurka on July 29, 2015 at 8:16 am

      For someone who lives and backpacks almost exclusively in the East, it’s hard to believe that I can go to bed in the West with such confidence. But, really, I can. During the summer, nearly all of the precip received in the Mountain West is due to the North American Monsoon weather pattern.

      It’s a daily pattern that looks like this: completely clear skies in the morning, increasing cloudiness during the day, short-lived but possibly intense precip in the afternoon, and clearing skies in the evening. The earlier the clouds build, the more likely rain is; but if few clouds build, it is unlikely to rain. And it almost never rains at night, usually only with very activity monsoon patterns, a few times a summer.

      • Vadim Fedorovsky on July 29, 2015 at 8:20 am

        You’re amazing.

        The amount of information I have learned from you is just fantastic.

        This is really great info!

        -Vadim

  4. Vadim Fedorovsky on July 29, 2015 at 8:22 am

    Will there be a complete gear list published for this 10 day hike you did?

  5. trailcruzer on July 29, 2015 at 9:10 am

    Andrew,
    thanks for the blog post. What was your final pack weight per the digital scale? The pack looks like a ULA from the back, which model?

    Thanks,

    • Andrew Skurka on July 29, 2015 at 2:58 pm

      I didn’t get a final pack weigh-in. That’s why I wrote myself a reminder.

      That pack is the ULA Epic. Its a load-hauler, but it’s too fussy for conventional backpacking trips, great for when you need to strap on a packraft. It’s what I have. The Catalyst would be a better choice for a trip like this, or push the small Circuit to its limit for the first few days of the trip.

  6. todd on July 29, 2015 at 10:03 am

    Olive oil in a Platty bladder is a great idea. On my last trip I used a small Coke bottle, but after a few days the lid froze up and I couldn’t get it off, so it was carry a useless brick! Every have problems with that?

    What is the dry weight of each meal? I’ve found that about 150 g of dry stuff mixed with 16 oz of water comes out about right. With 20 oz it would be soupy, which is OK. Add spices/seasonings it comes out to about 550 (+/-) cal. With a couple to Tsp of olive oil, I get an 800 cal. meal. Is this similar to what you are getting? Have not calculated protein content. I may add some more lentils (cook fast, taste great, lots of protein and fiber).

    About the salt, store-bought foods are usually super high in salt. I worry about having too much but you say you don’t have enough. Are you cooking from “scratch” and adding your own? What is your target for salt? Do you use lite salt which has potassium as well as sodium? BTW, lentils are also high in potassium.

    • Andrew Skurka on July 29, 2015 at 2:54 pm

      1. Large-mouth bottles are more freeze-resistant than narrow-mouth bottles. Even so, in sub-freezing weather they need to be managed, too.

      2. On my recipe pages I list the recommended meal weight. For this weight, I increased the weight by 1 oz, with half of that increase being olive oil.

      3. My meals are made from scratch. See above.

  7. Dan on July 29, 2015 at 10:59 am

    Try the non-restricted Starlyte. It’ll drop efficiency a little (~5%) but boil way quicker (~70% as much time).

  8. Tom Bierman on July 29, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    Have you abandoned the cat can stove for good? If so, why?

  9. Tom Bierman on July 29, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    Thanks! I must have missed that post. That’s an interesting take. Ironically I’ve been on the hunt for the “best” alcohol stove over the last few years and always seem to come back to the Super Cat. Even last weekend I saw the Vargo Triad in the Montbell Boulder store and bought it on impulse. Took way longer than the Super Cat when I tested it at home.

  10. Shawn Grund on July 29, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    I feel like every time I come here I learn 10 new things, and then I read the comment and learn 10 more.

  11. Matt Twehues on July 30, 2015 at 10:54 am

    Andrew,
    Can we please have the recipes for your curry couscous and pesto noodles? Thanks!!!

  12. David Eitemiller on July 31, 2015 at 6:56 am

    Andrew, great write up on learnings. Thanks. Curious about a couple things.

    1. your move away from the neoair to the big agnes – cheaper? or are you saying non-insulated LIKE big agnes air core or thermarest neoair are adequate?

    2. Late season on the route, say early September – what would you change if anything? Particularly relative to shelter – would you stay with a mid vs a flat tarp?

    3. And the follow-up to 2 – WHEN would you use a flat tarp given your recent experience? What would you use in the Winds in August? I’m guessing a mid.

    • Andrew Skurka on July 31, 2015 at 7:39 am

      1. My NeoAir pads, which have been used for 100+ nights easy, have a deflation issue, so I needed to get a more reliable pad. The Clearview was $30 on closeout and worth a try, I thought. My conclusion: With some consideration to the thermal conductivity of the ground, you can sleep in much colder temperatures with a non-insulated pad than you might think. Since non-insulated pads are much less expensive, this could save everyone quite a bit of money.

      2. By early-September, the bugs will be gone this year, and temps are 10-15 degrees cooler. So no bug shirt, and bring a puffy. It’s less stormy in September than in July, because September is post-monsoon but pre-winter, so a flat tarp would be a more reasonable choice then.

      3. A flat tarp is a good choice when you have the option every night, or almost every night, of staying in a good campsite. By “good,” I mean: relatively warm, dry, and calm. On the Winds route, those types of camps are really hard to come by. On the Kings route, they’re a little bit easier because you drop more, but even so there are several places where you will go a long ways without a good camp.

      Re shelters, I should add: There is an individual component here. As a very strong backpacker, I can reach good camps by spanning those exposed segments in a day. Whereas a less strong backpacker will get caught in the middle of those stretches, and they’ll need their shelter to protect them in such places.

  13. Heath on August 12, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    Andrew can you provide me with an idea of what you would eat to reach that 105 grams of protein per day? I tend to bonk hard on long hikes towards the end of the day and I suspect I am not consuming enough protein/carbs and electrolytes. A run down of a days meals, snacks and what you do to maintain electrolytes would be greatly appreciated. I tried to figure it out based upon the picture above of your 10 day meals but I can’t identify everything. Thank you.

    • Andrew Skurka on August 12, 2015 at 5:59 pm

      You’re are bonking from either (1) lack of fitness or (2) lack of energy production from food. But since protein is not a fuel source (well, it can be, but it’s very inferior to carbs and protein), it’s probably not due to lack of protein. Protein is more related to recovery.

      To get to 105 grams of protein:
      * 1 x 30-gram protein bars
      * 3 oz beef jerky at 12 g protein per ounce = 36 g
      * 2 oz protein powder in breakfast cereal (at 24 g per 33 g of powder) = 41 grams
      = 107 grams

      You could probably be even less deliberate and still get to 105 g. Couscous, Snickers, coconut-covered cashews — those items and many others that I eat also have small amounts of protein.

      You’ll get protein from other sources, too, so you could even back off of this. Snickers, for example,have

    • Andrew Skurka on August 12, 2015 at 6:00 pm

      Re electrolytes, I would be really surprised if this were a problem. Backpacking food is generally very high in salt, and the activity is not so intense that you are depleting your salt reserves (like an ultra runner or triathlete). I NEVER take extra electrolytes when backpacking and have never had an issue with it.

  14. jamie on September 4, 2015 at 8:03 pm

    The statement about Solomon insoles being inadequate is so very true. I use partial orthotic inserts. With them, the stock Solomon insole will roll up under my arch (!) when they get wet. It’s amazing how they do that. I’ve replaced them with thin “gel” inserts, which stay flat even when soaked.

  15. Kyle on September 12, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    Hello Andrew. I’m a long time reader thank you for all the info. I too have experienced the Solomon insole problems you discussed. Have you found a good solution? I have tried green Superfeet insoles before but find their arch support a little off for my feet. Thank you for any help or suggestions.

    • Andrew Skurka on September 12, 2015 at 2:19 pm

      The solution is to use insoles from other shoes with an identically sized foot bed. It’s okay if they are from old shoes — insoles don’t do much besides protect your foot from the rough top of the midsole. I’ve never been a fan of built-up insoles like Superfeet because they change the intended fit of the shoe, e.g. the heel is higher in the shoe than intended, and because they often aren’t the precise size of the footbed, so you get folds or gaps.

  16. RJ on June 10, 2016 at 9:16 am

    Hi Andrew,

    There are many new lightweight backpacks on the market that have been getting great reviews. I was wondering if you have ever tried these and if you have a preference?

    https://gearjunkie.com/ultralight-hiking-katabatic-gear-helios-backpack-review
    http://www.mountainlaureldesigns.com/shop/product_info.php?cPath=25&products_id=103
    http://www.granitegear.com/outdoor/backpacks/multi-day-backpacks/men-s-backpacks/crown-v-c-60.html#!prettyPhoto

    Cheers RJ

    • Andrew Skurka on June 10, 2016 at 12:35 pm

      I have not personally used any of those packs, sorry.

  17. Robert Terczak on July 1, 2018 at 2:47 pm

    Andrew I am planning to do the KCHBR at the end of July 2018. I will be traveling solo, 1 vehicle and wondering if parking at roads end would be best. I suppose transportation to the start would be a shuttle or hitching a ride, any thoughts? Also I saw where you started and ended at roads end on one trip. Would I be missing much doing it this way even though I realize I would be backtracking a few sections on the return. And finally does your guide book have all the updated corrections and details I will need? Thank You!

    • Andrew Skurka on July 3, 2018 at 1:06 pm

      I would park at Road’s End, and either walk to or get a ride to the route’s early miles.

      If you walk, you can intersect the route in Tablelands. From Beville Lake, leave the trail and hike cross-country SSE towards Crescent Lake and over the divide into upper Horse Creek. Alternatively, from Silliman Pass, walk the Divide south until you get pushed to Little Lakes. Then jump the pass to the small tarn SW of Mt. Silliman. If you join the route in either place, you will miss the awesome granite slabs on Silliman Creek, but there is plenty of awesome terrain ahead and I don’t think they’re worth the extra effort.

      If you try hitchhiking to Lodgepole, you’ll just have to be patient. I bet you’ll have better luck making friends at Road’s End or Cedar Grove and then at the General Grant Grove, as opposed to just putting your thumb out.

      Re the guidebook, yes, it has all the corrections and updates. I need to piece them together, but in the meantime it’s just a little bit scattered.

  18. Mateo on July 6, 2018 at 8:53 pm

    I merged the guide and critical updates as a Word doc, minimized the margins, canned the footer, deleted extra spaces, which cut the page count by half. Ready to go in Aug.

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