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Long-term review: CalTopo || My go-to mapping & GPS navigation platform

By Andrew Skurka / August 9, 2021 /

Let me sound old for a minute. When planning the Sea-to-Sea Route in early-2004, I relied on USGS 30- x 60-minute paper maps at 1:100,000 scale to plot, measure, and follow a 700-mile route across North Dakota and Montana to link the North Country and Continental Divide Trails. Two years later, when planning the Great…

Toilet paper-less: My evolution in butt cleaning

By Andrew Skurka / July 7, 2021 /

When I began backpacking nearly twenty years ago, I used toilet paper exclusively for cleaning my butt after pooping, just like I did at home. I’ve pooped outside thousands of times since then, and now prefer to do the exact opposite: I use no toilet paper at all. Instead, I rely on natural materials, a…

Video tutorial: Research historical temperature & precipitation data

By Andrew Skurka / March 12, 2021 /

In a recent post on my favorite resources for researching the conditions that I will likely encounter on a backpacking trip, I plugged the Environmental Centers for Environmental Information, which tracks temperature and precipitation data for thousands of locations throughout the United States. It’s an extremely helpful website, but it can be difficult to navigate…

Template: Environmental & Route Conditions Assessment

By Andrew Skurka / March 2, 2021 /

Nineteen years ago at the start of my first real backpacking trip — an over-my-head thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail — I was simultaneously over-, under-, and mis-prepared, and had justified many decisions on the basis of what if and just in case. For example, I had three methods of purifying water but only “water-resistant”…

Trip planning research: My go-to resources

By Andrew Skurka / February 22, 2021 /

A six-week hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, starting at the US-Mexico border on June 6, 2006, sounded hot and dry to me. But fifteen years ago I had no experience with southern California or deserts generally, so I didn’t know how to properly prepare my gear, supplies and skills. What clothing, sleeping bag, and…

Trip Planner Template: Stay organized & track details

By Andrew Skurka / February 11, 2021 /

In preparing for a backpacking trip, especially outings that are beyond the normal weekend getaway in a familiar place, I rely on a handful of tools that collectively help me to be more efficient and thorough in my planning efforts. Previously I’ve posted about two of the most important: Backpacking gear list, and Environmental and…

Tutorial: Plan a backpacking trip in these 7 steps

By Andrew Skurka / February 3, 2021 /

Preparations for my earliest backpacking trips were clumsy, and I made every mistake possible. I recall carrying way too much stuff for an overnight in Yosemite, shivering all night in a too-light sleeping bag in Tennessee, stomaching an unpalatable couscous dinner in the Adirondacks, struggling to find topographic maps of eastern Montana, quitting a trip…

Tutorial: Smoke forecasting in Yosemite & the High Sierra

By Andrew Skurka / September 16, 2020 /

For five of the past eight years, we’ve guided trips in Yosemite or Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks in September. Wildfires have occasionally affected us — like with trail closures and hazy air — but we’ve typically found ideal conditions: comfortable days and crisp nights, no bugs, and low backcountry traffic. September 2020 has presented us…

Recommended footwear for high routes, Alaska, and early-season conditions

By Andrew Skurka / March 26, 2020 /

What is the optimal backpacking footwear for high routes, Alaska, and early-season conditions? Each year I field this question from dozens of clients, so here I’d like to provide a list of proven winners (and a few losers). These recommendations are relevant to anyone planning a trip to similar locations or in similar conditions, whether…

Backpacking Gear Lists || First Aid, Foot Care & Repair Kits (Downloadable)

By Andrew Skurka / February 19, 2020 /

If I were to drop my first aid, foot care, and field repair kits directly into my 3-season gear list template, I would fear clogging it up. Already, this master list can be intimidating, and these kits contain dozens of items on their own. Moreover, their exact contents depend greatly on whether I am traveling solo or with a…