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The trail is just a tool: Navigation skills, resources & gear for early-season backpacking

By Andrew Skurka / April 3, 2017 / 1 Comment

Even if your itinerary is entirely on-trail, you should expect an occasional off-trail experience when backpacking in the Mountain West in early-season conditions. On trade routes like the John Muir Trail, a continuous boot-track across lingering snow will develop by July, especially where the terrain funnels the foot traffic (e.g. at a pass). In less popular…

Early-season backpacking || Merits of skis, snowshoes, crampons & axes

By Andrew Skurka / March 30, 2017 / 69 Comments

The early-season is a messy inbetween — it’s no longer winter, but not yet summer, either. Snowpack and cornices still linger in the higher elevations and on shady and leeward aspects, while snow-free trails are found lower down and on sun-blasted slopes higher up. This inconsistency presents backcountry travelers with a dilemma: What will be…

High water: Gear & skills for hazardous creek fords

By Andrew Skurka / March 17, 2017 / 19 Comments

Unbridged creek crossings are the greatest hazards in the early-season. High water volume (due to snowmelt) and steep gradients (due to mountain topography) is a dangerous combination. In comparison, other early-season conditions like sun cups, postholing, intense bugs and even hard snowfields seem like a mere annoyance or inconvenience. Let’s discuss how to safely manage…

Footwear & foot care for early-season conditions

By Andrew Skurka / March 14, 2017 / 78 Comments

What must you absolutely get right when selecting footwear for early-season conditions? As with every other season, they must fit. Period. All other footwear characteristics are secondary. However, if you get these right, too, you’ll be much better off than having a well-fitting shoe that never dries and performs poorly on snow. Boots & shoes “Waterproof”…

Tutorial: Backpacking in early-season conditions || Recommended gear, supplies & skills

By Andrew Skurka / March 13, 2017 / 6 Comments

Recently I explained how an exceptionally snowy winter in California will affect summertime backpacking conditions throughout the Sierra Nevada, including in Yosemite, Sequoia-Kings Canyon, and Desolation Wilderness, and along the John Muir Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra High Route, and Kings Canyon High Basin Route. For all the details, read the post. In short, expect:…

Reader question: Should I change my High Sierra itinerary due the heavy snowfall?

By Andrew Skurka / February 21, 2017 / 133 Comments

A reader question from Gabino: I’m sure that every backpacker planning to undertake the PCT, JMT, Sierra High Route, Kings Canyon High Basin Route, or any other high-elevation route in California’s High Sierra is wondering the same thing right now. Here are some thoughts: California’s snowpack: The Facts There are many ways to record and analyze…

Thought it impossible: Wildfires close 140 miles of the Appalachian Trail

By Andrew Skurka / December 3, 2016 / 2 Comments

Along the Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trails, closures and fire bans are considered normal, especially after dry winters or late in the summer. Ditto for other long trails through arid or semi-arid environments like the Arizona Trail or Colorado Trail. But I considered such trail closures impossible on the Appalachian Trail, which is nicknamed “The Green Tunnel”…

Actually, there is a “right way” to backpack: The limits of “hike your own hike”

By Andrew Skurka / November 16, 2016 / 21 Comments

One interaction I distinctly recall from the Appalachian Trail was in Virginia, with a fellow thru-hiker who was outwardly critical of my approach. I had been moving at a relatively quick clip, in the hopes of finishing the entire trail in about three months, before the start of my fall semester. “You’re hiking too fast…

How to poop in the outdoors || Part 4: The backcountry bidet

By Andrew Skurka / October 11, 2016 / 20 Comments

Most tutorials about pooping in the outdoors end with a butt wiping, a cover up of the cathole, and a hand-washing, as I covered in Part 3 of this series. But I will finish with something less conventional: the backcountry bidet. If you would rather watch than read, view the video embedded above starting at 5:18. Motivation…

How to poop in the outdoors || Part 3: Wiping, covering up, & cleaning up

By Andrew Skurka / October 8, 2016 / 9 Comments

It’s time for action! You have found a good location to poop and you have created a hole. (Refer to Part 1 and Part 2 of this series for details.) I normally squat over my hole and poop directly into it. If you care to get creative, you can straddle a fork in a downed…