Permit directory: Wilderness & backcountry camping in the Sierra Nevada

By Andrew Skurka / September 30, 2016 /

The Sierra Nevada mountains are world-class, encompassing two National Parks (Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings), the John Muir Trail, and a half-dozen Wilderness Areas like Desolation, Golden Trout, and Emigrant. The heart of the range extends from the Kern River in the south, to Lake Tahoe in the north. Backcountry use is accordingly significant, by residents of…

Reader question: Clothing & skills for backpacking in the rain

By Andrew Skurka / September 30, 2016 /

A reader — Steve B. from Laporte, MN — recently wrote me: Hi Andrew, I used much of your advice on my 300-mile Superior Hiking Trail thru-hike this summer. Many things worked well, like trekking poles, microfiber underwear, and my alcohol stove. One thing that didn’t go so well was getting wet. I used a…

How-to || Pack a backpack: Load distribution, organization, waterproofing, & canisters

By Andrew Skurka / September 20, 2016 /

When packing my backpack, I have two primary goals: Minimize its effect on my center of gravity, and Keep oft-needed items easily accessible so that I can hike uninterrupted. I’ll start by discussing these goals in-depth. Then, I will address special considerations like bear canisters and backpack styles. Center of gravity When not wearing a…

Five-star campsites || Part 4: Four examples of classically bad campsites

By Andrew Skurka / September 17, 2016 /

In the previous two posts I discussed the ideal features of backpacking campsites, on both a zone- and spot-level. There are many of them, probably too many to remember. So in this final installment I will discuss four classically bad campsites. Despite having multiple and severe problems, I regularly see backpackers camping in these types of locations. If…

Five-star campsites || Part 3: Ideal features of camping spots, plus Tradeoffs

By Andrew Skurka / September 17, 2016 /

In Part 2 of this series I discussed the ideal features of a camping zone, which is a general area like a creek valley or lake basin. For example, I seek out locations that will be forested and that aren’t in the bottom of a drainage. Once I have arrived in a camping zone, I…

Five-star campsites || Part 2: Ideal features of camping zones

By Andrew Skurka / September 17, 2016 /

Recall from Part 1 that I assess backpacking campsites on two levels: zones and spots. The zone-level features of a five-star campsite never change. But spot-level features depend on whether I am sleeping on the ground or in a hammock. In this post I will discuss zone-level features. Safety This one should be obvious, but it’s…

Five-star campsites || Part 1: Intro, regs, planning, zones & spots

By Andrew Skurka / September 15, 2016 /

Campsites are not created equal. Where possible, I seek out locations that are relatively warm, dry, private, aesthetic, and free of bugs, rodents, and bears — “five-star campsites,” I call them. A high quality campsite makes a difference: It is more conducive to a night of quality sleep, and It enhances my backcountry experience. Sadly,…

Five-star backpacking campsites: Characteristics & how to find

By Andrew Skurka / September 14, 2016 /

Choosing a good backcountry campsite — or, in my parlance, “five-star” — is a critical but overlooked backpacking skill. Campsite selection is at least as important to my sleep quality as my choice of tent, bag, and pad. Even with appropriate gear, it’s difficult to sleep well in a campsite that:

My guyline system for tents, tarps, and hammocks

By Andrew Skurka / August 22, 2016 /

The guyline and tensioning systems normally found on backpacking shelters (including tents, tarps, and hammocks) share two flaws: Insufficient cordage is provided. This limits stake-out locations, which is especially problematic in rocky or hard-packed ground. Natural anchors like trees, downed logs, exposed roots, and large rocks cannot be used, nor can deadman anchors in the winter. These anchors…

Complete failure: I gave “waterproof” Gore-Tex hiking shoes a second chance

By Andrew Skurka / August 13, 2016 /

My skepticism of waterproof-breathable fabrics (like Gore-Tex) and products that utilize them (like rain gear and “waterproof” footwear) is no secret. For a history, read: Why I’m hard on Gore-Tex, the King of Hype Breathability: an explanation of its importance, mechanisms, and limitations Core 13 Clothing: Rain Jacket & Rain Pants Occasionally, however, it’s healthy…