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Beginner Backpacking Trip from Central California

Backpacking and camping basics and other general trip planning discussion for the uninitiated. Use this forum to learn where to look for the information you need, and to ask questions, related to the beginner basics of backpacking and camping, including technique and best practices.

Re: Beginner Backpacking Trip from Central California

Postby rlown » Sat Nov 26, 2016 10:00 pm

Got a bit of a lesson plan for you.. Look at either some of the books in the HST library, or places you think you want to go or the TR's posted on the HST. Map your path with whatever tool you want to use, and specify what equipment you want to carry. Most of us do carry Bear cans. Factor that in and list it out. Even weigh it. A friggn surprise when all layed out on the dining room table before pack day.

I know, this is a first for me. I learned how to do this at a young age and it becomes refinement, but learning it first hand makes it stick.

1) pick a stove.
2) pick a pad.
3) pick a bag (WM).
4) pot. pick 1 that mates with stove.
5) pick a tent(Tarptent).
6) pick a pack that holds all that stuff (and bear can depending on where you go).
7) weigh it and then practice with it stuffed in your pack. even level counts.

8) plan your trip for a time after the snow melts and before the skeeters attack (June) or in August when most die at altitude.

And always watch the weather and the snowpack. that's a given.

Just a thought.



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Re: Beginner Backpacking Trip from Central California

Postby AlmostThere » Sun Nov 27, 2016 8:22 am

You should borrow or rent for a first time out. Places like lowergear.com or local sporting good stores are resources for this. There are packing list samples on rei.com in the articles section.

I highly recommend a trip of one night for the first trip, and if you are determined to go that early it will have to be someplace like Henry Coe State Park. If you plan a trip out of the Hunting Hollow entrance up the creek, there are some low risk creek crossings but it is otherwise straightforward and flat. Anywhere you go that time of year you will need to factor in how cold it will be -- even at low elevation, it will be freezing (32F or below) at night. A 20F bag -- a good one will be more accurately rated, a cheap one will not, and you can pretty much guarantee anything that's under $100 purchase price is cheap -- will be a good three season choice as anywhere in the Sierra at elevation can be that cold at night.

Winter backpacking without snow in California will be on the coast, or just inland from it. The Ventana Wilderness will be closed for a year (or more) due to the fire that raged through and torched the forest. Any backpacking route between San Simeon and Carmel will be inaccessible (legally anyway) unless you join a trail crew. Point Reyes is a good first time out -- there are designated campsites and winter is COLD so there are far fewer people, but it's still quite popular and reservations are required. Henry Coe is good and year round. All the trail camps in the Big Basin State Park are closed until May. The backpacking camp in Sunol Regional Park (Bay Area, part of the Ohlone Trail) is open, I think, and a good option.

Bear cans are a necessity in the Sierra, but food storage in places like Henry Coe are much less complicated -- hanging food in a tree or putting it in a plastic container is sufficient. Point Reyes has steel boxes -- to guard against raccoons and skunks, as there are no bears evident.

The real problem with the Lost Coast Trail is the tides -- as I understand it fall is better for that route. And another issue is getting to the trailhead, as the roads are high clearance recommended, and impassible in a good storm. There is a shuttle but it is expensive.

The 100% MUST for all trips should be safety. Backpacking is not rocket science, but too many people fail at doing enough research -- good for you, asking for help so early. You will get plenty of water in late spring/early summer, hopefully, as if there is plenty of snow to melt ( [-o< there will be plenty of water. If you MUST focus on photography while learning to backpack then Point Reyes should be a high priority destination -- it is sublime, I go there every winter over New Years with a small group of backpackers.

There are plenty of hiking groups in the Central Valley as well -- the Kaweah chapter of the Sierra Club for one -- that run backpacking trips via meetup.com. I have three hiking/backpacking groups myself. While meetup hiking groups are NOT classes -- they are literally anyone with some money to start one, and don't be fooled by nonprofit status, anyone can set up a nonprofit -- they provide companions for the trail. I recommend either taking a class through one of the adult schools, the Sierra Club, or reading up on it yourself, rather than relying on random people. You'll get good advice on this forum, one of the reasons I am still here and not on some of the other forums -- internet forums are kinda random as well -- and there are good books like Allen & Mike's Really Cool Backpackin' Book, or The Backpacker's Handbook by Chris Townsend.

A large part of this is subjective -- you find what works for YOU. It won't be the same as what works for everyone else. Ultralighters who pride themselves on being out for a week with a total weight of 15 lbs were all over the place not too long ago -- most people I have backpacked and participated in search and rescue with have gone back and forth, with gear, trying one shelter then another, trying multiple packs.... it can be very expensive to buy and try. I encourage you to learn from me (I started out just buying stuff, didn't even look for help as you are doing) and avoid buying a house based on the presence of a third bedroom that could become a 'gear room.' :confused: If I listened to half the preaching I've heard on gear, I would be a lot less comfortable out there than I am. Generally, lighter gear is more comfortable to carry, but there is such a thing as "stupid light" when the gear becomes less functional and risk starts to rise. If you truly want to save money start slow -- borrow and rent -- don't shop at Big Five and REI just yet. I rarely go in the doors of box stores any more as my gear is not available there. I get fuel cans for stoves there, sometimes clothing on sale. Never a tent or pack.

Good luck on your journey. Feel free to ask questions any time.
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Re: Beginner Backpacking Trip from Central California

Postby zacjust32 » Sun Nov 27, 2016 5:50 pm

Welcome to HST! You say that you go car camping a lot, but do you hike any? If you day hike like I did then backpacking is just a natural progression. You don't need to go buy the newest, best camping gear when starting. You don't know what kind of backpacker you're going to be. Russ tends to pack heavy and take more luxuries than others would, while I go more minimal and only take a groundcloth and no stove. Most of the stuff I started out with came from Craigslist finds, Ebay, and Big 5. I would agree that a sleeping bag is the first thing I would buy, followed by a backpack. TBH a shelter is optional most of the summer in the Sierra. I bought a Eureka tent and wouldn't recommend anything much more. Used backpacks are easy to find for pretty cheap and get the job done for their purpose. Big 5 has a really nice butane stove and mess kit for $50 that I bought when I first started out.

Meetup groups are a great place to get advice, find new hiking spots, and go hiking of course. Fresno has plenty of places nearby to train: Woodward park, Millerton Lake, San Joaquin River Gorge, and others. Summer allows for even more possibilities in Sequoia and Kings Canyon NP, Dinkey Lakes and Kaiser Wilderness, Yosemite, etc.
Hiker, adventurer, fabricator, tinkerer, theologian, and occasional student. http://www.zacjust.blogspot.com
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Re: Beginner Backpacking Trip from Central California

Postby rlown » Sun Nov 27, 2016 5:54 pm

I pack a bit heavier because I like September, and to be warm as I fish, even in the wind, rain and snow. The frying pan alone adds weight as does the fishing gear.
One thing I would emphasize on this discussion is find someone to go with, maybe someone who has been before. AT's suggestion about meetup groups is a good thing.
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Re: Beginner Backpacking Trip from Central California

Postby AlmostThere » Sun Nov 27, 2016 6:30 pm

I usually advocate for buying after trying because of the second mortgage I've wasted -- backpacks and shoes in particular have been hell for me. There will be a thousand people saying Osprey backpacks are all that -- I wasted miles and pain because I bought one, and then the frame absolutely destroyed my hips. So much pain. Same with those thin little "self inflating" pads (they don't, really) -- woke up in terrible pain in the hips. Then the shoes -- I was fitted for shoes, repeatedly, and finally resorted to just trying on pair after pair when the clerks failed to get me in shoes that wouldn't turn my feet into tortured blistered gnarled knots of suffering.

Backpacks are like clothes, shoes are clothes, sleeping pads are clothes -- you might be able to get away with sleeping on a 1/4 inch foam pad and wearing shorts and cotton socks year round, and maybe an Osprey will fit you like a dream and never cause you pain. But I will tell you what I wish someone else had, six backpacks ago, ten pairs of hiking shoes ago, four sleeping pads ago -- YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY and you can sell slightly-used gear at Gear Trade, Ebay, Craigslist or yard sales. Or forums like this one.

Also, you should learn how to get a friend to measure you for a backpack. Clerks at REI are variably (un)trained and put me in the wrong pack size for the better part of two years. Here is a good page for that. http://www.mchalepacks.com/packs/detail/measure.htm
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Re: Beginner Backpacking Trip from Central California

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Nov 27, 2016 9:29 pm

For that time of year, Point Reyes is perfect for a beginner. It is really a cross between car camping and backpacking because campgrounds are like front-country campgrounds- picnic tables, outhouse, water from a faucet. Trails are big and obvious and well marked. You are required to camp in one of the four campgrounds. Permits are required and if you try to reserve one, you may find it "full". However, I have never had a problem getting a permit by just walking in. If they would still be on winter hours, they open at 9AM. Just be the first in line.

A low mileage loop would be Glen Camp night 1 and Wildcat night 2 (out of Bear Valley - where the visitor center is)
OR Sky night 1 and Coast night 2 out of the trailhead at the Environmental Camp.

A higher milage trip would be from Bear Valley Visitor center -- night 1 Wildcat, night 2 Coast.

Henry Coe is anything but flat! I think it is a lot harder to figure out. Trails are not as well marked as Point Reyes. May be better after a few trips. If you decide on Henry Coe, be sure to buy the park map- you can buy it on the internet. This map is ESSENTIAL! If you want to do Henry Coe as your first trip, I would do it out of the visitor center. That way you would be able to talk to the rangers first.

Both Point Reyes and Henry Coe are relatively expensive - about $15-$25 a night.

I think Lost Coast is not a good trip for your first backpack It is not easy. Transporation logistics are pure hell. Plus it is a long drive from Fresno.

It may be better to wait until May when more Sierra trails are open.
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Re: Beginner Backpacking Trip from Central California

Postby AlmostThere » Sun Nov 27, 2016 9:46 pm

There are two flat routes in Coe. From Hunting Hollow out the creek. From Headquarters via the Corral trail then the Flat Frog trail to Frog "Lake" to a designated spot. Everything else is steep ups and downs... although China Hole has a good single track with switchbacks, instead of the dirt roads that ascend and descend straight up and down, and is popular as a quick overnight of low mileage.
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Re: Beginner Backpacking Trip from Central California

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Nov 27, 2016 9:57 pm

As for gear. I think a 30-pound load for a 3-day trip is quite reasonable. Quite easy to get it down to 25 pounds. I regularly do 10-12 day trips with 35 pounds, including a bear can.

There are plenty of packs in the 2-3 pound range that would work well for trips one week or less. I got mine last pack from Sierra Trading Post. They have great deals. Mine was only $120. Sleeping bags are expensive. The REI after-christmas sale is coming up. Do some research on bags. I never have thought of a backpack sleeping bag as a "waste" even if I never use it backpacking. A compact good quality down bag can still be used car camping. Same with a tent. Yes, a backpack tent will cost more than a car-camping tent, but you still could use it car camping even if you decided not to continue to backpack. you could also use it for international travel.

You do not have to go top-of-the-line, but get good solid stuff. Nothing like crappy gear to turn you off to backpacking. Bear cans can be rented where they are required. That is one item I would rent until you decide to continue. If you are young, a foam sleeping pad is fine. I used foam pads when I was young - only we geezers actually NEED plush sleeping pads. The best way to avoid buying a tent right away, is to go with someone who already owns a tent! Good way to see what you like that way too.

Keep food down to 2 pounds per day or less. Remember that on a 3-day trip, you do not need first day breakfast, or last day dinner. So you really only carry 2.3 days food for a 3 day trip. Forget expensive freeze-dried - nuts and raisins and cheese sticks for lunch, instant oatmeal for breakfast, some of those Knorr sides for dinner - throw in some jerkey and cheese. You may even go no-cook.

What you do not need to buy:

water bottles -- just recycle a bottled water bottle - or I use an old vinegar bottle.
GPS and other gadgets - start out on a hike with good, well marked trails and use a map.
camp shoes - hiking shoes are plenty comfortable for camp shoes
3/4 of what you see at REI!
clean clothes - just wear the same clothes all trip
2-3 pair socks will do
pack rain cover - put a compactor garbage bag inside the backpack
all you need for eating is one pot, one spoon and one cup. Aluminum pots are light.
lantern - just take a small head lamp
big kinfe - a one blade knife of about 2 oz is all that is needed
"survival" gear - forget all that stuff you see on reality TV
Commercially packed first aid kit - just put together your own - pills you use, bandaids, ankle wrap, some FA tape, a few large steril pads, needle, etc
Some backpackers make thier own alcohol stove out of a cat food can. There are directions on the internet.
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Re: Beginner Backpacking Trip from Central California

Postby WarrenFork » Tue Nov 29, 2016 9:20 am

AlmostThere wrote:
Winter backpacking without snow in California will be on the coast, or just inland from it.


Hardly. There is excellent snow-free winter backpacking in Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks, as well as the Mojave National Preserve. Many of the wilderness canyons in Death Valley have water. Saline Valley has a salt lake and good hiking and camping in half a dozen canyons on the spectacular east side of the Inyos. If you have a high-clearance vehicle it's a prime winter destination, and warmer than almost anyplace else in California. Mono Basin, where I live, gets sporadic snow but it rarely lasts very long on the ground. The east shore of Mono Lake is a fine place to hike and camp, with amazing views and fantastic photo opportunities. You do need to be prepared for cold, and the travel time from Fresno over Walker Pass would be longer than the specified four hours. I recommend Cottonwood Basin in the White Mountains as a spring trip to beginning backpackers all the time. It's snow-free long before spots at the same elevation in the Sierra, with a flowing stream, lots of interesting rock, and photogenic bristlecone pines. Closer to the coast (and Fresno) is Pinnacles National Park, and though it lacks water it provides flowers in glorious abundance come early spring. Lots of great hiking there.

AlmostThere wrote:
Bear cans are a necessity in the Sierra,


"Marketed" as a necessity is closer to the truth. They are actually only required in certain areas, including all of Yosemite National Park. Food lockers are provided for backpackers at several popular destinations in Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks. Research the "PCT hang" and "Ursack" online to get a better sense of alternatives. There is plenty of sentiment that bear cans are a panacea for all concerned, and it's clearly the received wisdom on this forum, but in the real world you'll find many seasoned hikers who don't buy in.
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Re: Beginner Backpacking Trip from Central California

Postby AlmostThere » Tue Nov 29, 2016 9:31 am

"Sentiment" or practicality -- it's a FACT that if a bear wants the food, it'll get it -- so say biologists who have been in the parks here for decades. And you can't hang food in the alpine, and the bears aren't the only creatures out there. Ursacks are the pain in the rump for rangers who get to use bolt cutters to get the remains off the trees, after a bear rips them open.

We've driven bears off our canister repeatedly, and easily. Ursacks let them get a taste and once that happens there's no driving them off. A group on the JMT lost all their food to a bear after throwing rocks and banging pots for twenty minutes didn't deter it. A determined bear working an Ursack on a live tree until the tree is dead (happens when you cut through the top layers under the bark) isn't a good thing either, trees are already dying by the thousands out there, no need to help that along. You can't leave the Ursack on the ground, the bear will just pick it up and leave with it. You can't tie it to a rock, bears can flip a 500 lb rock. You can't tie it to a dead tree or branch, bears shred dead wood -- I've watched them do it looking for insects.

The way bears get into canisters can be solved by research. Don't take Bear Vaults to areas where the bears have learned to get into them, take a Garcia or other canister. Yosemite closes down the Snow Creek area when the bear that throws cans off cliffs is in the neighborhood.

Other parks do things differently. Some areas use poles you can hang food on -- Rainier is like that. Some areas have lockers -- they're all down the JMT at regular intervals.

You CANNOT BACKPACK in Pinnacles.
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