Getting Back to Backpacking

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.
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Tom_H
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Re: Getting Back to Backpacking

Post by Tom_H » Sat Jun 22, 2013 1:01 pm

Wandering Daisy wrote:The best "conditioning" for backpacking is simply to backpack.
Now that is one of the absolute truths in this pursuit! I have said the same thing for decades. In my 40 something years of packing, no other exercise actually got me really prepared. The closest thing I have ever found is to load up a pack with rocks or weights and climb up and down stairs in a stadium. Even then, muscles don't get worked at the same range of stride and foot angles as on a real trail. I have a hill behind my house and my routine on days I don't work is to take a 6 mile walk in the morning and climb my backyard hill for an hour or two with a pack full of weights just before sunset. It can be boring, so I try to meditate on being in the mountains. Each spring I start light and build up, and day hike with friends as often as possible.

When I was a guide, I climbed stairs with 100 lb packs. My pack trail weight ranged from 50-90 lb. depending upon what kind of trip I was leading, and the most I ever carried when my participants were ill or injured was 120. I am almost 60 now and can't do anything close to that any more. For training on my hill, I start at 25 lb. in the early spring and work up to 65 in summer. I try to build up to a weight that is heavier than I actually intend to carry on the trail. In addition to the pack, I wear ankle weights when training; it's nice for my feet to feel light when actually getting onto real trail. I have tried to modernize my philosophy about pack weight and read a couple of book written around the turn of the millennium about ultralight packing. That has since been supplanted by super-ultralight packing: a base weight (everything except food weighs in at less than 5 lb.) I have a neighbor who lives less than a mile from me who is SUL and has a base weight of < 5 lb. Rather than books, the place to get information is on You-Tube. The philosophy is too radical for me; these people are basically day hikers who carry a minimal amount of bivouac equipment. I have learned a lot from them, however, and now have a 2.5 lb. pack, a 16 oz. moisture resistant down bag, a ground cloth that is under an ounce, a 6 oz cuben fiber rain fly, a 1/2 oz. titanium trowel, and so on. It really makes a difference on these old knees. I do splurge and take my Omnia oven sometimes though; I love a long afternoon of baking everything from pizza to brownies on the trail.

Daisy is right. Nothing prepares you for backpacking like backpacking. Start out with short days. Take a good book to read or do some afternoon hikes away from camp without the pack. Most of all, have fun and rediscover that joy you had with your father all those years ago!
Last edited by Tom_H on Tue Jul 09, 2013 9:45 pm, edited 2 times in total.








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sparky
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Re: Getting Back to Backpacking

Post by sparky » Sat Jun 22, 2013 2:54 pm

To a degree. Times I have gone monthes wthout hiking at all, then backpacked were pretty ugly. I keep in shape, but doing a couple day hikes the weekend before a backpack helps quit a bit.

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Getting Back to Backpacking

Post by Bluewater » Sat Jun 22, 2013 8:37 pm

Hi SoxGolf00, I agree with just getting out and backpacking as my favorite way to get in shape, but if I can't get into the mountains I also do hikes in Laguna Beach to get ready. From Victoria Beach to Moulton Meadows Park via Nyes Place is about 850 feet straight up in 1.5 miles and a great 3 mile out and back. This has really helped to strengthen the muscles around my knees. The 850 foot incline has been a good way to judge the difficulty of many of the typical climbs in the Sierras.

For distance training I do a 12 mile loop in Aliso/Wood Canyon. There are several ways to go in the canyon and there are some nice shaded sections along the Woods Creek Trail (much better than the mostly exposed Morrow trails in North Laguna). The late afternoon views along the West Ridge Trail and Aliso Summit Trail are good, although it can get hot mid-day in the summer.

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Re: Getting Back to Backpacking

Post by overheadx2 » Sat Jun 22, 2013 9:42 pm

Something that I do is hike up Baldy from Manker Flats and then across Devils Backbone and take the lift down. Get a great 3k uphill work out with some down hill but not enough to ruin my knees. I also Mountain bike the Crystal cove loop from the ranger station up to the top by way of Emerald Point and back. Great 1.5 hour work out to get the lungs burning, and easy on the knees. Recently started hitting the stair master at the gym (we'll see how that goes).
I have to admit, a lot of my training was based on the fear of Taboose Pass in July.

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Re: Getting Back to Backpacking

Post by SoxGolf00 » Mon Jun 24, 2013 2:43 pm

Thanks for all the great advice. I tend to do better at a slow pace and can go about 10-13 miles with an elevation hike of 1000ft within 3 hours. I know that is not very fast but this isn't a race, right? With that pace, I do very well and dont feel wiped out. The main concern is the elevation different from JMT to SoCal. How does the elevation affect breathing? I lived in SLC, Utah for a few months and the elevation made me feel tired.

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Tom_H
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Re: Getting Back to Backpacking

Post by Tom_H » Mon Jun 24, 2013 4:29 pm

If you consider 13 miles and 1000' elevation gain in 3 hours as slow, then you're in better shape than you think you are. (Perhaps what you were trying to say is 10-13 miles per day as well as 1000' elev. gain within 3 hours.) That's really nothing to be ashamed of. If you can do that, you can have a lot of fun, and let's face it, even though we might enjoy the physical workout, the main reason to go do this is to have fun.

At altitude, there is less atmospheric pressure on the alveoli of your lungs. Going up quickly has a somewhat similar affect as a diver coming up too fast in water. The pressure inside your bloodstream is greater than the atmosphere against your alveoli. You won't have nitrogen boiling in your blood vessels (bends), but can get Chronic Mountain Sickness, Acute Mountain SIckness, and edema, primarily pulmonary edema. In pulmonary edema, the higher pressure inside the pulmonary capillaries forces blood plasma through the walls of the alveoli and the lungs begin to fill with fluid. This same pressure can cause headaches, capillary ruptures in the retina, and edema in the cerebrum. Normally, being at altitude for a few days allows the internal and external pressures to equalize. The alveoli adjust and the transfer of O2 into the pulmonary capillaries and of CO2 out normalizes. The body will also produce more red blood cells to enable greater transport of O2 and CO2, but it takes time for stem cells in the bone marrow to mature grow into mature cells. We call this all these things acclimation or acclimatization. If you lived in SLC for a time, your body should have adjusted to it to a great extent, although I have known of people whose bodies never could. I had a friend who had to leave a good job in Mammoth after a couple of years because his wife's lungs just never could make the adjustment. We had a guy who got pulmonary edema at 13,000 ft. in CO on a mountaineering training expedition and had to be evacuated. He trained as hard as he could for a year and came back the following summer for the same trip, got p. e. again and had to be evac'ed again. Did you exercise regularly when you lived in SLC?

There are ways at low altitude to prepare for high altitude, but they aren't practical for most of us. One is to go spend time in a hypobaric chamber, and even to exercise in one. Only the rich or elite athletes can afford that. The other is to wear special masks that lower the amount of O2 you can breath in. They typically also cause too much CO2 to build up, unless they have a CO2 absorber. Very few people use these things as they can be claustrophobic and problematic. They also don't actually lower the pressure within the lungs. I have heard of these things, but am not sure you can even find one to purchase. The biggest way most people prepare is doing aerobic exercise. If you can't run, then swim, tread water, do aerobic follow-along videos. Serious high altitude climbers (think Everest, K2, Annapurna) climb to a certain altitude, spend a day or so, go halfway back down for a day, go 2 camps up for a day, come back down 1 camp for a day, up 2, etc. If altitude is a serious problem for you, this could help you, if you have that kind of time. Most people don't and it seems it would be boring unless you carefully planned a route around this method. Some people plan a regular vacation for a few days at Tahoe, Mammoth, or elsewhere, do some aerobic exercise while there, then head off backpacking. That can work well and is probably the only reasonable approach (other than the aerobic exercises) out of all this rambling I've done.

I don't know if anything I have said will be practical, but I hope it gives you some background and perhaps sparks some ideas of what might help you. Best of luck.

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Re: Getting Back to Backpacking

Post by Wandering Daisy » Tue Jun 25, 2013 11:18 am

The JMT vs day hikes have three big differences: heavier pack, altitude, and going day after day. I assume your 10-13 miles in 3 hours is on a day hike. If it includes carrying an overnight pack, you are in good shape already! On longer backpack trips with daily travel, your feet get a beating so if you are going to use different shoes than you already do for day hikes you need to wear them on the day hikes to break them in. Do everything you can to keep pack weight down. I take 1.3 pounds of food per day and my "base weight" is about 18 pounds (with bear can and solo tent). A lot of backpackers go even lighter. The best way to handle altitude is to spend the first night you drive to start at a moderate (7,000-9000 foot elevation), then go very slow the first few days. You could also spend a second day camped a bit higher before going on the backpack.

Handling altitude has as much to do with walking technique as being in shape. Learn the "rest step" if you do not already know how to do this. Never get extremely out of breath. "Gear down" as needed to keep a steady rate of breathing (steady heartbeat). One way to slow down is to take smaller steps. Go slow and steady, vs jackrabbit go and stop. Start very slow and gradually go faster, reaching your fastest pace mid-day, then "cool down" at the end of the day. Drink plenty of water and continually snack on small bits of trail food.

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Re: Getting Back to Backpacking

Post by Tom_H » Tue Jun 25, 2013 3:01 pm

Paul Petzoldt's rest step is a good suggestion. I was hesitant to mention it as it can be a little hard to visualize with only words if you don't see one person doing it while another person describes it at the same time.

If you watch a runner in slow motion, you will see that most of the time he/she is airborne with both feet in the air. One foot touches the ground for propulsion, then goes back into the air. The other foot comes down for a moment, goes back into the air. Both legs are spending most of the time with the muscles working.

When we walk, we tend to put one foot down and lift the other almost immediately. Each leg is working about half the time and resting about half the time.

The rest step works best when going uphill, the steeper the incline, the more effective it is. The main idea is for the torso to remain in a somewhat slow but constant forward movement, but each foot stays on the ground, resting, for a greater percentage of the time. As the right foot moves forward and is placed on the ground, the left foot also remains on the ground for a moment or so while the torso continues in as smooth of a motion as possible. For this moment or so, you are still moving forward, but both feet are on the ground resting. The left foot then makes its stride and lands softly while the torso continues to move forward a bit, both feet rest on the ground for a moment before the right foot comes up. This lowers the amount of glucose (ATP in the Krebs Citric Acid Cycle) being burned in the muscle fibers, which lowers the amount of oxygen needed for oxidation. It is a technique that brings greater efficiency of motion and better management of aerobic respiration and prevents anaerobic respiration/oxygen debt. It is very important to leave the muscle sets around the knees in a relaxed state and not begin doing the "lock step" which can fatigue those muscles and lead to injury.

The rest step can be coordinated with breathing techniques used by distance runners. Breath in through the nose with the mouth closed to prevent dehydration of the throat. Breath out through the mouth, but with the lips pursed almost closed. You actually have to mildly force or blow the air past your lips. This causes higher air pressure against the alveoli in the lungs, allowing greater efficiency in the transfer of O2 and CO2 across the membrane. It also allows the exhale to be oral without as much loss of moisture as would happen with the mouth fully open.

To coordinate the rest step with the runners' breathing technique, when the left foot goes down, inhale; when the right foot goes down, exhale, and continue, or it can be vice versa. In either case, it is one full stride to one full breath cycle. When the left foot goes down, mentally say in, and when the right foot goes down think out. This pattern is for the most aerobically demanding uphill stride.

It is also possible to have one full stride per inhale and one full stride per exhale. As the right foot comes down, the inhale begins and you count one mentally. When the left foot comes down, you are still in the midst of the inhale and count two mentally. As the right foot comes down again, the exhale begins and the count is three. The left foot comes down as the exhale continues through its end on the count of four. This pattern is for an intermediate aerobic demand.

For a slight aerobic demand, it is possible to do a mental count of six. Each time a foot touches down (while still doing the rest step), you count. You inhale on one, two, three, and exhale on four, five, six.

For walking on level ground, I do not coordinate breathing and steps. They become independent and I return to a normal walking gait (not using the rest step).

I hope this helps. Daisy, does NOLS have any rest step illustrations on You-Tube?

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Re: Getting Back to Backpacking

Post by Wandering Daisy » Tue Jun 25, 2013 3:23 pm

The rest step is also described in Freedom of the Hills, the Seattle Mountaineers "bible". It has been around forever. I learned it in the mid 1960's at "Mountain School" while in the Spokane Mountaineers. The best way to learn it is to climb 1000 feet on snow! Snow is easy because you totally concentrate on each step, without worrying about foot placement on rocks, etc. and each step can be exactly the same. It is difficult to be successful at high altitude mountaineering without being very good at the rest step. If you combine rhythmic breathing and taking smaller steps with the concept of a rest step you can effectively go on forever up about anything without undue exertion.

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Re: Getting Back to Backpacking

Post by SoxGolf00 » Tue Jun 25, 2013 3:53 pm

Tom_H wrote:If you consider 13 miles and 1000' elevation gain in 3 hours as slow, then you're in better shape than you think you are.

The hike I do is 6.8 miles. Start at sea level and finish at 985ft. Then turn around. So the total is 13.6. I can do that hike at a moderate pace in 3 hours. I have a fully loaded bladder in the camelback and I add two additional 16oz water bottles. I also have the normal "safety" items in the bag along with a couple snack items. I haven't weighed the bag but it feels a little heavy when starting then I get comfortable with it within the first mile. In the next month, I am going to move up to an LL Bean day pack and weight it down to about 20lbs and see how I do.

As far as shoes, I have some Merrell day hikers but I am going to move over to the Keen Tarhee II mid high shoes. They are recommended by The Hiking Lady (http://www.hikinglady.com" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;). I heard that Keen's break in rather quickly.

The last main items I have to get are my sleeping bag, tent and poles. Since my first trip out will only be two nights, I should be able to keep my pack under 30 lbs.

Last question. How safe is it for a woman to go on her own? Like I said, I am going to do a modest trip of Agnew to Ediza, so it shouldn't be too hard. Are there enough people on that section just in case anything happens? How are the bears in that area?

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