Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

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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sparky
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Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Post by sparky » Wed Oct 26, 2016 10:22 am

This might have all ready been mentioned, i didn't read the whole thread

Learning to read the land in front of you with a map is one thing.....learning the way the landscape wants to flow, the variances within, and efficiently traveling through it is another. This can only come with experience.








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Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Post by dave54 » Wed Oct 26, 2016 10:40 am

Another trick is think of an area you are very familiar with. You know what the understory vegetation and terrain look like. Then look at the same area on google earth. By comparing the image on GE with your personal knowledge of the ground, you can learn to estimate what a new area will be like by looking at GE. This can help in general route planning. You will still need to zig zag a bit as you go around a thick brushfield or look for a way around a 20 ft rock cliff. You do not straight line hike cross country.

Get proficient with map and compass before using a GPS. Batteries do not die on maps and compasses still work if accidentally dropped in water. GPS are helpful and faster than using a map and compass, but not a replacement.
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Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Post by Asolthane » Wed Oct 26, 2016 11:50 am

Hey,

I think it's both way easier and less a big deal than you think and at the same time way more scary and risky than it seems.

When you are ready to plan a trip, let us know when, how many days, what kind of miles you do daily on trail, etc and many people here can recommend a specific itenerary. Also, the Sierra South/Sierra North guidebooks include trips that have some x-country travel, that is a good place to get started. Maverick was kind enough to give me several x-country iteneraries for 5-10 day trips this past summer. I can share those with you or you can ask him. Many others would be happy to help I am sure.

Doing it alone increases your risk. I bought a Delorme when I started going off trail alone.

When you are off trail, having your load as light as possible is even more awesome. I got my gear down to fitting in a 48L pack and weighing less than 20lbs w/o food but including a bear cannister. I think that's a good target, it's pretty hard to get below that without sacrificing quite a bit of comfort/convienence/luxury. I am happy to share a gear list if it's helpful.

You can start by just looking at the map and picking something that cuts off or parallels the trail that looks promising and trying it. In that case you know where the trail is and where you should join it, so it's pretty hard to get lost.
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Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Post by SSSdave » Wed Oct 26, 2016 2:59 pm

paul wrote:one other thing - when you go off-trail for the first time, don't do it on a dayhike. If you get lost on a dayhike it may mean a night out without proper gear. If you get lost and you are carrying camping gear, you camp. And you have time to try to figure out where you are.
The idea of staying in one drainage your first time out is a good one - knowing that you left a trail down the valley and if you go back down you will hit that trail is a nice backup. I'd also say start out somewhere that's pretty much above treeline, since it's way easier to see where you are going and where you have been.
Actually my advice above to those without even basic skills was to start practicing off trail hiking while day hiking and NOT backpacking. You must be narrowly considering LONG day hikes miles from trailheads and roads for those already with some basic skills and experience. To that I would agree. However there is an endless amount of easy, safe places to practice off trail skills NEAR roads as long as one does not go far and does not do so in dangerous places that have cliffs, large streams, and only dense forest. For never evers that don't even understand basics, practicing off trail skills for the first time while backpacking a long way from civilization could get then into trouble. For those that are already familiar with hiking in the backcountry but not off trail and that already have some basic skills, yes they could start practicing off trail skills while backpacking and would probably not have issues. Not a few people I've met in the backcountry could hardly make any sense out of looking at a topographic map as though it was all Greek. Some people have just been followers of others. Others have only ever followed trails.

Read my suggestion above. No one is going to get lost going short distance to places like that. Most of we experienced folk began experiencing the outdoors well before any backpacking trips by going down trails and venturing off short distances or following streams short distances from roads to fish or going around roadside lakes.

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Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Post by Cross Country » Wed Oct 26, 2016 3:43 pm

Start with Grouse Lake out of Kings Canyon
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Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Post by Cross Country » Wed Oct 26, 2016 3:45 pm

And Grouse is a beautiful place
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Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Post by Asolthane » Wed Oct 26, 2016 4:29 pm

SSSdave wrote:
paul wrote:one other thing - when you go off-trail for the first time, don't do it on a dayhike. If you get lost on a dayhike it may mean a night out without proper gear. If you get lost and you are carrying camping gear, you camp.
Actually my advice above to those without even basic skills was to start practicing off trail hiking while day hiking and NOT backpacking...For never evers that don't even understand basics, practicing off trail skills for the first time while backpacking a long way from civilization could get then into trouble.
I wonder if in a way you are saying the same thing. I thought SSSdave was referring to a dayhike on a layover day from basecamp. If you are hurt and lost and off trail, I am not sure it matters if you are 3 miles from the car or 30. When I am out solo, I am very careful about the daytrips I take on a layover day. If you are going to go an a dayhike off trail, whether it is from your car or from your basecamp, be sure you have adequate supply to survive through the night. This means carrying more clothing than I would like weight wise, and an emergency blanket.

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Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Post by SSSdave » Wed Oct 26, 2016 4:50 pm

...I wonder if in a way you are saying the same thing. I thought SSSdave was referring to a dayhike on a layover day from basecamp...
Nope. At the end of my post, going from the highway 120 parking lot in Tuolumne Meadows, up Pothole Dome, and from there over to the river while practicing some basic skills.

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Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Post by AlmostThere » Thu Oct 27, 2016 8:26 am

I say start with a class -- because hiking with anyone who wants to go has taught me that not everyone GETS IT when it comes to just figuring it out.

I started wandering around before I started using a map. BUT, I also know there are people who can sit down on a rock in the trail, get up, and walk the wrong direction without figuring it out until someone tells them (or they're back at the parking lot). Some people just can't DO without help. Since I don't know who those are on a forum on the internet, I'll stick with recommending some skills acquisition in the formal manner. It takes more than just DOING sometimes and the map/compass can make a safety net.

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Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Post by Shawn » Thu Oct 27, 2016 11:41 am

Hey AT, your message about "not everyone gets it" resonates with me. Some years ago a buddy of mine wanted to go to Sawtooth Peak (Mineral King). I had been up there a few times already and really don't think of it as off trail so much. Anyway, we ascended to to the top of the ridge but topped out at hikers left of Sawtooth Pass and took a break before heading up to the peak.

My buddy took out a map and a compass, not realizing that the pass was about 50 yards away and of course the peak is in plain view. After looking at his map for a while, he turned to me and ask "are we lost !"? I was a bit bewildered by his question, because he is a smart and well educated guy. Anyway, I responded by pointing down the valley and said "dude, we can see the car from here". Ha.

So I can understand how some would be more adept at XC travel as compared to others.
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