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Backpacking 101: Most Common Mistakes of New Backpackers

I love organizing trips for inexperienced backpackers; they are so enthusiastic, just so happy to be outside, like every pretty view is the most amazing thing ever!  

Recently I organized a trip of 13 for a little trek on the Appalachian Trail from Maryland to Harper's Ferry.  A total of 20-ish miles over three days, so perfect for less experienced packers. Since this was far from my first 

1. Taking gear lists too literally: First, let me start by saying that Everyone, at every time they trek into the woods, should carry the 10 Essentials.  Heck, I carry them in my car so I have them whenever I leave my house!  Other than these, a lot of items are up for debate.  trowel, soap, deodorant. 

2. Carrying too much of one item: toilet paper, bottle of vitamins, entire package of fire starters

3. Carrying too large of an item:  full-size Mag Lite, half-pound bag of coffee. 

4. Buying too small of a pack:  hanging lots of stuff on the outside of your pack.

5. Buying too large of a pack:  it's like women who carry a large purse - if you have the space, you will fill it with needless space. 

6. Letting other people make you bring stuff:  if you aren't planning on cooking stead and potatoes over the fire, then don't carry it for anyone else! 

7. Not preparing for weather:  Temperature swing of 40* in one weekend (80* high first day to 40*F with a brisk wind the second night).

8. Not pre-testing gear:  Let's face it - gear failure is a fact of life.  

9. Overestimating Your Physical Fitness:  Pace yourself appropriately:  

10.  Proper hydration:  Don't underestimate how thirsty you may be, especially when you are a little out of shape and carrying weight.  One liter per 2 hours, plus one liter for every 1000' elevation gain should keep you from dying of thirst. 

11.  Don't forget the walmart bags!  They are terrible for the environment, but awesome to put over dry socks in cold weather once your feet get wet.  An awesome vapor barrier that can save 10 digits you will miss terribly once your fee thaw out.

Packaging Crackers for the Trail

I love hummus and with homemade flax crackers for lunch.  Drying and packing the hummus is easy, but the challenge is keeping the crackers from becoming a crumbled mess in my food bag.  Here is a video where I show how I pack crackers in a lightweight Crystal Light-type container. 

Enjoy, and Happy Hiking!  <3 Demeter

Backpacking 101: Getting Started - Finding a Hiking Group

I get email messages like this all the time:
"I'm interested in backpacking but don't know where to start.  I don't have any gear, anyone to hike with, and don't know where to go.  Please help!"
This article will focus on finding someone to hike with.  By hiking with other people, you can ask questions about hiking and backpacking, gaining knowledge to make you more prepared for hiking and backpacking.

I am by no means an expert, but I possess a passion for the woods.  When I was 11, while other girls played with dolls, I pretended to be lost in the woods, making sassafras tea to "survive."  Living in Colorado at the age of 12, our church took some kids to Breckenridge to climb mountains, where I bagged my first "fourteener."  

Mt. Quandary, Colorado.  My First Mountain, 1980.

DIY Cozy for Freezer Bag Cooking: Gusseted, Stand-Up Bottom, Velcro, and Fashionable!

So, I am not a girl that needs to look very cute in the woods. Just camp out with me and you will see that I am anything but "put together" after a night or two in the wilderness. 

But there are a few items in my kit that are almost Objets d'Art, like my Zpacks Arc Blast Backpack and my kilt.  To the untrained eye, fellow hikers think "hey, that girl looks like she knows what she is doing..."

The Height of AT Fashion - NOT!

Now I have added yet another weapon to the backpack to beat trail doldrums.  And it has to do with food.  Who knew that some reflectix, duct tape, velcro, and 15 minutes can turn out so cooool.....

I am now the envy of all my trail food FBC friends

Check out my latest youtube video on how to make your own super fashionable freezer bag cozy and let me know what you think.  Please feel free to post pics of your own Pièce de Résistance in the comments!!  And don't forget to check out my Amazon Store for all your DIY needs!

Quinoa "Grits" for Olddog

Quinoa, Not Just For Dinner

Check out backpacking blogs or forums and the breakfast foods often mentioned are instant oatmeal, bagels with peanut butter, and instant grits. 

The Holy trifecta of trail food breakfasts. All easy and ready in minutes. Unfortunately, a dilemma exists for backpackers who follow special diets; whether they eat "clean", gluten-free, or paleo.  Instant oatmeal and grits are no-no's because they are grains, and nothing "instant" is good because of the processing, which usually removes vital fiber. White bread is just plain gross. Just sayin'.
Just say "NO" to white bread!

DIY Trail Foods. Quinoa Preparation

This weekend was supposed to be spent in the wilderness with my DH (my Darling, Delightful, Dedicated, Daring, sometimes Damnable Husband), and our children.  The one-to-two inches of rain in the forecast made the decision to go questionable.  Then, my kids decided their idea of fun isn't huddling under a tarp in a downpour, and they wanted to stay home.  Unattended.  

This put DH and I in a little of a quandary: do we leave the 16 year-old at home with the 18 year-old to supervise, or not?  After all, I asked off for this weekend months ago. 

Hmmmm. NOT! We scrapped the trip at the last minute.  On the upside, I get to sit around the house all weekend in my jammies and work on blog posts!

On backpacking forums, we frequently discuss meal ideas.  As I have talked about to death in my DIY Trail Meal series, bases such as potatoes, rice, and pasta are often found in store bought trail dinners, but not suitable for those of us who want to eat "clean."

So we look to quinoa for our trail meal salvation. Quinoa can be used as a base in DIY trail dinners in lieu of potatoes, pasta, or rice. The great thing about quinoa is that it is very easy to work with, taking very little "hands on" time.  Quinoa is a little chewier once rehydrated, so it bulks up a meal very easily.

Simply cook according to package directions, dehydrate in a single layer for about 6 to 8 hours, or crisp dry, and store.  

Here is my Youtube video on how to prepare, dehydrate, and store quinoa:

Please visit my Amazon Store for your DIY trail food products!

Chile Relleno Casserole on the Trail

Good food should be a feast for the senses as well as the stomach, but does good food need to be complicated? Do you need a shopping bag full of ingredients to make a mouth-watering wonder? I am not a gourmand or slow foodie by any means, but a tired, shift-working, stressed out mom with the desire to have more free time to pursue my passions. I love good, simple food.

Simple food can be found in any culture, and playing with the different cultural flavors adds variety to your DIY trail meals without complexity. Chiles Rellenos is my favorite traditional Mexican restaurant dish: a union of flavors that screams "South of the Border." Poblano chile peppers stuffed with cheese, dredged in masa flour and egg batter, then fried golden brown and topped with red sauce. Simple, slightly spicy, and scrumptious!

DIY Trail Survival Backpacking food
The Cheesy Oooey Gooey Chile Relleno

Our local Mexican restaurant makes Rellenos with a potato and cheese stuffing. At first, I was like "Potatoes? This isn't real rellenos. Where's the cheese?!" But now I am totally hooked. I make a version of this at home as a casserole: layers of Hatch green chiles, mashed potatoes, and cheese, with batter poured on top and baked.
My Homemade Chile Rellenos Casserole

Fortunately, the flavor of the rellenos is fairly easy to replicate on the trail. The peppers dry easily in a home dehydrator, rehydrating very well in a freezer bag. The recipe can be made simply with tomatoes, or more elaborately with the addition of some homemade enchilada sauce that has been dehydrated.
The Chile Rellenos can be made simply in a freezer bag with instant potatoes, or layered in a baking dish.  I prefer the simple method, since I am usually very hungry and tired by the time I get around to make dinner in camp.

An aside about green chiles. Hatch chiles are grown in the Hatch valley of New Mexico and Mexico.  On the east coast we don't have the luxury of Hatch chiles, unless you can find a Tienda that supplies them. Should you live in the west, the chiles are available in the grocery store in a #2.5 can.  If you don't have Hatches, you can use the little 4 oz cans of Old El PasoThankfully, my parents live in Arizona six months of the year, and when they come back to Maryland in the spring they bring me a case or two of Hatch chiles. 

Chop the chiles in a food processor then dry them in a thin layer in the dehydrator.  The chiles take very little time to dry - perhaps 8 hours or so until crisp.  Add the versatile chiles to soups, casseroles, Chinese, Mexican, and Italian dishes. One of my DIY Trail Food posts - Spices, Toppings, and Putting it All Together - shows how the addition of some simple spices can completely change the flavor profile of a meal.

Chile Rellenos Freezer Bag Recipe:

  • 1/3 cup dried green chiles
  • 1/4 cup freeze dried cheddar cheese (or 3 T cheese powder)
  • Instant mashed potato flakes
  • Ova Easy egg mix
  • Nido instant milk powder
  • Cumin
  • Garlic powder
  • French Fried Onions for the topping (separate baggie)
  • Packet of salsa or taco sauce (I like Taco Bell's mild sauce)

Place all ingredients in freezer bag except fried onions and taco sauce. Rehydrate with just enough boiling water to cover ingredients, plus an extra quarter inch or so. Add more if needed.  Place in cozy for 10 minutes. Top with onions and salsa and enjoy!

Visit my Amazon store for your DIY trail food needs!