Pro Tips for the New Backpacker

Alright – you’ve bought all of your gear, picked out a trail, and are rip-roaring ready to head out on your first backpacking trip! But wait… if you don’t know what you don’t know, what are you missing?! Is there any way that you can get experiential knowledge without experiencing it first?!

Enter scene: this blog post. I’ve put together some of my most valuable pro tips that I’ve learned about backpacking over the past eighteen years. Consider this list my love letter to beginner backpackers everywhere, including 11-year-old Meg if I could…

Bring a powdered drink for the end of the day. Hot tip – after a long ass day in the backcountry, you are going to want a refreshing drink as you roll into camp… and water just isn’t going to cut it. Bring powdered gatorade or crystal light for a sugary treat to replenish those electrolytes – either in a baggy or in individual packets. Another great option is Mio! Or any squirtable drink concentrate. That sugar just tastes so good at the end of a long day!

Invest in a JetBoil. Time never passes slower than when you are waiting on your water to boil for your dinner. I was introduced to a JetBoil back in 2014 and I’ve never look back since. Not only does a JetBoil boil your water in minutes, but it also means less things to bring – no more pots and pans awkwardly filling up your backpack.

Bring less clothes than you think you need. Of course, bring enough clothes to keep you warm, but you really don’t need more than one outfit to actually hike in. You are going to smell no matter what, so bringing a new shirt for every day just adds weight without any real benefit.

If you are going to bring wine, bring boxed. I learned this the hard way and used to bring STRAIGHT UP FULL GLASS BOTTLES OF WINE INTO THE BACKCOUNTRY. I promise you, no bottled wine will taste as good as not having to carry the heavy-ass empty bottle out the next day. Go boxed – the boxes are virtually weightless once you finish them, and the individual boxes have almost a full bottle of wine in each! Another great option is a plastic bottle – check out Outdoor Vino for a line of delicious reds and whites bottled in lightweight plastic!

Kindle > Books (in the backcountry). If you’ve spent anytime around my blog, you’ve probably already heard my war story about bringing an entire 300+ page book on the JMT and finishing after like three days… and then having to carry it for the remainder of the trip. I get it, I’m usually a real book person too… but it is so much easier to load multiple books onto a Kindle and have an entire library at your fingertips for less weight than one book! Kindles are also super tough and durable – perfect for the backcountry!

There are such things as inflatable pillows, and they work way better than scrunching up your extra clothes. Sleeping in the backcountry is already uncomfortable enough – do yourself (and your neck) a favor and invest in an inflatable pillow. They are cheap, lightweight, and overall so worth it.

One word: crocs. If anyone asks me for camp shoe recommendations, my answer is always a pair of crocs. Crocs are super lightweight, waterproof, and have a toebox for protection. The specific pair that I always wear unfortunately are not made anymore, but this pair is a close replicate. I always switch into them the second that I arrive at camp, and I’ll also use them for water crossings if necessary. I’ve compared the weight to other camp sandals (Tevas and Chacos), and believe it or not, my crocs are actually lighter than both!

Ain’t nothing like a wet wipe bath at the end of a long day. Personally, I have a hard time going to bed dirty in the backcountry. I always bring a set of clean sleeping clothes, and will always take a quick wet wipe bath before I change into them. On the JMT, my hiking partner and I brought and split an entire packet of baby wipes, which was great for quantity and space, but not so great for weight. Now, I will usually bring single-use wipe packets (I recommend Venture Wipes!), but keep in mind that this will create more trash for you to pack out.

Pump your water at night. For days that you have an early start time, be sure to pump your water the night before – so you have one less thing to do in the morning! This is one of the last camp chores that I will do at night, after I’ve already made and cleaned up dinner. While I will drink water overnight, it is never usually enough for me to have to pump again in the morning.

I’ll use this as a running list of tips and tricks for new backpackers, but if you ever have any questions or would like me to touch on a certain topic in this post, please comment below or email me at meghikes1@gmail.com.

Obviously, the best way to learn is to do… but I hope this blog post made your “do-ing” a little easier!

Your 2021 Guide to Getting Permits for your Favorite Sierra Trails

The first step in hiking your favorite trails in the Sierra doesn’t begin on the trailhead – it begins at home, in front of your computer, and usually in the winter… it’s permit season, baby! The advanced permit process to backpack (and in some case dayhike!) your favorite Sierra trails generally begins in October and runs through the end of April.

In this blog post, I’ve put together a guide for grabbing permits for your favorite trails in the Sierra!

Mt. Whitney

In order to summit the highest peak in the contiguous United States (or hike anywhere in the Whitney Zone past Lone Pine Lake), you must get a permit. This permit is required whether you are dayhiking or backpacking.

Whitney permits (both for day and overnight trips) are issued via a lottery. Every year, the lottery opens up on February 1st and ends on March 15th. On March 24th, the lottery results are published, and you must claim your lottery reservation and pay the reservation fees by April 30th.

While applying for the lottery, you are able to choose and rank your preferred dates for your summit. You can apply for up to fifteen different dates on one application! Enter as many dates as possible to get the best chances of being awarded a permit in the lottery. Visit the Mt. Whitney recreation.gov site and click on “Register for Open Lottery” to apply.

For those who were unsuccessful in the lottery, the dates from unclaimed lottery reservations will open up on May 1st on recreation.gov. If a party has canceled their Whitney permits, you’ll also find those available dates here. If you were unable to get a Whitney permit in the lottery, I highly suggest checking this website often for cancellations throughout the summer.

Pro tip: If you are unsuccessful in getting your overnight Whitney permit, consider summiting Whitney via a different trailhead! Both New Army Pass (via Cottonwood Lakes) and Kearsarge Pass are both great options if you have a few days to hike, as these permits are much easier to get. You’ll approach Trail Crest from Guitar Lake (Whitney’s backside), and bonus – the longer approach will help you to acclimate to the elevation better! Cottonwood Lakes and Kearsarge Pass permits are issued by the Inyo National Forest (process below).

John Muir Trail

To snag permits for a SOBO (Southbound) hike on the John Muir Trail from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney, complete the JMT Rolling Lottery Application. As I understand it, you will select the first day that you would like to start your hike, as well as the number of days that you would like to be entered into the lottery. For up to 21 days, if your permit isn’t approved, you’ll be re-entered into the next day’s lottery. You will receive daily notifications via email informing you if you have received a permit. If you make it through the specified number days without being granted a permit, you can reapply for a new date range of up to 21 days again.

To hike the JMT from South to North on a NOBO (Northbound) hike, follow the instructions above to get a permit starting at Whitney Portal!

Pro Tip: If you are unable to get a permit out of the Valley, I suggest trying to get a permit (either a reservation or walk-up) out of Tuolumne Meadows. Unfortunately, you’ll miss the first 23 miles of the John Muir Trial, but it is much easier to get a permit from this trailhead rather than getting one out of the Valley. I started my 2015 thruhike of the JMT from Tuolumne Meadows, and I was really happy with our itinerary!

Click here for my complete John Muir Trail packing list

Half Dome

Half Dome is the only hike in Yosemite National Park that requires a permit just for a dayhike. Halfdome Dayhike permits are issued via a lottery. Apply for the lottery on recreation.gov between March 1st and March 31st. On April 12th, the results of the preseason lottery will be posted, and you will be able to claim your permit by April 27th.

Between May 26th and October 10 (tentatively – this will depend on winter conditions), you can also enter a daily lottery between midnight and 1pm PT for a hike date two days after the lottery (for example, enter into the May 26th daily lottery for a hike date of May 28th). You’ll receive your daily lottery results on the same day.

To summit Half Dome during an overnight trip, follow the below instructions for remaining Yosemite National Park Trails and be sure to apply

Yosemite National Park Trails

To grab overnight permits for any other Yosemite National Park trails, apply via the Wilderness Permit Request Form online. All Wilderness Permit Request forms are processed via a lottery 168 days (24 weeks) in advance. Submit your application as early as possible for best results!

After the lottery closes, you can check trailhead availability for advanced reservations here. If there is an available date, fill out and submit the same Wilderness Permit Request Form.

If you are unable to get your permit, Yosemite also has a walk-up option beginning at 11am the day before you want to start your hike. It gets a little weird though – preference for walk-ups is given to the closest permit issuing ranger station. This means that if you were at the Tuolumne Meadows issue station waiting for a walk-up permit out of the Valley, the Valley issuing station would clear its morning line for walk-up permits before issuing you a permit, even if you were first in line at Tuolumne.

High Sierra Trail

To hike across the Sierra from Crescent Meadow to Mt. Whitney via the High Sierra Trail, you must get a permit issued from Sequoia Kings Canyon (SEKI) National Park. A brand (!) new (!) online (!) permitting process was implemented in 2021, and ironically, I found out about it the day before the season’s High Sierra Trail permits were starting to be issued (talk about perfect timing).

In 2021, the first day that you could make a reservation for the upcoming summer season was on February 9, 2021 at 7:00 am PST. Reservations were available on our beloved recreation.gov, and you could snag permits for dates up to six months in advance. After February 9th, reservations then became available daily for dates up to six months in advance (for example, permits for August 10th became available on February 10th, permits for August 11th became available on February 11th, etc.). Whether SEKI will continue to have this February 9th start date for all dates before August 9th in the coming years, I’m not sure. I’ll update this blog once I receive more information.

Specifically for High Sierra Trail permits, the permit was not labeled as Crescent Meadow trailhead permits – it was labeled as the High Sierra Trail.

If you didn’t get your desired permit on your preferred start date, continue to monitor the website for cancellations. If all else fails, SEKI is once again doing walk-up permits this year. Permits can be obtained starting at 1pm the day before your trip begins.

Pro Tip: If your group is jonesing for High Sierra Trail permits, make sure that everyone in your group tries to grab them starting at 7am the day that the permits open! Also, we had three people trying to get permits – two on computer desktops and one on her phone. The two of us on a desktop were both able to grab our permits right at 7am, where the girl on her phone was not able to grab them – the website didn’t even start showing availability until 7:04am. Not sure if that was just a coincidence, but I highly suggest trying to get permits from a desktop.

Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park Trails

The permitting process for other various SEKI trails is the exact same as getting permits for the High Sierra Trail.

In 2021, the first day that you could make a reservation for the upcoming summer season was on February 9, 2021 at 7:00 am PST. Reservations were available on our beloved recreation.gov, and you could snag permits for dates up to six months in advance. After February 9th, reservations then became available daily for dates up to six months in advance (for example, permits for August 10th became available on February 10th, permits for August 11th became available on February 11th, etc.). Whether SEKI will continue to have this February 9th start date for all dates before August 9th in the coming years, I’m not sure. I’ll update this blog once I receive more information.

If you didn’t get your desired permit on your preferred start date, continue to monitor the website for cancellations. If all else fails, SEKI is once again doing walk-up permits this year. Permits can be obtained starting at 1pm the day before your trip begins.

Inyo National Forest Trails

Permits for Inyo National Forest trails can be reserved on (you guessed it) recreation.gov. Permits become available six months (to the day!) before your entry date. Permits for popular trails can fill up day-of, so I highly suggest logging on at 7am to grab your permit.

If you are unable to get your permit immediately, I’d highly suggest perusing the Inyo National Forest permit site before your trip. That is how I’ve snagged permits for some of the most popular trails in the Eastern Sierra (such as Big Pine Lakes) – just randomly logging on and finding an available date due to a cancellation!

Due to COVID, the Inyo National Forest will not be offering any walk-up service for the 2021 season. To “pick-up” your permit, email SM.FS.WildPmt_Inyo@usda.gov with the following information 1 – 2 weeks before your entry date on your permit:

Subject line: [Entry Date][Trail Name][Reservation Number] (for example, 06/26/21 Kearsarge Pass #00000-1)

Answer the following;

  • Have you viewed the Leave No Trace video?   
  • How you will store your food?
  • What is your final group size?

You can also call 760-873-2483 to get your permit issued, but during the 2020 season, I must have spent over three hours trying to call and got the busy signal every time (I didn’t realize that you could email at first). I would highly recommend getting your permit by email rather than over the phone.

If you are unable to get your desired permits via advanced reservations, you can try to get the “walk-up” permits being issued this year. Instead of actually being walk-up, Inyo National Forest will be releasing them online 1 – 2 weeks before the entry date.


If you have any questions about specific trails, please leave a comment below or email me at meghikes1@gmail.com.

Happy hiking!

Power Rankings: Ski Movies to Get You Pumped for the Upcoming Ski Season

One of my absolute favorite fall traditions is watching ski movies to get pumped for the ski season ahead. They are inspiring, cinematically stunning, and honestly just a blast. Every year, I check out the premiere schedule for Teton Gravity Research’s film tours to see a premiere live, and every year, I always get more pumped than the last.

So lo and behold, here is my power ranking for my favorite ski movies that ALWAYS, WITHOUT FAIL, get me excited for the upcoming season.

The Art of Flight

ArtOfFlight2011Poster.jpg

If you only have time for one ski movie to get you pumped for the season, you are doing it wrong. Sorry, not sorry – I don’t make the rules, I just enforce ’em. But, if you are okay with doing it wrong and only have time for one ski movie to get you pumped for the season, make sure it is Art of Flight. This movie is, hands down, the best ski movie I have ever seen. It is inspirational, heart-warming, and funny! The cinematography created in capturing these remote locations is absolutely stunning. As an added bonus, Art of Flight has the best soundtrack ever.

Watch the trailer here. Watch a live watch party with Travis Rice, Mark Landvik and host Sal Masekela here.

McConkey

McConkey (2013)

I’m not sure if this should be a considered a “ski movie” or rather a documentary about the legendary Shane McConkey’s life. Shane McConkey was a competitive racer, extreme skier, a filmmaker, and was famous for combining base jumping with skiing. Not only was McConkey a talented skier, but he was also a talented ski designer, essentially changing big-mountain skiing as we knew it back in the early 2000s. This documentary is both inspiring and heart-wrenching.

Watch the trailer here.

Ode To Muir

Ode to Muir: The High Sierra (2018)

Ode to Muir is a film by Jeremy Jones that features his and Elena Hight’s ski-touring journey throughout the John Muir Wilderness in the Sierra. This movie is much more than a ski film though – it’s a call to action. Ode to Muir examines the effect that climate change has on our mountains and our ability to ski them – and, most importantly, it encourages its viewers to get out there and vote. The scenery is, of course, stunning, and it’s awesome to watch Jeremy and Elena get out there and experience the Sierra in such a rugged way. Their chemistry is unmatchable, and I finished the film feeling inspired both on the mountain and at the polls.

Watch the trailer here. Find out more about Jeremy’s non-profit Protect Our Winters here.

Way of Life

Way of Life holds a spot on the power ranking if only because it was the first ski movie that I saw, and I saw it at the premiere at Canyon Lodge in Mammoth during pre-ski season. Spoiler alert – there is a big ass Mammoth feature, and the energy in the room was ELECTRIFYING from the second they started that feature. Aside from the pure nostalgia, the movie shows off some great skiing, beautiful locations, and an awesome soundtrack. Plus, who doesn’t like hearing professional ski bums drunkenly explain why they love ski towns? Winner of a movie all around.

Watch the trailer here.


What are some of your favorite ski movies? Drop them in the comments below!

And don’t forget to put those ski maps in the freezer…

Dispersed Camping in Sequoia National Forest

Sequoia National Forest is located in the Southern Sierra and is absolutely MASSIVE. The National Forest covers 1,193,315 acres. There is no shortage of areas to explore in Sequoia National Forest – it has over 2,500 miles of road, 850 miles of trail, and ranges in elevation from 2,000 feet all the way up to 12,000 feet. Sequoia National Forest and the Southern Sierra was an area that I had been wanting to check out for so, so long, but had just never made it out there – who knew it would take a global pandemic to get me to visit it for the first time!

I went dispersed camping in Sequoia National Forest during Memorial Day Weekend 2020. After two months of quarantining, I was absolutely desperate to go camping, and since all of the campgrounds were closed, we had no option but to go dispersed camping! Although I say that we had no option, we were totally fine with it – dispersed camping is free and (usually) offers much more solitude than staying in a campground.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with dispersed camping, the US Forest Service defines it as, “camping anywhere in the National Forest OUTSIDE of a designated campground.” Dispersed camping is completely FREE, and if you know where to look, is much easier finding room to camp than in established campgrounds. Because you aren’t in a campground, there are no services – for the most part, you’ll be camping without water and without a toilet. The Leave No Trace principles are EXTREMELY important while dispersed camping – no one is going to clean up after you when you leave! ALWAYS pack out your trash, camp in established campsites, and bury your waste at least 6 inches down!

In the week leading up to our trip, I did a TON of research to try and find us a good, legal spot. I truly don’t know if they were enforcing it, but the Forest Service was implementing a $5,000 fee for individuals and a $10,000 fee for groups who were caught using developed campsites/recreational facilities. A good reminder to ALWAYS (not just during the time of a global pandemic!) check out the rules and regulations of an forest service/BLM area before you go.

As is usually the case with dispersed camping, it took us a little while to find our campsite. I had spent quite some time online the week before to find information on dispersed sites in the area and forest service roads to check out. Google Maps was, as per usual, a godsend to helping us find a good spot, and we knew that we wanted to check out some forest service roads off of Sherman Pass Road.

After traveling down Sherman Pass Road for 8 – 9 miles past Kennedy Meadows and trying out a few forest service roads that didn’t necessarily pan out, we ended up in the Fish Creek Overflow area on Forest Route 21S33. Once we turned onto Forest Route 21S33 (really easy to spot – it’s on the other side of the road from Fish Creek Campground and even had its own sign!), we traveled for a little over a mile to get to the dispersed camping area. There were plenty of established sites, all spaced out from each other. Even though it was Memorial Day Weekend and was probably more crowded than any other weekend in the summer (except maybe July 4th), we didn’t feel like we were on top of any other campers. There were plenty of established, legal fire rings, and the area was a really cool area to explore by foot. I suspect that somewhere around here is the jeep trail to Monache Meadows, but I’m not entirely sure.

We had a lovely night out of the apartment (for literally the first time in months), ate delicious camp food, played games, and enjoyed Coors Lights over the fire. A great time was had by all, and I’m really excited to go back!

As always with dispersed camping, if you are going to camp here, please please PLEASE adhere to the Leave No Trace principles! Leave it better than you found it to ensure that we can all enjoy our public lands in the future.

Leave-No-Trace-Seven-Principles-Infographic.jpg
The seven Leave No Trace principles, courtesy of a quick google search and Earth River SUP!

If you have any questions about camping in this area of Sequoia National Forest, please comment here or email me at meghikes1@gmail.com!  More than happy to help!

Happy Trails!

Five Lesser-Known Hikes around Mammoth Lakes, CA

If I asked you to make a list of popular hikes in Mammoth Lakes, I guarantee that I could guess a few hikes that would be on that list – Duck Lake, Devils Postpile & Rainbow Falls, Thousand Island Lake, Crystal Lake… the list of popular Mammoth hikes could go on and on. I mean – how couldn’t it? There are so many beautiful trails in and about Mammoth!

As beautiful as these hikes are, if you are looking for solitude, they aren’t necessarily the best contenders. After living in Mammoth during the summer, I started looking for trails off the beaten path and – no surprise here – I found some awesome, more remote trails!

Here is a list of my five favorite lesser-known trails in and around Mammoth Lakes, California. What trails would you add to the list? Comment your favorites below!

Deer Lakes Loop

Distance: 10.5 miles
Elevation gain: 2,142 feet

The Deer Lakes Loop connects two of Mammoth’s most popular trails: the Crystal Lake Trail to the Duck Lake Trail via the Mammoth Crest and Deer Lakes. The hike to Crystal Lake overlooks the Mammoth Lakes Basin and the gigantic Crystal Crag. Once you pass Crystal Lake, an alpine lake at the base of Crystal Crag, you’ll continue to gain elevation before you top out at the Mammoth Crest. For the next couple of miles, you get the pleasure of walking along the craggy Crest, passing by windows leading out to the Lakes Basin – such a unique experience! After traversing the Crest for awhile, you will head down to the glacial-green Deer Lakes before hopping on an unmaintained trail and eventually cross-countrying up to Duck Lake. From Duck Lake, take the Duck Pass trail down past Barney, Skelton, and Arrowhead Lakes to end your hike at Coldwater Campground.

This hike truly has it all – alpine lakes, ridge-walking, and even hiking cross-country over a pass! It feels like you travel through four different ecosystems, and it is the perfect hike to show you the uniqueness of the Eastern Sierra.

Heart Lake

Distance: 2.4 miles
Elevation gain: 564 feet

The Heart Lake trail is a short-but-sweet trail that leads out of the Lakes Basin, through an old mining camp (so cool!), and up to an alpine lake high above the Basin. After passing through the well-kept camp, you gain altitude through fields of wildflowers and Jeffrey pines. Although the elevation gain isn’t too bad, you gain it quickly, and before long, you are high about the Lakes Basin with 360 degree views of Duck Pass, Mammoth Crest, the backside of Mammoth Mountain, and even the Minerets! I’ll be honest – Heart Lake itself is beautiful, but it isn’t necessarily something to write home about. The hike up, however, is what makes this hike so special.

Mammoth Pass to Red’s Meadow

Distance: 7 miles
Elevation gain: ~250 feet
Elevation Loss: ~1250 feet

Red’s Meadow is one of the most popular spots in Mammoth during the summer – so much so that Devil’s Postpile, located in Red’s Meadow, even has its own sign indicating whether it is open when you get off of the 395 and start heading up the hill towards town! But, many people don’t know that you can actually hike down to Red’s Meadow from the Lakes Basin! There are a few different trails that you can take, but by far, my favorite is past McLeod Lake, over Mammoth Pass, past the Red Cones, to hook up with the John Muir Trail/Pacific Crest Trail down to Red’s Meadow. Like the Deer Lakes Loop, this trail showcases a lot of unique features of the Sierra, including the volcanic Red Cones! Best part of this trail? It is almost entirely downhill… and then once you arrive at Red’s Meadow, you get to take the bus back up into Mammoth! Be sure to bring cash – if I remember correctly, once you are down in Red’s, you can’t use a card to get onto the bus.

Valentine Lake

Distance: 9.8 miles
Elevation gain: 1,909 feet

Valentine Lake - Z & B Johnson's Adventures
Thank you Z & B Johnson’s Adventures for the photo!

Valentine Lake is a super beautiful, remote alpine lake with its trailhead basically in town. From the town of Mammoth, head west on Sherwin Creek Road for about two miles and you are there! There are actually two ways to get up to Valentine Lake – via the Valentine Lake trailhead and via the Sherwin Lake trailhead. The Sherwin Lake trail is a bit more scenic and adds a few more lakes along your hike, but it also adds 1.4 miles to your hike. I can’t really say that I prefer one over the other, but your legs will thank you on the hike down if you choose the shorter trail!

Agnew Lake

Distance: 4 miles
Elevation gain: 1,250 feet

Like Heart Lake, the beauty of this trail isn’t necessary the destination, but rather the hike up. The Agnew Lake trail starts near Silver Lake on the June Lake Loop and quickly gains elevation to give you a birds eye view of June Lake! The coolest part of this hike though, by far, is once you get about two-thirds up the mountain, where the trail starts weaving through an old train track used to bring supplies up the mountain to build the Agnew Lake dam. Here, the trail is built into the surrounding rock and gets you up-close and personal with Carson Peak and Horsetail Falls. The trail up to Agnew Lake is a lot of fun for a lot of different reasons.

Meal Ideas for Car Camping

Ah, car camping. Cold nights huddled around the fire, drinking beers over board games, and packing the car way too full. Babes, don’t threaten me with a good time.

While I absolutely love backpacking, there are so many things about car camping that you just can’t beat… INCLUDING being able to throw everything AND the kitchen sink in the car. I love being able to cook (what feels like!) gourmet meals at the campsite. So, without further adieu, below find a list of my favorite breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes for camping:


BREAKFAST

Egg and Sausage Scramble/Breakfast Burritos

Scrambles are so easy to make while camping because if your pan is big enough, you can literally throw everything into your pan, cook it all together, and then you have a perfectly made scramble or stuffing to put into a breakfast burrito.

Tip #1: Avoid bringing a carton of eggs by either buying a milk-carton of eggs/egg whites or cracking and mixing your eggs before you leave and keeping them in a waterbottle. An egg carton disintegrates very quickly in a wet cooler, and before long, you are battling eggs floating in the cooler and disintegrated cardboard everywhere.

Tip #2: Do not let your potatoes get waterlogged. They will go up in flames as soon as the waterlogged potatoes hit the hot pan. That is all I have to say about that – you have been warned.

Ingredients needed:

  • Eggs
  • Sausage (breakfast or chicken-apple)
  • Frozen potatoes (but don’t get them get waterlogged!!)
  • Oil for cooking
  • Cheese
  • Ketchup/Hot Sauce/Salsa/Other Condiments
  • Tortillas (if you want to make it a breakfast burrito!)

Breakfast Sandwiches

Breakfast sandwiches are also great to make while camping – they are the perfect hearty breakfast for a long day of outdoor adventure.

Ingredients needed:

  • Eggs
  • Bacon or Sausage
  • Sliced Cheese
  • Avocado
  • Ketchup/Hot Sauce/Salsa/Cream Cheese/Other Condiments
  • Bagels/Croissant/Whatever bread you want to have your sandwich on!

Pancakes

Pancakes are SO EASY to make camping if you make the pancake mix at home and then bring it in a waterbottle! Add some fresh fruit and you’ve got yourself a gourmet breakfast.

Ingredients needed:

  • Pancake mix (pre-made at home and kept in the cooler)
  • Syrup
  • Fresh fruit (bananas, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries… the list goes on and on!)

Muffins

Looking for something quick and easy? Make or buy a batch of muffins before the trip! No cooking, no clean-up, no hassle.


LUNCH

My favorite kind of lunches for car camping are lunches that can be made in advance. Most of the time, I won’t actually be at the campsite for lunch, so whether I’m boating, hiking, or having a beach day on the lake, I need something that doesn’t need to be cooked.

Pasta Salad

Two words: PASTA. SALAD. I love me some pasta salad, yet for some reason, I never think to make it unless I go camping. I’ll usually make a big ass tub of it to eat for lunch, as a side with dinner, or just as a snack. You can never have too much pasta salad!

Ingredients needed:

  • Pasta (my favorite is tri-color rotini!)
  • Italian dressing (if you don’t use Olive Garden italian dressing, you are doing it wrong. Sorry not sorry.)
  • Cheese
  • Carrots
  • Salami
  • Red Onion
  • Grape Tomatoes

Chicken Salad

Chicken salad is another great pre-made option. Below are the ingredients that I use in my chicken salad. I like to put mine on top of bagels and eat it as a sandwich, but it also holds up on its own if you don’t want to deal with bread. Also, I wait until I’m about to eat to put in the avocado so that it doesn’t turn brown and mushy in the cooler.

Ingredients needed:

  • Canned chicken
  • Mayo
  • Grapes
  • Avocado
  • Everything but the Bagel Seasoning
  • Bagels (if you want to put it into a sandwich)

DINNER

Pasta with Meat Sauce

Ain’t no car camping dinner easier than pasta with meat sauce. This is honestly my go-to dinner for camping. You can legit whip up a big-ass portion of pasta within 15 minutes if you have a two-burner Coleman Camp Stove. Get the pasta boiling on one burner and the meat cooking on the other – voila! Dinner is served in no time.

Ingredients needed:

  • Pasta (I’ve found that rotini works best while camping)
  • Pasta sauce
  • Meat
  • Oil, if necessary (for cooking the meat)
  • Parmesan cheese (oh, you fancy now!)

Burritos

Who doesn’t love loading up a flour tortilla with 10 of their favorite ingredients, smashing it all together, and having a no-utensil, no-mess dinner? Burritos are perfect for car camping, as you can bring as many or as little ingredients to add as you want – many of which you can also use for breakfast or burgers.

Ingredients needed:

  • Tortillas (I prefer flour – doesn’t fall apart as easy and can stuff way more food into it!)
  • Ground meat (beef, turkey, or chicken all work out well on a Coleman stove)
  • Cheese
  • Avocado
  • Sour Cream
  • Salsa
  • Taco Sauce
  • Optional veggies: lettuce, tomato, onion, etc. (I usually skip these veggies while I’m camping – less prep and clean-up – but, by all means, load up on the veggies!)

Chicken-Apple Sausage Saute

So this is actually one of my favorite meals to make at home, but it is so easy that you can easily take it on your next camping trip. All you have to do is slice the chicken-apple sausage and zucchini, dice the onion, and saute all three in a pan with some olive oil. So easy, so much flavor, and so good!!

Ingredients needed:

  • Chicken-Apple Sausage
  • Zucchini
  • Onion
  • Oil for cooking

I always like to plan my camping meals well in advance so that I can pick meals that have similar ingredients. For example, you can use onions for a scramble, the Chicken-Apple saute, or on your burgers if you are grilling one night. An avocado can be added to basically anything and be delicious. And salsa is a common condiment for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This cuts back on space and prep time.

Have a great car camping recipe to share? Leave it in the comments below!!

A Failed Attempt at Mt. Langley

“Did you grab the food bag?” Silence.

“Uh, no. Is it not there?” More silence.

But hey, I’m getting ahead of myself now. Let’s start on December 31st, 2019, when I added “Bag another California 14er” on my list of New Years Resolutions. Now, even though I didn’t specify which 14,000 foot peak I wanted to complete this year, deep down, I knew it was going to be Mt. Langley. I had backpacked in her shadow many times before, and each time I had been called to her summit. 2020 was going to by my year. So in mid-January, when permits began to be released for the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead, I scooped up two spots for the middle of July.

Fast forward to the weekend of July 11th, and I was ready to make my attempt. I had convinced my bff, Laura, to try for the summit with me… and it was going to be her first backpacking trip in the Sierra as well! (Don’t tell me how I continue to convince her to go on backpacking trips with me.. her first backpacking trip that I took her on was up San Gorgonio… and somehow she has still agreed to be my friend and let me drag her on backpacking trips).

Laura picked me up at 5pm on Friday night and we made the three hour drive to Lone Pine. By the time that we started up the famous Horseshoe Meadows Road, it was pitch black. We got to the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead a little before 10pm and had to park in the overflow lot. We organized the car, set up our bed in the back, and were in bed by 11pm. We were in no rush the next morning, so we didn’t even bother to set alarms. We noticed quite a few other hikers sleeping in their cars at the overflow parking lot, but it stayed quiet all night.

The next morning, we woke up around 7:30am, had breakfast, packed up, and were on the trail by 9am. For those of you who haven’t hiked out of the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead before, the first four miles or so are super cruiser. Very flat, shaded, and all above 10,000 feet. It’s a great hike (and a great area to backpack), as you start so high, so you don’t have to gain too much elevation before you arrive at glorious alpine lakes. There is one section that starts to gain elevation for about the last mile or so before you hit Cottonwood Lakes, but relative to most Sierra trailheads, the gain isn’t too bad.

We hit Cottonwood Lakes 1 and 2 and had lunch. The day was beautiful – not a cloud in the sky and a calm breeze. Our lunch spot was directly in the shadow of Langley’s summit. We gazed upon the mountain and had the perfect view of what (we thought) we would be summiting the next day. Spirits were high.

We knew that we wanted to camp at Long Lake to set us up for an early wake-up call and summit the next day, so after lunch, we packed up and finished our hike to our camp spot. When we arrived, there really was only one camping area – a very large area right off the trail. I usually don’t like camping right on top of other tents (isn’t the point of backpacking solitude?), but there really wasn’t much room to spread out and have a sheltered spot. We ended up making friends with the neighbors (which would prove very beneficial in a short few hours – stay tuned) and walked to the other side of the lake to enjoy a box of wine and the sunshine.

After lounging by the lake and taking a nap, we decided to finish up our chores for the day before having our first dinner (yes, we are the hikers that have both first and second dinner… and yes, it rules). We grabbed my Sawyer Squeeze water filter and took a nice five-minute walk to the closest stream to pump our water for the night and the next day.

Upon arriving at the stream, I filled up the Sawyer Squeeze bag with ice-cold alpine water, twisted the water filter cap onto the bag, turned it upside down to empty it into the waterbottle and… nothing. Not a drop of water would come out of the filter. The mutual feelings of panic and frustration were instantaneous. I had already been so apprehensive about switching out my MSR pump filter for a Sawyer Squeeze, but in an effort to lighten my load and become more ultralight, I had finally caved in. I had used it twice before the Langley attempt, and both times it had worked, but I had gotten kind of nauseous each night (and one of the nights I actually threw up!). I’m not completely convinced that I had become nauseous due to the filter, but I was definitely suspicious. And now, on my third time using it, the damn thing didn’t even work.

We played around with it for about 10 minutes before my frustration truly took over and we gave up. Laura went back to camp in an attempt to convince one of the other campers to lend us their water filter so that we could fill up all of our waterbottles and hope that it was enough to sustain us on our summit and hike out the next day (it worked – thank you, random campers!!). By the time that she got back to the stream, I had successfully created a hole in the water bag by trying to push the water through the filter too hard. The Sawyer Squeeze had proved itself utterly useless after only two uses.

Thankful to have been able to use our neighbors water filter, we paid them back with a couple of Hershey’s kisses and sat down to eat dinner number 2. We were prepared for a 4:15am wakeup call, so we laid down before the sun went down and dozed on and off until night fell. We had had one (slightly major) hiccup with the water filter, but all in all, it had been a great day in the Sierra. I was ecstatic for the day ahead and finally crossing Langley off on my list.

Before long, it was 4:15am and our alarms were going off. Laura got out of the tent first, and I took my time getting dressed and then stuffing my sleeping bag into its sack so that I wouldn’t be tempted by the early morning air to get back in it. I could hear her packing her daypack outside the tent, and eventually, I climbed out to join her.

I started packing my bag for the day when I walked over to where I had left the bear bag for the night. Just like I had done 100 times before, I left it underneath a tree, buried deep in the branches. For the past seven years, I had carried an Ursak bear bag, and I was really happy with it. Since it was a soft bag (instead of a hard canister like, let’s say, the BV500), it fit really well in my backpack and wasn’t awkward to pack around. I had never once had an issue with animals getting into it. That luck ended at Langley.

I arrived at the tree and the bear bag was nowhere to be found. I figured that since Laura had been out of the tent for a lot longer than I had, she must have picked it up so that she could pack her food for the day and begin to eat breakfast. I wasn’t worried.

I walked back to our tent and asked her, “Did you get the bear bag?” only to be met with silence. Silence was not good.

“Uh, no. Is it not over there?” My heart dropped. It wasn’t.

We RAN back to the tree and began searching. There was absolutely no sign of the bag anywhere… so much so that I started doubting whether I was looking at the same tree that I had left the bag at. Lo and behold, it was the same tree… and lo and behold, the bag was gone. Gone gone. As in we-searched-for-45-minutes-before-we-called-it gone.

Eventually, and after 45 minutes of searching, we called it. It was passing 5am and the bag was truly nowhere to be found. No remnants, no trash, no trail… nothing. Since ALL of our food was in the bag, we needed to get off of the mountain fairly quickly, as we had a six mile hike back to the car and absolutely no sustenance to get us there. Absolutely heartbroken, we begrudgingly packed up our tent and began our hike back. It was truly the most perfect summit day – there was no wind, not a cloud in the sky, and the temperature was warm, which was unusual for a Sierra morning in July.

After six miles of hiking, my stomach was turning in on itself and my heart truly was broken. I had been looking forward to this summit for over six months, all lost due a stupid mistake of trusting a bear bag instead of a bear canister. We arrived at the car by 8am and arrived at The Grille in Lone Pine by 9am to stuff our faces with breakfast. I even ordered a Dr. Pepper with breakfast to try to lift my spirits up.

I learned a few lessons on that summit attempt… 1) No matter how advanced you may be in something, there truly is always room for mistakes. 18 years of backpacking under my belt and I’m still learning valuable lessons. 2) Invest in the bear canister – it may be bulky as hell, but it can’t be dragged away by an animal in the middle of the night. And 3) Trust your instincts with gear. I somehow knew that the Sawyer Squeeze was not going to work for me, but I went with it anyway. Thank god that we were camped in an area that had other campers nearby… I really don’t know what we would have done had we not had access to someone else’s filter.

All in all, while I was truly devastated that we weren’t able to summit, the weekend was a humbling reminder to always be prepared because things can go wrong. As soon as I got home, I instantly ordered a bear canister and started researching iodine tablets. And it may not have been the trip that we were looking forward to, but as always, it felt awesome to spend a weekend in the backcountry and only gave us motivation to come back soon for our vengeance on the summit. Until next time, Langley!

A Socially Distant Weekend in Sequoia National Forest

After two months of strict quarantining, a small group of friends and I decided to enjoy a socially distant weekend in Sequoia National Forest. It felt so great to get out of the city and into a tent, and I came home feeling much more like myself after a night under the stars.

Sequoia National Forest is located in the Southern Sierra and is absolutely MASSIVE. The National Forest covers 1,193,315 acres. There is no shortage of areas to explore in Sequoia National Forest – it has over 2,500 miles of road, 850 miles of trail, and ranges in elevation from 2,000 feet all the way up to 12,000 feet. Sequoia National Forest and the Southern Sierra was an area that I had been wanting to check out for so, so long, but had just never made it out there – who knew it would take a global pandemic to get me to visit it for the first time!

Day Hike on the Pacific Crest Trail

Trail: Kennedy Meadows to the Bridge via the PCT
Mileage: 4.1 miles out-and-back
Elevation gain: 465 feet

A trip to Kennedy Meadows and the Southern Sierra wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Pacific Crest Trail. So, our first stop on our weekend in the Sierra was spent hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) north from Kennedy Meadows campground for a little over two miles to the bridge.

This area is absolutely beautiful. The trail hugs the South Fork of the Kern River and is abundant in wildflowers during the early season. Its a gentle “roller-coaster” of a trail – it gently goes up and down, up and down. After two miles, you’ll arrive at a bridge crossing the South Fork of the Kern River – and your turn-around point!

There were plenty of shaded places to sit and have lunch. We crossed the bridge and went about a tenth of a mile north and found a perfect spot for a PB&J break.

I will say that this hike was hot and largely exposed, even in May. The southern Sierra, even at higher elevations, really is a high desert. Even though there are an abundance of trees in the area and the trail follows the South Fork of the Kern River, the area still stays hot and arid.

As always, it was awesome to see the PCT thru-hikers on trail. With COVID, there were far less thru-hikers than I would expect for the last weekend in May, but in a non-pandemic year, you can expect to see a line of thru-hikers officially leaving the desert and moving on into the Sierra!

Dispersed Camping in Sequoia National Forest

Since all of the campgrounds were closed due to the COVID (by the time that I publish this, many of the campgrounds have been opened, but check their status here), we had no option but to go dispersed camping! Although I say that we had no option, we were totally fine with it – dispersed camping is free and (usually) offers much more solitude than staying in a campground.

In the week leading up to our trip, I did a TON of research to try and find us a good, legal spot. I truly don’t know if they were enforcing it, but the Forest Service was implementing a $5,000 fee for individuals and a $10,000 fee for groups who were caught using developed campsites/recreational facilities. A good reminder to ALWAYS (not just during the time of a global pandemic!) check out the rules and regulations of an forest service/BLM area before you go.

As is usually the case with dispersed camping, it took us a little while to find our campsite. I had spent quite some time online the week before to find information on dispersed sites in the area and forest service roads to check out. Once we were done with our hike, we set out trying to find a good spot! After traveling down Sherman Pass Road for 8 – 9 miles and trying out a few forest service roads that didn’t necessarily pan out, we ended up in the Fish Creek Overflow area on Forest Route 21S33.

Once we turned onto Forest Route 21S33 (really easy to spot – it’s on the other side of the road from Fish Creek Campground and even had its own sign!), we traveled for a little over a mile to get to the dispersed camping area. There were plenty of established sites, all spaced out from each other. Even though it was Memorial Day Weekend and was probably more crowded than any other weekend in the summer (except maybe July 4th), we didn’t feel like we were on top of any other campers. There were plenty of established, legal fire rings, and the area was a really cool area to explore by foot. I suspect that somewhere around here is the jeep trail to Monache Meadows, but I’m not entirely sure.

We had a lovely night out of the apartment (for literally the first time in months), ate delicious camp food, played games, and enjoyed Coors Lights over the fire. A great time was had by all, and I’m really excited to go back!

Lunch at Kennedy Meadows General Store

As a PCT enthusiast (and one-day-hopeful!), a trip up to the Kennedy Meadows area would not be complete without checking out the Kennedy Meadows General Store and the official end of the desert for Pacific Crest Trail thruhikers! The General Store is a cute little store that sells cold drinks, ice cream, and Southern Sierra souvenirs. Out on the porch, the grill fires up burgers, sandwiches, and breakfast. During the summer months, the store hosts movie nights and live music.

For a list of the various services that the store provides for PCT thru-hikers (including free camping, hot showers, and resupplies, oh my!), visit here.

Picture courtesy of the Kennedy Meadows General Store’s website

We got to the store around 10:30am, but (again) after months of quarantining, we couldn’t help but get a can of cold soda and an ice cream and enjoy it out on the patio… yes, at 10:30am. Had we arrived a little later, I would have loved to indulge in some BBQ on the patio, but alas, it was just too early for lunch. Hey – we had to put our foot down somewhere! It felt great to be outside enjoying each others company, and we got to people watch some of the PCT hikers hanging about. It was a wonderful end to a socially distant weekend away from LA!


Overall, it was a really great weekend, and I’m so glad to have finally made it up to Kennedy Meadows and Sequoia National Forest. If you have any questions about the hike or camping spot, please let me know in the comments or by email at meghikes1@gmail.com.

Happy camping!

Fall Outdoor Activities In and Around Southern California

Dearest Angelenos, how many times have you heard the phrase, “Southern California doesn’t have seasons!!” Once? Twice? Thirty-six times? Whether you’ve heard it few and far between or too many times to count, it simply isn’t true. Of course we have seasons. They may be notably warmer than the rest of the country, but we do indeed have seasons.

Parts of fall may have the hottest month in Southern California (lookin at you, October), but overall, the temps start cooling down, the trees begin to turn, and towns all across Southern California begin hosting fall events to celebrate the changing of the seasons. In this blog, I’ve compiled a list of my ten favorite fall activities to do in and around Southern California. From the mountains of San Diego to wine country in Santa Barbara, there are so many ways to celebrate Autumn!

And so, before we begin, I would like to dedicate this blog post to anyone who has ever said “Southern California doesn’t have seasons!” Happy fall, y’all!

Leaf-Peeping

Believe it or not, the trees of Southern California get fall colors – and no, not palm trees! If you know where to look, you can find trees of gold and orange in our own backyard. Some of my favorite areas for leaf-peeping include Icehouse Canyon in the Mt. Baldy area, Palomar Mountain, and the San Gorgonio Wilderness. Depending on where you go, these areas might turn to peak color a little later than normal fall colors (let’s say, in the Sierra) because the weather stays warm throughout October. For instance, when I visited Palomar Mountain in late-November 2018, a few days after Thanksgiving, the trees were at their peak. Higher elevations, such as IceHouse Canyon or Big Bear, will have their peak in October or early November depending on the weather.

Apple Picking in Oak Glen

Other than picking out a pumpkin, there really is no fall activity more “fall-like” than apple picking! This fall, put on your favorite flannel (and then take it off and tie it around your waist because October is usually hot AF in SoCal) and take a ride to the apple-picking capital of Southern California – Oak Glen!

There are a bunch of different apple orchards in Oak Glen, but I think my favorite has been Snowline. There apple orchards are absolutely HUGE, and they also have pumpkins to pick when they are in season. There is a winery and store on-site, where you can taste and purchase hard ciders and wines to take home or for consumption in the picnic area. They also have fresh-pressed apple cider and APPLE CIDER DONUTS for sale. Absolutely delicious.

Another awesome orchard is Riley’s at Los Ranchos Rios. This orchard has apple-picking, live music, a petting zoo and tractor rides, a restaurant, u-press apple cider, and hard cider tastings. The grounds are absolutely MASSIVE, and it is perfect for a fall day in the sun!

Celebrating Harvest in Santa Barbara Wine Country

If you have spent any time on blog, you’ll have already likely noticed that my favorite activity other than hiking is drinking wine (and sometimes I’ll even do it together – what!). This fall, take a ride up to Santa Barbara Wine Country and celebrate harvest, which usually occurs in September and October. To celebarte, various wineries around Santa Ynez, Solvang, and Lompoc will put on harvest events and sell “passports” to participating wineries – which means more for you at a lesser price! Be sure to bring a picnic with your favorite cheeses and meats – many wineries will allow you to enjoy your picnic on their patios among the rolling hills and plentiful vines.

Fall Wine Walk in Big Bear

Love wine but looking for a more mountainous location to enjoy it in? Try the Fall Wine Walk in Big Bear! Held in mid-September every year, the Big Bear Wine Walk is an awesome event put on by the town and shops. With your ticket you’ll receive a certain amount of wine vouchrs that you can redeem at stores around the town. Each store will have a few different wines that you can pick from, and once you get your pour, you can browse the shop as you enjoy your wine. It is a really awesome way to support businesses in Big Bear, as well as the town itself!

Grab a Slice of Apple Pie in Julian

Julian is an extremely cute little mountain town located in northeast San Diego County. The main drag is lined with restaurants, mom and pop shops, and little bed and breakfasts. Julian is known for all things apple – apple pie, apple crisp, and apple cider!

While you are up in Julian, consider taking a hike around the area! I recommend summiting Volcan Mountain or checking out the rolling hills of the Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve. After your hike, be sure to replenish and rehydrate with a few celebratory beers! About a half mile north of Julian is the Nickel Beer Company, a super unique little brewery with a beautiful outdoor beer garden.

Bates Nut Farm

What’s fall without visiting a pumpkin patch?! As a kid growing up in north county San Diego, we used to go to Bates Nut Farm every year – or what we used to call it, Nate’s Butt Farm. The farm is in a really beautiful area of rural San Diego County. During the month of October, it has a pumpkin patch, a farm zoo, hayrides, picnic areas, and plenty of nuts, fruits, and trinkets that you can buy from the retail store. It really is the perfect place to celebrate fall with the whole family.

Fall Hiking

Fall may possibly be my favorite season to hike in. The Southern California heat has finally started to cool down, the is sun less intense at those high elevations, and the trails are practically empty. Add in some various fall color, and you have the perfect recipe for a perfect hike.

Big Bear Oktoberfest

For the first couple of weekends in October every year, Big Bear is home to Oktoberfest! Get ready for a weekend of beer-drinking, German food-eating, stein-holding, log-sawing, lederhosen, and live music among the pines! For a full schedule of events and to purchase tickets, visit their website.

Ski Films

Did you know that we actually have seven seasons throughout the year? There are the main four – Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, of course; but only a few select people know the additional three seasons – pre-ski season, ski season, and not ski season. Crazy, huh? While ski season and not ski season can vary between Winter, Spring, and Summer, pre-ski season almost always falls during Fall, and one of my absolute favorite traditions during pre-ski season is watching ski films to get you pumped for the season!!

When I lived in Mammoth, one of my absolute favorite fall activities was attending ski film premieres around Mammoth to get me psyched for the upcoming season. Various venues around Southern California will show ski film premieres in October and November. Since moving back down to Southern California, I have attended ski film premieres and showings at USC’s Shrine Auditorium, the Hermosa Beach Community Center and the Arbor Store in Venice. Start by looking at Teton Gravity Research’s film tour page to see where and when films are touring around the country.

Visit a Ghost Town

What better time than fall to get a little spooky and visit a ghost town?! About two hours north of Los Angeles lies Calico Ghost Town, a real life mining town preserved and restored from the 1800s! Visit Calico for a day full of sarsaparilla, gold panning, train rides, gunfight shows, and mine tours. There are plenty of restaurants and saloons to fill your cup after a long day in the mines. During the winter months, you can even camp on-site! Be sure to visit in late October if you want to get real spooky during the Ghost Town Haunt. For more information, visit their website here.


Disclaimer: This blog was written in the time of COVID-19; however, this blog was not written with COVID-19 in mind. Please be sure to follow all of the guidelines in place, and keep in mind that some of the events listed may be cancelled.

My Complete Packing List for the John Muir Trail

In 2015, I hiked 198 miles of the John Muir Trail from Tuolumne Meadows to Whitney Portal. For the most part, I was really happy with my setup. There are only a few items that I wish I hadn’t brought, or had brought in different form (hello 400+ page book). My bag was definitely heavier than it would be now, but I didn’t have the funds to upgrade to lighter gear at the time. While I am a supporter of UL gear, it is absolutely not necessary to ensure your success on the John Muir Trail. How much your bag weighs does not make you any more or less likely to finish the trail if you have the willpower to finish it.

So without further adieu, here is an entirely too-long blog post listing every single item that I brought with me on the JMT (no really, every single item), along with a few thoughts on how I used it, why it did or did not work, and a link to the specific item just in case you need to buy one for yourself!

BUT WAIT! As a thank you for checking out my blog, please find a FREE prinatable packing list PDF below:

Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links, where I get a percentage of whatever you purchase at no extra cost to you.


Gear:

BackpackREI Crestrail 65

I brought the REI Crestrail 65 on my trip, which unfortunately is not made anymore. It was a really great bag and I loved it for five long years before finally replacing it with an ultralight bag. The size – 65L – was perfect, and I loved all of the exterior pockets!

Sleeping bagREI Habanera

If you’ve heard about me talk about my sleeping bag before, you know that I am OBSESSED with this thing. It is relatively heavy for a backpacking sleeping bag (4 lbs – heavy, but not horrible), but what it lacks in optimal weight, it more than makes up for in warmth. I run cold at night, and this bag has a temperature of -15. Sometimes it is a little overkill during the summer, but then I just sleep with the bag unzipped. The temperature rating did come in handy for the trail though, as we woke up to snow not once, but twice on the trail! My hiking partner brought a 30 degree bag and had to bust out the emergency blanket on those nights. If you run cold at all, I would highly suggest a cold temperature bag. It more than makes up for the weight (in my humble opinion, of course).

Sleeping padTherma Rest Z-Lite Sol Ultralight Foam Pad

I rocked an accordion-style sleeping pad for this trip, which worked out great. These sleeping pads are light, insulated, and (relatively) comfortable. I enjoyed being able to use it as a seat while eating dinner at camp or sitting outside of my tent. I do think that inflatable sleeping pads are more comfortable, and I like how compact they pack down, but I can’t say that I would switch to an inflatable one if I were to go on another thru-hike. There really are pros and cons to each.

TentREI Half Dome 2 Plus

For my 17-day stint on the JMT, we brought the REI Half Dome 2 Plus tent. Although I have since upgraded to the NEMO Hornet 2, I will always love the Half Dome and often still use it for car camping. It may not be the lightest tent on the market, but it doesn’t break the bank, is light enough not to break your back, and this tent is durable AF (the one that I brought was 14 years old – aka, these tents don’t break).

Hiking PolesHiking Poles Found on Amazon (Not the ones that I used, but I don’t remember which brand they were – I found them in my parents garage and they were probably 15 years old)

I generally don’t use hiking sticks when I go hiking or backpacking, but I decided to bring them on impulse, and they totally saved me. I think because my backpack was so heavy at times (45 pounds coming out of Muir Trail Ranch.. dear god), my body was very prone to hunching and compressing over my chest. Hiking sticks forced me to open up my chest and have better posture. I used them every day, and I’m really glad I brought them!

Bear CanisterBV500

Bear Canisters are required throughout the Sierra – and for good reason. Sierra bears are ruthless when it comes to getting into food… Bear canisters are awkward as hell to pack, but they are required.

Rain Cover for BackpackWaterproof Rain Cover

For my thruhike, and the first time that I went backpacking for more than two nights, I invested in a $5 rain cover for my backpack from Walmart. I did not think that that it was super important, but wanted to get something more sturdy than a trash bag (been there on a 1-night trip and was forced to bail and hike back to the car the very same day because water seeped through the trash bag and soaked my sleeping bag and warm clothes, not fun). I don’t know if karma had it out for me this trip, but it rained every.single.day that we were on trail, usually for about an hour in the afternoon (seasonal monsoons in the Sierra are no joke). My rain cover for my pack came in handy much more than I anticipated, and although my rain cover totally worked, I probably would have spent just a little more money had I known that I would need it so often.


Necessities:

First-aid Kit Adventure Medical Kit

For as long as I’ve been backpacking, I’ve always used these Adventure Medical Kits. For the most part, they come with everything that I need, but I always add a few more bandaids, a tube of Neosporin, and nail clippers to my kit – I am very disaster prone, and tend to need more bandages and Neosporin than the average hiker (oops).

HeadlampCheap Headlamp

Funny story – if there is anything in this life that gives my dear, feisty British grandmother ultimate pleasure, it is yelling at her three granddaughters for not giving her what she believes to be a completed birthday list. As the eldest of the three granddaughters, I learned from a very young age to be very specific with my birthday list, so when I needed a new headlamp, I put “headlamp – don’t care which brand, doesn’t need to be expensive at all” on my list and called it good. Lo and behold, I still got a phone call from her saying, “I don’t know what this means! Do you mean a headlamp from the 99-cent store??” I legit think that she then proceeded to buy me a headlamp from the 99-cent store to protest my vagueness, and you know what? It is the best headlamp I’ve ever had. I’ve linked a cheap headlamp in the heading above, but I think the moral of the story is that most all headlamps are made the same, and there truly is no reason to spend more than ten bucks on one. Thanks, GMA.

Maps – National Geographic Yosemite SE: Ansel Adams Wilderness topographic map, Mammoth Lakes/Mono Divide topographic map, and Sequoia Kings Canyon National Parks topographic map

My favorite maps are, by far, the National Geographic topographic maps. They are super easy to read, waterproof, and “tear-resistant” (not entirely convinced about that, but I haven’t had any problems with any of them so far!). They actually have an entire John Muir Trail topographic map, but it comes in booklet form, which I don’t love. Instead, I elected to get three separate maps and absolutely love them, so if you too like big maps, I would recommend these three. Overall, if you are in the market for a new map, National Geographic is super on top of their map game.

Water FilterMSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter Water Filter

I brought a MSR pump water filter on the JMT and do not regret the weight for a second. This thing may be heavy, but it is reliable AF. The filter that I brought was literally 13 years old at this point, and I still use it to this day. I have since switched to a Sawyer Squeeze filter to save weight, but if I’m being completely honest, I’m not in love with it and might switch back to the MSR pump soon.

*Edit* – I originally started writing this blog post about 5 months before I published it. Since then, my Sawyer Squeeze broke after using it on only TWO TRIPS, and I have officially switched back to my old faithful MSR Pump.

Water Bladder 3L Camelback

I primarily used a 3L water bladder to carry my water. I find that I drink much more water when I am carrying it in a bladder and do not have to stop and get into my bag during water breaks.

Water Bottle48 oz Nalgene

I did bring a Nalgene as a tool to pump water and then pour it in my bladder, but there is so much water in the Sierra that I rarely ever had both my bladder and my water bottle full at the same time. The only time that I filled both my water bottle and water bladder was for Whitney, as pumping water in the Whitney Zone kind of grosses me out (if you know, you know).

JetboilJetBoil Flash Camping Stove

The JetBoil is a gift sent from the master hiking god itself. My JetBoil can boil 2 cups of water within 2 minutes or less, which saves fuel, time, and hunger pains. Since purchasing my JetBoil, I can probably count the times that I’ve used my MSR Pocket Rocket on one hand; with a JetBoil, there is no need. If you are a backpacker who has not invested in a JetBoil yet, you are doing it wrong (sorry not sorry). Tell your friends, tell your family, tell strangers on the trail. I’ll be right there with you, singing the praises of a JetBoil from every mountaintop in sight.

Pocket Stove and PotMSR Pocket Rocket Camping Stove

Part of my food list included rice sides, pasta sides, and spaghetti with dehydrated pesto sauce. Although we were bringing a JetBoil, these dishes all required boiling the food in water to cook it, and I didn’t want to dirty up my JetBoil with anything but water, so I decided to also bring my MSR pocket rocket. If I’m being honest? This was a total waste of space and weight. We used it maybe three times during the entire 17 days? We were too worried about using up too much fuel and the sides took too long to cook. For my next thru-hike, I will only bring my JetBoil and food that did not need boiling.

FuelBackpacking Fuel

Our longest stretch was 14 days, so we brought two full small cans of fuel to last us for the two weeks. We were really only using fuel at night to boil the water for our dehydrated dinners and in the morning for coffee, and since the JetBoil boils water so quickly, we had plenty of fuel left over. That being said, that did not stop me from grabbing a half-full fuel canister in the hiker box at Muir Trail Ranch… but I totally could have gone without it. I really don’t know what the magic number is for fuel canisters, but I suggest bringing as many as makes you feel comfortable.

Lighter Bic Classic Lighter

Get a multi-pack from a gas station just in case you lose one!

Camping MugTOAKS Titanium Backpacking Mug

Alright, y’all. I’m about to drop some priceless backpacking knowledge on ya. Two words – powdered. gatorade. Powdered gatorade SAVED me on this trip (and probably every other strenuous backpacking trip that I’ve taken). There is really nothing quite like getting to camp after a long day, throwing down your pack, and chugging gatorade that you have made in your camping mug. The thought of it honestly got me through the last few miles of hiking each day. Now, I don’t drink coffee, so powdered gatorade was the only thing that I needed my mug for, but my mug is super light, so I didn’t mind bringing it. The mug that I have is a super old plastic mug that I could not find for sale on the internet ANYWHERE, so I linked a mug that I would probably purchase myself if I needed a new one. I like mugs that have handles so that I can clip them to the outside of my backpack, but really any old (light!) mug will do.

Spork Light My Fire Camping Spork

My favorite spork is the Light My Fire camping spork. It is cheap, durable, and functional. Very easy to replace if necessary.

KnifePocket Knife

It always surprises me how many things that I use my knife for when I go backpacking. I never really think that I’m going to use it, but always bring it “just in case,” and end up using it multiple times. A knife is good for opening up food packages, slicing summer sausage, popping blisters (after sanitizing, of course), and for peace of mind when you are hiking solo and are irrationally afraid of mountain lions (what up).

Hand Sanitizer Travel Hand Sanitizer

Necessary for washing hands before dinner, after using the bathroom, and on days where you feel especially gross. Also, a travel-sized sanitizer goes a long way.

Toiletries

My toiletries included a toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, sunscreen, a hairbrush, and hair ties, all of which were travel-sized. It is surprising how refreshed you can feel after using all of these every morning and night, despite not showering for 14 days.

For my female readers out there, I did not bring any feminine products, which ended up being just fine. I was supposed to get my period during my hike, but I started my next month’s birth control pills to skip that period. I started very lightly spotting on my very last day coming down from Whitney, so in the future, I might throw one or two products in my bag just in case, but it all worked out in the end. Also, I know a lot of female hikers will get IUDs, which can stop your periods.

Trowel, toilet paper, and wag bagTent Lab Ultralight Deuce Trowel, Wag Bag

I don’t remember what kind of trowel that I brought on the JMT, but I do remember that it was one where the handle did not fold down, and it was super bulky. I have since switched to the Tent Lab’s Ultralight Deuce (lol) and highly recommend it. Regarding wag bags, I was told that there were plenty of wag bags at Crabtree Meadows (right before the Whitney Zone, which is the only area on the JMT where you need wag bags), but I wanted to bring my own just in case they were out. Turns out that there really were plenty of wag bags at Crabtree Meadows, but I wasn’t willing to risk it, and a wag bag is so light that I didn’t mind carrying one. ALSO – if you use your wag bag in the Whitney Zone, CARRY IT OUT. I saw far too many abandoned used wag bags along the trail. Don’t be that guy.


Clothing:

Two Running Shirts

I brought two old Ragnar Relay technical short-sleeve race t-shirts to wear every day. It worked out fine – they were sweat-wicking and provided both sun protection and backpack-chafe protection. If I’m being honest though, I really only needed one. Within one day (or… one hour) of wearing each, they got super sweaty and retained their smell for the entire time. I think that I originally thought of bringing two with visions that I could “wash” one by dunking it into a river and letting it dry the next day, but I never did this. Embrace the stink and save weight – you only need one shirt.

Long-sleeve Hiking ShirtColumbia Hiking Shirt

I brought a “technical” Columbia hiking shirt with me, but I literally only wore it once… and that was on the day that we summited Whitney and finished our trip. I absolutely did not need to bring this, but I will say that it was nice to have a “clean” shirt for the last day. I’ve convinced myself that it was also nice to have in the car after my dad picked us up at the portal, but he quickly rolled down the windows after we piled in, so I’m not sure how much it actually helped. If I were to hike it again, I might still bring this kind of shirt, but I think that I would bring it for sun protection rather than using it as its own shirt.

Hiking Shorts – Athleta Trekkie Shorts

When I hiked the JMT, I brought a pair of $8 green-denim shorts from Wal-Mart as my “hiking shorts.” Seriously.. I think that the brand was “Old Glory” or something. Now, I’m not above getting clothes from Wal-Mart, but hiking 221 miles in cheap denim was not the best move. They chafed like hell, but I suppose they got the job done. Since then, I’ve discovered Athleta shorts for hiking shorts, and my life has been changed. Highly, highly recommend Athleta clothing for hiking.

Two Pairs of Hiking Socks – Wildly Good hiking socks – 20% off with code MEGHIKES

I’ve talked at length about my woes and perils with hiking socks on my blog before, so I’ll spare you the details here. Basically, I wore a set of REI hiking socks that did not work for me. If I were to hike it again, I would definitely bring along a pair of Wildly Good hiking socks – 20% off with code MEGHIKES

Two Pairs of Hiking Sock Liners –

Again, I’ll spare you the gory details and allow you to check out my blog post all about my woes with hiking socks, but for the JMT I wore a set of REI hiking socks [AND SOCK LINERS] that did not work for me (sound familiar?). I’ll definitely be skipping these on my next thru-hike.

Hiking Hat – Mammoth Brewing Co. Baseball Cap

I brought a Mammoth Brewing Co. baseball cap for my hat on the JMT, but if I were to do it again, I might bring one that a) had some sort of neck protection (I got the most INSANE neck tan), and b) I wouldn’t care if it got sun-bleached as hell. Honestly, any old hat would work so long as you have some protection for your head from that High Sierra sun!

Leggings – Fabletics Leggings

I brought a pair of Fabletics leggings on my trip, and was really pleased with how they stood up! I’m not sure if all Fabletics leggings are made the same, but my pair is exceptionally thick. They kept me super warm at night and in the early mornings before hiking out. I would definitely recommend finding a thicker pair to take on your trip!

Fleece Jacket – North Face Fleece

I actually think that they do not sell my North Face fleece jacket anymore, which is a major bummer because that thing rules. Would highly recommend bringing some sort of fleece to wear under a puffy – it sure can get cold! (or snow!!)

Puffy – Cirq Down Jacket

I got my first puffy jacket off of The Clymb for like $40, so when it arrived and was too big for me, I really didn’t care enough to switch it out for a smaller size. I have since purchased a Patagonia puffy jacket (for only $50 from an REI Garage Sale – originally priced at about $250, what up), and like the fit a lot more, but this jacket did the job and you couldn’t beat its price point. Puffy jackets also work as great pillows while you sleep!

Beanie – Mammoth Brewing Co. Beanie

I was pretty much a walking Mammoth Brewing Co. billboard on the JMT. Be sure to bring a warm beanie for those cold nights!

Gloves – North Face Etip Gloves

I actually took a pair of Black Diamond gloves on the JMT with me, but I can’t find the exact pair that I took online (which is a huge bummer because those things rule – I actually bought a second pair about a year after I bought my first because I loved them so much). I tried to find a similar pair and linked them above!

Rain Jacket – REI Rain Jacket

Did I purchase an XL Children’s REI rain jacket to bring on the JMT because it cost at least $50 less than a Women’s size? Yes. Are rain jackets ridiculously overpriced? Also yes. BUT, you would be very miserable on a thru-hike in the Sierra without one, so definitely put some sort of rain jacket on your list!

Rain Pants – REI Rain Pants

On a whim, I grabbed a pair of rain pants out of the REI clearance section. Honestly, I think I wore them twice over the full 17 days. I probably would not bring them again, but they were nice to have on the two times that I wore them.

Sports Bra/Underwear –

I brought two sports bras and seven pair of underwear on my trip. I brought enough underwear so that for my longest stretch without a washing machine (14 days), I could wear a pair one day and then wear them inside out the next, and then move onto the next pair. This way, I always had a pair of “clean” underwear each day. Kind of gross, but worked for me.

Sleep Shirt –

Fun fact about me – I cannot sleep in a dirty shirt when I backpack. I brought an extra cotton shirt for sleeping in and would definitely do it again!

Sleep Socks –

See above re: sleeping in dirty socks. Cannot do it. Brought a separate pair of sleeping socks, and enjoyed every ounce that it may have added to my pack.

Hiking Boots – La Sportiva FC ECO 3.2 GTX Hiking Boot

I’ve written at length about my hiking boots in a previous post, but I wore the La Sportiva FC ECO 3.2 GTX Hiking Boot for all 17 days on the John Muir Trail! I absolutely love these boots and highly recommend looking for something similar (as they don’t make this exact model anymore.. ugh).

Camp Shoes – Mary Jane Crocs

Not gonna lie, I’ve recently noticed there are a lot of haters of camp shoes out there… and honestly, I cannot figure out why. I cannot even express how good it feels to finally get to camp and throw off those sweaty hiking shoes that you’ve been wearing all day long. My favorite camp shoes are a pair of Crocs Mary Janes. I actually received these as a joke-gift from my sweet college roommate, Paige, who absolutely LOVED crocs (much to my disgust). I gotta say though – I’m a changed woman. I now never go on a backpacking trip without my crocs. They are perfect for hanging around the campsite in or changing into after you are done with your hike. These crocs are lightweight, and since they have a strap around the top of your foot, stay on at all times! The pair that I listed are not the exact same pair that I have, but they are very similar.

Sunglasses

I’m notorious for losing sunglasses, so I brought a super cheap pair with me on the trail. Worked out great!


Non-Essentials:

JournalPaper Journal

I brought along a very light paper journal to write in every night. It’s amazing how much I have forgotten about since hiking the trail five years ago – so I absolutely love having that journal to look back on.

BookThe Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes

Did I bring an entire 480-page book on the JMT? Yes. Did I also finish said book two days into our ten-day section, and then have to carry the finished book for eight long days? Also yes. Some hikers will discourage bringing a e-/book, but I would definitely recommend it. Although I was absolutely beat getting to camp each afternoon, we did have a lot of downtime in between eating dinner and going to bed. I really enjoyed reading (and then re-reading) my book. If I were to hike the JMT again (or for my next long hike), I will definitely switch out a paperback book with a few pre-downloaded books on my Amazon Kindle. The weight (and ability to bring more than one book!) was very worth it to me. Also, if you are looking for a book review – 7/10.

iPhone – iPhone 4 (lol)

Digital CameraCanon Powershot Digital Camera

For my camera, I brought my little Canon Powershot digital camera (hey – it was 2015, okay?). The camera did its job and I got some good photos, but they definitely aren’t DSLR quality… even though I did own a Nikon DSLR at the time. Looking back, I wish I would have brought my Nikon and taken more time to get some really great pictures of the more remote parts of the trail. Since then, I’ve learned that camera weight is always worth it to me… I guess that means I’ll just have to hike it again!

Portable ChargerAnker Powercore

I brought along a portable charger on my trip to power up my iPhone when it started to get low on battery. I’m pretty sure I got mine for about $5 at Radio Shack before they went out of business, and I do not remember for the life of me what kind it was. That being said, it ran out of battery the day before we ended our trip.. so don’t sleep on the cheap stuff! I’ve linked a similar charger above.