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Planning my lady's introduction to backpacking
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Matthew Marasco
(BabyMatty) - F

Locale: Western/Central PA, Adirondacks
Planning my lady's introduction to backpacking on 10/21/2010 21:39:46 MDT Print View

Here's a little background. My girl is a total newb at (what most people refer to as) camping. Unfortunately, I'mg beginning to believe that the fact that I enjoy an activity that requires we be apart for days at a time is something she's become a bit resentful of.

Recently, I asked her if she'd like to come along on a sort of "test" trip, to see if it's something she could tolerate or even (gasp!) enjoy. Surprisingly, she was very receptive to the idea, despite that she's originally a California beach girl who constantly seems to be chilly.

Our plan is to do an overnighter at the Minister Creek Trail in the Allegheny Nat'l Forest in western PA. It's only a seven-mile loop, but a truly magical place. We were thinking of doing it over the long holiday weekend around Thanksgiving, which would mean lows around freezing, and very chilly mornings.

Anyone here have similar stories? What are some of the things you did to make it a special experience for your lady? I plan on taking my Osprey Argon 70 for the trip, and giving her a small daypack, so she will barely have to carry a load. I've loaded that beast with 80 lbs for four-mile training hikes all summer long, and it's a really short trail, so weight is definitely not a concern here.

Luxury items I planned on bringing were a queen-sized heavyweight blanket, a pound of bacon, 4 eggs, a 1 lb coleman steel fry-pan, pancake mix, extra bowls and utensils, an 3 lb Fiskars axe (so we can have a rager of a fire to stay warm til bed), and a ton of those disposable hand and foot warmer packs.

Our sleep system will be two 1/8" thinlights on the ground, and I'm debating on either getting 2 thicker CCF pads such as z-lites or GG Nightlights to put on top of those, or lugging the old Thermarest Trail Lites I have with me. For a bag, we will be sharing two Lafuma sleeping bags mated together. One is 750 fill down and rated to 30 degress, the other is 650 fill and rated to 40. I consider both ratings to be a bitoptimistic for most people, but seem to be accurate for my warm-blooded self. I will position them so that the 40 degree bag is under us, and the loftier 30 degree bag is on top. I'll also have a queen-sized heavyweight blanket that we will be using by the fire, which could be brought into the bag with us for additional insulation. All of this will be on top of a Heatsheetz ground sheet.

The shelter will be my Copper Spur 1 pitched in fast-fly mode, lined on the inside by the Heatsheetz.

Have any of you guys been in a similar situation? If so, how did it go? What would you have done different? I'd love to get some feedback on this, as I'm hoping for the trip to go as smoothly as possible. Thanks!

Edited by BabyMatty on 10/21/2010 21:43:53 MDT.

Rick M
(rmjapan) - F

Locale: London, UK
Planning my lady's introduction on 10/21/2010 21:57:17 MDT Print View


Edited by rmjapan on 06/18/2015 02:59:01 MDT.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Planning my lady's introduction to backpacking on 10/21/2010 22:19:46 MDT Print View

I'm not sure I'd want to take a beginner out during the cold weather and long nights of late November. May might be a better time.

Most of us women tend to get chilly, so make sure she has plenty of layers in which to bundle up! I've spent some time on California beaches and found them "warm" only by comparison with Oregon and Washington.

One other thing--are you really sure she wants all this stuff done for her, or would she prefer to participate fully including carrying her share of the load? Neither I nor most other women I know want to be treated as fragile little things to be wrapped in cotton wool! It might be flattering for occasional short periods, but it very soon loses its charm and becomes extremely annoying.

Edited by hikinggranny on 10/21/2010 22:27:52 MDT.

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Planning my lady's introduction to backpacking on 10/21/2010 22:25:42 MDT Print View

Too risky if it's gonna be at all cold. At some point you have to get out of bed. Wait til spring.

David T
(DaveT) - F
mary d. on 10/22/2010 00:37:20 MDT Print View

i will take this moment to reflect upon collective comments of yours of the last several months to say... you rock!

p.s. also just reminded me of an all time classic. lamb "cottonwool"

Edited by DaveT on 10/22/2010 00:39:51 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Planning my lady's introduction to backpacking on 10/22/2010 01:12:07 MDT Print View

Wait for summer, car camp and day hikes, or find a trail-hardy companion:

Grandma Gatewood

My wife traversed the Olympics and did the Wonderland Trail before I met her. I'm not telling her how to do anything :)

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: Planning my lady's introduction to backpacking on 10/22/2010 02:55:46 MDT Print View

I would start with day hikes. Then maybe a little car camping. Then if she likes both, do an overnighter in optimal conditions. And if she does not like it, learn to go solo.

My wife will do long day hikes... 10 or more miles doesn't faze her. She loves to camp... if it does not include sleeping on the ground.

I am not going to try and convince her to backpack. I could probably do it, but she would only do it to please me, and that is not fair to her.

If I had to give up one... backpacking or my wife, it would be backpacking. She is the most important thing in my life. But neither of us demands the other give up something they enjoy immensely. Fortunately most things we enjoy doing, we enjoy doing together.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Planning my lady's introduction to backpacking on 10/22/2010 03:23:58 MDT Print View

> I plan on taking my Osprey Argon 70 for the trip, and giving her a small
> daypack, so she will barely have to carry a load.
Make sure she is happy with this idea.

> Luxury items I planned on bringing were a queen-sized heavyweight blanket
Forget it. Too heavy and it will get dirty - which will worry her even if it doesn't worry you!

>a pound of bacon, 4 eggs
Sounds rather a lot to me, unless it's also dinner.

>a 1 lb coleman steel fry-pan
Oh blimey! A decent Al pan with a solid base would be better.

> pancake mix,
Yum - with butter and jam.
What about tea, coffee or cocao?

> extra bowls and utensils
Why? A flip for the pancakes, maybe, but the rest is superfluous.

> an 3 lb Fiskars axe (so we can have a rager of a fire to stay warm til bed),
Bad idea. You just don't need an axe: collect sticks. And a small fire is warmer; you can get close to it.

> and a ton of those disposable hand and foot warmer packs.
No way! Try instead warm fluffy socks, a warm bed-cap, and remember that the biggest and nicest hot water bottle she can have is ... you.

> Our sleep system will be two 1/8" thinlights on the ground,
Now that WILL kill the trip. WAY TOO THIN!

> Thermarest Trail Lites
Put these over the ThinLight foam.

Remember, no matter how warm and well-fed she is, if she can't sleep because the bed is too hard and lumpy, you are dead in the water. Good air mats are really essential at this stage.

>I will position them so that the 40 degree bag is under us, and the loftier 30 degree bag is on top.
I suggest very different. GOOD air mats underneath, some sort of sheet over them maybe if you insist (although I prefer liners or pyjamas), and the quilts over the top. Tie the mats together so there is no gap between them.

Keep it simple.


carl becker
(carlbecker) - F

Locale: Northern Virginia
My wife and overnight hiking on 10/22/2010 06:41:20 MDT Print View

My wife has gone on many hikes, car camping and overnighter's into the woods plus we have done many white water canoe trips. She did not own a sleeping bag when we first dated. Even though this may be a special trip I am not sure it is a good idea to get to far from reality that is your normal hiking routine. As Roger mentioned an air mattess can be a great item. It was in our case. We preferred normal hiking food that would be usually carried, that way expectations are set. I would discuss food with her and see what she wanted to carry. My wife and I are pretty much 50/50, she likes to do her part as do I just like living together. We don't usually do fires but that and some marshmellows can be "special". Consider that special may be more about sharing what and how you hike and at what comfort level than bringing along the kitchen sink. I would rather see a beautiful sunset or waterfall and eat oatmeal, what is her opinion? Most important is what she expects and how you both can plan it. Car camping and day hiking at great places is certainly a good place to start. Make sure her feet are cared for. Blisters will make it bad.
I prefer to under promise and over deliver. It seems in the end people are much happier that way. Say it will be a bit harder and colder so she can be mentally prepared. When is not that tough then she may be more inclined to go again. Promise nice and sunny and get two days of rain that may be the end of it.

Edited by carlbecker on 10/22/2010 08:28:19 MDT.

Sarah Kuhn
(SCKuhn) - MLife

Locale: Mountainous Ohio
Western PA in late Nov on 10/22/2010 08:17:47 MDT Print View

Western PA in late November has the potential to be TOO cold for a first timer unless you are in the extreme southern portion.... Like others said, wait till spring.

I question if your Lafuma bags will be warm enough - I have several Lafuma bags and while I love them, they are grossly overstated on the temperature rating.

Andy F
(AndyF) - F

Locale: Ohio
Re: Planning my lady's introduction to backpacking on 10/22/2010 10:14:01 MDT Print View

I think it's too cold for a first trip. It's possible for temps to be down into the 20's F that time of year, along with snow on the ground.

I wouldn't take many of those heavy extras.

Get her a real pack, and have her carry sleeping bag, pad, clothes, water. All of that should be an insignificant 10 lbs or less.

Your double bag will probably let in too many drafts for comfort at those temps. Use down mummy bags. Get a full length Exped DownMat 7 for her, and a much warmer pad for you also. A fleece headband is great for preventing cold noses while sleeping.

Extra socks and other warm clothing are important. In general, women need a sleeping bag rated 10 F colder than men.

Make sure she is ok with your water treatment method.

She would likely feel more comfortable in a fully zipped up tent, both for draft and psychological comfort.

Edited by AndyF on 10/22/2010 10:15:02 MDT.

Ben R
(snowfiend131) - MLife

Locale: Western PA
Western PA in Late November on 10/22/2010 10:17:59 MDT Print View

I've done the Minister Creek loop multiple times, very easy and nice. The trail runs thru rock formations which are very cool. The Tracy Ridge Trail system by Allegheny Reservoir is also a nice nearby option. If you want slightly warmer conditions, go southwestern PA - Quebec Run Wild Area is very scenic.

With the gear you listed, you will not be warm enough in late November, nor comfortable enough sleeping on the ground. It could easily get below freezing at night. Get insulated airmats, which will be warmer and more comfortable. Fix them together to prevent an air gap between them. Get a bag rated for 20 degrees F or lower to put on top of you, or put both bags on top and block drafts on bottom with a sheet as previously suggested. My wife and I regularly share a two person top bag with zip in sheet on the bottom. The lack of usable hoods and the drafts between two people moving around make it less warm than individual bags of the same rating (in my experience, the shared body heat does not make up for this). Wear as warm of headgear as you can find.

The Minister Creek area is highly used and somewhat abused. Do not bring an heavy and destructive axe for firewood, make a small, reasonable fire with found dead and downed wood that can be broken to length by hand.

Have a warm jacket (down or synthetic) for sitting around in the evening and morning. Bring hot cocoa, tea, or coffee.

Elizabeth Tracy
(mariposa) - M

Locale: Outside
Wait till May or June on 10/22/2010 10:25:11 MDT Print View

How about doing some long day hikes with her for now, but saving the b-packing for May or June.

I've introduced a lot of newbies to b-packing. What I've noticed is that whatever characterizes their first trip, they will fear is true of all trips. November nights are not only cold, but *really, really long.* Staying in a horizontal position for the duration of the dark and cold, close to the longest nights of the year, is, well, tedious. (Sore back, anyone?) By taking her out in November, you are risking that she'll never agree to try it with you again.

I'm a cold sleeper too. If you do go, your greatest task will be to make sure she is indeed warm enough. Coupling up is not *always* warmer than sleeping individually, b/c even though you benefit from the joint body heat, you also create a draft effect at the tops of the bags. 30 degree bag is *marginal* for a cold sleeper, I use a 15-degree bag in the Sierra summers. She will definitely need: A down jacket to sleep in; warm longjohns & hat; a *much* warmer sleeping pad than those thinlights!; down booties or angora socks. And, in spite of what any warmer sleepers might say, there is no question she will need for her feet either toewarmers or a hot water bottle, in spite of/in addition to any fuzzy warm socks or body heat she may be getting. For cold female sleepers, getting those feet warm is the crux of the cold-weather experience, requiring multiple strategies together to make it happen.

Carrying one's share of backpacking equipment should be a requirement. It's just not that hard. I can't think of a single woman I've gone out with who couldn't handle her load, even heavy loads. She will adjust. If you carry pounds for her, you're actually sending her a message that backpacking (carrying a load) is really difficult and tedious, something she should somehow be protected from (but will face in the future if she does it again). You're turning a Not A Big Deal into A Big Deal.

Getting cold and/or wet, or not enjoying the dark or the still of autumn/lack of leaves/color, is far more likely to turn her off than carrying her share of pounds (hopefully in the range of 15-35) in a comfy pack.

Hope that's helpful!

- Elizabeth

Eric Lundquist
(cobberman) - F - M

Locale: Northern Colorado
Re: Planning my lady's introduction to backpacking on 10/22/2010 10:30:53 MDT Print View

I've yet to take my wife camping and have been thinking of a lot of the same things. She's well aware of my addiction to finding lighter weight items and accompanies me on my REI garage sale outings. We've done up to 5 miles on some day hikes and her asthma (on steep sections) and ankles (rocky sections) seem to be the most limiting factor for her.

I've thought it through and here will be my approach. It will be her first backpacking trip and I want her to experience what I do while backpacking, but first I need to establish what her comfort level is while outdoors. First up will be a simple overnight at a campground with our typical backpacking gear. I don't want to confuse her with bacon, dutch ovens, huge blankets etc. That is a different experience than backpacking and is more reserved to 'car camping' in my opinion. From this overnight we'll be able to determine if she sleep comfortably on a Prolight mattress or Neo Air or if we'll have to try something else. We'll determine if her current sleeping bag is warm enough for her as well. Is she comfortable with the idea of an open tarp like shelter or do we need to take a fully enclosed shelter on our trips together? Does she like my selection of trail foods or does she turn up her nose at my chia breakfast? Is her selection of clothing adequate for the expected conditions?

From this overnight we'll learn a lot about what we'll need or not need on a more adventurous trip with the only difference being the miles before our camp which is not much different than our dayhikes have been.

As for who carries what, I married a strong willed woman and I know better than to try and carry most of the equipment. She has her own pack and she'll be carrying all of her own gear such as sleeping, clothing, and personal care items. Typically the food and shelter are split between a group but I think for the first few trips I'll gladly carry both if she'll let me. On a multi-day trip, maybe she'll say she's comfortable splitting it up when packing up in the morning.

EDIT: Her pack also weights about a pound more than mine so I'd factor that into the shared gear load.

Edited by cobberman on 10/22/2010 10:32:42 MDT.

Jeremy Osburn

Locale: New England
mosquito nightmare on 10/22/2010 13:39:46 MDT Print View

My girlfriends first experience was a nightmare and I wouldn't have wanted it almost any other way. I was miserable aswell. It was last summer in Vermont when we had an overly wet spring and early summer and the mosquito's never died back. We finished early with hundreds of bits even though we had deet on. Still funny for me to this day, even with that she agreed to go again this summer on the AT for a weekend and we had an excelent time, no bugs!!! She wanted to go again, becuase I told her that that was the worst camping experience I had ever had (no lie) and she really did enjoy camping and hiking.

How I aproached both trips was to take her "real backpacking". No special food, no special sleeping arangements, no major luxury items... If she doesn't like the real thing no reason to force it. There are always day hikes. I also had her involved in the planning, mostly because I can't solve how she will feel in all the environments of camping. Also she is half responsible for how the trip turns out so she should be involved in the planning. I told her how I have packed in the past and why, and then let her decide her clothes options. She insists on extra underware and a shirt per day plus one to sleep in, so that is what she gets to bring, simple enough minimal weight gain for comfort. I am sure eventually this could change as she becomes more comfortable with camping, but even if it doesn't no big deal. As far as carrying gear goes, I carry about 15-20% more of the weight becuase I can and we got her a smaller (cheaper) pack that fit right into a gap in my packs incase she didn't like the camping part;) REI Flash 15.

What I have learned:

We will always take my jetboil, she is more comfortable with the simplicity of a cook kit like that, bring along a few of her favorite snacks in reserve becuase if she is exausted and dirty and soar but there is chocolate all is right with the world. And chose quilt and sheet over sleeping bags, it feels more like home in your bed.

The more involved she is in the trip the more you find out the TRUTH about wether she likes to camp. You really won't want a backpacking partner that you have to care for 24/7 while in the woods. What fun will you have in the long run?

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Planning my lady's introduction to backpacking on 10/22/2010 16:41:42 MDT Print View

Cooking bacon is freaking messy - just carry precooked shelf stable bacon slices. You can get them in most grocery stores, either in the meat dept. or in the deli. No mess! And since it is precooked all that grease is long gone - and the same amount of bacon is lighter to carry.
As for a frypan? Get a good ultra slick one, they needn't be heavy either.
A silicone covered spatula works well for flipping pancakes.

Travis Helton
(TJ_Hiker) - F

Locale: Pacific NorthWest
Re: Re: Planning my lady's introduction to backpacking on 10/22/2010 19:18:39 MDT Print View

On the flip side, of bacon, you can cook it in a paper bag next to the fire on a hot rock. I saw it in a Backpacker magazine article and tried it at home prior to a trip. Now I use this method quite often. Simply rub the bacon along the inside of the bag until evenly "greased", drop bacon into bag, no certain method here, fold top of bag over 2-3 times. The trick is getting the bag close enough to cook, but not burn the bag. Try it at home if possible, see how it works for you. Also makes for one less pan and eggs can be added into to bag as well for extra fire proofing.

Dave Heiss

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Wife's first backpacking trip on 10/22/2010 22:52:56 MDT Print View

Years ago, when I took my new wife backpacking for the first time I did much the same level of shared planning that other posters here are advocating, but I failed to account for one important thing - her period. I can assure you from experience that (at least for my wife) PMS and the period that followed greatly magnified any and all backpacking discomforts, and despite good weather and beautiful scenery the trip was absolutely no fun for her.

To my surprise she did agree to try backpacking again a couple of years later, but I think the unpleasantness of that first trip was so imprinted in her memory she just couldn't enjoy revisiting the activity. Now its day hikes only for her, even though she really likes the outdoors.

Andy Duncan
(bluewater) - M

Locale: SoCal
Re: Re: Planning my lady's introduction to backpacking on 10/22/2010 23:19:10 MDT Print View

I like your idea of a short 7 mile intro trip. I just did an introductory backpack trip for my wife last month. It went well and she's now talking about joining me for a 2 week JMT trip next summer. If you're interested here's a link to the trip report:

Candy carried her own sleeping bag, clothes, personal misc stuff, snacks and a 1 liter platy w/ water for the trail. She used a GG Murmur and her pack weight was about 7.5 lbs including a 15 degree down bag, eb down-light jacket, silk underwear, patagonia capilene, rei shell and a wool hat and gloves. She was surprised by the light weight of her pack. . . and by carrying her own gear she felt more a part of the actual backpacking experience.

She likes the comfort and perceived security of a double wall tent so we used a BS Evo 2p/2d/2v. I agree that using the thinlight GG pads may not provide much comfort, especially in the winter. We used NeoAir's and she slept very comfortably (she slept in all three mornings). I also brought two of the BPL flexair inflatable pillows. We made sure she had all the right gear: comfortable trail runners, wool socks, synthetic shirt, lightweight hat etc.

We planned our camp menu together. Although everyone is different I can't imagine carrying a pound of bacon on the trail. We kept it simple with basic flavored oatmeal b-fasts, cheese/cracker snacks, salmon, power bars, via coffee and mountain house dehydrated dinners (chicken w/ garlic mash potatoes, beef stroganoff). . . and deserts of course.

Candy's family is from PA, and it was snowing and cold when we were there for the holidays last year. . . I would agree with the people who have suggested the summer as a better season for an intro hike.

Keeping Candy warm and comfortable was a big part of having a successful intro trip. I think carrying her own basic gear and having good food really helped, too. We only did about 7 miles/day so she ended the trip feeling good and ready for another, longer trip. Good luck!

Edited by bluewater on 10/22/2010 23:21:59 MDT.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Planning my lady's introduction to backpacking on 10/23/2010 08:23:48 MDT Print View

Ya know I was reading the OP's stuff again...personally one glaring thing I saw was the use of thinlights as pads. Unless she is used to sleeping on the floor that is a huge no. While you are planning on bringing a big blanket and could put that under you for warmth/comfort I'd suggest you actually have her sleep on one at home first.

Also...while it is fall/winter does she actually know what fast fly mode means? That she won't have a mesh liner? Will she be OK with this? That thin layer of mesh keeping out bugs/slugs can do wonders for peace of mind just saying.....

If you want to carry luxuries carry a real tent, real sleeping pads winter weight sleeping bags. That is IMO though.