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Your questions needed for new BPL column
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Andrew Skurka
(askurka) - F
Your questions needed for new BPL column on 11/03/2006 09:59:23 MST Print View

In 2007 Backpacking Light Magazine will be featuring an "Ask Us" column in their online and print magazines. We are aiming for 16 columns -- 4 in the quarterly print publication, and 1 each month in the online magazine.

I am currently seeking good questions about any backpacking/thru-hiking related topic. Because Backpacking Light already has knowledgeable Section Editors for most gear categories (e.g. Trekking Poles, Lighting), I would like to stay away from direct gear comparisons, e.g. "Why do you use the GoLite Ether windshirt instead of the Marmot Ion?" Instead, I would like the questions to be more general, and more applicable to long-distance backpacking. For example, take the previous question and change it to, "Why do you take a windshirt on every long-distance hike you go on? And what characteristics should I look for when buying one?"

Other questions can relate to planning ("How do you select your resupply locations?"), gear selection ("What layering system do you recommend for winter snowshoeing in Minnesota?"), technique ("How do you pitch a poncho tarp?"), food and hydration ("What do you eat?" or "What do you use for water purification?"), and any thing else you really want to know about and think other people would want to know about too.

If you have great questions, or lots of great questions, e-mail them all to me at

I appreciate you sending the questions you have and helping to steer the content of this column. I will let you know if I select one (or more) of your questions. And I'll probably respond to you anyway even if I don't. Thanks very much.


Ron Moak
(rmoak) - F
Re: Your questions needed for new BPL column on 11/03/2006 10:40:19 MST Print View

I would split your original question into two parts. "What are the advantages or disadvantages of carrying a wind shirt?" “How is my hiking style altered or enhanced by this piece of gear?"

Personally, I've done two thru-hikes and never carried a wind shirt. I've only started carrying one recently and thus the jury is still out on whether it will be a permanent part of my pack's inventory. As you’re well aware, in order for any item of gear to be properly evaluated it must be done in context with its use. The problem is that describing use is far more complex than simply describing functionality. This is because use is a part of an overall system that includes the interaction between an item of gear and the rest of our gear. It’s also significantly affected by our overall hiking styles.

Also equally important is to understand the affects of not taking an item of gear. Can it benefits be obtained by another item of gear? Can I eliminate it if I change my hiking style? Can I eliminate it by altering where or when I hike? What happens if it fails? Is it a weak link that will contribute to a systemic failure? Is there sufficient flexibility in the overall system to compensate for the failure?

The complexity of deriving answers to all of these questions is the primary reason we discuss gear mostly at a superficial level.


Andrew Skurka
(askurka) - F
Questions needed for new BPL column on 11/03/2006 10:48:21 MST Print View

Ron - Interesting and insightful commentary.

But I'd like to keep this post on-topic. So, going forward, please post only questions for this new column, or send them to the address specified above. Thanks.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Your questions needed for new BPL column on 11/03/2006 11:44:47 MST Print View

I'd love to see questions related to extended winter travel.

Your example "What layering system do you recommend for winter snowshoeing in Minnesota?" would be good, especially if it dealt with a hypothetical multi day cycle covering changing climate conditions. I'm imaginging something along the lines of what clothing you'd have and how you'd use it in different climate conditions and also through the daily cycle (sleep, emerge, hike, make camp, sleep again.

Edited by jcolten on 11/03/2006 11:47:47 MST.

Glenn Roberts
(garkjr) - F

Locale: Southwestern Ohio
Questions for new column on 11/03/2006 12:58:22 MST Print View

Jim: How about something along the lines of "at what point do you consider switching from a frameless pack to a light internal frame pack?" or its mirror: "at what point do you consider switching from a light internal frame pack to a frameless pack?" In addition to the obvious weight-of-your-gear answer, you could discuss the need to plan the whole trip (will you ever need to carry 5 quarts of water, doubling the weight of your pack?), the effect of bulk v. weight (at what point does the pack become too floppy?), the impact of a hipbelt (maybe you switch at a lower weight if there's no hipbelt?), and personal preference/comfort issues; durability (important to long hikes) could even fit in.

You could also expand this to a more general topic: at what point does trimming more weight mean you give up more comfort, function, versatility, or ease of use than you're willing to sacrifice?

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Ask Us: Skurka on 11/08/2006 08:00:41 MST Print View

What's your take on special footwear considerations for long distance hiking vs. weekend hiking?

1. Stiffness of shoe;
2. Orthotics or no;
3. Any application for waterproof shoes?
4. Lacing considerations;

I propose that for short days most of us can get by with anything but for long days the game changes. And for long days, day after week after month...that's where you come in!

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Your questions needed for new BPL column on 11/08/2006 11:00:45 MST Print View

What foot care and sock strategies work for long distance hiking or long mileage days in a weekend hike? What morning, daytime, and after-hike routines work for prevention of blisters, excessive swelling, etc.? Things like hydropel use, cleaning, changing socks during the day, feet elevation, shoe-off time during day, etc.

Edited by jshann on 11/08/2006 11:04:10 MST.

Andrew Skurka
(askurka) - F
Questions needed for new BPL column on 11/08/2006 15:56:05 MST Print View

I have not received many questions about food. Should I take this to be a sign of lacking interest, or does anyone want to know about this subject?

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: Questions needed for new BPL column on 11/08/2006 15:57:22 MST Print View

I thought all you ate was Balance Bars :)

Andrew Skurka
(askurka) - F
Re: Re: Questions needed for new BPL column on 11/08/2006 16:01:21 MST Print View

I essentially do, but there's a great explanation for that (besides getting them for free). Balance Bars or Clif Bars or Power Bars, there's lessons to be learned from the all-bar diet. There are other parts to this issue, including town binging and body weight management.

Roger B
(rogerb) - MLife

Locale: Here and there
Correlation on 11/08/2006 16:12:00 MST Print View

Andrew as you have stated BPL has lots of good section editors who often write very informative reviews about gear or other issues. So my question is "What is the correlation between a BPL reviewers experiences with a piece of gear and the experience of a normal UL hiker?"

Christopher Plesko
(Pivvay) - F

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Re: Correlation on 11/08/2006 16:14:28 MST Print View

Food question:
What is the food motivation when all you eat is bars? I can do it but with a little ti stove I can make freezer bag meals which are so warm and comforting at the end of a hard day. Do you substitute just town binging for that or do you carry limited capacity to make hot meals?

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Your questions needed for new BPL column on 11/08/2006 16:35:06 MST Print View

I think a good discussion of long distance hiking would include the following questions.

What administrative tasks must I accomplish prior to this hike? i.e. route finding, attainment of permits, mail drops, et al.

What is my training regiment going to be six months to the hike? Three months? One month? Two weeks?

Assuming I will be buying and preparing all my food before the trip through use of a dehydrator how can I avoid the "same old *BEEP*" blues after eating the same ten or fifteen meals over and over again? And subsequently [possibly a whole seperate topic] how do I plan meals healthy enough to avoid getting sick?

What kind of emotional situations have other thru-hikers encountered on the trail were those hikers able to overcome or be overcome by these issues?

How, after completing a hike of many months duration do I go back to what I was doing before?

(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
Your questions on 11/08/2006 17:26:35 MST Print View

Andrew: Have you noticed either that bears cannot or definitely can detect a pack full of Balance Bars? Do you re-package them (the bars, not the bears.)

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Your questions on 11/08/2006 20:18:21 MST Print View

The Balance Bar adhesive is water soluble. Even storing them in high humidity will allow the adhesive to loosen.

(jhaura) - F

Locale: Trail
To Cook or Not? on 11/08/2006 22:05:03 MST Print View

Consider the following question without regard to psychological factors such as "warm meal comfort," "cooking as part of the experience," etc:

On long distance trips or consistent short trips, can one skip the stove, fuel and cookpot and maintain health, stamina and nutrition?

What would a sample menu look like for 3000-4000 calories per day?

We saw Al Shaver's turkey jerky/bar/accelerade and Bill Fornshell's liquid diet menus. Are bars or energy drinks really enough?

What if you can't dip your finger in the ranch dressing every so often in town? Can you still go long with a no-cook menu?

I for one would love to drop the cooking gear, but wonder if I could eat bars every day. Is this the psych factor creeping in, or is my body trying to tell me something?

Well, maybe I have some "food" for thought...

Roman Dial
(romandial) - F - M

Locale: packrafting NZ
?s for Skurka on 11/08/2006 22:33:47 MST Print View

How much do you sleep when you walk far?

How far can you walk without sleeping? How far if you are low on food?

How fast do you heal? Does it depend on your sleeping? On your eating?

What's the relationship between eating, sleeping, healing, and walking?

If food is body fuel, water body lubricant, what does that make sleep? Body repair.....

And what about human that a help or a hindrance to long distance walking?

What do you do about mood swings?

Do you like to talk when you walk?

Do you like to talk to strangers?

When the weather sucks and your feet hurt and your wife/girlfriend is leaving you for someone else -- what then?

Do your feet ever hurt? Do everybodies feet hurt at some point? Where? Inside, outside? Toes, balls, heels?

Why bother with insoles? Why bother with orthotics?

What do you think about when you start a long walk/ What about when you near the end?

Why don't you do big things with other people? Or do you? Why is walking a solo-ist thing when done big?

What constitutes a big thing?

Why bother when there's a war?

In your opinion -- What's better: cold food and no stove, hot food and stovel, or hot food with no stove (wood)?

What's better counting calories or counting pounds of food when planning a long triup and why?

Why do you do your long trips on trails and roads?

Why don't we hear about people doing long trips off-trail? Are they not doing it? Or is it that they just don't tell us, 'cause the long trippers on trail are more social anyway and feel the need to tell us?

aaron eshelman
(djaaronreed) - MLife

Locale: Central Rockies
Re: Your questions needed for new BPL column on 11/08/2006 22:40:30 MST Print View


1. If you were to have to go into a store and pick out bars for your hike (if you weren't sponsored), what would you be looking for in the nutrition label?

2. How does this information relate into your selection for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack?

3. Any favorites? Brands? Tastes? Combinations of all the above?

4. For the heavier hikers that are slowly making their way outdoors and to a healthy/ier lifestyle, how would you approach their nutritional requirements? What advice could you give to them on being safe and healthy in the backcountry using lightweight food such as bars and/or dried and dehydrated meals?

5. What in your experience DOESN'T work for you on a long extended hike lasting over a week? Could you elaborate why and how you came to your conclusions?

Jon Priest
(jwetzelp) - F

Locale: Central Arkansas
Psychological Issues Would Be Neat to Address on 11/08/2006 22:58:11 MST Print View

Everybody I've heard from regarding thru hikes has talked about mental, not physical, difficulties/limitations making the trip difficult. What about addressing the psychological issues involved in a "long hike"...assumed in this case to be solo.

What feelings typically crop up and when?

Are any cycles or patterns formed?

If so, do they follow time of day, level of fatigue, etc?

How can one stay motivated to achieve the goal they've set out for despite these difficulties?

What's the motivation for such a hike?

Do specific types of people embark on them?

What type of person quits and why?


(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
Your questions on 11/09/2006 16:42:57 MST Print View

Andrew: As a very young man with time for several careers ahead, have you considered high altitude mountaineering? This field has a long history of going light. Reinhold Messner soloed Everst in 1980 without oxygen, (He wouldn't have gotten far without ANY oxygen. He used what little was in the air, he just didn't use bottled O2.) He had custom titanium crampons, Ti ice axe, and a custom tent so tiny he couldn't stretch out in it. And when Steve House soloed K7, he did it with a pack plus contents in the 7 to 8 pound range. Of course, there is that sudden death thing.