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Taking the next step: overnight backpacking... help!

PostPosted: Mon Mar 27, 2017 4:04 pm
by itchbay
We're longtime car-campers (glampers?) and day-hikers, but we've been talking about doing an overnight backpacking trip for years. Unfortunately we still haven't actually done it -- one thing or another kept getting in the way. But I'm determined that this year will be the year!

In the interest of starting out a bit easy, my (probably overly ambitious) beloved had the idea of hiking from Toulume Meadows to the Valley, by way of a night's stay at Sunrise HSC, camping in TM before our trip, and camping in whatever is the current walk-in camping area in the Valley (Camp 4?). Aside from the obvious consideration of getting a permit (our schedule it quite flexible right now), that still feels like a pretty aggressive trip for two days. I mean, I *can* hike 11 miles in a day, but I'm not sure I want to. I know it's mostly downhill after Cloud's Rest, but I'm not sure if that will make enough of a difference in the difficulty level.

What I'm looking for are some suggestions for beginner-level backpacking trips in or around TM or the Valley with 1 overnight, extending out to Hetch Hetchy if necessary. If it's not an out-and-back, then we need to factor in transportation back to our car, as well as camping on either end of our trip. I've got a couple of hiking guides I'm looking through for ideas as well, but I could still use a little guidance from more experienced Yosemite backpackers.

Re: Taking the next step: overnight backpacking... help!

PostPosted: Mon Mar 27, 2017 6:28 pm
by balzaccom
First of all, Welcome!

A couple of thoughts about first trips:

1. I like the idea of a shorter trip for the first one, so that if something goes wrong or you forget a key piece of equipment, it isn't 9 or 11 miles back to the car.

2. Take your gear on a car camping trip first, even if it's only in the back yard, to make sure it all works and you know how to use it. Seriously. Nobody ever takes a boat on a cruise without a shakedown trip for this very reason.

3. What you've selected is a pretty long trip, at relatively high elevation, and no real escape route, since you are though-hiking and can't get to your car. It's a great hike. Most people do it in three days, and throw in a side trip up to the top of Clouds Rest, which has just possibly the greatest view in all of Yosemite National Park.

4. A a first trip, I'd suggest something shorter and easier. hiking to a lake that has a nice shoreline and some fishing, so that you can take it easy and not spend the whole day hiking. That gives you plenty of time to set up camp, enjoy yourself...and as an out-and-back hike, it means you can hike as far as you want the first day and stop. On a through-hike you can't do that, because you have to cover the miles to get out the next day.

We have a whole list of beginner backpacking trips in the destination section of our website---which is in my signature line.

Re: Taking the next step: overnight backpacking... help!

PostPosted: Mon Mar 27, 2017 7:31 pm
by AlmostThere
Rent instead of buy, or borrow. Places like (some online, sometimes local sporting good stores) will rent backpacking specific gear so you don't have to invest lots of money for something you aren't yet certain you will love.

Rent bear canisters at the park or online by mail from Wild ideas. Renting from Wild Ideas gives you two advantages: you get the can before the trip so you are packing and re packing it at home, where it's easier to cull stuff and leave it there instead of throwing or giving it away at the park in a parking lot, plus, the Wild Ideas cans are the lightest you'll find for the volume of the can. Also you will then be able to pack the can in the pack at home instead of feeling rushed or anxious doing it in the parking lot.

Set up and take down camp in the back yard, including using whatever stove you rent/buy.

Get food from someplace other than Mountain House -- get food from Packit Gourmet, that actually features real food and not chemicals. Or check out the recipes at and buy ingredients at grocery stores instead of paying $$$ for chemistry sets with a little flavoring.

Unpackage and try everything you buy - water filters come pre-broken sometimes, so give yourself a chance to take it back rather than get it out there and finding out a piece is cracked. Although it is a busy area and you would probably find a kind soul like me who has one to borrow.... I have filtered water for plenty of people over the years.

Don't try to go too early. September would be perfect.

Re: Taking the next step: overnight backpacking... help!

PostPosted: Tue Mar 28, 2017 11:37 am
by MadDiver
I'll agree with the others that a shorter trip would be better. A big issue that can occur backpacking vs hiking is how your feet respond with the extra weight (and/or boots vs hikers): toe mashing and blisters. 11miles mostly downhill in a day cold be a very painful way to learn that lesson. How about a nice trek up to Young Lakes? 6-ish miles, +1800', 2 ways to get there. Or if you want something a touch tamer ( i.e. outhouse) then a easy trip to Glen Aulin HSC. I'd also say, instead of going back and staying at TM after the hike.. bring an extra day of food with you (only talking about ~1-2lbs) and, if you feel like it and everything is good, just dayhike out of your camp and spend an extra night in the wilderness :)

I will disagree with AT about the food though. I just looked at a bunch of my Mt House meals and didn't find anything horrific in the ingredients and we are only talking 1 or 2 meals. Backpackers Pantry on the other hand, bleh! Alpine Aire is pretty good too.

You'll have a desire to want to pack everything and bring extras "just in case". Fight that desire as hard as you can. Bring the essentials, absolutely, but keeping your pack light goes a long way to making a pleasant experience.

Re: Taking the next step: overnight backpacking... help!

PostPosted: Tue Mar 28, 2017 11:50 am
by AlmostThere
Mountain House has a shelf life of 10 years. Not food. Sorry. :roll:

Try it at home and make sure you tolerate freeze dried meals before you take them backpacking. We had an unexpected layover day once with a newbie who had never eaten prepackaged meals like Mountain House -- his body had an unexpected and violent rejection reaction that kept him in camp begging us to go dayhiking and leave him alone so he could dig catholes in peace. We were a little worried but went fishing and left him to it. He resorted to some instant potatoes with zero other ingredients for dinner that night, and when that stayed down, we figured we could walk him to the car the next morning, slowly.

Mountain House all tastes like overspiced paper towels to me -- I can never eat more than two bites of one, and forcing it makes me ill as well. It's not a particularly unusual reaction.

Re: Taking the next step: overnight backpacking... help!

PostPosted: Tue Mar 28, 2017 4:44 pm
by Justin-T
Also, make sure you know how to put on and adjust your pack properly, it can make a night and day difference. If you do it right the weight is on your hips, not your shoulders. Start with a pack that's the right size (length) for your torso and then follow the same sequence each time you put it on. This site has the best instructions (and a video at the bottom) I've seen:

And if you don't normally hike with poles I'd recommend you do so with a backpack, they definitely help to distribute the weight and stop you from overbalancing due to becoming more top-heavy.

You'll be glad you've taken the plunge, backpacking is the way to go!

Re: Taking the next step: overnight backpacking... help!

PostPosted: Tue Mar 28, 2017 10:29 pm
by WanderingJim
The first time I did a overnight backpacking trip, I did it at Angel Island in the Bay Area. Granted it was an Island, so no way to hike out late at night. :) But it's also in cell range, so a pretty safe bet. Being in cell range for your test trips of 2-3 nights is a very good idea.

Start with a lighter pack and work up to a full pack (I started with 30 pounds for a single night and have done up to 48 pounds for 4-5 nights. Going to try for 6-7 nights this year... Not sure what the weight will be yet.

I also built up my gear piece by piece, testing each piece in fairly safe locations. The real light stuff will cost you, but it's light (but not always very durable so be gentle with it).

Your first overnight backpacking shouldn't be in Yosemite. Once you have some shorter hikes near civilization, a good first trip may be to start at Big Oak Road go across the tip of El Captain (camping there), see Yosemite Falls from above, go over to North Dome and camp near the top (Sunset and sunrise are spectacular from the top of North Dome), and then descend via Snow Creek. You can also go up Yosemite Falls Trail, pop over to El Cap, then retrace your steps to North Dome. A little shorter, but a bigger climb at the start. First time I did that, I got hailed on at the top of the Falls. :)

Re: Taking the next step: overnight backpacking... help!

PostPosted: Wed Mar 29, 2017 12:48 pm
by itchbay
Seeing folks camped out on the trail leading to North Dome is pretty much what sparked this whole backpacking bug. North Dome is beautiful any time of day, I'm sure, but I can only imagine sitting there at sunrise with a cup of hot tea and oatmeal that tastes better than any steak a 4-star restaurant could serve me.

Re: Taking the next step: overnight backpacking... help!

PostPosted: Wed Mar 29, 2017 7:35 pm
by Phil
Congratulations on taking the next step. Let the festivities begin. Do it, and you won't just not regret it, you may never go back.

You talked about North Dome. That North Rim of the Valley is an excellent place to start for a lot of reasons. Keep an eye on the camping restrictions around Snow Creek as the season progresses. It's a beautiful spot, bite sized itinerary, generally fairly easy to get permits for. Try the Porcupine Creek or May Lake to the Valley trails, then exit down behind Mirror Lake. If you want more suggestions, ask. We've got plenty.

You also have a lot of sound and sage advice here that's the product of many years and miles of experience. Follow it, especially with regard to testing, knowing and using your gear ahead of time in conditions that are more forgiving...the backyard, maybe Spring Lake campground, Sugar Loaf, or Pt Reyes. And don't think that people are going to look at you weird if you test out the fit and carry of your loaded backpacks up at Annadel either. It's training, and again, you get to see what's going on and how you need to tune it up when it doesn't matter so much.

Two things in your original post jump out at me: We'll all fight forever about what's harder: uphill or downhill. Uphill, you pant and sweat. Downhill, you pound the crap out of your joints and feet. Name your poison. The other thing is "glamping". The one biggest mistake that newbies ("glampers" especially) make is packing too heavily. Resist that urge like the plague, because it's all going to be on your back. Start with what you think you need, then rethink it 10 more times. Balzaccom's site has some great info on how to get started with backpacking, and since you're up here in "Beautiful Sonoma County", go hit the REI in Santa Rosa and ask them their gear and planning advice for beginners, or even attend one of their seminars on beginning backpacking for insights. A lot of it is just practice and experience, but if you can get it as right as possible from the start, you have a better chance of enjoying it enough to want to do it again.

Re: Taking the next step: overnight backpacking... help!

PostPosted: Wed Apr 26, 2017 2:40 pm
by bob13bob
if you can hike 11 miles without a 40lb pack, then plan on 5.5 miles with a 40lb pack. I found taking first timers it's nice not to overstain. Nice to keep hikes reasonable and pitch tents and campfires. You can always dayhike away from your campgear.

here's my gear list, you can digest and interpret it to use as a quick start to fill out your gear. ... _K0Le5HCO8

how to choose a technical backpack ... sp=sharing

food calcs ... sp=sharing