There was an easy work-around and we were back on track, heading up the canyon ©http://backpackthesierra.com

Photos from some of our hikes this year.  Above: Indian Pass Canyon in Death Valley.  As always, if you click on the photos, they will take you to our trip photo logs on Picasa.

Preston Falls full frontal ©http://ba​ckpackthes​ierra.com

Preston Falls on the Tuolumne River

Airola from near our campsite that night ©http://backpackthesierra.com
Carson-iceberg Wilderness

And more reflection here ©http://backpackthesierra.com
Lassen Volcanic National Park

A gear review

posted Dec 4, 2016, 9:32 AM by Paul Wagner

Every once in a while, someone ships us a free sample of backpacking gear and asks us to give them our opinion of it.  A company called Survival Hax sent us a self-inflating sleeping pad and asked us to tell them what we think.

Self Inflating Sleeping Pad  Survival Hax Sleeping Pad                                        



So here's what we think. 

Right now, we use NeoAir mattresses as our primary sleeping pads, and under that we put an old Z-rest closed cell foam mattress for extra padding, extra insulation, and just a bit more protection against the NeoAir springing a leak.  We like this system a lot, because it is really quite comfortable, and the total weight is well less than two pounds all up.  Of course, this set-up costs about $175 a person, so it's not cheap.   The Neo-Airs fit in our packs easily, and the Z-Rests get tied on top for that festive look every backpacker needs.

So we tried out the Survival Hax sleeping pad.  It's about the same size as our sleeping bags, when it's all rolled up, so it would sit nicely in the bottom of our packs next to our sleeping bag.  That's bigger than our NeoAirs, but way smaller than the Z-Rests.  But it also weighs as much as our sleeping bag, darn close to two pounds, so that's pretty heavy for a single pad.  And at $40, it's a lot less expensive that what we use. 

The two pads we currently use weigh less than this together, about 26 ounces, so the Survival Hax , at 31 ounces on our scale, does add weight to your pack, which is never a good thing. 

Of course, we don't make our decisions based solely on weight.  If we did, we would sleep on the bare ground and not carry any pad at all.  And we are way too old to do that.

So how does the Survival Hax measure up as a sleeping pad?  When it's fully inflated, it's about an inch think.  Thinner than our two-inch NeoAir, and for our old bones, we think it's not quite thick enough.  It inflates easily, and it wasn't hard to add a few puffs of additional air to give it a bit more loft--although only a few puffs would fit, and the instructions clearly warn against over inflating it.   Rolling it up is a piece of cake.  P makes a point of fitting every tent, sleeping bag, and air mattress back into the original packaging...and this one was easier than most.  It comes with a handy little elastic band that makes it really easy to get back into the stuff bag...which is nicely sized.  Too many OEM stuff bags are made too small.

On bare ground, it seems to keep us slightly off the ground, so that's a good thing.  Nothing worse than a pad that still gives you bruises every morning from a few hard spots.  But we can't say that it is the ultimate in comfort.  It might work well for younger hikers who have more forgiving bones...and who don't mind a pound of extra weight.  And with the foam inside, it probably gives us a touch more insulation than the NeoAir alone. 

Then again, for $40, it might also fit the budget of those who think that spending $150 for an air mattress is more than they can swallow.  Given that we spend at least 25 days a year sleeping on the ground, the NeoAir costs us something like $2-3 a day for sleeping comfort.  Well worth it in our minds.

But we now have a pad that we can offer to those who join us for a backpacking trip, and don't have their own gear.  That's nice.  And this one should cut down on the envy our daughter expressed on her last trip, after sleeping a night on a 1/2 inch blue foam pad.  She rolled over onto our NeoAirs the next morning as she was getting dressed, and accused us of sleeping in luxury.  The Survival Hax pad would have limited her complaints to a mere grumble.... 

What will kill you...

posted Dec 1, 2016, 2:56 PM by Paul Wagner

Recent figures from the National Park Service.  We've written about this before, both in our blog and in the section called Dangers on the Trail.

But here's the chart that shows what kills visitors not just in the Sierra Nevada, but all National Parks:

NPS-FatalitiesCauses of fatalities in National Parks, as reported by the National Park Service

Now admittedly, this is a list of all fatalities in the National Parks.  Our list was only for those in the back country--what backpackers should worry about and, more importantly, what they shouldn't worry about.

And so while we think we were pretty accurate in what we wrote, there's one cause of death that still has us worried. 

Watch out for Other.  It's the fourth leading cause of death in the National Parks!

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times...

posted Nov 30, 2016, 8:53 AM by Paul Wagner

What's the weather outlook for the Sierra?  Depending on your point of view, things are looking up, or maybe starting to look really down.

First of all, the good news:  we've had a ton of rain this fall already (1/3 of our normal rainfall before the end of November!) and that bodes well for the rest of this winter.  Here's a story, in the LA Times, that spells it out:

But if you take a longer view, the picture isn't so pretty.  We may be seeing the beginning of a prolonged and deep drought for the next eighty years.  Here's THAT story, from a climate researcher at UCLA:

If nothing else, the two stories should encourage you to get out and enjoy the Sierra now...and next summer...while it is still as beautiful as it is.

Giving Black Friday a good name

posted Nov 24, 2016, 10:02 PM by Paul Wagner

A few retailers, including REI, are now taking the position that Black Friday should be a day to get out into the wilderness (or at least the fresh air) instead of spending it (quite literally) shopping and shopping and shopping. 

Good advice, from our point of view.  As we get older, we treasure our free time even more, and we never feel that we get enough time outdoors.  Of course, part of that may be that we don't have enough time....in so many ways.

Meanwhile, we focus on material things less than we did when we were younger and had, understandably, fewer material things to treasure. 

We have enough stuff.  We are lucky to have enough money.  And we wish we had more time. 

Time to make the most of it, by getting outdoors as often as we can!

Giving Thanks

posted Nov 23, 2016, 8:44 AM by Paul Wagner

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, which is certainly the holiday with the best food in our country. A great day for everyone except, perhaps, turkeys.   

Along with everyone else, we'll be chowing down on a fabulous feast.  And worrying just a bit about how we are going to lose all those extra calories. 
Let's see.  How many calories are we going to be eating?  And how many calories do we use up on a day of backpacking?
OK...so the more we eat tomorrow, the more days we'll have to go backpacking next summer. 
That seems like a win/win.
Hope your Thanksgiving is a good one.

And fire isn't the only issue...

posted Nov 20, 2016, 9:54 PM by Paul Wagner

Recent studies have shown that trees in our forests are dying at an astonishing rate, particularly in the Southern Sierra.  The combination of five years of drought, added to higher infestations of bark beetles, and warmer winters, are taking a huge toll on the pines and firs of the Sierra.

And, of course, millions of dead trees add to the fire danger every year. 

Here's a link to a study by the USFS

Let's hope this early and heavy rainfall is the beginning of a long wet winter, with some long periods of extended cold to kill off more of those beetles...

A history of fire in the Sierra

posted Nov 17, 2016, 8:39 AM by Paul Wagner

With winter drawing nigh (and Tioga Pass closed again yesterday due to snow...who knows if it will open again before spring) it's the perfect time to learn a little more about the Sierra Nevada and its history.

And this article, in Science Daily, is an interesting read.  Fire has played a role the Sierra ecosystem forever, but this paper argues that since 1600 the hand of man has been the key factor in fire size, frequency and intensity. 

And next time you're in the mountains, think twice before you set something on fire---even in an existing fire ring. 

Hiking helps you deal with stress--even the stress of winning the popular vote and still losing the presidential election

posted Nov 12, 2016, 9:51 PM by Paul Wagner   [ updated Nov 12, 2016, 9:52 PM ]

This is pretty much what we like to do in times of stress: get out on the trail and get in touch with the things that really matter.

One lump or two?

posted Nov 8, 2016, 11:21 AM by Paul Wagner

Over the past ten years, we've had some serious discussions about socks.  P has always followed the philosophy that two pairs of socks are best.  One nice thick pair of hiking socks cushions your foot and helps the fit of your boot or shoe, and another thin pair that serves as a kind of overall blister prevention, as it fits tightly to your foot, and absorbs any abrasion--saving your skin.  He's used this system his whole life, and it works for him.  

But on the other hand P often bought very inexpensive boots or hiking shoes, and used them up within a single season, often only getting 100 miles out of the pair.

Initially, M was not convinced.  She thinks that she should be able to buy really good boots that fit, and wear only one pair of socks.  And extra socks make her feet warm...something that bothers her on the trail.  So over the years she's experimented with different boots, different socks, and occasionally different applications of moleskin to address blister issues. 

But over the past couple of years we've both changed our positions a bit.  P did buy a nice pair of Merrill's hiking shoes, and he's used them for well over 100 miles with no apparent wear and tear.  And M has finally come round to the idea of two pairs of socks.  She hasn't had a blister since taking that "step."

On the other hand, her feet may still get warm in the summer...but sumer is months away.

For now, two socks. no lumps.

Top Blog Posts?

posted Nov 3, 2016, 8:39 AM by Paul Wagner

Over the last nine years and more than a thousand miles of backpacking, we've posted a few things in our blog here that have amused, charmed, or at least interested a lot of people.  We keep getting requests for this post or that one....And with the big storms from last week keeping most of us closer to home...

Here is a list of the top posts that people seem to find most entertaining, in order of appearance (as they say in the movies!)

Want to Get Started;  here are some hikes to consider:  https://sites.google.com/site/backpackthesierra/home/our-blog/wanttogetstarted

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