Category Archives: Approach

Backpacking and Alcohol

I rarely strap a backpack on for an overnight or longer trip without a flask of my favorite single malt scotch tucked in a side pocket. For this week’s trip, I have decided on The Glenlivet 12 Year.

This is a habit I got into in the 90s and don’t mind the extra weight. Having a daily dram after dinner while watching the stars is a perfect ending to a day in the wilderness.

Some say it’s dangerous to drink in the back country, and I don’t disagree if you over indulge. Excessive alcohol can impair judgement during critical situations and can lower your body temperature and contribute to dehydration. However, a small amount like I enjoy doesn’t seem to make a significant difference even after a long day and in sub freezing temps has not made me noticeably colder (in fact seems to warm me up a bit!). Note that at high altitudes alcohol has a larger effect, so reduce or eliminate it for high mountain trips.

If you are going to carry something to sip on, check out my review of the GSI flask on my Gear Review page and drink responsibly.

Slainte mhath!

Low-cost way to reduce backpacking weight

 

So I worked out the other month that my current normal (3-5 day 3.5 season) backpacking kit cost me around $1,000 over the last five to ten years (much of that funding came from selling old gear on Geartrade.com – I am no millionaire!).  That was money well spent for my bad ankle and knees after years of playing soccer.  My base pack weight was near 30 and now is around 15 pounds.  That is about $67 per pound of weight reduction.  A worthy investment to reduce wear and tear on my body, and hopefully extend my backpacking adventures later in life.

Since Dec 1 2016, I have reduced my backpacking weight by another 16 pounds by spending about $100.  That is a much cheaper $6 per pound of reduction!  Notice I say “backpacking” not “backpack” weight…

I bought a Fitbit and dedicated myself, as I approach 50, to get in better shape.  I have dropped 16 pounds so far of middle age spread, and feel better (before photo above and after photo below).  There is a lot of good and bad press about the Fitbit and other health trackers.  Are they extra gadgets that are unnecessary?  Are they accurate at all?  Do they really help get your overall fitness level up?  The answers to these questions in my personal opinion are Maybe, Somewhat, and Depends on the Person.

For me, the Fitbit is exactly what I needed to get focused and increase my stamina, reduce some weight, and generally get healthier.  I was not significantly overweight (around 187 on a 6 ft frame), but didn’t exercise enough due to my natural resources career keeping me very active during the day.  As my job roles have converted over to desk work and meetings while the younger guys have fun in the field, I put on about 10 pounds over a 5 year period without noticing much.  I was in my late 40s and relatively good shape but never established an exercise habit due to the job.

I have attempted several times to get going on the regular exercise routine but always dropped back off with excuses about being busy and replacing workouts with yard work etc.  With the reduced backpack weight, I have been able to go further and see more areas while enjoying the hills more than I used to (especially the downhills on my weak knees getting easier).  Now with training ahead of time I don’t take as long to get my trail legs under me, and I notice the hills on some of my regular routes are a lot smaller!

Why I didn’t do this years ago is a good question.  To make the trail miles easier it seems just common sense to focus on dropping weight on my feet.  I guess it is our focus on cool new gear that distracts from the obvious and less fun moderation of diet and regular exercise. This may be obvious to some, and I knew it intellectually but didn’t apply that knowledge without some prodding.

Fitbits and other devices are not for everyone…they aren’t that accurate on heart rate (they are decent averaging but don’t use them as a medical device) and many other apps can track calorie intake.  But for folks that don’t like to exercise unless it’s fun, this is a great little motivator. The app let’s me track sleep, weight, and exercise without much effort. I also used it for the first two months to track calorie intake until I got comfortable with my eating habits.

I am not trying to pitch yet another device, but suggest that for those like me who naturally don’t have to watch weight and exercise there are still ways to improve your backpacking experience beyond switching out gear and choosing new areas to hike.