Sunday, August 13, 2017

My Current, General Trail Routines


My take on trail routines was inspired by this great book I am reading at the moment by Liz "Snorkel" Thomas, Long Trails: Mastering the Art of the Thru Hike.  I thought it would be fun for me and perhaps useful and fun for others to see a rough sketch of what my routines are while I'm out wilderness backpacking, and this is the result.  In Liz's book, she gives her and other experienced thru-hiker's trail routines, and I found it both useful and interesting to compare them to my own.  

Now I am no thru-hiker (yet), but a humble section hiker, and Liz and her choice of experts are some of the most experienced backpackers you'll find on the entire planet.  While I do have a fair amount of experience under my belt over the last few decades of backpacking and outdoor life, it's but a shadow compared to other hardcore hikers like Liz.  They would maybe laugh at my daily personal goals when it comes to how far and long I hike, as they would likely have no problem hiking literally double of what I usually hike.  But the book gives me hope for my future life as a thru-hiker once I sort out some life complications that prevent me from getting out there more and for longer periods of time.

Anyhow, it's a great read so far (I'm about halfway through it), in case anyone reading this is looking for a good, non-fiction backpacking book to read.  Though this book is specifically for people who fully intend on going on (or who already have gone on) one or more thru hikes, not the casual backpacker, I would add.  And no, I didn't get a copy for free, nor do I know Liz at all--just an honest recommendation!  

Now on to some of my routines.  I will breakdown my most common trips, which are section hikes here in Scandinavia for 2-6 days.  These trips are usually on marked trails, but there are also the occasional off trail/bushwhacking trips I like to do as well.  The main difference is that I usually don't hike as far on off trail trips, as they are often to familiar stomping grounds where I want to relax and maybe read a book, pick more wild edibles, go for a longer swims, etc.  So I won't get into my off trail routines, which can vary greatly depending on my mood, weather, the season, etc.

I will cover two different types of routines based on season: summer and spring/fall (which are nearly the same routines).  I also won't get into all the logistics of catching trains and buses to get to and from the trail, but just focus on life on the trail itself.  These routines are also for when I am solo hiking.  Hiking with friends, things can be all over the place depending on the friend or group I am traveling with.  And finally, all times are just rough estimates, of course, and can change quite a bit when it comes to how much sunlight I have to work with given what month it is.


In the summer I am way more relaxed about time, as here in Scandinavia there is sunlight until around 10-11 at night during its peak.  My personal goal in this season is usually to hike around 30-35km a day.

6:00-6:30: Wake up to birds singing 9 times out of 10, turn on my phone (or turn off airplane mode) and check if I have an internet connection.  If I have internet, check the weather forecast, make sure there are no emergency or important text messages or emails, etc.  If no internet, put it on airplane mode put it down again.  Lay and reflect on my plan for the day.  

Sometimes I will go back to sleep for another 30-45 minutes or so if I had an especially demanding hike the day before, and skip messing with my phone and my plan reflections.  If there was a cold snap, then just before, during, and right after sunrise it's coldest, so this is when I will put on an extra layer (like a wind jacket) if needed and bundle up more in my sleeping bag/quilt before the sun warms things up.

7:00-7:30: Deflate my sleeping mat if I am using an inflatable, and get out of my sleeping bag.  If I am sleeping in a bivy, then get out of the bivy to change into my hiking clothing and get my shoes on.  If I am in a tent or net tent then I change inside.  Either way, during my changing process I'll check for ticks.  Then go and find a nice tree to pee on.  

If it's not raining, turn my sleeping bag or quilt inside out and hang or lay it someplace to air out.  Eat a granola bar and drink some water.  Read my map.  Go and find a nice spot to dig a hole and take a dump.  Wash my hands.  Pack up clothing, fold up my sleeping mat, wipe down any condensation with my small towel if needed, and then break down my shelter.  After everything is packed up and ready to be put into my backpack, then I will stuff my sleeping bag/quilt into its drybag last, and then fully pack up.  Put on my satchel, then my backpack, and walk around camp to make sure I didn't forget or drop anything.

If it's raining I will do all my packing under my tarp or in my tent and wait to air out my sleeping bag until later.  The last thing I will pack will be my shelter, after I have everything else ready to go.  If there was/is moderate to heavy rain I will strap my tarp or rain fly on top of my backpack as the last thing I pack, or if I am using a poncho/tarp I will just put that on last before I double check my campsite and move on.

7:30-8:00: Hit the trail for a very short hike, 2nd breakfast, and find water.  After double checking my map and making sure I am on track again, I will eat another granola bar and/or some dried fruit and nuts while I hike.  Drink more water, and I tend to drink a lot of water for breakfast, so if I am low on water I will look for a water source directly in front of me on the trail as I am hiking.  If no water is in sight, then check my map for the next potentially good water source.  

I favor water sources that are more isolated (i.e. away from any houses, farms, roads, etc.), and try and find springs and small creeks/streams that are clear and flowing rather than lakes or bogs.  I also decide if I am going to filter my water or not, depending on the conditions of the water source at the time.  For example, if I find a cold, clear spring of water flowing directly out of the side of a hill in the middle of a nature reserve, and there are no dead animals or any animal poop in or around the water upstream, I will give it a little taste first, and if it tastes fine, then I'll drink my fill and then fill up my bottles directly.  Otherwise, if I think I need to filter, I fill my bladder, filter a few liters of water, and now I have a belly and a few bottles full of clean water.  

After filling up on water, and if it's not raining, I can focus on a bit of personal hygiene.  First I'll brush my teeth.  Then I will wash my face, rinse off my head, neck, and arms, and dry myself off with my small towel.  Hang the towel to dry on my backpack, then wash my dirty socks and hang them to dry too.  If it's raining, I will just focus on filling up my water bottles and then just brush my teeth.

8:00-12:00: Try and hike around 10km.  Take lots of pictures, maybe pick some berries and wood sorrel to munch on as a snack if I can find them.  And if I find any mushrooms I save them for later--either cook and eat them for dinner (if I brought a stove, put them in a stew, or roast them on an open fire if I am stoveless) or bring them home.  If it's raining, I will check my map and try and find a good, dry spot for lunch.  Ideally this means a nice trail shelter, but could also be under a bridge, under some overhanging cliffs, or even under a big pine tree in a thicker patch of woods.

12:00-12:30: Lunch.  I often go stoveless in the summer, so this means eat something quick and easy like chips, tortilla sandwich of some sort, nuts, maybe a luxury item like a fresh fruit.  Yet even when I do bring a stove, I will usually opt for a no-cook lunch to make things easier.  If it's still raining and I'm in a dry enough place, here is where I can air out my sleeping bag and tarp or rain fly.  If it was raining all morning and I skipped out on personal hygiene and washing my socks, then I will do those chores after lunch (rain or not), where I have a dry place to work with to make things easier.

12:30-17:00:  Try and hike around 10-12km.  Take even more pictures, try and find even more wild edibles along the way, and eat another snack (granola bar, nuts, chips, etc.).  I will drink most or all of my water, but unless it's really warm out I won't bother with filling my bottles again until dinner.

17:00-18:00:  Find a nice spot for dinner near a good water source, and eat, drink, and fill my water bottles again.  Study my map and decide on a goal area to set up camp for the night.  This is my last big break before I put in my final push for the day, so I try and enjoy it--especially if the weather is nice.  In the summer I generally start the day slow and easy, and then after lunch and until dusk I am more in "the zone."  I will at times hike my longest stretch after dinner, especially if I feel like I am a bit behind on my daily hiking goal.  So I will eat up, drink up, take off my shoes, maybe do a bit of meditation, maybe go for a quick swim, then hit the trail hard as I take full advantage of the last bit of sunlight.

18:00-22:00:  The last big push.  Try and hike another 10-12km.  When it's close to dusk, start scouting for a good campsite if there are no trail shelters around, otherwise gun for the trail shelter I set as my goal.  I always try and get to a trail shelter with enough sunlight to get a good look at it and the campsite around it.  If the trail shelter sucks (holes in the roof and/or floor, mouse infestation, filthy, non-existent, etc.), then I will need to fix/clean it up enough to make it livable for the night.  Or if it's too messed up or I am too tired to bother (or if it's not there at all), I'll need some extra time to set up my shelter, and may have to do last minute scouting for a nice, flat spot to pitch my tarp or tent.

22:00-22:30: Set up camp.  After I set up either the trail shelter or my own shelter and then my sleeping mat/bag, I will usually reward myself with a late night snack, like some dark chocolate.  Then I pee, hang up my food, brush my teeth, change into my sleep clothing, check for ticks, and then crawl into my sleeping bag/quilt and settle down for the night.  Next to my sleep system I will lay out my hiking clothing--which helps them to dry out if wet, and if there is a cold snap I can find them easily in the middle of the night and put them on--along with my head lamp, phone (and plug it into a my battery bank if needed), and maps.

22:30-22:45: One last, quick look at the map to formulate my plan for tomorrow, then I take my phone off airplane mode and check for a signal.  Do a bit of quick catching up and sending messages if possible and needed, then back on airplane mode (or turn it off).  Once I am snug in my shelter and everything is in its right place, I am usually able to fall into a deep sleep pretty fast.


In these two seasons I have to be more disciplined about time management, as there is less sunlight to work with.  As such, I am more flexible about my personal hiking goals, and am happy with 25-30km.  Since I've already elaborated on many of the details and nuances of my general routines in the summer--and much of them are the same in other seasons--I won't repeat that here and just give a condensed version of routines.  This is fitting considering the higher pace and attention to time that is needed during these two seasons, when the sun goes down anywhere between 6-8pm much of each season.  So shorter breaks, and much less foraging for wild edibles while hiking.  Swims are rare, but do happen on occasion.  When they do happen they are pretty quick tho, brrrr!

6:30-7:15: Wake up to my phone's alarm.  Earlier in the spring and later in the fall I will set my alarm earlier to make up for the shorter days, at times it will be a bit dark when wake up, so I will make good use of my headlamp.  

If there is a cold snap, same routines, but warmer layers.  Keep water filter and phone inside bivy or sleeping bag, and make sure to loosen up shoe laces and pull the tongue of the shoe out wide.  That way if it dips below freezing, filter and phone won't freeze, and if shoes are wet/damp and do freeze, they will be easy to put on--cold, but I use minimalist/barefoot shoes, so in not too long my body heat defrosts them.  That way I don't have to worry about putting my shoes inside my sleeping bag.  I'd rather be comfortable sleeping and put up with around 10-20 minutes of cold shoes in the morning.

No time for chilling out like in summer.  Take a few deep breaths, deflate the damn sleeping pad, and get down to it.  Get up, change, pee, eat bar #1, drink, read maps, poop, wash hands, pack, break down shelter, pack, put on the backpack, look around one last time, and hit the trail while eating bar #2.

7:15-11:30: Hike around 10km.  Eat a few snacks along the way.  This time of year is colder, so it's generally more eating and less drinking.  But somewhere in there fill up on water and get some hygiene in too, tho less sweat makes for less stink which makes for less washing up.

11:30-12:00: Lunch.  I bring a stove during these two seasons, as warm meals for lunch and dinner I think are worth it when it's brisk out.

12:00-17:00: Hike around 12-15km.  More consistent, steady pace.  But still lots of pics tho.

17:00-17:30: Dinner, and try and find a spot near water.  No time for a big last push, but a small push is possible.

17:30-19:00: Small push of around 3-5km with enough sunlight to get things done at camp.

19:00-21:00: Routines are the same as in the summer, only once camp is set up, I have more time to relax before bed.  This could mean do chores like laundry. But also fun stuff, like building a campfire, using my phone more to listen to music/read/chat with friends, put on my headlamp and do some short walks close to my campsite in search of fire wood, mushrooms, nice views, wildlife, etc.

21:00-21:30: Hit the sack.  Important that I go to sleep earlier these times of year because I need to wake up earlier to make good progress.

And there you have it, my life in a nutshell while I'm a temporary forest nomad.  As always, feel free to ask questions or give feedback, either in the comments below, or on my blog's Facebook page (link on the sidebar).  Peace!