I notice a lot of hikers asking what a typical day or routine looks like through out the day on a backpacking trip, so whether you’re new to backpacking or even are an experienced hiker and just nosy, like me, what other peoples routines are, give this a listen, I’m going to share what a typical day looks like for me – obviously this will look different for each and every hiker, which is the beauty of backpacking and especially solo hiking when you can truly design your days however you want them to be.
Listen to Episode 10: What A Typical Day Looks Like While Backpacking
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Typical Morning On The Trail
Let’s say I’ve just spent my first night sleeping out at a campsite and I wake up – what does my day look like?
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I usually wake up at some point between 7 and 9 am, unless I have to be somewhere at a certain time or I’m trying to cram a lot of miles that day, I don’t set an alarm. I like to let myself sleep, then the very first thing, I gotta pee.
I often camp with other people or it’s common that other people are nearby, so that means wandering a ways away from my tent to find a spot to pee, and then on my way back I usually grab my bear bag or bear canister from wherever it was stashed the night before.
When I get back to my tent, I start drinking water – my goal is always to drink at least a liter of water before I leave the campsite and start hiking for the day.
Now one of two things happen – if I happened to wake up earlier than expected and I’m not in a rush, especially if it’s a little chilly – I might get back in my sleeping bag, maybe take another little nap, maybe read for a little, maybe listen to a podcast, maybe look over my map or guidebook to see what’s coming up that day.
Or if I wake up later than expected or just decide it’s actually time to start the day, I change out of my sleeping clothes and into my hiking clothes (typically this happens inside my tent) and then I start rolling up my sleeping pad, stuffing my sleeping bag, throwing all the miscellaneous things out of my tent so I can start packing up.
If my tent is dry or almost totally dry, I’ll just pack it up right away so I can start putting my sleeping gear and tent inside my backpack, if it’s pretty wet and it’s not currently raining, I’ll leave my tent standing in hopes that it might dry off a little bit while I make coffee and breakfast.
I usually do end up boiling water and having more of a relaxed, sit-down breakfast and coffee in the morning, but sometimes it is just a quick protein or cookie so I can start hiking sooner. But I do highly prefer a slow start and relaxed morning, also bonus points if I can find a nice spot to poop before I leave camp so I don’t have to worry about having to poop on a rocky slopy hillside on the side of the trail later in the day – haha I can say that right, we’re all friends here? This might not be the first time I’ve talked about poop on this podcast and it definitely won’t be the last so just throwing that out there.
Then I have a few more last-minute tasks to do before leaving camp – putting sunscreen and/or bug spray for the day, brushing my teeth, refilling my water bottles, and treating them if there’s a water source nearby, and then I always send out an “I’m ok” check-in message from my Garmin GPS device to let my family know that I survived the night and am on my way hiking again for the day.
The very last thing – a quick sweep of the campsite – just walk around the area you had your tent set up and check for any small bits of trash, forgotten tent stakes or anything else left there that needs to be packed out.
Mid Day On The Trail
Then I start hiking. Don’t judge me too harshly, but I find it extremely difficult to actually turn my mind off and just walk ‘aimlessly’ – I really like to have a tentative plan and the actual plan will look different depending on the trail and honestly just how I’m feeling – but while I’m hiking, I usually set mini-goals for myself – like walk to the next stream and then take a break, or walk to the summit or lookout and then break, or sometimes it’s a certain amount of time – walk for 30 minutes and then take a break – but I find that breaking up my day into small chunks like that helps prevent me from getting bored on easy trails and also helps prevent me from getting too discouraged on difficult trails.
On a typical day – I like to take loooooots of breaks. Sometimes they are just short breaks, standing on the side of the trail to catch my breath, sometimes they’re a little longer, sitting down to have a snack, or stopping at a water source to refill my water, but at least once a day, around midday, as long as it’s not raining, I take a shoes-off break.
This is where you scope out the perfect spot, offload your pack, dig out your food bag, grab your water bottle, probably even your sleeping pad or butt pad or seat if you have one and sit down, take off your boots, take off your socks, lay them out so they air outlet your feet totally dry and be free just for while. Sometimes a nap is involved here – it depends on how many more miles you have to go that day and what time it currently is.
Speaking of breaks, this episode is sponsored by The Savvy Backpacking Skills course – this the online course that will teach you all the skills that we’re talking about today including treating your water in the backcountry, how to read a map, food storage, and bear safety and even more – you can find out more and register for the Savvy Backpacking Skills here.
And we’re back, so after taking my longer break mid-day, then I put my shoes back on, pack up, and hike on to wherever I’m camping that night. I highly prefer to get to camp and set up camp while it’s still light out, some people are totally not bothered by setting up in the dark, and while I have done that before and can do it, that’s just not fun for me – so I usually do try to plan my day or choose my campsite at a spot that I would get to and still have some daylight left.
Typical Evening On The Trail
Right when I get to camp, if I’m low on water, I’ll refill and treat my water first thing and let that sit. One of the other first orders of business is taking off my hiking boots and putting on my camp shoes.
Then I pick a good spot for my tent and get that set up, inflate my sleeping pad, unstuff my sleeping bag and put those inside.
Set my food bag and stove and pot off to the side and then put my backpack along with any other miscellaneous things like my stuff sack with my clothes inside my tent so that spiders and bugs and daddy longlegs don’t get all in my pack.
Then I usually take my food bag and my butt pad a bit away from my tent, make my dinner, eat, wash my pot if needed, brush my teeth and then pack all my smelly things back in my food back – which is usually my Ursack – and then find a spot to tie that up well away from my tent.
Then I go back and depending on what time it is, or how cold it is, I might change into my sleeping clothes and get right in my sleeping back for the night, maybe read for a bit. Or if it’s nice outside, I might sit outside for a while near a water source or a clearing where I can see the stars, and then get in bed.
I do want to clarify some things about bear bags – my routine used to look a little different when I lived and backpacked on the east coast, where there were big beautiful deciduous trees – I used a lighter, more traditional bear bag made of a stuff sac, some pcord and hung a PCT style bear hang. I mention this because trying to throw a line to hang a PCT style bear bag in the dark – fucking sucks I’m sorry but there’s no other way to put it – so that would be one of the first things I would do when I got to camp, while it’s still light out, I would find a spot to hang my bear bag, throw my line up, and then just tie the ends together along with a bright colored bandana on there so that then later in the evening after I was done with my food bag and smelly things, I could easily find my line again and easily just tie my bag to it and hoist it up.
PCT style hangs don’t work so well where I live in CO where all we have are dead lodgepole pines, so I have switched to an Ursack bear bag and do love it, even though its a little heavier and I do think it is slightly easier and a little more flexible as to where I can tie it. I’m just saying if you’re hanging a bear bag – it takes a little bit more forethought and planning and some daylight will do you wonders.
Also, I wanted to break down my nightly routine into more detail because I saw a hiker ask recently, in shock, if hanging our bear bags was REALLY the last thing we did each night??!?! Like for reals!?!?!?
And yes, I have to say for real, I do make sure my belly is full and my teeth are brushed and do everything I need to do before I hang my bear bag, then I hang it and then just get to chillax a little bit or go to bed for the night. I think her big hang-up was that she wanted to apply smelly lotion inside her tent and then go straight to sleep without having to get back out of her tent again….
But the consensus is – don’t use smelly lotion and definitely don’t keep it in your tent overnight in bear country.