By: Hope Gately
Stay tuned until the end of the article for an accompanying video from our friends at BackpackingTV.
The conditions that many backpackers find themselves in are often extreme: rugged terrain, wet or cold conditions and the added stress of carrying your life on your back. None of these conditions are conducive to comfort. On the other hand, MYSTERY RANCH has a team of seasoned backpackers who have figured out how to stay comfy in the backcountry. We’ve asked three of these adventurers to discuss their favorite comfort hacks and packs so that you can benefit from their knowledge on your next big backcountry trip.
1). Happy Feet = Happy Trails
A common theme among all of our interviewees was the importance of comfortable and durable footwear while on the trail and at camp. This may seem like a no-brainer, but your shoe choice may just be the determining factor in finishing a thru-hike, maneuvering a creek crossing, and just generally being able to relax at camp.
Mark Genito, who has worked with Americorps, the Forest Service, and as a backcountry ranger in Yellowstone National Park, discusses his shift from stiff, heavy hiking boots to lighter models or approach shoes:
“After many years of thumping around in the mountains in deep lugged boots with stiff shanks in the soles along with a clumsy pair of gaiters, I’ve embraced the low hiker or approach shoe method for my feet. Comfort for me is often about my feet. Most trips these days, I rock a comfy pair of approach shoes with thin socks.”
Noel Scherer, Fire Sales Associate for MYSTERY RANCH, knows the mental reward of bringing along sandals to slip into after tearing up the trail:
Evan Griffin, MYSTERY RANCH Assistant Production Supervisor, also sings the praises of camp sandals:
“The first thing I want to do after a day on the trail is get my feet out of my socks and trail shoes. A pair of flip-flops will do for wearing around camp. While heavier, something like Tevas or Bedrocks can keep your shoes dry and provide traction in river crossings.”
Bottom line: If all three experts tell you to tend to your feet in the backcountry, this is advice worth following.
2). Choose a Pack that puts the “Back” in Backpacking
In addition to keeping your feet happy, paying attention to your back health is equally important. Whether you are out in the backcountry for a quick two or three-night trek or tackling an iconic thru-hike such as the Appalachian Trail or PCT, choosing a backpack that provides comfort, exceptional carrying capability, and is designed to lighten the load for you is a must. Our interviewees discussed their personal favorites regarding MYSTERY RANCH backpacking packs and the technical aspects of MR packs that make them comfortable and elite.Griffin utilizes his packs for backcountry skiing and mountaineering, so his choice in packs revolves around versatility.
“The pack that I most often carry for backpacking is the SCEPTER 50. It is incredibly versatile and lends itself to all sorts of backcountry adventures. I often carry skis into the mountains looking for lingering spring snow, and the ice axe carry, crampon pouch, rope strap and burly side compression of the SCEPTER allows you to strap any mountaineering gear you may need to the pack. The load-bearing harnessing can handle more gear strapped to the outside of the pack than it can fit on the inside, which means you don’t have to “go light” to be comfortable.”
Genito, on the other hand, has a pack for every outdoor situation. From short backpacking excursions to rock or ice climbing, his MR packs ensure that he adventures in comfort. For him, the SPHINX 60 offers the technical features that make it his go-to for backpacking.
“When backpacking with the SPHINX 60, I enjoy the access of the full center zip. This is similar to the old-school BigSky I used when working in the field for many years. The ability to utilize the SPHINX 60 as a traditional top loader with an expandable shroud AND split it completely open like a 3-ZIP (or other more traditional panel loader) means that I never have an issue getting hands-on whatever item I’m looking for. In addition, the robust harnessing of the Double Wrap waist belts makes carrying my typical 2-night 30-pound load a breeze. Where an ultra-light bag may skimp on harnessing to cut weight, MR expects the user to be able to carry whatever you want and not have to suffer too much for it.”
Scherer is also a fan of the SPHINX 60 for the ease of access and storage space it provides.
“Our classic 3-ZIP design is a HUGE reason I love the SPHINX 60. The ability to access the pack’s interior not only keeps me organized but allows easy access to gear in hard-to-reach places in the pack. The torpedo pockets are also great for stashing extra layers, a headlamp, dirty laundry and separating wet layers if needed.”
With a pack for every adventure, MYSTERY RANCH’s superior design and technical elements ensure that your pack does the work so your back can stay healthy on and off the trail.
3). Catch those Zzzzz’s
Those who are new to backpacking have probably experienced the struggle of getting a solid night’s sleep. There are, however, numerous hacks to ensure that you are rested and ready for the next segment.
Schrerer uses technology to help her fall and stay asleep.
“I am a light sleeper in the backcountry, so falling asleep used to be difficult for me. For the last couple of backpacking trips, I have used a sleep app called CALM, which has helped tremendously. A little white noise keeps my mind off things.”
Griffin’s top sleeping tip revolves around sleeping pads.
“I’ve finally upgraded to a modern inflatable sleeping pad after years of sleeping on an old foam pad compressed to the thickness of a yoga pad. However, I will still carry a closed-cell foam pad to use under my inflatable, especially when sleeping on snow or particularly rocky ground. The foam pad does wonders for boosting warmth and taking the edge off of pointy rocks. They’re bulky but super light and easy to strap to the outside of a pack. Poor sleep can ruin a trip, so good pads are worth their weight in gold.”
A few other sleep tricks include carrying earplugs, using Melatonin – an all-natural sleep-aid – and ensuring you stay warm and dry by bringing extra layers and an extra pair of socks.
4). Never Underestimate the Power of “Emotional Boost” Items
Comfort isn’t just about the physical. The mental aspects of adventuring can make or break a backpacking trip. Some of the items our interviewees never leave home without include packable chairs, playing cards, and a monocular for scanning the terrain.Genito explains the value of these seemingly “unnecessary items” when detailing a time that morale was low on one of
this many backcountry excursions:
“While sitting in camp on day one, my friends and I were trying not to sweat to death while wearing our non-breathable rain jackets to armor ourselves from the mosquitos probing for any exposed skin. Morale was getting real low. Thoughts of bailing the 12-miles back to the car were starting to seem reasonable. The sound of a loose rock falling on a nearby cliff reminded me I had a small monocular, perfect for investigating the source of the falling talus. Sure enough, this led to a lone goat sighting, traversing the cliffs of our alpine cirque. By the end of day three, we had spotted 30+ goats, some climbing heroically along the edge of a huge waterfall, a cow moose, and two black bears. The enjoyment we got from simply taking turns scanning the cliffs, ridgelines and meadows was the boost we all needed and took our minds away from the unwelcome skeeters.”
Other lightweight comfort items to consider for your next adventure include twinkle lights for your tent, a small plant identification book or a compressible camp pillow.
5). Safety First, Safety Forever.
Whether reaching for an emergency bivvy to keep warm, putting out campfires or choosing a pack that won’t fail, the purpose of all this preparation is to stay safe in the backcountry. Not only does planning prepare you for a worst-case scenario, but it also gives your trail crew peace of mind.
Some safety items to carry include an emergency bivvy, first aid kit, firestarter materials, a whistle, knife/multitool, and bombproof gear. Some of the knowledge to bring into the backcountry includes a religious adherence to all fire safety/fire ban protocols, avalanche training and basic orienteering skills.