What’s in a backpack?


We just went to the Grand Canyon! 

Even better, we backpacked into the Grand Canyon and camped near Colorado River!

Here’s what we took:

  1. The backpack: See all this gear? Somehow, SOMEHOW, most of it fit in this little backpack! I carry a women’s Marmot, and it is probably just the “weekend” size. So far, I have only taken 2-3 day trips. Any longer trips, and I will need a larger pack.If you’re choosing a pack, here are some things to keep in mind:
    – Frame size: Be sure that your pack fits your body. Just because you need more room doesn’t mean you should order a size up.
    – Volume: How much room is in your pack, and how many things will you need to take on your trip?
    – Weight: The lighter the better. Always.
  2. Sleeping pad: These are not necessary, but when you are sleeping on the jagged canyon rocks along a fault line, it makes a big difference. BONUS, the sleeping pad is perfect for breaks on the trail or laying along the river to read your book.
  3. Sleeping bag: My sister told me over and over again to get a temperature rating for 20, 15, -5, -20… and I got a temperature rating of 30. If you plan to camp in high altitude, or a season other than summer, you should get a temperature rating for lower than 30. This is coming from someone who moved from the tent to the car for warmth.
  4. Dromedary: If you have confirmed access to water for each day of your trip, it is likely that you don’t need one of these. If you are hiking to a lake or river and have a filter, you probably won’t need one of these. If you are hiking into the Grand Canyon and the main water pipe just broke (again) this is a good way to ensure you will survive. We each carried 10 liters of water along with smaller water packs, and although it added 20 pounds to our packs, we were sure glad we had the backup water when we reached our first campground and learned that the pipe had burst.
  5. Platypus Water Pack: I am a big fan! I have learned to use the 2.5 liter pack and refill as needed to help monitor and pace the amount of water I am drinking. Extra points if your backpack has an opening for your hose… easy sipping.
  6. Tent: I don’t have a fancy minimal backpacker’s tent that ways .3 pounds and inflates in the wind. I have a clunky 4-person Coleman that shields us from wind/rain/animals and is spacious even with two other people. Packing tip: split the tent and poles between people depending on pack size and weight.
  7. Hiking boots: My sister told me that I need them. I told her I didn’t… and then I read a little more and realized a 70 lb. pack on a 65 degree downgrade could snap my ankles if I wasn’t careful. I have also heard horror stories of people breaking their feet by stepping on canyon rocks. In the end I was VERY grateful to have these Merrell’s on my feet.
  8. Sandals: I will always take Teva’s everywhere I go. If you don’t own a pair, buy some! You can hike in them, wear them in the shower/lake/river, jog to meet your friends, or slip them on like outdoorsy slippers.
  9. Cook-set: I have a little Stanley cook-set that has easily boils 2+ cups of water and has two nifty cups that fit right in. Also pictured: titanium eating tool.
  10. Stove and fuel: Take a stove, weather-proof matches, and fuel (not pictured.)Not numbered: trekking poles ($10 used for the PAIR, purchased from Grand Canyon rentals!), 2nd skyn blister kit, Mountain House breakfast, hiking clothes and a trusty red bandanaNot pictured: flight duffle, book, many maps crammed in a sheet protector, food for days, allergy pills

Spring Break: Day 2

The Spring Break series has been pre-written and is an anticipation of what I should be doing right now!

Last night we camped in the Kaibab National Forest.

5 a.m.: Hopefully we didn’t stay up too late! We will wake up and heat water for hot granola and coffee. After that we will pack up all of our gear and hike back to our car.

6 a.m.: Drop our things off at our car and head to the information office, which opens at 8. We are waiting for a number for tomorrow’s queue.

9 a.m.: By this time we may have gotten our number for tomorrow. We are free to choose how to spend our day! We may do a day hike, such as part of the rim to rim hike. Or…

12 p.m.: We stick around for lunch, fix our packs up, and leave for an evening/ night hike.

If we do a night hike, these are the views that await us:


Amazing, right???

Maybe we will be insane and hike north during daylight, take a break, and hike south at night. Am I 100% crazy???

Or we will camp at large in the Kaibab National Forest again, after an easy day hike.

Spring Break Planning: The Wild West!

Last year, I lived in the Wild West for a little over 4 months. I was learning and teaching on the Navajo Nation, living in New Mexico near the four corners area. When my roommate and I ended our stay, we had already started our job search in the Midwest, but felt like we had so much more to do and see out West!

Since leaving, I have had vivid dreams of my stay there. Often times my dreams will be technicolor canyon memories, like the photo below.

These dreams are accompanied by the regret I have not seen the Colorado River, despite having visited the Grand Canyon twice, along with several other canyons formed by the river.

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Hiking and exploring is so meditative. I have not really taken a break during my first year as a full time teacher, and certainly haven’t taken any special trips like this one. This spring break, I am determined to see finally see the Colorado River. I am also determined to relax and savor my time outdoors in the sunny canyons.

Below is my itinerary and budget for this trip. I am trying to be very transparent with my anticipated spending, and including prices of gear and food in addition to the expected cost of travel and lodging.

Since I lived out West for four months, I have a lot of places I want to visit again, along with photos from my most memorable experiences. Unfortunately, after spending four months out there and still not crossing everything off my list, I find that in one week I can barely scrape the surface of amazing experiences!

Spring Break Out West

The italicized expenses have already been paid.

The day before we leave:
We have to board our kitten at the nearby kennel! We are still getting settled in Chicago, and really don’t have any close friends that could house him for an entire week. We decided dropping him off the night before our departure would make goodbyes and last minute packing a little easier, since we plan to catch an early flight the next day.
Cost: $12 a day, 10 days

Daily Total: $120
Paid: $0
Left to Pay: $120

Day 1: Fly into ABQ
Today we fly into Albuquerque at 10:25 a.m. and begin our journey out West! We will rent a car at the airport and head on our way. First stop is Canyon de Chelly. We will check into our hotel (Best Western is THE budget hotel when you are out West. Seriously: they are the Best when you are Western), and then do a warm-up hike. Canyon de Chelly is a sacred Navajo site and the only hike available without a hiring a guide is the Whitehouse Trail, which about a 6 hour day hike. Since this is the first day of our trip, I wanted an easy hike in a scenic location.

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A bonus to this stop is the delicious diner attached to the hotel that serves authentic Southwestern and Navajo cuisine. Also attached to the hotel is a small trading post/ gift shop with some local wares from several nearby tribes. Last year I bought some silver and turquoise Zuni earrings there.

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Last year, I had an official meeting with the director and participants of my education program at this restaurant and canyon. We had breakfast and our class discussion together that morning, and continued our meeting on a 6 hour day hike. It was amazing, and is definitely the best way to have a meeting!

My food memories from that visit last year include a breakfast of a massive breakfast burrito loaded with green chile, and a post-hike piece of mutton folded into a piece of dry bread (fry bread cooked dry on the skillet instead of fried) with a whole roasted green chile!

Expenses include:

Flight: $911 for two tickets through Southwest Airlines
Rental Car: $30 a day
Hotel: $117.85 for one night at the Canyon de Chelly Best Western
Navajo Park Fees: the Whitehouse Trail is free!
Food: For at least 2 meals, $50 per person 
Trading Post Allowance: ___

Daily Total: $1,281
Paid: $961
Left to pay: $320

Day 2: Travel to Grand Canyon, attempt to get backpacking permit (oops)

If we get an early start that day, I would like to take a detour to the Hubble Trading Post or the Petrified Forest, two sites I have driven past and not yet visited.

Time is of the essence though, because in January I submitted a permit request for backpacking in the Grand Canyon… when I needed to submit the request in November. My request was denied, I’m kicking myself for the late application because now I need to spend all night at the Grand Canyon Registration office in line for a backpacking permit. I will try for Bright Angel or South Kaibab, but if you have advice as to another trail that can be done in three days and won’t kill us, please share!

If we want to start our hike on Day 4, then we need to be there overnight on Day 2/ Day 3 to apply for these very competitive slots. I made my camping reservations for Day 3 on before I received my permit request rejection. The plan is to park somewhere and just sleep outside of the office or in the back of the car until we can go line up. Or stay awake outside of the office and have a thermos of coffee to share with other hikers? I’ve learned on other last minute attempts to acquire a permit that this line is a good way to make outdoorsy friends.

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Gas: $60
Food: $30 per person
Trading Post allowance: ___
National Park Pass: $80
Cost of permit: $42

Daily Total: $212
Paid: $80
Left to Pay: $132

Day 3: Free Day in the Grand Canyon

After camping outside the registration building all night, we will probably want some downtime, and we will need to get our packs ready for the next day. We could take a helicopter tour or mule train, but that’s not really in our budget or quite our style. I’m thinking we might take a short South Rim hike. Something easy before the grueling journey ahead of us.

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Camping: $18 per day (paid for duration of Grand Canyon visit)
Food: $8 per dinner for 2 people 
Gift Shops: ___

Daily Expenses: $80
Paid: $80
Left to Pay: $0

Day 4: It begins!

At this point everything is paid for. We will have bought our permit and while we already owned most gear, there are a few essentials we purchased before this trip.

My sister and I purchased a cheap water filtration device for our backpack treks we take with our brother, but we decided for as much water as we go through with two or three of us it is time for an upgrade. I am planning to buy this filter to maximize efficiency. I think I am also ready for a dromedary, in addition to a couple of hydration reservoirs that we already own. I am going pace my water intake carefully by moving water from my dromedary to my hydration pack at my rest stops. Otherwise, I will leave myself high and dry for the last three hours and wish I was dead!

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Regarding food, we wish we had the tools to dehydrate our Green Chile Green Chili. Since we are not yet at that level, we are packing a few tried and true meals to have for our hikes and other nights spent camping. This beef stew is definitely our favorite! I also really like the Mountain House breakfast options, although we may take the cheaper route down and just pack baggies of oats with dehydrated milk and dried fruit. My lunch plan is crackers and salami, plus GORP and Clif bars. What is your lunch strategy for backpacking trips like this?

We already own our tent, backpacks, sleeping bags (although I may upgrade before this trip), and stove, but my parents are insistent that we have an emergency power source so that we could maybe communicate if we happen to get cellphone signal from deep inside the canyon. I will probably go big or go home.

Today we will descend all the way into the canyon and camp at the Colorado River. Ahh! I have already experienced the first 1/3 of this hike on two different trails.

The asterisks indicate gear upgrades we may make before the trip.

Food: $4 per meal x 2 people x 3 meals+ astronaut ice cream!
*Water Filter: $112
*Dromedary: $49.95
Fuel: $15.90
Charger: $169.95

Daily Total: $24+ 347.80*
Paid For: $24+ 347.80*
Left to Pay: $0

Day 5: Climbing out part one!

Ahh, wasn’t that first day fun? I mean, I’m sure my quads are killing me my shoulders are burning, it was worth it for the amazing views! Today we are hiking halfway out, and camping at Indian Gardens. There is a day hike there, so we can drop our packs and just take water and snacks if we get there early enough for the day hike. This is all assuming we get the permit for the Bright Angel trail, and not a different trail. Maybe I should order a Grand Canyon Hiking Guide right now? Just in case? I think I will. Yeah, I should.

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Grand Canyon Hiking Guide: $14.63
Food: $4 per meal x 2 people x 3 meals

Daily Total: $38.63
Paid For: $38.63
Left to Pay: $0

Day 6: The Home Stretch!

Today we get OUT of the canyon and I am sure we will be desperate for a shower and a hot hot meal. We may just do the camping version of “Netflix and chill” by heating up another dehydrated meal and passing out in our tent… but if we are out early enough we could have the energy to go buy a hot dinner after we’ve showered.

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Food: $4 per meal x 2 people x 2 meals + HOT MEAL UP TOP 

Daily Total: $66
Paid For: $16
Left to Pay: $20-50 for hot meal

Day 7: Shonto Trading Post, Monument Valley

This should be a lazy hazy drive with plenty of stops along the way. We will drive through the quiet and spacious Southwest, hopefully finding a roadside tamale stand for lunch. Mmm. I LOVE tamales. We will definitely buy some piñons and maybe some jewelry or RUGS at the hidden little trading post in Shonto, a “census-designated place with a population of 568.” I have some friends, and friends of friends, who have taught at this school and fallen in love with this community and lived there for years. It is a life you choose if you are content with a quiet, small town life.

After our visit to Shonto (and maybe the weird Burger King/ Code Talker museum ???) we will head on to Monument Valley. We may visit Page, AZ if we have extra time.

Our end goal, though, is monument valley, where we don’t even have to hike if we hurt too bad, but if we do want to hike it is actually just a walk with wild horses.

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This is the anticipated view from our tent:

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Camping: $20.95
Food: $25 per person
Trading Post Allowance: ___
Gas: $30

Daily Expenses: $75.95
Paid: $20.95
Left to Pay: $55

Day 8: Visit With Friends or Continue On

Today we may visit the town I lived in, and the families we befriended while living there. I want nothing more than to connect with the students, teachers, and members of the community that made sure we had a welcoming experience. However, the school district is closed on the day we have allotted for this! Another example of me not checking all of the details soon enough. If we are not able to plan a visit with anyone, we will move on ahead and spend a day in Albuquerque or Santa Fe. I love Santa Fe.This city is made of adobe clay and piñon smoke.

Gas: $30
Hotel: $80-150
Food: $60 per person

Daily Total: $240
Paid: $0
Left to Pay: $240

Day 9: Homeward Bound

We have an early flight back on Day 9, and we be back in our apartment with our kitten early in the afternoon. We will probably take a nap, order deep dish pizza, and do laundry.

Laundry: $10
Pizza: $25

Daily Total: $35
Paid: $0
Left to Pay: $35

Total Cost of Rest and Relaxation in the Wild Wild West: 

Trip Total: $2,172.58
Paid: $1,220.58 (could add $347.80 in gear)

Left to Pay: $952 + Whatever I am able to save for trading post purchases

Rough Breakdown of Weekly Expenses: 
Food Expenses:
$300, 2 people for 9 days
Lodging: $450.80+ $120 for kitten
Ground Transportation: $270 rental + $120 for gas
Flight: $961

This post really sheds some light on where money really goes when traveling! Because most of this trip is dehydrated meals and campsites I did not expect food and lodging costs to be $300 and 450, respectively. However, about $1,000 per person for a 9 day trip including a flight, rental car, and kitten lodging is not too bad.

Besides, the true cost of being in a warm canyon, thousands of miles from my students? Priceless.

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