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Packing Post: Backpacking Food

Let’s talk food. Backpacking food.

As I prepared for our recent 3-day, 2-night backpacking trip, I had a lot of questions, many of which centered around what we would eat. I spent a not inconsiderable amount of time figuring out the answer to those questions and in order to not let all that time and effort go to waste, I wanted to share what I packed and what I learned in the process. Hopefully this will help if you’re planning a similar trip of your own!

First, let me note that Brandon and I have been doing a ketogenic diet. Although I quickly decided that sticking to that through this weekend was likely impossible due to the nature of most dehydrated and packable foods, I still made an effort to choose some low carb options. Hence the pork rinds.

Breakfast: 

For our 2 breakfasts, I made oatmeal packets. You can get pretty creative with the add-ins, but mine had quick oats (because slowly cooking oatmeal over a stovetop wasn’t exactly an option), powdered milk, stevia, chia seeds, walnuts, and dehydrated blueberries. We just dumped the packets in our bowls, added some hot water, and then enjoyed a satisfying and warm breakfast each morning. And then there was the coffee. I might be willing to temporarily give up some luxuries like, you know, running water, but I will not give up my coffee. Give me coffee or give me death! I pre-portioned servings of coffee and included a mini shelf-stable creamer for Brandon. I LOVE my drip coffee maker when camping – it’s quick, easy, light and portable, and makes excellent coffee.

Lunch/Snacks:

This is where I maybe went a little crazy. Perhaps I spent one too many afternoons worried about starving to death in the wilderness. My goal for lunch and snacks was having foods that would easily fit into our daypacks for hiking, knowing that we probably wouldn’t be around camp at lunch. I put everything into smaller containers, dividing it in half so that we each had a bit of everything. The jerky, olives, and cheese combo made for a great lunch and will definitely be something I do again. And, if you’re wondering, according to my extensive research, Babybel cheese can be unrefrigerated for a few days. Judge your own tolerance and willingness to do that, but we thought it was fine.

Dinner:

For dinner, I had purchased two kinds of Mountain House dehydrated meals – Beef Stroganoff and Mexican Style Rice and Chicken. Of course, it’s hard to tell just how good they are (or aren’t) after being outdoors all day because at that point almost anything tastes good. However, we both thought they tasted quite good and would eat both meals again. On the first night, Brandon finished off an entire pack of the stroganoff and I had most of mine. On the second night, we didn’t even finish one package of the chicken (the package contained three servings) and could have left the other package at home. We added some of the white cheddar into the chicken, which was a nice touch. Best of all, we enjoyed some of the fish that Brandon caught. I had come prepared with foil and seasonings, just in case. There is nothing like freshly caught fish cooked over a campfire.

One Last Touch:

We both thought it would be nice to have something warm to drink by the fire in the evenings. After considering different options, we finally settled on apple cider with a little spiced rum. We brought along packets of cider and a small, plastic bottle of rum that was easy to carry. It was a bit of a luxury, but a nice way to end the day.

After getting all of my food supplies together, I packaged everything as compactly as was possible. I then divided everything in half. We both ended up with two dehydrated meals and one gallon size plastic bag full of food which easily fit into our respective backpacks.


What I Learned:
All in all, I think I did pretty well preparing for this first trip. But I did learn a few things along the way that will be helpful next time. Because there will be a next time – this was one of my favorite weekends all summer.

The Jetboil is my friend. I had purchased a Jetboil for this trip (it’s a small propane tank with a tiny metal contraption that screws onto it over which you can cook things). This was literally a game changer. It boils water quickly without getting a kettle all smoky. Even on regular camping trips, this is now how we (and by we, I mean Brandon) make coffee in the morning. Less hassle than trying to heat water over a campfire = quicker access to coffee. I am not exaggerating when I say that it has been an amazing addition to our camping gear.

Related to this, I have now determined the Best Way to Make Coffee. Thanks to being gifted the drip coffee maker, I now have everything I need to make delicious coffee while camping and backpacking. We had experimented with various coffee making methods while camping last summer. Although there were no true failures (well, except the time that Brandon forgot to pack the coffee…), we have conclusively determined that this method is the best. No instant coffee for me, thanks.

As I mentioned above, I brought too many snacks. In the future, I will not give into my fear of starving to death and pack a reasonable amount of food. Which is probably about half of what I brought. My back will thank me.

Dehydrated dinners can be delicious. I was a little skeptical, but I had researched various brands and Mountain House was consistently reviewed as the best. In the future, I could consider making my own given the cost of these meals. But for the occasional backpacking trip, these are good enough that the cost is worth the ease of not making them myself.

I was particularly proud (and Brandon was particularly impressed) that I thought to prepare seasonings just in case Brandon caught some fish. Of course, we would have figured out a way to cook the fish without the foil and seasonings, but having them made the whole process better. If you’re going somewhere where fishing is a possibility, this is a small (literally small – it added almost no weight and took up almost no space) way to take your meal to the next level.

We should have brought a bigger water container. Although our 1L water bottles worked fine, we had to make repeated trips to the lake to fill them (we had brought along a filter and a Steripen to treat the water). Not only were we drinking water, most of our meals required water to prepare. It would have been nice to have had a larger container and to make fewer water runs. After this trip, I bought a 5 gallon water container that folds flat for easy packing.

And I learned that a small treat can make a difference. Even if we had just brought along the cider packets without the rum, it was nice to end the day with a warm drink in hand. Again, this was a small luxury that added an almost undefinable sense of comfort and relaxation to the evenings. If apple cider isn’t your thing, there is always hot chocolate.

So, there you have it! I am hardly an expert, but I feel like I learned a lot through planning and preparing for my first backpacking trip. If you are planning your own similar trip, hopefully this information will save you some time and effort. If you have your own tips, tricks, or favorite backpacking foods, I would love to hear it!

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A Wintery Week in Iceland: Packing Update

Prior to leaving on my trip, I spent an extensive amount of time researching what to pack. And then writing about it. Now that I’m back, here is the update to how well my packing plan fared. I am pleased to say that I what I packed was just about perfect!

First the coat. It was exactly what I needed. It was warm, but also reasonably stylish. Which kind of mattered because I was wearing it in pretty much every.single.one of my pictures. Forget all the effort I put into picking out cute outfits. They were constantly covered up in the name of warmth and comfort.

Yeah, maybe I looked cute. But no one would know.
Yeah, maybe I looked cute. But no one would know.

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Yep, pretty much every picture looked like this. Not that what I looked like really mattered. Just check out that scenery!

Relatedly, if I was going to look the same in every picture, a colorful hat really make a difference.

Underneath all of the pants and shirts and coat and gloves were my handy thermals (linked here and here). These were literally a lifesaver. They were thin enough to easily fit under what ever I was wearing and perfectly regulated my body temperature. Although not cheap, these were worth every penny!

They are both the Smartwool's heaviest base layer, the MTS Mid 250. And they both kept me nice and toasty! I wore these daily. They were warm when I was outside and, because of the moisture wicking merino, did not make me sweaty when I was inside.
They are both the Smartwool’s heaviest base layer, the MTS Mid 250. And they both kept me nice and toasty! I wore these daily. They were warm when I was outside and, because of the moisture wicking merino, did not make me sweaty when I was inside.

Then there were the pair of waterproof pants I purchased.

DSC03480I only wore them once – during my glacier hike – but even so they were worth the space they took up in my suitcase. They kept me warm and dry. Again, the temperature regulation they provided was useful. Yes, a glacier may be literally freezing, but hiking on a glacier? That is going to work up a sweat.

My real success was my choice of shoes. I may brag a bit for a moment. I only packed two pairs of those – Sorrels and a pair of Crocs. The Sorrels were my day to day shoes and I wore them just about everywhere.

On ice and snow
On ice and snow
On the black sand beach
On the black sand beach
On a glacier (with crampons to make me look super legit)
On a glacier (with crampons to make me look super legit)
On the rocky surface of long-cooled lava
On the rocky surface of long-cooled lava

That being said, I loved having a second pair of shoes, something lighter to wear after a long day in boots, something easy to slip on and off in the airport, and they had a surprising amount of traction that allowed me to walk comfortably around the city of Reykjavik.

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And let’s not forget my new Kavu rope bag. Despite being loaded down with everything I would usually have in my purse, a book (okay, so technically that falls under the category of “things I usually have in my purse”), a water bottle (Icelandic water is great, so I could fill it up anywhere), and various other items needed for travel, it never felt heavy or awkward, even after a 3-hour hike or walking around for hours exploring the city. I continue to use the bag for my weekend hikes and cannot recommend it enough.

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For more details about exactly what I packed, please read my original post. One added note that I somehow overlooked originally – pack a swimsuit. Geothermal springs are an important part of the culture year round and are a relaxing way to enjoy Iceland. Otherwise, I fully stand behind my obsessively researched packing list!

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My final purchase was a new LifeProof case for my cell phone. It enabled me to take my phone everywhere, less worried about dropping it on the ice or into a hot spring while I took pictures or used FaceTime. It was a last minute, impulse buy, but I was thankful I had it.

One last thing I packed was a Tep Wireless Egg.

IMG_9381After seeing how convenient it was in South Korea (my friend Shannon had one), I thought I would give it a shot for my first really and truly solo trip. At $100 for the week (including delivery and return by mail – super convenient), for me it worth it to have consistent access to the internet. I could use Google Maps to find my way around, I could FaceTime my boyfriend from some really cool places, and I could stay connected with people back home (and by that I mean post cool Instagram photos) without depending on unpredictable wifi. I know that it may not be worth it to everyone, but for me, I was glad I had it.

Oh, and don’t forget an adapter, even if at the end of everyday, it means your nightstand will look something like this:

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So that’s my post-trip review of my packing list! There’s just one more question to answer: Did I see the Northern Lights?

Packing for a Wintery Week in Iceland

For an update of how my packing list fared, check out this post from after my trip. 

I sort of like researching things. Now that I am no longer in grad school, that particular penchant often gets redirected toward researching trips and what to take with me when I go. With an upcoming trip to Iceland on the books, I had the perfect excuse to exhaustively Google search “packing for winter in Iceland” and then subsequently determine which products to pack and purchase for my trip. In case you are in need of this particular piece of information (or have another cold weather European trip planned), I wanted to share the results of my labor.

My goal is to be warm and yet be able to fit it all in a carry-on. Because I am going to Iceland, in winter no less, one of my first purchases was a new coat. I wanted to find something that would both keep me warm, but also be reasonably stylish for the fashion conscious (if uniquely so) city of Reykjavik.

DSC02738Enter the Columbia Carson Pass II Jacket. Nice and warm with Columbia’s Omni-Shield technology? Check! Stylish enough with a removable faux-fur hood and perfectly placed belt? Check! I even had the opportunity to take the coat for a couple of test runs during my recent trip to South Korea and an especially cold weekend in Bend.

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I’m happy to say the coat has been exactly what I was looking for at a reasonable (all things considered) price.

A couple of other items on my “must have for Iceland” list were a set of thermals and a reasonably good-looking pair of warm and waterproof pants. I eventually settled upon Smartwool merino wool thermals (both a top and bottom) and a pair of Columbia Fierce Force pants.

They are both the Smartwool's heaviest base layer, the MTS Mid 250. And they both kept me nice and toasty! I wore these daily. They were warm when I was outside and, because of the moisture wicking merino, did not make me sweaty when I was inside.
They are Smartwool’s heaviest base layer, the MTS Mid 250. According to reviews, these should keep me warm when outside, but not be suffocatingly warm when I’m spending time inside. Because my plans will involve days where dressing for both will be needed, these merino wool thermals seemed like the perfect purchase.
I wanted a nice, neutral color that would not scream "ski pants" when my itinerary took me from being outside to somewhere less wintery, like a museum. On my glacier hike, these pants kept me warm and dry.
I wanted a nice, neutral color that would not scream “ski pants” when my itinerary took me from being outside to somewhere a bit more sophisticated, like a museum. I will definitely be wearing these warm and waterproof pants the day I go glacier hiking!

I also want to minimize the number of shoes that I pack. Things I need include something warm, waterproof, appropriate to wear in the city and while hiking, and that will look good with various types of pants (I’ve got priorities, after all). I eventually settled upon a pair of Sorel Caribou boots.

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DSC02727So far, I am in love. They are comfortable, waterproof, and look great with jeans. Thanks to a removable lining, the warmth of the shoes can be adjusted. With the liner, the shoes are rated down to -40 degrees. Cozy! These will also come in handy as I work on my Oregon Bucket List.

I also just ordered a pair of new Crocs that were well reviewed and most certainly do not look like Crocs. Although at the moment I am slightly horrified that I just typed the preceding sentence, these seem perfect for the plane and for a day spent walking around Reykjavik. According to everything I have read, they are surprisingly warm due to a fuzzy lining and hold up great to a day of walking. Plus, these seem a little easier to slip on and off at the airport and the geothermal springs I will be visiting than do the Sorel boots.  Taken together, I will be able to wear one pair and pack one pair, which goes a long way toward fitting everything in a carry-on.

My final purchase, which I was also able to test drive in South Korea, was a new Kavu rope bag. A fortuitous compromise between by desire for fashion and my boyfriend’s commitment to function, this bag is everything. I would not necessarily take it somewhere I was concerned about pickpockets, although it could certainly be turned around if needed, but otherwise, this bag is amazing. It can be worn all day without causing my shoulder to hurt. The weight of the bag, even when fully packed, is so well-distributed that it does not feel heavy at all. I had such a great experience with this bag that I recommended it to a friend who recently had shoulder surgery. It was the first bag she found that did not hurt her shoulder. Plus, the multiple zippers help to conveniently and efficiently keep everything organized and easy to find.

DSC02737So with all of these new purchases, how do I plan to put it all together? The following (plus pjs, undies, cosmetics, and few non-valuable accessories) will be packed into my carry-on bag.

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Five shirts that can be worn in various combinations, wool socks, a couple scarves (one of which is a very warm wool scarf), waterproof pants, black pants, skinny jeans, thermals, and a tank top for layering
The boots went in first
The boots go in first
And the carefully packed e-bags, pjs, and cosmetics fit on top
And the carefully packed e-bags, pjs, and cosmetics fit on top
With a fully packed bag, you may wonder where I planned to fit the inevitable souvenirs. My solution is to pack an extra duffel bag. Depending on how much I purchase, my purse and souvenirs can both fit in the bag (which is still small enough to be considered a "personal item"), allowing me to just fly carry-on on the way home or I can check my suitcase and carry-on the extra bag and my purse.
With a fully packed bag, you may wonder where I plan to fit the inevitable souvenirs. My solution is to pack an extra duffel bag. Depending on how much I purchase, my purse and souvenirs can both fit in the bag (which is still small enough to be considered a “personal item”), allowing me to just fly carry-on on the way home or I can check my suitcase and carry-on the extra bag and my purse.

And finally, this is what I will wear on the plane.

Jeans, bulky sweater, black flats, my coat (which can double as a pillow), cute hat (tucked into my Kavu bag), gloves (tucked into the coat pockets), my bag, and last, but certainly not least, the oh-so-sexy compression socks that have completely improved the flying experience for me
Jeans, bulky sweater, black flats (which will be my new Crocs), my coat (which can double as a pillow), cute hat (tucked into my Kavu bag), gloves (tucked into the coat pockets), my bag (which is incidentally already holding my passport because I woke up in a cold sweat last week due to a nightmare about getting to Iceland without my passport – terrifying!), and last, but certainly not least, the oh-so-sexy compression socks that have completely improved the long distance flying experience for me (don’t knock it ’til you try it…)

So that’s it folks, all the things, both old and new that I intend to take with me to Iceland. Once I get back, I will update this post with how my choices hold up to the cold, wet, and often windy Iceland winter!

Packing Post: 10 Days in Arkansas

Although I have made considerable progress in improving my packing skills, I have yet to pack for a longer trip in a carry-on suitcase. I decided that my trip to Arkansas was the perfect time to finally accomplish that particular feat. I used my usual, super precise method of laying a bunch of stuff on the bed until I figured out a combination of clothes that worked. In the process, I realized that: I have too many clothes… and that I need more basic, solid-colored pieces of clothing. I am not yet sure how I can accomplish both.

Anyway, this is what I ended up with:

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One dress, 3 pairs of pants, 8 shirts, one cardigan, 4 pairs of shoes, and a few accessories. With a bit more effort I could have probably narrowed it down a little more. But instead I used that effort to make cookies.

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Once I chose what I wanted to bring, it was quick business to break out and fill my trusty packing cubes. Amazingly, all of these clothes, plus undies and pjs fit into two cubes.

Sydney is making sure that she's on the packing list.
Sydney is making sure that she’s on the packing list.

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Once the cubes and my shoes were packed, there was still plenty of room for everything else I needed to put in the suitcase.

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Where are the treats, Mom?
Where are the treats, Mom?

Seeing how easy it was to pack for 10 days in a small suitcase, I sort of wonder why on earth I lugged around large suitcases for all these years. In the interest of full disclosure, I also brought a small bag for Sydney and a backpack with my hiking stuff, so technically not everything was in the suitcase. But, I’m still pretty proud of my most recent packing success.

Tips I Should Have Followed and Didn’t (e.g., Don’t Be Like Me):

  1. Pick a single color scheme for your travel wardrobe. Unless by “single color scheme” you just mean “color,” I’m pretty sure I didn’t follow this tip. Someone who actually knew what they were doing would choose a neutral color like brown, black, or gray and build their outfits around that. Not even my shoe choices were all that basic. Speaking of…
  2. Only pack two pairs of shoes – one casual/comfortable and one that can be a bit more dressy. And maybe a pair of athletic shoes. So, see those four pairs of shoes (plus, my hiking shoes). Yep, didn’t follow this tip either.
  3. Bring pieces of clothing that can multi-task or be worn multiple times. I guess I didn’t do too bad with this one.
  4. Accessories are your friend. At least I did something right. Of course, the one tip I actually followed was not necessarily focused on minimizing.
  5. Use packing cubes because even when you continue to overpack, you can fit a bunch of stuff into them and seem like you are good at packing. Okay, I just made that one up. But it is true.
  6. Ummm, let’s not even talk about my toiletry situation. That is still a work in progress.

Moral of the story: Do as I say, not as I do.

Second moral of the story: Even a recovering overpacker who remains a bit of a hypocrite can fit over a week’s worth of stuff into a small suitcase.

The move to Oregon is less than a month away, which is just about the craziest sentence ever, so I am not sure how much time I will have to focus on the blog. I will eventually write about some of the fun things I did while in Arkansas and before I know it I will be writing about the fun things I am doing in Oregon! Meanwhile, I am going to pretend that I am not freaking out and try to apply my minimal packing skills to packing an entire apartment. Any pointers? Or volunteers?!

Packing Post: Family Reunion

It has been a while since I have written a post on packing, so I thought I would share my most recent feat of packing, all the more impressive given that I used to be the person who would sometimes take two giant suitcases for a one week trip. I am actually a bit embarrassed just thinking of it.

Thus, I have worked to steadily improve my packing prowess. On a recent, long-weekend trip to Tennessee for a family reunion, I was determined to take nothing but a small Columbia bag and a purse. I carefully chose my outfits, which really means I carefully chose my shoes and then picked out clothing to match. I have priorities. I have yet to perfect a magic formula; I just sort of mix and match until I find a combination that works. This time, the end result was this:

Packing for a family reunion

The final list, including what I wore on the plane, was two pairs of pants, four tops (including a cardigan), pajamas, camisoles, two pairs of shoes, and a few accessories.

Packing for a family reunion

One of my favorite packing items, which I first used when packing for Europe last summer, is packing cubes. For this trip, I used two of the smallest sized cubes, which fit together easily in the bottom of my bag. Everything on the above list (except what I wore on the plane) easily fit into the cubes.

Packing for a family reunion

Once these were in my bag, I had plenty of room to add my cosmetics, including a bag containing liquids that could quickly be pulled out when going through security at the airport. There was even room to slip in a Mother’s Day present for my mom.

Packing for a family reunion

So there you have it – an entire weekend’s worth of stuff in one relatively small bag that can fit under an airplane seat if overhead space is full. Or if, like me, you just want to avoid putting stuff in the overhead bin because you are short and doing so is next to impossible without looking ridiculous and desperately in need of help.