Yosemite: How to Pack & What to Wear | Part 1 by Ryland

As many of you have probably noticed, we love the woods!  But the woods are wild (as they should be!), and you have to be prepared.  Over the last five years of taking to the woods, we have learned a lot about what we do and don’t need to be prepared.  We’ve figured this out with some help from our friends, but mostly by trial and error.  Several sleepless nights, frigid mornings, and achy hips later we’re ready to share everything we’ve learned with you!!!  

When we knew that we would be in California for JP’s biannual class for The Circe Institute in August (read about it HERE!), we dreamed up a plan to finally make it to Yosemite. For several years now, Yosemite has been high on our bucket list! We had the added challenge of packing all of our camping gear in addition to clothes for another full week of classes, sightseeing, etc. But we overcame this in the way I always have. When we moved to Kenya 17 years ago we took all of our belongings in plastic army footlockers and we’ve never turned back! Today we keep all of our camping gear in a similar footlocker, so we just checked it on the plane and carried on our backpacks. Easy as pie! (If you use a footlocker, it’s a great idea to 1) use straps on either side of the footlocker, or 2) wrap duct tape all the way around and over the buckles on either side. The buckles can pop open pretty easily! Use extra protection to keep your stuff together!)

Now, before we get into any details, there is one thing to always remember:  The woods are the unspoiled creation of the Lord and retain the type of wild beauty which cannot be found anywhere else.  You can get outside of yourself and enter the most magnificent cathedral on earth, which is refreshment like none other.  So the woods are worth going to right?  RIGHT.  When looking at all the nifty gadgets and gizmos you could buy for adventure, remember you’re going for the woods, not for the gear.  All you need is just enough to get you out there…

Alright, now that we’ve got our heads on straight, let’s get into the nitty gritty:

(Keep in mind: our context for a lot of this is backcountry camping, so we’re usually carrying everything we want to bring.  That really strips things down to the bear necessities.)

Adventure clothing >

With any adventure clothing you want things that are flexible, comfortable, and quick to dry.  But every adventure requires walking, so we’ll start with your feet and work our way up.

Shoes: A good pair of boots will be your best friend on the trail.  Roots, rocks, water, you name it, a sturdy pair of boots can take it all providing the stability and comfort you need.  They literally feel like 4-wheel drive on your feet!  Make sure you get a pair that fit well however because although they can be your best friend, they can also get nasty if they don’t fit well.  Also strongly consider getting something waterproof.  They will not breathe as well, but there are few things worse than soggy socks!  Once you finish your hike though, you’ve got to let your feet breathe (*finally!*).  This is where a pair of sandals like Chacos or Crocs feel like pure bliss.

Pants/shorts: No matter what you do, you want something flexible, comfortable, and quick to dry.  So jeans are probably the worst thing I can think of…  It’s as simple as that.  A few more things to keep in mind: A belt can be really annoying if you’re carrying a pack with hip straps; and well-formed pockets can be extremely useful for a map, knife, tater tots, etc.  

Tops: These are pretty simple.  Again, something flexible, comfortable, and quick to dry is your best option. Also, keep in mind, if you are carrying a pack of some kind, a sleeveless top may not be the most comfortable. Chafing is the worst!

Jackets: Besides shoes, jackets are the most important pieces of clothing you will need.  The two absolute essentials are a great insulated jacket and rain coat.  I cannot quite express how frustrating it is to have a leaky raincoat, so just don’t do it OK?  Get a good one and take care of it!  Although they’re expensive, look into a GoreTex rain jacket. (Instead of a waterproof liner, the actual material is waterproof.  We finally found the right one for JP at the Patagonia store in Halifax!)  For a cold-weather jacket, the most important thing is the weight to warmth ratio, and insulated jackets are by far the best.  Insulated jackets also put up a great fight against the wind.  We highly recommend down, as it is definitely superior to synthetic fillers in the warmth/weight ratio.  (We found JP’s Patagonia at a REI garage sale!)  They have been around forever and there is a reason why! A great raincoat is also a great wind stopper, making the two a total power combo.  (I didn’t mention that you can also stuff an insulated jacket really tight, which is super fun and convenient!) 

Baselayers: Base layers are sadly underrated, as are so many amazing things in this life!  With tops and leggings, you really can’t beat wool.  Wool is amazingly light, warm, comfortable, resilient, and quick to dry – which is all that you want and more!  The largest complaint about wool is that it’s itchy, but many of the current brands have done a great job overcoming that. We love our wool base layers by Ice Breaker. Best part? We got them on super clearance in the off season. So they were not that expensive! Finally, underwear…  We never thought we’d be so tied to an underwear brand, but Ex Officios are out of this world.  Their underwear is like black magic.  We went to Thailand for two weeks and only took two pairs of Ex Officios each – need we say more?

Layers: If you’re hiking at altitude, the presence of sun and wind can swing the temperature quickly so layers become very important.  An easy layer such as a light pullover or flannel will be your best friend.  Honestly though, one of my favorite layers is a brown, pure 70’s, pure Italian wool V-neck sweater that I got from the thrift store for $5.  It’s so warm, light, and comfortable!  

Storage/Packing >

Backpacks: Definitely get something with a comfortable hip strap.  Don’t carry all that weight around on your tired shoulders people!  Also consider the weight, adjustability, and fit – you’ll be carrying it! Go somewhere where you can try packs on in the store. A place like REI can help you adjust your pack before you walk out the door. They can also recommend the size, weight, and brand that best fits your needs. Do not window shop this necessary piece! 

Food storage: Dry sacks, Ziplocs, and mesh bags. Keep your stuff dry and organized. ‘Nuff said.  

Water: Nalgenes are great, but it’s no fun to carry around 4 of those in your bag.  It’s a good idea to have one because they’re so useful (ever made a cold brew coffee in a Nalgene?!?), but for larger amounts of water consider a hydropack which will fit ergonomically in your pack.  However, if there is going to be fresh water available on your route, consider a water filter.  That’s a lot less weight for an endless supply of drinking water!  The Katadyn we purchased for this trip was a total oasis!  ; ) See the photo below for proof on how easy it is to use a water filter on the go!

Extras: One of our favorite things is a flexible wine pouch a friend gave us.  It fits a whole bottle of wine without any of the heavy glass.  And wine is an amazing comfort in what can be an uncomfortable situation! If you take wine, you have to have dark chocolate – can you tell where our priorities lie?!

Up Next: Part 2 – How to make camp and get a great night’s sleep (seriously, it took us a few years to figure out the tips we will share in our next post!).

Catch our other blog posts from our trip to California: A Stroll Through Muir WoodsThe CiRCE Institute & Santa Cruz

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