Gearing up

This past week has been a quiet one, what with Emma having caught a cold in karate class, and Eleanor staying indoors to avoid Tucson’s spring pollen.   (Yes, even in the desert there is pollen, although much less than in other parts of the country.)   Without my two companions to go hiking or bicycling, and no friends visiting from out of town, I’ve stayed indoors as well to contemplate future expeditions.

With the shift in emphasis away from full-time RV’ing, our options for travel have expanded.   I have long wanted to get back into the backpacking mode that we enjoyed before Emma was born. Even though the Airstream is much more comfortable, there is something attractive to me about hiking out into the forest with only the gear one can carry, and pitching a tent in the midst of as much wilderness as modern America can allow.

We live in a terrific part of the country for backpacking.   Not only is there a virtually year-round climate suitable for it, there are dozens of fascinating national forest sites all over Arizona that can only be reached on foot, or by small vehicle.   We have mountain ranges a-plenty, with Native American and Spanish names that evoke mystery and history, like Chiricahua, Sahuarita, Santa Catalina, Dragoon, Tortolita.   And despite the influx of spring pollen, this is a superb time of year to go explore them.

In the mid-1990s when Eleanor and I were childless and at our backpacking peak, we owned all the gear.   Since then, much of it has disappeared, been donated, has worn out, or isn’t suitable for a family of three.   We unpacked everything and realized that much of it was not going to make it into the 21st century, in a radically different climate, and in a situation where an 8-year-old was part of the equation.   The tent was too small, the mosquito netting wasn’t needed, and the boots — victims of far too many muddy northeastern caves — were beyond hope.

We have been slowly acquiring the missing pieces, through sales and bargain-hunting.   The collection of gear is now mostly complete, and the next step is to test it in real-world situations.   It might seem self-evident that the camping gear is ready for use, but that’s often not the case.   Will the lightweight pot balance on the stove without tipping our spaghetti into the dirt?   Does everything fit into the backpack?   Does the 20-year-old inflatable sleeping pad still hold air? Are the new boots comfortable for 10 miles of hiking with a 40-lb pack?   Are we able to carry enough water for desert treks?   There are many questions, and the best way to find the answers is to just go ahead and try.

Besides, it’s fun to play with the gear.   I love the campstove, for example. I’ve had it for about 15 years and it still works great.   Tonight   I will fire it up on the patio and boil up some dehydrated dinner.   We’ll eat with the backpacking plates and utensils, and wash the dishes exactly as we would on a backpacking trip.   The test will even extend to doing the dishes exactly as we would on the trail.

Once the pollen settles down, the next thing will be to camp out a night in the tent, without Airstream support.   Then we’ll go on an actual backpacking trip, probably in one of the nearby mountain ranges. The big goal is to be ready for a Grand Canyon through-hike in September, which will include two nights of camping and about 24 miles of hiking. If we work up to it and test the gear in advance, the big trip will be easy and fun.   Plus, we’ll have the 8-year-old ready for it, which is no small consideration.

All of this might seem like we are being far too methodical, but you have to remember that half the fun is the preparation.   On a quiet week indoors, working up the gear lists, shopping for deals, and testing the toys is a great way to get psyched for the trips yet to come.


  1. Lou says

    The planning and packing is half the fun!
    We are having a driveway campout this weekend. An OH newbie with a “new to them” AS is coming to campout here. Larry will help them learn to hook up to utilities and etc. so that they are ready for their first rally. We are hoping for warmer weather! LOL!

  2. Clarke Hockwald says

    Not sure if you have ever checked out the JetBoil camp stove. I’ve owned and used most of them, and this one is the best yet! If you live near an REI, or similar outfitter go in and get a demonstration. Brings water to a boil in a couple of minutes. Has its own ignition (no mathces required). Used the JetBoil system on a 400 mile bike ride a year ago, and will never again be without it.

  3. Zach Woods says

    Hi Rich –

    Did a south rim to north rim then back down and up to the south rim again hike in winter roughly 20 years ago and loved it!

    I continue to tell folks that the best way to experience the Grand Canyon is to go down into it.


  4. says

    Jealous! We really want to do the Grand Canyon. We can’t bring Rudy and don’t like to board him so it presents a real problem.

    I think the biggest thing is to make darn tootin’ SURE your shoes are not going to cause you problems. Other things can be dealt with but blistered, bleeding feet can ruin everything.