Lessons Learned: Fort Davis Sept. 2014

I’m back from my backpacking trip in Fort Davis!  I’m happy to report that I made it up and down the mountain without hurting myself, crying, having a nervous breakdown, or falling.  I also didn’t try and bribe anyone to carry my 35lb pack for me!  While I have a ton I want to write about, I figured I’d break it all down into small manageable chunks.  First up: Lessons Learned.

There were things I learned this trip I wanted to make notes of so I can refer back to as I start planning the next trip or adventure (whatever that may be).  I figured I’d share this list with all of you.  Keep in mind all of these are more around the tangible things and things I need to consider doing or keeping in mind for the future.  We’ll get to the intangible stuff in a later post.

So, without further ado…my list of lessons learned!  Enjoy!


  • ABT: Always be training
  • The week before a backpacking trip, listen to your body.  If it needs rest, get rest.  If it needs help, get it that help.
  • Take the time to lay out your gear.  I organized into the following categories:
    • Essentials (tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, camp stove, tent)
    • Gear (compass, multi-tool, etc.)
    • Water
    • Food
    • Clothes
    • Electronics
    • Toiletries
  • Weigh everything individually and track it.  Take care of the ounces and the pounds take care of themselves.  In my case I used grams.
  • When you do weigh everything, write it down.  Having this list makes it easy to quickly spot where you might be able to cut back should the pack turn out to be heavier than anticipated!  A spreadsheet is great for this.


  • Always pack your backpack yourself.
  • When you fail at packing the backpack yourself and it looks and feels lopsided, call in your analytical girlfriend to pack the backpack for you.
  • Stay in the room when she packs the backpack, no matter what else you think you need to be doing.  Knowing how and where she packs stuff in your backpack will be important….later!
  • Compression is your friend.

Hiking to Camp

  • A 35lb pack on level land at 591ft in no way will feel like a 35lb pack when adrenaline and excitement are running through your body and you’re at 5,000 ft.  Your lungs will try and rebel.
  • A 35lb pack on level land at 591ft in no way will feel like a 35lb pack when standing on the side of a mountain, looking up trail after having hiked a mile uphill.  It will feel like 50lbs.
  • Take time to look up and look around when hiking.
  • Hiking with a group is very different from hiking by yourself.  Be aware that the group as a whole can only go as fast as it’s slowest members.
  • Don’t feel like you have to keep up with the fastest hikers.
  • Hike your own hike!
  • If the weather is great, who cares how fast or slow you go.  Being outdoors beats being in a cubicle any day of the week!
  • ABL: Always be learning.  Learn how your body responds when it suddenly has a 35lb pack strapped to it.  Learn how quickly your body adjusts.
  • Be mindful always of your feet.  They are your tires and the only thing that can get you into or out of any situation.  Take care of them and listen to them.
  • On the way to camp you will consume all of the snacks you loaded into the top of your backpack.
  • Take your phone, throw it in the top of the pack and forget about it.  Unless you discover cell service…then post away!
  • Make sure you’re Kindle app on your phone is up to date in case you want to read at night.
  • Keep the book “Scats and Tracks of the Desert Southwest” in the backpack at all times.  Even better…see if it’s available for Kindle.  You’ll want it.
  • Bring binoculars.  Even better…find a pair of lightweight, good binoculars you can keep with the pack.

Selecting a Camp / Tent Site

  • Location, location, location.  Select a spot with a great view if you can.  Both of the surrounding area and the sky.
  • Once you arrive at your camp site, select a place for your tent.  I found I like being on the perimeter a little ways from the main group.
  • Look for a fairly level spot, not one pointing downhill.  You, your sleeping bag and sleeping pad will be fighting gravity….no matter how little the incline may be.
  • If you do have to sleep on an incline, remember to keep you head uphill.
  • Don’t sleep on rocks.  There is no pad known to man that can counter rocks.
  • However, select a site with big rocks around the area where you can either sit and lean against a rock or use a rock as a platform/table.

General Camp Stuff

  • Use the pockets built into the tent.  On the left side pocket, keep electronics (phone for reading, camera, head lamp).  On the right side pocket, keep sundries (inhaler, meds).
  • Rain gear makes a good pillow.
  • Keep a pack towel in the tent to wipe up condensation.
  • Change into dry clothes after getting to camp.  Do not get into your tent in the clothes you’ve been hiking/sweating in.  It will not be pleasant!
  • Remember that you keep weird hours.  While 8:30pm is an acceptable time for you to go to bed, when hiking with a group others do not share the same sentiment.  However, 10:00pm is a good cut off.
  • Get up before everyone else.  5:30am or 6:00am will work.  You will be rewarded.
  • Digging a cat hole takes practice.  Hitting the cat hole takes even more practice.
  • Thank God for sticks.
  • Explore the surrounding area.
  • Cliff bars pack a lot of bang for the buck!
  • Dehydrated meals: Make a list of the ones you’ve tried and like and the ones you’ve tried and don’t like.
  • When a meal says it’s for 2, break it down into two separate servings.  Ziploc freezer bags or microwave bags are great for this.  Just remember to mark the bag with instructions.
  • 5 liters was not enough water.  Plan on taking 6 next time…or take any remaining water and add it to the 3 liter hydration pack before going back.
  • You do not need clothes to sleep in.  Wearing what you plan to hike in the next day (assuming it’s clean) will work fine.
  • Get a longer spork.
  • Package drink mixes (such as Crystal Light and Coffee) in a ziploc in the food bag.
  • Package snacks (which are always in ziplocs) in a ziploc for easy organization in the food bag.
  • Baking soda and the disposable toothbrushes work great!  Baking soda doubles for other things (such as neutralizing odor in trash bags, or use for stings).
  • Take 2 gallon ziploc bags for trash and for trowel.  1 gallon was not big enough for trowel.
  • Never underestimate the power of deodorant.  It can make you feel like a new woman.

Hiking Back

  • Downhill is always faster than uphill.
  • There is no rush to leave.  Savor the last few minutes/hours you have on the trail.
  • The view going back is different than the view going to.
  • Aleve and Vitamin I(buprophen) are your friends…keep them handy.  In fact, add them to the pill box.


  • Find a better water bottle for camp…something you don’t have to unscrew but can drink from directly.  Keep it lightweight.
  • Buy more carabiners.   One cannot have enough carabiners.
  • Unload all your gear to the garage first and leave overnight.  Do not bring into the house.
  • Take care of the gear after you get home, including cleaning, refurnishing, etc.
  • [there will be more to add later as I haven’t officially unpacked at the moment!]

Lastly, and I think this goes without saying, enjoy the moment!  The experience is what is going to get you through the dark days in the office as you look forward to your next adventure!



2 Comments on “Lessons Learned: Fort Davis Sept. 2014

  1. Yeah, I’m ready to go hike with you any time, now that it is turning a little cooler. And even an overnight hike thing sounds intriguing – eventually. But I draw the line at having to crap in the woods. Can’t do it. Nope. If I ever did it, we’d have to find a location that has some facilities – I like my toilet privacy….and a hot shower. (And your analytical girlfriend would likely have to pack for me as well)

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