Story and photos by Thomas Cleary



This month, I’m outlining the basics of trip planning and encourage you to head out on your own.

A variety of factors go into destination and route selection, including your goals, your physical abilities, time frame, and experience. Are you looking for solitude, the magical fishing spot, a peak to hike/climb, a remote hot spring, an adventure, or everything in between? Determine your goal first, then you can work on your destination by talking to friends and pouring over maps and books. These days, there are topical, Colorado specific books on most subjects.  A Colorado Gazetteer statewide map (, with a scale of 1: 160,000 and contour interval of 300’, is a great place to start. For solitude and/or adventure, choose trailheads with long approaches and avoid areas with 14ers (mountains over 14,000’). For fishing, look for large lakes (small ones freeze solid). Read books on peak hiking and climbing, hot spring soaking, and map reading skills.

Get to know your physical abilities and pick conservative destinations and routes to keep hikes fun. Most people with a full pack will be able to hike 4-8 ‘energy miles’ a day. Energy miles include both the miles of distance and the energy of elevation, where 1000’ of elevation gain is equivalent to 1 mile; for instance, Willow Lake is 4 miles and 3000’, that’s 7 energy miles. Most people with a full pack will be able to travel between one half and 2 energy miles per hour, including breaks. A general guideline is that 1000’ in a mile is a pretty steep trail. Also, don’t head to the deepest darkest corner of the wilderness area if your level of experience in terms of camping, first aid, etc., is slim; again be conservative. Once you have picked your destination, go to to find 1:24,000, 40’ contour maps, or for the Trails Illustrated series, 1:75,000, 100’ contours.

In terms of gear, if you ask ten experienced hikers what the ‘10 essentials’ are, you will get ten (100?!) different answers. Most will include waterproof matches, map, compass, flashlight, extra clothes, extra food, first aid kit, and pocket knife, and the skills to use them. Other ‘essentials’ include fire starter, sunglasses, shelter, space blanket, cell phone, stove and pot, some type of water treatment, lip balm/sunscreen, etc. These items will get you through an unexpected night out, or save you from an expensive search and rescue operation. On a backpacking trip I bring most of these things anyway, while trying to keep my pack weight around one third of my bodyweight.

For my camp gear I bring a tarp or just the rain fly from my tent (less than 2 lbs.), unless it is very buggy; then I’ll schlep the whole tent (4-6 lbs.). Leave no trace principles ( encourage carrying a stove; most use a canister of compressed gas (lighter but larger), or white gas/Coleman fuel (smaller and more efficient for long trips) with about 2 ounces of fuel per person per day. A down sleeping bag rated to about 10 degrees Fahrenheit weighs about 2 lbs. but is useless if wet; a synthetic bag is 4-5 lbs. and still warm when wet. A waterproof ground sheet and foam pad are important for warmth as well. Two quarts of water carrying capacity is a good idea and the new ‘bladder and hose’ hydration systems are superior to bottles. Other miscellaneous gear includes bathroom and hygiene items (including a trowel for ‘scatholes’), prescriptions, spares and repairs items, batteries, personal and kitchen dishes (including a small strainer for dishwater), bug repellent, etc. The backpack that you put it all in should be 4500 to 6000 cubic inches and will weigh 4-6 lbs (empty!).

For clothing, think about a layering system. All the items I bring on a trip can be worn, one over the other, at the same time. The only variance is in the number of layers needed for the expected temperatures. For spring and fall trips I will bring long underwear, a medium layer, next a heavy layer (and maybe an extra for my torso), shelled by my raingear (all layers include tops and bottoms).  Throw in a hat and mittens and a pair of shorts and I am ready for a wide variety of temps. On a trip less than 6 days I won’t bring duplicates of anything except underwear and socks, I’ll just wear the same layers in varying combination.

The key to this system is avoiding cotton in your layering system, as it absorbs water, sucks heat from your body as it attempts to dry, and stays heavy and wet for a long time. Cotton’s cooling properties are great for when you are hiking and want to be cooler, but as soon as you get to camp, take that cotton off and get into warm (even when wet) insulators such as fleece, polypropylene, silk, wool, and other synthetics. Go to for info on gear and clothing makers and sellers.

For food, plan out your menu carefully to avoid extra weight. Cut out water weight from the food you carry by replacing moist food with those that you can add the water back in later, for example macaroni and cheese using powdered milk to reconstitute it. You need not buy expensive ‘freeze dried’ prepared meals. Instant beans and rice and hot cereal are other examples. Shoot for 40% carbos, 40% proteins, and 20% fats and sweets, for a blend of quick vs. slow burn (energy release) foods.

I think more about nutritious tasty meals more than calories, but shoot for around 3000 cal./day or go to for a calorie calculator. A key to saving weight is repackaging your food before you leave, eliminating all extra packaging, and organizing your food into meals packs. You can eat well at about the 2 pounds per person per day level.

Well, it’s time to stuff it into a pack and head out to watch that amazing green color of spring burst forth! Take advantage of this year’s low snowpack in the Sangres and get on out there. Bon voyage!