Archive for the ‘Hiking Tips’ Category

tips and suggestions to make your hiking a little happier.

Backpacking and Trekking Poles

Sunday, January 10th, 2016
trekking poles for use hiking on on steep terrain Arrigetch Peaks, gates of the arctic National park Alaska

You can see why hiking poles are so handy on this terrain in Alaska. Often no to very little trail, and it can be steep, slippery, rocky, wet, or all of the above.

Hey Folks,

I’ve written on the topic of trekking poles a few times in the past. Here also. Every year I receive a lot of questions about the use of trekking poles in Alaska. Nothing’s changed. Use them.

The image above illustrates how useful they can be. Backpacking up or down steep terrain like this, often on very little or no trail, with a heavy pack on your back is challenging. Surprisingly, harder still, for most folks, is hiking across the side of a hill like this. Having that pole on your side to lean in to the hill is a big help.

A lot of folks hiking in the lower 48 don’t use them, and I understand that, for sure. The trail systems there are (generally) so good that I don’t think trekking poles hold quite the same benefit there, even though still useful. Up here, however, it’s a different matter (so I now provide trekking poles for all backcountry trips if you don’t have them or don’t want to deal with packing yours up here). (more…)

Hiking poles and Alaska backpacking

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014
A hiker backpacking up Harry's Gulch in the eastern Chugach mountains of Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

A hiker backpacking up Harry’s Gulch in the eastern Chugach mountains of Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Hiking poles, or trekking poles, can be considered an integral part of the setup for a trek like this one from Bremner Mines to Tebay Lakes.

Hey Folks,


So one question I’m frequently asked about pertains to hiking poles, or trekking poles, and how important or useful they are for backpacking here in Alaska. In short, I’d suggest they’re more than useful, almost mandatory. Of course, few things in the mountains are ever so objective; the mountains are a subjective place, and so we shouldn’t look for objective answers like this. What’s right for me mightn’t be right for you, and what’s right on August 15 mightn’t be right on August 16 (or even 3 hours later on August 15), and so on. But as a general rule, I’d urge anyone coming to Alaska to backpack, and particularly someone on their first ever trip here, to count on using your hiking poles.

Jon, pictured above here, is a great hiker; in super shape, he’s athletic, well-balanced and a very good walker; safe to say he’s a much better hiker than the average backpacker. Much better. He cruised the Bremner Mines to Tebay Lakes route with virtually no trouble at all, and that’s a tough walk, by almost anyone’s metrics. Even Jon mentioned how useful and helpful the hiking poles were for him on this trip. This image, taken as we walked westward up Harry’s Gulch, shows one of the most strenuous parts of hiking in the mountains around here; (more…)

Nikon Coolpix L22 – Backpacking Photography Gear

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013
On our Bremner Mines to Iceberg Lake trek, Amy and Cindy take a quick break before we ventured down to the glacier.

On our Bremner Mines to Iceberg Lake trek, Amy and Cindy take a quick break before we ventured down to the glacier. Photo taken with Nikon Coolpix L22..

Hey Folks,

Just editing some of my files from this past summer, and I ran across this picture from our August Iceberg to Bremner Mines trek. I shot this photo with my little Nikon pocket camera, a Nikon Coolpix L22. I started carrying a point and shoot (P&S) this summer, for the first time in I don’t know how long; too long!

It’s definitely nice to have something handy and accessible, without trying to deal with a larger SLR hanging from a strap while hiking. I generally carry my SLR or SLRs inside my backpack, stashed away where they won’t get (a) damaged and/or (b) left behind quite so easily. It’s SO easy while backpacking to stop and take a quick break, put something down, and walk off without it. That sucks when it’s a can of bear spray or a Nalgene, but it REALLY sucks when it’s something like an SLR, and insanely expensive.

So this summer I hiked with a trusty little Nikon Coolpix L22 in my shirt pocket – the perfect size for a P&S camera. I miss the image quality, of course, when I get home to view the images, but I mostly miss the functionality of the camera in the field. This could well be simply because I’m not as familiar with that camera as I should be, and so I just “point and shoot”, rather than fussing with trying to make some kind of manual controls. There were a few times when I really thought “man, I wish this camera would let me do x-y-z” – which of course I could easily have done if I’d had the SLR in my hands. (more…)

Get Your Boots On

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013
Assorted footwear for backpacking and hiking

Assorted footwear for backpacking and hiking. Please click on the image above to view a larger version of this photo.

Hiking and backpacking boots in Alaska

A backpacking blog with no post about hiking boots? What gives?

Hiking boots are one of those subjects that are SO subjective that it’s invariably a much lengthier conversation than a blog post might, or should, be. Different boots fit different people well, and different boots fit different situations differently. I can suggest what works well for me, in situation x-y-z, and that pair of boots might be completely inappropriate for you in the same situation. or, they might be completely inappropriate for me in situation a-b-c.

So it’s extremely difficult to try to write a ‘general’ idea about boots. I’ll give it a shot.


Leather vs synthetic. The biggest question most start with is “leather boots versus synthetic”. Full leather boots will typically tend to be more durable, provide a little better ankle support (though I have doubts about how much), be heavier and more expensive. If you backpack off-trail a lot, carrying a heavy load, and want a pair of boots that will last a long time, my suggestion is a leather pair of boots. But, if you hike mostly on trail, don’t carry a big heavy pack very often, and don’t mind replacing your boots more frequently, synthetic boots are often a good choice. (more…)

Hiking Poles

Monday, December 5th, 2011
Backpacker with Hiking Pole, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Hiker backpacking with hiking pole, Iceberg Lake to Bremner Mines route, Seven Pass route, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Hey Folks,

One question I receive at least a few times every year concerns hiking poles, or trekking poles, so I thought it might be a good choice to write about here on the blog.

In short, I can’t recommend hiking poles enough for anyone interested in doing some backpacking here in Alaska. I use one, a Leki Makalu that I’ve had for more years than I care to think about. And I bring it every time I’m backpacking in Alaska; every time.

Most folks, of course, use 2, and I think that’s probably a sound way to go. I use one, and that’s what works for me. But 2 is probably a good call.

Hiking poles benefit you so much hiking off trail, which is what most Alaska backcountry travel is. Science Daily had a great article recently about this. — “trekking-poles help hikers maintain muscle function while significantly reducing soreness in the days following a hike”. (more…)

Google Earth; the NEW navigation?

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Hey Folks,

One topic I thought I might write about here that readers might enjoy has to do with navigation; every backcountry traveler has  had issues with getting lost, even if only briefly, and being unsure of direction. So we learn how to read a compass and topographic map. And w learn how to pay attention to our terrain and landscape. We learn about geology and landform features to help us navigate. We learn how to pay attention to the sky, and the sun. Some of us even look skyward after dark and learn to read the constellations.

More recently, we’ve acquired and learned GPS technologies, for pinpoint accuracy, and for better navigation in adverse situations (clouds and fog, flat, featureless terrain, etc).  But even this amazing GPS stuff is years old now. So what’s the “new” navigation technology? (more…)

Why bring a tarp?

Monday, November 15th, 2010
Breakfast under the tarp.

Coffee and breakfast one frosty morning, after a cold, wet and snow evening. The Siltarp 2 is an awesome piece of gear. Click the image above to view a larger version of the photo.

Hey Folks,

One of the questions I received via email after I recently posted my backpacking gear list concerned the tarp I carry.

  • 1 Integral Designs sylnylon  8?x10? tarp and MSR Groundhog stakes

Why, if I’m carrying a tent, do I also carry a tarp?  Good question.

Travels in bear country, and particularly grizzly bear country, means not eating inside a tent. Not ever. We cook, eat, do dishes and store all food quite a distance from where our tents are; the standard distance is 100 yards, but that can vary with the circumstances, IMO. Safe to say that’s a good distance to maintain. The further the better.

When the weather’s bad, the tarp feels like  a life saver. That tiny little shelter makes the world of difference when you get to camp. I can get changed out of any wet hiking gear, put on all my dry, warm layers (including some nice warm, dry socks!!! 🙂 ), to go cook and eat comfortably, warm and dry rather than wet and cold and rained on. It’s particularly nice in the morning, knowing I can get up from my tent and go make coffee under the tarp. I wouldn’t go backpacking without a tarp (or similar).

I find 2 hiking poles, or sometimes 4, works well to build a nice shelter to eat under. This is one of the reasons I like the full-size hiking poles, those that max up to 140cm. Many of the more compact lighterweight poles aren’t really long enough to do effective double duty under the tarp – they’re too short. Headroom matters! (more…)

Many Rivers to Cross

Thursday, February 18th, 2010
Backpackers crossing a creek in Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Backpackers crossing a creek in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Hey Folks,

One of the more challenging aspects of an Alaskan backcountry trek is river crossings. With the exception of the occasional Kenai Peninsula hike, all of these treks are off-trail, wilderness backpacking trips, and so there’s no easy way to get across the streams, creeks and rivers that meander through the mountains. A few tips that can be useful to heed:

1) For smaller streams, I prefer to cross one person at a time. If by chance someone in the group does stumble, it means we have one wet person to deal with. Everyone else in the group is safe and secure on shore. Things unravel quickly in the backcountry, and that happens most often when something small goes wrong. One person stumbles, takes a dip, someone else reaches to grab them, they go down, knock their partner off balance, and all of a sudden bedlam results. That’s how people get hurt. It can also mean everyone gets wet gear. A much simpler problem to deal with is getting one person out of a creek, drying them off, and loaning them some warm, dry gear that another person in the group has in their pack. One person falling is a hassle – a group falling can be a disaster.

2) For anything over knee-high, unbuckle your hip belt and sternum strap on the backpack. (more…)

Choosing Your Backcountry Campsite

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010
Backcountry campsite in the Chugach mountains, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve. From the Iceberg Lake to Bremner Mines trip.

Backcountry campsite in the Chugach mountains, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve. From the Iceberg Lake to Bremner Mines trip.

Hey Folks

Here’s a short post with some tips for you on picking a campsite in the backcountry.  Why a post about picking a campsite? I think it’s useful because many folks overlook this part of a trip, as most people are (typically) so used to backpacking and hiking on trails in the Lower 48 states that it doesn’t really occur to them until it’s time to set up a tent. And by then, it’s too late.

Your campsite is your home, albeit ever so temporarily, and it’s well worth taking a couple of steps toward setting up home for the evening in a setting that you enjoy. Backpacking all day with a heavy load through rugged but beautiful mountains is hard work, and an important part of the trip, to us, is enjoying a great campsite. What makes a great campsite?

Firstly, it needs to be “low impact.” Essentially, low impact campsites are those that don’t leave undue stress on the landscape, or on other visitors to the park, both while you’re camped there and after you’re gone. There are a number of elements that are important, and I’ll stress a few of them here (this is not a comprehensive list). (more…)

Ready For Summer

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

Caribou herd migrate across the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, ANWR, Alaska.

Caribou herd migrate across the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, ANWR, Alaska.

Hey Folks,

I hope this finds you all well and gearing up for a great summer. It seems like winter solstice has only just been and gone, and its already march. Spring’s right around the corner, and then summer will be underway! I’m enjoying the winter, but am ready for summer – warmer weather, sunshine, longer days, and flowers and green vegetation is always welcome! And, best of all, more backpacking!

One of the questions I receive most, especially this time of year, is how best to prepare for the coming backpacking season. The short answer is, it doesn’t matter – just do something – the fitter you are, the safer your trip is! However, I think a few specific things can help:

a) make it regular. Whatever your exercise regime, try hard to make it happen every day – not every second day, or 3 days a week (more…)


Owner and guide Carl Donohue.


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