Lots of people wonder what they should expect on our backpacking trips. Of course, the short answer is to expect to have your mind blown by the incredible scenery and remote wilderness you’ll experience during your trip. But for a more detailed answer, here are some other things to expect:
Your guides will cook delicious breakfasts, lunches, and dinners on your trip. Breakfasts tend to be hot (with lots of hot water available for coffee and tea), and lunches tend to be cold, easy to munch on during a hiking break. Once in camp, your guide will prep the kitchen while you are getting your tent set up, and will begin preparing dinner to re-fuel you from your day. We provide floorless cook tents for rainy or windy days, but if the weather is nice, we prefer to cook out in the open and enjoy the view. Be prepared to sit down on a rock or bear can while you eat (or you may bring your own crazy-creek style chair if you prefer). Don’t forget to bring your mug for some hot chocolate or tea in the evenings!
On point-to-point backpacking trips, we will utilize freeze-dried ingredients to keep our packs lighter, and aim to have well-balanced meals to fuel your adventure. Basecamp adventures tend to have heavier food with less freeze-dried ingredients. To keep you energized in-between meals, each guest will have the opportunity to pack a snack bag before the trip (we have a wide selection of delicious snacks to choose from)! We’re prepared to accommodate most dietary restrictions, as long as we know in advance, so feel free to discuss any concerns with us.
You will be sleeping in tents on your backpacking trip. We provide the tents (although let us know if you’d prefer to use your own), and your guides are happy to help you set them up (especially the first time, as it can be confusing). Your guide will also assist you with staking and guying out your tent to withstand wind/rain, and each tent comes with side vestibules for storing your boots and backpacks. We do not provide sleeping bags or pads (but you’re welcome to rent them from us if you do not have your own). If you are traveling with a companion (or two), we generally will put 2-3 people in a tent. We are happy to accommodate single-occupancy requests, as long as we know in advance. Due to all our backpacking trips being in bear terrain, storing food or snacking in your tent is not allowed.
As on any expedition, it’s reasonable to expect that you will not maintain the same level of cleanliness that you do at home. That being said, we do focus on keeping clean hands when handling food and especially after using the toilet. Hand sanitizer is provided throughout the day and is a great way to disinfect hands. After a day of hiking, you can expect to have both bug spray and sunscreen on your skin, mud on your boots, dirt under your fingernails, and maybe even some stray vegetation caught in your hair after a section of bushwhacking. You’re welcome to rinse off in any alpine streams or lakes we come across – just be prepared for some chilly water! While we do not have showers out in the backcountry, bringing along a small packet of baby wipes can go a long way to wash up in camp.
In the backcountry, we will be burying our solid waste underground in catholes. Your guide will provide a trowel to dig a hole (choose a spot with a good view!) and will explain the pertinent details on the first day of the trip. We encourage guests to pack in toilet paper (and can help you build a “poop kit” prior to the trip), although some guests choose to utilize the natural version of toilet paper (moss and rocks). Any toilet paper used must be packed out, and your guide will provide you with a system of baggies to carry used toilet paper.
The schedule will vary from day to day, depending on the amount of distance covered, opportunities for side hikes, and weather conditions. Some longer trips will contain a “layover day,” where we will not move camp, but do a pleasant day hike instead. On an average day, you can expect to wake up from 7 to 7:30 am, and enjoy coffee and hot drinks while your guide cooks breakfast. After breakfast, it’s time to pack up camp and load up those backpacks, commonly on the move between 9 and 10 am. While you hike, there will be many opportunities to see local flora and fauna, take beautiful pictures, and learn about the stunning environment around you. Lunch-time is rather flexible and will be determined based on the group’s energy levels and interest. You can expect to hike until 3-5 pm in the afternoon, where you’ll begin to look for a good campsite. Once camp is set up, you’ll have some time to relax, read, journal, or just take in the view while your guide prepares a hearty dinner. After dinner, you can enjoy some hot drinks while playing cards or chatting with your fellow travelers until it’s time for bed.
One of the challenging (but fun) aspects of backpacking in Alaska is the wide array of weather you can expect to encounter. You may have blazing sunshine, heavy rain, light drizzle, blowing winds, and everything in-between! The best way to approach this is to dress in layers – enough to keep you warm on chilly days, but ones that can be removed for sunny/warm days. Good rainwear is a must – forego your 10-year old rain jacket for a newer GoreTex model, and be sure to pack rain pants! Always be ready for the weather to change – As the old-timers say: “if you don’t like the weather in Alaska, now, just wait a few minutes…”
In closing, backpacking in Alaska is just plain fun. You’ll have the opportunity to learn new skills, explore new terrain, and gain first-hand experience backpacking through the most remote rugged wilderness the state has to offer. That’s what to expect.