Why Traveling is Good for Your Health

Why Traveling is Good for Your Health

Jungle HottubI know, I know. You’re going to tell me about “the worst food poisoning you’ve ever had” from ceviche in a foreign country. There’s plenty of things that can happen while traveling that aren’t good for your health. But, when you look at health from a holistic standpoint (body, mind, stress, emotions), traveling is great for your health, even if you fought with your spouse the whole time, drank the water (it’s true what they say, for the love of god, don’t drink the water!) and missed your connecting train because no one spoke your language. Here’s why:

Reason #1: It gets you out of your comfort zone.
Traveling can be frustrating sometimes. You’re faced with weird food you’ve never seen. (What on earth is that fuzzy red fruit that looks like an eyeball inside? Or the stinky spiky thing? Or the chicken feet soup?) You’re often surrounded by a language you don’t understand, and customs that you are unaware of. (Why is that man mad at me for putting my feet up near his alter?)  Rambutan fruit
Because of this, traveling can feel uncomfortable. So why is this good for your health? Because it’s so healthy to get out of our comfort zone! So many of our daily habits are subconscious actions that we’ve been enculturated to believe are normal. It’s so good to realize which things are cultural, which things are habit, and which things are truly you.

Why is this important? For one, you get to know yourself even better. You learn what are your true passions, and what things are just habitual, and which areas of life you didn’t realize had other options. Also, it gives you the opportunity to make healthier decisions. For example: You’ve always eaten cold cereal for breakfast. (The worst thing to start your day with, but that’s another article). You’re in southeast Asia, and they’re eating Miso soup for breakfast! What??!?! That’s not a breakfast food! (Our culture says). So you try it, and maybe you feel a million times better. I’ve picked up a ton of healthy habits traveling that that never would have crossed my mind.

Reason #2: It’s great for stress

“But traveling can be so stressful!” I hear you arguing. Yes, but even that can be good for you! Even if you have a crazy stressful trip…you’re shocked by poverty you’ve never seen, you don’t have hot water in your hotel, and then you get pick-pocked by a 10 year old. Why would that be a good thing? When you return home, you have the opportunity to be grateful for what you have. And recognizing gratitude daily has been proven to relieve stress and increase happiness.

In my experience, most of the time traveling is fun! New foods, new people, new adventures. And if you’re off work and just living in the moment, that can do wonders for Costa Rica Treehouseyour overworked adrenal glands. When I lived in the Caribbean, I used to back-float in the 90º water and just close my eyes. It felt like I was floating, and I could feel any muscles aches and irritations melting away. We all deserve that feeling! And sometimes it means we remove ourselves from our daily stresses to feel it. (And when you go back to normal life, you have a place in your heart to return to.)

Reason #3: We move more!

This is not always true (there are people who sit in sun chairs and drink margaritas all day when they travel), but for the most part, we move more when we travel. I usually end up walking everywhere, swimming, biking, hiking, and just generally moving. And there’s no time spent sitting behind a computer! So our bodies get a vacation from their usual habits.Yoga Vacation

Reason #4: Enjoying Your New Comfort Zone

Once you’ve pushed boundaries, tried new foods, new experiences, and have a new stock of amazing memories, you get to go home and enjoy your new comfort zone. What Comfort Zonredoes that mean? Well, there could be a lot of things that make you uncomfortable, or things that scared you. Once you face your fears, it’s no longer a fear or discomfort. Are you self-conscious alone at a party? Well once you sit at a bar alone with no one that even speaks your language, that shouldn’t be as scary! Freaked out by new food? Once you’ve checked out the roasted insect vendors, curry should seem pretty tame. Nervous dancing in front of people? Once you’ve been dragged into a salsa dance in front of locals and looked pretty silly, but laughed with them, a club should seem like nothing to fret about.

The less things that cause us La Guajira Colombiadiscomfort, the less stressful and more fun life can be!


Tips to make travel as healthy as possible:

  • Instead of an “all-you-can-eat/drink” cruise, take a yoga vacation or sports trip.
  • Instead of staying at American chain resorts, stay in a local place and try the local, homemade fair. (Chain hotels usually served canned imported food.)
  • Don’t just hangout at the hotel, go out and explore and meet new people!
  • Don’t drink the water. Please. Just don’t.
  • Be wary of raw vegetables. Fruits with a peal are usually fine, but salads and such can be a danger zone for travelers. (Raw meat even more so.)

And if you’re looking for something that has it all, come join me for a yoga vacation to Peru! Daily homemade meals included, professional guides, daily yoga, hikes, wildlife viewing, fresh air and all the fun you can think of.

Amazon Tour

Peru Machu Picchu Yoga Retreat


Amazon and Macchu Picchu New Year’s Yoga Retreat!

Amazon and Macchu Picchu New Year’s Yoga Retreat!
Yoga Retreat in Peru


Register Here

Come join me in the rainforest and the Sacred Valley of Peru. Traveling is one of my favorite things, and South America is my favorite place. I’d love to share my South-American adventures with you, and I have 12 days of pure awesome planned. Check out the information on my retreat page.

New Year Yoga RetreatWe will start the trip with 5 days in the Amazon Rainforest. We’ll be taking boats down the Amazon, to see fauna and wildlife that only exist here. WhereAmazon Yoga Retreat else can you feed and swim with pink dolphins? There’s also monkeys, sloths, fish, and “pre-historic” birds. We’ll also get the rare opportunity to visit an indigenous tribe, seeing how they live their life on the river, while meeting with their Shaman. This will culminate in a  Amazon New Year’s celebration!

After, we will fly to the Sacred Valley, where you can see history everywhere. (Since I studied anthropology, I really go crazy for this stuff. The origin of gold as a currency? Ancient cities high in the Andes? A fountain that was been flowing for thousands of years? Structures only viewable from the air???? Ahhhhhhhh!!!) We will visit the famed Machu Picchu, and exploNew Year Yoga Retreatre the ancient Pisac ruins. We will visit a local market, and explore the streets and history of the awesome city of Cuzco.

And I forget to mention…all of this unforgettable travel experience, plus a daily yoga practice! We will explores all the wonderful structures of our body, while learning techniques or self-healing. Everyone will get their own “Yoga Tune Up” massage balls, which you can take home with you along with tools for structural maintenance. If you weren’t convinced by exploring the Andes or seeing tree-frogs, then the education of your muscles should be worth it in and of itself. : ) New Year Peru Holiday

So please feel free to contact me with any questions! And view my official retreat page for detailed information. I look forward to seeing you in Peru!
Machu Picchu Yoga Holiday

Surf, Yoga, and Wellness in Peru! Announcing an Encompassing Health Getaway

Encompassing Health is teaming up with Paleo Yogis to bring you an AWESOME life-changing event. This 7 day retreat will be filled with yoga classes, surf lessons, wellness talks, ziplining, and all-around fun. We will spend 7 days on the coast of Northern Peru, this January 7th-13th, 2013.

Peru Yoga RetreatYou will not find a more affordable all-inclusive retreat. (All-inclusive pricing starts at $750 USD!) There will be lodging within walking distance of the beach, with a private hammock and swimming pool. You will eat freshly cooked food by a professional chef-delicious, healthy, and catered to your dietary needs. Every day will bring a different adventure we practice beach yoga and workouts, relax with Yin Yoga and yoga therapy ball massage, learn about subtle energies and the importance of colorful vegetables.

Peru Yoga and Surf Retreat
The early-bird ends soon, so register right away! The full details, pricing matrix, and travel info can be found in “Peru Yoga and Surf Retreat” tab above. Please feel free to contact us with any questions!!!!
I will see you in Peru….

Mancora Peru Yoga

Menu Planning for Healthy Backpacking: How to Plan Meals for Your Hike.

Although there are many aspects of a thu-hike that would be considered “difficult, (planning for unpredicable weather, stream crossings, bringing enough TP, etc), for me the most stressful planning was food preparation. What if I run out of food? How do I know how hungry I’ll be? How do I find a quick-cooking gluten free breakfast? What if I become vitamin C deficient from lack of fresh vegetables?!?! Ahhhh!!!
My stress might have been lessened by a good JMT-food planning guide, but I couldn’t seem to find one that really spelled it out. So, I decided to write my own so that your food-planning stress may be reduced. And, of course, there is special attention paid to those hikers with dietary restrictions (gluten and dairy allergies, vegetarian and vegan, etc.)

First things first-Calories!!!!
A simple but effective way to plan your daily meals is by caloric consumption. You will be burning up to 6,000 calories a day, so plan for more calories than you would usually consume. (Don’t know your normal calorie consumption? Spend a few days keeping a food journal, and add it up! There’s some online programs that will average calories for certain dishes.)
Plan for about 2,500 calories of food a day. If that isn’t enough for you, I will list ways to amp up the calories in your meals.
There’s a few ways to do it…I would lay out a breakfast, lunch and dinner for each day, and add up the calories. My partner simply added all his food for each supply, and divided it by the number of days. (So for a 7-day food supply, he would add all the calories and divide it by 7 to get the average number per day.) Just make sure you have enough energy to get up those overpasses.

Weight/Dehydrated Food:
People seem divided over pre-made dehydrated food meals. They save a TON on weight, which will make a big difference. They also save on space and planning, since you don’t have to bring extra spices and ingredients. They also save fuel, since usually they only require boiled water. (Instead of having to boil or cook for an extended time.) They can save on having to do dishes, since certain ones can be cooked in their package, although that can create more waste. Some are chemical-free, which I can’t say for the standard grocery store dried mashed potatoes. Also, you can MAKE YOUR OWN dehydrated food, which is probably the cheapest option. (More info below.)
Cons: These meals can be VERY pricey, some $10-$12 apiece. (Certain brands are cheaper than others, and you can find sales on gear sites.) Also, since they are pricey, you may not be able to taste taste them before you go. If you’re picky, that may be hard, since you may get stuck with meals you don’t like.

Dehyrated Food Sources:
Outdoor Herbivore: Best for food allergies, vegetarian/vegan diet, organic, etc: This website and its meal options are simply awesome. Everything is certified organic and chemical free, and they pay special attention to dietary needs and nutriets hard to come by on the trail. The meals are also suprisingly calorie packed for veggie food, more so than even the meatier brands. There’re many gluten free breakfast options (brown rice farina with dried fruit, chia seed breakfast with dates and coconut.) For the nutrition junky, they don’t miss much. Many of their meals have nutrional yeast (B vitamins!) and special spices for imflammation and blood sugar regulation (tumeric and cinnamin.) The prices are the cheapsest that I’ve found, especially since you can get a double serving size for only $2 more. Only flaw…there is a lot of onion and garlic in their dinners, so if you’re sensitive be careful.
Mary Janes Farms: Best for taste and vegetarian items. This is one of the tastiest organic meals, even the  non-health concious backpackers really loved them. (ahhh, chili-mac…) They have a lot of veggie options, and they are organic and chemical free. Downside? Definitely one of the pricier brands, so watch out for on-line sales.
Pack Lite Foods: Another vegetarian dehydrated food site, with some tasty entries. I didn’t get much from them this trip, (I opted for the higher calorie choices from outdoor herbivore), but I will try more next time for variety.
My least suggested? The most popular brand, carried by most outdoor stores, is Mountain House. As a nutrional connoisseur, I coudln’t bring my self to buy a single package. Hyrdogenated oils, anyone? Many of the people I met ate them and said they were good, but they’re also pricey, and I think they are much better brands to choose from.

Other food sources:
Regular grocery stores carry things like ramen noodles, powdered mashed potatoes, and mac & cheese. These are usually not the most chemical free, but they can be a lot cheaper. (And Whole Foods often has its own versions.) Just be careful of cooking time, you don’t want to burn up your fuel. (Regular pasta noodles often need to boil for 10 min or more.)
Raw Food snacks: There are some caloricly dense raw foods containing nuts, which can also have some good nutrients (like dried kale, seaweed, raw almonds, coconut butter). These can be pricey, and some aren’t worth the weight/price/to calorie ratio. Remember, you have limited space in your bear canister!
Trader Joes: TJ’s has some of the best trail mixes! Get a variety, so you don’t have to eat the same combo every day. They also have the best prices for dried fruit (sans sulfites) and raw nuts.
Fishing and Gathering: I do not trust my plant-skills to forage for my own food, but many people go this route. Some people also brought tiny fishing poles, and caught some very fresh trout. If you live in the L.A. area, there is a guy named Christopher Nyerges who conducts edible plant workshops and wilderness survival classes. They’re very reasonably priced, and it’s a good skill to have.

Electrolytes and Missed Nutrients:The absence of fresh food can leave a backpacker without some important nutriets. This is not just important for health, but for energy and performance. There is a great article on Outdoor Herbivore that goes into detail of the foods that give specific vitamins, and here are some of the important ones:
Electrolytes: You may have heard a lot of hype about this little guys, but they are actually quite important to keep from muscle cramping and dehydration, and the body loses them as it sweatss. The tubes of tablets are more weight/space efficient, (compared to the individual packets), and can be added to your water bottle throughout the day. (The right amount makes you have to pee less and absorb more water, but be careful, too much can have the opposite effect!)
Potassium:  Potassium is an electrolite, but since you’ll probably be eating a lot of salt (from dried meals) be sure to keep up the potassium. You’re potassium/sodium balance keeps you probably hydrated. Potassium can be found in many dried fruits (like bananas) and potatoes.
Omega 3: Most nuts are really high in Omega 6, so you’ll have to purposely add ingredients with Omega 3 to keep yourself healthy. Omega 3 is important for energy and joint health. Include walnuts, avocado, hemp, chia seeds, or flax to certain meals.
Vitamin C: This is present in fruits and veggies, but can be lacking in dried dinners. Either eat a decent amount of dried fruit, or bring some Emergen-C packets with you just in case.
Dehydration: Water may seem like an obvious thing, but most people do not drink enough of it. At dry, high altitudes this can literally be dangerous. Drink continuously, even if you’re not thirsty. (You don’t need to go crazy, just sip all day.) Make sure the water is clear coming out, dark urine can be an indication of dehydration.

Doing your own dehydrating!
My hiking partner bought a dehydrator, and made his own beef jerky, pineapple, and apple rings. They were some of the tastiest dried fruit I’ve ever tasted, and he saved a lot of money doing it. You can even dehydrate your own full meals, so the sky’s the limit if you feel like going this route. You can try using a regular oven, or there are dehydrators for under $50.

Variety: I thought that I would be so ravenous after burning 3,000 calories that I would eat just about anything. So I packed one kind of trail mix, a couple kinds of dried fruit, and the same few dinners. This was a huge mistake. Hungry or not, you will crave variety and flavor. Pack a different trail mix in each resupply with different ingridients, and a mix of meals. Bring different freeze-dried fruit to add to your oatmeal (bananas, blueberries, strawberries, etc.) Bring a variety of sides to go with dinner. This is especially important if you have altitude sickness, since I had no appetite in the first place. Trying to choke down the same trial mix every day was torture.

Altitude Sickness:
I thought this would be a rare condition, but I suffered from altitude sickness the WHOLE HIKE, and met others who had the same issue. You feel dizzy, nautious, and fuzzy headed. The most dangerous side effect is that you can lose your appetite…which definitely happened to me. I had to force-feed myself every bite, and usually threw away my dinner after a couple bites. (When my hiking partner wasn’t looking, of course.) There were a few days I ate less than 800 calories for the whole day (even after hiking 12 miles.) To keep yourself from losing energy or becoming malnourished, you should keep eating small amounts. Listen to your body, and don’t stuff yourself when nautious, but eat little bites of things all day. Put protein mix in water, and add olive oil to your meals. And most importantly, don’t panic. Although I was eating half as much as normal, I actually did fine on the hike. Just recognize when your truly sick or need help.

Frequency and Calorie dispersement: Go with your appitite, but I had a specific way I ate my meals. We all forced ourselves to eat something decent in the morning, so we weren’t hiking on zero energy. But I feel sluggish and bogged down if I eat too much before hiking up a hill, so I ate a decently light breakfast. Throughout the hike, we took breaks and snacked every hour or two. We would munch on a few handfulls of dried fruit and trail mix, the quick sugar in the fruit helped to give me immediate energy, and the nuts kept me full longer. I’d also eat the occational protein bar for the same reason, plus the variety. Then, after we’d set up camp, I’d eat over half of my calories for the day, since I didn’t have to worry about being bogged down or tired. I would sometimes eat an entire rehydrated meal, plus a side of soup, rehydrated potatoes, or rehydrated dip and crackers. Sometimes we’d even eat twice after setting down for the evening.

Normal: Oatmeal with freeze-dried fruits added, dehydrated eggs with a tortilla, dehydrated breakfast meals, protien powder and water, almond butter w/honey and tortillas, quick-cooking pancake mix.
Gluten Free: Chia seed coconut mix, dehydrated egg/veggie mix, NuGo Go free chocolate energy bar, MacroBar, brown-rice farina, rehydrated blueberries and brown rice.

Lunch-Cooking vs. Snacks:
It’s important to be realistic…the only meal I usually heated and cooked was dinner. (And sometimes breakfast.) For the entire hiking part of the day, you probably won’t stop and bust out your stove set. So a large portion of your calories should be in the form of ready-to-eat, dense snacks.
Normal: Kraft cheese and crackers, mini pack of fig nutens, snickers bars, peanut butter and tortillas, fruit roll ups,
Also, those little snack-packs you ate in lunch when you were little are great. (They don’t need to be refridgerated, and they’re decently high calorie.) Starchy snacks won’t be enough, you really need the caloric density of a walnut, not a cracker.  And be realistic…more than a third of your daily calories will come from these trail-ready snacks! Bring enough.
Gluten free/Vegan: Brazil nuts, dried pineapple, dried apples, trail mix, dried ginger, chili mango, TJ’s Fiberful fruit leather, dried seaweed, and protein bars.

Normal: One of many dehydrated meal choices, regular mac&cheese, ramen soup, re-hydrated potato flakes, pasta with dehydrated Alfredo sauce, dried pasta sauce packets. 

Gluten Free and Veg Friendly: One of the many Outdoor Herbivore Meals (Freckle burrito, chickpea pasta, vegan mac&cheese, pesto pasta, etc.) A Mary Janes meal: (ChiliMac, pesto pasta, etc.), rehydrated chili soup, bean dip and crackers.

There are many dehydrated desserts, (cheesecake, freeze dried ice cream, fruit crumble, etc), but you may get pretty sick of your dried food. When you pick up your resupply package, a good idea is to put a treat for yourself. It can be something that would be too heavy to carry (like a pudding), but you’ll be eating it when you arrive so it doesn’t really matter. I put chocolate macaroons, a gluten free brownie, and other goodies in my resupply. Variety will keep you from sponaeously throwing your meal off a cliff due to extreme food boredom.

Please see the “Packing List” post for fuel usage.

Endurance Training for the John Muir Trail and other hikes.

Really these suggestions could be applied to training for any long-distance backpacking trip, thru-hiking, (or even short distance.) There are different schools of thought for physical challenges such as the JMT. One is: “I’m fine, I like to hike, I will just adjust and train on the trail.” The other is: “Holy crap this is going to be hard, I have to train with a weighted pack, work on my injuries, and make sure I don’t give-up and go home mid-hike.”
Both cases have stories of success…but I went with the second school of thought. I had a knee injury I had never really addressed, and I liked going on afternoon hikes, but not for 100+ miles with a 40lb pack. So I decided to train extra hard, and make sure I had everything I needed to keep my knees and shoulder safe. Looking back, I can see what played the biggest part in training for endurance, altitude, and joint-safety.

Dealing with Past and Recent Injuries:
Thinking that pesky knee strain won’t bother you on the trail may be denial. If it bothers you on a short hike or run, it will bother you on a 2,500 ft. altitude gain with a 50lb pack. Take many practice hikes before you go, and bring a weighted pack. I started with a small one, and kept adding weight and miles. Then you start to see what injuries flair up. That old shoulder strain from baseball may become a very present annoyance. So be honest with yourself about you limitations, and have them evaluated before you go.
Where to find advice on your injuries: 
Physical Therapy:If you have health insurance, check with your doctor and get a prescription for physical therapy. Be very honest about the hike, and ask them advice. They can tell you what braces you should wear, how to make makeshift braces out of ace bandages, and so on. They can also give you exercises to do before you go, to strengthen any weak areas. I found out I have a specific muscle weakness in my quad that was affecting my knee, so I devoutly did the weights and movements necessary to strengthen it before my trip.

Yoga Therapy: So let’s face it, in this country of private and expensive health care, we don’t all have insurance. Luckily, there are alternatives to full-priced physical therapy. Some PTs have private practices, sometimes out of their homes, so they charge decent rates. Another option can be “Yoga Therapy.” There is a system of certified yoga therapists, that help heal injuries with a gentle yoga practice. If you have a serious injury, just remember that they are not doctors, and you should seek medical help. But a pesky muscle problem can be truly helped by this specialized practice. To find a therapist in your area, you can look on the official website. If you live in the LA area, I specifically suggest a yoga therapist, Sherry Brourman, who is also a certified physical therapist. She’s a body-mechanic genius, and I give her full credit for making my knee trail-ready. (Much more so than the traditional doctors and PTs that I saw.) More about her techniques and classes below…
If you don’t live in SoCal, there’s another teacher named Jill Miller that has DVD’s and video blogs specifying different muscles and joints. She has great articles and videos about hurt knees, tight hamstrings, and core strength. To check out her articles, videos, and order her DVD’s just visit http://www.yogatuneup.com/
Gait Analysis: 

Available on Amazon

Often an imbalance in the body starts with the way we walk. The way our feet press into the ground and direction our toes point can affect the knees, which affect the hips, which affect the low back, and so on. So an excellent step is getting your walking gait analyzed. This is another thing you can see your physical therapist about. This happens to also be Sherry Brourman’s specialty. (The yoga therapist mentioned above.) If you live in SoCal, you can go to her “Walking Yoga” workshops held at exhale in Venice. If you live far away, she has a book called “Walk Yourself Well,” which has a TON of awesome information. She also holds semi-private yoga classes in Santa Monica, (4-5 students with one teacher and 1-2 assistants.) She will discuss injuries, and hold a yoga class while correcting any imbalance she observes. You can see her class times and locations at http://tensegrityyogatherapy.com/index.html.
During the hike, I would start to have knee pain (or simply be tired and sore), and I would think about the gait corrections Sherry made. I was able to adjust my step and posture, helping my shoulders (by knowing how to engage my core to hold my bag, instead of dumping into my shoulders), and my knee pain would drop significantly. So if you can, find someone to analyze your walk to optimize your hiking performance.

Endurance Training/Strength/Flexibility:
As mentioned above, the best training for a hike is hiking. If you have trails available to you, hike them as often as humanly possible. Any hike you have time for is good, but getting some decent mileage is optimal. And bring a weighted pack, so your shoulders don’t have a rebellion when you’re suddenly stuck carrying it for 15 miles straight.
If you don’t have ample trails near you, (or if you live somewhere with weather), there are alternative ways to train. Just don’t forget the holy trinity of training: Strength, aerobic/endurance, and flexibility.
Aerobic/Endurance Training:
Fitness Classes: I took a bunch of circuit training “boot camp” style classes before the trip. We would get our heart rate up by stair climbing, sprinting, and more, then alternate with strength training. In relation to the JMT, the strength training proved important for: steep climbs, lifting the backpack, and scrambling up rocks. And if your muscles and joints are strong, there is less chance of injury. My favorite classes were the “Missions” with Jenna Phillips, who I wrote about in my blog about Santa Monica. I never left those classes under-worked or disappointed.

Photo by Cimm

Dance Classes: This may seem like an odd suggestion, but the different steps in my dance classes really prepared my legs for the different terrain of hiking. In my Samba class, the steps would take us in all directions (sideways, forwards, backwards, in a circle). This really prepared my legs for all sorts of movements, instead of just the forward movement of walking. The terrain on the JMT changes constantly (steep uphill, steep downhill, grass, sand, stone, snow, crab-walking), and I was happy my legs were conditioned in many ways. Instead of partner or choreographed dance, the fast-moving pace of Samba or Zumba fits the bill nicely. As a bonus, it can be an intense aerobic workout, which is needed for long-distance hiking. If you can find these classes in your area, awesome. If you live in LA, Gisella is my favorite teacher. She teaches at Your Neighborhood Studio, (I love this place), and the Brazil Brazil Cultural Center.
Strenth Training:
Weights: Good ol’ fasioned weight training can prepare your muscles. But please, please get someone to show you the proper alignment and movement for the free-weights and machines (even if you’ve been lifting for years.) Whenever I walk around the gym, most of the people are lifting with bad posture and alignment, which can actually hurt instead of help you. (Same with the treadmill, which is why a gait analysis is great.)

Photo by Edson Hong

Pilates: Reformer pilates has to be my favorite strength workout. (Pilates on the reformer is on a machine, opposed to on a mat.) It works both sides of your body equally to keep from muscle   imbalances, and equalizes the different muscle groups. The classes are ussually smaller, so the teacher can give more individualized attention to assure you are using the proper muscle for the exercise (like your core instead of your back.) Having a strong core helps in almost all movements, even hiking. In the LA-area, I like Pilates Plus, which has many locations. (These classes can be pricey, but look for deals and on-line coupons!)
Of course, the easiest way to gain flexibility is through yoga classes. But not all classes are created equal…some teachers have turned it into a strength workout, and there’s not that much stretching involved. Try going to a yin yoga class for deep stretches, or a Forrest yoga class for structural muscle opening. Vinyasa flow yoga is NOT the best for stretching, it’s usually too fast paced.
Also, your PT can give you some specific stretches to do if you have the dicipline to do it on your own. Pilates also has a flexibility aspect.
Ankle Strength: Another yoga benefit comes from balancing poses. Standing on one foot in the different yoga postures can be great for strengthening and balancing ankle muscles, a key part of safe hiking. I often have problems with “rolling my ankles,” which has led to weeks on crutches. Building ankle strength can help with this issue, so don’t skimp on Warrior Three poses.

Altitude Training:
The only real way to train for altitude is to be at altitude. This can be difficult for those of us that live at sea level. If you live within a few hours of a trail with altitude, go as often as you can to hike there. If that isn’t an option, than try going to Yosemite (or wherever your hike starts) and spending a few days there before you begin hiking. Sleeping, walking, and breathing at altitude may prep your body for the hike. You may think this is trivial, but altitude sickness has some really unpleasant side affects. 1.) It is harder to breath. Your body is taking in less oxygen, so a hike that wouldn’t be a problem at sea level may leave you heaving. 2.) Altitude sickness can leave you feeling nauseous and dizzy, and you may have trouble taking in enough calories.
I was not able to train high up, so I suffered from altitude sickness almost the entire time. I did some different things to deal with it, which I’ll outline in my next blog post about backpacking food.

Backpacker Packing Checklist: Ultimate list for hiking the John Muir Trail, or other long walks.

I have had quite the internet silence lately, with no blog posts, facebook, or emails. It’s because I was on a nice long walk. I went with a friend to hike the John Muir Trail (I did half, he did the whole thing.) This is a packing list for my recommended items and brands and where to get them. The list can be applied to the JMT specifically (for things like weather and bugs,) but really it can be applied to any through hiking, long-distance backpacking trip or shorter backpacking trails.
I approached my friend who had hiked the Appalachian trail, and when I asked him for advice, he simply said: “WEIGHT, WEIGHT, and WEIGHT.” I didn’t think weight would be all that important, but once you strap that backpack on and go up two hours of switchbacks, you’ll be begging for a lighter pack. Don’t forget important items, but be very conscious what your bringing.

Do a practice hike with your gear!
I went on a 3-day camping trip with the gear I wanted to bring. I also took a 14 mile hike with a weighted pack, to see how everything would work. I learned some very valuable things (that my pants were really uncomfortable, that my hat didn’t cover my temples so I needed extra sunscreen, and that sock liners were key to avoid blisters and sore toes.) I would have gone with some unnecessary items, some uncomfortable gear, and missed some things. I felt much more confidant taking a practice trip and knowing my gear.

Where to buy/rent gear:
Purchasing: If you want to buy new, and see it first-hand, the two main outdoor stores are REI and A16 (A16 is just in SoCal). I like A16 more. There’s usually more people on staff, and they’re REALLY knowledgeable. If you have a local outdoor store, it’s great to support them as well.
Auctions/Army Surplus Stores: Both these resources often have the most cost-effective options, although they’re not always light-weight, so be careful.
Craigslist/Online: There’s some great stuff, like trekking poles, stoves and tents on Craigslist. It can be a bit time-consuming, but could save you money. There’s also a ton of discount outdoor websites: www.altrec.com/, www.sierratradingpost.com/, http://www.backcountry.com/,  http://www.campmor.com/, www.rei.com/outlet
Renting: If you don’t want to dish out the cash for new gear, A16 and other stores rent A LOT of items. (Backpacks, sleeping bags, trekking poles, stoves, etc.) If you go to school, many colleges rent out gear as well, and your local gear shop might do the same. Yosemite park actually rents bear canisters for cheap ($5 a week). But you do have to put a deposit down, and make sure to mail/give it back to them.

The List:
Here is my list, complete with a picture of the items. For my clothes, I took a picture of everything “non-compressed” (out of their stuff sacks.) The second picture is the same items, but compressed, (except for the outfit I actually wore.) You can see what a difference in space the compressible items make. Feel free to leave a comment if you think I’ve left something out, or you have a favorite brand/item you want to rave about.

  • Hiking Shoes/Boots: This is not something you want to skimp on. If you have cheap, crappy hiking boots, you will be in pain, get blisters, and maybe slip on wet rocks. I have Vasque brand hiking boots, which can be on the pricey side. But, I got them at an awesome sale at REI, and paid $40 instead of $120. So it is possible to find deals, just don’t skimp on quality. If you already have a pair, just make sure they still have good treading on the bottom, and haven’t worn through by the heal.
  • Convertible pants to shorts/capris: You will get cold sometimes, and warm sometimes, and may have to cross rivers other times. But you should only bring 1-2 pairs of pants/shorts, so make it count by making them convertible. And they must be COMFORTABLE. Nothing makes a hike worse than having pain in uncomfortable places, or having too long/too tight pants.
  • Shorts: Just brought a small, lightweight pair to wear while my main pair were drying (from rain or washing.)
  • Polyester shirt: YOU DO NOT WANT COTTON. You will probably wear this every day for weeks, and it needs to dry quickly after you’ve washed it in a river. So synthetic fiber, or any quick-dry material is a must. I got a silver-threaded shirt from Lululemon, it was supposed to make me stink less. If want to save on money, Ross or TJ Maxx often have polyester shirts as well. Bamboo is also a good choice.
  • SPV shirt: It’s smart to have one back-up shirt, so that you have something to wear when you’re washing the other. (Or if it gets torn or sprayed with mud). I got a UV-protected long sleeve for chillier weather. And when you spend 12 hours a day in the sun on a hike, you have to remember sun exposure.
  • Thermal pants/shirt (Patagonia Midweight Capalene): Do your research on weather, the highs and lows. If you’re doing the JMT, the lows will sometimes be below freezing. I did not regret bringing my long underwear to wear to bed. My synthetic Patagonia Capalene are great. Just get the mid-weight, the thinner ones may not be enough.
  • 2 pairs ExOfficio underwear:  Yes, I really brought only 2 pairs of underwear for two weeks. But ExOfficio are supposed to be quick-drying, anti-microbial, and so on. They look a little like granny panties, but they do the trick. You can wash them in the stream, and wear the other pair. Just check out the portion below on “feminine hiking health” if you want to learn some extra tricks for long-term underwear use.
  • 3 pairs thick wool hiking socks: Socks will be one of your most important purchases. They must be comfortable, quick-drying (NO COTTON!!), thick for cushioning and blister prevention. I went with the heavyweight REI brand. Most of the time go for Merino wool. It won’t smell as bad, and it’s not itchy. Ask your A16 or REI person, they can help you make a choice, and don’t skimp on cost for this one. Pain can make hiking miserable.
  • 3 pairs Sock Liners: People have different opinions about sock liners, but they worked great for me. They’re a thin under-layer you wear under socks to prevent friction (i.e. blisters). They can also be quick-drying, and can be easier to clean than your actual socks, so they lengthen the time you have clean outer socks. I tried a few brands, all worked. Here’s a great article on picking socks/liners from REI.
  • Winter Jacket: Do your homework on weather, but I needed a full-on winter Patagonia jacket. Me and my hiking partner were ecstatic that we decided against the fleece and went for a jacket, since it gets cold. Just make sure your jacket keeps you comfy in below-freezing temperatures.
  • Rain shell jacket/pants (Sierra Designs): This could easily be heavy and bulky, or small and light. You want a compressible pair that fits into a little stuff sack (or its own pocket), and weighs very little. These can be really pricey, but Sierra Designs makes some decently affordable ones. You can see mine in the picture, they start out full jacket/pants, and compress down to small bags that weighed very little. Surprisingly, they made a great stuffer for my pillow case.
  • Wide-brim Hat: This served two purposes…protection from the sun (extremely necessary) and a holder for the mosquito headnet, to keep it away from my face. Whatever is comfortable and provides good protection should work, Colombia makes some affordable ones that are nicely ventilated.
  • Sandals: I needed these for river crossings, and to wear at the end of the day when I wanted to get out of my shoes! I just brought some light flip-flops, but my partner’s foam Crocs proved a little better (since I lost mine in a river halfway through.) He found some off-brand for $5 at a drug store, so no splurge needed. Just remember you’ll be carrying them on your back (usually strapped to the outside with a carabiner), so light-weight is important.
  • Mosquito Head-Net: I didn’t believe everyone that California could have such bad mosquitoes…but by day two I crying for mercy, apologizing for being a non-believer. The pristine meadows of the trail prove a haven for mosquito breading, and I used my head-net almost every night. Sea to Summit makes a great light-weight one, but any small, light one should do.
  • Light gloves: Nothing special, just brought a light pair of fleece gloves for cold nights.


  • Sunscreen: You HAVE to wear it. Make sure yours works, I like the aloe-based ones.
  • Mosquito repellent: I hate the stuff, and swore I wouldn’t use it, but ended up slathering it on every hour. Lemon-eucalyptus won’t cut it, get the serious stuff.
  • Toilet paper: Guys brought just a regular role. Being a woman, and needing it more often, I used about 2.5 roles a week. For weight/space, I bought Coghlan’s role-less biodegradable paper. For two weeks I brought 6 rolls, and had one left over.
  • Chapstick (non-petroleum): Necessary for sun and dry weather. Petroleum-based chapstick will actually dry out your lips, so try for the Burt’s Bees, or an Aloe-based.
  • Toothbrush/paste (mini): I had more tiny tubes at each re-supply.
  • Spiral notepad / pencil: Proved useful for writing email addresses of hikers, suggestions for the trail, and journaling.
  • Camp soap: I brought the Sea to Summit concentrated camp soap, which can be used for laundry, body, hair, etc.
  • Waterless Hand Sanitizer: The next time I hike, I’m going to bring less soap, and more hand-sanitizer. Your hands will get filthy, but you need to be near water to use soap. Plus, we’re not supposed to be using any soap within 200 feet of a water source. (To keep water pristine.) This makes hand-washing complicated, so waterless sanitizer is an easier choice.

The Rest:

  • Backpack: Use a good backpack! We met up with some guys using army surplus bags, and two of their bags broke mid-hike! They ended up duck-taping parts of the bag together, but there were some painful miles ahead. Go into A16 or REI and get fitted for one, because comfort and body-fit are very important. They also make different frames for women, I have a woman’s Gregory pack. You want a 60 gallon at the least, but not too big, 65 gallon seems to be the perfect size. The nicer packs will cost, but they usually come with a lifetime guarantee. (So you can ship them back for repairs instead of using duct tape.) You can also rent one.
  • Trekking poles: Absolutely NECESSARY for a long through-hike. You use them for balance jumping rocks, to keep for being swept away in river crossings, and to keep from sliding down a steep snow-crossing. They also take some work off your knees on the downhill, and give your shoulders a break on the uphill. And bring a pair, not a single.
  • Tent: Most people use a one-person backpacking tent. The dark blue pack in my picture is my Kelty. It’s only a couple of pounds and doesn’t take up much space. Some folks I met had a Eureka, which was almost as light and could fit two people. Most of these will not be free-standing, as poles weight a lot. Some hard-core folks made a tent out of their trekking poles and a rain fly, which is super light-weight, but doesn’t provide much protection from bugs and rain.
  • Sleeping bag (20º or better): I had many restless nights because of the cold, so you’re going to want a warm bag. Down is lightweight, compresses nicely, and is usually warmer than synthetic. The danger with down is that you cannot get it wet. This is something to consider. I went with a synthetic bag, although I wasn’t quite as warm, condensation and rain didn’t prove a problem. (Plus i have moral issues with down.) It needs to come with a compression sack, to reduce the amount of room it takes up in your pack.
  • Sleeping Pad: Many people had the Z-Lite foam Thermarest; it’s one of their lightest. That’s not comfortable enough for me (the foam isn’t thick enough, sleeping in a rocky area wouldn’t be fun.) I liked the self-inflating padded Theramrest; I use the Women’s Trail Lite. This is also something you should touch and test, so go into REI or A16 and try them out. Some compress smaller than others, and they all have different amounts of padding.
  • Backpacking Stove: It’s really popular to make homemade alcohol stoves out of soda cans, and many people do this. It’s the most cost-effective, lightweight option. (And there’s many online videos to show you how.) I don’t trust my engineering skills, so I bought a tiny Optimus Crux Lite stove. It ran me about $30 (not counting fuel) and it worked great. I also bought the whole unit (pot and pan), since the fuel, stove, and spork all fit inside as a single unit to save space.
  • Mini backpacking pot/pan: When I say mini, I mean mini. I was able to boil water in the pot for a dehydrated meal, and the little pan fit as a cover to boil faster. Loved the fit-together unit. A cozy isn’t a bad idea, either.
  • Fuel: What you use depends on your stove, I used the small canisters my stove screwed into. I brought 3 for two weeks, using it once to twice a day, but came home with one untouched. There’s also stoves that use gasoline, alcohol, and just about anything else you can think of.
  • Bear canister (Bear Vault BV500): Bear canisters are REQUIRED on the JMT. They add weight and take up space, but they are a necessary evil. There are two approved canisters, the Garcia and the Bear Vault. I like the latter, since the Bear Vault is a little lighter, and the larger one can fit more food. I also like its transparency, so you could get to the pesky protein bar at the bottom without dumping the whole thing. They are very easy to rent, which should save you money. Yosemite park rents them for $5 a week, or you can find them at your local outdoor store. (A16 has them for sure in SoCal.)
  • Water filter (Pump or Steripen): Out of all the things I thought would bother me, the two winners were mosquitoes and water pumping. You get your water from the mountain lakes and streams, but it’s best to filter it somehow, (intestinal upset is no fun on the trail.) Most people had water pumps, but they are not built alike. Our MSR filtered VERY slowly, and it often took 20-30 minutes for a water fill-up. I loved the Katadyn Vario Filter, it was super fast and easy to use. The Steripen is the easiest, but some people get nervous relying on a battery powered device. My suggestion…if you’re going with two people, bring one Steripen, and one pump-filter as a backup. Three people? One pump, one Steripen, and one bottle of Iodine as a double-backup.
  • Camelback/Playapus Bladder: I hate these things, (they don’t sit up, so I always drop it in the dirt, and the mouth piece gets gross, and they’re hard to clean…)  but having some kind of water bladder is pretty important. A lot of people like the Playtapus brand, they have one that can stand up on it’s end, and one that has a built-in filter. You need to drink A LOT of water a day, so a single water bottle isn’t going to do it. (Plus I met people with very heavy metal water containers, a water bladder will be a lot lighter, and will fit in the pack better.)
  • Nalgene bottle: Not an essential item, but proved useful for mixing protein drinks and electrolyte packets. (Wouldn’t want that clogging up your Camelback.)
  • Backpacking Towel: This may seem trivial, but a regular towel takes up A LOT of space (and it’s heavy.) Also, cotton towels take forever to dry. A nice synthetic backpacking towel will be tiny, light, and quick-drying. I like the texture and size of Sea to Summit large pocket towel.
  • Pillow Case (Thermarest Trekker): The idea of sleeping without a pillow took a little getting used to. But I had an idea about stuffing my clothes into a small pillow case, and luckily Therarest had the same idea. You could use any small, soft bag (my trekking partner brought a small cotton drawstring bag his sheets came in.) I liked the small size, weight, and feel of the Thermarest as well. Your comfy jacket should make a good stuffer, or any clothes you have with you. I was surprised at how well I slept using rain gear and shorts as my pillow.
  • Headlamp (4 extra batteries): Essential for hands-free light, (i.e. if you have to put up your tent in the dark.) Any decent one will do, as long as it’s not too heavy or large.
  • Squishy bowl: Your small pot can be doubled as a bowl to eat out of, but I often made two dishes for dinner, so having this extra bowl was good. The Squishy Bowls squash down for easy packing in the bear canister, and can be flipped inside-out to clean.
  • Spork: Mine has a knife, spoon and fork. It’s just a cheap plastic-like one, but it worked fine, nothing fancy needed.
  • Pocket Knife: Besides cooking, it’s always important to take a small knife.
  • Sponge/scouring pad: You can buy a tiny camping sponge, I just cut a regular one in half.
  • Plastic bag (for trash): If your food comes in ziplocks (like mine from http://www.outdoorherivore.com/), you can just use those for trash as you eat the food. If not, it’s good to bring an extra plastic bag.
  • Nylon cord: A thin, small nylon cord is useful for hanging clothes, tying things together, and whatever else you can think of.
  • Carabiner: Good for hanging things (like sandals) off your pack, and can always be handy.
  • First-Aid Kit: You can always make your own first-aid kit, but I found it easier to buy a light, waterproof one. I didn’t think I would touch it, but I found some use for it almost every night. (Anti-itch, moleskin for blisters, aspirin, etc.) I just added some extra Ibuprofen and cranberry. Someone in the group should also bring a snake-bite kit.
  • Extra Ibuprofen: I brought a tiny plastic travel tube and filled it with extra Ibuprofen and supplements. Not a lot, but enough to help my inflamed knee on difficult days.
  • Thermarest patch kit: It’s probably not essential that everyone in your party have their own patch kit, but at least one person should have one. (I can attest to this, one person we met used his three times!)
  • Camera: Some folks brought their digital, I brought my cheap GoPro waterproof camera with an extra roll of film. Was useful for days in the rain, and pictures while swimming.
  • Compass/Whistle: A little compass/whistle/thermometer combo is never a bad idea. Good for getting, lost, emergencies, etc.
  • Maps/JMT Atlas: Some foks roll without a map, but our JMT Atlas proved really useful. We were able to find our way in snowy areas by looking at elevation, river crossings, and direction. It saved us quite a bit…plus it lets you know where to expect “campgrounds,” water fill-up spots, and switchbacks.
  • Feminine Hiking Health: As a female hiker, I felt a bit safer bringing a few extra supplements and supplies. Instead of entire bottles, I got small pill bottle and put all the supplements inside. I brought cranberry extract, and some probiotics. Because of the not-so-clean, wet environment, and the weird food, it’s the perfect formula for UTI’s and yeast problems. A UTI on the trail would NOT be a fun experience, so don’t copy the guy’s tendency to wear unwashed underwear for a week straight. Having some cranberry extract might save you from some (literal) pain, and probiotics for yeast and stomach health isn’t a bad idea, either. The female underwear trick: Although you “wash” your underwear in a river every few days, it does not entirely eliminate bacteria. To solve this problem, I brought a pack of small, biodegradable feminine pads. I put on a new one every morning, and threw away the accumulated trash at every stop. Some may say this is wasteful, but they have probably never been stuck in the backcountry with a UTI. Putting a liner on can simulate clean underwear, and keep you safer from infections.