4 Sustainable Alternatives for Backpacking Gear

Please be aware that clicking any links or purchasing from links may result in Sara receiving compensation. This is at no cost to you and helps Sara continue to share on Sustaining Sara. Thank you!

When obtaining backpacking gear it is important to consider quality, weight, and cost. While I do my best to avoid creating additional waste in my everyday life, it is just as hard to do so on backpacking trips. I want my gear to be lite when possible, but if that means excessive trash or that items may break sooner than later, then I want to find a sustainable alternative. Here are my 4 Sustainable Alternatives for Backpacking Gear!

#1
Alternative: Reusable Food Pouches
Replacing: Single-use nut butter pouches

I love taking peanut or almond butter on the trail, but a full jar is too heavy and single-use pouches and containers create a lot of [unnecessary] waste. Instead I use these pouches and even add my own mix-ins to the nut butter!

#2
Alternative: Camping Spork
Replacing: Single-use plastic cutlery

The Humangear GoBites Duo is a deep-reach spoon/fork alternative to bringing single-use plastic or your [heavier] metal spoons and forks. Honestly, a lot of backpackers already use specific cutlery, so pat yourself on the back!

#3
Alternative: Pee Cloth
Replacing: Extra toilet paper

A reusable pee cloth is an alternative to toilet paper for urination ONLY. They dry quick and most have anti-bacterial properties.

#4
Alternative: Reusable water bottle/bladder
Replacing: Singleiuse plastic water bottle

Now some people (I will tease and call them “gram weenies”) may tell me that reusable water bottles are “too heavy” and there are benefits to using single-use plastic, but I say too bad! A single-use water bottle will always end in a landfill and we can do our best to keep reusable water bottles with us for years and years.

These are just 4 sustainable alternatives for backpacking gear, and I hope that these items inspire you to make more sustainable choices for your next backpacking trip and in your everyday life. Make sure ou comment your favorite sustainable alternatives below and thank you for checking out my list!

Love,

Sara

Gear Shakedown #2 and My Gear Checklist

Please be aware that clicking any links or purchasing from links may result in Sara receiving compensation. This is at no cost to you and helps Sara continue to share on Sustaining Sara. Thank you!

There are two things in backpacking that can make your trip miserable; forgetting something or packing too much! A great way to make sure you avoid either of those scenarios is to have a Backpacking Gear Checklist! This is my personal gear checklist I have created for backpacking the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. You can write down your gear checklist, create an online sheet like I did, or even use specific sites to track your gear and base weight. Furthermore, as I have checked items off my list, I have also recently changed my water-system and thought I would share with you what I am doing to filter my water!

Checklist of backpacking items and their weight
Sample of my Backpacking Gear Checklist, click the link above to see everything I am packing!

Last year Charlie and I used the Sawyer One Gallon Gravity System, but have decided that the bag that comes with it is difficult to catch water from the waves of Lake Superior and that the tubing was just annoying and took up space. THIS YEAR we are using the filter and hookup from the gravity set up and collecting water with the CNOC 3 liter water bag.

With this system we will collect water with the CNOC bag, filter through the Sawyer Mini, and into the Platypus 3 liter bladder that we drink our water from. This is still a gravity process of filtering, but just will a better collection bag and no extra tubing. Below is a picture of what the filtering process will look like!

Gravity-fed water filtration
Our gravity-fed, water filtration system!

We are still “perfecting” our gear checklist, but I am very happy with how far along we have come. Thank you for taking part in our journey as we get ready for our backpacking adventure! Make sure to check back every Saturday for seeing how we prepare for and backpack Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Love,

Sara

How to Prepare for a Backpacking Trip

Please be aware that clicking any links or purchasing from links may result in Sara receiving compensation. This is at no cost to you and helps Sara continue to share on Sustaining Sara. Thank you!

Hi all! Now that is it May, I need to start preparing for my second trip backpacking Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Last year we were able to reserve a few backcountry sites to backpack the lakeshore, but this time around we prepared ahead of time (see Top 5 Things to Know Before Hiking Pictured Rocks) to reserve backcountry permits to make sure we hike from Grand Sable Visitor Center to Minors Castle (almost the whole lakeshore)!  There are a few things I am doing to make sure I am ready for this trip and I had better start now rather than later. Here are my tips to prepare for your backpacking trip!

  1. Get in shape

I was in a lot better shape last year and I was still tired after each day of hiking. This year…I need to start taking on more mileage before I hike 7.3 miles a day for fun. On top of just in general needing to get in shape, taking on so many miles consecutively and so soon can lead to injury if not properly prepared. Everyone is different, do your research and prepare your own body accordingly. I know that for myself, I need to do something to get in shape and prepare my body for my Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore trip.

If you are planning a longer hiking trip make sure your body can handle the work-load involved in your scenic hike!

  1. Get your gear together
The fellas use our gear as a bed is we leave it out for them to play with.
The Fellas cuddling with our backpacking gear when it’s not in storage.

If you are just starting out on your first backpacking trip you have A LOT to prepare for. Even if you are a seasoned backpacker you know how much planning it takes to make sure you are ready for comfort in the backcountry. You should do plenty of research on what others take into the backcountry and even think about additional things that would make yourself comfortable and happy! Here are things I take backpacking with me:

If you have your gear organized year round then this is not too much of a problem. Personally I use totes to put all my things in except my sleeping bag which I don’t want to squish. I keep my sleeping bag outside of storage because my dogs love cuddling it. People may use more, less, or liter gear but the above is what I take with me into the backcountry.

  1. Upgrade gear as needed

While I am loving my gear, there are a few things that we are upgrading/ changing based on different desires or needs:

  • Charlie is looking at getting a tent instead of bringing out his hammock setup again. He just decided that the hammock surrounded by the bug net and tarp was too constricting and did not provide enough privacy.
  • I am looking at changing or nixing my pillow. With my hammock I just don’t need it and I just wake up cuddling it like a teddy bear anyway.

Changing up your gear list is up to you and your preferences, don’t let anyone tell you different!

  1. Shakedown Hike

Now you have your gear together. You’re packed up and eager. Now it is time for a practice run. 

Hike with your bag. Overnight with your supplies. Is your bag too heavy for you? Did you pack some unnecessary items? Forget something you really need? Figure this out now and get rid of anything you don’t need. This is also a great way to practice wearing your backpack and make sure it is the right one for you! See Rachel’s How Not to Pack for A Pictured Rock Hiking Trip to really understand the importance of packing.

  1. Prepare a main point of contact 

I have said this before and I will say it again; make sure someone knows where you are and your itinerary! When Charlie and I leave for any type of trip we need to get a dog sitter and that is normally a family member. When we leave for a trip we know we may have limited cell service we make sure that this family member is prepared with our itinerary with notes on when we will be able to contact them and what to do if we do not contact them. A satellite phone would also help in these situation and hopefully by the time we do this trip we will have a Garmin InReach or InReach Mini. STILL, these phones are not always 100 percent reliable and your point of contact should be told that!

These tips for preparing for your backpacking trip are only the things primarily on my mind right now. Make sure to always do your own research and to make sure you are comfortable with your plans and your gear before isolating yourself in the backcountry. I wish you the best of luck and I hope you have so much fun!

Once on trail I will make sure to share as many photos and tips as possible! I will let you know how the trip went right here on the blog and don’t forget to read my first experience hiking Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore; Part 1 and Part 2. And follow my adventures on Instagram!

Love,

Sara

My First Thru-Hike Part 1/Day 1

I have really appreciated seeing that people are interested in hearing about my experience at Picture Rocks National Lakeshore and after reading Rachel’s story, I have been inspired to share my own. This will be in two parts since I have plenty to talk about and it helps me since we are still moving from our old house. Just like Rachel’s story, I learned a lot through error, saw the most amazing cliffs and beaches, and bonded with my fiancé and sister. From learning about the opportunity to thru-hike Picture Rocks to ending with pizza and a long drive home, my first thru-hike awaked a new awakened exciting interest for me (hence this lifestyle blog!?).

It was summer 2020 (the same summer we first hiked Picture Rocks) that I found out you could backcountry camp at Picture Rocks National Lakeshore. With trails connecting each campsite you can complete the entire 42 mile trail in less than a week! After taking this idea to Charlie and then to Rachel, we agreed to enjoy our summer vacation with our first backpacking trip. We spent the next two months acquiring our gear from the big three (backpack, sleep system, and shelter) to planning little things like which vegetarian jerky tastes the best. After confirming our vacation dates with our jobs we finally went to recreation.gov to make our backcountry campsite reservations, which if you read “Top 5 Things to Know before Hiking Picture Rocks” you know we made a big mistake in waiting until late summer to make reservations. We were only able to reserve two consecutive nights for nearby campsites.

This caused the first issue in my planning. The campsites we were able to select were Mosquito River and Cliffs. Now these sites are 6.9 miles from each other, not so bad. For our first day we decided to start out at Chapel parking so that we could see Chapel Falls, Chapel Rock, and Chapel Beach – all worth it.  However, this made our trip to Mosquito River campsite 8-9 miles on day one! This was a lot for us novice backpackers.

With the small itinerary set, we knew we needed to get to Chapel parking early because it is a highly trafficked trail with a big payoff at the end. We did NOT wake up as early as we had wanted to and even treated ourselves to Biggby coffee on the way to Munising. After getting a little lost to drop Rachel’s car off at Miner’s Castle parking (a blessing and the only sight accessible by car), she threw her backpack in Charlie’s car and we headed to Chapel parking where we gawked at Ride and Seek’s van as it parked and unloaded our packs. Once we trekked to the trailhead from a street parking spot I had realized I left our camping permits in the car and went back to get them while Rachel took pictures of the trail maps.

The first mile all I could think about was getting to the beach and eating lunch…my first clue at how much of a food-motivated hiker I am. Our first stop was Chapel Falls which was beautiful at every angle. Our first pictures were here and the only evidence that I hiked the first two miles in shorts. After passing the falls we got a little lost after passing a sign for “North Country Trail.” Fun fact, the Picture Rocks National Shoreline trails are part of the longest scenic trail; the North Country Trail. However, here we got the chance to chat with a family that really cheered us on and joked that carrying their baby was probably lighter than our packs!

Resting at Chapel Falls with Rachel

Once back on track I was grossly aware of hikers behind us, dreading the moment they caught up and we would preemptively mask-up and move to the side for the lighter day hikers. This was an unnecessary stressor that really should not have bothered me and I even started to remember the family that was cheering us on and enjoy the canopy and look for the horizon beyond the trees. Once I started to let go of the small anxieties, I immediately started to enjoy my hike better.

Then we reached Chapel Beach and Rock. Wow. Chapel Rock is awesome, you have to see its lone tree yourself. But the beach. Y’all, Chapel Beach is the most beautiful beach I have ever been to – my Laguna Thousand Step Beach friends’ group is shook reading this. The beach had socially-distanced groups scattered across its entirety (I mean who wants to be near each other on the beach anyway?) and a few rented pontoons anchored near the shore. The water was beautiful turquoise and a river that fed into Lake Superior created a safe space for small children to frolic in.

We ate lunch and I changed into my leggings behind a log to save my thighs from the undeniable chaffing I was experiencing. The climb back up to the trail was worse than getting onto the sandy beach, but of course gravity was never a friend to backpackers. From this point on it felt like we stopped every 10 minutes at a lookout to see every angle of the cliffs and the waves of Lake Superior’s blue-green water. Mine and Rachel’s packs became exhausting but seeing each mushroom and muddy step kept us occupied in between lookout points.  

Posing at a lookout!

After a little bit under dense tree cover I cannot explain to you the joy and relief I found in myself after seeing a sign for Mosquito River Campground. Then while we thought we had one mile to go, we realized the campsite was 20 feet behind the sign! We chose the nearest site to Lake Superior and immediately began to set up our hammocks sans rain tarps and trek to the shore to collect and filter water.

We made dinner at camp – wrong, you are supposed to keep food stuff at the center of the campground to avoid critters and bears at individual campsites. Ever since resting at Chapel Beach I had began cold-soaking some dried mushrooms for our dinner and began to boil water for risotto. Which I made too much of. I felt sick trying to eat it all to avoid waist/bear bait. After dinner we took all food items and trash to the campsite’s bear box and I took my sore body to bed. I recall Charlie waking up in the middle of the night to rain and alerting us, but I was under good tree cover and too sore and tired to be bothered with putting up my rain tarp. Fortunately Charlie but my pack under his tarp and I never got wet! I slept like a big baby that first night.

Wow, this is the longest post I have personally created for Sustaining Sara! Please make sure to see how my backpacking adventure concludes on Monday’s post; Part 2/Day 2! Thank you to everyone that has expressed interest in hearing about my hiking team’s experience (aka Rachel and Charlie) at Picture Rocks. Please make sure to join our community and discussion by following the Sustaining Sara Facebook group and Instagram linked below, thank you!

Love,

Sara

Top 5 things you need to know before hiking Picture Rocks

I am humbled to share with you that by clicking any links in this post I may receive a kickback. Thank you for your support!

I have had great opportunity to travel, especially in the US, but I can without a doubt say that the Picture Rocks National Lakeshore is the most beautiful place I have been. That being said, there are multiple ways to experience this beauty; boat tour, kayak tour, or by foot. While each of these ways are great in their own right, without a doubt the most immersive is by hiking the shores and cliffs. Here are 5 tips for planning your Picture Rocks hiking trip.

1. Reserve camping spaces far in advance.

The Picture Rocks National Lakeshore and surrounding Upper Peninsula nature areas are very popular vacation spots for the surrounding Great Lakes’ states. Last year we started planning our trip a month ahead and by the time we were ready to reserve backcountry campsites…most were not available. Even the drive-in, “front country” campsites were booked up. We severely had to cutback on the days we could backpack the lakeshore based on finding backcountry campsite reservation within reasonable distance for us novice backpackers. 

Now for 2021 we are determined to hike from Au Sable Visitor Center to Miner’s Castle and reserving our campsites mid-January shows this determination. Keep in mind that reserving campsites for state parks starts January 1st of the reservation year and you will see the taunting “Reservations Full Through October” in June. I recommend planning your summer trip in January (I am serious) and any fall or winter camping in the summer and making your recreation.gov ASAP. 

2. Do not plan on having cell service.

As soon as we left downtown Munising we did not have cell service. Ariana Grande herself was cutoff on Spotify. From what I understand Verizon users tend to have better luck finding spots of service, but otherwise cellphones are unreliable for outside communication. 

That being said, there are ways to try to prepare for this on trail. While satellite phones still do not work 100% of the time, I have been meaning to invest in a Garmin inReach or inReach Mini to send checkin texts to my family.

3. Do your research and have it physically on hand.

On our first trip I forgot to download or print maps, write down daily mileage, or even research landmarks or notable viewpoints in between. While the latter was more of a pleasant surprise, the two former aspects were just annoying. Fortunately my twin sister took some glare-y and fuzzy pictures of maps at the trailhead.

Whether you are doing a short day hike or backpacking multiple nights, make sure to research the trails you are taking and the sights in between. Download this Backcountry Camping Planner with specific Picture Rocks information.

4. Document your emergency contact and itinerary. 

Heaven forbid even the littlest thing goes wrong on your trip, but still plan ahead. The National Parks Service recommends that you store a copy of your itinerary under your driver’s seat including your contact information and your emergency contact. On top of this we also made itineraries for our parents so that they were in the loop and even knew when our phones would be out of service.

5. Have a treat for yourself at the end of the trail.

It was my twin sister, Rachel, that made sure this one went on the list. When I am hiking I am always thinking about the food I will eat after a long hike and this really keeps me going! If you are doing a day hike make sure to have something nice waiting for you back at your camp like s’mores or your favorite beer. Make sure it is something relaxing and not a lot of work to obtain after your long day. As for backpacking the shore, we suggest that after you get off your long hike you take yourself to Picture Rocks Pizza in Munising and have a whole pizza all to yourself! We were recommended this restaurant by another thru-hiker and now we gotta pass along this information to you! No matter what you do, just make sure to reward yourself for the hard work your put your body through! 

Overall planning ahead can make your trip easygoing and fun, and that is definitely what a Picture Rocks National Lakeshore trip should be about.