Kimberly G. - Jun 17, 2021
Tips For a Successful Backpacking Trip Through the Wind River Range
Dreaming of days when you can travel to far off places?
A lot of international travel is back but lest not forget to appreciate the beauty that is in our very own backyard. New and exciting adventures aren’t as out of reach as you may think, financially or logistically. A car, downloaded podcasts, and a good travel buddy can get you to some pretty amazing places within the U.S. One place in particular, home to the Fitz Roy of America (think Patagonia logo but in Wyoming), is the Wind River Range.If you’ve never heard of it, you’ll want to write this one down. The landscapes are gobsmackingly awe-inspiring. And it’s in Wyoming of all places.
What You Need to Know About the Area
Getting There. It’s a mere 9 hour drive from Denver. Or 5 hours and 45 min from Salt Lake. If that sounds far to you, most of the roads to get there are straight, have high speed limits, and don’t present many challenges (aside from the heavy winds) so it’s easy going.
Where to Start. Big Sandy Trailhead is a great starting point for a very doable 22-24 mile, 2-3 day backpacking loop. But be forewarned: the dirt road to the trailhead is a flat tire trap. It’s well groomed and hugely appealing to drive fast. Don’t. Use your better judgment and drive slowly. Flat tires are more common than you’d think (5 flat tires on 4 different cars in the span of 48 hours… those numbers are not great).
Limited Cell Service & Safety. As you drive to the trailhead, cell service starts getting spotty about 1.5-2 hours out. Forest fires, which are increasingly becoming more common and devastating, can also diminish cell service. Make sure you tell someone your itinerary and where you’re going before you lose service. Unexpected, unimaginable issues can arise and having the ability to contact others in the case of an emergency is important. Bring a SAT phone - they’re expensive but worth it. Or at the very least, have a backup plan for your backup plan.
What to Expect. It’s a popular trailhead but there’s a sizable parking lot and parking extends down the road when the lot is full. It’s worth driving to the trailhead to see if there are any spots open because you may get lucky! At the trailhead there are a few designated campsites and restrooms as well. While the trailhead is a popular one, after you get going, the different pacing between groups usually leaves you hiking by yourself so you’re able to enjoy the scenery, uninterrupted.
Pack the Right Gear
A well-packed bag can make all the difference.
Think It Through. You may already have your own go-to packing list that you reuse with minor adjustments here and there to cater to your upcoming destination. But at the risk of being redundant, below you’ll find a comprehensive list from Fresh Off the Grid (with edits) to get you started. Make adjustments to cater to your trip goals and expectations. How many miles are you going to cover each day and will it allow for time to relax by a fire and read? Will you have time to take a dip in the water? Will you need different cooking utensils?
Be Purposeful When Packing Your Bag. Pack your bag in a way that allows you access to important items quickly and won’t kill your back. Consider items like your trowel, toilet paper and trash bag, your headlamp, supplements and food for the trail, map/directions, sunscreen and bug repellent for reapplying, a raincoat or light top layer in case of a sudden shift in weather, etc. to place in outer pockets or in the brain of your pack. Aside from those items, a general rule of thumb is to make your backpack to be able to stand up on its own before it’s even on your back. That means packing the heavy stuff on the bottom and the lighter stuff on top. It will make your trek far more comfortable.
Nutrition and Hydration Can Make or Break Your Trip
After a 10+ mile day, prepare for bed with a cup of Recovery.
Dehydrated Foods Are Your Friend. When backpacking, it’s important to carry only what you need. But when it comes to food and keeping yourself energized, try not to skimp either. It’s a careful balance that gets fine tuned with experience. Packing a couple of energy bars as backup is a great safety net.
A great thing about this loop is that there are multiple locations to fill up on water. Quite the amenity! No, there are not potable water spigots sprinkled along the trail. Just the most deliciously fresh snow melt streams that meander across your path every so often. Knowing that you can fill up on water and don’t have to carry it all means bringing dehydrated food or dry goods that you can rehydrate later is a great, lightweight option for feeding yourself. Heul Hot & Savory Powdered Meals are a delicious option that provide a nutritionally complete meal but there are lots of choices out there, so find your favorite or make your own!
Supplements Are A Must. To ensure smooth sailing, adaptogens and CBD are key. They will help minimize the strain on your body over multiple days. Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or just getting into it, Energy by Performance Tea can be a great addition to your water bottle as you hike. Mix it with your favorite electrolyte powder so you can get your adaptogens and electrolytes all in one. It helps your body manage the stressors of backpacking, can soothe stomach issues, and can also help at altitude. If you’re on day two and starting to feel some pain in your knees and joints, switch out Energy for a packet of Revive to mix into your water bottle. The turmeric, adaptogens, and CBD will ease the pain and inflammation and make the remainder of your day more enjoyable. Each night boil a little bit of hot water and make yourself a cup of Recovery. The herbaceous, caffeine-free blend will help your body reset and repair itself more effectively as you sleep so you wake up feeling more refreshed and energized for another day of hiking.
Also be sure to stay on top of your hydration. It’s easy to forget about drinking water while backpacking but a water bladder can significantly improve your success at staying hydrated. A water bladder with a hose and bite valve makes it easy to drink while on the move so you don’t have to awkwardly reach around your backpack to grab your bottle every time you need a sip. Don’t be afraid to stop frequently along the way for pee breaks. In fact, make it into a game! Congratulate your backpacking buddy every time they stop to pee because that means they likely aren’t dehydrated.
Keep in mind if you’re sweating and exerting yourself, even if you are drinking loads of water, you still may experience an electrolyte imbalance. Avoid that by adding an electrolyte powder (like Skratch, UnTapped Mapleaid, or Cure Hydration) to one of your water bottles and alternate drinking water with your electrolyte/Energy mix.
A Few Last Notes
AllTrails can be a lifesaver but make sure you take screenshots or have the map downloaded before leaving cell service.
Downloading map data in the area you’ll be through Google Maps will be an enormous help as well. Better to have more reference material than less.
Performance Tea Energy mixed with electrolytes to get to the top.
Comprehensive Backpacking List
- Tent with a rain fly
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Pillow (you can always use your packing cube or folded clothes)
- Insect Repellant
- SPF Lip Balm
- Hand sanitizer
- Prescription medication
- Wet wipes (optional)
- Toilet paper and TP waste bag (Don't leave it behind! A ziploc baggie inside of a brown paper lunch bag is a great way to store it if you don't want to look at your soiled TP for the whole trip)
Health & Safety
- Headlamp (plus extra batteries)
- First aid kit (Hopefully for unwanted blisters and nothing worse)
- Gear repair kit (Duct tape is a versatile tool to carry that can fix a lot of items temporarily and can even be put over hot spots on your feet to prevent blisters)
- Firestarter/a few sheets of newspaper (in case it’s hard to find kindling)
- SAT phone (optional but suggested)
- Whistle (most backpacks already have this)
- Itinerary left with a friend or family member
- Paper maps
- GPS device or phone app
- Trekking poles (not necessary but they help take the load off your legs)
- Permits (if required)
- Personal Identification
- Firestarter/a few sheets of newspaper (in case it’s hard to find kindling)
- Credit card or cash
- Extra ziplock or trash bags
- Waterproof pack cover
- Sit pad, camp chair, or hammock(optional)
- Journal/Kindle/cards/book (optional)
- Backpacking stove
- Fuel canister
- Cook pot
- Eating utensil
- Mug (optional)
- Knife/Swiss Army knife
- Bear canister/food storage
- Food and snacks
- Adaptogen & CBD Supplements
- Electrolyte Supplements
- Water treatment (SteriPEN is great option but there are lots out there)
- Water Bladder (i.e. Camelbak, Hydrapak, Platypus) or Water bottles
- Biodegradable soap
- Small sponge (optional)
- Small quick dry towel (optional)
- Insulated jacket
- Base layer top & bottom
- Quick dry hiking shirt
- Long sleeve sun shirt
- Raincoat/Rain pants
- Hiking pants or shorts
- Sports bra
- Wool socks
- Hiking boots or shoes
- Sun hat
- Winter hat/gloves (if the night temps will get cold enough)
- Buff or bandana
- Camp clothes (optional)
- Lightweight camp shoes or sandals (optional but highly suggest! It feels amazing to take off your hiking boots after a long day of backpacking)
- Solar battery bank (if you are planning on using your phone for navigation, taking photos, and tracking yourself with GPS, this is a must)
- Chargers or charging cables
Credits: Fresh Off the Grid Blog (https://www.freshoffthegrid.com/backpacking-checklist/)