Clarity From Backpacking

The Emigrant Wilderness


8 Stranger souls embark...

on a 25 mile journey (12 off trail) as part of a yoga x backpacking trip in one of the most pristine, best kept secrets of Northern California: The Emigrant Wilderness. If bushwhacking, river crossings, and rock maneuvering sound scary to you, trust me, it’s not. Our leaders were Duncan Cheung, lightweight backpack extraordinaire (, and Diana Oppenheim, a renowned Yoga teacher here in San Francisco. 

Duncan made us take a workshop on lightweight backpacking and made us do homework on equipment, weight distribution, and foods. While I prided myself on being pretty lightweight (helps to be small) already, I learned a few things that turned me on my head, and a couple of new tricks: 

  • Total Pack Weight: You want this - i.e. your backpack and everything packed in - to be between 23 and 30 pounds. 
  • Rain Jacket: Your rain jacket should be 6-10 ounces, hard shell. 
  • Down: 500 fp to 1000fp is the sweet spot. 800fp for those who run colder. If you don’t know, call the manufacturer and ask! 
  • Clothing: Polyester is best, as it dries quickest. Second is merino, and last nylon. NO cotton. Just no. 
  • Socks: Mid to light merino socks. Motto is ‘Wear a Pair, Bring a Pair,’ which means bring two pairs of socks. 
  • Shoes: Boots are a scam! Trail runners are the way to go. I never had boots anyways, except in snow conditions. You’re talking to someone who hiked Half Dome and the Bright Angel Trail in Chacos. Don’t wear Chacos; it leaves you vulnerable to blisters, hot spots, etc. 
  • Sleeping Bags: You want a loft height of 2 inches because loft traps heat. And of course, 800fp or higher. A baffle collar can help A LOT. For lightweight, a quilt will do just fine. 
  • Sleeping Pads: You want a warmth R value greater than 3.3. 
  • The Most Epic Lightweight Cooking Mechanism Ever: Denatured alcohol with a wind screen pot and a United Airlines drinking cup. Use your imagination. 
  • Food Packing: Should be ~0.75lb of meals per person per day with an average caloric density of >120 kcal/oz. In total, aim for 1.5 - 2lb. Per day. Pack what you enjoy eating within reason. 
  • Insects (Talking to you mosquitoes!): Picaridin is the ‘green’ alternative to Deet. It works! As someone who is always bait for mosquitoes, I had far fewer bites than usual. 
  • Trekking Poles: This was the first time I set aside my ego (‘Trekking poles are for the weak!’) to provide relief for my knees suffering patellofemoral pain syndrome. It was AMAZING! I did not have knee pain one bit. Also, when used properly, you also get a decent arm workout. 
  • Just Cool: Down PANTS! 

Of course, plenty of us used this as an excuse to buy cool new gear. Needless to say, each of us was more prepared than we ever thought we could be. 

Day 1: 13 miles, 5 miles off trail

Day 2: 6 miles, all off trail

Day 3: 6 miles, 1 off trail

We learned how to navigate using map and compass, how to listen for sources of water, and how to remain calm through posture alignment and breath work. While there’s much to be found in nature such as new friendships, renewed appreciation, clarity, and belonging, nature can also bear arms. E.g. what should one do if there is a thunderstorm and one is in the middle of a wide open expanse of granite? What happens if one is lost and mis-calculated water sources? All the more reason to be prepared when you know you are going backpacking. An initial scene assessment is absolutely necessary. What does a scene assessment include? 

  • Climate, weather
  • Daylight, moonlight
  • Sun exposure 
  • Terrain/footing
  • Vegetation
  • Water availability
  • Insects/problematic wildlife 
  • Remoteness/natural hazards
  • Access and navigation 
  • Regulations and access 

This is a highly recommended practice for novice backpackers, as it can inform packing priorities and route planning. Now, go buy yourself some awesome gear (or rent, or borrow) and have fun!If you want to take Duncan's backpacking course, check out his website at: If you want to take Diana's yoga classes or join her retreats, check out her website at: