Tag Archives: chocolate

Backpacking with Stress Incontinence

Not a polite subject perhaps, but it’s what’s been on my mind since the Skyline to the Sea backpack Mr. Jack & I did with some neighbors.


I don’t think I’ve seen this issue addressed in a backpacking forum. What? None of the estimated 25 million folks in the US who suffer with urinary incontinence backpack? Most of us (75-80%) are women, so I’m so I’m not alone here. And yes, I knew I had a problem, but I had no idea how bad it would be.

Okay, sure, the day before the backpack I’d had a big delicious mug of coffee and a chocolate bar. The morning before the hike (after a lovely evening in a tent cabin at CostaNoa), Mr. Jack had brewed up some extra strong tea. YUM! You’d think I’d know better … Word on the street, as you may or may not know, is that coffee, tea and chocolate are culprits in the UI world. Well, okay, but I’d been doing my kegels and maybe (maybe?) I still would have been okay if I hadn’t munched a big ol’ bowl of grapes our neighbors brought to the trail head as treat. Who knew that grapes, of all things, were also on the “don’t eat” list? Amazing what some dedicated web browsing can uncover … 

But back on the trail, unaware of the total food whammy I had brought on myself, I hoisted my 27-lb pack and started walking downhill. OH NO! The leaking began in the first few steps and did not stop. Hopeless. I had only 2 choices — go back to the car & meet my backpacking pals at the end of the trail 3 days later … or keep hiking, wet pants and all. 

I don’t know what you would have done, but I was not willing to miss the backpack. So I kept hiking. And I kept leaking. It was not a pretty story. I couldn’t decide which was the most uncomfortable — the physical discomfort or the social discomfort.
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In an attempt to alleviate the social discomfort, I made a big announcement at our next stop that I sure would be glad to get to camp to get out of these wet trousers. There wasn’t much to do about the physical side until we actually did get to camp, where I rinsed out my soaked pants, threw them over the clothesline, and declined the after-dinner chocolate treat. The next morning, avoiding my usual cuppa black breakfast tea, I hiked on, a little drier.

By then, I had made the decision to “fix” the problem, no matter what it took. What I wasn’t so clear on was exactly what I needed to do or if it would even work. I was willing to give up chocolate, coffee and tea forever, do kegel exercises morning and night, and — as it turned out — give up a few others foods, including — yes — grapes.

The most specific list I found was at the University Women’s Health Care site. I especially loved the reassuring line that “if bladder symptoms are related to diet, you should see significant relief within 10 days.” Ten days I could do.

So I did. But before I started, I did a jump rope test as a baseline. Turned out I could do 20 jumps before the leaking started. Ten days later? I was up to 50 before I stopped because I broke a sweat.

And for the record, I didn’t strictly avoid all the foods on the UW list. I kept taking B vitamins and had salad dressing with vinegar; I also ate plums & peaches, as it is stone fruit season here in California. But I strictly avoided chocolate, tea and coffee, as well as grapes and apples. Some of the other foods on the list were easy to avoid just because I don’t eat them: mayonnaise, carbonated drinks, melons, strawberries, guava and nutrasweet, for instance.

Just a few days ago, I was sorting through some backpacking food, assembling a menu for next week’s Desolation backpack, and I absentmindedly popped a delicious block of Dagoba 100% organic chocolate in my mouth. Oh the delight! But oh the disaster later that evening when I pulled out the jump rope … 

Eating across the Sierras: < 1.5 lbs of food

Jack & I started our JMT backpack with an average of 1.24 lbs of food per person per day for the first 11 days and about 1.34 for the next 11 days, including the 10 oz of secchi salami Mr. Jack threw into the Muir Ranch re-supply box for “emergencies.”

Aside: In all fairness to Jack, although I whine mightily about his intractable penchant for bringing along salami, I am first in line when he starts slicing it up at the end of a long day. On this hike, as on so many others, the salami did not survive to fulfill its function as emergency rations unless one considers overwhelming desire to consume salami at the first opportunity an emergency!

In addition to the food we packed into our bear canisters—nearly all of which was gone by the time we got to our car, as I mentioned in the introductory blog—I also ate on the trail 3 chocolate-based food bars (avg 1.6 oz each @ 190 calories) given to me by Karen from Vermont and a handful of raw cashews (probably also about 1.6 oz @ about 260 calories) donated by a couple on top of Forrester Pass who were on their way out. She was eating a Snickers bar; I had politely declined to accept any candy.

You’ll notice that our daily food weight is slightly lower than the suggested range of 1.5-2 lbs per person suggested by most backpacking experts. How do we get away with such low food weights? It comes from understanding that all calories are not created equal and planning a menu that optimizes nutritional density and eliminates—as much as possible—empty calories and ounces. Which is not to say we are ever going to give up our tea!

We know this menu works because we’ve used similar food plans in the past

  • In 2008, on the 8-day High Sierra Trail backpack, ending over Whitney Portal (107 miles, 2 passes) Jack lost 5 lbs he was happy to see go, and I lost none, coming home at the 135 I’d left with.
  • In 2007, on the North Lake-South Lake semi-loop (55 miles, 3 passes @ 11,000’+ in 5 days), we came home with no remarkable weight loss.

So why, this year, did Jack lose nearly 20 lbs & I lose just over 5? Maybe it was the considerably longer backpack with many more passes, but I particularly suspect the unseasonably cold weather, particularly the hail storm through which we hiked for nearly 2 hours, including 3 frigid high-water crossings.

Next blog, I’ll provide a sample day’s worth of backpacking food with calorie count and the percentage breakdown of fat, carbs and protein, including a fiber report. First, though, I’ll have to plug all the foods into the Red Elephant’s Daily Plate account over at Mr. Lance Armstrong’s LiveStrong.com. Once all the information’s in, we can check details to see how our backpacking food plan compares to yours … and to the experts’ recommendations.