Backpacking 101

So you've been captivated by beautiful landscapes, wild and scenic rivers, the latest gear, an abundance of wildlife or apex predator sightings, solitude, #adventure or any other reason that has driven your desire to take the plunge into the wild! You've found the most beautiful destination. You're leaving the campground and all its amenities and going #backpacking!

Now what?

Now that you have decided you want to sleep in the mountains under a million stars, hiker trash, river rats and mountain men will all tell you they have the best gear and will gladly take the opportunity to show you theirs. Let the overwhelmed floodgates open!

Stay Calm. With a little planning and preparation you'll open the door to a world of magnificence. How many times in your life will you get to say in awe, "I've never seen or done anything like it."... We hope, as many times as possible.

Let's get into it.

Where do I put all the stuff in the trunk of my car?


There are many backpacks to choose from. All with varying sizes and features. Internal frames are the standard rather than external frames. On a weekend trip, 2-3 days, a 30-55L pack should suffice. Longer trips or #expeditions will require a 50-75L pack. Fit of the pack to your body is based on torso size not your height. Some backpacks will be adjustable to dial in the fit. The general rule of thumb for weight is a loaded pack should not exceed 20% of your body weight.

*Factor in what you will be doing on your adventure that will need extra space. For example, will you be fishing?*

Trail seems a little tight for the rig?

Tents/Sleep Systems

Tents are awesome! its your home away from home, your fort, your sanctuary, your shelter. 3-season and 4-season tents is your starting point. It's pretty basic. A 3-season excludes winter.

4-season... you guessed it. More important than the seasons think of its capabilities and functionality. A 4-season tent is for extreme weather conditions like strong winds and heavy snow. A 3-season tent is for lightweight performance. Most backpacking is done with a 3-season tent and rainfly(double walled vs single walled- no rainfly). Once you have made this simple distinction based on where you will be going other factors include, occupants, weight, floor space, head room, bug and weather protection.

*A hardy handshake to the individual that successfully designed the first double door tent. If you've camped, you been crawled over or have crawled over someone yourself to go pee at 2:37a.m. In a tight tent, this is a worse experience. Buy the double door!*

Your sleeping bag and sleeping pad round out the remainder of the sleep system. Your choice on bags boils down to down insulation or synthetic insulation. Down is lighter and warmer. Synthetic is more resistant to moisture and more affordable. Knowing the lowest temperature you will encounter and the weather conditions will aid in the decision. All bags will have a temperature rating. It is based on the temperature at which an "average" sleeper would be comfortable. In general pick a bag with a temperature rating lower than the lowest temperature predicted for your trip.

*Down is more compressible for more room in your backpack*

Your pad will be inflatable or a closed cell foam. Besides techy stuff like R-Value, which is the pads resistance to heat loss,(Higher the R-Value, warmer the pad) weight, thickness and size are deciding factors in your selection.

*Test then out in the store with a sleeping bag. Some can be very slick with your bag. If your an active sleeper the sliding around can lead to a night of bad sleep*

Who brings the grill?


Downsizing considerably, but ranging in size and variation stove selection burns down to fuel type. You have four options. Canister, liquid fuel, hybrids and alternatives that don't fit into canister or liquid. Canister is the go to option for most backpacking adventures. It is canister of gas directly attaching to a burner that doubles a pot stand. It is lightweight and easy to use. Liquid sets are for winter and high altitude excursions. With canisters, simply screw the stove to it, release the fuel, ignite the burner and your minutes from chow time!

*Integrated systems(stove attaches to pot), like a Jetboil, are better in windy conditions and have better heat transfer for quicker boil times*

Cookware can be bought in sets or pieced together individually. There are as many options as in a full-size kitchen at home. Aluminum, stainless steel, titanium, cast iron, non-stick and others. You will have to weigh your options. Factors include heat conductivity, weight, durability and size. Sets are made to collapse or fit together. This makes them packable and keeps your kitchen in one convenient place.

*Sets are also designed to fit standard canisters. Store your gas, lighter and spork in the main pot. Smaller stoves fit with on occasions too. This will save space and digging around in your bag when you are starving!*

Is it a hunter-gatherer system?

Food and Water

There is a variety of options for food your adventure. Main courses like pasta primavera and chicken alfredo are packed in dehydrated adventure meals. Apples, avocados, hard cheeses and nuts are also available to you. How much food and what you bring depends on length of trip, eating habits and how active you will be in the backcountry. Consider that you may be trekking a longer distance than you are used to through more difficult terrain and with more elevation changes while carrying everything. You will be burning calories! Consuming 2,500 - 4,500 calories a day should keep you ready to tackle your next summit. As a beginner, choose lightweight portable foods. Equally important is to bring foods you like to eat at the end of the day and while hiking. I wouldn't recommend testing the taste buds in the backcountry. Overall you want a good balance of protein, carbs and fats.

*Jolly Ranchers are a great sweet treat thats packable, light and long lasting! Powdered Gatorade and Emergen-C are great additions to your water. If you have skills in the kitchen, make your favorite recipes at home and dehydrate them yourself!*

Bad water can turn a trip from amazing to a struggle quickly. Water filtration and purification is important. It can be a matter of survival. You will need it of course for water but also to cook meals. Filters are used for biological pathogens like #giardia. Purifiers are for viruses like hepatitis which are too small to filter out. Filters are mainly recommended for the U.S. and Canada. Purification is used most often when traveling abroad to less developed parts of the world. If not traveling selection will come down to a pump or gravity filter. Pumps have overall better #performance but require more maintenance. Gravity filters are lighter, more packable and easy to use. Fill the bag, hang it and let Newton do his thing.

*Use a pre-filter with water that is murky or has been stirred up by recent storms. Some pump filters come with them but if you don't have one on hand us a bandana to filter out larger sediment and uphold the integrity of your filter.*

Is it quarters only in the laundry room?


As for clothing, most of the burden falls on your size, comfort, weather conditions, style and so on. However, you are not in your normal environment. Everything, even down to your clothes has a function and purpose. Think about your clothing in layers. This will give you better air circulation and temperature control. Fabrics are synthetic or natural fibers. Synthetics will dry faster and naturals will be more odor resistant. Go with #synthetics for your outer layers like pants and shirts. Lean towards merino wool for long johns and socks. A mid-layer fleece, beanie and gloves will get you through the crisp mornings and chilly days. Light weight puffy jackets are warm and very packable. Rain gear should be water proof, not resistant, and provide some water protection.

*As you go up in elevation the sun exposure becomes more intense. This can be deceptive in lower temperatures. Protect yourself.*

Are my current boots good enough?


Traditionally you will need a mid to full height boot with a Vibram sole. Target features include weight, waterproof, and breathability. Depending on the distance of your hike, duration of the trip and terrain, some backpackers will travel in a hiking shoe or even athletic shoe with a strong sole.

*Footwear is one item I will spend more money on. Quality footwear will take care of your feet and make your adventure a more enjoyable experience. Blisters can end a trip. Always break in a new pair of boots before heading out!*

What if something doesn't go to plan?


These are important items that hopefully you use by choice not by necessity. Better to have them and not need them them not have them and wish you did. This is a standard list. Each item has a specific purpose or multiple functions providing a versatility of uses.

First Aid Kit - Rechargeable Headlamp - Waterproof matches/ Lighter - Knife or Multi-tool - 50ft of 550 paracord - Sunscreen - Bug spray - Map and Compass - Repair Kit - Duct Tape - Toiletries - Camera - GPS or Phone - Solar charger

*Paracord has 101 uses: Bear hang, clothesline, belt, water depth gauge, fishing line, guyline... it goes on.*

Do you enjoy suffering?


After you've put it all together if it still sounds a little like intentional suffering... you probably wont get too much kickback for saying it. You're right. Backpacking is tough both mentally and physically. The rewards far out weigh the risks when planning and preparation has occurred. However, non of us are invincible. Things can go wrong, gear can break, weather can change, physically and mentally we can break down These are a few extras that help backpackers get through the challenging times.

Trekking poles - Take the pressure off your knees and add stability.

Baby wipes - Not committed to 3 or more days without a shower?

Deck of cards - Eternal War is better on a summit or in bad weather.

Portable speaker/Crank radio - be respectful, the idea is to get away from the rave.

Binoculars - You don't want to be the star of the next "When Animals Attack."

Saw/Hatchet - Check fire regulations before cutting wood or starting any fires. Be Safe!

Fishing gear - Alpine trout fishing is the best!

Journal - For the memories and the stories you will tell.

Books - Do you feel the same as Thoreau at Walden Pond?

Hammock - Could be used as your main shelter or just for maxin' and relaxin'.

Bear spray, Bear Canister and Bear bells - Required in some areas. $20 says you loose this arm wrestling match without these deterrents.

When do we get to the trailhead!?

You're on your way

Give yourself ample time to select your gear. You will want to become familiar with how each item works and how to use them. Planning and preparedness go a long way. One of the best parts about adventuring is gathering and organizing gear. You will pack and repack your gear several times before you are satisfied with it. Enjoy the process and get ready to go to wild places. Feel the anticipation.

If you get stuck, reach out to the club and we will do our best to help out in anyway. We just might come along if you'll have us.

Keep Killin' it!

4 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All