Backpacking Basics

by Brett & Kate McKay on September 14, 2009 · 61 comments

in Health & Sports

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Jeff Rose. Mr. Rose is an Illinois Certified Financial Planner and co-founder of Alliance Investment Planning Group. He is also the author of Good Financial Cents, a financial planning and investment blog. You can also learn more about Jeff at his website Jeff Rose Financial.

We last heard from Mr. Rose when he was filling us in on how to be financially studly. He was also kind enough to give us a glimpse into the life of a financial planner.

Car camping is cool, but there’s something awesomely manly about putting everything you need to survive on your back and heading out into the woods. This year marked my second manly trip with my buddies as we adventured out for a week into the wilderness with everything we needed to survive on our backs. Last year we conquered the Smoky Mountains. This year took us to the great national park of Yellowstone. In case you’re considering backpacking yourself, I wanted to give a few tips to help you out on your next manly expedition. Let’s run through a list of things that you might need.

1. A Backpack Like No Other

Kind of goes without saying, doesn’t it? But, you don’t want just your typical backpack. Last year, I tried using a Bug Out bag that I had purchased in Iraq while on deployment. It’s one of the coolest backpacks I have ever had, and I thought it would work fine while in the Smokies. About 30 minutes into our first trail, I realized the huge mistake I had made. My shoulders were killing me and by the end of the trip so was my back. I learned the hard way that I needed a “real” backpack to last me throughout the trip. Taking my friend’s advice, I headed up to the closest REI where I spent over an hour and a half getting fitted by one of their sales assistants. The end result? After hiking 35 plus miles in the Yellowstone National Forest, I can tell you the time and money spent was well worth it. The REI backpack is the most comfortable backpack I’ve ever had throughout high school, college, and even my military career.

2. Take Care of Your Feet

When I was in the military I started off in the infantry division, and the one thing our Drill Sergeants always told us was to take care of our feet. It’s no different on a backpacking trip. Taking care of your feet means getting the right shoes and also the right socks. My friends had decided to spend a little bit more money and get some Merrell hiking boots. I particularly wasn’t all excited about spending an extra $120 just on shoes, although I knew it was probably worth it. I decided instead to purchase some $60 Nike trail shoes. I have to confess, I was very pleased with the Nike’s. Not only did I wear them in the Smoky Mountains, but I also wore them again this year in Yellowstone. The only complaint I have is the fact that they’re not waterproof, which can be an issue when crossing streams. Other than that, I’m the only one out of seven guys that never got a single blister. I contribute some of that to my shoes, but wearing true hiking socks helped as well. I found some hiking socks at Dick’s Sporting Goods that kept my feet from getting blisters both trips. Once again, well worth the investment.

To be a good friend, be sure to pack some moleskin for the guys who do get blisters. There aren’t too many things worse than hiking up a mountain with several blisters on your feet.

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3. Stay Hydrated

“Beat the heat Drill Sergeant, beat the heat!” That’s what we used to yell in basic training after we chugged out of our canteens. While hiking in the wilderness, you want to make sure to keep hydrated. Once again, my military background came into play, and I was able to bring my CamelBak that I had and use it in my pack. You also want some type of water bottle, maybe a Nalgene to keep extra water in as well. You can never have too much water.

Editor’s note: In my opinion, the best water bottle in the world is the Camelbak bottle with the bite valve. Drinking from a Nalgene bottle always left me with water on my face. The Camelbak bottle has this great sippy straw that lets you easily take big gulps of water. And it doesn’t leak, even if you hold it upside down. It’s awesome.

While hiking in the wilderness, you don’t want to drink directly out of the stream. Well, you can, but remember that what goes in must come out, and drinking out of a stream doesn’t always come out as pretty. To prevent a case of Montezuma’s revenge, you’ll want to consider packing a water filter with you.

4. Time to Sleep

When it’s time to hit the sack after you’ve been hiking for eight to ten hours a day, you’ll want to sleep comfortably. There aren’t any Comfort Suites to check into, of course, so you’ll want to pack accordingly. You’re going to want a tent and an extra warm sleeping bag. Keep in mind that you’ll want a lightweight tent and sleeping bag because you’ll have to carry them on your back. For example, my two man tent weighed approximately 3.5 pounds. I even packed a little extra pillow about the size of one that you’d get on an airplane. Both years I went without a sleeping pad, but I can tell you that next year I’m going to make the purchase. Sleeping on hard ground with rocks and everything else underneath you is not fun.

5. Feed That Belly

When you’re hiking with a 50 pound plus pack, you want to make sure you stay nourished. There are times when my blood sugar felt low, and I needed a quick fix. Be sure to take granola, power bars, nuts, jerky and other quick little snack foods that you can eat while you’re hiking. After you’ve been hiking the whole day, it’s time to treat yourself to some good grub. We opted to go with what’s called Mountain House meals, which are far superior than any MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) I ever had in the military. To prepare the Mountain House meal, all you need is 16 ounces of boiling water. Obviously, boiling water doesn’t come from a mountain stream. You’ll need to pack a lightweight stove and something to light it with. Pack a few lighters and some waterproof matches for backup.

The Mountain House meals are awesome. They cost anywhere from $5-$7 and you can get a variety of flavors. Anywhere from Beef Stroganoff (my favorite), Lasagna, and Chicken Teriyaki. All it takes is two cups of water, pour it into your bag, let it sit for eight minutes, and voila, you’ve got instant cuisine in the middle of nowhere. Another plus is that you eat them right out of the bag which makes clean up that much easier.

After you’ve eaten all of your dinner and snack food, don’t forget to bring some sealable trash bags – preferably zip-lock bags to put your trash away. You also want to bring a 50 ft rope/cord to hang up your pack. Yellowstone has designated bear poles where you can string up your pack about 10 feet in the air to keep wildlife out of your campsite. You want to enjoy your food, but you also want to make sure that no other bears or any other wildlife enjoy your trash.

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6. Don’t Dress To Impress

This year was harder to plan for clothing-wise because Yellowstone has an extreme range of temperatures. While we were there, it went from 85 degrees during the day to a low of 38 degrees at night, not including the fact that it rained every single day that we were out there. To battle the heat, I wore what I wore while in Iraq – my beloved Under Armour heat gear. At night, I brought out my beanie, and my North Face jacket to keep me warm. The jacket took up a little bit of extra room in my pack, but it was well worth it. The other good purchase that I made on this trip was a pair of convertible pants. These are the pants that you can wear as pants to keep you warm at night, but then unzip them and you’ve got shorts while you’re hiking in the 85 degree heat. They were perfect for the unpredictable Yellowstone weather.

7. Plan for the Miscellaneous

Since Yellowstone is well-known for their grizzly bears and black bears, we thought it would be a wise investment to at least have one or two cans of bear mace. It’s kind of pricey at $35 a pop, but I figure $35 is worth it in case I came across an angry momma grizzly and her cubs. I guess it’s not as “manly” as wrestling a bear, but my ego is still in check. You also want to think about bug spray (mosquitoes were horrible!), a camera with long life batteries so that you can remember the trip, and bio-degradable baby wipes-these aren’t just for the hands :).

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8. Smells Like Roses

The last thing is to make sure you pack deodorant. I know what you’re thinking – “You’re a man, why does a man need deodorant when he’s out in the wilderness?” You are absolutely right! You don’t need to use any deodorant while you’re out in the wilderness. In fact, I took pride in not showering the whole time we were camping out (I did shower the night before we left) . Deodorant comes into play for the ride home. Having flown out there, I thought the “manly” and polite thing to do was to not smell like I had backpacked for the last week to the person flying next to me. Even manly men have to have some sort of personal hygiene etiquette, right?

What are your tips for backpacking? What kinds of gear, clothing, and food do you bring on your adventures? Share your advice with us in the comments!

If you enjoyed Jeff’s post, read more of his stuff at Good Financial Cents, and subscribe to his RSS feed.

{ 60 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Matt September 14, 2009 at 9:14 pm

Good write-up, but I have a few things to add. I think you were very fortunate to get away without waterproof boots. On labor day I spent 17 miles hiking with soaking wet feet in Glacier National Park, in the snow and hail, in boots that claimed to be waterproof. Not only was it inconvenient, it was dangerous. Frostbite was a legitimate concern and we ended up hiking an extra 10 miles that day because we needed to get back down to a lower elevation.

Other than that, all I’d say is to over-prepare for a hike with what you bring clothing wise – especially if you are in the mountains. It is better to carry a jacket and some long-johns that you won’t use than to not have them if you need them. Like you said, take care of your feet and take at least one more pair of socks than days on the trail just in case.

Mountain House meals are great, and tasty after a day on the trail. Though I wish I had a whole package to myself, splitting it up between two people is definitely adequate.

Also, don’t forget to not rush yourself. Stop and look around, chances are it is a beautiful sight to take in!

Matt

2 Annabel Candy September 14, 2009 at 11:50 pm

Digging this! Just wrote an article about climbing a mountain with 6 kids aged 4 and up in tow. Their moans were echoing around the slopes:) So I think my tip is leave the kids with granny, if you’re lucky enough to have one or otherwise drag them along but take some ear plugs.

3 Steve September 15, 2009 at 12:23 am

One thing I’d like to point out as a hiker of many years is on your hydration point. Filters aren’t really worth the cost or the room they take up in your pack. You’re right about what goes in, goes out – but the pathogens that are really going to ruin your trip, cryptosporidium, and giardia (a.k.a beaver fever) are much too small to be screened out by any conventional filter. Sure you get water that looks and smells okay, but it could still make you very very sick. The only way to be safe with stream water is to bring it to a 10 minute rolling boil, so you really need to a) bring a lot of bottles and b) bring a camp stove.

4 Jeff Rose September 15, 2009 at 1:18 am

@ Matt

I have to confess I’m not as manly as you. :) We’ve made it a point to hike when the weather is expected to be moderate to nice. We’re actually talking about going to Glacier next year. You’re very right about me being lucky with the shoes situation. Our first year in the Smoky’s we got poured on, and all our feet got wet. That wasn’t too much fun. Luckily, though it was still in the middle of summer. Being wet is one thing, but being wet and cold is just plain miserable. Sounds a little like your trip.

Mountain House meals do claim to feed two……young boys maybe. We each packed enough so that we could have our own. No way I was sharing my dinner.

@ Annabel

Hiking with 6 kids….wow! Earplugs are a must :) Glad you liked it!

5 Jared September 15, 2009 at 1:27 am

Jeff, I’d like to know if you concur with Matt that the Mountain House meals can be split between two people. I’ve never tried them but would like to buy some for the trip I’m planning and am wondering how many to get. Also, what did you eat during the day-just granola bars and power bars and stuff?

6 Kazzerax September 15, 2009 at 1:31 am

@ Steve

You only need to bring the water to a boil. The temperature at which germs and parasites are destroyed is actually lower than the boiling point, even at high altitude. Once your water reaches a boil you can take it off the fire and wait for it to be cool enough to drink.

7 Robert Sharpe September 15, 2009 at 6:16 am

I hope the statement about a “50 lb pack” was a joke. Carrying that much weight is ridiculous on an extended backpacking trip.

In the summer I get my pack down to the 20 – 30 lb range and winter it’s pushing 40 lb but 50 lb is too much.

8 Eric September 15, 2009 at 7:21 am

So, the water comments. I went to REI and spent the better part of an hour going through the filters and water tablets and any other purification systems I could find. I wound up with an MSR hand pump filter that works very well. My girlfriend and I went on an overnight and used it with this creek we slept close to. The water was cold and filtered and good for drinking. I even pumped directly into my Platypus bladder and it was absolutely fine. Get the filters. They weigh next to nothing and you don’t have to wait for the water to cool down before you drink it.

The pack – YES!! Go to REI, spend time there with an associate and get fitted. You will never regret that choice. EVER! I bought a Kelty Coyote 4750 from eBags but did not take it to REI ( I am a member ) to get fitted correctly. I was making adjustments 10 minutes into the trail to save my shoulders. Absolutely do the fitting.

Shoes – Waterproof waterproof waterproof. Hi-tec makes a good pair for a little less than the Merrel or other brands, but spend the money on a good pair of waterproof boots that you try on and then BREAK THEM IN! Wear them for a week or so when not on the trail to break them in and you will save yourself some blisters. Hiking socks and moleskin are two other definites.

Trekking poles – My girlfriend and I are just about ready to go and purchase a pair of oples to aid in balance and also keeps the hands from swelling. Trekking poles keeps your hansd up so the increased blood flow due to exertion won’t sweel your hands. Also, they create more balance and also help you as you navigate tougher terrain with a load on your back.

Great article….

9 Dane September 15, 2009 at 8:24 am

As for a place to sleep, consider ditching the tent and sleeping pad and getting a Hennessy Hammock. It’s a spectacularly comfortable way to sleep after a hard day on the trail (or on the river, in my case). They pack up to about the size of a loaf of bread, which includes a hammock with built-in mosquito netting and a waterproof rain fly. You can sleep any way you like – on your back, side, or stomach – and wake up without the kinks and pains from sleeping on the lumpy ground. Hennessyhammock.com

10 JS September 15, 2009 at 8:49 am

Having literally just come off the high mountains of Colorado (N. Maroon, Snowmass and Capitol this time) there are a few tricks I have learned over my 15+yr hiking and backpacking career.

1. Take Duct tape!
– most times I just wrap it around my trekking poles instead of taking a whole big role with me and just apply it whenever I begin to feel a hot spot. Slap a little onto that spot before it get’s too bad and blisters are never a worry.

2. Hiking/Trekking poles
– I never leave home without them, they are great for most trails and unless I am scrambling over rocks I always use them

3. Water filter/boiling debate
– I’ve tried both ways and just get a water filter, it’s super light, very small and easy to use. Plus is gives you a nice reason to take a 10min break and rest up for the next segment of the trail. If you are hiking multiple miles you are not going to want to break out the stove every time you need to refill your water bottles.

4. Definitely get a pack that fits! But here’s another little tidbit that is often overlooked; it’s load capacity!
– Make sure that whatever pack you end up with can hold the load you are expecting to take. For instance, there can be two 3000cu in. packs but one can only hold 30lbs while the other can hold 45lbs based on the material used in it’s construction, so keep that in mind!

5. Use fresh socks!
– When camping overnight I will either A) sleep in a different pair of socks than those I hike in and never hike in that pair until the last day or B) Have a fresh pair for everyday I am on the trail and sleep in them the night before and just keep them on. This will help keep your feet free of blisters and certainly keep you more comfortable while sleeping!

6. Get a bag at least 20 degrees colder than the low for your specific use.
– If the low’s you normally encounter are 40 degree’s then get a 20 degree bag. If you regularly see temps in the 20′s then get a 0 degree bag, etc…

7. Function is Fashion
– If I am dryer and warmer wearing a bunny suit than the next person then I am clearly fashionable, end of debate!

8. Deodorant
– Great for out west but not in any type of buggy environment. Most deodorant smells sweet which will only attract bugs to you so you it with caution. I do, however, agree with the author in keeping some in the car to apply when you get off the trail.

9. Always be prepared!
– Boy Scout motto and very good advice on the trail. Simply plan for the worst and hope for the best, trust me on this one.

Hope this helps!

11 FFB September 15, 2009 at 8:49 am

A pack that fits wells with support is such a help. It took me a long time to realize you get what you pay for here. I love my Kelty pack now.

And breathable, waterproof boots with great wool socks (and liner) are needs.

Sounds like it was a great trip!

12 Another David September 15, 2009 at 9:20 am

DO NOT PACK DEODORANT! It attracts bears like nothing else you could have in your pack. Bears like food – it’s yummy and filing – but they REALLY like to find out what that curious smell is coming from that tent full of people.

If you need an antiperspirant, make sure it’s unscented and leave it in your car.

13 The Voyeur September 15, 2009 at 9:21 am

Great to see this article.
As a former Outward Bound Instructor and general outdoors enthusiast, I appreciate giving people the information they need to enjoy themselves safely and comfortably.
Some comments:
1. While using handi-wipes is refreshing, be a real man and use mother nature’s own brands-smooth river rocks, debarked sticks (make extra special sure these are smooth), downed leaves or pinecones (use care in the direction of wiping with the pinecone) and my all time favorite-Snow. These reduce your carry load, and when either buried or left in a sunny spot-biodegrade quickly. If you must use paper goods then please bury them at least 8 inches below the soil and use sparingly-they take years to fully biodegrade (even the biodegradable ones) Always relieve yourself at least 200 feet from any water source.
2. An insulating pad to sleep on is essential-crazy creek makes a very nice foldable one, but you can just as easily get the blue closed cell foam that rolls up and weighs next to nothing. I go luxurious and use a thermarest inflatable-but thats weight as well as risk as they can be punctured with sharp items. It hasnt happened, but one day it will.
3. Tents-if you really need one-then you can get away with a superlight model weighing less than 8 lbs. My four season mountaineering 2 person tent with four poles is 12 lbs and that tent is 15 years old now. Im sure you can get something tiny and light. If you dont need a tent (and most times I dont use one) I bring a waterproof tarp and very thin rope and craft either a lean to or an “A” frame structure using nearby trees or rocks to anchor to. I also trek with poles and use them as struts in high alpine environments where no trees grow. Be sure to bring a waterproof ground cloth (painters plastic dropcloth is fine just get the thick ones) to protect in the event of a storm. The tarp is lighter and more versatile than the tent. Which brings up the issue of campsite selection-too long for here.
4. Boiling water is time consuming and costs you weight in the fuel needed. If you are not convinced of a filter’s efficacy-then just use iodine or purification tabs-they do impart a taste to the water but you get used to it. When taking water, identify the source as either running or a puddle. If it is a puddle and you have running-use the running. When taking from running-take from the calmest point you can find-this reduces getting solids in your water.

Thanks for letting me run my mouth-reminds me to gear up for a fall trip somewhere.

14 Matt McCraw September 15, 2009 at 9:23 am

i didn’t read all the other comments, so forgive me if somebody mentioned this already. Goldbond powder is good for the feet (and other parts of the body at times). Check all of your equipment before you go (our stove didn’t work the first night). If you wash your clothes in a stream, make sure you give them time to dry. If swimming in water hole or stream, make sure you check for snakes first by throwing a stone in the water. Backpacking is a one of a kind experience.

15 Mike Piper September 15, 2009 at 9:36 am

Just a quick heads-up: It appears that two of the links in Jeff’s bio are broken. (As well as the one in the footer.) Looks like they accidentally got this domain as the root rather than his own.

16 Justin S. September 15, 2009 at 10:25 am

Dont wear deodorant (or bring it on the trail with you) if you are in an area where bears are known to be. Otherwise you may have an unwelcome vist in the middle of the night……..

17 Chris G. September 15, 2009 at 10:48 am

I LOVE the challenge of a backpacking trek, especially through rugged terrain with breathtaking views and challenging climates. But I have also found the challenge of balancing adequate equipment against the weight of my pack to be almost exhilarating as the trip itself (where I find out how good my preparation decisions were). Making a list of *every* single item I pack (before) and then “debriefing” myself after to trip as to whether or not I actually needed/used those items are essential exercises for anyone interested in backpacking as a regular pastime.

Also along the lines of preparation (I’m a former Boy Scout, now a leader…you know, “Be Prepared”), I highly recommend that anyone new to backpacking *NOT* start with a week-long trip to Yosemite/Yellowstone/Appalachian Trail/etc. Break yourself in with a small (1-2 day) trek in a nearby state park during a “comfortable” season–this will give you an opportunity to:
- adjust your pack (and determine whether it’s even adequate)
- break in your boots and socks
- test your stomach (literally, with both backpacking food and water sources)
- test your orienteering skills (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orienteering – GPS is awesome, but what if your batteries die, or if you can’t get enough satellites?)
- find out whether you even like backpacking
You really don’t want to learn any of those things the hard way when you’re already 3 days away from civilization.

By the way, regarding trekking pole(s), I have to agree with JS and Eric. Initially, I had no interest in using them–somehow they seemed kind of un-manly to me, and like some extra unnecessary clutter. But after my last two trips, I am a firm believer, especially regarding rough terrain with a 30-50 lb. pack. Not to mention that a sturdy, extensible trekking pole can be creatively used to create a shelter in a pinch.

Oh, and stow some extra food and water in your car for when you return.

18 Pipp September 15, 2009 at 10:54 am

OMG 50lbs!! You really don’t need all that weight. what did you bring, bottles of wine? You should check out some of the information on light and ultra-light backpacking. While some of those go to extremes (and you can definately get away with less in CA, but you never need 50lbs for a week or less of hiking!) you can easy get your pack to 30lbs and still be very comfortable and well fed. If there is a group of you, sharing some of the common equipment and food items can really help, but that does have to be carefully planned so nothing is forgotten.

A tip for those who like the pre-packaged foods. Try them BEFORE you hike with them! Nothing worse than at the end of a good days hike sitting down to some food that is just gross.

19 Teak September 15, 2009 at 10:55 am

This post was all about gear. Gear is nice, but gear and the obsession with gear is probably more problematic than helpful. Even the fanciest brands of stuff won’t mean squat without knowledge and these important items:

1. A map and compass. Even day hikes can be enhanced with them. But for long excursions they are a must.
2. A good knife. No K-Bar survival knife needed. Just a quality knife with a 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 in blade is sufficient. A stone or sharpener will be good.
3. First aid kit. It should be sufficient for the type of trip. The more people or the longer the trip, the more likely somebody will need it.
4. A simple survival kit. It should be customized for the type of trip (no fish hooks necessary if you’re hiking in the desert). Even if you need to survive only a few hours or one night before help comes, the right kind of items could mean the difference between life and death.

You’ll notice that these essential items will all fit in pockets or in a small day pack. I don’t even take a day hike without them.

Above all else: THE KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS to be a good outdoorsman. The enviro-boom is great and it’s terrific to see more people getting outdoors. But living outdoors for a few days, especially in the back country, is far different than the daily lives of most of us. Too many people get themselves into trouble in the back country because they aren’t physically fit, haven’t practiced skills, haven’t done research on the terrain and hazards of the area, don’t know basic first aid and can’t how to use a map an compass (which, by the way, are to prevent you from getting lost, not finding your way back after you’re already lost).

If you’re not already familiar with these skills, I suggest some simple classes, books and practice before taking any long excursion. Most outdoors equipment stores offer classes, as do many community colleges. Good outdoors skills won’t just save your life, they’ll make the outdoors experience more interesting and comfortable.

20 David September 15, 2009 at 11:20 am

Teak is right! A map & compass is a great addition to a day hike. First, it’s fun to practice your compass & map skills even on a short day hike along a marked trail. Practice is important, for the day you really need the skill. Second, and more important don’t trust “marked trails”, if you leave the trail by even a bit (suppose nature calls), you can get lost. Even when I carry a GPS, I still have a simple compass as a back-up. A compass never fails. More people have gotten lost on a simple day hike than you can imagine – just because they didn’t take a few simple precautions. Also, no matter if it’s a day hike or a month long expedition – always bring a knife and something to start a fire with. Be a man – be prepared!

21 Wild Man September 15, 2009 at 11:34 am

My beloved wife and I have hiked the Superior Hiking Trail in northern Minnesota on multiple occasions. Among the lessons we have learned are that foot care is of primary importance. Spend extra dough to get the best hiking boots you can. I like ones with a little extra room for the toes, so that downhill trekking won’t cause you to lose a couple of toenails. Once you have the shoes, use a water repellent on the outside to protect you from moisture. Socks are also crucial: buy heavy woolen or acrylic socks for the cushion, but also wear the thin, lightweight liner socks underneath. The liners will wick moisture away from your skin so that your feet are less likely to blister. You can wear the same outer socks for several days, but do change the liners daily. Prepare for the inevitable blistering, though–carry foot first aid supplies, like gel blister pads. They work wonders.

Other advice:

Take a backpacking stove with you: a single-burner gas stove with built in rack for supporting small pans. It’s perfect for making that morning cup of instant coffee. It’s also indispensable as an emergency heat source. While it’s arguably more “manly” to start a fire with flint and steel, you don’t want to waste time if you or someone with you is suffering from hypothermia. They take up minimal space and weigh little.

Take a backpacker’s water filter, for purifying water you draw from lakes and streams. NEVER drink unfiltered water from wild sources, because most lake and stream water in North America is rife with microparasites like Giardia, that will cause serious gastric illness. If space/weight is at a premium, you can opt for iodine tablets, but the unpleasant taste may make it more difficult to stay hydrated. Boiling water should be a last resort.

For food, taking a handful of prepackaged freeze-dried meals is nice for the evenings, but don’t overdo it. Gorp (trail mix, for you noobs :) ) is easy to eat, it keeps, and it supplies nutrition and energy. (You can make your own at home to suit your taste.) Take jerky for protein and to replace the sodium you’ll lose through sweating.

Having a touch of civilization is also nice. Small bottles of your favorite spirit (be sure to pack out your garbage) are handy for evenings around the campfire. However, don’t drink alcohol during the day. Besides impairing your judgment, it can dehydrate you.

Take enough rope that you can hang your backpacks from a stout tree limb, out of the reach of bears and away from your tent. We also take bear mace. (There are no grizzlies where we hike, but there are plenty of black bears.) Don’t roll up your tent fabric or sleeping bags. Use a stuff sack. It compresses down better so you can get more in the pack.

22 Jeff Rose September 15, 2009 at 11:40 am

Wow! Lots of great comments. Thanks for everybody’s input.

Concerning the deodorant, I should have mentioned that I didn’t pack it with me. It was waiting in the car. Good points!

One thing that I didn’t mention that we packed was a hand held GPS. That and a map (compass for backup) also make complete sense. Good catch.

Knives are good and also having some sort of multi-tool (Gerber or Leatherman). In Iraq, I also had two with me and that was the same with this trip.

Geez, one more thing to include. Flashlights and a good head lamp. They make really nice LED’s that can light up the country side. Definitely, need to have some packed away.

Concerning the load size, 50lbs is definitely a stretch. I think our packs were more in the 35-40 lb range.

23 Teak September 15, 2009 at 11:51 am

Jeff, a good GPS can also be fun, but as you mentioned you need a back up (I work with the map and compass as my primary tool and the GPS is the secondary, but to each his own). Unfortunately, GPS can fail. And too many people rely on them without knowing how to use them. The one you put in your car is nice for being on the road, but the units for traversing roadless, trailless terrain take some time to learn how to use.

There’s also a subset of the backpaking world: Minimalist backpacking. Some of these guys can do 4 nights with 12 pounds of gear. Talk about liberating..

24 Constantin Sauvage September 15, 2009 at 12:15 pm

One thing I’ve learnt in French boy scouts, which are much tougher than most, is the use of a poncho. I was almost sure to expect this from an ex-military but it wasn’t said. With a reusable military poncho with grommets you can do just about anything including a tent, and much much more. Literally, the possibilities are endless. But this may not always be the most suitable shelter when the few extra degrees brought by a tent are needed. The idea of bringing deodorant is useful. After not showering for three weeks some people with whom I was in the train changed wagon because of the smell.

25 Pat September 15, 2009 at 12:15 pm

Jeff – enjoyed the article. Glad to see you contributing here as I recently came across your other blogs and enjoy them as well. I’m recently out of school and currently work as an auditor, but after coming across your bio/blog, I’ve become very interested in a financial advisor or investment manager role. Good luck to you and your wife with the baby to be. Actually, saw her blog as well and am considering getting a pair of those Pmox for my girlfriend’s soon to be born niece.

Agree with all the comments above. I hiked Mt. Katahdin (End of the AT trail in Maine) last fall and used many of the tips above to ensure we had a safe, fun trip. Trail mix is definitely an ideal snack. As it can be costly, I enjoy making my own. Dried fruits and nuts keep you regular and chocolate chips are great for energy. Bought supplies in bulk, made a big mix, then made individual trail bags for me and my hiking buddies. Liner socks from EMS worked great to prevent blisters even though my new boots weren’t completely broken in. Gaining knowledge of each hike and the environment (warm at the low elevations and cold at the peak) can aid planning (what to pack) and determining how to layer.

For general outdoor enthusiasts, I’m currently reading and recommend Bill Bryson’s, “A Walk in the Woods”. It’s an easy-to-read tale of his journey on the AT. Not a how-to book by any means, but an interesting and entertaining story.

26 Brucifer September 15, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Chaps, mind the type of backpack for the type of terrain. The more familiar high-riding external frame packs are perfectly fine for open country in the western states. But if you travel in densely forested areas, you should consider using a low-slung internal frame pack. Going through dense forest like say, parts of the Adirondacks, you’d be catching your high frame pack on a branch every few feet.

27 Bible Money Matters September 15, 2009 at 12:32 pm

have to agree with some of the above comments about taking care of your feet, having good waterproof footwear – and having at least a couple pairs of extra hiking socks. A couple of years ago i was hiking in the boundary waters wilderness area in northern Minnesota, and unfortunately had non-waterproof footwear, and too few socks. It rained the whole time, and my feet were constantly wet. That isn’t fun, let me tell you. I remember huddling around a campfire, trying desparately to dry my wet socks…. in the rain.

28 ABCs of Investing September 15, 2009 at 1:08 pm

My suggestion is to try out whatever gear you have on some practice hikes so you know if it is going to work out or not.

It also doesn’t hurt to get into better shape before a long hiking trip.

29 P September 15, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Never head out without the 10 essentials!
1. Map
2. Compass (optionally supplemented with a GPS receiver)
3. Sunglasses and sunscreen
4. Extra food and water
5. Extra clothes
6. Headlamp/flashlight
7. First aid kit
8. Fire starter
9. Matches
10. Knife

30 Brew September 15, 2009 at 1:26 pm

Don’t forget a good hat! Tilley hats are indestructible save for fire and Akubras are a more classic (material/appearance) but also enduring option. With all this talk about rain, shoot for wide brim and you have a hands-free umbrella, too. Jacket hoods never seem to keep my face dry in a torrent. Thanks for the primer!

31 Chris September 15, 2009 at 2:45 pm

A couple of things I wanted to put out, some of which have been said-

-iodine instead of a filter. more effective, reliable, and compact. the taste isn’t that bad, and you can put in some drink mix if you really can’t drink it
-a first aid kit
-sleeping pad. besides making it more comfortable, it is essential for insulating you from the ground
-minimal cotton-wool/synthetics are much better at keeping body heat in even when wet

32 paul escobar September 15, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Nicenote. Although you should also mention a couple of biggies. (i think a bunch more points are in the comments of the “camping” article…)

like, you should NOT drink from streams, hiking most places. and you should have at least 2 ways to make water at any given point. I carry iodine pellets and plan on boiling a days worth of water each nite/morning. Boiling is best as it kills anything, even stuff a filter won’t catch.

Speaking of boiling, and mountain house. You can prep your own “mountain house” meals pretty easy — although they (and other brands) are pretty decent. When talking about boiling, you should invest in a decent stove. Rei of course has nice stoves and people argue back and forth on the best type. just learn how to use it in-store, and plan your fuel use properly… never make a fire. ok, well, not never, but don’t go chopping down the woods– at all. Think about what your site woulda looked like if everyone cut down wood for a little fire.

and always carry a map and compass. I mean a real topo map, and even a gps.

paul

33 Tom September 15, 2009 at 4:37 pm

Oh man! I winced when you mentioned the Bug Out bag. I had one and I can imagine you thought it was great given the culture in the military. I joined when the ALICE pack was still issue. A torture sack if there ever was one, and Marines were just not equipped to carry heavy weight comfortably. The new issue pack appears much better, but I’ll bet the hip belt – which should carry much of the weight – still doesn’t get used much. Good call going to REI, maybe you can spread the gospel now!

34 Steve Germain September 15, 2009 at 5:15 pm

I took my daughter to the train station the other day for a trip she was taking to visit a friend for a few days in another state and I complimented her on her back pack which was a very interesting, large, old fashioned style that you do not see too often. She said it was her “possibility bag”. Upon inquiry she explained that when she goes camping, in addition to packing what she knows she will need, she also packs for possibilities (e.g., rain, thirst, sun, hunger, darkness, getting lost, bugs) so now, whatever the environment, she tries to pack for what could possibly happen.

I replied that I try to do the exact same thing in my head – be ready for possibility – and I spend a lot of time packing my brain with the things I may need when I go out – flexibility, some humor, curiosity – all the stuff I can think of that might be needed at any given moment. Sometimes I am well provisioned, other times (too many) I totally left the bag at home.

I think when anyone goes camping they bring with them their possibility bags loaded with tools – medical expertise, administrative and other skills, language skills, and clearly a strong desire to work hard. And, most importantly the desire to walk through a new door.

Imagine what it’s like to see a door in front of you that you never saw before. You have no idea what is on the other side of the door but you and a group of people you do not know are standing there and all agree “lets open it, walk through and see what happens”. So you open the door. You are now all on the other side standing there together, tentative, taking small steps, exploring a new place, meeting new people who have also walked through their doors and all the time working hard and talking about it – how are we doing, how can we do this better, what does it mean?

And there you all are; exploring, and sweating, and worrying, and working and maybe even freaking out but always (above all) caring. And then it’s time to go back. But amazingly the door you walked through does not close behind you when you leave. It’s still open, maybe not as wide open as when you were there but still there remains this new place inside you that is also newly opened. And maybe when you first go back home it takes a few days to get used to being back on the other side of the door again. Or maybe you spend a few days wandering around, keeping the door open and running into other people on the same road and you talk to them and recognize in each other this thing that has happened: that you packed your bag of possibilities, walked through a door you knew nothing about and explored with a group of young people (everyone is young (no matter how old they are) when they go through the door).

The insight gained from backpacking? – That there are doors everywhere – could be across the globe, could be in your living room. Go through the door and you will always come back the better for it.

Warmly – Rough Fractals.

35 Jeremy September 15, 2009 at 5:30 pm

My anti-blister tip: duct tape. If you get a hot spot (a sort of pre-blister red, sore spot) slap some duct tape on it. Its not a blister, so you don’t need to worry about pressure, but you’re rubbing the duct tap instead of your foot, so you avoid the blister.

Also, this was a great article, but I can’t believe he missed the single most important thing about boots: breaking them in. Its great that you spent $200 on a nice pair of boots, but if you don’t take the time to walk a few miles in them before your trip to mold them to your feet, you are going to get blisters, guaranteed.

36 Dave Lewis September 15, 2009 at 5:44 pm

Don’t forget a deck of cards. They don’t weigh much and if you’re hurt or lost just start playing solitaire. Somebody will come along and tell you to play the black five on the red six ………

A deck of cards has gotten me through a rainy day or two and if things get really bad you can always use them as a fire starter.

37 TWY September 15, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Enjoyed the article and comments. I agree with Teak. Skills are more important than things. That’s the same philosophy preached by canoeing guru Cliff Jacobson. He has a great DVD out called “The Forgotten Skills” with great advice on how to rig a dry and comfortable camp.
I always carry a lightweight tarp even if I am carrying a tent. That way I don’t have to hike/canoe in the rain if I don’t want to and I have more options for shelter.
My favorite piece of gear is a jacket made by Marmot called the DriClime Windshirt. It is lightweight and can be worn over or under. I wore it to a football game once and was toasty while everyone around me with jackets 3x as thick were shivering in the wind.

38 Alex September 16, 2009 at 12:40 am

while 50lbs might sound like a lot. if you’re not a weakling its really not that heavy. i did 68 miles in 6 days (with up to 4000ft elevation changes each day) with a pack pushing 55-60lbs – and i’m just a guy who decided he wanted to go hiking for a week with no training beforehand. pack weighs in at 10lbs, 10lbs water, 5lb sleeping bag. 6lb tent, 8lb food, 2lb water filter (most expensive hiking equip i own at $130), 2lb sleeping pad, plus soap, bug spray, clothes and rain gear. oh, and cant forget the 14″ Bowie knife. just in case…

if you’re hiking on a budget, your pack will weigh more. it’s a fact. the lightweight packs, tents, sleeping bags, synthetic clothes cost A LOT more than normal stuff. all that stuff is nice and does make hiking easier, but it’s not necessary. part of the reason i like hiking and camping is that it’s a cheap vacation! the gas to get to where you’re camping should be the most expensive thing about the trip.

and in my opinion the mountain house food pouches are too expensive. the $5-7 per meal you spend on those for a week-long camping trip, you can afford those nicer boots or water shoes, or your share of a better/lighter tent. there are plenty of foods that only require boiling water and 8 minutes: pasta, rice, mac n cheese, ramen noodles. thats all you need and beef jerky – that’s the only ‘expensive’ food (based on weight) needed while hiking. but hey, i’m a minimalist. scrap the tent and just bring a tarp.

Happy trails!

39 Grant September 16, 2009 at 3:48 pm

Answer to the boiling water / water filter debate: Steripen – http://www.steripen.com. I’ve used this from NC to Nepal. Make sure you have the right battery for the condition.

40 Jeff September 17, 2009 at 11:56 am

Great Article. I am glad that you gave alot of specific attention to your feet. Having uncomfortable shoes or getting blisters can quickly put a damper on an enjoyable trip. I also agree w jeremy. Dont forget the ducktape.

41 Scott September 17, 2009 at 12:27 pm

I’m a long distance hiker. My shortest trips tend to be in the 30 mile range for an over-nighter with a week being in the 100+ mile range in Appalachian-like terrain.

First a small bit of advice – I see lots of comments on here about REI. I love REI and am a long time member, but if your serious about hiking, look elsewhere. If you really get into hiking your going to eventually want light gear. REIs selection of light gear is getting better but is still pretty abysmal. Also, they are about the most expensive place you can buy gear at. Check places like http://www.campmor.com and hiking forums like http://www.whiteblaze.net or http://www.hammockforums.net/ for deals.

The first and most important rule in hiking is “Hike your own hike”. I’m not going to sit here and pontificate on what is the best brand, best load-out for your gear or what not, because what’s important to me on my hike might be the total opposite of what’s important to you.

I will tell you how I like to hike though. I like to keep everything ultra light, because I can put more miles on my body with less fatigue. In the summer my pack tends to be in the 12 pound range for a 5 day trip, 25 – 30 pounds in the winter depending on conditions. Like Alton Brown my tools are all multi-purpose, or do one thing exceedingly well. Eliminate redundancy and non-essientials. You don’t need a new pair of socks every day. Are you going to be in heavy cover? Forget the sunglass and sunscreen. Is your buddy bringing a stove? Leave yours at home but bring your fuel.

The second rule, equally important to the first is: stay dry on the outside and wet on the inside. The most miserable experience you’ll have hiking is getting any part of your body wet and not being able to get it dry. Hiking with blisters or a chafed crotch will quickly turn a fun walk in the woods into sheer torture. Keep any area that experiences friction dry or lubed up. For instance, keep your feet dry, and use Glide or vasaline in between your upper thighs. Powder can be worse than useless because while it will keep things dry in semi-moist environments, it’s worthless once it gets wet and turns to paste. Keeping hydrated is vitally important. Drink more than you think you should. You really _can’t_ drink too much. I like carrying a filter because it’s faster and easier than boiling and I don’t have to screen it before using a steri-pen to get rid of any grit.

Finally, remember, it’s just walking – don’t over complicate it.

42 Scott September 17, 2009 at 12:40 pm

Hi Alex

I just wanted to comment to you real quick on your post. 50 pounds really IS to much unless you’re climbing in the Himalayas. Most of my gear is well below the $100 range excepting my pack, which I splurged on which was $200. It weighs 2lbs, 1oz. Likewise, 10lbs of water? Do you really need to carry a gallon? Unless your in a desert probably not. Even in the summer here in the south where there has been severe drought conditions, carrying a gallon is over-kill. At most I have two liters in my pack at a time. And the best place to carry water is in your belly. “Camel-up” when you get to a water source – drink 32 – 64oz while your at water, and then grab a liter or two to carry with you to the next water source. 2lb sleeping pad? Wow, I’m not sure what you’re using, but if I’m not in a hammock, the pad I use weighs about 8oz and cost $25.

I’d highly recommend you check out http://www.whiteblaze.net . It’s a forum of hikers that specifically pertains to hiking and through-hiking the Appalachian Trail, but it’s a wonderful resource for hiking in general. Feel free to message me on there my nick is Kilroy.

43 Bill September 17, 2009 at 8:05 pm

I just got back from a week backpacking in Yellowstone, I was with my dad who has done over 30 backpacking trips in Yellowstone. Here is a couple of things I would add:

No need to hang entire pack, isolate your food and hanging items in stuff sacks within your backpack and then just hang those covered by thick 3 mil garbage bag. Only one hanging rope needed for entire camp.

For food, split among 3 we always had top ramen, followed by either stove top or mashed potatoes followed by one mountain house entree which we split. This was always enough. Stove top and mashed potatoes taste very good after day of hiking and having 3 course meal is much better.

We also took about 4 liters of hard alcohol in nalgene flexible cantenes (http://www.nalgene-outdoor.com/store/SearchResult.aspx?CategoryID=42). You can buy backpackers powder margarita mix and make great backpacker margaritas or whiskey sours.

44 Craig September 18, 2009 at 8:06 am

Lightweight is the way to go if you can afford it. I’m slowly upgrading my gear, but the post-trip gear debrief is the quickest way – it’s wonderful the next time you put on your pack with so much less in it.

Food – porridge oats, powdered milk or whey protein shake are all light. Pasta and rice for evening meal (flavoured up with a cup-a-soup sachet)! Corned beef and cheese in a wrap is a tasty lunch. Dried fruit, nuts and chocolate are my trail treats, buying fruit where possible passing through villages. I don’t usually take supplements, but due to the limited diet on trail and hard work I take a multi-vitamin and mineral tablet to help keep me in top condition.

Water – camelbak and iodine tablets. While Scott is correct for most people, due to the fact we are already 2% dehydrated before we feel thirsty, some people can become mistaken, and although rare – you CAN drink too much (search ‘hyponatremia’)

My favourite bit of kit is a pertex windshirt. It weighs 85g and stuff to the size of an apple! Unless it is going to be very wet I don’t need the full water-proof jacket. When you are working hard, you get wet from sweat anyway; this stops the wind chill but is highly breathable (~98%). It’s my go-to bit of kit for most occassions – along with a buff.

45 paul September 21, 2009 at 1:37 pm

Grant:
What’s the “debate” about boiling water? Are you going to eat hot food, possibly by boiling some water? It takes me about 3 minutes to boil a liter of water; and presto, i’ve saved carrying 4oz of batteries and glass. As a backup, i carry iodine tablets which are a half-oz of weight. If your batteries fail, man, you’ll be regretting it, and happy that i’m boiling your water and have iodine.

also, for a bear bag, check out the URSack which will also keep out mice/rodents, which are a bigger issue for me here in the white mountains of NH.

==========
39 Grant September 16, 2009 at 3:48 pm
Answer to the boiling water / water filter debate: Steripen – http://www.steripen.com. I’ve used this from NC to Nepal. Make sure you have the right battery for the condition.

46 bill September 21, 2009 at 3:47 pm

We hiked the ancient pilgrimage route, Camino de Santiago in 2008. From the French border town of St. Jean, over the Pyrenees, to Santiago, Spain, 500 miles in 30 days. Boots are the #1 priority. Quality, waterproof, broken in boots are essential. Check out our site: http://www.elcamino.norsketech.com

47 Eden Jaeger September 23, 2009 at 12:51 pm

Sounds like a fun trip! I’m not a hiking expert, so maybe the abuse your feet take is different, but as for preventing blisters…years of playing basketball has taught me that two pairs of socks solves that problem for good. I like to put on a short, thin pair first, then whatever my favorite sock is over that. I never get blisters that way, and I immediately see a difference if I forget the extra pair.

48 Tomas October 22, 2009 at 4:41 am

I’m surprised nobody has mentioned a whistle. To me it’s right up there with a knife as something you need to have. Shouting for notice leaves you without a voice after fifteen minutes, and won’t be heard beyond a few hundred metres anyway.

There is a waterproof headlamp from petzl called the e+lite, and it comes with a whistle formed into the headband, very very useful, cheap and light piece of kit.

And while I think ultralight is really admirable, I don’t think it’s suitable for everyone. An ultralight sleeping pad here in Sweden at this time of year will leave you with a frozen back.

49 Michael October 24, 2009 at 6:37 pm

I realize the inportanse of deoderant… I wouldnt carry it with my while backpacking… The smell of it can atract animals even bears… I resently spent 85 days in north carolina packbacking… we didnt carry any deoderant… I would say that you could put it in a locker someware or stop at cvs on the way to the airport or something.

50 Jeff Rose November 2, 2009 at 10:05 am

If you want to know how I could have and should have saved money on this backpacking trip, check out my guest post at Wise Bread. http://www.wisebread.com/how-to-save-over-1000-on-your-next-backpacking-trip

51 Eric Williams December 31, 2009 at 8:45 am

Wow, you left a lot out. If you’re serious about backpacking, don’t take this article too much to heart. There are a lot more things you need to know, and some of this advice is dangerous and incorrect. Make sure you read up on what you REALLY need and don’t need before setting off out into the mountains and be confident that you know what you are doing and how to handle any unexpected situation that might arise. The author of this article is on the right track, but still has a lot to learn. The real key to backpacking is minimalism. If you’ve got a 50 lb. pack, you’re carrying way too much. Never bring deodorant (bears love it), and if you’re not man enough to sleep on the ground without a pad, you shouldn’t be out there. A pad just adds weight to your load. Break it down to the bare essentials, water, food, shelter. A lot of the comments here give great advice, but make sure you do a ton of homework before you commit to a week long hike. I agree with the person who said to start off with just a one to two nighter.

52 Daves Bane January 6, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Some general tips and tricks, geared for mountain and cold weather backpacking.
1. No deodorant: bring baking soda instead, light weight and can be used as deodorant and toothpaste(bears also like).
2. I disagree with the advise in the comments section about ditching the mattress. I can speak from years of experience, but instead of believing a random dude on the web, check the gear carried by cowboys, mountain men, and light infantrymen up to today. Almost always a sleeping pad of some sort can be found dangling from their packs or saddles. A light weight blow up air mattress weighs next to nothing, takes up the space of a thermos and is essential if you are winter camping(or mountain camping in fall or spring). The amount of heat lost to the ground can be significant even in moderate temperatures. The insulating ability of even the most extreme cold weather sleeping bag is lost at the point that the filling is compressed by the body next to the ground.
Being cold at night means you will be tired and worn out in the morning. Your body must expend excess calories (up to a pounds worth) trying to keep your body warm at night, and that must be made up for with food carried or procured.
Winter camping means you may not always have pine needles to lay down as a bed under the tent, or your tent may be sitting on snow which will melt from your lost heat.
Point is, why be miserable when we are dealing with a device that weighs less than 25 ounces? Plus if you are hunting, it makes a great shooting pad.
3. Boots should be waterproof unless its day hiking in the summer. Trench foot can develop quickly from wet feet and be potentially life-threatening.
4. Gators are a great piece of gear from yesteryear that we seem to have gotten away from, but if you are going to be in heavy brush or snow, I recommend them.
5.Cooking. An army canteen cup and a small camping pan set can be had cheap and you can store your cooking equipment in it. (camp soap, small vial of olive oil, salt/pepper and garlic powder. Camp soap can be bought cheaply and can be used for dishes and hair.
Pans should be washed immediately after use, sand and water make the best scrubbing agents and can be followed up with a small amount of soap.
Food:
http://www.survivaltopics.com/survival/bannock/ This stuff is light, easy to make, tastes great and is nutritious.
Dried oatmeal packets
Dehydrated microwave food off the shelf (chef boyardee microwaveables, microwave macoroni). Isn’t necessarily what I would eat year round, but its cheap and has calories and protein.
Tuna packets, Easy protein, light package(to avoid turning yourself into walking bait from the scent, burn the packet in the fire and pack it out in the morning when its cold)
Peanut butter and jelly: super survival food, lots of calories, fiber and protein. I don’t prefer it, but a jar (plastic) of Goober pb&j will carry you for several days, requires no cooking and makes no mess.
6: Packing, carry a trash bag, and pack clothes in zip-lock bags and compress the air out of them. Saves space, keeps stuff dry, and zip-lock bags can be very useful.
Have a waterproof bear bag with some 550 cord to string it up.
7. Medical care, A wilderness medicine class is advised before a large trip, but these are a few things I like to bring with me on long trips, especially if I’m packing with others.
Roll of Ace Wrap. Can be used to isolate/wrap broken limbs or provide compression for bleeds
Roll of Kerlex. Can be used to stop bleeding and as wrap for broken limbs
iodine tablets even if you have water purification ability. They can be broken up and mixed with a little water (preferably boiled) and used as disinfectant.
bacitracin
small wound kit (band aids, medical tape, super glue)
Aspirin/tylenol. Do not give if individual has active bleeding.
Adjustable Trekking poles make great splints for broken legs or arms.
8. Any big backpacking trip should start with a 1-2 day “shake out” trip to test the gear and packing list. Pack as you would for the whole trip, make sure everything will fit, and test every piece of gear. Tents are much easier set up in the back yard than on the side of a mountain in low light and 40 degree temps.
9. Clothes. Avoid Cotton, especially socks. The old adage, “cotton kills” is especially relevant in cooler months, but in the mountains, temps vary dramatically. Have some sort of rain coat and a warm fleece. Mainly: Avoid cotton. Cotton t-shirts hold onto moisture and dry out slowly. A warm mountain day can quickly turn into a cold mountain night and a sweaty t-shirt for an under-layer will quickly suck warmth from the body.

The web has lots of resources on woodcraft and field skills. I would start with summer backpacking before graduating to winter or high mountain backpacking.

53 Will January 8, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Always good to see people advocating backpacking. Some things that jumped out at me:
1) Use Iodine tablets or Aquamira to treat your water. Light-weight back packing is the key to enjoying your hikes and feeling comfortable. These are certainly the lightest and easiest to carry.

2) These leads me to my second point, though it might seem scary, always under pack in terms of weight. You will inevitably wear the same clothes everyday on a week long trip. May seem uncomfortable, but trust me you will get used to it. No need to bring excess clothes. A good jacket, rain gear, some extra socks, and maybe some long underwear if it’s cold are really the only additional things you’ll need outside of your hiking clothes.

3) This also applies, and can be achieved most easily, by buying a smaller pack then you think you need. Buying a pack too large will always lead you to fill it with unecessary items that you won’t use and take up space and add weight.

4) ALWAYS USE A SLEEPING PAD! I was really surprised to read that you didn’t use a sleeping pad. Though you mention that the “rocks were uncomfortable” and seem to suggest that sleeping pads are only for comfort, the most significant feature of a sleeping pad is keeping you warm. You lose the majority of your heat when directly touching the ground. A sleeping pad doesn’t necessarily need to be that comfortable, more so just needs to keep you off the ground so you have a better chance of staying warm.

Everyone go backpacking. Some of the best experiences of my life.

54 caleb January 18, 2010 at 3:43 pm

DEODORANT -

be very careful if you take deodorant with you on the trail if you are in bear country. you will have to put it with the rest of your smellables. it is also a good idea not to wear it while hiking. it is a better idea to leave it at home. if you need it for the trip back, buy it on the way out or schedule a stop so you can shower.

55 Ross April 29, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Woah! Jeff. My man. I hate to be one of those guys, but this article is so bad it’s dangerous. It undervalues and overlooks so many vital safety practices and precautions. I wouldn’t ever comment negatively on any article, but if people use this as a “101″ or “Basics” article, they could be in for serious trouble. For instance, if you think you can drink the water out of a stream “if you want”, and you’re only risking “Montezuma’s Revenge”, than you’re not qualified to be in the mountains for more than a day. Getting food poisoning in Cancun might be uncomfortable, but bad Diarrhea when you are a few days from a trail-head can be deadly. There are a few other topics like sleeping pads, bear caches and such that if you Read Daves Bane’s comment above, it makes up for some of the mistakes/omissions.

Dear Brett, Why should I trust your judgement on something so trivial as the cut of my lapel, when you don’t even have the proper judgement to enlist a real expert to give tips on life-and-death topics. The concept of your site is amazing, but you’re faking your way through it. I might keep reading your site, but until it gets better I won’t be recommending it (or your book) to anyone.

56 Steve May 26, 2010 at 8:21 pm

I would also recommend taking a small container of gatorade powder on your hike. put some in your mouth, and then take a swig of water from your camelbak, and swish! instant Gatorade.
or if you are a real man, just let the sour powder dissolve on your tongue without water. puckerface!

57 sey June 6, 2010 at 9:47 am

food: I’m a big fan of couscous because (different from rice and noodles) you only need to pour boiling water over it to cook it – saves tons of fuel!

58 Christopher M Yoder August 6, 2010 at 4:53 pm

The last time I went into the back country I was a freshman at VMI. They dropped us of in a national forest in the Shenandoah Valley with two tarps, a field jacket a piece, a change of socks, plenty of iodine tablets, and one little baggie of food which include trail mix and jerky. We hiked three days and two nights. I want to get out into the Texas backcountry and just do some daytrips.

59 Chris Harriss December 7, 2012 at 11:24 am

I really enjoyed this article. I wish it had included a little information on pokhodnaya banya.

Wikipedia says:
“The pokhodnaya banya (походная баня) or “hiking banya,” is popular among the Russian military, mountaineers and people who travel for extended periods in harsh environments. It consists of a stone oven set up in a small makeshift tent. Hiking banyas are usually made near a lakeshore or riverbank where many big, round stones are available to build the banya’s oven and there is plenty of cool water available for bathing. Large stones are made into a dome-shaped circular oven, one to four meters in diameter and a half to one meter in height so that there is space left on the inside to make a large fire. Firewood is burned for several hours in this improvised stove until the stones on the surface of the pile become so hot that water poured on them turns into steam. Around the pile, a space is tarped to form a small tent and the banya is ready when it becomes very hot inside and there is a lot of steam. Fresh veniks can be cut from nearby birch or oak trees and bathers can take turns cooling off in the ice-cold mountain water.”

60 Sam November 9, 2013 at 11:01 am

Some comments and comments on the comments ;)
Deoderant- use an unscented deoderant on the trail.Take some wipes with you. The less you stink the more wildlife you’ll see. When its not hunting season you don’t have to be a scent paranoid as a bowhunter, just keep it down.

Backpacks- REI is ok on backpack selection, but the best BP out there is not sold at REI. Check out these packs- http://www.mysteryranch.com

And don’t criticize someone on the weight of their pack unless you are with them on the same hike at the same time of year.

You should have more than one way to start a fire. We’re talking something that acts like tinder, not a way to light a fire. I carry vaseline soaked cotton balls and twine. If mother nature makes the available tinder too wet, you have an option.

Always have at least 3 ways to light a fire- matches, lighter, magnesium fire starter for example.

Whenever possible burn your trash, especially if it had food in it Even if it won’t burn completely, it will kill the smell and you can still pack it out in a bag.

Teak was right.

I hunt solo in elk country sometimes and even though I plan on being back in camp each night, the Rockies can be a trickster. I always head out with a pack that has the necessities and food for 3 days. I also include a Spot communicator.

Here’s a list you can refer to, just drop the hunting supplies off the list.
http://www.outdoorlife.com/articles/hunting/2007/09/pack-list-elk-hunting-essentials

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