“Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” – John Muir
Backpacking is a great way to experience and discover the wilderness. There is nothing like rounding a corner to be found speechless by the beauty of the landscape. To hear the roaring rivers crashing over the rocks or the sound of running water in a nearby creek. To discover a deer grazing through a meadow or a marmot sunning on the rocks. Adventures are out there and the only way to find out what experience is awaiting you is to throw a bag on your back and put one foot in front of the other.
If you are new to backpacking, there is a lot of information and discussion on the web about what is the best gear, what food you should bring, what type of hiker you are, and so forth. You can read all you want to gain the knowledge about backpacking, but with time and experience you will find out what works for you.
My First Experience
What I discovered on my first trip into the wilderness was what I really needed and what I didn’t need. My bag and gear weight 45 pounds for a three day/two night trip! Even though the trip was fun, my shoulders and back thought otherwise. I would say better planning could have saved me a few pounds, but the experience I gained was the big teacher. My comfort level also changed after that trip and in a good way.
What did I bring? I carried a complete change of clothes for each day and a full set of thermals. I had three Nalgene bottles to store water. My backpack was made for 7 day plus trips and weighed about 7 pounds empty. I can already see the experience backpackers shaking their heads while others are saying, “been there before.” Is this a bad thing? No as it is doable. Is it the best way to backpack? I would say no, but experience has taught me that.
Experience from that first trip taught me to spend more time planning, researching gear, and weight matters. If I had spent more time planning, I would have looked at the weather the morning of and realized I didn’t need thermals at all. I didn’t need a full change of clothes each day. Had I studied the maps and found better resources freely available online, I would have known my water sources ahead of time. My bag would have been less weight as it was just a weekend trip. I didn’t need all that extra fuel in my MSR fuel bottle (33 oz!).
Besides those changes, the most important changes were to my comfort level. My comfort level had changed because of my experience outdoors. I believe this is something everyone has to experience on the trail. The more experience you have, the more confident you are, and therefore, the more comfortable you will be.
Plan, research, and, if you can, go with someone who has backpacked before. Learn from their mistakes and successes. If you are going to a National Park or Forest, call before you go and gather information. Call once more before leaving home to make sure you have the latest information about the area. There is no greater disappointment when driving to pick up a permit and find out, “so sorry, but the trails are closed due to *insert reason here.*”
Test and inspect your gear at home prior to going in the wilderness. The plan may be to arrive at the campsite in plenty of time, but things happen. It is now dark and you need to setup camp at night or you discover a defect in your gear. Whatever the possible scenario could be, open, inspect, and use your gear before heading outside. Adjust your backpack the night before fully loaded too. This will help reduce the amount of adjustment needed while on the trail.
Create, borrow, and/or modify a checklist of things to bring and pack it the night before. There is nothing like being out in the “middle of nowhere” and forgetting toilet paper, matches, a headlamp, or whatever it may be. Having a check list and packing the night before is a great way to insure you do not forget anything.
If it is your first time, do a small overnight trip (5 miles or less). Find an area not too far from your vehicle, a few miles or so, and camp there for a night. You will learn a lot about your gear, length of time to cook food, set up camp, and so forth. The great thing is you won’t be that far away either should something go wrong. Gradually work your way up to longer overnight trips as your experience and confidence increases.
Have fun! Take the time to stop and listen. Look around and take in your surroundings. Relax and enjoy being outside and away from the office!
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir
About This Guide
The next following pages you are about to read are based on my personal experience hiking and backpacking for several years. I do not claim to “know it all” and am constantly learning new techniques. The goal of the guide is to be a good starting point for people who want to get into backpacking. My experience is primarily based on hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California during the seasons Spring to Fall. Other landscapes may require different strategies and techniques as well as the season in which you visit them (i.e. desert in the winter vs. swamps in the spring). Hopefully what is presented in here will be a good way to get you started and a starting template to work with.
The Next Step -> Planning