Backpacking 101: Getting Started
Backpacking is awesome. There might be no finer way to truly experience the great outdoors: exploring remote areas, observing wildlife, and the unmatched solitude of a far away campsite are just some of the rewards awaiting you in the backcountry. There is also something to be said for the feeling of self reliance that comes with carrying everything you need in your pack. However, this all comes at a price. Careful planning, an array of gear and a network of reliable fellow hikers are some of the things needed to undertake a successful trip. This can be intimidating for beginners, but fear not, we are here to help you get started! Over a series of articles we’ll explain just how you go about becoming a backpacker…away we go!
The whole point of this backpacking thing is to see some cool sights. Have you ever been on a day hike and wished you could just keep going? With your backpack on, you can! Imagine hiking 10 miles into the High Uintas, setting up your base camp and exploring the area for a couple days. Backpacking can make that a reality. Set realistic goals: if you’re just starting out, try a series of one-nighters. Limit your travel to a reasonable distance (5 miles or so on your first few trips); you’ll be amazed at the solitude and beauty you can find on these “short” hikes. Don’t get all Jeremiah Johnson right off the bat; make sure you pick a destination that isn’t too far removed from civilization, i.e. rescue. Knowing that a major road or town is close by will ease your mind as you build experience in the backcountry. Always bring your cellphone or satellite beacon with you, even if you don’t think you’ll get a signal. Text messages need just a minuscule signal to reach their recipient, and could bail you out if things get dicey. Desert or mountains is another big decision. These are two very different environments and often demand different gear and planning. These are just some of the things to consider when planning where to backpack, we’ll expound on these in a coming article.
Good gear can be the difference between fun and misery. I’ve watched friends tear apart cheap packs, curse their heavy sleeping systems and overload themselves with unneeded gear. No bueno! Good gear doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg, either. Smart shopping and perhaps borrowing from friends can go a long way in getting your “kit” assembled. You’ll need a pack (of course) that’s comfortable and able to carry what you need for the trip. This is a huge purchase as the right pack could be traveling with you for the next 5 years, but a bad pack will make you curse carrying it. Take your time researching different brands and talking to folks in a specialty store; the time you spend will be worth it. A good sleep system is also key; it’s hard enough to get a restful night of z’s in the woods without fighting your gear. A lightweight inflatable mattress or closed-cell foam pad should be in your pack, as well as a lightweight down or synthetic material sleeping bag. And like the Rolling Stones said…gimme shelter! Whether you plan to pitch a tent, go light with a tarp or just sleep under the stars, you’ll need to consider shelter, because the skies aren’t always blue in the backcountry. Finally, you’ll need a way to ensure you have clean drinking water. Options include sterilization pills, hand pump charcoal filters, and UV filters. The prices vary but they are all better options than boiling or carrying all your drinking water. Of course, there are plenty of other items that will find their way into your pack, but these are the ones that will comprise the bulk of your load.
Yes, this is crucial. Don’t plan to go backpacking solo until you have serious experience and can be completely self reliant. You’ll need at least one other person to hit the trail with, but I’ve often heard that a group of five is best. Why? If one of you is injured, two people can stay behind and aid them while two others go for help. Chances are you already know someone who backpacks- start there. Seasoned packers are often ready and willing to show rookies the ropes; I know it went a long way to getting me out in the woods. If this isn’t an option then check the interwebs and your local outdoors stores, both are great sources for discovering clubs and other people in the same situation. Oh, and there’s one more group of people in your crew: the folks back at home. Always leave detailed information about your trip with people that you trust. If you say you’ll be home at 5, you have to know that your emergency contact will call search and rescue when you haven’t showed up or called by 9. Don’t become the next bestselling survival author.
So there you have it, a crash course in backpacking. In coming articles we’ll break each section down further with details on places to begin adventuring and potential gear to add to your pack. The hardest step in backpacking is the first one you take: getting started. Once you begin overnighting in the backcountry, you’ll find the rewards far exceed the work you will do preparing for every trip.