Backpacking Basics


Plan: Seems basic right?  You’d be surprised how many folks you run into on the trail that don’t plan.  Get a map, know where you’re going and let somebody know what your itinerary is (preferably someone who is responsible).  If you get stuck in a bad situation, this could mean life or death. 

Distance/Elevation: How many miles are you planning to hike?  How much elevation gain?  At what elevation will you be hiking?  How much experience do you have hiking that distance, with that much elevation gain and at that elevation?  If you don’t have much experience, build up your strength and confidence at lower levels first.  The last thing you want to do is get hurt trying to do more than you’re capable of.  Another thing to think about is planning your route - know where you’ll camp and if you’ll do a loop or setup basecamp w/planned day hikes and down time.

Weather:  Always double check the weather before you go and make sure you have equipment that is appropriate for that weather.  In other words, don’t use a poncho for a snowstorm.  Also, be mindful that the climate will be different at higher elevations.

Permits/Restrictions:  Call the local ranger station to see what restrictions are in place before you go (bear canisters, no fires, carry out toilet paper, etc).  Make sure you have all of the appropriate permits for overnight camping and parking.

Equipment: This is always a tricky one.  You can end up carrying too much weight if you bring equipment for every possible situation or you could end up ill-prepared if you don’t bring enough equipment.  Think about it this way – how long will it take you to get back to your car in the poorest of conditions when you don’t have the proper equipment?  If it’s not that far, then you really don’t have THAT much to worry about.  However, if you’re in the middle of nowhere, it’ll take you two days to hike back, you don’t have the right clothing to keep dry/warm and there's a snow storm on its way - you could be SOL (this stands for something bad).  Always bring a first aid kit, two types of fire starters (lighter, waterproof matches, flint), headlamp, food, water, insulation, mini-shovel and toilet paper.  For a list of gear that we've tested and can recommend, check out our gear page.

Food: When I backpack, I normally eat a small freeze dried breakfast in the morning, trail snacks during the day and a freeze dried dinner in the evening.  That said, I’m a 180lbs, 6’1” man.  Folks smaller than me can get away with eating much less.  Technically I could split the freeze dried dinners with someone else as the servings are typically for 2 people, but I also do some pretty long day hikes when I backpack.  One other tip here, when you pack your food into a bear canister, remember that you also have to leave some space for anything else that has a scent.  This includes most toiletries like your toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant.

Water: How much water will you need to drink, cook and wash?  This will depend on how long and difficult your hikes will be.  Once you figure that out, you'll have to decide how much water you'll need along the trails you're hiking before you reach a water source to fill up again.

Leave No Trace:  Leave the wilderness the way you saw it, untouched and pristine.  Always pack out whatever you pack in and never leave anything behind.