Backpacking 101

August 10, 2018

Tom Claycomb

If you’ve never backpacked, I’d like to encourage you to give it a try. I think a lot of people hear about hardcore backpackers going on 20- to 40-mile trips for seven to 14 days and therefore don’t even consider backpacking. Here’s what I’d implore you to consider. You don’t have to go on the Bataan Death March the first time. Or ever.

For the first trip, just go a mile. Or even a half mile. That way you can test out your gear and see what works and what doesn’t. You can also determine what else you wish you had of packed. There are basic items you want to pack along but then everyone applies a little different twist as to what they think is important.

I don’t consider myself a hardcore backpacker at all, but to get back where the hunting and fishing is the best — and to where there are fewer people — you have to backpack or have a pack string.

I teach a few Backpacking 101 seminars each year.

The first one or two, I tried to talk about the how-to aspects but quickly discovered most people want me to talk about that for the first 15 minutes and then the rest of the time on what items they’ll need to carry and which gear works best.

So with that said, let me hit a few basic things you need to know and then I’ll list out items I suggest carrying.

First off, you need a reason to go. I backpack so I can hunt and fish in the backcountry. Maybe you just want to see cool country, climb a mountain or take pictures (always take a camera). Next question, where should you go? Grab a U.S. Forest Service map and find a fun-looking area or read a local book that tells of good hikes. After determining where you’re going, buy a map from MyTopoMaps. They will make you as detailed of a map as you want. You might even be able to get a 20 percent discount if you mention my name to her. Last year, it turns up that there were some petroglyphs where we were going. I wouldn’t have known it if I hadn’t of gotten a MyTopoMap of the area.

Meals: You’ll need to plan your meals. If you forget an item, there’s no running down to the local grocery store. You’ll have to do without. Plan and pack for each meal and snack. For breakfast, I eat flavored oatmeal and supplement it with huckleberries. For lunch, I make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They don’t spoil and have protein and energy. For dinner, I splurge and eat Mountain House prepared meals or make something out of Stephen Weston’s book “In The Wild Chef.” He has a ton of tasty and yet easy to prepare recipes.

Cooking gear: I use an Army mess kit to cook with. Take a plastic cup, spoon, fork and plate.

Water: I use Aquamira products. Their filtered straws or water bottles keep me from having to pack in water. I also use a small aluminum coffee pot to heat water for coffee, oatmeal or sterilize drinking water.

First aid: I don’t carry much first aid gear, but I always carry Adventure Medical Kits moleskin and band-aids. Their small rolls of duct tape are handy to tape on torn boot soles, broken tent poles and ripped tents. Take an extra pair of glasses if you have them and a tube of Mupirocin for cuts.

Lights/fire gear: You’ll want a headlight and I love the Coast rechargeable HP7R flashlights. To start a fire, I carry waterproof matches, a couple of boxes of regular matches and some fire-starting material in case it’s wet. I also take two or three cheap Bic lighters. You can break them over damp wood.

Clothes: I wear Irish Setter boots (check out their Drifter series or their Vapr Treks are super light); three pair of Browning hiking socks; Carhartt base layers for cool nights; nylon fast-drying zip off pants; a cap; and a GORE-TEX rain coat. I don’t pack a lot of clothing.

Sleeping gear: Lightweight tent, sleeping bag and pads. I love Alps Mountaineering gear. Take a tarp to lay on the inside of your tent so your bag doesn’t get wet.

Packs: OK, I’m old school. I still use an old frame pack but all of the modern little yuppies use internal frame packs. They don’t sway like a frame pack, which can throw you off balance. You’ll also want to take along a day pack for hikes out of camp.

Miscellaneous: I carry two mouse traps to keep the rotten little vermin from eating my groceries; a compass; a pistol and good ammo (like Hornady for bears); a roll of string; a beanie for sleeping in; roll of paper towels to clean up; toilet paper; and Bushnell solar panel to charge your electronics.

There are a lot more items I’d like to list but we’re out of room. Like I say, go on a short hike the first trip or two and determine what items you like personally. Get out and have fun.

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop.

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