Backpacking 101

Published 6:15 am Tuesday, March 27, 2018

If you’ve ever had the urge to “get away from it all, a literal way to pull that off is to try backpacking. Think of it as extended hiking where you stay overnight or several days and carry in what you need. Being out in the wild for a few days clears the mind and it’s good for the soul to rough it and be away from the clamor of modern life.

The trick to backpacking is to carry only what you really need to be reasonably comfortable and safe. Carry too much and you become a pack mule, which is not fun. What follows is a list of equipment and items usually used on a backpacking venture. Buying all of this can be costly, so try to bum some gear and try backpacking one weekend to see if you like it enough to invest in your own gear, which is best acquired over time.

Backpack: Most backpacks are made of rip-stop nylon and have an internal or external metal frame. Get one with lots of compartments and zippered pockets to hold stuff. There are all types, so try on several. Get one that has heavily padded shoulder straps and a padded hip belt to allow some of the weight to be carried on your hips rather than all on your shoulders.

Sleeping bag: The main thing to shop for is one that will keep you warm in whatever weather you’re camping in, is reasonably light weight, and crushes down small for easy transport. Another item nice to have is a sleeping pad, which keeps you off the rocks and insulates you from the cold ground.

Boots: You don’t have to wear boots on short trips. But your feet take a lot of abuse on a trail, and with a load on your back, foot support is critical. Buy some good leather ones and make sure they are broken in before venturing too deep in the woods. Blisters are instant trip bummers, so the shoes must fit well.

Clothing: In the summer you can get by with shorts and T-shirts. In the winter you need good wool or synthetic clothing that will keep you warm even when wet. Layers is the name of the game. Rain gear is good to have year-round.

Cooking gear: You don’t have to cook when backpacking, but warm food is tasty and very satisfying. There are small, lightweight stoves available, and there are also all kinds of cooking kits to do your cooking and eating in.

Food: You eat plenty when walking a lot of miles with a load on your back. You can buy the lightweight freeze-dried stuff from hiking catalogs and outdoor stores, but there are plenty of lightweight foods at the grocery store you can use with some imagination.

There are lots of books and web sites that provide introductory backpacking information. If you can find someone that’s and old hand at it, talk to them. Maybe they can even take you for a test hike.

Steve Roark is a retired area forester from Tazewell, Tennessee.