Preparing for a Backpacking Trip

Advance planning is the key to a successful backpacking trip.

| May/June 1980

  • 063 backpacking - main view
    A well-prepared hiker absorbs the tranquil beauty of a mountain lake.
  • 063 backpacking - three panels
    LEFT: Snow lingers year-round at higher elevations.  TOP RIGHT: A light weight pack is ideal for day jaunts. BOTTOM RIGHT: Fresh water, views, and level ground are all considerations in choosing a campsite.

  • 063 backpacking - main view
  • 063 backpacking - three panels

Many novice hikers purchase far too much gear for their initial outings . . . but-with just a little common sense and a lot of preparation you can enjoy a safe and inexpensive ramble your first time out. Planning is the key to a successful backpacking trip . . . so your adventure should begin long before you set foot in the woods.

Mind and Body Conditioning

First of all, try to read (and learn) as much about backpacking as you can . . . there are any number of excellent beginner's guides available, some of which are noted at the end of this article. Next, be sure you're familiar with the area you'll be visiting. You can get trail maps and information on local weather and wildlife from the park service (or other agency) that maintains your chosen trail.

You should also start a steady program of physical conditioning . . . in order to get used to walking with a heavy pack on your back. Start your series of "shakedown" trips with a short stroll and a light load . . . then gradually increase both the distance you hike and the weight you carry. When you're ready for an overnighter, make the first one an easy junket . . . stick to heavily used paths, and always travel with a friend or with a group.

Safety in the Wilds

Every member of the trek should keep a checklist of personal items he or she plans to pack along . . . plus a separate list of community camping gear, which the whole group will double-check before taking off.

The essentials in your pack should include a map, a compass, a small flashlight, a fire starter (such as a candle), matches (in a waterproof container), a pocketknife, a supply of water purification tablets, a whistle, a couple of dimes (for an emergency call from a remote phone booth!), a Space blanket (available in most sporting goods stores), some insect repellent, sun protection (such as dark glasses and sunscreen), toilet paper, and a snakebite kit.

In addition, your group's equipment repair kit should contain needles, thread, ripstop (or adhesive) tape, wire, an extra flashlight bulb and a few batteries, a pair or two of spare boot laces, nylon cord, rubber bands, and replacement pack parts. (You can stash the smaller items in empty 35mm film canisters.)

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