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How to Layer Backpacking Clothes – Beginning Backpacking Techniques

Layer One: Long Underwear:

Remember: dry skin = warm skin. However, this can be difficult to manage when you are also hiking up a steep trail with a heavy pack on your back. A healthy body perspires constantly to cool itself off. As the perspiration evaporates, it transfers excess heat away from your skin along with the moisture. Conversely, to stay warm, you need to stay dry. How do you do it?

The answer is found in the first layer of clothing, the one worn against your skin. It should be made of any one of a variety of fibers that are “hydrophilic,” or good at absorbing water, and be thin enough to fit comfortably under your other clothes. The fibers could be wool, or a synthetic material, such as polyolefin (once called polypropolene). There are many brands of long underwear on the market these days. Shop around to find the ones that fit your budget and feel comfortable against your skin.

backpacking clothes How to Layer Backpacking Clothes   Beginning Backpacking Techniques

Besides being absorbent, the “wicking” action in these fibers is also important. “Wicking” means the fibers pull the perspiration away from your body and allow it to evaporate without chilling your skinˇŞa potentially deadly situation under some circumstances in the wilderness.

(While it’s true that cotton is hydrophilic, it is not good at wicking the moisture away from your body. Do not use it as a first layer.)

I have an old set of lightweight wool/nylon blend underwear that I’ve used for years. However, many of my friends swear by the new fibers. And a few, such as Trevira Proearth , made by Hoechst-Celanese, are even good for the environment: they’re made out of recycled plastic bottles!

Another alternative is silk. Many shops sell silk long-johns that are extremely soft, lightweight, and surprisingly warm. However, be prepared to pay a premium price for a pair of silk long underwear.

Layer Two: “Trail Clothes”

These are the shirts, shorts, pants, etc. that function well on and off the trail. The recent rise in popularity of “rugged outdoor clothing” for general use ensures you’ll have a wide variety of styles, colors and fabrics to choose from.

In addition to long underwear, plan on taking one pair of pants, one pair of shorts, one long-sleeved cotton shirt and maybe a t-shirt, depending on the length of the trip. Some manufacturers make versatile “pant-shorts” combinations: long pants with zip-off legs. These are especially good for trips where the weather is extremely changeable throughout the day.

If there’s any chance of encountering enough water for swimming, grab a simple swim suit to take alongˇŞthey are light and do not take up much space. (Of course, depending on where you go and who you travel with, you may not need a swim suit at all.)

I recommend you get pants with enough pockets for carrying all those little things that get lost in backpacks: Swiss Army Knife, compass, lip moisturizer, etc. And avoid 100% cotton knit tee-shirtsˇŞ they tend to get wet from prespiration and stay wet, not to mention stretched out from your backpack straps. (Maybe carry one to sleep in.) Look for a good cotton twill shirt.

For the budget conscious, or those of you with fast-growing families, take a look at the clothing that’s offered in the specialty shops, figure out what features, styles, etc. you desire, then see if you can find what you want at a better price in other locations. I’ve found some great trail clothes in second hand stores, including “name brand” pants and shirts that sell for $25 and up in outdoor retail specialty stores. These were in great condition, and cost a fraction of what they would have cost if purchased new.

There are also outdoor discount or “factory seconds” discount outlets in many cities all across the country. Check the phone books or talk to your backpacking friends for leads to these bargain stores.

Layer Three: Outwear

This is the layer that protects you against rain, snow, and extreme cold. It includes raingear, insulated parkas, sweaters and jackets, and a variety of accessories, such as hats, gloves, and gaiters. This layer is wind- and waterproof, designed to keep you warm and dry from the outside in (as opposed to Layer One, which keeps you dry from the inside out), under a variety of weather conditions. Once again, to save money and keep yourself comfortable under variable conditions, it’s important to think in terms of layering.

How to Go Winter Camping and Backpacking

If you plan to do any winter camping, you will probably need to purchase or rent a bag designed specifically for that purpose. Many mountaineering bags are made of water-repellent nylon or Gore-tex on the outside, and have a special absorbent inner-liner that “wicks” perspiration and moisture away from the body. They are also made of the highest quality synthetics or down, and some even use combinations of down and synthetic, putting the synthetic fibers in areas of the bag that tend to get wet or compressed, such as underneath the bag on the side closest to the ground.

As you might guess, these specialized bags can cost from $200-$350 on up, and are often too insulated for use in anything but extremely cold conditions, such as minus 15 degrees. So unless you’re planning an expedition, or money is no object, consider using less expensive ways of adding warmth to a bag. These methods include the use of exterior covers and inner liners.

camping backpacking winter How to Go Winter Camping and Backpacking

A waterproof bivy sack surrounding the outside of a sleeping bag will help it retain heat, and prevent the bag from getting dirty and damp from dew or condensation. If you’re not using a tent, bivy sacks are especially useful for keeping the wind and dampness away from your bag. But condensation can occur even inside a tent, where your warm breath (which is full of water droplets) condenses in the cool air and settles back down on your sleeping bag during the night. If it’s very cold outside, you might even wake up to find your bag covered with a thin layer of ice.

An inner liner made of silk, cotton or cotton/polyester blend material will also help retain a little more heat, and keep your sleeping bag cleaner and drier from the inside out. It will prevent dirt and body oils from building up inside the bag. Liners are also good to use because your body perspires a little even during sleep. These liners absorb that perspiration and, once you get home, are much easier to wash than your bag.
It’s smart to “air out” your sleeping bag in the morning, if the weather allows it. Unzip it fully and lay it out on a rock or other dry, flat surface in the sunlight, turning it from one side to the other. This will help dry any condensation on the outside, or perspiration on the inside, and retain the all-important loft to keep you warm the following night.

How to Fit a Backpack

Before leaving for your trip make sure the pack you plan to use is adjusted to fit your body. If you have purchased or rented a backpack, do not leave the store until the salesperson checks and adjusts the pack for the proper fit. This needs to be done with the pack moderately weighted. Most stores have large sandfilled “bean-bags” of various weights that can be placed inside the backpack while the customer is trying it on. This allows them to see how the pack will fit after you’ve loaded your stove, food, clothes, water, sleeping bag, etc. inside.

This method is a little artificial, since the weight of the bags are concentrated into a small area. In real life, your gear will distribute the weight over a larger area inside the pack, but it is a good way to help determine how to adjust the pack so it will fit your body when loaded for the trail.

backpack man How to Fit a Backpack

When properly fitted you should be able to hike along the trail at about a one mile per hour rate, depending on terrain, elevation gains, etc. Your pack should be adjusted so that no part of it rubs uncomfortably against your shoulders or back or bumps against your head. The waist belt should be adjusted so that it rides on your hipbones and doesn’t slip too low or ride up and squeeze your stomach. The sternum strap should cross below your clavicles on your chest, across your breastbone, not up high where it could choke you (don’t laughˇŞI have seen this happen!). Do not hesitate to adjust your pack as you hike along, and be sure to learn how to shift the weight by tightening and loosening compression straps.-readjusting shoulder straps, cinching up the waist belt, etc. etc.. These minor re-adjustment slightly redistribute the weight and can help prevent any one part of your body from becoming fatigued. Be sure to learn how to do this since it will be up to YOU to adjust and keep your pack comfortable during your trip. Only you can tell what feels best.

Adding or subtracting thick clothing, hiking through changing terrain, and even changes in temperature may require readjusting the fit of your pack. Hiking up- or downhill will cause the weight of the pack to shift slightly and require moderate adjustments. If it’s very hot and you’re wearing an internal frame pack and perspiring heavily, it’s nice to loosen the shoulder straps a bit and let some air circulate over your back and cool you off, but be carefulˇŞdo not loosen the straps too much so the pack becomes unstable.

Also, there should be a small space between the top of your shoulders and the shoulder straps. In other words, the weight of the pack is not being supported by your shouldersˇŞit should be supported by your hips. Your hips are much stronger and are better designed to support a heavy load than your shoulders. Shoulders will quickly grow tired and sore if they are carrying a lot of weight.

One “early warning sign” of an improperly fitted backpack that is placing too much weight on the shoulders is numb, weak or tingling arms or hands. This indicates that the blood circulation from your shoulders to your arms and hands is being disrupted. If you feel this tingling starting, first try elevating your hands (I like to hold onto the sternum strap). If that helps you may not need to adjust the pack. But if your arms or hands stay numb or feel weak, it’s time to stop and adjust the shoulder straps, to relieve pressure on your upper body.

You should be able to look up without hitting your head on the internal backpack or external frame. Many external frames have a cross bar at the top that are slightly curved to allow your head more movement. You should also be able to stand up and feel evenly balanced once all the equipment is loaded in the pack. If you feel pulled to one side or the other, or maybe even feel like you are falling over backward, reduce or redistribute the weight accordingly.

How to Build Your Own First Aid Kit for Backpacking

If you prefer to create your own first aid kit, you need to learn what supplies are commonly needed and how to treat everything from blisters to broken bones. Fortunately, most of the problems people encounter on weekend backpacking trips are minor, involving maladies such as sprains, blisters, insect bites and upset stomachs. But if you plan a more extensive trip, or are entering wilderness areas far from help, you will need to carry along a more comprehensive medical kit and receive more extensive training.

backpacking kit How to Build Your Own First Aid Kit for Backpacking

Here are a few basic items every kit should include:

- Adhesive tape (for holding dressings in place)
- Adhesive foam (for padding blisters & hot spots)
- Antiseptic cleanser (betadine, Bactine, etc’
- Bandaids (various sizes for minor wounds)
- Gauze pads (for cleaning and dressing larger wounds)
- Latex gloves (to protect your hands when treating injuries)
- Medications: Do not forget to include over-the-counter painkillersˇŞibuprofen is a popular anti-inflammatory for hikers.
Also bring antibiotic cream, and betadine or other wound cleanser. If you are traveling with children bring children’s strength medications such as aspirin, tylenol, etc., and carefully read directions on all medications before use.
- “Extractor” snake & insect bite kit (for removing venom)
- “Moleskin” or “Second Skin” (for covering blisters and wound?)
- Pre-moistened towelettes. For cleaning away dirt from around a wound, and cleaning hands before treating other people’s wounds.
- Splints (for immobilizing sprains and broken bones)
- Scissors (for cutting bandages, moleskin, etc.)
- Small flashlight (should already be part of “Essentials” kit)
- “Space blanket” (for keeping injured person warm)
- Thermometers (one for hypothermia as well as fevers)
- Tweezers
- Needles (for lancing blisters, removing deep splinters)

If you begin taking longer trips into more remote areas, or are traveling with someone with allergies, take a course in wilderness medicine and learn how to safely use the following supplies that would be included in more advanced kits:

- “Epi-pen.” Easily administered emergency epinephrine for allergic reactionsˇŞrecommended for anyone with a history of allergies to bee stings, poison ivy, etc.
- Oral rehydration supplies (for extreme diarrhea & dehydration)
- Sterile saline solution (for cleansing deep or dirty wounds).
- Oral antibiotics if infection is a concern and you are far from help.
- Prescription painkillers (for serious injuries)

How to Avoid Getting Lost While Backpacking

One of the most dangerous situations that can occur on a wilderness backpacking trip is getting lost in unfamiliar terrain. Usually, backpackers will get lost on a trip as they wander away from their camp for a day hike, in search of water, or to find a secluded place to go to the bathroom, and forget to identify landmarks that will help lead them back to where they started.

The next thing that often happens is a lost hiker gets scared. If it is late in the day, beginning to get cold and dark, panic may set in. Most cases of poor judgment result from panic, when adrenalinˇŞnot common senseˇŞtakes over the decision making process.

Once again, the answer to this problem is in prevention. Always carry a map and compass and learn how to use them. Take a class in orienteering and learn how to navigate through changing terrain. You can also take a basic map reading class, teaching you to interpret topographic maps (commonly called “topos”) that show the three-dimensional landscape in a one-dimensional format. Learn how to take a compass bearing and navigate from one point to another.

If you are new to map reading, and worried that you won’t be able to figure out how to do it, remember: you’ve probably already learned how to read various types of maps. True, “topos” look a bit different than road maps, but much of the information is the same. These maps are prepared by the US Geological Survey, and show not only roads, towns, etc., but changes in elevation, type of terrain, longitude and latitude, and a few other features you do not need on a street map.

backpacking How to Avoid Getting Lost While Backpacking

Every topo map has a legend in one corner that describes which way is north and defines the various colors, solid vs. dotted lines, etc. that are found on the map. The legend is the first thing to readˇŞ it explains all the other symbols, marks, etc. It also names the area that is described (e.g., “Little Olancha Peak”) and what the scale of the map is. The “scale” is used to convert one unit of size on the map to one unit of size on the ground. Typical scales are 1″:250,000″, which calculates out to 1 inch on the map equaling approximately 250,000 inches on the ground (roughly 4 miles), or 1:62,500, which means 1 inch on the map represents approximately 1 mile (63,300 inches) on the ground. Usually, the greater the scale, the less detail on a map, so if you intend to try some “off-trail” explorations, get a 1:62,500 or better scale map.

Once you’ve looked at the legend to determine the scale, you can estimate distances.

Notice the various lines on the map. There are grid lines crisscrossing the map, which represent latitude (running east to west) and longitude (running north to south) lines. Notice the contour lines that indicate changes in elevation. A series of concentric contour lines represents a mountain or hill. The closer together the lines are, the more rapid the change in elevation. A sheer cliff will be represented by lines spaced very close together, sometimes nearly touching one another, while gently sloping terrain will be represented by lines spaced very far apart.

Depending on the scale, each line can mean a change in elevation of 60 feet, 100 feet, 500 feet, so on. (Foreign maps and some specialty USGS maps are scaled in meters. Those are called “metric maps. The contour lines typically represent 20, 40 or 100 meter intervals.)

One way to imagine how these look in three dimensions is to mentally picture these lines as the edges of sections of earth stacked on top of one another, like the layers of a wedding cake.

Also note the various colored lines that indicate trails (typically dotted black lines) rivers, and streams, and the symbols indicating trees, buildings, lakes, etc. These symbols vary from map to map, so it’s important to read the legend. Also check the date to see if the information is current.

Practice your map reading skills during breaks along your hike. Find a good vantage point and pull out your map. Use your compass to orient the map to the direction you are facing, and practice matching up various hills, canyons, streams, etc. to the symbols on the map. Find your location along the trail, and estimate the distance you’ve come, how long it’s taken you to get there, and how much farther you have to go. Make map reading a routine part of your trip, and soon it won’t seem like a foreign language.

When you leave your campsite, look around before you go. Identify a distinctive mountain peak, outcrop of boulders, or a/tall dead tree of unique enough shape to stand outˇŞsomething that is easily distinguishable and can be seen from a distance. Then use these landmarks to help guide you back to where you started once you’ve completed your side trip.

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