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How to Select and Organize a Campsite while Backpacking

Once you arrive at the place where you plan to spend the night, look around for a good area to pitch your tent. You’ll want to avoid obvious drainages (low points that funnel water). These might flood in case of rain, and the soil can be unstable in these areas. Look for a relatively flat areaˇŞsleeping on a slope is uncomfortable.

Make sure you pick a spot at least 100 yards away from the trail and any water sources. Avoid meadows and bogs, since tents and footprints leave permanent marks in their soft, wet soil. Find a place with enough open space to accommodate your dropcloth, tent, cooking area, and any supplies or equipment you will have nearby. If you’re in a group, you may want enough space for a “community area” where everyone can sit around, cook and eat together.

When you leave your campsite, take a final look around to ensure there are no obvious signs of you having been there.

campsite backpacking How to Select and Organize a Campsite while Backpacking

Look overheadˇŞmake sure there are no dead branches or dangerous looking pine cones above the place where you plan to sleep, cook, eat, and sit.

Once you have found a good spot for sleeping, lay out your dropcloth in the place you plan to pitch your tent or set up a tarp. If there’s enough room, leave space between tent sites to ensure a little more privacy, (after all no one wants to hear you snore).

Check to make sure there’s nothing sharp or hard underneath the drop cloth that could puncture the floor of the tent or keep you awake at night. Move aside any pine cones, rocks, branches, etc., that will be in the way, and set them nearby – you should scatter them back over the area before you leave. Try to leave the site in the same shape as you found. You should leave no sign of your brief visit to the wilderness.

Some people like to dig a small trench around their tent or tarp to keep running water from entering or pooling underneath the dropcloth. If you expect heavy rain, you might want to do this, but in general avoid making permanent disruptions or alterations to the campsite.

After setting up your tent, unroll your sleeping pad and take your sleeping bag out of its stuff sack. If the pad is the inflatable type it’s good to give it several minutes to expand and fill with air. (Back home, be sure to store it in a flat and unrolled position so the foam doesn’t become permanently flattened.) Do the same for down bagsˇŞtake them out of their stuff sacks so the down can regain its loft before you climb inside for the night.

If you plan to use your inflatable pad for lounging on around the campsite, make sure it’s protected with a durable cover. The company that manufactures these padsˇŞCascade DesignsˇŞnow produces a cover that converts the pad into a comfortable camp chair. If you are using an ensolite or neoprene pad you do not have to worry about punctures, but watch for sharp sticks poking through the pad or causing tears, or heat from the stove which can melt both types of pads.

Once everyone has selected a sleeping area (with or without a tent), look for a good “kitchen.” Chances are you will not have a table, but look around for boulders or logs of convenient heights for cooking on. If none are available, be ready to do a lot of sitting as you cook and eat on the ground. Avoid moving large things to accommodate your desire for “furniture.” Rearranging small rocks and logs is OK as long you do not damage anything, and return everything to their original place.

If you use rocks near the cooking area do not allow them to become blackened from stoves or campfires. Make sure trash bags are kept near the kitchen to hold all wrappers, peelings, leftovers, and garbage that will be packed back out. Do not let trash blow away from the campsite, and make sure trash bags are secured for the night so small animals can’t chew through the bags and scatter it around.

When you leave your campsite, take a final look around to ensure there are no obvious signs of you having been there. Use a leafy branch to sweep away tent imprints, and pick up any last pieces of trash you may have overlooked.

“Leave the place better than you found it, and encourage others to do the same…”

How to Plan a Backpacking Trip Food Menu

Breakfast: Hot cereals are a popular choice. Use one pot to boil water for coffee, hot cocoa or tea, followed by adding enough oatmeal, cream of wheat, etc. for a whole family. Or, to keep the pot clean, simply boil water and pour it over individual servings of instant oatmeal in each person’s bowl. For added carbohydrates and flavor, add raisins, dried fruit, brown sugar and cinammon, or other seasonings as desired. For added protein and vitamins, mix in dry milk powder.

If you like eggs, they can be carried in specially designed plastic containers, or cracked open and packed in wide-mouthed water bottles (but only if you plan to use them within a day or two). Otherwise, I’ve found dried eggs to be reasonably tasty substitutes for making omelettes and scrambled eggs. Bring along sun dried tomatoes and other seasoning powders to mix in for flavor. Just remember you’ll need a frying pan and oil for preparing them. For easy clean up, and to keep oils to a minimum, choose a pan with a non-stick teflon like coating.

backpacking food How to Plan a Backpacking Trip Food Menu

Complete pancake mixes are commonly available in supermarkets. They only require water to prepare the batter, and once again, fruits, chocolate chips and others goodies can be added for flavor.
Lunch: Since this often takes place on the trail, keep it simple. If you like sandwiches, make them with bagels or pita bread, which pack better than traditional sliced loaves. Ifyou like cheese, select the kinds that are wrapped in waxˇŞthey will keep for several days without refrigeration.
For children, the ever-popular peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a good choice. Use reusable plastic tubes (available in backpacking stores) which can be filled with a mix of the two ingredients. Then, simply squeeze the blend out onto the bagels or pita at lunchtime.

For short trips, fresh fruits and vegetables, such as pre-sliced carrot and celery sticks, are also healthy lunch snacks. They can be carried in the wide-mouthed water bottles. Spice them up with dips of hummous, flavored cheese spreads, etc. Leftovers can be diced up and added to the dinner pot.

Dinner: A large pot of pasta can be supplemented with a can of meat, various vegetables, or simply eaten as is. Use dried milk powder to thicken up sauces and add protein, vitamins and minerals.

For simplicity, dinner is one meal where pre-packaged backpacking food comes in handy. I like the quick-cooking freeze-dried Mountain Chili made by Alpine Aire. It has a good flavor on its own, and it’s vegetarian, as it contains a mix of pinto beans, soy protein and corn, making it a good source of protein and complex carbohydrates.

It used to be, when choosing between prepackaged freeze-dried foods and supermarket items, it was the old “time vs. money” trade-off. But now, there are many supermarket items that are quick and easy to prepare. Look for instant soup mixes that can be turned into a thick casserole or stew with the addition of quick-cooking pasta shells and a can of tuna.

I’ve also noticed more and more items in natural food stores that would be suitable for backpacking. These include dried hummous (ground up garbanzo bean paste) which turns into a tasty and nutritious spread when mixed with water. For vegetarians, I’ve even seen freeze-dried tofu!

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.

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