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3 Steps to Better Backpacking

I have hiked some pretty crazy trails in my life. Let me tell you from experience, there is nothing more exciting than spending every last drop of energy on a hike and finally reaching the summit. I took this picture on a trip through Yellowstone.

Having said this, I wasn’t always the beast of a hiker I am today:) I learned to bring extra food when I ran out of food and was forced to live on dry Raman. Great story, not so great experience at the time. Below is a list of tips for beginners. Feel free to post your thoughts at the bottom to add to this list.

Remember these three steps: planning, packing, and performance. If you do these things I can almost guarantee that you will have a good time. I cannot guarantee that you will run into perfect weather. (Or that a bear won’t come nockin’ on your tent door.)

Planning



Fitness: Getting your body into shape takes time and effort. So get up off that couch. If hiking were easy as eating Cheetos and flipping through Netflix there would be no point.

Depending on the nature of the hike--how long, how many miles, elevation factors--you will want to be sure your body can handle the stress. Great exercises to build endurance include biking, swimming, and jogging. But the best thing you can do is to go on short day hikes on the trail you intend to hike, with the shoes you intend to hike with, and the pack with the amount of weight you intend to carry.



Mapping the route: After getting your body into shape, plan the route. There is nothing worse than running through the woods finding out miles later that you are way off course. (Trust me, it has happened to me before, and while I had some pretty great experiences, it killed my confidence at the time.)

This includes where you want to start each day, where you want to camp at the end of the day, and how many miles in between the stops. Knowing the miles gives you a goal to shoot for each day.

Learn how to read a map here

Packing



Backpacks: This brings us to phase two--packing. The first thing you want to choose is a good backpack. You have two options: external frame (on the left) or internal frame (on the right). Generally, external frames cost less than internal frames. They give more support to the back in my opinion, but others call them too rigid. Internal frames morph to your spine, giving your back a little more cushion. Whichever pack you choose make sure the pack has straps to carry tents and sleeping bags as well. Tents and sleeping bags come in many sizes and shapes. Pick a small tent (one/two man) because they are easy to carry. Pick a sleeping bag that will be good for the climate. (mummy bag in cold places, lighter sleeping bag in warm places)



Clothing: Options matter in clothing. Now I know once you’re out there on the trail you could look like Barney and nobody would really care. (Especially if you don’t run into anyone:) But clothing is a big deal because it keeps your body temperature normal.

Bring collared shirts because they can be rolled up in the heat and buttoned up in the cold. It's also important to practice layering in colder climates. Wool traps heat in, but also soaks up moisture. Make sure to pack a light jacket that is waterproof. Ponchos provide cover for yourself and your pack.



Food/Water: For food pack plenty of snacks. Cliff Bars, candy bars, and trail mix make for happy hiking. Bring meals that cook instantly with hot water. In order to have hot meals, pack a small gas stove. The biggest mistake backpackers make is carrying too much water. You only need about 2 liters per day. Carrying water purification pills or a pump allows you to refill at any stream or river. Two water bottles give you all the water you need as long as you plan your route carefully.



Essentials
  • Extra food
  • Extra water
  • Extra clothing
  • Map
  • Compass
  • Sunglasses/hat
  • Knife
  • Matches
  • Flashlight
  • First Aid Kit

Performance



Breaks: If your an older guy like me, breaks can literally make it or break it. (See what I did there) After the first 10 minutes of hiking, take a 5-minute break. This helps your body adjust to climate changes as well as the trail itself. After the first break, take a 5-minute break every 45 minutes. This helps you to reach your goals for the day.



Aids: As shown here, use sticks to take the weight off the knees. Be sure to buckle waist straps and chest straps. These straps allow you to carry 20 to 30% of the weight with your core muscles instead of on your shoulders.

On your next hike remember the three P's of backpacking: planning, packing, and performance. This will help you have a good hike anytime, anywhere.

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