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Monday, December 22, 2014

Backpacking: Where to begin

Jumping into a new hobby isn't an impossible thing to do, and with a little help the process can be somewhat pain free.  But, before you run out to your local gear store and start buying everything you've seen on a packing checklist pulled from some website, just stop, put your credit card away and keep reading.  

Backpacking is simply a marriage between bare bones camping and hiking.  The first step is to ensure you are in love with camping.  So go out and enjoy the wilderness.  Once you yearn to be outdoors in all seasons and all weather conditions, you are likely willing to trek up a mountain to spend a few days bathing in its entirety.  It is a good start, you have the motivation to keep going.

The next step is to put your left foot forward, then your right, and repeat until you make it up a mountain.  Hiking is your mode of transportation in the back country, so you better start practicing.  Start with short trails with little elevation gain, and work your way up to longer and steeper routes.  As your hikes become more advanced, you will have to take more gear.  A rain jacket, more water, lunch, and before you know it you will be spending the better part of your day on the trail and enjoying whatever destination you have your sights on.  Feel free to make your pack a little heavier and see how you do.  You're are almost there, especially now that you will most definitely survive the hike.

The final step before buying gear and outfitting yourself, is to start practicing.  In my past article, The Draw of Backpacking... I expressed why I find backpacking to be more enjoyable than car camping, but that doesn't mean car camping or even camping at the cabin cannot be a safe environment to test new skills and gear.  When you go backpacking, you aren't just leaving the luxuries and noise of life behind, but you are essentially leaving your safety net behind as well.  If a situation turns for the worse, you must have the knowledge, level head, and perseverance to ensure not only your safety but the safety of others.  A good sense of the fundamentals will be a great start.  This includes lighting fires without lighters and newspaper, reading and navigating maps, telling direction, gathering tinder, understanding animal behavior, first aid, and knowing how your own body reacts to exertion, sun, cold, and possibly hypothermia.  In essence, think about all the situations and things that could go wrong before you set out and how you can mitigate the risk.  If you do not have an answer to a “what would I do” type of question, this might be a good indication that you must gain some survival knowledge in this area.  Survival skills are something that you should always have, backpacking or not, and could one day save your life.

Now that you are working on your love for the outdoors, your hiking physique, and your outdoor fundamentals, you are almost ready for the trail.  You, and only you will know when you are confident enough to step off the beaten track.  Happy trails.

Ken KR