Backpacking basics


WHEN SOME PEOPLE hear the term “ backpacking ” they think of extreme nature enthusiasts or mountain climbers , and it ’ s no wonder . This recreation has been distorted by misunderstandings and myths , so here ’ s an effort to clear things up .

Hiking is a relatively unencumbered walk , in nature , away from housing , roads , stores and the like . It lasts up to a few hours . Backpacking is in the same setting , but lasts more than one day , and you carry camping gear , a lot heavier than a day pack . You ’ ll be far from society in the woods , so map and compass navigation is necessary and a GPS or cellphone are good ideas too . Beginners should stick to a well-marked trails .
Just because you are hiking multiple days , those days don ’ t have to be long . If your one-day limit is five kilometres , then hike the five and set up camp . That said , anytime you strap on a loaded backpack , the intensity goes up , so train before your first overnighter ( you could find a tall office building and climb its stairs repeatedly ). Then research your chosen trail . If you can ’ t find out enough about it , pick another that suits your level . New backpackers need short practice hikes with a backpack to learn about balance and adjustment and how the body reacts to extra weight .
Ultra-lightweight backpacking gear can be expensive , so look for clearance items and don ’ t spend a fortune . But spend where it really counts . Don ’ t skimp on boots – they need to be durable and comfortable , waterproof and more stiff and supportive than light hiking boots or shoes . Before you go on long hike , wear new boots around the house and on short hikes to make sure they fit and are broken in .
Outdoor clothing can be pricey , but it generally lasts a long time and can be the difference between a cold body and a warm one , a ventilated body and one soaked with sweat . Look for breathability and wicking , that special fabric trick that gets moisture away from your skin . Backpacks are costly and come in many sizes and types , so get fitted by someone who knows what they are doing – if they don ’ t add weights and stuffing to your pack while trying it on , ask someone else .
Wildlife encounters are scarce , but animals warrant a cautious approach . Bears ( a few in some backpacking areas ), coyotes ( lots of them , everywhere ), wolves ( rare ) most often avoid people . They become a problem only if careless people teach them that humans are food suppliers . So …
• Keep food away from your tent ( and scented toiletries too ).
• Store food in a bear canister to keep it safe , but hanging food off the ground works too . But don ’ t hang a canister ! The rope becomes a handle for a bear to carry it away .
• Make yourself heard . A bear will hear you long before you hear it . Bells work well , but even talking or whistling is good .
• Cook and clean up well before dark and away from your camp area .
Learn how to use a map and compass and / or a GPS . If you have never hiked the area , contact the trail association or park office for guidance and estimates of hiking times . Two to three kilometres per hour hiking time is standard , but if you ’ re new at it , make that two km / hr . This gives extra time to handle difficult terrain and enjoy the scenery . Set aside time for rest and food breaks . Set a morning departure time and stick to it , and get to your next campsite before dark – so you have to know sunset times . Know too that things get darker soon in the bush .
You may end up with a few blisters or hot spots even with properly fitted boots that you broke it ahead of time . Put moleskin on hotspots or blister points before they damage your feet . Same deal with a backpack : get one that fits properly and learn how to adjust it and weight-balance it .
POOPING IN THE WOODS If you ’ re squeamish , get over it . Dig a “ cat hole ” and cover it up , and stay away from any water source . There are actually YouTube videos with tips for doing doo in the woods .