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    Greg and Beth

    the political and personal musings of two
    mountaineers living in west-central Florida
    Backpacking Hints and Tips Comment
    Gregory Morris, 4/21/09 9:51:58 pm
    I don't get out in the woods nearly as often as I'd like these days. But I do think about backpacking a lot. Since I am a blogger, and my posting has been sparse lately, I figure I'd post some of the miscellaneous thoughts, ideas, and experiences I've collected over the years. Most of them are related to safety, eco-friendliness*, and most importantly how to shave weight from your pack.

    So, in no particular order:
  • Don't bring anything that creates "big trash", even if it can be burned, because you can't always have a fire. Don't bring any glass containers. Avoid metal containers, even for food items.
  • Use a ziplock bag to store all small trash items. (Pack it in? Pack it out! Leave no trace.) In fact, I make it a point to leave the woods with more trash than I bring with me.
  • Use a ziplock bag to protect maps, your camera, other electronic items, and lighters/matches.
  • Yukon Jack (or other 100+ proof liquor) can be used as an antiseptic, fire starter, or fuel for a basic alcohol stove. Oh, and you can drink it too!
  • Hand sanitizer can be used as an antiseptic, fire starter, or fuel for a basic alcohol stove.
  • Clothing list clearly needs to be tailored to the season and location, but extra socks are non-negotiable if you will be on foot for significant amounts of time.
  • Hiking poles are extra weight, but they save stress on your knees and make creek-crossing easier. Even gram-weenies who cut the handle off of their toothbrush to save weight don't count the weight of their hiking poles.
  • You have to have at least one compass and a good topo map, regardless of whether or not you have a GPS. You also have to know how to use your map and compass. Duh.
  • Iodine tablets are used for water purification in the event that your water filter fails. They can also be used as antiseptics.
  • "Camp soap" is eco-friendly*, biodegradable and works well. It can be used for personal cleaning as well as washing dishes.
  • A tarp can be used as a ground cloth, impromptu shelter or shade. It is also good for setting up usable space at camp during inclement weather, since most solo tents are small.
  • A bandana can be used to filter particulates from water (before boiling), made into a bag to hold things, head covering, or soaked in water to use as a neck cooler.
  • Bug spray is optional depending on location/time of year. It is extra weight that is better left out if bugs aren't a huge problem.
  • A camera is obviously optional, but well worth having. Get a small, lightweight, inexpensive digital camera.
  • Sewing kit can be used to repair gear or suture a wound.
  • I always put moleskin on rub-points on my feet in the morning to prevent blisters. If I get a blister, I use the moleskin to pad it.
  • Don't wear boots that give you blisters.
  • Electronic items are dead weight without good batteries. Sometimes they are dead weight with good batteries. Never rely on electronics in the wilderness.
  • Boots should have Dr. Scholls (or similar) inserts.
  • A good belt is important. Not only to hold your pants up and for carrying items, but it can also be used as a tourniquet or a strap.
  • Gas canister camp stoves tend to be smaller and easier to use than liquid-gas stoves, but the canisters are more expensive and less available.
  • Learn to improvise. Gear gets broken, destroyed, or lost. If you need it, and you don't have it, then you don't need it.
  • Nearly every piece of gear in your pack should be dual-purpose.
  • You should have a backup for the most important items (i.e. blade, fire, navigation).
  • Shed whatever gear you think you can manage without. Extra weight, even a few ounces, can really add up over the course of a multi-day hike.
  • Don't bring anything that can be crushed unless it is OK to crush it.
  • Hammocks are sometimes nice in lieu of a tent.
  • Find a tree at your campsite to hang your pack on (if possible) so it doesn't sit on the ground, and so it is easier to access.
  • In sub-freezing temperatures, you have to keep your water liquid. At night, boil water to fill your nalgene and keep it in your sleeping bag. It will keep you warmer too.
  • A sleeping pad is really nice to have. If it is cold, the pad will help you stay warm. If the ground is hard, it will pad you. They don't weight much but they are very bulky.
  • Bear cubs are adorable, and their mothers love it when hikers run up and hug them.**
  • Wet wipes are good to have for extended stays to keep you somewhat "fresh", and to clean really grimey hands.
  • Film canisters are good for carrying matches and fire starting materials. Seal with electrical or duct tape for even better protection.
  • Bear-proof containers aren't.
  • Boots with a lot of insulation are heavy.
  • Weight carried on your feet causes more fatigue than weight carried on your hip and back. Get lightweight boots and add layers of socks if it is cold.
  • Light cordage/rope always comes in handy. Always.
  • A headlamp is better than a flashlight.
  • Less weight == more good. If you backpack often, keep track of items in your pack that you never touch. With the exception of first-aid items, you can usually leave those items at home.
  • If you want to cover a lot of ground in a day, carry snack food in a hip- or chest-pack so you can snack and keep your energy up without needing to stop.
  • If you carry a hydration bladder (i.e. CamelBak) also carry a nalgene bottle, because those bladders can fail, while nalgene bottles are nearly indestructible.
  • Good socks make a huge difference. Good hiking socks (or liners) will wick moisture away from your feet.
  • Campfires are nice, but they aren't always safe/practical/eco-friendly*. Make sure you have what you need to get by without one.
  • Try not to give any whiskey to Isaac. Definitely don't give any to Ted.
  • Mess kits are flexible, but you should always have some kind of pot with a lid. The most important thing you do with a mess kit is boiling water, and it requires more fuel without a lid.
  • Make sure you have one surface in your mess kit for cutting on.
  • A standard steel knife/fork/spoon combo set is good for your mess kit. However, if you want to cut back on weight, you can just carry a spork since you already have another knife.
  • Non-stick pots are easier to clean, but you can't use metal implements on them.
  • The cheap ($8 or $9) aluminum frying pan/plate/pot/lid/cup mess kits are great because they are light, usable, basically disposable if they get damaged or crushed.
  • If you camp near a creek, leave your dirty pots/pans from dinner in the water overnight. The crayfish and minnows will clean them for you.
  • Hot sauce can make even the most boring dehydrated camp food taste ok. You can get packets from Taco Bell if you don't want to carry a bottle.
  • If you smoke (which I don't recommend) you should carry loose tobacco and rolling papers. Boxes of cigarettes take up more room, and can easily get crushed.
  • Also, cigarette filters are not biodegradable and don't burn cleanly (when you dispose of them in a fire). If you smoke commercial cigarettes, keep the butts in a ziplock bag to pack out.
  • Your primary knife must have a fixed blade or a solid locking folding blade. Swiss army knives and multi-tools are great, but not for serious cutting jobs.
  • A sharp, high quality knife is the most important gear you carry. Period. A dull knife is extremely dangerous.
  • A firesteel should be carried in addition to matches/lighters. Lighters run out of gas and fail when wet. Matches can run out or get wet.
  • Dryer lint is a good fire starting material to use with a firesteel. I usually tuck a small piece of dryer lint into a pouch somewhere in my backpack just in case I can't find anything dry.
  • Learn to properly use all of your gear before heading into the woods. For instance, a firesteel doesn't do you any good if you have never used one to make a fire.
  • Learn the limitations of your gear. For instance, different camp stove fuels work better at different altitudes and temperatures. Make sure you plan for conditions you may face.
  • During hunting season, wear bright colors and make sure there is reflective tape on your pack.
  • National Park Service areas and some state parks have optional backpacker registration. In addition to telling people where you are going, registering at the trailhead is a good safety measure.
  • Any food you bring should be easy and quick to prepare. For instance, bring instant rice instead of regular rice. The faster you can make your food, the less fuel you will need to carry.
  • Some people are OK with not carrying a stove for multi-night backpacking trips. They just eat dry/cold food. Personally, I can't get up in the morning without a hot cup of tea or coffee.
  • Everything you need to go backpacking can be acquired within the parameters of a tight budget. High-performance, low-weight gear tends to cost more, but not always.
  • Before you eat anything wild you've collected, make sure you positively identify it. Especially berries and mushrooms.
  • Soft granola bars survive in backpacks far better than crunchy ones.
  • If Bear Grylls did something on Man vs. Wild, you can be pretty sure it is a terrible idea that will end up causing you severe injury, illness or death. Seriously. That guy is complete idiot who cares more about making his show shocking than even attempting to approximate reality.
  • Peanuts are the most important food you can bring on a backpacking trip.
  • Dehydrated food items weigh a lot less. You can still have full, balanced, and tasty meals made entirely from re-hydrated products. With practice, you can make a tasty meal without much more than rice, TVP, dehydrated veggies, and some basic seasoning.
  • Two solo tents weigh more than one two-person tent. Two people don't need two water filters. When backpacking with friends, it makes sense to share certain equipment to reduce weight.
  • Free-standing tents are usually easier/faster to set up in inclement weather. They weigh more though.

    That's all I can think of right now. Feel free to leave comments with your own hints, tips, tricks, recommendations, etc.

    * No, I'm not a hippie. Yes I love nature. Smelly liberals do not have a monopoly on environmental issues, dammit.

    ** Stupid should hurt. I like to help it hurt more.

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