Saturday, March 19, 2016

So You Want to Be a Backpacker?

I have to admit, as of late, Backpacking Fever has hit me pretty hard.  I think its the adventure of it that has really got me addicted.  And to disconnect a little from the everyday super busy is clearly just what I needed.

But this isn't the first time I've experienced the outdoors.  Not by any stretch.  I grew up on an 86 acre working farm, am an Eagle Scout and served in the US Army for 8 years.  So, I'm no expert backpacker but I've certainly spent some time outdoors both when I wanted to and when I didn't.

This past November I just got the itch to get outside again after years of having zero interest and started getting very curious about backpacking.  I owned absolutely no backpacking gear and little to no knowledge of what to even equip myself with.  But, I did have a long time friend who was a backpacking pro and after a few trips out with him did I begin to realize how much of a pro he really is.

So, if you're thinking about trying out this backpacking thing, stick along with me as I blog about my success and failures.  I've been on four trips now and I've already learned a ton from my own experiences and what I've picked up on from a group of Backpacking buddies that have been so gracious as to let me in their group.  I'm no self proclaimed expert by any means but I firmly believe that you can learn from anyone and enjoy reading about their experiences.

I'll promise you this - I think you'll be amazed at how relaxing, fulfilling and peaceful a long hike and a night out in the woods can really be.  Add to that a great meal, a cold beer and a few friends and I'll bet you get hooked just like I did.  And if you research blogs like mine and others like me, you'll get all the pointers and inspiration you'll ever need to take on this sport.

If you're ready to dive in, read on.  Below I'll list what I think the bare necessities are.  Keep in mind that, generally speaking,  the more you spend, the more comfortable you'll be.  Just because you're disconnecting from the everyday grind doesn't mean you've got to be completely deprived of any and all comforts.  If that's your thing to go super minimalist then go for it, but having some of the most basic comforts will make your escape the most enjoyable.  Go for too minimal the first trip and you might not have as good a time as you could.

"Keep in mind that, generally speaking, the more you spend, the more comfortable you'll be..."

Here's what I started with: And for the record, when I get something into my head I normally go on a shopping spree with only minor regard for cost.  I wouldn't dump a paycheck on anything but my excitement begins to take over a bit and I tend to jump right in without completely dissecting all the information about a piece of equipment.  And that will be to your benefit since I'll share with you the outcome of the rash purchases I made.  Some have been good and some have been unnecessary.

1) A Backpack - It didn't take me long to realize that I could spend a small fortune on a backpack.  But this was a necessity.  I needed to bring stuff with me out on the trail and this was the best way to do it.  After an hour or so snooping around on REI.com and Campsaver.com I had a bit of sticker shock.  As a happily married man, I didn't want to spend $180+ and chance disapproval from the bride.  So, here's where I spent a bit of time looking at a number of sites for the best deal.  I ended up with a 35 Liter Teton Sports Canyon 2100 Backpack from SportsmansWarehouse.com. At $65 it seemed like a happy medium.  I didn't know the first thing about how big the pack was, if it would really fit my needs or my body.  All I liked about it was the price.  As I dive deeper into the sport, I've realized that price really has to be secondary.  That's not to say you can't find a great deal.  Great equipment can come at a smaller price tag.  You just need to weigh your needs and wants before you buy.  So far I've been extremely happy with the backpack I chose although I feel it's a little short for my torso.  But I've been able to cram everything I've bought so far into it so I'd give it high ratings.  **One thing that has been a bit of a pain is carrying full size 1 Liter Nalgenes in the side Mesh Cargo Pockets.  They barely fit and I feel they're always going to fall out.  Other than that this pack is an ace.

"As I dive deeper into the sport I've realized that price really has to be secondary..."

2) A Sleeping Bag - Ok...so now I was on to my second piece of equipment. Again it was becoming apparent that one could spend a small fortune here too.  That wasn't going to happen.  I decided to go frugal on many of my first purchases just to ease myself into this and to be sure it's something I would stick with.  So, since my first backpacking adventure was going to be in November in Upstate New York, I opted for a sleeping bag rated near zero.   It gets fairly cold up here and the last thing I want is to be shivering at night.  Zero fun.  I had already geared up with a Teton Backpack so I bought another of their products, this time the Teton Sports Tracker +5 degree Ultralight Sleeping Bag.  I've been out in nothing colder than 20 degrees so far but I've not been cold.  So it looks as if I've found myself another winner.

3) A Tent - This seemed like the obvious third choice but honestly to date I haven't even taken it out with me.  Unbelievable, I know.  But before you take me for some super hard core lay out on a bed of rocks with only a sleeping bag kinda guy I'll tell you that's not at all the case.  Instead what I have is a super smart and experienced buddy who knows how to backpack in style.  So - before you spend a dime on a tent, look for one of these - a lean to:

Before you invest in a tent, look around for a few of these.
Even with an overnight low of 20 degrees, I stayed super warm in my sleeping bag so no worries there.

4)  Water - I brought 2 Liters of Water with me on my first overnight and it was plenty for me.  I'm kind of a camel so you might need more. There's no need to invest in Nalgenes unless it's going to freeze overnight and your water will be exposed.  Just bring along a few Aquafina water bottles or the like.  It's better to bring the water bottles with the heavier duty caps and the thicker walls.  Some are super light duty and I don't trust the caps to stay on or the bottles to resist breaking, especially if they freeze overnight.

5) Fire - Here's a big one.  For me at least.  If you are the least bit apprehensive about spending the night outdoors relatively unprotected, fire brings about a great deal of comfort and security.  And some of my fondest memories as a Boy Scout are all around a campfire.  Fire brings warmth, comfort, security, and enjoyment.  You don't need to know how to make fire by friction when you venture out for the first time.  But, bring along two different forms of fire making tools and be sure you can successfully build one at home before going out.  Fire is a huge part of the experience for me and I doubt I'd have the same amount of enjoyment without it.  Maybe that's just my personal niche.  But whatever you do, be responsible and build your fire only where allowed and be sure it is dead out before you walk away.

6) Food - Personal preference here in terms of what you want to bring.  How far you are hiking and what the weather is will impact what kind and how much food to bring.  It's better to bring a little too much than to find yourself short and hungry.  The effort of hiking and in keeping your body warm at night will require some extra calories so plan ahead.  And it's always best to bring along food that can be eaten as-is.  If a rainstorm breaks out and you can't get a fire going you'll have to eat cold food.  It's best to bring along packaged granola bars and the like.  They make for great energy food and take zero time to prepare.

"The effort of hiking and in keeping your body warm at night will require some extra calories so plan ahead..."

7) Light - I'd recommend two sources of light on any overnight trip.  Flashlights and headlamps are lightweight and give off a great deal of light.  Keep both sources within immediate reach, especially after nightfall.  A fire will give off a certain amount of light but when you're needing to venture out to use the bathroom or looking for something in your pack, you'll want a better light source.

8) Knife - I don't always use a knife when I'm out backpacking but when you need one you'll wish you had it on you.  And I'm not talking self-defense here but rather a need to cut paracord or the like. I guess it's always good to have one on you although I don't use mine very often.  In any event, a knife doesn't weigh that much and it's never a bad idea to carry one on the trail.

9) First Aid Kit - You don't have to get anything too extravagant here.  Some Neosporin, a few band aids, some aspirin and the like.  Naturally, if you've got other conditions [bee sting allergies, etc] then bring along the essentials for those.

So there you have it, the bare essentials for your first overnight backpacking adventure.  Make your first venture out a short one just to get the feel of it.  My first trip to one of the nearby lean to's was about 1-1/2 miles and that distance was perfect.  I spent the majority of my time at the camp site getting my fire going and preparing a great meal.

See you on the trail!

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