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First time backpacking
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Natalie Short
(ragamuffingirl) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
First time backpacking on 10/10/2009 21:44:33 MDT Print View

Ok, so my husband and I planning to try backpacking for the first time ever this winter (maybe spring -we'll see how rainy it gets). I was thinking Point Reyes or someplace like that would be a good place to get our toes wet. Is there anything we particularly need to know before setting out? I've read about backcountry sanitation, water purification, researched gear lists, etc. I guess I'm just wondering if this really is something you can do for the first time having gotten all your information out of a book? Can you learn as you go along? (Maybe I should add that we enjoy tent camping and hiking, and that we're planning to take a few basic map and compass courses.)

I guess I'm just needing a little nudge to get out there and give it a shot.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: First time backpacking on 10/10/2009 22:07:54 MDT Print View

Pt Reyes is one of the better places around the bay area to get your feet wet (literally and figuratively). The trails are easy to follow. Water is available.

There are lots of good resources and books around. I pulled together a bunch of my notes about getting started backpacking for a friend last year. It's best feature are links to other useful resources and you might find the text somewhat useful.

There is a yahoo group called NorthCA_Hiking which you might want to join. Folks on that list regularly do trips together and are always happy to have newcomers join in. It's really nice to have someone with experience "on site" for your first few trips... and the norcal folks are a good crew.


Edited by verber on 10/10/2009 23:20:16 MDT.

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
First time backpacking on 10/10/2009 22:18:43 MDT Print View

All the people we have on here from NorCal, and all the group trips they plan, you should just tag along on one of those. Let them know, it will be like having 20 mothers with you, taking care of you.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: First time backpacking on 10/11/2009 08:33:24 MDT Print View

It's just walking. Not too complicated. It's just like a day hike except you carry a heavier pack. The end of the day is just like car camping, except there's no car. No need to make it seem harder than it really is.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: First time backpacking on 10/11/2009 09:50:27 MDT Print View

Diane... I agree that at is not that complicated, UNLESS you have never left the city. I have taken a number of people backpacking who had never gone camping before. In fact, some had never even been on a dayhike in the wilderness. The most "natural" experience was playing Frisbee in a city park. For these folks it was a big deal because all their expectations were wrong. Most loved their experience with nature and backpacking. Some ran back to the city never to set foot in that "uncomfortable world" again.


Tom Caldwell
(Coldspring) - F

Locale: Ozarks
First time backpacking on 10/11/2009 10:14:13 MDT Print View

I recommend, walking out of sight (whether that be 1/4 mile or two) of your car and just camping. While you're camping, just think about the whole process, then get back on the forums and read. I'm sure you'll learn and gain more confidence for the next outing.

Thomas Burns
(nerdboy52) - MLife

Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
First-time backpacking on 10/11/2009 10:49:53 MDT Print View

>I'm just wondering if this really is something you can do for the first time having gotten all your information out of a book?

Short answer: Yes, especially if you have a backpacking partner. I found that my first solo trip (after my wife gave up coming along) was the hardest. Being alone at camp made me feel the isolation even more.

However, there are certain steps you can take to make the experience a good one:

1. Make a list. Check it twice. There's nothing like discovering 20 miles from the nearest 7-11 that you forgot to take a lighter. Mmmm. Dry Mountain House beef stew -- crunchy and good.

2. Wear your backpack (the lighter the better, of course) around for short trips, even if it's around the house or the local park. Wear it enough that it feels like it ought to be on your back.

3. Do everything a few times before you go. Setting up your shelter should feel like second nature. If you have to do it in a blinding rain, you'll appreciate it that you practiced.

Lighting and cooking with an alcohol stove looks easy, but it can be a challenge the first couple of times, especially if you've done your cooking for decades in other ways or you're doing it in a monsoon.

Practice. My family was delighted with the MH Beef Stroganoff with Noodles I served them two nights before I hit the AT. :-) Okay, maybe they weren't, but I knew how to fire up that stove, you betcha.

If you're not used to sleeping in a tent, spend a few nights in varying weather conditions sleeping out in your backyard, or whatever. Listen to the (mostly harmless) noises. My first BPing experience many years ago was a sleepless one because of those weird noises. Get used to the sounds and smells and joys of the outside at night. (I learned to love the night this way and am now an avid all-night stargazer.)

In other words, get familiar with what you CAN get familiar with because there are going to be plenty of unique, daunting, challenging, and wondrous experiences to fill your day and night.

Have fun! (It is fun, you know, but you need to know it already.)


Edited by nerdboy52 on 10/11/2009 10:51:34 MDT.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Enjoy tent camping and hiking on 10/11/2009 11:51:41 MDT Print View

The guy asking said he enjoys tent camping and hiking already, so I didn't think it'd be that much of a huge stretch for him to go backpacking. But yeah, if all he'd ever done in "nature" was play frisbee in the park, maybe he'd need to try tent camping first.

It's a good suggestion to practice setting up your tent and using your stove and whatever other gear, too. Even though I've backpacked thousands of miles, I will do this with new gear. I even practiced setting up a loaner tent I got after I sent my tent in for repairs while I was hiking the PCT. I set it up at Elk Lake resort and was very glad I did, because it wasn't the tent I expected it to be and it took me a while to figure it out. If I'd had to struggle setting it up like that out in the forest I would have been eaten alive by those nasty Oregon mosquitoes.

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: First time backpacking on 10/11/2009 11:53:20 MDT Print View

FWIW, I did my first BP trip solo for 11 days. I choose the Smokies as they were near where I was going to be at the time and I figured would be relatively crowded in case I got in trouble somehow. Ironically (perhaps), I hardly saw or camped with anyone despite awesome weather in the middle of July.

Pretty much all my BP knowledge came from this site.

Natalie Short
(ragamuffingirl) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
thanks for the encouragement on 10/11/2009 19:40:58 MDT Print View

Thanks for all the encouragement.

To clear up a few things -Even though I haven't tent camped that much (only the past two years) I feel pretty comfortable doing it. We've even thrown in a few variations like sleeping under the groundcloth (tarp) or in a hammock (two people in one hammock isn't much fun). Then there was the time we slept wrapped up in emergency blankets because we left our sleeping bag at the last campground =) I think I've improvised enough to at least know it can be done and not freak out because I've broken a tent pole or something.

The main thing my husband and I are looking to get out of backpacking is a few weekends traipsing along the coast or maybe in the mountains. Or we might go out once and get the bug :D

To that end any recommendations about renting gear? I'm really thinking we'd just need to rent packs since most everything else we can cull from our current gear or do without (ie going no cook first time or two).

Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
Renting. on 10/13/2009 20:31:03 MDT Print View

Renting is absolutely the right way to go. If you're up in Nor Cal, you probably have Sport Chalet and REI somewhere in the vicinity. Both have rentals. Check the stores near you; different stores have different gear even within a particular chain.

Do a little research here and elsewhere on the net, get some ideas of what you need, then go into REI early in the morning when it hopefully won't be too busy, and they'll usually have time to work with you to put together some gear.

Don't expect a lot of UL rental gear at either Sport Chalet or REI. Those two stores make their money off of selling gear. Lots of gear. They're typically "traditional" (heavy) backpacking oriented.

BTW, the Sierra Club frequently offers backpacking classes. Local clubs are often your least expensive way to get some training if that's the route you'd like to go. I've been BP'ing and hiking since the 60's. I took the LA Sierra Club's Wilderness Travel Course with a friend new to backpacking. I wasn't expecting that much out of it for myself since I've been hitting the trail for a long time, but I was pleasantly surprised. I guess what I'm trying to say is sometimes these classes aren't lame and are actually worth while. Can't say what the Sierra Club in Nor Cal is like.

Sometimes community colleges offer training, and REI certainly does. REI strikes me as pricey.

Anyway, lots of ways to "cut your teeth." The best advice was given a few posts back: don't make too big of a deal out of it. It's just a combo of walking and camping with some stuff on your back.

Edited by hikin_jim on 10/13/2009 20:32:15 MDT.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: First time backpacking on 10/13/2009 21:09:36 MDT Print View

Probably the best advice I can give you is this:

Don't over plan everything and don't do too many miles or too hard a trail.

Pick an easier trail with established backcountry campsites to make it easier. While camping cross country is a joy, it isn't if you are moving slower than you expected, got blisters and it is suddenly dusk...with nowhere to lay your head!

No raging rivers to ford. Nothing above 8 miles a day first trip. Don't go on a cruddy weekend. Enjoy the weather!

My first "planned" trip (I had backpacked in college a couple times) me and two lady friends went on a 9 1/2 mile loop overnight. Those first 3.3 miles were torture I tell you - of course my pack was horridly heavy back then! If I had to hike another mile that day I would have cried. And the trail was even mostly flat ;-)

The next trip a couple weeks later I did plenty more - but I had an idea of what to expect then.

It was a good "shake down" :-)

Natalie Short
(ragamuffingirl) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
still planning.... on 10/14/2009 00:57:43 MDT Print View

Thanks for all the helpful advice. I sat down again and took a hard look at my gear (heavy) and realized that I need to make several upgrades before hitting the trail, but hopefully by early spring we'll be out there. However, this does give me a chance to start adding to my Christmas list :)

If anyone can give me some advice on lightweight, cheap tents that would be great. While he might do it for the odd night, the husband isn't keen on tarp camping in general.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: still planning.... on 10/14/2009 07:50:12 MDT Print View

Double Rainbow. Best of both worlds. Easy to put up, is a full "tent" but has the bennies of a tarp. And NO bugs!

Tom Caldwell
(Coldspring) - F

Locale: Ozarks
Re: still planning.... on 10/14/2009 08:05:41 MDT Print View

"realized that I need to make several upgrades before hitting the trail, but hopefully by early spring we'll be out there."

As long as you stay warm and dry and eat a little, just go with what you have...just don't attempt to go very far. Just going out and going through the process is much more helpful than just studying up on gear, you'll know more about what you need to buy. Life is too short to wait till next season for better gear, but that doesn't mean you should keep the same gear every season!

Natalie Short
(ragamuffingirl) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
well since you said that... on 10/14/2009 11:18:22 MDT Print View

Tom, let me sort of give you a run down on my set-up since you're encouraging me to get out.

Tent: Eureka Tetragon 8 (4 man tent) -about 9lb all told
Bags: Cat's Meow 20 ( ~ 5lb for both) or lightweight fleece sack depending on the weather.
Pads: BA insulated air core ( ~ 3lb for both)

Clothes: poly-pro base layer, fleece, wind/rain shell (someone recommended Froggtoggs DriDucks), hat, and gloves as weather appropriate. Clean clothes for sleeping. We can each go a couple miles in our current shoes, so that's a def wait. Don't have weights on these, but you can get the idea.

Food: since we're new at this I figured 1 1/2-2lbs/person/day -hopefully that number with go down with experience. Plus an outsak for rodents. Plan on going no-cook at first.

Stuff: (all repackaged as needed)
Med kit: bandages, tweezers, tape, basic meds, ointment
Survival:-whistle, iodine, emergency blanket, cord, matches/fire starter, compass/map
Toiletries: hand san, tp, wet wipes, lotion and/or sunblock
Water filter: still trying to decide just which one.

Does that still sound like a sane load?

Edited by ragamuffingirl on 10/14/2009 11:24:27 MDT.

Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
Heavy, man. on 10/14/2009 14:15:59 MDT Print View

The tent and bags are really heavy. Are those bags really that heavy? Yikes!

You're actually going with a weight that even most "heavy" (traditional style) backpackers wouldn't carry. Don't necessarily go out and buy a bunch of UL gear, but maybe get down into at least the "traditional style" zone. Tent maybe 6lbs or less and bags 3lbs or less.

I would definitely encourage you to rent gear for at least your first several trips.

If you go a short distance on an easy trail, you might be able to do it, but a 9lbs tent and 5lbs bags sound outrageously heavy for a normal outing.

Jesse H.
(tacedeous) - MLife

Locale: East Bay, CA
Re: still planning.... on 10/14/2009 15:28:43 MDT Print View

Hey Natalie,

you sound a lot like I felt about 3 years ago when I opened up this can of worms ;) I also used Pt. Reyes as my first spot to backpack, needless to say it's one of my favorite places, it feels like home and so close to it... here's a few tips...

1. buy from REI their return policy is a life savor, I went through 4 sleeping bags, and 3 tents before deciding what I wanted... needless to say I ended up buying "cottage" gear... Six Moon Designs pack and tent, western mountaineering sleeping bag, but the rest of my gear has come from REI, because of the return policy...

2. Buy the best you can afford, there is a noticeable difference in quality, and WEIGHT! the key is to find what works for you both, that might not be the same as everyone else, and WILL take some trial and error, the goal: SIMPLE and LIGHT, you are trying to enjoy the outdoors, not test your endurance :) so think about multi-use items...

3. FOOTWEAR, in my quest, I overlooked this at first, I'm now a firm believer that this is one of the most important pieces of gear I have: proper fitting and comfortable shoes...

4. save money- don't buy an expensive backpacking stove like I did, alcohol stoves work great! there really light, and basically free.

5. read through this forum, there's a lot of great info here, that will save you time and money

6. HAVE FUN WITH YOUR NEW ADDICTION ;) It can seem like a lot to cover, but it's really not, buy the right gear and hit that trail! it can be as complicated as you want but remember, your just walking in the woods :)

oh yea! if you can wait for deals, you'll save a ton if you know what you want, and can wait or pacify its need with something else...

good luck, and hope to see you guys out there soon!

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: well since you said that... on 10/14/2009 15:34:28 MDT Print View

All of whats been said is good advice. Not sure if I can add anything new. I recently lost my backpacking virginity just this past summer up in the Pictured Rocks Lakeshore in Michigan. What I've discovered is you can research and ask questions 'till the cows come home (which is VERY helpful indeed-always keep a positive dialog open with fellow campers, like on this forum!) but where you'll really discover your personal needs and backpacking style is just getting out there, no matter how small a trip. Even if its backyard camping.

Its important not to overextend yourself with trip length and gear loads to the point where it is unenjoyable. Work up to longer and more difficult trips, and the knowledge to handle them will follow. Just be sure to be aware of what works and what doesn't work. Where you can cut weight, and where you would rather have the comfort. Its not too uncommon where I've bought a piece of gear thinking it will be perfect, and only to find out in the field that I'd rather have something different for whatever reason. I'm always rethinking my approach to everything I do out on the trail--where can I be more efficient and lighter in weight, while still keeping a level of comfort I am happy with?

Your gear list will evolve over time. Borrow and rent when necessary, and trade up for better/lighter gear when you are able to. Check out Henry Shires Tarptents, Gossamer Gear, Six Moon Designs, Anti-Gravity Gear, and this website for ideas on gear and techniques. Just be aware that lightweight and ultralightweight gear sometimes needs a little more care than traditional gear. Much of it is made very well and is very durable, but can only hold up to so much abuse if not taken care of. With proper care, lightweight gear can last a lifetime. Look at many reviews. Its easy to see a negative review of a piece of gear and be frightened off by it. Maybe that person didn't know how to use their gear correctly, or maybe they had unrealistic expectations, or perhaps, the piece of gear really is crap!

Whatever your approach, its YOUR approach. Have fun with it, and enjoy yourself, your camping partners, and the outdoors. As they say, HYOH (hike your own hike)!

Edited by T.L. on 10/14/2009 15:37:36 MDT.

Lori P
(lori999) - F

Locale: Central Valley
+1 on that last comment. on 10/14/2009 15:39:34 MDT Print View

Most of what I would have said has been said already.

I would add that if you have iodine in your emergency kit for water purification, you might consider replacing it with Micropur tablets. Iodine doesn't really do much against cysts and the CDC found it ineffective against giardia.