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First backpacking trip - lots of lessons learned...
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Phillip Asby

Locale: North Carolina
First backpacking trip - lots of lessons learned... on 02/19/2013 14:37:00 MST Print View

My son (new boy scout) and I just completed our first backpacking trip - a quick overnight with his Troop that involved a thankfully short 1.5 mile hike in and out of the Birkhead Wilderness in the Uwharrie National Forest. I don't know what the proper BPL term is but I suppose we are no longer backpacking virgins... The best part is that in spite of the weather (details below) my son and I both left with smiles on our faces and his desire to "do more backpacking with just the two of us to practice". That is a big thumbs up across the board.

The trip started in 32 degree weather with snow/ice/rain - which turned to almost entirely snow after about 2 hours or so. It was cold and damp. Finally broke around 4pm, then got pitch black and sleeted tiny balls of ice for about 10-15 minutes like someone tipped a bucket over on top of us (we had long since setup camp). Then finally gone for good. Temps dropped to roughly 22 or so Sunday morning and the hike out they'd risen to maybe mid 30s or so when we got to the trailhead and our cars.

After months poring over threads and information on this site I'd tried to pare down our car camping excesses slowly but surely in anticipation of having to put it all on your back. That proved to be very helpful on a lot of levels, including acquiring gear over time which permitted taking as much advantage of gear swap as I could (particularly compared to some others who found themselves two weeks out dropping $1500 at REI) and focusing on the essentials to try to minimize pack weight (their list - if you used all of it - would weigh 45-50 pounds and not fit in a youth pack). So thank you all including those on the Scouting sub forum who shared packing lists.

I have so many comments on what I've learned and things I need to improve on for both of us it is hard to know where to start.

Some general observations first.

First, despite our best efforts it felt like both of us were carrying more weight than I'd have liked. We were far from the worst in this regard no question, but still I'd like to trim both of us down. Some will happen over time and there are some limits that could not be avoided (the wet and very cold weather dictated more clothing, for example, than we otherwise might take). Next trip I'm going to have a scale and start actually weighting everything...

Second, the happiness provided by good rain gear can't be overstated. My son had a coated nylon jacket that, while not really breathable (less critical given the short distance and temps) kept him bone dry underneath. I had my RAB Latok which performed flawlessly and really made a big difference. We both had basic Columbia pants over base layers. Particularly in those temperatures you don't want to mess around with being wet. The Latok was worth every penny.

Third, the issue with canister stoves in cold weather is no joke. Breakfast was being prepared in conditions which pushed the limit of the Jetboil canisters - ambient temps probably around 24-25. Most everyone had a canister stove and they were all sluggish. I didn't sleep with the canister (probably should have...) or otherwise warm it. I will consider placing it in water next time ... or bring the white gas if I'm really concerned. In the southeast given the relatively low elevations we are likely to attempt in winter 20s are always possible but the average lows are the low 30s.

Gear MVPs (other than aforementioned rain gear).

Exped Synmat 7. Not the UL version so a bit on the heavy side but I stayed warm and had the best nights sleep I've had camping despite the conditions. I'm a believer and may have to keep my eye out for the UL version...

Golite Feather 20 sleeping bag. I managed to get my clothing just right given it was my first time trying out this bag. 800 fill down is the bees knees, lofty, light and comfortable. I was toasty warm despite the low 20s temps in the bag with midweight base layers, dry wool socks, a fleece beanie and during the night I added a microfleece pullover.

Costco Merino Wool socks. Dang these things are nice and comfortable-particularly for $8 for 4 pair...

Gear Dilemmas...

It was a struggle to fit everything into our packs - even ignoring the weight. I had to abandon my REI Flash 65 in favor of a much heavier Alps Mountaineering 85L pack. Some of it is gear choice and some of it may be packing technique... so here was my complete gear list other than the pack:

LL Bean Microlight FS2 tent. Stated weight 3 lbs 12 oz. Packed size 20x6. I really like this tent and it is obviously roomy for one person although not ridiculously so. Setup is easy and it is, for the size, pretty lightweight. But it was darn hard to pack in and around it - or so it seemed. I ended up removing the poles and stakes, and packing the tent and fly in a OR compression sack and shrinking it down a bit. This is the biggest question I have - whether to continue with this tent or look for something even smaller - Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 or MSR Hubba... not quite ready for a true tarp or tarptent setup...

Golite Feather 20. Stated weight 2 pounds 2 oz. Packed in it's stuff sack, no compression sack used, and put in a plastic garbage bag given the weather. For the temps I'm not sure I can get much smaller than this for a bag...

Exped Synmat 7. Stated weight 31 ounces. I really liked sleeping on this pad compared to my equally heavy Alps Lightweight self inflating pad that packs larger and is less comfortable. It packs relatively small but seemed to be the most problematic item.

Alite Monarch camp chair. Yeah I know it was my true luxury item (well some here would probably consider a lot of my stuff luxurious but still). On Scout trips there is a fair amount of downtime and a chair of some sort is really nice... packs pretty small as well - this was fairly easy to stuff somewhere in the pack.


Snow Peak Gigapower
Primus ETA 1L power pot with fry pan lid (gigapower and canister stored in pot)
220g Jetboil Fuel
Light my Fire spork
GSI 20oz nesting bowl/mug

3L Osprey Hydration bladder


Worn -
Terramar lightweight base layer shirt
C9 duo dry shirt
C9 microfleece
RAB Latok Shell
C9 lightweight base layer bottom
Columbia rain pants
wool socks
Wool beanie
Seirus lightweight gloves

Packed (All clothes other than the pants were packed in a dry sack - REI jacket in its own dry sack):

Terramar midweight base layer top (sleep)
Terramar midweight base layer bottom (sleep)
C9 running pants (sleep)
Mountain Hardwear Dom Perignon (sleep)
Marmot heavy weight fleece gloves (backup)
Columbia nylon hiking pants (for when rain stopped)
2 pair extra wool socks (1 for sleeping; 1 backup)
REI midweight quarter zip base (backup - probably superflous)
REI Spruce Run synthetic jacket (extra insulation either in camp or sleep)


Repair kit (1 tube tenacious tape, 3 safety pins, 3ft duct tape wrapped around an old athletic tape tube, 1 tube seam grip, all packed in a small nylon bag)

Fire starter kit (altoids tin with Light my fire starter, mini Bic and 4-5 cotton balls coated with petroleum jelly)

50 feet 3mm utility cord to hang food bag

Zebralight H30w headlamp.

Benchmade mini griptilian

2 Photon Freedom microlights (backup)

1 Leatherman Style PS


Cheap ground tarp for a footprint (need to buy an actual footprint or maybe get a tyvek ground cloth...)

Trowel (MSR LNT), 4x6sheets toilet paper, 2x scent free wipes (in own small ziplocks) all packed in a gallon ziplock

First Aid kit - 1 tube neosporin, 1 tube sting eze, 8 bandaids various sizes, 2x large gauze pad, 2x small gauze pad, 8 steri strips, 8x Pepto Bismol, 8x Immodium, 8x benadryl, small tube Ibuprofen all packed in a quart size ziplock

Personal toiletries - small microfiber cloth, toothbrush, travel toothpaste, small tin with allergy meds in a quart size ziplock.

Food (packed in a nylon sack):

1x Mountain House meal
4x instant oatmeal
4x Starbucks Via
2x Clif Mojo bar
2x mini bagel with pb&j (lunch on hike in day)
1x apple (lunch on hike in day)

1x 32oz Nalgene

I think that is all. I was surprised it all didn't fit into the Flash 65... I know there was some fat in that mix - but given the wet and very cold conditions (and I carried a little extra as a backup for my son...) I think part of the problem was everything was packed in its stuff sack - including clothes which meant I had a bunch of cylinders that don't necessarily fill all the available space. I did separate the tent/fly from the poles and compress it but would not normally thing that was necessary. I could move the tent to the pack bottom straps I suppose but would rather have it in my pack. I'm thinking a pack liner with clothes in particular stuffed wherever may help rather than a bunch of little stuff/dry bags... Still puzzling that one out. I'm also as noted questioning the tent choice as well....

Time to get a scale and start really figuring out how to make this work better for both of us...

Phillip Asby

Locale: North Carolina
Also on 02/19/2013 14:37:39 MST Print View

I need to start using that online gear list tool (geargrams?) so I can shorten posts like this!!!

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
First Trip on 02/19/2013 15:12:58 MST Print View

First of all, I hope it was fun for both of you. My trick for the kids was to impose few rules in the backcountry. They really liked the freedom. My other trick was to let them take part in the fire building and use. This was the one place I had to use a few rules, but they loved the fire so much they didn't mind.

As far as your gear goes, you can comfortably carry a LOT less. First, that's a lot of clothes. Its an overnight. You don't need backups or backups for your backups. Same for all the lights. Second, you are ready for a tarptent. Its no harder to use than a traditional tent to me. Third, don't waste money buying a heavy footprint. You don't need one. Fourth, you can ditch all the stuffsacks you want. Just carry one trash compactor bag for all the stuff you want to keep dry; when full, twist the top and fold it over. Fifth, no need for a cook pot and a bowl; eat out of your pot. You could consider a cheap easy-to-make alcohol or esbit stove and be a lot lighter on an overnight. Sixth, that is a lot to carry for repair and first aid.

Generally, weigh your stuff. Think about whether you really need/want each item. For example, do I need a frying pan lid? Is a foil cover lighter and just as useful?

Kevin Babione
(KBabione) - MLife

Locale: Pennsylvania
Nice Trip Report on 02/19/2013 15:15:55 MST Print View

I was feeling your pain when you had to switch from the Flash to the Alps backpack. I had purchased a SMD Starlight pack and thought I was well on my way to backpacking lighter and, on an early April trip in PA where the temps were to be in the teens, my stuff simply didn't fit. I had to return to my ultra-heavy Bora 80 backpack.

It sounds like you learned a lot and have a chance to leapfrog over the other members of the pack since your son wants to get out and practice more. Looking at your gear list I'd guess that it was probably your packed clothing that gave you too much bulk for the Flash65. In addition to weighing everything there are times when you simply need to evaluate things for their sheer size. A CCF pad may be light weight but if you try to put it in your pack it will eat up all the volume.

Adam Rothermich
(aroth87) - F

Locale: Missouri Ozarks
Re: First backpacking trip - lots of lessons learned... on 02/19/2013 15:29:28 MST Print View

Most importantly its great that you and your son both had a great time despite the weather!

A tip I picked up was just stuffing the sleeping bag loose in the bottom of the pack. It packs much better as a large, flowing mass than a small, solid brick. In fact the only thing I use a stuff sack for is my shelter and my food/kitchen. I also make copious use of the outside pockets on my pack. I usually don't have to open my pack at all until I make camp. Rain gear, TP, first aid kit, water treatment, warm jacket, water bottles, camera, lunch/snacks, anything I think I might need during the day goes in one of the mesh pockets or hip belt pockets.

A couple of specific things from your gear list: A tyvek ground sheet will take up much less space than a blue tarp. Its free if there's a construction site nearby too. You realized the fleece and insulating jackets were redundant. The synthetic jacket probably packs better and feels warmer since it blocks the wind so I'd choose it. I'd say the sleep pants are redundant too especially if you've got rain pants. It sounds like your hiking pants stayed dry, no reason you can't sleep in them.

It sounds like you're on the right path, you made note of the things you didn't use or didn't work and you'll make adjustments next time. No one here got it right on their first try and if they did they're lying :D


Edit/PS: Since this was a scout trip I don't think its wrong to bring a little extra gear especially given the weather you encountered. When you're responsible for the safety of kids its probably not an appropriate time to be pushing your limits.

Edited by aroth87 on 02/19/2013 16:02:21 MST.

Lance Marshall
(Lancem) - F - MLife

Locale: Oregon
Re: First backpacking trip - lots of lessons learned... on 02/19/2013 22:51:21 MST Print View

Brings back fond memories.

Can you share the list of items you took but didn't use or could have done without?

Mark Cashmere
(tinkrtoy) - M

Locale: NEOH
Re: First backpacking trip - lots of lessons learned... on 02/20/2013 05:48:10 MST Print View

You're on the right track with the tent packing issue. If you do stick with a tent, I know it seems so much neater to keep it all in it's 'sausage roll' but breaking it into parts really does make it easier to pack. I usually throw the stake bag in with the poles and put that piece in an outside side pocket using the pack's side compression straps to hold it upright (assuming your pack can handle this methods of carry). Then I just fold the tent fabric pieces into flat-ish squares or rectangles depending on your pack shape that I use as a mid-shelf inside the pack. It makes a nice divider between my compactor bag in the bottom of my pack with all of my compressible gear in it and the loose items in the top of my pack (food bag, stove, Neoair, etc.). If a piece of the tent is wet, I then just stuff that piece in the outside shovel pocket (or attach to any outside strapping).


Phillip Asby

Locale: North Carolina
Thanks on 02/20/2013 08:13:14 MST Print View

I appreciate the insight and support. It is important to emphasize again that my son and I both had a great time and I'm itching to get back in the woods - always a good sign!

I forgot a few items on the list:

Coccoon Ultralight Pillow - this thing with the Exped really produced my best nights sleep ever on a camping trip. And it packs nice and small.

I had a value pack of 10x hot hands pairs. Used 4 pairs of them - 2 pairs to my son for his sleeping bag and to put in his boots. A luxury for both of us but they did bring some comfort in a cold environment. This isn't something I'd normally take.

Costco Carbon Hiking Poles - really like these particularly for the price.

As for what I took but didn't use at all the list is:

REI quarter zip baselayer. I like it and will probably use it another time but it was definitely redundant.

Marmot fleece gloves. I wore them briefly in the morning since the other gloves were a bit damp. But I could have done without given pockets, etc...

1 pair wool socks. I only wore two of the three which is sufficient clearly.

I didn't have to use the FAK or the repair kit. The FAK is pretty pared down at this point (I could use perhaps less but there is a little redundancy given the scout based trip and that some of the other adults were even greener than me...). I could probably make due in the repair kit with duct tape or tenacious tape, but probably don't need both. Probably don't need the seam grip either.

I didn't use the photons - not a huge weight penalty for them and I'd intended to use one as a tent light/marker set on low but didn't. A headlamp and a campfire plus moonlight were more than sufficient really.

As someone noted I did not use the fry pan for anything other than a lid (and never have really) so replacing the pot and/or lid would be an opportunity. I do like the heat exchanger on the power pot - I don't have science to prove it but it sure does seem to heat up faster. I'll have to scout about to see if there is a lid that would work.

I think I wore/used just about everything else actually. Including the fleece and the synthetic insulated jacket at the same time but realistically that was more than I needed - I could have worn a base layer, insulated jacket and used the hood and/or put my shell on if I got cold. I did sleep in the fleece however...

I'll reconsider the bowl - I did use it for oatmeal but could have eaten that out of the pot or repackaged into freezer bags. I used the mug for coffee and will continue to need some small mug for that use - i'll keep my eye out for a small titanium mug...

Another issue was that I was trying out some new gear on this trip - the exped mat, golite bag and REI insulated jacket are all new to me at least so I wasn't sure what conditions they would work in and the limits of their capabilities. I have a Montbell UL thermawrap I normally take but it seems good into the low 40s but I didn't trust it into the 20s. The REI is a bit heavier, but it has a hood which I wanted given the temps. Knowing what I know now I have a better sense of what each piece of gear can accomplish.

I definitely will be going the trash compactor bag route. I was worried about my insulating layer getting wet, and sleeping clothes, so both ended up as more sausages. It was wise to be worried but the solution may not have been optimal. I'm also thinking about folding up the Exped synmat rather than rolling it to gain some space...

The tent will be up in the air I guess for the moment. I'll continue to ponder other options but I was still lighter than most on the trip - the standard tent was an REI Half Dome for each adult (over 5 pounds if specs are correct) - Baltoro 75 packs with the tents and more strapped onto the outside, etc... one guy packed in charcoal, a full size percolator, fry pans, etc...

And considering where I started it's been a long trip - the very first time my son and I camped out with Cub Scouts (first night for either of us in a tent) which was car camping we had a 14 pound Eureka Tetragon 8 tent, Coleman full size inflatable mattress with battery operated pump, Coleman Wally World fleece lined bags, regular bed pillows, a folding camp table with a dual burner propane grill, two folding chairs, and another 25 pounds of miscellaneous gear (regular cookware, full size leatherman tools, 4D cell camp lantern, Surefire 6P, untold layers of clothes, etc....) so it's been a long path over the past 3 years to slowly acquire new gear and drop the huge weight items... And mostly I've made good choices - the only gear I've gotten that seem to be for the moment abandoned are an REI Lumen 25 bag and two Alps lightweight self inflating pads (my son loves the ZLite as its easy for him to manage - folding up the self inflating pads he struggles with).

Edited by PGAsby on 02/20/2013 08:19:00 MST.

Phillip Asby

Locale: North Carolina
Another thing I didn't use on 02/20/2013 08:16:59 MST Print View

I didn't use the Steripen - but I did use just about all the water I packed in...

Still thinking about switching to a Sawyer Squeeze - not a fan of floaties even if the water is sterilized - and in the SE really clean running water is sometimes around, but more often creeks, etc... that or try a bandana over the top of the nalgene...

Sean Heenan

Locale: Southeast mountains
First backpacking trip on 02/20/2013 15:58:31 MST Print View

Ah I remember it well going from Cub Scouts to Boy scouts, I still have my big tent I bought for cub scouts sleeps four and it is used once a year on a car camping trip..just for old times sake. When my son transitioned over I bought backpacks sleeping bags, and on. I fell in love with backpacking again, and my son loves going out with the troop and I go on every trip they go on. Some of the gear I bought I regret... too heavy, and some I have replaced as I've gone along. Stick with the gear you bought for now, use it for awhile and see what works, a rainy winter trip is hard to judge by. At first I had a REI half dome, still have it, but as an adult in scouts I have always slept alone so I bought a easton kilo 1p much better than schelping a half dome. Still have my Gregory Baltoro 65, think about replacing it but it rides well and it still works so I have a hard time parting with the money for a new pack, someday. I agree that you will sometimes carry extra gear just cause as adult with a scout troop you have extra responsibilities, like I carry a larger first aid kit. My first backpacking trip with the scouts was also to Uwharrie but it was in the fall and in drought conditions, I brought 2 liters of water and we hiked 10 miles, I used all of it. The scoutmaster had a filter and we pumped water out of a creek that was barely running and muddy, I was glad we had a filter. One guy had tablets and he was glad we had a filter. I carry a filter, to many on this forum there is no way they would ever carry a filter but I do, it's a sawyer though, so not complete heresy. I have also learned a lot from BPL and continue on the journey to an ever lighter pack, but on our last trip when we weighed our packs my weighed in at 26 pounds total pack weight and hell five of that is backpack. Sorry for the long post but stick with the gear you've got and in time you will see what works and doesn't, for me that is also a fun part of backpacking.