I’ve been told to write a book. I’m not sure why. I didn’t invent anything and I don’t have knowledge that’s not available to the general public. I HAVE spent a considerable amount of time in the woods and I HAVE helped others learn from my beginner mistakes. Instead of writing a book (at least for now), I will publish a series of articles on my blog.
Here’s the first entry. Enjoy! If you have suggestions for topics or any input, please provide that in the comments. As always, thanks for reading!
Like most things in life, often the most difficult part of doing something is just getting started. Hiking and/or backpacking is no different. What do I wear? What do I take? How will I _____???? The list is pretty endless and can be overwhelming to the beginner. My hope is that after reading this, many of those questions will be answered. I have taken many people into the woods for the first hiking/overnight trip and have seen the mistakes that I made when I began and the mistakes of others. They were surprisingly similar.
Hiking is nothing more than walking while carrying the stuff you need. While that is over-simplified, in many ways it holds true. You don’t need expensive and/or top of the line gear to go walking. The gear you carry will evolve over time as your comfort level grows through experience. From my first trip until now, I have replaced nearly every single item I carry into the woods. I’m hoping to save you some time and money by learning from my mistakes. I have broken items into the following categories: Clothes (what to wear), Backpack (a way to carry everything), Shelter (where to sleep), Cooking (how to prepare food), Tools/miscellaneous (Phone/GPS/Kindle, Lights, knife, Chairs/stools, etc.), Health and Beauty Aids – HBA (how to stay clean), First Aid Kit – FAK (what to carry for injury/illness), Liquids (what to drink including Storage and treatment), and finally, Food (what to eat). You need to have a plan for each category before you leave.
I suggest starting small and looking around at what you already have. Do you have clothes, shoes, and a backpack of any type? If so, start with just a short day hike. Build on that experience and go for a longer hike and eventually build up to an overnight trip (even if it’s in the backyard). After the first overnight trip, work your way up to a trip involving staying out 2 nights (or 1 night not in the backyard). Start small and then build on each experience. ALWAYS test gear out before heading out into the woods. One place I learned a lot was an online forum for people hiking the Appalachian Trail. The forum is www.whiteblaze.net. If you are not aware, the Appalachian Trail is a trail stretching from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. That is over 2000 miles and many people hike the entire distance in one year. A great article on how to start cheap is found on whiteblaze and the link is here: https://whiteblaze.net/forum/showthread.php/15329-Cheap-Gear-–-How-to-Dirt-Bag-and-Deal-Shop-Like-a-Professional
The first question that should be answered before you purchase the first piece of gear is: Are you primarily interested in hiking or camping? If I’m camping, I stay at camp well before sundown to well after sunrise. If I’m hiking, I am moving from just after sunrise to just before (or after) sunset. I enjoy both, just not on the same trip so my packing list is different depending on the goal of the trip. One has to be the priority or you will end up carrying 60 pounds of gear. For me, it depends on the trip. For example, if I am interested primarily in camping on a certain trip that means we won’t be hiking very far. I am willing to carry more weight in items that make camping more comfortable for a few miles. If I am primarily interested in hiking on another trip, most of my comfort items will stay at home because I don’t want to carry them for many miles to enjoy for a relatively short time in camp.
After each trip, I come home and physically or mentally make 3 piles. The first pile is things I used and will take again. The second pile is things I didn’t use, but will take again. Hopefully, your First Aid Kit stays in this pile! The last pile is things I took, didn’t use, and won’t take on my next trip. This is an ongoing process and how your gear evolves. What works for me may not work for you.
Another great tip is to buy a cheap digital kitchen scale and weigh EVERYTHING! There is a phrase that “ounces make pounds.” That means that while that item may only weight 6 ounces, three of them adds just over a pound to your pack weight. If two short sleeve shirt are nearly the same, but one weighs 3 ounces less, I’m taking the lighter one. The same applies for everything you carry. I would also suggest using a spreadsheet or there are multiple websites such as www.geargrams.com to add the weight of everything. By doing this, I can plan the weight of my backpack instead of it being a surprise when I put it on at the trailhead.
In backpacking/hiking, there is a term known as HYOH. It means Hike Your Own Hike. Do what fits you without criticizing others. In this, I tell you what works for me through my experience. If you disagree, HYOH. I’m not here to argue. Everyone has different styles and opinions, and that’s OK.