Backpacking – Part 1 – A Plan

This article is about planning your expedition.

So you want to take the outdoor trip of the year, of the decade, of a lifetime. You’ve never done this before but it looks like fun and you’ve always wanted to “rough it” in the outdoors, or see some of the country that can’t be accessed from a car. How do you do it? This article will help you along that route. The purpose is to get into the outdoors for some backpacking and trail hiking without going bankrupt or hurting oneself – To bring back great pictures and memories, and not horror stories and injuries.

Best FriendSpreadsheetFirst things first.

<-----Our best friends are to the left and right.----->

Pencil and paper and/or a spreadsheet are essential. These are the best tools to make your estimates. Budget is one of the most, if not the most important, single factor in any endeavor. Even if you have a bottomless pit of money, budget is still a consideration. It’s nice to get the most bang for any buck.

You might be able to just choose a place, grab any gear, and go without any plan, and if you’re REAL lucky, you MIGHT have somewhat of a good time – BUT, the probability is that with no plan, a lot can go wrong, making the vacation totally miserable – a failure for sure.

You have to decide on where you want to go and how long you plan to be there. Depending on where you live in the country or world, you will need to get to your place of choice. A destination and your preferred method of transportation must be decided. For the most part we will not be counting this travel time, cost, or preparation, in the overall equation.

So lets move forward to setting some uprights. After deciding where you are going and how you plan to get there, is how long you plan to stay and your backpacking itinerary. This is very important because it determines the amount of equipment and supplies that will be needed. For the purpose of this plan we are using 5 days. The plan is to sleep 4 nights on the trail. We will start out on the morning of Day 1 and come back the morning to early afternoon of Day 5.

After you’ve chosen your destination, you’ll want to plan the actual adventure. First, check availability. The more popular parks and attractions book campsites, especially backcountry campsites, for months in advance. Permits are needed in all the national parks as well as many other places. There are on line resources that tell you all about each Park and exactly what their schedules and rules are. There are a lot of differences between National, State, and local parks. National Recreation Areas are another story yet. There is also Bureau Of Land Management (BLM) land. So doing some homework is well worth the effort.

Follow the wavy lines - YellowstoneSo you say “What trails and where do we get that information?!”. It is good to start with a map or set of maps. The best source for this is the US government. If your trip is in a national park, they have all the needed information, and plenty more. The starting point is for national parks. Probably the most popular map set is the USGS map available from These have been the standard for decades. Of course, you can’t leave out National Geographic: These are not free so be sure to include your choices in the budget. Sharpen your map reading skills. They are not difficult. Most maps show elevation, which is a major consideration for those of us living at or near, sea level. Please know how to read the wavy lines. A lot of the most beautiful country is at higher elevations. If national parks are your thing, they contain some of the extremes. Grand Canyon is the epitome of this. You can go from over 7000 feet in elevation at the south rim to 2200 feet at the bottom, the Colorado River, in less than 7 miles of hiking. Your maps are the keys to this. In some areas, plan very carefully!

The maps will show features like camping areas. Most camping areas require a fee. Permits are required to camp in most national parks as well as many other recreation areas, and advanced reservations are required in many due to the popularity of these parks. I’ve seen 6 month waiting lists at the more popular destinations. Part of planning is to figure how far you can and want to go in any period and get camping spots before going. On one trip hiking through the Grand Canyon, North Rim to South Rim, I had to share a camp spot with some folks who reserved a spot and were nice enough to share it with me. Had I done my homework, I would have known that sites were full and reserved for months in advance.

Senior PassPrices vary on camping areas so plan to reserve yours as far in advance as possible. There are several major cards that offer discounts on things like entry fees and camping fees. AARP cards are accepted in some places. There are various government cards like the Senior Pass that get you discount or free at the national parks among other things. There are veterans discounts all over also. Important Note: Prices are set to dramatically rise for these and other such cards from the government. Buy now to save because the new prices are a full quantum leap more.

Once these decisions have been made, it’s time to select equipment. Each person needs to have a backpack, sleeping bag, hiking shoes, socks, rain suit, light, tarp, while canteen, air mattress, stove/cooking and eating gear, food, and tent, can be shared. This article is written for the lone hiker to avoid complexities. These items make up a major part of the total expense. In the following piece we look at this equipment and, especially, price ranges. Even if this is a once in a lifetime venture, I recommend getting the best affordable for the least price, but not the utter cheapest you can find.

In some parks you may be required to view a bear video and pass/or a test in order to hike or camp. These are for your safety. Yup. Buy bear spray where applicable. This is usually available in the park itself but can be bought in advance for a lot less. Look at about $10-$15 per unit.

OK. Why the regulations and stuff? Aren’t we doing a backcountry hike? Aren’t we going into the middle of nowhere? Depends on where you want to go. Here we use the most restrictive and most beautiful, the National Parks and Recreation Areas, as the example, and one can work from there to the less restrictive. What is allowed to do and what is not allowed to do, varies from season to season and park to park greatly. Some of it is for your safety as well as animal and plant. C’mon you don’t really want to be there when the bears are in. They are nice to see but still very dangerous. (And yes, I have my bear shots and videos!) Same with moose.

The big variable is food. Instead of recommending a lot of specifics, I found it better to leave it up to the individual. Food is a creative sport. Budget wise there is a wide range. Size and weight are personal considerations that have to be mitigated by what you want to eat. I recommend staying away from canned foods because of weight and the fact the can once used needs to be carried out as heavy garbage. What is necessary is to have enough energy foods to get you through the trip, plus some extra.

On a trip that takes several days, you will burn more energy than watching TV for sure. If you are a calorie counter, get to it. I don’t do that but still have to plan meals for hiking. Some of the major considerations are weight, volume, ease of delivery, energy value, price. The good part is you have more choices with food than any other factor. Creativity helps too. Your energy needs are greater due to more strenuous activity and factors like increased elevation, so make sure you cover your energy needs plus some extra. The freeze-dried food options are so expensive, they price themselves out of the market here. The options of what can be done off the grocery shelves far out strip what can be bought in freeze-dried paks. So, cheaper and more nutritious, is really is better.

On your budget sheet is where you plan each meal. You’ll need to do this with map in one hand and eating ideas in the other. This is the actual time to plan each meal and whatever excess wanted. Eat good. It’s better to have some food left when the hike is over than run out in the process. See below about elevation changes. A lot of the more beautiful attractions are at high elevation. If you are going to hike and/or backpack here be aware of this and plan accordingly. You will burn more energy at higher elevations.

I can’t under emphasize how important having drinkable water is to the overall experience. In some areas water consumption and acquisition MUST be planned very carefully. Parks like Canyonlands National Park are very dry. It is downright dangerous to try and go here in most times of the year without considering water. The water stops are far and few between. The country itself tends to be very dry and is not flat, causing you to need even more. Summer heat makes this even more dangerous. Even in the mountains where there can be lots of water with many times that supply being not where you can access it. Dead Horse Point gets its name from where horses could see water but not get to it to drink and died of thirst. Yellowstone, for instance, has lots of water that is not humanly potable (Sulfur water). Careful on water that might seem to be drinkable too. Streams. Runoff. Plan your experience around water! Boiling water for at least one minute is a way to purify.

Once you have assembled what seems to be all the needed gear, then it’s time to do a dry run, before ever attempting the trip. Set up and see how the gear will work. You will invariably adjust your overall plan with this and of course, adjust the budget.

This plan assumes a lone hiker/backpacker. This is seldom the case AND lone hiking is seldom allowed these days in the national parks, due to overcrowding as well as certain animals being in greater abundance that might be more courageous toward a lone hiker than toward a group.

Coming from sea level to some of the major attractions?! Caution. Some of the most beautiful places are at higher elevations. If you fly to some park like Grand Canyon you will be coming from sea level to over 7000 feet in a few hours. You will be short winded and possibly sleepy. This can be more acute in the Rockies. You can fly from LA to Denver and drive to 12000 feet in a few hours in Rocky mountain National Park. Thinking about hiking the Grand Canyon? The descent on the south side is one mile (4300 ft) in a 6 mile trail. To get to north rim on the same trail is another 15 miles and nearly 7000 foot elevation change. I went the other way – down north rim and up south rim for my hike through using the North Kaibab trail. Total elevation change = 12,000 feet in 2 1/2 days! Without at least SOME planning I would have been dead meat, facing an expensive helicopter ride out of the canyon.

Backpacking – Part 2 – Equipment

Hiking the Dry Canyonlands National ParkThis article starts off with the subject of water, one of the most important pieces of “equipment”, if not THE most important item to have, whether you’re day hiking or doing extended/overnight trips. That puts the canteen, the most popular hiking container for water, at the top of the equipment list. A canteen like the one shown comes in quart and half gallon sizes and costs under $20. I have tried gallon sized containers but at nearly 7 pounds per gallon, water is heavy.

On most hikes water is not perpetually at hand. Drinkable water even more scarce. Many times there is plenty water available, with none immediately drinkable. Making sure you have ample usable water is essential. In places like Canyonlands National Park, temperatures soar into the hundreds regularly in summer. Coupled with elevation changes encountered (making you need more water as well as energy), near zero humidity, and little to no availability, water must always be carried. This is the extreme but in many places, water is readily available at certain stops. For a real tale of no water, check out Dead Horse Point, Utah. Water is mentioned multiple times here due to its importance.

There are also water purification kits but I tend to take the easy way and go to the taps and springs that are clean. Boiling water also does the trick but you pay in energy used, i.e. fuel.

Beware of drinking from streams and other natural sources. Giardia is a very popular ailment to get from stream water. If you can’t get water you know is clean, there are filters. Also one of the best ways to purify water is to boil it, but know this consumes valuable fuel, even more fuel at higher elevations. (Water is one of the hardest substances to heat and cool known.) This is a call that is dependent on the hike itself. It’s better to have too much than too little. Never good to have none.

The canteen is not the only method of carrying water. There are bottles and other containers, even containers that allow you to drink from them while hiking. There are lots of methods and vessels for this. Type and capacity can be highly individualized.

If you’re going to do more than a day hike, you’ll need a good backpack for each person. There are lots of brands to choose from. —Click on the links for additional information— The good part is that there are lots of good prices to choose from also. For under a hundred dollars you can choose among many good brands. I like the $79 to $129 range. Here seems to be the most durability for the least money. I tried external frame packs first and they were acceptable until I tried one of the internal frame models. Now i really suggest the internal frames. The ones pictured are the Kelty Coyote and Gregory, two similar packs. The frames are highly adjustable and can be shaped to fit your back. (This is one of the reasons why a backpacking trip needs planning first.) Kelty is one of the big names in backpacking equipment and have a lot of lower priced but good gear. Of note is many packs come in men and women’s models, sleeping bags in left and right.

<-------- Lets take a look at sleeping bags. They can be found in many configurations. Notice the "ideal" situation shown here. How many of us are not back sleepers? This makes mummy bags hard to fit, especially the ones with the part that fits around the head. There is no side sleepers bag, plain and simple. I try to mitigate the issue by buying 90+ inch bags. The head cover then becomes more of a nuisance than a help. There's no real happy medium. You will often have the choice of a square bag or a mummy. Square bags can be had for little or nothing. They are usually bulky and inefficient – Better for car camping, if that. Mummys come in all kinds of configurations today. The main items to consider are fit, and temperature rating. When I say fit, I mean if the bag fits you AND does it fit in your backpack. This is important. When you are looking for a bag to buy, you will immediately have trouble finding the rolled up, storage size. Making that mistake cost me a major hike – The bag I bought was a bulky, heavy, square bag, that would not fit into the pack at all, and could not be firmly attached to the backpack. In retrospect, I needed an extra long, mummy bag that could be compressed down to a cylinder of about 16 by 9 inches! That was found in a 40 degree, 90 inch, Alpine Design bag, that comes in left and right handed models. Cost $19.95 on clearance.

There’s always the question of what temperature rating to buy. Part of this issue is solved here by being a warm weather human. I’m just not going to be out there camping in cold conditions. So that makes me able to use sleeping bags with higher temperature ratings and lower prices. I try to stick with the smallest compressed size bag with the lowest temperature rating that is under $100. The need for a long bag sometimes increases the price. Due to there not being much published information on compressed bag sizes, I usually buy from stock on hand. Sometimes, if a bag is found on line or in a catalog, I check the return policy if I cant ascertain the packed down size readily, so if it’s too large rolled up it can be returned easily. Many companies are making longer bags now. Some come in left and right models. Of note is whether to use left or right handed sleeping bags in certain tents due to which direction the front door opens.

Nothing like being caught in the rain with no raincoat after the weather report said this was THE day. So much for that. OK maybe you won’t need a raincoat in the desert. Even there though, you can get rain. So a rainsuit is a good piece of insurance. As with any such piece, you want it to be small and light when rolled up. There are a few that don’t break the budget. Between $20 and $50 you can get a good set. The easiest found are the Coleman and Frogg Toggs suits, with the Toggs coming in at smallest and least expensive. They do have the disadvantage of being more fragile than the Coleman. You can get the Toggs for $29.95 and the Coleman for about$40. Check around. There are lots of other sets.

Backpacking Rain FlyAlong with keeping yourself dry, you want to keep your gear dry. Many companies make backpack rain flys. Look around. These range from about $10 to near the sky. Some manufacturers make them to fit certain packs. I use one that is made to fit and matches the color of my blue Kelty Coyote. Cost about $20.

Your feet are carrying the whole vacation. Take care of them. Having a good hiking boot is essential. There are lots of options. I find Ozark Trails to have the best for the money. I have also used many a good walking work boot that has already been broken in and tested. Depending on where you plan to go and that particular terrain, you might even be able to get away with gym shoes.
The real key is socks. Again I found a cheap way to go on this. I use work socks. They are designed well and priced cheap. Can be purchased in 10 paks. Always carry several pair on any hike just to be sure, AND have an extra pair for that buddy that didn’t think so hard. A blister on the first day is uncivilized.

The first question about a tent is whether or not you want to carry one. Many folks don’t use them. I’m a tent person.
In my opinion the Coleman Peak I Aries tent was the best ever made for backpacking. It is similar to the Stansport tent shown right. These tents are easy to put up, durable, and pack down to a small package. The structure is supported on two poles with the rainfly attaching to the poles and not the tent, resulting in better rain protection. Sizes and packed sizes vary.

Another issue is whether the tent will be truly waterproof. You don’t want a tent that leaks wherever the fly touches the tent. There are a lot of tents that will do this. That’s where doing the dry run will help. See Dry Run section on this.

A major consideration has been whether or not the tent is truly a free standing dome tent. A lot(!) of tents are advertised as free standing dome tents but are in fact not, due to the need to stake down the vestibule. With tents similar to the Stansport and Peak I, the rainfly is attached to the base of the main poles, making it possible to pick up the tent with the rainfly attached. They can still be staked down but this is not necessary. In many places, especially in the Rocky Mountains and Yellowstone, you can’t use stakes everywhere. Why do you think they are called Rocky Mountains. Huh! Stakes don’t do much good in sand either. The types of terrain in places like Canyonlands National Recreation Area are just too soft for stakes to hold. Also notice the D-door. This might cause one to buy a left or right handed sleeping bag. I’ve always stayed under $100 for the tent, usually in the $70 range. This is the one item that has more of a range of styles and prices than any other piece of backpacking gear. Ease of setup and take down is the major consideration with any tent, no matter the price. My recommendations is keep it at the least cost for the quality wanted.

Having a good cook set is important. Again, there are lots of sets but small, light, with the ability to pack down without wasting space is the ticket. Unfortunately many of the stoves are not cheap. One might be able to find one of the
Coleman stoves such as the older 533 pictured here in a surplus store. The few parts are replaceable and available. You can order one of these new from WalMart for about $67. I scrounged an aluminum 16oz bottle with screw cap for extra gas. The 533 uses Coleman fuel, which stays out of stock most places, as well as unleaded gas, which is the most economical and readily available bet. Burn time is about 2 hours. Rating 10,500 btu. The stove is about 8 inches in diameter and height. I have carried it both open inside the pack and inside a plastic can with no problems. Extra fuel packs anywhere. This particular stove is especially good in wind. Their design has a built in windshield. I think it’s the best for the price. You don’t have to be on the trail to use it either.

Again I found Ozark Trails has some of the best cooking gear for the buck. The set you see here have to be ordered though. Takes a week. The type of set purchased should match the kind of cooking/eating to be done on the hike. I use a much smaller set than this. It’s back to the spreadsheet/plan. Some cooking sets also come with eating gear like plates, cups, and utensils. There are a lot of choices in the $20-$40 range. Anything more gets into overkill, and anything less isn’t worth taking a chance on. As always the important issue is packed size – Whichever outfit is chosen must fit inside the pack.

Along with having the right eats on the trail is having that all important piece of equipment – toilet paper. Y’gotta have it. It is not to be left in the woods, so carry a ziplock to hold the used product as well as other waste. It’s also a good idea to keep the toilet paper in a moisture resistant container of some sort, like a ziplock bag. Wet TP is no fun. It has been said that you should take only photos and leave only footprints when backpacking. (Actually there are a few places were you can’t leave footprints – Canyonlands is one of these places. It has cryptogamic soil, a highly fragile topsoil that takes years to replace once disturbed.) Toilet paper is your buddy.

And don’t overlook the ziplock bag. It is one of the more useful pieces of equipment. Take some extras with you.

OK. So let there be light. LEDs rule! Plain and simple. The day of the Coleman Lantern are gone. The day of the big battery light is gone, too. Price of small flashlights: Can be free. There are a zillion kinds of these available. Take your choice. Keep them small and light. Don’t get too happy. Grab some extra batteries just in case. In addition to flashlights there are also LED lanterns, hanging lights, and more.

Bear HangTake a look at the drawing left. The idea is to keep bears as well as other animals out of your food and whatever else you might have. Contrary to some beliefs, bears DO climb trees. All that is needed is a string or small rope that is strong enough to hang a bag big enough to hold whatever you need protecting. You can use your sleeping bag stuff sack for this or carry an extra lightweight bag to fill the bill. In places like Glacier and Yellowstone bears are big(!) and have a long reach, so be sure to put the bag well out of reach. Use a basketball goal height (10 feet) as a minimum height for your goods bag, because some bears CAN reach that far. Racoons are also a consideration because they will carry off things they can’t eat.

The self inflating air mattress is a great invention. The most economical issue is the 2 inch model. Any more is too expensive and any less gives little to no cushion. All you have to do is open the valve and roll it out. It takes a few minutes to inflate, then the valve is closed. To pack it up, just open the valve and roll it up. Thinner yet are sleeping pads. These range from egg crate bulky “foam rubber” to thin water proof foam plastic which can be quite inexpensive. For about $10 you can get a piece of memory foam and cut it to size. The mattress I use is Alpine Design that cost $19.95.

DaypackThis is a handy item if you are setting up “base camp” and doing day, or short, hikes from there. Many of these can be rolled up or otherwise packed inside a larger backpack. I once had a backpack that had an additional, removable, daypack, that could be used as part of the pack. This is an excellent idea but can be bulky. The most popular use of these packs is for school. They come in a near endless variety and price. Some feature bladder space so you can carry liquid and drink without stopping.

The compression bag is an idea that allows you to further compress your sleeping bag after stuffing. The allowable size of the compression bag is determined by the inside dimensions of my back pack, i.e. about 16 inches by about 9 inches in diameter. The bag has to be able to compress its contents down to that size.

Occasionally you will see outfits like the one to the left. Cost of this set is about $160. Careful. You do get what you pay for. Take the tent in this set. It’s small and is not very water resistant. The pack is minimal but not bad. Of issue is if the sleeping bag AND tent can fit inside the backpack and leave room for anything else needed? There is no rain or cooking gear. This will have to be added. So it’s best to look around. An outfit like the one pictured here might be a good starter, and will allow you to see how you will like the sport, without spending a mint.

IMPORTANT: There are certain items that EACH person must have – backpack, raingear, socks, hiking boots. While not on the Must Have list, insect repellent is also a handy item. I like to have my own!

I’m trying to give a range of equipment ideas in a lower echelon of prices. The aforementioned equipment is what can be considered a basic set. You can substitute or delete whatever you want. And there’s plenty of items that can be added. This will get you started.

Sources for each piece vary but a rule of thumb can be to look for clearance, reduced prices, close outs. Near the top of the shopping list, partly due to the fact that they are everywhere, is Wal-Mart. What you don’t see on the shelves can be ordered. Best to look at their offerings online because most of their more desirable backpacking gear is sold there instead of in any of the stores, and can be shipped to stores or directly to you in short order. Academy Sports, Dicks Sporting Goods(Oshmans), Bass Pro Shops, and Cabelas, are other major suppliers. Some folks swear by REI – They are just plain too expensive! I’m not even going to link to them. Depending on where you live you might have local or regional backpacking stores also such as Recreation Outlet in Salt Lake City. I have shopped with both online and in store and they have quite a selection. I don’t use army surplus stores much. The equipment tends to be older and heavier in weight. Same with thrift stores.

This covers a lot of basic necessities and is a one time buy unless you decide to upgrade or change out some equipment. The options for customization are nearly endless.

If you want to find out more, here are some manufacturers:
North Face
And, of course you can get your Ozark Trails gear through these suppliers:
Ozark Trail Tents
Ozark Trails at Amazon
Ozark Trails at Wal-Mart

Backpacking – Part 3 – Eats

First on the “Food” list is not really food at all but crucial to its production and consumption. One of the most important things to have is WATER. It is better to have too much than too little. When you plan your experience, know where to get it and how you want to use it. Water is an essential ingredient to being able to be in the outdoors comfortably, period.

Before we go any further with food, lets get it straight about food safety. Any food has to be packed, carried, and consumed with the environment in mind. One part of the environment of great concern is animals that will appropriate your food as theirs or, worse yet, see you as part of the menu. Small animals are also of concern, too. Racoons can be a real nuisance. Some animals can pick up smells from miles away. Heed the instructions in the equipment section and how to set up your campsite for maximum safety of both your food and you. Take all trash with you. The National Park Service has a saying: “Take only pictures. Leave only footprints”.

Having enough to eat on the trail is essential. On a hike or backpacking trip you will use more energy than normal, whatever “normal” is. “Normal” is different for each person and you will have to establish what your intake is in order to estimate how much food you will need to make a successful hike.

OatmealOatmeal PackOne of the best foods to carry is oatmeal. If you have a taste for it – Not everybody does – It is an easy fix, packs well, and is very inexpensive, sometimes just plain cheap. The “instant” varieties are easy to use and come in their own packages(although these tend to be very small and several must be used to make a good meal), in many flavors and combinations. If you are into doing it yourself, oatmeal is an easy fix. One can used dried fruit and package the combo as desired, making the servings whatever size you want. It can be easily packaged in ziplock bags. Don’t forget the grit, either.

A handy device to have is a dehydrator. They can be found at many stores, as well as thrift shops, and are not expensive. These can be used to make jerky, dried fruit, dried fish. One of the best fruits to dry is apples. Bananas also lend themselves to ease of drying.

JerkyOK. Jerky! One of the best methods used to have meat on the trail is jerky. It can be purchased but tends to be expensive. For the price of several packages of this, one can buy a dehydrator. Making jerky in a dehydrator is straightforward. Instructions usually come with an new machine or can be found on the internet. Know that jerky can be made from many kinds of meat. Fish can also be dried. You get dried fish, though, not jerky. Each has its own method. Spam is another meat option. It’s can crushes down easily for the trash bag. Tuna and salmon in a bag are both winners.

Instant potatoes and pancake mix are also good and very inexpensive. If you can stand the taste of powdered milk, regulation cereal n milk become a reality. The legendary granola bar is still a good choice and another relatively inexpensive option.

Drinks: The most efficient route here is powdered, instant, drinks, and there are a ton of choices. For coffee and tea drinkers, the choices are many, too, with both these being compact and lightweight.

Peanut ButterCrackersTo me peanut butter is one of man’s greatest inventions, out there on the same level with ice cream and stereo. On the trail, it is one of the best. It’s a high fat/high calorie substance: There are 94 calories in 1 tablespoon of Peanut Butter. The breakdown is 72% fat, 12% carbs, 16% protein per tablespoon! It’s easy to carry, usually coming off the shelf in plastic containers ready for your backpack. The one drawback is that it is very dense and heavy. It does pay for that in the amount of energy it gives and the fact that it is relatively compact. Peanut butter partners up well with crackers.

One of the best resources ideas for eats on the backpack trip is Wild Backpacker

Backpacking – Part 4 – Dry run

Lets set up the gear.

For the most part you only buy a full outfit one time. From then on you only replace and or repair equipment. Not much will be added. Almost nothing deleted. Plenty will be upgraded and/or customized if you a serious backpacker. That’s why it’s better to buy economically instead of cheaply or extravagantly at first.

Whether you are new to backpacking or a veteran, it’s always good to do a dry run before ever going into the outdoors. If you have a new outfit, it’ll need unpacking and the garbage that comes with it disposed. With an older outfit, now’s the time to do maintenance, upgrades.

The backpack is the carry-all, of course, so lets start there. You want to make that function as comfortable as possible due to the weight it has to carry. Today’s packs have adjustments that help with that. This is where I prefer internal frame packs. Units like the Kelty Coyote shown left have metal inserts inside rear of the pack that can be removed and shaped to fit the curvature of your back. This is one of the first things I do. Coupled with strap adjustments the load can then be distributed comfortably. This is a major adjustment and must be made several times to get it right. First with the pack empty, then after loading. This is repeated, eventually getting to that point where you are comfortable with full load. Weight will be distributed if the pack is adjusted correctly. It looks like a lot of straps and adjustments at first, but once you start, the process begins to make more sense and becomes easier.If you have a new pack, try it on, make any and all adjustments you want. This way you can see how each part works and customize your own fit. Start with the empty pack.

This is where having at least two people on a trip makes real sense. With two backpacks (and day packs), more food and gear can be carried, hopefully, increasing the enjoyment of the experience. For instance the tent can be separated from the food, both being dense and relatively heavy, with one person carrying one or the other. More food and fuel can be carried this way. With a dry run you can decide who carries what.

The next piece that needs practice before live use is the tent. A good tent is one that is easy to put up and take down, keeps you dry, and comfortable. Some of the coolest looking tents are the most difficult to work with.

<-----Here's, what might be, the most simple, least expensive, option in a tent. These can pack down small and are easy to put up and take down. They tend not to be real good in wind and rain but can work. There was a time when this was the king of tents.

Here are a few different tents for your scrutiny. Click on the image for a larger view.

Notice the tents above. Most of them are advertised as free standing tents. Beware this label. All the tents above need to be staked down. A true free standing tent does not. The Speedy is a free standing unit but does not break down into a form that can fit into a backpack at all.

My personal favorites are those similar to the Coleman Peak I Aries.This tent used a third pole instead of having a vestibule, making it able to be truly free standing. The size was 7′ x 6′ with 4′ in the center. It’s rolled up size is about 9″ by 16″. It can fit cross-ways in the bottom of the Coyote pack – A big plus.

One of the designs I try to avoid is a dome where the poles are run through sleeves. These can be difficult to thread in cold and/or wet weather, making the tent much harder to put up. I’ve had to make camp in the rain. Can be fun if you know your gear. Object is not to get wet and keep the rest of your gear dry even while putting up the tent.

A hallmark of a good tent is whether it can be put up and taken down easily. This is where the dry run can make or break a piece of equipment. During a test run you can return it and get another. Out in the trail, this is not an option.

I like to test a tent in the rain. If there are no rainy days available, use a garden hose. Put the tent up and leave it for a few days, especially if there is rain in the forecast. See where, or if, it leaks. Take it down and put it back up. See how easy or hard this is after it’s rained on, left in the elements. A new tent is more difficult to work with than after it’s “broken in”.

Once you have put the tent up in good weather, “in your back yard”, you can see how it fits what you want to do. Leave it up. Break out the rest of your gear. Set up the camp just like you would have it in the backcountry. Even fix yourself a meal. Then break camp – disassemble everything and pack it up, into the backpack. This is THE test. Everything must be able to fit inside, or attach, to the backpack.

I like to put the tent in the very bottom of the pack because of its weight and density. This is why the size limitation on how big the tent is when its rolled up and bagged. Next comes the stove and food. Again the heavier items go toward the bottom of the pack. From here one can feel more freedom in what to pack next.

One rule of finger is to put the rain gear in an outside pocket for easy accessibility. Same with bear spray, if needed. For battery powered equipment a supply of batteries is a good outside pocket item.

If you have chosen to carry water or other liquids inside your pack, be sure the container is leak resistant. Take extra care with the fuel supply bottle(s).

Other items such as camping all-in-one tools, flashlight, fishing rod, can be attached to the outside of the pack itself. Also I usually attach my self inflating air mattress and ground cloth to the bottom of the pack. Most packs come with external bottom straps for this. Some come with these straps on top also. I tend to stay away from being top heavy, though.

Once you are all packed up, it’s time to readjust the pack if needed. Most of the time this will be needed, especially with a brand new backpack. I adjust mine before each hike and there are always adjustments needed. Then its off to have a walk with your rig. Take a walk in a park or wherever to get the feel of the unit. Then have another round of adjustments, if needed. Repeat this process until you get the desired comfort.

If you are going to use a day pack, plan the contents of that also and do a dry run with that too. The day pack is handy to use if your hike is one where you set up camp each day and hike back and forth to and from that camp – the base camp. The other scenario is where you are hiking straight through and the campsites are for all night rest stops but no hiking done using these as base camps. One uses a day pack while the other does not. On a straight thru hike, meals are prepared on the trail and once camp is made, for the night. In a base camp scenario the meals are prepared at the campsite and packed into the day pack.