Hiking and Backpacking Tips
These are general backpacking tips, but many of them apply more to high alpine mountain environments (my personal favorite), which tend to be colder with more variable weather.
Backpacking isn't complicated; in fact, I've always figured its simplicity is what makes it so attractive. But the wilderness has a way of painfully emphasizing the little details about gear and planning that seem so trivial at home. So consider these basic backpacking tips as a starting point or a reminder.
For all the backpacking tips you could ever want, study books like Colin Fletcher's The Complete Walker IV. For mountainous travel, also consider The Mountaineer's Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills. It's scope goes well beyond backpacking tips and into climbing, a naturally related activity.
Tips on Clothing For Backpacking
- Do not wear cotton clothing; instead wear clothing made of various synthetic materials.
- Several light, loose fitting clothing layers are more effective than one heavy article of clothing.
- A time-tested, proven 3-season layering system consists of a synthetic shirt, pile/fleece jacket, and wind/rain shell (ideally GoreTex).
- An uncovered head accounts for the majority of body heat loss -- always pack a warm hat.
- Use thin, synthetic or silk gloves for quick warmth without sacrificing dexterity.
- To save energy and move faster on snow-free terrain, consider wearing trail running or hiking shoes (instead of hiking boots).
- Always take rain gear into mountain backcountry
Miscellaneous Gear Tips
- If you plan to do a lot of day hiking from basecamps, take a dedicated, comfortable daypack large enough to hold the 10 Essentials
- You can't go wrong using a modern internal frame pack (versus an external frame).
- Take a rain pack cover.
- The mummy-style sleeping bag is ideal for backpacking; in general, a bag with 2 lbs of down or 2.5-3 lbs of synthetic fill will work for 3-season hiking season (spring, summer, fall)
- A firm, thin, lightweight insulating ground pad is as important for warmth as the sleeping bag.
- A reliable 3-season tent is virtually a necessity in the high, mountainous alpine regions. Use for protection from storms and mosquitoes.
- There is no economy (or safety) in using cheaply-made gear; obtain trustworthy advice, then buy gear from specialty outdoor stores.
Miscellaneous Backpacking Tips
- Every person on every trip should carry a compact personal first-aid kit.
- A headlamp is more useful than a handheld flashlight -- invaluable for use around camp and for pre-dawn starts or unplanned routefinding after dark.
- Sunburn occurs many times more rapidly at high elevations; always take lipbalm and sunscreen
- June - August take insect repellent or go mad!
- Lighters are much more reliable than matches. Use for starting stoves, and carefully, thoroughly burning toilet paper.
- For washing hands and face, take individually wrapped baby wipes -- more convenient than soap.
- Campfires are a thing of the past in alpine areas; bring a lightweight, reliable backpacking stove; they're quicker, easier, environmentally friendly, odor-free, and flexible.
- When in doubt, take an extra fuel bottle (cold temperatures require more fuel, and cooking time increases with elevation).
- You can cook and eat almost anything using only a pot, spoon, drinking cup and measuring cup.
- Instead of soap, consider using rubbing alcohol to sanitize dinnerware, or wave briefly through stove flame. For cooked-on food, leave the pot to soak, or take a small scrubber.
Backpacking Food, Water
- Food is important psychologically as well as physiologically -- bring food you like.
- To save money over freeze-dried food, visit your plain-old grocery store where you'll find plenty of quick-cook (10 minutes or less, such as various pastas/rice) or no-cook foods.
- Save hassles in camp, and possibly running out of something, by measuring, compacting, and re-packaging food before packing.
- You can't drink too much water; the best rule is to drink often.
- Pack about 1 ½ to 2 pounds per person per day, or 3000 to 4000 calories, for typical mountain trekking.
- Rest often for 5-7 minutes, and you'll reduce lactic acid buildup (sore muscles) drastically.
- On steep terrain at higher altitudes, use the "rest-step" technique: before the next step up, rest for a moment on your rear leg, with locked knee, and take in a deep breath or two.
- If you encounter packhorses, step to the downhill side of the trail.
- A closed tent can be 10 to 15 degrees higher than the outside temperature.
- Sudden nocturnal rainstorms are more likely to happen if you're sleeping under the stars (Murphy's Law). Have a tent pre-pitched, ready to dive into.
- To avoid mosquitoes, don't camp near swampy, wet areas.
And the #1 Backpacking Tip ... Be Prepared!
- Always take with you the 10 Essentials, which always includes extra food, and clothing for any possible weather
- The enjoyment of any wilderness trip is largely dependent on your physical conditioning.
- Before your trip: fire up your stove, check flashlight batteries, double check everything using a gear checklist.
Please realize the above list of hiking / backpacking tips isn't meant to be comprehensive. It's just a miscellaneous collection of tips based on my past experiences on backpacking trips.
For the ultimate in backpacking tips, I once again highly recommend the book The Complete Walker IV. It is the "Bible" of backpacking and hiking, better than any other print book you'll find on the subject.