Backpacking Essentials: Getting Started

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The other day I asked a friend why he had never gone backpacking. “I’d like to,” he said, “but I wouldn’t know what to do.”

This guide will tell you how to make the first trip. Once you have done that, you will probably do a lot more backpacking on your own.

Backpacking is a way to go anywhere, any time. With your “house” on your back, you can stop when and where you like. You can spend your entire life backpacking—if money is no problem—pausing only to buy more food and, once in a while, new boots. Backpacking is the cheapest way to travel in the wilder ness, and almost the only way. Some people will go in on horses, but in recent years their numbers have not grown, while the number of backpackers has grown considerably.

Why? People have more leisure time, of course. New high ways have made wilderness areas much nearer in driving time. Lightweight, durable backpacking equipment is widely available, and dehydrated and freeze-dried foods have been developed. But the main reason is that city life has begun to drive us crazy. People need to spend some time where it is utterly uncrowded and quiet, where they can renew their perspective on life. To get to such a place, you have to walk.

Another reason for the growing popularity of backpacking is that it is the cheapest, least polluting, and least energy-using form of recreation. In an age when oil supplies may be cut off at any time or may become terribly expensive, backpacking becomes especially attractive.

Exactly what do you need in order to go backpacking? All you really need is the desire to do it. If you have that, nothing else is essential. Some books say you need two feet, but I have seen amputees in the wilderness with their children. Some books say you need a warm sleeping bag, but John Muir, the back packer’s saint, never carried one. He didn’t even carry a blanket. Some books say you need a sturdy, lightweight pack, but I have seen people miles from their automobile carrying everything they needed in two suitcases.

Despite my great affection for people like that, I am in favor of sufficient, comfortable equipment. In the next sections I will recommend the equipment and the clothing. But what I’m saying here is, if you want to get away from city life into some unspoiled country for a few days, you can.

Chances are you have already gone camping. Then you know how beautiful and how quiet the outdoors can be. Unfortunately, you also know how littered and ruined some campgrounds are, and how much noise fifty cars arriving in camp around 11 P.M. can make. When you were camping, you probably took a short walk away from the roads and the cars. You began to think about what it might be like to spend all night away from your car. Would I, you wondered, be able to make it? Could I build a fire, even in the rain? Could I fall asleep on the ground? What if a big animal came by in the night? And could I find my way back out?

It is only human to fear the unfamiliar, to worry about doing anything for the first time. Yet the most dangerous part of a back packing trip is the drive to the trailhead! Wild animals give humans a very wide berth; you should be so lucky as to see a mountain lion. The only real dangers are getting lost, getting over- chilled and having a bad fall, and you can avoid these if you use simple caution and common sense.

This guide will tell you the how-to of backpacking: what equipment you need, and what techniques of wilderness camping you should learn. It will describe the most restful way to walk and it will prepare you for possible emergencies. It will do this simply. The most important word for the backpacker—if not for every one—is “simplify.” Therefore, this guide will leave out various detailed directions and instructions that some people might like to see included, but it won’t leave out anything you really need to know.

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