Backpacking Essentials: Trailhead Tips

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Now you have all the equipment and food you need, and you are ready to go. I will skip over how to get to the trailhead, though it will probably be by car as public transportation these days is all too rare. (Some people call the trailhead the roadhead or the roadend. Whatever it is called, it is where you start walking.).

If you are going to elevations above about 5,000 feet, you should try to time your trip so that you sleep the first night at the trailhead, or near it. Up there, where the air is thinner, your blood makes adjustments so that it can continue to supply enough oxygen to your body, but making these adjustments takes time. If you drive from near sea level to 8,000 feet and immediately start walking, you are asking for trouble.

If you sleep by your car, you can have all sorts of luxuries there. You can have a huge polyurethane pad to sleep on, or even a folding camp bed. You can have a gasoline or propane lantern and a large stove. You can have whatever clothes suit your fancy. You can eat heavy, gourmet foods, and you can use all the pots and utensils you want to. All this is again true if you should sleep at the car after walking out of the wilderness, rather than driving home immediately. So take advantage of the fact that carrying an extra 100 pounds is a lot less tiring for your car than it would be for you.

In a large clothes bag I put the clothes and boots I will put on when I leave the car in the morning, as well as books, a swimsuit, and other things I may want to use while I’m with the car. This bag also contains clean clothes to drive home in. While I’m hiking, it contains things that are useless in the wilderness, like a wallet and coins. I carry just one quarter in case I need to make a phone call after an emergency exit.

Before leaving the car, put everything valuable out of sight and double-check that you have locked all the doors and windows.

Fig 7-1 Contents of author’s clothes bag: hat, boots, hiking shorts, socks, underwear, credit cards, shirt, book, swimsuit.

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