Head for the Mountains - Backpacking Basics
Intimidated by the idea of carrying your entire life through the woods? With some simple backpacking basics, you'll be blazing down the trail in no time at all. Backpacking is a uniquely rewarding sport. There's the physical aspect: a hard trudge up to a mountain pass with 40 pounds on your back can test even the fittest athlete. While that's certainly a big part of the allure for many avid hikers, the real sense of accomplishment comes from getting away from the comforts of modern life, even if only for a few days. Cooking, cleaning, and sleeping in the great outdoors will give you and your kids a new feeling of appreciation for the creature comforts of home.
That said, even beginning hikers can quickly learn some backpacking basics that will serve them well as they scramble up mountains and stride through valleys. Here are some quick backpacking tips to get you started.
Keep it Light
This is the cardinal rule of all backpacking basics, and it should be your main consideration when both purchasing and packing equipment and gear. Serious hikers have been known to cut their toothbrush in half to save the extra few grams. While that's a bit extreme, think about it this way: a few ounces doesn't sound like much, multiply that over a couple of hundred miles, and you'll quickly see the pounds start to drastically add up.
Perhaps you're just getting started backpacking today. If that's the case, you actually have a leg up on the backpacking veterans, because the gear that has surfaced in the past ten years is a heck of a lot better (and lighter!) than what you may have used back in the Scouts. New materials and design have turned your old bulky sleeping bag into an efficient, compact package that might weigh less than two pounds. Head to your local outdoors store or browse the Internet (including this site of course!) to see what's available.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
We're not talking about the environment here (though we fully support this principle!). Instead, apply the same principles to your backpacking equipment. Maybe you're thinking about taking a frisbee along for those moments of down-time. Congratulations! You no longer need a plate! Or the hiking poles that take stress off your knees (especially when carrying a heavy load). Those can be used to set up a tarp to protect from the rain. Most of the stuff you carry can serve a dual (or triple) purpose. Get creative and you'll quickly watch both the weight and size of your pack shrivel.
Long Smiles Make Short Miles
While weight is surely important, attitude takes the cake when you're getting started backpacking. Making sure your kids are happy on the trail will save you a ton of headache. The backcountry doesn't allow you to simply switch on a video game system (yet) and when they DO come out with that solar-charged Nintendo DS, will you REALLY want your kids to bring it along?
Fill the kids in on the difficulty of hiking and why it's enjoyable to challenge yourself in life. This sense of accomplishment will likely override any complaints, and they'll soon be sprinting down the trail, waiting for you to catch up. Another quick piece of backpacking advice: a bit of chocolate goes a long way to keeping everyone relaxed and happy.
Keep Your Trail Selection Reasonable
Your first backpacking trip doesn't have to be an epic journey. Instead, start off with a short one night trip. If you've never slept in a tent, you'd be wise to car camp for your first adventure. That will get everyone in the family used to the rigors of living in the outdoors. After you have a couple of short daytime backpacking trips behind you, graduate to an overnight trip and then to more nights. This also has a lot to do with building endurance; the longer you're out in the woods, the more food (and equipment and clothing) you have to carry. Remember that lighter is pretty much always better.
These are just some of the backpacking basics that you'll need to put you on the right track to mastering the sport. Don't forget that backpacking is supposed to be fun. Even on those grueling uphill climbs that never seem to end, if you keep a smile on your face, you're sure to enjoy the trip. And remember: suffering a bit without the modern comforts we've become accustomed to just makes us appreciate them that much more when we get back into civilization.
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