The call of the wild is in the air as crisp temperatures call outdoorsy types onto the trails. What better way to celebrate the season than to Zen out on nature with an overnight backpacking trek?
For newbies and experienced backpackers alike, getting back to basics and planning ahead will save headaches along the trail, says Mike Mijuskovic, an avid backcountry sportsman and backpacking instructor at REI.
Respect the Land
Start smart by familiarizing yourself with the regulations of the public lands and wilderness areas that you are targeting for your trip. Your mission is to minimize your human impact on the land, from waste disposal to campfires, and leave the area undisturbed.
“We’re all in this together, and want to pass on our respect and passion for the land,” Mijuskovic says. “If you pick up a pottery shard, as awesome as that might look on your mantle, it’s way more awesome to leave it for others to enjoy.”
Ensure your trip plan is written on paper and left in several places – your home, with a friend, and in your car. A trip plan will include 4 critical pieces of information in the event rescuers need to be called:
- Who is in your group
- Where you are heading
- What your group will be doing
- When you will return
The 10 Essentials for Fall Backpacking
Key equipment will make or break a fall backpacking trip. Mijuskovic recommends these bare essentials:
- Navigation. A GPS is great, but a compass is better if the GPS battery dies.
- Sun protection. Sunburns happen on a cool fall or winter day, just as easily as in they do in the summer. Slather on the sunscreen.
- Insulation. Pack a base layer, fleece jacket and rain shell for most fall backpacking needs, as well as a beanie and waterproof gloves to protect your head and hands.
- Illumination. Headlamps provide the most freedom of movement, and you won’t have to worry about clenching a flashlight between you teeth.
- First-Aid Supplies. All the basics, plus a product called Quick Clot (quickclot.com), which stops bleeding in seconds.
- Fire. Lighters, waterproof matches, cotton balls to use as a fire starter material. Coglan’s Emergency Tinder can be picked up at REI (https://www.rei.com/product/631077/coghlans-emergency-tinder) along with a lightweight strike igniter as a back-up.
- Repair Kit/Tools. Duct tape (wrap a strip around a golf pencil), zip ties, utility cord and glue (Aqua Seal or other seam sealer) for shoe repair, air mattress repair. Fabric repair tape also will repair almost anything and leaves no residue.
- Nutrition. For an emergency, pack one extra calorie-dense protein bar.
- Hydration. Carry a small lightweight water filter, or water treatment tablets.
- Emergency Shelter – Small lightweight tarp, small poncho, or an emergency bivy sack made out of space blanket material.
When choosing shelter, a lightweight, one-person tent or canopy are simple go-to’s and make setup quick and easy.
Things to consider: Length and peak height of your shelter (do you want to be able to sit up in it, or just sleep?), weight, ease of setup, number of doors, and whether the shelter has a vestibule or storage in the event of wet weather. Always use a tent footprint to protect the floor of your tent and avoid costly rips down the line.
When it comes to snoozing in the great outdoors, sleep systems come in as many shapes and sizes as people’s bodies. From mummy bags to modified mummies, down versus synthetic, top quilting, and bags built for two, the choices run the gamut.
Mijuskovic is a die-hard down fan due to the lighter weight and compressibility, but he warns that down also gets clumped and cold in the event of a soaking rainstorm. For maximum comfort and minimal weight, he also recommends a simple air pad for under your sleeping bag.
Backpackers are Spartan chefs compared with car camping aficionados, because whatever you bring with you, you have to take it out. Bare-bones cooking is the prevailing practice, with basic freeze-dried meals that can be reconstituted with water pretty much the norm.
In terms of equipment, plan to bring:
- Canister Stove
- Fuel – Propane or liquid fuel for extremely high elevations or very low temperatures.
- Cookware – Titanium, aluminum or stainless steel pot and utensils
For more information on backpacking preparedness, REI has a huge library of resources by going to https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/hiking.html#backpacking. REI stores nationwide also offer free backpack fittings to ensure your pack is the right one for your body and for the trip you are planning.