The Basics:

The Basics: Backpacking 101

Backpacking is a lot fun if you know what you’re doing. You’ll gain advanced skills and know-how over time, but it’s best to have a basic understanding of what you’re getting into beforehand.

With that said, let’s go over a few pieces of backpacking gear and the skills you’ll need to stay safe.

Good Boots

It all starts with good boots. Go to your local outdoor store and have them fit you for the right boot. Boots come in a variety of price ranges, from the inexpensive to the tricked out high tops only the richest hiker could afford.

There are plenty of quality mid-range boots, though. I’ve easily put hundreds of miles on my $85 Hi-Tec boots. They’re broken in to the max, and I have no intention of buying new boots any time soon.

A lot of long distance hikers prefer lightweight shoes in place of bulky boots. Your call, really.

Tip: If you experience any sort of regular foot pain on the trail, I recommend trying a pair of Dr. Scholl’s inserts. I did just that, and it made a huge difference.

A Good Backpack

The second most important backpacking item after boots is a quality backpack. Don’t skimp here. You can spend a lot of money on packs, but like boots, a mid-range pack is perfectly acceptable.

It seems like there’s a million packs to choose from these days, and it can be a frustrating experience finding the right one for you. Size should probably be your biggest consideration. What kind of backpacker are you? A lightweight minimalist able to do more with less, or a “bring it all” type? (Hint: If possible, aim to be a minimalist.)

When it’s time to purchase your pack, don’t risk the online buy unless you’ve been to the store, know your measurements (very important!), and have tried on packs. Only then would it be OK to buy a pack online, especially if you found a killer deal.

I have an Osprey Aether 60, and I’m pretty stoked with it so far. I used to have a Gregory Z65, but over time, I started finding things about it I didn’t like. Choosing a pack is ultimately about personal preference.

Tip: Learn how to property pack your pack. It makes a huge difference.

Maps & Compass

Having a map is one thing. Having a map and knowing how to read it is another. Your map is worthless if you can’t identify symbols, contours, and features.

I can’t stress this enough: know how to use your compass! It takes practice, but once you get the hang of it, a compass is an extremely valuable tool.

GPS units are a good investment, as well. The thing is, a compass and a map do not run out of batteries.

Tip: Many outdoor stores offer map and compass lessons. It’s worth your time and money as a backpacker to sign up.

I check my map often. Especially when I can't see 5 feet in front of me. Fogged in, Sequoia National Park.

I don’t want to bombard you with too much information right away. So next time we’ll talk about tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, food, route planning, and anything else you can think of.

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