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Backpacker Magazine – August 2008

25 Habits of Highly Effective Hikers

Guarantee yourself a great adventure– every time–by adopting these proven routines for planning and pulling off the perfect trip.

by: Michael Lanza, Illustrations by Colin Hayes

Some people just have more fun. They get out every weekend, enjoy extraordinary summer adventures, and they make it all seem so easy. Their secret? They've made backpacking routine. And you can, too. Just develop the right habits–the ones that help you plan early, stay in shape, pack efficiently, and eliminate those annoying hurdles that get in the way of a good time. Here's how.

Fortune–and permit regulations–favor the prepared. Start early to prevent the chronic lament: "Maybe I'll hike Yosemite next year."

>> The best adventures rarely happen spontaneously–you make them happen. Set aside time–when you take the kids to the library, instead of watching reruns–for research. Bookmark websites, dog-ear guidebook pages, clip out magazine stories. Someone tells you about a secret lake? Write it down.

>> Plan the details months in advance. For summer adventures, get things dialed in the dead of winter–or by March 1 at the latest, when many coveted permit slots and campsites open up. Line up companions, commit to dates, and schedule your vacation time. >> Going to a popular destination? Put a reminder about permit application dates on your calendar a week early so you'll remember to submit the form on the first day possible. (For info on 30 national parks, visit

Challenging conditions can test the best of friendships. To improve group dynamics:

>> Plan well in advance so you have time to find the best companions.

>> Communicate the details and difficulties of your proposed trip to prospective partners. Meet with them to go over guidebooks, articles,, and Google Earth pages.

>> Agree on training goals for demanding hikes.

>> Ask potential companions about prior trips. When things went wrong, what was the problem? If their former partner is always to blame, keep searching. 

>> New partner? Take a short shakedown trip to determine "tent compatibility"–that is, will you kill each other if stuck inside for hours on a stormy day?


"I never seem to make it out the door." Do you say that too often? Stay ready all the time to avoid uttering those nine awful words ever again.

>> Identify five destinations within an hour of home for dayhikes and overnights. Make a folder on each that includes maps, driving directions, and notes on campsites.

>> Make sure your gear is organized in one place (a big plastic bin in the garage, say). Organize, clean, and repair gear within a day of returning from one trip so it's prepped for the next. Refill fuel bottles, too.

>> Keep camp foods–dry goods like pasta and rice, fixings for a simple dinner and breakfast, and perishables like cheese–on hand so you can take off on short notice. Keep bulk cocoa, nuts, and jerky in your bin.

>> Set hiking dates with friends or family so you hold each other to it.


>> Make sure you wear boots that are appropriate for the terrain and load. Unnecessarily heavy and stiff boots will cause fatigue, while shoes with flimsy support can create sore feet. For hiking with moderate loads, get a midweight, midheight boot with moderate forefoot flex and torsional rigidity.

>> Break in boots on dayhikes and errands. Even lightweight shoes need some time to loosen up.

>> Use a foot lubricant like Hydropel or Bodyglide to eliminate friction, or a powder like Gold Bond, BlisterShield, or Zeasorb to keep feet drier.

>> Tape hot spots preemptively.

>> Before long uphills, lace boots snugly below the midfoot (use a double overhand if your boots don't have locking laces there) and looser around your ankles. For long descents, tighten laces back up around your ankles.

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Nov 12, 2012

@ Don: I too have a lot of equipment but zero experience. Not for lack of desire, but for lack of opportunity ... I'm having a hard time finding anyone willing to mentor a 60 year old guy on his first overnight. Nonetheless, I've had "the conversation" with my wife and will be taking a late fall 1st hike in the next couple of weeks. Just a one or two nighter ... but enough to get my feet wet and tell me which of this equipment is overkill and which of it is essential to life and limb. I've got $1,000 on my back but not a single mile under my boots ($350 Italian hiking boots that fit like they grew there.)

Diane Rivera
Jan 03, 2009

The storms moved in Fast! Gore Tex or not, if you are out there long enough, the rain will wick from your boots and socks up to your neckline. You are soaked from head to foot. Walking for 8 hours plus, all we could do was to keep moving to stay warm until you reach a place to change into the extra cloths we had tucked away. Having some woolclothing never hurts. Check the weather carefully! It was an amazing trip all told!
Love these wise words from experiences.

Jan 01, 2009

Regarding managing slow hikers. On my last trip there was no trail and I was a bit wet (last time I wear that rain jacket) and in danger of becoming cold as it was a bit windy. We had a slow hiker so I stayed behind him with someone out ahead. I maintained myself at his slow pace without stopping by doing very wide zig-zags.

Oct 06, 2008

Good set of info. My wife and I climbed St. Regis Mtn (ADK) on Saturday to get a good view of the canoe area during peak color (gorgeous btw). We were well prepared with food, water and proper gear. There had to be a dozen or so "hikers" that climbed in tee shirts and sneaks with just a bottle of water. As some of the nearby high peaks were already white and the wind was whipping, they lasted about 2 minutes on the very exposed summit.

Sep 20, 2008

A good way of keeping your gear dry inside your rucksack is to use a survival bag as a lining , I put in the survival bag folded over and pack my gear into that leaving enough over the top of the rucksack to bunch together and tie up with an elastic band to seal it but allow easy access , and if some how your pack ends up in a river or lake it should float with the trapped air aswell as keep your gear dry for you after your swim to get it back .

Sep 19, 2008

Try before you Buy if Possible. Read Reviews. Try gear close to home or the trailhead. (So called Gore tex water proof pants were no good after 90 minutes of a rain hike. Would have been a disaster in Higher altitudes). Try new products or gimmicks car camping so you have a backup, Example: Sterno fuel as a stove. Works but very slowly. Coffee can Stove - Workes very good and light weight. Figured out slight modification to air holes for better burn.
A bandana has many uses. Check out website for wilderness exchange in Berkeley CA 100 uses

Sep 19, 2008

Why worry about taking extra batteries? I've been using crank lights (including lanterns) and radios for years. If you have a toy that's absolutely not available in a crank model, or you just can;t find the right crank adapter to power it, then use rechargables and carry a solar recharger outside your pack when on the trail.

Joe White
Sep 11, 2008

I have a few miles under my blisters and I would like to add one thing, priorities are not always the same, they change with the conditions. Day hiking or overnighting, have adequate shelter or the ability to improvise it. Shelter is a priority when exposure threatens hypothermia. Always carry water and food, and always have a quart of water as a safety measure, unless you are next to water all the time.

Chainsaw James
Sep 07, 2008

Just get out there and Hike.....

Lisa S.
Sep 05, 2008

The slowest hiker in front does not work if she does not know how to pace herself. On a resent trip while climbing a peak, I being the new and slower hiker was in the lead. I kept tiring and was getting very fatigued. My friend who was a much stronger hiker took the lead without saying a word. She set a much slower pace and kept an eye on me so that we took short breaks. From that point on the hike became much more enjoyable and I was able to make it to the top.

Sep 01, 2008

Two points:
One you missed learning about weather signs and keeping an eye on conditions. Too often I have seen inexperienced hikers setting out into slot canyons with dusk nearing or a storm up canyon. They think if it is not raining here, then no flood will worry them!

Second, I think you missed a point on the "right partner" suggestion: the lead or follow decision. Choosing where to place he more experienced hiker can be a critical decision, depending on terrain, trailmarking, etc. When there is no clear trail to folow, I blaze as the better navigator. When the trail is obvious I sweep to let my slower partner set the pace and ensure everyone stays safe, it is easier to reach a hurt comrade catching up then coming back.

Adam, Seattle, WA
Aug 29, 2008

It was a delight to read this article. Many of the ideas presented here made me smile; yep, I had to find them out for myself mostly through pain, sweat, thirst, hunger, and exhaustion... Thank you for spreading the love/wisdom.

Aug 29, 2008

Hey Todd, you're definitely on point. Not sure where you were hiking last weekend. If you were in the western part of the state you should come back now. What a difference a week and 10 inches (or so) of rain makes!!!

Aug 29, 2008

No matter where you are, water(like shelter if you plan to overnight) is your priority. Less food and more water should be amongst the top 3 or 5 things you carry. While water is heavy, I drink ALOT before I go as the best place to carry water is inside of you. While it is heavy, it is worth every drop. Dried food-Rice, pasta, jerky, nuts, can go along ways if even meager amounts are carried..I dont mean a grain or two. Also, know your hiking partners strengths and weaknesses as well as your own...They could negatively impact your hike or trip.

Don L. Johnson
Aug 28, 2008

As usual, your preaching to the choir. Nothing here for the rank amateur who has been a subscriber for several years and has bought nearly every "Editors Choice" thingy but has yet to take his first overnight.

Aug 28, 2008

This is the kind of stuff you learn after you get experienced at the sport, and here it is available for us right now in a concise list.

After many years of backpacking on the Colorado Rockies, I can tell you this is good information.

Aug 28, 2008

very wise basic information for anyone planning on a hike.

Aug 28, 2008

It's so easy to tell us to get the pack weight down, and then recommend extra batteries, clothes etc. This article was all common sense, or contradictory. Nothing new.

Aug 28, 2008

two of the habits had to do with water management (not carrying so much)...make sure you know the current conditions which can be dramaticaly different on two sides of the same mountain. Last weekend we began with 2L each and ran out 3/4 through the day because of the heat and because all of the mid day water sources were dried up and the source 3/4 mile from camp was 1/10 the size of normal. Depending on your area, plan for failed water sources. Water is not normaly a problem in North Carolina but we were in trouble that day.

Christos Petreas
Aug 28, 2008

Very useful article - Bravo!


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