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Backpacker Magazine – June 2011

Summer Camping Secrets: Avoid Crowds, Hit the Trail Faster

With a little pre-planning you can hit the trail and beat the crowds all summer long.

by: Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

1. Start at sunrise You’ll find empty trails—and also boost your chances of seeing animals, which are typically more active at dawn and dusk.
2. Venture farther The majority of dayhikers stop within the first few miles of a trail, guaranteeing solitude for those willing to work for it.
3. Hike at night Busy trails empty out after sunset, so avoid conga lines and see the park in a whole new way—by the glow of moon and stars. Four key tips for walking in the dark:
>> Choose trails that are wide and free of low-hanging branches or roots that could trip you up. Ask rangers for their recommendations.
>> Time your hike to coincide with a full moon. This summer, they occur on June 15, July 15, and August 13. Some parks, such as Bryce Canyon (p. 96), even offer free, guided full-moon hikes.
>> Instead of turning on your headlamp, wait about 30 minutes in the dark before setting out, to let your eyes fully adjust to low light. 
>> If you need to read a trail sign or check your map, use the red light on your headlamp (many models now come with this) to preserve night vision. White light obliterates it.

>> Organize your gear into tubs. “I sort everything into clear plastic bins labeled according to use (summer, winter, tents, first aid, survival, etc.), so I can find it all quickly,” says Tim Kish, backpacking-school director at the Colorado Mountain Club’s Denver chapter.
>> Stock up on backpacking meals and fuel canisters. This way, you can grab and go on a Friday afternoon without a detour to the store.
>> Clean and prep gear as soon as you return from a trip.  Wash clothes, air-dry tents, and make repairs so everything’s ready for the next outing.

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Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Jun 21, 2013

When you explore where others don't, STAY ORIENTED because sometimes getting lost can be easier than staying found and that's what makes short hikes the most dangerous. No matter how well they know the trail, many people never consider that they might end up unexpectedly spending the night outdoors or waiting for medical help --and so they hike without the essentials. Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon) teaches essential day-hiking skills, items to pack, how to navigate your way with and without a map or compass, and how to get rescued. Learn to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. A compass doesn't need a signal or batteries and works in all types of weather, day or night, but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. This book is for all ages. Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon) is a fast, easy read that will definitely make your hike more safe and enjoyable!

Donald N . Wright
Jul 04, 2012

Our Venturing Crew leader had us up at five am and on the trail at six am every morning at Philmont. Usually arrive at next campsite in early afternoon, before it got warm.

Edwin in Alabama
Jul 04, 2012

You need to check your calenders again for the moon cycles. Mine says Full is July 3, August 2 and 31.

Jul 03, 2012

Depending on where you camp you might want to consider wearing some snake boots and / or snake leggings if you are going to be in the woods at night. There are some species of poisonous snakes that move around and hunt for their food at night. Just saying....

Mike Snodgrass
Jul 23, 2011

Taking a night hike and returning to camp is good fun and good experience for time you might have to do in case of an ermergency. Walking sticks are good to use for added stability.

Jul 22, 2011

While I enjoy night hiking under a full moon (and coincidentally, I inadvertently spent most of last night hiking 2 1/2 hours down a trail due to my companion getting sick and needing to get back to civilization), I agree that it's dangerous to hike in cougar/bear country at night as it increases the chances of coming up on something unawares before you see it. My advice, be mindful of where you are and what you're likely to encounter, know a little bit about the more dangerous wildlife you might come across (like, knowing that mountain lions are nocturnal!) so you can be informed about your timing. And yes, even on a wide trail, roots and rocks can trip you up, even more likely in the dark. That said, informed mindfulness, preparation, good timing and the right place can make for a great night hiking experience.

Jul 22, 2011

Don't think hiking at night is good advice in mountain lion/bear country. Both are primarily nocturnal animals, and if your visibility is impaired, you are reducing your chances of avoiding an accidental encounter.

Also, even wide trails have depressions and rocks that can trip people up, so I wouldn't recommend night-hiking if you are far away from help. Enough people get hurt in broad daylight because of a misstep -- again, decreased visibility increases the likelihood of a problem.


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