|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
Backpacker Magazine – January 2014
A crash course in beginner backpacking.
St. Charles, IL
This avid dayhiker ached to try backpacking, but didn’t know where to start.
Learn key beginner skills and upgrade gear to get the family out overnight
Bear safety. Navigation. Cooking. When Podl, 41, set out to plan his family’s first backpacking trip, his concerns pretty much covered the range of core backpacking skills. The Podls enjoyed hiking together on national park vacations, and Mark felt his three children—11 to 15 years old—were ready for a bigger adventure. But being in charge of his family’s comfort and safety made all of those other first-time jitters even more stressful.
In order to get the Podls off on the right foot, Editor-in-Chief Dennis Lewon joined Mark, his wife, Shani, and their son Zach on an overnight hike in the Indian Peaks Wilderness near BACKPACKER’s office in Boulder, Colorado. The plan: Give the Podls a custom run-through of basic skills in preparation for the family’s midsummer backpacking trip in Yellowstone National Park.
Keep your route short. Most hikers who have never carried a fully loaded multiday pack will go much slower than they expect, and you’ll want extra time to make adjustments on the trail. Expect to hike about a mile an hour, even if you usually go faster on dayhikes. Choose moderate terrain (avoid radical elevation change), and plan on hiking no more than 5 or so miles per day.
Novice navigator? Stay on track:
1. Locate yourself on the map when you start, and check it often so you always know where you are (see page 53).
2. Stay on marked trails until you’re confident in your skills.
3. Track how fast you’re moving; adjust your plan as needed.
4. Learn how to match terrain on the map to the features you see on the ground (find tips at backpacker.com/readtopo). Find a high vantage point and use your surroundings to practice.
5. Identify land features that serve as “handrails” (like rivers and ridges), and use them to stay oriented.
Store Your Food
Two solutions: Hang your food in a bear bag* (where allowed), or stow it in a bear canister (best option, but it adds weight and bulk). To hang, use a good branch—sturdy, about 12 feet high, free of understory obstructions, and 200 feet from camp. We like bear canisters, however, because they’re hassle-free and
reliable—and you’ll never get stuck searching for a suitable branch after dark.
Master Camp Cooking
Keep it simple: stable canister stove, one pot, easy menu. Packaged rice and pasta dishes are cheap and easy to prepare. Or get dehydrated camp meals that cook in the bag with boiling water. (Turn the page for more advanced tips.)
In Yellowstone, the Podls backpacked to Heart Lake. “We got what we were looking for: total serenity and quiet,” says Mark. “The campsite had a great view of the lake and Mt. Sheridan. No one else was around except for a CDT thru-hiker.” The only catch? The 9.5-mile (one-way) route was long for first-timers, and 11-year-old Courtney had sore ankles. Mark shaved miles from their trip itinerary to let her rest. In other respects, it was a complete success.
Mark’s advice for other first-timers:
START SLOWLY. “Try a one- or two-night trip to keep your load light, and be sure you get a great spot to enjoy the experience.”
Be READY for rain. “No matter what the forecast says."
Gear up wisely. “Don’t worry about having really cool equipment. Get some used stuff before you make an investment to be sure you get what you really need.”
PREP KIDS FOR BEDTIME. “Make your kids pee before getting into their PJs and sleeping bag!”