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February 2001

Organize Your Backpacking Trip

Meet Jamie and Joe, who need help with everything from planning to packing to eating well. Enter our team of experts, with a few simple tricks designed to turn them-and you!-into well-oiled backpacking machines.

arrowDilemma 1
Finding The Time

Jamie and Joe put off trip planning until the last minute, largely because their itinerant lifestyle scatters their gear between storage units and friends’ basements. In addition, neither gets enough vacation time for leisurely exploration of the many trails near their Grand Teton National Park home.

“When we get a few days off, we’re rushing to make the most of them,” explains Jamie. “Things like tracing a route on the map fall through the cracks when you spend too much time searching for missing water bottles.”

Joe and Jamie typically spent too many hours packing, then hiked late into the night to reach camp, often getting lost in the process.

Expert Advice
Julie Morgenstern, author of Organizing from

the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Home, Your Office, and Your Life.

“If you can organize one thing, you can organize anything,” Morgenstern says of the couple’s proven ability to juggle multiple job demands. “Rather than thinking of your scattered possessions as an endless maze of boxes and bins, think in terms of closets’ that happen to be sprawled across Jackson, Wyoming.” The key “is to take as much thinking and remembering out of the packing process as possible.”

  • Don’t think “storage,” think “retrieval.” The goal is to create easy, quick, hassle-free access to everything you need. Think carefully about each piece of gear’s function and how often you’ll need it, then store it accordingly, putting the oft-needed items readily at hand. For example, don’t pack your only tent beneath the telemark boots you use twice a year. Keep the tent at hand and those ski boots packed away.

  • Store all your backpacking gear in one place. Don’t bury long underwear in a box with your winter sweaters; keep it with your pack and stove so it’ll be handy for midsummer trips to the mountains. Morgenstern recommends using clearly labeled, see-through plastic bins that keep items clean, dry, and accessible.
  • Inventory your backpacking gear and post a master list on the door of your gear closet (see Options A and B). “When you don’t see your stuff all the time,” cautions Morgenstern, “you tend to forget what you have and where it is. That wastes time and money when it comes to packing.”

Option A: Closet

  • Hook to hang backpack

  • Bin labeled “clothing”
  • Bin labeled “miscellaneous” for the little things you take on every trip, like a flashlight, toilet paper, toiletries, and a knife
  • Bin containing only winter gear: wool mittens, balaclava, etc.
  • Bin containing cookware, stove, and fuel
  • Unrolled self-inflating sleeping pad, with valve open, across the side or top of the closet
  • Sleeping bag hanging from ceiling in a big, breathable sack
  • Air-tight tin containing nonperishable food
  • Laminated gear list and erasable marker on the door

Option B: Bins

  • Don’t have a spare closet? Buy three large plastic bins and label them “cooking/food/toiletries,” “sleeping,” and “clothing.” Store them somewhere that’s dry and safe from mice. Then, you’re three steps ahead when it’s time to pack.

Mark the calendar, then divide and conquer

  • Pick a date, mark it on the calendar, and plan around it just like you would a wedding. No matter how spontaneous you are, spur-of-the-moment trips rarely come together.

  • Divvy up tasks among hiking partners. One can collect travel facts and maps, another the gear.
  • Avoid the “last minute” trap. Create a false deadline a week or two in advance of the trip and take it seriously. Sticking to this due date will prompt the adrenaline rush of last-minute pressure, but then actually allow you a cushion of time in case you run into glitches.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel for every trip. Keep maps and other trail information in a file. To make the job even simpler, use the meal planner at the end of this article and our online gear lists.

End Result

“We took Morgenstern’s advice to heart and it worked wonders,” raves Joe, who inventoried and numbered all their boxes of stored gear, while Jamie typed a master list on the computer. Now they don’t waste time and money searching for “lost” gear and buying replacements. “Setting a false deadline 1 week in advance of our trips has also been great for us,” Joe adds, “because now we see holes sooner and aren’t running around like a chicken with its head cut off.”

Money-saving tip: Make a storage sack by folding a bedsheet in half and sewing two sides closed. Store your sleeping bag, unstuffed and unrolled, in this sack between trips to keep the insulation from compressing.

Time-saving tip: Use the template below to create a trip planning/packing checklist. Fill out one for each trip, customizing it to your own needs. Save the checklists for future reference.

Time-saving tip: There’s nothing like opening your food container to find well-fed moths. Put bay leaves, found in the spice aisle at grocery stores, in the food container to keep bugs away.

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