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Backpacking Basics

Take these 21 trail tips to heart, and you're virtually guaranteed a good hike.

1. Planning
Be stunned by the beautiful vista, not an uncrossable river. An hour of guidebook research and a phone call to the rangers can make all your surprises happy ones.

  • Choose a destination within driving distance, so you can reschedule if bad weather threatens.
  • Stick to well-marked routes with easy terrain, established campsites, and plentiful water.
  • Plan on hiking no more than 5 to 7 miles a day.
  • Learn when the bugs are biting, if you need permits, what weather to expect, and where you can find a post-trip beer.
  • Let someone at home know your plans, and stick to your route so you’ll be easy to find if necessary.

[Resource] The Basic Essentials of Backpacking, by Harry Roberts ($8)

2. Gear
Thanks to today’s lightweight equipment, a backpack loaded with all your weekend supplies should weigh less than 35 pounds.

  • Rent a tent. Many outfitters rent shelter, packs, and other gear. It cuts initial costs and lets you experiment before buying.
  • Pamper your feet. Prevent blisters and other foot woes by getting lightweight boots that are slightly larger than your street shoes and matching them with wool hiking socks.
  • Pare your threads. Pack clothes for a 24-hour period, on trail and in camp, and wear the same stuff all weekend. Throw in extra socks to keep your feet happy.
  • Cook like a pro. Get a lightweight canister stove and one or two standard fuel canisters for a long weekend.
  • Sleep like a baby. Bed down on a sleeping pad that’s 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches thick, and with dimensions that don’t leave your limbs dangling off the sides. Likewise your bag should match your frame–try it in the store–and should be rated at least 10°F warmer than the temperatures you expect.
  • Go a little luxe. It’s not a monastery out there. Sneak a luxury item into your pack: a deck of cards, a Lexan bottle of vino, a good book, or camera gear.
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