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Backpacking Basics

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

3. Food
Fine dining is simply a matter of smart menu planning: Use quick-cooking ingredients from your pantry and do prep work at home.

  • Write out a menu for the whole trip, and don’t put off shopping until the last moment. Here’s a sample menu for two people on a 3-day trip. 2 breakfasts: 4 packs of instant oatmeal; cold cereal with powdered milk 3 lunches: turkey sandwiches; PB and J; salami and cheese on a bagel
    2 dinners: angel hair pasta with pesto sauce and sliced red peppers; burritos made from dehydrated beans, tortillas, cheese, and salsa
    Snacks: Trail mix, dried fruit, energy bars, chocolate, and cookies

  • At home, repackage food and spices, leaving behind bulky, heavy containers.
  • Experiment with freeze-dried. Dehydrated food is fast, easy, and better than you think. Our favorites: Enertia Trail Foods ( and Mary Janes Farm (
  • Leave beer behind, but don’t forsake other liquid vices. Bring your favorite dark roast and a lightweight filter for breakfast, plus an after-dinner something to toast your successful adventure.
[Resource] More Backcountry Cooking, by Dorcas S. Miller ($17)

4. Fitness
If you can hike for a few hours, you can backpack for a weekend. But a little training will make the second day feel as good as the first.

  • Hike yourself into shape: The best way to train for any sport is to do it. Carry a full pack on your routine dayhikes–it’s also a great way to test your gear.
  • Master the mountains: There’s a reason hikers flock to alpine country. It’s beautiful up there. Strengthen your hill-climbing muscles (quads, hamstrings, and calves) with regular workouts on a stairclimber.

5. Skills
Don’t get caught with your pants down and no shovel. Learn how to dig a cathole and other essential skills, like pitching your tent and lighting your stove.

  • Read the directions. Ignore the neighbors and give your gear a test run in the backyard: Pitch your tent, light your stove, use your water filter.
  • Lose the bathroom anxiety. Never gone anywhere without modern plumbing? Don’t fret. Pooping in the outdoors is as natural as walking, and many backcountry campsites have outhouses.
  • Learn good manners. Think of camping like being a guest in someone else’s house: Don’t mess it up. Camp on bare ground or rock, don’t do dishes in the creek, and leave plants and animals alone. For more tips, go to
  • Find yourself. You’ll never get lost if you stay attuned to your surroundings from the beginning. Locate yourself on a map, then stay oriented as you hike.
[Resource] Camping & Wilderness Survival, by Paul Tawrell ($25)

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