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May 2001

Make The Big Jump

Are you a dayhiker who's ready for an all-nighter? A weekender longing to try a 5-day trek? Or are you ready for a thru-hike? Regardless of your skill level, here's the information you'll need to go that extra mile.

From Dayhiker to Overnighter
Spending your first night camped deep in the woods can be a daunting proposition, what with all the gear to wrangle, the food, map, and hygiene questions, and the carnivorous beasts licking their chops at the edge of camp. But don’t fret. With the tips that follow, you’ll stay dry, well fed, well rested, And you won’t get eaten. We hope.

Gear Tips

Overnight pack:
An internal frame model with a capacity of 2,500 to 3,200 cubic inches, or almost any external frame pack >>>>> $100 and up

Shelter and Ground cloth:

A basic, three-season tent with a waterproof rainfly; the weight is about 3 pounds per person. Use an old shower curtain liner or a scrap of Tyvek house wrap for a ground cloth >>>>> $125 and up

Sleeping bag:
Down or synthetic fill, semirectangular or mummy with a hood, rated to at least 3ºF and weighing less than 4 pounds >>>>> $90 and up

A lightweight backpacking stove to reduce your impact on the land and ensure quick, hassle-free meals >>>>> $25 and up

“Must haves” include waterproof rainwear (a jacket with a hood is best, but a poncho will do), synthetic long underwear, and synthetic or wool hat, gloves, and sweater. Avoid cotton! >>>>> $150 and up

Where To Camp

Keep your tent, kitchen, and hygiene areas separated so strange smells don’t attract nocturnal visitors to your shelter. Camp 200 feet away from water and trails to reduce impact.

The Mental Game

Beginners can boost their confidence by remembering these two rules:

  1. Everybody gets worn out, so don’t feel like a failure if you can hardly lift a spoon by day’s end. Still, you can prepare your shoulders, back, and legs for the rigors ahead with some pretrip exercises (see “Survival Of The Fittest,” for suggestions).

  2. Everybody forgets something. Part of the fun of backpacking is improvising or learning to do without.

Staying Hydrated

Water weighs 2 pounds per quart, so you’ll want to carry only enough to get you to the next source. Here’s how to manage your liquid assets.

  • Check maps and guidebooks and consult rangers about water availability.

  • Drink half a quart of water an hour, or twice that if you’re sweating profusely. Tank up as soon as you get into camp.
  • Never drink untreated water! Choose your method:

Method Advantages Drawbacks
Bring to a rolling boil
(kills all natural cooties)
  • foolproof
  • efficient when already boiling water for hot drinks or meals
  • uses a lot of fuel
  • hot water is not refreshing
  • inconvenient in midhike
  • “flat” taste
Iodine tablets or solution
(kills bacteria, viruses, and protozoa, except Cryptosporidium)
  • lightweight
  • easy to use
  • inexpensive ($5 treats up to 50 quarts)
  • 20- to 30-minute delay before drinking
  • not safe for pregnant woman
  • leaves an aftertaste
Chlorine dioxide drops
(kills bacteria)
  • lightweight
  • inexpensive ($10 to $15)
  • inoffensive aftertaste, if any
  • 20- to 30-minute delay before drinking
  • requires counting many drops if treating several bottles
Water Filter
(an absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller screens out natural nasties. Carbon removes chemicals and bad tastes, and iodine adds virus protection)
  • after treating, no delay before drinking
  • removes dirt, water tastes clean
  • heavy
  • eventually clogs and requires maintenance or cartridge replacement
  • expensive (up to $200)
  • Sample menu
    for one person
    Breakfast: 1 1/2 cups of granola and a handful of dried fruit topped with 1 cup of reconstituted milk, plus 1 cup of hot chocolate.

    Snack 1: Three handfuls of dried-fruit-and-nut trail mix (see “The Great Gorp Contest” for recipe suggestions)

    Lunch: A bagel with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, 2 strips of jerky, a handful of dried fruit, and a 5-ounce chocolate bar

    Snack 2: A granola bar

    Dinner: 6 ounces of linguine mixed with half a can of chicken and topped with a sauce, 1 tortilla topped with grated cheese, 5 cookies, and 1 cup of hot chocolate or tea

    How To Poop In The Woods

    New campers have been known to “hold it” for an entire weekend, but that’s neither comfortable nor healthy. Here’s how to relieve the burden.

    1. Urinate as far from trails, campsites, and fragile plant life as possible.

    2. Use outhouses or designated pit toilets where they exist. Otherwise, dig a “cathole” 4 to 6 inches across and 4 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water sources, trails, and campsites. Make a deposit, then cover it with soil.
    3. Double-bag and pack out TP and feminine-hygiene products.
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