The Little Things
As with many things your time spent backpacking in the woods will be made more enjoyable by paying attention to the small stuff. Sure your pack is epic, your tent is bulletproof and your stove is basically a Mr. Fusion that runs on banana-peels and wishful thinking but for some reason all you can think about is why the hell your foot hurts so much. Read these backpacking tips before you go out (again) and you'll probably have a better time of it.
I'm not overstating things when I say that anything that has a negative impact on your feet will make the most memorable part of your adventure the constant pain that you suffered through. Instead of “finding yourself” in the wilderness or creating a bond with your hiking partner you'll wind up just wishing you were sitting in your car wearing your flip-flops and laying unnecessary blame on your new least favorite footwear manufacturer. You need to prevent blisters.
- Shoes – This may go without saying but make sure that your shoes fit well. Not too loose but certainly not at all tight. Pay attention to if you really need boots or if trail running shoes will work. In a lot of cases waterproofing and ankle support add less value than you think and can cause discomfort.
- Socks – Socks are literally your first line of defense against blisters. Too tight and the friction will cause blisters, too wet and the skin will become soft and cause blisters. Check out our post on hiking socks and make sure you're not taking them for granted. Dollar for dollar this is probably the most impactful choice that you can make for hiking gear.
- Moleskin – Your emergency solution to a problem you can't solve in the middle of the woods. These little wonders are basically low friction band-aids that you place over the spots on your feet that are developing issues. You'll want to check your feet on a regular basis as you may really feel the issue wearing boots until it's too late.
It's impressive how easily cotton slips into your pack. Socks, underwear, shirts, none of them should be cotton. They will dry slowly and will not wick moisture away from your skin. This impacts you regardless of if it is warm or cold. When it's cold and you're layering it could actually lead to a dangerous situation because wet cotton won't provide warmth. When it's hot you'll just be super annoyed at the fact that your clothes are soaked in sweat that doesn't seem to want to dry.
Keep your Pack Light
You probably don't need a hatchet, you certainly don't need the collected works of Aristotle and you need to really consider if bringing that extra bag of dried mangos is worth it. Weight is basically newbie mistake #1 when it comes to backingpacking. What makes sense when you're day hiking or planning may make a lot less sense when you're 10 miles into a 15 mile walk. REI has entire classes dedicated to the art of lightweight backpacking.
Know The Basics
These are hiking/backpacking 101 but it's easy to take some of it for granted.
- Starting Fires – You'll want a stove to cook with but you'll probably be thinking it would be fun to have a camp fire too. Don't just bring a match and hope for the right mix of tinder, kindling and logs to be laying around. I recommend cotton balls coated with vaseline as a great way to get a solid couple minutes of flame to light the big stuff with.
- Bring a compass and a map – This has become the sort of thing that most people will assume you don't really need with your phone or if you're on popular trails. That's pretty true for the most part. The thing is they are really cheap and if something really bad happens you'll want one badly. Just knowing what direction you were heading or where you should intersect with another trail system can save your life, all for like $10.
Know Where Water Is
Ok, in addition to knowing where water is you need to be able to filter it but that's not exactly a small thing. Take a close look at maps, read trail reviews and plan ahead a little. If your bottle is half empty and you see a river, fill it back up. Filling up water bottles makes for an easy excuse to rest and can help make sure you don't run out. Even a little bit of dehydration can cause plenty of discomfort and taking a break never hurt anyone… unless they stopped and gotten eaten by a bear. Thankfully that doesn't happen a lot….