BACKPACKING TIPS by J Olesen 1997
There are lots of tips to consider when going backpacking. Rather than repeating the usual ones (take a wilderness first aid class, break in your boots in advance, remember the ten essentials etc.) over again, these are *my* tips, that has made a difference for *me*. I do not claim to have invented them all, far from, but here they appear in the form that *I* have discovered most important or useful. There are many approaches to the concept of backpacking, all opinions, your mileage may vary, take care out there etc., but this is *my* contribution. I have tried to fit the tips into categories, but there are some overlaps still. If you have any questions or comments feel free to mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- GOING LIGHT
*Do not bring more clothes than you can wear at once (except for change of socks and underwear, camp shoes, sun hat etc.), and match this configuration to the coldest conditions you expect. If it gets colder than expected, get into your sleeping bag when in camp (while on the move you should not have trouble staying warm). *If you think cutting the toothbrush in half is a little radical, buy a children's toothbrush. It is lighter and more compact, and the one I have also changes color when you touch it :-) *A play of cards or a small magnetic board game weights far less than a novel and will not convert into dead weight when you reach the last page. *Go for multiple functions in the gear you bring *When you have packed, wheight the pack and decide for an amount to make it lighter - such as 5% or one kilo. Remove enough of the least important items to reach your goal, and leave them at home. This maneuver gets your priorities straight. Repeat if nessecary. *Always use your stove windscreen, it saves fuel both by reducing both convective and radiated heat loss to the surroundings. Also plan your stove use, so you run the stove as few times as possible, and as short time as posible. *Wind desired amounts of duct tape, sewing thread and similar items onto small pieces of cardboard - this solution saves weight and packs flat, while allowing you to bring excactly what you deem nessecary for field repairs.
*Do not save weight on the pack itself if it means the slightest compromise in carrying comfort - it is not worth it unless your other equipment is aready *seriously* light *Instead of a full size Therm-a-Rest, get a full length Ridge Rest and a 3/4 length T-a-R Ultralite II. Together, they match the ordinary T-a-R in performance but has a higher combined R-value (insulation) and weights a lot less. In fact, you can even add a Ultralite chair kit and still be lighter off - and when snow camping you can still place your feet on the Ridge Rest while sitting in the chair (unlike with a single pad in a chair kit, where your feet goes directly on the cold groundsheet or snow). And when going lighter yet, bring only one of the pads - that is three pads in one, at about the same price. *It is true what you hear, Capilene actually *is* best (wicking, quick drying, odor resistant). Helly Hansen's Lifa is second, lacking some in odor resistance. *Three ply Gore-Tex dries faster. Nuff said. *Avoid cotton because it is slower drying, less abration resistant, less comfortable, weights more and smells easier than the best syntethic alternatives. *A two-AA headlamp (possibly with lithium batteries for low weight and long duration) is the most versatile small light source available, followed by a Mini Maglite with headband. *Immediately replace the pegs of a new tent with real pegs - Helsport (Norway) is the sole manufacturer I have so far encountered who supplies real stakes with each tent. The original aluminium crap could be saved to stab the person responsible for their inclusion :-) *Bring running shoes as camp shoes. They are fairly light, but the real value lies in the fact that they can be used instead of your hiking boots for a day of hiking if you have gotten yourself som seriously bad blisters - even in fairly technical terrain, though it takes some care abour where and how to step. Sandals will only make the blisters even worse. *Don't be afraid to make minor modifications to you gear, such as making better zipper tabs, sewing a clothesline into your tent or even adding pit zips to your fleece jacket. Just because the manufacturer thinks the product is perfect in all respects, you do not nessecarily agree. Just remember to do your work well, and wait untill you are sure that the modification will actually improve the product (if irreversible), and that you do not have to return it for some reason (it might be rejected if it is modified, even if it has no connection to whatever caused you to return it). *Dryloft (and similars, such as Drilite) is great for down products *Polartec Powerstretch is a wonderful material for light- to midweight fleece clothing and heavyweight underwear - stretchy, wicking, wind, water and odor resistant, soft to touch *If foolproofness and easy care is higher on your list of stove priorities than high performance, nothing even comes close to Trangia. Apart from washing the pots it almost maintenance free, and has absolutely no frills at all, its main (only?) drawback being slow and low performance compared to white gas and similar stoves, especially in cold weather. Winter, kerosene and buthane/propane burners are available, though compromizing the simpleness somewhat. *For three season use in rainy areas, outher-pitch-first tent designs are vastly superior to inner first ones. Not only does the inner tent remain dry during setup, but when put up alone the flysheet makes a great lunch shelter. *Pants with crotch gusset are more comfortable, but most importantly they last much longer due to reduced stress on the inseam and surrounding fabric.
*If you bring a SLR camera, do not forget a polarizing filter and a NG2 graduated filter, and some sort of tripod - anything from an Ultrapod and upwards. Compared to the weight of SLR and lens(es) this added weight seems a worthwhile investment, considering the improvment it brings to the pictures (and you can get yourself on the pictures, too). Also bring lots of film - the weight and price is small compared to the rest of your gear, and the best way to better pictures is taking more pictures (provided you are still equally careful about each picture). *Wilderness photography is a good way to enhance your backpacking experience, provided you care for photography. The nessecary stuff weights a lot (2-6kg depending on your preferences) but it gives you pictures to remember each trip by, and most important of all, your sense for scenic details is sharpened when you are on the look for great shots, making you enjoy the setting even more. *The best book covering this topic is The Backpacker's Photography Handbook by Charles Cambell (AMPHOTO 1994). It is a very inspering book with lots of recommendations on equipment and techniques ready to use, or adaptable to suit any particular situation. Though the nessecary theoretical stuff is covered, emphasis is on how-to and what-to. There is a lot to learn from it both for beginners and experienced (it is true!), mostly in the field of photography but also some on backpacking. If you want to take better pictures of the wilderness this is where to look for advice and inspiration, no matter if you just carry an SLR with one lens, or if you are a semi-pro photographer lugging 15 kg of equipment around on top of your pack.
- USEFUL ITEMS
*Instead of carrying two water bottles, I replaced one of them with a 10l Ortlieb collapsible water container. It seems a lot but it only weights as much as the one litre bottle it replaced, and it means that you only have to go for water once if it's a long way. And furthermore, with an additional shower attachment it makes a nice solar shower. The other bottle is used to fill the Ortlieb, to drink from (that is a bit cumbersome with the Ortlieb itself) and together with an insulated bottle holster it saves fuel because I only have to boil water once to get hot drinks all day or night. *Use a ski pole or walking staff to ease the up's and down's of the trail - it really works! *An old CD (or better yet, an old-release CD-ROM which is to be thrown out anyway) is lightwight and will do as both frisbee for fun and signaling mirror for emergencies. When throwing it, however, take care that it is not carried far away by the wind - it is absolutey not biodegradable (CD's are claimed to be unharmed for at least 100 years). *When shopping for a compression stuffsack, look for one that can be used as an improvised daypack - you will appreciate it some day, when you want to bag a peak on a layover day but did not bring a daypack since this was not included in your plans. This solution allows you to carry far more gear than top pocket/fanny pack convertibles. *A silk liner bag may seem an unnessecary luxury, but if you own a down bag it will reduce the need for the extremely cumbersome process of washing your sleeping bag. *A small hacksaw blade weights a few grams and is far more useful than the saw blade in pocket knives. Wind a bit electrical tape around one end as a handle. *Be sure to get a pack raincover. Not only does it keep everything in- and outside your pack dry No Matter The Weather (tm), in camp you can leave your pack outside the tent taking only the nessecary items inside, thus saving valuable tent space for eg. cooking or an extra occupant *Choose your raingear and pack cover in highly visible colours such as red or yellow, even if you do not deem them fashionable. Safety is more important than fashion, and such colours help groups stay together in foul weather when visibility is lower and makes you easier found in an emergency. In nice weather you can choose as subdued colours as you like.
*15 minutes into the day's hike, take a small break to adjust clothing, bootlaces etc. - it pays off later. *If you want to bake on your stove, but forgot your Outback Oven at home, this works fine (assuming you have two pots that fit inside each other): Place three small pepples on the bottom of the larger pot. Put the dough inside the smaller pot (remember to apply some oil or butter it if it is not non-stick) and place it on the pepples in the larger pot, filling the gap between the pots with water. Make the water boil and adjust the stove to simmer it for the rest of the baking time, and turn the bread upside-down when half of the time has elapsed. Make sure not to boil off all the water, although the pepples will prevent direct contact between the pots in the bottom. At least for breakfast, the bread will serve about one person per 0,5 litre size, which means that a typical 1,5l+2l cookset will serve three (as you bake in the smaller pot). *To add a little to the experience of backpacking with others in small groups (4-8 persons) it is a good idea for everyone to bring a surprise (or two or three, if nessesary to fill out all evenings of the trip) for one evening. It may be a dessert, a handful of freeze dried pi¤a coladas, a poetry book, a quiz game or anything, the only rule being that it must be enjoyable for everyone on the trip. *Pack your food in one-day rations before the trip. This ensures that some items are not used up prematurely and provides a check on that you have enough of all (I once ran out of freeze-dried food two thirds into a trip, resulting in three days with only rice and pasta for lunch and dinner), and the ration bags can be used as thrash bags when the content is eaten. *If yout tent has one of those "three-way" openings with two zips, mount the front stakes either to the left or to the right of both zips. This way it is just a matter of which zipper to open to get either the end opening for easy entry, or the side opening for weather protection. *Always set up all guy lines on your tent before you go to sleep - that is a lot easier than having to get out in the middle of the night to fix it, should the wind rise during the night. *If the available map over an area you wish to travel is a large folded one, have A4 colour photocopies made of the relevant parts of the map, and have these laminated. This gives a very durable and handy map and eliminates the need for a map case. Bring the original map as reserve and to enable a larger overview of the area. As for copyright considerations, I think it is acceptable since you bought the map anyway and it is only for your own private use (just like software). *Instead of bringing a guidebook, write down all the relevant passages from the guidebook, and bring these notes. You eliminate the weight of the book and may even memorize most of the information during the process.
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