by Anna Fletcher
Whether you’re going on a weekend trip or backpacking down the AT for a month, these tips will help make life a little easier out on the trail!
1. Practice Setting Up and Breaking Down Camp. Take everything out to the backyard and do a test run on all your gear before you leave. This will not only re-familiarize you with everything; it will allow you to inspect your gear for dead batteries, rips in your sleeping bag, and dull knife blades and make sure everything is working properly. Pitch your tent or hang up your hammock and tarp. Unroll your sleeping pad and sleeping bag, try out your headlamp batteries, light your stove, and set up other gear where you would like it to be at your site. Then pack everything up. Doing this once when it’s light and then again when it’s dark will prepare you for set up/break down at any time, day or night.
2. Do Some Research. Study up on the area that you’re going to. Learn the climate, elevation, types of wildlife, and where the water is. Familiarize yourself with the trail markers and make sure that you find out whether you need a permit or not.
3. Don’t Neglect Your Feet! Don’t scrimp on your shoes and socks. Fork out some extra cash for solid, waterproof shoes with good traction. Get wool socks of varying thickness and bring plenty of moleskin or duct tape for any blisters you may get, and bring along Gold Bond or baby powder if it’s going to be wet. Nothing is worse than hiking up a mountain on pruny, sore feet. If the weather is warm, you can get away with bringing just a pair of Tevas or Chacos. No need to clunk around on heavy hiking boots if you don’t have to.
4. Zip Lock EVERYTHING. Whether you got caught in an unexpected downpour or accidentally dropped your pack into the river, your food and clothes are guaranteed to be safe if you zip lock the heck out of everything in your pack. The best thing about zip lock bags is that they are reusable, so go crazy with ‘em! You’ll thank yourself later.
5. Avoid Cotton At All Costs. Cotton is ideal for lounging around on hot summer days, but it is not backpacking-friendly material. When it gets wet, its air pockets fill up with water. These air pockets provide no insulation. Instead, they act like a sponge, absorbing any sweat you put off. Unlike materials such as polyester, cotton does not wick. Good wicking material will move moisture away from your skin and up to the outer layers of the garment, leaving the fabric that touches your skin dry. Cotton is super absorbent and dries fairly slowly, so stick to synthetic materials when going out on the trails.
6. Always Carry a Small Sewing Kit. Have a needle and thread handy in case you pop a button, and pack some extra buttons and safety pins. A repaired pants button is so much better than a makeshift bungee cord belt.
7. Leave Your Pillow at Home. Instead of lugging around your pillow and letting it take up unnecessary space, use your sleeping bag stuff sack as a pillowcase! Stuff it with jackets, clothes, or even leaves, pull the string tight, and you’ve got yourself a comfortable makeshift pillow.
8. Be Conscientious About the Food You Bring. Packing tortillas between 2 plates will keep them from breaking apart, and putting a paper towel between each one will keep them from sticking. Dehydrating fruit is a great way to have fresh fruit on the trail. Take along hard cheeses, like sharp cheddar, because these can go without refrigeration. And don’t forget your ridiculously large bag of trail mix. Bring along long plastic spoons (like the ones from Dairy Queen) – they’re best for reaching all the way into freeze-dried meal packets and foil pouches – and back-up chopsticks if the spoon breaks.
9. Warm Tomorrow’s Clothes While You Sleep. At high elevations, mornings can be pretty cold even during the summertime. Tuck tomorrow’s clothes into your sleeping back before you crawl in, and you’ll have awesomely toasty clothes to put on when you wake up!