Beginner Trip Planning

8:08 p.m. on August 18, 2008 (EDT)
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Hello everyone, i am the current noob here, i am a noob to backpacking as well. I used to hike a lot when i was younger, 10-12 area, so i never had to worry about what to bring, someone else always had everything! Now, 23, starting to get back into things, and just wanted some expert advice, and recommendations on what to bring/prepare for a 2-3 day trip in the WA backwoods. keep in mind, i am an avid hiker (no packing, or nights out) so i do already have good boots, and em pretty experienced with nasty trail conditions requiring no equipment. I have my pack picked out pretty much already. So far it is a toss up between the REI Quick 45, and the REI Mars 85 pack (big diff in size, i know, but the 45 is an ok size, but then again the mars has awesome padding). I am currently looking at some free standing, vestibule having, mountain hardwear tents, ultralights, like the Helion 2 (i will be doing most all my hikes with a partner). And last, ive been searching for a good, ultralight mummy bag, bout 20 degree area, less than $260 area. And I was looking at (dunno brand) the "mini egg Carton" dense foam style sleeping pads.

But now my real question is food, prep, and clothing. what do most of you bring food wise? And prepping your food, do you only carry dehydrated items? stove? and last, i understand VERY WELL that here in Western WA, the weather is about 75% rain, so im going to need warmer clothing. But can anyone recommend specific brands? Styles? thank you for any and all input! I look forward to hopefully getting to know some of you.

BTW, does anyone know any good trails on Forest Service Road 56? Middlefork Road access area. (besides Goldmeyer Hotsprings) Like a good hidden lake or something.

Almost forgot, i am reading "the Backpacker" by Albert Saijo, its a tad outdated, although there are several things that never change i have learned from reading this. Is there any spectacular books i should look into for these many questions i have? lol.

9:50 p.m. on August 18, 2008 (EDT)
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i forgot to add earlier, i HAVE looked at the FAQ page. but im just trying to get a collective opinion of people who do this as their main hobby/way of life. :)

10:25 p.m. on August 19, 2008 (EDT)
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It isn't so much warmer clothing you will need as it is good rain gear. Also, until you build experience hiking in the rainforests, I would suggest you get a synthetic sleeping bag, not down. After a dozen backpacks or so, as you develop the skills to keep your gear dry, then consider a down bag.

Before you set off on that 3 day backpack, do several short overnights to shake out your gear. There is a lot of advice for newbies available on this site (scan back through the archives), some of it conflicting, some of it from opinionated Old Geezers (who, me, the Old GreyBearded One?), some from new converts who, like all new converts are fanatics about their most recent purchase. So look at it all and apply a huge crystal of salt. And remember, no matter how good the gear looks in the store/website/catalog, at least some of the items won't work for you, even though some of the posters will claim it is the best thing since sliced bread (some of us avoid sliced bread, preferring to slice our own that we have baked ove a campfire - see? different tastes for different folks).

Mainly, get out there and try it out. Stay safe, and leave yourself a bail-out if some of that new, highly recommended gear fails.

9:32 p.m. on August 20, 2008 (EDT)
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As mentioned above, definitely do some overnights to get a better feel for your gear and what you need/don't need. Everyone's a little different, so ultimately you'll have to experiment.

For clothing, in addition to waterproof rainjacket/rainpants, try a few accessories (hat/scarf/gloves) made of water-repellent animal fibers if it's going to be chilly as well as rainy. I'm a big fan of alpaca because it has a low weight-to-warmth ratio and sheds water pretty well. Even if it does get soaked, both alpaca and wool will continue to keep you warm even when wet.

For food, I only carry dehydrated items most of the time; water is heavy and can be added later. But be sure to bring a treat or two to reward yourself on the trail. ;) I always bring my favorite chocolate bar.

I like my Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 tent very much. It's one of the lightest two-person tents, and just fine for most three-season situations.

If you still have doubts about gear, try REI's rental counter and borrow a few different things to test on your overnighters.

Welcome back to backpacking! Have a great time. :)

5:36 p.m. on August 21, 2008 (EDT)
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thank you both. some good info, after reading through this site i kinda feel like cshamrock, i used to pack, and now getting back into it i have no one to hike with lol. but i think that ill be checking out some clubs nearby. i just value this info because i can read product reviews all day long, even go try stuff on, but am still worried i may buy a faulty product, and not find out til im on the trails. smartacus, i like your idea of the one treat thing, is it common for anyone to bring one treat or one item from home that just makes them a little more comfortable when your out in the wild? and Bill S i think i will try your idea of some overnight trips in the back yard. I think if i really made myself only use the supplies i pack, i can get a good starting point for what i need. thanks again, and anyone reading this, keep the info and opinions comin please!

11:11 p.m. on August 21, 2008 (EDT)
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It is kind of old school, but find a copy of The Complete Walker by Colin Fletcher; the latest edition if possible. Fletcher passed away recently, but his book is considered by many to be the Bible of backpacking.

Think of your gear as several systems-clothing, shelter, cooking, navigation, and probably one or two more I've left off. What you need depends on two primary factors-where you are going and when.

Don't buy a pack first. Your pack should be the last thing you buy. Think of it this way-you don't fill up your bags at the checkout counter in the grocery store until you check out, so why shouldn't you do it, figuratively speaking, at REI? How do you know what size pack you need until you know what you are putting into it?

Trailspace, right here,has archives on gear selection and a lot of user reviews of specific gear. Spend some time looking through those to get an idea of what might work for you. There are many other websites on backpacking and hiking. There are sites for specific locales or lightweight backpacking or other specialized interests. Some sites may have generalized gear lists posted for weekend or longer trips.

As far as brands go, the big stores like REI carry various name brands aimed at the average recreational hiker. There are many smaller brands that are only sold online because the sellers are small companies with limited capacity and distribution. Doesn't mean their gear is inferior; in fact it often is superior to what you will find elsewhere, just harder to find.

Don't believe everything you read. Reasonable minds, or often, not so reasonable minds, may differ greatly on what to get. Boots v trail runners, tents v tarps, water filter v tablets or nothing, canister stove v liquid fuel or alcohol stove, Goretex v the latest new fabric, are just a few of the hot topic that generate much discussion.

One special item? I bring everything, but bringing a book is a good idea if you are alone. Most of all, bring some common sense-don't try to do too much at once; enjoy yourself; remember-your trip only means something to you; If you want to prove something to someone else, pick a sport with winners and losers. I have yet to see anyone handing out medals in the parking lot when I get back to my car.

7:35 a.m. on August 24, 2008 (EDT)
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Gear is very much like a car -- some people swear their Mercerdes is the best thing on the road; others (like me!) think you can get by with a Toyota or Mazda. Ultimately, it's the individual user that decides.

I was fortunate to get my feet wet years ago on some 7-9 day hikes in the Sierra Mtns (CA) with some very knowledgeable guys, and one thing (looking back) I learned is that "know how" is not acquired by buying the best gear at REI but rather by spending time on the trail! So if you can find some guys to do a few weekenders in Western WA, that'll prove hugely helpful. It's a great way to sample gear without having to buy or even rent! And you should have some excellent resources for that right in your backyard -- the Cascades.

Some other tips --

*Start with 3-season, weekend trips. Winter camping requires more experience....and can be much less forgiving if you make simple newbie-type mistakes. And I can't think of a single 4+ day trip I've been on in which there wasn't at least one 'issue' that came up along the way -- that's when your experience is needed the most! So think baby steps....

*Speaking of baby steps, beginners will err. Just accept it. Heck, I'm sure the seasoned vets in here still have mishaps! I know I do. All of us could give you stories, either ones we've seen or experienced ourselves. Another reason to keep it simple when starting! Because that's when you're most likely to make a *really costly* mistake.

*Make sure you try out new gear that you've never used before. You'd be surprised how many people will never pitch their tent or start their gas burner until they get to the campsite with 20 minutes of daylight remaining, rain pouring down, etc.

*If you've done hiking a lot, then you know the importance of getting a good fit with the right boots. This is one place where I've learned not to skimp. An inexpensive pair may feel ok at the local Big 5, but strap a 35lb backpack on....and see where things are after 5 days. One thing I learned is that you can get away with not having *great* gear in all sorts of ways....but the quickest way to make a trip miserable is when someone starts getting feet trouble. There may be a great budget shoe out there, but I've not yet encountered one.

*Packs are like shoes -- try before buy! You could get lucky by buying some closeout special online....but my guess is that more times than not, you'll end up with a less than perfect fit.

*The differences between a 45L and 85L is not simply about volume. 45L is really a perfect starting size for weekenders. You might think, "Why not get something bigger to work up to?" Well, many packs above the 70L mark don't pack down smaller loads all that well in terms of fit. And you may not really be able to tell that in the store. So if you buy something up around 85L, I would make darn sure someone who's used the pack a lot can verify whether the bigger pack can firmly carry a smaller load. My suggestion would be to shoot for something in the 45-60L range for a first pack purchase.

*A great example of expensive not always being better is down vs. synthetic in the bag department. Lately, I've been using the Mtn Hardwear Flip bag, and I am blown away they made a very functional 3-season bag that weighs in at only 2 1/2 lbs. And I only paid $72 bucks for it (with discount)! Frankly, I think I like it better than my 3+ season down bag that I paid over 2x more for. There are a lot of recent synthetic bags that pack quite small 'n light...and usually for significantly less than down.

*Different people sleep different....which means there's no one-size-fit all about bags and sleeping pads. I finally ponied up almost a $100 for a Exped XL sleep pad...but that's because I sampled a lot of other pads and figured out that I just couldn't get a good sleep on them. In hindsight, I realize how easy it could have been to drop $75 on a highly-rated Thermarest pad....only to realize that it would have been money wasted in my case. This is where trying to sample gear (when possible) is really key. If you can't sample it on the trail, then at least try to sample it in the store -- a good outdoor retailer should let you 'try on' anything from a tent, to a pack, to a sleeping pad.

Lots else I could say....but I'm sure most of it will be covered far more competently in other forum threads.

9:45 p.m. on August 24, 2008 (EDT)
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Berit has done a very good job of saying in one place what you will read by going through the archives. Another thing to remember about packs is that they are much like your car when you go on a trip-if there is extra room, something will wind up in that space.

This isn't to say, buy the pack first, which I discussed above, but that buying a really huge pack inevitably leads to taking too much "because I have room."

Berit's main point about experience is so true. What you could gain from spending money on a backpacking class could be far more valuable than just walking into a store and buying gear at random because the salesperson thinks it's what you should have.

Example-you could buy the best compass in the store, but if you can't read a map or understand how the compass works, it won't do you a bit of good. An extreme example of this was two hikers who died from exposure on Mt. Rainier next to two full backpacks with everything in them they needed to survive the bad weather. They had shelter, they had clothes, they had a stove and food. What they lacked was the knowledge of how serious their situation was and that it was time to get out their gear as fast as possible and sit out the storm. That kind of knowledge is something you can't buy off the shelf.

12:17 a.m. on August 25, 2008 (EDT)
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Thanks both of you, you do make several good points. I kinda went against what you said however Tom. I thought that by buying a pack prior to my supplies, i would be able to keep myself from carrying too many items that i didnt "need", but rather that I "had room for". I guess i shouldve mentioned from the start that i have dones lots of hiking every year, ive just never been "qualified" as a backpacker. Most hikes were 1-2 miles, and ive just never had real gear. Mostly large, oversized items, that required many breaks along the trail, and dropping several things. I ended up going with a 50l bag, an Osprey brand, ive tried on several now at the local Backpackers Supply and REI, and this one seemd the most comfortable, and a good start. Also, this weekend, there was a sale at the supply store, and i found a good Big Agnes Lost Ranger bag for a reasonable price, along with a Big Anes Seedhouse tent. I got the tent because my current tent weighs about 12lbs, and packaged measures about 36"x9.5", far too big to be carried on my back. I already have an Athena Micro Lite stove i picked up two years ago, although i have never REALLY put it to the "test". I found a Thermarest Prolite 3 for a good deal too. Ive had a foam mattress, but it was in need of down sizing for packing as well. Im not necessarily looking for the best name brand equipment, but moreso something with a good warranty, and strong materials that i feel will hold up to time, and it always seems like what fits this profile, is always name brand or more expensive, but if it will stand the test of time, i think it will be worth it. Boots are something i could really use a reccomendation on. They all look the same, and ive never really bought a good pair of hiking boots, just walmart brands that end up shredding themselves in a month or two. I know im kinda getting scattered here, but im headed out in a bit so i apologize. Ive been reading the Backpackers Field Guide. So far its pretty informative. Learned a few things about light materials i did not understand prior to reading. Ive always just worn cotton fabrics that were heavy and lost their R Value when they got wet. But really thanks everyone for taking the time to give me your 2 cents. I really do appreciate it.

10:48 a.m. on August 25, 2008 (EDT)
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You can't go wrong with Osprey, provided it's a proper fit. My Aether 45 (which is no longer made) is one of my favorite packs, and got me through 2 years worth of grad school hauling 35lbs of books 50 minutes each way on public transport. Still as good as day one.

I think your gear is fine. But as Tom points out, all of that great gear won't hike itself. You have to learn how to use it, when to use it, what to use, etc.

I generally find reviews helpful at pointing out strengths and weaknesses, but not always the best thing to gauge what works for me! Backpacker or Outside Mag might give it all sorts of awards -- a nice start, but that doesn't necessarily mean you should get it.

Most of my hiking has been done in California and British Columbia, and some of the most knowledgeable guys I came across had the least impressive-looking gear.

As far as boots go, I've never seen sub-$100 boots last all that well under heavy trekking. I've been on a number of 8-12 person extended trips through the Sierras, and without question the *most frequently* recurring issue I've seen are all feet-related. Usually, it's people who don't put much thought into it because they under-estimate it's importance. In terms of gear, there may be nothing more important than your feet (assuming of course that you have food, clothing, and shelter taken care of!)

Again, this really depends on your feet. I've seen guys go 8 days with average Nike trail runners....and no problem. But my hunch is that it took a lot of life out of them in the process....because you don't really realize how much extra *stress* 30-40 lbs extra on your back can add to your overall well-being. I think it was my first ever week long trip where I bought some $50 Hi-Tek boots at Big 5....and by the end of the trip (Day 9), the only thing holding parts of them together was duct tape!

I don't know that the REI guys will always have good know-how to fit you properly for boots, but they certainly have plenty of decent quality hiking boots (Asolo, Montrail, Zamberland, Vasque, etc.). Montrail have always fitted me well.

If possible, I would (when trying on a pair of boots) ask if you can walk a few times around the store with a 30lb pack on your back to feel them out.

6:53 p.m. on September 7, 2008 (EDT)
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Hey, to everyone here who offered their help and opinions: I just got back from my first "real" backpacking trip in years!! It was great, ended up staying overnight at Snoqualmie Lake, about 3800' range. The trip was great, i had everything i needed and then some! I was carrying about 28 lbs up, maybe 23-25 lbs back. Going up was crazy, over half the walk was a shallow ascent, then we hit the final two miles and BAM!!! All uphill, and very steep. We started at the 1200' level, and i think at least 1600' of it was the last two miles haha. The entire hike was 10miles each way, according to the forest service, it seemed about right though. Well like i said, thanks everyone, ill put some pics up later tonight so you can all see the Alpine Lakes area.

1:19 a.m. on September 8, 2008 (EDT)
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Sounds great. Glad to hear you had a good time. 28 lbs is not bad. Some people take way more than that, then get discouraged because of the weight, so starting out fairly light is a good thing.

12:25 a.m. on September 13, 2008 (EDT)
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heres some pics for anyone interested. i labeled some then just got lazy so if you have any questions, just ask!

9:52 a.m. on September 13, 2008 (EDT)
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dp85, thanks for the pics! That is a great looking area.
Was Taylor Creek near your camp?

3:05 p.m. on September 13, 2008 (EDT)
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ya, i loved it there. very quiet, not a lot of people at all. Taylor creek was actually at the beginning of the hike, within the first mile i believe.

12:51 a.m. on September 14, 2008 (EDT)
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Very nice. Glad you had a good outing!

11:18 a.m. on September 22, 2008 (EDT)
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Start researching lightweighrt backpacking. Beyond Backpacking by Ray Jardin is one book that has a hiking philosophy. Some of his ideas are cotroversial, but there is an underlying philosophy that is sound. Weigh every item that goes into your pack on a scale (like those used for postage orin the kitchen kitchen) that measure ounces. Read up on using a tarp instead of a tent, lightweight stoves, pads, bags and packs, and one lightweight pot. The website Backpacking light has many authors and contributors to their forum who live in your area of the northwest. The less weight you carry the less wear on your legs, knees, lungs and body. Have fun!

10:49 a.m. on September 26, 2008 (EDT)
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hey rambler, thanks for the info. and yes ive been doing exactly that (everything ive been buying i weigh on the shipping scale at work, almost everything is UL) That first trip i just had EVERYTHING with me haha. Wanted to see what kind of shape i was in.

1:37 p.m. on September 26, 2008 (EDT)
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hey dp85, how's it going? So what kind of shape were you in?
Just joking, I've done my share of the same thing, believe me!

You did not ask, but the best way I have found to stay in shape is to put on my loaded pack and do a good workout on my elliptical trainer. That way even your back gets it! HaHa.

Put a fan blowing on you and have a couple peppermint patties handy 'cause you WILL get the sensation.

BTW since you have been fine tuning, what's your base weight now?

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