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Backpacker's Start-up:

Backpacker's Start-up:

by Doug Werner

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Aimed specifically at the novice outdoor adventurer, this comprehensive guide explains the essential gear, preparations, precautions, and techniques required for day hiking and short backpacking trips. Through informative, entertaining, and encouraging personal anecdotes, the guide emphasizes the physical, aesthetic, and spiritual benefits of spending time in


Aimed specifically at the novice outdoor adventurer, this comprehensive guide explains the essential gear, preparations, precautions, and techniques required for day hiking and short backpacking trips. Through informative, entertaining, and encouraging personal anecdotes, the guide emphasizes the physical, aesthetic, and spiritual benefits of spending time in nature. Essential first aid and map-reading information is also included.

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“Start-Up Sports tackles the hottest sports. These inexpensive titles are forthright and simple, with good illustrations and social pointers.” —Library Journal

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Tracks Publishing
Publication date:
Start-up Sports Series
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Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.53(d)

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Backpacker's Start-up

A Beginner's Guide to Hiking & Backpacking

By Doug Werner

Tracks Publishing

Copyright © 1999 Doug Werner
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-884654-10-7


Getting started the right way: Dayhikes

My wife and I dayhiked for years. Scores of hikes of various distances over different terrain in all kinds of weather. Before we ever considered backpacking, we were accustomed to the pounding in our joints and the utter weariness of occasionally hiking too long and far. We knew the importance of hiking with essential gear because we had suffered without a time or two. (Image 1.1)

Our hikes averaged around 10 miles, but there were times we covered up to 20 in a day. Three times we hiked from 5,000 feet to 10,000 feet (and back) covering more than 16 miles. With friends I hiked up and down Mt. Whitney (14, 494 feet) in a day and that's a 22-mile journey.

Hiking in and out while the sun's up defines dayhiking. You need little beyond proper footwear, clothing and water to enjoy a complete escape into nature. Your dayhiking experiences can be so fulfilling that you may never feel the need to camp. Once you've developed as a hiker, 10-, 15-, even 20-mile excursions are very doable in a day. You'll reach (and come back from!) those places that you once only dreamed of or saw on the nature channels.

If your ultimate goal is to pack it in for days on end, dayhiking is where you begin and develop.

The physical challenge

Dayhiking will get you used to the physical and mental requirements needed for tromping over miles of natural terrain. You'll use certain muscles to go up and different muscles to go down. You'll feel the pounding in hips, knees, ankles and feet. Although we all walk everyday, most don't do it in five-mile chunks over hill and dale. Like any new physical activity your body will complain the next day or two after a hike, but you will grow accustomed to the new exercise over time. (Image 1.2)

The right mind set

Hiking, of course, isn't like driving a car. It may take an hour to travel only two or three miles. For most modern people it's Really Slowing Down, this hiking business. Some become annoyed and bored with mere plodding and what seems to be an unchanging setting (if you've seen one tree, you've seen them all!). The joy of hiking may take time to discover. It's not often a rush or a thrill. A hiker needs to develop patience as well as leg strength and stamina. Patience for what? I can almost hear certain readers exclaim. Well, that's for you to discover for yourself. (Image 1.3 and Image 1.4)

Daypack and essential gear

Carry what you need in a small day-pack or fanny pack. Even with overkill, the loaded pack shouldn't weigh much more than a very manageable 10 pounds. Anything under 20 pounds can be comfortably sup-ported by your shoulders. There are a number of simple, quality daypacks to choose from. There are models with hip belts as well. Consider using a fanny pack for light loads. This is a very small pack that simply buckles around the waist. (Image 1.6)

What you absolutely need is water. You'll also need protective clothing to keep warm and dry if it gets wet and cold. Bring a quart of water for every five miles of hiking or a water filter if you know you're hiking next to a water source. Pack rain gear and a pullover. Also pack fruit and energy bars for snacking, toilet paper and Ziploc bags to pack out the used toilet paper.

Further information about footgear, clothing, the outdoor toilet and safety are in those chapters so-named.

The Ten Essentials

You may want to consider "The Ten Essentials." First developed by the Mountaineers in the 1930s as a part of their climbing course, this is your basic kit for a worst-case scenario (getting lost and spending the night). Some of this stuff may be overkill depending on where you're going and for how long. (Image 1.7)

1. Extra clothing

2. Sunglasses

3. First aid kit

4. Extra food

5. Flashlight/batteries

6. Map

7. Compass

8. Matches

9. Firestarters

10. Knife (Image 1.8)

Dayhiking menu

Examples of things to pack and eat include sandwiches of all sorts, cheese and crackers, dried fruit, granola and energy bars. It's best to keep it simple and light, of course. You can always load up before or after and not even bother with a planned meal. Not so, however, with water.

Building up to it

Start with short dayhikes over easy, well-marked terrain with little altitude gain or loss. From five–eight miles(two–three hours).

Increase distance and difficulty as you become accustomed to the exercise. You'll find it takes longer to cover hilly or mountainous terrain. Up to 10 miles (four–five hours). (Image 1.9)

Go for it when you feel like it. Try 12 — 15 miles (five–six hours).

First hike

Plan to hike five miles your first time out.


Look at a good map of your area. In our country there are innumerable natural places set aside to enjoy a hike. It's one of the wonderful things about our culture. Despite the dire talk of a disappearing nature, parks have been set aside by cities, states and the United States federal government for many, many years. The resource section has more detailed answers to this question, but chances are a place to begin your hiking career is very near. You probably already know where it is.

You will need:

• Map

• Proper footwear

• Daypack

• Proper clothing including protection from potential cold or wet weather

• 1 quart of water for each person and/or a water filter

• 1 or 2 energy bars for each person

• Small roll of toilet paper

• Ziploc bag

Physical considerations and slogans

Your first five miles may seem like a lot. The last mile may seem endless (the last mile always will). To use a well-worn phrase, "No pain, no gain." To steal a well-known slogan, "Just Do It." Both are apt. But so is "Take it Easy" Perhaps "Stretch, Don't Break" is the more suitable cliché.


You may love it right away or you may find it tedious. Hiking is not jumping with action. If your hike were a television or radio program, it would be full of "dead air." The value of hiking is measured and filled by the quiet, steady pace. It may take some time to tune in. Give it (and yourself) a chance.


Some folks don't get it right away. It's not like the movies. There isn't a lot of immediate stimulation. A hike with friends was slightly marred because one person became frantic with the pace. Unused to the slow rhythms of a hike, she exclaimed after about a mile: What are we doing! What's there to see! Look there's a tree! Turn the bend and there's another just like it! What's the use! Angry and frustrated she clumped back to the cabin to watch television and drink wine. Oh well. At the time I was happy her head simply didn't explode.

Parting words

• Start with a few miles over flat or gently rolling terrain.

• Build up the miles and increase difficulty from hike to hike incrementally.

• Take stock of your efforts both physically and mentally (be patient).

• Take regular rest and water breaks.



Our first backpacking trip was almost a bust. What saved us was our tolerance to certain discomforts and good preparation. We rented stove, tent and backpacks from REI and set out with a fair idea how to backpack with the stuff. It was a hot, hot summer afternoon with too many bugs. The packs were heavy and maladjusted. Swarming insects were so prevalent at our campsite we had to crawl into our tent by 6p.m. It was along, boring evening and a sleepless night punctuated with those awful where-am-I dreams. (Image 1.11)

But the morning was cool and pleasant and the hike back, over golden meadows, was quite nice. We took pride in being able to carry all the camping gear upon our backs and making everything work. It felt like an accomplishment and despite the drawbacks we looked forward to a greater challenge.

This is the great transition. Great because you must carry what you need for a night outdoors, and it's quite considerable compared to dayhiking. Many hikers opt to remain dayhikers, and that's OK. I dayhiked for years before I tried backpacking. I saw those huge packs on backpackers and thought I'd never, ever do that. How could that be any fun? (Image 1.12)

Packing for short overnight trips is very similar to longer trips. After all, you'll need to bring tent, sleeping bag and pad, cooking gear, toilet kit, emergency essentials, food and clothing. The only difference is that you're carrying less food and clothing. It's still a big, heavy pack.

Getting used to it

Your first overnight should be light on distance. Hikein, say, two — four miles. Just enough to get acquainted with carrying 30–40 pounds. It takes getting used to! And problems might happen.

First of all, this is the first true test of the adjustment of your pack. Who knows, it may not be fitted quite right. After two miles the straps might be dissecting your shoulders. Or a strap could pop. Or it just feels like hell and you don't know why.

Even if the pack feels good (as it should!), your steps will be heavier. So this is also the first true test of your footwear. Shoes or boots may feel fine without a load, but may not support your feet properly with a full backpack. Your feet may flatten and swell with the load over time and start to burst the seams or even hit the end of your boots. It happens and it's miserable!

If pack and boots are OK, you'll only have to deal with the new physical effort of carrying a substantial load upon hips, back and shoulders — the pack driving into hip bones, the itch under shoulder straps and your back crying Free Me! Stepping up rocky grades is like doing weighted squats with one leg. Losing your footing is a serious strain on ankles. Falling with a sack on your back is ... well, you get the picture. Don't get me wrong. A pack can be worn safely and comfortably for miles and miles, but it takes a while to grow accustomed to it. (Image 1.13)

Time to make camp

Besides learning to hike with a full pack, you'll need daylight as well as reserves of patience and energy to make camp for the first time. Although you've practiced putting up the tent and lighting the stove at home, how will it go when you really need your gear to cooperate? You're actually going to sleep in the tent this time and cook over that fussy stove. Then there's clean-up, digging your first latrine, fumbling in the dark, dealing with bugs, preparing your sleeping pad and bag and so on. Making camp is one chore after another until you zip up and close your eyes. (Image 1.14)

Your first backpacking trips should be trial runs. You're testing and breaking in equipment as well as yourself. There are a lot of parts and procedures involved in backpacking.

Nothing very complicated or difficult, really — it just seems that way at first. It gets tricky only if you haven't planned and packed properly, or if you try to bite off too much at once.

Keep the distance short enough to safely endure (survive) the mishaps if they happen. If something really does go wrong, you're only a few miles from car and civilization.

Longer trips

After a successful overnight, there's no reason to be afraid of extended trips. Once you're comfortable with equipment, sure of your needs outdoors and satisfied with your hiking performance, then by all means go.

Increase distances and nights outside incrementally. Go five–six miles a day for two days, then three. If all goes well on shorter runs, go back further, climb higher and spend more nights on the trail. Allow yourself the option to go back if things don't work out.

Slip into outdoorsperson-mode carefully. Remember it's supposed to be fun. And like anything else, the more you hike and camp, the better you'll get at it.

First backpacking trip

Plan to hike two–four miles in, camp overnight and hike back out.


A local map may yield some answers, otherwise check out the resource section under Finding Trails.

You will need:

More than a few things. Read the rest of the book!

The physical challenge

It's not easy hiking with a 40-pound pack. It gets easier after you get going. Over time you can develop a tolerance, even a taste for it. But it's a real chore at first. Plan your distances carefully. It's better to feel that you could have done more after a hike than to feel beaten and exhausted.


Determine why you are back-packing on a given trip. Is it a pleasant escape from the day today or is it a race against time and distance? The latter may become an ugly trial if you're not experienced, prepared or in tiptop physical condition.

It's wise to leave expectations at the trail head and take the hike one or two miles at a time. Take regular rest and water breaks — like every hour.

Advance through your hike in a steady manner. Let the terrain, weather conditions and your body dictate the pace of your hike and the distance you cover. There is a proper pace for every hike. Furthermore, there is a proper pace for every portion of a hike. Get in sync with it.

Hiking heros

There's an outdoor culture that continues to astonish me. Every time I get back in there far enough I find someone else who's been so much further back for a lot longer. I was on a 45-mile trek and thinking I was some kind of Daniel Boone when I ran into three young men loping (yeah loping) through a 100-mile journey. As they sped by I noticed they were wearing sandals! Later on I meet some superman who ran my 45-mile trip in 12 hours carrying only a bottle of water and some power bars. That night I went on about how tough the day's hike had been to a fellow camper. He told me he was on his way to Canada from Mexico. So much for braggadocio. I'm just a wet noodle with this crowd.

Parting words

• Dayhike several hikes before you backpack.

• Hike in only a short distance at first. Maybe only a mile or two.

• Allow plenty of daylight to make camp.

• Increase distance and difficulty of hikes gradually.

• Monitor your effort and take frequent water, rest and assessment breaks. (Image 1.16)



Hurting feet are right up there with toothaches and earaches. When it happens nothing else matters but the cessation of the pain. It's overwhelming and incapacitating. I've had perfectly happy feet decide to grow an inch on a hike and painfully pound against the toes of the boots until my feet became so cramped I couldn't walk. I've witnessed the desperate effort of a friend to alter ill-fitting hiking shoes by chopping and slitting out the sides and toes. Still he suffered blisters that grew into ugly, flesh-eating wounds that took several days to heal.

Nothing is more important than your feet on a hike. What you wear on them should fit comfortably each and every step of the way. If you're hiking in inclement weather you'll need to wear footwear that keeps feet warm and dry.

Other than that, it's up to you. I'm not going to suggest you wear a certain type of boot with specific characteristics because I've seen experienced hikers wear different things very successfully. I've met top-flight outdoors people wearing sneakers, even sandals on their long, arduous treks.

Before you set out on longer hikes, test your footwear on short walks to make sure shoes (or whatever) are well broken in. If you're going to carry a pack, make sure you take test runs with that same pack (fully loaded). (Image 2.1)

I wear boots that cover and support the ankles with a tough, pliable, water-resistant leather upper. I need to wear ankle-high boots to support my weak ankles. My ligaments in that area have long since stretched beyond repair due to numerous sprains. Every time I misstep, my ankles can break up to 90 degrees.

I also like thick durable soles (so I don't feel all the rocks and roots I clamber over) with a deep lug (tread) for traction.

I like my boots made of tough, strong materials so I won't stub my toes easily.

And I like to step lightly.

With these requirements I end up with a high ticket item. A pair of boots like that cost $140–200.


Do not wear cotton socks. They'll get wet with perspiration causing friction and blisters. (Image 2.2)

Wear synthetic liners made for hiking underneath wool or synthetic wool socks.

The liners keep your feet dry by wicking the perspiration from feet to outer sock. There the moisture can begin to evaporate. One still needs to change liners and socks periodically during a hike to make sure feet remain dry. Make sure you bring at least two pair of each.


Excerpted from Backpacker's Start-up by Doug Werner. Copyright © 1999 Doug Werner. Excerpted by permission of Tracks Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Doug Werner is the author of several books in the Start-Up Sports series, including Bowler's Start-Up, Boxer's Start-Up, Golfer's Start-Up, and Snowboarder's Start-Up. He has been interviewed on CNN, and his books have appeared on ESPN. He lives in San Diego, California.

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