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CHOOSING A TRIP
Every general knows most battles are won in the planning. Every architect knows the best buildings come from quality blueprints. The same is true for backpacking, and good planning begins with selecting the best trip for you. As you can see from the top-10 list in the introduction, there are many reasons people go backpacking. The best way to enjoy backpacking is to choose a trip that corresponds with your personal style, and with what you’re hoping to experience or accomplish during your trip.
Finding a Trip that Suits You
The first thing you need to do to find a trip that works for you is to consider some questions and cautions:
What kind of trip do you want? Are you hoping to climb high mountains? Sit and read by a peaceful lake? Are you planning to spend time catching up with great friends? Do you need physical exercise to reverse all that desk-jockeying you do from 9 to 5? Or do you just need to get away from it all and think about things for a few days?
Strive to keep your trip simple. Carry only what you need (and a few luxuries, perhaps). Avoid too many logistics and too many miles driving to the trailhead, especially if it’s just for the weekend. The more hassles you have to endure to go backpacking, the less you’ll enjoy the experience. And if you’re not enjoying it, why do it?
Where do you want to backpack? Is there a particular place that attracts you? The top of Mt. Whitney, the Appalachian Trail, or the Grand Canyon, for example? Be careful how you answer this question, as many destinations (such as the ones above) might require a level of fitness you’re not ready for, which brings us to the next point.
Know your limits. Some wonderful backpacking destinations are physically demanding. For example, hiking to the Colorado River from the rim of the Grand Canyon (and back) entails an overall elevation change of at least 10,000 vertical feet, which can be hard on the ankles, knees, muscles, lungs, and heart; then there’s the possibility of extreme heat, brutal sun, scant water, flash floods, rattlesnakes, scorpions, and other hazards. None of these should scare you away from the Grand Canyon (I consider it a “life list” destination, and hiking the inner canyon is much better than standing on the rim and looking in). But it is important to understand that each destination comes with its own unique set of weather, wildlife, terrain, and other challenges you’ll need to address in order to enjoy the trip.
If you’re dreaming of a winter assault on Mt. Everest, but you’ve never backpacked overnight, it’s a good idea to start smallerwith an overnight to a local state park or national forest in summer. Once you’ve developed experience and skills at this level, set your sights on the next step en route to your dream trip. Remember, life is a journey, not a destination. Goals are good things to have, and backpacking is a great way to enjoy each step on the path to achieving them.
How far should you hike? If you’re a novice backpacker or in poor shape, plan to hike no more than 5 miles each day over easy to moderate trails. If you’re fitter, you can set more aggressive goals. (For more on getting fit for the trail, see pages 145 to 151.) Another question: How far can you hike? For your backpacking trip to be successful and enjoyable, plan distances that you can actually accomplish. It’s common for people to overestimate the distance they can hike when planning a trip. For moderate, multiday journeys, plan to hike 5 to 7 miles per dayless if you’re not fit, your pack is heavy, the trail is steep, you’re at high elevation, or you’re traveling cross-country. Fit hikers with lightweight gear can cover 10 to 15 miles in a day, as long as the terrain isn’t too difficult. On longer trips, give yourself a rest day every few days; your body will appreciate the time to recover.
Deciding When to Go
When you choose to hike can be as important as where. Weather, trail conditions, and crowds play major roles in whether you will enjoy your trip. Every season offers its own unique beauty and challenges. Summer in northern latitudes is the most popular season for backpacking because that’s when the weather is gentlest, the days are longest, and the streams and lakes are warmest. But it’s also when crowds, insects and dangerous wildlife encounters are at their worst.
High mountain trails in the northern hemisphere don’t often clear of snow until late June or July, depending on the snow pack and latitude. Hike before then in a wet year, and you’ll need to be prepared to travel and camp on snow (and don’t forget that at high elevations, snow and rain can happen any day of the year). In lower elevations in summer, heat, humidity, and insects can be your biggest challenges.
Call rangers or other local experts to learn how best to avoid or manage these trials where you plan to hike. Learn more about backcountry weather and insects in chapters 23 and 24, respectively. If the weather doesn’t get you, the crowds just might. The most popular trails in the most popular destinations are getting increasingly crowded.
Many of the most popular destinations now require a permit; some management agencies prevent overcrowding by restricting the number of people entering the area each day. If you’re hoping to avoid those crowds, plan your trip for midweek or off-season, and avoid popular spots on holiday weekends. Call rangers in the area to confirm whether permits are required.
Off-season can be especially rewarding, but you’ll face a greater risk of uncomfortable weather or other challengeswhich is why it’s off-season. For most North American mountain trails, high season lasts from Memorial Day through Labor Day. In hot climates, fall, winter, and spring can be more popular. Call local experts to get their advice on when to plan your trip, and what you should plan to encounter when you do go.
Table of ContentsPreface
PART I: PLANNING YOUR TRIP
PART II: BACKPACKING GEAR
PART III: FOOD AND WATER
PART IV: PREPARING FOR THE TRAIL
PART V: JOY ON THE TRAIL
PART VI: SAFETY AND COMFORT IN THE BACKCOUNTRY
PART VII: ADVANCED BACKCOUNTRY SKILLS AND TRAVEL
Appendix I: Gear Checklists
Appendix II: Backpacking and Hiking Organizations and Resources
Appendix III: Manufacturer Contact Information
Appendix IV: Bibliography
About the Author