What skills should you learn before going backpacking?

Before you go on a backpacking trip, there are a few skills you should learn. These include why learning backpacking skills is important, why navigation is important, how to start a fire, why you should curry a backpacking stove, and how to prep and pack for your trip.

Why are backpacking skills important to learn?

Learning fundamental backpacking skills is important for the safety and enjoyment of both you and your backpacking companions.

What are key skills required to head out backpacking?

The following list itemizes the main skills required before you head out backpacking.

  • Meal planning.
  • Route planning.
  • How to pack a backpack.
  • Navigating with a map and compass.
  • Understanding trail signage.
  • Administering first aid.
  • Using trekking poles.
  • How to leave no trace.
  • Understanding weather forecasts.
  • How to store and pack food.
  • Wildlife safety.
  • Using crampons and an ice axe (in snow or icy terrain).

What risks are there to going backpacking without these skills?

If you start backpacking without first developing the necessary skills, you risk sustaining an injury, death, getting lost, or simply having a miserable time.

In what terrain are these skills particularly important?

The following is a list of the skills you’ll need for backpacking in different types of terrain.

  • Map and compass use. All terrain.
  • Ice axe and crampon use. Icy or snowbound terrain.
  • Scrambling. Steep, rocky terrain.
  • Administering first aid. All terrain.
  • Fording a river. Usually remote terrain following spring thaws.
  • Basic ropework. Steep and exposed terrain.

How can you improve your backpacking skills?

The best ways to improve your backpacking skills are to take a course with organizations like REI or NOLS or to hit the trails with more experienced backpackers. After that…practice, practice, practice! 

How long does it take to master these backpacking skills?

No single backpacking skill is particularly difficult to learn, so anyone can become proficient with a few weeks to a month of dedicated practice.

Where can you learn backpacking skills?

Below is a list of some of the best places to learn backpacking skills.

  • REI
  • NOLS
  • The American Alpine Institute
  • Outward Bound 
  • With local hiking clubs or groups
  • With an experienced friend

Where are there backpacking skill classes you can take?

Organizations like REI, NOLS, and Outward Bound all provide backpacking skills courses in locations across the US.

What advanced backpacking skills can be learnt?

The following is a last of some advanced backpacking skills worth learning.

  • Navigating by the stars
  • Navigating without a compass
  • Foraging
  • Crampon techniques
  • Walking with an ice axe
  • Self-arrest with an ice axe
  • Assessing avalanche danger
  • Pacing
  • River crossings
  • Scrambling

Why is it important for backpackers to be able to navigate?

The main reason why backpackers need to learn navigation skills is to avoid getting lost. Other reasons are to complete their trail in good time, be able to backpack trails without abundant signage, and to avoid hazards.

What is a backpacking map?

Backpacking maps are topographical (“topo”) maps that use elevation contour lines to show the shape of the terrain. These maps also include several backpacking-specific symbols – for trailheads, trail numbers, fords, and stairs, for example.

How do you read a backpacking map?

The easiest way to read a topographic map is to orient it by aligning the north-south grid lines with the magnetic needle on your compass and then trying to cross-reference features on your map with features in the terrain. You’ll also need to understand the map’s scale and symbols and learn how to triangulate to pinpoint your location with precision.

What are the basic features of a backpacking compass?

The main features of a backpacking compass are the base plate, bezel, ruler/scales, housing, orienting lines, orienting arrow, index line, and the magnetic needle.

How do you use a compass for backpacking?

To use a compass when backpacking, you need to learn how to adjust for magnetic declination, how to orient your map using your compass, how to take a bearing, how to walk on a bearing, and how to triangulate.

How do you use a compass with a map?

To use your compass and map in the field, start by adjusting for magnetic declination and orienting your map, then take a bearing on a landmark you can identify on your map and in the terrain in front of you. Next, place the edge of your compass on the landmark on the map, rotate your body with the compass until the magnetic needle is aligned with the orienting arrow in the bezel, then use a pencil to draw a line down the length of the edge.

Finally, repeat steps 3 & 4 with two more landmarks. Where all three lines intersect is your rough location.

What challenges might you have using a map and compass?

The main challenges you are likely to face when using a map and compass are adjusting for the correct declination value, ensuring there’s no interference with your compass’s magnetic needle (aka “local attraction”), and compass bubbles. 

Maps are also tricky to use in wet and windy conditions, so be sure to invest in a map case and fold the map so you have the area you’re backpacking in visible and no more.

Should you use a GPS or a map and compass?

Ideally, you should carry both a GPS device and a map and compass. This means you’ll have a backup should you lose or damage one or the other, or if your GPS device runs out of battery. If you only take one of the two, we recommend you take a map and compass – they don’t require battery power and 

When may you be unable to use a GPS?

Two scenarios when a GPS device might fail to work are when mountains or canyon walls block signals from satellites. Other scenarios are if the device suffers water damage, is dropped and broken, or if you run out of battery.

Why is desert navigation more difficult?

The main reason why navigating in a desert is trickier for backpackers is that trails are less visible and there are fewer (if any) easily identifiable landmarks to navigate by.

What are tips for desert navigation?

The following list details how to navigate when backpacking in the desert.

  • Stick to the trail at all times
  • If you lose the trail, crisscross the terrain until you find it again
  • Use a detailed map and compass
  • Carry a GPS device
  • Look out for cairns
  • Don’t climb up anything you can’t safely climb back down

How do you start a fire when backpacking?

To start a fire when backpacking, start by gathering your tinder, kindling, and logs. Using existing fire rings or fire pits where possible, place a bit of tinder in the center of your campfire pit. Lay kindling (small twigs and branches) over your tinder and a few small logs, then light the tinder. Once you have a good flame going, start adding larger logs.

What is a fire starter?

A “fire starter” can refer to two things – a ferro rod, which is a small, metal alloy rod that produces sparks when scraped with a knife, or a small, solid fuel tablet that ignites with ease when exposed to a naked flame.

How do you use a firestarter?

To use a firestarter (magnesium or metal alloy firestarter), start by gathering dry leaves, wood shavings, or dry grass to use as tinder. Hold your firestarter directly above the tinder, then scrape or strike downwards on the rod with a knife or another metallic object to create sparks. Once your tinder starts smoldering, blow on it gently until you see a flame, then gradually add more tinder and kindling.

What other fire starting methods can you use when backpacking?

The following list includes different ways to start a fire when backpacking without matches or a lighter.

  • Hand drill method
  • Bow method
  • With a flint
  • Fire plough
  • Using a lens/glass
  • With ice
  • With steel wool

What else can help start a fire when backpacking?

Some accessories that can help you get a fire started when backpacking include cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly, homemade fire starters, newspaper, an egg box, and waterproof matches.

Why shouldn’t you use wet wood for campfires?

Even if you can get wet wood to burn, it will produce less heat than dry wood and create far more smoke, which can pose a serious health hazard.

What can you do to light wet wood?

There are two ways to use wet wood to get a campfire going. First, use at least double the usual amount of tinder and kindling and hope this dries off the wood’s surface moisture. Alternatively, use the “Swedish torch” method, which involves cutting an X-shaped notch in the top, flat side of a log until you reach the dry wood inside the log. Next, stuff the notch with tinder, then light it up.

Should you pack a backpacking stove?

A backpacking stove is the most convenient way to cook and boil water while backpacking. Alcohol stoves and campfires are lighter options, but alcohol stoves are less efficient and cooking on a campfire requires a lot of work sourcing dry wood.

How do backpacking stoves differ from camping stoves?

The main difference between backpacking and camping stoves is weight and packed size, with backpacking stoves being by far the lighter and more compact of the two. Camping stoves, however, are far more powerful and may have dual burners, allowing you to cook up multiple items at once.

What type of fuel should you pack for a backpacking stove?

With backpacking canister stoves, you have a choice of three types of backpacking fuel: propane, butane, and isobutane. Propane is easy to find, usually cheaper, and works far better at extremely low temperatures. However, butane is the lighter of the two, so is popular with backpackers for this reason.

Why choose a backpacking stove over a campfire?

The following list highlights the main reasons to choose a backpacking stove over a campfire.

  • Temperature control. With a stove you can adjust the flame to cook at different temperatures.
  • Convenience. You don’t have to collect tinder, kindling, and logs every time you want to cook.
  • Fuel availability. You may be backpacking in an area where there’s no suitable wood for making a campfire.
  • Odor control. Campfires create a lot of smoke and the smell is sure to linger in your clothes, hair, and skin for days without a good scrub.
  • Environmental impact. Backpacking stoves are by far the more environmentally friendly option.

Why choose a campfire over a backpacking stove?

The main reason to choose a campfire over a backpacking stove is to cut down on pack weight – because you’ll be using in situ fuel (leaves, twigs, branches) instead of gas canisters or alcohol, you’ll be carrying a lot less weight.

Why is planning prep essential before going backpacking?

Pre-trip planning and prep are essential for backpacking for the reasons listed below.

  • You’ll be prepared for any eventuality
  • To avoid forgetting any gear
  • To make yourself physically and mentally prepared
  • You won’t be sprung by unwelcome surprises (trail closures etc.)
  • To  identify water sources and food resupply points
  • To reduce the risk of carrying too much or too little 
  • You’ll know what you’re getting yourself into!

How do you plan a backpacking trip?

Take the following steps to plan your next backpacking trip.

  • Choose a destination and route
  • Research your route
  • Get in shape
  • Gather your gear and supplies
  • Make a detailed plan
  • Pack
  • Check the weather forecast
  • Share your itinerary with a friend

What factors will influence your plan?

The main factors that will influence your backpacking trip plan are your fitness and strength (when considering pack weight and daily mileage), the terrain, weather conditions, daytime and nighttime temperatures, wildlife in the area, and the availability of water and resupply points on your route. 

How do you calculate backpacking speed?

You can calculate your backpacking speed in three ways: by using an app or GPS watch; by using Naismith’s Rule; or by dividing the time it takes you to hike any trail by the trail’s overall mileage. 

Naismith’s Rule states that walking 3 miles (4.5 km) on flat land should take 1 hour for a healthy, able-bodied person, giving an average speed of 3 miles per hour (4.5km/hour). An additional hour should be added for every 2,000 feet of elevation gain (600M), or 10 mins per 100 m (328 ft) of ascent.

To apply this to backpacking, you can simply calculate the average number of miles covered over a number of days.

Why is knowing backpacking speed important?

Knowing your backpacking speed is important because it lets you plan your route in more detail by revealing how many miles you can cover in a day. This will help you avoid biting off more than you can chew or getting caught out after dark or in afternoon thunderstorms.