10 Tips for the Backpacker

1. Carry a few large trash bags. They weigh next to nothing, and there are endless uses for them. Don't carry a bulky pack cover, and use the trash bag instead. Cover your dry wood during the afternoon showers. Cut arm holes and use the bag as an emergency rain coat. Put one on the ground and pile on your clean gear when you unload your backpack. Use them for ground-sheets. Stick the foot of your sleeping bag into one on those rainy nights when the tent leaks. Haul water in them when it is time to really drown that fire. They are handy when you are unpacking after a trip and you need somewhere to stick your stinking clothes. Whatever your uses, remember to recycle the bags when they pass into uselessness.

2. Always bring duct tape. You don't need a full roll. Get a wooden pencil and roll a few yards onto the pencil. Makes a good grip for writing, and it is handy when you need it. You can repair almost anything with the stuff, from boots to tents to packs to clothes. Don't leave home without it.

3. Tape up your feet ahead of time. If you already know from experience where you are likely to get blisters, then put on the Dr. Scholls (NOT Longs!) ahead of time before you hike and avoid the whole blister business altogether.

4. Bring a water bag. Some people will resent the slight additional weight, but it can save you some problems. Fill the waterbag, hang it on a tree, and put you waterfilter with it and filter out of the bag. Most solid matter will settle in a matter of minutes, and when you filter, the water filtered will be cleaner and will therefore add life to your filter and require less cleaning. It is also handy to have water nearby for breakfast and dinner.

5. Bring the Pepto tablets and a paper sandwich bag. What?! Why? Altitude sickness can hit anyone at any time. After a long hard hard day at high altitude, even the most experienced backpacker can get it. For slight cases of nausea you can get your blood ph back into balance by eating some Pepto-Bizmo and breathing into a paper bag. Also, sleep in a zipped up tent to increase the CO2. And don't forget to bring something for the headaches. This cure is for only for a very mild case of altitude sickness, NOT for more serious cases which only a retreat to lower altitude will do, or professional help.

6. Use 7.5 maps for all cross-country travel. It seems obvious but the stories I could tell... Even 7.5 maps don't tell the whole story by a long shot, but no other maps will do when it comes to keeping yourself found and out of trouble. You are more likely to find alternate routes and major features for navigating with a 7.5 than any other map. But do bring the 15 and other large scale maps too to pinpoint distant features and routes.

7. Prime with alcohol when using white gas stoves. I have used MSR's, SIGG's, Peak 1's, and others, and they all need priming. I bring a small squeeze bottle of marine alcohol (blue) to prime the stove. It burns hotter than white gas, saves fuel, and you need very little to prime.

8. Drink a pint of water before you hit the trail. Then keep drinking about a pint an hour or more. A salt pill with some food helps too. Nothing brings on crushing fatigue faster than dehydration, and staying hydrated should be your first order of business while hiking. Drinking the pint before you start seems to especially help. Just do it!

9. No gawking while you're walking! Its my rule and my mantra. I wouldn't be sitting here now with a broken fibula had I paid rigorous obedience to this rule. Near the end of a grinding bushwack, I let up and looked up for only a moment while walking on an easy slab and went down like a ton of bricks. If you want to look at something, stop somewhere safe, then look. You have been warned....

10. Add dehyd food to the boiling water in the pan. OK, dehyd food sucks, but don't add the trots to your culinary misery. Boil the water you need, cup out the water needed for drinks, and then add the dehyd to the boiling water. Stir well for a minute then turn off the gas. Keep stirring until it stops boiling and you know all of the dehyd is wet. I always add 1/4 to 1/2 more cups of water than the dehyd bag instructions say, and let it sit 5 minutes longer than the instructions say too. Yeah, now you have a pan to clean, but it is worth it. This all will slightly improve the taste, insures the meat and other goodies gets dehydrated, and keeps you eyes from shooting open and your hands reaching for the toilet paper at 3AM. Bon Appetite.

I could go on, but more for next time. If you have suggestions, sent them to me here at Sierra Trails.

Created and updated September 23, 1997. By Doyle W. Donehoo, Editor, Sierra Trails.

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