Backpacking 101

Backpacking 101

Backpacking 101

If you’ve never backpacked, you have to try it. I can’t describe the sense of freedom you have when you throw on a backpack and take out into the wilderness. You’re not worried about 401k’s, mortgages, etc.

You’re just worried about surviving. If something happens, you’re on your own. I’ve encountered rivers washing out due to heavy rains, having to load up and pack out in the dark due to forest fires, bears rubbing against my tent, blizzards etc. And yet it has all been worthwhile!

I think a lot of people are scared to go backpacking because they think you have to go on a Bataan Death March.

The first time I encourage people to just take off on a 1-2 mile trip. You need to figure out if your gear will hold up and if you have the necessary items. Everyone’s desires varies. On your first trip only go on a short trip.

But first determine your reason for backpacking. I do it to get into the backcountry to hunt or flyfish.

If you backpack in, you get where most people don’t go. Day hikers have to leave 2-3 hours before dark to get back to the trailhead. You can fish/hunt right until dark since you’re camped back there.

Now is a perfect time to go backpacking/flyfishing. The rivers have dropped and the fish are congregated in the holes.

I teach 40-60 seminars per year, all the way from Airguns to Bear Hunting. Usually I talk for an hour to cover the topic.

But I learned a long time ago when teaching a Backpacking seminar that attendees want me to talk for 15 minutes and the last 45 minutes cover what gear they’ll need. So now let’s move into what gear you’ll need.

Take a compass and a map for sure. A GPS is nice. Get a Forest Service map for the area that you’re hitting. I’d advise contacting

They make the best maps. They can make them as detailed as you want. With mine I have found old Indian Petroglyphs, graves etc.

Over time you’ll determine your necessary items but I’ll list out what I deem as essential and brands that have worked for me. There are two evils that all backpackers fight:

1. Weight

2. Bulk


I’m old school and still use the frame backpack my wife gave me in 1989. But I have to admit, internal frames fit to your body and don’t sway and make you slip off a trail and tumble down into the river.

Take a daypack to do day hikes out of camp. I just got a lightweight Alps Canyon 20 daypack.


I don’t like the super small bicycler tents. Granted they’re lightweight but I don’t feel like I have room to fight if a bear jumps on me.

I take two pads, a green Army foam pad and a blow-up pad. If a sleeping bag is rated for 20 degrees it might be comfortable at 35.

They’re always over rated. I use a lot of Alps Mountaineering tents, sleeping bags and pads. I like their Dash chair. It’s comfortable setting around camp.

Carry a 5x7 tarp. But don’t lay it under your tent or the rain will run down the walls and be funneled under your tent, thereby soaking the bottom of your tent and sleeping bag.

I lay it on the inside under my bag and leave an uncovered spot by the door to lay wet boots and clothes. Although a second tarp laid under the tent will protect the bottom.


Carry water proof matches, flammable tender and a couple of cheap lighters. I have a Camp Chef backpacking stove but due to weight I don’t take it unless there’s a fire burn. I just cook over a fire.

For cooking gear, I pack an Army mess kit and a small aluminum coffee pot to heat water for cooking, coffee and sterilizing river water.

I use durable plastic backpacking silverware or I just ordered a Case Hobo Knife. Take a plastic cup and maybe a plate. I buy the latter two at Goodwill.

Water is heavy so it’d be a killer to carry enough for a 3-5 day trip. Aquimira makes filtered water bottles and straws.

That way you can drink out of rivers and lakes. I’ll carry a bottle for when hiking across areas without water sources.

You’ll have to plan a menu. I eat flavored oatmeal for breakfast and peanut butter sandwiches and Cheetos for lunch.

Then for dinner I splurge and eat Mountain House backpacking meals. They’re gourmet.

Ok, I’m a tightwad. I take motel coffee packs. You may want to take some Lipton sweetened tea packs for a variety so you’re not just drinking water with every meal.

Light is a big deal. I have a 7-inch super bright ASP flashlight. I just discovered a company named HybridLight that make some cool lights.

They’re rechargeable PLUS, they have solar panels so you don’t have to pack batteries. Plus, they have charging ports to charge your electronics, how cool is that? I’ve just started testing them.

On something as important as lights I recommend taking two. Have a doodling light but also have a bright one in case a bear or outlaw comes into your camp.

Get good hiking boots or you’ll be miserable. I got some Garmont boots this year and my daughter is testing out some La Crosse boots.

Good boots are worth their weight in gold. Here are my daughters’ thoughts on hiking boots. Also, you won’t believe how great hiking socks are.

Take a lightweight raincoat like a Frogg Togg or Gore-Tex. In due time you’ll encounter snow and rain. I wear nylon pants or shorts that dry off fast. 5.11 makes some good clothing.

Take a set of base layers to sleep in and a toboggan to keep your head warm. It gets cool at night in the mountains. And a pair of socks to sleep in.

You’ll be in beautiful country so take a camera. Your cell phone is nice but years ago I bought a Nikon Cool Pics camera that is waterproof (If you know of a better lightweight camera let me know).

For sure take a pistol. Due to bears, wolves, cougars and moose I’d recommend a .44 mag. I got a great chest holster from Diamond D in Alaska.

You don’t want a belt holster or it can get wet while wading rivers. Get some HKS speedloaders. That way you’ll have 12 extra bullets. Or a Clamtainer plastic box that holds ammo.


•?Adventure Medical Kits moleskin and Band-Aids.

• Mupirocin, antibiotic for cuts.

• Tape and wrap.

Well, I’ve barely got started and I am way out of room. Have fun.

Tom Claycomb is a hunting enthusiast and writes a bi-monthly column for Great Basin Sun.