Backpacking With A Stove


A while ago I wrote a piece on backpacking without a stove (you can find it here).  People liked it and I still think everyone should give it a try, don’t hate it till you’ve tried it!

But you have to admit, starting your day with hot tea and finishing it up with a warm dinner can make an otherwise hellish adventure down right pleasant.  Especially in Continue reading

Beginning Backpacking

Beginning Backpacking Part 1


Backpacking is easy…seriously…you just walk, eat, drink water, and sleep.

There might have been a time when backpacking was inherently grueling, and if you want to make it grueling you still can, but it’s certainly not necessary.  People tell me they want to go backpacking, but it just seems too complicated, or too expensive, or they don’t have time, or they aren’t strong enough, or they just such-n-such.  Maybe…and maybe those are just excuses.

Another good excuse is how dangerous backpacking is(n’t).  A surprising number of people don’t go backpacking because they are worried something will go wrong, they have no idea what might go wrong…just something, so they don’t go.  Now, there is some sanity to this…playing it safe is a good idea…but really it’s just not that complicated, not that big a deal, not that dangerous, and incredibly fun.  Loads of people are going backpacking, right now, and they are having a blast!

So, if you’re ready for something super fun and super easy, here’s how I recommend getting into backpacking…


Go for a hike, walk, it doesn’t matter where or how far or how steep, but decide how long you’ll be out and stick to that.  You can walk as slow as you want, take as many breaks as you want, but you can’t rush through it to get back to the car ahead of schedule.  If you get back early you can sit at the parking lot until your time is up…but better yet go exploring! If it rains go any way.  To start with, four hours is a good time frame, then build up from there.

Now that wasn’t so bad was sit?  In fact, you’ve probably done this before with out even trying.

PHASE TWO: Full Day Hiking

A day hike is generally anything that can be done in a day, but let’s look at maximum length day hikes.  This will be a full day of hiking, so pack everything you need the day before, even breakfast.  Go for light compact food that still has a lot of energy in it, and bring plenty of snacks and water.  Decide in advance where you’re going, and plan on hiking for 12 hours straight, car to car.  If you leave the car at 7am don’t get back till 7pm.  I like to pack my bag and have everything ready before I go to bed, then as soon as the alarm goes off I roll out of bed, put cloths on, put shoes on, grab pack, and go.  No emails, no shower, nothing…just get up and go.

You will be amazed how wonderful this feels, a whole day out doors is incredibly relaxing.

Ten miles is usually good, short enough that you can easily do it, but long enough that you wont get too bored…of course distance is very personal so use your own judgement.  Chances are you won’t need anything special…you will need extra food and extra water, and depending on where you go you might need to prepare for a wider range of weather, but this is really just three four-hour hikes back to back so you should be fine with the same gear you used before.

Do this a couple times.  What’s working really well?  What’s not working?  How can you bring less weight/eat better food/stay warmer or cooler or dryer?  I would also discourage you from buying any fancy expensive gear at this point, unless you live in the ant-arctic you probably don’t need anything you don’t already have.

PHASE THREE: The Overnight!

Now you need to spend the night out there.  Imagine napping on your full day hike…this is the same thing, just a really long nap!  A sleeping bag is good, and if you don’t have one some one you know probably does.  Same goes for a sleeping pad.  Tent’s are neat, or you can just use bungee cords to hang a tarp between some trees…if it’s clear you can sleep under the stars and if not you can still sleep under the stars with a bivy bag.

And that’s it…it’s so simple…you go for a walk and when it starts getting dark you settle down and sleep for a while…then you wake up the next day and walk some more.  You’re backpacking!

NOTE: At some point in all this you might need a bigger backpack…or a smaller sleeping bag…if so try and borrow one, this way you can test it out and see how it works for you.  Ideally test out as many different bags and packs as you can.  If everything you see is insanely expensive look some place else, or comment below and we’ll help hook you up!

All About Lightning


I was helping with a 3rd grade camping trip recently, there where about 40 young kinds and a handful of parents and teachers and it was fantastically well organized.

The first evening though a parent got a text along the lines of “giant thunderstorm, looks like it’s headed your way, prepare for the worst”.  This created some immediate alarm, people weren’t sure how to stay safe, and tensions shot through the roof.  A few folks, including myself, had some wilderness experience and we explained to everyone else that staying put, in your tent, on your foam pad is the way to go.

But here’e the thing…most people probably don’t know much about lighting…they know to stay in a car, or indoors, but what do you do if you’re camping?  Here are my thoughts…

  • Know local weather patterns.  When lightning is most common, what direction it normally travels, etc.
  • The FLASH is followed by the BOOM.  When the time between the FLASH and BOOM is 30 seconds or less it’s time start minimizing your risk.
  • Get some plastic between you and the ground, foam sleeping pads work great, so do life jackets, hiking boots, nylon ropes, whatever you got.  Avoid things with metal in them, like backpacks or camp chairs with metal frames.  Now don’t touch the ground!
  • Avoid high places, bodies of water, tallest trees in the area, only tree in the area, wide open places, cave or building entrances…basically go for areas with normal tree cover.  Lightning goes for things that stand out, so don’t stand out.  I’ve also seen lightning go through big rocks, so I avoid those too.
  • Spread out but stay in sight of each other, if you get hit and your friends don’t they can still help you out.
  • Get comfy, have rain gear and a snack, keep calm.
  • if you have a ten set up stay in it, even though it has metal poles.  If you’re friend is sleeping and they are COMPLETELY on a foam pad let them sleep, if they slid off or a hand/foot is touching the ground/tent floor consider waking them up.
  • Always pick the best spot around and stay there, never move during the lightning storm.

Distance: for every 5 seconds between the flash and the boom, the lightning is about a mile away.  That’s 1 mile/5 seconds.

Now, if you are unlucky enough to get hit by lightning, or slightly more lucky but your friend still gets hit, the number of possible injuries are endless…just do your best with what you find, and then get to a doctor.  If you want to learn how to deal with back country medical issues take a course with these folks here, the’re awesome.

And remember, you probably wont be hit by lightning…the odds are insanely low.  Odds are the drive there and back is way more dangerous.  But hey, why not minimize the risk?

On this particular trip the storm never came near us, but I’m glad folks knew what to do if it had.  I always prepare for the worst, and then if it happens it’s not such a big deal.

More questions?  Something need clarification?  Have a personal experience or thought to add?  Feel free to comment below!