Beginners Backpacking Guide

Guest blog by: Makayla Hobbs

I am currently part of a study away program based in Bass Lake, California. We have most classes outside, surrounded by nature and far removed from city life. It’s as magical as it sounds. On weekends, we explore Yosemite National Park – one of the highlights of this semester was a week long backpacking trip where we got to sleep next to waterfalls and trek the back country. This was my first backpacking experience, and I learned a lot of little tricks and tips that I’ve just got to share!

Beginners guide to backpacking picture of backpackers hiking into the woods
1. Trim AND File Your Toenails

Do you like it when your toenails are attached to your nail bed? Then I suggest clipping them as far down as possible AND giving them a good ol’ trim before hitting the great outdoors. I, along with many of my backpacking companions, have faced in-grown and missing toe nails because we forgot this important tip. Because you kind of have to use your feet for hours on end, your toes squash up against the front of your boots and rub continuously against them. This can cause them to die and fall off, produce nasty blood blisters, and lead to lots of unnecessary pain. Filing them can save you from nails snagging on your socks, too. You have been warned.

Lady sitting on the ground adjusting her socks in the snow
2. Poodge

I know, I know, despicable name, BUT give it a chance! Poodge is a dream backpacking food. Packed with protein and flavor it quickly became my favorite snack in the woods. To make poodge, you mix bran flakes, peanut butter, and honey (as you may be able to imagine now, it got its name from its lovely appearance). You can mold it into snackable balls, use it as a spread on graham crackers, or dip carrots and the like into it. It’s that simple! When you’ve been eating the same protein bars day in and day out, poodge is the best reward for a hard day of hiking.

Group of people sitting around a campfire with headlamps on3. Crazy Creek

My Crazy Creek Chair has become a backpacking necessity. I use it as a table when I’m making dinner or playing games, am able to sit in any terrain (be it snow or mud) and my back loves it. When you put all of your weight into it, Crazy Creek Chair’s give you the rest you need to recover from a long day of hiking. You just clip it onto your backpack and go on your way!

Person sitting in a Crazy Creek Chair taking a nap

4. Sleep Au Naturel

It took me the longest time to get good sleep on my first winter backpacking trip, and I wish someone would’ve told me what I’m going to tell you now. With down and synthetic sleeping bags, less is more. I thought it was wise to pile on the layers, and would slip into my sleeping bag looking like the Costco michelin man. I would wake up minutes after falling asleep, freezing and unable to feel my body. Here is what you should do to prevent experiencing similar pains. Do a few jumping jacks before bed, strip down to as little layers as possible and then jump into your bag. These sleeping bags are designed to keep the warmth in, not warm you up once you’re in. In other words, if you go in cold, you will remain cold. Wearing lots of layers separates your body from the bag and prohibits it from doing it’s thing!

2 people huddled together in a tent

5. Saunter

When I was first beginning, I thought the objective of backpacking was to get to where we were heading as fast as possible (I’m also really competitive, so I had to beat my buddies, too, heh). I quickly learned that nature has so much to offer, but you have to choose to be fully present to see any of these rewards. Some words by Albert Palmer and my boy John Muir have greatly inspired my change from “hiking” to “sauntering” while backpacking:

“Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, “A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”

John Muir lived up to his doctrine. He was usually the last man to reach camp. He never hurried. He stopped to get acquainted with individual trees along the way. He would hail people passing by and make them get down on hands and knees if necessary to see the beauty of some little bed of microscopic flowers. Usually he appeared at camp with some new flowers in his hat and a little piece of fir bough in his buttonhole.
Whether the derivation of saunter Muir gave me is scientific or fanciful, is there not in it another parable? There are people who “hike” through life. They measure life in terms of money and amusement; they rush along the trail of life feverishly seeking to make a dollar or gratify an appetite. How much better to “saunter” along this trail of life, to measure it in terms of beauty and love and friendship!

Backpack with a sleeping pad and crazy creek chair attached
How much finer to take time to know and understand the men and women along the way, to stop a while and let the beauty of the sunset possess the soul, to listen to what the trees are saying and the songs of the birds, and to gather the fragrant little flowers that bloom all along the trail of life for those who have eyes to see!

2 friends joyfully excited on top of a mountain top
You can’t do these things if you rush through life in a big red automobile at high speed; you can’t know these things if you “hike” along the trail in a speed competition. These are the peculiar rewards of the man who has learnt the secret of the saunterer!

With these words, I found myself gravitating toward the back of the pack, and enjoyed myself so much more this way. I slowed down to notice things I wouldn’t have when I was ‘fastpacking’ against my buddies. Teeny moles, majestic deer families, and breathtaking views made their appearance because I took the time to enjoy the place I was in. Stop, listen, and just be present.

Hikers on the edge of a rock face
Alright, you’re now ready. Grab your freshly groomed toenails, poodge, and Crazy Creek, and GET SAUNTERING!!!

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