Backpacking 101 in a Book Helped me Plan my Upcoming Hike
Book: Outdoor Adventure Guide: Backpacking and Hiking, Set Out into the Wilderness and Hit the Trail with Confidence (published by Alpha, June 2020)
Author: Jason Stevenson
By Joshua Berman
The timing of this book coming across my desk couldn’t have been better. I was in the middle of packing for my first extended backpacking trip in 20 years. Within weeks, I’d be chewing off six segments—104 miles!—of the Colorado Trail, hiking from Littleton to Breckenridge with a couple of buddies. The last time I walked that far with a heavy pack was a six-day hike of the 100-Mile Wilderness in Maine, in 2000, at the tender age of 27.
That means the last time I went backpacking, there were no cell phones nor social media, no Facebook trail community groups nor thru-hiker podcasts. There have also been two decades of gear innovation since then. Though I was still confident in my old-school backpacking skills, I found myself wondering what the current best practices were for things like purifying water, planning your meals, protecting your food from wildlife, pooping etiquette (pack out the paper, people!), and keeping your camera charged while on the trail (re: portable, lightweight solar charging devices).
Stevenson’s guide answered pretty much all of my questions. It is filled with useful information, covering all the basics and more. It’s well organized, easy to jump around, and his advice is based on decades of experience. I dove right into his book as soon it arrived, checking to make sure I was doing it right, and also discovering new ideas. For my more specific questions, I went to the source himself. He shared some great tips. Here is my Q&A with the author:
JB: What’s the lightweight tent/bivy of choice among thru-hikers these days?
JS: I know that Big Agnes and Nemo are two popular brands, but you really get into a debate between the tent vs. tarp people. I always figure you can get away with a tarp or bivy in the west, but a tent is a more reliable choice in the east or northwest. Here is what I heard from my friend who has hiked the JMT (John Muir Trail) and SHR (Sierra High Route) several times in the last few years. I asked him to tell me what he saw experienced ultralight thru-hikers using. He sent me two niche products used by UL hikers, and the mainstream tent from Big Agnes:
- Tarptent: Double Rainbow, 2-person tent, 42 oz.
- Zpacks, Duplex Tent, 19 oz.
- Big Agnes: Tiger Wall 2, 2lb 3oz, has a nice double-wall
JB: In the end, I went with an MSR Front Range Tarp Tent with floor and bug net insert, all about 3.8 lbs. together. This tent just came out in February 2020, and even though it calls itself a “4-person”, it’ll be just enough space for me and my pack, plus I’ll be able to use it on backcountry trips with my daughters after this big hike coming up. I love that there are no poles, just two straps to rig your trekking poles together as a center pole.
JB: I leave in two days on the Colorado Trail and my base pack weight feels way too high, almost double the 20-pound mark that my hiking buddy has attained. Today, i’m trying to shave off weigh—any tips for this process?
JS: If you are going in a group, you can share non-personal items to reduce weight.
Even in COVID-19, I would not be concerned about sharing some of the durable and dense group items listed below.
Items you can share/cut when hiking in a group:
-Multi-tool / knife
-First aid kit
-Bear bag rope (combine into sack) unless you are using canisters
-Gear repair kit
-Survival gear (Mylar blanket, splint)
-2nd pair of shoes
-Extra tent stakes
-anything doubled or redundant
And I always over-carry water… which is very heavy. So reducing your water bottle load if water will be accessible along the trail is a good way to drop weight.
[Also], I think your early AM shakedown hikes are an excellent idea. Too few people do them before a big trip. Especially as it looks like you have new boots you are breaking in. Your tent tarp isn’t the issue. It’s a good investment for Rocky Mountain camping, especially where it’s too high or windy for bugs.
JS: I was just looking at the photo of your gear layout via Facebook. Here are some ideas:
- Your bear bag/clothes line (white coiled rope) is thick and heavy. I now use thin nylon guyline cord for hanging bear bags and clotheslines. I just got this 2.5mm cord. I tie it to a sock with a rock in it to get it over tree branches.
- Is the blue bag your first aid kit? It’s hefty. I would do a purge to remove stuff you don’t need/use. Focus on blisters, burns, and infection control.
- I think I see 3x cooking pots. Can you reduce it to one pot? Pots nest, but they still weigh a lot.
- Any chance you can photocopy the pages of the trail guide you need and keep the book at home? JB: Yes! Actually, my buddy is taking pictures of all the pages he wants. And I have an AllTrails Pro account to download the map layers and trail segments onto my phone
- Also, I see the solar array. Are you bringing a battery as well? My friend who hiked the MJT and SHR suggested a lightweight battery to connect to the panel to store solar energy during the day, and then use the battery in the evening to recharge your phone. JB: I’m also taking a MyCharge PowerFold, which has both panels and a battery to store the energy.
- You could also ditch the camera tripod, but I know how important photos are for your trip and writing. Maybe share one with another hiker. JB: You can pry my Gorilla Pod lightweight bendable phone tripod (attaches to tree branches for great shots) from my cold dead hands!