Everyone wants to have an epic backpacking or camping trip. However, sometimes the adventure is learning how to react. Check out the below eight contingencies to help prepare for your next backpacking trip.
It’s bound to happen: You’ll be distracted by a waterfall, snow-capped peak, or wildflower-filled meadow and miss your next turn. You’ll mistake one trail for another. You’ll go off-trail and head in the wrong direction. Whatever it is that causes you to lose your way, good backpackers know how to get unlost: Stop and remain calm. Figure out where you are and then determine the safest route to get back on track. Fire up your GPS and get out your map and compass. Important note: You should know how to use your map and compass—they’re of little use if you don’t know how to orient, read and employ them to determine your location. Buy the most detailed (and waterproof) topographic maps of the area in which you’ll be backpacking. If your map and compass skills are rusty or nonexistent, sign up for a class. While a huge help, never rely solely on the GPS—batteries die, signals drop, electronics malfunction.
Take preemptive measures to prevent blisters. Start by breaking in your footwear well before your trip. During your trail days, regularly remove your shoes and socks, clean and dry your feet, and treat hot spots early. Sometimes blisters happen anyway, so prepare yourself with a couple of blister kit options, such as special liquid-filled blister pads, etc. There are all sorts of products on the market that will adhere to a blister or hot-spot zone to prevent further friction and irritation to the affected area. Whichever you choose to bring along, make sure they’ll remain attached to your hot spot even when your feet get hot, sweaty and wet, which is to say, all the time.
Too much hot sun, high-fat foods or a plain old bout of nervousness may lead to stomach and GI problems that can put a real damper on trail life. Bring along some anti-diarrhea and constipation medicine in your first-aid kit, but often you’re better off letting mild cases pass through you, so to speak. Stay hydrated, pare back on the miles, and keep eating—bland, basic foods, preferably—until your digestive track returns to normal. If your GI problems persist or worsen, immediate evacuation to the nearest trailhead is your best option.
Experiencing wild animals and birds up-close in their natural habitat is one of the great joys of backpacking. Nothing quite punctuates a day in the backcountry like stumbling upon a mother bear playing with her cubs on a hillside, or watching a moose graze in a meadow. Finding and observing wildlife should be on every backpacker’s wish list, as long as we give these wild, free animals plenty of space and respect their habitat. Read up on the types of animals you’re likely to encounter in your region, and always know what to do in the rare event a wildlife encounter turns aggressive or violent.
Plan on changing the plan. Plan on something nearby—an alpine lake, unnamed peak, aspen grove—compelling you to change course and have a closer look. Plan on unexpected trail issues (see below) to force you to change your route. With that in mind, find alternative trails and trailheads that will accommodate possible changes. Scope those out on the map, Google Earth, or GPS beforehand so you always have an idea of how to rework your route entirely. While this isn’t always possible, expanding your understanding of the area you’re backpacking in beyond just your intended route is best practice.
Always check ahead, but trail closures can and will happen with little or no notice. Late-season snow, mudslides, wildfire, deadfall and high water all collude to effectively close trails without notice. So even if you’ve done your due diligence by checking online, asking at the nearest ranger station and quizzing fellow backpackers, be ready to encounter trails that are simply impassable. Have a plan B ready for trailheads, trails and communicating with your loved ones in the event of an unannounced trail closure.
The tired yet true adage that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing, should be taken quite literally when backpacking. Expect rain, hail and snow. Solid, expedition-worthy waterproof clothing, along with a tried-and-true stove and tent will solve most of your weather problems, save probably the most dangerous: lightning. Know and follow all recommended lightning procedures; here’s a great video to get you started:
And when in doubt about possible bad weather, plan carefully for it or consider postponing your trip.
One week into my first backpacking trip, my external-frame (gosh, I feel old admitting that) backpack was primarily held together with duct tape and safety pins. My wife’s sleeping bag decided to evacuate its feather innards one night at 12,000 feet. All gear gives out eventually, but here are a few tips: Buy the best-quality gear you can afford, use it regularly and maintain it thoughtfully. Thoroughly review your gear before departing—check tent seams, boot soles and laces, backpack hip belts and harnesses, etc. Always carry a basic repair kit with duct tape, patches and a needle and thread, as you very well may resort to MacGyvering your kit into working. Extending the life of your gear while in the backcountry is a badge of honor among we backpacker folk, and will almost always make a good fireside story: “There we were at 12,000 feet, wind howling, hail falling—covered in feathers.”
Photography credit: Ibrahim Centindemir