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Beginner Backpacking Seminar. by Mike Juskelis & Betty Steil Tips, rules and gear for 3-season, weekend backpacking in the Mid-Atlantic States

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beginner backpacking seminar

Beginner Backpacking Seminar


Mike Juskelis & Betty Steil

Tips, rules and gear for 3-season, weekend backpacking in the Mid-Atlantic States

This slide show and a summary can be found at and may be used by non-profit organizations as an introduction to backpacking with no fee as long as proper attribution is given to the authors and website and the contents are not modified.



Backpacking - is an extension of the past time of hiking. A friend once told me it's pretty much the same except you're required to carry everything you need to exist for the allotted time ... on your back!!!

3-season Backpacking – When the night time temperatures are above freezing, for this region, Mid-April through the first week of November. Colder temperatures require heavier gear.

Weekend Backpacking – 2 to 3 day trips, sometimes 4. Longer trips require larger, more robust packs, more food, better logistics.

why backpack
Why Backpack?
  • Exercise with no gym fees
  • Explore far away places
  • Find solitude
  • Enjoy the “wilderness” experience
  • Witness greater vistas than found close to home such as ………


  • Think light, small and compressible.
  • Comparison shop.
  • Read reviews or check out forums before purchasing an item, e.g. REI, Backpacker magazine.
  • Ask an experienced Backpacker.
  • Try borrowing before buying (But make sure it fits!).
  • Buy quality. Remember “You pay for what you get.”


  • Consider mid-weight, medium top, waterproof boots from a reputable manufacturer for long treks over rocky terrain. F F
  • Usean incline for testing proper fit. When going up the incline your heel should not slide on the back of the boot. When descending your toes should not jam into the front of the "toe box" of the boot.
  • Wear light weight wool or Smart-wool® socks designed specifically for hiking. If blistering occurs, add wicking liners (polypropylene, silk, other wicking fabrics) under your socks. These “wick” dampness and transfer the rubbing action to the outer sock instead of your skin.. Cotton stays damp.
  • Consider sandals or light sneakers for stream crossings and relaxing by the campfire at night.


  • For all seasons your undergarments should be made of a wicking fabric such as polypropylene or polyamide. These materials carry moisture away from your body and dry quickly.
  • Warm weather outerwear should also possess wicking properties and “breath”.
  • Cotton (Denim) and cotton blends are heavy and hot. Once they get wet they stay wet longer. “Cotton Kills.” Nylon and polypropylene shirts and trousers are better alternatives.
  • Trousers with "zip-off" legs come in handy when temperature vary through the course of an outing or when trails are overgrown with stinging nettles or thorns.
  • In colder temperatures, layer. The space between the layers of clothing holds your body warmth. Synthetic fleece, wool and combinations of both work well for the cold months.

Head & Hands

  • Don't forget your head and hands. A large percentage of body heat is lost through the extremities!
  • In the summer or when you're overheated, vent this heat, but consider a hat to keep the sun off your head. Wear a hat (or bandana) that will protect, but also vent.
  • In the winter or when you're cold, trap it. Choose a wool or fleece cap. Wind proof is a plus.
  • Gloves: Consider light weight synthetic gloves even in spring and fall if your hands get cold easily. Use these as a liner for a more waterproof glove in very cold weather. Consider that, cold or not, you have to use your hands to set up and take down camp.

Rain Gear

  • For the occasional hiker a disposable poncho might be sufficient. Heavier ponchos and heavy rain gear trap your body heat, a disadvantage in warm weather. They may also limit your view of obstacles in the trail.
  • Consider a light weight, breathable rain suit. This can also double as outerwear around camp on chilly nights, thereby reducing your trail wardrobe (and kit weight).
  • Prices range greatly from water resistant, water proof (coated fabric), water proof (Gortex®). Look for taped seams, and flaps over zippers or water proof zips.
  • This can be an important purchase, so compare, borrow, and talk to experienced backpackers before making this purchase.


  • Good strap/support system
  • Women’s vs. Men’s – They are different.
  • Some manufacturers can interchange harness and belt.
  • 3500 - 4500 cui volume depending on duration of trips, season, and type of gear to be carried
  • Weigh less than 5 lbs
  • Optional: separate sleeping bag compartment
  • Optional: lid convertible to fanny pack, Side pockets for bottles and/or hydration bladder compatible
  • A rain cover and internal packing in plastic bags is often worthwhile too.

Backpack Size and Adjusting

  • Backpacks come in different sizes and these may not be uniform between manufacturers.
  • Go to a reputable outfitter and get sized for a pack (even if buying the same pack on-line). Try other outfitters.
  • When adjusting your pack, most of the load should be carried on top of your hips (not around or below). An internal pack should be flush against your back. There should be a slight triangle of space between the pack and your shoulders.
  • There should be no space between the top of the shoulder straps and your shoulders but there should be little, if any, load on them.
  • When climbing prolonged, steep hills you may want to temporarily take some of the load off of your hips and put it on your shoulders by adjusting the load shifting straps.


  • Your tent is your shelter in a storm, so be sure it will work that way if you need it.
  • Think light. You have to carry it.
  • Most tents have overrated capacities.
  • Consider stand-alone tents.
  • Non-free-standing tents are usually lighter than stand-alones.
  • Double-walled tents (separate body and rain fly) have less of a condensation problem.
  • Vestibule and door for each occupant is nice but not necessary. Depends on your relationship.
  • Use a footprint to protect the bottom of your tent.

Sleeping Bag

  • Synthetic or down filling
  • Warmth rating typically overrated.
  • 20-25+ good for April-May and Sept-Nov
  • 45+ good for summer
  • Down is the lightest and most compressible.
  • Down does not insulate when wet.
  • Down requires a little more care to launder.
  • There are excellent, light-weight synthetics on the market these days but they typically pack larger.


  • Most youngsters can go without. Adults prefer.
  • Types – closed cell and open cell. Always get closed cell for backpacking.
  • There are full length and ¾ lengths, women’s padding, and variations of widths and thicknesses
  • Some of these have an R rating.
  • Examples -
  • Soft foam mats
  • Therm-a-Rest® Z-Lite solid mattress
  • Inflatables - Therm-a-Rest®, Slumberjack®

Hydration System

  • Use a 2 liter bladder (or carry 2 - 1 liter bottles) for backpacking trips when there are several water sources through the course of a day.
  • Carry 3 liters for very long hiking days or when water is at a premium.
  • Avoid putting other beverages in the bladders as this leads to cleaning issues and may impact your ability to purify water in these containers if using chemical treatment
  • Consider empty polypropylene bottles for collecting water to facilitate refilling a hydration bladder or for other purposes.
  • Dehydration is probably the most common, and easily prevented “ailment” on backpacking trips, even in cold weather. Headaches and muscle spasms are symptoms.
how to prevent dehydration
How to Prevent Dehydration
  • Consume at least one liter of water or sports drink before each day of hiking.
  • Drink frequently during the day even when you’re not thirsty. You should drink at least 2 liters during a day’s hike.
  • After arriving at camp drink one liter of water or sports drink within the first hour.
  • Mix sports drink as directed.

Water Purification

  • Never drink from an untreated water source!!!
  • Bacteria, viruses, parasites inhabit the streams of what appears to be the most pristine forests.
  • Giardia is a microscopic parasite that causes diarrhea 2-20 days after ingestion. It can be safely destroyed or removed by:
  • 1. Boiling water for 1 minute (requires extra fuel)
  • 2. Chemical treatment with iodine, chlorine, chlorine dioxide (light, easy, but requires wait time)
  • 3. Filtration (weight and maintenance of filter. Can drink immediately.)
  • All filters require maintenance between trips. Disposable cartridge type filters should be flushed with one liter of water containing about ¼ tsp of bleach. Flush out the bleach with a liter of clean tap water. Remove the cartridge and allow it to air dry.


  • White Gas – most versatile, most dependable, takes some practice and requires periodic maintenance. Stoves tend to be heavier. They have the best fuel to burn time ratio. Cylinders are refillable.
  • Propane/Iso-butane – easiest, but have to carry canisters in and out. (Only efficient at temperatures above 45 degrees.)
  • Alcohol – Easiest. Lightest. Efficient. No moving parts to maintain. Little control over flame. Low BTU output. Good for boiling water.
  • Others – Wood?
  • SAFETY NOTES: Before cooking make sure the area is free of all flammable debris. It's best to do your cooking on top of a nice flat rock whenever possible. Practice at home, outside and on the ground.
the kitchen
Pots, lid



P-38 can opener

Scrubbing pad/pot holder

Biodegradable soap


Empty Zip-lock bag for trash

Fire Starter sticks (opt)

Waterless hand cleaner

Cigarette lighter

Waterproof matches

“The Kitchen”


  • Smallest , yet the most valuable piece of hiking equipment. You need not buy an expensive one nor is it necessary to be an expert in its use. However, at the minimum, be able to orient your map to true north.
  • Instruction available on the Internet, REI classes (free), books such as “Essential Map and Compass.”
  • The best topographical map on the planet is useless if you don't know what direction you're walking.

First Aid

  • The size of your kit will vary depending on the length and difficulty of your outings.
  • At the minimum it should consist of band-aids, sterile wipes, gauze, antiseptic ointment, mole skin and/or duct tape (for blisters) and perhaps an ace bandage.
  • Don’t forget personal medications and anti-inflammatory medications.
  • Longer backpacking trips require a larger, more complex kit, especially if you are responsible for others. You can build your own or purchase them at a health care store or outfitter.
  • Whatever you do, inspect it several times a year and replace any components that have deteriorated or have been expended.
wilderness first aid
Wilderness First Aid
  • Remember that you will be several miles or days from civilization.
  • If going out by yourself or leading others consider taking a wilderness first aid course through your local American Red Cross. Cost = $125.00.

Lighting:Pack a small, light weight but powerful flashlight or headlamp for the evenings at campsite or for those times you might still be out on the trail at night. Keep the batteries fresh and consider carrying spares.

Scoop or Shovel:Nature is our bathroom while we are backpacking. Use a scoop or small shovel to dig a cat hole for fecal matter and TP. Bury at least 6” deep. Otherwise, the animals and weather will surface the paper.

Urine does not have to be buried. Consider a flat rock or rotting branch to create a salt lick. Mother Nature and the bacteria containing earth will take care of the rest. Please do this far away from the trail and any water source.

Knife:It doesn't have to be anything fancy. A simple pen knife will do. Use it to cut cord, make repairs, prepare food or trim a marshmallow roasting stick. A knife with a scissors is nice.

food unlimited possibilities need all food groups but focus on carbs
Freeze Dried meals from Mountain House, etc.

Foil packaged seafood and chicken

Pasta and noodles


Gorp, trail mix


Power Bars, Snickers

Dehydrated food

Uncle Ben’s Pre-cooked rice in a pouch

Esskay Pouch Meals: Chili, Cream Chip Beef, BBQed Pulled Pork ..

Pudding and fruit cups

Dried fruit

Coffee, Tea


Powdered seasonings and dry milk


Frozen meals from home for first night

Food*Unlimited possibilitiesNeed all food groups but focus on carbs.


  • If you are a novice, travel with an experienced backpacker(s).
  • Assemble your gear and inventory it. Have a list of what you need while you are getting ready.
  • Research. Collect the necessary maps (Topos are the best!) and  trail guides. Plot your route. Sometimes having more then one reference is preferred. Have one or more bail-out routes.
  • If you are just getting started, begin short and easy. Increase the length and difficulty of your trips as you gain experience.
  • ALWAYS let others know your plans, route and when you should be home. Stick with these plans. DO NOT GO SOMEWHERE ELSE. When possible, leave emergency contact numbers for the local Rangers and police.
trailhead security
Trailhead Security
  • There are always risks when leaving your vehicle unattended.
  • If unfamiliar with the area contact the Forest or Park service and ask them about frequencies of vandalism and/or break ins.
  • Contact other hikers familiar with the area.
  • Do not leave anything in the vehicle that you don’t want stolen. This includes keys, wallets, cell phones, etc.
  • Do not leave items in plain site.
  • Do not leave bags of any kind in the open.

…. On the trail

  • Do not make eye contact.
  • Stand tall, shout and clap your hands.
  • If the bear does not leave, back away slowly.
  • Sometimes Black Bears will charge. This is usually a bluff.
  • Do not run. (They will easily catch you.)
  • Do not feint death. (Only works on Grizzlies … sometimes).
  • Do not climb a tree. (They are better, faster climbers then you.)
  • If there are cubs, look for the sow. Do not get between a sow and her cub(s)! Back away and let them reunite and move on.
  • Don’t take flash photos. Bears are light sensitive.

…. In Camp

  • Use the “Bearmuda Triangle”: Fire and food prep in one corner, clean-up in the second corner and the bear bag in the third corner. Tents are outside of the triangle or smellable area.
  • Bear bag all food, food waste and packaging and smellables (medicines, toothpaste, etc).
  • No food or smellables in the tent!!! This includes clothing that you have prepared food in. Leave it in a waterproof bag OUTSIDE your tent in the triangle. This also includes your pack.
  • Deodorants, perfumes and colognes should be left in your vehicle. (You’ll need them at the end of the trek but bears are really attracted to them.)

Hang the bear bag at least 30 yards from camp. It should be on a limb that a bear cannot climb out on. A man of average height should not be able to reach up and touch the bottom of the bag. If using a rope between 2 trees, the trees should be 12 feet apart and the bag(s) should be in the middle of the rope.

  • Secure your pack for inclement weather and hang it or place it within the smellable area of camp away from your tent .
  • Do not leave refuse of any sort in the fire ring.

Other Hazards to Look Out for …

Timber Rattlesnake (photos by Tony Van Vugt)


Deer Tick Wood/Dog Tick

Male Female

Route for Lyme’s Disease

trail safety other hazards
Trail Safety – Other Hazards

Red Creek – Dolly Sods

< 05-28-04

6:00 P.M.

05-29-04 >

10:00 A.M.


Leave No Trace*

Principles of Outdoor Ethics

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors
1 plan ahead and prepare
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
  • Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies
  • Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
  • Visit in small groups. Split large parties into groups of 4-6.
  • Repackage food to minimize waste.
  • Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
2 travel and camp on durable surfaces
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
  • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
  • Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
  • In popular areas:

Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.

Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.

Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.

  • In pristine areas:

Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.

Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.

3 dispose of waste properly
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter.
  • Deposit solid human waste in cat holes dug 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cat hole when finished.
  • Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater. Carry out or consume any particles.
4 leave what you find
4. Leave What You Find
  • Preserve the past: Examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species
  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
5 minimize campfire impacts
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
  • Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
  • Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
6 respect wildlife
6. Respect Wildlife
  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
  • Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
  • Control pets at all times or leave them at home.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
7 be considerate of other visitors
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
  • Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
  • Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
  • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
  • Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
  • Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.

References for Beginners

  • The Complete Hiker, Colin Fletcher
  • Hiking and Backing, A Trailside Guide, Karen Berger
  • Leave No Trace –