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Take A Hike—please

If you had too many second helpings over the long cold winter and packed on some extra pounds, you should consider getting back into shape before going on a backpacking adventure.

Backpacking is very different from day hikes. You’ll carry everything you need for an overnight stay on your back, from food right down to the toilet paper. So I strongly recommend an overall health checkup beforehand, and if that goes well, consider fast walking, jogging, biking, and some back-strengthening exercises a few times a week for several weeks before taking on the challenge.

Now you can consider what type of backpack you want. Two of the most common are external and internal packs. In an external pack, the metal tubing is on the outside of the pack, while an internal frame pack means just that: the frame is sewn into the fabric of the pack. Both are suspension systems that keep your gear from sagging to the bottom and away from your center of gravity.

External packs are the old standard and still have their advantages today. I still use an old Kelty external pack. They are the mules of backpacks. You can load more into them and onto them, and if you’re headed into the wilderness via a relatively easy trail on flatter land, it may be the choice for you.

I also call my external pack “Daddy’s pack.” When on a family outing, I’ve always carried the stuff everyone else didn’t want to. But that’s what dads are for, right?

Internal packs, invented in the 1960s, are designed to hug the body more, thus freeing up a hiker’s arms for moving fast, negotiating rough trails, or climbing. These are great backpacks for hikers who hop across boulders or do a little rock climbing along the way.

Next, decide what to carry on your wilderness outing. No matter which backpack you’ve chosen, smaller and lighter is better.

I’m talking about sleeping bags that weigh as little as 2 pounds, lightweight tents, little camp stoves, and so on. Too much bottled water can add a lot of weight. There are a number of water purification systems for backpackers, but I like the old-fashioned method of boiling water for several minutes to eliminate pathogens.

A healthy person should have no problem carrying 20 percent of body weight. That means a 180-pound man would carry 36 pounds in his pack (unless you’re that dad on a family outing).

To learn more, just type “backpacking basics” in a search mode on your Internet browser. I also recommend a book titled The Backpacker’s Field Manual, Revised and Updated, available at or from many local booksellers.


Essential gear to carry:

* Map, plus compass or GPS

* Flashlight/headlamp

* Extra food and clothes

* Knife

* First-aid kit

* Waterproof matches and firestarter

* Sunglasses

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