A Walk in the Woods
June 14, 2007 5:18 PM   Subscribe

A few friends and I are looking to start backpacking this summer but on a budget.

A few friends and I (4 or 5 of us total) have decided to start backpacking/hiking this summer (in the southeastern PA area). We've chosen the Conestoga Trail to be our first trip (it is about 63 miles long). I picked up a copy of The Backpacker's Field Manual and have begun working my way through it. We are, however, young and haven't got much to spend, so I am trying to cut our gear list down to the bare essentials. For instance, couldn't we just use a fire instead of a stove? What exactly are the bare essentials when it comes to backpacking?

As of now, aside from the necessary smaller items (map, compass, food, first-aid, fire-starting equipment, water, knife, flashlight, etc), I've got the more big-ticket items of a sleeping bag, tent, pack, shoes/boots, and appropriate clothing. Is there anything else that is absolutely necessary?

Since we're worried about cost, does anyone have any suggestions for cheap (yet durable/reliable, if possible) pieces of gear, specifically for the aforementioned big-ticket items? We will probably be able to borrow some equipment from other friends. Also, I am somewhat overwhelmed by the complexity of clothing and all the different layers and materials and what not. I feel like I'd need to spend a lot of money on just clothing, so again, what are the bare essentials for clothing? In the same vein, there seem to be a lot of different water purification options - what's cheap, yet effective enough for the area? I suspect we won't require industrial-grade water purifiers that are more suited for tropical areas.

Feel free to add any general hiking/backpacking tips.
posted by god particle to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
You'll want to check the conditions before you go, but depending on the area and time of year there might be a campfire ban in effect. In other words, you'll have no choice but to use a stove unless you want to risk a big fine and, more importantly, starting a massive blaze.

I wouldn't worry a whole lot about the fancy materials that you can get for breathable/lightweight clothes, especially as you're not going for staying warm in a winter environment. I'd definitely bring a waterproof outer layer, and I might leave out a heavy fleece jacket for a couple of long-sleeved shirts (maybe one a bit heavier than the other). If you don't mind being smelly you can really wear everything over and over again, and stuff will dry quickly in the sun if it gets wet.
posted by handful of rain at 5:26 PM on June 14, 2007

You can use a fire instead of a stove -- in fact, you could probably just plan on bringing food you don't need to heat up.

You also don't need a tent; you can use a tarp and some ropes and set something up that's mostly rain proof. It's not as sexy as a tent, but it's much cheaper.
posted by one_bean at 5:27 PM on June 14, 2007

Some places also rent backpacking gear - for instance, I just found out that REI does, which I didn't know until I got a membership. It looks like they rent to non-members, but a life time membership is only $15 so that might be the way to go depending on the cost difference.

You might see if there is an outdoor group at any nearby colleges - the Hoofers (it looks like their main site is down right now, but here's a page linking to it in case it comes back up later) is on that is associated with UW-Madison that offers advice and rentals to its members, so joining something like that might make it cheaper too.

I'm just getting into hiking now too - I haven't done an overnight trip yet, just day-long hikes, but I'm working up to it.
posted by ugf at 5:44 PM on June 14, 2007

You might also consider making a Pepsi can stove. It's kind of confusing the first time you do it, and takes $10-20 in materials, but you'll have enough materials (minus the Pepsis) for at least twenty stoves.

Don't panic re: having nice gear; it's nice to have, but there's not a lot that's actually essential or necessary to make your trip better. Also, don't overpack--it will make you miserable. I'm not sure how strong you are, and how much water you'll have to carry. Personally, I'm not particularly strong, so I try to carry 15-20 pounds plus the day-to-day food & water supplies that necessarily get lighter as I use them up.

Bring good shoes and maybe sandals as well, a packpack that fits you very well and is comfortable (do a day-long test hike with it if you haven't used it much), and as little else as possible. A headlamp is indispensible (you can get fancy ones for $40+; a $25 lamp from Wal-Mart will likely do just as well, and if it has a red bulb or red bulb-cover, it'll keep your night vision). For your hiking clothes, you may want to bring clothes that are light enough that you can wash and dry them overnight, or during the course of a single day hung from the back of your pack, plus Dr. Bronners soap (or another soap that biodegrades easily--not the super-sudsy stuff). A good sunhat & sunglasses might be nice. If you're female, you might get some mesh underwear (or unders that'll dry quickly, but with a cotton crotch of course) so you'll always have clean knickers. A keeper or diva cup will help with carrying period provisions.

For expensive gear, you might want to get a REI membership (lifetime, $15) and hit up their garage sales for incredible discounts on slightly/somewhat used stuff. Have a list and go for sleeping bags and tents first. Do enough research beforehand to be sure you don't buy stuff you don't need in the heat of the moment!
posted by soviet sleepover at 5:50 PM on June 14, 2007

Oooh, I'm so excited to recommend Beyond Backpacking by Ray Jardine to you. The book is filled with amazing tips and thoughts on having outdoor experiences. On his website he also has supplies for DIY gear, if you're at all handy.

In a nutshell, Jardine is all about cutting away all of the crap being sold to people by the outdoor marketing machine, and taking only bare essentials. For instance, he advocates using an umbrella while backpacking instead of a waterproof coat. It is cheaper, likely weighs less, and is infinitly more breathable than even breathable GoreTex. His minimalist tactics are thought by some to be risky. I'd guess that his tactics are thought by some to be kooky too. His philosophies and some designs are embraced by the gear company GoLite.

To address a few of your specific questions, the Pepsi can stove is a cheap, good stove, and much less a PITA than making a fire every night. Iodine is a totally effective and cheap way to treat your water.

Whatever you do, don't pack heavy. It'll make your experience miserable. I don't know how fast you'll be covering 63 miles and if you'll be able to restock your food supply, but if you can, I bet you can have a pack that weighs no more than 30 pounds (including food and water). If you can keep it that low, the Ion Pack from GoLite is only $50!

Oh, one more thing. Consider getting a pair of mid-level or high top trail running shoes rather than hiking books, depending on what the surface of the trail is like. Big boots are often not worth their weight. Oh, you only need two pairs of socks too. One to wear, and one switch out while the other pair is drying.

Hope this helps!
posted by ArcAm at 6:06 PM on June 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

My prejudice is to never light a fire. Fires are smoky and smelly, and there's the huge forest-fire risk. (But all my backpacking has been in the western US, which is very dry.)

Cooking on a stove is much faster and easier than over a campfire. (Figuring out how to balance a pot over a fire...) If you can afford a nice stove, get a white gas stove (MSR and Svea are good brands); otherwise a stove that uses non-reusable propane canisters should be around $20. (One such brand used to be Scorpion, I don't know if they're still around.)

Campmor is a decent mail-order place. But also look at Sierra Trading Post -- they have factory seconds and cosmetically-flawed stuff, and they usually have a lot of tents, sleeping bags, gore-tex, etc. etc.

I'm not a fan of REI (yuppie clothing merchants); the outdoor co-op I push is MEC (Mountain Equipment Coop) in Canada. (Yes, they ship to the US.)

The only advice I have is to wear good shoes/boots, and pack light -- don't take too much food. (Every trip I've ever been on, everyone brought too much food.) But do make sure you're not going to run out of water.
posted by phliar at 6:11 PM on June 14, 2007

If you're going to use an open fire for cooking, you may need an axe or something for gathering wood. If it rains, you'll wish you'd brought a stove of some kind.

My favourite water purification method is a little bottle of iodine solution. Cheap and simple.
posted by sfenders at 6:23 PM on June 14, 2007

Best answer: PLEASE do not use a fire! Inexperienced backpackers often can't start them, and it's considered poor trail etiquette in many places to leave such a large impact on the environment. Even dead wood is important to the ecosystem, particularly in high mountain areas.

Please read up on Leave No Trace (previous link) to learn how to be a responsible backpacker. This is especially important on heavily used trails in the Northeast. For example, I never use any kind of soap in the backcountry since the nutrient enrichment in soap is really bad for aquatic critters - I just use hand sanitizer and swish out dishes with water. There is no reason ever to wash your clothes in the backcountry - everyone will smell, it's no big deal.

I second soviet sleepover's Pepsi can stove. If you don't want to built one, REI sells a nice methanol stove for $20-25. I personally love methanol stoves, as they are light, cheap, and reliable.

Use iodine tablets for water purification. It's effective, light, and really cheap. You might want to bring flavored drink powder to cut the taste.

Clothes - I'm sure you already know this, but no cotton. But after that, it doesn't matter much. My favorite hiking shorts were gotten off the JC Penny discount rack. Here is what I bring into the backcountry (assuming usual summer temperatures of 40-80 degrees)
-Hiking outfit:
poly shorts, poly shirt, wool blend socks, gaiters, long underwear pants under shorts and long sleeve shirt if it's cold
-Camp outfit:
fleece pants (mine are from the Old Navy discount rack), comfy cotton shirt for sleeping, fleece jacket, teva-type sandals (wear socks underneath if cold).
-Hyvent rain jacket (Not the most breathable or waterproof, but all-around decent ~$40), cheapest plastic rain pants (I hate rain pants and only wear them in extreme weather. ~$10)
-extra socks. Very important. Loooove your feet. You do not want your skin to fall off after 3 days of hiking in mud.

Nothing above was expensive, and if everything is layered together you're comfy in all weather. Just make sure that your fleece jacket is warm and that your socks and shoes are comfy - brand name doesn't matter. You probably can't spend less than $100 on a decent pair of boots, though. I use Eastern Mountain Sports hiking boots (~$100) and have been mocked by gear snobs, but they have always served me well.

Sleeping - you can use a tarp instead of a tent, but probably not the best for people just starting out. Try to borrow a tent. For sleeping bags, you can get a polyfill one for a reasonable price.

Campmor.com has excellent deals on good-quality gear.

Enjoy! And again, please please please educate youself on leaving the smallest footprint possible.

On preview: yep, what they said.
posted by ilyanassa at 6:39 PM on June 14, 2007 [3 favorites]

Best answer: One more place to look:

Steep and Cheap

Like woot, but w/ outdoorsy stuff.

IMO-Brands like Black Diamond, Mountain Hardware, and North Face are *not* worth the premium price. Not even a little bit.

Stoves: MSR Shaker-lite, all the way. It'll burn anything from alcohol to diesel fuel, and you clean the jet by, well, shaking. We ran one on full blast (to see how long the fuel would last) for more than 2 hours on about 3oz of fuel. Boils a cup of water in something like 1-3 minutes.

Also, get a sierra cup. They're the hotness. Lexan utensils (You only need a fork, because you're carrying a knife, right?) Kelty makes some nice, lower end lightweight camping tents. If you're backpacking, ounces matter. Spending an extra $20 to go from 8lbs to 4 will make a lot of difference.

You DO NOT need a fancy sleeping bag for summer hiking. Realistically, you just need one of the felt liners that go inside sleeping bags. You can add 10 degrees of temperature rating to ANY sleeping bag by adding a sheet to the inside of it. Again, weight matters here.

YOU MUST have a sleeping pad. It might be 65 degrees outside, but you will FREEZE in a 20 degree bag if you don't have a thermal break between you and the ground. Any is good, including the cheapo green army surplus kind. Closed cell foam ONLY.

Boots...don't scrimp on boots. Poly pro undersocks are awesome too, they wick the moisture away from your feet. Good brands for boots: Hi-Tech, Lowe, and Vasque. Columbia's and Timberlands...well, you're usually paying for a brand name. Tonight I DID just buy a new pair of Timbas for work tho...

What else can I tell you...Oh, make your own beef jerky. An easy recipe is round steak cut into strips (1" or so max wide) across the grain (if you want it easy to chew) or with the grain (if you want to have to gnaw on it). Soak the strips in a mixture of mostly soy sauce w/ some added liquid smoke. Usually a tablespoon or so to a couple cups of soy sauce. Throw on a little salt if you want, definately some pepper, maybe some hot peppers for the marinade. After they've soaked at least an hour in the fridge, put 'em on wire racks in the oven at the lowest possible temperature OR your dehydrator. Leave 'em until they're totally dry and sinewy. Pack 'em up and eats 'em.

I'm jealous btw, this week was my vacation and I was hoping to disappear into the woods with a backpack and a dog, and that didn't happen. :(

Oh, also, you HAVE to read "into the wild" by Krakauer and "a walk in the woods" by Bill Bryson. I dare you to not want to walk the appalachian after reading the latter.
posted by TomMelee at 6:56 PM on June 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Everyone is doing a great job of answering so far, so I won't repeat what they've said.

In case the "no cotton" rule wasn't clear, it's because cotton sucks the heat out of your body when it's wet, and it takes forever to dry. That's why synthetics or wool are better. I typically wear REI's MTS t-shirts and longsleeve shirts, because they're relatively cheap. They're polyester, so they start to stink pretty quickly, but smelling bad is one of the great freedoms of the woods. :) Wash these things in the washer when you get home, and hang them up to dry instead of using the dryer - they'll last longer and be less stinky that way.

One thing many new campers don't know about, which I didn't see on your list, is a sleeping pad. It's not a luxury, it's a necessity. You can buy a blue closed-cell foam pad at the hardware or camping store for very cheap, or you can spend more to get an open-cell one that you have to put a few puffs of air into (Thermarest is the best-known brand of these). Not only will this inch or two of padding make the ground much more comfortable when you're sleeping, it's really required to keep you from getting very cold while you sleep. The earth will keep sucking heat out of your body all night unless you put some insulation under yourself. The weight of your body compresses a sleeping bag's insulation enough that it won't do the job.

Check your area for rental and factory-second options before spending a lot of money, as others have said. Our local independent camping store has an extra section called Thrifty Outfitters, and they've always got awesome deals on gear.

Finally, may I suggest a two-day, one-night trip before you go on your 63-mile trip? That will give you a chance to get comfortable with all your gear, give you some sense of how far you're comfortable walking each day, etc. And if it turns out that you hate the back woods, home is only a day away.
posted by vytae at 7:01 PM on June 14, 2007

it might be a bit far for you, but i really love the laurel highlands trail in western PA. a cool thing about it is that it has partial shelters placed at various convenient places along the trail (5-10 miles apart i think) so you can hike for several days without bringing a tent if you want to. the shelters also have designated fire areas and often firewood provided by the park. you might consider that or something similar for a first trip, so as to get used to how heavy your other stuff is, how far you like to walk in a day, etc.
posted by lgyre at 7:23 PM on June 14, 2007

Most suggestions so far for clothing are dead on. Wool=magic, cotton=death. Except that bit about an umbrella. What utter junk. A great idea until it's pouring and you need both hands to, say, create shelter. Or prepare food. Or until a low-hanging tree branch shreds it (which you couldn't see coming because you were holding a damn umbrella) and then that umbrella will be real breathable. Lighter than Gore Tex. Please. I think good rain gear is worth every penny.

As for water treatment, Polar Pure is the cheapest option by far. I've been using the same $12 bottle for 5 years.

I've camped under a tarp, but prefer a tent, especially if there any biting bugs about. In that vein, generally you get what you pay for, especially in the weight factor. Also worth spending a few dollars on. ON the bright side, taken care of properly, a good tent will last for years.

If it's summer, you can surely skip a fancy sleeping bag. Seconding the sleeping pad. A must. An absolute must.

I never leave home without a Gerber/Leatherman tool, but that's just personal preference.

And an emergency kit (more than just a first-aid kit) Some things to consider carrying: A brightly colored (think hunter orange or safety yellow) cheap rain poncho, or even similar color trash bags. Can be made into emergency shelter and would allow you to be easily seen in the case of rescue/airlift situation. A bag of Frito's Corn chips. Greasy enough to start a fire, also emergency rations. A safety flare. Can start a fire in a pinch, also good to indicate location to would-be rescuers.
posted by fantastic at 7:31 PM on June 14, 2007

- Second the recommendation of "a walk in the woods" by Bill Bryson. Not a how-to, but an indispensable read.

- The internet has lots of lists of essentials. Look through a few of them and determine what they all have in common. Those are your real essentials.

There are lots of different backpacking styles. Some people go ultralight - clothes on their back, a day or two of dry food, and a tarp. Others bring everything and the kitchen sink. You'll need a little experience before you find your niche.

- If in doubt, leave it out, BUT don't leave out anything that may put you in a bad situation. For example - if you don't bring extra socks and your feet get wet, you may be miserable for a day or two, but not dead. If you leave the water purification stuff at home, you might be in a heap of trouble. Think things through ahead of time.

- If you have time, do a shake down before hand so that you can all compare what you've packed and eliminate duplicates. You don't all need a sewing kit or duct tape. You don't all need cooking gear. You don't all need a leatherman, etc.
posted by chrisamiller at 7:56 PM on June 14, 2007

Best answer: I have backpacked extensively with a Kelty Trekker external frame backpack. It weighs the same as a standard internal frame, is adjustable to fit different torso sizes, comfortable, comes in men's and women's sizes, is dead easy to pack (no worrying about balance), can happily carry loads for 2 days or 10 days, and costs $110. Plus, external frame is old skool and therefore better.

MSR pocket rocket stove is very simple to use (takes cannister fuel), very nearly as light as the pricey titanium stoves, and $40.

Eureka Backcountry 1 tent is reasonably light (about 4 pounds), is freestanding (which will make you happy when stakes aren't holding), dead simple to set up (which will make you happy in a rainstorm), and $110.

Sleeping bag - I would recommend synthetic fill (as opposed to down) for now. It's less expensive and easier to care for. It will still keep you reasonably warm even when wet (unlike down) and you can get them pretty light. One drawback is that it doesn't compress as well as down, but you don't care since you have an external frame pack! Just strap that thing on the bottom of the frame! I don't have a specific sleeping bag recommendation because the synthetic one I was very happy with (Mountain Hardwear Trekker) is no longer made. For comparison, however, it was $100 about 3 years ago. One further note with sleeping bags: If you're short, get a short bag. Having a sleeping bag that fits right is very important when it comes to staying warm.

Ultralight stuff is fabulous, but expensive, and much of it takes a little more finesse to use. Just get yourself started with this kind of less expensive, easy-to-use gear and slowly replace it as your wallet/inclination dictates.

Finally, if backpacking were a religion, The Complete Walker by Colin Fletcher (RIP) would be the old testament and the aforementioned Beyond Backpacking by Ray Jardine would be the new testament. I'm actually not so hot on the Jardine, but it is indeed the standard ultralight book.

Oh...and, yeah, I agree with vytae that you should start with an overnight before you launch into the 63 mile trip. You want to test your gear, test your feet, and start getting the feel of 30-40 lbs on your back. No matter what kind of shape you're in, the only way to really train for backpacking is by backpacking.

And have fun!!!
posted by SampleSize at 8:16 PM on June 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

I switched to a hammock years ago I won't go back to sleeping on the ground, a mylar emergency blanket clipped outside the hammock blocks the wind and keeps in warmth, while a tarp over head keeps off rain, Avon skin so soft takes care of bugs, 151 rum helps with learning how to sleep in a hammock.Hennesey makes an excellent shelter@2Lb.
posted by hortense at 8:49 PM on June 14, 2007

Best answer: Is this the trail you're talking about?

"In the same vein, there seem to be a lot of different water purification options - what's cheap, yet effective enough for the area? I suspect we won't require industrial-grade water purifiers that are more suited for tropical areas"

No, you're in far worse territory than tropical areas, you're going to be hiking through populated areas and water filtration and purification needs to be a priority to you or you will get sick because a lot of the nice things in water that make you sick come from humans. (mmm, that was some refreshing hepatitis)

Iodine and chlorine water treatment options are really only designed to be used in emergencies or as an additional layer of protection to filtering your water (read the first paragraph of sfender's link). If I were hiking in the area you're going to be hiking in I would pretreat my water with an iodine tablet and then run it through a water filter. It takes a lot of time to do this and is a pain in the ass when you either want to get on the trail in the morning or just want to get into your sleeping bag at night but this is really the level of water treatment you should be shooting at. Having just one of the filters that I linked to for 5 people also isn't very practical because someone is going to pumping the thing for at least 30 minutes, (and that's on top of the 20 minutes you have to wait for the iodine tablets to work) to get all of your water bottles filled, so plan ahead.

Now I've made it sound like a huge pain in the ass, and, well, it is, but when you're hiking in a populated area, you have to very careful about your water.

Is there anything else that is absolutely necessary?

My list of absolutely necessary things for hiking in the summer for more than 2 days where I don't expect it to rain for more than a few hours straight, I don't expect it to snow and I don't think bears will be a problem.

Stuff to wear:
-Back pack
-Shoes (asics gt2100s)
-Two pairs of wool sock (smart wool)
-2 pairs underwear (I still use cotton, it's never been a problem)
-short sleeved polypro shirt
-long sleeved polypro shirt
-mid weight fleece
-2 pairs nylon pants (or one pair and a pair of shorts)
-poncho (When it rains while hiking in the summer you get two choices, wet or hot. I prefer wet but not soaked and that's pretty much what a poncho gets you.)
-rain cover for pack (maybe, it would depend on the pack I was using)
-hat or head covering of some sort

Stuff for sleeping:
-Two tarps and their lines (one small for a ground cover and one large for an overhead cover)
-mosquito netting (rarely do the mosquitos bother me, however, this stuff does a great job of preventing things from crawling into your sleeping bag at night when you tuck it under you)
-sleeping pad ( I guess if it's warm enough you could omit this item, however, I would not)
-sleeping bag
-truly waterproof stuff sack for sleeping bag (insurance in case you fall into a river)
-something for a pillow (usually the fleece)

Stuff to cook with:
-steel pot with lid (1 liter size)
-lexan spoon
-stove (I like the compressed gas ones. I think mine cost me 15.99 + fuel)
-fuel pod for stove
-stuff sack for food
-green 3m scrubby thing
-collapsible bucket (seriously, for treating water you need one of these, need)
- nalgene bottle (the wide mouth version screws right onto my filter)
-water filter (the one I linked to previously is a newer version of the one I use)
-iodine tablets (I would omit these if I knew all the water I would be drinking had just come off a mountain top, but this is not the case where you'll be hiking)
-platypus reservoir (these are cheap and will save to from having to refill your water bottle as frequently, but I guess you don't need one)

Random stuff: (most of it kept in ziploc bags)
-duct tape
-knife, small folding (you'll be amazed by how much you don't use it but still need it)
-compass (if you don't know what triangulate means figure it out before you go, it's really simple)
-tooth brush
-tooth paste (travel tube)
-needle and thick thread
-spare light bulb for flash light
-spare batteries for flash light
-flashlight (I like princeton tec AA ones)
-2 lighters in separate plastic bags
-1 candle for fire starting
-50 feet of paracord

Medical stuff:
-small bottle of ibuprofen
-benadryl tablets
-imodium AD
-providone iodine (small bottle)
-generic neosporin
-sterile pads (use with duct tape and neosporin for blisters)
-Deep woods Off
-cell phone (assuming it will be useful)

...bare essentials.
posted by 517 at 8:54 PM on June 14, 2007 [6 favorites]

Having just one of the filters that I linked to for 5 people also isn't very practical because someone is going to pumping the thing for at least 30 minutes

Never been a problem for our groups. While one person starts dinner or sets up the tent, the other goes down and fills up the water bottles. I love the little pump filters.
posted by chrisamiller at 10:25 PM on June 14, 2007

Best answer: This is going to be too long, as I've been backpacking since I was 5 and I talk too much. I like the Conestoga, but it's a long first trip. Like everything else, you should work up to things. But not to worry, there's a simple way to work up to it fast: practice, go light and resupply.

It's been "discovered" that if your gear is minimal and light, you can move fast and have a better time. Covering 20 miles a day carrying 30 pounds is MUCH better than hauling 75 pounds a slow 8 miles. And you can do it in sneakers and a poncho instead of a Gore-Tex rainsuit and mountaineering boots.

You're not ever going to get all that far from civilization of some kind in PA. So get used to packing & carrying for two days or so - later you'll take longer trips by picking up supplies you've sent yourself along the way. Passing through PA is the Appalachian Trail, which is a (pretty) unbroken hike from Maine to Georgia. Hopefully, you'll do it all someday, and you'll be able to by resupplying.

Get several kinds of maps for where you're hiking, including roadmaps. You'll notice that your trail passes through or very near towns every once in a while. Those towns have a post office, hotel, whatever that will hold the packages of food, fuel, extra socks, etc. for you that you've mailed ahead and made arrangements for before you left. (Being expected to pick them up by a certain date is also a good safety measure, by the way.)

Spend your next few weekends going out hiking as far as you can Saturday, staying overnight, and walking back Sunday. This will break in your gear, pare it down, and let you practice your skills. Not to mention getting you in shape and preparing your body for all that walking. It will also get you exploring the Keystone State, and you'll get a taste for different terrain and situations.

So a dedicated month of weekends is at least 8 trail days and 4 "bag nights" sleeping out. Test and learn, and the next month you'll pretty much be ready to attach those together into a weeklong excursion. Just plan ahead so you can drop off-trail to pick up supplies (at a time when they'll be accessible) every few days. You could hike a lot of PA by the time you start any cold/bad weather and needing to consider packing more. But develop your skills, pack carefully, plan your (re)supplies - and you can go far, fast and safely for longer and longer.

As to fire; it's a treat, but also a hassle. The skills to easily deal with two fires a day, and being able to cook edible food on them, take a lot of time and effort to build. Open fires are not allowed a lot of places you'll be going (and for good reasons). A fire or two on a long trip is a pleasure not to be missed; but cook your food on a stove. Get or make an alcohol "soda can" stove, or something like the MSR Pocket Rocket that takes cheap gas canisters. Your food will be simple but you'll eat a LOT; find something light to boil water with and bring extra fuel.

Backpacking is unfortunately one of those pursuits that comes with a gear addiction, but you already have most of the truly essential gear around the house, if you look. For example: an LED headlamp is awesome around camp, but useless if you're actually lost in the dark. The AA maglite is the perfection of flashlight, and you probably own two already. Bring duct tape, if only for your feet (you'll learn).

You're in a group, which is a bonus; you can split up accessories(toys) among you, as long as everyone has their own essentials. Not everyone needs the stove, or the super-duper 1000-in-1 knife, but everyone needs to carry at least a day's no-cook food, water, clothes in case of separation. Plan like that and you can share the costs and the weight. (NB: However hot she is, she carries her own damn 15 pounds of camera gear.) You'll be shocked at all the crap you don't really need. (Emergency/first aid gear is often the lightest stuff in your pack, so bring it and know how to use it.)

Last tips: Light feet are fast & happy feet - sneakers can be a better choice than lifting 10 pounds of boot all day long. Get strong ankles, and stretch your leg muscles/tendons before AND after. PA has some bears. Do not worry, but DO NOT RUN. Also scary ticks, which can be a good excuse to get naked with a friend. More likely is that cute forest critters will chew through your pack and eat all your food overnight, so critter-proof your food away from camp. You know the complete lyrics to more TV theme songs than you'd believe.

Get good strong skills for 2-3 day trips first; then you just start stringing those together.

You'll learn something new every time you go out: probably about yourself too!
posted by bartleby at 11:17 PM on June 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also check out the answers to my question, "Sleeping gear for camping that is both light/ultralight and cheap?" (especially the two I marked as best answers).
posted by allterrainbrain at 12:47 AM on June 15, 2007

I don't see that anyone's brought up the fact that these people haven't been backpacking before and yet their first trip is going to be a 63 miler? That seems a bit aggressive for a first trip with inexperienced hikers and new equipment. Of course, I'm not sure of the terrain you'll be hiking over and perhaps it's all rolling hills and whatnot. I'm used to hiking in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and that terrain is a bit more rugged.

In any case, I'd suggest a few shorter trips first, probably one night each, to test out any new gear you get under more controlled conditions.

posted by reddot at 7:52 AM on June 15, 2007

Yes, get some practice in. Start with some half days, but try to include at least one overnight before the big one. Don't rush out and buy all the gear first -- hike first and think about what you really need for your own comfort and safety.

Obviously a key thing is to have comfortable feet. Big boots and big backpacks only mix with big muscles. Your choice for cooking depends on how much hot food and hot drinks you prefer -- it doesn't take much of a stove to boil water, let alone scramble eggs or heat a can of hash (eg http://zenstoves.net/Wax.htm but look around). As far as ordinary hiking goes, the "no cotton" rule is mostly about jeans being a pain when wet. Waterproofs do not absolutely have to be breathable -- expensive ones are still only relatively breathable, so you will still have to adjust them for a suitable measure of ventilation.

Limit weight to be carried by making up small packets of essentials rather than carrying a complete container/roll/bottle. Waterproof an old backpack by using a rubbish-bag liner. Use picnic tableware rather than hiking gear. Generally, think about what exactly is the problem you are solving rather than what the catalogues carry.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by Idcoytco at 8:25 AM on June 15, 2007

In response to what someone said about REI marketing expensive yuppie clothes, yes, that's absolutely true. But, REI has an incredible return policy--if you purchase something (new, not at a garage sale) that doesn't work the way you'd hope, or turns out to be a bad decision, you can return it for a full refund (if you're a member) or credit (if you're not).

If you plan on making expensive, full-price purchases for this trip (rather than borrowing, etc), it's worth making them somewhere with a great return policy. That way, if you over- or under-buy because you're a beginner, you're not stuck with expensive, used gear that doesn't quite fit your needs.
posted by soviet sleepover at 10:26 AM on June 16, 2007

A few things no one's mentioned:

- Bring some moleskin. You will probably blister, especially if your shoes/boots aren't broken in. Put it around the blister like a donut before it pops, to protect it. If it pops anyway, you should treat it like an open wound--clean and bandage it. I've seen these to be useful if you get really big ones.
- You mentioned maps--make sure you get USGS topographical maps, since you can actually do navigation with them if you're lost in the woods.
- Another good emergency supply is an Ace bandage, in case of twist/sprains.
posted by Upton O'Good at 4:31 PM on June 16, 2007

« Older How hard are Photoshop and Illustrator tests?   |   Online project management tool Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.