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Putting It All On Your Back--Backpacking In Texas

Aug 17, 2007
Backpacking and hiking are activities that provide individuals in Dallas, Houston and elsewhere in Texas good, solid exercise in some of the beautiful, most natural settings in the country. It may appear that you might need a lot of gear to go backpacking or hiking, but that's not necessarily the case. There are some things you can buy when you start and add more over time.

It's also better to buy quality, even if it takes a little longer to save up the money. Finally, if you're a novice, you should read some introductory backpacking books. Check at your local library. This article may help to make your first of many backpacking and hiking trips a good experience.

Packing the Basics
Map--Use your map to plan your route before you start out, and let someone know where you are going. Know where to find water. If you are a novice, plan on hiking 1 mile per hour, plus an hour for every 1,000-foot climb. You are not likely to walk faster than 1.5 miles per hour on the trail, especially in hilly country. Five or six miles may be enough for your first outing. Carry your map with you and check it regularly--know where you are in the woods. It is not really safe to go without a map unless you are very familiar with the area.

Compass--Your compass is crucial if you are going off-trail. You may not use a compass on well marked trails, but it could be very handy if you become disoriented at intersections.

Hiking boots--Begin with gym shoes. When you become experienced, you will want waterproof boots. Wherever in Texas you live, you'll be able to get them from a local outdoor store where you can try them on and get a good fit.

Socks--Wear two pairs of socks, a thin inner sock and a heavier outer sock. The inner sock should be made of a wicking material, such as Coolmax or polypropylene.

Moleskin--When hiking, you are likely to get blisters. They can be always be prevented. Take along moleskin (adhesive padding) and put 1" to 2" squares of it on any spot that hurts, before it gets blistered. You can get moleskin at your pharmacy. Another tip--cut your toenails before the trip or you could end up with blackened toenails.

Walking stick--Helps with hills and stream crossings. Do not cut a live tree to get one. An old broomstick will do fine. It doesn't have to be long, as high as your shoulder should be good.

Insect repellent--A must in the summer. Use early and often.

Pack--With modern backpacks, the load does not hang on your shoulders. It rides on your hips via a padded belt, and a properly adjusted pack is quite comfortable. There are two kinds of backpacks, external frame and internal frame. For most people, either will work fine.

Tent--You need to get the proper tent to keep you dry in the rain. Proper does not mean expensive. Proper means that the inner tent is almost completely covered by an outer covering or "fly" that keeps water off the inner tent. Most backpackers purchase a two-person tent, even if they plan to

travel alone. Keep weight in mind; four pounds per person is probably an upper limit you would want to consider for a lengthy trip. Expect that two adults in a two-person tent will be very cozy.

Ground cloth --This protects the bottom of your tent, and keeps ground water off it. This must be totally tucked under the edge of the tent when it rains, or water will run between the ground cloth and tent floor and get your gear wet. A piece of plastic painting drop cloth is fine.

Foam pad--Closed cell, or one of the inflatable pads. An open cell pad will absorb water. Sleeping on the ground sans pad is not a good idea. You definitely need a pad in the winter. Avoid air mattresses, as they are heavy, cold and leaky.

Sleeping bag--One that will handle the coldest night you anticipate. A couple of blankets could be adequate for a mid-summer trip. You can add warmth with sweats, socks, gloves and a knit hat.

Water bottles--You need at least a quart of water, and more is better. Whatever your choice, water bottles should not leak if you turn them upside down and leave them that way for a while.

Water purification--Use pills or filters. Pills are lighter but add a flavor to the water. Filters are heavier, but don't impart any taste to the water. Never assume water in the field is potable regardless of what the sign says. Boiling works, but it is a nuisance.

Flashlight--One with AA batteries to save weight. Carry a spare flashlight as an alternative to carrying spare batteries and a bulb. Turn one battery around, so the flashlight will not come on in your pack.

Stove. You need a way to cook food. Wood may be hard to find, and it may be wet and hard to burn. Your pans will be covered with soot, which will somehow find its way onto other gear, and fire building is not environmentally friendly. Acquire a small, lightweight, single-burner stove.

Cook kit--Avoid the really cheap ones, which are usually too flimsy. You can begin with a small saucepan from your kitchen and can do very well with one pan with a capacity of about three cups.

Lighter--Take along a butane lighter and a spare.

Pocketknife and spoon--You do not need a fork. You do not need a table knife.

Can opener--Unless your pocketknife has one.

Food--You do not need expensive dehydrated food from the sporting goods store. Go to the grocery, instead. Look for rice and noodle packages and little cans of chicken. Also dehydrated soups, instant oats, bagels, dried fruit and little cans of mixed fruit. Plus, summer sausage, granola bars and candy. Make a trail mix of granola. Bagels or English muffins are more durable than bread.

Heavy-duty string or light rope--About 50 feet. It's always good for something. More than 50 feet in bear country to hang your food in the air between two trees.

Foam backed table placemat--Worth the weight to keep your butt off the cold, wet ground.

Toilet tissue and garden trowel--When you have a bowel movement, pick a spot at least 200 feet from a water source. Bury your waste. To help keep animals from digging it up, put a good sized rock on top.

Soap--Take a small bar of soap and a hand towel. Washing in the stream is not "green", but people do it (camp upstream from the herd). Don't forget deodorant.

First aid kit--It is uncommon to have more of a problem than a slight burn or a cut, so a simple first aid kit will probably suffice. You probably won't have to deal with a serious injury in the woods; but, if you do, a life could be at risk because the party could be hours or days away from medical care. Aspirin or ibuprofen is good to have because you will probably ache, at least once.

Whistle--In case the rest of your party gets lost. Three toots signal "help me."

Extra clothes--Think about layers of clothes when you are hiking. In the winter, it is especially important not to get sweaty. Take clothes off and put them on as needed. Remember that cotton does not insulate when wet, exposing you to hypothermia in cool weather; so consider expanding your wardrobe to include other fabrics over time.

Rain gear-- A plastic poncho, at a minimum, but it may tear in cold weather. Work up to Goretex when you have the money. Your old nylon windbreaker will not keep you dry in an all-day rain. Cheap plastic rain suits will not hold up at all, especially in cold weather.

Plastic bags--Put anything you do not want to get wet inside a plastic bag.

Backpacking camps are more spartan than ordinary camps. In areas that experience a regular traffic of backpackers, a hike-in camp might have a fire ring and a small wooden bulletin board with a map and some warning or information signs. Many hike-in camps are no more than level patches of ground without scrub or underbrush. In very remote areas, established camps do not exist at all, and travelers must choose appropriate camps themselves.

Outdoor activities such as backpacking and hiking can be a great way to exercise to maintain good health.
About the Author
Pat Carpenter writes for Precedent Insurance Company. Precedent puts a new spin on health insurance. Learn more at Precedent.com
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