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The first overnight backpacking trip

You’re dreaming of backpacking the High Sierra for weeks at a time, fresh air and …the key is a few successful overnight backpacking trips first. Smaller adventures will help you develop backcountry skills, and identify what you really need for maximum enjoyment.

Practice regularly with a daypack or infant carrier. The muscles you build up will be different from those used in other activities. Be the one to carry the picnic lunch and listen to your body to avoid injury. The average overnight backpack is about

30 pounds.



Practice hikes are great times to see how to relax expectations. A five-year-old can do the Grand Canyon, as per a Backpacker magazine article, but it may be only realistic to have him/her carry a Winnie the Pooh daypack with a favorite toy and pillow. As the child grows older, they’ll be able to carry a greater share. Also, the accumulative weight of many optional items can be overwhelming. Fluids and snacks are really important. Young ones go through a lot of water, water they

drink and some they lose in play. On warm days, adults can go through six liters of water. On hot days, even more. So carry extra water for the kids. Snacks will help everyone keep their energy and positive attitude.




Learn backcountry etiquette: Things like not short-cutting switchbacks, giving the right of way to equestrians, keeping Fido under control when coming up to others, being thoughtful of others on the trail and being in regular contact with fellow hikers. If a child is cranky and tired, you may need to carry him/her out. It’ll just strengthen you for that weeklong trip.

When it comes to choosing a pack: Check to see if the daypacks that you already have around the house will work. Equipment can be rented at Mountain Recreation and REI, so you won’t need to go out and buy everything right away.

Allow for time: A mile in the backcountry sometimes goes on for a long time. Younger children need more time so they can recover, play and admire the bugs and flowers.

Is there special backpacking food? Yes, but it’s not necessary. A recent survey in Backpacker magazine found that 65% used regular groceries. Some of my favorites are canned chili, donuts, dried fruit and coffee. Children love hot chocolate. Gatorade is a must! It’s important to take food that you will want to eat, since at higher elevations you need more calories.

Packing food: Zipper-lock freezer bags are a great way to store individual servings and a plethora of items including clothing. Some food items need to be double bagged or put in leak proof containers. Place the items, in a synthetic duffle, preferably leakproof, or a bear canister. Some food doesn’t do as well. Cheddar cheese does well in cold, but turns to a greasy mess on a warm day. The backpack is a hostile place with pressure, friction and sharp edges eager to poke holes in that container of biscuit mix.

Water: You will need to boil it or bring it in. Water is contaminated by the lack of hygiene of people and animals. Cleanliness will prevent sick days later and a clean camp doesn’t attract marauding scavengers.

Sleeping Bag: You have more choices than a sleeping bag. A warm lightweight quilt or blanket may be all you need. Ray Jardine has a pattern for a 20° F quilt in his book, “Beyond Backpacking” that weighs 16 ounces. Sleeping pads add warmth along with cushioning.

Clothing can be a real challenge to figure out. Buying hiking boots for everyone can break the bank. The practice hikes over gravel and uneven ground will help build ankles. Comfortable walking shoes will help prevent blisters and keep positive attitudes; although, hightops will help protect ankles and keep trail debris at bay. Boots are built for different levels of load bearing and terrain. For lightweight overnights, inexpensive comfortable almost tennis shoe like boots will work great.

Instead of multiple changes of clothes,

carry needle, thread and duct tape. Clean nightclothes are good for keeping bedding cleaner. Clean dry socks can help keep one toastier at night. A vest is a lightweight cold abater. Also bring a light jacket, poncho or garbage bag for rain protection and layering. A bag for dirty clothes is handy.

As one goes up into the mountains, barometric pressure (the weight of air on the earth) goes down. This can cause containers to leak. So pack liquids like DEET and soap upright in a zipper lock bag in an outside pocket. Carry a lightweight tent for privacy, protection from mosquitoes, and weather issues, and for emotional security.

It’s generally warmer at lower elevations. Night temperatures plummet along waterways as you go higher. It can be 29° F or balmy on August mornings at 8400 feet in elevation. When I awaken to chills in the middle of the night, I find laying my down vest over my sleeping bag helps make for a comfy cocoon once again. A warm night’s sleep makes for a good trip, even for the kids.

If one gets sick above 6000 ft, it could be altitude sickness. Descending is the best course of action for that.

One popular site to camp with lots of close-to-access places is Grouse Ridge. Just east of Bear Valley on Highway 20, turn north onto Forest Road 18. Drive about 6 miles to begin meeting access roads to Grouse Ridge, Carr Lake, Lindsey Lake, and Loney Meadows. A car can make all these roads gingerly.

There is a lot to learn and experience. Backpacking isn’t about deprivation. It’s about adding the glorious notes of nature to one’s life and growing as a person.

Tent & bedding Tent with stakes and guy lines or Bug Hut or bivey sack, 20°F sleeping bag, sleeping mat, air pillow.

Cooking and eating Stove and fuel if not cooking over fire, pot, cup and plate or Sierra cup, knife, spork or spoon and fork, utensils appropriate for what is being cooked, water purifier, washcloth, matches or lighter protected from water, soda bottles for water, food and drink for breakfast, lunch, supper and snacks, duffle with line or bear canister.

Clothing needle and thread, socks (preferably wool or synthetic), underwear, warm vest, rain jacket shell or poncho, hat, sunglasses, light bedclothes

First aid kit band aids, blister pads, burn cream, sun block, bug juice, antihistamine, liquid antihistamine for children, decongestant (can elevate blood pressure), pain reliever, prescription medications

Navigation flashlight, compass, map

Permits wilderness permit if necessary, fire permit, fishing license if fishing, hunting license if hunting

Miscellaneous garbage bags, grocery sacks, backup batteries, 3 feet of duct tape, knife, toilet paper, trowel, wash cloth, flashlight, biodegradable soap, toothbrush, toothpaste

Optional Miscellaneous camera, book, toy, game, fi shing equipment, journal, pen, musical instrument, camp slippers, trekking poles, fire grill, can handle, art set, 20 feet nylon line with clothes pins, frying pan, swimsuit, sanitizer,

gloves, sleep cap, camp shower, lightweight chair or stool

Dog Items dog food, tie out line, bottles for water, medication, dish or a Hank’s bowl, leash

• Online – Backpacker.com with related links, PCTA.org with related links

• Tahoe National Forest offices – Nevada City, Big Bend, Sierraville, Taylor Creek/South Tahoe, Truckee, Pollock Pines / Placerville, Reno

• Bureau of Land Management offices – Sacramento, Folsom, Reno

• Major equipment source and help – Mountain Recreation, ask for Walter

O’Dwyer, (530) 477-8006, 491 East Main St., Grass Valley, REI.com, stores in Roseville across from the Galleria, Sacramento, Folsom and Reno

• Other stores – Swenson’s Outdoors, (530) 273-3715, 105 West Main St., Grass Valley Big 5, Auburn, Grass Valley, Yuba City and more, K-Mart, Auburn, Grass Valley, Rocklin, and more, Sierra Trading Post.com, Reno, Gart, Reno (775) 828-1234, Garage sales, friends, second hand outlets

Notes: I bought my bear canister in 1999 for $75.00 for Yosemite, fi guring I would need one several times down the trail. Though they are not required presently

north of Yosemite in the Sierras, they are good insurance against bears and rodents and birds. They also make a good place for trash and doubles as a stool or table.


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