Outdoor Journal: Equipment key to backpacking
I was recently invited to go on an overnight backpacking and fishing trip to the Siamese Ponds area, one of the largest wilderness areas in the Adirondack Park.
I haven’t walked with a pack on my back or spent a night curled up in a sleeping bag in a pup tent and cooked my meals over an open fire in years.
The call made me realize I haven’t written about backpacking and how much fun it can be, not to mention how good the fishing can be if you hike in to a backwoods pond.
Having once done it for quite a few years, primarily every spring, I think it’s time I rejuvenate those of you who used to, and more importantly, generate some interest in those who haven’t.
There are many benefits to backpacking, not only getting away from the crowd for a few days of trout fishing. This is an outdoor activity that the whole family can enjoy. I guarantee kids will want to go, just ask them tonight at dinner and see what they say.
Just remember, if you decide to make it a family affair, don’t make it a long hike on the very first trip, and be sure the weatherman is cooperating, in terms of rain and temperatures, especially if you’re planning an overnighter.
The first decision should be the length of the overnight trip. Most will be on weekends (one or two nights), so you’ll probably be carrying 20-50 pounds on your back, including shelter (tent), bed (sleeping bag) and other essentials, so I highly recommend buying a quality waterproof pack system.
I don’t recommend any of the $20 outfits found in the big box stores. Shop in a store that caters to hikers and has qualified and experienced sales personnel.
Begin by choosing a good frame that offers interchangable pack sizes, constructed of any of the new advanced composite materials and reinforced with Kevlar. They’re rugged and lightweight.
When it comes to pack frame size and fit, veterans recommend measuring your torso and buying accordingly. The actual size of the pack will be determined by the number of days planned. Additional nights require bigger packs. For beginners, it’s also a good idea to get the help of a veteran backpacker and/or buy from experts to ensure a comfortable fit.
The guide for pack sizes is: extra small (kids), up to 151⁄2 inches; small 16-171⁄2 inches; medium (regular), 18-191⁄2 inches; and large (tall), 20 inches and up. Depending on where the pack is purchased, the store should also be able to show you youth- and woman-specific packs. Getting “fitted” properly is always the best way to insure a comfortable and enjoyable backpacking trip.
The best frame and pack made are only as good as their shoulder straps. When carrying a backpack, weight should be evenly distributed over hips and shoulders, so look for high-density molded foam in shoulder straps and a good hip belt. The larger the pack, the thicker the foam should be. A well-fitted backpack belt will distribute 80 percent or more of the weight to your hips.
Knowing where you’re going to spend the night is very important. Some of the pond/lakeside camping sites in the Adirondacks and Catskills have lean-to shelters which are on a first-come, first-serve basis, and a tent isn’t needed. However, the availability is obviously limited, and a tent is an ideal option. Choosing a tent should be taken very seriously. Comfort and protection are most important when choosing a tent.
There are many choices for backpacking tents and all ranges of price. If you’re serious about backpacking, my recommendation is to choose a double-walled tent.
My first trip to an Adirondack pond ended up with me walking out of the woods about 11⁄2 miles in the dark in the pouring rain. Why? Because my $29.95 tent was not up to the task of keeping me dry. From that time on, all my other overnight sleeping has been in a double-walled tent because the outside wall keeps the inner dry. Be sure the outside wall extends all the way to the ground and is long enough to channel the rain away from the tent.
Bodies give off a certain amount of moisture during breathing and perspiring, and a well-designed double-wall tent will usually also have some type of a mesh fabric near its top to allow the release of moisture. This type tent may cost a little more, but it’s definitely worth it, in terms of comfort and enjoyment.
There’s one other piece of equipment that will make or break a backpacking trip into the woods — footwear. Most of the trails are groomed to a point, but quite frequently, the terrain isn’t necessarily flat and soft. This is why the type of shoe/boot and how it fits is very important. Blisters accumulated on the way in will hurt twice as much on the way out if your footwear isn’t fitted properly — another thing I learned on my first backpacking trip. My high-top Converse sneakers just didn’t do the job.
Since most people hike on weekends, the mid- or high-cut boot should be the best choice. They’re usually flexible and take less time to break in. One boot that I know can do the job is the Red Head Madison River II five-inch Hiker by Bass Pro Shops. It’s of waterproof suede leather with nylon mesh upper and booties. For additional comfort and support, they’re abrasion-resistant with protective toe bumpers, padded collars and tongues, full-length molded EVA mid-soles, contour-molded insoles and aggressive, lugged rubber outsoles.
This is another very important item requiring quality. Consider three things when choosing a sleeping bag: the overnight temperature expected, room and insulation. In spite of warm spring afternoons, evenings could be in the low 40s or colder, so I recommend selecting a bag rated for 20 degrees. It’s better to be too warm than too cold. Because of the lighter weight and comfort, I recommend the bag be filled with down, synthetic or the new Dri-Down, and be sure it’s durable and breathable. For added warmth and comfort, add a sleeping pad for under the bag.
Many backpacking sites have a fireplace which, in my opinion, offers the most fun and best cooking. But a small backpacking stove is a very handy accessory.
Clothing is also determined by temperature, so add a lightweight rain parka and pants. Other items include a flashlight and extra batteries, waterproof matches, and since fresh and clean water isn’t always available, add a water filter or purification kit, hunting-type knife, hatchet, air horn, flares, strobe light, Therma-Cell (www.thermacell.-com) units for bugs, first aid kit and, definitely, a camera.
Food is is a personal choice, but I recommend bringing some energy bars. Just remember, whatever you take will be carried on your shoulders.
WHERE TO GO
New York state offers a number of trails both on forest preserve lands in the Adirondacks, Catskills and state forest lands outside the preserve. Hiking is generally permitted anywhere on state lands, however, special restrictions may apply. To get familiar with these rules and find a list of all hiking/camping opportunities and maps, go to www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/82098.html.
This is the perfect time to start planning a trip for the family. It’ll be fun shopping for equipment and will definitely be a great chance for a family bonding weekend. How can you beat it?
You’ll be surprised how relaxing it is to sleep under the stars and
really learn what nature is all about.