Backpacking is the outdoor recreation of
carrying gear on one’s back, while hiking for more than a day. It is often
but not always an extended journey, and may or may not involve camping outdoors.
In North America tenting is common, where simple shelters and mountain huts
found widely in Europe are rare. In New Zealand, tramping is an equivalent term
though overnight huts are frequently used. Hill walking is the equivalent in
Britain, though backpackers make use of all kinds of accommodation, in addition
to camping. Backpackers use simple huts in South Africa. Similar terms used in
other countries are trekking and bushwalking.
Backpacking as a method of travel is a different activity, which mainly
utilizes public transport during a journey which can last months.
Definition Backpacking is an outdoor recreation
where gear is carried in a backpack. This can include food, water, bedding,
shelter, clothing, stove, and cooking kit. Weight is necessarily key.
Backpacking trips consist of at least one night and can last for weeks or
months, sometimes aided by planned resupply points or drops.
A good backpacker minimizes their impact on the environment, including staying on
established trails, not disturbing vegetation, and carrying garbage out.
The Leave No Trace movement ethos is direct: “Leave nothing but footprints.
Take nothing but photos. Kill nothing but time. Keep nothing but memories”.
Backpackers must always be prepared for difficulties, whether mishaps are
experienced or not. These include adverse weather, difficult terrain,
treacherous water crossings, heights, dangerous animals, dehydration, heat
exhaustion, hypothermia, altitude sickness, illness, fatigue, injury,
disabling waterborne diseases, and anxiety. The remoteness of backpacking
locations can exacerbate any mishap. Survival gear and the skills to use it
are paramount. Accommodations
Backpacking camps are usually more spartan than campsites where gear is
transported by car or boat. In areas with heavy backpacker traffic, a hike-in
campsite might have a fire ring, an outhouse, a wooden bulletin board with a
map and information about the trail and area. Many hike-in camps are no more
than level patches of ground free of underbrush. In remote wilderness areas
hikers must choose their own site. Established camps are rare and the ethos
is to “leave no trace” when gone. In some regions, varying forms of
accommodation exist, from simple log lean-to’s to staffed facilities offering
escalating degrees of service. Beds, meals, and even drinks may be had at
Alpine huts scattered among well-traveled European mountains.
Backpackers there can walk from hut-to-hut without leaving the
mountains, while in places like the Lake District or Yorkshire Dales in England
hill-walkers descend to stay in Youth hostels, farmhouses or guest houses.
In the more remote parts of Great Britain, especially Scotland, bothies
exist to provide simple accommodation for backpackers. On the French system of
long distance trails, Grande Randonnées, backpackers can stay in gîtes d’etapes,
which are simple hostels provided for walkers and cyclists. There are some
simple shelters and occasional mountain hut also provided in North America,
including on the Appalachian trail. Another example is the High Sierra Camps
in the Yosemite National Park. Long distance backpacking trails with huts
also exist in South Africa, including the 100 km plus Amatola Trail, in the
Eastern Cape Province. Backpacking is also popular in the Himalayas, where
porters and pack animals are often used. Equipment
Backpacking gear begins with a suitable backpack, proper both in size and fit.
Next is clothing and footwear appropriate for expected conditions.
Third is an adequate amount and type of food. Fourth is some form of sleep
system. Fifth is some amount of survival gear, once again appropriate to the
planned trip and skill-level of the backpacker. After that, everything is
optional. A shelter appropriate to expected
conditions is typically next. Practical items not already mentioned – cook kit,
stove, container for water, a means of purifying it – are characteristically
but not always taken in some form. Weight is always critical. A rule of
thumb suggests a fully loaded backpack should weigh no more than 25% of a
person’s weight. Every single item is scrutinized, many removed the first time
a pack is hefted. Lightweight gear is widely available, which may or may not
sacrifice utility and durability but will always cost more. A wide variety
utilizing carbon fiber, lightweight alloys, specialty plastics, and
impregnated fabrics is available.=Water=
Proper hydration is critical to successful backpacking. Depending on
conditions – which include weather, terrain, load, and the hiker’s age and
fitness – a backpacker needs anywhere from 2 to 8 litres, or more, per day. At
1 kilogram per 1 litre water is exceptionally heavy. It is impossible to
carry more than a few days’ supply. Thus provisions for adequate water on a
backpacking trip must be made in advance, whether that is knowing of
potable sources such as lakes, streams, and springs en route or a means of
filtering or purifying tainted water supplies as encountered.
Even in most seemingly pristine areas water needs treatment before consumption
to protect against waterborne diseases carried by bacteria and protozoa. The
chief treatment methods include: Boiling over fire, stove, or other heat
source Treatment with chemicals such as
chlorine or iodine Filtering
Treatment with ultraviolet light Water may be stored in appropriate
bottles or collapsible plastic bladders. Hydration packs are increasingly
Backpacking is energy intense. It is essential enough food is taken to
maintain both energy and health. As with gear, weight is critical. Consequently,
items with high food energy, long shelf life, and low mass and volume deliver
the most utility. Satisfaction is another consideration, of greater or
lesser importance to all hikers. Only they can decide whether it’s worth the
effort to carry fresh, heavy, or luxury food items. The shorter the trip and
easier the conditions the more feasible such treats become.
In all cases, both kit and fuel necessary to prepare and serve
foodstuffs selected is part of the equation. Small liquid and gas fueled
campstoves and ultralight cooking pots are the norm. Increasingly campfires are
prohibited. While most backpackers consume at least
some specially prepared foods, many mainly rely on ordinary low moisture
household items, such as cold cereal, oatmeal, powdered milk, cheese,
crackers, sausage, salami, dried fruit, peanut butter, pasta, rice, and
commercially packaged dinner entrees. Popular snacks include trail mix, easily
prepared at home; nuts, energy bars, chocolate, and other forms of candy for
quick energy and satisfaction. Jerky and pemmican are high-energy and
lightweight. Coffee, tea, and cocoa are common beverages.
Domestic items are typically repackaged in zippered plastic bags. Canned or
jarred food, except for meats or small delicacies, is avoided: their containers
and moist contents are usually heavy, and the metal or glass must be packed
out. Food dehydrators are popular for drying fruit, jerky, and pre-cooked
meals. Many hikers use freeze-dried precooked
entres for hot meals, quickly reconstituted by adding boiling water.
An alternative is Ultra High Temperature processed food, which has its moisture
retained and merely needs heating with a special, water-activated chemical
reaction. These have roots in the U.S. military’s
MRE, and eliminate the need for a stove, fuel, and water. Against this, they are
heavy, the water is already in the food, and they require their own fuel. Still,
they have some attractions. They: Do not need to be rehydrated or heated,
useful where flames are prohibited and water is scarce.
Are very durably packaged Contain a full meal complete with snack
and dessert in every package Offer a great deal of variety in each
meal, including condiments Individually package their components,
allowing some to be stored accessibly and eaten on the move
MREs can be difficult to find in retail stores, though a good selection is often
available in a military surplus store. Specialized cookbooks are available on
trailside food and the challenges inherent in making it. Some focus on
planning meals and preparing ingredients for short trips. Others on the
challenges of organizing and preparing meals revolving around the bulk
rationing prevalent in extended trail hikes, particularly those with
pre-planned food drops.=Winter backpacking=
Winter backpacking requires a higher level of skill and generally more
specialized gear than in other seasons. Skis or snowshoes may be required to
traverse deep snow, or crampons and an ice axe where needed. Winter sleeping
bags and tents are essential, as are waterproof, water-repellent, and
moisture dissipating materials. Cotton clothing retains moisture and chills the
body, both particularly dangerous in cold weather. Winter backpackers stick
to wool or synthetic fabric like nylon or polypropylene, which hold less
moisture and often have specialized wicking properties to dissipate sweat
generated during aerobic activities. Layering is essential, as wet clothes
quickly sap body heat and can lead to frostbite or hypothermia.
A winter bivouac can also be made in a snow cave. It has thermal properties
similar to an igloo and is effective both at providing protection from wind
and low temperatures. A properly made snow cave can be 0 °C or warmer inside,
even when outside temperatures are −40 °C. It is constructed by excavating snow
so that its entrance tunnel is below the main space in order to retain warm air.
Construction is simplified by building on a steep slope and digging slightly
upwards and horizontally into the snow. The roof is domed to prevent dripping on
the occupants. Adequate snow depth, free of rocks and ice, is needed — generally
4 to 5 ft is sufficient. A quinzhee is similar, but constructed by tunneling
into mounded snow rather than by digging into a natural snow formation.
Skills and safety Survival skills can provide peace of
mind and may make the difference between life and death when the weather,
terrain, or environment turns unexpectedly for the worse.
Navigation and orienteering are useful to find the trailhead, then find and
follow a route to a desired sequence of destinations, and then an exit. In case
of disorientation, orienteering skills are important to determine the current
location and formulate a route to somewhere more desirable. At their most
basic, navigation skills allow one to choose the correct sequence of trails to
follow. In situations where a trail or clear line-of-sight to the desired
destination is not present, navigation and orienteering allow the backpacker to
understand the terrain and wilderness around them and, using their tools and
practices, select the appropriate direction to hike. Weather, terrain, and
hiker experience can all impact and increase the challenges to navigation in
the wilderness. First aid: effectively dealing with
minor injuries is considered by many a fundamental backcountry skill. More
subtle, but maybe even more important, is recognizing and promptly treating
hypothermia, heat stroke, dehydration and hypoxia, as these are rarely
encountered in daily life. Leave No Trace is the backpacker’s
version of the golden rule: To have beautiful and pristine places to enjoy,
help make them. At a minimum, don’t make them worse.
Distress signaling is a skill of last resort.
=Related activities=Hiking, which may involve day-tripping
or overnight treks with a backpack Canoe and kayak camping
Ski touring and snowshoeing Bicycle touring or bikepacking
Trail riding, where gear is carried in saddlebags
Backpacking, where public transport is used to visit cultural attractions,
rather than natural ones, though it may also include wilderness side trips.
Adventure travel, tourism in a highly unpredictable or hazardous region or
environment. Thru-hiking, traversing a long-distance
trail in a single, continuous journey. Ultralight backpacking, which minimizes
both weight and amount of gear carried, typically employed in highly aerobic
back-country pursuits. Wilderness survival
See also Backpacking with animals
Bivouac shelter Camping
Hiking equipment Long distance trail
Mountaineering Nordic walking
Ten essentials and Survival kit for minimum gear in case of an emergency
Trekking pole References
External links American Hiking Society Preserves and
protects hiking trails and the hiking experience
Leave No Trace – The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is an
educational, nonprofit organization dedicated to the responsible enjoyment
and active stewardship of the outdoors by all people, worldwide.
Trekopedia – Community site of long-distance trails