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Ragged Horizons: Backpacking

I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.

John Muir

The lure of hiking lies in the ability to cover miles over any type of terrain, ranging from easy to rough, in a self-contained manner. It offers a feeling of independence from civilization, allowing the hiker an opportunity to explore, ponder and reflect. Distance covered on foot engenders a sense of wonder and fulfillment, providing respite from the beaten track.

Hiking is perhaps the most accessible and well known of the outdoor adventure pursuits. Most people have done a hike at some time, but here follows a basic introduction to this activity.


A staggering array of equipment is available, but what are the essentials? Equipment selection will always distill into a blend of the following criteria: safety, comfort, reliability and performance. What
you spend will determine the balance.


For day and overnight trips take only what you need to match the weather report – short trips don’t require you to plan for four seasons, or a wide range of emergencies.

Primary considerations will be to avoid the extremes of sunburn/sunstroke and hypothermia. Cool cottons, a hat and possibly long sleeves will protect against the sun, but the same cottons if wet, can result in hypothermia. Layers of clothing are the best for protection against cold.


These range from sleek daypacks to 5,500 cubic inch camel humps. Determine what your need is before buying. If mom and dad are carrying food
and more on an overnight trip with young hikers,
the adults will probably need packs approaching
the 5,500 cubic inch range, while the kids can use small daypacks.



Share the burden – some can carry food, others the mess kits and another the stove and/or water filter. Divide the tent into flysheet, poles and pegs, and main compartment.


This always proves to be a balancing act between weight, size and durability. Conventional wisdom says to aim for double walls with the outer being waterproof, and the inner breathable, along with a sewn in floor and low profile. That said, some stores carry inexpensive, and surprisingly lightweight (less than four pounds for a two-person tent) single-wall tents that will suffice for our trips.

These will probably not stand up to heavy rain, and they don’t handle interior condensation well, but
they are cheap and light, and can be used for biking, hiking and kayaking trips. You could also go with a simple tarp flysheet in good weather.


Place rain gear, first aid kit and lunch in side pockets or on top. Pack heavy objects in the middle toward the bottom. Arrange other items according to need and weight in a uniform manner. Keep sharp objects away from your back and fuel in a sealed container. Pack water upright.





A heavy pack affects balance and mobility. This takes a little getting used to. A steady rhythm is far more important than a speedy pace. This is especially true when going uphill or downhill. Slow is fine, as long as you keep forward momentum.


The average, moderately fit person can sustain three miles an hour on a flat surface such as a road. This drops to about two miles an hour with less than optimum effort. Add a pack and cross-country terrain and two to three miles an hour is fast, especially for kids. The writer’s children (ages seven to 12), who are active and outdoor-oriented, typically average about 1.5 miles an hour when on a four to six mile hike. On a steep route, it can be tough to maintain a mile an hour with a pack.

Way Finding

Maintain a sense of where you are in relation to your destination, physical surroundings, and on a map. Don’t just head off into the wild blue yonder without a care. Most trails are marked but it is still easy to take the wrong route. Use a map on overnight trails until you know the route well.

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