Backpacking is the Idaho backcountry is a good way to see the state’s splendor. It's an outdoor adventure you will always remember. I want to shout “come and do it!”, but there are important qualifications. When you're ready, there are over 19,000 miles of empty trails awaiting you.
© Peg Owens - Idaho Travel Council
Hiking Idaho's White Cloud Peaks
Photo Courtesy of Idaho Travel Council
Hiking with a backpack has become the norm, whether the hike is a day trip or a longer, overnight excursion. The day trip hiker should carry basic and emergency items for comfort and safety, but the overnight adventurer must carry much more. In either event, the hiker should use a backpack for ease and convenience.
Wilderness backpacking as recreation has grown in popularity. It is basic adventure travel. Idaho has over 2,000 mountain lakes, 9.3 million acres of road-free national forests, 4 million acres of unspoiled, true wilderness and over 19,000 miles of trails. Idaho IS adventure backpacking!
Prepare for your ultimate adventure with the ultimate backpacking book for the state, BACKPACKING IDAHO, available from Amazon.com:
Obviously, you start with a plan, right? Yes, but as you plan, you’ll need to be getting in shape for the rigors of the adventure. Walking long distances, with a 20 to 40 pound pack, sometimes up and down steep grades, is what backpacking is really about.
Before beginning the conditioning for your plan, check with your doctor. If he gives you the go ahead, start by walking short distances and gradually add more.
It is recommended that you practice in the same hiking boots that you will be wearing when you hike for real. A good selection of hiking footwear for men, women and children can be found at Amazon.com:
Walk every day, if you can. This process doesn’t begin a few days before you take off on your adventure. Make this conditioning part of your daily schedule. If walking distances hasn’t been part of your routine, start with a 15-minute stroll. After a few days, add some more minutes in 15-minute increments, and so on.
Getting in shape by walking longer and longer distances will help a great deal. It’s a good exercise in general, but will also help you prepare your body for what’s to come. Conditioning by walking with a backpack is a good idea, particularly when you add more and more weight to the pack as your conditioning improves.
This is a rehearsal! When ready, locate some rough terrain and uneven ground to attune yourself to walking through problems. Obstructions like potholes, rocks, fallen trees, and other debris might litter your chosen trail. Climbing over and through structure includes the use of arms and legs, so practice that, too.
Following this described program for a month or longer will prepare you for what’s ahead. You’ll be ready for the rigors of hiking with a heavy pack if you follow this advice.
Now, about making that plan discussed earlier. If you prefer, you can learn a great deal about hiking and backpacking adventures by reading. Several book resources on the subject are available.
If you are new to backpacking and primitive, overnight camping, I suggest that you start with a 10-mile, one or two overnight trip. If that goes well, you’re ready for the big time! A shorter trip is a test of your conditioning and outdoor skills that can lead to a more major test. There are a number of shorter hikes that fit that description in Idaho.
Whether it's a short trial or a major multi-night excursion, plan your Idaho adventure well before you leave home. Be thorough and write everything down. This pre-trip planning will save you a lot of headaches and prepare you for what’s ahead.
Once you’ve selected your itinerary, you’ll need to prepare a checklist of things you’ll carry with you and in your backpack. You’ll find a list below. I have noted the “don’t go without this” items on the list. These noted items are essential to your comfort and safety, so be sure to pack them.
Draw a topographical map of your hike route and make a hard copy of this and your detailed itinerary. Before leaving, give copies of this information to your friends, relatives and local law enforcement. Should you become lost or injured, it is important for people to know where you planned to be and your schedule for returning. Those receiving a copy can also keep an eye on your home while you are away.
Folks are drawn to backpacking for the recreation. It’s a chance to see places that are remote, beautiful and historically fascinating. Many places visited on the hike are not available in other ways. But, the deeper the backpacker goes into a remote area, the greater the perils.
The weight of the pack forces the hiker to travel slowly and it can become a distraction from enjoying the scenery. And, pitching camp, cooking, and breaking camp can be annoying chores because they consume valuable sightseeing hours each day.
These distractions - and others - can put a damper on an expected good time.
The backpacker also faces risks he can’t predict or circumvent. Adverse weather conditions like rain, snow or hot weather can slow or hinder the hiker. Difficult terrain,
treacherous river crossings, unexpected routes and animal encounters can sometimes spoil the hike.
The hiker is subject to illnesses including altitude sickness, dehydration, heat exhaustion, hypothermia or even an injury.
Simpler problems like headaches, muscle soreness, blisters, sunburn and toothaches can also occur. Remoteness only aggravates these unexpected events, so the backpacker must be prepared for them.
Be ready for medical problems while backpacking. Be prepared with the WILDERNESS FIRST RESPONDER, available from Amazon.com:
Hardships faced by the adventurer, such as those listed, add to the allure of hiking and camping in remote locations. It is part of the excitement of the effort, so to speak. Those not willing to face these setbacks should not backpack.
The first thought in purchasing and assembling your gear is to minimize the weight and bulk of what you’ll need on the trail and in camp. Travel light! In spite of that, you’ll probably say to a companion at some point in your adventure, ”Gee, I wish I had brought a (whatever)”.
If you’re new to this recreation, believe me. A lighter pack means less fatigue, injury and soreness, allowing you to travel further, faster and with more enjoyment. The very light camping and hiking equipment of today costs a bit more, but adds to the trip. Let’s begin with the pack itself.
Without exception, everyone must carry a backpack. Lightweight packs made of nylon or similar material are better than the heavier canvas packs of days gone by. The backpack should be large and roomy, with or without side pockets.
If children will accompany you on your hike, regular hiking packs designed for smaller kids are available today. Children on hikes should be expected to carry smaller loads. They will tire easily if their burden is too great.
Amazon.com has a wide selection of backpacks and pack accessories for adults and children. Check them out here:
Sleeping bags are a critical overnight requirement. A good sleep, without the discomfort of the cooler night air, is important to the backpacker.
Whether you choose a traditional, blanket-style sleeping bag that zips on three sides, or the newer mummy-style bag tapered from head to foot, it is important that the bag is lightweight and provides enough warmth. Newer bags, with quick-drying
components and light synthetics or down fill for insulation, are preferred. These sleeping bags are easy to carry folded and rolled and strapped to your backpack.
Today's one or two-man, lightweight tents take up little space in your backpack. Heavier canvas tents are not suggested. A small tent adds additional warmth from the night air and shelter from unexpected weather.
For sleeping bags, tents and other camping accessories, look through the selection of
Water is an essential and should be carried from the trailhead, even if you know that potable water is readily available along the way. You can carry enough drinking water easily for short distances or on day trips, but on longer hikes you’ll need to replenish your supply of water along the way.
On such longer trips, you may need cooking water in addition to drinking water. This is especially true if overnight camping will be in an unimproved or makeshift campsite. Water is heavy, so make sure the water containers you select are lightweight and easily carried. Water may be carried in lighter-weight plastic bottles or in collapsible hydration packs (bladders) in your backpack, or in Lexan containers or canteens affixed to your belt or your backpack.
High energy mixed nuts or a trail mix including raisins and other dried fruits in a plastic bag carried in a pocket are good to snack on as you hike. High protein snack bars of granola and so on are also handy, as are dried, jerky meats. None of these can replace a good camp meal.
I have a favorite trail mix that I make up myself. It's chock-full of salt replacement, protein and carbohydrates - an easy snack that gives me that lift I need while hiking. I simply call it "Idaho Trail Mix".
My Idaho Trail Mix
- 1/2 cup dry-roasted, salted peanuts
- 1/2 cup dry-roasted, salted sun flower kernels
- 1 cup M & M candies
- 1 cup dried raisins
- 1-1/2 cups dried apricots or dried mixed fruits
One ounce of this trail mix yields about 150 calories and 9 grams of fat.
A good and hot camp dinner is essential to helping you regain strength after a long day's hike. It is suggested you stay away from canned foods because of the weight and bulk. Like other trash, empty cans must be carried back out for disposal.
Specially manufactured, pre-cooked foods can be eaten hot and are sold in large, stiff bags that can double as an eating vessel. One of these types are freeze-dried foods that can be reconstituted with hot water.
MRE's, the military's Meals Ready to Eat foods, are now available for civilian use. These tasty meals must be reheated on a special water-activated chemical heater. Use of MRE's might eliminate the need to carry a portable stove and fuel, but the heater/stove trade-off is similar weight-wise. MRE's are flavorful and hearty.
The best way to complete preparations is through the use of a checklist. A checklist is a guide for planning what you will take with you. When building your checklist, consider the season of the year, the terrain of your itinerary and the weather changes you may face. Remember to beaware of the weight you will be carrying!
For an overnight backpacking hike, you will obviously need good hiking boots, layered clothing for the season and weather change possibilities, a backpack, a sleeping bag with a pad and a tent or tarp for shelter. These are basic and most important. But, what else should you take? The following is a list of items you must consider. Those items you should not forget are marked with an asterisk (*):
__Compass* __Maps* __Food* __Water* __First aid kit*
__Matches* __Sunblock __Sunglasses __Flashlight* __Rope*
__Shovel* __Extra clothing layers* __Any required permits*
__Extra outerwear* __Extra underwear* __Extra socks* __Bandana
__Poncho or rain suit* __Wide-brimmed hat __Stocking cap
__Gloves & liners* __Extra boot laces* __Hard-soled camp slippers
__Stove & fuel* __Cook set* __Eating & cooking utensils* __Cup*
__Plastic garbage bags* __Stuff sack for dirty clothes* __Pot scrubber*
__Small sponge* __Soaps* __Water filter or purification tablets*
__Toilet paper* __Toothbrush & paste __Small towel __Hair brush
__Lip balm __Insect repellent* __Whistle* __Signal mirror*
__Journal __Field guide __Camera & film* __Binoculars*
__Camp chair __Playing cards or games __Fishing license & tackle