Mr. W's Gear Guide - Backpacking Tips
I would like to offer some tips which I hope will enable you to enjoy your backpacking outings and ease the pain while doing so.
Pack Lighter, Not Heaver
Those that know me might suggest this as a case of do as Mr. W says not as he does. Many rookie hiker try to carry much more weight than what is comfortable or in some cases safe. This can result in a less than pleasant trip or even a pulled muscle. A good rule of thumb is when ready to hit the trail, your pack should be around 1/4 of your body weight, up to 1/3 as you get older and stronger.
Check each piece of gear to see if you can find a lighter one to replace it For example, zip-off pants can double as a pair of shorts and pants. Ounces add up to pounds so you can cut down your toothbrush handle, use a plastic spoon, plate and cup instead of metal ones. If you are carrying a multi-purpose pocket knife, then you do not need to carry the knife in your knife/fork/spoon set. Carry your mess kit in its own nylon mesh stuff sack, in this way you only have to find the stuff sack to locate all you need to eat and drink. After wash up, simply hang your nylon stuff sack from a branch and your utensils are able to air dry.
Put Weight on Your Shoulders.
Pack your pack so that your heaviest items, food and tent for instance are highest in your pack. Your sleeping bag is a good item for the very bottom of your pack and your clothing should go somewhere in between. Place heavy items as close to your back as possible, you can carry the weight more comfortably this way. If you are carrying an internal frame pack, pad items with hard edges like your water filter, stove, pots, etc. as they will invariably poke you in the back as soon as you shoulder the pack and start to hike.
Develop a System
Try to arrange your "stuff" in the same way each time you prepare your backpack for a hike. Avoid stuffing things into any pocket at random. Using a system will save time should you need things in a hurry. Rain gear, lip balm, water bottle, water filter, sunscreen, hat, flashlight, map, compass, trail mix, lunch, TP, pooper-scooper and in my case reading glasses are things you are likely to need on the trail and should be easy to get too. Hang your cup in the outside of your pack to gain valuable space on the inside.
Packing Out What You Carry In
You have all heard me preach this before, after opening those hot chocolate, soup, oatmeal, and lemonade food packets and Zip-lock bags - don't squash 'em, leave them nice and flat so that they take up far less room in your pack when you carry them out.
Select Wide-mouth Water Bottles
The wide mouth clear Nalgene bottles are perfect - they are easy to clean, preventing the build-up of bacteria and odor. They are also much easier to fill, especially when using a water filter and a spoon fits readily in the wide opening. I know you do not want to hear this but they also allow for ice that may form at the top to be easily broken. A camp lantern can be formed by simply standing a flashlight on end and placing the water bottle over it, Be sure to keep the threads of your water bottle and cap clean as bacteria can easily form, especially if you have been mixing sugar drinks in you water bottle.
Dry Your Socks and Undies While You Hike
Use alligator clips (you can get them at the hardware store) to suspend socks (I recommend bringing four pairs: two on your feet and two spare pairs) and other items you may have washed from the back of your pack to dry. Forget what Mom says - she is not carrying your pack - you only need one change of undypants, and not even that if you take a pair of swim boxer shorts. I have found that hiking in swim shorts is a cool way to go in hot weather.
Bring a Baseball and Woolen Cap
Not only is a woolen ski cap great for sleeping in, it can be pulled over your ears if the wind and weather turn cold. Baseball caps are not only good for shading your face from the sun; worn under the hood of you raincoat it can prevent the rain from dripping onto your face. Raingear hoods do not turn with your head, but the ball cap does.