Trail Life 101: Planning for Your Backpacking Trip

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While getting outside and reconnecting with nature always sounds appealing, more often than not figuring out where to start can become more daunting than the actual trip. After you have purchased all the necessary gear, next comes the fun part of planning. So grab a guidebook to your chosen destination along with a detailed topographic map and keep these essential tips in mind when planning your big trip.

Choosing a Destination

Consider planning your first few backpacking adventures in areas that are within driving distance of home; this will allow you to reschedule should bad weather unexpectedly strike. Setting out on a well-marked trail with easy terrain, established campsites and ample water sources will aid in alleviating some of the first time jitters and allow you to focus more on the fun and beauty.

Research

A successful hike always starts with research. Your most up-to-date resource are the rangers who roam the area and are well acquainted with the area in which you are about to travel. One phone call or visit to the nearest ranger station can supply you with current trail conditions, permit requirements, what critters to be watchful of and any trail or campsite closures that may be in effect. When researching possible trails keep in mind your physical conditioning and if your skill set (and gear) can handle the worse weather you could possibly encounter. If you find yourself wavering towards maybe (or no) consider modifying your trip and your goals.

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Know Before You Go

Plan to hike no more than five to seven miles a day, depending on your physical conditioning. Before setting off be sure find out if the area in which you are traveling will require a backcountry permit, check the weather religiously before departing and most importantly, where you can find a post-trip beverage! Also, do not forget to let someone back at home know your plans and stick to your chosen route. So if for some reason you run across trouble you will be easier to locate.

On the Trail

Stay flexible as surprises are bound to happen eventually. By doing your homework you will be prepared to improvise if need be. Consider keeping a log, at least on your first few excursions. By recording the weather and trail conditions, how long it took you to get from point a to point b, how long it took to set up and break down camp, you can use this information for planning future trips.

Trail Life 101: Blister Prevention and Care

Blisters are a pain, literally. As biped adventurers our feet take a lot of abuse from repetitive impact across miles of uneven terrain, scaling large rock walls, scrambling up peaks, so on and so forth.

While our tired “dogs” often become achy and sore, the most common foot problem in the backcountry is a blister. Often created by friction, pressure, ill-fitting boots and wet socks, there are a few steps we can take to not only treat a newly formed blister but possibly prevent them as well.

Prevention

  • The best prevention for blisters is to wear boots that fit with room to wiggle your toes and without slippage in the heel box.
  • Just like your clothing, avoid cotton! Wear wool or synthetic socks that will wick away moisture.
  • Take the extra time to break-in your new boots. Wearing your new kicks around the house and on day hikes before hitting the trail for a multi-day excursion will save your feet from unnecessary pain.
  • As soon as you feel a burning sensation, or hot spot, cover the spot with moleskin or duct tape.

Blister

Treatment

  • If you have to pop a blister to relieve pressure do with a sterilized needle or razor blade. The best method is to clean the area then pierce the top or roof of the blister with a sterile needle and gently massage out the fluid. Be sure to keep the roof intact as a protective layer to the skin beneath the now dead layer.
  • Create a donut out of a piece of moleskin or foam that is just larger than the blister then apply antibiotic ointment and dry the skin around the blister. Once the area is prepared, affix the moleskin donut so that the hole creates a pressure free pocket around the blister. You may then apply a second donut as needed to help take away any direct pressure. Seal this second layer with yet another layer of moleskin and cover with duct or athletic tape.
  • Keep a bandage in place for up to 3 days, then wash and re-tape. If the area is red, swollen, or leaking pus, it’s infected. Keep it dressed and if the infection persists for more than a few days, see a doctor.

What special methods for prevention and treatment have you learned from your time on the trail?