Back in the Black: The Basics

Alright, you’ve decided you want to go backpacking. Where do you start? What will you need? What do you need to know? Well, I’ve got the series to help you. From the very basics, to planning, then finishing up on life after the trail. This “Back in the Black” series will cover many things, but we will only be hitting the wave tops here. This series will cover the tools I’ve used and the processes I went through for planning my trip, and what I view as the need-to-know information before embarking on a trip. Without any more delays, I give to you, the first installment.

Do Not Poop Here. Do Not Poop There. I Will Not Poop Just Anywhere!

Leave No Trace. At this point if you are involved in the outdoors in any way, shape, or form, or you have followed this website, then you’ve heard about Leave No Trace (LNT) a lot. So what is LNT? Well, growing up in scouting I was always aware of picking up after yourself and others, don’t wander off trail, poop the right way, don’t make fires willy-nilly, be quiet, and don’t mess with the wildlife. These are what I grew up on, here are the established principles. There are seven principles for LNT as follows:

–Plan ahead and prepare

–Travel and camp on durable surfaces

–Dispose of waste properly

–Leave what you find

–Minimize campfire impacts

–Respect wildlife

–Be considerate of other visitors


trash, lnt

Impromptu fire rings and trash left behind cause lasting environmental deficits.

See LNT for more information or from The Trek community here or here.

Enjoyment of our wild areas and public lands is what it’s all about; however, with the ever-increasing number of visitors and users of recreational areas they’ve become more endangered. It’s great because as more people use these areas they gain more awareness about them, but it’s a double-edged sword. One we are sliding onto. What’s there to do? Go out. Engage with these areas, the local communities, and organizations. Follow LNT principles and spread the word.

Ten Things You Should Never Leave at Home

Anytime you venture beyond the parking area you should have the ten essentials. The reason, to be prepared. For you minimalists or ultralighters you may be thinking, “Ya, but I don’t need those, that’s pointless weight that I won’t be using.” You’re wrong. I have spent many hours aiding and rescuing downed hikers and outdoor enthusiasts who ventured off without some if not all of these items. It is possible to carry the minimalist versions of these if weight is your primary concern. You never know when you might need these items.


ten essentials, packing, prep

First backpacking trip in the Sierra circa 2006

Ten Essentials

Navigation: Not just one source. If you are using Guthook’s for your hike then bring a hard copy map just in case. We all know electronics fail.

Sun protection: Hats, sunglasses, long pants, and, of course, sunscreen.

Insulation: You probably already have some sort of insulation; just be sure you have the appropriate amount and type for your expected worst weather and sport.

Illumination: You got your headlamp, right? Bring extra batteries, or one of those cheap small key chain lights.

First aid: Now trust me when I say you don’t need a paramedic jump bag or the huge things they sell at outdoors stores. Some Band-Aids or Leukotape, antiseptic, pain relievers, and if you feel like it some bigger bandages.

Fire: Rule is at least two. Bring matches and a lighter. Magnesium flint and steel, two rocks, some sticks. You know some form of fire making, you cavemen. Creativity and knowledge will go a long way.

Repair kit: Duct tape! Seriously, this stuff is great. Throw in a needle and some floss or thread you can use for sewing gear, and if need be a laceration. A knife or multitool and a mirror  are also important items.

Nutrition: This doesn’t need to be a three-course meal. A simple Clif bar will do. Just some quick in-case-of calories.

Hydration: This is important in the desert. At least once a week we are rescuing a hiker who didn’t have enough water. You need two to three liters at minimum per day; add a liter for every 10 degrees F over 90 degrees F and some more for elevation gain.

Shelter: This can be very ultralight; an emergency blanket will do the trick. Although you can make shelters anywhere you go with some creativity and knowledge, just expect to spend at least an hour making it.

For some more information and background read this.


Now if there is anything I’ve learned from the years out and about and my time in the military, it’s that you can survive without some of these. At least the man-made versions of them. However, you should never venture into the backcountry or even on your local trails without them. That is unless you have strong knowledge and practice in making shelter, procuring water and food, making fire and other tools, and navigating based on terrain. It is imperative that even with the man-made versions of these items you should have the basic knowledge of the skills listed above.

There are a variety of practical skills that you should have before venturing into the backcountry. Luckily, the internet provides! There are a multitude of YouTube videos, books, and articles that go over every viewpoint about these topics. This is not the end-all-be-all and I will not be covering these topics in depth. So go out and learn.

P.S. The above pictures cause physical pain to look at. Before ultralight was a thing, we brought the figurative kitchen sink with us. Lessons learned though, lessons learned.

Signing out for now,


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