Backpacking Hints And Tips

Not what to buy but how to pack it and what to do with it

These are brief TIPS without long explanations. You are NOT expected to fully understand all of them, so: ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS

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Boots and Socks


Boots are generally categorized for lightweight hiking, mid-weight hiking, backpacking, extended backpacking or mountaineering uses. The primary differences are in the ankle and arch support and the durability of the boot for the terrain to be covered. Scouts should buy mid-weight hiking or backpacking boots, but may be able to get by with lightweight boots, depending on the boot itself.

The type of materials should be consistent with the use. Lighter weight synthetic materials such as Nylon, or split grain leather are more appropriate for primarily on-trail, shorter trips or warmer weather. Full grain leather or heavy synthetics are more appropriate to carry heavier loads for longer periods and/or in very wet conditions. Our scouts will be on trails and should buy the lighter synthetic or split grain leather synthetic or split grain leather/synthetic type boots that may be waterproofed. The construction of the boots should be considered:

  1. Stitched boots are more durable than glued boots
  2. More seams provide more give-and-take and are more comfortable whereas fewer seams are more waterproof and stiffer for more support.

Ankle height may be low, medium or high top style. Our scouts should buy medium or or high top boots that may be waterproofed. Durability is less a factor as they will outgrow them before they wear them out. Soles shold be somewhat stiff and have "lugs" rather than being flat or smooth.


Always wear appropriate socks when trying on boots: wear one pair of very lightweight synthetic material (e.g. polypro or nylon liners) and one pair of heavier wool or blended, non-cotton socks. If possible, try on boots late in day or in the evening when feet may be somewhat swollen. Scouts should have at least two pair of liner and two pair of hiking socks for every outing.

The boots should be firm, especially around the heel, but not bind or pinch, and should have room to wiggle toes. The toes should not touch or jam into the front of the boot on a downhill slope. You should be able to slide on full finger between your heel and the inside back of the boot with the boots unlaced and toes pushed forward while wearing the appropriate socks. Do not buy boots to grow into. One to one and a finger behind the heal is the correct size for comfort and to minimize injury or blisters to the toes and heels.

Have you son walk around the store or at home with some added weight such as a day pack to see if they are comfortable. Be sure they are "broken in" before wearing on a lengthy hike.


Tie the show laces is important for the comfort and to insure you do not get blisters. Following are some links which you may find useful:


Be sure to clean and waterproof the boots with Nixwax when new and after every major hike. It only takes a few and should be a regular part of post-outing gear-clean activities. One bottle (about $7) will last for several years.


  • Always wear two pair of socks on the trail: light / thin liners AND wool or hikers blend –OR- The specially made Backpacking socks that are a blend and wick the moisture away from your feet
  • Double “twist” your laces half way up from the bottom at the in-step.
  • If “hot spots” develop, STOP and put on some Duct tape – Use Moleskin for blisters.
  • Bring lightweight shoes (sneakers or moccasins) to wear in camp.
  • Why: to prevent blisters; rest your feet/body; protect the environment

Sleeping Bag and Ground Pad

  • Stuff a plastic trash bag into your stuff sack and stuff the sleeping bag into the trash bag. Twist the trash bag closed before closing the stuff sack. This will keep your bag dry in case of rain or if it (or you) falls into a creek. Stuff the bag starting with the foot and ending with the head opening. This forces the air out as you stuff it in.
  • Open and fluff your pad and bag as soon as you set up your tent. This lets in air and dries out any moisture to keep you warmer that night.
  • DO NOT sleep in clothes you hiked in. Change into clean/sleeping clothes before crawling into your bag. This will keep you warmer and your bag clean. Also, have clean socks, knit cap and light mittens next to your bag and ready to put on if you get cold.
  • If you have a long bag and a short body, stuff the bottom of your bag with your extra clothes to take up the space. This will keep you warmer.
  • You can stuff your extra clothes into your bag stuff sack and use it as a pillow.
  • When you get home, air out your bag and store it in a king size pillow case type bag. Do not store it in its stuff sack.


Setting up

  • Clean the area under the tent by picking up and moving (don’t kick away) little stones, twigs etc before setting up your tent. It will make it more comfortable to sleep and will protect the environment after you leave.
  • Immediately store ALL the little tent stuff sacks for pegs, poles etc in the tent stuff sack. Keep it inside your tent or backpack. Don’t leave anything lying around.
  • Your tent is ALWAYS fully zipped CLOSED except when you are crawling into or out of it. ALWAYS zip it COMPLETELY open or COMPLETELY closed. NEVER zip it half way when crawling in or out unless you want insects and other visitors like snakes and critters in your tent.
  • NEVER put ANY food or smellables in your tent. Put another way: NEVER put ANY food or smellables in your tent.
  • Let your tent dry out as much as possible before rolling it up and putting it away. Remember how you unrolled it and re-roll it the same way. Use the tent poles and stuff sack as a roll-up guide.


  • Clean your (scouts and adults) tent right after you come back from a camping outing, or no later than 2 days.
  • Set up the tent and using a damp cloth to clean inside and outside the tent , rain fly, and the poles.
  • Leave the tent in the sun for a couple hours until it completed dry up.
  • Open all windows to let air out.
  • Make sure that all zippers working properly.
  • Check thoroughly for ruptures, missing parts, smell, and mildew(brown or dark grey spots).
  • There should be at least 6 stakes for each tent.
  • No washing machine, no hose down, and no chemicals.
  • Tarp (Ground cover) need to be clean and dry also.
  • Report to the scout QM, adult QM, or Scoutmaster for any defects or problems.


There are two types of modern backpacks:

  1. External Frame: Pack is attached to a rigid frame
  2. Internal Frame: Internal adjustable staves are formed to curve of back.

As a general rule, if new to the activity, an external frame pack is recommended as it is easier to pack and adjust, plus it helps the wearer to walk in a more natural upright position. Some desirable pack features (both types) are:

  • Adjustable torso length
  • Integrated daypack
  • Hydration pack sleeve
  • Extension / spindrift collar
  • Water bottle pocket / holster


  • Wear loose clothes to avoid rashes and to make it easier to wear layers. Dress for the weather by putting on and taking off layers AS SOON AS you FIRST feel anything. Bring one long sleeve shirt and one light windbreaker rather than one heavy jacket. Polypropylene shirts are better than cotton because they wick away moisture and keep you dry and comfortable.
  • Pants: bring rugged, lightweight pants, not blue jeans. Jeans are too heavy, too hot, take too long to dry when wet and rub against your waist and legs and cause extreme discomfort on the trail.
  • “Long John” underwear. These can be a little tighter, but not too tight as to restrict motion or circulation. They are also great to sleep in.
  • WEAR A HAT all the time in cool weather (or in the sun) Most body heat is lost through your head. Likewise, if you’re hot (and in the shade), take off your hat to let the heat out.

Rain Gear

For an overnight backpacking trip a simple poncho will be more than enough. But for longer backpacking trips rain jacket and pants are highly recommended.

In addition to water proof (as opposed to water resistant) and breathable, other features to look for include "pit zips" under the arms or in front of the jacket. This allows you to control some airflow into the jacket. Just because it's raining doesn't mean it's necessarily cold. It could be warm and sweating is a problem. It's just as wet being wet on the inside from sweat as from the rain soaking through from the outside. Also, it's nice to have zippers on the pant legs at the ankles. It makes it easier to slip the pants over your boots without having to take the boots off. Better yet, full-length zippers are even better.

Don't forget that it doesn't need to be raining for raingear to be put to use. It adds a layer of protection in any cold or windy weather. Most of us slip on our raingear at night on almost very outing, even one-night trips in the local mountains. Also, when packing your pack, do not put the raingear at the bottom of the main section. It should be instantly accessible from the outside (right next to the backpack rain cover) so that you can get to it quickly without having to tear your pack apart.

And of course when backpacking every ounce counts so lighter the better.

There are all kinds of backpacking rain gear out there and some are very expensive. For Scouts, we do not recommend spending too much money. You should buy rain gear large as you often put on rain gear over your other clothes - it is desirable for rain gear to be a bit baggy so you can layer underneath.

Packing the Pack

  • Pack lighter, not heavier. Trim away ounces. Stand bottles upright.
  • Stuff the pack by placing heavy items as close to your back as you can and high in your pack. Put lighter items at the bottom: Tents and food at the top and sleeping bag at the bottom.
  • Just because the ten essentials are listed together doesn't mean they should be put into one bag. Same for the first aid list. Keep items handy that you will use often or need to get to quickly: chap stick, sun screen, bug repellent, pocket knife, compass, etc should be in your pocket or in a fanny pack on your belt or on the waist strap of your pack. Water bottles, toilet paper, rain poncho, pack cover etc should be reachable from the outside of your pack in a zippered pocket.
  • Develop a system starting NOW. Figure out what works best for you and your pack and always pack it the same way put the first aid kit in the uppermost pack pocket on the right hand side of your pack. Put one bottle of water on each side of your pack to equalize the weight. Bury stuff you don’t usually use or need, such as emergency candles, water filtration pills, etc. A hydration pack bladder may be used in place of Nalgene bottles, but try to use just the bladder in your backpack instead of using the little pack that comes with the bladder. Again, it’s all about ounces. Even if you have a bladder, one Nalgene bottle is a good idea for pumping water and cooking (they double as a measuring cup too).
  • EVERYTHING inside your pack should be packed into smaller Ziploc plastic baggies or small stuff sacks: Your clothes in a baggie, your personal toilet articles in a stuff sack or baggie, etc. This will keep everything organized, and dry in case of rain or if you or your pack goes swimming.

Portions and ideas are from Backpacker’s Hints and Tips for Better Backpacking by Cindy Ross and Todd Gladfelter, Copyright 1996 Rodale Inc.

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