Active Outdoors: Mastering the 24-hour backpacking vacation

  • Having all your gear tested, organized and ready means you can throw it all in a backpack and get away whenever you have the time. TIM JONES / For the Monitor

  • Kicking back on an evening in camp with real food, good wine and comfortable chairs to lounge in makes a backpacking getaway a pleasure, not a trial. TIM JONES / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Monday, June 11, 2018

My buddy David and I are masters of what I like to call the “24-hour vacation.”

We keep our camping gear organized, ready to toss it into a backpack (or kayak) along with some food and wine. With about 15 minutes of planning and prep, we can disappear into the wild (usually to a spot where we know there won’t be any other people) for an overnight. We get up in the morning, pack up, and are back refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to face the “real world” less than 24-hours later.

Long distance multi-day backpacking requires a serious commitment of time, energy and money. If you’re already a backpacker, you know what I mean. There’s a definite magic to being out on your own for a week, a month or more, but the farther you go, the longer you stay, the more time, money and planning it takes. Most of us have families, jobs and other commitments that don’t allow us to get away that long.

However, quick adventures are doable and still rewarding in their own way. But you still have to plan and prepare.

Even short trips in good weather go smoother if you’ve thought through what you’re doing ahead of time. People get into trouble when they just jump in ill-prepared. The best equipment in the world doesn’t do you any good if you don’t know how to use it or, worse yet, if you forgot to pack it.

Therefore, if you’ve never backpacked before, the place to begin is your backyard or a roadside tent site (there are many great ones in state parks and national forests across the region). Spend at least one or two nights getting used to the gear before you trust your safety to it in the backcountry.

If you need help getting started, the Appalachian Mountain Club and its various regional affiliates, the Green Mountain Club, and the Adirondack Mountain Club (www.adk.org) all offer education courses.

The first mistake that most beginners make when they start backpacking is overloading their packs with too much stuff. The second mistake they make, usually after having suffered through the first one, is not bringing enough stuff for safety and comfort. It takes awhile to find the correct balance

You start with the basics you always carry when you leave the road: Some way to supply safe drinking water (usually a filter); adequate clothing for the possible weather – including rain and chilly nights (cotton clothing is never appropriate for backcountry use); Food for the duration, plus a little extra; Basic hygiene (toothbrush, toilet paper, baby wipes) and emergency gear (insect repellent knife, firestarters, first aid and medical kit, maps, compass).

Then you add the stuff you need for comfort: a lightweight tent; a pad to rest on, and a sleeping bag (in summer you can sometimes get away with a sleep sack, or even just a lightweight fleece blanket. If you don’t get a good night’s sleep, you won’t enjoy your days.

If you want hot food and beverages, bring a lightweight stove and minimal cook gear and utensils. Add a small light source (the nights are short in summer), a paperback book or a deck of cards. Those are the basics. Remember, everything you add is more to carry.

That is really a minimalist list. We typically carry a little more for comfort. For example, we always carry two pads – one closed cell foam to go under and insulate and protect the blow-up air mattress we need for comfort. We also carry two one-person tents rather than a single 2-person tent. Yes, it’s a little heavier, but it’s easier to find a place to pitch two solo tents than one bigger one and we can separate them enough so that if one of us snores, it doesn’t keep the other awake. We also typically each carry one of the new lightweight folding chairs for lounging in the evening. Yes, it’s an extra pound, but the comfort factor is well worth it.

From now through the end of October, throwing a pack on your back with everything you need to live and walking away from the road is kind of the ultimate active outdoor sport. You are living the dream 24 hours a day for as many days as you choose. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

How much weight?

Just up the road from my house, at the AMC’s Joe Dodge Lodge in Pinkham Notch, there’s a scale where hikers can weigh their packs before heading off into the Presidential Range. I’ve seen folks stagger off on an overnight adventure with packs that weighed 80 pounds. I’ve also seen ultralighters who can do the entire Appalachian Trail with a pack that weighs 15 pounds before they add food and water

While it’s generally easier to carry less weight, there are tradeoffs involved: I usually choose reliable, practical and affordable gear over super-light. If you absolutely need to shave ounces, you can – for a price. But, for most of us, total pack weight of about 30-35 pounds (including plenty of real food – no freeze-dried for us! – water, and even a box of decent wine), is easily achievable, and will take us comfortably into the wild and back. A little extra comfort makes the trip more fun so we are eager to do it again.