Start here: My unofficial outdoor guidebook

text-books

From Pepperdine University

I’ve had a website in one-form-or-another for nearly twenty years now—an eternity in the online world.

And people seem to link to the information I’ve put on this site. And make use of it.

So why is all this crap read?

I am not an expert outdoors (a loaded term that generally means jack), nor could I tell you the minutiae of gear and rattle off the specs of cubic zirconia fabric, Polar Bear fleece, or the fluffy power of clothing. Or whatever the hell it is called.

What am I? A reasonably experienced outdoors person. An individual who has been able to get out a fair amount of doing different activities enjoys sharing those experiences and,  I’d like to think, writes clearly and straightforwardly.

And I write enough where I occasionally write something worth the electrons used to make up the text…

As of  August 2023, I have nearly 1600 articles on my site. ( Yeah…I have enjoyed writing over the years...)

A lot of information to sift through if you start out and want some information to kick-start the learning curve.

Here’s a quick compilation for people starting and quickly getting to the pertinent material. I think these articles provide an excellent general overview and foundation of skills for anyone looking to get more into hiking, backpacking, or camping.

I updated this listing for 2020 initially with more information, some videos I produced, and bringing Joan’s viewpoint and experience to the mix.

The most recent update added some more articles that grew out of our shared experiences on the Colorado Plateau.

Overall, I think this article is a good place to start when delving into the outdoor world. Even if I still can’t rattle off the minutia of gear!

The Synopsis

Outdoors 101

The articles below will help you start out or perhaps want to refine some techniques a bit.

  • Day Hiking in Colorado – Written for Colorado but readily applicable to day hiking in most places for three-season conditions. Checklist included.
  • Backpacking: A Beginners Primer – A good start for learning to backpack. Written on the more conservative side for those starting. It doesn’t mean you go heavy, but it doesn’t say that you hike with a 3 oz book bag and no rain gear either. Has a basic checklist.
  • What gear to bring? – All the articles above have a general gear list. If you are starting, figuring out the specific equipment to purchase can be intimidating.
  • How to find a good campsite is something closely related to finding a good place to go. With a few simple techniques, an appropriate campsite can be located.

Advanced Studies

Are you comfortable with three-season outdoor activities but want to push into late fall or even winter? Perhaps lighten up a bit? Expand your knowledge base? Or maybe dive deeper into gear?   Read these articles below.

  • Dry camping is a way to avoid crowds, insects, and potential critter issues and not be locked into specific campsites.
  • The Introduction to Snowshoeing Basics article is, of course, about how to start snowshoeing. But 80% of the article is about any day use winter activity such as ski touring.
  • And when you are ready to put together some routes of your own, I wrote up something using my techniques for route planning, be it for a weekend, a week, or over 200 miles.

GEAR

Want to really know more about the nuts and bolts of gear? Read these articles:

Extra Credit

  • Over the years, I’ve learned little techniques,  gear ideas, tips, or hacks that can sometimes make outdoor time more efficient or easier. The Quick Tips series are short articles that some might find helpful.

Base Camp

In the San Juan mountains of Colorado. PCO Joan.

The younger, more arrogant version of me, who had a narrowly focused thru-hiking skill set, used to think of car camping as something to do only if you can’t backpack.

I was wrong.

Growing up back East, with little public land, you did car camping at crowded campgrounds.

Out West?

There are a lot of public lands to explore. Not all of it is open or ideal for backpacking. Car camping allows some unique areas to be seen that are sometimes even wilder to be enjoyed. And it often makes an excellent way to start a backpacking weekend. Camping makes a vital adjunct to my backpacking and extends my time outdoors.

Though car camping seems straightforward, too many people don’t organize themselves well or buy inappropriate gear.

As with backpacking, I wrote a budget/beginner-friendly article to help narrow down gear and system selection.

And some techniques for finding great out-of-the-way sites, too.

Sometimes car camping is perhaps the best way to see a place. Of course,  a truck or car bivy on the way to the trailheads is helpful, too!

Beer and Bull

At least for me, a lot of important talk concerning the outdoors is not the how, where, and what of the outdoors, but the Why? of the outdoors: the issues, the concerns, and the simple joy of being outside.

Here are a few of my favorite articles that are more philosophical in bent:

  • There is more to a perfect campsite than just reading a map, finding a flat spot, and following LNT principles. As with a good meal, it is hard to define..but when things come together just right, it is wonderful.
  • Gear talk is popular. It often ends up being the lifestyle itself: Rather than using gear to get out, going out is for using the equipment…or even just collecting it and discussing gear. 
  • I postulate that backcountry campfires are a relic of the past and should be regulated to a relic of the past with such formerly accepted practices as burying garbage or cutting pine boughs for bedding.
  • And to enjoy this wildness, it is essential to get out there. Balancing free time with social, career, and marriage responsibilities are crucial. To get outdoors, make the outdoors a vital priority for your life.
  • What’s the difference between graffiti, vandalism, and rock images? Here’s my take.

Further Reading

Almost every person has a set of books they learn from, enjoy, and reflect upon. Myself included.

***

That should be enough reading to immerse most people in the outdoors and provide a foundation for some core competencies.

Of course, once you’ve done some reading, the best way to learn is to get out there!!! It is a method that is instructive, beneficial, and fun. Do it!

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Another Kevin
8 years ago

“Not an expert,” he says! Well, I hope not. Usually when I hear “outdoors expert” it’s part of the press narrative of “XYZ was a local outdoors expert. It’s not immediately obvious why he had such a horrific accident on the trail.” I hope I’m never that sort of expert! Although… let me tell a story. The first time I had my daughter up a Northeast 4000-footer in winter, her godmother read a guidebook description of the route. She said to my daughter, “The book says that between mid-October and mid-May, it’s best left to the experts…” My daughter (16… Read more »

grannyhiker
grannyhiker
8 years ago

‘Twould be great if you could have this list (just the links, not the text) off to the side so that we can find these articles a year or two or three down the road! I like to refer to them when advising beginning backpackers, and I know that a lot of others do, too!

Jarrett
8 years ago

A lot of good info. Just through it all together and make a PDF book and through up an easy accessible link. This would make a lot of folks happy.

grannyhiker
grannyhiker
8 years ago

PMags, thank you for that link right at the top. You’ll soon see a link to it on the Backpacking.net forum !

Ingrid
Ingrid
8 years ago

You’re “expert” enough for me! Thanks for all the great tips and resources all in one spot!! How did I only find this just now?

James Hardin
James Hardin
7 years ago

Thanks! Just Thanks! Thinking about a thru hike next year on the Colorado Trail. Your site is a valuable resource to me. I appreciate the time and energy you’ve invested and your willingness to share your experiences. Thanks again.

Kevin Maloney
Kevin Maloney
7 years ago

Paul, dear lord that’s a pretty mountain picture at the top. What’s it of?

Dæv
Dæv
7 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

I thought that was Fremont Lake! AND I’ve been wanting to go back now for several years. Thanks for inspiring me to ‘just do it.’ Also your prior time bank
analogy rings so true- I need to focus on the important things in life. &Thx for this great web sight!!

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[…] Now is the time to get ready for your first trip. I recommend taking your first few trips with someone who is an experienced backpacker. That way you will have someone who can help you get over any problems you encounter early on when you are learning a lot. That said, it’s good to learn a bit before you go. I suggest read a book that presents a common-sense approach to backpacking. This will help you avoid many mistakes. At some point this guide will be finished and have everything that necessary to give the reader a good start.… Read more »

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[…] pmag’s.com unofficial outdoor guidebook […]

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[…] but I think most of this information would be useful for any approach. Paul’s outdoor guidebook is more […]