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 up on this site. And make use of it.
So why is all this crap read?
I am not an expert outdoors person (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 an occasionally write something worth the electrons used to make up the text…
As of November 2020, I have nearly 1300 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 getting to the pertinent material quickly. I think these articles provide a good general overview and foundation of skills for anyone looking to get more into hiking, backpacking, or camping.
I updated this listing for 2020 with more information, some videos I produced, and bringing Joan’s viewpoint and experience to the mix.
- There are some simple guidelines I wrote up. Follow them, and you’ll do fine.
- How to start backpacking – Read this article for an overview of how to get started. It is not gear specific. Rather it is both a philosophical and practical overview of taking those first steps in the outdoors. Gear, after all, is the least important part of the outdoors. 🙂 If you want a deeper dive, I even wrote a book! For the more visually oriented, I made some videos aimed at beginners, too. If you want an experienced women’s perspective, check out some articles Joan wrote.
- And there’s a whole series of “Getting Started” articles.
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.
- And I wrote companion pieces for Utah hiking gear and clothing.
- The Joy of Car Camping – 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, car camping was done at crowded campgrounds. Out West? There is 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. Though car camping seems straight forward, too many people don’t organize themselves well or buy inappropriate gear. The car camping article I wrote will help with those issues. And 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 useful, too!
- 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. If you mix and match my Frugal, Budget, and Jack-of-all-trades gear lists, you should have a good and solid gear list for any hiking based activity. The Jack-of-all-trades list is esp useful if you plan on doing activities beyond strictly backpacking, such as car camping or trail work. And if you want to save a buck or two or look at alternatives you have not thought about for gear, I have a series of articles on inexpensive outdoor gear. ( But don’t get too hung up on gear… ) But there is some gear to not go cheap on as well. I also posted many different types of gear lists that should also prove instructive.
- Where to go? – If you are in Colorado, a popular article of mine lists some prime areas in the Colorado Front Range for prime three-season backpacking. And here’s five more ideas if that is not enough. Want to go backpacking in the early or late shoulder season in Colorado? This article should help. For day hikes, ProTrails is an excellent resource. I have a few favorites day hikes as well. ORIC Online is great for day hiking, backpacking, or even car camping destinations. Not in Colorado? Not too hard to find out new places to backpack, hike, or camp. Most of my techniques involve Google. 😉 If you want more pre-planned hikes, The Hiking Project makes a free web-based and app-based resource with maps, GPX tracks, and other resources for many hikes in different areas.
- How to find a good campsite is something closing related to finding a good place to go. With a few simple techniques, an appropriate campsite can be found.
- On outdoor trips with long drives, a quick campsite is often needed. Here’s a great resource for finding free sites along the way.
- And it is a lot easier to find a place to go and find a good campsite if you have some basic navigation skills. The Columbia River Orienteering Club puts out an excellent YouTube series of navigation basics: Map reading, compass use, orienteering, GPS use, and even using smartphone apps. Highly recommended.
- Some basic knots are a good thing to know.
- Getting to and from the trailheads can be an issue in itself. Though written primarily for winter, my Don’t Get Stuck article has some good pointers. At the very least, have a good backcountry road atlas, a basic socket set, and a battery starter. In winter? Pack an ice scraper/brush and a snow shovel in the car.
- And every outdoor person should know how to clean, repair, and take care of their gear.
- Finally, all this hiking, camping, and backpacking clothing, gear, and even food come in handy for natural disaster preparedness.
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.
- Want to lighten the load a bit? My Lightweight Backpacking 101 article is a no-nonsense look at some techniques to get your pack lighter. I have a more philosophical take as well.
- Dry camping is a way to avoid crowds, insects, potential critter issues and not be locked into specific campsites.
- Pushing the envelope for later season backpacking? The Shoulder Season Backpacking article I wrote for TrailGroove is worth reading. I also suggest reading Cold and Wet – The Hardest Hiking as a companion piece. And if you are doing these late-season backpacks, you may be hiking during hunting season. Wear your blaze orange and follow some other techniques to be safe!
- Avoiding bear and critter issues is not hard to do with some simple techniques. And it does not involve bear bagging.
- Off-trail hiking is awesome. Before you do that, I suggest reading this article titled Off-Trail Delights. And if you go off-trail, helpful to know the difference between talus and scree. Additionally, knowing the different classes of hiking based on the Yosemite Decimal System is extremely beneficial.
- 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.
- Speaking of ski touring, this article is instructive.
- And, if you want to try out winter backpacking, read this article.
- And don’t forget to pack for after the trip, too!
- Want to really know more about the nuts-and-bolts of gear? Read these articles:
- Ground Cloths – A quick overview: An overlook at different options for a ground cloth
- Sleeping Pads – a grounded view: Some choices for sleeping pads
- Sleeping Bags – A quick and dirty overview: Down vs. synthetic? Winter vs. three-season bag? Mummy vs. semi-rectangular bag? Read this article for more info.
- Puffies 101: Helps clear up the confusion for puffy insulation layers. Not every puffy layer is meant for winter.
- Rain Gear – What to Wear? : An overview of shells and rain gear to wear for various conditions. I made a video, too.
- Backpacking Food – weekends or long hikes: An overlook at food for overnight activities when you are schlepping everything in your pack.
- Undercover – Which hat to wear: An article to assist in narrowing down the choices for headwear. And my personal choices.
- Glove in Hand – Layering for cold weather: Glove and mitten options for cold weather and/or wet activities. Joan, who deals with Reynaud Syndrome, put together an informative article as well.
- Stove Comparison – Real World Use: Not sure which stove to take? One stove may work better than another depending on the season, length out, preference, or even fire restrictions.
- The Stoves for Camping article should be of interest if you are car camping. Useful for trail work or quick bivies pre-trip, too.
- A look at water treatment is useful. And the hydration choices we use.
- New Insoles – Simple change with a big difference: A look at insoles and why the factory ones should be replaced in most cases.
- I go over some Utah-specific gear that works for us.
- Finally, my “Whatchya Wearin’?” series of clothing systems for different activities gives a broader sense of putting it all together.
- I’ve learned little techniques, gear ideas, tips, or hacks over the years that can sometimes make the outdoor time more efficient or easier. The Quick Tips series are short articles that some might find useful.
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, the simple joy of being outside.
Here are a few of my favorite articles that are more philosophical in bent:
- Though I spent some time thru-hiking, it is not the most important part of my life or even my outdoor experience. I enjoy just being an outdoors person. Thru-hiking is a subset of that experience. I am not interested in the “Hiking Lifestyle.” I love the wild places the trail travels through, more so than the trails or the trail community itself. If I were just an Alphabet Soup Hiker (meaning, I am only interested in HIKING on a defined route with an acronym to describe it and the lifestyle around it), my outdoor experiences, and skillsets, and memories would be limited. My smaller hikes add up to a richer outdoor whole.
- Didn’t quite meet your goal in backpacking? Is it a failure or something to learn from?
- 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 gear…or even just collecting it and discussing gear.
- With a modestly popular website, I’ve had to learn how to balance discussing a place to preserve it…but without giving so many details that I ruin the wildness of the place I loved so much in the first place. A concept I’ve come back to with the “Not Geotagging = gatekeeping” movement.
- Speaking of gatekeeping, I think socioeconomic reasons and lack of opportunity for most is what’s keeping people out of the outdoors.
- Speaking of wildness, I’ve been thinking of what is really a wild place? When designated Wilderness Areas are often crowded, regulated, and not truly isolated, it may be Wilderness..but is it wildness? Some so-called boring areas end up being beautiful, isolated, and truly remote.
- 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 important to get out there. Balancing free time with social, career, and marriage responsibilities are important. To get outdoors, make the outdoors an important priority in your life.
- Finally, if you enjoy the outdoors, consider giving back if you can. And not just by using a reusable straw or toting a shopping bag with a green leaf. 😉
- Almost every person has a set of books that they learn from, enjoy, and reflect upon. Myself included. Here are some books I feel will make a good personal library. And I’ve looked at other media I’ve (mainly) enjoyed too.
That should be enough reading to get most people immersed in the outdoors and provide a good 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!
“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 »
I think “outdoors expert” is often along the lines of “creative consultant” or “code ninja”: A nice term for putting on the business card but does not hold up to close scrutiny. 🙂
‘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!
Too many links to list without it looking odd on the side… hence why I have the widget that links to the article (WHERE TO START) on the right column. 🙂 It is now moved up so it is more prominent/easy to find however…
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.
Alas, my time bank does not have the funds to write another book at this point…
PMags, thank you for that link right at the top. You’ll soon see a link to it on the Backpacking.net forum !
Sounds great..and thanks for the nudge to make it easier to find!
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?
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.
Thanks! It is a labor of love. Glad I can share what I’ve gleaned over the years.
Paul, dear lord that’s a pretty mountain picture at the top. What’s it of?
Thanks! It is of Fremont in the Wind River Range. Looking from Island Lake.
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!!
This was written in 1877, and I find it to be true today!
“Be independent, but not impudent. See all you can, and make the most of your time; “time is money;
[…] 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 »