Start here: My unofficial outdoor guidebook


From Pepperdine University

I’ve had a website in one-form-or-another for about fifteen 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 doing different activities enjoys sharing those experiences and,  I’d like to think, writes in a clear and straightforward manner.

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

As of April 2016, I have nearly 700 articles on my site.  ( Yeah…I have enjoyed writing over the years...)

A lot of information to sift through if you are starting out and just wanting some information to kick-start the learning curve.

So here’s a quick compilation for people starting out and want to get 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.

The Synopsis

  • How to start backpacking – Read this article for an overview on 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. 🙂

Outdoors 101

The articles below will be helpful if you are just starting 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. Check list included.
  • Backpacking: A Beginners Primer – A good start for learning to backpack. Written on the more conservative side for those starting out. 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 check list.
  • What gear to bring? – All the articles above have a general gear list. If you are just starting out, figuring out the specific equipment to purchase can be intimidating. If you mix and match from 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 to go cheap on as well.
  • 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.

Advanced Studies

You are 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, potential critter issues and not be as 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.

Extra Credit

  • I’ve learned little techniques,  gear ideas, tips or hacks over the years that can sometimes make 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:

  • Among the mostly college educated and affluent-in-background people who make up the HIKING community, there seems to be a sour grapes attitude among some towards making money off someone’s passion. The Filthy Lucre article looks into that odd behavior.
  • 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.
  • And to enjoy this wildness, it is important to get out there. Balancing free time with social, career and marriage responsibilities is 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.

Further Reading


That should be enough reading to get most people immersed into 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!

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Another Kevin
4 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 »

4 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!

4 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.

4 years ago

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

4 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
4 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
3 years ago

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

3 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!!