Backcountry basics

become a smart responsible user

Leave No trace

Pre-trip planning is a key component of any outing; from day trips to month long climbing expeditions. There are several things to consider in planning for a trip, the longer the trip the more things to consider. Major considerations are type of trip, length of trip, location, group size, and time of year. All of these factors are important and effect everything from food and equipment to skill base and group management. 

In the planning phase be sure to check with land managers about regulations, permits, and closures. In the USA the Federal land managers are the National Park ServiceNational Forest ServiceBureau of Land Managment   

With increase usage in both front country and back country areas minimizing impact is very important. Staying on designated trails and camping in designated areas are the biggest ways to help. When traveling off trail in the back country spread the group out as to not create an incidental trail ( except in some desert environments).  When choosing a camp site in a remote area search for durable surfaces to camp on, slabs of rock and already impacted sites are better than untouched areas. 

Pack in pack out! take the extra time to ensure your camp site is clear of any trash before you move on. Properly disposal of human waste in a “cat hole” 6-8″ deep and at least 200 feet away from camp, trail,and water. Cover the hole with the dirt from it and mark hole with sticks placed in a X to warn others . Pack out all toilet paper and hygiene products. Wash dishes at least 200 feet away from water source, strain and pack out food scraps, use biodegradable soap, and disperse grey water in a large area.  

Avoid damaging live plants. Use cord to hang tarps and hammocks instead of hammering nails into trees. Spring blooms are beautiful and picking flowers is tempting however it can be damaging if everyone one went out and picked the same plot, taking a picture is a good way to remember the beauty and allow the flowers to pollinate. Fossils, arrowhead, petrified wood, and minerals are all unique and exciting things to find; take pictures or make sketches for the memory and leave them for the next person to stumble upon. As the old adage goes “Take only pictures, leave only footsteps”.

Who doesn’t love sitting around a campfire when camping? Before you decide to have a fire there are a few questions you should ask yourself and the group. What is the fire damage potential? Is there sufficient dead, down, and detached (DDD)  wood that it’s removal will go unnoticed? Does having a fire put strain on the environment you are in (alpine, desert)? There are ways we can do this that does minimal damage to the environment we are in using existing fire rings, building mound fires, or using fire pans are some ways of accomplishing this.

Seeing animals in their natural habitat is an incredible sight. Avoiding close contact with wildlife will help maintain their natural instincts. Feeding wildlife creates a dependency on food not naturally found in their environment and promotes behavior not natural to them. Keeping food in bear or “critter” hangs in a campsite is one way of storing food appropriately to avoid accidentally feeding the wildlife.

Outdoor recreation is growing and there are more people on trails and in camps. Some was to be considerate to those other visitors are keeping conversations low so others can enjoy the serenity that nature provides. Yield to uphill hikers if you are heading down unless they wave you on. Take breaks off of the trail (on durable surfaces) to not crowd other users. Maintain control of your pet, if off-leash dogs should be responsive to verbal commands, some people want to keep their space from dogs and as dog owners it is our responsibility to make sure that happens. Pick up after you pet. Most importantly (in my opinion) be friendly and say hi to other users as you pass by.

All of our trips include a Leave No Trace awareness course, our hope is that all of our clients are environmentally responsible and it is our responsibility to teach what that means as a backcountry user.

For more information on the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics click the link below   

Packing a Pack


Considering when you will need each item you pack and pack them accordingly. Pack your sleeping bag in bottom. Puffy jackets can be stuffed around the bottom as a filler but leave a sleeve out so you can grab it quickly. Rain gear should be placed toward the top of your pack.


Filling in the voids. Checking that there are no empty spaces in the middle of the pack, or no bulges on the outside. Tighten any straps on the outside of the pack to keep items in your pack from shifting around.


Is the weight in your pack evenly distributed? Take the time to make sure one side of your pack isn’t heavier than the other. Centering the heavier items displaces the load to your shoulders and your hips. A well balanced pack should remain upright on its own.

Picture courtesy of


Picture courtesy of

Learning to layer is one of the fundamental skills of all backcountry recreation. Having the correct layers on at the right time is crucial for self care. I hope to provide you with basic definitions, layering examples, and my current layer selection. After reading this and knowing how your body self regulates temperature you will be able to create a layering system that is perfect for you.


  There are a few terms that are used regularly when speaking about layering. It is important to know and understand these terms.

    • Baselayer Moisture wicking polypropylene or thin wool. This layer is to move moisture away from your skin.
    • Midweight layer This layer should have good breathability and insulating properties. It should also keep you warm with mild to no wind.
    • Expedition weight layer Another insulating layer, thicker and warmer than the midweight layer. This jacket would go under a shell.  Fleece, light synthetic puffies, and thin down jackets fall into this category.
    • SoftshellTypically softer and stretchy, provides protection from the wind or the rain. “Waterproof” softshell layers are not the most effective.
    • Hardshell Your all around weather protection layer. GORETEX® is the predominant material people associate hardshells with. This is usually your outermost layer.
    • Belay/Bivi layer– A thicker puffy jacket designed to go on over all of your other layers. Used during longer periods of no to light activity, (camp, belay, summit, bivi, etc.) synthetic or down filled insulation, depending on expected weather conditions.
    • Hats–  There are a few types of hats to consider, sunhats (think ball cap), beanies, and balaclavas (full head and face masks). They each have their time and place to be used. Neck warmers can take the place of a balaclava in some situations.
    • Gloves– Gloves come in “layers” also. There are liner gloves that are thin and allow excellent dexterity but lack in warmth. Midweight gloves are warmer with good dexterity but may lack fine motor functions with fingers. The warmest are handwear are down mittens, there is extremely limited dexterity in these mitts.
Close Menu