*Packing and Camping*
By: Warlord
18 April 2003

...the bugout vehicle has carried you as far as it can go, so now you must finish the trip to your shelter on foot.. what will you be carrying?

There is MUCH debate between the merits and drawbacks of both military and civilian backpacking gear. I used Military gear for a long time due to it's ruggedness and cheap price tag, but as you grow older (or wiser) you start looking seriously at that NICE civilian market backpacking stuff. It's rugged, light, comfortable, and you can even get subdued colors if you wish. Yeah, it's expensive, but what's the use in growing up if you can't afford nicer toys? ;)

Since we like to Backpack, Our friends and we have all spent quite a lot of money and time on getting gear that works for us... this article will discuss some of that gear and how it performs "out there". We'll also show some of the pitfalls of hiking public areas.. and even private ones.

If you are forced to bug out, or bug back, or simply walk to your remote shelter, you'll need something to haul your stuff in while you make your way there. Personally I'd chose the lighter "packing gear" if I have to walk.

But are you in shape to walk carrying a pack? Sounds easy, but if you spend a lot of time at a desk or computer, it won't be. We recently decided to re-test our hiking abilities on a weekend backpacking trip... The first backpacking trip of the new year.

We gathered up the trappings of backpacking and headed out to Jones Gap. We had a full agenda planned and were full of enthusiasm about "testing some new equipment". I took my truck around to the other end of the trail head and then PaleHorse and I took the jeep back to the main trail head, 18 road miles away. I loaded up with my gear and went on in, PaleHorse went back to the house to wait on Marsha3.

I got to our first camp, about a mile and a 1/4 in, and set up well before dark... PaleHorse and Marsha3 came in after I did and it was dark by the time they got into camp (We expected this).

The Icom FRS radio's we use worked flawlessly... I was able to talk to the Ladies from the parking lot right into camp. We were set up right by a fairly good sized river.

Once they got in and got settled they whipped up some Mountain House Teriyaki Beef on the Pocket rocket stove... BEAUTIFUL night.. we sat out till after midnight. The Pocket rocket stove is one of the lightest butane stoves on the market. Even the fuel canister is light weight.

We woke up Saturday morning and the ladies fixed fried ham and eggs for breakfast, again on the pocket rocket stove... this is a neat little stove but it has to be PERFECTLY level or stuff slides off the holding platform. We had Eggs in our "Egg Carrier"... you can get these at Walmart for next to nothing and they don't weigh much.. don't skimp on food on the trail!!!!! For most meals we prefer Mountain House food (or one of the similar brand names). Again, it's expensive but it tastes SO good :)

Thus fortified with breakfast, we planned on doing a 4 mile hike up to our next campsite.. we stopped by the waterfalls on the way up (and I do mean UP)

(The Girls at Rainbow Falls)

Did I mention the trail went UP? Well, it did... VERY "UP". The elevation climbed at 1550 feet over 3.5 miles on switchback trails. We averaged 1.9 MPH on the flats, and about 1 mph on the "ups". Took lots of rest breaks on the ups :) We were prepared for this though since we'd done a "virtual walk through" on our 3D mapping software, "TopoUSA", and made many notes on our paper map with GPS coordinates marking the nastier stuff on the trail.

(This map shows our trek in 3D up the valley headed West, Just follow the dotted line. Rainbow falls is where the Girls are posing (above))

If I were bugging out for real, my map wouldn't be marked up with ANY identifying marks in case it got lost.. imagine a hungry pack of people finding your lost map with a big circle around one part saying "Homestead/Retreat". Not a smart move. The habit is so ingrained in us, that we carry a clear rubbery map case and write on the outside of it with dry erase markers.

At both ends of the trail, we experienced a lot of day hikers.. at every river crossing there were like "traffic jams" while large groups (Going the other way, DOWN hill) were laughing and shouting and being obnoxious while crossing... as Marsha3 said after 10 minutes of waiting for one group to cross a small stream, "WHAT'S GOING ON UP THERE? IS THERE A BODY ON THE TRAIL???" :)

No, no body... it was some very fat lady making a show of crossing a log bridge balancing her bulk with 15 other people looking on while she whooped and squealed. Then everyone had to stand around and yack and brag about fjording the mighty river (With no thought to the other hikers trying to get on up (or down) the trail).

Finally the fat slackers got moving... this wasn't a problem in the MIDDLE of the trail, just at both ends where day-hikers like to pretend they are real packers ;)

We FINALLY got to camp #2 only to find our site occupied... I even checked his receipt, sure enough, the Park Service double booked the site.. so we had to hike ANOTHER 1.5 miles on out of the park.. and it was almost STRAIGHT up.. (steps cut into the bank the whole way).

When we got up to the parking area where we'd left my truck the night before, I walked smack into the Park Ranger Supervisor on the last big climb up to the truck. Turns out he was really nice.. they gave us our money back AND a receipt for a free weekend stay the next time we come in...

The Ranger said the guy that booked us at Jones Gap was a grass cutter they'd put in the office temporarily due to complaints about him, and he booked us without checking...

Anyway.. the Ranger said "Ya'll came UP Tom Killer trail???"

We said "Yeah.. sure enuff"..

He said "Lord, Ya'll earned a free night.. every one starts out going DOWN Tom Miller Trail.. if you come up it we called it "Tom Killer Trail"..

He handed us the free stay ticket and said "Ya'll earned that one"

So we got home a little early after putting in almost 5.5 trail miles today (most of it UP).. but we kicked back with a thick steak and some shrimp and watch the Tremors Series on SciFi (I set the VCR to record it Friday night ;)

The Pocket Rocket stove did great, the new HiTec Hiking boots were EXCELLENT, and the Black Diamond Hiking poles were worth their weight in gold. The Hiking poles made balancing across log bridges MUCH easier and made rock crossings a snap.

I wouldn't rush out and buy hiking poles as a first piece of survival gear, but after your other preps are squared away, they DO make negotiating trail easier and they weigh nothing.

Some observations:
... We need a lighter tent... Don't see how it could be substantially lighter though. We replaced the fiberglass poles on our cheapo dome tent a while back with aluminum poles, and that made a difference.. plus we use long Aluminum Gutter nails as tent stakes. These gutter nails are a LOT lighter than even the wire tent stakes, and don't bend nearly as easily.

Next trip the camcorder stays home :)

Next trip we only take ONE GPS unit (the other two didn't even get turned on). However the GPS was GREAT to have as it shows your average speed and time to your destination at that average speed. It's also good to be able to see what the trail is like BEFORE you get to the bad spots. Just remember that 3 air-miles is NOT 3 trail miles ;) The GPS unit pictured below is a Garmin E-map with 32 megs of additional memory. We have the whole world (literally) stored in it in Road maps, and the whole USA stored in it in topo-maps.

The PAL lights were all the light we needed.. didn't even touch the regular flashlight (So the regular flashlight stays home from now on)

The Kelty Tornado Packs were great! The weight was easily distributed and you can transfer the weight to shoulders, hips or a balance between just by adjusting straps on the fly... no need to even stop. I have a bad back, so I keep the weight on my hips and off my shoulders. The narrow profile of the Tornados makes hiking even in tight brush much easier than with a wider pack, and your arms are free to swing as needed. It was designed primarily as a Rock climbing pack, but in the undergrowth of the South East, it fits our needs perfectly. Remember to pack the weight low in the pack so you aren't constantly "balancing the load" down the trail like an Egyptian with a big clay pot on her head.

We kept notes about our speeds, how much water we used, how much food, etc etc.. this'll help us next time when we hit a longer trail for more hiking days, or if we ever had to get to our retreat on foot.

There's 3 basic speeds on the trails:
1. Day hikers leaving out at good clips (Includes speed walking grannies).
2. experienced day hikers moving along pacing themselves..
3. and then the backpackers, moving slowly along pacing themselves.

When the day hikers get down those hills whooping and hollering and acting the fool, you see them coming back up the hill practically crawling.. we passed many that were too tired to keep moving (Idiots).

Other Stuff and lessons Learned
I'm sure pretty most everyone here knows this, but the last backpacking trip brought it home again so I thought I'd reiterate what we already know for anyone starting to doubt it.

If you plan to bug out to a state park and live, forget it. It's still "Off season" here and it was crowded in all the parks... Fire wood was stripped bare! I literally had to walk a 1/4 mile in all directions to find ANY firewood.. and I don't mean logs, I mean sticks big enough to start a brush-campfire. It was amazing.. nothing bigger than a pencil on the ground.

If you think you can get off the "main trails" and live, don't.. While gathering firewood I ran into several people "sitting" way up on mountain sides.. two of these I saw first even though *I* was moving and they were just sitting.

If you wear cammo shorts to hike in, you still blend in with the sheeple.. lots of the yuppie hikers wear em, or some version that looks like them... the boonie hats are the same.. lots of people wearing them.

We saw NO game on the trail.. we see more deer, rabbit and squirrels in our backyard than we saw on the trails.

Bright colors used by yuppies make you stand out (duh).. we always saw them WAY before they saw us.

Even when you don't think someone is watching, someone is watching. I watched many people walk by the trails as I was up higher gathering fire wood.. lone hikers pick their nose.. one even ate it afterwards.. some talk to themselves.

People with ragged out boots tend to be the better hikers. Those boots got ragged out somehow ;)

Likewise with battered equipment. Beware the guy that has obvious modifications on his equipment.. he's "been out there" a lot and can walk you to death.

Yuppies can't start fires. It had rained for a week before we went camping.. I started a fire by pulling down TINY pieces of wood from under pines and stuff, and pulling down wood hanging in trees... I saw a lot of smoky starts when passing other camps, but ours was the only "fire" I saw.

A piece of 550 cord and a rock will let you get that premium firewood stuck in the branches of trees... yuppies don't look "up" when gathering firewood.

Make friends with the Park Rangers if you plan to backpack for fun or "practice" in Parks... they know the best spots... The one we met even told us he'd give us a permit to camp in one of the preemo spots marked "NO CAMPING ALLOWED". They also know the dodges and most remote trails.. He told us of a way to get out of the park without coming up Tom Killer trail.. level walking right to a dirt road IF you knew the "secret" way out (Which we do now).

Know your average trail speed! A GPS is crucial for this. I can travel at 2.9 - 3.2 MPH loaded up on flat ground, but my "average" trail speed is 2.3 MPH including rest breaks.. if you have to rest more than once per hour on level trail, you are walking too fast, or you are way over loaded.

Remember that your pace will dictated by the slowest member of your party... We passed groups of hikers plodding along behind some obese person. Put the slowest member up front.. it's hard walking behind a slower person, but it beats turning around every 50 steps to make sure they are keeping up.

Remember that the person in front of you has a pack between you and their ears... either use radios with headsets, or speak up.

VOX sucks.. on the FRS channels all you could hear was "huff huff huff puff puff cuss cuss" from yuppies wearing VOX microphone headsets... those that had the sensitivity turned down usually only got half of what they said out over the airwaves.. The more experienced VOX users would start a transmission with "Bloooooww.. talk talk talk" blowing on the mic keys it and then you can talk so you transmit ALL of what you have to say instead of just the last part.

Keep radio chatter down.. if you find the kids half a mile up the trail yacking for no reason, do us all a favor and kill them...

...likewise with the guy with his radio stuck in his pocket, keyed without his knowledge for 4 miles.

Buy the best sleeping bag you can afford. We went with North Face bags, Marsha3 uses a Slumber Jack modular system. A good bag is ESPECIALLY important in the early spring and Late fall when temperature changes can be dramatic. It was in the lower 70's during the day, and in the mid 30's at night. Our bags did great, but we passed some people with Wally World special bags the next morning that were none too happy. We also carry fleece blankets with us. Our bags are rated down to 25 degrees, but realistically at about 31 degrees the cold starts to seep in... with a fleece blanket inside the bag (which weighs nothing) you can get 25 degrees or lower out of your bag in perfect comfort. Think "Small and light", but think "WARM" if you camp in colder weather.

Ground pads are a MUST.. I like the closed cell foam pads if it's especially cold out.. but if it's not too cold we carry 3/4 length "Thermarests" (We're gettin on up there in years ya know ;) They are hands down more comfortable to sleep on, but they don't seem to protect from cold as well as foam closed-cell pads, and if you get a leak, you better have brought the patch kit. Ours are 2 years old and WELL used and we've never had a leak, but it CAN happen.

For cooking we use good quality Aluminum pans and Kevlar forks, spoons and knives... we're saving for some titanium cookware. Titanium is VERY light, but it is ungodly expensive.

By Now you know about as much as we do, especially you more experienced packers.. but for you inexperienced folks, I hope this gives you some insight on what NOT to do when bugging out on foot, and what alternatives there are to bulky Military gear.

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