For some girls, there’s something romantic about putting on a pack with only a few belongings and venturing out into the Great Outdoors. Other girls believe adventure to be above their skill level. While there are aspects of the backcountry that can be intimidating — such as temperature, sleeping conditions and maintaining good hygiene — even the least adventurous of girls shouldn’t consider herself anti-backpacking material.
Unlike the front country, which typically involves daylong excursions mostly accessible by car (like a campground), the backcountry constitutes rural, undeveloped areas where true backpacking takes place. Any woman, no matter her experience level, should be pleased to discover that as long as she is accompanied by seasoned wilderness adventurer(s), backpacking is not as hard as she thinks.
Let’s take a look at four ways to survive, nay, relish, a backcountry experience:
Layered Clothing Systems
Check the weather beforehand and plan accordingly. For a spring, summer or fall trip, a three layer clothing system should suffice. This is comprised of a base, mid, and outer shell layer. For more extreme conditions, as in the winter, use a four layer clothing system of a base, mid, insulating and outer shell layer.
- A base layer is the next-to-skin layer that will collect the most sweat. It should be light and made of a material that will wick moisture from the body. Materials such as wool or polysynthetic blends will “wick” or move sweat from your body to the surface of the clothing and then evaporate, keeping you dry from the inside out. Wool is great as a base layer because it retains its insulating properties even when wet, although it does take longer to dry than a synthetic fabric, which dries quickly and is extremely durable. Cotton should be avoided in the outdoor world and especially in extremely cold conditions because while it does wick moisture away from the body, the moisture will not evaporate and the body will be cold no matter how many layers are on top. (Options: Shirt, Jacket, Pants, Beanie, Socks)
- Mid layers are typically made of fleece, synthetic, or down and are used to trap in warm air. This layer should be breathable to prevent overheating and sweat. (Options: Pullover, Jacket, Pants, Gloves)
- An insulating layer carries out the same function as the mid layer and is used for added insulation in extreme conditions. A lightweight, synthetic or down jacket is recommended. Synthetic is preferred for wet conditions, as down’s insulating capabilities diminish when wet. (Options: Sweater, Hoodie)
- An outer shell can come in soft or hard and is designed to be a shelter from the elements. Outer shells are waterproof or water resistant, breathable, and windproof. (Options: Rain Jacket, Ski Jacket, Pants, Gloves)
Hygiene = Happiness
The biggest aversion many girls have to backpacking is using the restroom in the woods, even though the whole affair is probably cleaner than using a public toilet. Like any art, this takes practice. Make sure that after digging your hole at the standard distance of 200 feet (100 paces) away from water, campsites and trails, you cover up your business and mark it with some sticks and stones. Also, you need to take your used toilet paper with you. Bring a plastic bag from home inside another paper bag and store it with you for the remainder of the trip.
It’s unusual, yes, but once hidden amongst other belongings these bags are easy to forget about. Don’t forget to wash your hands with hand sanitizer or biodegradable soap, either. There are few gadgets (here) invented to make this whole ordeal easier.
Wet wipes and face wipes also make for great showers when rinsing off in a lake or stream is not an option. Tooth brushing still takes place in the backcountry, too, as does checking a compact mirror, if necessary. Go makeup-free, if you can. Remember that whatever you bring you must carry, so leave out the unnecessary!
… even the least adventurous of girls shouldn’t consider herself anti-backpacking material.
It is possible to dine well in the backcountry using only a fire or a small stove. Freeze dried dinners are the easiest … just add hot water! There are even organic, gluten-free, and vegan options for those that require it. Homemade dehydrated meals are also an option and can also be more healthful, but the preparation takes more work.
For lunch, tuna works with pita and pretzels and PB&J or hummus and pita are good and fast options for trail lunches. The best breakfasts involve something hardy, like oatmeal and dried fruit. To make it easier, use instant oatmeal. There is also a smorgasbord of freeze-dried breakfasts available when fresh meat and eggs won’t last long enough. Snack-wise, nothing beats dried fruit, GORP (good old raisins and peanuts A.K.A. trail mix), granola bars and pretzels. Easy is key when out on the trail.
A Good Night’s Sleep
Lastly, getting a good night’s rest is of utmost importance in the backcountry. It sets the tone for every day. To get a good night’s sleep it’s important to be warm and comfortable. This involves a backpacking tent (must be light enough to carry) pitched on a flat surface, a sleeping bag with a temperature rating that matches or exceeds the current weather conditions, and a sleeping pad to insulate and protect from the coldness of the ground below.
In warmer conditions, forego the tent and sleep under the stars. It’s an experience that everyone should experience, at least once. Just don’t forego the tent completely and leave it at home — nature is unpredictable and it’s important to always be prepared.
Backcountry backpacking is something that everyone, given the opportunity, should take advantage of. It’s a chance to leave behind the clamor of everyday life and escape into the peaceful magnificence of the wild. Above all else, it’s a learning experience of the self and of the world.
Hopefully, this article has encouraged rather than intimidated you. If I have succeeded in this much and have motivated you to adventure, please don’t do so without the leadership of an experienced outdoorsman or woman and please do consult other sources for information. An adventure of this magnitude is possible with and without the gear recommendations listed here.
We know that God is everywhere; but certainly we feel His presence most when His works are on the grandest scale spread before us; and it is in the unclouded night-sky, where His worlds wheel their silent course, that we read clearest His infinitude, His omnipotence, His omnipresence.
– CHARLOTTE BRONTE, Jane Eyre
Are you a backcountry girl? What do you love about it?
Image via Chelsie Autumn Photography