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The 2015 Backpacking Guide

Check out the new and exciting backpacking gear for 2015 in the backcountry 2015 backpacking guide.

How to Choose the Right Camping Sleep System

A basic sleep system consists of two parts: a sleep platform and a sleeping bag. The sleep platform is the outdoor version of your mattress, and it will sit between your sleeping bag and the ground to cushion your body and to insulate against the cold. Sleep platforms come in several styles: cots, air mattresses, sleeping pads, and hammocks.

Navigation 101 - Using a Compass and a Map

Today’s digital reliance on GPS navigation has all but relegated compass and map use to hardcore outdoor enthusiasts, orienteering clubs, and geography buffs. Using your cell phone’s GPS is fast and effective if you’re within cell range or you cache (download) maps for offline use. Better yet, bringing a GPS receiver that’s compatible with the Russian GLONASS system offers even faster location pinpointing and better overall accuracy, thanks to its additional 24 satellites.

That being said, both cell phones and GPS receivers rely on technology that’s subject to failure, whether you forget to charge a battery or inevitably drop your precious gadget in a river or on a rock. Knowing the basics of compass and map use not only provide backup navigation if you’re deep in the wilderness, but they also offer a fun and refreshingly simple way to navigate. Polish your map reading skills and practice the following navigational tips next time you’re hiking or orienteering through your favorite natural area.

Camp Gourmet: Dutch Oven & Stovetop Favorites

Almost anything tastes good after a long day in the mountains. Hot dogs, hobo dinners, and instant oatmeal rarely disappoint, but if you have the luxury of bringing along a camp kitchen chuck box and really want to knock the socks off your fellow campers, these Dutch Oven and stovetop recipes are sure to do the trick.

Warmth to the Wise: Temperature rating s for Sleeping Bags Decoded

Prior to the widespread adoption of the EN testing standard for sleeping bags, manufacturers assigned temperature ratings to sleeping bags based on their own testing methods and standards—which included everything from sleeping in a meat locker to real-world testing experience. Because of the variation in different brands’ testing methods, which produced ratings ranging from conservative to inflated, these in-house ratings were at best a rough guide for picking the right sleeping bag, and they made it nearly impossible to reliably compare sleeping bags across brands.

How to Choose a Backpacking Tent

From bivies to full blown four-season shelters, Jason walks you through the basics behind choosing the perfect backpacking tent. We cover the nitty gritty details of bivy sacks, shelters and tarps, ultralight backpacking tents, traditional backpacking tents, and four-season tents—if Jason doesn’t answer your questions, our Gearheads at Backcountry.com definitely can.

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Unanswered Questions

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Pace

The remote northern end of the Great Salt Lake in Utah is a stark, otherworldly place. Microbes imbue the water with a rusty red color that’s reminiscent of Mars. Delicate salt crystals grow on black basalt rocks spewed from ancient volcanoes. Signs of life are scarce. Extending from the shore near Rozel Point is a jetty made of black basalt boulders. It’s 15 feet wide and 1500 feet long, snaking outward and bending counterclockwise in great cosmic spiral. This is Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. Smithson helped pioneer the concept of creating earthwork sculptures on a monumental scale, outside the confines [...]

Ben Rabinowitz

Whether you’re a camping novice, a seasoned ultra-light backpacker, or living out of your tent on a road trip, having the right tent is important. Backcountry Expert Gearhead Ben Rabinowitz walks us though the process of selecting the right tent: There are many different types of tents out there, and choosing the right one will ensure a better camping experience. A tent, after all, is quite literally your “home away from home.” In this article I’ll walk you through the different constructions, sizes, weights, and features. I’ll also go into some alternatives. While each adventurer has his or her own [...]

Jared Downs

No matter what your sport or activity, a headlamp is a critical piece of gear for your kit. Not just any headlamp will do; headlamp capabilities vary greatly, and you want to be sure to select the proper headlamp for your use. Backcountry Expert Gearhead Jared Downs breaks down your headlamp options below. Headlamp selection does matter. For example, I do my best to get out trad climbing on a regular basis, and occasionally I run into dusk. Last summer I found myself on the fourth pitch of a multi-pitch climb, here in the Wasatch called “Eleventh Hour.” Getting a [...]

Lexi D.

In the gentle rolling hills of Eastern Oregon, along the Umatilla River, you’ll find the old frontier town of Pendleton, Oregon. For over 100 years and through six generations of family ownership, the Pendleton Woolen Mill has cranked out beautiful woolen goods that reflect the culture and heritage of the American West. I received my first Pendleton blanket two birthdays ago, carefully tucked among clumps of newspaper in a modest cardboard box with scant trimmings. The box was big, with ‘Happy Birthday, Cowgirl’ scrawled in black ink across the lid; I had no inkling of what lay inside. Pulling out [...]

Lexi D.

When you escape the office and break your furry friend out of the doghouse, adventure will nearly always ensue. But long days outside navigating rugged terrain can take a toll not only on you, but on your pup as well. You’ve probably kitted yourself out with fancy trail runners or hiking shoes, a hydration vest, and a rain shell to fend off the elements—but what about your dog? Outfitting your dog properly can make the difference between a pleasant backcountry weekend and having to carry your dog back to civilization over miles of rugged terrain. We love the brand Ruffwear, [...]

Jared Downs

There comes a time in many people’s lives when things need a little shaking up; that feeling overcame Henry Wasserman in 2013. He was a 34-year veteran of the financial services industry, but it was losing its appeal, despite several career moves within the sector; where he found himself did not line up with who he wanted to be. The desk was taking a toll on Henry’s physical health, too. It was time to break away from his desk and hit the trail, time for a mental cleanse and a renewed focus on his health. He began thinking of taking [...]

Kim Havell

Last November, Jackson Hole Ski Patroller Pete Linn and I traveled to Peru to explore the Salkantay Trail (ST), an alternate route to the popular and crowded Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. As guides ourselves, we opted to do the trip without an outfitter to have the freedom to move on our terms. It was a last-minute decision, so we only had a couple of weeks of planning and preparation before we found ourselves in Peru, ready to embark on adventure. Part 1: Packing for Purpose Part 2: The Trek We had flown from Lima to Cusco, spent two nights [...]

Kim Havell

Three weeks before I was due to go to Antarctica for my third trip to ski-guide for Ice Axe Expeditions last fall, my plans fell through thanks to last-minute guest changes. I was still itching to go somewhere, so I turned my focus to a new project. The goals were to find an adventure, check out new mountains, do some ski reconnaissance, and embrace and enjoy a new culture. My partner, Jackson Hole Ski Patroller Pete Linn, and I honed in on Peru, and then quickly found the perfect challenge. National Geographic lists the Salkantay Trail (ST) as one of [...]

Lexi D.

At Backcountry we’re serious about down jackets. Most of us live in them for six months of the year, and at peak season we have over 400 styles to choose from on our site. To make sure we’re pointing you towards the down jacket that’s best suited to your needs, we talk to designers and manufacturers, pore over catalogs and technical specifications, and we put them to the test every time we head to the mountains or commute to the office on a chilly day. Point being, we work hard to make sure we’re getting it right. But despite our [...]

Adam Riser

Staying warm is the key to having fun in freezing temps. Here’s a breakdown of the two basic types of insulation and the kinds of jackets they insulate. Down vs. Synthetic The overriding principle at work in insulated jackets (and sleeping bags, mittens, or any other insulated apparel) is the same: air is trapped in the small spaces between the filaments of down or strands of polyester, providing warmth in cold conditions. Loftier (or puffier, if you will) materials consist of more air, and offer a greater warmth-to-weight ratio. Overall, down is lighter, more compressible, and longer-lasting than synthetic insulation. [...]

Lexi D.

In British Columbia, Canada, tucked alongside the Columbia River, you’ll find the tiny town of Revelstoke nestled under a multitude of lofty glaciated peaks. Yearning for an escape from Utah’s summer inferno, I stuffed my Subaru with my mountain bike, paddleboard, and backpacking gear to see what this famed ski town had to offer. Photos by Bruno Long Surrounded by National Parks, Revelstoke boasts a rich heritage in forestry, the railway industry and ski jumping.  My adventure began with a mountain bike ride on the high alpine singletrack of Frisby Ridge. I marveled at stunning panoramic views of glaciers clinging [...]

Travis McKnight

Dogs, with their zesty attitudes and unrivaled sense of adventure, are wonderful backpacking companions. Their exuberant romps through the wilderness add a tinge of playful innocence to any excursion, but that fervor to explore also gets them into trouble. Unfortunately, dogs are a bit oblivious and tend to jump in first and then figure out the consequences of their actions later, which eventually leads to an injury. Sometimes these mishaps are small and the adventure can continue as planned; other times it’s a life-threatening injury and your preparedness means the difference between life and death. Having fun … and looking [...]

Pace

For a few short months each summer, alpine landscapes are changed from frozen wastes of rock and ice to idyllic grassy meadows—it’s pure mountain magic. When hot temps chase you from the city, these alpine paradises are the undisputed bee’s knees for summer backpacking. But as we were reminded when visiting Priord Lake in the High Uinta Wilderness, the alpine is still a harsh place that requires good gear (daily thunderstorms and hordes of mosquitos are often par for the course); lucky for us, we had some of the best. Osprey Packs Atmos 50 Backpack The Osprey packs we took [...]

Pace

The thought of a mosh pit scares me to death, and even being packed in a crowd like sardines makes me anxious, but I’m growing rather fond of outdoor concert venues. Beyond seeing great musicians, there are a couple reasons why I like these things. First, you can spread out a big blanket with all of your concert gear and lay claim to a healthy-sized personal space. Second, (and this is huge because I hate shelling out 17 bones at a concessions tent for a single beer and a stale pretzel) you can bring in your own food and booze. [...]

Omar Muhyar

Today’s digital reliance on GPS navigation has all but relegated compass and map use to hardcore outdoor enthusiasts, orienteering clubs, and geography buffs. Using your cell phone’s GPS is fast and effective if you’re within cell range or you cache (download) maps for offline use. Better yet, bringing a GPS receiver that’s compatible with the Russian GLONASS system offers even faster location pinpointing and better overall accuracy, thanks to its additional 24 satellites. That being said, both cell phones and GPS receivers rely on technology that’s subject to failure,  whether you forget to charge a battery or inevitably drop your [...]

Andrew McLean

My first experience with a center pole tent left me running through the sagebrush in the black of night with my three other tent-mates, all of us in our bare feet and underwear.  It was not a good first impression, and it took me a decade to forgive and forget before I finally saw the light. Center pole tents, also known as single-pole tents, and more commonly called megamids, mids or pyramids, have been around since the cave man and are one of the oldest designs out there. In theory, they are only two parts – a pole and the [...]

Alex Blackmer

Plenty of serious things can ruin a backpacking trip—starvation, hypothermia, brain aneurysms, bears—but nothing seemingly small can blow up a backcountry mission quite like blisters. Unfortunately, there’s no surefire way to stop them, but if you start thinking about taking care of your feet the same way you do meal planning and packing, you’ll be way more likely to make it through your next backpacking trip with paws intact and spirits high. Prevention Blisters are caused by warmth, moisture, and friction. When you walk, your feet rub in your boots, and the outermost skin slides over the inner layers. Introduce [...]

Matt Park

Everyone’s been there: It’s a beautiful summer afternoon, warm with light winds and a few puffy clouds on the horizon, but nothing overhead. You and your friends are enjoying your favorite hike, and as you gain the ridge you see tall, white clouds on the horizon; too far away to matter to you. You head for the summit as the sky turns grey and you think, “It’s mid-summer, we aren’t going to get rain.” When you hit the summit, you feel your hair kind of stand up, and the rocks seem to be buzzing. You finally realize you’re not in [...]

Eric Watford

In this installment, Gearhead Eric Watford weighs in with some hearty, delicious, yet easy-to-prepare feasts. Make no mistake about it, these are not minimalist meals to be cooked over a Jetboil, but are suitable for weekend trips with big groups, bonfires, and loaded-down vehicles. Key to all of them is the right cookware, either a Dutch oven or a skillet. It’s a good idea to do some prep ahead of time; have the onions and veggies pre-chopped in baggies and all your spices pre-bagged as well, so you spend less time at the campsite prepping and more time enjoying being [...]

Tig Prendergast

Bears occupy a place in our collective imagination that’s wildly disproportionate to their presence in the actual landscape. We watch endless hours of documentary footage, cover suburban incursions with breathless news stories, and actively seek out bears in wilderness settings. And, sadly, we seem to be unhealthily fixated on bear attacks. In truth, though, there have been only a handful of fatal attacks in the last decade, and the good news, if you can call it that, is that you have an infinitely better chance of being hit by lightning, suffering a fatal fall in the shower, or of being [...]

The variety of hiking boots and hiking shoes has exploded in the past decade as designs become increasingly specialized and borrow from other categories like trail running shoes and approach shoes. The good news is that there are more choices than ever, but that also makes the selection process more difficult and confusing. Many people cope with this overwhelming variety by finding a shoe that they like, and then sticking with that same model year after year. But perhaps you are curious about the new shoes out there, or, horror of horrors, perhaps your go-to shoe or boot been discontinued. [...]

Alex Blackmer

When a grizzled Austrian offers you a tent/sleeping bag/sleeping pad combo for 30 Euros, you don’t waste time wondering if it’s a good purchase; you get three, pass them out to your friends, and head out for some seat-of-the-pants backpacking. The first three nights are crystal clear, accented by the distant knocking of cowbells and an impossibly thick sprinkle of stars. The fourth night it rains, and you learn that, while the “waterproof” canopies of bargain Euro-tents are unbelievably permeable, the floors seem to be made of the world’s heaviest-duty tarpaulin, meaning that once the water gets in, it damn [...]

Norrona

Once upon a time using your legs as transport was considered a poor man’s choice, and you could be pegged a vagabond or hobo. Today it’s more a sign of the complete opposite. In a world where time is money, and spare time is in short supply, the experience of moving your legs and spending time outside is almost considered a privilege. To put one foot in front of the other is a basic skill most of us learn as children, but to use this skill to carry ourselves out into nature can suddenly add a whole new aspect to [...]

Pace

A reliable stove system is essential to your backpacking setup. After all, it’s only fitting to eat a hot meal while you relax and soak up those well-earned million-dollar views. But with the dozens of stove models available today, it can be difficult to narrow down the options and choose the stove that is best suited to your needs. Of all the available backpacking stoves on the market today, most fall into two basic categories: canister stoves and liquid gas stoves. The exceptions are several hybrid models that can run on either canister or liquid gas, and alternative stove systems [...]