Hackpacking: Advice and safety tips for your next hiking trip

Adam Horn
Oxford Stories

With the coming of the cold weather, it is time to break out those backpacks and sleeping bags and hit the trails. The number one key to the success of any trek is preparedness – not only for obvious safety reasons, but for making the trip generally more enjoyable.


Rocky trails. Photo by Adam Horn.

The first part of any hiking trip is researching a trail. Try to look for trails that are well marked and within your skill level. A great tool for researching trails is the AllTrails app. It can provide maps, reviews, photographs, difficulty ratings and much more. Once you find a suitable trail, it’s important to plan ahead for your specific trip.

Emily Lado, of Ole Miss Outdoors, called planning ahead the most important survival tip. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return,” she said. “If you are going out for multiple days, I recommend drafting an itinerary that includes route, campsite, contact information, etc. Leave it with someone you trust. It should have enough detail that, if you were not to return, that itinerary could lead search and rescue through your planned trip.”

Adventure educator Bay Bennett summed it up saying “the easiest way not to get lost is to stay found.” He advises all trekkers to familiarize themselves with the map before setting out.


Bay Bennett braves the Little Missouri River. Photo by Adam Horn.

Next is making sure your pack has everything you will need to survive in the backcountry without being too heavy. Typically, if your pack weighs over 30 pounds, you have packed too much. Therefore, the true art of backpacking is fitting as much utility as you can into the least amount of space and weight.

An example of something with high utility and low volume/weight is dryer lint. Most people just throw out their dryer lint, but it is actually one of the best fire starters around. If you want to take it to the next level, combine it with petroleum jelly.

Another great item that takes up little space, but carries lots of utility are bicycle inner tubes. According to Bennett, a sliced inner tube has the best durability for its weight. For keeping warm at night, Lado suggests pouring boiling water into a Nalgene water bottle and keeping it in your sleeping bag for warmth.

Next, it is important to consider your food and water plans. The average hiker needs to consume anywhere from 2000-4000 calories daily depending on the temperature and amount of activity. The colder it is, the more calories are required. Additionally, Lado suggests that hikers drink one-half liter of water per mile hiked.

The key to nutrition when hiking is having a water purification plan and carrying foods that are light with good nutritional value.

For water purification, there are several different options with their own pros and cons. Lado suggests Aquamira chlorine dioxide drops, “It’s lightweight, …. easy to use, and arguably the most important point, it does not affect taste.”

Another similar method that I have used in the past is carrying bleach in an eye dropper. Use one or two drops of bleach per water liter, shake until foam comes to a head, then pour the foam off the top.

Many assume this method is dangerous because it involves bleach, but our bodies are accustomed to small amounts of bleach. It is in our detergents, sugar, bread, eggs and many other things you might not expect.

The alternative option is carrying a pump filter. This option requires carrying a few more ounces of gear, but it also means no affect on taste and almost no limit to your water supply (most filters can clean about 1000 liters).


Bay Bennett scouts the valley after a long hike. Photo by Adam Horn.

For food, Bennett considers several things when considering what to pack. First is the nutritional value. Protein is one of most important nutrients for hikers, therefore finding non-perishable protein sources is a must.

“You’re trying to get the same amino acids that you would find in meat, but in a nonperishable form,” Bennett said. “There are a number of combinations you can choose to achieve that: dairy and grains, grains and legumes (beans), or legumes and seeds.”

Finally, setting up camp properly determines how comfortable you will be and how rested and ready to go you will be the next day. Remember to always leave yourself enough daylight to put up your tent and gather materials for a fire.

To save time, Lado suggests picking up pieces of kindling throughout the day and putting them in your pocket or pack. When you drop your pack for the day, you will already be somewhat prepared to build a fire.  Rule of thumb is to gather about three times the amount of firewood you think you need.

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