Preface To A Guide to Light Weight Backpacking

Part of A Guide to Light Weight Backpacking by Mark Verber

Caveat Emptor

"On the Internet, No one knows you are a dog." is a well known comic. Anyone can post something. Does the person posting the information know anything? Good question! Should you bother reading this text? Does Mark know anything about backpacking?

I am not a super-hikers or a master outdoorsman. I am an informed amateur who takes the time to reflect on my experiences. I hope what I write is helpful, but there are people who have significantly more experience that I do. I am also not a great writer, so don't expect beautiful and well polished prose. This guide started as notes for myself and messages posted to discussion lists. Over time I started to knit my notes together into something that might be useful to others. The final push to pull all my notes together and fill in the holes to produce a somewhat complete guide was fueled by requests from several first time backpackers that I was helping get started.

Who Am I?

I am your basic mid-aged family guy who likes the outdoors. I am in moderate shape. I am not a super athlete, but I try to live an active lifestyle. My hiking style would be characterized as being at the high end of "ultralight" or the low end of "lightweight style". I don't hike fast, but I tend to keep a steady pace. My typical day is ~15 miles with 3-6k elevation change. I am slower than many people when going up and down hills to protect my knees. I tend to start my hikes early in the morning to avoid the day's heat. I tend not to take long breaks, but I take a lot of short (<5 minute) breaks through out the day. Sometimes to catch my breath, cool down a little bit, or enjoy a view. I am capable of doing 20-25 miles/day over an extended period of time, and have done a number of 30-45 mile days... but tend to enjoy a more casual stroll so I can enjoy the environment rather than being focused on how fast I am moving. In my earliest days I was sometimes called "Captain Space" because I used a space blanket which wasn't super common, and "Professor" for my tendency to know lots of random facts.

How did I Get Started?

My dad loved the outdoors. As a young child he would take me hiking and as I got a bit older he would take me backpacking. It was a special time that we shared together. Some of the best movements of my life came when I was in the back country with my dad. I expanded my experiences backpacking with a local boy scout troop and an explorer post. By the time I reached college I was a fairly experienced outdoorsman, often planning and leading trips for my friends. My natural caution, sense of responsibility for others, and time in the boy scouts put me squarely in the "heavy-weight" backpacking camp. My pack weight for seven days typically exceeded seventy pounds. I brought everything, including a folding kitchen sink. As life got busier, and my responsibilities grew, I found myself in the back country less and less. Part of this was that I was living in central Ohio where access to the back country is somewhat limited. In 1992 my wife and I moved for the San Francisco bay area. All of a sudden, there were the destinations I visiting in my younger years affordable and close by. I started to arrange life so I could spend more time backpacking. As I started to backpack again, I found that I wasn't as young as I used to me. Carrying a 70lb pack, even a 50lb pack, seemed crushing, especially to my knees. It was at that point that I was introduced to the ultra light style of backpacking popularized by Ray Jardine. Over a period of several years I shifted my approach to backpacking. This guide shares what I have learned along the way.

What Have I Seen?

These days I generally spend my time in the sierras, with occasional trips to the coastal ranges. Sometimes I get a summer time trips to the Rockies. This means that I face mostly mild conditions. Either I have to face bugs, or wind with rain and/or snow.  Typically I don't have to deal with bugs & rain.  Ah, the joys of California. This isn't all I have experienced though.  In the past have backpacked (actually ski/snowshoe) in  Canadian winters where we saw a low of -40 F with winds to what seemed to be around 100 mph and then the next day we got something like 3 ft of snow dumped on us. I have backpacked in the mid-west & in the Smokies where it literially rained non stop for 8 days and it was hard to find a place to pitch a tent than didn't have an inch or two of standing water. I have also spent time in the west where we would bake in the dessert heat, only to be frozen by the clear nights. I have seen sections of the AT, the PCT, the Rockies, the Bighorns, several areas in Utah,Red River Gorge in Kentucky, and pretty much anyplace you can backpack in Ohio and West Virgina..

Why Go Backpacking?

There are many reasons people might love to backpack and hike. You should take a few minutes to reflect of why you are interesting in backpacking. This will enable you to focus on making the most of your time.  To get you started, I will list some of the reasons I like to go backpacking: