Like camping, but on steroids

Backpacking 101 overnight excursion

One of my bigger flaws is admitting I don’t know something. I hate for attention to be drawn to my ignorance, and that flaw has kept me from pursuing hobbies or goals that would otherwise really strengthen me. It’s also annoyed the heck out of Thrillbilly, because he’s usually the one teaching me things. 

I don’t think I’m alone in the fear of looking like I have no idea what I’m doing. And as a woman, I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to mask ignorance in front of men; I want to always appear confident and capable. With this in mind, I offered a Backpacking 101 excursion to a handful of ladies that are really interested in backpacking, but are not quite sure where to start, and are hesitant to learn in a co-ed environment. I invited women from two of the Meetup groups I’m involved with, and the response was great.

When I first started leading backpacking trips, I quickly learned that my idea of “easy” or “moderate” terrain isn’t the same as others’, and I need to scale it back for these beginner groups. Since I wanted to focus on learning and not the hiking to and from a site, I proposed a non-hiking backpacking overnight trip – basically camping on steroids.

Me being completely ridiculous and pretending to write an old-timey letter with a turkey feather I found (photo cred: Lili Eyler)

My family farm is 100 hilly acres of trees and rocks nestled in middle Tennessee. There is a spot a bit of a drive through the woods to a large clearing surrounded by trees; perfect for setting up tents, working on skills, seeing a bit of wildlife, and gazing at stars on a clear night. I had the women bring all the essentials (see this list for overnight gear), no matter how old, heavy, or awkward the items were. The point was to learn about gear before spending $1,000 on a sweet ultralight setup. While every woman either had or was able to borrow a pack, there were a variety of tents (including one made for children featuring a rad dinosaur print – second from right in the featured pic), bags, and other items. We all start somewhere.

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Camping spot (photo cred: Lili Eyler)

I don’t know whether the women are just naturally awesome or it was that I didn’t wear them out with a long hike, but this group was the most attentive and enthusiastic group I’ve had. Everyone had a fantastic attitude, was a good sport, and asked really intelligent questions. Some even pulled out pen and paper to jot down notes.

We covered a lot of the basics:

  • Finding and clearing a good tent spot (watch out for the prickly pear!)
  • Setting up a tent
  • Organizing gear
  • Finding a good tree limb for a bear bag
  • Throwing a rope for a bear bag (this offered a great deal of entertainment)
  • Cooking on a camp stove
  • Using various settings on headlamps
  • What clothes to wear in which seasons/locations
  • How thruhikes work
  • Trail etiquette
  • Leave No Trace practices
Being a good sport with the bear bag rope (photo cred: Toni Swarthout)

I’m sure there’s more I’m forgetting, but we really delved into a lot of topics and had fun. The night was clear, and we all stood in the middle of the clearing looking up at a sky full of stars, naming constellations, getting a glimpse of the Milky Way and other planets, and talking about our lives until retiring to our tents around 9 p.m. (hiker midnight).

While not everyone in the group may go on to be avid backpackers (hey, if you don’t like bugs, you don’t like bugs), all the women had a good time, made some new friends, and gained some valuable skills.

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