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Backpacking FAQ's

External VS. Internal Frame Packs: What is the difference?

Internal frame packs have soft frames built into the pack. They are basically one large bag. Different-colored stuff sacks for each section of your gear, such as food, clothing, toiletries and stove fuel can prevent you from dismantling everything to grab what you need. The things you use the most during your hike, such as a camera, map, a jacket, candy bars, compass or guidebook, should be tucked in aside pocket or on the top within easy reach. Internal frame packs are invaluable when climbing or hiking difficult terrain because they well-balanced and hug the body tightly and comfortably. The likelihood of snagging the pack on branches as you walk is less with an internal frame.

Rigid external frame packs allows backpackers to carry heavy loads more comfortably than with an internal frame pack. Many hikers choose this style for extended trips. They usually have more pockets and internal compartments than internal frame packs and items can be strapped onto the frame in the back.

What is the best way to pack a backpack?

Generally, try to keep the heaviest part of your load centered close to your back and shoulder blades. Each person's center of gravity is different as is each backpack. How one person loads a backpack may not be ideal for another.

Some women find that putting heavier items at the bottom of the pack is best for their balance simply because a woman's center of gravity tends to be lower than a man's. Some backpacks designed for women ride lower, with the weight concentrated near their waist. The sleeping bag rides on top of the pack on some of these packs. Experiment to see what works best for you.

Washing, Bathing & Keeping Clean

Swim away and downstream from camp. Do all bathing, clothes washing and pot scrubbing well back from the shores of lakes and streams. Prevent pollution by keeping soap and detergent out of all waters.

How to keep clean with a small amount of water?

Well, first, you can't worry about staying too clean out on the trail. Here is a suggestion: Take a bowl of warm water and a baby wipe. Start with your face and work your way down. Use a backcountry towel for both a washcloth and a towel. You can even dry your hair with them.

When is it safe to drink wilderness water?

All wilderness water taken out of streams or wilderness sources should be treated through either filtration, purification or boiling.

Clean up and garbage

How much do I really have to "carry out" when I go backpacking?

Everything. Burying garbage is no longer acceptable. Park and Forest Services prohibit digging pits. In most areas soil is too shallow: animals and the elements expose the garbage, and erosion starts. Burn everything you can burn. Pack out everything that won't burn--cans, bottles, old clothing, foil and large pieces of plastic. Cans can be carried out most easily if both ends are cut out, and the cans washed or burned and then flattened. Many backpackers use zip-lock bags to carry in food and supplies. As you consume food, convert the bags to garbage bags for your wastepaper, toilet paper and sanitary supplies. Make sure your waste is securely stored, or even double-bagged, so it does not leak or spill onto food or clothing in your backpack. Double check for litter--bits of paper on the ground and clothing left hanging on the trees. Leave your campsite cleaner than you found it. If you have the energy and initiative, carry out any other trash you find.


What kind of fuel should I use?

Butane is light, clean and requires no pumping or priming to produce an instant flame and is good for summer use. It's easy. Plug a cartridge into your stove, turn it on and light it. Use white gas or unleaded fuel in the winter. This fuel is inexpensive and produces a lot of heat for those campers in the winter who melt snow for drinking water. Don't store fuel in your stove's tank for extended periods and replace your fuel every season. Fuel should be drained at the end of the season or burned off to prevent impurities from clogging the fuel lines and burners.

Stoves should be carried to timberline and all areas where wood is in short supply. The least possible damage is done when stoves are used. They are clean and do not scar a fragile campsite.

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