I know it’s not exactly perfect weather for backpacking, but I’ve been asked questions about it from those who think they would like to try it.
Actually, those that asked are anglers who would like to try some walk-in fishing ponds. I haven’t done it in a few years, but I have hiked in to quite a few of New York’s ponds and spent many a night in a small tent or lean-to camped next to some good trout waters.
Here are a few of the basics that you’ll need for your nights under the stars, but I just want to remind you that this is “back” packing, and if you spend a few dollars more on equipment, your back will thank you.
There are packs with internal frames and external frames. When you start looking, you’ll be overwhelmed at the choices, but if you go to a store with a staff knowledgeable about backpacking, they can guide you. Pack sizes will vary from 2,000 to 7,000 cubic inches. A 3,000- to 4,000-cubic-inch pack should be big enough for a weekend. Look for good construction. The lighter it is, the better.
Because you’ll be walking in a few miles with everything on your back, make sure the pack fits perfectly. The shoulder pads should be wide enough and adjustable. Other features to look for are top- and front-load designs, baffled expansion pockets, compression straps and tapered tear-drop shapes that position the weight toward the center of the body.
You do not want the pack to weigh heavy on your hips and shoulders, so choose a suspension system that features high-density molded foam in the shoulder straps and hip belt; the thicker, the better.
Now let’s look at an equally important item that needs a perfect fit, your footwear. Forget the tennis, cross trainer, etc., because they’re not made for long-distance walking over rough terrain. Features needed are ankle height, lightweight and comfortable soles that provide protection against rough terrain and a good grip when it’s slippery.
The Bone Dry hiking series by Bass Pro all have these qualities, and their Ridge Pointe Hikers are also waterproof, have moisture-wicking cambrelle lining and removable foot beds.
With regard to sleeping quarters, if you want to really sleep under the stars, just pick a spot under some tree when you get there and go to sleep. Good luck with that. Some of the state backpacking destinations have lean-tos, but they’re on a first-come, first-get basis. The best best place to sleep is a tent you bring, another choice that takes some decision making.
Buy the best that you can afford! Your tent has to protect you from the elements, including rain and bugs. I recommend a two-person model whether you’ll be alone or not. There shouldn’t be much difference in the weight and you’ll appreciate the room. Get a tent with a floor and rainfly. And lastly, ask the salesperson to demo setting it up, taking it down and repacking it.
Next, a sleeping bag. Once again, you’ll have plenty of choices. Just remember, it gets chilly at night, so choose accordingly. It should be both warm and comfortable.
Goose down-filled bags used to be the best choice, but new technologies are competing and offering water-resistant, breathable materials in the outer shells with lining-designed dryness. I’ve seen some locally in the $140 range that weigh around five pounds. There are some that weigh a little less than two pounds, but are priced considerably higher. For added warmth and comfort, invest in a sleeping pad.
Depending upon where you go, there may or may not be a fireplace. There are also areas that don’t allow open fires. They’ll be marked. Most backpackers prefer small, single-burner stoves. There are canister and liquid fuel models. Either will do the job.
Consider weight. Only take food you know you want to eat, but obviously, steaks aren’t usually on the menu unless you want to carry a cooler in. Drinking water isn’t always readily accessible, so invest in a water filter or purification kit and load up with tasty energy bars. Two other items that should be in every backpacker’s pack, especially in spring and summer — insect repellent/Thermacell and a first aid kit.
In the good idea category — a compass and topo map of the area. The map should be coordinated with the compass before heading in. For tools, a multi-purpose knife and wire saw will help cut firewood if open fires are permitted. Other items include waterproof matches, a disposable lighter and a good flashlight with fresh and extra batteries. Just in case, an emergency blanket can provide added warmth, sun protection and shelter if needed. Rope is always good to have along.
Whenever backpacking on marked trails or trails you’ve made, be prepared for an emergency. Always carry signaling flares and/or an emergency strobe light for darkness, and a loud whistle and handheld mirror for daytime signaling.
New York state has a very active bear population and the Department of Environmental Conservation has a list of back country food practices everyone should know and adhere to. Pack minimal amounts of food, cook and eat before 7 a.m., cook away from your campsite, be neat and clean while cooking, keep food in storage containers, avoid leftovers, never leave food unattended and use bear-resistant food containers.
DEC regulations require the use of bear-resistant canisters by overnight users in the eastern peaks wilderness between April 1 and Nov. 30. If you hang your food, use dark-colored cord only, as bears can more easily see lighter color ropes and have come to associate them with food sources.
Cord should be 75 feet long, and the bag should be hung 15 feet above the ground and at least 10 feet away from the trees. Do not store or hang food in backpacks because they retain food odors.
Where to go
There are forest preserve lands in the Adirondack and Catskill parks and state forests where you can camp as long as you’re 150 feet from a water body, road or trail unless the area is posted as “Camping Prohibited,” or above 3,500 feet in elevation from March 22 to Dec. 20. For Adirondack and Catskill Park maps, go to www.dec.ny.gov/ and search for “NYS back country camping.”
DEC also has a detailed list by county of reclaimed trout ponds in the eastern Adirondacks. These are all excellent fishing waters, but the use of fish as bait is illegal in most reclaimed ponds, so consult the “Special Regulations by County” in the regulations guide for waters where fish as bait is illegal.