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TRAVEL SERIES: Backpacking

By Stefka Gerova

Endless lakes with still water, astounding sunsets with mildly blending colors, the pleasure of solitude in nature, the freshness of air away from human beings this is only a small part of the gratification that backpacking renders. In past years, backpacking has gained an ever-growing "fan-club" and more and more fascinated followers. It's by far an experience of a lifetime, both for those who have done it since childhood and for novices. Yet, before one rushes to the wilderness, some tips might be useful.

Pre-departure Worries

The better planned a backpacking trip is, the more fun it tends to be as your mind will not be occupied by petty troubles like finding water, but will rather be free to enjoy the dazzling views around. It might seem a bit time-consuming in the beginning, but this boring "homework" is important.

The Route: Choosing the right route is the starting point. Don't aim for super-strenuous trails if you're just beginning, you'll only end up aching all over at the end of the day. Be realistic in determining your skill level and increase the difficulty gradually with more training. If you leave for the great outdoors in a group of several people, make sure that the route is suitable for the least-trained participant. With the profuse wealth of information about backpacking on the Internet, it is one of the best places to start researching. www.getoutdoors.com and www.trails.com have excellent resources on finding trails by region, length and level of difficulty.

Equipment: Since you will be miles away from any trace of the civilized world, don't try to take your whole wardrobe with you! Keep clothing to a minimum (unless you want to be weight-lifting on the trip), but do make sure to get enough warm clothes according to weather conditions and the season. A jacket of Gore-tex, microfiber or some other windproof/waterproof material can certainly save you in bad weather. A comfortable backpack is a worthwhile investment since this will be your best friend on a number of trips. The more compartments a backpack has, the easier it will be to arrange all necessary belongings in an orderly fashion, so that you don't have to take everything out just to find that water bottle! Beware of choosing a pack with too big of a volume in the beginning stage because you will almost inevitably fill it up to the top, getting only back pain in the end. Having a stove is advisable if you cannot survive with dried food for the duration of the entire trip, but is by far not the most important piece of equipment.

Safety Measures: It is essential to bring a first-aid kit along and to be prepared for anything from a minor cold to an open wound. An external or internal frame pack can be very useful for carrying a person in the event of a broken leg or a serious trauma, although this is only possible in a group of at least four people. And before you say that this won't happen exactly to you, let me tell you that it did happen on my very first backpacking trip!If you are on any kind of medication or have medical conditions, a visit with your doctor is a must before taking off. Furthermore, some trails might be regulated, particularly if they are in a national park or a natural preserve, so check with the respective authorities under what conditions, if at all, you can use a trail.

ON THE TRIP

The Pace: The pace of walking is entirely contingent upon the training, and the general principle of being realistic about your own and your friends' abilities applies here as well. Don't put too much pressure on your body, it will hurt in the end. Moreover, the pace of walking should be manageable for the slowest or least-trained person in the group. A consistent speed is the best advice as you won't be putting too much pressure on your heart. Regular short stops, especially when going uphill, are essential for the general well- being and even experienced climbers do them.

Water: A backpacker's best friend on a trip is water. The human body requires a lot more water when walking for hours; otherwise, dehydration is inevitable. Drinking water from lakes or rivers is not the best you can do often the water will be clean, but will also contain certain bacteria that are not found in tap or mineral water. Well, an intestinal infection is the last thing anyone needs!

Food: Light food is absorbed best on such trips. Fatty or spicy food takes a longer time to be metabolized and therefore drains more energy out of the body, which is meanwhile concentrating on walking. Lots of carbohydrates and supplemental vitamins if necessary are your best bet here.

The Group: If you backpack in a group, keep the group together at all times. Leaving someone behind without knowing what might be happening to them, especially with inexperienced backpackers, is extremely dangerous. Plus, if you go with friends, why leave them in the middle of the trip?

Trash: Needless to say, do pick up your waste and take it with you there are no cleaning ladies in the great outdoors and nature does deserve some respect for what it offers us! Plus, fines for littering can be dramatically big, so don't risk it.

A lot more can be said about backpacking, endless stories can be told, but now it is your turn to venture out and tell us your backpacking stories! Good luck and don't forget to share your adventures with us!


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