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- Enrique Limón
Campfire & Blood
Want to spend more time in the great outdoors, but not sure where to start? We've got your back.
By Naomi Clegg
You've gone on a few hikes, done a little car camping, and you want to go harder. Bigger. Deeper. Wait, that's not what I meant at all. Let's start over. You've gone on a few hikes and you want to step up your outdoors game. Now what? The next step is backpacking, also known as the process of putting your shelter and sustenance on your literal back and toughing it out in the wilderness for a minimum of one night and a maximum of forever nights. But since it's your first time, let's maybe stick to one or two.
The first time I went backpacking, I set out at twilight and hiked maybe two miles up an isolated, quickly darkening trail. About 20 minutes in, I realized I didn't know whether this was cougar territory, and from then on assumed every rustle was the beginning of a vicious animal attack. My toes were so cold that I couldn't fall asleep until 4 a.m. When I woke up, a snowstorm had hit. I hope you don't have this experience your first time out. Since I clearly did it the hard way, I chatted up an unassuming REI employee for some advice—thank you, Morgan, for your assistance. I am sure you, dear reader, have a much better sense than I did, but nevertheless, there are some things you need to know before you go. Shall we?
Need to know: The basics
Safety first, kids! Know where you're going. Research camping options before you set out and make sure you follow the guidelines, which vary. (Do you need to reserve a campsite? Camp a certain distance from trails and roads? Camp only at existing campsites?) Always bring a map, compass and GPS. I don't own a GPS because I spent all my money on a tent, but Morgan tells me they are worth it, and there are even devices that can send emergency text messages in your time of need. Also, tell a friend or family member where you'll be and when you expect to be back. Leave a note under your car seat with your itinerary, too.
What to bring: The gear list
• A backpack
• A tent
• Hiking boots
• A sleeping bag rated for at least 10 degrees below the projected low temp
• A camp stove plus fuel
• More food than you think you need
• A headlight or flashlight
• Water bottles or a reservoir bag
• Layers. Bring extra clothes.
• Map, compass, GPS
• A small first-aid kit
• A lighter or matches
• A pocket knife
• Sun and insect protection
Things that are very close to necessary but that you perhaps won't die without:
• A little shovel
• Ziplocks and trash bags
• Good wool socks
• Four sporks
• At least one trekking pole or hiking stick
• Hand sanitizer and wipes.
• A good book, a journal and a pencil
P.S. Wondering where to get all this gear? Start one piece at a time. REI Co-op (locations in Salt Lake and Sandy) holds a garage sale several times a year. Recreation Outlet (3160 S. State) offers, as one Yelp reviewer puts it, some "sick deals" on gear from second-tier brands. Kirkham's Outdoor Products (3125 S. State) is pricier, but offers high-quality gear, including their own line of canvas tents.
Where to go: 3 local destinations for first-time backpackers
Wasatch Range: Lake Desolation
Starting at the Mill D trailhead in Big Cottonwood Canyon, you'll hike about 3 ½ miles through aspen and pine groves and meadows of wildflowers. The name belies the beauty of the lake, which is, if not super busy, far from desolate. Just make sure you camp at least 200 feet from the lake.
Wasatch Range: Lake Blanche
Another Alpine lake, and it's lovely. It's about 3 ½ miles to the lake from the Mill B South Fork Trailhead in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Leave time to explore the natural playground that surrounds the lake.
Uintas: Amethyst Lake
I really love hiking to lakes, clearly—arriving at a big bowl of water is a tangible reward that makes all your hard work seem worth it. This hike in the Uintas is best done over the course of two or three days if you're just starting out. It's 13 miles roundtrip, but there's quite a bit of elevation gain. You'll find plenty of places to camp along the way. Start at the Christmas Meadows Trailhead. The permit fee is $6. Smaller lakes, waterfalls, meadows and coniferous trees dot the trail. Consider setting up a base camp halfway up the trail your first night and day-hiking to the lake and back to base on day two.