Tag Archives: backpacking

On Not Getting Lost in the Wilderness (or Dying)

Quebec Run Wild Area. Photo by author.

Quebec Run Wild Area. Photo by author.

 “I was in Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, a 75-minute train ride northwest of Tokyo, with half a dozen other hikers out for a dose of shinrin-yoku,or forest bathing. The Japanese go crazy for this practice, which is standard preventive medicine here. It essentially involves hanging out in the woods.” Florence Williams, in an article in Outdoor Magazine

I’ve been trying to exercise more lately, but I’ve had a hard time finding something that I like to do that doesn’t feel like a chore. I’ve tried running, but have never been able to get into it (probably due to poor lung capacity, laziness, or both). I’ve always liked hiking though, and while searching for new hiking trails I came across a backpacking class offered through the Explorer’s Club of Pittsburgh. Backpacking! Finally, something that appealed to me. I checked my schedule and signed up for the class without a moment’s hesitation.

I’m really glad I did. One thing I love about backpacking is that it can be done by a broad range of people, regardless of athletic ability, age or skill level. The trick is to pack carefully and go at a pace that’s comfortable for you. There are plenty of great day and overnight hikes within a 100 miles of Pittsburgh and there’s sure to be a trail for just about everybody out there ( I recently even discovered this really cool Braille Trail in North Park).

Not being a great athlete, I was quickly won over by one of the more surprising aspects of backpacker culture—it’s nerdiness. Even if you are not a very skilled hiker, you can become an A+ packer. The idea is to include everything that is essential, but to keep your pack as light as possible. There is even a class of extreme backpacking called Ultralight, and these hikers will go as far as cutting the handle off their toothbrush to lessen their load. I’ve already learned a lot from the folks in the Explorer’s Club, although I don’t anticipate becoming an Ultralight extremist. Still, there are other sub-genres of backpacking to get into if you want to get nerdy in the woods. You can become an excellent map reader by joining an Orienteering Club, or a gourmet backpack cook by pouring over tons of blogs and books, or become a master of survivalist skills by taking a wilderness survival course.

Whatever your interest or skill level, there are tons of resources available to get you started. Here are just a few:


The Backpacker’s Field Manual

This was the textbook for my backpacking class with the Explorer’s Club, and I found it indispensable. This book covers all the basics.

The Complete Walker

I’ve been told that this is the old stanby for backpackers. It covers all the basics, with some additional philosophical musings.

60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Pittsburgh 

These are mostly days hikes, but if you’re just getting started hiking around Pittsburgh, I can think of no better book to begin with.


Keystone Trails Association 

A vital website for any Pennsylvania hiker or backpacker.

Venture Outdoors 

These guys are great, and can help get you started with everything from hiking and camping, to kayaking and snow-shoeing.


A great place for gear and maps, and also a few classes.

Explorer’s Club of Pittsburgh 

A volunteer group that currently offers once-a-year classes in backpacking, rock climbing, and mountaineering. The also have gear available for rental for first timers.


Appalachian Trail 

This National Geographic special highlights this great trail, which runs all the way from Georgia to Maine.

Mile Mile & A Half 

This documentary follows five friends who leave their daily lives behind to hike California’s historic John Muir Trail, a 211 mile stretch from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney.

Tell it on the Mountain

This documentary follows a dozen thru-hikers who try to complete the Pacific Coast trail–a trail that is over 2,663 miles long.

Be safe and happy exploring,



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Happy Trails

One of the things I love most about living in Pittsburgh is the abundance of nearby choices we have for hiking, camping, and backpacking (not to mention biking, horseback riding, or rafting!). There are books on every aspect of hiking, camping, backpacking (and more!), for both the novice hiker and the seasoned backpacker.  Below are a few that I turn to for inspiration or advice.

  • Anything by John Muir. If you weren’t already itching to go hiking or spend a night in the woods, you will be after reading his books.  The Yosemite is a classic, and Muir’s descriptions are so vivid that reading this is the next best thing to actually getting there.  For a selection of Muir’s writing, try Nature Writings.
  • Backpacking Pennsylvania: 37 Great Trails, by Jeff Mitchell: Divided by region, this book summarizes several trails throughout the state.  The trails listed are of varying difficulty and mileage, and the descriptions, though brief, give you just enough information to get a feel for each route. Some other books to look at for information on hiking in the area are 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles, by Donna L. Ruff or 50 HIkes in Western Pennsylvania, by Tom Thwaites.
  • Backpacking, by Adrienne Hall: Before you stumble out into the woods with your pack on, it’s probably a good idea to learn a little bit about some basic issues the backpacker might encounter.  There are hundreds of books that will give you the basics; I like Hall’s books because she writes specifically for the woman backpacker. 
  • A Field Guide to Eastern Trees: Eastern United States and Canada, by George Petrides: I love field guides, and this title could just as easily be subsituted with a title about mushrooms, or wildflowers, or birds, or butterflies…you get the idea.  Field guides are small and don’t take up too much space (or weight) in a pack, and they’re nice to have along on a hike so that when you see that plant with the beautiful flowers, you can figure out what it is.  

For more reading suggestions, check out one of our reading lists on the subject, or browse the library’s display (on the second floor hallway).


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