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Backpack Hacks: Make This Year's Backcountry Trip Awesome

Posted by Anna Roth at Feb 05, 2019 04:38 PM |

Learn tips for making your backcountry trip with WTA perfect.

Every year, I look forward to going on one of WTA's backcountry trips. I try to do one every summer and each one is a treat. I get to do a fun project with a hardworking and positive crew, and I always learn something new. I learn new trail maintenance skills every time I come out on a work party, but dinnertime is when I've learned the hacks that make my backpacking trips more comfortable.

In order for you to be ready for your backcountry trip this year (whether it's your very first or you've done one before), here's a list of useful tips gleaned from other volunteers over the years. If you have any to add to the list, feel free to leave them in the comments below. 

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Hot Tip: Soaking up the sun is an important part of most backcountry trips. Photo by Meagan Mackenzie.  

FIRST though: Have you finished filling out your forms? Go check by logging into your My Backpack account (or making one) and going to your dashboard. You have to do that before you can sign up for trips. 

All right, now: tips. 

Up your food game 

On these trips, it's important to eat throughout the day. Volunteer vacations include gourmet food for all eight days, and you can pack plenty of snacks along with lunch to have during your project. But If you're doing a backcountry response team (BCRT), you're responsible for your own food, and being properly fueled means bringing more than a zillion Clif bars. I've seen some pretty creative meals, from fresh herbs (basil lasts quite a while in the backcountry) to freeze-dried everything. 


Make your own Mountain House meals. Save the earth from packaging and customize your meal plan by assembling your own. Use heavy-duty, gallon-sized plastic bags to hold your ingredients (one bag per meal, but consider double-bagging). When dinnertime comes around, pour water into the bag with ingredients, wrap them in a shirt for insulation, and let them soak until the ingredients are ready.

BONUS: bags like this stand up to washing with soap and water. Clean them after your trip and you could use one set all season!

Of course you can prepare your meals in a cookpot, too. Just remember you'll burn more fuel per meal. 

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Your morning meal can be savory, too! This one includes grits, powdered onion and garlic, crispy onions and powdered cheese. Photo by Cynthia Peterson

Customize your oatmeal

Measure out enough plain, quick cook rolled oats for as many breakfasts as you need.

Now the fun part; get a bunch of different add-ins, and measure out about a quarter to a half cup of each. Use these to make a different combo every day, then combine any leftover fruit and nuts to make a trail mix for the hike out. Here are some ideas:

  • Seeds (for protein and fiber): chia, hemp, flax
  • Freeze-dried fruit (high flavor, light load): raspberries, strawberries, or blueberries
  • Dried friuts (fiber and flavor, though they can be heavy): cranberries, figs, apricots, peaches
  • Nuts (for protein and crunch): walnuts, pecans, almonds, etc
  • Nido powdered milk. Trust me. It's full-fat, and that makes all the difference. Also good in coffee or tea, as long as you pre-mix it. 

Make a hearty soup

Mix together minute rice with dried veggies and spices for a soup or stew. The consistency depends on how much water you add and how long you cook. Many natural food stores carry a selection of dried veggies, and if you're in Seattle, Uwajimaya has a good selection if you're looking for a source.

Looking for more recipes? Check out our Backcountry Kitchen


Class it up. Take this opportunity to treat yourself. A hard cheese like parmesan or romano and dry salami (if you eat meat) will last a few days without refrigeration (thank you alpine nighttime temps). They can enhance your meal, or be a good snack all by themselves.

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OK, this would be a huge amount for a backpacking trip but you get the idea. Photo by Cliff Rosson. 


Make it count. Let's be real. Backpacking requires cramming A LOT of stuff needed to keep you functioning into a relatively small pack. Dense foods are usually smaller, sturdier, and filling. Try:

  • Pita bread instead of sandwiches or tortillas
  • Chocolate covered espresso beans. Coffee and dessert covered. Done, next please.  
  • Dried mashed potatoes. High calorie meal and ALSO binding agent for leftovers. Combine with ingredients from leftover stew and stuff into a pita pocket. Consume. 

Stay on target. By day three, you may not quite remember what you brought each ingredient for. (To be honest, I've forgotten on Day 1 before). Write a meal plan for your trip and tape it to the inside of your bear canister, or package your meals and label them according to day and which meal it is.

Spark Joy in Camp

Contrary to Marie Kondo's philosophy, sometimes more is more. But it doesn't have to be a lot more. Just a few little extra luxuries in your pack can absolutely make your trip. Pick three from this list to start with; you'll already be carrying all your clothes and tools (plus gear if you're on a BCRT). You can find more on each of these tips from crew leader Al Mashburn, a seasoned BCRT volunteer. 

  • Sleeping Bag Liner - Keep your bag clean, stay a little warmer. Great for trips in the spring or fall. 

  • Tent light (in addition to a headlamp) - Sure it's redundant, but it's way easier to change, organize or read in your tent with one of these. Good for early or late season trips where it gets dark early.

  • Microfiber towel - Dry off after a wet work day (or an impromptu dip in the river).

  • Bucket to haul water - Bulky, but a good option if your water source is far away. Volunteer vacationers won't need one of these; they come with the gear that's packed for you

  • In-camp clothes - It's so nice to chill in camp in clothes you didn't work in. If you really want to be comfy, bring after-work shoes, too. But if you're trying to save on weight, at the very least bring an extra pair of socks, in case one gets wet.

  • Something to sit on -  This could be a camp chair or just a small piece of foam, but it's so nice to have a little insulation between you and the ground. Bonus use: Stick it under your sleeping pad at night for extra padding. 

  • Tarp - Cover more ground. You'll have somewhere to put your boots when you come back from the day's project. Great for trips when rain is expected. 

  • Wipes - Feel fresher and cleaner with a few swipes of these. It's no replacement for a shower (you're still camping, of course) but it keeps your clothes and your pillow cleaner. And (of course) pack them out.

  • A pillow - Look for a camp-specific pillow, or a microfiber case that you can stuff your extra clothes in to make something soft to lay your head. 

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Above: optimal person-to-space ratio in tents. Photo by Annie Nguyen.

Next LeveL: We're gonna need a bigger tent

If you're confident in your ability to carry all you need for the trip, and want to challenge yourself, consider indulging and getting a bigger tent.

Your tent is your combination home and mudroom for 4 to 6 or more days. Having one that's big enough for you and your gear is a real treat. A one and a half- or two-person tent will give you room to spread out and live a little even if it’s raining, and also give you somewhere to put the wet stuff away from your sleeping bag.

There are tons of other ways to get comfy on your backcountry trip. Let us know how you make camping a little more luxe in the comments.