Now that we’re firmly committed to the germaphobe lifestyle with rivers of craft-made hand sanitizer and bespoke face masks, modern travel in a pressurized tube of recycled air has lost a bit of luster. With infectious disease encircling the globe like it’s 1918, what’s old is new again. That should apply to the way we explore, too.
Loading up a backpack and heading into the woods is a time honored and proud expression of self-reliance—one that’s far nobler than hoarding rolls of toilet paper. Because it’s a responsibly socially distant way to see the world, backpacking is a perfect activity for a time when interacting outside our communities is frowned upon. Ready to explore the wonders right in your backyard? Marvelous landscapes permeate every corner of the Beehive State, so you won’t have to go far. Here’s how to get your adventure started.
Pick Your Destination
In this unique time, it’s wise not to stray too far from home. Everyone wants to get out and explore, but it’s important to not unduly stress the healthcare and public service resources of small communities.
If you live in Summit County, the vast wilderness of the Uinta Mountains is a short drive away. If you’re up near Logan, head to the nearby Wellsville Mountains, one of the steepest ranges in the country. Folks in SLC can head straight up the Cottonwood Canyons. Just do a quick Google search for “backpacking trails near me” and you’ll likely find a slew of results wherever you’re located.
Choose a Route
Let’s assume you need to work remotely on Monday, so you’re shooting for an overnight trip. Even if you’re more flexible, an overnight hike is a great place to start if you’re new to backpacking or haven’t done it in a while. Picking the right route involves finding a destination that gives you ample motivation to keep moving but doesn’t require an arduous trek that’s beyond your limits.
Personally, I enjoy hiking to a lake. They’re pretty, they have water you can drink, and often you can swim in them. Ibantik Lake in the Uintas and White Pine Lake in the Wasatch—no swimming at White Pine since it’s in the watershed—are a couple of great examples.
Just remember that both mileage and elevation gain play a huge role in how strenuous a hike is. Ibantik Lake is about four and a half miles from the trailhead on Mirror Lake Highway with 590 feet of elevation gain while White Pine Lake is five miles from the trailhead in Little Cottonwood Canyon with 2,500 feet of elevation gain. Despite similar distances, one of those is far more difficult.
There are seven principles promoting conservation in the Leave No Trace outdoor ethic. Follow these principles every time you’re in the outdoors.
1. Plan ahead and prepare.
2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
3. Dispose of waste properly.
4. Leave what
5. Minimize campfire impacts.
6. Respect wildlife.
7. Be considerate of other visitors.
Make sure to do a bit of research before you head out. Do you need any permits? Are dogs allowed? What are the restrictions on where you can camp? All the information you’ll need is readily accessible on the web.
The right gear can make or break your backpacking trip. “Don’t skimp when you’re getting new gear,” says Ultralight Adventure Equipment (ULA) owner Chris McMaster. “Modern gear is really light and strong. Buy nice or buy twice.”
ULA Equipment produces handmade backpacking equipment in Logan. That means when you purchase gear from ULA you’re not only supporting local business, but you can also be sure your gear is designed to survive the rigors of backpacking in Utah. The ULA Circuit pack weighs just two and a half pounds and can comfortably carry 35 pounds of gear. That should be more than enough to get you through an overnight trip. Their Tarp Tents include everything from ultralight one-person tents to robust four-person backcountry shelters.
You’re also going to need a sleeping bag, good footwear, and versatile clothing layers, but there’s a lot of personal preference involved in those decisions. Reference a detailed backpacking checklist—REI’s comprehensive list is available on their website—for a complete inventory of essentials you need to carry.
Practice before hitting the trail. Pack all your gear a couple times to find the best way to orient everything comfortably in your pack while allowing quick access to certain items like a camera or headlamp. Bring your full pack on a short day hike to make sure everything’s dialed.
Avoid carrying excess weight. Try to identify what you need more of and which items aren’t essential. “It never hurts to go a little overkill on food and water,” says McMaster. “And you don’t need as many clothes as you think. It’s okay to stink out there.”
That’s it. Now get outside, get sweaty and have fun!
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