Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) Course - 2019

Backpacking Course

Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) Course

Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) is the most comprehensive backpacking course the Mountaineers offers, aimed at providing new and returning backpackers with the latest knowledge, gear info, practical experience, compatible trail companions, and experienced helpful mentors to help you become capable and confident on overnight or longer trips with the club or on your own. Open to members from all branches! A copy of Andrew Skurka's Ultimate Gear Guide 2nd edition will be provided to each student.

Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) offers strategies, help and practical experience to get yourself prepared and confident for successful, safe, and enjoyable backpacking trips without breaking the bank!


    • Strategies and choices to balance comfort on the trail vs. comfort at camp to minimize your ‘happy’ pack weight
    • Getting in shape to enjoy ‘getting there’
    • Essential gear options and how to choose; how to gear up within your budget
    • Core skills for each part of the trip


  • How to plan and prepare for your own backpack trips
  • How to handle emergency situations in the backcountry
  • Lightweight and ultra-light gear strategies
  • Lightweight backpacking food options, planning and prep
  • Navigation skills and tools to ‘stay found’
  • Tips and tricks for women backpackers


  • Mentoring and peer interaction, hands-on and practice time, trying out gear options
  • Chance to get comfortable with a small group of people, plus opportunities to expand personal community to other experienced backpackers
  • Connect you with trusted trip leaders and compatible companions, through a wide array of group backpack trips of varying intensity in the fabulous Northwest backcountry.  You'll have the option to progress to more challenging trips through the season or to pursue only easy trip options 

 Included in the course fee:

  • Two required “Building Blocks Basics” evening lectures March 19 in Seattle and March 26 in Bellevue;
  • A required full-day hands-on  gear-demonstration day on Saturday March 28 in Bellevue with all the basics plus ideas to go beyond.
  • A required full-day Sunday 'practice camp' on Saturday May 9 at Magnusen park in Seattle, where we'll pack our packs and go out for a day to set up a camp, treat water, and prepare a backpack meal on a camp stove.  {You don't need to have all your gear yet.)
  • Mentor groups with an experienced backpack leader and other students of similar interests and experience, for personalized help and a community of people you get to know and feel comfortable with.
  • Several optional beginner backpacking trips for B3 students only, through the spring and early summer, aimed at helping beginners get some experience with packing and carrying gear and camping overnight in a safe environment with the support of an experienced leader.   {These field trips will be organized through your mentor groups.}
  • Optional in-depth seminars and clinics through the spring and early summer, most for free or at a significant discount to B3 students.  Some of these, including Lightweight Gear, Lightweight Food Planning and Preparation, Trip Planning, and Trail Emergency Preparedness/First Aid,  will be open to other Mountaineers as well after the first two weeks of B3 course registration, so you shuld register for them  when you register for the B3 course in order to be sure you have a spot!   
  • Other courses and seminars are open to all Mountaineers members and you must register for them from the course page on the Mountaineers website:
    •  The "Staying Found" on-trail navigation clinic has two sessions in late April and mid May to choose from, and B3 students can get a 50% discount  if they use a discount code at the time that they sign up for the Staying Found clinic.  To get the reduced price for Staying Found, request the code from  Refunds for Staying Found are not available after you've registered for it. 
    • Conditioning for Hiking and Backpacking workshops are offered in two levels beginning in mid March and running through early May to help you build a tailored conditioning and strengthening program to get ready for a successful season on the trail.  The workshop is taught by a certified personal trainer who specializes in hiking, backpacking and trekking.
    • A seminar with Tips and Tricks for Women Backpackers!
    • Watch the course calendar for other helpful seminars!  In past years we've had offerings including Long Distance Backpacking and more!


There are no  course or activity requirements to sign up for the B3 course.  However, to graduate you will need to:

  • assemble at least a minimum set of gear sufficient for safe overnight backpacking trips  (could cost as much as $3-500 or more if you don't have any overnight gear yet - but your tried and true older gear will be fine to start!);
  • build a baseline level of fitness to walk at least few miles on a trail with a loaded pack (we'll help you with this!), and invest in maintaining and increasing your fitness over time;
  • and muster the time and initiative to complete the two evening lectures, two weekend-day field trips and  at least 3 group backpack trips and a stewardship activity with fellow B3 students and/or Mountaineers members.
  • We'll provide you with plenty of help and support in achieving all of these!



  • At your earliest convenience after registering for the course, please complete and submit the required mentor group information form to give us an idea in advance of your interests and priorities for the course.  This will help us match you with the most compatible mentor group.  (You'll finalize your mentor group at the first lecture.)  This form MUST be completed by no later than Feb 28 or you will lose your spot in the course, even if you don't care about being in a mentor group.  The form will be easiest to complete on a tablet or computer, more clunky on a smartphone, though certainly can complete either way.
  • If you absolutely can't attend one of the four required components, email Cheryl Talbert at  and we'll discuss your options to get that information (Make-up sessions will not be offered so you'll miss a lot if you don't attend these). 
  • If your schedule is uncertain and you can't commit to one of the optional seminars or clinics at the time you register for the B3 course, you may come back and register later if space is available by clicking on Manage My Registration from the course page.  Space is limited so reserve your spot as soon as you can.  


To graduate, students must complete all of the four required components plus 3 backpack trips {of which at least one is two nights or more}, at least one stewardship activity, and the free online Low Impact Recreation course offered by the Mountaineers.  Any Mountaineers backpack trip including B3 student-only backpacks and mentor group backpacks count, as do Mountaineers overnights for the scramble course!  One of the three backpack trips can be a private trip as long as the student does the primary planning, supplies and carries their own gear, sets up their own camp and plans-carries-prepares their own trail food; the other two can be any Mountaineers-led backpack.  Stewardship trips are available in quantity on the Washington Trails Association and Mountaineers websites and are easy to get onto but you must register!  You may complete your stewardship even before the first course lecture if you'd like, and stewardship activities completed in the past 6 months for other courses can count.


Beginning in the early spring, a series of backpacking trips from overnights to 5 days or more will be offered through the summer on the backpacking activity page of the Mountaineers website, progressing in length and strenuousness, to help you get in shape, to expand your backpacking skills and confidence, and to introduce you to our favorite places in the amazing PNW backcountry with experienced Mountaineers leaders and trail companions you will come to know and trust.  These backpack trips are open to all qualified Mountaineers members, but B3 students will get advance notice to allow you to get first-in-line access!  But YOU MUST SIGN UP FOR TRIPS, GET YOUR LOW-IMPACT RECREATION BADGE AND COMPLETE A STEWARDSHIP ACTIVITY TO GRADUATE FROM THE COURSE!

Find your Mentor Group!

 You will find your mentor group at the first of our basics lectures and will go through the lectures, demo day and practice day with your mentor group and  decide with your group what other activities would be helpful and fun for you.  We strongly encourage you to to a date early on to go on a backpack trip with your group.  If you prefer not to join a mentor group, please still complete the survey and you will have a chance to opt out after the lectures.  We'll also give students an opportunity to switch mentor groups after they go through the required elements together.

Not a Mountaineers member yet?  

You must be a Mountaineers member to take this course.   FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE IS AVAILABLE to significantly reduce the cost of your membership and registration!  It takes a week or so to be approved, but most applications are granted.  However, you must apply for financial assistance BEFORE you pay for your membership or register for the course - refunds are not available.  To apply for financial assistance for your membership fee, complete and submit the form at this link.  To hold a spot in B3 while you wait for your application to be granted, call Mountaineers Member Services at 206-521-6001, explain that you have applied for financial assistance but want to hold a spot in the Backpacking Building Blocks course, and they will save you a spot in the order that requests are received.

If you are not planning to seek financial assistance, to become a member go to this link and scroll down to select the membership type that fits for you.  (If you are signing up with your spouse, you can save some money by creating a Family membership.)   Then you will be taken to a screen  to pay for the membership, and you'll be prompted to fill out information to set up an account.  Once your account is set up you'll be able to register for the course.


We're offering a third year of our very well received Backpacking with Kids course, for parents with some backpacking experience who want to take their children (little ones to teenagers) backpacking. Learn more about planning, on the trail, gear, tips and tricks, etc.  Check it out here!


 If you love to backpack and have a passion for getting people outdoors safely and/or teaching people new skills, consider joining us as a backpack leader, instructor or session helper.  Contact if you think you might be interested!

Course Requirements

This course has no scheduled activities.

Required Equipment

A suggested gear list will be provided to students in advance of the start of the course as well as a set of resources for finding good gear at a discount.   We will provide lots of support and guidance during the course to help you choose the gear that suits your needs and objectives.

To go on backpack trips you will need your ten essentials plus a tent or other shelter, sleeping bag or quilt and pad, basic stove or cooking system and mug, bowl and spoon, a way of carrying water for the trail, basic water treatment, an overnight pack (usually approx 50-60L), hiking shoes or boots, raingear and both hiking and overnight clothing.  Other gear may be required for specific trips.

Course Materials
Information on Washington Recreation Passes and Permits

Used, Rental, Borrow and Discount Gear Options for Backpackers

Updated March 2019

The Ten Essentials

Leave No Trace Principles for Hikers and Backpackers

REI Gear Articles and Advice - Backpacking

The Mountaineers Seven Steps for Emergency Response

Arranging Your Trail Maintenance Trip

Beginner Backpacker Gear Recommendations 2020

A list of suggested examples of major gear brands and models we would recommend to you as a good value to get started backpacking. Clothing and small essentials are not included. This is not an exhaustive list, and you should try out ANY gear items before buying!

Backpacking Food Handouts

Latest Outdoor Gear Lab Gear Ratings

from - updated for 2020

Cheryl's sample Gear checklist matched to the "basic kit"

Sample backpack distance-elevation profile

Student Handout for First B3 Basics Lecture

Backpacking Gear Checklist Template - the "Basic Kit"

Use this template to work out what you need for your first trips!

Student Handout for Second B3 Basics Lecture

Easy Early Season Backpack Trips in Washington!

Updated April 2019

Andrew Skurka Gear List and Weight Template

A sample gear template created by Andrew Skurka to help backpackers assemble their gear and keep track of their backpacking base weight. See other Skurka document for the accompanying gearlist definitions document.

Skurka Gearlist -- definitions

A supplemental document to the Skurka Gear Spredsheet with category definitions.

Website listings - Lightweight Backpacking

A list of websites and Facebook pages focused on lightweight gear -- reviews, used gear purchasing, Ultralight gear manufacturer websites, etc.

Lightweight Backpacking class PowerPoint Presentation (PDF version)


Instructions to Find and Register for B3 Student Only Backpack Trips and "open" Mountaineers Backpack Trips

Virtual Demo Day videos

Gear Priorities - Pros and Cons

Use this handy rubric to evaluate what gear attributes are most important to you, considering price, weight and features.

Information on Washington Recreation Passes and Permits