Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) Course - Foothills - 2021

Backpacking Course

Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) Course

Jump-start your backpacking dreams with the Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) course, sponsored by The Mountaineers Foothills branch. In it's 9th successful year, this comprehensive season-long course supplements basic gear and skills lectures, gear demonstration and practice, with mentor groups to give you season-long support and community, and a wide array of optional seminars to help you 'dig deeper' in areas like ultralight gear, food planning and prep, tips for women, trip planning, navigation and more. Whether you're a new or returning backpacker, we'll give you the knowledge and skills to become capable and confident on overnight or longer trips with the club or on your own. Open to members from any Mountaineers branch!

COVID-19: Learn about our most up-to-date guidance for participants and leaders on our COVID-19 Response page. All participants and leaders must agree to the COVID-19 Code of Conduct before participating in this Mountaineers course.


The Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) course offers a comprehensive season-long program of lectures, gear demonstration and practice, and weveral optional in-depth seminars to help you dig deeper!  And in addition we offer the support of experienced mentors and chances to practice the new skills, as well as a community of trusted trail companions, to help you get prepared and confident for successfull, safe and enjoyable backpacking trips from one night to multiple nights!


    • Strategies and choices to balance comfort on the trail and comfort at camp to minimize your ‘happy’ pack weight
    • Getting in shape to enjoy ‘getting there’
    • Essential gear options and how to choose, within your budget
    • Core skills for each part of the trip
    • Getting you started building a community of people you trust to backpack with!


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


  • 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 small mentoring groups, student-only group activities, and a wide array of group backpack trips of varying intensity in the fabulous Northwest backcountry.  


  • All instruction and practice will be carried out either in virtual form using zoom or in small groups following the Mountaineers' detailed covid-19 safety policies and procedures with a focus on keeping you and your family and friends safe and healthy!  To find out more go to  The Mountaineers Covid-19 Response Page.

NOTE:  You do NOT need to take this or any other course to go on Mountaineers backpacking trips!  just go to activities, filter for BACKPACKING, and sign up!  Some trips may require advance Leader Permission, and the leader may ask you questions to determine your ability to be safe and successful on their planned route.

 what do I get for my COURSE FEE?

  • A personal digital copy of Andrew Skurka's Ultimate Gear Guide, Second Edition
  • Mentor groups with an experienced backpack leader and other students of similar interests and experience, for personalized help through the season and a community of people you get to know and feel comfortable with.
  • A one-hour virtual orientation session to answer your questions about course logistics and help you choose a mentor group that's right for you
  • Three informative required sessions to acquaint you with essential skills and gear, starting from the beginning and providing lots of hands-on experience:
    • Two interactive evening "Basics" lectures March 16 and 23, on zoom
    • A  small-group,  hands-on  gear-demonstration day with your mentor group on Saturday March 27 at the Mountaineers Seattle Program Center (usually held on the eastside but Covid has eliminated our eastside rental options!).
  • A fun and informative 'practice camp' at a local park during May with your mentor group, where you'll pack your packs and go out in small covid-safe groups to set up a camp, treat water, and prepare a backpack meal on a camp stove, all within a short walk of your car.  {You don't need to have all your gear yet, and you may decide to skip this and go on an actual trip instead if you're ready!)
  • Several optional beginner  backpacking trips with your mentor group or other B3 students, through the spring and early summer, aimed at building on-trail friendships and giving you  experience with packing and carrying gear and camping overnight in a non-threatening environment with a mentor and fellow participants that you know and trust.   
  • Optional in-depth virtual seminars and clinics through the spring and early summer,  offered free or at a significant discount ONLY to B3 students!   

    B3 is a bit more expensive than the club's other backpacking course offerings, but when you look at the many seminars that you can attend for free as a B3 student that would otherwise cost $15 or more for each one, and all the extra mentoring and support that will help you save money by getting the right gear the first time and build your confidence quickly, you'll more than make up the difference!  


    There are no course or activity requirements to sign up for the B3 course, but you must be a Mountaineers member (not just a guest member) to participate in all the required elements.    IT IS VERY HELPFUL TO HAVE SOME RECENT EXPERIENCE HIKING IN THE BACKCOUNTRY, though this is not required.  (You can sign up for the course and we'll help you find some hikes to help you get this experience before the course begins!)



    • At your earliest convenience after registering for the course, please complete and submit the required mentor group information form to help us tailor the course to our students' needs and inform your mentors of your interests, priorities and background.  
      • 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 or experience another way - we're here for you and know that schedules can be crazy!
    • If  you can't commit to one of the seminars or clinics shown within the course listing at the time you register for the B3 course, you may come back and register later if space is available by opening the B3 course listing, scrolling down, and clicking on Manage My Registration.  Space is limited so reserve your spot as soon as you can.  Students will also have access to recordings of the lectures and seminars after they are held - but you'll want to attend in person if you can so that you can get involved in Q&A and breakout discussions.


    To graduate, students must complete all of the required components plus 3 backpack trips {of which at least one is two nights or more}.   

    • 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; at least two need to be a Mountaineers-led backpack. 

    In addition, to graduate we also ask that you complete the free online Low Impact Recreation course offered by the Mountaineers, and at least one stewardship activity.

    • 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.


    • You have as many years as you need to complete the requirements without having to retake the course.


    Beginning in the early spring, a series of group backpacking trips from overnights to 5 days or more led by our amazing volunteer leaders will be offered through the summer on the backpacking activity page  of the Mountaineers website.  You'll find trips from overnight to 5 days or more, from easy to challenging, and these trips will help you expand your backpacking skills and confidence, and 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 trips are open to all qualified Mountaineers members, but we'll show you how to get on an email list so that you find out about new and interesting trips as soon as they are listed!  


    You must be a Mountaineers member to take this course.   Guest members are not eligible.

    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. 
    • 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.

    cancellations and refunds

    If you cancel yourself from the course up to and including March 9, you can get a full refund less a $10 cancellation fee.  If you cancel between March 10 and March 23, you are eligible for a 50% refund ($85).  If you cancel after March 23 you will not be eligible for a refund.


    We're offering a fourth 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, we'll help you train up, get experience and certify as a Mountaineers backpack leader, instructor or session helper.  Contact  if you think you might be interested!

    Course Requirements
    Course Activity Date Availability Leader
    Backpacking Building Blocks Student-Only Backpack (optional)
    Buck Creek Pass
    Fri, Aug 6, 2021 -
    Sun, Aug 8, 2021
    Registration closes Aug 2
    4 participants
    Seven Lakes Basin & High Divide
    Fri, Aug 13, 2021 -
    Sun, Aug 15, 2021
    Registration closes Aug 11
    0 participants
    1 instructor
    Spider Meadows
    Sat, Aug 14, 2021 -
    Sun, Aug 15, 2021
    Registration closes Aug 12
    0 participants
    Enchanted Valley
    Sat, Sep 4, 2021 -
    Mon, Sep 6, 2021
    Registration closes Sep 1
    1 participant on waitlist
    Indian Heaven via Thomas Lake
    Sun, Sep 5, 2021 -
    Tue, Sep 7, 2021
    Registration closes Aug 25
    2 participants on waitlist
    0 instructors
    Bean Creek Basin & Navaho Pass
    Fri, Sep 10, 2021 -
    Sun, Sep 12, 2021
    Registration opens Aug 6; Instructor registration open now
    2 participants
    0 instructors
    Seven Lakes Basin & High Divide
    Sat, Sep 11, 2021 -
    Mon, Sep 13, 2021
    Registration closes Sep 4
    2 participants on waitlist
    Cascade Pass & Sahale Arm
    Sat, Sep 11, 2021 -
    Sun, Sep 12, 2021
    Registration closes Sep 9
    1 participant on waitlist
    0 instructors
    Eightmile Lake & Lake Caroline
    Mon, Sep 20, 2021 -
    Wed, Sep 22, 2021
    Registration closes Sep 18
    0 participants
    0 instructors
    Spider Gap, Lyman Lakes & Buck Creek Pass
    Fri, Sep 24, 2021 -
    Sun, Sep 26, 2021
    Registration closes Sep 22
    0 participants
    0 instructors

    Additional badges needed to graduate


    Required Equipment

    Students will need to have at least a basic backpacking gear kit to go on Mountaineers backpacking trips - The Mountaineers do not provide gear (though we do offer rentals - see below!).   A suggested gear list will be provided to students at the orientation as well as a set of resources for finding good gear at a discount.   We will give you lots of personalized support and guidance during the course to help you choose the gear that suits your needs, objectives and budget.  A basic gear starter kit could be bought for $500 or possibly less if you're willing to purchase gently used and/or heavier items or off-brands, though you could spend $2000 or more for a full set of lightweight name brand gear.

    But you are also very welcome to use whatever gear you already have. or to borrow or rent gear, until you have an idea of what you want.   Come as you are!!

    To go on backpack trips you will need your ten essentials plus a tent or other shelter, sleeping bag or quilt, sleeping pad, basic stove and pot or cooking system, mug, bowl and spoon, a way to secure your food at camp, 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.

    DID YOU KNOW:  The Mountaineers runs a gear library at the Seattle Program Center where you can rent most of your 'big ticket' gear items while you are deciding whether backpacking is for you and what gear you want to buy.  You need to get a subscription and attend a virtual orientation.  Find out more here!

    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