Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) Course - Foothills - 2016

Backpacking Course

Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) Course

A season- long course aimed at providing new and experienced backpackers with the latest knowledge, gear info, practical experience and fun trail companions to be skilled, safe and successful on overnight or longer trips.


Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) is a season-long course with the objectives to:

  • Provide new and experienced backpackers with the latest knowledge, gear info and practical experience to be skilled, safe and successful on overnight or longer trips; 
  • Teach participants to pack light by balancing camp comfort with pack weight and trail comfort;
  • Providing participants with information about the latest backpacking gear and food choices; and
  • Connect you with trusted trip leaders and compatible companions, through an array of trips of varying intensity in the fabulous Northwest backcountry. 

Included in the course fee are

  • Two required “Building Blocks Basics” lectures:  two evening lectures on March 23 at Bellevue Library and March 30 at the Seattle Program Center
  • A hands-on  demonstration day on Saturday April 2nd at Eastgate Elementary School, with all the basics plus ideas to go beyond.  
  • Optional in-depth seminars offered through the spring and early summer for free or at a significant discount to B3 students.  These include Lightweight Gear, Lightweight Food Planning and Preparation, "Staying Found"Basic Navigation, and Trail Emergency Preparedness.    If you wish to attend one of these seminars for free or discounted as part of the course, you need to register from the B3 course page.  {If you are not a B3 student, sessions will be opened on the main course page for a modest fee beginning a week after they are available for B3 students.} 
WHEN YOU REGISTER FOR THE B3 COURSE, PLEASE ALSO REGISTER FOR ALL OF THE REQUIRED AND OPTIONAL SESSIONS YOU'D LIKE TO ATTEND.   If you can't attend one of the required sessions, email Cheryl Talbert at to work out how to make up the class.

Then, a series of 2-5 day backpacking trips will be offered through the summer as part of the program, progressing in length and strenuousness, to help you get in shape, to expand your multi-day backpacking skills, and to introduce you to amazing remote backcountry with experienced leaders and trail companions you will come to know and trust.  

The course fee gets you the required Building Blocks Basics classes, free or heavily discounted entry into the optional seminars, and advance notice of all the B3 backpack trips through the summer.  Backpack trips sponsored through the B3 course include extra emphasis on coaching and demonstration of gear and trail/camp skills.

To graduate, students must complete the Basics classes, 3 backpack trips of which at least one is two nights or more, and at least one trail maintenance trip of at least a day.  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.  Trail maintenance trip options will be made available early in the season and signups coordinated to make it easy for students to get involved. 

Backpack trips typically post on the Backpack Activity listing ( 6 weeks or more in advance to allow people to take the time off work, so bookmark this page and check it often!  However, cancellations are a big problem for your hardworking leaders and fellow participants so PLEASE DO NOT REGISTER FOR A TRIP UNLESS YOU ARE FULLY INTENDING TO GO ALONG!  Multiple late cancellations or any no-shows could impact your ability to get on future trips and even to graduate from the course!!

To advance the goal of maintaining and growing our backpacking community in the club and spreading the skills and joy of backpacking as broadly as possible, all B3 backpacks are open to any Mountaineers member over 18 who meets the qualifications for the trip.  

We hope you will join us!!  If you love to backpack and have a passion for teaching, consider joining us as a backpack leader.  Contact if you think you might be interested!

Badges you will earn:

Course Requirements
Course Activity Date Availability Leader
Ultralight Backpacking Gear and Strategies Seminar (optional)
Mercer Island Public Library
Mon, Apr 17, 2017
Registration closed Apr 15
15 participants
Lewis Creek Park
Wed, Apr 10, 2019
Registration closed Apr 8
18 participants
0 instructors
Backpacking Building Blocks Student-Only Backpack (optional)
Shi Shi Beach
Sat, May 5, 2018 -
Sun, May 6, 2018
Registration closed May 3
9 participants
Ancient Lake
Sat, Apr 13, 2019 -
Sun, Apr 14, 2019
Registration closed Apr 11
5 participants
1 instructor
Ingalls Creek
Fri, Jun 28, 2019 -
Sun, Jun 30, 2019
Registration closed Jun 26
5 participants
0 instructors
Magnuson Park
Sun, Apr 25, 2021
Registration closed Apr 23
8 participants
2 instructors
Seattle Program Center
Sat, Mar 25, 2023
Registration closed Mar 23
6 participants
0 instructors
Required Equipment

Detailed information on backpacking gear will be provided during the course.

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