Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) Course - Foothills - 2017

Backpacking Course

Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) Course

Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) is a season- long course aimed at providing new and returning backpackers with the latest knowledge, gear info, practical experience, fun trail companions and experienced helpful mentors to help you become skilled, safe and successful on overnight or longer trips.

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.

Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) is a comprehensive 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/mentors 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” evening lectures:  one on March 20 at the King County Library Service Center in Issaquah, and the second on March 30 at the Montlake Community Center in Seattle.
  • A required full-day hands-on  demonstration day on Saturday April 1st at Eastgate Elementary School, with all the basics plus ideas to go beyond.  
  • Four or five  optional mentored beginner overnight field trips for B3 students only, on weekends through the spring and early summer, aimed at helping beginners plan a backpack, try out different gear and get comfortable with carrying a pack, setting up camp, preparing trail meals and practicing 'Leave No Trace' for the first time, in a safe environment with the support of an experienced leader. MANY BACKPACK TRIPS WILL BE OFFERED BEGINNING LATER IN THE SPRING to complete the requirements for the course - these optional field trips are just for beginner backpackers who would like a bit of extra confidence-building before they sign up for a club backpack.  Please sign up for only one of these field trips, and only if you really want this extra help at the start.  Sign up on the waitlist if the field trip you want is full, and we will assess the level of interest and open more.
  • 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 and Trail Emergency Preparedness/First Aid.    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 after the B3 course has filled and students have their choice of space.}  

IF POSSIBLE, WHEN YOU REGISTER FOR THE B3 COURSE, PLEASE ALSO REGISTER FOR ONE SESSION OF EACH OF THE REQUIRED AND OPTIONAL SEMINARS THAT 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.  If your schedule is uncertain and you can't commit to a session at the time you register, 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.   If the seminar or field trip you want is full, put your name on the waitlist and that will help us determine the need to add more sessions.

The field trips are optional and intended for beginner backpackers in the class who would like extra experience and help with skills and gear in a setting with only other students and an experienced mentor.  Field trip space is limited, so please sign up for a field trip only if you want this extra help, and sign up for ONLY ONE of the field trips.

 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 multi-day backpacking skills, and to introduce you to amazing remote 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!

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. 

The course fee gets you the required Building Blocks Basics classes, free or heavily discounted entry into the optional seminars, a space in the mentored overnight field trips, 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.

You need to be a Mountaineers member to register for Backpacking Building Blocks.  To become a member, go to 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.   FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE IS AVAILABLE to significantly reduce the cost of your membership!  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:  You can still hold your spot in this course while you wait for your assistance application to be processed - to do so, 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.

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

Badges you will earn:

Course Requirements
Course Activity Date Availability Leader
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
Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking Gear Seminar (optional)
Lewis Creek Park
Wed, Apr 10, 2019
Registration closed Apr 8
18 participants
0 instructors
Magnuson Park
Sun, Apr 25, 2021
Registration closed Apr 23
8 participants
2 instructors
Required Equipment

Details will be provided to students.

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