Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) Course - 2018

Backpacking Course

Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) Course

Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) is a season- long comprehensive course 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 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 mentor groups, beginner field trips and an array of group backpack trips of varying intensity in the fabulous Northwest backcountry. 

NOTE:  You should have some experience with day-hiking on trails before taking this course.

 FINANCIAL AID IS AVAILABLE!  Contact Mountaineers member services at 206-521-6001 to find out about it!

Included in the course fee are

  • Two required “Building Blocks Basics” evening lectures:  one on March 22 at 6:30PM at the King County Library Service Center in Issaquah, and the second on March 29 at 6:30PM at the Seattle Mountaineers Program Center.
  • A required full-day hands-on  demonstration day on Saturday March 31st at Eastgate Elementary School, with all the basics plus ideas to go beyond.
  • Several 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.   These field trips will be opened for student signups during the two Basics lectures.
  • Optional in-depth seminars offered 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 and Trail Emergency Preparedness/First Aid,  are exclusively available to B3 students but you still must register for them  when you register for the B3 course - scan down to the bottom of the course listing to choose the sessions you want.   
  • Other courses and seminars are open to all 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 to choose from and B3 students can get a 50% discount on their Staying Found registration 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. 
    • A Conditioning for Hiking and Backpacking workshop is offered in two levels 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!

WHEN YOU REGISTER FOR THE B3 COURSE, PLEASE ALSO REGISTER FOR EACH OF THE BASICS LECTURES AND THE DEMO DAY AND ANY OF THE OPTIONAL LECTURES YOU ARE INTERESTED IN.   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.  


In 2018 we will be introducing small mentor groups to the course as an optional component for those who want to join one.  These groups, led by one or more experienced backpack leaders, will be made up of students of similar experience and course objectives who would like some extra personal assistance and encouragement to get started, and/or for people who want to get to know a few others at their same level to feel more comfortable getting started on group trips.  Please complete this required confidential survey  to help us understand your experience and personal objectives in order to assign you to a compatible mentor group.  Then, mentor groups will meet at one or both of our basics lectures to discuss their group's priorities and begin to make plans.  Mentor groups could operate as simply as a discussion forum for questions and advice, or as in-depth as planning gear shopping and backpack trips with their 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.


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 our amazing 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. 


There are NO badges, experience or fitness requirements to register for B3 - you simply need to be a Mountaineers member with an interest in learning to backpack and the basic physical capabilities to walk a trail with a loaded 25-40 pound overnight pack.  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.  

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.  You can still hold your spot in this course while you wait for your 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.

WANT TO TAKE YOUR KIDS BACKPACKING?    WANT TO MEET OTHER FAMILIES TO BACKPACK WITH?  We're offering a second 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!

INTERESTED IN LEADING OR INSTRUCTING FOR B3?   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 or instructor.  Contact if you think you might be interested!

Badges you will earn:

Course Requirements
Course Activity Date Availability Leader
Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking Gear Seminar (optional)
Lewis Creek Park
Wed, Apr 10, 2019
Registration closed Apr 8
18 participants
0 instructors
Backpacking Building Blocks Student-Only Backpack (optional)
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
Required Equipment

Before going on backpacking trips with the Mountaineers, students will need the basic gear to hike safely (including the Ten Essentials) and to prepare meals and camp overnight in the backcountry away from grocery stores, restaurants, lodging, showers and other services.  Click on Course Resources to get suggestions on how to select cost-effective gear, and also to see recommendations from REI and from Outdoor Gear Lab, and more!

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