Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) Course - Foothills - 2024

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 12th 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. You must have recent hiking, backpacking or trail running experience and feel confident that you could readily complete a hike of at least 5 miles and 1000 feet of elevation at a 1.5 mile per hour pace with a daypack to register for this course. PLEASE CLICK ON 'MORE' BELOW AND READ THE ENTIRE COURSE DESCRIPTION BEFORE REGISTERING!


The Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) course is a comprehensive season-long program of lectures, gear demonstration and practice, and several optional in-depth seminars and workshops offered for free or at a discount to B3 students if they want to dig deeper!  And we offer the support of experienced mentors and practical experience through the season to help you build a community of trusted trail companions, and to get prepared and confident for safe, successful and enjoyable backpacking trips with Mountaineers groups or on your own.  


    • 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
    • Leave No Trace wilderness ethics and rules for camping in the backcountry
    • Getting you started building a community of people you trust to backpack with!


  • Mentoring and peer interaction, hands-on and practice time, trying out gear options
  • Connect you with trusted trip leaders and compatible companions and build a strong trail community, through small mentoring groups, student-only group activities, and a wide array of group backpack trips of varying intensity in the fabulous Northwest backcountry. 

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.

Four informative required sessions to acquaint you with essential skills and gear, starting from the beginning and providing lots of hands-on experience:

  1. A required virtual but interactive course-orientation session in the evening on March 6 where you will get details about the course and meet your mentors and mentor group!
  2. Two required virtual but interactive evening "Basics" lectures March 13 and 20th, on zoom
  3. A  small-group,  hands-on  gear-demonstration day with your mentor group on Saturday March 30 at the Mountaineers Seattle Program Center  - you will be in an AM or a PM group

That's only the beginning:  Then your mentor group will set up the following tailored experiences:

  • A fun and informative 'practice camp' at a local park during the spring with your mentor group, where you'll pack your packs and go out in small 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.)  Get a look at and try out lots of gear alternatives from your peers and mentors!
  • Several  beginner  backpacking trips with your mentor group, 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.   

And through the spring you have access to several optional in-depth seminars and clinics through the spring and early summer, free or at a significant discount ONLY to B3 students!   These include

  • Ultralight Gear and Strategies, In-Person Clinic at the North Bellevue Community center on April 1, and a practice 'camp' in a local park on April 28
  • Lightweight Backpack Food Planning and Preparation, Online clinic on zoom April 9, and optional in-person workshop April 17 in Seattle
  • Essential Trip Planning Tools and Skills for Backpackers, Online clinic on zoom on  April 23 with optional in-person practice  May 16 on the eastside (to be communicated to the online clinic participants during that clinic)
  • Tips and Tricks for Women Backpackers, Online clinic on zoom May 21st 

Other courses and seminars will require signing up from the backpacking activity page on the Mountaineers website, including Staying Found On-Trail Navigation , and Conditioning For Hiking and BAckpacking workshops.  B3 students can request a 50% discount code for Staying Found by contacting Cheryl at - you need to use the code at the time that you register - it cannot be used for reimbursement afterwards. 


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.  Also, because backpacking involves trail walking for extended distances (5 miles or more a day) on rugged, varied and sometimes mountainous terrain with a loaded overnight pack (25-30 pounds),  you need to build experience and conditioning on-trail before adding the pack on your back.  For this reason, we require B3 students to come with hiking, backpacking or trail running experience on trails, and the confidence that you can comfortably hike at least 5 miles and 1000 feet of elevation gain at an average pace of at least 1.5 miles per hour with a daypack. On the backpacking trips you take with the course, your group will build up from this baseline through the season, so it is also expected that you will work on your conditioning in between trips to increase your capacity for distance, elevation and pace over the season.   But don't worry, you can start from where you are and you don't have to do more difficult trips than you want to at any time during the season!  Your group will be matched up based on your fitness and experience level so that you'll be as compatible as we can accomplish!

 If you have never hiked on mountain trails and/or do NOT feel confident that you have the baseline conditioning to comfortably hike at least 5 miles and 1000 feet of elevation gain at an average pace of at least 1.5 miles per hour with a daypack, we recommend that you start this journey with a program like The Mountaineers GoHike course which is focused on building trail experience and fitness for people who might never have hiked before.  At the end of that program you will have the experience and conditioning to succeed and thrive in the B3 course!



  • Ats soon as possible after registering for the course, please complete and submit the required mentor group information form to help us tailor the course to your 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 optional 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 real time if you can so that you can get involved in Q&A and breakout discussions.


  • To graduate, students must complete all of the four required components above, plus 3 backpack trips {of which at least one is two nights or more}.   Any Mountaineers backpack trip including B3 mentor group and open backpack trips count, as do Mountaineers overnightscrambles!  One of the three backpack trips can be a private trip and the other two can be any Mountaineers-led backpack.   For any trip to count, you need to plan, pack and carry your own food and gear, set up your own camp and prepare your own trail food, as well as  being knowledgable about and following Leave No Trace trail and camp practices.
  • To graduate we also ask that you complete the free online Low Impact Recreation course offered by the Mountaineers, and at least one full-day or two half-day stewardship activities.
  • 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 after the Mentor Orientation, mentor-group backpacking trips will be posted and available within the B3 course, with new trips being added through the season (some of them are listed already!)   These trips will feature active coaching and teaching to build your experience and trail knowledge/skills as the season goes on.    These trips typically give first dibs to people in the leader's mentor group, but they usually open spots to other groups' students if space allows.   

Then, in addition to the backpack trips offered within the course, exciting trips  from overnights to 5 days or more led by other Mountaineers volunteer leaders, and some of the trips your mentors offer for your mentor group, will be offered on the backpacking activity page  of the Mountaineers website.  You'll find trips there from overnight to 5 days or more, from easy to challenging, and these trips will help you expand your backpacking skills, confidence and community even further!

  • These trips are open to all qualified Mountaineers members.  To get on an email list so that you find out about new and interesting trips as soon as they are listed, go to your profile on the Mountaineers website, scroll down to My Preferences, and then find and set an Email Alert for Backpacking!  


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.


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)
Monte Cristo, Glacier Basin, Silver Lake & Twin Lakes
Sun, Jul 7, 2024 -
Mon, Jul 8, 2024
Registration closes Jul 5
0 participants
0 instructors
Sheep Lake & Nannie Ridge
Fri, Jul 12, 2024 -
Sun, Jul 14, 2024
Registration closes Jul 7
4 participants
0 instructors
Pacific Crest Trail: Chinook Pass to Norse Peak
Sat, Jul 13, 2024 -
Sun, Jul 14, 2024
Registration closes Jul 11
0 participants
0 instructors
Scott Paul Trail & Park Butte
Sat, Jul 13, 2024 -
Sun, Jul 14, 2024
Registration closes Jul 5
1 participant
0 instructors
Pete & Spectacle Lakes
Sat, Jul 20, 2024 -
Sun, Jul 21, 2024
Registration opens Jun 24; Instructor registration open now
2 participants
0 instructors
Tubal Cain Mine, Buckhorn Lake & Marmot Pass
Sat, Aug 10, 2024 -
Sun, Aug 11, 2024
Registration closes Aug 2
1 participant
0 instructors
Golden Lakes Loop
Fri, Aug 16, 2024 -
Sun, Aug 18, 2024
Registration opens Jun 17; Instructor registration open now
10 participants
1 instructor
Seven Lakes Basin & High Divide
Sat, Aug 17, 2024 -
Mon, Aug 19, 2024
Registration closes Aug 10
1 participant on waitlist
0 instructors
Tubal Cain Mine, Buckhorn Lake & Marmot Pass
Sat, Aug 24, 2024 -
Sun, Aug 25, 2024
Registration opens Jun 24; Instructor registration open now
1 participant
0 instructors
Spade & Venus Lakes
Sat, Aug 31, 2024 -
Mon, Sep 2, 2024
Registration closes Aug 27
1 participant on waitlist
0 instructors
Rainy Pass to Snowy Lakes
Sat, Sep 7, 2024 -
Sun, Sep 8, 2024
Registration opens Jun 24; Instructor registration open now
1 participant
0 instructors
Pacific Crest Trail: Harts Pass to Rainy Pass
Fri, Sep 13, 2024 -
Mon, Sep 16, 2024
Registration closes Aug 25
1 participant
0 instructors
Required Equipment

Students will need to have  a basic backpacking gear kit to go on backpacking trips .  We encourage students to start the course with what they have or can borrow, because their gear purchases will be better informed as you move through the course and can test out gear and see the gear that others have.   The Mountaineers do not provide gear, but an excellent gear lending library is available - see this link for more details!   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, 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 from non-name brands, though you could spend $2000 or more for a full set of lightweight name brand gear.

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