Basic Backpacking - Seattle - 2022

Backpacking Course

Basic Backpacking

Deepen your connection to the outdoors and visit beautiful areas beyond the reach of day hikes.  Be ready by June to go on single-night and multi-night trips into the Northwest backcountry. For experienced day hikers.

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.

Mountaineers policy


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This course is for people with recent hiking experience who want to start doing overnight trips safely and confidently into the Northwest backcountry, and for backpackers who wish to improve their knowledge. In addition to the core subjects of clothing, food, gear, and safety, the course also covers topics that are often of interest to first-time backpackers: animals you’re likely to see and how to act around them, social expectations on extended trips, staying comfortable in camp, staying connected with people back home. The course culminates in a student-only backpacking trip where everyone else will be new too, and it’s OK to have a few first-time hiccups. Upon completion of the course, students will have a strong foundation to enjoy many backpacking opportunities offered by The Mountaineers. 

Learning to backpack is only half the story; meeting like-minded people is the other.   All course activities (except for the first lecture) are held in-person at the Mountaineers Seattle Program Center, and include optional social time before the lectures.

Though it takes more than one class to become a fully accomplished backpacker, this course takes you on the first step on that journey by preparing you to go on Mountaineers backpacking trips of up to three nights.  The course begins in April and is designed to have you ready to go on Mountaineers trips in time for the peak local backpacking months of June through September.

This course is open to Mountaineers members only.



BASIC Backpacking Gear and Skills

  • Clothing and gear: what you need, what the options are, where to buy it, and how to use it.  Options are presented at various price points, including options for used gear.
  • Food and hydration: how to plan, prepare, pack, cook, and clean up.
  • How to choose and pack your backpack, and tips for managing your gear.

Backpacking From a Home Base in Seattle

    • Northwest wildlife: what to expect, and how to act safely and respectfully on overnight trips.
    • Introduction to the wide variety of backpacking locations available in Washington: alpine, subalpine, river valleys, canyons, beaches, inland deserts.
    • Common destinations for Mountaineers backpacking trips in Washington.
    • Destinations for Mountaineers backpacking trips beyond Washington: Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, British Columbia, Alberta.

Backpacking With The Mountaineers

  • How to find, choose, and register for Mountaineers backpacking trips.
  • What to expect on a typical Mountaineers backpacking trip: from carpool, to trailhead, to camp, and back again.
  • Etiquette before, during, and after a trip.
  • The Expedition Mindset: what it means to be a club not a guide service.
  • For 2022: Mountaineers COVID-19 Guidelines that affect backpacking.


The course consists of:

  • Three required lectures on consecutive Wednesday evenings: April 6, April 13, and April 20.  The first lecture is via Zoom.   The second and third lectures will be held at the Mountaineers Program Center and will be preceded by optional social time (details TBD).
  • A required half-day in-person gear demo event, "Gearpalooza", on Saturday, April 16.  This is an opportunity for students to see a lot of member-owned backpacking gear all in one place before making gear purchase decisions.
  • An optional in-town gear practice trip on Saturday, May 7.  This is an opportunity for students whose living situation does not allow them to practice using their tent, stove, and water filters  at home.  It is open to all students who wish to participate.
  • One required overnight field trip, chosen by the student from  options available on the weekends of May 14-15, May 21-22, May 28-29, June 4-5, and June 11-12, as well as some midweek dates TBD.  (Note: Some of the field trips are posted below and more are coming.  They will open for registration in April after the second lecture.)
  • An optional student backpack trip, chosen by the student from  various options that will be posted through the summer and fall. (Note: Some of the student backpack trips are posted below and more are coming.  They will open for registration in June after the final field trip.) 


  1. Day Hiking Experience (or equivalent experience from another activity such as scrambling or climbing):  Students should already be comfortable on day hikes of 4 - 6 hours or more while carrying a day pack in diverse weather conditions.  Though we will review concepts such as dressing in layers, carrying the ten essentials,  etc. this is not a course for new hikers.
  2. Conditioning: Students should be in good enough shape by May to comfortably carry a pack that is about 20% of their body weight for the distance and elevation gain of the trips to which they aspire.  For Mountaineers trips rated Moderate a good goal is to ascend the West Tiger 3 trail on Tiger Mountain in 1.5 - 2.0 hours (ascent time only).  For Mountaineers trips rated Easy a good goal is to complete the  Wilderness Peak Loop trail on Cougar Mountain in 2 - 3 hours.  Most Mountaineers backpacking trips are rated Moderate or higher.
  3. Transportation: Carpooling opportunities may not be available due to COVID-19 restrictions.  Students must be able to provide their own transportation to the trailhead of their student backpacking trip and to all in-person events at the Seattle Program Center.
  4. Videoconferencing: The first lecture will be held online via Zoom, and other activities may also be moved to Zoom if COVID guidelines become more restrictive.  You must have access to a computer or phone with a camera and the Zoom software installed.  Though you can get by with a phone we strongly recommend using a computer instead.


If you are new to backpacking then this course will likely require a sizeable investment in gear.  Assembling a basic backpacking kit includes some big ticket purchases and many smaller ones that add up.   Much of the course focuses on helping you make these purchases wisely.

If you already have the 10 essentials and your current day hiking clothing is sufficient, then it may be possible to assemble a basic kit of new gear for as little as $700 - $800 with effort and compromise.  However, the cost is usually closer to $1200 - $1400 for a kit consisting of common gear choices from mainstream retailers.  Expect to spend more if your current day hiking kit is incomplete or isn't suitable for overnight trips, especially if you need costly items such as a new waterproof/breathable shell or different footwear.  Some types of gear can occasionally be purchased used at a significant savings.

Some backpacking gear can also be checked out from the Mountaineers Gear Library

In order to give students ample time to research and purchase gear, the course schedule includes a gap of about a month between the Gearpalooza  demo event (April 16) and the earliest student backpacking trips (May 13 - 14).


  • Attend all three required lectures and the required Gearpalooza event.
  • Successfully complete one field trip.  (These trips are included in this course but not yet posted.)
  • Successfully complete two additional Mountaineers backpacking trips  including at least one multi-night trip and at least one general Mountaineers backpack trip (i.e. one that is not offered as part of this course).
  • Earn the Low Impact Recreation badge by completing the one-hour Low Impact Recreation Skills eLearning Course.
  • Earn the Stewardship Credit badge by completing one stewardship activity.

Students have up to two years to complete the two additional Mountaineers backpacking trips and the stewardship activity.


Even though the COVID-19 situation continues to change rapidly, our goal is to keep the course as in-person and participatory as possible.   Therefore the course is open only to fully vaccinated students, instructors, and leaders.  During the registration process students will be asked to upload an image of their vaccination card as part of of an initial student survey.  If you wish, the image  may have the details blocked out except for your name and the date of your 2nd dose.   As per Mountaineers policy, medical or religious exceptions will not be accepted.

The Mountaineers does not officially facilitate carpools as a part of our programs, which start and end at the trailhead.  However, participants may reach out to others in the course to carpool to course field trips, student trips, and other activities if they wish.

Backpacking trips, include the field trips and student backpack trips for this course, often depart from trailheads that are reached by rough Forest Service roads.  Before signing up for this course please be sure you have access to adequate transportation.  Lack of access to adequate transportation will not be considered a sufficient reason to refund the course fee.

For the 2022 season all Seattle Backpacking courses and trips follow The Mountaineers COVID-19 Guidance , and  all participants must follow  The Mountaineers COVID-19 Code of Conduct .  

Course Requirements

This course has no scheduled activities.

Additional badges needed to graduate


Required Equipment

This will be covered at the lectures.

Course Materials
Typical Backpacking Checklist.xlsx

Backpacking gear list for a typical 1 - 3 night trip in the Northwest.

Typical Backpacking Checklist .pdf

Backpacking gear list for a typical 1 - 3 night trip in the Northwest.

Comprehensive Backpacking Gear List.pdf

An extensive "master list" of ideas for items that might be considered for a variety of conditions, destinations and personal preferences. Use it to create your own personal everyday checklist or as a resource when you are preparing for a new kind of trip you haven't done before. No single trip will require everything on this list. For a gear list for a typical Northwest backpacking trip, see the file "Typical Backpacking Checklist" instead.

Comprehensive Backpacking Gear List.xlsx

An extensive "master list" of ideas for items that might be considered for a variety of conditions, destinations and personal preferences. Use it to create your own personal everyday checklist or as a resource when you are preparing for a new kind of trip you haven't done before. No single trip will require everything on this list.

Links to Backpacking Resources.pdf

Basic Backpacking 2022 Slide Deck - Lecture 1.pdf

Basic Backpacking 2022 Slide Deck - Lecture 2.pdf

Basic Backpacking 2022 Slide Deck - Lecture 3.pdf