Basic Backpacking - Seattle - 2024

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.


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This course is for people with recent hiking experience who want to start doing overnight trips safely and confidently in 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, and 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. 

Though it takes more than one class to become a fully accomplished backpacker, this course takes you on the first step of 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 late-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 or rent 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.
    • Brief introduction to the wide variety of backpacking locations available in Washington: alpine, subalpine, river valleys, canyons, beaches, inland deserts.
    • Destinations for backpacking trips beyond Washington.

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.


The course consists of:

  • Three required lectures at the Seattle Mountaineers Program Center on the evenings of Wednesday April 10, Wednesday April 17, and Wednesday April 24.
  • A required half-day in-person gear demo event, "Gearpalooza", on Saturday, April 20.  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 11.  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 student-only backpack trip, chosen by the student from options available on the weekends from mid-May through Mid-June.  (Note: Some of these trips are posted below and more are coming. They will open for registration after the second lecture.)


  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 is optional for Mountaineers trips, and rides are not always available. Therefore students are responsible for finding their own transportation to the trailhead of their student backpacking trip and to all in-person events at the Seattle Program Center.


If you are new to backpacking then this course may require a sizeable investment in gear.  Assembling a basic backpacking kit includes some big ticket purchases and many smaller ones that add up. Renting and borrowing gear is also a cost effective way to try different options as a backpacking student. Much of the course focuses on helping you determine what gear you will need and what sources are available.

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 $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. Some types of gear can be borrowed, rented or purchased used at a significant savings.

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 20) and the earliest student backpacking trips (Mid-May).


  • Attend all three required lectures and the required Gearpalooza event.
  • Successfully complete one student backpack (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.  These trips can be with any Mountaineers branch.
  • 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.

Course Requirements
Course Activity Date Availability Leader
Basic Backpacking Lecture 3
Seattle Program Center
Wed, Apr 24, 2024
Registration closed Apr 22
1 participant
1 instructor
Basic Backpacking Gear Practice Trip (optional)
Seattle Program Center
Sat, May 11, 2024
Registration closes May 6
2 participants on waitlist
2 instructors
Basic Backpacking Field Trip
Ingalls Creek
Sat, May 18, 2024 -
Sun, May 19, 2024
Registration closes May 14
1 participant on waitlist
1 instructor
Navaho Pass
Fri, May 24, 2024 -
Sat, May 25, 2024
Registration closes May 21
1 participant on waitlist
1 instructor on waitlist
Duckabush River
Sat, May 25, 2024 -
Sun, May 26, 2024
Registration closes May 23
0 participants
0 instructors
North Fork Skokomish River to Big Log Camp
Sat, May 25, 2024 -
Sun, May 26, 2024
Registration closes May 13
0 participants
0 instructors
Duckabush River
Fri, May 31, 2024 -
Sat, Jun 1, 2024
Registration closes May 27
0 participants
North Fork Skokomish River to Big Log Camp
Sat, Jun 1, 2024 -
Sun, Jun 2, 2024
Registration closes May 27
0 participants
1 instructor
Marmot Pass
Fri, Jun 7, 2024 -
Sun, Jun 9, 2024
Registration closes Jun 5
2 participants
0 instructors
North Fork Skokomish River to Big Log Camp
Sat, Jun 8, 2024 -
Sun, Jun 9, 2024
Registration closes Jun 3
3 participants
0 instructors

Additional badges needed to graduate


Required Equipment

This will be covered at the lectures.