Backpacking with Strangers : A Great Course for Prepping

Updated April 9, 2020

For an Asian lady who is is approaching 50 years old, taking a four-week backpacking class is a big deal!

It’s the third week of the class; the final exam is coming up. It’s a three-day, two-night, 52-hour backpacking trip, long enough of a journey that we cannot cheat. Once we start hiking, we cannot go back to our cars to get an extra bottle of water. Or before the trip, we cannot eat a lot of food, to think the food we ate beforehand will last us well into the next day. So much for sleeping overnight in the car or driving somewhere to grab a hot meal!

We will need to get water and filter it, whether it’s filtering or boiling the water, etc. We are also going to a neighboring state for this trip. In the back of my mind, so that we can learn more and to make the class more challenging, I wonder if the instructors are choosing places where there are freezing overnight temperatures?

What is Backpacking?

Just as an overview for the newbies: hiking is a long walk in the woods; however, hiking may not involve camping. Camping can include hiking, but may not require one to hike for miles. Think of luxury camping.

Since backpacking involves both hiking and camping, backpacking requires the most planning: a person hikes for miles and then pitches a tent to camp overnight.

The Class Schedule

Session 1
3-mile hike: introduction to backpacking gear

Session 1a
Introduction at Great Outdoor Provision Company about the latest designs of packs, sleeping bags, foam pads, and camp pillows

Session 2
4-mile hike: each hiker should carry a full backpack which weighs at least 25 pounds; update on the latest tents with the highest ratings

Session 3
4-mile hike with a fully loaded backpack: introduction to food for backpacking; cooking with a stove, fuel, and cook set.

Session 3a
Review at Great Outdoor Provision Company to prepare for final exam

Session 4
Final exam: 52-hour backpacking trip; 14 miles of hiking total. No tap water or hot showers.

At Session 3, the third class, we arrived at Falls Lake in Durham, North Carolina. It was 9 am on a Sunday: we heard gunshots, and it sounded like artillery practice with a semi-automatic weapon. The idea that someone is doing target exercises near to where one is hiking is always a possibility.

The meeting was not a potluck party.

Anyway, this session was about food, but the meeting was not a potluck party. It’s to train one to cook on one’s own. The class has ten people, and each person has a stove and learns how to boil water themselves. We were also introduced to how to cook with plastic freezer bags; I was told of the procedure regarding the use of no soap to rinse dishes; instead, just rinse cook set with water.

Such advice goes even beyond backpacking, prepping, and survival. One can use backpacking, camping, and hiking skills just for everyday living and recreation.

On the second hike, I stumbled three times over hills with roots and rocks.

On the third hike, considering I’m carrying 25 pounds on my back, I used trekking sticks, which helped with my stability.

After the second and third hike, I ached. I wonder if anybody else in the class is hurting too. There are ten people in the class, eight students, and two instructors, and I’m wary of the final exam. I consider myself the oldest of the group even though I did not ask about age, but I made some assumptions about age based on what people were saying.

For example, those on the hike spoke about their day job. I, on the other hand, am thinking about where I want to retire, but I did not share my random thoughts with the group.

I don’t readily share personal information with strangers for the same reasons I don’t share personal information on the subway. Except that’s it a little different in this backpacking class as each person can divulge information to strangers, which in turn could potentially save a person’s life during a backpacking trip gone dangerous.

How am I going to cope during these backpacking expeditions plus interact with strangers and ultimately trust them?

I have run two marathons: jogging for 12 or 26 miles without a backpack is entirely different than hiking with a 25-pound pack. Also, I’m 13 years older than when I last ran a marathon, but who’s counting?

Extra Weight of Any Kind

An extra 25 pounds on me reminds me of the time when I gained 25 pounds from being pregnant with my daughter. I was grumpy, especially in month eight and nine of pregnancy. When I stood up, my belly stuck out in front so I couldn’t see my feet when I looked down.

When I waddled out of the supermarket with a cart full of groceries, people would let me pass first. Cars would stop for me to walk across the parking lot. In contrast to 25 pounds on the belly, the backpacking puts weight on the hips and back.

The Parts, the Pieces, the Discomforts, the Memories

There are so many parts and pieces of backpacking. Anyone who does not prepare enough, the first-time backpacker could have a terrible experience, deterring him or her from ever backpacking again.

Even if one does not think about the multitude of backpacking gear options, there can be a long list of lack of creature comforts and the increase of dangers. They include the stink from lack of a hot shower, the itch from mosquito bites, the damp and wet feeling from a tent accident, and the feel of a hard and uneven sleeping surface. And the most dreaded of all dangers—the encounter with some insect or animal, especially a large one!

These can result in a lack of good night sleep and, worst of all, a compilation of unpleasant experiences and memories.


One good thing about being Asian is I, myself, don’t stink as much as my Caucasian counterparts do. So, I won’t need to be so vigilant about changes of clothes; I pack less, too. For example, my Caucasian husband and half Caucasian daughters’ laundry, each, generate ten times more laundry than I do!

After I wear something, I air it out. After it airs out for a day or two, I do the smell test. If it smells, then I wash it.

Slow and Steady Progression

This Backpacking 101 class has been informative; it builds up in a sequence; and it reminds me of the Team In Training by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society I enrolled in for marathon training, where the training sessions slowly build-up to the final marathon.

The marathon training starts with 3-mile jogs, and then, it progresses to runs of 6-miles to 10-miles over at least four months. What at first seems daunting as a final goal is broken down into digestible pieces of training sessions.

Modern Backpacking

Backpacking gear has also changed. The average backpack weighs 25 pounds versus 75 pounds compared to 30 years ago. With lightweight backpacking gear and a backpacking class to teach you how to use the equipment and how to backpack, there is no reason not to have a fantastic backpacking experience!

A Took Isn’t Worth Anything If You Don’t Know How to Use It.

And the teacher said a tool isn’t worth anything if you don’t know how to use it. Isn’t that correct? That goes for everything!

With regard to this Backpacking 101 class, I feel confident that I know the latest information on backpacking. Still, I am scared of the finals. Who knows? We can encounter snakes, a massive downpour, and 30-degree early morning temperatures! I hope nothing worse happens.

What Many Feel of Backpacking

I have asked three people on separate occasions to go backpacking. They don’t want to do it. Besides many other reasons why people don’t like to backpack and camp, I wonder if they have been dissuaded to backpack and camp because they did not have an excellent experience with the proper use of the appropriate gear.

So, I have been asked, “Growing up, did you ever go camping or backpacking?

The answer is “no.”

I realize over time, why many people don’t want to go backpacking. The simple answer:

“It’s too much work to go backpacking.”

Now that I have traveled and lived in various places, from very urban to very rural, many of the places do feel like a backpacking or camping trip anyway.

Why Everyone Who Can Physically Go Backpacking, Should!

But you know what I found out about backpacking expeditions with strangers, the things I learn in the expedition come in very hand for a variety of things–especially now that COVID-19 is looming around and we are advised to be prepping.


A Chinese-American, Emy Louie was raised in Honolulu in the 70’s and 80’s. Since 1993, she has been a resident of Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.

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