PAT NEAL: Sweet backpacking bliss

IT WAS GOING to be one of those days. From the dawn’s early light to the twilight’s last gleaming, it was one of those days that made you want to get up early and tie into a full day of chores on the homestead. Except for a perfect trifecta of cruel fate that delayed my best laid plans.

My chainsaw wouldn’t start. The lawn mower was dead and I’d loaned my only shovel to a worthless clam digger who ran off with it. That was OK.

It was a perfect spring day. It was too nice to work. There was nothing to do but break out the old pack frame and get ready for the first backpacking trip of the summer.

Backpacking, for all the popularity it has gained in recent years, is really nothing more than a slow and painful means of strangulation that would be considered torture under the Geneva Convention if it wasn’t self-inflicted.

It’s a simple case of physics really. The pack straps pull the shoulders back. The weight of the load pushes the chest forward. Gravity does the rest.

The only good thing about backpacking occurs at the end of a hard day when you finally put down your backpack and experience a brief period of what seems like weightlessness. Enjoy, that’s as good as it gets backpacking.

Chances are you’ll spend the rest of your backpacking trip either cursing everything you put in your backpack or everything you forgot.

If you put everything in a backpack that you think you really need on a backpacking trip, you wouldn’t be able to lift it.

I’d like a fancy backpacking tent, but they are heavy, bulky and expensive. It’s OK, just take a sheet of blue plastic, some bungee cords and duct tape, and you’ve got a waterproof shelter that’s light and cheap.

In addition to a shelter, you’ll want a complete First Aid kit when you are backpacking, but they are heavy, bulky and expensive.

Just take the duct tape off your tent and you’ve got a First Aid kit. Add a handkerchief and you have a deluxe First Aid kit.

Smear any wounds with honey from your stock of food. Honey has been used as an antiseptic ointment since before the Iliad. Cover the whole mess with duct tape and you’re on the road to recovery.

I always like to have plenty of ammo along when I’m backpacking. They’re an important part of every wilderness traveler’s combination fire starter/First Aid kit.

Simply pry the bullet of a large-bore cartridge and give it to the patient to chew on, in case they get fussy while you sprinkle the wound with gunpowder and light it. This will cauterize the boo-boo in nothing flat.

Use any extra gunpowder to get that pokey campfire started, multi-task!

Some people wonder what kind of food you should take on a backpacking trip. They have never been backpacking before.

Because, by the time you get done dragging yourself to wherever you end up backpacking, you won’t care what’s for supper.

When backpacking, you want to stick with the three basic food groups: chili.

This brings up another point about wilderness safety. In light of the increased numbers of bear and cougar attacks in our state in recent years, it is advisable to make a whole lot of noise when you backpack. That’s where the chili comes in, ’nuff said.

There you have it. A lightweight camping kit includes everything you need to survive in the wilderness. It will all be worthwhile when the marshmallows are roasting over the fire.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via