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Part 3: Backpacking 101 with the PATC

April 25, 2010

Christine Says…

I can’t think of any other class where it would be acceptable for an instructor to say “Now imagine me with my pants pulled down.”  But Backpacking 101 is quite different from other classes.

Prince William Forest Park

Prince William Forest Park was the location for Backpacking 101’s weekend-long field class.

The third day of instruction also took place at Prince William Forest Park.  Adam and I showed up for class freshly showered, warm and well-rested.  We were among the few students who opted out of the group camping experience.  We would have liked to camp, but my parents live too close to the park to not pay them a visit for the weekend.  It was probably good that we had a place to go escape the pollen.  It was the worst pollen I’d ever seen – you could see it raining down from the sky and everyone’s shoes and pant-legs were coated with a thick, yellow dust.

The morning started off with an explanation of the different brands and styles of tents used for backpacking.  We walked around the group campsite, looking at about ten different models owned by class participants.  I really liked a particular REI tent and also one from Sierra Designs.  We’ll likely be purchasing a three-person tent so we have room to keep little gear inside.  I was amazed by the miniscule size of most two-person tents.  They left me wondering… what two people?… Lilliputians, leprechauns, pygmies?

Camp was set up with a variety of tents.

Camp was set up with a variety of tents.

Tents We liked this tent

After tents, we had a thorough discussion of water filtration/purification methods.  I found this to be the most fascinating part of the day.  Access to clean, safe water is probably one of the things I find most worrisome about backpacking.  We saw demonstrations of a Katadyn Filter system, iodine tablets, AquaMira and talked about boiling.  A couple of the instructors seemed to favor SteriPen systems, but we didn’t see a demo of one in action.   I think the pump filter system looked like the fastest and easiest of the methods, but I think I might use some AquaMira or Micropur as a second layer of protection for my personal drinking water.  I figure that an extra layer of prevention is a good idea, especially when the consequence could be explosive diarrhea.

After water, we moved on to campsite selection.   This included discussion of where to pitch tents, set up the “kitchen”, where to place your bear hang and how to designate a bathroom area.  This session provided the perfect segue to the other part of backpacking that I sort of dread… catholes.  In short, I simply do not want to poop in the woods.  I am a princess about these things … but I suppose I have to get over it because poop happens.  I think most of you will have figured out that the opening quote for this blog posted was pulled directly from the cathole session.  I won’t go into all the gory details, but I will share one prophetic term and leave the rest to your imagination – “Poop Soup”.  Beyond that, I am not going there.  As one person in the class put it “I don’t think I’ll be able to look any of you in the eyes again after this trip.”  I guess nobody really likes pooping in the woods.

The last sessions of the day covered personal hygiene, flora and fauna (poison ivy, ticks, bears and snakes) and Leave No Trace principles. At the conclusion of the class session, the class broke into outing groups.  We had the option of easier or moderate – with easier groups covering about four miles a day and the moderate groups covering six miles a day. We chose the easier group because at this point, I’m still not sure if my sprained ankle will be healed in time.

The class split just about in half between the moderate and easier groups.  Adam is one of only three males in the easier group.  I’m dragging him down to my level.  🙂

Honestly, we’re both THRILLED to be in the easier group, because we get to go to Dolly Sods for our outing.  Our group leaders (Dave, Jen and Dave) chose Dolly Sods because it’s an easier place to accommodate a large backpacking group than Shenandoah National Park.  There are eleven people in our group.  We’ll hike and have meals together, but split into two groups for camping. We love the people in our group.  Everyone seems to be nice and so many group members have a great sense of humor.

Now everyone needs to stay tuned for the actual post from the outing (coming sometime in May.)  I will say that we’re really excited about the trip.  The PATC Backpacking 101 Workshop gave us exactly the information we were looking for.  I feel like we’re kicking off our backpacking experience the right way, and that’s given me a lot of confidence and hope that I actually can do this.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeff Weeks permalink
    April 26, 2010 4:22 pm

    Nice tent! That class seems very comprehensive – good job PATC!
    Did you already buy the footprint for the tent? I’ve always had great luck skipping that expense in favor of a $10 space blanket (you know those aluminum blankets they give runners after a marathon).


    • April 26, 2010 6:35 pm

      Yes… we did buy the footprint. (we liked the option to pitch the fly and footprint without the tent when we camp in non-buggy weather.)

      I have a space blanket, too – but it’s for my little emergency kit.

      The PATC folks did such a great job leading the workshop. They were comprehensive with all the gear and techniques, but they also put a lot of emphasis developing good skills for environmental stewardship.


  2. April 25, 2010 7:11 pm

    Nice! Dolly Sods should be really cool. I’ve been wanting to go out there and backpack for about a year now but just haven’t for no reason. Hope you guys get good weather for it.

    I currently have that Katadyn water filter that has served me well for a couple years now. I also carry the iodine tablets as a backup. The REI tents are really great too. I have an older version of their Quarterdome T1 for backpacking and really like it. Mine is supposed to fit 1 or 2 people, but holy crap is it tight for 2. Holly was not happy on that camping trip. The T3 should be awesome for 2 people.

    Have fun on your trip! Reading these blogs has made me want to get out sometime soon.


    • April 26, 2010 10:19 am

      Thanks, Matt! I’m hoping for good weather, too. It doesn’t look promising right now, but it’s still early. The forecast has changed daily since I started looking.

      We actually picked up a tent this weekend. We got this one ( It’s not top-of-the-line or anything, but it had all the features we liked. Since we’re just starting out, an entry level tent seemed a good idea for now. (I don’t want to spend big bucks until I’m sure this is something I’ll really enjoy.) Also, when it came down to it, I thought the REI tent was too meshy. I liked the higher privacy panels on the Mountain Hardware tent. I also like that we can pitch the tent with just the footprint and fly.


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