Backcountry Tips and Facts

Any backcountry traveler will tell you that there is nothing more enjoyable then spending time backpacking and traveling through remote wilderness areas. OA is committed to providing quality wilderness experience for the UCLA community; therefore we have put together a friendly list of tips and information that will help you prepare and get the most outof your backcountry experience.

Foot Care

Your feet are perhaps your most essential piece of backpacking and hiking "equipment." While happy, comfortable feet are rarely noticed, those plagued with blisters or other discomforts have the potential to make you miserable.


Socks are what keep your feet happy and dry. For most trips, you'll want 2-3 pairs of wool or syntehtic socks. One or two for the day hikes, and a pair to wear at night in camp. Wool or synthetic socks keep your feet warm even when they're wet, whereas cotton allows your foot to stay cooled when dry. Experienced backpackers often use liner socks. This thin syntehtic sock wicks the moisture off your feet and into your outer sock, thus keeping your feet dry and happy. These liners also decreaseyour chances of developing a blister.

Hiking Boots

Hiking boots should be worn/broken in. If you have to buy a new pair, buy them soon. You'll need to wear them in, but be careful not to give yourself blisters before you even hit the trail!

Hot Spots

Hot spots are the precursor to blisters and feel like hot, sometimes itchy or tender areas. If you catch a hot spot early on you can often stop blister from forming and prevent a lot of pain and trouble. Even if you are not sure whether you have a hot spot, it is crucial to sotop and check it out! All too often people don't want to hold up the group or take the time to check their feet while hiking and it ends up costing them more pain and the group more time. Cover the hot spot with a circular shaped piece of moleskin (duct tape works also) to protect the red, agitated area from further aggravation (rubbing). If you already have a developed blister, cut a circular piece of moleskin with a doughnut hole in the middle to surround the blister instead of applying moleskin directly on top of the blister. Remember that everyone should bring moleskin in case they need it. By checking your feet regularly and having the correct footwear, blisters can often be avoided.

Rest Step

Regardless of what you put on your feet, while backpacking and hiking our feet and body get tired. What can you do? You can utilize something called the "rest step." After every step pause, lock the back knee, and take your next step. If you're getting tired, ask one of your guides to demonstrate for you.

Health & Hygiene

Hygiene is often an intimidating subject when it comes to the backcountry. It is actually fairly simple. In the city, we tend to use soaps and detergents more than necessary. In the backcountry we rarely ever need soap. Here are a few good tips for helping you feel your best!


Water is often overlooked for what it provides the body. When we lack it we are sure to notice the effects. The crummy feeling, sometimes coupled with a headache that we get after a night out at the local bar is due to dehydration. Due to the amount of physical activity we exert in the outdoors, people often wind up feeling "hungover." Avoiding dehydration is easy if you drink plenty of water. We highly recommend drinking extra water the day before your trip starts, as well as during the drive to the trailhead. You should drink at least two quarts more per day than your usual intake of liquid. A good recommended water intake is one to two qquarts in the morning, one to two quarts during the day and one quart at the end of the day. Drink even if you don't feel thirsty and especially when it is cold out. Once you feel thirsty you are already slightly dehydrated. Hydration is also helpful in becoming acclimated to higher elevation.

Personal Hygiene

Personal Hygiene is all too frequetly a squeamish subject. It doesn't need to be. For men, normally one set of underwear is fine per trip (more depending on the individual). For women, a pair of cotton underwear per day is recommended. Cotton is preferable because it is more breathable. These underwear tips for women are especially applicable if you are prone to yeast infections.

For women on your period, don't fear. Although it may seem like an impossible thing to deal with, you will soon find that it is not so bad. We recommend bringing the same pads and/or tampons you would normally use at home and a few large zip lock bags to store them in. Most women find that tampons work best because they take up less room to pack and are cleaner.


It is important to wash one's hands before handling food. Friction is the best method of cleaning in the outdoors. By rubbing your hands together briskly for at least 20 seconds, you will kill most germs and bacteria on your hands.


Soap is sometimes necessary. When it is, use a "biodegradable" soap and never use it directly in a water source. Haul large containers of water at least 200 feet from the water source to an area where soap will not harm the vegetation. Lather up with a small amount of soap and then rinse thoroughly, especially before you enter a lake or river. Although there are "biodegradable" soaps, they don't tell you how many dozens of years it takes for soap to degrade. In general, use soap only if you feel it is absolutely necessary.

Bodily Functions

While it is totally natural, there tends to be a looming fear surrounding bodily functions in the wilderness. We will try to dispel those fears with a clear and concise explanation of what to expect. It is not as bad as you think!


Urinating is often depicted as a man watering a tree. However, in some areas, animals, desiring the salt from our urine try to eat the tree bark or plants we pee on. Both sexes should try to urinate on the rocks or sand and also away from water sources. Surprisingly, urinating directly on the trail is often the best practice.


Catholes are our outhouses in the backcountry. You simply dig a 6-8 inch deep, 4-6 inch wide hole, and defecate in it. As intimidating as it seems, many outdoor enthusiasts prefer pooping in the outdoors to the indoors (to society's porcelain receptacles). By using stones under your feet and/or leaning up against a tree or a downed log, the squatting position can in fact be very comfortable and is actually the most anatomically correct body position for reliving oneself! All toilet paper used in the backountry must be packed out in a plastic or zip-lock bag. You might be willing to forego toilet paper and go with "natural alternatives": clean stones, smooth sticks, moss, big green leaves and snow are all popular alternatives. This may take a while to master, but give it a try!

Minimum Impact

Minimum impact is such an enormous and important topic; it fills pages upon pages in many respectable books. Here we'll attempt to clear up some possible misconceptions about the backcountry and introduce a topic of conducting oneself in the outdoors referred to as "Leave No Trace."


Food is considered by many to always be "biodegradable." Regardless of whether or not your food is biodegradable, the food we eat in the backcountry is not indigenous to the area we are in. Therefore, we must pack out all food, including apple cores, orange peels, and even crumbs. In addition to being an eye sore to those who come after us, these food scraps also gives animals a source of food they come to depend upon. Over time when people stop coming, and the animals die waiting for our food. This becomes especially important in more fragile ecosystems (the desert is one of the most fragile of all). Think about what might happen to all the squirrels on campus if all of a sudden we were to equip UCLA with squirrel-proof transh cans!

Toothpaste from tooth-brushing is similar to food. It is best to brush with as little toothpaste as necessary (most peopl euse much more than is actually necessary; friciton is key) and then spit it out over a large area so that there is no way for animals to collect any of it. Just like hand washing, it is the friction of the cleaning that does the most work.

Cooking and Cleaning

Outdoor cooking can be just as easy and creative as it can be at home. The only major difference has to do with the leftovers, lceaning of pots and disposal of cooking wastewater. While there are many different techniques and ideas covering these issues, we would like to share our general philosophy and a few practical techniques.

As we have mentioned, it is best not to have any leftovers. Leftovers must be packed out with you or be eaten. Dumped food has a large impact on the natural environment. For the same reason one must be conscientious of how cookware is cleaned. Cookware can be wahsed by simply dipping utensils, bowls and cups into boiling water before and after use. Leftover food particles ideally should be eaten. The most effective cleaning technique is to first "lick your bowl clean" and eat every scrap possible. A bagel, tortilla or bread aare also great to use to dry wipe you bowl and then eat the bagel, mmmmmmm ummy! Then use water to rinse it out. The cleaning water can be disposed of by drinking it or adding it to a hot chocolate type drink. As some can't stomache taht idea (although really it is not that bad) you can filter the cleaning water through a sump screen and pack out the particulate matter. A sump screen is a mesh screen that you can place over a small dug hole. Dirt is a good, natural pot scrubber for large cleaning jobs and can work just as well, if not better than your average supermarket scrubber.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully many questions that have arisen about the trip have been answered above. There are many sources for additional references of the information available in books and on the Internet. Remember that these tips are a starting point, aimed at making your adjustment to living in the backountry an easy one. In your upcoming trip, remember to relax, have fun, and forget your worries for at least a few days.

Happy Trails, UCLA Outdoor Adventures.