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I'm in the slow process of acquiring all of the gear I think I will need to do a week-long backpacking trip somewhere in the Midwest. Many of the more experienced backpackers I've spoken with or read about say that you should test your gear out before you take it on the trail.

I want to test out my setup without breaking it, and hopefully without taking up too much of my time. What do you recommend as a thorough yet reasonable test for a backpacking setup?

I want to develop a backpacking and camping routine with my portable gear but don't have much experience with anything other than car camping. What are your tips and tricks for backpacking success?

EDIT:
The gear I have that I would like to test out includes (but is not limited to) the following: Gregory Baltoro Backpack, sleeping bag, tent, stove, water filter, first aid kit, knife, machete (possibly not included), water bottles, and a cheap, bulky sleeping bag pad.

I suppose I probably need to assemble a mess kit, acquire cooking supplies, and select clothing before I'll be able to do a full test run.

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What gear do you have? Some bits like a stove would easily be tested cooking your dinner... what do you have that you think needs testing? –  Aravona Jul 28 at 15:49

7 Answers 7

up vote 12 down vote accepted

To test your hiking kit/boots to see if it is all comfortable/fits you can do a day walk but carrying your full rucksack and kit (or stuff of similar weight). This will give you a idea of how your kit fits and the difference in hiking with a full rucksack compared to a daysack to help you judge how far you should aim for.

Most of your camping kit can be tested at home. For example I would definitely check you can put up your tent and light your stove before going on a trip. Getting it wrong at home is much better than doing it wrong in the wild.

Ideally if time allows you could also do a short one/two night backpacking trip before your main trip. This will allow you to check your kit in action so to speak and will give you an idea of some of the small items you may have forgotten. Forgetting loo-roll for a 1 night trip is bad. Forgetting it for a week trip is dire.

On that note you may want to make a list of the kit you need well in advance. If your not confident get someone to check it for any glaring omissions. Then update it with anything you missed after you practice camp.

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+1 for "test it at home". Cook a meal using nothing but your camping gear. Every time yo go to the kitchen to get a piece of cutlery, that means something needs to be added to your hiking kit. Sleep in your tent in your back yard. Of course, some gear can't really be tested (first aid kit?). –  Greenstone Walker Jul 29 at 4:15
    
@GreenstoneWalker The actual first aid kit that will be brought during the trip could not be tested, but it is extremely useful to know how to use the content. That could easily be done by buying extra supplies or test with non-sterile counterparts (that are usually cheaper). –  Ahlqvist Jul 29 at 8:22
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Of course first aid kit can be tested. Imagine some injury and check, if what you need is inside. –  РСТȢѸФХѾЦЧШЩЪЫЬѢѤЮѦѪѨѬѠѺѮѰѲѴ Jul 29 at 9:09
    
Having something and discovering it isn't suitable for the role you require it for are 2 very very different things. It could be as simple as antiseptic wipes that are far too dry all the way up to densities of cloth for bandages. Many first aid kits rapidly become wholey inadequate as you approach the extremes of injuries you really need to treat - yet a cursory examination or check list would find them equal. –  John Nicholas Jul 30 at 12:07

Most gear you can test out in your house. Take your boots out on any trail, each time you go out pack a little bit more in your pack and get used to the weight. Come up with a good clothing layer system.

Make sure you can get your tent set up quickly. There is nothing like setting up in a downpour minutes before sundown. You can practice this inside.

Make sure you understand how to properly setup and use your water filter. - Keep the input hose separate from the hose that goes into your bottle. - Make sure you know how to "prime" it if necessary. You may need to take it apart on the trail, fill it with water and put it back together before pumping water. - Make sure you know how to service the filter as well, it will likely get grains of sand in it which may plug it and prevent it from working. Or you may fall and crack it, what is your backup plan? Do you have something to boil water in? Do you have chemical water treatment?

Learn all your gear. Understand how the stove works. Do some tests with the fuel source outside in trail conditions and see how much fuel you'll need with your stove for that period of time.

Figure out how you'll sharpen your blades if it becomes necessary.

Build your skills, they come in as handy as gear does.

I'm sure you left it off on purpose, but I didn't see a mention of maps or compass. Learn to use a compass and read a map(and maps scales). Get a waterproof map of the area you will be going. Trails turn to crap quickly and all of a sudden you'll find sketchy 'flagging tape' to get you around closed off areas. Know the markings for the section you will be on. Markings usually have a meaning. Call ahead or check online for trail conditions.

Make sure you are prepared for the climate. It may be beautiful at the bottom of the mountain, but you may get smacked with a snow storm at the peak.

On a separate note, a construction size garbage bag is a great inexpensive liner to keep the inside of your pack and keep its contents dry. Bring an extra bag, they are cheap and light.

Bring some petroleum jelly soaked cotton balls in a pill jar to help you start fires. Lighters are awesome, but a backup source is handy.

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With a map case, a waterproof map is not necessary. –  gerrit Jul 29 at 19:16

All the other answers are correct and good.

Car-Camping

If the problem is that you want a realistic test but either (a) do not have much time, or (b) wisely do not want to go out backpacking on a test trip alone, then do a car camping trip as a "dress rehearsal".

  1. Find a car-camping site.
    Preferably in the wild or woods, rather than a developed KOA-stlye campground. In the United States, we often have a choice of county and state parks, National Parks, National Forests, and others.
  2. Pack your gear.
    Pack all your gear completely as if going on a real backpacking trip.
  3. Load your gear, boots, and such in a car, and drive to the camp site.
    Do this early in the morning as you would on the real trip. See how you do while still sleepy, sans caffeine, with finding and remembering all your stuff.
  4. Sling that pack on your back and head out for a day-hike.
    Whether long or short, does not matter. The longer the better, but long enough to test your boots and socks, use your water bottle, and so on.
  5. Return to camp, but ignore the car. Pitch tent, make dinner, pull out TP for bathroom run, do not sit at the park’s table, wash your dishes, and so on, as if on the real trip.

Return home, 24-hours later.

As other answers suggest, it is the little things that get you. Did you remember matches/lighter for stove? Do you know how to safely fill the fuel bottles, and maybe need a funnel? Is something in the pack poking you in the back so you need to practice re-loading? Is using a sock liner with those socks too thick or too hot and you need to buy some thinner hiking socks? Is that narrow-mouth water bottle driving you crazy and you'd rather get a wide-mouth bottle? Are your pants wet from sitting on wet grass and cold rock so maybe you need to buy/make a sitting-pad?

Doing a full car-camping trip rather than just testing at home helps to flush out these details.

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I would imagine the "testing" others referred to is suitability for purpose rather than will the gear end up damaged or broken. For example, if using a new tent, have you practiced pitching it at home first rather than waiting until you have to use it while in the middle of nowhere? Or is the stove and cooking equipment you plan to carry able to cope with the quantities you need to cook? Is your sleeping bag warm enough or too warm for the conditions you are likely to meet? Will everything you plan to bring fit in your pack? Is there anything you plan on taking not really needed?

I would suggest a trial trip say over a weekend or maybe two not too far away to try out everything first before you set off on your actual trip.

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+1: If the OP has not done any hiking before, then he needs the weekend trip, not just to test his equipment but to test himself before a week long trip. –  Oxinabox Jul 29 at 0:04

There can't be any general rule on testing equipment but you should have tested at least all the features that you think you will need during your journey. You also do not necessarily have to test all your stuff at once.

For "technical" equipment such as tents, stoves and the like, it might be enough to just learn their handling. Nothing is more annoying than arriving at your camping spot all tired and pulling out your tent for the very first time ever, reading the manual and finding out, that the pegs are not suitable for the kind of ground you're on. As Aravona already mentioned in a comment, testing your stove might be easily done by cooking some dinner on it at home. But you also might want so test it somewhere outside when it's a bit windy to see how it handles in windy conditions. The same with a tent for example: just pitch it somewhere in your garden (or a public park, if you don't have a garden).

With clothing, it's a bit more complicated. Finding out if your new rain jacket can cope with a whole day of heavy rain without soaking through requires to get out for a day in heavy rain... Same for other stuff you want to rely on in uncomfortable situations – you get the idea.

Last but not least, also do a packing check where you fit all your stuff into your backpack some days before you finally pack all your stuff for the journey. If you find out then, that you have too much things to ever fit into your pack, you have still some time left to think about what is not urgently necessary or save to leave at home.

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You can test everything at home, in your yard, and at the gym.

At home, test your water filter, setting up the tent in the backyard, assembling and lighting your stove and boiling some water (don't forget your windscreen), any fishing gear you might have, and setting up a fire in your backyard.

At the gym, take your loaded backpack with you and do some workouts on the stairmaster. This will serve you in multiple ways: let you know how prepared physically you are for backpacking, and let you know how the backpack feels while it sits on your hips and shoulders.

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Another two cents (experience: two Philmont expeditions). Do all you can at home to test things.

Boots: if you've got a pack, test the boots and break them in with local hikes. This also lets you work out the 'fit' of the pack -- find that sweet spot where the hip belt takes the weight and the shoulders stabilize. Gradually add weight to the pack up to what you expect to carry (experienced tip: use old 2 liter bottles filled with tap water to increase the weight - then you'll have no qualms about dumping weight halfway through a hike if issues arise - its just water weight).

Camping gear: Setup in the backyard, multiple times, some at night, with only what you plan to carry.

Cook on the stove you intend to use - get to know its quirks - they all have something to watch for. Plan on a mix of cooked and uncooked type foods -- cooking dinner is a great way to finish the day. Quick and easy package food in the morning and perhaps lunch gets you on the trail much quicker (opinion: tuna packed in water in foil packaging worked great for me).

Plan your water sources on the route, and the quantity you think you need to hike, and cook, and clean up. Meals that use hot water to cook and hydrate the food leads to less water 'waste' (opinion: pasta is a fool's meal (too much water to cook), rice is much better). If you're fond of flavored drinks, take two water bottles and keep one with just clear water. The clean one stays with you at night, the other goes up and away in the bear bag.

Have you figured out how to hang your food and dirty items (smellables) in a bear bag? A sturdy bag and strong lightweight cord to go over a tree limb at least 8 feet from the trunk and 10 feet up (the bottom of the bag). Ideally more than one cord (30-40 feet each) tied to different trees, since there are some scary smart wildlife out there that will pick at a knot to see if the 'treats' will drop. Practice using a small rock to get the line over the target branch. Keep that tree away from the campsite (100 feet or so).

General: read up on what "smellables" are, and avoid them -- no smelly deodorants, no bug sprays. Use a liquid form if you must. No application after say 3:00pm to let the scent dissapate. Heck, even duct tape is considered a 'smellable' to bears. Smellables go up in the bag every night. Batteries (other than the one in your flashlight) go in the bag. I take a couple of feet of duct tape for emergencies wrapped around a Nalgene bottle -- but that goes in the bag each night.

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The problem with using water bottles to add weight to your pack is that they won't balance the way your actual gear will. Unless you're careful, all that water weight will be sitting at the bottom of your pack, when your actual gear will (hopefully) be balanced towards the middle. –  Mark Jul 30 at 9:26

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