7 Tips For A Safe & Enjoyable Backpacking Trip

A few days ago, I found myself talking trail with a very nice lady when the subject turned to hiking safety.  I have to admit that she brought up a few legitimate concerns that I hadn’t thought of.  I’ve always considered myself as safe or safer in the backcountry as I would be in any major city or on any highway in the US.  That train of thought is statistically correct but does have it’s flaws.  Contrary to popular reality TV programs, danger is not lurking around every corner in the wilds.  If something does happen though, you’re a long way from help and often not able to call for it.  Being prepared to handle whatever problems may arise yourself until you are able to find help is a necessity.  Self reliance, freedom and adventure are after all a big part of the outdoor experience.  Mother Nature is a beautiful but heartless mistress and is totally indifferent to your well being.  Getting home in one piece is up to you.  Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the trail:



Stay Alert – It’s easy to get caught up in the grandeur of the great outdoors but don’t get so distracted that you loose situational awareness.  The best way to stay out of trouble is to recognize it and avoid it.

  • Watch where you’re stepping
  • Wildlife is fun to watch but keep your distance
  • Keep a lookout for dead trees and widow makers
  • Trust your Spidey Sense


Have a plan – Put some research into your pre-trip planning.  Especially on multi-day trips.  Plans often change but at least you have a good starting point.

  • Have a good idea of how tough the trail will be
  • Know where you will obtain water and how much you need to carry
  • Have a general idea of where you will camp for the night
  • Check weather forecasts and other relevant websites for alerts


Share Your Plan – Let a responsible friend or friends know where you’re going and what to do if you don’t come back by a certain date.

  • Give this person copies of your maps and other planning materials
  • Leave clear instructions on who to call if you don’t come back
  • Save the social media posts for your return.  Posting trip plans could potentially let the criminal element know (a) you’re alone in the woods and (b) your home is left unattended


Come Prepared – There are many items that can make your backcountry experience more enjoyable but I consider these necessities any time I’m more than a few miles from town and in the woods.

  • Flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries
  • Signaling device such as a whistle.  Remember 3 blasts from anything is a recognized distress signal
  • Map and compass or GPS
  • Plenty of water and preferably also some way to purify water
  • Fire kit
  • Knife
  • Small first aid kit


Hone Your Skills – All the gear in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t know how to use it.  It’s also a good idea to make sure everything works before your relying on it.

  • Learn which plants, insects and animals to avoid
  • Practice setting up your tent at home instead of waiting until you need it
  • Learn to safely start a camp fire without starting a forest fire
  • Practice orienteering and/or using your GPS
  • Prepare a few meals at home using your backpacking kit
  • Don’t go alone until you’re confident with your abilities


Hunting Season – Be extra careful around hunting season.  I’m an avid hunter as are many of my friends.  The vast majority of seasoned hunters are the most respectful, conservation minded, knowledgeable outdoorsman you will ever meet.  Texas is a large place though with very little public land.  Those not willing or able to foot the bill to hunt private land are all crammed into a few national forests for a few months of the year.  Some are great hunters and some are real Yahoo’s.

  • Wear brightly colored clothing
  • Avoid trails at dawn and dusk
  • Only camp at designated sites


Don’t Over Do It – This is supposed to be fun, remember?  Take your time and relax.

  • Exhaustion lessens your ability to think clearly and can lead to making poor decisions
  • Pushing yourself too hard can lead to injury


Dove Season 2016

For many Texans, myself included, several months of the year are spent tapping our fingers in fidgety anticipation.  Hours are spent thumbing through books, magazines and catalogues looking for a small fix that will temporarily satisfy our craving.  It never works.  By the end of summer, most of us can be found sitting on the floor amongst a pile of scattered gear, twitching and mumbling to ourselves unintelligibly.  Then all of a sudden it happens.  It crept up on us like a stalking jaguar while we were in our dazed stupor.  It’s here.  It’s finally hunting season.


September 1st is better than Christmas in my book.  From then through January, most of my spare time will be spent afield.  Dove season begins this glorious progression.  It is soon followed by quail, whitetail deer, turkey and my personal favorite mule deer season.

The quality of dove hunting in Texas usually ranges from good to fantastic, especially in the Western and Southern parts of the state.  Find an area abundant with native sunflowers, that has a stock pond or other water source and there will be dove.  The best time to hunt them is in the evening when they come to water and roost in the larger trees near water.


After giving my gear selection a once over to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, I quickly threw everything in my Jeep for the roughly 500 mile drive to a family ranch near Snyder, TX.  I arrived just in time for the evening hunt.  I’m no weatherman but I know of one meteorological phenomena that occurs every year without fail.  In a dry area of the state that only averages 12 inches of rainfall per year, it will come an absolute downpour opening week of dove season.  Every year, it never fails to rain hard enough to leave standing water all over the place and screw up the idea of pass shooting around a pond while the birds come to water.  This year was no exception.


I had barely put my game bag on when it started pouring.  There was sunshine on all sides of the big, dark cloud hovering above me. “Figures”, I thought as I sat down to enjoy a refreshing adult beverage and wait out the storm.  An hour or so later, I found myself sliding all over a muddy two track road toward the spot I had chosen.  Normally an excellent place beside a pond surrounded by sunflowers, mesquite and hackberry trees, I knew it wouldn’t be very productive after a rain like that.  I hadn’t traveled 500 miles one way to sit at the house though.


It was a pleasant evening spent listening to bullfrogs and coyotes, enjoying the sunset and waiting for passing birds.  Only four singles flew within range and I managed to down all four birds.  I was impressed with myself.  I fancy myself a savvy shotgunner with some justification.  I can regularly break above 90% on the local clays course and 95% is a fairly common occurrence.  As I type this, the shelf behind me is littered with trophies and plaques as testament to my claim.  In my case, that all goes out the window when bird hunting.  They don’t fly straight like clays and have an annoying habit of flying by when I’m not paying attention.  They should be ashamed of themselves.


The next day showed more promise.  The standing water had dried up for the most part and I had high hopes for the next few days.  I spent the day running around working on other hunting equipment and getting things set up for deer season.  Along the way, I ran across a big Western Diamondback.  I normally leave snakes alone as they do a lot of good in controlling rodent populations but I’ve had my eye out for a big one who’s skin I wanted for a project and this one would do nicely.  On the off chance that one of you has never ridden a few miles on a 4-wheeler with a wriggling, headless rattlesnake smacking you in the butt with his tail, let me just say it’s a little unnerving.


That evening, I filled my canteen with a little something to keep off the chill and stave off boredom in the event the birds weren’t flying again.  I went back to the spot I had been the previous evening.  There was very little action until just before dark, by which time my canteen was getting low.  I’m sure that had nothing to do with the fact that I had apparently exhausted my supply of wingshooting prowess the day before.  The few birds I hit we’re purely by accident I can assure you.  Some day’s you’ve got it and some days you don’t.  I did not have it on this day.  I ended the hunt that evening with 4 or 5 birds.  I had botched several more attempts by not paying attention and/or shooting poorly.   There were a few more birds flying than there were the evening before but still considerably less than normal.


All the conditions seemed perfect this year for an excellent early dove season.  Stock tanks are full and sunflowers are abundant but birds are few and far between.  I’ve heard rumors of the migration starting early this year.  I’m not sure if that’s the problem or all the rain we’ve had this year across the state has scattered the birds.  Whatever the case, most of the people I’ve talked to had a similar opening weekend.  Hopefully things will improve as the migratory birds start pouring in.


Let’s also hope the hunting gods have gotten the shenanigans out of their system and will send some better weather this way for the rest of the season.

I wouldn’t bet on it.