Lighten up out there

Here's a guide for midlife that doesn't require soul-searching or dieting, although weight loss is involved. In The Boomer's Guide to Lightweight Backpacking, hiker/author Carol Corbridge shares her many years of wilderness experience with particular emphasis on load lightening techniques that can help mature hikers extend their years on the trail. A straight-talking text with cartoons by Jayna Harrison and beautiful wilderness photographs, Lightweight Backpacking discusses the best equipment and clothing to make your outdoor experience safe, environmentally responsible and, most of all, fun.

MJ: Can you remember an instance where a poor choice of gear ruined an outdoor experience?

CC: One time we hiked into the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in a rain storm. We had quality rain gear but after three hours on the trail we were soaked. This is how I learned that most, if not all, rain gear will be overwhelmed at a certain point. Now I expect this and seldom backpack when significant rain is predicted. The real gear choice problem was our camp stove. We had taken a Sierra Zip Stove, which uses small pieces of wood as fuel. Dry wood was scarce and we were too cold and wet to search for it. This meant a cold dinner and cheerless morning, without hot tea. Now, I take a JetBoil when extended wet conditions are expected.

MJ: After purchasing the right equipment, how would you advise those new to backpacking to get started?

CC: Day hiking is the first step. Take a light day pack with a few essentials, like a snack and extra clothing. Don't forget safety. Bring along a small flashlight and matches. Then slowly take more weight on your weekly outings. Eventually carry a full backpack. Try harder day hikes with the full pack. Don't push it. Make it fun. Bonus: You will get to see some beautiful backcountry.

MJ: How much time do you typically set aside for organizing and packing for a few days in the wild?

CC: With a check list and a closet set aside for gear, I can pack in an evening. The food takes the longest-measuring, re-bagging, etc.

MJ: You advise against cotton clothing, soap and ponchos. What are your other big no-no's?

CC: Don't take too much food. Be realistic about what you will eat. Don't take too much clothing. Forget about fashion and focus on function. Weigh EVERYTHING! Even paperbacks. You'd be surprised at the difference in paper stock.

MJ: For cutting the cost of your wilderness system you sometimes use a sewing machine to repair/modifiy gear. What other strategies do you recommend?

CC: Ray Jardine's do- it-yourself kits are great. So are Thrift Stores. The swim fins we found at Ashland Goodwill are lighter than anything I could find new. Backpacking forums on the internet often have gear swap boards. And check out Freezer Bag Cooking by Sarah Kirkconnell and make your own camp cuisine.

MJ: What camping food choices are available to people with non-traditional diets?

CC: Mary Janes Farm makes delicious organic vegetarian backpacking meals. Many are vegan or gluten free-the ingredients are clearly stated. The packaging serves as a bowl and burns completely without leaving a foil thingy like most other backpacking meals. You can buy single portions or get the mixes in bulk ( and package them yourself.

MJ: What are the pros and cons of taking along K-9 companions?

CC: Dogs can disturb other hikers and wildlife if not well controlled. A bear, usually inclined to run off, may decide to stand its ground against a charging hound. Worse, the dog may chase the bear back into you. On the plus side, dogs are great companions and give you the advantage of their exceptional senses, especially smell and hearing-comforting at night when sight is limited.

MJ: Have you encountered dangerous critters?

CC: Since I seek out the lesser traveled areas, I see many bears. They're often preoccupied with their own business, usually foraging. If they're too close, I get their attention by yelling and they run away. The only other dangerous critters I've encountered are rattlesnakes. Always an adrenaline rush, never a problem. Like the bears, they've just wanted to get away.

A Rogue Valley resident since 1970, Corbridge, 58, started her landscape business, Carol's Colors, in 1984. No longer involved in daily operations, she spends over 60 nights in the wilderness under the stars each season.

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