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Course teaches the basics of backpacking

By Kim L. Wilson
On February 19, 2013

Cotton kills. First aid kits are a must-have. Above all, know your limits.
Two UConn Adventure Center employees gave essential hiking advice during a Backpacking 101 course for students that focused on matters of safety, the art of packing your backpack and what clothes you should wear on a trip on Tuesday night in the Adventure Center at the Student Union.
If you weren't looking for it, you might not see the UConn Adventure Center nestled in an alcove on the second floor of the Union. Located across from the Dunkin' Donuts, the center remains a treasure trove of outdoor sporting goods for rent that is widely unknown to the UConn population.
The center rents a range of outdoor equipment, including mountain bikes, sleeping bags, tents, packs and climbing gear. The amount of equipment that is rented varies by season, but on average, only 10 to 12 items are rented out every week. However, when the winter superstorm struck, the center rented out every pair of cross country skis and snowshoes they own.
Although the Backpacking 101 course was designed to host up to eight participants, only four students were in attendance. The Adventure Center employees that held the course - Kaila Manca, a 4th-semester neuroscience and computer science double major, and Michael Mercado, a 6th-semester undecided major - said they wish the center was utilized by more students.
"It's kind of a shame that students don't use the equipment more than they do because it's pretty high-end," Manca said. "A lot of students don't know we're here."
Manca and Mercado began their backpacking lesson by stressing the importance of taking safety precautions, like bringing a hard copy of a trail map when you hike (you never know when your GPS signal will disappear) and getting the phone numbers of the park ranger and nearest hospital. Packing a comprehensive first aid kit, complete with moleskin, tape and gauze is also important for hiking injuries.
When it comes to hiking in relative comfort, there are two big factors: the fit of your pack and your clothes. Hiking backpacks are not one size fits all, and before buying a pack, you must first determine what size you should buy based on your hip and torso length. The wrong pack can make a hike unpleasant, Manca and Mercado said.
"In my experience, the wrong pack can chafe and get really uncomfortable, so it's really important to find the right pack," Manca said, adding that students can come to the center to be sized for a pack before they purchase one at a sporting goods store.
Although it is generally advised that hikers pack the heaviest materials in the middle of the bag, where you store your heavier and lighter items is a matter of preference the employees said. However, your sleeping bag should be placed at the bottom of your pack because you won't need it until the end of each hiking day, Mercado added.
As for clothing, Manca and Mercado adamantly stuck with the old hiking adage, "cotton kills," and said hikers should only wear synthetic materials, fleece, wool or silk. Cotton absorbs water and sweat, leaving you cold in the winter and weighed down in the summer, making it a potentially dangerous choice of hiking clothing.
"Practically speaking, it's always better to wear synthetic," Manca said. "When things get wet, they get heavier, which adds up over the course of a long hike. Also, you're not going to want to carry around a wet ball of clothes."
It is also important to wear as few layers of clothing as possible when sleeping, because your body's efforts to heat up every layer will ultimately make you colder, Manca and Mercado said.
Besides a pack, a hiker must also have a quality tent and sleeping bag. The center rents both hiking necessities for $32 for one week if you get a two-person tent. The rental sleeping bags come in three varieties designed to handle different temperatures, ranging from 32 degrees to -15 degrees.
Synthetic sleeping bags and down bags (the center has both) each have advantages and disadvantages. Down bags are useful for summer trips because they are smaller and lighter, but synthetic bags are warmer and last longer, Manca said. Also, women's sleeping bags provide more heat in the feet and chest because women have different heating needs.
While good hiking shoes, a backpack, sleeping bag, first aid kit and tent are basic necessities, a sleeping pad to put under your bag and trekking poles are optional.
Manca said she personally doesn't use trekking poles on her hikes, but said they are useful for many because they help keeps blood from rushing to your hands by keeping your hands elevated and reduce pressure on your knees.
Manca and Mercado ended their course by reminding the audience to be respectful of the environment and other hikers and to leave the trail intact. Many trails mandate that hikers carry out everything they brought with them.
"Something I've come to learn is that you don't want to even throw things like a banana peel," Mercado said. "Leave everything intact."

By Kim L.

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