On the trail

Learning to backpack at Great Miami Outfitters

By Lisa Bennett

Ah, those first blissful days of spring, where gentle kisses of warm sun are tantalizing promises of carefree days ahead. What outdoor enthusiast can resist the awe-inspiring seductive power of a greening earth and a warm sunny day? There is one type of outdoors person particularly susceptible to Nature’s charms: The Backpacker. Born to blaze trails, most of these folks love trail time the way a chef loves to cook or a sailor loves the open water. The total immersion into nature that only backpacking can bring is what sets backpacking apart from any other sport.

So, what exactly is backpacking anyway? The short version is that backpacking is a sport in which an individual, alone or with a group of friends, packs items needed to survive outdoors for a specified amount of time into a backpack, and then hikes along and, in some cases, blazes their own trails. The idea is to completely immerse oneself into a natural environment using only what can be carried to sustain yourself on your journey. “The lighter the load, the further you go,” is an old backpackers adage that is still a golden standard today. Some backpackers go on short day trips, while others spend days, even months, in the great outdoors. The difficulty of the trails and time spent on them varies from individual to individual and is a matter of personal choice and skill level.

For novices, getting started can be a bit daunting. Questions like “What should I pack?” and “How do I pick a good trail?” are pretty common. Great Miami Outfitters of Miamisburg, Ohio, is offering a “Backpacking 101” workshop to help beginners and advanced backpackers alike, as well as those just curious about it. The free workshop will help answer some of the most basic questions and more.

“We cover everything from pre-trip planning to the gear that you’ll be taking to what to do with the gear you’re taking, including how to hang a food bag, what types of shelter systems are good and tips and tricks,” says Andrew Schlegel, who teaches the workshop.

Course instructors are avid outdoors people themselves and cover a broad array of topics that range from how to select the right backpack to what kinds of gear you’ll need, important safety tips and information on all the latest gear. Great Miami Outfitters also offers a class progression, so that if after taking the class, someone decides they want to learn more, there is an additional hands-on class that goes deeper in depth and, finally, an actual trip, where people get a chance to test out skills and gear.

According to Schlegel, all of the employees are knowledgeable and willing to share their tips and tricks.

“Everyone here does what they sell,” Schlegel says. “The classes are times we set aside to really focus on a topic, but people can come in anytime and get the same information from our staff. They can even call or email us for information if they want.”

Schlegel himself is an avid backpacker and a delightful repository of knowledge. His willingness to share what he knows and his palpable enthusiasm are both admirable and contagious. Even a seasoned backpacker (such as yours truly) can learn a lot from a visit to the store.

Fortunately, once the outdoor fever has taken hold, backpacking enthusiasts in the Dayton area have access to a plethora of trails throughout the state to try out new gear, test new skills and generally just enjoy the outdoors. The many trails offer easy and challenging hikes for both beginner and advanced skill levels. The Twin Valley Backpacking Trail for example, offers 43 miles of networked trails in Germantown and the Twin Creek MetroParks. It covers a variety of landscapes rich in diverse wildlife.

One of the largest trails in the Midwest is the Buckeye Trail. This trail circumnavigates the state of Ohio and is almost 1,444 miles long. Brave hikers and backpackers who complete the trail are awarded the coveted “I Hiked Ohio—Buckeye Trail Patch” and, of course, a rich experience with memories to last a lifetime. Of course, those just wanting a short day hike can always use the hundreds of miles of bike trails throughout the Miami Valley Region.

Great Miami Outfitters’ “Backpacking 101” class is free and will be held 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 13 at the Great Miami Outfitters store, 25 E. Linden Ave. in Miamisburg. For more information on the backpacking class, future trips or any other classes and workshops, please visit greatmiamioutfitters.com or call 937.847.8787. For more information about the Buckeye Trail, please visit buckeyetrail.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at LisaBennett@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at LisaBennett@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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