Backpacking Extras

Have questions you want to ask, but might be embarrassed you don't know? Not to worry. This is your safe place to find those answers and then pretend you knew them all along!

What exactly is a vestibule? What's the difference between the tent and rainfly? What does AT NOBO mean? What is a thru-hike? What's a section hike?

What does R-Value mean? What does it mean if a sleeping bag is rated to 30 degrees? What is the denier value of tent fabric and why should I care?

Tent Body & Rainfly

(Also known as a Double-Wall Tent)


Main tent body without rainfly


Tent with rainfly secured

Double-Wall Tents 


Double Wall Tents (pictured above) have two main parts; a main tent and a rainfly. These are most common to three-season tents. Spring, Summer, and Fall camping. The rainfly is 100% waterproof, but not breathable, except for any vents on the rainfly. The inner tent is 100% breathable but not waterproof. With a double-wall tent you almost always have more area for gear storage, usually within the vestibule area, and often you will have multiple doors.

Single-Wall Tents 


Single Wall tents do not have a separate rain fly, and are more common to four-season tents. Which means they can be used for winter camping in the snow and/or high alpine environments. Single-wall tents are easier and quicker to set up. The trade off, for the ease of set up and lighter weight, is more condensation inside the tent and usually less space for gear storage.

The Vestibule


What exactly is a vestibule? We call it the "front porch" of our tent. Even better, we can close it to protect against the elements. Most hikers use their vestibule to store their backpacks and boots/shoes to keep them dry, while keeping the inside of the tent clean.


Vestibule Area

This tent has two vestibules. Both are open in this picture to demonstrate how to create airflow for those warm summer evenings.


Gear Maintenance - It's Important!

When arriving home after a long trip (or coming off the trail during a thru-hike), there is a saying you should implement if you want your gear to last: "equipment maintenance before body maintenance."

Assuming your condition after a backpacking trip is normal (tired, dirty, and hungry), then your priority is getting your backpacking gear clean and aired out. Not because this is a time-sensitive operation. More because of human nature. Once you are cleaned and had a large dinner you are more likely to head to bed. "I'll get to my gear tomorrow", you might think. But you won't.

You've invested time into your gear. Take care of it. You don't want to open your tent at your next campsite and find mold.


Your Post-Return To-Do List before showering

- with practice this can be completed in a 1/2 hour, leaving things out drying while you perform body maintenance

  • Hose rinse your rainfly and leave it out until completely dry.

  • Shake out your tent and allow it to air out for at least two hours.

  • Wash the dirt from your tent stakes.

  • Clean the inside of your tent stake carrying bag.

  • Wash your tent footprint and let it air dry.

  • Rinse your bear bag ropes and allow to air dry.

  • Rinse the sweat from your backpack and air dry.

  • Rinse your pack rain cover and raincoat and air dry.

  • Got those hiking clothes in the laundry before your non-hiking spouse or partner sees them!


Let's Talk about Hiking Terms

AT (Appalachian Trail)

PCT (Pacific Crest Trail)

CDT (Continental Divide Trail)

LNT (Leave No Trace)

Thru-Hike What many of us dream about doing, but still have to hold a job to pay the bills. It means to hike from start to finish on the AT, PCT, or CDT. Each will take about six to seven months for the average hiker.

Section Hike What most of us end up doing. An AT section hike could cover anywhere from 15 to 100 miles. Most us do something like 24 to 30 miles over a three-day outing. Many hikers will section hike an entire trail over a period of a few years.

NOBO (northbound)    SOBO (southbound)

Solo (yep, you guessed it. Solo. Only for very experienced backpackers)


Rain Cover. This is for your backpack. Most backpacks are not rain proof.


Dry Sack. This goes inside your backpack to keep things dry. Rain covers don't always do enough. For weight and cost savings, a large black garbage bag works great.

Food Bag or Bear Bag. This needs to be durable and able to clip to a carabiner. This will be hung from a tall tree branch in the evening.

Technical Stuff

R-Value for Insulated Ground Pads. This is the measure of insulation you can expect from a ground pad beneath your sleeping bag. Without getting overly scientific, it's all about understanding the scale. An R-value of 4.4 makes for a good 3-season ground pad. For winter, you probably need a total R-Value north of 7 or 8. Many hikers will use two ground pads for very cold temperatures (an inflatable pad above a non-inflatable pad). For summer hiking trips in altitudes around 5k or 6k, one can easily get away with a R-Value of only 2.2 for an inflatable pad.


Temperature Rating for Sleeping Bags. Simply stated, the temperature rating is the survivability rating. You don't want to be camping in a 30-degree sleeping bag with the outside temperature at 35 degrees.You will not be enjoying your camping experience. What is the comfort range for a 30-degree bag? That is a bit more difficult to determine. There are "cold sleepers" and "warm sleepers." A cold sleeper might only be comfortable in a 30-degree bag down to about 50 degrees.

Denier value for tent fabric. Denier is used to determine the thickness of the fibers in tent fabric. It’s a unit of density based on the length and weight of a yarn or fiber.  A higher number usually, but not always, equates to stronger fabric. This holds true with Nylon, and more so with Polyester. If a tent you are considering has fabric (footprint, tent floor, rain fly) which is a type of polyester with 60 Denier or greater, you can feel comfortable with the quality.


What is a Trail Blaze?


White Blazes. Blue Blazes. Orange Blazes. The Mountain Blazers?

This is how most trails are marked. It could be with painted white stripes on trees or rocks.

Or white markers nailed to trees.

The Appalachian Trail is famous for white blazes.

From Springer Mountain in Georgia all the way to Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

The Art Loeb trail in North Carolina has white markers nailed to trees in some places.

One of the trails extending from Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina is marked with orange blazes.

Side trails off of the AT will often have blue blazes. Including trails which lead to one of the AT shelters.

Trail blazes has to do with how the name of the Mountain Blazers was derived. Blazing trails in the mountains.

If you are hiking on a trail and have not seen your color trail blaze after a long period of time, better make sure you are still on the trail you think you are on.