How to Pack for a Backpacking Trip (ft. Jan Neuspiel of Hike Vancouver Island)

How to Pack for a Backpacking Trip (ft. Jan Neuspiel of Hike Vancouver Island)

Posted by Joseph Schwartz on

Jan has been guiding and teaching all over the world for more than 35 years. He spent a good half of that time exploring and guiding in the Himalayan region, with six years living in Nepal and 11 years running a helicopter skiing operation in northern India. From a circumnavigation of Denali and a ski traverse of the Wrangle St. Elias, to an ascent of Mount Asgard in the Canadian arctic and a solo summit on Pumori (7161m) in the Nepal Himalaya, his personal expeditions have taken him far and wide. Back at home on Vancouver Island he’s guided most of the major island peaks, authored a number of first ascents and taught countless islanders rock climbing, mountaineering, backcountry skiing and avalanche skills. Jan started Island Alpine Guides in 2006 and has since nurtured it into the island's premier mountain school and guide service. He is also Guide Manager for Bella Coola Helisports, a heliskiing operation in the Mount Waddington area of the BC Coast Range. Though he’s getting to be a little long in the tooth, he intends to keep on sharing his love of the mountains with his students and guests for many years to come.

Jan recently launched Hike Vancouver Island to meet the growing demand for hiking and backcountry education on Vancouver Island. With Jan's depth of experience, he's the perfect person to get us all up to speed on the key things to think about when packing for a big hiking trip. 

What do we need to bring? 

All the essentials: food, clothing, shelter. Boots need to fit really well (blisters can ruin a trip like nothing else). 

Anything else? 

A warm hat at all times of year. Sun protection is key, don't volunteer for skin cancer research. High efficiency battery pack to keep that phone charged. We use it for navigation so much these days but also have a paper map and compass and know how to use them. Over reliance on gps/smartphone navigation is a bit scary these days with too many people skipping the basics of being able to read a map and read terrain to find their way through it. 

What’s the most essential piece of gear you need to bring?

Shelter of some kind and a means of starting a fire. The shelter could be very light and basic but you need to be able to get out of the elements. 

Is there anything you've left behind/forgot on a big trip? What/where?

Hah! I did a trip with a SAR group to the Alava-Bates range on Vancouver island a few years back and forgot my sleeping mat and my helmet! I hear about that on every single trip I've done with that team since. 

Favourite meals/snacks for backpacking?

The longer the trip and the more food you carry the lighter it needs to be. I'm not a huge fan of freeze dried foods and there are so many great dry foods in the grocery store like sun dried tomatoes, vegetable flakes, dry cheese (parmesan etc.), dry fish and meats, rice, pasta, lentils, dried beans, dehydrated peanut butter etc. You've got to have some chocolate of course!
Most memorable Island excursion, or most recommended to do?
There are so many great trips to do on Vancouver Island. For climbing objectives it's hard to beat Mount Colonel Foster with it's 3000' east face and length and scenic summit traverse. For ski trips the traverse from Paradise Meadows to the Comox Glacier is the "Island's Haute Route". For backpacking/mountaineering the trip to climb the island's highest peak, the Golden Hinde, takes you into the pristine wilderness at the heart of Strathcona Park.
Why do you use the specific gear and/or brands that you do?
I am drawn to brands that are focused on simple design that works in real life use. Simple functionality and durability and design that is obviously done by people who actually use the gear. 
What’s your favourite gear-organizing pro tip? 
Outdoor gear is like tools for any profession (think about how many different tools a carpenter or a dentist has). To have just the right thing for every trip you are going to have quite a bit of stuff. Using sleeping bags as an example: you want to carry just as much weight in fill as it takes to keep you warm on a specific trip, not more. That means owning a few sleeping bags. Having said that, good design can result in gear that is very versatile. For example, I take a hyper lightweight wind shell on most trips I do.
What makes backpacking on the Island special for you?
The Island Alps have a unique beauty all their own. The valleys are deep and forested, the alpine is rugged and even glaciated (many people don't realize we have glaciers on the island. It is adjacent to the ocean and from some peaks you can see the ocean on both sides of the island. Last but not least, it is vast and wild with not very many people using it. It is not uncommon to travel for days in the Island Wilderness without seeing anyone else. 
Photo credits: Meaghan Buisson & Francois Couture 

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