Backpacking basics

Q My Boyfriend and I are going to the Great Smoky Mountains on multi-day hike, we’re wondering if you have any suggestions on the best to pack backpack?

TIM HILL, Seattle

Almost experienced backcountry backpackers will tell you one main thing: Pack lightly! Only when you have to lug 80 pounds of miscellaneous items up trails do you realize how many things you can actually do without. The rule of thumb is that heavier items should go toward the top of the pack, closer to your body, while the lighter ones should go to the bottom (as long as they don’t get crushed). Instead of smushing your sleeping bag into your pack, strap it on to the outside bottom of the pack (this also keeps the down from being damaged). In bear country, it’s always good to be loud to scare them off, so hooking on clanking pots or tools on the outside of the pack is a good way of making noise, as long as it does not get in the way of your movement. Keeping your-tent on the outside of your pack or right on top (in a waterproof bag) is also a good idea when you want to set it up quickly in the rain. Keep items like sunscreen, jackets, bug spray, toilet paper, and a camera easily accessible in outer pockets of the pack. Cooking fuel should be stored upright and away from your food, in case of an accidental spill. And although it may be easier to hike with the pack’s straps cinched tightly around your waist, after a couple hours you’ll have cramps in your abdomen, so keep them snug but not too tight.

Q I recently took a job that requires me to travel within the United States on a weekly basis. I’m really starting to feel like a professional “Out Traveler,” yet I’m still unsure about tipping hotel bellhops. Is there a general rule? ED GRUNWALD, Tallahassee, Fla.

A Before you leave the house, make sure your wallet is packed with $1 bills–you’ll need them! Throughout the United States the general rule is to tip the bellhop $ 1 per bag and an additional $3 to $5 if he shows you to the room (tip more if you make him lug your collection of Swedish crystal). Whip out those singles again when the doorman hails you a cab, fetches your car, or opens your door (again, $1 is standard). The money exchange should be quick and seamless. It’s nice to fold the bill in half, extend a smile and a handshake, and say “Thank you.” By the way, the word tip, which originated in England, was meant as an acronym for-the phrase “to insure promptness.”

Q I’m going to the Montreal Outgames next summer. A friend told me that a new law requires that I show a passport when traveling to Canada, but isn’t that just for Canadians wishing to travel into the United States?

JANE ROBERTS, Oklahoma City

A The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is moving forward with plans to require Canadians and U.S. citizens to present their passports when reentering the United States, but the plan, which applies to aft incoming: travelers from the western hemisphere, won’t go into effect until December 31, 2006, for travelers arriving by air or sea, and December 31, 2007, for travelers arriving by land. So you won’t need a passport for July’s Outgames, but why not join the approximately 84% of gays and lesbians who have valid passports (as compared to 29% of the general U.S. population)? Standard passports, processed in about six weeks, cost just $97.

For Web links to sites offering hiking advice, tipping customs in foreign countries, and the location of passport offices, visit us at

HAVE A TRAVEL QUERY? E-mail or write to The Out Traveler, 6922 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 1000, Los Angeles, CA 90028

COPYRIGHT 2005 Liberation Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group

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