Courses for learning the basics of backpacking

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Any course you choose should teach the basics of packinglight, planning meals, map and compass skills, and leave-no-tracesanitation tactics. For more tips, read Basic EssentialsBackpacking, by Harry Roberts (The Globe Pequot Press, 1999;$7.95).

National Outdoor LeadershipSchool (from $2,490 for a two-week trip; 800/710-6657) and Outward Bound West(from $1,295 for a seven-day trip; 800/477-2627) both offersupervised beginner courses that include group gear (tents,cookware) and food.

,a href="http://www.sierraclub.org/outings/national">SierraClub Outings (from $445 for seven days; 415/977-5522) hasvolunteer-led trips to the Sierra Nevada and the Wind River Range.Food and cooking equipment (but no personal gear) are provided.

Sierra Wilderness Seminars($450 for a three-day trip; 888/797-6867), the company thatconducts REI Backpacking 101, offers guided treks to the SierraNevada that include group gear, food, and two in-store, pretripclinics.

Other options. College-affiliated outfitters offer beginnerbackpacking trips for the public as well as students. Thoughguides' experience level tends to be lower, trips organized throughcollege groups are typically shorter (three days versus seven) andcost less.

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