My first backpacking trip was a fiasco. Because I was inexperienced and took some rather questionable advice, I found myself in a wilderness area on a rainy weekend, with a leaky tent, wet jeans, and a sopping down sleeping bag. That experience instilled in me two passions: testing gear before a trip and bringing the right clothing. Many years and trips later, I’ve dialed in the perfect combo for a happy (and dry) adventure, it all comes down to choosing the right fabrics and the right layers.


  • Cotton: Repeat after me – cotton kills. While cotton is breathable and comfortable for casual activities, it has no place in your backpacking kit. Its propensity for holding moisture makes it heavy, sucks heat away from you, and causes chafing. Just don’t go there, especially with socks.
  • Wool: This isn’t the itchy wool sweater of your childhood. Ultra fine merino wool is soft, lightweight, and provides superior odor resistance – perfect for a few days on the trail. It also wicks moisture and dries quickly. Merino is my go-to for socks and base layer, but it does tend to be more expensive than synthetic options.
  • Bamboo: It’s not just for pandas anymore! Rayon made from bamboo is one of my favorite fibers. It offers great moisture and odor control, and I think it’s one of the most breathable fabrics out there. It’s not as widely available as synthetic or merino options, but SC-based Free Fly Apparel makes awesome tees, tanks, outerwear, shorts, and even undies from this wonder fiber.
  • Synthetic: Synthetic fabrics include outdoor staples like polyester and nylon. These fabrics tend to be durable, inexpensive, and handle moisture well. They are also typically the lightest weight options. However, they tend to be less breathable and take on odor more quickly than their natural fiber counterparts. I find quality makes a huge difference in comfort here, so it’s worth opting for better brands like Patagonia, Prana, and Arc’teryx. I typically opt for synthetics for pants and outerwear.

Base Layers

Since these pieces sit next to your skin, they are some of the most important apparel choices that you’ll make. Opt for comfortable moisture wicking fabrics.

  • Underwear: Cut and fabric are largely personal preference, it’s a good idea to purchase a couple pairs and try them out during active pursuits to get a feel for what’s comfortable for you. Merino wool, bamboo, and synthetic are all great options. Depending on the length of your trip, bring 2-3 pairs to give you time to wash and dry them. Most options from outdoor brands feature anti-microbial treatments so you can go longer between washings.
  • Bras: Simple designs are best, clasps and other hardware can cause chafing or dig in to your skin. Sports bras are great option, but since you’ll be wearing it all day, try to steer clear of “major masher” bras. If you’re comfortable with light support, camisoles are another great option.
  • Base Layer Tops/Bottoms: A must have for cold weather backpacking, these can be worn under other layers and make great options for cozy sleepwear. Merino and synthetic options are available in a variety of weights, ranging from light to heavy.

Primary Layers

  • Tees/Tanks: The perfect lightweight basic. A moisture wicking fabric is key. Consider bringing an extra tee to keep clean for sleep. Pay attention to the neckline, a wide or scoop neck may not provide protection from your shoulder straps and may cause chafing.
  • Woven Shirts: A lightweight collared shirt with long sleeves is worth bringing to provide breezy protection from bugs and the sun. Look for options that offer UPF 50+ for sun protection. If bugs are a concern, consider shirts that are treated with permethrin for bug repellency.
  • Pants/Shorts: When deciding between pants and shorts think about weather and what kind of trails you’ll be traipsing on. On hot days, shorts can be a welcome break, but if you’re going to be braving dense or brambly trails, pants will offer more coverage. Many hiking pants offer the best of both worlds with length adjustments such as zip-offs (handy, but can be fussy in practice), roll up snaps (my personal favorite), or cinches. Waistband design is another important consideration. Since you’ll be wearing a hip belt, pants with a lot of hardware can cause chafing. Make sure you try your pack on with your pants and look for any potential hot spots. Stick to a nylon blend if possible. While yoga pants or tights can be tempting, they do not offer much in the way of protection from bugs and are susceptible to abrasion.

Outer Layers

Regardless of season, you will likely want at least one insulating piece or shell in your backpacking kit, most of the time two.

  • Fleece or Merino Tops: These are perfect for hiking in on colder days. On warmer days, it’s still lovely to have a cozy layer to slip into at basecamp. Look for sleek pieces without a lot of hardware or pockets for easy layering.
  • Insulated Jackets or Vests: A synthetic or down insulated jacket or vest is a great way to be prepared for sudden cold snaps. Look for one that compresses easily and features a moisture resistant face fabric. As a bonus, toss it in a compression sack for a cozy pillow.
  • Rain Gear: In WNC, rain gear is a must have. A high quality waterproof/breathable jacket with pit zips will keep you dry and sweat free, and makes a great lightweight wind blocking layer on drier days. For rain pants, look for generous side zips and an adjustable waist for easy on and off.


  • Socks: Quite possibly the most important apparel item in your kit. Wool blends are the way to go for moisture (ie. blister) and odor control. Try your socks out well in advance of your trip and experiment with different heights and cushion levels til you find one that works well for you. Make sure to bring a clean pair for sleep and give your socks plenty of time to air out.
  • Hats: A must-have for warmth and sun protection. A wide brimmed hat or billed cap is great for keeping the sun off of you while hiking. Consider bringing a simple wool or synthetic beanie for chillier weather or warmth while sleeping. Buffs are another great option, they don’t take up much room and can serve as neck gaiters, headbands, or be converted to a beanie. I always keep a couple in my pack.
  • Sleepwear: Regardless of the season, a couple days on the trail are sure to impact your odor. It’s a good idea to bring a light base layer or other clothing reserved just for sleeping. Trust me, your tent mate will thank you.


If you’re an avid hiker or car camper, but crave an immersive experience with mother nature, backpacking may be your perfect solution. Not sure where to start? In this series, we’ll explore everything you need for a successful backpacking experience.

Grab a Buddy

It’s always safest to hit the backcountry with a partner. If you have friends who are experienced backpackers, ask them to join you on a short trip – most backpackers are eager to share their experience with newbies.

If you can’t find someone with backpacking experience, grab an adventurous friend who’s willing to give it a try and head down to Frugal Backpacker. Our experienced staff members are always happy to share their expert advice, we also regularly host free outdoor skills clinics.

Pick a Route

Main factors to consider are length of trip, distance/difficulty, and time of year/weather. For first timers, it’s a good idea to dip your toe in with a 1-2 night trip. When planning your daily distance, keep it comfortable. 3-5 miles is a good distance if you plan to hike half the day, plan on 5-8 miles if you’d like to hike all day. Plan on less distance if your route involves a large elevation gain, you or your companion are not used to hiking long distances, or if it’s winter (setting up camp in the dark is no fun).

Once you know what kind of route your looking for, get to work! Asheville Trails, RootsRated,, and All Trails are great web resources. Frugal Backpacker also sells several local guides with detailed information on awesome routes.

To get you started, here are a couple of our favorite beginner routes:

Max Patch Loop via Appalachian Trail EASY 2.8 mile loop

Loop over and around Max Patch, a high-elevation bald that provides a grassy perch for observing the Black Mountain Range’s 6,000-foot behemoths (extend the trip to Roaring Fork for a 7.6-mile day).

Carver’s Gap Trail MODERATE 13.6 mile point to point

Also Along the AT, hike from shelter to shelter or camp in designated areas, beautiful balds and views. Carver’s Gap is also a great winter hike. More advanced terrain than Max Patch.

Be Prepared

It may not be the most fun part of trip planning, but preparation is important and lifesaving. Follow these four steps to make sure your trip is memorable for the right reasons.

  1. Regardless of the resources you use to select your route, purchase a paper map and carry it with you. Technology does fail; map and compass skills are essential to backcountry safety.
  2. Although natural disasters are rare in WNC, as last year’s wildfires demonstrate, they do happen. Take the time to study your map ahead of time and plan out alternate “escape routes” for worst case scenarios.
  3. Don’t forget to research restrictions and permit requirements before hitting the trail. The National Parks Service or North Carolina Forest Service should be able to provide you with the info you need.
  4. Familiarize yourself with our Outdoor Safety Basics.


An iconic rock formation in the northern section of Pisgah National Forest, Table Rock is a surprisingly moderate hike and great fun to explore. You will enjoy spectacular views of Linville Gorge and the surrounding peaks.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 2 miles

Map: NatGeo 779; Linville Gorge/Mount Mitchell

Location: From Asheville take 1-40E to Marion and then follow US-221 north to the Linville Falls area. Follow US-183 to US-181 and take 181 for 2 miles to the second intersection with Gingercake Rd. and follow signs for Table Rock on 1264. Continue for 3 miles until you pass the Hawksbill parking area. 5 miles past Hawksbill parking you will find the Table Rock trailhead. Open April-December.


When you live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet with fantastic access to the outdoors, top restaurants, and every type of art there is, for something romantic that’s different from your weekly routine is easy: take a hike!

Melina Coogan

A winter hike offers many rewards for you and your favorite explorer. You’ll appreciate the refreshing temperatures as you climb a mountainside. Many times, you’ll have the trail all to yourself since there are fewer fellow hikers. The best views of the year are on display thanks to leafless trees and deep blue skies. While the higher peaks see snow, valleys have mild winter days perfect to get outdoors. Plus, no bugs mean you’re free to hold hands or snuggle.

Here are five great winter hikes that are close to home:

Lover’s Leap

While most of the Appalachian Trail is too remote for winter hikes, you can easily take a “walk in the woods” in this section in Hot Springs. The trail runs along Main Street, so just park and start your hike there. Cross the French Broad River and climb the ridge up to several outcrops for views across the valley and river. On the way back on the 1.5-mile round trip hike, stop for a soak in the hot mineral springs or enjoy one of the restaurants in this charming mountain town.

Deep Creek Waterfalls

One of the busiest camping and tubing areas of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the summer, Deep Creek is a lower elevation trail that receives little snow. To see three frozen waterfalls, you have the option of 2.4-mile or 5-mile roundtrip hiking routes. Plenty of seating means you can take your time on this hike that’s just three miles from downtown Bryson City.

Rattlesnake Lodge

While the name may cause hesitation, this 3-mile roundtrip hike is a local favorite on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Hike the former carriage road up the ridge to the ruins of an early 1900s summer retreat. February is the perfect time to visit since you can more easily find the stone foundations of many buildings.

Bearwallow Mountain

Just 19 miles from Asheville is a short hike that rewards with 360-degree views from a treeless summit on the western rim of the Hickory Nut Gorge. Cattle often graze on top, but they will gladly share the meadow with you for a picnic by the historic lookout tower. Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy recently protected the mountain and built the 1-mile trail for all to enjoy. The uphill climb will quickly warm you up!

Mountains-to-Sea Trail at the Folk Art Center

You don’t even have to leave the city of this one! Hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway and follow the signs to the Visitor Center or the Folk Art Center (the trail starts at one and ends at the other). If you want a walk of 5.5 miles, then make it an out and back. If you want a shorter walk, just park a car at each end. This walk is a perfect blend of urban and rural coexistence with lots of features: two tunnels, a bridge over the Swannanoa River, steps, an overpass over US 70, walk under a BRP viaduct, an open field with a picturesque barn, and maybe cows.


Featured image provided by Melina Coogan

From the parking area for Black Balsam hop on to the Art Loeb Trail and begin your climb to Black Balsam Knob. 400 feet of elevation gain comes quickly and relaxes into a mostly flat hike as you emerge on the bald. Follow the trail north across the picturesque ridgeline until it intersects with the Ivestor Gap trail that with a left turn will take you back to the parking area.

Difficulty: Moderate (Bear Canister Required for Camping) Distance: 0.5-5.5 miles

Map: Nat Geo 780; Pisgah Ranger District

Location: Take the Blue Ridge Parkway south past Mount Pisgah and Graveyard Fields. Past milepost 420 look for the road to Black Balsam. It’s about 0.8 miles on this (semi) paved road to the first parking area and another half mile to the parking area at the end of the road. (the Sam’s Knob and Ivestor Gap trailhead).


The trail to Hawksbill is 1.5 mile out and back to one of the dominant peaks overlooking the beautiful Linville Gorge. At the summit, you will sit 2000 feet above the valley floor and its winding Linville River. On low haze days you can even spy Charlotte, North Carolina’s skyline. If you have the time and energy afterward you can drive a couple miles down the road and explore Table Rock!

Difficulty: Moderate/Rugged

Distance: 1.5 miles

Map: NatGeo 779; Linville Gorge/Mount Mitchell

Location: From Asheville take 1-40E to Marion and then follow US-221 north to the Linville Falls area. Follow US-183 to US-181 and take 181 for 2 miles to the second intersection with Gingercake Rd. and follow signs for Table Rock on 1264. In 3 miles you will see the parking area for Hawksbill Mountain.



All you need to do to reach one of the better views in WNC is go on this short hike that climbs to a USFS lookout tower offering 360° views of Pisgah National Forest. From the parking area follow the old gravel roadbed up towards the summit and get your camera ready. Make sure to plan a sunrise or sunset hike to the unforgettable peak.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.6 miles

Map: NatGeo 780; Pisgah Ranger District

Location: Park at the entrance to the Forest Service Road 450, at Milepost 409.6 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The road gate is always closed (do not block it). Walk around the gate and begin your hike. This section of the Parkway is rarely open during the winter.


A brisk trek with friends is one of our favorite activities during the season of staying inside. When a sunny day shines down between bouts of frosty mornings and blustery afternoons, it’s a great time to explore new trails that are harder to access during the warmer months. It’s the perfect prescription to warm you up on those chilly, gloomy days!

As a kid, winter is the season of finding the best spot for sledding, snowball throwing, and snow fort building quicker than anyone else. As an adult, it can be making fresh tracks in the snow or avoiding mud puddles as you check out a view usually obscured by leaves during the spring and summer. There are also few sights that compare to a frozen mountain waterfall and one of the coolest sights to be seen in WNC: needle ice.

There are plenty of rewards to a winter hike including refreshing temperatures, fewer fellow hikers, and endless views of deep blue skies. While higher elevations typically see snow, the valleys around Asheville are usually clear and great on mild days. The North Carolina Arboretum is a great place to explore during these months as sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway are often inaccessible since it’s never treated or plowed.

As with any season, it’s best to be prepared when heading out for a hike of any length. Trail-tested essentials to keep in your daypack year round are water bottles, trekking poles, snacks, first aid kit, and whistle. A headlamp and a rain jacket are also imperative if you like to enjoy too-beautiful-to-miss sunsets or make a wrong turn. This is one season you can leave the insect repellant at home.

With heavier used trails, winter hiking can present packed snow turned slick or slushy mud. Consult with a footwear expert at Frugal Backpacker to choose footwear based on expected trail conditions. Winter hikers usually have better grip and sturdy ankle support. A good pair of hiking boots – no matter the season – provide great piece of mind.

Even though the days seem shorter, there’s still plenty of time to enjoy an afternoon or weekend hike and come back home for a warm bowl of chili or cup of tea. Layer up and get outdoors!


Even after 54 years, the spirit of the mountains we call home continues to amaze. We issued a challenge to collect 300 coats during our annual Bundle Up for Good coat drive for Eblen Charities. You helped us blow past that goal by donating 503 quality coats for those in our community who need them most, just as the lowest temperatures of winter hit.

During November and December, we joined with Diamond Brand Outdoors and our customers to collect coats, hats, and gloves for the third year in row. Thanks for showing us the great things that can happen when we all join forces to strengthen our community!

We’re local and we like to support local groups doing awesome things to make our little corner of the world a better place. Call it civic pride or mountain spirit, but we think it’s the right thing to do. When you choose an independent, small business like ours, you not only enjoy a more personal experience, you’re helping build community, strengthen our local economy, create jobs, and shape Western North Carolina’s character. In 2017, we were able to support more than 60 organizations with over $70,000 in cash and in-kind donations.

If you didn’t get a chance to drop off any items, you can support Eblen Charities with a donation or as a volunteer.

Eblen Charities is a non-profit organization whose outreach extends throughout the counties of Western North Carolina and through its numerous programs has helped thousands upon thousand of families each year with medical and emergency assistance through more than 70 programs yearly throughout the region.