Education

Cuesta College students to learn backpacking skills in new class

Backpacking 101: Mistakes to avoid when heading out on the trail

Brian Locher, Cuesta College's first backpacking instructor, shares his top two backpacking tips, plus some insight into common mistakes people make on the trail.
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Brian Locher, Cuesta College's first backpacking instructor, shares his top two backpacking tips, plus some insight into common mistakes people make on the trail.

A new class at Cuesta College this summer aims to teach students how to camp in the wilds of California with just their backpacks and a few essential supplies.

Instructor Brian Locher is teaching KINA 236 — Backpacking this summer. Students will learn to identify the principles, techniques and methods for safe and responsible backpack camping.

“I feel like in today’s environment, students have lost their grasp on being able to be self starters, and the initiative to do things on their own,” he said. “I think that this journey is a huge part of an ‘I can do it’ mentality. It’s having someone help guide you through the journey to teach you how to do an essential skill that is part of our natural environment.”

During the course, students will not only learn the essentials of backpack camping — what to pack and what not to pack, hiking fitness and trail etiquette — but will also take those lessons out on the trail in a series of day trips to local hiking trails including El Chorro Regional Park, Irish Hills, Bishop Peak and Cerro Alto.

“San Luis Obispo County is an outdoor community,” Locher said. “If you are in the outdoor environment here, you are going to see people mountain biking, rock climbing, going on hiking trips, going for runs — anything outdoors. And I really wanted to build something here at Cuesta that has that learn-by-doing mentality, where you’re not just participating in the intellectual side of the course, but you’re actually going into an outdoor environment.”

I think that this journey is a huge part of an ‘I can do it’ mentality.

Brian Locher, Cuesta College backpacking instructor

They will then gradually move up to an overnight trip, followed by a four- to five-night trip to the Sierra Madres, Locher said.

Before they can head out into the wild though, the students will all first take a trip to The Mountain Air store in San Luis Obispo to get fit for backpacks and to buy other equipment such as water filters and stoves.

Almost all of the supplies, except for a sleeping bag, will be paid for through a $3,500 grant from the California Wildlands Grassroots Fund’s National Parks Centennial Grants Program, and will then be used by the college for future sessions of the class.

The grant program is a one-time celebration to honor the 100th birthday of the National Parks Service, according to Cuesta spokeswoman Lauren Milbourne.

She said the college applied for the grant knowing Locher was hoping to start a backpacking course, but that it would be difficult for some community college students to afford all of the gear.

The class is scheduled to begin June 27, and students have up until then to enroll in the class. Locher said he hopes to have a group of about 10 students.

There is one caveat for backpacking hopefuls: Locher said he plans to discourage the students from using their phones on the trips so they can “unplug.”

“I believe an essential part of being in the outdoors and learning about your environment is tuning into nature and what is around you, and listening and having a different sense of who we are and where we are, than we typically have in today’s environment,” he said.

Meaning that Instagram pic bragging about their exploits will have to wait until students go out and use the skills on their own time.

“Yeah, no selfies,” Locher said laughing. “I should probably dedicate the first day to that. First class: no selfies.”

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie

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