Backpacking in the White Mountains with Andrew Skurka

Andrew Skurka teaches compass navigation and map reading basics
Andrew Skurka teaches compass navigation and map reading basics

If you want to learn how to backpack but want to pick up the skills required quickly without spending a few years doing it, taking a Backpacking Fundamentals Class with Andrew Skurka is the way to go. This is a hands-on course that Andrew teaches in multiple locations each year across the United States. I don’t know of any other training course that comes close to offering the same in-depth field experience and personalized instruction.

We had ten students in last weekend’s class held in the White Mountains, with eight men and two women, ranging in age from their early thirties to their late fifties. Several had limited or no previous backpacking experience, but were physically active enough to enjoy themselves during the two nights\three days of the trip, and the 10 miles of trail and off trail hiking we did.

The remote and wild Three Ponds region of the White Mountains
The remote and wild Three Ponds region of the White Mountains

The past two years, we’ve held the Fundamentals Class in The Three Ponds area southeast of Mount Moosilauke, which provides excellent low elevation hiking across varied terrain, and open woods for practicing compass and off-trail navigations skills and techniques. In addition, students learn campsite selection skills, how to purify backcountry water, cook meals with a homemade alcohol stove, foot-care, first-aid fundamentals, backcountry hygiene. trekking pole technique, basic knots for pitching shelters, campfire construction and food protection techniques, leave no trace fundamentals, and more.

Mikes practices knots on his Warbonnet Hammock
Mike practices knots on his Warbonnet Hammock

Andrew loans out demo gear to students including tents, tarps, bivy sacks, hammocks, quilts, and backpacks so that students can try out gear manufactured by smaller ultralight cottage companies and see whether they like it in the context of a trip, including expert instruction on how to use it. Students also receive deep discounts if they decide to purchase an item from a manufacturer, which can help offset the course fee.

Lorrie became a Solomid expert
Lori became a Solomid expert

The highpoint of these trips is when we teach students compass and off-trail navigation skills and practice them by hiking from one landscape feature to another without the benefit of being able to see them through the thick forest canopy. Learning how to walk off-trail and use a compass is many students’ favorite part of the class because it provides them with so much self-reliance and confidence. It’s such a great kick to be able to follow a bearing through dense vegetation and end up exactly where you want to, a mile or two away!

Practicing compass navigation and off-trail travel
Practicing compass navigation and off-trail travel

It’s very satisfying for Andrew and I to see the groups in these Backpacking Fundamentals courses gel together as a team over the three-day period that we spend with them and it is one of the unexpected benefits of participating in instruction of this type. We have a lot of fun on these trips and it’s a great way to meet like-minded spirits that you can continue to backpack with after the class is over.

For more information about Andrew Skurka’s Backpacking Fundamentals Class in the White Mountains or any of his more advanced guided trips in Alaska or other parts of the United States, visit Andrew’s web site.

Disclosure: Philip Werner is an assistant guide for Andrew Skurka Adventures. 


  1. “Learning how to walk off-trail and use a compass is many students’ favorite part of the class because it provides them with so much self-reliance and confidence.”

    So true! Also: I’m on! I’m famous! =)

    The trip was totally awesome. Highly recommended and highly repeatable. You guys rock.

    • Mike – We had a blast with you and the group this weekend. I can’t wait to hear how your Long Trail hike goes this summer. Please stay in touch.

      • 2015 for the LT. This summer is for pre-hike learning experiences – spending time focused on learning skills rather than just wandering out onto trails without a clear idea of what I’m doing. I’ll keep you posted, though, you bet.

  2. I have been looking at Skurka’s Utah trip for next year. It looks like it would be a really cool trip.

    • He was telling me about it this weekend. A very fragile ecosystem. Sounds really interesting. I am very tempted to go out west on his trips myself as a good way to come up to speed on a new set of best practices for drier climates. There’s so much to learn. :-)

  3. I was supposed to be on this trip, but scheduling difficulties made me switch to the Allegheny’s the week before. Great time with Andrew and I picked up new information, even though i’ve been hiking for years. I’m thinking of a Utah trip or High Sierra’s trip in 2015.

  4. David Danylewich

    I also was on the course and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a very rich learning experience and both Andrew and Philip were consummate professionals. The highlight is absolutely the off-trail navigation using the map and compass skills they taught. But a lot of other things were taught as well – alcohol fuel stove techniques, Andrew’s meal menus, campsite selection, shelter pro’s and con’s, food protection from animals, and so on. Most of all just being out in the Whites amongst the trees, lakes and mountains. Five stars!

  5. What a weekend, I had a blast! Learning the backcountry skills Andrew and Philip taught us was invaluable, they are total professionals. Not only did they cover a variety of vital skills necessary for a successful multi day hike but did so with great stories and lots of laughs! An amazing experience overall. Met great people and gained a confidence for solo hiking I’ve never had before. I will definitely be joining another hike with the legend…Andrew Skurka!

  6. Lori Alexander

    5 stars for this fab course and the instructors Andrew and Wing man Philip. I was a complete beginner but now have the beginning skills and confidence to venture out on my own. The knowledge imparted was priceless and it is the stepping stone for further challenging adventure. And Philip, thanks for the butt shot (ugh).

    • Lori – I don’t quite know how to put this, but most of the UL weenies who read sectionhikers are checking out the new Six Moon Designs backpack you’re wearing and not your butt! Yeah, they’re all cracked and don’t know how to appreciate the beauties of the forest. :-)

  7. Incredible weekend. If you are an occasional backpacker or have never backpacked (like me) this is the trip to take. In one weekend you get all of the knowledge and experience that Andrew and Phillip have accumulated over a number of years of trial and error. It really moved me up the backpacking learning curve. The bonus is that you do it while having a lot of fun with a great group of like-minded folks. Thank you Andrew and Phillip.

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