Erik Soltan teaches backpacking basics at Troutdale Library

by: PHOTO COURTESY OF: GET OUT BACKPACKING - A mountain goat spotted in Alpine Lakes Wilderness.Erik Soltan embarked on his first backpacking trip to Mount Hood in the summer of 1999.

by: PHOTO COURTESY OF: GET OUT BACKPACKING - Erik Soltan, wilderness expert and outdoor educator, near Mount Jefferson.The 6-foot-5 New Jersey native was wearing borrowed gear, and his sleeping bag was too small.

The first morning, he awoke to an elk snorting in his ear and his friend chasing it down the trail. Despite all that, Soltan said the two-night trip on the mountain was “a really enjoyable and fun experience,” and he was hooked on backpacking.

Now in his 15th year of hiking Northwest trails, the wilderness expert has founded his own outdoor education start-up, Get Out Backpacking.

For those who want to get into backpacking but lack the basics, Soltan will teach a free introduction class from 3-4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, at the Troutdale Library.

The hour-long class will cover all the basic gear you need for a backpacking trip, he said.

Sleeping bags, tents and stoves. The difference between down and a synthetic-filled sleeping bag.

He’ll also tell you the best trails for beginners within an hour’s drive from Portland, and answer questions you may have.

Soltan holds a certificate in outdoor education from Mt. Hood Community College and a degree from the Wilderness Education Association for leadership, and has training in first aid as a Wilderness First Responder.

Roll your ankle in Oregon backcountry and feel better after you’ve learned a thing or two from this guy.

Soltan grew up outside of Princeton, N.J., and spent most of his days skateboarding on concrete in major East Coast cities. He moved to Portland in 1998, looking for a change of pace and less noise.

After his introduction to the Northwest outdoors, Soltan began taking classes at Mt. Hood Community College and teaching subjects ranging from wilderness first aid to winter camping and rock climbing.

A year later, Soltan decided backpacking was his true calling, so he decided to pursue a career in it, first in guiding and now teaching and running Get Out Backpacking.

Soltan said Get Out Backpacking is centered around enjoyment, simplicity and traveling light and fast in the outdoors.

“I’ve found that packing too much heavy stuff weighs you down mentally and physically, and decreases fun, so I’m on a mission to introduce people to lightweight gear to help them get more out of their trips.”

His free “Backpacking Basics” classes are offered through the Multnomah County Library. A schedule of his classes is available on his website at

Soltan also teaches a $10 to $12 class, “Introduction to Lightweight Backpacking,” at locations throughout Portland and to anyone interested.

The purpose of his teachings are to fill out the skills people already have and make them feel more comfortable in a remote wilderness setting.

by: PHOTO COURTESY OF: GET OUT BACKPACKING - A view of Mount Hood from Elk Meadows Trail.“It is fairly easy to start backpacking here in the Pacific Northwest because we have to many resources to get entry-level gear,” Soltan said.

From outdoor stores such as Next Adventure in Portland or Mountain Shop to Ebay, Craiglist or Backpacking Light’s Gear Swap, it’s possible to get good quality gear on the cheap, Soltan said.

“And with so many amazing hikes and the variety of wild areas in Oregon, it is easy to find an environment to suit everyone’s interests and abilities,” he said.

Soltan has trekked all nine major peaks in the Cascades and last summer solo hiked the John Muir Trail in the Sierras.

Some of his favorite local trails are the Larch Mountain or Herman Creek trails in the Gorge. “They take you out into the backcountry, but are easy to reach by car,” he said.

He’s also a fan of close-in Mount Hood favorites such as the Timberline and Zigzag Mountain trails, “because of the amazing views, nice camps, sports and variety of scenery. In all honesty, I love them all.”

Soltan said in a year of average snowpack, folks can get out and backpack on the lower elevation trails in the Northwest by mid-June.

A month later, the snow is usually melted enough that you can reach high country, he said.

“However, this depends a lot on how cold the spring is, the amount of snowpack and the direction of the slope sides on a given backpacking route,” he said.

As long as you use common sense, be aware of your surroundings and stay within your personal comfort level, Soltan said, “Backpacking is really rewarding.”

“The more you go out and explore, the more you’ll learn about yourself and the incredible natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest.”

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