Packing the correct items for your trip can make all the difference for a successful journey. These 6 categories of items are essential, so make sure you know what to pack before you hit the trail!
This is one of the most important pieces of equipment you will own for the outdoors. The right pack should be comfortable, fit well, and not be too big. Enabling your self to overpack is an awful idea when hiking long distances. If there is any time when being minimal is key, this is it.
Most importantly, make sure your pack fits well. It is a good idea to get one that is sized professionally at your local sporting goods store. You should try on your pack and have the store attendant add weight so that you can feel what it’s like with 30-50 lbs on your back. Really test it out and walk around the store with a heavy load before purchasing. You can tell one that fits well by whether it allows the weight to be moved off of your shoulders and onto your hips.
Most quality backpacks will run from $150-$300, however price should not be the determining factor. Choose your backpack based on fit and functionality. I would recommend a bag between 40-60L and one that has an easily accessible main compartment. While lots of small pockets can seem great, the often get in the way. Again, think simplicity. A great fitting 50L pack with a 5 pockets (including the main compartment) is more than enough. I personally use the Kelty Redwing 50 and absolutely love it.
You may be used to eating 3 meals a day, but in the world of backpacking it is all about calories. A day of hiking can burn on average 500-600 calories per hour, which means you need to intake fuel consistently while on the trail. Typically you will want to aim at bringing 1.5 – 2.5 lbs of food per person, per day, of calorically dense foods that are lightweight an non-perishable.
REI provides a great breakdown of example foods and some guidelines for packing food HERE.
Put simply, eat what you like, and make sure you pack enough so that you have the energy to recover and get through your day. My pack usually has a ton of beef jerky, dried fruit, and nuts. I like the simplicity of MRE packs and other dehydrated foods, since they are self-contained and provide variety, but they can be pricey (military MRE’s are a bit more reasonable in this regard) and the idea of eating food that has that long of shelf life kind of freaks me out – but hey, when on the trail, you gotta do what you gotta do.
Leave the water bottle at home. A lot of hikers make the mistake of bringing a hydration pack (Camelbak or something similar) as well as a canteen of some kind. While water is the most important thing you can have on the trail, make sure you plan according to your destination and don’t overburden yourself with unneeded weight. If you are going to be hiking in the Mojave Desert, sure, bring as much water as possible since you have no idea when you will find another source (but hiking in these types of conditions is not recommended for anyone but the experts).
For most backpackers, you should be hiking near streams, lakes, or some other water source that you can access at least once a day (hopefully a lot more). In this case I recommend some type of gravity filter that has a clean reservoir bag that can hold 2-3 liters. I personally use the Sawyer Gravity Filter 2L two-bag system. This bag lets you filter on-the-go while the clean water bag also doubles as your drinking reservoir. Just make sure to bring enough to drink 1/2 – 1 cup of water every 30-45 minutes and you should be set.
Remember, limit your weight and gather what you need. Water is heavy, so plan to hike near water sources, bring a filtering device, and you won’t have to worry.
What is the weather going to be? Shelter is important for maintaining your core temperature at night, protecting yourself from the elements, and keeping the creepy-crawlies off. This can be done a number of ways, from bivy sacks, to tarp structures, to tents.
There is no right or wrong way to shelter yourself but, again, plan accordingly. I you will be hiking in fair weather and want to limit your weight, a bivy sack might be the way to go. If you prefer to have a little more room at night and can afford a light-weight tent, this might be a better option. I personally use the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 1 (1-person) tent when I am backpacking – although Big Agnes does have multiple sizes of this tent if you are going with friends. It is lightweight, easy to set-up, but roomy enough for me to feel comfortable at night (bivys are great but they can make me feel like I am in a coffin at times).
I am also a big fan of tarps since they are extremely simple, versatile, and light-weight. However, if critters are going to be a problem, I would steer clear since tarps have no way to keep out bugs, mice, etc. And pairing a tarp with a bivy, unless both are extremely small a light-weight, seems like overkill if you can opt for a simple tent structure instead that does the job of both items in one.
Unless you are planning on hiking naked – sounds kind of fun – you’re going to need clothes. Most people, when first backpacking, tend to severely overpack in this category. As a rule, have two of everything you will wear – and that’s it. That means you wear one pair of underwear and pack another; same goes for socks, shirts, and pants (although the extra pair is really just a precaution and can be left home). Don’t worry about how you smell, how you look, or how dirty your clothes are. You are hiking in the great outdoors and no one cares. You can shower, do laundry, and smell great when you are home. Backpacking is all about saving weight and clothes simply weight too much and take up too much space to have extras.
With that said, make sure you plan accordingly for weather. If it will be cold in the mornings/night, bring a jacket that can be compressed and store away in your pack. Make sure to also bring a hat and kerchief to protect yourself from the and help wipe away sweat while you’re on the trail.
This section is tough since each trip is different and will require individual planning / equipment. In general, I am going to provide a check-list of things that you should have on your trip, but this list is by no means exhaustive (and some items can definitely be eliminated based on preference):
- Combustion (Fire Making) Device
- Container (Bear Canister)
- Kitchen Items (Stove, Pot, Eating Utensil)
- Small Trowel / Toilet Paper
- Sleeping Bag / Mat
- Sanitary Items (Tooth brush, Camp Suds)
- First Aid Kit
- Trekking Poles
There you have it. If you have been considering going on a backpacking trip, make sure you have all of the items above, plan your trip carefully ahead of time, be prepared, and have a blast! Nothing beats simplifying your life to what you can carry for a few days and getting outside. Just remember, start small and build-up to longer trips. The more you backpack, the more you will learn what you personally need to bring and what you don’t. Happy trails!