The basic supplies needed for your first backcountry outing.
Often the first thing people think of when considering a backpacking trip is “how heavy will the pack be?” That depends on what gear you bring, and how much of it is crap you don’t need. But, there are also some tricks to making your pack lighter – without spending hundreds on lightweight gear.
Where to Shop
I am a loyal REI member and buy nearly all of my gear there. If I don’t like it or something doesn’t work, I can return it without any hassle, which makes a huge difference (don’t abuse this privilege, folks). However, if you already know you like a certain something (type of socks, certain backpacking food, etc.), you may find it cheaper elsewhere. Shop around, but be a bargain shopper or you’ll blow your savings account on gear. This could mean waiting for sales, buying some things online, or borrowing gear from a friend until you have the money to have all of your own gear.
The most important piece is, of course, your pack. Taking the time to try on numerous packs, walking around the store with them on, putting gear inside to see how it feels when full – it pays off. You can also test out the pack on a couple of day hikes before your first backcountry trip. There’s no overarching tip for a pack except make sure it is comfortable and the right size for you. Honestly, you’re going to be sore either way, so no need to make it worse by having a pack that doesn’t fit right (same goes for shoes and anything else on your body).
Shoes & Socks
You want supportive shoes for backpacking. Thick sole with a bit of cushion, sturdy, ankle support, and waterproof if you can afford it.
Shoe fit: 1) Make sure you have toe room. When you’re going downhill, you don’t want your toes to be smushed up against the front of your shoes. You’ll have blisters and hurt feet in no time. 2) Be able to stick your finger down the back when you have them tied up. This ensures you’ll have room for your feet to swell, which they will. 3) Make sure they’re the right width. Too narrow for your feet and you’ll get cramps and blisters along the sides of your feet; too wide and your feet will slide around, also causing blisters and potential cramping.
Socks: 1) Try them on with your boots to make sure you’ve still got adequate room. I prefer thicker socks for backpacking, even when it’s hot out. Thicker socks provide more cushion and keep my feet more comfortable, especially because I use special inserts (which aren’t very cushioned) in my boots.
Dirt: For both your socks and shoes, keep the dirt out. Hiking in clean socks makes a huge difference to whether or not you’ll end up with blisters. Emptying your shoes and socks of any dirt or pine needles that may have snuck in will also make a huge difference, as dirt is a huge culprit in blisters. This can be done on a break or each night at camp.
How to Tie: Where the laces are tight and loose can save your feet from blisters, cramps, and other pains you didn’t know were possible in your feet. This is something you’ll simply have to experiment with, but having the laces tight around your ankles when going downhill will keep your feet back in the boot and help prevent them from sliding forward and squishing your toes. A little looser uphill will prevent your circulation from being cutoff, but too loose will give you blisters on the back of your ankles/feet. Experiment by walking up and down hills as you test them out.
Water: filter & storage
I’ve experimented with various water filters and water bottles. I haven’t found a water filter that I absolutely love, so stay tuned.
For water storage, I typically take a large bladder with a straw for inside my pack, plus two smaller bottles (they’re plastic and malleable, so they fit anywhere and I can even roll them up). Powerade bottles are often the perfect size and are much lighter than other bottles, and I know a lot of backpackers who use plastic bottles like that for their trips.
Camp Kitchen: stove, lighter, fuel, cooking pot
I have a Pinnacle Soloist cook pot + bowl + spork setup, but I often ditch the bowl and eat straight from the pot to keep my pack lighter. I then have a folding stove and spark lighter, and use whatever fuel is cheapest (make sure it’s fuel that can be used with the specific stove you get).
This works for the food I eat while backpacking and the fact that I often go alone or just with one other person. If you often go with 2 or more other people, a dualist or bigger setup will work much better and doesn’t add too much more weight.
Bandaids, blister-care items, ibuprofen, Benadryl, something to remove splinters, and a few other items. I bought the smallest first aid kit at REI, then added some extra items to it and continue to just refill it with what I need.
Bug spray, knife, chapstick, etc., can all be included as “first aid.”
What kind of sleeping bag you get depends upon how easily you get cold and where you’re going. I don’t stay warm easily, so I almost always take my big bag – to me, it’s worth the extra weight. My bag has a temperature rating of 5 F / -15 C. That is not at all necessary for most summer camping, but I tend to go to pretty high elevations that still have snow patches and get close to freezing at night.
Sleeping bags can get expensive, but some of the best (most expensive) ones are also the lightest in weight, which can save room in your pack and lighten the load by a lot.
A sleeping pad is optional, but it often makes most people more comfortable.
I know some people who just put a tarp over themselves and call it a night. I, however, prefer to sleep in my hammock when I can. This setup includes straps, a bug net, and sometimes a rain fly if there’s a chance of rain or heavy morning dew. The rainfly can also keep you warmer, but I’ve got that covered with my sleeping bag. A sleeping pad will also keep you warmer in a hammock, as you’ll have cold air blowing under you. I don’t like using a pad in my hammock.
There is of course also a tent setup. Go for a lighter-weight tent if you can, as tents can get pretty heavy. Ditch the stakes if you don’t need them. The rainfly will keep you warmer but isn’t always needed.
Small but essential items
Some of these items could be ditched, but here are the rest of the little things I take backpacking.
- headlamp (mine is rechargeable, so I just charge before I go)
- towel (I use a lightweight, quick-drying pack-towel)
- plastic bags (for wet items / garbage)
- toilet paper + trowel
- toiletries (soap, toothpaste, toothbrush)
The style, weight, and amount of clothing that is right for me may not be right for you. I may write another post about clothing for backpacking and hiking. For now, here is my list fora weekend of backpacking:
- hiking pants (lightweight, breathable)
- hiking shorts
- long-sleeved hiking shirt
- short-sleeved hiking shirt
- hiking hat
- fleece pants
- fleece sweater
- down jacket
- warm hat + gloves (both rather light in summer time)
- sandals (for camp and for deeper creek crossings)
- socks (two for hiking, one inside sleeping bag)
Another post about food for backpacking will be needed. To give you an idea, here’s my typical list of food for a 2 night backpacking trip where I’m doing a good amount (8+ miles) of hiking each day.
- Breakfasts: oatmeal with fixings (protein powder, nuts/seeds, dried fruit), instant coffee / tea
- Hiking snacks: protein bars (6), dried fruit, veggie chips (baked veggie thingies), ginger chews
- Dinners: two freeze-dried meals
- Potentially some cookies or dessert
That is a pretty good list to get started. There are other small things I sometimes take (like a book), but other gear really depends on the place I’m going. For example, in some places it’d be good to have gaiters to keep sand or dust out of my boots or I might need different clothing. Specifics like that can be addressed by doing more research on the location and by asking experts at REI 🙂