By David Link
Overnight backpacking trips can be one of the most rewarding outdoor experiences because you truly get away from it all when you’re in the backcountry. Everything you need to make it through the night is strapped to your back, and if you forget something vital, you can’t exactly run back to the truck and grab it. This forces you to rethink the way you camp and plan out your night step by step to make sure it isn’t a miserable one. While everyone has their own approach to backpacking, we’ll cover some basic gear that is a must have in this rewarding style of camping.
It all starts with your backpack, and if you were planning on bringing that day pack, better put it back in the closet. It’s not going to be big enough. Backpacking packs are measured by the total amount of liters it can hold, and you’ll find not all day packs are measured the same way. Generally speaking you should select a pack with 60 liters or more of available space with a lot of compartments for various gear. However, you can get away with a smaller pack for just a one night trip as long as your gear is compact. Don’t forget you’ll also have to be measured for many backpacking packs, although there are also adjustable versions. You’ll want to measure your torso length and select the right frame size for your body type. We’ll cover the ins and outs of pack measurement in a later article. Suffice it to say for now that good backpacking packs are not one size fits all.
Now that you have the right pack for you, we have some bad news. Likely your “car camping” tent is too big and heavy for a backpacking trip. You’ll want a tent that is specifically designed for backpacking. This means it will have ultra-light tent poles and a very compact design. You won’t be pitching a giant six person tent for this trip, and if you’re foolhardy enough to try to lug your normal tent on this backpacking trip, at about mile three on the hike in it’ll feel like your pack weighs a thousand pounds. Backpacking specific sleeping bags and pads can also be of use, but as long as you haven’t invested in a double sleeping bag or pad, you should be alright with your existing bag and pad as long as it is a short trip. Longer backpacking trips will also demand ultra-light bags and pads.
While it’s no doubt wise to carry some water on you as you start the hike in to your backcountry spot, you’ll also want some water filtration options once the water you’ve brought in runs out. Bladder to bladder filtration systems are perfect for backpacking trips, and they pack down into a small package when not in use. Just as important as the water filtration is a container to hold the filtered water. Make sure to bring a large container or method of holding all the filtered water for later on when you need it. As an alternative, products like the LifeStraw allow you to drink water on the fly from any decent local water source. Whatever you do, just make sure you research water options around your hike and make sure they are in close proximity if you’re traveling light in terms of water.
As you can guess, your large double burner camp stove isn’t going to fit on your back unless you’re a Sherpa, and even then it’s still overkill. You’ll want a backpacking specific stove and cookware that is light and packs up tight into your backpack. Companies like Vargo have great backpacking specific options that will keep your pack light but still offer you all the basic options of cooking. In conjunction with these backpacking specific cooking options, you’ll probably want to explore freeze dried meals and food options that are easy to transport without coolers. A word of advice though. If you go with the freeze dried meal, be sure to try it out at home and make sure it is edible and to your satisfaction before relying upon it as that “pick me up meal” after a long hike into the backcountry spot.
While we’ve covered some essentials on how to get into backpacking, there is still a lot more to research until you’re ready to head out into the backcountry. You’ll have to check with local rangers and prepare for dangers like bears depending on where you go. You’ll also need things like quality first aid kits and sharp, reliable knives. Just remember you’re out on your own, and while help can be reached easily on some trips, you can never count on anyone but yourself. However, if you do your research and plan it all out, you’ll be a backpacker for life after this first trip.
Thumb image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.