Packing for a backpacking trip can be a daunting task. How do you know you have everything you need? And, for an added challenge, how do you fit all of that gear into a single pack? A little bit of planning and careful organization can ensure that your first wilderness experience is a success.
While it’s important to be prepared for a variety of weather conditions and situations, first-time campers often bring too many things, which leads to a heavy pack and tiresome hiking.
Start with what you’ll need for each part of the day. Bring a tent, a sleeping bag stuffed into a compression sack, a sleeping pad, and a headlamp for sleeping. For cooking, make sure you include a stove, fuel, a lighter, a cooking pot, food for each meal, a bowl, and a spoon. Plastic containers with secure lids make great bowls because they can be used to store extra food or to pack snacks for the trail. Don’t worry about buying a fancy plastic spoon at the outfitter – the metal spoon in your silverware drawer will never break, and it doesn’t retain flavor. Pack water (two liters is a good start) and a way to purify water in the backcountry – either a filter or purification drops.
If you’re heading into an area that is known as a home for bears, check the region’s food storage requirements. If it’s grizzly country, carry a can of bear spray.
Choosing the right clothing is often the hardest part of packing, but the goal is simple: bring layers that will keep you both warm and dry in a range of weather conditions. It’s easiest to start with the layers you’ll wear when you get out of your car at the trailhead. Then add in layers for warmth: long underwear top and bottoms, a puffy jacket, and a fleece hat. Next, think about what you’d wear to stay dry in the rain. A rain jacket is usually sufficient because hiking pants often dry quickly, but if you’re headed to an area known for its wet weather, consider packing a good pair of rain pants. Last, add in some duplicate items: 3–5 pairs of socks, an extra pair of underwear, and a pair of lightweight shoes or sandals to wear around camp. Remember that the more you add, the more you’ll have to carry!
The last things to pull together are miscellaneous, yet often essential items, such as a first-aid kit, maps, and a compass (or GPS). If you’re going to a wilderness area, pack a trowel and hand sanitizer for digging catholes. If you’re camping in an area with outhouses, remember to bring extra toilet paper. The weight really starts to add up with extra items – War and Peace probably isn’t the right book to bring on your first backpacking trip.
This Retro WON first appeared August 11, 2017.