So now that you know how to pick out a pack that fits right (and maybe you even have one!) and a strategy to pack it most efficiently so it sits comfortably on you, let’s talk about what you need to put in it! For the scope of this Backpacking 101 series, we are going to consider what to pack for a 1 to 2 night backpacking trip. To extend this list for longer trips, the only thing that would really change is the amount of food you bring. This is a baseline equipment list; you obviously can get fancier or more technical gear, but this is the minimum you need to get started. I priced it out online at MEC, and barring that you already have hiking boots and some workout/hiking clothes, you can get fully set up for about ~$1000. Remember, you always have the option of renting equipment too.
I like to organize my packing into a couple categories:
- Kitchen & Food
- Shelter & Equipment
- Clothes & Toiletries
Each category I try to fit in a compression or dry sac the best I can. This helps me find things easily, store things in bear bins and just generally helps me feel like my pack just didn’t explode over the whole camp. Compression sacs also help conserve space in your pack.
When it comes to stoves, there are lots of options these days. If you’re just starting out I recommend just using the pocket rocket style. It is the easiest to use, one of the cheaper options ($20-$40) and works fantastic. Your bowl and cup does not have to be backcountry specific. When I first started out at summer camp I would use a big plastic measuring cup and a normal metal fork. On West Coast Trail I used a single plastic food court fork! Although it did the job, I would recommend something a little more durable. There is something to be said about having a matching cutlery set that fits almost too perfectly together.
I’ve included some ideas in the list above for what you could bring for meals and snacks. Everyone consumes different amounts of food and only you can be the judge of how much you need to bring. It’s always best over pack food than to under pack food in my opinion (this is coming from someone who gets pretty hangry when hungry). If you feel that because you are backpacking, you have to buy those prepackaged dehydrated meals, think again! The grocery store offers a lot of dehydrated meal options including powdered pasta sauce, dehydrated veggies, dehydrated real bacon bits, risotto, lentils, pancake mix and the list continues. You might need to get a little creative, but it will be cheaper and tastier in the long run. For more meal ideas, see my West Coast Trail post, it has my 7 day meal plan I followed while out on the trail.
Tent, sleeping pad and sleeping bag all add to your quality of sleep which can greatly effect your trip enjoyment level. Some simple tips: make sure your tent is waterproof, especially if you are renting, use a thicker sleeping pad if you’re a side sleeper, sleeping pads with insulation will help keep you warm at night and use a sleeping bag rated to at least -7 degrees C or colder.
If you’ve read my West Coast Trail post, then you know how I’m an advocate for packing a hiking outfit and a camp outfit and that’s pretty much it for clothing. Your hiking outfit should prepare you for wet and dry weather, while your camp outfit’s main priority is warmth and comfort. It’s important to keep your hiking base layer separate from your in camp clothes because your hiking clothes will become saturated with sweat which will chill you when stopped. This is especially relevant with shirts and socks, so always have a “dry” shirt and pair of socks to change into once you reach camp. You don’t need to buy hiking specific clothing. Any sports wear or quick dry material will work perfectly. If you don’t remember anything, just remember this one tip, avoid cotton. If you’re worried about smelling, merino wool does an excellent job at keeping the stinks at bay, but being smelly is just part of backpacking.
When it comes to toiletries, I stick to the basics. Travel size tooth paste, toothbrush, my Backcountry Beauty Bag and a travel hair brush. The Backcountry Beauty Bag ($20 online) is ideal because it includes face wash, moisturizer with zinc oxide and a beeswax lip balm all packaged in small, lightweight containers. They are made from all natural ingredients and therefore will biodegrade easier than other petro-chemical based solutions. We’ve put a lot of consideration into which ingredients we used to maximize the benefit to your skin; gentle yet cleansing, moisturizing but not oily, and protects from the elements. My favorite is the moisturizer because I find the tea-tree oil helps prevent breakouts, especially after using sunscreens and bug sprays.
Finally, of course everyone deserves to bring a luxury item or two. If you’re ok carrying it then who else cares! For me, I always need to bring a game whether it be Bananagrams or a deck of cards. For longer trips or when I know there is going to be lots of lounging time, I will pack a book or my e-reader. I recently got a lot of flack for bringing my iPad, but I spent hours enjoying multiple books, so no shame!
Hopefully this list gives you a good idea of where you stand in what gear you still need to buy or rent. When broken up into the main categories, it doesn’t seem too complicated and easier to organize. It will take some time and a couple trips to figure out what works for you, but everyone has to start somewhere and this should be a good place to start.