A good backpack makes all the difference between a successful trip in the backcountry and an experience from hell. Make sure you have an internal frame pack that you’ve spent a length of time in. Wear it on day hikes to break it in and make sure it’s properly adjusted—some soreness is normal but it shouldn’t be pulling on your shoulders or straining your back excessively. Distribute the weight in your pack, light items on the bottom and heavier gear on top.
Pro Tip: Smaller is better. You may be tempted to opt for a high-volume pack, but the more space there is, the more likely you are to end up filling it. Shoot for something from 55L to 80L, bringing the larger pack on longer trips where you may need to carry more supplies.
Now you have a pack, but what do you bring? We encourage a minimalist approach. Here are some essentials, besides a sleeping bag, pad, and 3-season tent, that every backpacker needs.
- Matches/lighter—throw a pack of waterproof matches or a lighter (or both) in a ziplock bag with a handful of dryer lint, cotton balls, or paper shreds. Depending on where you hike, you may not be able to find dry tinder easily, and this will save you in a pinch.
- Headlamp—an artificial light for navigating in the dark is a key piece of hiking and camping equipment. Keep in mind that the strobe setting works as emergency measure.
- Bandana/balaclava—bandanas are easily one of the most versatile camping tools. They weigh nearly nothing and can be used as a sweat band, dish rag, cold weather scarf, emergency sling or tourniquet.
- Knife or multi-tool—whether using it for cooking, hunting, or in a crisis, make sure the blade is sharp before you go. Bonus points if you can find a multi-tool that has eating utensils as well.
- Iodine tablets/ Water Filtration System—standing water is riddled with bacteria and disease. When filling up at camp make sure to boil water or treat it with iodine. You can also carry a filtration system, which allows you to treat a small amount of water collected from a puddle or divot in the rock.
- Spare layers—gloves, hat, wind protection, or a spare pair of socks can all save you comfort and illness when the weather gets nasty or the night is colder, or wetter, than anticipated.
- Tarp or space blanket—for warmth or pitched as an emergency shelter, this is a light and small item that you’ll miss if you ever need it.
- Mini-first aid kit—keep a kit with a few anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine pills on hand, bandages and moleskin, a small roll of gauze, antibiotic gel and antiseptic strips. Consider adding plastic gloves, tweezers or sterile scissors, and indigestion meds.
- Bear Spray—if there is a known bear population, especially during the spring when bears are coming out of hibernation and hungry, carry and know how to use a canister of this mega-strength pepper spray. We recommend UDAP.
- Isobutene stove—on trips of any length, having a stove opens up camp meal options and lets you boil water. Having a warm meal, followed by tea or coffee, makes the outdoor experience more enjoyable.
- Emergency food reserve—always pack an emergency meal that needs no preparation and can stay preserved over time. A bag of almonds and power bar are good options.
- Toilet Paper—dig a hole and bury at least 6 inches down, pack out or burn what you use. Enough said.
Camping extras such as duct tape, carabiners, rope, and sun protection or insect repellent can be convenient, but remember—they add weight!
What to Eat:
A go-to for many backpackers are freeze-dried, dehydrated, military-style meals where you “just add water.” These can be great for cutting weight, but often leave something to be desired after a day of trekking across a ridgeline. For ideal food prep, you should think about how much it weighs, how you’ll prepare it, how long it will stay good, and how nutritious it will be.
Breakfast: Oatmeal with dried fruit and a handful of trail mix. Easy and quick, oatmeal keeps you full while the fruit has natural sugar to energize you long into the morning. Instant coffee will give you a caffeine boost and can be a nice perk in the cold AM.
Lunch: Mixed nuts and jerky for protein, and an energy bar. These items require no prep so you won’t have to unpack or dig through your bag. Make sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
Snack: A powdered protein drink or “meal” beverage can be a nice lift on a dragging afternoon, a handful of crackers with peanut butter or some slices of a hard cheese will be high in fat and calories to get you through your final few miles.
Dinner: Instant couscous, potatoes, or noodles with tuna are high in carbs and cook quickly for nights when you’re exhausted.
Pro Tip: Pack small pouches with spices that suit your meals—good options are salt, pepper, garlic powder, lemon pepper, cinnamon, or red pepper flakes.
Remember, you’re burning more calories than you would on a normal day, so you should increase your consumption to make sure you have enough energy and ensure the trip remains safe and enjoyable.