Backpacking Tips: How to Pack for Success Part 2

Part 1

In Part 1 we got you started on your journey to collecting your gear and supplies for your upcoming outdoor
adventure. Here in Part 2 we will finish that list.

As previously stated, remember that this list is meant to be a guide that will get you started. As you get some miles under your boots and gain knowledge that only experience can provide, your list will evolve. You will find those specific items that work for you and fine tune your preferences.

Let this be a warning though, because for some the collection of gear becomes a full time hobby and can easily consume all of your time and wallet without ever stepping foot on any trail!

#5: Food

While carrying your entire (temporary) life on your back while hiking through oftentimes rugged terrain you will burn calories that will need to be replaced. There are a lot of great dehydrated foods on the market now that are easy to prepare and taste pretty good too.

Make Backpacking Meals
Food Dehydrator

I have recently purchased a food dehydrator to make my own backpacking meals so that I know exactly what goes into them and can limit the salt that can be quite high in some off the shelf meals. Having said that I do prefer to take dehydrated meals on the trail for numerous reasons. They keep well, they pack small and light and clean up is minimal.

Take some time to plan out your meals for each day you plan on being on the trail. A typical on the trail menu might look like this:

  • Breakfast: A bowl of oatmeal and cup of coffee
  • Lunch: Tuna in a tortilla and an energy bar
  • Snack: Some Jerky and nuts
  • Dinner: Cajun Red Beans and Rice

A couple tips here; I purchase Tuna in the soft easy open pouches that are much easier to carry and dispose of than cans. You can also purchase other types of fish this way for variety. I use flat bread like pita or tortillas because I hate smooshed bread! And for a good cup of coffee in the morning I use the coffee packaged in tea bags and simply drop a couple into my JetBoil.

If you’re willing to live off of Jerky, nuts, dried fruit, and energy bars then you’ll be able to save a few pounds of weight by not packing a camp kitchen. Another option is to purchase MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) that contain a small chemical heating pack similar to those hand warmers you put in your gloves and boots that do a pretty decent job of heating your meal. MRE’s would be my last option because they weigh a lot and most that I’ve tried are not very appetizing.

#6 : Clothing

Alright yes, this is one of those items that unless you are backpacking with a nudist club is obvious. However keep in mind people’s tolerance to wearing the same clothes while backpacking for multiple days varies. Everyone views clothing requirements differently, but basically you need three layers.

  1. The Base layer: Underclothes that are next to your skin
  2. Insulating Layer: Layers that keep you insulated against heat or cold.
  3. The Shell: This is the outermost layer that keeps wind and precipitation away from your skin.

You need clothes but personal preference usually overrides any advice given; however do try to avoid using cotton clothing. Cotton holds moisture which is bad for temperature regulation. Keep in mind that I 100% agree with most that you need to use a layering system to better help you regulate your bodies core temperature. Multiple insulating layers can be utilized as needed depending on temperature.

Beyond the clothes on your back only pack what you will use. In my pack I typically will pack an extra base layer and an extra insulating layer that I can add to my current outer clothing or rotate for cleaning purposes as the conditions dictate. My water/wind proof shell is usually strapped to the outside of my pack. I am known for hoarding socks, I like to have plenty of extra socks in my pack both for layering purposes and for rotating out wet/ washed socks. Take care of your feet, you will need them in good condition to get you back home!

Footwear: This probably raises more debate than any other subject on wilderness exploration. Opinions range from good sturdy above the ankle to minimalist shoes to barefoot hiking! Beyond what your personal preferences I suggest trying out a few different options depending on the conditions you expect to encounter.

For rugged terrain I suggest good sturdy waterproof over the ankle hiking boots that will provide good traction and extra ankle support to help prevent injuries.  Regarding boots my personal preference is a below the ankle Goretex tactical style boot; however have also been known to hike in my Keen sandals which have taken me many miles through the canyons of Zion, the Mountains of Colorado, the giant forests of California and even the Ancient City of Petra in Jordan! Even if I opt for boots on a particular trip you can usually find my Keens attached to my pack to use during time spent in camp. 

#7 : The Camp Kitchen

The cooking system is another oftentimes debated piece of gear. Really what it boils down to is this: how do you want to eat while you are out in the woods? Do you want to live off of jerky and nuts but want a hot cup of coffee in the morning? In that case, the most basic backpacking stove may suffice. Do you want a 5-course meal to enjoy after a long days hike? If so, you will need to get a system that is a little more elaborate. Most people fall somewhere in the middle of these extremes and simply need something large enough to boil an adequate amount of water to rehydrate their dried meals.

JetBoil
JetBoil

Keep in mind that you will need the proper type of fuel for the system you choose. Again try to use it before you hit the trail so you know how it works in perfect conditions. That way you won’t be fumbling around long after dark and i’ve heard more than one horror story of someone packing the wrong fuel for the awesome lightweight stove they just purchased. This can really take the quality of those home prepared dehydrated meals down a few notches!!

Beyond your stove don’t forget some kind of utensils a bowl and cup or whatever you think that you can get by with for the days you will be on the trail.

#8 : Small Gadgets

Who doesn’t love gadgets? They are designed to be cool and functional. One could argue that the following few items count as additional individual items, but due to their size and importance, I took the liberty to add them as a single item on our list of must-pack items before backpacking.

  • A knife. An absolutely essential item. The type and size is 100% personal preference. I like a good multi-tool that has multiple blade options and small pliers that can prove useful I many situations.
  • A fire starter of some kind. Usually, a good quality lighter or waterproof matches will suffice. No need to get uber-survival man here. Just functional but to take more than one firestarter.
  • A compass. My advice here it to take a basic orienteering class in order to learn how to use it with your map.
    Solar Charger
    Solar Charger

    However just having a compass and a general idea of what direction you are heading will suffice for most situations. However, more knowledge will be appreciated if you find yourself in a situation other than “most”.

  • GPS units these days are small, easy to use and have all kinds of cool features. A decent full functioning GPS can be found for less than a couple hundred dollars and could make navigating much easier. However do not rely completely on your GPS alone. They can break, batteries can die and signal can be lost.
  • A light source.
  • Solar charger? DO you have small electronics you need to keep charged? If so a small portable solar charger can prove incredibly valuable to keep your tunes going on the trail.

#9: Often Overlooked Necessities

So you have gone through and gathered all kinds of equipment, supplies and gadgets but do you ever get that feeling that you might be forgetting something? Review the following short list and decide if anything here deserves to find the way into your pack:

  • Toilet paper: Consider purchasing unscented biodegradable paper that more easily breaks down.
  • A small trowel to bury your toilet paper along with other … “things”.
  • Personal Hygiene items: Soap, toothpaste/brush.etc
  • Trash bags
  • Cord
  • ZipLock bags: I consider large gallon sized bags a necessity. They can be used to seal old food packaging to help reduce smell; plus if you have them you will find other uses for them. You may end up surprising yourself how handy a good Ziplock can prove to be.

#10 : Basic First Aid Kit

I believe that every backpack should have a small first aid kit in it. Nothing extravagant but some antibiotic ointment, a few pain relievers, some gauze, bandages, tweezers and a few other basic first aid items could mean the difference between pushing on and calling off a trip early due to a minor injury.

That is it!

Of course this list is not meant to be 100% complete and much of it is based on my personal preference based on my experience. Take from it what you can and use it as a starting point.

 

My advice to new backpackers is try not to worry about going as “ultra-light” as possible, yet. Find some “luxury” items that you can enjoy on your downtime. Just don’t pack so much that you can barely lift your pack, let alone make it to your first camp. You won’t get it right the first time and maybe not even the 50th but for a lot of us that is part of the fun, finding that balance between essentials and luxuries. I love to see the look on a friends face when I crack that beer after a long day; and then get a bigger smile when I toss him a second that was hidden in the side of my pack!

Remember to stay safe, enjoy life and never forget to use your Outside Voice!

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