Info Liz

Random information from my life



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Getting Started Backpacking

This is some information about Getting Started Backpacking for people who are curious about backpacking and perhaps aren't quite sure how to get started.

I started backpacking completely by accident. The idea of backpacking had never crossed my mind until one day I was in REI returning a present I had recieved two of, when I saw a flyer there about a backpacking trip. Backpacking sounded like a fun new thing to try so I did, and I loved it! I've put some information on this page for others who might be interested in giving it a try. Let me also tell you, I'm not a particularily athletic person and I'm only in average physical condition - I don't have a regular excercise routine and I spend all day sitting at a desk in a cubicle. I'm telling you this so you can see that you don't have to be in top notch condition or even an athletic person to give backpacking a try.

Where to go on your first backpacking outing

I recommend you research your local area and find a campground that's about 2 miles from the parking lot, and on a easy to moderate trail. If you've never tried hiking with 30-40 pounds on your back, I don't recommend trying it on a long or strenous trail your first time. I chose to go on my first backpacking trip on a trail that led to a camp that was only 2 miles from my car; I figured, if I hated it or if I forgot something essential or just wanted to go home and not camp out, I could always just go back the 2 miles to my car. If you live near regional or state parks, you can often find a website for them with a trail map on it. Look at the trail map for "trail camp", "primitive campground", or "backpacking campground". If you find one that looks a reasonable distance from the parking lot, give the park rangers a call to verify that it's not a very steep trail.

Basic Backpacking Equipment Needed

This is not a list of all possible backpacking equipment you might want, it's a list of some essentials you should think about bringing on your first outing. You should also think about your own personal situation because there may be things I have not listed that are essential to your own safety or comfort.


This is important! If your backpack is not comfortable, you will be miserable. If you have a friend who has offered to lend you a backpack, try it on, get the straps adjusted, then put some heavy stuff (about 25 pounds) in it and walk around with it on for a few minutes. It will feel heavy but it should not feel painful. There are typically adjustments you can make to the backpack To shift the weight balance between your hips and your shoulders. Try changing those a bit and see if you can get a comfortable balance. If it still remains painful, it might not be a good backpack for you, even just to borrow for 1 outing. REI and other outdoor stores rent backpacks; if you can't find a comfortable backpack to borrow, go to one of these stores and load up one of their rental packs until you find one that's not painful to wear.

Backpacking Food

Everyone has their own opinion about what is acceptable food, even when roughing it. In my local area, campfires are not allowed at any backpacking camps, and I didn't want to mess with getting a backpacking stove and fuel, so I chose to only bring food that didn't need cooking. If you live in an area that allows you to gather wood and make a campfire, you will have a larger variety of food options. Please don't consider making a fire if your campground doesn't allow it! Since I was only bringing food that didn't require cooking, I brought 2 sandwiches (lunch on the day in, lunch on the day out.) Cheese and dry salami generally won't spoil unrefrigerated so that's what I brought. I put them on bagels since I figured bagels would hold up better than sandwich bread in a pack. I pre-cooked a batch of macaroni and cheese (I like this cold!) for dinner. And for breakfast, I brought granola and powdered milk (to be mixed with water, of course.) You also need trail snacks. Bring enough to eat on the hike as well as extra for emergencies - you might wake up hungry in the middle of the night! I like to bring a small amount of sweet snacks and a small amount of salty snacks. Craisins or dates and sesame sticks or pretzels are some of my typical trail snacks. Many people like to bring nuts or pre-packaged combinations of nuts and dried fruit.


Most backpacking campgrounds do not provide drinking water! Streams, lakes, and rivers might have nice looking water in them, but this water can contain bacteria that can make you very sick, so you can't drink it without treating it. Your campground also might not have any natural water at all.
If the campground has no water source, you must carry in your water. For a one day outing, this is not as bad as it sounds. Get a lightweight water container, fill it up, make sure the lid is tight, and bring it along. You could even use empty 2-liter bottles to carry your water. Bring a little more than you think you will need. It's heavy, so don't go overboard, but dehydration can be deadly so you shouldn't skimp on the water either. Every person is different so you will need to make your own decision about how much water to bring, if you must carry in your water, but for myself, for a 2-mi (each direction) hike with a loaded pack, plus an overnight stay, I would bring 3-4 liters of water. Keep in mind that some of it might get used for purposes other than drinking, such as brushing your teeth. 4 liters of water will weigh somewhere around 10 pounds, which will be a significant portion of your pack weight.
If the campground does have a reliable water source, call the park rangers and verify it has not dried up. Once you've verified with the rangers that there is a water source there, you need to determine how you're going to process the water to make it safe to drink. You can either filter the water or treat the water. If you don't own a water filter, you might want to consider getting some treatment tablets for this first outing, to avoid the cost of buying a water filter or alternative processing system. Treatment tablets are inexpensive and very lightweight. They will give the water a bit of a chlorine taste, so there it a tradeoff, but unless you are very sensitive to this, it's a good choice for your first outing, to avoid the expense and weight of a filter or other processing system.
I also like to bring a bit of powdered gatoraid in a baggie, that way if I feel like having something other than water, I can mix a bit of gatoraide in my cup and have that.

Backpacking Shelter

I always sleep in a tent, so I can't offer any advice about tarps or hammocks or sleeping outdoors just in your sleeping bag. If you're going alone, a lightweight 1-person tent is good. You can rent one at an outdoor store if you can't borrow one from someone. Make sure it's lightweight and compact so it fits on/in your pack! If you're going to be sleeping in the test with another person, bring that person with you when looking at tents to borrow or rent. I share my tent with another person, and neither of us are large people, but many of the tents labeled as 2-person tents were much too small for our comfort. The tent we always use now is labeled as a 3-person tent and we can't imagine where the third person would fit! Sharing your tent with another person allows you a bit more flexibility on the tent's weight too, since you will be able to split up your gear between 2 packs. In addition to the tent, you will need a sleeping bag. You can call the park rangers and ask how cold it will get at night, and determine whether you need a very warm sleeping bag or a lighter weight sleeping bag. Try to get one a bit warmer than you think you need; it's awful to lay awake cold all night! You will also need a sleeping pad, for under your sleeping bag. People's bodies vary a lot so I can't tell you what type of sleeping pad you will need. The most common ones for backpacking are self-inflating and they are like very thin air-mattresses. There are also lighter-weight options that are not filled with air, just a pad of foam. The ones filled with air are more comfortable for most people, but do weight a bit more too. I don't recommend skipping the sleeping pad though, it can be very uncomfortable trying to sleep on a hard or rocky ground with no padding underneath. Some people bring along a pillow, however, I find that it adds unnecessary weight to my pack. I just take some of my clothing and fold it up under my sleeping bag under my head. You can also buy inflatable pillows as well as sacks meant to be stuffed with clothing to make a pillow.

Backpacking Clothing

This is very dependent on the weather and temperatures of where you're going. However, regardless of that, it's best to bring non-cotton clothing. You may have heard the phrase "cotton kills"; even when it doesn't kill, it's very uncomfortable when it's wet or damp, and it takes a long time to dry. I recommend you get a non-cotton, short-sleeved shirt and non-cotton pants (nylon shorts or cargo pants work well) to wear as your base layer. When deciding between pants and shorts, if you'll be in an area with overgrown trails or poison oak/ivy, you might be better off wearing long pants. A fleece pullover or jacket makes a nice 2nd layer. The expected temperatures will determine how many additional layers you will need; additional fleece pullovers work as additional layers. If there's any chance of rain, your outer clothing layer should be water-proof; a simple rain jacket & pants or pancho is sufficient. You can choose whether you want to wear the same base-layer shirt both days or if you need a fresh shirt the second day. It's a trade off between cleanliness and the weight of your pack. You do not need different 2nd/3rd/outer layers each day. You should bring a clean set of socks for each day plus 1 extra in case your socks get wet; hiking in wet socks can cause painful blisters! Don't forget to think about what you will sleep in. I generally sleep in my fleece layer, which means I don't have to bring additional clothing (and weight in my pack!) for pajamas. I'll put a more detailed clothing list below so you can think about what you might need for the environment you'll be in. It's a delicate balance between bringing enough clothing to keep you warm even when temperatures are lower than predicted, but not too much clothing because it really adds a lot of weight to your pack.

Plan your backpacking outing in advance!

If you're read the above information, you may realize now that you need to plan in advance, especially the first time you go backpacking. You need to find a place to go, get maps if needed, talk to the park rangers, and gather equipment.
Once you've gather your equipment, put it all in your pack. You may have to strap your tent, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag to the outside of your pack. If you're going with someone, try to divide the equipment between your two packs to get the weight balanced evenly. Now weigh your pack. I find the simplest way to do this is to weigh myself without the pack, then put the pack on and weigh myself again. If your pack weight comes out above 35-40 pounds dump everything out and look for heavy non-essential items. Start removing the heaviest non-essential items first. You might also need to replace esential items with lighter weight versions. For example, a heavy-duty raincoat could weigh a pound more than a lighter version, but both will keep you dry. A pound might not seem like a lot but when you do this several times it will start to add up. It might seem impossible to get your pack weight down to 35-40 pounds, but it's not.

File your plan!

Tell someone where you are going (which park AND which campground), what route you are taking (what roads you're taking to the park and which trail you'll be hiking on) and when you expect to be back home. At parks where you have to pay a fee at a self-pay station, you can put a note with your fee stating your intended route (this does not replace telling someone at home, it's an additional safety measure.)

Detailed Backpacking Equipment Lists

These list are intended to help you think about what types of things you might need; there might also be things not on these lists that you need so please envision yourself hiking, eating lunch, setting up camp, eating dinner, sleeping in a sleeping bag, waking up, eating breakfast, hiking some more, and possibly eating lunch again before arriving back at your car. Think about items you might need during those activities. Also think about environment (will there be bugs? will it be hot and sunny? rainy? muddy?), personal provisions (there might not be an outhouse), and safety (do you take daly medication? do you have allergies?)

Clothing (all non-cotton)

Bandana (very useful for many purposes)
Something to sleep in
Warm hat
Hat with sun visor


Trail Snacks
Instant Coffee or canned coffee beverage
Gatorade powder
Water treatment tablets or system OR ample fresh water

Water jug to put treated water in
Dishes if needed
Utensils if needed
Cooking supplies if needed
Rag or papertowels
Trash bag (there are typically not trash cans at backpacking camps, so you must carry your trash back home with you)
A few baby wipes for cleaning your hands
A rope and bag to hang your food if needed (Ask Rangers when planning your trip)


Toilet paper
Shovel (if no outhouse)
Baby wipes (for washing hands)


Sleeping Bag
Sleeping Pad


Flashlight or headlamp with fresh batteries
A few guaze pads and first aid tape


Bug Spray
Trail Map


Pen/Pencil and a few sheets of paper
Small paperback book or magazine

Backpacking Gear I own and LOVE

(click on pictures)

Osprey Ariel 65 Pack - Women's Osprey Ariel Backpack (mine is a 75)

REI Sahara Convertible Pants - Men's 34'' Inseam REI Sahara Convertible Pants (I have the women's version)

Sierra Designs Sirius 3 Tent