This is some information about Getting Started Backpacking for people
who are curious about backpacking and perhaps aren't quite sure how to
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
Hat with sun visor
Instant Coffee or
canned coffee beverage
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
A rope and bag to hang your food if needed (Ask Rangers when
planning your trip)
Shovel (if no outhouse)
Baby wipes (for washing hands)
Flashlight or headlamp with fresh batteries
A few guaze pads and first aid tape
Pen/Pencil and a few sheets of paper
Small paperback book or
Backpacking Gear I own and LOVE
(click on pictures)
Osprey Ariel Backpack (mine is a 75)
REI Sahara Convertible Pants (I have the women's version)
Sierra Designs Sirius 3 Tent