Backpacking season is coming up quick, and one question we have received over and over is: “What do I actually NEED to bring with me?” Well, luckily for all of you, we have learned the hard way for many things, so we can make your learning curve a little easier! There are certain items that you really do need to have, and have good quality items, and there are items that you may not need but are actually really helpful. This post will talk about the items that you need, and we will follow up with the helpful items. For a third part of this series, we will end with some stuff you absolutely DO NOT need.
So, to start off the series, let’s talk about the items that are truly necessary to your hiking trip. I’m going to base this list on two hikers, although it can easily be adjusted for more (families, groups of friends, etc.). All of the pictures are linked to the gear that we actually have (or very similar in some cases that ours have been discontinued). And although the list might vary depending on the length and terrain, these are the top items that you really NEED to take with you on any backpacking trip:
Basic Necessary Backpacking Gear
Backpack – Okay, this one is pretty obvious, but there is more to it than just a “backpack.” You need to have a well-fitted, sturdy backpack that is big enough for your needs but not overly large. Check out our post on backpacks HERE for more info.
Tent – I strongly recommend a 3-person 3-season tent for any backpacking trip. The 3 person is roomy enough for two people (plus our two dogs) and can store your backpacks inside if the weather is bad. A good, lightweight tent is a good investment. I wouldn’t suggest skimping on this one or going with a big, bulky, heavy tent. It’s just not worth the savings. Side note about tents – before your first trip out, be sure to set it up and tear it down a few times at home, familiarizing yourself with it. We are now at the point where either one of us can set up our tent in the dark alone no problem, but on our first trip out, we weren’t so familiar with it.
Sleeping Bags – This is another item not to skimp on. Get a good one and be sure you are comfortable in it. If you are tall, make sure it is long enough, especially if you like to stretch out. If you like to curl up when you sleep, make sure you can do that while it is fully zipped. And get one that is WARM enough, especially if you are going to be camping anywhere that the temperatures dip down at night (higher elevation). My sleeping bag is rated to 20 degrees, and you bet I’m never going to be camping in that kind of weather! But I have often slept in that with thermal wear on to be comfortable.
Water Filter and Hydration Bladder/ Bottles – Water is your lifeline, so it makes sense to have a good one with you. You don’t want to be carrying enough water for the whole trip with you (especially because you COULD run out), so a water filter is a great addition to your supplies. Additionally, you will need a hydration bladder or sufficient water bottles to carry all of that water.
When you are mapping out your trip, be sure to make a note of known water crossings and check trip reports to ensure these water crossings are still available for your trip. Fill up your hydration bladder every chance you can, even if it’s just a quick top off. It’s definitely not fun to run out of water.
Clothes – Well, this one is hard to explain, because it is personal preference, location and duration of your backpacking trip, weather, etc. We will do a separate post about this one, but the main note is not to bring too much, and plan for all weather.
Rain Gear – Plan for all weather that could happen, and this almost ALWAYS means rain! I keep my rain gear with me on EVERY hike I go on. Even if there is no rain in the forecast, there is always a chance of excess dew in the morning, making things wet. It can also double as a wind breaker if it gets windy.
Hiking Boots – It is very important to have well fitted, comfortable, durable, water-proof hiking boots. Too tight of boots and your toes will cramp; too loose and you will have major blisters from chafing. We both like a mid height boot to protect our ankles and to get as much waterproofing as we can.
Water Shoes – Water shoes can be any form of shoe that secures to your foot (not flip flops, they will float away), dries quickly, and is light. They don’t have to be dedicated water shoes. I use sandals like THESE when we go backpacking. Pull off your boots and socks when you come to a water crossing, toss your water shoes on, cross the river, and put your nice dry boots back on when you get to the other side. Trust me from experience, it’s worth the delay to stop rather than have soggy boots! I keep my water shoes on a carabiner attached to my backpack so they can air dry as I hike.
Food/Bear Box – Boy, is this one a NECESSITY! It doesn’t matter if you are not in bear country, I highly recommend a bear resistant food storage. We have THIS one. Not only is it good for keeping bears away from your food, it also keeps other animals, like raccoons, out. The general premise behind a bear box is that the bear can’t get into it (nor can raccoons or other animals). They can play with it all day long and you might find your box moved if you don’t secure it, but it won’t be opened. You always want to store your food away from your sleeping area so as not to attract animals to your tent.
As far as what food to bring, that will be another post, as it will vary greatly. But always bring more food than you need, but not TOO much more. It’s a fine line!
Camping Stove and LIGHTERS – You can check out our review on particular stoves HERE, but there are all kinds of stoves. The main thing is that it’s light and it works. And you have enough fuel to get you through your trip and more as well as plenty of lighters! Your fuel can also double as an accelerant if the firewood is damp. We use this trick often, as we carry way more fuel than we could possibly need (preparedness!).
As far as lighters go, we keep one lighter in our bear box, one inside the bag with our pot, one in each of our bags, and sometimes another for safe keeping elsewhere. Basically, we never want to a) forget a lighter, b) run out of fuel in a lighter, or c) lose it along the way/get it wet. Since lighters are cheap and light, we would prefer having a bunch of them.
Pots/Pans/Dishes – You would be extremely surprised at how little of these you need for camping. Nate and I take one or two pots that nest together and are lightweight. One of us eats straight out of the pot (because we are heathens!) and we bring one plate with sides for the other person. Two lightweight sporks and two collapsible cups and we are set! Truly, there is no need for excess dishes. We used to bring way more, but we have narrowed down gradually and now we are at our bare minimum (at least until we figure something else out). Reduce where you can, backpacking is most fun when you aren’t weighted down!
First Aid Kit – We have really narrowed this one down quite a bit over the years. We have found that most injuries can be taken care of with a few items. Our backpacking medical kit includes: moleskin, gauze, medical tape, a few bandages, antibiotic ointment, and tweezers. Additionally, I carry a bag of medication that includes: NyQuil/DayQuil, lots of Ibuprofen, lots of allergy pills, Mucinex, and some baby aspirin for the pups.
Bug Spray/Sunscreen – These can, and often will, be the difference between you having a blast and you wanting to end it all. Found that gorgeous camp site next to a beautiful babbling brook, but there are some mosquitos? Bam, pull out your bug spray and you’re golden. Sunscreen is a must always, ESPECIALLY if it is cloudy out. We always get the spray type and WATERPROOF. Just get used to spraying your entire self down with sunscreen as soon as you get out of your vehicle, then reapply often.
Headlamp/flashlight – Something that can easily be overlooked but is a lifesaver when you reach your campsite just a LITTLE while after you planned is your flashlight. We prefer headlamps, since they free up your hands while you are fumbling with that tent (did I mention to practice setting that up?) in the dark. It’s also handy for late night potty breaks and hiking in the dark if you have to.
Hat/Visor – This goes along with the sunscreen, but it is another thing that is easily forgotten (at least for those of us that don’t wear hats on the regular). But it is good to have that extra protection for your face in case you sweat your sunscreen off.
Sunglasses – Sunglasses are a must and very helpful to go along with your sunscreen and hat! I actually have a separate pair of sunglasses for hiking/camping/outdoors versus my everyday wear, because they are likely to get scratched, dropped, etc.
Compass/map – Even if you have been on the trail before and think it is well marked or you know where you are going, it is always a good idea to have a compass and a map of your location. You would rather be prepared and not need it than somehow miss your trail marker and end up in an unknown location. I also strongly recommend contacting the closest ranger station to let them know where you are going to be hiking and ask for current conditions. They will know the area best, and are always willing to give information if you ask!
Toilet Kit – This one is probably something most people actually don’t think about much before their first backpacking trip. A toilet kit for hiking consists of: biodegradable toilet paper (or regular toilet paper and a heavy Ziplock baggie), a trowel/collapsible shovel, and hand sanitizer/wet wipes.
Always go to the bathroom at least 200 feet from a body of water (river, stream, lake, etc), trail, or campsite. Find your spot and dig a hole about 6 inches deep. Go in that hole, place your biodegradable toilet paper in with it, then cover it back up with the soil. If you have selected a toilet paper that is not eco-friendly and biodegradable, pack it in the heavy Ziplock bag and take it out with you. Some areas require you to pack out your TP regardless, so make sure to know the rules. Whatever you do, DO NOT just leave your TP on the ground. That is called littering, and we don’t condone that!
Camp Soap – Another good kitchen item to have when backpacking or camping is biodegradable camp soap. This is mainly used for washing dishes, but you can most definitely use it to wash your hands, yourself, or whatever else needs washing. Just a little bit goes a long way, as it is concentrated.
On that note, you will always want to do your dishes right after eating, as having food sitting around in your campsite attracts animals. Always keep dishes and food away from your campsite while you are sleeping in case a hungry critter smells your food.
Packing it Up
I realize that was a pretty long post, but it is always helpful to know what is really and truly necessary, especially for something like backpacking where you are carrying all of that stuff for a long period of time. Of course, this list might vary a bit depending on the length, terrain, and weather on your backpacking trip, but it is a good reference point for some things you may not have thought of before. Nate and I split up everything the best we can. With just these necessary items in our packs, my pack weighs 22.0 pounds and Nate’s weighs 29.7 pounds (NOTE: these weights are WITHOUT water, as that will vary depending on your trip). That’s really not too terrible for a 3 day hiking trip!
I did note that these are without water, and I will also note that our packs have NEVER been that light for a 3 day trip. Water adds approximately 8 pounds per gallon, so with our water bladders filled up, they will be about 30 pounds and 40 pounds, respectively. These are the bare necessities, and we tend to carry some additional items that make life easier on us. Check out Part Two for the additional items that we like to bring!
Let us know what your necessary items include, and be sure to like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/adventureinabackpack, and subscribe to our blog for all of our posts! Happy Adventuring!