If there’s one thing I’ve learned in past years, is how to really pack effectively for a backpacking trip. Many people who don’t regularly pack and embark on week long journey by foot, often confuse packing for backpacking, with packing for car-camping. Every year I pack my backpack, and venture out into the wilderness, and with that, every year I also regret some things, forget some things, and learn a whole lot. Living at 12000 feet elevation for a week and not being near electricity, running water, a soft bed, or any other luxury, gives you lots of time to think about what you should have brought. Even more, what you shouldn’t have brought!
Why is packing the right things so important? First off, weight and volume! If you pack it, you have to carry it the entire trip, up and down those endless hills and switchbacks, jumping streams and climbing rocks! What you can stand to carry, depends on your physical stamina but even the most avid outback mountain men, like to travel light. Secondly, you want to make sure you have what you need without going overboard. This ensure safety and warmth and protection from the environment. So then, let’s begin looking at what you need to pack for your backpacking adventure!
The backpack itself: I’m not a big spender, and I don’t believe in spending $500 or $600 bucks for a backpack. Whatever you decide on though, make sure the pack has beefy zippers, durable canvas, strong seams and lots of compartments. It has to be big enough, or expandable, to hold all of your stuff too. Look for a man’s backpack to be 70 to 80 liters in volume, and a ladies backpack at least 60 to 70 liters.
Clothing: For summer hiking, please be a minimalist. Try to cut it down to 2 shirts, 2 underwear, 1 pant, gloves, beanie, hat, 4 pairs of socks, a light jacket or windbreaker, and a light plastic poncho or rain gear. You could bring some long underwear to sleep in too. That should suffice for a least a week up in the hills, and you can wash one set, while wearing the other. A good light hat and sunglasses are imperative as well!
Food: Freeze dried is the way to go! These come in plastic packages lined with Mylar, that you can actually pour boiling water into. They cook fast, and above all, taste pretty darn good! There are many commercial brands available at your local sporting goods or big box store. One trick I do is to poke a tiny hole in the top of the bag to let the air out, and seal the pinhole back up with a piece of tape. This allows you to pack it even tighter, saving valuable space, especially if you are required to pack your food in a bear-proof canister. Mayonnaise is good for sandwiches, and the oil in it is great for cooking. Get a powdered drink mix, or a even a powdered power or sports drink mix. Tortillas and pita bread packs well as does spam, dry salami, beef jerky, and trail mix. Oatmeal is fast and light for the mornings as well and some hard candy is always a welcome sight. Finally, if you’re going to carry alcohol to drink, try to bring the strongest alcohol percentage per fluid volume such as Bacardi 151. Romantic as it seems, wine is sometimes not practical. For you wine lovers however who cannot do without, consider getting the collapsible plastic wine dispensers which seal tight, and are quite durable.
Kitchenware: I think the best kind of stoves for backpacking, are the type that use the butane/propane mix. You know, the round squatty cans with the threaded nipple on top. They are easy to use and you can get the fuel anywhere. Make sure to bring a medium size plastic mug, one good plastic fork and spoon, and a spatula. For pots and pans, just bring something cheap and light, with folding handles and a nonstick coating. A Camelback drinking system is also a very good idea.
Tools and Miscellaneous: You’ll need at least 2 disposable lighters, and a head worn flashlight or headlamp. The tent should be as small as possible, and you should bring a map of the hiking trail. If traveling with a big group, consider the small FRS walkie talkies. First aid kits should include bandages, anti-diarrhea medicine, acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and your regular medications, and don’t forget sun-block and bug spray! Also be sure to bring a water filtration device so you don’t get sick!