The great outdoors is calling, and it’s time to pick up.
You’ve gone on day trip adventures and fallen in love with hiking but now you think you are ready to make the jump into backpacking.
To put it simply: the key to becoming a happy backpacker is learning how to live minimally and cut out the excess. Selecting the right gear and dialling in your core essentials that will become the ingredients to making any trip successful and enjoyable.
Heading out into the backcountry overnight adds necessity to your kit to help to protect you from the elements, feed yourself , provide shelter and manage the unknown. The quickest way to not enjoy backpacking is by taking too much and having a pack that weighs as much as you
Remember the scene from the movie Wild when the Cheryl puts her huge pack on for the first time and basically falls over? This doesn’t need to happen to you. To avoid this, select only what you need and arm yourself with the knowledge that the often more expensive items may cost you a bit more but is made up for in large weight savings and quality that will last for years to come.
A successful, safe and sound experience comes from a strong foundation – and when it comes to backpacking it all starts with the 5 necessities. These 5 backpacking necessities are inspired by the 10 Essentials which should have already been a part of your hiking kit – but we’ll talk about those at a later date. We encourage you to visit the Vancouver North Shore Search and Rescue website where they go into great detail on each of these items.
It all starts with a name and the name of our game is “backpack” ing . It’s important that you take the time to ensure your chosen backpack fits you properly with a solid structure, good shoulder straps and secure hip belt to distribute the load. I suggest a pack no larger than 50 litres as it will both weigh less and help curb your temptation to stuff un-needed extra items into it. My personal recommendation for a very solid all around pack would be the Atmos AG50 from Osprey .
Shelter is where the weight game is won or lost in backpacking – so you need to decide what kind of comforts you can do without. If you are a warm sleeper, can fall asleep on any surface and don’t mind tight quarters then you could be right at home with a thin sleeping pad with a lightweight down bag tucked into a bivy. For most backpackers though a nice down filled inflatable air pad paired with a 600 to 800 down sleeping bag will make your nights more enjoyable while being tucked into a ultra lightweight 2 person free standing tent. (don’t worry most 2p tents are actually just right for 1 person).
My recommendation for the average backpacker in most summer conditions would be the Marmot Ouray sleeping bag paired with a Big Agnes AirCore sleeping pad all in a Mountain Hardwear Ghost Sky tent. Don’t forget to pick up a waterproof compression sack to keep your sleeping bag dry while making it as small as possible to put into your backpack.
As you move from a short day hikes turn into a multi-day treks, your meal requirements and preparation will move well beyond your basic granola bar. Having a simple and reliable system that packs small will keep you smiling and you’ll be a backcountry chef in no time. Some of my favourite tried and true cooking set-ups have come from the ever reliable MSR stove systems combined with a single cup, spork and a cook pot that the whole assembly will fit into to keep pack size to a minimum. With this setup you will be able to boil water for coffee & oatmeal in the morning, make soup for lunch and cook dehydrated meals for supper. Add your favourite energy bars, snacks and hydration crystals for water to good breakfast and supper and you will be able to go for days in the backcountry.
The final consideration would be water sources on your trip – will simple purification tablets be sufficient or will you need a filtrations system as well? You should be able to carry at least 3 litres of water at all times and pack one day extra of food in the case of the unexpected. Pay attention to wildlife rules in the area – will your require bear canisters or is hanging your food at night sufficient.
There’s a ton of footwear options out there when it comes to hiking. For backpacking purposes, as soon as you add pack weight, it is a wise decision to move to a sturdy boot with good ankle support. For outerwear having a good layering system in place is the way to go. A good base layer t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, fleece jacket, down jacket and lastly a windbreaker/raincoat option combined with a good quality quick drying pant or short.
Synthetic materials or merino wool are the modern choice for outdoor activities and should be your only consideration. You should next pack an extra shirt and then usually several pairs of socks and one extra pair of underwear in addition. I often never wear my second set of back up clothes but rather use them for sleeping dry and comfortably at night. As you can’t safely predict the weather you may want to look at adding a pair of gloves, toque and rain pants to your pack. Lastly invest in a second waterproof compression bag to protect your spare clothes from the elements and pack them tightly to conserve space in your pack.
5. The extras
Having a solid method of communication is worth considering when in the bush. The inReach SE from Delorme Canada is a great device that will help you contact back home via satellite texting and a SOS button that alerts Search and Rescue in the event of emergency. It’s something to think about if you still have room in your bag after the above.
The rest of these are technically optional, so feel free to pick and choose what you deem to be important for your own needs.
You may want to consider a good set of hiking poles if you don’t already use them. Poles help you navigate the terrain with all the added weight on your back as well as transfers some of the load off your hips and knees. Pack ziploc bags for your garbage, remember your toothbrush, a black garbage bag is great as a pack liner, remember your hat, bring your iPod or a book to pass time in your tent and lastly bring your camera to capture your adventutres!
I hope you have a great time out there backpacking! One last essential to getting into the outdoors is understanding and practicing the Leave No Trace Fundamentals. Take a look, adventuring like this can make us all better.
What destination have you been dreaming of backpacking to? Put our essentials to the test.