Backpacking for Beginners: The Basics

Once you decide to dive into the world of backpacking, the first piece of gear you need to choose is your backpack.

The Backpack:

You have a choice of three types of backpacks. This first is an ultralight pack. There is usually no suspension backing these and they don’t like to carry much over 25 pounds. When using a light pack like this you must decide what you’re going to take and what you’re going to leave behind. You definitely won’t be able to carry as much as other packs.

Just up from that, you have a pack that will have a bit more structure so it will be stiffer than an ultralight. It’s will have some stays in it, so it has a little more suspension. These will want to carry about 30, 35 pounds before it starts getting on your shoulders and failing suspension.

Last up is the largest of the group, a 60 Liter pack. Now, this is a pack I would recommend to most first-timers. These have a much stronger suspension and are much larger. This pack can carry 50 plus pounds, no problem. It’s not the lightest pack, but as you start scrutinizing your gear you can go lighter and lighter. After that, you may want to go down to a lighter pack. This is certainly a great first choice.

You have a lot of choices, ranging from as low as $75 to over $500. But whatever pack you choose, load it up and get a feel for it in the store. Take the time to make sure it’s comfortable and the right fit for you.

I’m going to choose the mid-weight pack for this shorter trip. Let’s get it filled.

Choosing Your Food:

My particular food selection is not all that impressive and everyone’s tastes are going to be their own. For my own personal trips, I can get by with ramen, crackers, hydrated meals some string cheese, some oatmeal, and some bars. It’s that easy. I can really rock that for about seven days.

The first thing to do is condense the larger items into Ziploc bags, which double as trash bags at camp. And to avoid these suckers exploding like a bag of chips at altitude, don’t forget to squeeze all the air out before you seal them up.

I know what you’re thinking, ramen, right? I’m telling you what, after walking for 10 or 12 miles, you get to camp, a little hot, salty broth and noodles, it’ll set you free. Using a clean water source will make this ramen even better.

Depending on where you are camping you may want to store it all in a bear can, which, in bear country, will keep you and your food safe from roaming ramen thieves.

Okay. Now that we’ve got all our food loaded for the trip, it’s time to start packing up the pack.

Filling the Body of Your Backpack:

The bottom foundation’s going to be light, bulky equipment, namely, our sleeping bag. This is a down sleeping back and you never want to have a small, stuffed, compressed down bag while you’re storing it at home. The feathers get compressed and they lose their ability to lock.

With sleeping bags, you have a choice between synthetic filled and bags filled with down feathers. A down bag is a little pricier, but lighter and compressible, while synthetic costs less, but weighs more. The choice is yours. I store my bag in a waterproof compression sack, along with a down jacket. This I can drop in the bottom of the pack, making a nice foundation to store the remaining items.

The philosophy for packing a pack is that you want to have the really heavy items; your stoves, any water bottles or filters, anything that’s going to be kind of heavy, against the midsection of your back. sort of in the mid-upper region for that. You want bulky, lightweight gear down low. Then you want some mid-weight items, some of the clothing, med kits, things like that, to then be on the outside, pushing all that heavy stuff in against the frame that’s on your back.

Load your med kit, toiletries, and other mid-weight items like food right on top for easy accessibility. You really want to scrutinize everything that goes into your pack. If you don’t absolutely need it, leave it at home. After hours on the trail, that extra weight can really be a burden on the entire backpacking experience.

The main body is now filled. The last thing I always put on the top is something that I have just come to love in the backcountry and that is the Crocs. I usually put those right on the top and then the main body of my pack is filled.

Miscellaneous Items:

The small items that you need quick access to should be stored in the pack’s convenient side pockets and waist belt.

This is stuff that you’re going to put in that you want constant access to, things like sunscreen, lip balm, a pocketknife, fire starter or insect repellent.

A backpack’s lid is a great place for easy access to your bathroom kit, a headlamp, and a pack cover in case you get caught in the rain and need a quick shelter. Smaller items that you need to grab quickly are perfect for the lid.

That’s it. Once we button that down, we make sure everything’s nice and strapped on. I’ve got to say, I do not like when people have things hanging on the outside of the pack. Sandals or water bottles bouncing around. Try to eliminate that. You want to have a nice, clean pack, so it’s not snagging on any brush as you’re walking by. Believe it or not, the suspension just works better and you have a nice, symmetrical, clean pack with no dead spaces, nothing to catch.

The very last thing is strapping down a foam sleeping pad and a reflective space blanket to act as the floor to the tent. The blanket can also provide added protection if necessary.

 

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