If you're not a backpacker already, there are many reasons to start. While family camping at regular campgrounds is great, it doesn't provide the same sense of unspoiled nature that you get while backpacking. Backpacking and hiking in general are great ways to get away from the crowds and the noise of city life. There are many health benefits to the exercise involved in backpacking and hiking, too. While backpacking, staying light is very important because everything you have with you will be on your back, and every ounce counts. Ultralight backpackers will immediately jump in to point out that every gram counts. Taking the wrong backpacking supplies can hold you back and make your trip much less enjoyable. Getting some knowledge of what kind of things you do (and don’t) need is a great place to start.
When considering a backpack, weight is a large factor – though lighter may not always be better. For example, there are packs that weigh 6.5 lbs., which may seem heavy. However, when the pack is worn properly and the weight distributed, it is as comfortable and feels about the same as a lighter pack. Another important factor to consider is capacity. The ideal pack will have enough room for what you need with a bit left over for just a few additional accessories. Remember to think logically about what you'll need and plan accordingly. Investing in a more comfortable pack will always be worth it when you're 15 miles up the trail. Internal frame packs carry all of your gear on the inside of the pack, while external frame packs carry sleeping bags exposed to the elements.
When planning your trip, know how many people you'll be taking with you. There's no reason to carry anything larger than you need. If you have three people, the ideal situation would be to bring a three-person backpacking tent and split the body, poles, fly, and stakes between the three of you. Same goes for kitchen supplies and other communal gear. While aluminum tent poles can be more expensive, they will be much lighter and more durable. Every ounce (or gram) you can shed will make your trek more enjoyable. Generally, each part of the tent will weigh about the same. If you have more than three people, it will likely be in your best interest to bring at least two backpacking tents. Another thing to keep in mind is the size of your vestibule. If your tent has no vestibule, it will need a larger interior to keep the rest of your backpacking gear covered and out of the elements.
For most people, sleeping bags tend to be the make-or-break factor of how enjoyable a trip was. An inferior or poorly selected bag usually leads to a lousy night with very little rest. There are two main types of sleeping bags, rectangular and mummy. Rectangular bags are typically larger and have more room to move around in, while mummy bags are typically tighter fitting, warmer, lighter, and compress to a smaller size than rectangular bags. Different sleeping bags are filled with different kinds of materials. Bags filled with synthetic materials offer fair insulation and water-resistance but will typically take up more space in your pack, as the materials won't compress very well. Down sleeping bags offer the best insulation and compress very well. While down is not as water resistant, water resistant covers are available to solve this problem. Technology is always evolving, and it seems like new materials for fill and outer shells come out about as often as the latest cellphones. Some people prefer a flannel lining for snuggly softness, while others prefer synthetics that wick away moisture better and dry faster. You can increase your comfort and make sure you’re not packing extra weight by getting a bag that’s sized for your height and size, just like you would with clothing. Many companies also offer models for women that differ from “standard” or men’s models, adjusted for female body dimensions and heat distribution. Another thing to pay attention to is the comfort rating of the sleeping bag. It may seem like a good idea to get a -15 °F bag for a summer trip, but it’s flawed logic. The lower the temperature rating is, the more weight and volume you usually have to contend with. A good rule of thumb is to pick a bag rated for the lowest possible temperature of your trip, and about 5 °F lower than that if you’re a cold sleeper. Usually, something rated around 20 °F will be fine for most summer backpacking trips while still allowing for use in spring and fall conditions. There are several aftermarket sleeping bag liners that you can also pick up to increase the comfort rating of an existing bag or even to use on its own as a warm weather ultralight bag.
A lot of people are ditching tents entirely, and going with a hammock system instead. They’re light, super-compressible, and fast to set up and take down. You can even get them with integrated mosquito netting, which saves the trouble of adding this feature later on. There are also plenty of lightweight and ultralight backpacking tarps available to keep you out of the sun on hot days and out of the rain on not-so-hot days. Some folks like to hammock-camp with sleeping pads, and you can buy models that are specifically designed for that application. In colder weather, there are even specially made quilts to go over and/or under you and increase the warmth of your sleeping bag.
It's important to know what you're going to be cooking; this will help you determine the kind of stove to bring with you. Will you only be boiling water? If so, you can get away with a smaller stove. Will you be catching fish and cooking them in a pan? In that case, you'll want a stove with a burner you can place your pan on and cook thoroughly. Backpacking food is a great alternative to food that needs to be cooked, as it is lightweight and only requires water to prepare. If you choose to bring backpacking food, you’ll still want to bring a stove to heat water. There are also plenty of lightweight utensils specifically designed for backpacking, along with a bunch of nifty stuff like salt-and-pepper shakers, coffee presses, mess kits, pan scrapers, and more.
Before going into the wilderness, know where your water will be coming from. It's not always practical to pack four days’ worth of water in hydration packs with you. Consider the fact that one U.S. gallon of water weighs about 8 ½ pounds, and the recommended amount of water is one gallon per adult per day. That’s a lot of extra weight and volume taken up in your pack, when water filter systems are much smaller and lighter. Will you be drinking water from a running stream? Will you be filtering for just one person or for a group? There are varieties for just about any scenario. Ceramic filters are typically heavier and larger but will still do a good job. Bringing along water purification tablets is also a good idea. While a filter will typically do the job on its own, having purification tablets as a backup will give you peace of mind that you'll always have a source of water you can drink, while they take up little to no space in your pack. Some bladder packs and water bottles also have water filters built in to them. This is another area where technology is always advancing, with lighter and more efficient products hitting the market all the time. Check out all the options and pick something that’s going to work best for the kind of adventure you’re going on.
The accessories you bring, and the number of them you take along on your next backpacking trip can either make your trip much more enjoyable, or they can hold you back and make you crazy. Additional accessories include GPS devices, lighting accessories, sleeping pads, and trekking poles. While these can help make your trip more enjoyable, they can also add a lot of weight to your pack. Keep in mind how long you will be gone. If you're out on a short overnight trip, a first aid kit and a flashlight may be all you need. If you're setting up a base camp for three nights or more, you may want to bring solar chargers, larger lanterns, extra water bottles, batteries, personal hygiene products, a larger first aid kit, a few pocket-sized first aid kits, and gear repair tools. It’s all about tailoring your gear to trip, knowing there’s rarely a one-size-fits-all solution. Wherever you go, be sure to bring tools such as a knife and a fire-starting kit.