Backpacking Essentials Part II: Components of a Pack

It’s time for Part II of my Backpacking Essentials series! Today’s post is all about what to pack for overnight (or longer) wilderness excursions. It can be very overwhelming trying to decide what gear, accessories, and clothing to take on a backpacking trip. Nobody wants to lug around a heavy pack, especially if climbing steeper terrain or hiking 6+ miles each day is on the agenda.

When Tim and I first started backpacking together our packs were significantly heavier. Over the years were have learned a lot and lightened our loads considerably, which makes for much more enjoyable hiking. As a petite woman barely reaching 5’2″, I like to keep my total pack weight between 12-15 pounds. This allows for more mobility, comfort, and endurance. Here are my pack essentials for a 2-3 day backpacking trip:

  • Inflatable sleeping mat (Therm-a-Rest has an incredible variety)
  • Compressible pillow (I have the smallest size)
  • Sleeping bag (ours is homemade, very lightweight, and sleeps 2, so Tim and I can share it)
  • Rain jacket and rain pants
  • Extra socks (made from synthetic fibers, never cotton – cotton takes forever to dry and won’t keep your feet as warm)
  • Long underwear top and bottoms
  • Hat and gloves (depending on the season and altitude of the hike)
  • Headlamp
  • First aid kit (band-aids, antibiotic ointment, aspirin, safety pins, cotton swabs, etc.)
  • Toiletries kit (small tin of toothpaste, toothbrush, tiny bottle of biodegradable soap, lip balm, sunscreen, insect repellent, toilet paper, and a quick-drying hand towel)
  • Deck of cards (occupies time when you are lounging in your tent – Tim and I have made up so many silly card games!)
  • Camera (the heaviest item in my pack)
  • Pack liner (essentially a large plastic bag that goes into my pack first and keeps all of the contents dry)
  • Pack cover
  • Water bladder
  • Food, split with Tim

Since Tim and I always hike together, we have the luxury of splitting our gear to fairly distribute the weight. Here is what Tim usually carries in his homemade backpack (ends up being around 18 pounds):

  • Tent poles and stakes
  • Tent body, rain fly, and ground cloth (we have a tent we made ourselves and one we bought – we love both and choose which one to use depending on the season)
  • Backpacking stove (we have had ours for over 10 years and it still works well)
  • Fuel bottle for stove
  • Cook set, sporks (yes, sporks!), and cups
  • Pocket knife
  • Inflatable sleeping mat
  • Compressible pillow
  • Headlamp
  • Water bladder
  • Rain jacket and pants
  • Extra socks
  • Long underwear top and bottoms
  • Hat and gloves
  • Map and trail directions
  • Food, split with me
  • Pack liner
  • Pack cover

I can completely understand how the cost of gear might seem overwhelming. Tim and I have owned our gear for over ten years so the initial investment has been paid off several times over. Here are some tips to consider:

  1. Take your time when deciding which gear to buy. Read consumer reviews to get a better idea of how certain gear performs.
  2. Visit a local outdoor shop and check out gear you are interested in – ask questions!
  3. Take advantage of used gear sales, outlet stores, or friends who may be parting with gear that still has some use.
  4. Try renting some gear and test it in the wilderness to see if you like it.
  5. Don’t feel pressured to buy the most expensive, most popular gear. Buy what suits your own needs.
  6. Try making your own gear, if possible! It is less expensive, challenging, and fun.
  7. Borrow gear from friends/family if you can’t afford to purchase certain items.

Once you have your gear selected, you need to pack it wisely to ensure comfort and mobility. Filling a backpack requires some patience and practice. It is best to start by laying your gear out on the floor. Place the items that you won’t use right away in the bottom of your pack and end with the gear you will need quick access to. Also keep in mind that heavier gear placed in the bottom of your pack will balance your load better. I usually put my sleeping bag, sleeping mat, and pillow at the bottom and follow with long underwear, spare clothing, food, rain gear, and camera. Other essentials are stowed in the lid and side pockets of my pack.

Tim packs his gear in a similar manner. The best part about multi-day trips is that as the food supply diminishes, so does the weight of your pack! So… Eat up!

Hopefully this post will help get you out on the trail and snoring under the stars (or rainbows!) in no time!

Part III of this series will focus on clothing and footwear, so stay tuned!

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