I get asked all the time about what Luke and I bring when we go on a backpacking trip. What are the non-negotiable supplies? Do we bring anything for comfort? Don’t we start to smell? Do we somehow take a shower? What do you do when you have to go to the bathroom? (Yes, people as me this.) What kind of food do you eat? The questions go on!
I LOVE to talk about this!
Backpacking is a pretty fascinating way to see the world. Disappearing into the mountains for a week or so can be a super empowering experience. It’s exciting, and yes, a little scary if you’ve never done it before. The pack on your back holds the key to a more enjoyable trip, and honestly, to your safety and well-being while you are out there. It’s important to not only pack the right stuff, but also to not overpack. After all, you’re lugging all of it up and down mountains. The mascara or hair gel may seem important now, but you might not care about them so much when you are halfway up a 3,000-foot climb and they’re melting down your face (take it from me on this one).
SO in response to these requests, this blog is a catalog of the items that Luke and I bring on a typical backpacking trip. A few items to consider before reading on:
- If you have ever talked to a backpacker about gear and supplies, you will know that this is a favorite topic of debate. When you are in the back country, your gear is a lifeline and it is a very personal thing. Everyone has different input about what the best gear is and what the critical comfort items are. This blog shares the list of supplies that Luke and I have gathered over the years to meet our specific needs, preferences and budget. I’m sure there is a whole bunch of equipment out there that we would love to have, but don’t. As it is, this setup has worked great for us, and hey, it might work great for you too!
- What you need to pack will shift depending on the type of environment you are preparing for. Desert prep versus deciduous forest with multiple streams a day prep is very different. Since Luke and I are in the process of prepping for a trip to the Smoky Mountains, this list is put together with that environment in mind. We are planning for regular access to streams for our water, and temperatures that will swing between the 50’s and the 80’s.
Okay, let’s do this. I’m including a photo log of a lot of this gear at the end of the blog, so scroll down for some more specific visuals!
- AquaMira Water Treatment Drops
- Sawyer Water Filter
- Water bladder (Platypus Platy)
- Thin plastic water bottle
A note on water … it’s kinda important. (Hello captain obvious, Katie!) If you are hiking with a partner and sharing supplies, make sure that you each have a way to purify water, just in case you get separated. Luke carries the AquaMira, which we use almost exclusively while backpacking, and I carry the Sawyer filter as a back-up.
- Backpack (We both have REI packs. The REI outlet is where it’s at to get a good deal. Especially at the end of season.)
- Rain cover for backpack (Osprey)
- Trekking Poles (Kelty Range 2.0)
- Map of the trail network
- Headlamp (Petzl Tikka 2)
- Bug net
- Bug spray
- Sunscreen stick
- Biodegradable toilet paper
- Plastic trowel (This is the answer to that bathroom question! You dig a hole, you go to the bathroom in the hole, you fill in the hole. The trowel is optional- the hole is not. You can also use your boot to get the hole started and then find a rock or stick to dig a deep enough hole (6-inches). Works pretty well if you want to save some weight! Don’t be a jerk though and make sure you dig a hole. No one wants to step in your crap.)
- 1-gallon Ziplock bag for trash
- Repair kit (patch kit for sleeping pads, tiny superglue, sewing needle, 2-meters of thread, 1-meter of duct tape, four safety pins, small razor blade)
- Handkerchief (Multi-use: To keep sweat out of your eyes, use as a hand towel, keep dust out of your mouth, if it’s still clean you can use it to filter solids out of water in a pinch, or even as a coffee filter. The list goes on.)
- Tyvek sheet (Multi-use: Morning yoga, to sit on at camp, to spread beneath our sleeping pads on rocky ground, etc. It weighs nothing and is a nice convenience.)
- Dry bags (Zpacks, two of them: one for clothes, one for sleeping bag)
- Dry bag for food (Sea to Summit) and z-line rope (Zpack) (you know… to hang your food and scented things)
- Phone (Turn it off and put it away. Just for emergencies!)
- Small camera (optional)
Trekking pokes are a matter of preference and aren’t really necessary, unless you are hiking a rim or environment where you need the assistance with balance. I like to have poles for the uphills and downhills because it takes some of the strain off my knee joints. Luke doesn’t use them, though.
- Tent (Eureka! Amari Pass 2)
- Sleeping Pad (Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite)
- Sleeping Bag (Eureka! Silver City 30 Degree F Mummy Bag)
- Pillow (Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow Ultra Light)
- Ear plugs (A relief to have if you plan to sleep in a shelter with a bunch of strangers. You never know what weird noises people will make in their sleep!)
Alright, some quick notes here: at the end of the day, you will be super tired. A pillow isn’t necessary, but it’s a comfort item that is worth it to us. I know some people who use a ball of clothes instead. Therm-a-Rest pads are pricey, but honestly, they have been worth EVERY penny. Super comfortable, light weight, and blowing them up takes very little effort. When you are hiking all day with a heavy pack, it’s a big deal to get a good night of sleep. It’s also nice to wake up without all the aches and pains from sleeping on a hard surface all night.
Ahhhh- FOOD! I could write a whole blog about planning backpacking food (…and I just may, so I will keep it brief here). The main thing to understand about backpacking and food is the following: you will be burning A LOT of calories. If you are worried about gaining weight while backpacking, just don’t. Seriously. On a low carb or low-fat diet? Not anymore, my friend. We have had backpacking trips where a daily intake included multiple Snicker’s and PayDay candy bars, ridiculous amounts of trail mix, Cliff Bars, jerky, and snacks, an 800-plus calorie dehydrated meal for dinner (…then maybe just one more candy bar) and I STILL lost weight. My point? Bring enough food and EAT it! No calorie left behind! Embrace it. You are basically doing weighted lunges up a steep incline for hours on end. Giving your body enough calories to maintain this level of energy output is important. Not only to you, but to your backpacking buddies as well. You rely on each other out in the woods, you need to take care of yourself!
- Vertex VLS Ultralight Stove
- Esbit fuel cubes
- Vargo Titanium Bott Bottle Pot (say that five times fast)
- Mini Bic lighter
We love this cooking setup! It’s about as light as it gets. One fuel cube can boil a liter of water, which is enough for us to both have a cup of coffee and serving of oatmeal in the morning. In the evening, it’s enough to re-hydrate two dehydrated meals. Just make sure you bring enough fuel tabs, and then pack a few extra! We’ve knocked the Bott over once or twice, and if you don’t have a spare fuel tab, well…there goes dinner.
Cooking for more than two people? We also have a JetBoil, and it is pretty awesome.
First Aid and Safety:
- Leukotape (For blister prevention, Leukotape is where it’s AT! Ditch the moleskin and bring this instead. Seriously.)
- Medical kit (Fabric bandaids, neosporin, hand sanitizer, wound closure kit, ibuprofen, vitamins, Zyrtec, body glide)
- Compression knee straps (I have wonky knees, so this is a big one for me!)
Our packs have a whistle, so we don’t bring one. (It is worth bringing if you don’t have one on your pack! Scare away bears, signal if you get lost or hurt, etc.)
We’ve hiked over 200-miles on the AT and we’ve never gotten lost, so we aren’t bringing a compass on this trip. On lesser used trails, we always bring one. (You can always use your phone, if you really get in a pickle. Service not necessary.)
A word on your medical kit: it’s not worth much if you have no idea how to use the stuff that’s in it. Take time to learn about what you have, and how and when to use it. Again, what goes in our medical kit changes based on where we are going. As we are going to a higher traffic area, and we can easily improvise a splint or sling with the other stuff in our packs, we are keeping it light this trip.
- One hiking outfit
- One sleeping outfit
- One fleece
- Two pair’s hiking socks (layer a thin synthetic liner sock for the base with a thicker synthetic sock for a little padding over top)
- Sleep socks (Clean socks are a luxury while you air out the others for the next day)
- A clean pair of underwear for each night (again, a luxury, but to me it’s worth it!)
- Hiking boots (if you are going to invest in anything, invest here. I have Salewa’s, and after three other pairs of boots that all made my feet feel like they were in a medieval torture chamber, I LOVE THEM!)
- Sandals for camp (Teva’s)
- Rain gear:
- Rain jacket (Marmott).
- Rain pants (Frogg Toggs)
- Hygiene bag (a 1-liter Ziplock):
- Lotion (squirt some in a plastic Ziplock to save on weight)
- Toothbrush and toothpaste (again, squirt the toothpaste in a Ziplock)
- Dental floss (pre-cut a few strips and put them in the bag. Dental hygiene is still important in the woods, especially with all that candy!)
- Extra hair tie and two or three bobbypins
- Hand sanitizer
- Contact case/small solution bottle
- Small mirror (for putting in contacts)
- Wet wipes (pack of 10)
- A few pages of your favorite book are nice to have!
Some notes on rain gear: In the Smoky’s it is going to be raining like crazy every day. Rain pants and gaiters are something I don’t typically bring. But, waterproof hiking books are excellent at keeping water out and at keeping water in. If water runs down your legs, over your ankles and into your boot, you have a pond in your boot for days!
Some notes on personal items: Some of these are DEFINITELY negotiable. Obviously, I could skip wearing contacts and wear my glasses, but I like to have an uninhibited range of vision, so it’s worth it to me to have contacts and a small mirror. Same with lotion, totally unnecessary. But I have dry skin and it will drive me nuts, so having a little lotion is nice. I like to have wet wipes to clean up before bedtime. It helps me sleep better. Luke and I share pages of a Harry Potter book and hand them off to each other before sleep.
What I wouldn’t bring:
- Nalgene’s or other bulky water bottles. We use plastic 1-liter Dasani bottles. They weigh about 5-ounces less. (Save the bottle for your next trip, or recycle it!)
- Deodorant (…it won’t help. Seriously. Just embrace your human stink. You won’t notice after a while.)
- Hatchet, saw, or ax. (Unless you are planning for a jungle expedition into unknown territory, this is a whole lot of weight and you really don’t need it. If you’re hankering for a tool, grab a Leatherman instead!)
- Camp chair (a lot of weight when you can use a Tyvek sheet, or find a nice log or rock to sit on. Be one with nature!)
- Clean clothes for every day.
Well, there you have it! Does this represent an investment? Hell yes it does. I remember the first time we went to the store to start buying supplies I was in a bit of shock. But once you purchase your gear, and if you invest in stuff that is made to last, you have a set-up that will allow you to go on a trip on a whim for the cost of a $20 permit and some gas. It’s taken us several years to accumulate the items on this list, but it’s totally been worth it! The money we have saved in hotel costs by having a tent alone is kind of crazy to think about. It’s all perspective.
SO, interested in backpacking? It’s a great time to start shopping those clearance sections!
Do you have favorite gear that I don’t have listed here? Share the knowledge and leave me a comment!
Katie, As a long time (over 50 years) backpacker and former backcountry National Park Ranger in Yosemite and North Cascades and Alaska State Park Ranger, I got as far as the trowel and boot as digging options and trust you only use those techniques in really remote situations. The conscientious backpacker nowadays uses a “blue sack” (usually available at most ranger stations) so you can pack out EVERYTHING you packed in, including the stuff that passes through your intestines. Nothing more disgusting to find along the trail than wads of used t.p. some critter has dug up.
heinsight2010 thanks for your additional input! We are very careful to follow the rules and guidelines set forth by the trail stewards wherever we may be hiking, but your point reminds me of a quote: “Do your best until you know better, and when you know better, do better.” Even though the blue bag concept is something that hasn’t been highlighted on any of the trails we’ve traveled on, it makes sense, and we definitely should all do our part to keep our wilderness as preserved as possible. Thanks for reading!
Love your response. This was new to me the last time I hiked in Yosemite. Love the quote: “Do your best . . . Then do better.” Constant improvement is a hallmark of humankind.
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