Whether you will be taking a weekend hike in a state park or week-long trek through the wilderness, backpacking is an affordable vacation that brings everything together. You escape from your daily life, you get to connect with nature, and you’re doing something physically demanding that creates closer bonds with your friends and family. If you take the wrong gear, though, this opens the door to problems. Here’s a short guide to buying backpacking gear.
The Ground Rules
There are several basic rules to follow when selecting backpacking gear, regardless of what it is. When comparing items, lighter is generally better, unless performance is an issue. A smaller water bottle, for example, could leave you dehydrated at a crucial moment. Don’t assume you have to buy new; many household items could be repurposed for packing. Go for high-quality items if they will be reused, but there’s no need to go overboard. Don’t get things you really won’t need or merely hope you might need. And choose items that pack nicely. This means avoiding exposed sharp edges or boxy items at all costs.
The Essential Backpacking List
A backpack made for the job is first on any backpacking essentials list. This is one of the times where quality is worth it. You want it to have an internal molded frame for convenience. Secure, durable straps are a necessity. Something that’s as easy to carry as possible is essential. A chest belt or waist belt makes that possible. A pack with a built-in water bladder is a plus.
A sleeping bag intended for hikers is next on the list unless you’re only going to hike during the day. Get the best backpacking sleeping bag you can afford. Make sure that it’s lightweight, compact, and warm. The big bulky sleeping bag you take on sleepovers becomes a major hassle when you’re hiking. The thin little bags that are little more than sewn-together sheets may not be enough to keep you alive if temperatures drop below freezing. Mummy bags rated to 0°F are good for those who are camping in the winter or mountains. You could use an emergency aluminum blanket to increase your insulation in cold weather.
A tent should be on your list, though you may already have one. If you don’t want to carry a full tent, a tarp is a decent compromise. Just remember to take a tent pad so that you’ll protect yourself and your tent from moisture and sharp items on the ground.
A water filter is a necessity. Forget iodine tablets and go for a good water filter. Just make sure you only tap into flowing water since stagnant water could contain impurities the average water filter cannot completely compensate for. And make sure to bring a first aid kit as well.
Knives are essential items, whether you’re cutting branches out of your way, trimming rope or making dinner. Equally important is at least one way to make a fire. Matches, lighters, and maybe flint that lets you use your knife to create a spark are all good enough. Fire allows you to cook, stay warm, scare predators away, and if necessary, make smoke signals.
Good hiking boots are another essential item. They need to provide protection for your feet while letting them breathe. Waterproof boots prevent all kinds of foot problems.
The Nice to Have Items
Flashlights are necessary if you’re going to spend the night somewhere, but headlamps are better since they free up your hands. You can take biodegradable toilet paper with you and pack toiletries like a toothbrush, soap, and toothpaste. A lightweight stove will ensure that you can cook almost anything you’re carrying. A few bandanas are nice to have on hand. They can shield your face, soak up sweat, mark your path, or work together to replace a bath towel.
Hiking makes you put a premium on weight, so you’ll want to find the gear that meets your needs. Only buy and take the essentials, but make sure you have what is truly necessary to avoid a disaster.