DIY Guide to Overnight Backpacking (All Seasons): Packing List, Equipment, and Tips

Where to Backpacking guide

Backpacking:  Where to go; readying yourself for an overnight hike.  Backpacking means carrying life's necessities, food; clothes; bedding and shelter, on your back.  With today's lightweight equipment, a pack load for a weekend trip in summer need not exceed 20 to 30 pounds. 

Condition yourself for a trip by walking or jogging daily.  Work up to 6 miles of walking; then begin carrying a backpack with a gradually increasing load.  It's best to backpack with at least two partners.  In case of injury, one can stay with the injured person while the other goes for help. 

Where to backpack:  National and state parks and forests provide the best back country camping.  Inquire at park headquarters or at a state parks department about trails and campsites.  Other sources are guide books, trail maps, and outing clubs.  In selecting a destination, consider the difficulty of the terrain, the physical condition of party members, and the availability of water.  A rule of thumb is not to exceed 5 to 10 miles per day on easy terrain at the outset.  A 10-minute rest for each hiking hour gives you the chance to remove the burden from your shoulders, drink water, eat a snack, take pictures, and savor the wilds.  Allow ample time to arrive at your campsite before dusk. 

Food and cooking equipment:  Nothing beats a hot meal at day's beginning and end.  Rent, borrow, or buy a cook stove and fuel, a set of nesting pots, a pot gripper, and a pot holder.  Also bring plastic bowls and cups and spoons for each person.  Dehydrated and freeze-dried foods packaged for campers are convenient but expensive.  You can pick up many items from your supermarket, such as instant cereal, dried soups, potato and rice dishes, and pasta sauces.  Go heavy on carbohydrates; season with herbs; add canned tuna or frankfurters for flavor.  Put the ingredients for each meal in individual plastic bags labeled as to which meal it is.  Take dried fruits, nuts, and candies for desserts and trail snacks. 

Clothing:  Plan your first trip for warm weather.  It simplifies your choice of clothing.  Cotton is cool next to the skin, but cotton-synthetic blends dry faster if they get wet.  On warm days enjoy the freedom of loose-fitting hiking shorts.  But for protection against nighttime temperatures, insects, and brambles, bring long pants and a light, long-sleeved shirt.  Cool weather calls for a sweater, long underwear, a down-filled or synthetic-insulated vest or parka, and wool cap and mittens.  Prepare for rain with a hooded poncho or a pants-and-parka outfit of waterproof and breathable fabric.  (Breathable fabric allows body moisture to escape.)  Wear lightweight boots of leather or of fabric and leather with ridged soles for traction.  To reduce boot friction, wear a pair of silk, cotton, or light wool socks under thick over socks of wool or wool and synthetic.  Break in new boots by walking around in them for an hour a day; when they feel comfortable, extend the time and mileage. 

Sleeping gear:  Although expensive, a good down or synthetic sleeping bag will last many years with care.  A closed-cell foam pad or an air mattress under your sleeping bag will make your bed nearly as comfy as at home.  A foam pad weighs less and insulates better against cold ground, but an air mattress provides better cushioning.  Tents:  If possible, borrow or rent tents at first, trying different styles before investing in one.  A tent should be light-weight and well ventilated and should have mosquito-proof netting at all openings.  It should have a seamless, waterproof floor extending up the sides 6 to 12 inches; the top should be of breathable nylon fabric, and there should be a separate rain fly. 

The pack and its contents:  The pack too can be rented.  It should have an internal or external frame to help support the load.  Proper fit and adjustment of straps are essential, so ask a sales person or experienced friend for help.  Carry a flashlight, first aid kit, waterproof matches and backup light, a knife with can and bottle opener, a filled water bottle and water-purification tablets, trail maps, sunscreen, sunglasses, insect repellent, toilet paper, whistle, rope (for hanging food from a tree out of animals' reach), and change for emergency phone calls.  You may include camera, binoculars, field guides, and fishing gear, but remember that each item adds weight.  Keep the pack's center of gravity high and forward.  Put light items at the bottom, heavier ones at top. 

Items needed on the trail:  snacks, water bottle, maps, and rain gear go in outer pockets or near the top.  Pack the sleeping bag and pad in a waterproof bag and lash it to the bottom of the pack with straps or shock cords.  Before setting out, tell at least one friend or relative your plans.  Check the weather forecast.  At the trail head or ranger station (if any), sign in and inform the authorities where you're going and when you plan to return.

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Jerry Walch
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