Survive Your First Backpacking Trip with this Gear List

This is the second post of a two-part series focussed on the clothing and equipment I like to bring into the backcountry. We are working with a 3-day (2 night) trip in the spring, summer, or fall because this is one of the most common trips people take. I'm sharing my insight in an effort to help people hit the trail with confidence for their first or fiftieth time. Download our handy checklist and read on!

Gear Essentials

  • Insulation: Check out the clothing list from our last post. Be sure to bring the clothing you'll need to stay warm when you get wet or cold. It can save your life. It's never too warm to bring a winter hat and gloves or mittens. These can feel like life-savers after a cold and rainy day on the trail.
  • Lighting: A headlamp or flashlight is essential. I prefer the Princeton Tech Sync Headlamp, which is why we sell it in the shop. You'll quickly learn the benefit of a headlamp over a flashlight while cooking at night or rummaging through pockets or zippers of your pack. Hands-free is the only way to be! Don't forget to bring an extra set of batteries for those times when you accidentally leave the light on in your pack.
  • Hydration: Simply put, you need to have abundant amounts of drinkable water. In some situations you have to carry the water you need, but typically popular backpacking routes have access to water sources. That said, you must be able to safely filter or treat the water you have access to. In Michigan, no water sources are safe to drink without treatment. So how do you treat the water? Many people use a water filtration system like those sold by Katadyn, but I use the Aquamira water treatment system. Both work. If you want more info on the choices just shoot me an e-mail or call and we can help you make the right choice for you and your trip. Don't forget water bottles for storage and for drinking. Nalgene bottles are popular, but what you really need is a bottle that can be resealed and hold at least one liter of water.
  • Navigation: Don't get lost! Bring a map of the area you'll be backpacking in, and a compass to help find your way. Store these in a plastic bag to protect them from the elements and keep them together. If you are a tech junky, a good GPS can work, but I find that sometimes satellite signals can be lost in dense woods or in mountain canyons, so nothing is more reliable than a map. Did you know you can download hi-resolution maps of any location in the United States for free? This is an amazing resource for planning your adventures.
  • Sun Protection: It is important to avoid discomfort on a backpacking trip because little issues can become big issues quickly. That said, keep yourself protected from the sun. Don't forget sunscreen, lip-balm, and sunglasses.
  • First-Aid: Caring for your health is a primary concern in the backcountry. When you do encounter a nasty scrape, cut, bruise, sprained ankle, or anything else that may provide significant discomfort a solid First-Aid kit is important to have with you. I recommend this one.
  • Fire: Fire can save your life. Bring a lighter (matches are OK, but the lighter seems to be my preferred tool). I also bring 2 emergency fire starters, just in case. Keep these things dry! At the very least a plastic bag is a good storage solution.
  • Food: Be sure to bring enough food for your adventure! I recommend about 3,000 calories per day per person, plus another 2,000 calories in reserve. This can adjust based on the size and appetite of your traveling companions. Dried foods are great weight-saving options. I think I'll write another post on backpacking food choices next, so I'll spare the details for now.
  • Repair Kits and Tools: You should be prepared to fix anything that you require to survive. Usually this means your stove, tent, water filter, and backpack. I bring a tent-pole splint, a cleaning kit for my stove, a bit of paracord (rope or tough nylon string may work), and a multi-tool that has pliers, a knife, and other basic tools built in. These items have always helped me out of a jam.
  • Shelter: Most commonly groups use backpacking tents as their shelter of choice. That's what I use, but it isn't the only option. Bivouacs, tarps, and other choice can work depending on your adventure and personal needs.

The Rest

These are the items I bring that aren't technically essential, but I believe are critical to a comfortable weekend.

  • Backpack (big enough to fit your gear)
  • Pack cover/trash bag (to keep your gear dry)
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Backpacking stove (for heating cooking water, boiling/purifying water and preparing meals)
  • Fuel for the stove
  • Cookset with a pot-grabber
  • Dishes or bowls (one for each person)
  • Utensils (again, for each person)
  • Nylon cord for hanging food and other smelly items
  • A stuff-sack or compressible bag (often a sleeping bag stuff sack works)
  • Toothbrush/paste
  • Bio-degradeable soap
  • A shammy/towel for drying and cleaning dishes or other items
  • Backup water treatment
  • Whistle (for emergency situations)

That is about it for my list. What do you bring or recommend that I didn't mention? Have any other questions? Add your comments below.

Download our checklist!

My next post will focus on the food situation. It seems daunting, but in actuality eating and prepping food in the backcountry isn't too rough. Check back next week for more info!

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