Backpacking 101: Learn How To Liberate Your Backpacking Gear This Spring
If you’ve yet to experience the restorative and hubris-annihilating qualities of tramping through nature for an extended period with all your means lashed onto your back, it’s really time you liberated your backpacking gear.by Jason Grant Whitehouse
You spent last year’s tax return on some sweet new backpacking gear, but you’ve yet to test it beyond the unplanned St. Patty’s Day backyard sleepover .., yeah it’s time to set your sights a bit higher. Don’t get me wrong, backyard sleepovers are integral to the adolescent experience—thing is, your ultralight backpacking gear secretly hates you for consigning it to the fate of captivity. You see, backpacking gear is like a magic carpet capable of taking you to dream-like places that have the potential to restore youth, increase overall well-being, ‘cleanse’ an over-stimulated mind-state, quiet bad dreams, and increase overall epic-ness of character by at least 84%. If you’ve yet to experience the restorative and hubris-annihilating qualities of tramping through nature for an extended period with all your means lashed onto your back, it’s really time you let your caged backpacking gear run free. There’s, like, a whole new world out there, man.
To get you started on your path to backpack gear liberation, let’s take a look at a breakdown of required gear:
Backpacks:I like to keep my pack and its contents as lightweight as possible. Over-packing is the bane of all budding backpackers. Remember the movie White Fang when the older guy purges Ethan Hawkes’ burgeoning backpack of books and other knickknacks, all-the-while cussing his idiocy? Well, don’t be Ethan, and don’t waste pack space on luxuries and contingencies—instead plan, pack, pare, and repeat until you are impressed with your own Derrida-like deconstruction capabilities. Gauge your pack size according to nights on the trail:
Tents:A lightweight 3-Season tent is beyond-adequate refuge for the vast majority of backpacking trips. Also, an ultralight tent option will have your back thanking you at the end of each day. 4-Season tents are reserved for winter expeditions, and are often substantially heavier than most 3-season options, so do your legs a favor and keep a utility-weight ratio in mind when selecting your home-away-from-home.
Sleeping Bags:When it comes to deciding between sleeping bags, I focus on two specific aspects: insulation type, and weight. Down-insulated bags are extremely warm, and take up less room in a pack compared to synthetic-insulated bags. Down-insulated bags tend to have greater longevity than bags employing synthetic insulation types—you’ll get more years of consistently warm nights out of a down-insulated bag. Down insulation doesn’t retain warmth when wet, and can take forever to dry once wet. Synthetic insulation bags, on the other hand, are extremely lightweight, dry extremely quickly, and retain warmth when wet. More often than not, I opt for synthetic insulation sleeping bags due to their increased versatility over down-insulated bags.
Sleeping Pads:A good night’s sleep is priceless, and an insulative barrier between you and the Earth’s cold during the dark hours is your best shot at a restful night. Beyond insulative properties, general comfort and protection from rocks, roots, and other sleep-robbing features on the ground is important to consider, so find an optimal ratio of cushion-to-weight, and pull the trigger.
Food:While many alternatives exist, I’ve yet to find a food option that satisfies my gullet at the end of a long day better than pre-packaged, freeze-dried foods. It’s also important to point out that a week’s worth of freeze-dried food can fit in the same amount of space as a half-week’s amount of conventional food items(the same logic can be applied to weight)—and pack space is precious once you’re out on the trail. Freeze-dried food is easy and quick to cook, cleanup is a non-issue, and it provides plenty of calories for the next full day. Beyond actual meals, recovery food/snacks and water supplements are a must—any lightweight calories are a backpacker’s friend.
Water: If you are planning on being on the trail for more than one night, then you need to consider some means of water purification. Packing a means of water purification beats hauling enough water for your entire trip, so remember the mantra: light is right.
Stoves:Stoves are pretty straight forward. If you have a water purifier, you won’t need to worry about boiling large volumes of water throughout the course of your trip—this will save space and weight in that you won’t need to pack excess fuel. Also, most meals call for a liter or less of water, and the vast majority of stoves can boil a liter of water using very little fuel. When choosing a stove, aim for a solid, durable yet lightweight design that is capable of boiling water. You’ll also want a set of lightweight cook ware and utensils.
Clothing:Regardless of the amount of time I plan to spend on the trail, I rarely take more than one change of clothing. Actual underwear or boxers are another story, so take plenty—you don’t want to have to resort to this stuff on day two of your five-day trek, believe me. Pack lightweight, fast-drying apparel. For baselayers, I opt for merino wool when temps are low and polypro when temps are warm. Remember that cotton kills in the backcountry, so leave the casual tees in the dresser. An ultralight, insulated jacket (big on warmth, small on weight and volume) is a must if you plan on seeing your breath in the evening hours, as is a rain shell if precipitation is in the forecast.
Footwear:Fresh socks, soldier, fresh socks! Blisters are the fun police when it comes to backpacking (backpacking fun flees at the first sign of blistering). I prefer merino wool for its friction-reducing, moisture managing, and odor-reducing capabilities, but you can’t beat synthetic socks when it’s real hot out. As for shoes, your destination will play a large part in determining shoe-type. For wet terrain you’ll need a waterproof shoe, for rocky/rough terrain you might want a supportive boot with a shank in it, desert terrain calls for lightweight, breathable shoes, etc. As a rule, I prefer lightweight, quick-drying footwear more often than not.
This Backpacking 101 overview is just a beginning. We know our Community is treasure trove of backpacking wisdom, so help us spread the addiction and please hit up the Beacon with any tips, hints, and advice for aspiring backpackers. And happy trails.