If you're looking to the leap from day hikes to overnight hikes, there are some things you should keep in mind. Maybe your first multi-day hike will be on an organized trip abroad, or maybe it will be independently on a hike in a nearby park. Wherever it is, go prepared.
Choose the right backpack.
Seems simple and obvious enough, right? Until you walk into an outdoor equipment store like REI and see a wall of different bags to choose from.
For starters, you’ll need at least a 50-liter (13-gallon) bag, a measurement which refers to the amount the bag can carry. Longer backpacking trips usually require 70 liters (18.5 gallon) or more space to aid in packing additional supplies, but I’ve found 50-55 liter bags to be just right for a few days.
Bags are also measured and fitted according to your torso size. Just because you are a tall girl doesn’t mean you’re a perfect fit for a female large, so get measured by someone in the shop.
Key things to look for in a backpack are comfortable hip and shoulder straps to ease the heavy load on your body. Also ensure the bag has smart compartments to separate your gear and pockets for quick access of your essentials.
I’ve only just invested in a rain cover for my backpack (after two years of extended use), because lining my bag with garbage bags proved to be rain resistant enough in most cases.
Lightweight gear really does matter.
I can’t stress enough how important lightweight gear is.
On my first overnight hiking trip, I bought a cheap tent that weighed 8 pounds, a backpack that weighed 6 pounds, and a sleeping bag that weighed over 5 pounds. That was 19 pounds on my back before you factor in food, cooking equipment and clothing.
On the other side of the scale, I’ve seen ultra-light hikers with nothing more than a thin sleeping bag and tarp. That was all well and good until a torrential downpour occurred and they were freezing with nowhere to hide. Remember you want to keep excess weight down, but be comfortable as well.
Since you’ll inevitably need food and clothes, try to keep your essential camping items light. I'd suggest you:
- keep your tent weight below five pounds
- keep your sleeping pad at around one pound
- keep your sleeping bag under two pounds (weather dependent)
- keep you backpack around four pounds.
Count on carbohydrates.
If you have a thing against carbohydrates, then ignore this piece of advice—but trust me, you’ll want to load up on as much energy as possible.
Dehydrated backpacker meals in a bag (found in any outdoor store) are a great choice because of the high carb value, but also because they are incredibly easy on the trail.
Dehydrated packs range from curries to pastas and are served in a bag that only requires boiling water. Usually, one pack is enough for two people per meal. Since the meal is cooked and served in a single bag, there is absolutely no clean up.
Not having to do dishes is reason enough for these meals, but they are actually really tasty.
I met a vegan once who carried fresh fruit and veggies on their journey, however, they had to lug a 50-pound pack up Half Dome (vs my 30 pounds). Let me assure you, they were not having a good time on the trail while under that weight.
Keep yourself fed, but also keep the weight of your meals in mind.
Layer up in multi-functional clothing.
Don’t plan on having multiple outfits. Instead, pack multi-functional clothes that you can layer. For example, my packing list usually includes:
- a tank top for warm weather
- a t-shirt to protect my shoulders from sunshine
- a fleece or smart wool sweater that will remain warm even if wet
- yoga pants to keep me warm at night
- thicker shorts that will be OK on rugged terrain I sit on.
Smartwool socks are the key to comfortable feet and usually two pairs is all I need for a 3-day hike. At night, bring a pair of flip-flops for shoes at camp and leave your hiking shoes to air out underneath your tent’s tarp.
When hiking with the possibility of rain, bring a lightweight shell rain jacket rather than a thick jacket. A hat is also an essential in rain or sunshine.
Whatever you do, leave the jeans and dress shoes behind. They are heavy and simply not needed in the backcountry.
Do your research.
So far, my under-preparedness of previous hikes has had me nearly hit by lightning after not looking up the weather forecast, running the final five miles of a 29-mile hike after failing to bring a map or a headlamp as it gets dangerously close to nightfall, and cowering in my tent as a bear rummaged around me after I had forgotten my knife and bear spray at home. Unfortunately, that list goes on.
Each mistake I’ve made, however, I’ve learned from. Now I ask myself these questions before I go:
- How long is the hike?
- Do I have a map and does someone know where I’m going?
- What are the dangers of wildlife?
- Do I need bear spray and a knife?
- Do I need to protect my food from animals at night or at rest?
- What is the weather forecast?
- Do I need a rain jacket and/or sunscreen?
- Do I need extra layers for cold weather?
- What are the latest trail reports? (For example, has there been snow or bridge falls? Have other hikes completed this route recently?)
- Do I have enough water? Is there water on the trail? Should I bring water purification tabs?
- Will there be any electricity to charge my electronics? Is there cell service in case of an emergency?
- Do I need a backcountry permit to hike?
- What is the terrain like—steep, flat, rocky, or muddy? Do I need gaiters or hiking poles?
Each hike is unique, so answering yes to any of these may need further investigation on your part that this post couldn’t provide specifics for. Be sure to research your destination before you arrive.
Pack only what you need.
Here is a basic checklist that I use to prepare for hikes.
Above all, have fun.
Once you make the leap into backcountry camping, you can explore some amazing places on the globe that are further off the beaten path.