“What do you take” or “What should I take when going camping?” This is often the question first asked. Like most hobbies, you really don’t have to spend much to get started – or you can spend a fortune – it’s really up to you. After purchasing the basics and gaining some experience, you may often find yourself wanting to upgrade to lighter and “better” gear. THAT’S where it starts to get expensive! So for this introduction, I will be very general and at a later date I will discuss each category in length and conduct individual reviews of gear I have owned.
One thing to remember when planning is that less weight equals more fun hiking while heavier packs normally means more fun camping or you are carrying unnecessary items. You need to find a balance in your personal comfort level and this is different from person to person. There is an expression of “HYOH” which means “Hike Your Own Hike.” In backpacking there is no right or wrong, just opinions. While I may not carry a 5 lb iron skillet, you may want to. If you are carrying that particular item and are happy, then by all means go for it. If you ask my advice on how to lighten your load, I may point out the 5 lb skillet, but it really doesn’t matter to me because I’m not the one having to carry that weight. There is a very good chance you probably will not need as much as you think. You’re initially going for only one night, right? There’s a LOT you can live without for one night.
With that being said, let’s cover some basic categories.
1. Pack/Backpack. You have to be able to carry everything! I put a trash bag or trash compactor bag (more durable) as a liner on the inside and put everything that needs to stay dry in the liner just in case it rains. Many options for an entry level pack such as Wal-Mart, Target, Academy, etc. This is often upgraded as the entry level packs often weigh 4-5 pounds empty, but I’ve had one that served me well for several years before I decided to upgrade. IF you plan on carrying no more than 25-30 lbs, there are options available that are lightweight (2 lb range) that will do well for just a tad more than a backpack from a large retailer. I would do some research here, but the most important this is that the pack fits you well, holds all of your stuff and is comfortable.
2. Somewhere to sleep/Shelter. Tents are most common for beginners. Once again, there are many entry level choices here. I would suggest making sure you know how to use whatever you bring to include some set up practice if you have never used it before taking it out in the woods for the first time. However, hammocks are more comfortable and worth looking into, but I will address them at a later time (as a note – tents are cheaper and easier for the beginner). If sleeping on the ground, an appropriate sleeping bag and cheap blue foam mat keeps the ground from stealing all of your body heat.
3. Food. Plan on 3 meals a day plus a few snacks adjusted for meals eaten off trail, such as traveling to or from your trip. Food is heavy so I often take freeze dried meals, but oatmeal, dried fruit, protein bars, etc often make it in my pack. I always take an extra meal. I’ll go ahead and include a stove or some way to heat/boil water. A stove is not essential, but I like warm food and don’t forget utensils!
4. Clothes. They are heavy. I usually just change my underclothes (including socks) and wear the same outer clothes. Yes, it is slightly gross but much lighter. Spare socks and rain gear always – I can use my rain gear to help stay warm and dry socks are a necessity to avoid blisters. The key is NO COTTON! Cotton retains moisture and will not keep you warm when wet AND can cause chaffing – not fun on a long hike. Name brand isn’t important.
5. Tools/Misc: During the spring, summer, or fall bug spray is essential where I live and I treat my clothes with Permethrin (sold at Wal-Mart or Academy in sporting goods). I always bring a flashlight/headlamp. I also take a map, GPS, compass, and fire kit. Just having these items aren’t enough – you have to know how to use them! Some other items I often bring depending on the weather or conditions may include sun screen, camera with extra batteries, and hat/sunglasses.
6. FAK/HBA: My First Aid Kit is very basic such as a few band-aids, anti-acid, Tylenol, etc. It is very small (and light). Health and Beauty Aids include such things as a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, deodorant, etc.
7. You will need something to carry water (I use an old Smart Water bottle). Depending on how thirsty you get or how much water you usually drink, normally 2 liters at a time is more than enough. You also need a way to treat water if you are spending much time out in the woods. Water is super heavy. A quart weighs over 2 lbs! I plan on carrying little and refilling often whenever possible but this does call for planning prior to leaving. If this is your plan, you will need a way to treat the water. I will address this later.
8. Shoes/boots – comfortable and broken in. Boots are great if you have them, but many people wear trail runners and/or tennis shoes. Once again, I don’t suggest cotton socks. I wear wool year round – they are just thinner in the summer or sometimes I wear some type of synthetic sock.
As a general rule, you want to carry NO MORE than 20% of your body weight which includes your full pack, food and water. I would try to aim for 25 pounds or less if at all possible. It will make your trip much more enjoyable
So, there’s an introduction of what to take camping/hiking/backpacking. In future posts I plan on breaking each area down and discussing options and lessons learned in length. My hope is that you can learn from my mistakes and experience.