Few things bring us closer to nature than hiking through the wild. Whether you’re following a trail, or venturing deep into unknown reaches, one thing is certain: you’ll need to prepare. Packing for an outdoor excursion means balancing comfort with minimalism. Supplies are sparse once you’ve left civilization, so you’ll have to bring (at least) the bare necessities, while keeping total carry weight as light as possible.
As a rule of thumb, the net poundage of a full pack shouldn’t exceed 20% of its bearer’s bodyweight (10% for day packs), although those with good endurance and hiking experience may be able to handle more. For new hikers, staying on the lighter side is best; you’ll be surprised how heavy a 20-pound pack can feel after trekking for a few miles.
Below is a list of necessities that no wilderness explorer should start a trip without.
- Pack – Adjustable, framed backpacks with a carrying capacity between 50 and 65 liters are ideal.
- Shelter – Lightweight and quick to set up, tents are a typical form of wilderness shelter. Some tents can be bulky even when stored, however, so you may want to conserve space and select another option. Those looking for comfort in wooded areas may prefer a hammock.
- Sleeping Bag – Sleeping bags made specifically for backpacking are designed to compress into small, easily transportable packages. Synthetic bags are an affordable option. For those aiming to pack less weight, ultralight down sleeping bags may be a prime choice. Bags also come rated for sleeping in certain temperatures; 20-degree bags are great for spring and fall, while 40-degree bags are suited for summer.
- Clothes/Dry Bag – Bring a few layers of synthetic clothes including a t-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, shorts, yoga pants/long johns, 2-3 pairs of socks, a light rain jacket, and, depending on location and time of year, a heavier coat. (avoid cotton or denim, as they are slow to dry and take up weight when waterlogged). Store them in a waterproof bag, and you can use the bundle as a pillow.
- Footwear – Go with footwear optimized for long treks, such as hiking shoes, hiking boots or trail running shoes. You might also want to pack a pair of sandals, flip flops, or crocs to wear off the trail.
- Hygiene/Medical Supplies – Use a small, ziploc-style bag to store toiletries: toothbrushes, toothpaste, toilet paper and feminine products if needed. General first aid supplies might include ibuprofen for altitude headaches, benadryl to counter allergic reactions, as well as disinfectant wipes and bandaids.
- Portable Stove/Cooking Pot – Many camp stoves get their heat from disposable gas containers, but makeshift stoves can also be fashioned out of empty soda cans and denatured alcohol. Of course the age-old option for cooking in the wild is simply to light a campfire.
- Water Bottle – Be sure to take along containers capable of storing two to three liters of water. Those traversing desert terrain or other dry areas, or traveling in hot weather should consider packing even more if places to refill won’t be readily available.
- Food Bag – It’s a good idea to store food separately and in a closeable bag, as you’ll have to hang it up at night if you plan on camping in bear territory (bring a thin cord, around 30 feet long if this is the case). Keep in mind that each person will consume around two pounds of food per day when hiking. Also be sure to avoid perishables (they won’t last) and canned goods (unnecessary weight). Many veteran hikers prefer to pack dehydrated meals.
Honorable mentions include a flashlight or headlamp, pocket knife, pepper spray, and a guide map. Equip yourself with these essentials along with a sense of curiosity and adventure, and you’ll be properly outfitted to conquer the trip of a lifetime.