Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What to bring on an overnight adventure

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In the coming weeks, I will be participating on a "Mentor Hike" where we, experienced backpackers are paired with a beginner backpacker. I wouldn't say I'm "experienced" but I can say that I have had my own share of scares on the trail and I was once responsible for searching for a SAR team to get someone off a mountain - this post, however, will not be about that.

I can still remember my first backpacking and how miserable I was carrying so much unnecessary weight to a point that I did not enjoy my first backpacking experience. Unhealthy, overweight, and burdened by a heavy pack was not my idea of a good time.  I always wished that I was first shown the ropes and covered the basics of what to bring.  I believe that if given that opportunity, my first trip experience would have been entirely different. 

My evolution from 2011 to 2013
NOTE: The photo above (L) carrying a 55 pound pack for an overnight trip and (R) 2 years later, an 18 pound pack for a 3-Day trip in the Sierra Nevada.

I don't plan on discussing "Ultralight" backpacking and I don't plan on covering costs but my hope is that this article will still help you determine what to pack for your first backpacking trip.  

Please note that the gear I am covering below is rated 3-season for temps that range in the 30's and up.  This gear mentioned will not cover snow and off-trail travel - this is meant for on-trail travel on established trails.  

Let begin!  


Before we talk about gear, let's discuss first what to wear.  Ideally, you want to avoid wearing cotton. When cotton gets wet, it ceases to insulate you because the fabric fills up with water. When you hike, you perspire,  and any cotton clothing touching your skin will absorb your sweat like a sponge.  It is best to avoid any garments that contain cotton or a blend of cotton.  Instead, wear clothing made from synthetic materials or merino wool. These materials basically allow for moisture wicking and some like wool, can be virtually stink-proof.  

For more information:

Items I personally wear on hikes consists of:

  • A short-sleeved synthetic hiking shirt
  • (Or) A long-sleeved synthetic light polo
  • Hat
  • A pair of pants or shorts
  • A pair of synthetic/wool hiking socks
  • Shoes w/ good traction (some opt for boots for ankle support)
  • Trekking poles (not pictured)
  • Sunglasses (not pictured)

Other items you may want to have on-hand while hiking may be some electronic device for taking photos, GPS tracking (as seen on the photo above).  These days, most smartphones have the ability to do multiple tasks like track your route and take photos - I included these devices next to the clothing photo above because I have these devices accessible at all time.


Now, on to the meat and potatoes...let's talk about the "Big 3" items.  The big 3 items basically are your:

  • Pack
  • Tent/Shelter
  • Sleeping Bag + Sleeping Pad

These main 3 items will allow you to (1) carry your gear (2) have a place to sleep and (3) have something to keep you warm and comfortable when you sleep.

Big 3 Items

Next on the list, essentials. These items consists of:

  • Map and Compass
  • A knife
  • Headlamp/Flashlight
  • Lighter - or other firestarter
  • Mylar Blanket (not pictured)
  • Whistle (not pictured)
  • First Aid Kit - this can be either purchased as a whole or can me custom made per preference
  • Toiletries (wipes, toothbrush/toothpaste, etc.)

More info on First Aid Kits can be found here:

The first aid kit I personally have (pictured left) is something I customized myself. I just have your simple burn cream, antibiotic cream, a variety of bandages is different sizes, advil plus other prescription meds I may have, and some fabric tape or duct tape.  Pictured on right, is my headlamp, knife, map and compass - very important items.  I never venture to the wild without at least my map and compass.  I always like to know where I am going and how I am going to exit.  Prior to any trip I take, I always plan my route before-hand. Trail research is neither difficult or is necessary! 

NOTE: It is important to notify people you know prior to an outdoor adventure. Always let them know when they can expect a call upon your return and provide them with information on where you are going.  As Louis Pasteur once said "Chance favors the prepared mind"...


Moving on, it is important to also bring clothing that you will need to keep you warm and protect you from possible rain and wind.

For most overnight trips, I like to bring:

  • A wind shirt - also waterproof for rain protection
  • A down jacket - to wear around camp when it gets cold and also to sleep in
  • A rain poncho (not pictured) - additional rain protection

If you do not own a down jacket, you can also bring a fleece sweater/jacket as an alternative.  Fleece as a fabric has very good thermal properties that continue to keep you warm even when slightly damp.  

Next, sleepwear. I like to bring a change of clothes to use when I sleep.  I happen to like keeping my sleeping bag as clean as possible and this can be achieved by having a change of clothes.

Typically sleep clothing I bring:

  • A pair of long-johns - to keep my legs warm
  • An extra pair of wool socks
  • A capilene long-sleeve shirt (not pictured)
  • Beanie - to keep my head warm
  • A bandana - multi-use item
  • A big headnet - in case it's buggy.
  • A pair of gloves to keep my hands warm
NOTE: Depending on weather conditions, there are a few items listed above that I do not bring.  Again, prior trail research will aid in my decision on what I should and shouldn't bring.  This is easy to determine especially on an overnight trip.


On to my favorite part of backpacking...FOOD! When you're out in the woods away from the nearest store, it is important to plan your menu carefully.  You have to determine how much calories you will burn during the hike and figure out how much food you will need to replenish your body with the lost calories.  

On a simple overnight, you will need to plan for:

  • Snacks - to be eaten during and after the hike
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
  • Breakfast - what you want to eat when you wake up

Keep in mind, the weight of the food you're carrying.  It is a good idea to bring caloric-dense food, food that packs a punch and will provide you with the lost calories as well as fill your stomach.  

Here's a good comprehensive list of food along with calorie information (not my list, found on

Aside from the food you bring, you may also want the ability to cook and/or heat something up for a warm drink. Most backpackers will bring a cook pot and stove system for their cooking needs. Pictured above on the right is a Jetboil system - this is an all-in-one system that provides you will a stove, pot, and a cup to fill most of your cooking needs (spoon and fuel separate).  

Another consideration is also where to store your food plus other smelly items.  Having a bag or container to store your food is also a good idea. If using a bag/stuff sack for food storage, it is important to bring at least 50 feet of cord to hang your food.  One can also opt to bring a bear canister to store food overnight.

NOTE: When storing food either via hanging or use of a canister, it is a good idea to keep the food at least 200 feet away from where you are sleeping.  This is also the case for cooking and food away as possible from your shelter.   

Now that we have talked about food in general, let's discuss water treatment.  On most wilderness destinations, clean water is not as readily available.  One has to be prepared to treat the water.  Below is a list of water treatment options:

  • UV (Steripen) - pictured above
  • Bleach - purifies water
  • Filter - depending on the filter, this can purify and/or treat water
  • Boil - when none of the above are available, boiling works best

For more information on water treatment options:

NOTE: You will need the ability to store water either by bringing a water bottle or soft water bottle (pictured above).

I hope that you find this short and simple guide helpful.  I am always open to suggestions and if you feel I am missing important key items, please feel free to comment.

Till next time, see you on the trails!

1 comment:

  1. Nice job, Angus. See you out on the trails!
    Kevin (Little Jimmy-March)