Know the Basics to Unplug and Unwind
Many lists online are extensive or have specific things on them that people think they can’t live without overnight or for a day or so, but the truth is, we can live without a lot of things for an overnight trip into the woods. However, there are several necessities that a person needs to survive and also have an enjoyable time.
The following are what I would consider the most important for me, to have a quick getaway into the trees without much prep and without much worry, depending on where you live and where you hike. I live in the PNW where there are lots of trees, lots of shade and typically plenty of water sources along the way to get water if I happen to run out (which has happened more than once, so it’s good to be prepared).
I would definitely adjust the list according to where you live or where you are going backpacking as well. Dryer climates like Arizona or if you are from a country that doesn’t have a lot of natural water sources, carry more water and make sure you have a pack that can hold fluids comfortably for the length of your journey.
10 Necessities for Backpacking:
- Tent or Hammock (depending on weather and bugs)
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Plenty of food (Stove and Fuel, if owned)
- Water, In a hydration pack and/or bottles and water-treatment supplies/water filter
- Weather-appropriate clothing
- Emergency kit (with compass and map if going on a new trail or off trail)
- Hygiene supplies/toiletries
- Comfortable Shoes
- The Ten Essentials REI Expert Advice, their take on essentials and while I agree that all the things on their list are necessary on certain trips, not all are necessary for a quick overnight backpacking excursion, especially if I’ve been on the trail before and know what to expect.
If it’s your very first backpacking trip:
If you have never gone backpacking before, I urge you to go with an experienced backpacker and have them help you. Have them help you pack, help you pick a length of hike and location, and have them go with you to help you along the way. I would also recommend borrowing gear from friends or family until you know if you even like backpacking. And the more you try different backpacks, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, tents (or if you like sleeping in a hammock or not), the more you can narrow down what you like and don’t like about certain gear and then when you go to purchase your own, you have a better idea what you want. If you don’t have anyone to help you, keep reading.
You can also look into hiking groups on social media. There are many helpful people who love to find new hiking buddies in local hiking groups in your area. If there are none, you could create one. Or broaden your search until you find one where you might get some local advice about where to hike and what the terrain is like closer to you. Packing for the terrain can be important. You need more water (and food) if the trek is mostly uphill, or if it’s in the desert, your pack needs to be able to carry more water. Water is one of the most important things to bring on any hiking adventure, not only for drinking, but meal prep and cleaning things/first aid.
Go for the Cheap Stuff First
To have a positive first experience, make sure you have everything on the above list. For this post, I’m not going to recommend any particular brands or add any links, I will do that later. I hope you see the importance of trying to borrow or maybe even look on Let Go or Offer up, for cheaper used items that you could use to simply try them out and see if you like them.
Focus on Creating the Experience You Want
For now, focus on creating an experience you want on the trail you’d like to explore and make sure you simply have the necessities. The more you put into the pack, the more weight you have to carry and it can get heavy very quickly once you start adding things you don’t really need. The list above is important, I will go into a bit more detail why:
Try to borrow a backpack, but if you must buy one to try backpacking to see if you enjoy it, I would recommend getting a cheaper pack with certain features:
1. Make sure it is big enough. I always make sure a pack has enough space for a sleeping bag, clothes and food inside and I highly recommend a hydration pack. If it isn’t big enough for your tent and sleeping pad to go inside, make sure it has:
2. Plenty of loops, straps or places to tie the tent and sleeping pad to the outside of the pack as well as any extra clothes, like a jacket.
3. A hip strap. Without the hip strap, all the weight of the pack sits on your shoulders and it needs to be distributed across your back or you’ll end up sore and might tire before you reach your destination.
4. Water bottle holders if you are in a dry area. Pack extra water so dehydration doesn’t become an issue. Carrying a heavy pack is more work than just walking and can cause you to sweat more too, so be sure you have enough water for the journey.
5. Waterproof rain fly cover, to keep things dry in case it rains or you fall in a creek or something. What? It can happen!
This is important and I would definitely use a tent instead of a hammock for your first trip backpacking. Some people can’t sleep in a hammock and you are more protected from bugs, critters and other wildlife in a tent, which can be reassuring and help you sleep.
Sleeping Bag and Sleeping pad:
Most mummy bags work and if you only have a simple sleeping bag, simply plan your trip in the summer or during a warmer time to avoid being too cold. If you want to buy a sleeping bag and know you’ll use it, I’d recommend a lightweight down or down-alternative that goes down to 20 or below. Temperatures typically drop at night and its always better to be too warm than too cold while trying to sleep outdoors. If you live in a warmer climate, find the right temperature sleeping bag that you think is right for you. Material, brand and design only really matter when it affects the temperature you want.
Sleeping pads can vary significantly in price and type and it depends greatly on how you like a mattress, the softer you like a mattress, the thicker the pad you’ll want. It is a personal preference. I will share more about what I use later, but for now, try to borrow as many different types as you can to narrow down what kinds you like and don’t like.
For an overnight trip, I try to limit how much I pack and try not to pack my stove and fuel. I pack bars, jerky or vegetarian/vegan protein equivalent, dried fruit, cut veggies, and make it as simple as possible. If you have a stove or have access and want to use freeze-dried food with your stove, that works too, but it isn’t a necessary cost and it ends up being close to the same in weight when you add fuel and utensils, pots and serving ware. There are times I like having the stove to make special things, but it isn’t necessary for a quick overnighter.
I may have mentioned this before, but water is very important. Dehydration is not fun and can quickly make for a very unpleasant trip. Hydration packs are the best because they distribute the weight where it needs to be for optimal comfort. If you need to bring extra and have a water filter, bring water bottles and the filter as well, just in case.
This may be self-explanatory. Clothing is important and there are all sorts of brands that say they are the best for activities, however with backpacking, layering is the best and tech T’s, wool and fleece are better that cotton. I typically wear a tech T bottom layer, long sleeve running shirt and a fleece jacket or wool sweater if it really cold. I have a down jacket insert for my waterproof coat that works great in the colder seasons.
In the warmer seasons I strap a jacket to my pack as well, just in case it rains.
For bottoms, either shorts with lots of pockets, running leggings or fleece, depending on the weather. I found the zip off pants are really handy around here for days that are cooler in the morning and then warm up, they transform from pants to shorts rather easily.
The most important thing about clothing is to dress for the weather.
Any time you are new to the trail, make sure you put a map and compass in with your emergency kit. I will have a whole entire post just for what I put in my backpacking emergency bag, but for now, focus on making sure you have first aid supplies, waterproof matches, a flashlight or headlamp, and a knife.
Hygiene supplies and toiletries:
For an overnight trek, I find a stick or take a tiny shovel for burying and leaving no trace. For women on your period, there are several things you can do, but carrying out everything in tightly sealed baggies, is the best way to leave no trace.
Shoes are essential for making your destination. The right shoes should be ones that you are most comfortable walking long distances in. Some people need more ankle support once you add the weight of the pack, but not everyone needs hiking boots. A pair of good running shoes are just as good, if not better than boots. for some people. Others (like me) will end up getting blisters after a certain number of miles, no matter what kind of shoes they wear or how broken in they are.
My List of 10 Things
Well there you are, a list of 10 things I believe are necessary for creating a positive overnight backpacking experience. Some people might not agree with me. They might insist on packing a camp stove because heating coffee or hot cocoa is essential for a good experience. Others might say you need the best and the lightest gear to have a great trip backpacking, but what I believe it comes down to, is being prepared and enjoying nature in all its beautiful splendor.
Sometimes keeping it simple is the best way to get away from all the screens and devices and just breathe the air and take in the wild that surrounds us when we submerge ourselves into nature. Unplug, unyoke, unwind.
Thank you for reading! Please leave a comment or feel free to ask any questions you might have regarding hiking.