So, you want to go Backpacking?

erica

August 2, 2021

SO YOU WANT TO GO BACKPACKING?

Starting any new hobby can seem overwhelming at first, but don't worry- we have you covered with everything you need to know as you get ready to hop on trail and fall in love with the outdoors even more!



BACKPACKING OVERVIEW

  • 01

    LEAVE NO TRACE

    The backcountry is magical, heres what you need to know to keep it that way. 

  • 02

    CHOOSING A TRAIL

    3 things to keep in mind when you're picking a pack to sleep in the woods. 

  • 03

    GEAR 

    Everything you need and more to make your first trip enjoyable!


LEAVE NO TRACE

Each of us play a vital role in protecting Mother Natch. In order to help minimize our impact on plant life, animals, other people and ecosystems it’s important to understand some basic outdoor ethics. Leave no Trace principles highlights 7 key ways in which we can reduce the impact we have on the nature as we adventure outside:


ONE: Plan ahead and prepare

TWO: Travel and Camp on durable surfaces

THREE: Dispose of waste properly

FOUR: Leave what you find

FIVE: Minimize Campfire Impact

SIX: Respect Wildlife

SEVEN: Be considerate of other visitors


If you're unfamiliar with Leave no Trace principles  you can read more HERE

CHOOSE YOUR TRAIL

Now that you’re an expert in how to take care of Mother Earth, it’s time to choose your trail. We recommend making your selection with these 3 things in mind:


01: Ability level


If you’re like us,  you probably jump to the extreme and are down to pack 50 miles in 3 days… but we don’t recommend that when you're just getting started! For your first trip keep it easy! Pick a trail with lower mileage and mellow elevation gain. You may be able to cruise 20 miles and 5000ft elevation in a day no problem, but once you start hiking with 20+lbs on your back, it's an entirely different game. 


Here are some of our favorite beginner friendly trails in Utah:


Willow Lake

Silver Lake

Granddaddy Lake

Naturalist Basin


02: time


Sticking with the take it easy theme we recommend planning your trail over a few days so you can really relax and enjoy it! Backpacking is FUN! Some of our favorite trips have been when we pack in a few miles, set up a base camp, and then explore for a day before heading back.  In addition to the amount of days you plan- the time of year can have a huge impact on your experience. Be sure to triple check weather before you embark!

03: location


Although escaping the crowds is our favorite part of exploring the back country- when you’re just getting started we recommend choosing a trail that’s more well known. Check out popular backpacking trails on All trails and local blogs to find one that suits your fancy. This will help reduce the risk of something going wrong and not being close enough to others for help.  Location will also play a role in the weather- scroll through the gear below to make sure you're prepared. 

GEAR

Most beginner backpackers make the mistake of over packing and consequently having a pack that weighs more than it should. On short trips weight may not be a back breaker, but having a comfortable backpacking set up can be a game changer on how much you enjoy the trail. As a general rule of thumb your backpack should weight about 20% of your body weight. 


Before you go out and spend all your money on a set up, we recommend checking out rentals at local universities and recreation stores like REI.  They can help get you fitted and explain each piece of gear to you! 


You can also find great used gear on facebook marketplace and at REI 


THE BIG 4


BACKPACK

If you come across an ultralight hiker they will likely recommend a pack with a less bulky frame that will cut down weight, but keep in mind that when you lose the frame you will also lose the comfort a frame provides. We might convert to UL one day, but for now we love our osprey packs!  We recommend going to an outdoor retailer, such as REI, to get properly sized before you splurge on a bag.

Osprey Aether 65L

Osprey Aura 50L


TENT


There are different types of tents, and depending on what you’re doing 


Free standing: This is the classic tent, this comes in the option of 4 season or 3 Season. For most a three season tent will suffice. 4 season tents are generally heavier, which makes them less ideal for backpacking, and are built for harsher conditions and snow. We have a 3 season tent that we feel comfortable taking out for a few snowy nights a year. That being said we wouldn’t recommend taking a 3 season tent out in a snowstorm. 


Trekking pole, Tarps & Pyramid Shelters: If you’re looking for something Ultralight this is the way to go. A tent that uses trekking poles will forego the weight of tent poles.Tarps and pyramids don’t typically have floors, which will save you even more weight. Set up take a little more time and creativity as they require you to find space to stake out the walls of your shelter. If you already hike with trekking poles this is a great option.


Bivy: If you’re hiking solo and just need a place to crash at night this is a good option. Bivies are basically just special water and wind-proof bags that go over your sleeping bag. While this won’t provide you with space to sit up like a tent will, they weight virtually nothing and pack down small. Keep in mind ventilation when using a bivy as the small space typically collects condensation quickly.


Hammock: In recent years we have seen so many more hammocks on trail! A fun way to sleep, keep in mind if your a stomach or side sleeper they aren’t the best. You’ll also want to look into a sleeping pad that fits your hammock. Easy to set up, they can pose a problem if you don't have good trees where you’re planning to rest for the night. They may also require you to purchase insulation for under the hammock if you're a cold sleeper. 


When we are with the pups we rock the REI half dome 3+, but when its just the two of us the Nemo dagger 2 is perfect! If you’re not comfortable getting cozy with your backpacking partner we recommend the 3. This free standing tent weighs in at just under 4lbs and comes with a Unique Divvy dual storage stuff sack which makes it easy to split the load and has been one of our favorite purchases! 

Nemo Dagger 2p


Don't forget the footprint! Most tents sell footprints separately so make sure you add it to your bag to increase the life of your tent by protecting it from rocks, sticks and cacti on the ground. If you’re looking to save some money, you can also use a tarp found at any home improvement store and cut it to size. You won’t have the easy ability of attaching it to your tent, but it's a decent alternative. 


SLEEPING PAD


The options when choosing a pad for sleeping in the wilderness can be daunting- but here is what you need to know when you’re looking for some comfort sleeping on the ground. 


 There are 3 basic types of sleeping pads you can choose from


Closed cell foam: Generally the cheapest and lightest option, you’ll be trading comfort in our opinion. Simple in nature, a closed cell foam pad is a foam pad with little bumps that create air pockets which help reduce heat loss and insulate from the ground. Generally more durable, as they won’t get holes like other pads, they are a little bulkier but can easily be strapped on the outside of your pack. 


Self inflating pad: A little more on the heavy side these pads are the in-between option. They use open cell foam technology that allows the pad to take on air. They don’t compress down and pack away easily like an air pad does. The weight and bulk make these great for car camping but definitely are not our option for backpacking. 


 Air Pad: This is the most compact option and our go to on trail. Although these pad are far more comfortable than a closed cell foam pad, you run the risk of your pad popping or leaking ( which sucks, trust us.. we will go over how to find and repair a leak next week!) These pads are a little more pricey and take more effort to set up and pack away than some other options we’ve listed but a good nights sleep is worth it!


R VALUE
When you choose a sleeping pad understanding Rvalue is KEY! R value describes the insulting properties of a sleeping pad. The higher the R value the warmer the pad. Keep in mind these are generalized numbers and every body is different. The combination of warmth your sleeping bag and pad provide you is individualized. 

Insulation is also additive, so we throw down a closed cell foam pad under our air pad for winter camping instead of buying another air pad with a higher R Value.


We love inflatable pads, but you will run the risk of it popping and deflating if you don't care for it well. The Nemo Switchback, flexmat plus and therm-a-rest sol are great options if you’re looking for something other than inflatable, Keep in mind these pads will be strapped to the outside of your pack rather than packed inside. We have used the REI air rail, Klymit Static V, Thermarest closed cell foam and Sea to Summit womens pads. 


Klymit Insulated V Ultralite SL


Our sleeping pad of choice when be backpack together is the Klymit Insulated V Ultralite SL. As a side sleeper finding a pad that keeps my hip off the ground was a challenge until I tried this bad boy!


SLEEPING BAG

Just like with your sleeping pad, choosing a bag that works for your body and style is important. I am personally a quilt lover, but John uses a traditional mummy sleeping bag by Klymit. 


Having the right sleeping bag can make or break your camping experience. 

Before we dive in, ask yourself “Where am I going to use this?” Are you planning to go somewhere cold? Hot? Dry? Humid? Once you have an idea you can decide on a bag that will work for you! 


CHOOSE YOUR BAG


If you don’t mind being confined, mummy bags are great! They have a build in hood for extra warmth and make sore a great place to put your inflatable pillow. 

Rectangular bagsare much more spacious but weight more and don’t pack down small (better for car camping)

Not a fan of being confined? Check out a quilt option. Unlike a sleeping bag, quilts remove the useless compressed insulation from underneath- its kinda like a fancy blanket with either a sewn or convertible foot box. Rather than zipping yourself in like a mummy every night most quilts come with straps the allow you to attach to your sleeping pad. The lack of zippers and extra fabric allows for an ultralight system that is perfect for anyone that likes to move around in their sleep. Not only are quilts light, but they offer more temperature control than a typical mummy bag. Hot? Pop that leg out from under the covers with out the hassle of unzipping your bag. Cold? Synch down your draft collar and tuck your toes inside your foot box! Quilts do not have a hood so be sure to pack a beanie or your favorite down hat if you’re spending some cold nights sleeping outside. 

 

CHOOSE YOUR TEMP


Sleeping bags are rate for the “average sleeper” so keep in mind what you’ll be wearing, if you typically sleep cold or hot and your sleeping pad rating when you choose. Sleeping Bags will also typically list  a “comfort” temperature, and a “limit” temperature- keep an eye on temp ratings and gender specific bags. If only one temp is listed typically Men’s bags list the “limit” while women’s bags generally reflect the “comfort” temperature. In general summer bags work well above 30F, three season bags are great for anything above 15 and winter bags are ideal if you’re planning for some super chilly nights below 15. From personal experience we always recommend a warmer bag if possible- you can always unzip and cool down if you need to. John uses a 20 degree bag and has been comfortable camping in single digit temps.  


CHOOSE YOUR FILL


Synthetic: generally the more affordable option this will keep you warm even when wet. It died fast and is hypoallergenic but won’t be as light as some other options on the market. 

Down: lightweight and very packable this is an UL backpackers dream. Down will keep you warmer and is best for dry weather camping as it won’t continue to insulate when wet. Most bags now a days are made of either a durable polyester or nylon with a DWR finish to protect against dampness. If you’re worried about our feathered friends be sure to check that the down bag you’re eyeing adheres to RDS (Responsible Down Standard) or TDS (global Traceable Down Standard)


Klymit KSB 20

Enlightened Equipment Enigma

If you’re a side sleeper, quilts were made for you! Allowing me the space to toss and turn, while keeping me snug as a bug in a rug has drastically changed the quality of sleep I get on trail. I splurged and got a custom Enlightened Equipment enigma 0 degree quilt. What I love the most about this quilt is that I got to custom make it for me! Enlightened Equipment allows you to pick the fill, size, color and more to ensure you have the best nights sleep! 


Before the switch I rocked a summer bag I found at an REI garage sale and added the Sea to Summit extreme sleeping bag liner to give some more warmth on colder nights in the mountains. If you're not ready to splurge on a fancy sleeping bag, we highly recommend this option.


COOKING & Food


WATER FILTER

We have tried several water filtration options over the years and as much as we love our Be Free gravity bag, we have officially converted to the swayer squeeze. Small, relatively cheap and fit on top of a smart water bottle its perfect for long weekends in the mountains. In addition to a water filtration system we recommend always packing a back up in case your filer gets clogged. Iodine tablets wont filter out any silt, but is a solid option that wont fail you on the trail. (Check out are Water Filtration Gear Review for more options)

Sawyer Squeeze

Potable Aqua Iodine Tablets



STOVE SETUP

We recently switched over to a more compact and lightweight system but before that we rocked a Jetboil for years. Although its more bulky, a jet boil is fast, insulated and great alternative! 


If you’ve chosen one of the two set ups listed above, you’ll want to snag yourself Isobutane/ Proprane fuel mix as well.


If you want as smaller set up, here is what we recommend:


MSR Pocket Rocket 2

Toaks 750

Sea to Summit Alpha Light  Spork- Long

A spoon, fork and knife combo is awesome, but we learned the hard way that more often than not your hands get covered in food trying to reach the bottom of the meal bag, which is why we recommend a longer utensil like the sea to summit long spork! 

That being said you can totally rock a bamboo set and be just fine.



COFFEE

Going backpacking doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice good coffee, although now a days you can certainly find some tasty instant coffee! We love our ultralight dip coffee system by GSR. Pack a few tablespoons for each cup in a reusable ziplock and enjoy your mornings in the mountains. Keep in mind that if you choose to make fresh coffee you will need to pack out the coffee grounds in your trash bag to keep with leave no trace principles- Forrest critters definitely don't need caffeine!  

GSI Ultralight Java Drip

Snow Peak Titanium 

Double Wall 450L


FOOD

Don't worry, you don't have to eat mush everyday while you’re exploring the nature…. 

There are PLENTY of tasty meals out there! 


We love to buy in bulk or 2 person meals and split them to cut down on cost. If you choose to go that route you’ll want a scale to measure out servings and some microwave safe & BPA free plastic bags (ideally reusable). You'll also want a cozy if you're not planning to bring a jetboil or insulated cooking system. 


You can also make your own meals- we aren’t professionals at that just yet, but a quick google search will leave you with tons of recipes for homemade backpacking food.


Here are some of our favorite meals and brands to eat on trail:

Food Cozy 

Outdoor Herbivore

Fernweh Food

Mushroom Pot Pie

Sweet Potato Breakfast Bowl 

Sasquatch Fuel

SouthWest Mac N Cheese

Kickin' Cactus Bowl 


Looking to save even more? Make a ramen bomb! Grab yourself some top ramen and add in two servings of instant mashed potatoes (and a tuna packet if you like). Tons of calories, cheap, and surprisingly delicious! 



CLOTHES 



FOOTWEAR


After years of rocking the Merrell Moab hiking boot, we recently made the switch to hiking in trail runners. There are a lot of pros and cons with the switch but over all we are loving how lightweight and comfortable trail runners are on long trips. You'll lose the ankle support, but have found that our feet hurt far less in sneakers after big mile days. 


In addition to what you wear during the day, having shoes to give your feet a rest at base camp is a must for us! We looked at a lot of options, but so far we are really enjoying our crocs. Super lightweight and incredibly comfortable! 


MerrellFlight

Hoka OneOne Speed Goat 4

Crocs

For socks we are loyal darn tough people. Tried and true they are unbeatable in our book. With a variety of selections and a life time warranty what’s not to love. 


PANTS


We have been rocking the REI convertibles for years. We have tried other brands, but have yet to find a pair with a side zipper that lets us slip off the legs without taking off our shoes. Lightweight and super durable, we’ve gotten into some wild canyons with these pants, they are a great choice for a pair of hiking pants that wont break the bank. 


SHIRT


As nice as the tan line from a tank top can be, we always chose to rock UV protective wear on trail. No sense is getting burned day #1 and being miserable the rest of your trip. 

Columbia Silver Ridge 

Lite Hybrid Shirt

Patagonia Capilene 

Cool Daily Hoody


RAIN GEAR 


Even if you don't think it's going to rain, bring your rain gear. We have made the unfortunate mistake more times than we care to admit and now never leave home without at least our jacket. Depending on the time of year you are backpacking, rain pants might be a great addition to your gear list. If you're not looking to spend the money on a good rain jacket, a poncho is an excellent alternative (some hikers eve ditch their backpacking rain cover and just grab a big poncho that will fit over them and their pack)

REI Essential Rain Pants

Rab Meridian Rain Jacket

WARM CLOTHES


Temperatures drop at night no matter where you are, if you're like me and sleep cold, making sure you have a solid base layer and micro poofy is important. I'm a huge fan of smart wool when it comes to thermals, spent many a cold mountain night in my pair over the years and have zero complaints! I also love my patagonia micro puff. A little more money, but I have had mine for years and it provides me the perfect amount of extra warmth when i needed it on trail


Patagonia Micro Puff Insulated Hoodie

Smartwool Merino 250 Base Layer

HAT & BEANIE


It’s personal preference here. Any hat will do. After wearing the same baseball camp for years, John and I found an awesome lightweight and packable cap that was a total game changer! 




Hygiene Kit 


BATHROOM/TOILET

Do yourself a favor right now and get a trail bidet! We always bring toilet paper just in case but the culo clean is top of the list for favorite gear we have when backpacking!  The Culo Clean will easily fit on to most water bottles so you don't have to worry about packing a ton of extra stuff. In addition to a clean tushy, l love having my Kula cloth (ladies!)

You already know this as a LNT expert, but disposing of waste properly is a HUGE part of backpacking. If you missed our how to guide click HERE.  Always be sure to go at least 200 ft from camps, trails and water sources and dig a 6 inch hole using one of these

The Deuce

GSI Outdoors 

Cathole Sanitation Trowel


TOOTHBRUSH & TOOTHPASTE


We do our best to reduce our waste both on and off the trail and that's why we love Bites! As an added bonus you get to cut the weight of a toothpaste tube and just pack a small baggy of these for the trail. We also love the bites bamboo tooth brush because it gives us the option to keep it shorter and lose the extra ounces of a handle for our teeth brushing needs. 

OTHER


TrailBath

As much as we embrace the hiker stentch nothing beats a trail shower. We love to cut a kitchen sponge in half and use it to wash our body and face after a long sweaty day. 


Sunscreen

Most of our body is usually covered when we hike with UV protective clothing, but bringing sunscreen is super important when you're hiking all day, especially if you use hiking poles. Trust me when I say you will only forget to put sunscreen on the tops of your hands once! 


Bug spray

We treat all of our clothing/gear with permethrin before hopping on trail, but always love to bring a little bottle with us to shield our hands, faces and other exposed areas. 




Miscelaneous


GPS & MAPS


We love using our paper maps and compass and always recommend bringing them along no matter the trail, but having an app or GPS system that can track you as you go is a great peace of mind. 

Our Garmin InReach Mini has been such a great addition when backpacking. It allows us to update our trip ICE on our progress, get  location specific  weather updates and has an SOS option.  Download the earthmate app and use  the GPS/ Texting system easily from your phone. 

We also recommend downloading your trail map on Alltrails, Guthooks or Gaia
 


POWER


We love our Goal Zero Nomad 10 Solar Pannel. A little excessive if you're just out in the back country for a short while (we would recommend just a power bank) but once you start heading out on longer trips having a way to keep your powerbank, GPS, camera, etc charged while you hike is a great luxury. 




By no means is this an experts gear list, this is just some of the gear we have grown to love over years on trail. Everyone is different and we encourage you to find what works best for you so that you can have the best experience on trail! See you out there! 



Head over to our instagram and check out our highlights On HOW WE PREPARED FOR 3 weeks on the John Muir Trail!

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