Backpacking in the wilderness can be one of the most rewarding activities available. Whether done solo, with your significant other, or with family and friends, backpacking provides you with the opportunity to escape from the dull monotony of society for a little while and reconnect with nature, your companions, and yourself. That being said, a backpacking trip can be either extremely enjoyable or completely painful depending on how well prepared you are. Therefore, I am going to provide you with some detailed information on what you you really need to make your outdoor adventure the best it can be.
When escaping into the great outdoors for any period of time longer than a few hours you are going to need to meet some of your basic survival requirements. First and foremost you are going to need water. You shouldn’t depend solely on water found in the wilderness for safety reasons so you need to make sure you bring an adequate supply of water for yourself. If you are going for a weekend adventure, you need at least a minimum of half a gallon of water per day. If the weather is hot, if you sweat excessively, are a larger person, or are doing an exceptionally challenging hike, you could require anything up to 2 gallons per day. If you are hiking anymore than a few days, you are going to need some sort of portable water purification system so that you can maintain proper hydration. Options include simply boiling your water, using a portable pump filter, or using chemicals such as chlorine or iodine. There are some that believe water in the backcountry of the US and Canada poses little risk to drinkers. However, it is up to your discretion to decide whether or not you want drink from natural water sources. If taking bottled water, you can also try many of the new bottled waters that contain electrolytes, which can help keep you feeling and performing best while on the trail.
After you have water covered, you need an adequate food supply. Your dietary needs, culinary preferences, and trip length will all factor into what types of foods you will be eating on your expedition. If you are going on a shorter trip (a night or two), you can bring more fresh foods and prepare more “extravagant” meals with a campfire or lightweight portable stove. On shorter trips you can cook up many of the same things you can make at home with only minor variations. However, if you are going on a longer trip, or if you simply do not want to bother with more complicated meal preparation, you can opt for calorie/nutrient dense foods that are lightweight and have a long shelf life. Good options include energy bars, dried fruit, nuts, trail mix, granola, jerky, nut butters, dark chocolate, freeze dried foods that can be reconstituted using water, and MRE’s. Opt for foods made from wholesome ingredients and that are minimally processed. You can also make many backpacking foods from scratch in your own home for less money.
Following food and water is proper attire. To maximize prevention of discomfort and injury, you should wear comfortable hiking boots or trail running shoes (a cross between a hiking boot and a sneaker). Avoid wearing unsupportive shoes, sandals, or anything flimsy. Make sure your shoes have a good, sturdy sole and provide proper ankle support. The right shoes can make all the difference in how pleasant your hiking trip is after several hours! Also, make sure you wear thick, comfortable socks that cover your ankle so your shoes are not rubbing against your skin. As for clothing, dress in accordance with the weather. If it is very warm, go for shorts and a tee shirt. I would just avoid denim. If it is chilly out, wear long, warm pants in your preferred material. On top, wear a warm, thick sweater, sweatshirt, windbreaker, or coat. Remember to bring gloves, and hats, if necessary. You may also want to wear synthetic materials such as poly-pro which can keep you warmer and dryer than materials such as cotton.
If you plan on camping out on your backpacking expedition (read my review on The PNW Ultralight Backpack), you are going to need a lightweight yet practical tent(s) to accommodate you and your companions. You can get extremely light weight single person tents (which can often fit two thin/small people in light clothing during warmer months) or carry multiple tents to accommodate more people. It is up to you to decide how much weight you want to carry in regard to your tent. You will also likely want a sleeping pad, and sleeping bag or appropriate cover. A light weight tarp is also a great idea, especially if you are anticipating rain.
Other gear you might consider for your camping trip include: a portable stove, utensils, toilet paper, a trowel (for burying human waste), walking sticks, candles, and vitamins/supplements.
For your personal safety, you should also consider a small first aid kit, a strong flashlight or headlamp, a whistle, regular pepper spray or bear spray, a cell phone (although you may not get service), two way radio, signal mirror, compass, sunscreen,sunglasses, bug repellent, fire starter/lighter/matches, a map, and a knife.
Remember that it is key to find a balance between what you need and how much you can carry comfortably. There is no point in bringing a ton of unnecessary supplies/gear if they are completely cumbersome and grueling to carry along with you.