Backpacking is a favorite outdoor activity, but it is very physically challenging. One of the most important steps to making your trip more pleasurable is packing well. Taking only the items and articles absolutely needed will add to your enjoyment, by lightening the load you carry. Make a list to include everything that you will possibly need on your trip. Don't leave things out and think you will remember what you needed. Include everything that you will need, as well as what you might need.
Follow the rule for backpacking, which is if you cannot decide if you need it, you probably will not need it. Instead of bringing an extra heavy duty flashlight, bring a second set of batteries.
Bring a backpack. Whether you buy one or borrow one, adjust it for your body. Fully loaded, nearly all of the weight should be on your hips and sacrum. The shoulder straps are mostly there to keep the pack vertical and close to you.
Reduce food weight and volume by packing primarily dehydrated meals. Avoid excess raw meats, especially on long trips. Pack calorie dense food, but try to eat from a variety of food groups. Eat a lot of carbohydrates and protein. Since you'll sweat a lot, make sure you get sufficient salt. Most food packaging is bulkier than necessary and less waterproof than you'll prefer. Before you go, divide up your food and repackage it into zip-top bags.
Consider the following foods: oatmeal, Pop-Tarts, granola bars, nuts, and dried fruit for breakfast; bagels, hard cheese, crackers, peanut butter, summer sausage, raisins, nuts, and apples for lunch; and pasta, macaroni and cheese, couscous, instant black beans and rice, instant soup, Ramen, and quesadillas for dinner. Don't forget dessert--pudding or cookies are lovely.
Shop for a tent that suits your needs. Avoid excess, it will add weight. A two person tent is sufficient for two people; do not be tempted to buy a larger one. Bring a sleeping bag and a ground cushion to insulate you from the ground to keep you warm. If you don't want to bring a pillow, stuff a sack with spare clothing at night.
Borrow a tent if you can. Make sure it has a rain fly and a ground cloth. Something small and lightweight is preferable. You don't need more floor space than your bodies will take up for sleeping since you'll keep your pack outside. If you are going somewhere rocky, bring a tent that stands up on its own, unstaked. It can be hard to find good places to put stakes.
Check your map to determine how far apart water stops are, then determine how much water you will need between the two points. 64oz (~2 L) might be sufficient for a cool day, but more, up to 200oz (~7 L), might be required in arid regions. Water should be available at your campsite or from natural sources such as streams and lakes. Use water purification tablets or filters in natural water, no matter how clear it looks. Make sure water sources are reliable. Some may be dry during droughts or in summer months. Call the park rangers for the area to ask if you are in doubt. Wear whatever you find comfortable; there is no hiking dress code. Bring rain gear for rainy days (a poncho just doesn't cut it for backpacking; invest in a rain suit consisting of a jacket and pants). Hiking boots protect your feet and provide ankle support. Buy heavy wool or synthetic socks to wear with them, and consider sock liners (thin socks underneath the wool socks made of polypropylene or nylon) to prevent 99% of blisters; no cotton! In cool or rainy regions, cotton kills! It wicks moisture, is slow to dry, and provides little insulation. Polar fleece, polypropylene, olefin, Thermax, and CoolMax are among the suitable materials for outdoor wear.
Buy a titanium or aluminum pot with a Teflon non-stick surface. Make sure they have handles, preferably plasticized to prevent burning your hands or invest in a pan gripper. Ensure the pot is large enough for one-pot cooking .
Bring a hand-held flashlight or a headlamp, for hands-free use.
Bring tinder to start a fire. An excellent tinder is dryer lint. Cotton balls and newspapers work, but the ultimate is dryer lint rubbed with Vaseline or Petroleum Jelly. These will start easily and burn very intensely. Take fire-starters that create sparks and fire without a match and a large supply of waterproof matches. To make waterproof matches, dip strike-anywhere matches in melted candle wax. Disposable cigarette lighters are also OK. When packing your backpack, place heavy items, such as water, camp stove and fuel, tent poles and stakes, and food near the bottom of your pack and close to your back. Place the lightest items, such as fleece, sleeping pad, and rain/wind gear at the top, away from your back. Place your bulky sleeping bag at the very bottom of your pack, close to your back as well. Some backpacks are made with a special pocket for your sleeping bag. Beware that these can allow water to enter through the zip so ensure your bag is well protected from getting wet if there is a possibility of this. Medium-weight items, such as utensils, clothing, lighter foods, and your tent body and fly can either go near the top away from your back, or near the bottom close to your back. In the outside pockets, place miscellaneous items that you might need to access quickly: map, compass, knife, flashlight, fire starters/matches, etc. Make sure you pack a trash bag or two for garbage at your campsites and wet clothing.
Pack clothing inside a garbage bag with the top folded over. Put the heaviest items closer to the small of your back and near the top. Keep your rain gear, snacks, and whistle easily available. Use zip-top bags and stuff sacks liberally. Keep all of your aromatic items in one or two places so that you don't forget any when you need to place them in the bear keg/bag.
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Make a list to include everything that you will possibly need on your trip. Don't leave things out and think you will remember what you needed. Include everything that you will need, as well as what you might need.