Making the list for my first long term backpacking excursion was probably the biggest packing challenge I have ever faced. I had no idea where to even begin. The fear of forgetting something and being in a remote and unfamiliar place while not being able to find a certain necessity only led me to bear a fifty pound monster of a backpack. There were so many things I crammed into that backpack I did not use the whole two months I was camping.
That was mistake number one – packing too much.
The most important part of backpacking is your backpack. It should not be too heavy. I was surprised at how quickly the weight added up with one little extra thing here and there. The days my pack felt lighter were the best days. It also needs to fit perfectly. Mine was too tall for my short torso, so I was constantly adjusting the straps, trying to make it more comfortable. Lastly, organization of your belongings is essential. I was constantly sticking things in random spots, wherever they would fit, and later could not remember where I put them. As meticulous as it is, make sure to pack everything the same way each day.
The next most vital components of successful hiking are quality, broken in hiking boots and multiple pairs of wool socks.
I neglected my feet the first few days of hiking and paid for it with blood blisters inside of blood blisters the size of marbles. Even though the goal was to hike every day, I lost nearly a week of mileage because it was too painful to walk.
>> Read more about shoes for travel.
Next on the list is shelter.
I figured my little pup tent covered in “waterproof” spray would suffice; it was summer after all. Boy was I wrong. It rained lightly the second night out and though I woke up cold and a little damp, I didn’t see it as a big deal. It wasn’t until a few days later when I laid awake all night, shivering and soaking wet that I realized I had a BIG problem. A quality tent is a necessity, no questions, no substitutes. At that point in my trip I didn’t have the extra funds to buy a brand new tent, so I settled for a big blue tarp for added protection. I spent countless nights laying diagonally in my tent (so I would fit), listening to the loose ends of the tarps thrashing in the wind and passerbys’ comments on how ridiculous my tent looked. I repeat, buy a quality tent. The money you spend will pay off in comfort, ease of setting up, minimal weight, and a good night’s sleep.
Keeping with the theme of staying warm and dry comes a rain jacket.
The one I packed had kept me dry for a couple years, so I figured it was reliable. However, the waterproof coating must have dissipated over time, leaving me soaking wet every time I hiked in the rain. Even if it wasn’t raining hard, the lack of ventilation in the jacket created moisture from the inside. If you will be in a place that rains, do not forget a tried and true waterproof jacket.
Add to the list a detailed map, sunscreen, bug spray, first aid kit, and earplugs.
Make sure you have an extra set of batteries for your headlamp. These may seem like obvious things to pack, and it’s because they are all legitimate lifesavers.
Things you should forget about include:
- cosmetics (seriously, you’re beautiful without all that junk)
- too much food (bring enough to last till the next stop, plus a little bit more, but don’t overdo it since food and water are the heaviest items)
- brand new books (don’t spend the money on new books; they are overpriced and you can just exchange used books or bring along a Kindle/ipod)
If you are using liquid soap (Dr. Bronner’s is a great multi-purpose cleaner) be sure you have a securely closed bottle or a plastic bag to store it in. My peppermint soap spilled all over my backpack and a few days later when I was hiking in the rain, it bubbled up and I was covered from head to toe in suds!
On the trail, you will run into inconveniences and frustrations at every turn. The most important thing to remember is to laugh it off. Stay alert on the trail, be aware of your surroundings, and always be prepared for the unexpected.
About the Author: Jonelle Pollock is a gypsy soul who seeks to travel this earth and capture all she discovers. Growing up in Cody, Wyoming instilled in her an unshakable appreciation for natural wonders – mountains, rivers, valleys, and plains. The majesty of the Mountain West inspired her to strike out to find what unknown splendors might await her – in the cities of Europe; in the wilderness of Montana, Washington and Alaska; and in the grandeur of New Zealand. Through all her travels she’s had one constant companion – her black, compact Canon EOS 40D. When she looks through its lens she can see the memories she will click to keep forever – smiling faces and foamy oceans and deserted streets. She is learning more every day about how to live the nomad life she has chosen, like what foods keep longer, what backpacks fit snugger, and what boots carry her further. With a pack on her back, a camera about her neck, and the wide world unfolded in front of her, she is happy. Follow on her blog and Facebook page.
*Photos, except for title photo, by Jonelle Polluck.