So you want to go backpacking?

Here are some things that might help you get started.

First, what are you wanting to do? How often? Where? There are many factors to think about as you look at gear.
If you are in wet conditions, you are going to need fast drying stuff, and gear that keeps you dry.
If you are going on shorter hikes, your pack does not have to be very large. But if you are going on week+ trips, a larger pack may be necessary.
How often are you going to use your gear determines how much you want to spend and how much quality you need.
These are just some factors to think about.
This is true for our first item.

The backpack.
Like most gear items out there, there are many to choose from. For most all around use, I would suggest getting a pack that has between 4000 cu. (Cubic)in.(inches) and 5000 cu. in.
There are two main types of packs. Internal and External frame.
This really means where the frame is, inside- or outside.
External frame packs allow you to attach a lot of odd shaped gear onto, and is great for those that like lots of little pockets on the outside. Sort of compartmentalized. Be careful about getting snagged on the trail by tree branches though. And they can be harder to put a rain cover on.

Internal frame packs, as the name implies are a lot more sleek, which everything going inside except for a compartment on top, and a small side pocket normally. And so you lose some access.
Some packs have access from the front and top. Others are designed a lot like a big sock, and you stuff it from the top. Limitations are that you have to have small enough gear that fits inside.
You have to think as you pack so you know where stuff is so you donít have to pull out everything to get to the item on the bottom of the pack you need. But the weight is held closer to your body, and so it can be more comfortable, and it does not snag as easily on the trail.

Both designs are really good now, and I tried to fairly state the facts. Everyone has their own opinion, and so I wonít say one is better than the other.
That said, I LOVE my first, and current pack!
Let me tell you about it!

I have a Gregory Shasta 4500 cu. in. pack.
This is an older style that the current version, and it does not have front access, which I donít mind in the least.
The Shasta pack made by Gregory is rated for 100 pounds! Not all packs can do that! I have personally had at least 90 on it going up a trail for awhile, and it felt great-for the weight.
I have hiked many miles with it. I am pretty sure I can add a Ďsí to hundred.
The only thing that has broken on it is on its most recent airport trip a buckle got busted, and a tear is visible in the side. (I donít think we can blame it on the pack, or Gregory, for that matter)

With that said, I would HIGHLY recommend Gregory packs. They are on the more expensive side though. Kelty is cheap, and will get you where you are going, but I canít say Ďin styleí or in the long run.
REI inc. is a good place to get a pack. (Not because they are cheap, which they are not) You will get expert service there where they will fit the pack to your body and help you.
This is critical that you have the right fit. The hip belt, and torso length s are all important and will help you cover more miles.
Ok, enough about packs for now.

Another important piece. Keep the sun off, the rain and snow off, and keep the bugs and snakes out. Being light so it does not kill you on the hike is a benefit as well.
Only get a tent that is big enough for your needs. If you have one or two people, donít bring a four person tent! (Unless you have a dog)
I again paid a higher price for my current tent, but it is high quality and light.
I have an REI quarterdome tent, which is two person rated. It is 2 to 4 pounds depending on what kind of add-ons I take, like stakes, footprint(ground cloth designed for tent) and rain fly.
There are a lot of great small backpacking tents out there. Find one that you like. Some are designed for seasons. Some are designed to handle snow, etc.
Your tent should last you for years.

Sleeping bag.
If you are like me, I do like to sleep warm at night, and not be freezing my toes off. I did that for a long time. I even had bags that were rated for Ďzero degreeí and I was cold in 45 degree weather.
I finally paid good money for a good bag, and what a difference!
I again went for the REI brand sleeping bag.
(Extremely high quality gear, btw, if you had not guessed) I got a down Ė5 sleeping bag. It is incredible how small it gets. Being that cold, it is a bit heavier that what most people need. But sometimes I need that extra warmth.
When you get up to higher elevations at night, it can easily drop to freezing.
I already told you I get cold easy. Nothing worked.
Then I got this bag. I was at 11,000 feet on a mountain, near the snow. It got cold that night. In fact, when we woke up, there was ice on the tent. Me? I was HOT. I had to open my sleeping bag a bit. That is the difference a really good bag makes!

A couple things. Light is good, of course, but make sure you are able to stay warm. Know before you buy. There are two types of bags. Synthetic and natural down.
Synthetic is good for high risk of wet conditions where you will be wet. It retains heat better when wet than down does when wet, as the down can get soaked, and lose all its air as it becomes compact.
So keep that in mind as well. My down sleeping bag is actually treated with a waterproof system, so it repels water. Lastly, when storing your sleeping bag, keep it loose. (in a big bag) Long term compression of down will smash it and make it much less effective.
Pack, tent and sleeping bag are some of the biggest parts of your gear, but they are not complete without all the smaller items.

Sleeping pad.
A well know name for this is a brand called thermarest. REI carries these and a lot of people have them. They have some foam inside, and are self inflating. But they have a lot of air in them.
You just unscrew the cap and leave it, and the foam puffs up and draws in the air and spreads the mat out. If you want, you can blow a bit more air in to make it firmer. When you want to roll it up nice and tight, just open valve, and roll it out, squeezing all the air out. This is a very nice item that is nice when you want to get some sleep.
It also helps insulate you from the cold ground.
I often carry one with me, although if I want to go light, I will leave it behind as I donít have to have it to sleep, and I would rather go without the weight!

Camp stove.
Many varieties. Look for ease of use. Butane/propane mix stoves are easy to use, while white gas stoves can take a bit more patience and care, but can be better, and cheaper. I have a small burner that screws directly on top of a small canister of butane/propane mix. REI has a large selection of stoves.
Light is great, but look for stability as well. If it is going to fall over when you put a pan on itÖ not a good buy. Also think about wind block/screen. Wind can really hurt your heat if it does not have a wind shield. And space. Small is great so you can easily find a spot in your pack.
Cooking gear goes along with the stove. Kits are the best way to go, and just take the items you know you will need. For most trips, I find I like to take a lightweight deep dish pan and shallow dish pan that clip together, and I put my stove inside. Fork? How needs a fork! All you need is a spoon and your knife for everything. A bit of soap will help you out a lot.
This leads us to water.
Always carry water with you. If you are going to be hiking near water, you only need to have 2 liters with you. You can get water from creeks or lakes nearby. But donít drink it without doing something to it first! There are many bacteria types and other bugs you donít want to get, so you have several options.
Boil it! A really old, but effective(though not efficient) method that is good.
Treat it! You can buy purification tablets(iodine based) that kill everything. It works.
UV it! One of the newest ways is to buy an Ultraviolet gadget that kills bacteria.
Filter it! This is the standard, and fastest way. You can buy a filter, and pump water and drink it. It can be a bit slow, so look for a good fast one, and make sure you know how to clean it, or have an extra cartridge in case it gets dirty. Some can be easily cleaned, and that is good.
Some are even designed to screw onto your nalgene/platypus for easy filling.

Remember, not everyone has to have a water pump, or stove, etcÖ You can team up, and a couple people share the same gear. This cuts down on weight. BUT, I strongly suggest that EVERYONE has a means of starting a fire, and getting water if they are separated from the group.
I always carry water purification tablets with me. Always be prepared, and it is easy as a jar is so small, and a cigarette lighter is so small.

Water container.
Two major ways to carry water. Most packs are designed for hydration systems. This includes a pocket for you to put a platypus water pouch with a hose.
This hose goes out through the hydration port(hole) in the pack and you can suck on this bit/valve and drink water in capacities of 1 liter up to 4 liters. This makes water delivery nearly hands free, and helps keep you hydrated, which is critical on hikes in the sun.
And of course you have the normal nalgene/canteen style container that is 1 liter. I normally just use a couple nalgene, as I find them more useful and easier to use around camp. And my pack has a pocket to put a nalgene in.

Rain protection.
This goes to several locations. Your tent needs to be rain tight. Your pack needs to be rain tight, done through the use of a pack cover designed for your pack, or just a garbage(several of which you should always have) bag in a squeeze. Your body should also have protection. You can achieve this cheaply, or in more practical ways.
Some jackets are wind proof, water proof, and keep you warm, so you have one item that takes care of several factors. Or you can have a rain coat, wind block, and jacket to keep you warm!
Depending on the trip, you donít have to have wind protection, but you should always be ready for cold and wet. This even means you can buy a cheap $1 (thatís right, just one dollar) rain poncho from Wal-mart.
Very small, and one time use item is great, but can be a drag on long rainy trips where you have to keep wearing it, and it gets torn. I normally take my ALERT issue rain parka/wind shield. Heavy, but really nice.
One last thing about rain protection. Take it seriously. Even if no rain is in sight, there is often a water risk. Have you crossed a river? And fallen in? It happens. Then your rain cover is doing a lot of good, sitting in the bottom of a flooded pack.
This is where a practice of bagging comes in. Some people will put their gear in bags inside the pack, that way, rain or shine, they are ready. Cameras and other things of that nature should be protected anyways.

Yeah, men normally donít go for taking a bunch of clothes, but I say we need to be prepared. If you are out there for several days, it is kind to those around you to go ahead and do your hygiene, and change your shirt, ok?
And besides, if you get wet, believe me, when it is cold, and you are wet, you will be very thankful to have some dry clothes.
In the very least, never go without some warm clothes. And donít forget about socks.
It is a good practice to change your socks several times during the hiking day. And then airout and dry your socks on the outside of your pack to recycle them. Wool socks are the standard.
In the hiking world, there are many ways and tricks to help prevent blisters.
Letís face it, when you are walking for miles up steep trails with a heavy pack on your back, your feet are getting a lot of pressure.
Wear a thin pair of socks under your wool socks to help prevent chaffing . Wool socks help wick moisture away, and offer greater padding.
Air your feet out, and inspect them during the hike. Acknowledge hot spots. (These are really sore spots, which is probably where a blister will form shortly if left to itself.) Deal with hot spots by changing socks, or even shoes. Putting mole skin(A sticky pad) or even duct tape to deflect the abrasion.
Ask around, you will be surprised by the number of ways to deal with things like that, and how effective some of them are!

And Shoes!
So important, and so important for your morale at the end of your hike(if you even get there)
For some people, it is really worth investing in a good pair of hiking boots. For other people, they can get away with hiking in normal everyday shoes. But look at the trail.
If it is rock covered, then there is a risk of ankle roll. For intense hikes up a mountain, you NEED to have good ankle support if you make a wrong step.
They make many types. Find the right fit and application. Some boots are high top, with superb support, some are light hikers, with a lower top ankle support, which donít offer as much support. If you are doing easy trail hiking, you might be able to get away with light trail hikers, or even a sturdy pair of Ďtennisí type shoes.

Take along two pairs of shoes. If you fall off a rock while crossing a stream, you will be glad for the other pair. Or when you leave the nice meadow trail, and start up the mountain trail, it will be time to take off the light shoes for the heavy hikers.

Smaller items.
Compass and map. I like to have a copy of a contour map of the area, so if I get lost, I can find my location on the map, and get out using my compass.
Fishing gear and fishing license
First aid kit
Hygiene kit
Good knife/mulit-tool
And lastly, food!

I guess we should talk about that stuff that keeps us going, and we really need after that long hike.
I enjoy being able to look forward to my food, not dreading it. But sometimes we donít come prepared and bring enough food, or bring stuff that just is not very good.
Meals are some of the best times on a camping trip. Around the campfire eating chow with friends.
Here are some tips to make it reality. Pack dry foods.
Donít bring in cans of food like chili as they are really heavy.
Frozen food lasts for some time.
Go light, but keep the quality! It is normally worth it.
Keep it simple, and try to organize and label food.
Team up with other people, and have two or three people divide up the load.

Ok, so now for the part you have been looking for. What have the Ericksons eaten?

Breakfast meals:
Hashbrowns, eggs, fish.
Great meal! We buy dry hashbrowns in a box. Really light. We take butter to fry them up. We normally catch fish to help out as we fry our fresh eggs that we brought up in a padded container to keep them from breaking.

Frozen Piti Pana.
A classic for the Ericksons, this Spanish hash of potatoes, beef and ham, with white pepper is pre-cooked, and frozen solid in a big hunk.
Two days later we eat it for breakfast after it has thawed.

An easy and light meal, but remember to bring fruit and chopped nuts to put in it to spice it up and make it something more than your average everyday oatmeal!

Can be harder to be creative.
Often snack foods are inserted. Jerky, trail mix, power bars, chewy bars, a protein bar, etc. Hunk of salami of summer sausage and hunk of frozen cheese.

Sometimes we will bread some chicken, fry it up before hand, and then freeze a bag of it, and let it thaw and eat it. That is really good.

And then there is always the backpackerís staple. Top Ramen soup! Insert in any meal. I normally take a couple packets, but never really use them unless I am hungry.

These are easy.
Big fancy soup package.
Some of these packages, both for dinners, and other meals are all put in one big ziplock bag, and labeled (with any measurements/instructions if needed)
Then you just pull out that bag for that meal on that day and there you go. So we oven have a soup package ready. Tortilla soup mix, or potato mix, or whatever you want.
One package that is becoming my favorite, after my second year of camping in Alaska is the chili package.

Have dry rice(not too heavy) ready to go.
Boil that and make it. Then put together a dry chili mix. You can buy a big bag of chili mix at the store. Not the flavoring packets necessarily, but actual bags of dry chili mix.
You can even make this meal more impressive by browning some hamburger meat before hand, and freezing a bag of it, and adding that to the chili.
Then serve chili over rice, and wow, awesome meal!

Then there are other packages you can make, like a tuna pasta helper one. Buy a tin foil package of tuna (lighter than a can) and pasta, and a white sauce mix for it.

Or other such packages that you can think of.

We do tend to carry a lot of frozen food in, which is by far not the lightest stuff in the world, but it is worth it. You should see people around us watching us eat! But we try to balance a bit by going extra light with the hashbrowns, and light lunches, and pasta.

Donít forget the marshmallows!
Hope this helps you out on ideas.
Be creative. These ideas are just things we have tried. There are so many more out there. You can buy all sorts freeze dried meals at REI and other stoves. And some taste ok, but for the most part, I can guarantee we eat better than that.

MREs : (Meal Ready to Eat) kits are controversial. Some people like them, others donít. They tend to weigh a lot. I have never actually taken and eaten one, but I do plan to, but only one, and that occasionally. I believe they are too heavy for the most part, but they are really convenient, actually really convenient! And I actually really like them.

Written by John Erickson 2008
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