Over the years I’ve pulled together many a camping and backpacking trip. And each time I found myself scrambling to remember all the bits and pieces I’d need to make my trip successful and fun.
Once it sank in that it was pretty much the same list every time, I finally put it into a document format, thus saving valuable time which could now go into making up my famous hot cocoa recipe, or worrying about what to eat for lunch.
Download the backpacking checklist.
The list is separated into categories (basics, food, apparel, etc.), and each category has an icon indicating whether it is an individual or a group item. I hit on this system after a near-disastrous experience when my husband and I went on a fall trip with only one sleeping bag between the two of us (“You checked it off on the list,” he said. “Yes, but that was my bag, not yours.”). Live and learn. Sharing a mummy bag between two adults is not fun.
Not on the list is a backpack. Since that is the thing that will hold all your stuff, it’s hard to forget. I have a Gregory Deva 60 that I like very much. Sixty liters is a good size for most people, since it’s big enough to hold more than you’ll need, but small enough that you are unlikely to hurt yourself carrying it. Last year I did a 7-day fall trip in King’s Canyon and still failed to use up all the space in the pack. Now I doubt that I will ever fill the thing up.
Still, if your gear is bulky, or if, like my husband, you like to take an extra pair of socks, an extra base layer, an extra day’s food (you get the idea), then you will fill up your pack in no time.
Your sleeping bag is arguably the next most important piece of equipment. (Remember, each person needs to have their own.) The temperature rating of your bag is intended to be a guide. Everyone sleeps differently, and women tend to sleep colder than men. A 30F bag does not mean you will be warm and toasty when it is freezing out. It means that if you are on an insulated pad (I favor the Thermarest Trail Pro, because I like a comfy pad and I’m a side sleeper. I’m all about saving weight… until it comes to my bedding), inside a tent, wearing baselayers, you won’t die.
That makes a 30-degree bag a good choice for most of the year and lower elevations. At higher elevations or shoulder seasons you should be prepared to wear extra clothing, or throw a down jacket over your bag to keep warm. The 30F bag is about a pound lighter than the 15-20F bags (which are typically about 3 lbs.). But that’s about the weight of a down jacket, so if you know you sleep cold, the warmer bag may make sense for you.
Tents come in many forms. I have found the Sierra Designs Sirius tents to be hard to beat. I actually carry the Sirius 3 which, at under $200 and sub 5 lbs., makes a great shelter, with a little extra room for another friend, or just my husband who likes to carry all that extra stuff. The Sirius 2 is even lighter and more affordable.
For water filtration I’ve started using a gravity filter. The Katadyn Basecamp has changed the way I filter water around camp. You just dip it in a stream or pond and hang it from a tree. Simple. It is particularly nice with groups so there is no need to exile someone to pumping alone by the water source for an hour. You can bring the water to the campsite and use it for cooking, or washing hands, or drinking, or whatever.
Also, in those rare places like the Ohlone wilderness where the water comes from taps but is non-potable, a gravity system is the easiest way to treat your water. I still like to have a pump filter for trail use, when we might not want to set up the gravity filter.
Water is critically important, especially when you are in the backcountry. Not getting enough water can lead to negative consequences, like death, or headaches. Staying hydrated also helps you to keep warm at night. And backcountry legend has it that chocolate is also a great fuel source to keep warm while you sleep. A square of chocolate at bedtime, it is said, will help you to stay warm. We’ll come back to this in a minute when I’ll share my famous not-for-the fainthearted hot cocoa recipe with you.
But first, back to water. Since you need to drink more than usual while you are out in the backcountry, hydration drinks are useful for two reasons: 1) They provide the essential electrolytes your body needs. You also can get those from eating salty trail snacks, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. 2) They help the water go down faster, because you’re not thinking “I need to drink now,” but rather “Mmm, tasty goodness. Want more!”
I like to use Ultima while I’m hiking because it has a great balance of minerals, plus it is sweetened with stevia rather than sugar, which means one teaspoon is enough for a whole liter of water. And that saves weight in your pack.
So drink hearty, hike happily, and sleep comfortably. Remember to pack out what you pack in, leave no trace, and before bed enjoy a cup of warm drinking chocolate. You’ll be glad you did.
Drinking Chocolate Mix
(makes 10 servings or so)
1 cup cocoa
½ cup + 2 Tbls sugar (3/4 cup if you want it sweeter)
½ tsp salt
Use up to 3 tablespoons per serving of hot water. You can add powdered or fresh milk, or enjoy it bittersweet.
If you missed it the first time around, here’s that backpacking checklist again.