Anytime you are heading out into the backcountry to live out of a backpack for multiple days, what you bring is going to directly influence your enjoyment of the trip. Not only that, but in some cases, your safety can come down to the items you bring. Whether you are hunting or just hiking, the same basic groups of gear will be necessary. If hunting, you will add substantial weight with things like optics, ammo, and weapons. This makes it all the more important to only bring the essentials when packing. I’m going to break down the gear you need into groups below and just go into a general discussion about the items in each group.
In almost all cases, you will need to pack some sort of shelter. The specific weather conditions and geography of your trip will influence what type of shelter you bring. A good general rule is to always be prepared for the type of precipitation that normally falls in the season you will be backpacking in. For example, if you are hiking in July on the Pacific trail you don’t need a bombproof four-season tent, but you will need at least a good waterproof tarp. If backpacking in the Rockies in winter, you will need a shelter that could stand up to a blizzard. Essentially weather changes and you need to be prepared. The following types of shelters could all work for different trips:
- Tarp With Guy Lines – The most basic type of shelter, it is good for those looking for ultimate weight-saving options. Will not keep out bugs and strong winds.
- Ultralight Floorless Tent – Typically pitches with several stakes and trekking poles. Very light option while still providing better shelter than a tarp. Not the most effective at keeping out critters and bugs, but an inner mesh nest can often be added.
- Three Season Tent – The basic classic double walled tent. Consists of an inner mesh tent and an outer rainfly. This is the most versatile tent you can own. The rainfly or inner mesh can often be pitched by themselves to save weight. Pitches with poles and stakes.
- Four Season Tent – This is your bombproof shelter used for heavy winter backpacking and mountaineering. Heaviest of all the shelter options. Stands up well to heavy snowfall and gale-force winds.
The sleeping system is the core of your backpacking system. If you can’t get a good night’s sleep, you will be uncomfortable on your trip. There are a multitude of options now available. Generally, you will need a sleeping pad of some sort, a sleeping bag or blanket, and some type of pillow or stuff sack. Inflatable sleeping pads generally provide the best warmth to weight ratio and pack down the smallest. They are more expensive than foam pads and can be subject to punctures and rips. If you go with an inflatable pad a repair kit is a must. A 20 or 30-degree sleeping bag is the best all-around bag to have if you can only buy one, though as time goes on you may add in other bags such as a 0-degree bag or synthetic bag to suit different climates.
Generally, you will want some way to cook on your trip. It can be used to boil and purify water, and heat up water for oatmeal and dehydrated meals. There are a few different options available (solo stove using small wood, alcohol stove, campfire cooking), but generally, if you are backpacking a stove that uses isopro fuel canisters will be your best bet. The stoves are lightweight, efficient, boil quickly, and work well at higher altitudes. Your cooking system will consist of some type of pot (lightweight aluminum or titanium work best), your stove, the fuel canister, and an ignition source. The best options for isopro stoves are:
- MSR Pocket Rocket 2 – Lightweight, relatively inexpensive, durable, easy to use.
- Jetboil – Probably the most popular isopro stove on the market. It’s fairly lightweight, boils water very fast, and uses fuel more efficiently than other isopro stoves. The drawbacks are that it’s expensive and can be somewhat bulky.
- Snow Peak LiteMax Stove – Works similarly to the pocket rocket. Has sturdy arms to help support a variety of different pots.
There are a variety of different water filtration options that may work for a particular trip. You can read more about all the different options here. The main types you can choose from are:
- Gravity Based Water Filtration System – Good at filtering larger quantities of water. Not the lightest option.
- Pump Based Water Purifiers – Easy to use and lightweight.
- UV Pens – Devices such as the Steripen quickly filter water using UV light. They kill viruses and bacteria in as little as 90 seconds. They do run on batteries though, which can lead to some reliability concerns.
- Drops And Tablets – The lightest and cheapest option for purifying water. They can kill viruses and bacteria. Drawbacks are that they can take a while to work and often leave a slightly chemical taste to the water.
Shelter, sleeping, cooking, and water are the four systems you will need to pack for every trip where you will be living out of a backpack. From there, you can add on survival items, comfort pieces, and task-specific gear (hunting rifle, camera). Every piece of gear will add to your overall weight and packing becomes a question of trade-offs. Focusing on reducing weight and dialing in your four basic camping systems will allow you to become a pro at backpacking.