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  • Writer's pictureCNIT

What to Pack (or Not to pack) on Your First Backpacking Trip

Updated: Oct 8, 2022

There is something special about putting everything you need on your back and going to places can only reach by foot. A backpacking trip, even if it's just 2-3 days, deepens our connection with the natural world, others, and ourselves. In general, it has a powerful positive impact on our mental well-being.

Much like the weather conditions and your hiking companions, the things you pack (or not pack) will affect your experience tremendously. Here is our time-tested packing list for your first backpacking trip in a non-winter, mild climate zone.

Essential Gear (you have the option to rent from CNIT)

o Backpacking tent or hammock with rainfly

o Backpack with rain cover

o Sleeping bag

o Sleeping pad

o Compression sack

Crew Gear (Shared and provided by CNIT)

o Backpacking stove

o Stove fuel/canister

o Lighter/match

o Dining fly

o Bear bag

o Rope

o Water treatment

o First aid kit

o Compass

o Topographic Map

o Multi-tool

o Trowel

o Duct tape

Personal Gear

o Hiking Shoes

o Socks (2 pairs)

o Hiking shirt or long sleeve T-shirt

o Hiking pants

o Synthetic underwear

o Set of dry clothes

o Warm layer

o Rain Jacket/Cover

o Hat or bandana

o Headlamp

o Food & snacks -more than what you think you will need (provided by CNIT)

o Mess Kit

o Wool socks

o Water Bottle with water

o Spork

o Ziploc bag for trash

o Toothbrush

o Toothpaste

o Personal hygiene items (menstrual, body glide, baby powder)

o Toilet paper

o Sleeping bag liner (optional)

o Beanie & gloves (optional depending on the weather)

o Lightweight camp shoes (optional)

o Hiking poles (optional)

o Journal (optional)

If you are coming to one of CNIT's (Center for Nature Informed Therapy) backpacking trips, all crew gear and food are provided by the trip leader. You can also rent any of the essential gear from CNIT if needed.

Now, we will go over some of the details about each item on the list to help you with your shopping:

Backpacking tent or hammock with rainfly: You can share a multi-person tent and split the weight by dividing the tent, rainfly, and poles. Try to keep each person’s weight under 2.5 pounds.

Backpack with rain cover: For a weekend trip, the pack size should be 30- 50 liters. For a 3-5 day trip, the pack size should be 50-80 liters. Make sure you go to an outdoor store and try the pack on so it fits your body.

Sleeping bag: Choose a bag that can be packed down small but still provides enough warmth. The bag’s temperature rating should be 15 degrees lower than the expected nighttime lows. Down bags are lightweight but can’t get wet. Synthetic bags tend to be bulkier but insulate when wet.

Sleeping pad: Choose between an air pad or a closed-cell foam pad. Foam pads are much larger but don’t pose the risk of leaking or popping like inflatable pads. If backpacking in the winter months, make sure to choose a pad with a high R-value to insulate you from the cold ground.

Compression sack: This will help you pack your sleeping bag to a minimum size. If your sleeping bag is a down bag, we recommend a waterproof compression sack.

Backpacking stove: There are plenty of backpacking stoves out there. For Beginners, we recommend Canister stoves. It’s lightweight, clean, and easy to use. For individuals or small groups, something like a Jetboil works well. For a larger group, you can fit a larger pot on one or multiple Sto WindMaster or MSR Pocket Rockets.

Stove fuel/canister: Most canister stove fuels are interchangeable. There are 3 typical sizes. An 8 oz canister should be sufficient for a weeklong trip.

Lighter/match: Windproof ones will save you some headaches. If you take the match, make sure it’s in a waterproof case. You can also take some lightweight fire starters in a Ziploc bag just in case.

Dining fly: You may not need one if you are solo but a waterproof dining fly will keep your group/gear dry and your spirit high. Paracord is needed to hang the fly.

Bear bag: In areas with bear populations, a bear bag is light and less bulky compared to a bear canister. You’ll also need 50ft of bear rope (utility cord) to hang the bag.

Rope: Besides the bear rope, it's good to have extra ropes for emergencies or miscellaneous. Paracord works best here.

Water treatment: There are many backcountry water treatment options. If you are backpacking in the USA, Canada, or Europe, any of the following methods will work since viruses are not a concern. Each one has its pros and cons.

● Bottle Filter, Straw Filter, or Squeeze Filter

o Pros: Fast. Easy to use. Lightweight. Good for an individual. Moderately priced.

o Cons: Treated water volume is limited. Most of them require field cleaning.

● Pump Filter

o Pros: Can draw from shallow water.

o Cons: Bulky. Pumping is a chore. Require filed cleaning.

● Gravity Filter

o Pros: Can process large amounts of water for a big group. Gravity does the work.

o Cons: Slow. Challenge to fill from shallow water.

● UV Light

o Pros: Fast. Easy to use. No cleaning/maintenance is required.

o Cons: Need battery. May need a prefilter to get rid of particles.

● Chemicals (Iodine or chlorine dioxide)

o Pros: Least expensive option. Lightweight. Easy to use. Also treats viruses. Great for backup.

o Cons: Need to wait. Taste. Not for people with a thyroid condition or pregnant women.

● Boiling

o Pros: No extra equipment except fuel. Good backup option

o Cons: Slow. Need extra fuel container.

CNIT takes multiple water treatment methods on backpacking trips.

First aid kit: You can buy a premade first aid kit or make one yourself. Make sure it has a good balance between weight and completeness. A typical first aid kit should include the following categories:

● Basic first aid care items – Disinfection ointment, insect bite treatment, blister treatment.

● Wraps, splints, and wound coverings

● Common medications – over-the-counter pain medication, disinfection ointment, and Benadryl for allergic reactions.

● Tools and supplies

Compass: If you are not planning on getting off the trail or traveling south of the equator, a simple compass (not the ones you find on a keyring or watch bands) with the following features will do:

● Magnetized needle

● Rotation bezel

● Baseplate with a ruler

● Orienting arrows and lines

● Declination adjustment (nice to have)

Topographic Map: A conventional map does not have elevation data or magnetic declination. It has very limited use if you get lost. A topographic map shows the 3-dimensional landscape plus changes in vegetation and man-made structures. It helps the planning and will help you find your way out in a pinch.

Multi-tool: A good multi should have the functions you are likely to use but does not add a whole of weight and bulk to your pack. It comes in handy for cooking, gear repair, first aid, or other emergency needs.

Trowel: A trowel is your best friend when nature calls but no toilet in sight and helps preserve the backcountry for others to enjoy. There are plenty of ones you can find that is under 2 oz.

Duct tape: You don’t need a whole roll. Instead, wrap some around your hiking pole just in case.

Hiking Shoes: If you have sure footing and the trail is easy to moderate, you can go with a pair of low-cut hiking shoes. They are easier on your feet. For most people and most backpacking trails, I’d recommend backpacking high-cut hiking boots. It provides great ankle support and grip. However, it’s heavier than the low-cut hiking shoes and requires you to break it in before your trip.

Socks (2 pairs): Wool socks or blended socks with wool as the main ingredient is the way to go. Also, getting the crew height with good cushioning will keep your feet much more comfortable and help prevent blisters.

Hiking shirt or long sleeve T-shirt: A long sleeve hiking shirt is better than any sunscreen and mosquito repellent. Avoid cotton.

Hiking pants: You want a lightweight fast drying one.

Synthetic underwear: This is one of the most overlooked items. A nice comfy moisture-wicking underwear makes a huge difference on a hot sweaty day.

Set of dry clothes: Keep it in a waterproof bag or a Ziplock bag. A good backup to change into when you are wet and just finished your day.

Warm layer: A fleece or lightweight puffy jacket works great. Always prepare for the worst weather you are expecting.

Rain Jacket/Cover: Ideal rain jacket is waterproof and breathable. You can also use it as an outermost layer in cold and windy weather.

Hat or bandana: A brimmed hat provides great protection from the sun. Bandana is like a Swiss army knife. You will find many uses for this lightweight small item.

Headlamp: Headlamp will keep your hands free compared to a regular handheld flashlight. It helps a lot when you are setting up the tent in the dark or trying to cook in the dark. Always, take a set of extra batteries.

Food: You want to bring some extra food. Food is going to give you energy and internal heat.

● Breakfast: Individually packed oatmeal is a good choice if you want something warm and fast. Granola works well also. If you want to get up and go, an energy bar or pop-Tarts can be eaten on the go.

● Lunch: Tortilla or cracker with tuna/chicken pack. Other good options are Individually packed spam packs, salami sticks, hummus/peanut butter, and/or cheese.

● Dinner: There are plenty of options from backpacking food companies like Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry. Pay attention to the service size. You can eat directly out of the pack so you are not dirty up your bowl. Chicken rice and mac and cheese are some of the well-tested and well-loved meals.

● Snacks: Trail mix. Nuts mixed with dry fruits. Sesame sticks, sunflower/pumpkin seeds, etc. Treat yourself to some chocolate, gummy bears, or licorice.

Mess Kit: A lightweight bowl made from titanium, plastic, or rubber plus a spork will do.

Water Bottle: Nalgene bottle, Gatorade bottle, and smart water bottle will all work. The key is durability. Or, you can use camelback but I’d still take a bottle just as a backup.

Ziploc bag for trash: It will help you contain odor and moisture.

Toothbrush: Thera is a backpacking toothbrush kit you can get, but a regular one works just fine.

Toothpaste: You don’t need a whole tube. Take what you will need.

Personal hygiene items: It depends on your situation. It could include:

● Menstrual product

● body glide baby powder to keep you dry and prevent blister

Toilet paper: pack it in a Ziploc bag. Keep it dry before you use it.

Sleeping bag liner (optional): It will add 10-15 degrees to your bag.

Beanie & gloves (optional): If the weather expects to be cold, it will help you retain a lot of your body heat.

Lightweight camp shoes (optional): Crocs or knock-offs. You will be very thankful to get your feet out of your hiking boots in the camp. They don’t mind getting wet and fast drying also.

Hiking poles (optional): It helps you keep your balance, sure up your footing, and share some of the load with your arm.

Outdoor Journal (optional): Record your trip and thoughts. It will help you connect with nature and yourself.

Now, you know what to pack (or not to pack), it’s time to hit the trail. Make sure to check out our Intro to backpacking for mental health trips at CNIT. We’d love to hear about your backpacking experiences at CNIT.

Mountains are calling and I must go…

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