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Advice from a Novice Packer

After I published my post about our visit to Shorty Peak Lookout I realized I had finally gotten to a point where I was actually happy with what I had packed for the trip. I’ve been backpacking about a dozen times now, and I’m sure if you’re a novice packer like me, every trip you find yourself wishing you’d left this, or brought that.

Please note that I am not in any way, shape or form an advanced packer, nor do I invest in expensive or specialized equipment; I have what works and what is affordable for me, and the contents of my pack reflect that.

So here’s my layout of what I bring and why.

Necessities

This includes items that I consider absolutely necessary to backpacking, but my needs may not be the same as yours: our walkie-talkies, a solar-powered battery bank, my fitness band (I wear a Garmin, more on that another time) sunglasses, lantern, headlamp, and first aid supplies. I have to take an inhaler and an Epi Pen because I have ashtma and allergies, but they’re never a bad thing to have around anyway. You never know if someone is going to get stung by a bee or bit by a spider and have a terrible allergic reaction… four hours away from civilization and outside of cell range. I also pack small quantities of Benadryl for the same reason, but all of that should be in your first aid kit. Rather than making your own, a small kit can be purchased for a reasonable price at any major sporting goods retailer.

Clothing

Obviously this will vary for your destination, but here in Idaho even during the summer months we have hot days and cool nights. Just last year we took a trip to Crystal Lake on the Fourth of July weekend, and the temperature ranged from 84° to 39° low. That’s a 45° differential! So we always have to take a variety of clothing, much more than I would have taken during a summer packing trip in California; but instead of packing a different outfit for each climate, it’s best to practice layering wherever you can to minimize pack weight.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that taking jeans is not worth the weight for me personally. I am totally happy wearing leggings (or shorts, or a bathing suit) all weekend long, and especially because I’d consider backpacking a recreational sport, I’d prefer to wear activewear anyway. The benefit of this is that activewear is often much lighter and more effective than your regular everyday clothing. Thus I have opted to pack leggings, thermals, and a variety of tops that I can layer to keep warm (or remove to keep cool.)

Not pictured is my American Eagle down jacket that is easily compactable, lightweight and warm. If you’re not able to invest in high-end packable outerwear a light down jacket or windbreaker is always a good choice.

Socks are a whole subject by themselves and it varies largely depending on the type of shoes you wear backpacking. I always wear hiking boots and bring a pair of flip flops which I tie to the outside of my pack. Bearing this in mind, I make my choice of which socks to bring very wisely. I am familiar with how my boots fit, so I would never take thin cotton socks backpacking; my boots would be loose around the ankles and cause blisters, which is never fun. I need to wear sturdy wool socks with my boots so that is what I bring no matter the time of year (I wear wool socks with boots all summer anyway.) Always make your choice of socks based on how they fit with your hiking shoes and if you’re not sure, try them out at home!

Boots are also an item I could do a whole separate post for, but I’ll keep it to the main point: your hiking boots should be well broken in. I don’t care what kind they are, whether they’re high or low ankle, lace-up or Velcro; you should ALWAYS put at least a few miles on a pair of boots before taking them backpacking. You are carrying a substantial amount of weight, so making sure your feet are comfortable and well-supported can make (or break) an entire trip. Trust me, I know this from experience. A bad pair of shoes can ruin everything!

So take your boots on a couple day hikes before putting them up to the task of backpacking. You’ll be thankful you did!

Also on my list is headgear. I usually bring a ball cap, a beanie and a headband, which may seem like overkill but I used all three. The reason why I like to take a headband as well as a beanie is so that i can layer it underneath my ball cap when my ears are cold but I want the benefit of shade from the brim of my hat.

Toiletries

I’m sure that men could almost skip this section altogether! My husband usually brings just soap and deodorant, so this portion of the post will mostly be for all my mountain-trekking ladies out there.

I’m going to address the least pleasant subject of toiletries first: periods. You may think that you’ve scheduled your trip while not in danger of meeting Aunt Flo, but let me tell you – we’ve all been wrong before, and it could happen again! So no matter what type of feminine products you use, always take enough to last you the length of your stay. One time I started my period literally as we were strapping up to hike in to our campsite. Luckily I had a menstrual cup in my glovebox, but had we left the car I would’ve been very ill prepared.

And if you’ve never heard of or used a menstrual cup, get with the program girl! They’re the best thing ever, especially for active women. Instead of taking a dozen tampons with me everywhere I just throw my little cup (in its carrying bag) into my purse or backpack and away we go, worry-free.

Which brings me to my next weird feminine product that I absolutely couldn’t live without: the She-Wee! Once you get over the ew factor, it’s really a wonderful thing to have around. I take wet wipes with me anyway, so when I go to use the restroom I just grab a wipe, use my funnel (no disrobing or squatting required to pee), wipe myself with the wet nap, wipe out the funnel with the same nap and you’re done! I keep one in my car at all times just in case we’re out traveling, at the shooting range, camping or hiking and there’s not a restroom available. They make collapsible models for backpacking as well, which is what I carry in my pack.

Now, on to more run of the mill products!

Shampoo and conditioner, toothpaste and toothbrush, deodorant, and other necessities I buy in travel size. The only non-travel size item I carry is bug spray, and the kind we get I want to mention specifically is a DEET-free spray we’ve been using for years that really does work: Repel brand Lemon-Eucalyptus bug spray. It’s available at Walmart in the camping section and it’s a great investment for your backpack. We take a full-size bottle because, well, sometimes you just need it.

A compact mirror, a flosser, and hair ties are little extras that come in handy, as well as a travel hairbrush. I just can’t use a comb or else I would bring one to kill the extra weight.

Accessories

I’ll put all non-necessity items under this header.

My fanny pack and walkie-talkie are two items I would almost put under the necessity header for myself because we do a lot of day hiking when we backpack, so they’re items I never leave without.

Kindle, playing cards, and knitting are things that I could probably do without but are nice to have because there are lots of opportunities for quiet time when enjoying the great outdoors, and I get bored easily. My selfie stick and Action Cam fall into the same category – not a necessity but I wouldn’t leave them behind because I take a TON of pictures when we go on trips.

My choice of camera focuses (haha) mainly on a weight to megapixels ratio. If we’re going on a short tip and I have extra room, I’ll often bring my Canon Rebel, which I enjoy using. But for this last trip, an extended stay with lots of clothing and food needed, I opted for just my phone and action camera, which I also use my stick for. Many of my pictures I post come off my Action Cam and I love that it has great quality photo and video in a small package. I used to always take my Fujifilm waterproof camera with me, but it’s an older model so it’s about the same weight as my Action Cam but the photo quality is lesser.

A Bluetooth speaker is a recent addition to my pack but we love it! Smooth jazz has been our selection for the last two trips and music always makes the hike in go much faster. We also like to announce our presence to surrounding wildlife and this is a great way to accomplish that.

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