Backpacking—And Why You MUST Go: Part 1 of 2 (+ Funny Videos)

If you know the value of a healthy escape, this post is for you.

If you don’t, but you think you’d like to try, this post is also for you.

Because there’s nothing quite like backpacking to give you that sense of freedom, adventure and make any weight fall right off your shoulders for as long as you wish.

Why go?

To be totally frank, though…

There are many reasons why you should go backpacking, and make it your favorite way to travel.

Here are the main benefits:

  • You’ll wake up to the sound of laughing children, a blanket of clouds covering some valley or mountain range before you.
  • Leaving a vehicle behind will give you access to all the parts of the world most people never get to see.
  • Moving at a walking pace through the wilderness lets you experience its beauty and charm to the max, because it’s right in front of your nose.
  • You can take your dog, your friends, and your fishing pole.
  • It’ll make you appreciate all the little luxuries you have back home.
  • You’ll learn why you need to treasure every moment of your life (because you probably won’t see that same view again. Come back, and it will have changed!)
  • It’ll give you confidence
  • It’ll help you leave your comfort zone and see how amazing it makes you feel.
  • You’ll see how easy it is to make new friends.
  • It’ll help you realize who you really are and what you really want from your life.
  • You’ll see how insanely cool the world is: everything is different once you leave your own country—the culture, tradition, language, religion, food and clothes all change.

Backpackers in the Canyonlands National Park in Utah, USA

Take Myanmar, for example. Women of Kayan tribe there wear heavy golden neck rings that make their neck look extremely long.

In China, people eat scorpions.

In the Philippines, divorce is illegal. In Singapore, chewing gum is prohibited by the government.

Just learning about these differences and seeing how others live can be mind-blowing and change you forever.

What You’ll Need

So you’re ready. Well, mentally, at least.

What do people fill those HUGE backpacks with?

Well they say there are 13 essentials, whether you’re going for one night, or one year. But you may want to borrow or rent gear like a backpack, sleeping bag and sleeping pad for your first trip, so you can figure our what features most matter to you before you invest.

1. A Map and Compass

2. Clothes

3. Footwear

4. Backpack

5. Sleeping Bag and Pad

6. Stove

7. Multitool

8. Flashlight or Headlamp

9. Firestarter, Matches

10. Aluminum Mug With a Lid and Water

11. Food

12. First-aid supplies

13. Tent

Your Map & Compass

Let’s start with that paper map and compass… You’ll need a paper trail map and compass as a backup for your GPS navigator no matter what!

So it makes sense to learn how to use it before you go.

You might end up preferring them. Try this waterproof military lensatic sighting compass on for size.


Backpacking in Adak, Alaska. Cold!

Check the weather in the area you’re going to backpack in and account for altitude before you decide what clothes you’re gonna take.

You lose 3.3 degrees for every 1,000 feet you gain.

Spending all day and night outdoors is VEERRY different from what you’d normally do.

Multiple layers is the key to staying cool and warm in changing conditions.

Also, choose clothes made from quick-drying, moisture-wicking fabrics.

Avoid cotton.

It takes a loooong time to dry when wet! And you can’t stand around butt naked in most conditions while you wait for that cotton to dry. Haha.

Especially if you did this:

You can actually think of your backpacking clothes as separate systems so you’re super prepared:

  • Next-to-skin base layers, which are most important in cool to cold temperatures.
  • Hiking layers: nylon pants, T-shirts, sun shirt, sun hat.
  • Insulation: a puffy vest or jacket, lightweight fleece pullover, warm hat, gloves.
  • Rainwear: Definitely take a waterproof jacket! You might want to invest in some waterproof pants, too. Both are good as anti-mosquito protection 🙂
  • Sleeping clothes: a clean tee, sweatpants and socks just for sleeping.

Socks: Wool hiking socks are perfect.

Pick an appropriate weight for the conditions you’re going into, then pack one pair to wear and one pair to change into if the first gets wet.

Socky tip: A pair of silk sock liners will protect you against blisters.

Pants: despite what people may say, jeans are fine for mild weather. You can invest in those nerdy zip-off hiking pants if you like, just don’t go for shorts unless you’re certain there will be no underbush to scratch your legs, no bugs and no poison ivy to spoil the day. Two pairs of pants will probably be enough.

Shirt: A regular t-shirt can work, but a long-sleeve button-up will protect you better. Something breathable and light is fantastique.

Hat and Sunglasses: You’re going to be in the sun all day, so don’t forget sun protection., including sun block.

Rain Jacket: a lightweight, hardshell, un-insulated rain jacket will keep you dry even if it’s torrential all day. It’ll also keep you happy at night and when it’s windy. Hardshells take up very little room in your pack. Choose waterproof over water-resistant, a jacket with a hood and pit zips, if you’re going somewhere rainy and hot.

Long-time hiker Wes Siler recommends a Marmot Precip jacket.

Base Layers: if you think it’s going to be cold at night or cold all the time, check out some long underwear!

Wes Siler recommends Patagonia’s Capilene 3 base layers like this one for guys and this one if you’re a lady:

“Mine have kept me warm at -20 degrees Fahrenheit during the Siberian winter and still been comfortable to wear in 72 degree buildings,” he says.

Sweater: So an old sweater, fleece jacket or similar jersey will help keep you warm when it’s cold. Don’t take your favorite one, though. It’ll probably get real dirty and smell like smoke.

Underwear: A couple of durable pairs from UnderArmor should do the trick. Comfort is the key. Here are two examples: one for the girls, one for the boys.


Arc’teryx Bora2 Mid GTX: supportive footwear

Your feet are crucial to a successful trip!

So these are probably the most important item you need to pick out for yourself.

Some backpackers prefer supportive over-the-ankle boots. Others wear lightweight trail running shoes.

But any boots or shoes you wear should be well broken-in and comfortable for long distances.

Wear them for at least a week before you trek in ’em.

Now you’ll want to spend some money on your boots. They should fit really well. Go find the nearest REI or similar outfitter and try on lots.

Buy the most comfortable!

They last, so it’s really worth it. You’ll definitely appreciate them once they start seeing you over a mountain or two.

A waterproof membrane in your footwear is also a good idea.

Even in dry summer conditions. You can cross streams in those things.

Some backpackers also bring a lightweight pair of shoes, sandals or water sandals.



You can borrow one to begin your hiking career. Try it on first to make sure it’s comfortable for you. It should have a 45-60 liter capacity. Load that mother up with bottles of water until it weighs about 30 pounds, then take it out for a test run.

Just don’t do THIS,.. by accident!

If it’s comfortable on your hips and shoulder, take it on a trip.

So when it comes to internal and external frame designs, internal is probably best. You need the frame to move the weight of your pack down to your hips.

Padded hips straps are a must!

They keep your back ventilated and add extra room for your stuff.

Wes Siler recommends The Kelty Redwing 50, which retails for under $100.

But before you buy a backpack for real, have a REI sales gear specialist measure your torso and fit you professionally.

The general rule with backpack weights is that you shouldn’t exceed 30% of your total bodyweight. That’ll probably be a mission at first, but simplify your load as much as you can. You’ll be happier on the trail. And faster.

Sleeping Bag and Pad

Your gonna need a bag to sleep in when you’re out backpackin’. A lightweight, compressible one, ideally.

Down fill sleeping bags are lightest and pack smaller, but you mustn’t get them wet.

Simply add 10 degrees to the temperature rating to get an idea of which bag to buy or borrow.

The warmer the bag, the heavier it will be!

Kelty Tuck 22 is affordable at $89.95. It’ll keep you warm at temperatures above freezing.

Now let’s talk pads.

Air mattresses are recommended for a good night’s sleep.

Compare the weight, packed size and insulation factor to find the best one for you. Try the affordable, effective Therm-a-Rest Trail Lite pad.


The inner gourmet chef needs to take a bit of a beating when you go camping.

A cat food can alcohol stove is the bees knees for boiling water. Luckily, that’s probably all you’ll want to do because otherwise, you’ll need to carry a frying pan.

Nah, right?

The view can make up for it, though.


Pliers are certainly useful on the road. As is a knife, can opener, etc. A small multi is all ya need. A Leatherman Style PS could suit you perfectly.

A Leatherman Style PS Multitool

Flashlight or Headlamp

Ah, the life-saver that is the LED flashlight. Especially one that mounts into a headlamp band so you can cook and pitch your tent like a pro in the dark.

Don’t forget a spare battery just in case!

Firestarter, Matches

You’re a firestarter, a twisted firestarter.

Mm, remember that song? Well you may not be allowed to light a fire where you camp out, but some basic ability to prep firewood and start a fire is berry important during a Plan-B-gone-wrong sorta situation.

Matches or a lighter, a ferro rod, a few Vaseline-soaked cotton balls and a fixed blade survival knife will make things easy as pie. Try making a fire in the rain at home first.

Aluminum Mug With a Lid and Water

You can survive for a long time without food, but not water!

It’s heavy. So you need to find the balance between hydration and weight reduction. Know where the next water source is and hydrate while you fill your bottle.

An aluminum mug with a lid is perfect for boiling water and eating out of.

The lid should have a handle. Grab a spork (a spoony fork), and you’re ready to eat and drink!

You’ll want to carry about 3 liters of water. You get more thirsty while outdoors, especially if it’s hot!

Purify your water as you go.


Mountain House goodies

High-calorie, high-protein energy bars and trail mixes to munch on are excellent for backpacking.

Your calorie requirements go up a lot when you’re lugging a hefty weight up a mountain or along a trail! So plan for three good meals a day.

Plus snacks.

Freeze-dried meals use boiling water, but cans of tuna can also be nice.

Instant oatmeal can work for breakfast, with some instant coffee to go with it!

For lunch, what about sardines or tuna with saltine crackers or apples and peanut butter?

And maybe a freeze-dried Mountain House Chicken Teriyaki with Rice Pro-Pak for dinner…

Whatever you take, try to keep your load light and take food that’s high in protein and fat 🙂

First-aid supplies

Splinter/Cut/Blister/Burn problem? You’ll need a basic first-aid kit for that!


You don’t always need a tent. Only lug one around if you need to. Try to keep the size down to a minimum!

What about a Sierra Designs Light Year?

Check out where to go, how to find trails and why I know you can backpack in Part 2.

And drop your comments below!

Backpacking—And Why You MUST Go: Part 2/2


Backpacker Traveling Across the thin ice of Lake Huron


Images courtesy of Zach Dischner, Paxton Woelber, Andy McLemore, Tomas Quinones and ih via Flickr. Thank you for sharing the love!


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