Okay, I don’t totally suck at packing, I just am not so good at packing for backpacking trips. The food, the gear, the clothes….it all gets overwhelming. Especially the food. I never forget anything, but I am always so afraid of running out of food when in reality, I always end up packing at least an extra day of food every time. For instance, on my trip to the Enchantments, it was the longest backpacking trip I’ve had to pack for – 5 days, 4 nights. Seemed easy enough. But oh….was it comical. Even when I thought I had it down, even after the boyfriend helped me sort out my food in a very logical order, even after 4 days into my trip, it was still way too much.
See…this is day 4 of our 5 day trip and that is easily 2, maybe even 3 days worth of food left *sigh*. Photos: Camille Crisafi
Not only do I over-pack food, I over-pack clothes and gear as well. I still haven’t learned my lesson on how to scrimp on the weight. Instead of say using a travel toothbrush and travel ibuprofen pack, I just pack my whole damn toiletry bag, thinking it can’t be that much more. Oh, but it is that much more when it comes down to it. And of course I only kick –myself after I’m half way up a mountain. So here are a few things I’ve learned and am now determined to implement.
My own ‘Monster’ backpack. So many things wrong with this picture.
On packing clothes
I do okay with this. For example, I will use my trip to the Enchantments this summer to illustrate what I brought:
Climate: For this trip, it was the middle of summer, so at lower elevations it’s in the mid to upper 80’s. The mountains were forecasted to hover around 65-70 degrees with snow still on the ground. But knowing that weather can change drastically in the mountains, to always be prepared for wind and rain.
– 2 sports bras
– 2 dri-fit tank tops (1 layering, 1 for normal wear)
– 1 lightweight wool long sleeve (Smartwool)
– 1 pair workout leggings, 1 pair of crops, 1 pair of shorts (optional)
– 1 rain shell, 1 rain pant (these rain paints actually ended up serving as mosquito and wind deflectors)
– 1 puffy, 1 fleece jacket (the fleece I would normally bring, but this I elected to leave behind and I was fine without)
– 3-5 pairs of underwear (wash as needed)
– 3 pairs of socks (2 lightweight, one heavyweight, wash as needed)
– 1 pair of hiking boots, 1 pair of flip flops or camp shoes (such as Sanuks or lightweight tennis shoes like Nike Frees)
– 1 beanie, 1 trucker hat
– 1 pair of sunglasses
– 1 multi-use headband, like a buff band.
Most of these items pack down relatively small and end up being the least of my worries when trying to get everything together.
On packing food
I don’t count calories when I’m going on a big trip. I’m burning so many calories while hiking I don’t feel that it matters. Having energy and staying hydrated is the only thing that does. I also know that when I’m out in the mountains, I want to make sure I also eat food that makes me feel a little more at home and makes being out there just that much easier. I use the general rule of planning my food by 2 meals and 2 snacks a day depending on how much I’m hiking over the course of the trip. Also realize that your appetite will change while you’re out in the wilderness so it may take a couple of trips to figure out how you’ll feel. A few things I learned on this particular trip:
– I do not like eating fish while hiking. I will eat it like crazy at home, but tuna or smoked fish in the backcountry makes me cringe.
– I actually lose my appetite while hiking and camping in the backcountry and usually eat out of necessity vs. cravings or hunger (which is why I plan for 2 meals and 2 snacks vs. 3 meals a day).
– Salami is a great source of protein, preserves well and is all around delicious, always.
– Pre-made bacon is a GREAT idea. So are croissants and tortillas as they are lightweight and still delicious if squished in your pack.
– Sometimes if it works out, pack in something special for the first nights dinner such as left over pizza, subway sandwich or even a doughnut. After working so hard during the hike in, having a special snack or meal that wouldn’t end up lasting more than a day is a real treat after a hike.
– Chocolate = a must
– Backpackers Pantry or Mountain House meals really aren’t so bad. Most of the dinners are great. Stay away from the skillet breakfasts as you need too many pans to make it that you can’t hoof into the wilderness. My favorite meals are the Mountain House granola with blueberries, beef stroganoff, chili mac, and lasagna. Backpackers makes a good cinnamon apple quinoa breakfast, chicken and rice, and a slew of desserts that are worth trying. But I don’t recommend eating every meal as one of these, it can have adverse affects on your bathroom habits….ahem.
Some ideas for food and snacks that have worked for me in the past and that either myself or someone else had packed on this trip:
– Justin’s honey peanut butter or almond butter packets (PCC is actually cheaper than Target for these at around $1.19)
– If you can get your hands on some individual Smucker’s jelly packs (like you find at a diner), these are great for peanut butter and jelly tortillas
– Hard salami or pepperoni sticks
– Nut Thins crackers, Triscuits or Wheat Thins
– Nuts, Trail Mix or Flavored Almonds (I love the Omega-3 trail mix for Trader Joe’s or Blue Diamond Bold Wasabi Almonds)
– Top Ramen
– Idahoan Instant Mashed potatoes (one of my favorites and one of the most comforting foods to have, especially when you’re cold)
– Tea, coffee, hot cocoa, powdered gatorade and instant green iced tea or juice
– Macaroni, shells or farfalle noodles with olive oil, parmesan and red pepper flakes
– Dark chocolate with sea salt
– Dried banana chips, mangos or apples
– Probars or Kind Bars
– Pre-made bacon
– Croissants to tortillas (for PB&J or use the tortillas in combo with some Mountain House meals)
– Quaker Protein Oatmeal (more protein = staying fuller for longer and you can actually make the oatmeal in the packs they come in)
– PB2 powdered Peanut Butter
– Mini Baybel cheeses in wax (they don’t melt or go bad)
– ClifBar Shot Blox (in fruit punch) for some quick energy while on the move
– If you’re jonesing for some veggies, I have packed Just Veggies dried vegetables or even the baby/toddler squeeze packs work in a pinch. Veggie chips from the PCC bulk bin would work too.
– Whiskey in a small, lightweight water pouch is also excellent on a cold night. Bandit also now makes individual boxed wine that is no bigger than a water bottle. And if you’re feeling you can spare the room, a beer after the first day of hiking ain’t too bad either.
On packing gear
Trim the weight where you can. Don’t take full toiletry kits if you don’t need to (and you don’t). Invest in pack towels and light weight collapsible water bottles if you have the means to. And if you can share a tent and a stove with a buddy, you can split that gear between you and your camping partner. The last thing you want if you can avoid it is taking all the gear on your own.
Here are a couple of key things that have helped me (among many many others):
– Pack your heaviest stuff toward the middle of your back and closest to your body.
– Do not pack your tent on the outside and bottom of your backpack if you can help it, my tent got all kinds of tore up from scraping around on the rocks and boulders on the trail.
– If you’re crossing water at any time, try and avoid packing your sleeping bag, pad or pillows on the bottom. Wet sleeping gear makes for an unpleasant night. If you have to, invest in dry bags. I always pack my food and clothing in a dry bag on every trip.
– Keep your water filter, first aid kit, headlamp, sun screen and jacket as handy as possible, preferably in the top of your pack. These five things are essential for quick access.
– HIKING POLES. They are the most amazing and undervalued piece of gear you will ever own.
– Only pack the essentials. If you are thinking you could need it but aren’t 110% sure, you probably won’t.
– Use simple and lightweight items like camp soap, face wipes and baby wipes for basic hygiene. No need for bottles of shampoo or body wash.
– Always pack a garbage bag and a few extra ziplocks. I’ve always needed them for various reasons.
– Pack a lighter over matches. If it’s windy, there’s nothing more frustrating then trying to keep that flame going on the end of that tiny stick.
– I found a new piece of gear that I take with me everywhere called a Gruntline. It’s a multi-functional elastic cord that can be used for all sorts of things. Most recently I used it as a laundry line to dry out my clothes. My socks actually stayed tucked into the braided cord through a pretty major windstorm so it gets an A+ in my book.
– 100% deet mosquito repellent. The stuff is super nasty and you have to be careful not to get it near your eyes and mouth but if you’re anything like me, the hippy dippy stuff does not work (believe me I tried). My blood is too sweet and those bastards give zero fucks about anything under 100%.
– The REI Flash Pack is a great small day-hiking bag that I have used over and over again. It packs down super small and even allows for an ice axe and a camelback.
– The Thermarest Z-seat has been a lifesaver. Super lightweight and works in a pinch if you need something soft, dry and warm to sit on.
There are a lot of other tips that have helped me but I find these to be the core few I tend to use most often as a baseline. This is just what has worked for me but I’m always looking for new ways to make packing easier. Feel free to leave any suggestions or questions in the comments section.
I hope this helps you not repeat any of my mistakes (that I never seem to learn from). Hopefully some of this information will make your backpacking experience just that much easier. Now go find a fellow adventure friend and do something awesome.