Backpacking: What’s the best gear to take?

Backpackers, whether you’re a veteran or a newbie, the question always is…..what’s the best gear to take? After the first few times, you find out quickly what you need to bring…..and that’s usually based on you taking along too much stuff and realizing what you DON’T need. As with everything, it depends on where you’re traveling to, what the climate will be and how long you’ll be there.

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Now… I have some experience with backpacking, but I am certainly no SurvivorMan. But….for you inexperienced backpackers, here are some tips.

1. You don’t NEED it. Most of the time when you’re packing for your first backpacking trip, you take too much. It’s good to lay out all the things that you THINK you’ll need, give it an hour…then come back and ask yourself (with each item) do I really need this? Obviously you’ll need clothing (a 5 day rotation of socks, underwear and undershirts is usually good. Along with 1-2 pairs of pants and sweaters/long sleeve shirts. Maybe less for a shorter journey). Most hotels/pensions and hostels have washing machines. And if you’re really trekking it…..you’re bound to find a water source within 5 days to hand wash your clothing. I’ve never needed it but a first aid kit is necessary. Don’t pack all the normal sized toiletries. It’ll just add on to weighing you down. Bring smaller versions of things such as toothpaste, aspirin, mouthwash, hand sanitizer etc. It’s all about cutting out unnecessary weight, your shoulders will thank you for it!!! (Every journey is unique, plan accordingly)

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2. Get a good backpack. You’d think this would be rule #1, but no. It is important….but not THAT important. You have a hand me down backpack? Fine. You buy a brand new one? Great! There are many backpacks out there. I have a Mountainsmith backpack. It’s held up for 8 years on several trips and hopefully will last for many more. The key here is, with whatever brand you choose, make sure that it fits your needs, distributes the weight properly and FEELS GOOD ON YOUR SHOULDERS. You could buy the top of the line backpack but maybe it’s not right for you and not right on your back. So take your time and test them out.  You’d be surprised at how quickly your shoulders will get sore and start going numb.

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3. Get some good shoes. A cross between walking shoes/boots is the best. I’ve learned from experience and paid the price. On my latest journey I bought a new pair of expensive boots, thinking they’d be perfect and much better than my old, trusty (and SMELLY) boots. But….those old, trusty, smelly boots were comfortable and a great fit for me. The new ones? Well…..they were good for a few hours each day. And then it was blister town!! Walking long distances with a backpack is hard enough, you don’t want to add in blisters all over your feet. So do your research and get some good shoes. I’d recommend Wolverine, but there are many good brands out there. It all depends on you & your feet. And waterproof is always good. Even if you’re backpacking across Italy in the middle of the summer. It’ll rain eventually, you’ll get tired and step in some puddles. Take the waterproof boots!

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4. Don’t worry. You’re going to have an amazing time. You’ll probably pack too much or forget to pack a few things. Oh well, don’t worry. You can improvise. They do have grocery/retail stores all over the world. You’ll find something. And if you’re taking a couple days off back-packing to see a film festival or go out to some bars/restaurants for the evening….don’t sweat it. Bring one nice shirt that fits nicely in your pack. Most all of the locals will know you’re a tourist. So don’t worry.

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5. Get a good water bottle. Now depending on where you’re going…maybe you won’t need this. But it’s good to have. I prefer the Platypus brand of fold up bottles because they’ve been very reliable for me. Also, if you’re in an area without fresh running water and need to purchase some at the store….you can just fold up your plastic bottle and it’ll fit in your pocket. It’s always good to purchase some water from a store when in a new country to see their offerings and sample the local water brands….but if you’re walking a lot, you’ll be drinking a lot. So if the tap water is clean or you’re in the mountains with fresh water…..it’s good to get some for free.

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6. Take some food. That’s right. Go to the local grocery store. Buy some cheese or fruit or meat sticks or granola bars etc. etc. Just something to keep you going and put fuel in your body. You never know when your planned 4 hour hike will turn into an 8 hour hike. Or when you’ll get separated from your group and stranded. Take me for example. I recently did a hike that I’d done before in the past. Going against my better judgement and thinking the hike would be easy, I didn’t take any food. Well, it turned out that I wasn’t in as good of shape physically as I was the previous time I did this hike. So the 5 hour journey turned into a 7 hour journey…..and I didn’t have any food. What if I had gotten stranded? Yes, I had water….but I would have been miserable and starving & probably also would’ve started to think desperate thoughts and make stupid mistakes.

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And lastly for this blog……

7. Do something stupid. (Within reason of course) …because after all. What’s a good backpacking trip without a few funny or dangerous stories?? Now I’m not saying to go on the super intense trail when you’re a beginner or to jump off the cliff when it’s clearly too high and without a good landing area. But there’s nothing wrong with getting lost once in a while and doing something a little outside of your comfort zone. I’ve gone off the marked trail plenty of times…..occasionally it was a terrible decision (but I lived)…and occasionally it really wasn’t that bad….and I saw some things that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Maybe doing something stupid to you is just getting naked in the woods and going skinny dipping in a really cold lake. Or climbing a tree and sleeping in it. Great!! Do it!! What a great experience!!

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There are many ways to backpack. Simple journeys and extreme journeys. Whichever way you choose, it’s good to prepare yourself because there’s nothing worse than taking time off for a vacation and spending some money…..and then it all blows up in your face and you have a miserable experience. I hope you’ve enjoyed this M.A.V.B.L.O.G. and as always. Be good to yourself. Be good to all those you encounter. And do your best.

If you’d like to learn more about backpacking I’d highly recommend taking a look at SurvivorMan and Rick Steves. There are plenty of other great guides out there so do a quick google search as well.