People head out to the backcountry for many reasons: to get in touch with nature, to leave behind the stresses of civilization, to get exercise, and to just be outside, to name but a few. Whatever one’s reasons for hitting the trails are, it is important to be properly geared up for the adventure. This isn’t just a matter of having fun tools to play with—having the right gear is essential to backpackers’ safety and comfort. Here are some of the core pieces of backpacking equipment any beginner needs to get started adventuring.
It might seem that this goes without saying, but it is worth dwelling on how important it is to get an appropriate pack. It’s not enough to just throw stuff in an old school backpack. If someone is carrying 30+ lbs on their back, they need a pack that is designed to carry the weight. Backpacking packs have special hip straps that help hikers carry the bulk of the weight on their hips, rather than their shoulders, ensuring a comfortable and sturdy walk in the woods. It’s also important to make sure the pack has enough volume: 30-liter packs are used for single-day hikes. For longer treks, a 50-65 liter pack is more appropriate
Another essential piece of equipment is a shelter. For most backpackers, this means a tent. Tent’s provide a safe place to stay warm and protected from bugs, critters, and weather at night. When looking at tents, it’s important not to just grab the biggest option available. Carrying a 10 lb tent in a pack will take up a lot of pack space and will really wear on the joints. Backpacking tents typically range from about 2-5 lbs for a two-person, three-season tent, and they come with features that balance weight against functionality. It may feel a little cramped inside a light backpacking tent, but it can be worth it to lighten to load for miles of walking.
Sleeping bags are another essential piece of gear for any beginner backpacker. The important things to look for here is the temperature rating and sizings. Bags come in larger or smaller sizes that are designed to fit different body shapes, and their temperature ratings vary, indicating what season they are designed for. For example, a bag rated at 55 F is intended for use on warmer summer nights, whereas a bag rated at 20 F is meant for late-fall or early-spring use. Down-filled bags are typically lighter and compress down better, but bags filled with synthetic materials are getting really good these days, and don’t lose their insulating power when they get wet.
Sleeping Pad The final essential piece of backpacking gear for beginners is a sleeping pad. These are devices that are placed on the floor of the tent between the tent floor and the sleeping bag. They lift sleepers off the ground a bit and serve two key functions: insulation and comfort. By putting an extra barrier between the ground and the sleeper, they help insulate the body and keep it warmer during cold night temperatures. They also offer a padded surface that is far more comfortable than the hard ground. Thicker pads offer more comfort and insulation but are typically heavier than thinner pads. One major distinction among pads is between inflatable and closed-cell foam pads. Inflatable pads are nice because they can be very lightweight, and when they are inflated, they offer lots of padding and insulation. The downside is that you have to blow them up every night, and they are at risk of popping if they get brushed against sharp surfaces. Closed-cell foam pads don’t offer quite as much insulation, but they are very durable and very easy to set up at night.