10 Essentials for Backcountry Travel

I recently wrote about a backpacking trip into the high mountains of the Weminuche Wilderness in the San Juan range of Colorado, which you can find here – Chicago Basin. I talked about how I had over packed which made my life pretty miserable hiking in and out of the basin.  So, I decided to put together a list of 10 essentials to bring with you into the backcountry and possible ways to cut down on unnecessary weight.  This is an ongoing struggle for me and finding the right balance of packing the things I absolutely need and the things that make my life easier is a tough one.

1.) 50+ liter bag

This is an obvious one, but you’ll want the right sized bag based on the duration of your trip.  If you are only going out for a night or two you could probably get by with a 50 liter bag.  Longer trips will require a bigger bag due to extra storage space for food.

I use a 60L Mountainsmith Maverick, which has been just right for two night trips. I have backpacked with guys that use a 35 liter bag but skipped on bringing a tent and prayed for good weather. To each his own.

2.) 1-2 person tent

Alps Desertnering

I have always packed my Alps Mountaineering Zephyr 2 because:

1. It’s the only tent I own

2. It’s a great 2 person, lightweight-ish (4lbs 12oz) reliable tent.

You can easily find lighter tents out there but be prepared to spend a lot more cash. I picked up the Zephyr 2 off http://www.theclymb.com for $100 and so far this baby is still going strong, minus my husky deciding to make her own doggie door through the mesh walls…

3.) Sleeping bag

I use a 30 degree rated sleeping bag but depending on where and when you’ll be camping this could change.  During the summer months in Colorado a 30 degree bag gets the job done.  The kicker is to dress for the weather and sleep in your clothes.

The bag I use is an amazon special Suisse Sport Adventurer, which if you’re shopping on a budget and don’t mind if your gear isn’t name brand then this bag is a solid option.

4.) Sleeping pad

This one could very easily be left off the list but I believe that it is a necessity. Again, depending on where you’ll be camping you may not need a pad, but for the rough terrain in the Rockies it is a must.  I recently took a trip into the Great Sand Dune National Park and decided to leave my pad. I figured “hey, I’ll be sleeping on sand, how bad could it be?”. Big mistake on my part.  I tossed and turned all night.

The pad I use is an ALPS Mountaineering Lightweight Series Self-Inflating Air Pad and I picked one up off of http://www.theclymb.com (BTW, if you don’t shop on the clymb or http://www.steepandcheap.com you are missing out on great deals on name brand stuff)

5.) Water filter

Definitely a necessity for multi-day trips where you’ll have access to water. You could skimp on the filter and risk catching some sort of waterborne illness, or you could save your future self some trouble and buy a cheap filter.

I recently bought a Katadyn Vario filter which works like a charm. There are tons of other options that are lighter and more compact, but this filter connects straight to my Nalgene making life a little easier.

6.) Camp stove 

Cooking Stove

This is another item that could be left off the list, but a camp stove has multiple uses other than boiling water for food.  If you leave the filter at home a stove can be used to boil water for drinking.

I found this powerful dude on amazon and it really kicks ass for how inexpensive it is. Another necessity that is needed with the stove is iso-pro fuel and can be bought at any outdoors store.

7.) Food

This is a given, but the different types of food you bring can really change the weight of your pack.  The possibilities are really endless when it comes to preparing meals.  I haven’t dabbled to much into preparing my own meals.  I mostly use Mountain House meals which are easy to make and don’t taste too bad either. Raman is also a good go to that is super cheap  and easy to prepare (bring a packet of hot sauce – I grab a handful of packets from Taco Bell solely for using with backpacking meals). Snacks are also key for backpacking trips.  Trail mix, the staple child of backpacking snacks, is an awesome source of protein and other nutrients that help refuel your body when hiking.  I also bring Clif and granola bars, as well as Hershey’s chocolate.  When times get hard on the trail it makes all the difference in the world if you have good food to eat, and nothing dissolves my woes like chocolate.

8.) Headlamp

For the last 5 years I’ve used a Princeton-Tec Fuel and it has served me very well.

A head lamp is definitely a necessity for me because usually I’m hiking during the early morning hours before the sun rises or going on spur of the moment adventures in the middle of the night. Either way a head lamp has many uses and you’ll be glad you have one. Bring extra batteries just in case.

9.) Proper Clothing

Having the proper clothing is key to your comfort and warmth when spending time in the backcountry.  I always bring a thermal layer (long underwear) which I normally wear at night, as well as a mid layer for hiking at dawn/dusk and lounging around camp.  Proper exterior layers such as rain gear is extremely important if moisture is in the forecast and also helps to cut the wind down during the breezy days. Staying dry is the difference between an enjoyable outing and a disastrous one.

Extra socks and underwear are negotiable.  A buddy of mine thru hiked the Pacific Crest trail on one pair of undies and socks.  Again, to each their own.

10.) Whiskey

Enough said.


Other items that you’ll appreciate you have are sunglasses, a hat, a good book, batteries, hiking poles, change of clothes,  and utensils for eating.  This list could go on forever but many people get by with far less.  It all depends on how comfortable and how much weight you’re willing to lug around with you.

Happy trails!

3 thoughts on “10 Essentials for Backcountry Travel

  1. Oh my, how much the equipment has changed since my days of backpacking back in the 90’s. But your adventures plus some other books i’ve read are making me really want to get back out there. (plus I’m back in CA where there are so many trails to travel). I love your list here! Get on eBay and find some of those mini tobacco bottles. They are less likely to bust open like those Taco Bell packets. (but yeah, TB hot sauce rocks!) Have you read “Wild”? “Into The Wild”? Two books I think you would really enjoy.

    Looking forward to reading the next adventure…stay safe!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Staying up to date with the latest and greatest gear is a never ending battle. Everything is getting lighter and more expensive :(… I have read “Into the Wild” and loved the movie too, which Eddie Vedder nailed it with the soundtrack! Wild is about hiking the PCT right? I haven’t read that one yet. You definitely have to get out there so when I come out to visit you can show me your favorite spots!

      I just got back from a 4 day mountain bike trip on the white rim trial in Moab. Need to find the time to write up the story, it was a good one 🙂


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