Have you been wanting to try backpacking, but have been a little intimidated by the idea? Hopefully this post will help boost your confidence. If you can walk a few miles and carry 20% of your bodyweight, you can backpack.
We’ll start with water. I’m not a proponent of plastic water bottles. Having said that, for a lightweight and perfectly sized bottle, I haven’t found a reusable bottle that can beat a one liter Smart Water bottle. An empty bottle without the neck band and label weighs a mere 1.32 ounces. An added bonus is that it perfectly fits the Sawyer Squeeze filtration system. (More on that later.)
So how much water should you bring? A good rule of thumb is to take your weight, divide it in half, and drink that many ounces per day. One liter is 33.814 ounces. We’ll call it 34 to simplify. So say you weigh 150 pounds. You would need to bring about 75 ounces, or about 2.2 liters per day. A Camelbak or other water bladder in your backpack is much more convenient than water bottles as you’re hiking along. You will also need water for cleaning up and for cooking. So a three liter Camelbak and 1-2 one liter bottles is just about right for two days of hiking. Your mileage may vary depending on heat, how strenuous your hike is, and your weight. I also recommend bringing one or two electrolyte packs per day to add to your water. I bring two smart water bottles, one to add flavor to and one to keep pure. So how much does water weigh? One liter of water weighs 2.2 pounds. Water will be the heaviest, and most important thing you carry on your hike.
What about filtering water so you don’t have to carry as much? Depending on where you’re hiking, this will likely be possible. You’ll need to confirm there is water available before you head out on your hike. But filtering is a quick and easy way to refill your water. There are many options available. I’ve found the Sawyer system to be the simplest to use and carry. Just put the filter on your water bottle and drink right out of it like a straw.
What about food? Backpacking food has come a long way. You can get just about anything you want pre-packaged and dehydrated. You just need to add boiling water. These meals are very convenient and lightweight. They do require water to re-hydrate, so take that into consideration when planning how much water you plan on bringing. I like to bring a lunch that doesn’t require cooking so it’s faster. I reserve cooking for breakfast and dinner when I’m at camp. What I generally do when planning my meals, is figure out how many calories I need per day and then add up the calories of everything I’m planning to bring to be sure it’s enough. Backpacking makes you very hungry! It’s important to find that balance between having enough food and not carrying too much weight. This is something that varies from hiker to hiker and will just take practice, trial, and error. Your snacks should be high in protein and low in sugar. You want them to stick with you. Trail mix is yummy, but it’s heavy. Protein bars are a great snack. Just try to avoid chocolate covered ones if you’re hiking in a hot climate or you’ll have a gooey, chocolatey mess. If you need coffee to get you going in the morning, dehydrated instant coffee is a good lightweight solution. Premix it with powdered creamer and store in a ziplock bag. Same goes for hot chocolate or whatever other morning beverage your prefer. Dehydrated stuff is pretty good. You can also get all sorts of ambitious and dehydrate your own food, but that’s another post for another day.
So how do you cook this stuff? The easiest way to prepare food is to just add boiling water to prepared, dehydrated meals. You can cook over these tiny stoves if you so choose, but that’s just more stuff to have to worry about cleaning up. Boiled water is easy to clean up. Then you can just eat out of the pouch and the only thing you have to clean is your super lightweight titanium long-handled spoon. (Yes, you want one of those.) I use one of these two stoves any time I go backpacking. I bring the Jetboil if I know for sure I’m only going to be boiling water. You can cook in it, but it’s not shaped great for that unless you buy more of their accessories, and they’re pretty pricey. If I want to cook, I’ll bring my tiny stove (on the left) and a tiny skillet or this titanium Toaks mug. You can cook in it, but be careful because it is thin and your food will burn. The gas for these stoves is a butane-propane mix you can buy at Wal-mart (usually, but not always) or on Amazon. A little goes a long way, especially in the Jetboil because that thing boils water fast!
Your options for sleeping shelter while backpacking are endless. Some people go ultra lightweight and bring nothing but a tarp. Others go all out and bring fancy tents and sleeping bags and everything they might need to have the comforts of home. I won’t recommend a certain brand, but I will say, check the weight of whatever you choose to buy. If you want to hammock camp, that’s another post I’ll be writing soon. But for now, just know you need to make sure there will be trees to hang your setup on if you’re planning on using a hammock. As far as tents go, you want a 1-2 person tent that’s as lightweight as you can possibly find. Be sure to waterproof your tent by sealing the seams with seam sealer and consider spraying your tent, while it’s set up, with a good waterproofing spray. Let dry completely before packing it up. I think the most important bit of advice I could offer on this subject is to be sure you set up your set-up at home before you set out on the trail. Practice and make sure you know how to do it and that you know it’s going to work for you. You don’t want to be dealing with this after a long, tiring day of hiking to your site.
What about clothes? Pants or shorts, long or short sleeves? That’s completely up to your preference, but I highly recommend not wearing cotton. It takes forever to dry, and it’s heavy. Quick drying polyester is much better and safer for you if it gets wet. You don’t want to stay soaked, especially if it’s cold out. Personally, here in Florida, I prefer pants because of mosquitos and all of the spiky plants that try to attack us on the trails. Tank tops and backpacks are not a comfortable mix, so I suggest at least a t-shirt. Simple down (or down-alternative) jackets pack down tiny and are lightweight. For socks, I recommend smartwool because they’re extremely comfortable, resist smelling bad, and dry pretty quickly. I also carry smartwood longjohns for sleeping when it’s cold out.
How do you stay clean? Well, the short answer is that you do the best you can and don’t worry too much about it. Chewtab toothpaste tablets are easy and lightweight. You can buy tiny ziplock bags for them (and for any medication or vitamins you need to bring). Venture wipes are the best portable full-sized wipes I’ve found. Removing the handle from your toothbrush does save a little weight, but it’s uncomfortable to use. A travel toothbrush is just fine. I did remove the handle from my little comb though. Just bring the basics. You’re not out here to impress anybody. You may want a little chap stick and tiny bottle of lotion and sunscreen. Also, bug spray is pretty vital. Try to bring a small can or bottle that’s mostly used up to save some weight.
Blanket, quilt, sheets… what’s best? And what should go under it? Camp pad? Inflatable or not? So many sleep questions! The best advice I can give here is to figure out what weighs less, and go with that. For Florida’s climate, a camp quilt seems to work best. You can stick your feet out and still wrap up like a mummy and be just the right amount of warm. As for what to sleep on, inflatable sleep mats, such as the kind made by Thermarest, work quite well. In a hammock, you don’t need a sleep mat. Inflatable backpacking pillows are helpful and comfy. You can inflate or deflate as needed to get just the right amount of firmness.
How do you know where to go? How to get there? How long the trail is? More important than making sure you have enough water, is making sure you know where you’re going and how long it’s going to take to get there. Always have a paper trail map. I also highly recommend the Alltrails app for navigation. Make sure to download your maps for offline use, in case you don’t have a signal. Also bring a fully charged portable charger and the correct cable for your phone. As for finding trails to backpack on, where do you look? You have a lot of options! As you gain more backpacking experience and meet more backpackers, you’ll get lots of inside tips on where to find good trails. The following are some of the best for first time Florida backpackers:
Florida State Parks Primitive Sites (Not all of these require hiking in.)
There’s a wealth of information available about backpacking, and everybody has their own preferences. There is no one size-fits-all answer to anybody’s questions, but hopefully this list and this information will be helpful. Get out there and explore your world!