We’ve Got Your Back: Backpacking 101

We’ve Got Your Back: Backpacking 101

If you’re a good outdoorist, you can wing it on the trail with the resources around you. If you’re a great outdoorist, you’ll bring everything you need, packed to precision. Our goal at Team Green Adventures is to foster a community of great outdoorists, which is why we have several downloadable checklists on our resources page, and have partnered with Cumberland Transit for a series of eight Gear Workshops in 2015. Topics cover our region’s most popular recreations including backpacking, hiking, trail running, water treks, cycling, and rock climbing. Our first workshop, Backpacking 101, was a huge success (and we’ll offer it again on September 23rd). We not only learned which gear to bring, but how to pack it efficiently.

Pack a Backpack

A. Sleeping Bag Your sleeping bag, in its compression sack, goes in the very bottom of your pack. Make sure your sleeping bag is properly rated for the overnight low temperatures. Sleeping bag ratings identify the coldest outdoor temperature at which the bag can retain your body heat. If your bag is rated for 55 degrees, and the outdoor temperature is 50 degrees, your body temperature will drop by 5 degrees… not a good idea! Also, make sure your bag is properly sized. A bag that’s too large will trap cold air inside and take longer to heat up. Mummy sleeping bags are “form fitting” to minimize excess space and have a “hood” to keep your head and face warm. Remember, when you need to toss-and-turn in a mummy bag, the bag moves with you; don’t try to toss-and-turn inside the bag. Sleeping bags also come with either down or synthetic insulation. Both have their pros and cons; down bags are lighter weight and compress smaller, while synthetic bags have better insulating properties when wet and are easier to wash.

B. Tent Remove your tent, rainfly, footprint, tent pole bag and tent stake bag and pack these items individually. First pack your rainfly (it’s the last item you’ll need when setting up your tent), then your tent, then your footprint (the first item you’ll need). The tent pole and stake bags can go inside your pack along your spine, or be stowed in external pockets, just make sure they don’t fall out! If you’re sharing a tent with another hiker, distribute the weight of the tent between both packs. When choosing your tent, consider your camping conditions. Car camping tents have taller domes and more floor space, but the materials are heavier and extra space means more cold air trapped inside. Backpacking tents are lighter weight and smaller. Three-season tents are primarily made of mesh, and the rainfly provides most of the insulation on cooler nights. Four-season tents have less mesh and are made of thicker material for winter-time camping.

C. Clothing Dry Bag Pack your overnight clothes and extra layers in either a large dry bag or gallon-sized ziplock. This will keep your clothes organized and dry. At night, put your trail clothes inside this bag and use it as a pillow. No matter how many nights you’re camping, you only need two sets of clothes: your daytime (hiking) clothes, and your nighttime (sleeping) clothes. You’re going to be dirty and stinky on the trail – accept it! Stash a bag of clean, dry clothes and comfy shoes in your car to change into after the trip, and embrace the trail stink. Only pack the clothes you’ll need on the trail. For example, you’ll need three pairs of socks: one pair on your feet, one pair in your pack, and one nighttime pair in your sleeping bag. If the pair on your feet get wet, swap them out with the dry pair in your pack. The pair in your sleeping bag are there so you always have fresh socks to put on at night. Check out this backpacking checklist for other clothing tips. PS. Put your overnight toiletries in your clothes bag too: toothbrush/paste, contact solution, evening medications.

D. Stove, Fuel & Cookset Your stove and fuel canister should pack inside your cookset or mess kit. Consider the type of cooking you’ll be doing on the trail. Typically, your stove will screw on top of your isobutane canister. Your cookset will rest on top of the stove. A system like JetBoil allows you to quickly boil water for “just add hot water” meals, but is also compatible with pot-and-pan gourmet camp cooking for heating soup, scrambling eggs, and frying meat. jetboil

E. Food Dry Bag Pack your main food items in a large dry bag or gallon-sized ziplock to keep it organized and dry. If your food items normally come in cardboard containers, transfer those items into ziplocks. The number one rule of the trail: pack out what you pack in. The less you pack in, the less you’ll have to pack out. There are several made-for-backpacking food options, like Mountain House, but a savvy backpacker can save money with normal grocery items. For example, instant pasta (like PastaRoni) with a pouch of chicken and dehydrated veggies is half the cost with more flavor. Pouched meats (chicken, tuna or salmon), instant mashed potatoes, instant pasta, instant rice, oatmeal, soup mix, and dried fruits are great ingredients for top-notch trail meals. Don’t forget the instant coffee and hot cocoa!

F. Immediate Needs The “brain” of the pack is where you stash your on-the-go necessities. You can access everything in this part of your pack without having to stop and take off your pack; just reach above your head and unzip! Below are a few items to keep in your brain (each in their own easy-to-access bag).

  • Trail Map
  • Personal First Aid Kit (medicine, gauze and athletic tape, duct tape, antibiotics, moleskin, pocket knife)
  • Snacks (trail mix, athletic bars, dried fruit, beef jerky)
  • Toiletries (toilet paper & hand sanitizer)
  • Hat/Gloves/Bandana/Sunglasses
  • Headlamp
  • Electronics Dry Bag (phone, GPS, wallet, camera, extra batteries)
  • Water Purification System

G. Heavy Items You’ll want to keep your heaviest items closest to your body. Heavy items packed close to your body feel lighter than heavy items packed farther away from your body. Below are a few items you’ll want to keep close to your body:

  • Water Bladder
  • Tent Poles
  • Stove & Cookset

H. Sleeping Pad If your pack has exterior straps, this is where you’ll want to hang your rolled up sleeping pad. Sleeping pads provide insulation between your body and the cold ground, while also protecting your body from uncomfortable ground features like rocks and roots. They come as either foam pads or inflatable pads. Keep in mind that air-filled pads will eventually become the same temperature as the ground, so make sure your inflatable pad also has insulating features like foam or down feathers.

OTHER Additional pockets, loops, and straps on your pack can be used to hang a pair of camp shoes (flip flops or sandals), additional water bottles, bandana, sun hat or hiking poles. Keep in mind that backpacking is a life-long learning adventure! Each trip will teach you something new about your personal needs, comforts, and abilities. If you’re venturing out on your first backpacking trip, play it safe and bring everything you think you’ll need. Remember, if you pack more “multi-purpose items,” you can pack fewer items overall. You’ll learn pretty quickly which items you don’t need, and which items you wish you had.

If you enjoyed this information, we hope you’ll attend our next Gear Workshop: Intro to Rock Climbing with Cumberland Transit on Wednesday, March 25th, and sign up for our Outdoor Climbing Day Trip to Kings Bluff (in Clarksville) on April 19th with Climb Nashville! If you have more questions about backpacking gear, speak with an expert at Cumberland Transit, and take advantage of your 10% OFF Team Green member discount on some new gear!

-Keeley (Team Green’s Director)

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