First Backpacking Trip: Gear

One of the hardest things about taking friends new to backpacking on a trip is assembling gear without it costing them a fortune. It doesn’t really make sense for them to purchase gear until they’ve gone on a few trips and understanding what works best for them. There were some things we bought that weren’t fit and comfort specific, like sawyer minis, but Nicole and Taryn borrowed as much as they possibly could. I’m sure there are people who are possessive about their camping gear but their friends were happy to lend packs and sleeping bags.

I put together a checklist of everything we would be bringing with us, with notes explaining each item for Nicole and Taryn to reference, and I’m pretty happy with it. It doesn’t cover all possibilities, but as a jumping off point I recommend it.

Packing Checklist

I learned a lot about my gear through the trial and error of my first few backpacking trips with my mom. Both of us came from the Outward Bound and NOLS school of backpacking, which is definitely not lightweight. When I did my NOLS course in Australia we carried sweet potatoes, whole cabbages, and equipment and ingredients to bake quick breads and brownies. Mom and I packed that way for our Washington section of the PCT and I think our packs ended up weighing close to 50 lbs with food and water. Here’s a fun recommendation based on personal experience: Don’t pack the entire bear of honey.

Some things I’ve changed include using a snow peak stove instead of whisper lite…not bringing an entire extra fuel canister, or a pot and pan, or an entire container of nutella….

I changed my personal attire as well, specifically my shoes. On our first trip I wore the same hiking boots that I wore in Australia for NOLS, which had to be heavy duty enough to prevent snake bites. They are great but heavy and caused blisters. Over the next several trips I transitioned to sneakers, and now I always either wear soft sided sneakers or trail runners.

Part of my sneakers over boots thought process. I do still use my hiking boots for winter hiking.

There is a lot of trial and error in figuring out gear but I hope the list will help eliminate some of that, since it’s been adjusted over many of my own trial and error experiences.

After Nicole and Taryn survived their first backpacking trip we went to REI and went through all of the possible options and pros and cons for gear which I think was a really positive experience because there was context for all of the gear and personal experience. It made it a lot easier to say, remember how cold you were? Here are some better sleeping bag options.

The Progression of Packs

My NOLS pack, July 2012. I’m second from the right, and as you can see my pack towers over me.
Washington PCT 2015…I’m not sure what I was doing here but my pack sure looks big. Look at me with my hiking boots and my zip off shorts.
Oregon PCT 2016. I’ve still got the hiking boots but I’ve transitioned to running shorts and my pack has shrunk down quite a bit.
Vermont Long Trail 2017. The pack is getting cinched down, the nalgenes and hiking boots are gone, and I’ve miniaturized myself as you can see by the very large flowers.
Emigrant Wilderness 2018. The final stage: a new pack, the Osprey Exos 48, down from the Osprey Aura 65.

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