Beginners Pack List

So, we want to go backpacking? Backpacking for beginners you need to ask,  What gear do we have handy?  What do I need to have on my pack list?   The most obvious piece of gear for “backpacking”  might be the Backpack.

But don’t neglect to consider EVERY aspect of survival out there, even if it’s just for one night.  Our primary life needs must be covered. Where I live , in Ontario, my intended area may not have the same natural environment as yours does.  Knowing a little something about the area is critical.

Top Five Backpacking needs

This works out to be more than 5 needs, but covers 5 essential considerations. For a more detailed list, I’ve included an itemized beginners gear list ..


Water and Hydration

Here we have been told for years to make sure we are hydrated.  DO IT!!.  Beginners may think, oh I’ll just pack some pop or bottled water.  Yes, you can do that.  But,, it gets heavy, and you Will run out, and then have trash to carry out.( Always Leave No Trace) And a can of coke does not work very well for cooking your dinner.  Products on the market that I have seen in peoples packs range from cans of Coke, to water filtration kits and Nalgene bottles, stainless steel bottles, collapsible water jugs, and bladder packs ( platypus or camelbaks ) that fit inside the back of a backpack with an easy access straw. and Water Filters and Purification methods.

 Then there is water quality and safety.  Where is your water coming from? Before you head out with some      websites list of gear, you need to consider your intended area.  Here in Ontario we have lakes, rivers, streams, and more lakes, rivers, and streams.  But a hike in the south west US is not going to offer the same natural resources.  Carry enough water to get you to your reliable refill point. And then a Water Filtration Kit, water purification tablets, or a container to boil in.  I have been using a Katadyn Hiker Pro filtration kit for years.  And recently have been using Aquatabs purification tablets.  There are many varieties of water filtration kits including group sized and individual sized available

But what if you don’t like plain water? There are packets on the market that are designed for pouring flavour crystals right into the 500ml (16oz) water bottles. Some are artificially sweetened, some have been advertised for years with a big juice pitcher that smashes through walls and others advertised with a person dropping backwards into a swimming pool while fully dressed.  These flavour crystals can usually be found in the same aisle as the bottled water or pop and energy drinks.


 Food and Cooking

           As old fashioned and nostalgic as a can of brown beans while camping has been, we’re not going there.  Have you ever carried a bag from the grocery store with only canned goods in it.  It’s stinking heavy.  And trust me with this,  hiking for any distance, we DO NOT want any extra weight.

Bread is squished, eggs are broken, chips get crushed, meat needs to be kept cold.  Instant soup, ahh, light weight, just add water, easy peasy.  There are large numbers of products on the market,  some specifically in the outfitters stores and online. While these are meal in a bag ideas, I have food allergies in the family to be mindful of, and most of these packs have 2-3  ingredients that are triggers for myself and the group I backpack with.  Jerky, or dried sausage are handy sources of protein, as are nuts, or beans and legumes. However, dried beans often take a long long time to prepare, you will be better off with a dehydrated meal or package.  We have used the cardboard cups of soup or chili , a foil pouch of tuna, with one of those pouches of alfredo noodle side dish. I like the rice with broccoli and cheese with cashews boiled into it. Look around.  Be creative.  Keep it dry until you want to cook it.

But with this cooking in mind, you will need to consider your water again.  You also need to consider your method of cooking, your pots, your heat source, and your eating utensils. Your Backpacking Stove  You could cook right over a fire, provided you found firewood, and were not being poured on with rain.  You could lug around a big old camp stove, you know the green thing that folds up like a suitcase with the two little burners and the little tank of fuel.

NO.. this is worth investing some research into.  Either to purchase or build your own.  As simple as a hobo stove which is a tin can with holes in it for building a small fire directly under the cooking pot., or a D-I-Y penny stove, which is a couple of tin soda cans cut and fitted together with added holes and it burns alcohol fuel. Right up to fuel canisters with stoves that fold up compact and little metal boxes that fold flat and can burn little fuel blocks, or all in one fuel stove-pot-eating mug. Find what works for you. Keep it light weight.

        Shelter and Bedding

An over night hike.  Where are you going to sleep?

You will need a shelter of some type.  Whether that is a tent, a tarp shelter, or a lean-too they all require some investment.  Whether it is a skills development, or some money, or some time.  I have always used a tent, especially if insects are a concern.  But,, Not a huge heavy tent.  I have found 1-2-3 man tents for under $50 and as a beginner,, you may not want to spend upwards of $250 to just try this out.  However, you also have to be mindful of the weight again.  The shorter the height, and the smaller the fly, and the fewer the poles, the lighter your tent is going to be. Consider the season of course, because you don’t want this tiny little fly just over the screen top of your tent if you are out in snow driven conditions.  you would want something much more substantial. Winter camping is a specialized consideration on it’s own.  Lots of fun too, but it requires different gear.   My 3 man tent from a common big box store is only 4.5lbs. and cost me only $35.  I could invest 10 times that much and only knock the weight down to 3.5lbs. You have to work with what is within your budget.

Bedding, sleeping bags are pretty common. You don’t want that big flannel lined, cotton fibre stuffed one from Grandmas cottage.  It would be too heavy, and bulky to fit in your pack nicely.  Big box stores sell sleeping bags all year long.  Go for the smallest compressed size, lightest weight, and lowest temperature rating you can within your budget.  For Late May though to Late September, a 7C/45F is fine.  For anything outside of that you’ll want something rated for colder temperatures.

And a sleeping pad.  I’ve seen nothing under the sleeping bag, yoga mats, inflatables, all the way up to folding cots, and full size double high, double bed air mattresses NO… Here, it is worth it to invest again.  At least thicker than half an inch, but mindful of inflation methods and weights. and always mindful of how compact it packs down.

Fire and Light.

     Fire,  Yeah, finally, a campfire.  Whoa,, hold on a minute.  Will there be firewood available. You know to NEVER cut down living trees right, because green wood won’t burn well.  And besides, if you do enjoy this trip, you may want to come back to this area again and again.  It’s not going to have any long term beauty if you kill all the trees and leave your trash laying around.  I have seen rowdy partiers burn entire tents to the ground on purpose, and then leave complete queen sized comforters and pillows behind.  Not cool.  Sorry, back on topic.

Matches, lighters, magnesium blocks, ferrocerium rods, whatever method of fire lighting you choose, have a back up method as well.  Wet conditions, or empty fuel can mess with your trusted skills.  A bit of newspaper, or some bark off of a DEAD birch, pine needles off the forest floor, whatever you trust will work for you.  Small deadfall branches right up to downed, but still dry trees, branches are often large enough. If you choose a cutting tool, a folding saw, works well, packs well, and can be reasonably inexpensive.  If need be, a dead standing tree can be harvested just be sure it is dead, and not a home to a bird or squirrel nest.

Safety and Orientation

What was that sound?   Where’s the Bear Spray?  KNOW the dangers you may encounter in your chosen area.  I’ve never had to consider scorpions in my boots, but maybe bears on the trails.

Black Bear Tracks

Know the natural risks in the area.  I knew on one hike that I would be crossing a beaver dam.  I was ok with it until I sunk up to my knee in the muck and the guys all laughed at me.  I was just glad that I didn’t lose my shoe.  But, I had no idea I was going to be climbing a rock face.    Before you head out, find out as much as you can about the trail you have chosen.  HAVE A MAP of the area.  Have a compass, and know how to use it.  Leave a list of information with someone you trust who will be waiting for you at home.  The location, route, expected return time and date etc.    Carry a decent knife, a first aid kit, and some general knowledge of first aid is handy to know every day. If bears are a risk on your route, be prepared with bear spray and the knowledge of their behaviours, how to minimize an encounter, and how to behave if there is a rare encounter.  Mountain lions, snakes, scorpions, spiders, even mosquitoes and sunburn.  Be aware, and Be Prepared.

Now,, plan, plan, plan,, then get out there and have some fun.  I am sure there are extras to bring,, but don’t forget the basics first.


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