Backpacking is an adventurous and affordable way to travel. You are one with nature, not tied to a car or hotels. With that in mind, your backpack is your most important asset, as it has to carry all the essentials for the trip. Here are a few tips for preparing for your excursion.

Planning Ahead is Key

Start by taking stock of your fitness level and then finding the trails that suit your abilities. Park Service websites have terrific trail maps with difficulty levels rated. Make sure you are allowed to camp overnight. Get any permits you might need.

Once you have chosen the trip, do some conditioning exercises to help with the task ahead. Carrying a backpack over uneven terrain does not come naturally. The pack is heavy and the footing is unsteady. Weeks before the trip, do some strength training and practice walking with a loaded pack. It is recommended that you choose a backpack with a support frame.

What to Pack

A great way to prepare is by organizing and packing by how you will actually fill the pack, which is from the bottom up. Here is a good system with some basic recommendations.

Bottom of the Pack – Sleeping Bag

Choose a lightweight sleeping bag that is rated for the climate you will be sleeping in.

Center of the Pack – Food & Cooking Equipment

Pick up some dehydrated food packets, such as instant oatmeal, soups packets, and pasta for hot meals. Seasoned tuna or chicken pouches are easy and slim. You may also want a couple of apples and some instant coffee sachets. Pack potable water drops to purify stream water. You will need a small camp stove with fuel, a small pot, a lighter, and small utensils (foldable). Place all of this into a stuff sack.

Top of the Pack – Clothing & Tent

Clothing should be lightweight, such as nylon pants that have zippers at the knees for removal of the bottom halves, yoga pants for sleeping and layering, tees, wicking socks, a windbreaker or rain jacket, and maybe a pair of flip flops for when your boots are drying out. Add a baggie of toiletries. Place all of these in a stuff sack. Choose a lightweight tent that is water resistant and easy to assemble. Place on top of your clothing.

Get some sturdy footwear and a hat for shade.

Side and Back Pockets – Everyday Essentials

These pockets are easily accessible while hiking. A flashlight or headlamp is a good idea. A first aid kit is necessary, as is a pocket knife. Bring a cell phone and solar charger. Snacks, such as trail mix, jerky, nut butter packets, and electrolyte powders can be here for quick energy. All of these items should be in plastic baggies. A refillable, lightweight water bottle can fit easily into a side pocket or clip to pack.

Top Pocket/Flap – Papers

This is the area where you can place your trail map, emergency contact information, and identifications.

At the bottom of the bag you can tie a ground cover sheet of plastic or a Mylar space blanket around a sleeping mat. These aren’t necessary items, but they can make the experience more comfortable. Make sure the pack isn’t too heavy. Sometimes less is more when backpacking.