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New to backpacking, please help

I've never done an over night backpacking trip and I don't own any equipment. I like to camp and I like to do day hikes, and I know I'll love to do overnight backpacking but I don't know where to start. Can someone provide me with the basics of what equipment I will need and some recommendations for the equipment? 

7 Replies

@Coopersm12 we're so glad you reached out - and this is a really big question because there are lots of things you'll need to consider as you add backpacking to your normal camping and hiking activities! We'll make a few broad recommendations, knowing our amazing community of backpackers will start to weigh in with additional considerations:

Big categories to get figured out:

  • Hiking boots/shoes that fit really well and account for the additional weight you'll be carrying for the overnights
  • A pack that also fits you really well and can hold all of your overnight gear
  • A tent and sleep system - depending on what you're using for camping, you may already have these items however weight and bulk of a tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad become really important when they need to fit in a pack and be carried for miles
  • A stove and water filter
  • Then you have the smaller and essential items, like a first aid kit, appropriate clothing layers, food, etc.
  • And finally, the stuff that you may need, depending on where you're going, for how long, and personal preferences - trekking poles, bug/sun protection, a chair, etc.

Tell us a little more about where you're going, how many nights, what gear you already have (you said above you have nothing but it sounds like you camp and hike so we're guessing you've got some gear!) and we'll provide additional ideas and specific recommendations!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

@Coopersm12 You posse a very broad request, so let's try to narrow the field.  Where do you contemplate overnight backpacking, in what conditions?  Do you have any contacts who are experienced with the type of trips you contemplate.  Their experience should prove worthwhile.

Let's start with the three B's - Boots, Backpack, and sleeping Bag.

Boots should fit well, provide adequate support and traction, and above all, no blisters or sore spots.  What you wear for day hikes may be perfectly adequate.  Quite possibly, you might need to upgrade.

The backpack should fit well, and be of adequate capacity for the gear you will carry.  Most backpackers get something around 65-70 liter size.  Fit and try the pack, with load in the store, with professional guidance on the fitting.

A good night's sleep is crucial and this requires an adequately warm bag which is not excessively bulky.  pay attention to the warmth rating of the bag you are perusing.  There is good guidance on bag rating elsewhere on this site..  If you get into backpacking, you will probably spend big bucks on a really light and warm down bag.  It will be one of the best expenditures you will ever make, especially if you use it frequently..

You will need some sort of pad beneath the bag for insulation from the cold, cruel ground.  Personally, I am fine with a closed cell foam pad (cheap!), but other options are available.

Clothing depends upon climatic conditions where you will hike.  A good windproof and water repellant parka is fundamental, even on day hikes.

Stove and cooking gear are typically carried.  Lots of variety here and a wide range of costs.  But the ability to heat water an cook food is essentials, even crucial in many situations.  Again, this depends on your local conditions.

in my misspent, wild college youth, I and my companions obtained a US Forest Service master key, which gave us easy entrance to all the USFS cabins we ever encountered - the ultimate ultralight hiking appliance!.  As was the custom them, we cleaned up after ourselves, leaving dry kindling by the stove, etc.

Nowadays, you will probably want some sort of tent. A big purchase, and one that can be deferred, especially if you hike in good weather.  You can do a lot with just a tarp and some light rope.

There is much more.  Read up on the 'Ten Essentials" which you may already have acquired.  Beg, borrow (but do not steal!) gear first before purchasing, if at all possible.

Wonderful experiences await you, especially with well chosen, aequatee equipment!!

A first aid kit is fundamental.  Even more important is training in first aid - useful in daily life, not just backpacking.  But deep in the woods, you really need to know how to deal with medical issues.


Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

Actually there is a fourth B, and it won't cost you very much, at least in money...BODY.  It pays to condition your bod for the stresses of carrying moor weight.  additional walking or hiking, carrying just  bit more than you usually do, cycling, or anything aerobic will also work.

Exercises that strengthen your core area are worthwhile.  Ease into the activity gradually, if at all possible.  Test your gear in your backyard or some convenient area and do short trips at first.  The long carefree days with you singing your heart out, striding fearlessly down the trail,can come later.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

And I'll add an "S" - STRETCH!

Whether you're walking around your neighborhood just to put on miles and increase your endurance for distance, or going on longer day hikes to get used to carrying a pack over terrain...


Do a light warm up stretch before you start. Nothing strenuous as your muscles are still cold and you can injure yourself if you push the stretching. But you want to loosen up your hips and shoulders.

Then do a complete stretch as soon as you're done. You are warmed up and the best thing to do as you cool down is to stretch to help keep the mobility that you've gained while exercising.

For me, one of the worst feelings is when I am around 75% of the way through a hike and my hips start to hurt because I didn't warm up properly. Delaying your start by 10 minutes so that you can stretch is a far better alternative to enduring several days of soreness afterward because you didn't.

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

You should probably see if you can either rent or borrow the initial gear to see if you really get hooked.  Most of us do.  Remember what you liked or wished you had and add that to the next trip.  This will let you begin to identify your gear for the long term.  Minimum:  Tent, Backpack, Pad, sleeping blanket and MSR pocket rock like stove and cold cooking bottle (So you can get the feel if you want to go stoveless or not).  Find a friend and hit the trail.  Good luck and hope to see you out there 🙂

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

A couple months ago I was in the same position you were, and now I've completed two trips and have developed a bit of perspective. The advice from other commenters about trying to borrow gear is spot on. It's tempting to want to buy everything, especially when you start seeing the many cool, light and small things that have been developed for backpacking. My advice is to keep your first trip simple. I stayed one night on a trail I had previously day hiked. It was summer so I didn't need a sleeping bag. For meals, I brought in prepared food that I didn't need to cook, so that I didn't have to acquire and pack a stove. I did end up getting a JetBoil (love it!) and practiced using it before going overnight. My first trip was solo, which had pros and cons. It would have been easier to go with some experienced friends, but I might have relied on them too much and gotten lazy about thinking things through (what to bring, how much water, how far to hike, etc.). By the end of your first trip you'll think of things you could have done better, but that's part of the fun. If you do decide to buy gear first, I think the REI tent-sleeping pad-sleeping bag bundle is a good deal for good equipment. I bought each of those components separately but ended up with the same tent (Trail Hut 2) and pad (Flash) that came in the REI bundle. I would have saved a lot of time checking specs, and some money too if I had gone with the bundle.

I also want to add a quick note about nutrition.

Hikers and backpackers talk a lot about eating enough calories and, yes, that's really important. Most people (especially me) underestimate the calorie burn on an all day hike. Even relatively easy terrain can burn more calories than we expect. And using trekking poles increases the burn, too, as you're engaging more of your upper body in the exercise.

BUT... the quality of those calories is equally important. I don't know how old you are or if you have any  underlying health issues but I am 52 and am diagnosed with high blood pressure. I've lost a lot of weight this past year and changed my diet so my BP is actually really good. But I have to keep an eye on it at all times so that it doesn't spike upward again.

So I need to pay attention to the types of calories. Yes, a chocolate bar (Snickers is my favorite) is great on a hike because I'll burn it off and it's a treat I don't allow myself when I am not on trail. A lot of those great freeze-dried meal packages are high in sodium which, for me, is a no-no. That's why I am always working on my own recipes; I can monitor the ingredients based on y nutrition needs.

Anyway, to get back to my point, when it comes to consuming calories, your body will be happier and give you better results if not all of your calories come from high-calorie junk food.


“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.