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The gear you choose to pack (and not to pack) plays a major role in how your adventure will play out. Today, I’m going to share with you my secrets for dialing in your backpack.

The Pack

Your backpack is the foundation for your gear, so fit is your number one concern!

Your backpack should fit your body type and most importantly, be comfortable. The hip belt (waist strap) is central to this and should be aligned properly with your hips. It should fit snug, but not feel restricting. When it’s in the right position it will significantly take the weight off your shoulders. This means you can put more into your backpack without the weight affecting your ability to hike. I prefer packs with ample exterior pockets so you can quickly access your water, snacks, map, phone/etc without having to take the pack on and off. You can further dial in your pack by adding a few carabiners to the mix, so you’re able to quickly attach and detach your water bottle or other items you want even quicker access to. Plus, they always come in handy if you want to hang a hammock or setup a bear bag.

Shelter

You can pack a hammock, tent, bivvy or even build your own. Most likely, you’ll want a tent, but a hammock is perfect for those who really want to cut weight and know the weather is going to be clear. If you have a hammock, bug net, and rain fly these things come close to the weight of a tent, so I’d opt for the tent. If you don’t have to share the hammock, it can be perfect, but add another person to the mix and it turns into a human taco. That’s why I always bring a lightweight tent.

The tent you choose depends on the climate, mileage you’ll be hiking and how many people you plan to share it with. My go-to tent is the single wall, Black Diamond First Light. It’s super light, packs smaller than a nerf football and only has two poles. Setup takes a minute and if you get stuck in a quick thunderstorm and need immediate shelter from the rain, you can setup the tent inside of it. The one downside is that single wall tents provide little ventilation. If you’re summer camping for an extended period of time, it’s great to have ventilation (mesh walls). If you’re sharing a tent, know that a 3 person tent is really for 2 people and a 4 person tent is best for 3.

When it comes to climate, a 3 season tent will almost always suffice, but if you’re winter camping, a 4 season tent is ideal. It will keep the heat in and you won’t regret it. If you’re winter camping and traveling a long distance, opt for a 4 season bivvy to save weight and space, but remember if you’re claustrophobic a bivvy is not for you.  These days, there are plenty of lightweight tents, so if you can go lighter, your feet will thank you.

Sleeping Pad

A lightweight blow up insulated pad is perfect for those looking to save weight and if you’re not worried about being cold a non-insulated blowup pad is even lighter. Most pads these days are great, but beware of tapered sleeping pads! They will save you a few ounces, but are often uncomfortable if you’re a side sleeper. Pro-Tip: Big Agnes offers integrated sleeping pads and bags that are super comfy and light.

Sleeping Bag

I almost always choose down because it’s lighter, packs smaller and really comfortable. If you’re camping in cold weather and/or super humid climates, a synthetic bag will be the ticket for you. If you’re always cold at night, opt for a 20 degree bag if you’re planning trips in the summer, fall and spring.  If you’re strictly summer camping, you can get away with a 40 degree bag.

Food

You can do your whole trip on freeze dried food if you’re going super light. If you’re going light and cheap, ramen is the ticket. I prefer a bit more decadence, so I pack in some lightweight luxuries like smoked salmon, nuts, pasta and pesto.

Water Filtration

Some people don’t mind the tablets or iodine, which will save pack weight. Adding a bit of powered drink can overcome any taste issues, but I prefer clean and clear water so I use a traditional filter.  There are tons of options these days, but I prefer a carbon filter to a steri-pen.

The Little Necessities

Here are a few items my pack can’t live without. A headlamp, foldable LED lantern, jetboil style stove, lighter, primaloft puffy jacket, sunscreen, an all purpose spice blend (most trail food needs a little spice) and a few baby wipes.