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Your Comprehensive Guide to a Successful Weekend Backpacking Adventure

While the allure of epic long-distance treks across America’s wilderness ranks high on adventure enthusiasts’ wish lists, the reality of taking extended leaves from your day job can often be daunting. This is where the concept of microadventure-style backpacking trips comes into play, offering a taste of the wild without the need for an extended vacation. Here, we present seven short and sweet weekend trips that promise scenic beauty, solitude, and adventure – all without requiring extended time off. Plus, we’ll provide valuable insights on what to pack and how to plan for your adventure.

What to Pack for a Weekend Backpacking Trip

Strategizing your supplies and gear, as well as mastering the art of packing, can feel like a mental mountain climb. To simplify this process, we sought advice from Chloe Childs, the operations manager at the professional mountain-guiding service, Aspen Expeditions. Her overarching advice: test before you invest. “There was a backpack I thought I was going to buy, then I went into the store and it absolutely did not fit me,” Childs says. “Try everything on. It’s obviously going to be a little uncomfortable at first, or just feel different, but it shouldn’t hurt you.”

Here are Childs’s essential weekend backpacking must-haves:

  1. Backpack: Opt for a weekend-sized backpack with a capacity of at least 40-50 liters, and consider purchasing a rain cover (or selecting a pack that includes one). Don’t forget to bring extra dry bags to protect fragile items like your phone.
  2. Sleeping Equipment: Essential overnight gear includes a tent with a rain fly, tent poles, stakes, a sleeping bag, and a sleeping pad (don’t overlook the importance of the sleeping pad). If it’s your first time, practice setting up and taking down your tent and sleeping gear at home.
  3. Hydration: Pack a water bottle or reservoir and a water filtration system, such as a pump, squeeze, or gravity device. Include tablets as a backup. Electrolyte tablets, like Nuun, can be beneficial for additional hydration.
  4. Food: Develop a food plan with sufficient meals and easy-to-eat snacks such as jerky, fruit snacks, or gels. For freeze-dried meals, you’ll need a camp stove and fuel, along with waterproof matches or a lighter, cookware, utensils, and cleaning supplies. Check local regulations for campfire and food-storage requirements.
  5. Clothing: Aim for a straightforward hiking wardrobe, including underwear, socks, shorts, pants, T-shirts, an insulating layer, a rain jacket, a beanie, a sun hat, and sunglasses, depending on the season. “For the most part, you’ll wear the same [thing] every day,” advises Childs. It’s also crucial to have comfortable hiking boots, and be sure to test them extensively before your trip. If space allows, consider packing camp shoes to give your feet a break when you’re not hiking.
  6. Toiletries: Like any vacation, bring the necessary toiletries for personal hygiene, but avoid over-packing. Think about essentials like hand sanitizer, sunscreen, a toothbrush, bug repellent, and, for outdoor restroom needs (done responsibly), include a trowel, toilet paper, and waste bags.
  7. Electronics: Essential electronic items include a headlamp, a power bank, a satellite phone or personal locator beacon, and spare batteries. For safety, download a map of your route on your phone using an app like Gaia GPS. Additionally, don’t forget to carry a laminated paper map of the region.
  8. Emergency Gear: Be prepared for unforeseen circumstances by packing a first-aid kit, duct tape, necessary medications, moleskin (for blisters), a multitool, and a fire starter.

Tips for Planning a Brief Backpacking Trip

Effective preparation is just as crucial as having the right gear. Take heed of Chloe Childs’s advice:

  1. Read the Forums: Before your trip, browse local hiking forums or dedicated backpacking Facebook groups. Online hiking communities are invaluable for staying updated on trail conditions, potential restrictions, permit requirements, water availability, guidelines (such as camping distances from water sources), and trailhead parking information.
  2. Do a Trial Run: Although your gear may appear to fit perfectly at home, it’s essential to test it before hitting the trail. “Unpack and repack at least once or twice so you’re not doing it for the first time in the backcountry,” advises Childs. Additionally, experiment with packing cubes to stay organized.
  3. Consider Elevation: Keep in mind that a ten-mile hike in one region may feel very different from a ten-mile hike in another, depending on factors like elevation gain. Know your fitness level and pay attention to both mileage and elevation changes. “Look at where you’re starting, then consider how much you’ll be ascending and descending,” recommends Childs.
  4. Seek Guidance: If you’re new to backpacking, think about joining a class at your local outdoor retailer or embark on a weekend outing with a guide to familiarize yourself with the essentials. “Going with a guide, even for one night, allows you to see how everything is done – from setting up camp to meal preparation. It covers all the aspects you might not think about,” says Childs.
  5. Leave No Trace: Prior to your trip, familiarize yourself with Leave No Trace’s seven principles for responsible outdoor adventures. This includes proper waste disposal, campfire safety, and showing respect for wildlife.
  6. Stay Well-Fueled: Make a commitment to prioritize eating and drinking properly during your trek. “A good rule of thumb: Whenever you stop, take a moment to hydrate and eat some snacks,” advises Childs. Packing small, energy-boosting snacks is crucial to maintaining steady blood sugar levels and avoiding energy crashes on the trail.

Armed with these essentials and expert advice, you’re ready to embark on a weekend backpacking adventure that promises both excitement and rejuvenation, all within the confines of your precious weekend.



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