Photos & Text by Gale Straub
Prior to last weekend, my longest backpacking trip was just a couple of overnights. On these excursions, I was with my boyfriend and he carried the bulk of the load. Lame, but true.
So when I signed up to join a group of friends and strangers for a four night backpacking trip on the Lost Coast of California, filling my pack was a whole new animal. It turns out backpacking is great for a disorganized person – you have no choice but to slow down and assess each and every little thing you need.
Here’s an honest assessment of what I brought/borrowed, what I’ll take next time I hit the trail, and what I’ll leave at home.
I’m not very good at organizing things neatly…Tent and a few smaller items not pictured.
Disclaimer: I’m not an expert backpacker – these are just guidelines from a beginner. Also, this article includes affiliate links from Amazon and Avantlink. If you purchase an item, She-Explores gets a small commission (4 – 8%), which doesn’t change the price of the product for you, but helps keep She-Explores going. All of the products listed are what I took on the trail.
My pack was on the small side for a four day (~3.5 day) excursion. While I was able to fit everything and it motivated me to keep my pack relatively light, I was fortunate to have other members of the crew to carry camp stoves and fuel. I would take this size again, but I would need to pack very carefully if I didn’t have as many hiking companions.
My tentmate and I traded off carrying her tent, which lowered/raised the burden, depending on the day. At 6 lbs, 3 oz, it’s not overly heavy for a 2.5 person (and we appreciated the extra space), but it raised my pack’s weight by ~20% when it was strapped there. As for my sleeping bag and pad, though I didn’t need a 15 degree bag, I was toasty in the overnight lows and my pad was crazy comfortable and easy to blow up. I’ve found that NEMO Equipment makes some of the most comfortable camping equipment.
Turns out I didn’t really need the camp pillow or PJ’s. A matter of personal preference, but the sleeping pad was comfortable enough that the pillow was superfluous. While the Ninja Suit felt like a luxury, I could have easily slept in shorts or running tights.
I broke the Danner’s in for about three weeks before hitting the trail on the Lost Coast. I loved them. I blister really easily (narrow heels), and these are the first boots I haven’t blistered on a first time hike. I was careful to break them in and tape my heels each day, however. The Bedrock Sandals ended up doubling as camp shoes & water shoes during high tide. They’re lightweight and stay on while hiking.
Hiking poles are key when on uneven terrain and carrying a load. I bought cheap ones, but I’ll make sure to grab a more durable pair next time around.
Also, gaiters to put over my boots. There was a lot of sand to shake out at the end of the day.
You need less clothes than you think for 4 days on the trail. I had two extra t shirts, a sports bra, and a pair of leggings, but I ended up leaving them all in the car at the trailhead at the recommendation of my friend, Alyx Schwarz of Shoestring Adventures. It was warm enough that I could wash my clothes in streams along the way.
I was surprised to discover that I brought too many underwear and socks. If it had rained, I might have felt differently, however. The sunny weather allowed me to rinse and dry clothing easily.
The weather didn’t warrant a rain shell (luckily), but I’m really glad I had it. The micro puffer came in handy at night and packed away pretty small.
For a four day trip, the Goal Zero solar recharger was really convenient. I used it to charge the Sony A7 (it eats batteries) and my iPhone. I used both for photos and videos.
I learned that you have to keep scented toiletries in your bear canister at night, so it’s important to keep these as small as possible. The beginner women’s backpacking website Snowqueen & Scout, run by Liz Song Mandell, has some great tips for downsizing. These include cutting your floss before hand and bringing a “pee rag” for the trail. Backpacking is truly a lesson in planning.
The plastic baggies were for packing out used baby wipes (glamorous!) – bring enough to double bag if need be.
Tecnu, a cleanser to prevent poison oak reactions. There was a lot of poison oak on the trail, and while I’ve never gotten a reaction from it, I don’t want to find out what it’s like.
Make sure to count your calories before you leave. Section out your meals and aim for ~3,000 calories per day. That may seem like a lot, but I didn’t bring enough food and I felt it on the trail. I certainly brought enough to survive, but I learned that I eat a lot when I’m sitting on my butt all day – let alone hiking with a 30+ lb pack.
Have fun with it! I enjoyed going to the supermarket and making up meals. For dinner, I chose soba noodles, miso soup packets, and cut up Epic bars for protein. It was delicious.
To stay organized, put all breakfasts, dinners, and lunch/snacks in separate gallon bags.
More snack food, electrolyte tablets, energy bites, and variety in meals. I found out that I really craved protein and meat, so I would bring along more Epic bars. I also dehydrate easily (drink over a gallon typically when not doing vigorous activity), so I needed more electrolytes than I naturally brought along.
Water is heavy, so you can’t carry all that you’ll need for four days. I started off the day with 120 oz, drank it all, and filled up late afternoon/early evening at a fresh water creek using a water purifier.
The deck of cards was a nice thought, but we were too beat to play at the end of the day.
Originally I planned to just bring a small 35mm film camera, but I needed to take some digital photos for quick turnaround. For that reason I left my bigger-bodied Canon 6D at home and borrowed a Sony A7 full frame from my boyfriend. It is lightweight and still takes full frame photos. In retrospect, I’m glad I wasn’t changing out film on the sandy beach.
A Peak Design camera clip. I instead brought a normal camera strap, which causes the camera to bang against your hip/chest while hiking if you don’t strap it in with the pack. It made taking photos harder and carrying the camera a pain at times.