Packing For A Four Day Backpacking Trip

Lessons Learned On the Lost Coast of California

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.
I’m not very good at organizing things neatly…Tent and a few smaller items not pictured.

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.

Carry

What I brought:

  • Trash bag as liner (in case of rain)

Takeaways:

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.

lostcoast6of1

Sleep

What I brought/borrowed:

  • PJ’s: Wool Ninja Suit*

Takeaways: 

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.

*Could have left at home:

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.

View from the Mountain Hardwear 2.5 person tent I shared with my tentmate.
View from the Mountain Hardwear 2.5 person tent I shared with my tentmate.

Footwear

What I brought:

Takeaways:

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.

What I’ll take next time:

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.

Danner Light Boots
Danner Light Boots

Clothing

What I brought:

  • 1 pair Spandex Shorts
  • Tank Top
  • Duckworth Wool T Shirt
  • Long Sleeve T Shirt
  • Handkerchief
  • 1 Sports bra
  • 5 pairs underwear*

Takeaways:

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.

*Could have left at home:

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.

Outerwear

What I brought:

Takeaways:

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.

Power

What I brought:

Takeaways:

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.

lostcoast1of1
Part of Goal Zero Venture 30 Solar Recharging Kit

Toiletries

What I brought/borrowed:

  • Baby wipes
  • Pee rag
  • Sunscreen
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste (in mini containers)
  • Floss
  • Contact Lenses
  • Deodorant
  • Trowel
  • Plastic baggies (gallon and liter sized)

Takeaways:

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.

What I’ll take next time:

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.

View from the bathroom
View from the bathroom

Food

What I brought:

  • 5 Epic Bars
  • 3 Rise Bars
  • 1 package (5 servings) Soba Noodles
  • 3 Miso Soup Packets
  • Curry paste
  • 8 packets oatmeal (2 per breakfast)
  • 6 Justin’s Almond Butter Packets
  • 8 Individual Coffee Bags
  • Dried Apricots
  • Large bag trail mix (almonds, sunflower seeds, dark chocolate)

Takeaways:

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.

What I’ll take next time:

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.

Epic Bar (Bison, bacon, cranberry)
Epic Bar (Bison, bacon, cranberry)

Drink

What I brought/borrowed:

Takeaways:

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.

Dishes/Cutlery

What I brought/borrowed:

  • Spork
  • Coffee Mug
  • Larger Mug/Bowl
  • Pocket Knife
  • Jet Boil & Fuel

Entertainment

What I brought:

  • Kindle
  • Deck of Cards*

*Could have left at home:

The deck of cards was a nice thought, but we were too beat to play at the end of the day.

Waiting for the tide to go out with Haruki Marukami on my Kindle
Waiting for the tide to go out with Haruki Marukami on my Kindle

Photography

What I brought:

  • Extra battery
  • iPhone 5s

Takeaways:

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.

What I’ll take next time:

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.

Taken with the Sony A7
Taken with the Sony A7

Miscellaneous

  • Bear Canister (rented at REI)
  • Make-shift first aid kit
  • Headlamp
  • Sunglasses
  • Baseball Cap

What’s missing? Any lightweight tips?

7 thoughts on “Packing For A Four Day Backpacking Trip

  1. Hello, I will be doing this hike the first week of June. I’ve read a bunch of blogs about people bringing 2 pairs of shoes, one for hiking and one for chilling by the camp. I have a pair of high ankle waterproof boots for hiking and merrel watershoes, do you think the watershoes are too excessive to bring? Also any lady advice for backpacking during that special time of the month? I’m thinking without applicators and carry the waste in a double ziplock, not excited about that even though I am used to carrying out trash.

    1. Hi Jennifer! So excited for you – this is such a fun hike. We brought hiking boots and bedrock sandals for “camp shoes.” Definitely recommend sandals you can wear in the water, don’t necessarily think full water shoes are necessary. As for that time of the month – you should check out Animosa Gear – they make a product specifically for that purpose. Alternatively, a diva cup or the like is nice because you only have to change it every 12 hours, but you have to treat the ‘waste’ like other types of waste. Hope this helps!

      1. Thank you for the advice! I checked out the Animosa Gear and reserved the mini pack, I love that its waterproof and has odor protection, I was planning to just use a ziplock for trash. I was thinking of the Diva cup but and worried about being able to properly sanitize it.

  2. Hi Gale!

    I recently started listening to your Podcast and am hooked! I have many podcasts I listen to that meet a different passion of mine: some break down peak performers, others detail living authentic lives, all satisfy my curious brain, but yours is the first that gets at how I have been spending most of my time since leaving my parter last year — being outside, living on the edge of discomfort, and doing all this as a woman! It has induced a deep sense of belonging and hope to find other women who are on a similar journey. Social media has become a real connective bridge in my journey, and I am thankful you found a way to harness this movement by bringing together strong women who are doing outdoor (fill in the blank) well, and are humble and real about their stories. I have listened to a dozen episodes and think you are so courageous for beginning something you weren’t an expert in, find ways to improve, and stay real about how even someone as successful as you has moments of doubt, shame, and fear. Thank you for showing up to be you, you make us all more brave!

    I was pleased to find your article today as I have been on short backpacking trips by myself but am gearing up for a longer one soon (supposed to be this weekend, Colorado weather isn’t cooperating so I will go on a long snowshoe instead : )

    I appreciate how you broke down the article: 1) What I Brought 2) Take-aways 3) What I Will Bring Next Time, the structure and context helped tremendously as I think through the specifics of what I will need over a multi-day trip. Thanks for being vulnerable and open about where you are in your own journey outside. Its refreshing to hear someone who has a large platform like yourself still call herself a “beginner backpacker” and be open about the trials and errors of trail time. Thanks again for your words!

    1. hi there! Thanks for listening and thank you for your thoughtful comments about the podcast. You’re correct, I am by no means an expert (in anything!) but I am enjoying the challenge of putting myself out there. I’m really happy it’s resonating with you and I hope you had a great weekend, whether snowshoeing or backpacking! – Gale

  3. Leave all the electronics at home- weight savings, plus backpacking is the time to unplug. I see a baseball cap, but it’s not listed in your gear. Have a hat for warmth-wool or synthetic watch cap and a hat for sun and rain. My luxury item is a wool scarf-either a black one knitted by an old girl friend 35 years ago or a US military/NATO wool one. Both are excellent for sealing the vulnerable neck area under your parka or vest. Your food choices are often subjective. On Night #1 and Night # 2 I prefer fresher food. Fresh green beans, red peppers, potatoes, and cheese travel well. Like John Muir, I bring small mini loaves of French bread to support soup lunches. I’ve also grilled Spam on flat rocks. Lot’s of salt in it and not something I eat at home, but there are plenty of calories and easy to eat in the re-tort single serve packaging-which I pack out. If you have a small cooking fire, all of the vegetables and meat can be cooked in a foil “buddy pack”.

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