Shopping Cart

Mountain Hideaway Backpacking 101

Backpacking 101

Backpacking intertwines hiking with backcountry camping, opening up experiences beyond the limits of car campgrounds, allowing for a deeper and more engaging outdoor adventure.

Planning and preparing for your first trip might seem overwhelming at first, but if you follow these steps, it will make the process a lot easier.

1. Select a beginner-friendly destination: Opt for short overnight hikes near your home. We don’t want to use all your time off just getting to the trailhead.
2. Find a friend: Consider inviting a friend who may have some experience backpacking and is familiar with your abilities to accompany you. However, embarking on this adventure solo is also within reach and we encourage independent exploration, we strongly recommend bringing a companion along for added safety and enjoyment, regardless of their backpacking expertise.
3. Gather necessary gear and attire: You probably own a lot of the clothing and if start-up cost is a barrier, then you can minimize expenses by borrowing or renting equipment.
4. Plan your meals: Stock up on just-add-water meal options from outdoor retailers, like Mountain Hideaway, or explore convenient cooking selections at local grocery stores. Additionally, pack an assortment of snacks for sustained energy on the trail.
5. Get yourself ready: Condition your body for the intended hike while carrying a fully loaded backpack, obtain required permits, and refresh your knowledge of Leave No Trace principles.

Select a beginner-friendly destination:

The primary advice here is to take it easy. Opting for a hike that's too challenging can lead to a less-than-pleasant experience, while a route that seems too easy offers extra time for exploring the surroundings near your campsite.

Follow these guidelines when selecting your first backpacking destination:

  • Seek advice from seasoned backpackers:
  • Engage with hiking club members, MH staff, or consult hiking guidebooks or websites for expert recommendations.
  • Opt for a location close to home: Prioritize spending more time on the trail rather than behind the wheel, ensuring sufficient daylight hours to reach your campsite before nightfall.
  • Keep distances short: Plan for shorter roundtrip distances compared to your usual day hikes, considering that walking with a heavier pack slows your pace.
  • Aim for modest elevation gain: Recognize that mileage alone doesn't define the hike's difficulty, so choose trails with less elevation gain than your typical day hike.
  • Select well-traveled trails and established campsites: Opt for areas with nearby hikers and campers who can offer assistance if needed.
  • Ensure proximity to water sources: Verify the reliability of nearby water sources, favoring lakes or large rivers over streams or springs that may dry up.
  • Consider leaving pets and children behind for your first trip: Although they add enjoyment, their presence can complicate logistics. We can help with tips for backpacking with Dogs and/or Kids on future trips.
  • Target summer conditions: Unless extreme heat or fire danger is a concern, aim for mid-summer to maximize daylight hours and increase the likelihood of favorable weather. Monitor forecasts and be prepared to alter plans if adverse conditions arise.
  • Explore "walk-in" campgrounds: Some state and national parks offer campgrounds within a short distance of car-accessible sites, facilitating a smoother transition into backpacking.


Gather necessary gear and attire

No need to buy a bunch of special "hiking clothes" for your first backpacking trip. Simply go through your fitness wear and find clothing made of moisture-wicking, quick-drying fabrics like nylon and polyester. (Moisture-wicking fabric pulls sweat away from skin to keep you dryer.) Avoid cotton, which slurps up water and takes a long time to dry when wet—that can chill you and, in a worse-case scenario, lead to hypothermia.

Your backpacking clothing should be grouped into layers:

  • Next-to-skin base layers (aka long underwear): Important because even warm days can end with cold nights.
  • Hiking layers: Nylon pants (may be rollup or zip-off), T-shirts, sun shirt, sun hat.
  • Insulation: Puffy vest or jacket, lightweight fleece pullover, warm hat and gloves.
  • Rainwear: Definitely bring a waterproof/breathable jacket; whether you also bring rain pants depends on the weather forecast (rainwear is also good at preventing mosquito bites).

The beauty of layering is that it lets you quickly adapt to changing conditions. It also lets you put together a robust clothing defense against storms that move in suddenly, bringing cold and rainy weather.

If you have a favorite pair of non-cotton athletic tights or yoga pants, they can work as either your base layer or your hiking pants. Worn as pants they won't offer you handy stash pockets and they'll be more susceptible to brush snags and rock abrasion than regular hiking pants.


The Ten Essentials (Systems)

Packing the Ten Essentials whenever you step into the backcountry, even on day hikes, is a good habit. True, on a routine trip you may use only a few of them. Yet you’ll probably never fully appreciate the value of the Ten Essentials until you really need one of them.

1. Navigation:

Map and compass are now viewed as 2 components of a navigation system. Add a wrist altimeter, toss in a GPS and, well, you can see how the systems approach to the Ten Essentials can easily total more than 10 individual items.

A topographic map should accompany you on any trip that involves anything more than a short, impossible-to-miss footpath or frequently visited nature trail.

A compass, combined with map-reading knowledge, is a vital tool if you become disoriented in the backcountry. Have high-tech GPS receivers made compasses obsolete? No. A compass weighs next to nothing and does not rely on batteries. So even if you rely heavily on a GPS for navigation, a traditional compass is an indispensable backup. Note: A compass equipped with a sighting mirror can also be used to flash sunlight to a helicopter or rescuer during an emergency.

2. Bug and Sun Protection:

Sunglasses are indispensable, and you’ll need extra-dark glacier glasses if you’re planning prolonged travel on snow or ice. UVB rays, the rays that can burn your skin, have been linked to the development of cataracts.

When choosing sunscreen, health experts advise choosing 1) a formula that offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, though SPF 30 is recommended for extended outdoor activity and 2) one that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.

Depending on many factors (time of day, sweat and more), you should reapply as often as every 2 hours. And don’t overlook SPF-rated lip balm.

Lightweight, synthetic sun-protection clothing comes with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). Your activity level (and resulting perspiration) and the temperature are the factors that will determine if you choose to wear pants or shorts (or long sleeves vs. short sleeves) while outdoors. You'll still need sunscreen for your face, neck, and hands.

3. Insulation:

Conditions can abruptly turn wet, windy, or chilly in the backcountry, so it’s smart to carry an additional layer of clothing in case something unexpected prolongs your exposure to the elements.

The authors of Mountaineering suggest this strategy: “Extra clothing should be selected according to the season. Ask this question: What is needed to survive the worst conditions that could be realistically encountered on this trip?”

Common options include a layer of underwear (tops and bottoms), an insulating hat or balaclava, extra socks and a synthetic jacket or vest.

4. Illumination:

Headlamps are the light source of choice in the backcountry because they allow hands-free operation, they’re small and lightweight, and they have long battery life.

Many headlamps offer a strobe mode. It’s a great option to have for emergency situations; headlamps offer their longest battery life while in strobe mode.

Flashlights and packable lanterns also have value. Some flashlights cast very powerful beams and are useful for signaling during emergencies.

Always carry spare batteries. Every member of a backcountry party should carry his or her own light.

5. First-aid Supplies:

Pre-assembled first-aid kits take the guesswork out of building your own kit, though many people personalize these kits to suit individual needs. Any kit should include treatments for blisters, adhesive bandages of various sizes, several gauze pads, adhesive tape, disinfecting ointment, over-the-counter pain medication, pen and paper. Nitrile gloves also deserve consideration.

The length of your trip and the number of people involved will impact the contents of your kit. It's also a good idea to carry some sort of compact guide to dealing with medical emergencies.

6. Fire:

Matches headed into the backcountry should be of the waterproof variety, or they should be stored in a waterproof container. Take plenty and ensure they are kept dry. Convenience-store matchbooks are often too flimsy and poorly constructed to be trusted for wilderness use. Mechanical lighters are handy, but always carry some matches as a backup.

Firestarter, as the name implies, is an element that helps you jump-start a fire. The ideal firestarter ignites quickly and sustains heat for more than a few seconds. Candidates include dry tinder tucked away in a plastic bag; candles; priming paste; heat “nuggets” (chipped-wood clusters soaked in resin). Even lint trappings from a household clothes dryer can work.

7. Repair Kit and Tools:

Knives or multitools are handy for gear repair, food preparation, first aid, making kindling or other emergency needs. A basic knife should have at least 1 foldout blade, 1 or 2 flathead screwdrivers, a can opener and (though some people will call this a luxury) a pair of foldout scissors. The more complex your needs (if, for example, you are leading an inexperienced group), the more options you may want in your knife or tool.

If you carry a self-inflating mattress, consider bringing a repair kit for it. If you’ve had to endure a punctured pad deep in the backcountry, then you know it’s an item worth carrying.

Here’s a classic tip for carrying the basics of a poor-man’s repair kit: Wrap strips of duct tape (the universal fix-it product) around your water bottle or trekking poles so you can repair who-knows-what in the backcountry.

8. Nutrition (food):

Always pack at least an extra day’s worth of food. It can be as simple as a freeze-dried meal, but it's even better to include no-cook items with long storage times: extra energy bars, nuts, dried fruits or jerky.

The process of digesting food helps keep your body warm, so on a cold night it’s smart to munch some food before bunking down—just don’t leave animal-attracting leftovers inside your shelter.

9. Hydration (water):

We suggest always carrying at least 1 water bottle and a collapsible water reservoir. You should also carry some means for treating water, whether it is a filter/purifier or chemical treatment.

When beginning extended travel, consult your map and try to identify possible water sources. Try to resupply at the last obvious water source before beginning a stretch of unpredictable water availability.

10. Shelter:

Shelter is a new component in the updated Ten Essentials, one that seems targeted at day trippers. (Most overnight wilderness travelers already carry a tent or tarp.) The thinking is, if getting lost or injured leaves you stranded in the backcountry, something is better than nothing if you have to deal with wind or rain. Options include an ultralight tarp, a bivy sack, an emergency space blanket (which packs small and weighs just ounces), even a large plastic trash bag.


Backpacking Checklist

To determine what you need to bring on a backpacking trip, think about how far you plan to hike, how remote the location is and what the weather forecast has in store. This list is comprehensive, and you won’t take all items on every trip.

Backpacking Gear

___Backpacking tent
___Sleeping bag
___Sleeping pad
___Headlamp or flashlight (with extra batteries)
Optional: Trekking poles, Packable lantern, Tent footprint, Pillow, Bear spray


___Map (in waterproof sleeve)
Optional: Route description/guidebook, Altimeter watch, GPS*, Satellite messenger and/or personal locator beacon


___Moisture-wicking underwear
___Moisture-wicking T-shirts
___Quick-drying pants/shorts
___Long-sleeve shirts (for sun and bugs)
___Lightweight fleece or jacket
___Boots or shoes suited to terrain or trail shoes
___Socks (synthetic or wool)
___Extra clothes (beyond the minimum expectation) Additional items for rainy and/ or cold weather, the key is layering:
___Rainwear (jacket and pants)
___Long underwear
___Warm insulated jacket or vest
___Fleece pants
___Gloves or mittens
___Warm hat or beanie
Optional: Sandals (for stream crossings and/or camp shoes
___Bandana or neck gaiter
___Gaiters (for rainy, snowy or muddy conditions)

Camp Kitchen

___Backpacking stove
___Cook set
___Eating utensils.
___Biodegradable soap
___Small quick-dry towel
___Collapsible water container
___Bear canister/food sack; or hang bag + 50’ nylon cord

Food & Water

___Water bottles and/or reservoir
___Water filter/purifier or chemical treatment
___Energy food and drinks (coffee, tea, bars, gels, chews, trail mix, drink mix)
___Extra day’s supply of food

Health & Hygiene

___Hand sanitizer
___Toothbrush and toothpaste
___Sanitation trowel
___Toilet paper/wipes and sealable bag (to pack it out)
___Menstrual products
___Prescription medications
___Prescription glasses
Sun protection:
___Sunglasses (+ retainer leash)
___SPF-rated lip balm
___Sun hat
___Insect repellent
___Urinary products
___Additional blister treatment supplies

Tools & Repairs

___Knife or multi-tool
___Repair kit for mattress, stove
___Duct tape strips

Emergency Items

___First-aid kit or supplies
___Lighter/matches (in waterproof container)
___Fire starter (for emergency survival fire)
___Emergency shelter
___Two itineraries: 1 left with friend + 1 under car seat

Personal Items

___Permits (if needed)
___Credit card and/or cash
___Car keys

Backpacking Extras

___Daypack (for day trips away from camp)
___Camera or action cam (with extra memory cards)
___Interpretive field guide(s)
___Star chart/night-sky identifier
___Outdoor journal or sketchbook with pen/pencil
___Book/reading material, you can press some flowers or grasses in the book
___Cards or games
___Compact binoculars
___Two-way radios


Backpacking Food: Meal Planning Tips

When you’re out in the backcountry putting in full days of activity, you want food that will nourish you, strengthen you, revitalize you and taste really good. This following primer will help you plan your backpacking meals and snacks.

How Much Food Should You Pack?

When pondering how much or little to carry, err on the side of taking a little more. One of the Ten Essentials for an overnight trip, in fact, is a supply of extra food. A reasonable goal is 1.5 to 2.5 lbs. of food (or 2,500 to 4,500 calories) per person per day depending on your size, weight and exertion level.

On the other hand, don't overdo it. A common blunder is to pack too much food, forcing you to lug unwanted bulk and weight. Experience will teach you what amount of food works for you.

Meal Planning Considerations

Taste: Eat what you like. Don't try to convert your taste buds to new types of food deep in the backcountry.

Calories: Don't inaugurate a diet program during a multiday hike. You'll need ample calories (and water) to fight off fatigue and headaches.

Nutrition: It's fine to tear into a candy bar during a trip, but for the long haul you want to rely on complex carbohydrates and proteins. Intelligent quick snacks such as nuts and dried fruits provide more stable energy for your muscles than that candy bar.

Weight and bulk: Stick to lightweight and low-bulk backpacking food as much as possible, especially on long journeys. Consider repackaging foods into resealable plastic baggies to minimize bulk and garbage. Be sure to clearly label the baggies and include cooking instructions.

Ease of preparation: Unless you are an experienced camp chef, keep things simple. Always include no-cook food items in case your stove malfunctions.

Availability of water: This can vary greatly depending on where you’re going and can influence what backpacking food you choose to bring.

Fuel: Check the cook time for foods such as pasta, potatoes, rice, quinoa, etc. and make sure to plan for enough fuel (some of these dishes take a deceptively long time to cook).

Cost: Convenience has its price. Freeze-dried meals and energy foods can be expensive, but at the end of a long day when your weary body only has enough energy to boil water, such luxuries are justifiable.

Meal Options

Fresh foods: Refrigeration is one of those luxuries you leave behind at the trailhead. Most fresh foods are good for one day inside your pack, maybe two. Carrots usually last longer.

Dry foods (pasta, noodles, instant rice, soup mixes, drink mixes) are light, take up minimal volume inside a pack and offer you some decent taste alternatives.

Freeze-dried/dehydrated foods are super convenient. While relatively pricey, they deliver above-average taste and sustenance for very little weight.

Canned foods have a place in your pack only if the trip is short and your hunger for familiar food is high (some typically canned foods also come in vacuum-sealed pouches). Tuna or other canned meat products can be a nice toss-in item for a pot of rice, for instance. But skip foods packaged in traditional 15-ounce (or larger) cans or bottles. The weight and bulk just aren't worth it.

Spices can boost the appeal of backpacking food. Consider bringing pepper, garlic powder or salt, basil, cayenne pepper, lemon pepper, cumin, crushed red pepper, cinnamon or whatever else is essential to your home kitchen.

Flavored beverages can taste mighty refreshing after a few days of nothing but water. Powdered drink mixes offer a nice mid-trip treat.

For winter camping, bring extra food to help keep your internal fires stoked. Carry your ready-to-eat items close to your body during the day so they are not frozen solid when you want to eat them.

Backpacking Meal Ideas


Backpacking breakfasts can range from fast and basic (an energy bar) to a lavish spread involving pancakes, eggs, meats and coffee. A hot meal can give you an extra boost, true, but a light snack means no cleanup and a quicker start to the day.

Popular choices: Instant hot cereals, dehydrated eggs, pancake mix, breakfast bars, granola, dry cereal, instant tea, coffee, powdered milk, juice, fresh fruit, dried fruits.


Rather than take a prolonged break for a midday meal (involving unpacking, preparation, cleanup and repacking), a quicker strategy is to graze on a series of modest energy-boosting snacks throughout the day.

Popular choices: Jerky, dried fruit, fig bars, bagels (best for shorter trips), energy bars and nuts.


This is your reward for a day of exertion. Backcountry gourmets don't mind the extra challenge of creating hearty meals out in the great scenery. Most weary backpackers, though, opt for the just-add-boiling-water convenience of prepackaged freeze-dried or dehydrated meals, or simple dishes such as pasta.

Popular choices: Packaged meals, pasta, instant rice, ramen noodles, instant soups and sauces, instant stuffing, instant potatoes and tuna. Consider bringing along some favorite spices (onion and garlic powder, basil, oregano).


How to Poop in the Backcountry

Supplies: In addition to the basics—toilet paper and hand sanitizer—you’ll want to bring along the following as needed:

  • Sealable plastic bag: In some areas you’ll be required to pack out your used toilet paper (and even if it's not required, it's still the best practice for lowering your impact on the land). If you want to disguise the contents, you can line the bag with aluminum foil, cover it with duct tape or draw permanent marker designs.
  • Camp trowel: Many are very lightweight and can be helpful for digging a cat hole.
  • Solid waste bags: Some high-elevation, sensitive or heavily traveled areas require people to pack out solid human waste. If so, you must bring human waste disposal bags. There are a few different kinds: some are simple plastic bags known as “blue bags,” others are sealable, double-layer bags containing gel for absorption. Carry out the bags in your pack; they’re supposed to be leakproof, but place them in another plastic bag to be safe.

Find an appropriate spot:

  • Carry your supplies 200 feet (70 steps) from a trail, campsite or water source. Choose underbrush for privacy if you like, and notice your surroundings to make sure you can find your way back to your camp or trail.
  • If possible, find loose, rich soil and a sunny site. Both of these conditions help decompose waste more quickly. Use a trowel, stick, rock or boot heel to make a hole about 4 inches wide and 6 to 8 inches deep.
  • If the ground is too hard or rocky to dig, try lifting a rock and use that spot. Replace the rock when you’re done. Or carry your waste out in a bag.

Managing toilet paper:

  • Use as little toilet paper as possible. To reduce your use of TP, you can wipe off with natural objects such as large leaves (make sure they’re not poisonous), smooth stones and even snowballs. Make sure you have your chosen item handy beforehand.
  • Drop your TP and/or the natural items you used in the hole; better yet, place TP in a waste bag to pack out.
  • Pre-moistened wipes can be nice to use on occasion, but don’t drop them in the hole; they need to be packed out in your waste bag (as do menstrual supplies).

The cover-up:

  • Cover the waste (including any TP if you’re not packing it out) with the original dirt and completely fill the hole. Tamp it down with your foot. Place a rock or branch over the space to discourage digging critters. You can place an upright stick in it to discourage the next humans in need of a hole.
  • Lastly, use some sanitizer on your hands and rub vigorously, paying attention to fingers.


Wrapping Up

While this may seem like a lot of info, don’t feel overwhelmed. Tackle it a little at a time, hike with experienced people, learn from each other and have fun! You can do more than you think you can on the trail.