Zen Backpacking Basics









There are several schools of thought on how to backpack.  Each has it's own merits and adds something to add to the collective knowledge of living in the outdoors.


Weekend Outdoorsman Camper - carry every creature comfort know, carry it to the nearest lake and set up your home away from home.  Why go without when you don't need to.  You have a tent you can sand up in but prefer to recline on your camp chairs.  Pink flamingos are optional.


Disaster Packer - prepared for every possible disaster and equipment failure, you pack only heavy duty equipment with repair kits and spares for everything.  No matter what chance and Mother Nature throws your way - you will survive to see another day.  Your pack is made of Cordura or some other ballistic material and weighs more than you do.


High-Tech Hiker - You carry all the latest high-tech lightweight gear and keep up to date with gadgets like MSR's Capillary Force Stove which will revolutionize how you cook.  Your cookware is made of titanium and your multi tool has 57 different tools.  Your back has lots of straps and zippers and is filled with 75 pounds of lightweight gear.


Common Backpacker - you carry most of the gear that others carry and are quite comfortable in camp.  You have the right boots, a nice fitting pack and have a cozy tent and bag to sleep in.  You carry more than fifty pounds of gear.


Goodwill Hiker - Your goal is to spend as little money as possible to hike with and much of your gear comes from Goodwill.  You look more rag tag than a homeless person with mismatched second hand clothing and gear but you travel light and can outfit yourself for less than fifty dollars to include food and gas money.  Fellow hikers are a little embarrassed to hike with you but have more pain in their feet and back at the end of the day than you do and spent more on their multi-tool than you did for everything on your back.


Ultra-lightweight Hiker - You count grams and only take what you truly need to stay alive.  Nights can be cold but days are great since you can travel many many miles without much effort.  If the weather turns bad, you will need to head home or suffer through the night.


International Backpacker - You travel from country to country with you and your gear spending time on busses, trains, airplanes, hostels and hotels.  You probably don't need a tent, but might go with an immersion heater to hot tea in the morning.


What to Pack

All backpackers need to carry the Ten Essentials and take a look at the Heavy Four to determine what they really need to pack.


Heavy Four:

  1. Shelter

  2. Pack

  3. Stove

  4. Sleeping Bag


Close consideration to the ten essentials and minimizing the heavy four will help tremendously with packing a lighter pack with what you need to travel safely.  In regards to what else should be packed is highly dependent on where you are traveling, how you are traveling, what you plan on doing and on personal preference.  Sample packing lists can be found at our Backpacking Packing List page.




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