Backpacking Checklist

I’m kinda lost, which is part of the fun of backpacking. We’re 10 miles away from our trailhead and nearly 70 miles from the nearest blip of a town, so we’re very isolated to say the least. There are so many different curves, bumps, and swirls of slick rock around us that it feels like my friends and I are in a Dr. Seuss book. The only frame of reference for us is the massive 10,000-foot Navajo mountain towering over the sea of rocks around us. There’s no trail to our destination, so at this point we must navigate ourselves and we’ve gotten a little off course. To add a little urgency to the situation, the winter sun is sinking rapidly towards the horizon. We know the general direction in which we need to go but the breadcrumb trail of cairns (stacked rocks used to mark a general trail) that we were following has disappeared.

So I cheat and open up the GPS map on my phone. “We’re less than 1,000 feet away” I yell to my friend John who’s above me on a slick rock ridge.

“I can see the lake!” John says to me from above.

“Phew, we made it,” I think to myself. Mission success. The mini panic attack of being lost in the middle of nowhere recedes from my brain. I catch up to John and my other friend Blake on the top of the ridge. Lake Powell reveals itself in shimmering golden hour light below. We then make our way over to the side canyon which was the main destination for this overnight backpacking trip. Camp is set up at an awesome spot overlooking the sheer, swirly red rock side walls of the canyon right as the sun goes down. We eat our freeze-dried dinners and settle in for the night, all satisfied with the day’s thrill of adventure.

In my opinion, backpacking is one of the purest forms of natural recreation that everyone should participate in at least once. You remove yourself from all the amenities and necessities of the modern world and put your natural skills to the test. It is challenging, yet the reward is always worth it. To a lot of people, backpacking can seem like a foreign or far-off endeavor, but with some good research and a little investment, it’s amazingly easy to get started. So, here’s my list of backpacking essentials and tips that will help you kick start your own journey into the outdoors.

Do your research.

This is the most important thing. No really, don’t skip this. You need to do some solid research if your backpacking adventure is going to be successful. Find a trail/route that fits your ability and then start reading up on it. I find that reviews on websites like AllTrails are great sources to get a feel for the intensity of a hike. Look at what other people said. Were they successful on their trip? Do they mention anything about the trail that might concern you or is outside your comfort zone? Once you’ve picked out a great trail, start looking at things like which season is the best to go. Will it be extremely hot during the summer months? Is there the potential for there to be snow on the ground? These questions are crucial to ask when considering when to do a hike. (Example: doing a desert hike in 100+ degree temps is not fun and even dangerous. Take my word for it.)

Find people to go with. 

Not all travel buddies are created the same, especially when it comes to backpacking. When considering other people to come with you there are a few things to think about. While backpacking, you can sometimes find yourself in adverse and intense situations which means you want to make sure that everyone in your group will be prepared for those situations. Of course, you also want someone you know you can get along with. You’ll be spending extended periods of time with this person so make sure you don’t choose someone who will drive you crazy! Lastly, once you choose your buddies, sit down, and discuss all the aspects of the trip before you embark. This way you are all on the same page about things like pace and emergency plans. This also helps everyone get in sync with each other and will make for better decision making while on the trail.

The right gear.

Remember, you’ll be on your own out there. Make sure you get gear that you trust and suits you well. This doesn’t always mean the fanciest top-of-the-line gear. There are tons of affordable products out on the market that will get the job done. As always, do your research to make sure the product is tested and has approval from others who have done similar activities that you are going to use it for.

Pack Smart.

Everything you need on your adventure will need to fit into your backpack so take a lot of time to think about what you’ll need. There are ten essentials to backpacking that you don’t want to leave without packing. Beyond that, consider items that will enhance your experience but won’t weigh you down. For me, that includes my camera and energizers like snacks or pre-workout powder. Red Leaf is quite possibly the most perfect product for backpackers who want a little more energy. Their single-serve packets are very small and can slip into any pocket in your backpack. They’re great to mix in with your water for a midday boost to keep your pace while on-trail. My favorite use for them is in the morning to get myself energized for the day. Feeling energized at the start of the day helps me have a positive attitude and keeps me feeling good for the rest of the day.

To stay involved with all of Alex’s blogs and hikes, follow him @alexpaulphoto on Instagram and subscribe to Red Leaf blogs so you don’t miss out on his latest adventure!