Essential gear for extended hikes/backcountry camping
February 13, 2016 10:52 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in starting to do some seasonal, overnight, backcountry camping in the northeast (spring - fall). What sort've gear do I need to get started? I'll be solo with my dog.

I've done plenty of long day hikes and car camping up until now, but I'm interested in doing some longer section hikes on various trails and camping out for 1-2 night stretches. What sort of gear would you recommend? What size pack should I look into? Bonus: Do you camp with your dog in the cooler months? What essentials do I need to keep my dog comfortable?

Here's a short list of what I'm starting with:
1-2 person tent, large enough for myself and dog.
sleeping pad
Cold-weather sleeping bag
Pocket knives

The rest of my camping gear falls into the car camping category and is likely too heavy/bulky for more primitive camping.

Thanks for any tips you can offer!
posted by pilibeen to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Lightweight backpacking camping stove.

Those funny little Mylar emergency blankets? They weigh nothing, fold up to the size of a sheet of paper near abouts, and they are GENIUS underneath your camping pad. Keeps the ground from feeling cold.

Ceramic water filter.

Aluminum or other lightweight packable cookware.
posted by jbenben at 11:02 AM on February 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is what I carry, in addition to the items you mention (you only need one headlamp and one light knife):

First aid kit, space blanket
Wet weather gear
Warm clothes (thin wool is great, plus a hat and gloves)
Hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, bug spray
Water bottle
Water treatment: I prefer a Steripen, plus a few tablets as backup
Water-resistant stuff sack for sleeping bag

Cooking gear: For 1-2 night trips, I prefer a small alcohol stove with pot and holder. You eat right out of the pot.
Spoon and fork (or spork)
Spatula (just a dollar-store silicon spatula, makes clean up quicker and scrapes the bottom of the pot to prevent scorching)
Scrubbing pad, dish soap (Campsuds)
Paracord and stuff sack for a bear hang if appropriate (or bear barrel in certain areas).

Folding water bowl for the dog

Waterproofing for your hiking boots (at home)

Consider a Spot or PLB to be able to send a distress signal if needed.

Put it all in the smallest, lightest pack you can fit it in and you will be happy. Carry extra socks!
posted by ssg at 11:12 AM on February 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

My tip: Expensive lightweight inflatable sleeping pads and dogs don't mix.
posted by deludingmyself at 11:13 AM on February 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

And, of course: a small amount of duck tape
posted by ssg at 11:16 AM on February 13, 2016

I personally find that water treatment tabs combined with a nuun tablet make good drinking water and you don't need to mess with filters/pens.

For 1-2 nights backcountry you should be able to get away with a 35-40Lpack, I love osprey packs, but a great option is the rei flash pack. (Actually I'm taking a 38Lpack on a 5 day winter trip, but I'm pretty minimalist with gear)

I carry a pocket rocket stove and fuel canister, but the jetboil system is also super lightweight and awesome.

Always check weather, pack appropriately & leave a hiking plan with a "worry time" with a friend.
posted by larthegreat at 11:20 AM on February 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

My tip: get the dog a pack and have him carry his own food and some water if he is capable. Try this on a day hike first so you can figure out if it will work without rubbing or other problems.

We put the food in baggies inside nalgenes so the bulk on either side is the same, and because he is inevitably finding someplace to swim.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:50 AM on February 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Toilet paper in a water proof bag.
posted by release the hardwoods! at 12:28 PM on February 13, 2016

Other random thoughts-

A dog bowl that has a little snap or loop on it so you can turn it inside out and hang it on your pack while it dries will be less gross.

A small microfiber towel so you can do your best to get the dog dry/clean before you toss him in the tent at night helps- nothing worse than a dog who found the stankiest mud puddle ever trying to work his way inside the sleeping bag.

A sponge for cooking is great; we just cut about an inch-wide strip off a Scotch-Brite so it's easier to get all the water out and there's less material to get nasty/dank.
posted by charmedimsure at 1:01 PM on February 13, 2016

Besides clothes/rain gear and food, there are only a few things I take that you haven't listed:

light cord for hanging food
water filter
a couple of water bottles
toilet paper
plastic grocery bag for trash
tooth brush
a book
maybe binoculars, if I expect there will be interesting birds
maybe a pair of lightweight sandals or shoes to slip into once I get to camp or to wear for stream crossings

My main tip is: Don't cook. Then you don't have to pack a stove, fuel, pots or pans or cooking utensils, or things to clean up with. You probably won't even need a bowl, plate, or any eating utensils. You don't have to try to cook in wind or rain. You can pull out food and eat right away whenever you're hungry. You don't have to wash anything.

When I used to camp with my dog on cold nights, I would unzip the top part of my sleeping bag so I could pull her in next to me and put the unzipped sleeping bag over both of us.
posted by Redstart at 2:21 PM on February 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

It not The Answer, but the 10 essentials are a good place to start. Even if you're just doing an overnight, it's not the worst idea to have something to cover each of these categories.
posted by bonehead at 3:59 PM on February 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am a fussy sleeper, so find it worth carrying a small pillow (they have inflatable ones, but mine is a cheap poly-fil one from Ikea), even on long trips. I also always carry a set of earplugs-- backcountry woods can be surprisingly loud at night.

I carry a ULA ultralight backpack (the OHM model), which I love. I used to carry an Osprey pack, but ultimately found the pack itself too heavy. I also use a hydration pack.

When you're looking at tents, I suggest you get one with an ample vestibule. That way you can leave shoes/wet items/stinky dog stuff outside and still have it protected.

For multi-day trips, I also like to have Gold Bond or chamois cream for chafing.
posted by summit at 4:56 PM on February 13, 2016

Dog-camping specific: unless it's blazing hot out I bring a section of an old z-rest foam camping mattress for my dog to sleep on. Otherwise she gets cold and crawls in my sleeping bag and it isn't big enough for both of us.
posted by workerant at 7:04 PM on February 13, 2016

Re: the tip above about using flavor tablets for water vs. filters/Steripens - they might flavor the water but they will not purify the water of potentially dangerous bacteria or cysts such as giardia. Take water purification!

That being said, here's what I have for my gear:
Teton Trailhead 20 sleeping bag ($60, 2 lbs 9 oz.) It's a comfy bag and it packs down reasonably small. It's great bang for the buck and not super heavy.
Teton Hiker 3700 backpack ($70, 3 lbs 11 oz) Again, on the bargain side of things, but well built, holds what I need for a few days, and also not super heavy. I can get a lighter (sub three pound pack) but it would run me another $100 for one I like.
Klymit Static V2 sleeping pad ($55, 16 oz) This pad works well for me since I'm in a warmer climate. You might need more insulation and if so Klymit makes an insulated version for $30 or so more. These pads are light, they pack down to the size of a Nalgene, and they're pretty tough.

Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo LE tent ($180, 1 lb 12 oz) This tent requires a trekking pole to pitch but I always hike with them anyway. It's very light, well ventilated, has a nice vestibule, packs down small, and the LE has a heavier floor which can be good for pooches. It's a one person tent but it has a surprising amount of room.

So, nine pounds. Ultralight, not quite, but not that heavy, and aside from the tent not that pricy.
posted by azpenguin at 9:40 PM on February 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Plastic bags. At the beginning of an extended trip most of my gear is wrapped up in kitchen-sized garbage bags or Ziploc bags inside my backpack. That way if it rains, or I travel through wet brush, or I sweat through my backpack (!) my gear and extra clothes will stay dry. As the trip progresses, those bags are used for garbage and wet/sweaty clothes that I have to carry inside my pack.

I've experimented with different stuff sacks and compression sacks for carrying my gear, but ultimately they were just extra weight that I couldn't justify carrying when a plastic bags work just as well. Compresssion sacks actually gave me an excuse to stuff more unnecessary weight into my backpack. I do carry my sleeping bag in a waterproof compression sack, which doubles as my hang bag when I'm overnighting in bear country, but other than that it's lightweight plastic bags.

I would choose a backpack that has a bottom compartment with direct access over one with a single opening on the top. The difference is clear the first time you have to make or break camp in the rain.

Water filtration for sure, if you know that there will be a reliable water source where you are going. Water is heavy. You should always have some with you, but the less you have to carry the happier you will be.

The MSR Pocket Rocket stove works for me in most situations. Generally speaking, I agree with Redstart on the benefits of just not cooking at all, but sometimes I just really like a cup of coffee or a hot breakfast. Maybe this year I will try to make one of those soda can or Altoid tin stoves that you can find instructions for on the internet.

A sleeping bag liner is a wonderful and versatile thing to have, either inside your sleeping bag on a cold night or in place of your sleeping bag on a warm night. It can also serve as a blanket or a pillow. I love mine a whole lot more than I ever thought I would.
posted by mammoth at 8:41 AM on February 14, 2016

mammoth, I've built a couple of the soda can stoves and they actually do work well. You do need to make sure you do the simmer ring as well, in case you have something that needs to cook lower and/or longer. Do keep in mind that you can't use them anywhere fire restrictions are in effect because they don't have a shutoff valve. But if you feel like trying them out, those things weigh practically nothing.

Also, mentioning the cook/don't cook debate - I'm someone who likes to cook out in the backcountry. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that if you have to conserve water, then you don't want to be cooking because practically anything you'll cook will require water. (I'm out in the desert, so water isn't always readily available or dependable.)
posted by azpenguin at 8:39 PM on February 14, 2016

I'm very much pro-cook, at least for breakfast and supper. The effect a hot meal has on mood is enormous, especially for first-timers. Don't discount the effect of ritual. The additional weight and fuss is pretty minimal for the benefit in my view.

The trangia mini stove is as close as you'll get to a soda can stove for sale, I think. I've had one for years---it's slower than the kerosene/naphtha jet engine stoves but it's very safe and very dependable. There are also a ton of add-ons and kits for it.
posted by bonehead at 6:46 AM on February 15, 2016

Another very simple stove for overnighting: a paraffin wax stove. They cost almost nothing to make, and work great for one or two meals, depending. These were a perfect cheater stove for cub scouts (8-10 years old) on rainy weekends, easy to use, cheap and dead safe. To complete the stove, take a second, larger can, poke holes around the bottom edge (the still sealed edge) and invert it to cover the lit tuna can stove. That gives you a nice pot rest and the holes enable the stove the stay lit. We used to use juice can for this.

To extinguish it, cover with a pot lid and wait 10-15 minutes to cool.

If you can have and want a wood fire, these make excellent fire starter cheaters too.
posted by bonehead at 6:55 AM on February 15, 2016

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