When you have to carry all your gear in a backpack for an overnight or multi-day hiking trip, you need to think about two major things; what’s really necessary (and what’s not), and weight.
A common mistake for first-timers is to over-pack. Nothing ruins a hike more than carrying too much. Yet you also need to cover the basics in order to make sure your hike is safe and comfortable because ultimately you want to enjoy your experience.
Be aware of your own hiking limitations because the extra weight you carry in your backpack will also affect your energy levels, nourishment (ie the amount of food you need to refuel), dodgy knees etc and know that anything uphill is going to be a bigger challenge than normal.
So the trick is to take only what you need and make it as light as possible. As a rule of thumb, you don’t want your pack to weigh more than 20% of your own bodyweight.
You may already have some camping gear stashed in the shed but when you bought them you probably weren’t thinking about carrying any of it. Typical camping gear will increase your pack weight dramatically! Whereas multi-day hiking gear that you carry with you is (mostly) designed to be as lightweight as possible.
You even need to consider the weight of the clothes and food you take with you.
And then pack it all strategically into your backpack to maximise available space as well as weight distribution.
No matter your experience level, using a list can help you remember all the essential equipment.
So let’s break this down…
Your backpack is obviously your main consideration. It needs to be big enough, sturdy and comfortable while you’re wearing it.
For an overnight camping trip, you should be able to get by with a backpack that holds 45-50L.
If you’re going multi-day hiking, say 3-5 days, you’ll need at least a 65L pack.
Your pack size is really determined by how much gear you decide to bring and that can change with the weather. In winter, you’ll probably need the larger pack, even for an overnighter, to fit bulkier clothing, etc.
We recommend and use Osprey Packs (which also come in men’s and women’s) for their sturdiness, comfort and their capacity. Consider getting one that comes with a rain cover for your winter hikes.
We also recommend buying your pack from a local store like Compleat Angler in Rockingham. You’ll get customised fitting and a discount for being an OTBT hiker, avoiding the high postage rates that online purchases incur.
”Osprey will repair any damage or defect for any reason free of charge – whether it was purchased in 1974 or yesterday. If we are unable to perform a functional repair on your pack, we will happily replace it. We proudly stand behind this guarantee, so much so that it bears the signature of company founder and head designer, Mike Pfotenhauer.”
When it comes to hiking, dry bags and dry sacks are two very different things. A dry sack is an ultralight option designed to go inside another pack. A dry bag, on the other hand, is heavy-duty enough to withstand watery environments, like the floor of a boat.
Dry sacks come in different weight options although good quality ones are all very light and will barely compromise your pack load.
They’re also very handy for keeping clean clothes dry, wet and dirty clothes separate from the rest of the gear in your pack and also for keeping food items contained and dry.
When it comes to the size of your dry sack, consider whether you want one just for your clothes or 2-3 dividing wet clothes from dry and for your food.
Also consider getting a couple of different sizes. For example, you won’t need as much room for clothes in summer and you won’t need as much food for an overnight hike.
Colour coding your sacks is also a great idea to help you identify what’s what in your backpack. Ie Yellow = biohazard = dirty smelly clothes!
Start with at least a 20L dry sack, for your clothes.
We recommend Sea To Summit dry sacks for their durability and light weight. However you can get dry sacks from Kmart too, and whilst they’re cheaper, they’re just a bit thicker and heavier – something to keep in mind when keeping the weight of your pack down.
Hiking tents are made to be very lightweight, and can be as light as 1kg!
You’ll want something waterproof so you can camp overnight in any weather.
Also consider getting a two person entry level tent like the Nature Hike tents below so that you can keep your gear inside with you and out of the weather.
For hiking in Western Australia you’ll want a sleeping bag rated to at least 3 seasons. Sleeping bag season ratings are determined by how cold the weather gets, and a season 3 is good for temperatures as low as zero.
Sleeping bags are made from either synthetic or down. Whilst synthetic bags are cheaper and easier to care for, they’re generally heavier and a bit bulkier.
Down bags can be half the weight and half the size but twice as expensive. However with good care they last longer and you can get the weight down to under 1kg like this one. Tracy loves her Mont Helium Sleeping Bag which has kept her cosy on the Overland Track in Tasmania, the Stirling Ranges and of course the Bibbulmun Track!
Tip: Buy a small compression sac. It’s always hard to get the “air” out of a sleeping bag when you’re trying to roll it back up and into its casing, which means it takes up more room in your pack. If you transfer your bag to a small compression sac you can get it to squish right down.
You use a sleeping bag liner for the same reasons you put sheets on your bed – cleanliness and hygiene.
Out on the trails in the muddy, dusty, dirty world of hiking, you can bring in days worth of sweat, dirt and BO when you climb into your sleeping bag!
Liners are much easier to wash than sleeping bags! Liners also protect your sleeping bag from getting fine sand into the insulation of your bag, eventually causing damage over time.
They also add a few extra degrees of warmth and comfort to your campside sleep.
The Sea to Summit Thermal Reactor liners are the bomb and add heaps of warmth!
Summer or Winter, the ground can get pretty chilly overnight and even with a great sleeping bag, it can quickly sap your body heat. Even after clearing rocks, twigs and debris, the ground is still pretty hard and uncomfortable to sleep on.
Sleeping mats/pads put a layer between you and the cold ground as well as offering some preferred padding between a tired body and a hard surface.
The benefits of a sleeping mat over a sleeping pad is weight and size (and a whole lot of comfort).
Sleeping pads are more like thick yoga mats so they’re bulkier and heavier, adding extra unwanted weight.
Sleeping mats are inflatable so number one, they’re lightweight and compact. And unlike blow up mattresses, good ones like this are designed to balance out the air pressure as you move in your sleep (so basically you don’t roll off!).
When choosing a sleeping mat look at things such as the R-value, which simply is the measurement of the thermal resistance of the material, or how well it resists the transfer of heat. As a general rule, for sleeping in warm conditions, an R-value of 0-2 is suitable, mild conditions 2-4 value and for super cold climates, you’ll be wanting a 4+!
Do you need a pillow?
Pillows are personal preference and if you can sleep without one, great! – less things to pack!
Otherwise you can use a dry sack that has extra clothing stuffed inside it or an inflatable pillow like this one.
Food & Cooking
Think about your meal plan in advance; how many days, food choices for each meal and what gear you’ll need to cook it.
Your food choices will also determine your water needs for rehydrating food and to make your cup of warming tea or soup.
Plan your menu for 3 main meals each day as well as snacks (morning tea, afternoon tea & supper)
Part of your emergency action plan is to take more food than you actually need; just don’t go overboard and add too much extra weight. You’ll find that the more you hike, the better you’ll get at judging how much food you need.
Remember that fresh food won’t last long, so if you include it in your menu plan, make sure it’s eaten as one of your first meals.
TIP: If you haven’t cooked on the trail before, it might be a good idea to test your gear out at home on different types of meals. This will give you a better idea of things like ease, flavour, clean up, and whether you can get a good cup of coffee out of it!
Trail food and meals is a big topic amongst hikers so you’ll find a lot of ideas and recipes online.
In terms of keeping your overnight pack light, here are our food tips.
Dehydrated food or freeze dried is a great resource for hikers for a few reasons:
- Prepackaged dehydrated food is already packed with all your healthy macronutrients for energy
- It’s already flavoured, negating the need to add seasonings to your pack
- It’s very lightweight
- And you only need to add water, keeping the need for extra cooking utensils down (like pots or pans)
- Empty packets (rubbish) are easy to pack out
- Often you can eat directly from the packet so no need for bowls
If you have any kind of food or preservative allergies consider mixing your own meals with dehydrated vegetables and meat that you can buy from a shop or online, or dehydrate your own at home. Michelle Ryan’s book Feed the Hike, is a great resource full of hiking meals and dehydrating instructions!
While fresh food is always nice, it does weigh a bit more. Just consider its size and weight and the overall impact it’ll have on the full weight of your pack.
A hiking stove like a JetBoil is an all-in-one pot, stove and cup cooking system in one compact unit. Everything you need is stacked and stored inside the 0.8 litre cooking cup. The system lights up and within two minutes provides two cups of boiling water for cocoa, coffee, instant soup or a gourmet freeze-dried meal!
While a bit on the expensive side, a JetBoil can maximise cooking efficiency and minimise weight (at only 345g).
For a cheaper stove option that includes a pot and pan, bowl, spoon and cleaning sponge, check out the Fumo Camping Cookware set – we use these as part of our gear hire on our tours and they work a treat!
Don’t forget the matches! To be honest, matches are not ideal, particularly in any kind of wet weather. A magnesium flint like this one is waterproof, really easy to use and will last for years.
Clothes and Personal Items
Here are our tips for clothes:
- Pack for the weather but don’t forget a warm layer even in summer
- Keep clothing to a minimum. You can wear the same shirt two days in a row (or even more if it is merino)
- Choose items that are breathable and lightweight and avoid cotton
- Take one set of clothes for walking and one set for sleeping
- Thongs (sandals or crocs) to put on after you take off your boots feel AMAZING
The small things add up when it comes to pack weight so try only to take the things you absolutely can’t do without and use “travel size” products and containers.
Toiletries – toothbrush, toothpaste, wet wipes, deodorant, insect repellant, sunscreen and sanitiser.
Personal medications – don’t leave these at home!
Towel – A small microfibre towel is handy for many things. If you don’t have one, bring a tea towl from your kitchen!
Toilet paper – We recommend bringing zip lock bags with you and packing out your paper. Yup! Even for a wee. Put used TP in a zip lock bag and dispose of it when you get home. Remember to Leave No Trace.
Zip Lock Bags – These come in handy for many things including keeping smaller items dry, packing your own food and packing out food waste and rubbish.
Torch – You’ll want to be able to see what you’re doing at night and be hands free. Bring a head torch and spare batteries.
Knife – A pocket knife is handy for many reasons, both in emergencies and for meals (which is why you only need a fork and spoon as part of your mess kit).
Phone – Aside from emergency calling and photography, you can also download navigation apps (that work with GPS on particularly on newer models). So you’ll also want a portable charger.
First Aid – Make sure you bring a first aid kit with you on every hike! Even without emergency situations your first aid kit will be essential for blister management.
Personal Locator Beacon – If you’re hiking on your own, take a PLB with you. You can either purchase one of your own or hire one from OTBT.
Map / GPS – Having a track map or a GPS with the map pre-loaded is a great resource and should always be included as an essential item in you overnight pack!
Hopefully we’ve given you enough information to help you choose the best equipment for your overnight or multi-day hike.
Don’t forget you can download the full list below.
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