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Clothing and Equipment for Backpacking

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Here are some things to consider when buying backpacking clothing.

Here are some things to consider when buying backpacking clothing.

Jumping Right In

Backpacking can be an ominous course of adventure, but I am here to help take some of the stress of preparation off your shoulders. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of products, tips, and equipment—it will make your head spin. I am by no means the single authority on this topic, but I have done my fair share of backpacking since I was 13 years old.

One could throw on a pack and load it with store-bought food and hike into the woods, but your experience may not be that great. Bulky or too heavy of a pack and improper footwear can all turn a fun trail into a nightmare. I will discuss the detailed list of the equipment that's in my backpack and share the pros and cons of those items with you. This will hopefully help you choose the right tools for an adventure of your own design.

I am not endorsed or paid to say certain things about the brands I talk about; my favorites being Columbia, Osprey, Alps Mountaineering, MSR (Mountain Saftey Research), and Coleman. There are others that I use, but these are my main go-to brands for the equipment I need for a successful trip.

My 100-mile Columbia leather and waterproof hiking boots.

My 100-mile Columbia leather and waterproof hiking boots.

Start With a Good Foundation

We are going to work from the ground up. First on our list are boots and other footwear for the trip. This is dependent upon where you plan on packing.

If it is going to be a very cold trip it is good to have boots that will keep your feet warm and still let them breathe while also having good ankle support. Conversely, if you going on a trek in a warmer climate then winter boots will hurt more than they help. In my experience, it is better to have specific equipment for specific weather and terrain. There are many boots that are all-in-one, super magic, or do everything boots, but if they do everything at 40% then there will be issues in many settings.

Things I would say are the key features to look for are support for your ankle and the bottom of your food, as well as being waterproof and having good breathability.

My Favorites

My personal favorite hiking boot was a waterproof and leather Columbia hiking boot. The leather allowed for flexibility while holding my foot steady, though it was only waterproof to the top of the boots where the laces started. This worked just fine for me because I did not mind the few minutes it took to take them off and hang them from my pack while we crossed ankle-deep streams. Others in my group had fully waterproof boots with very tall ankle supports and could just trudge through without blinking.

Part of backpacking for me was experiencing the land around me; I saw literally getting my feet wet as part of the experience. It is also helpful to have a lightweight pair of camp shoes, something to let your feet relax after a long day of walking and climbing; I loved my Crocs for this. Lightweight, dried with the flick of your hand, and virtually indestructible.

I used these when crossing veep streams where the rocks were sharp or the water was moving at a good pace. Once we were across, I'd just shake them off and hang them on the outside of my pack, where they waited for their next use.

Sock It to Me

The next thing up from boots is socks, and this is a fairly simple aspect of hiking. The main school of thought here is that you need a base layer that wicks the moisture away from your foot and an outer layer to provide a cushion and soak up sweat so your feet form blisters. I loved Smartwool socks; they did everything I needed and would dry quickly if they got wet or I had to wash them while out on a trail.

I would bring only two pairs with you. This way, you can wear one while you wash and let the others dry or in case you have a reason to need an extra set.

Fancy Pants

Pants are next. The whole goal in backpacking is to have multi-role equipment, so this is where the zip-off lightweight pants came into play. In Colorado, it gets very cold in the morning, and then by 10 o'clock, it would be back to a comfortable temperature. This was ideal for these Zip-off pants, ones where you could zip the bottom portion off midday and not have to stop and dig through your pack to find shorts. It saved time and weight.

My dad and I used the saying, "cutting tags," which meant that we would literally take scissors and cut the tags off of shirts and pants, the pack, and anything that was unnecessary. Saving a little weight here and there added up and the end to more food or more water you could comfortably carry on your person. These zip-off pants did the trick well and always came along on any trip to Colorado, Arkansas, New Mexico, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

Having the right equipment can make all the difference between having a comfortable or uncomfortable backpacking trip.

Having the right equipment can make all the difference between having a comfortable or uncomfortable backpacking trip.

The Shirt off Your Back

Now on to shirts, which are also climate dependent. You'll want to get clothes that complement that region you are in. The best thing to do here is look up the average weather of the area you plan on visiting, as it will give you the best chance of packing just the right shirt.

Athletic long-sleeved shirts like these are always a win, especially when above the tree line, because there is no shade, so your body burns quickly. If your trip is below the tree line, then you may be able to get away with just short sleeve shirts. One good rule of thumb: always bring one set of the opposite weather clothing just in case you get a freak weather change. This has happened to me with rain, snow, and just outright cold weather. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it!

Top It All Off

Headgear is another important thing. This can mean the difference between having clear vision and your eyes getting exhausted from squinting all day long. Having a thin wide-brimmed hat, like this one from Columbia, and a smaller beanie are perfect to use as they weigh almost nothing and you will get a ton of use with them. Again you may not need a beanie till a surprise cold front comes in at night, and your ears are numb. Having one can be a lifesaver.

We’re Not Quite Done Yet

I will have to stop here for the moment as I dig through my old boxes of backpacking gear and get the next set of items ready for you! Remember, the equipment is only as good as the application and your ability to use it—so make sure you pick what works best for you.

Happy trails!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Noah