Packing for backpacking trip

Packing for a backpacking trip doesn’t sound too complicated – after all, you can only pack what you a) have room for in your pack and b) have willingness to carry for hours at a time.  That eliminates quite a bit of stuff!

But it takes more thought to take less than to take more!  And if you don’t want to spend a lot of money to get ready, then it takes even more time and advance preparation!  Ds11 and ds17 will be going on a three day backpacking trip to the Appalachian Trail in VA, and though I confirmed we were interested over a month ago, I really didn’t plan as much in advance for this trip as I might have if I hadn’t been so busy with other things, but the total expenses were still quite reasonable.

The man leading the trip is providing tents, sleeping bags, and bringing a camping stove, and I’m grateful that we didn’t have to buy any of those things.  The biggest purchase we were responsible for was the external frame backpack.  Even if you buy these used, they aren’t too cheap, but G-d once again provided us with amazing bargains on the backpacks.  I got ds17’s pack for $15 from someone on CL, which was the cheapest price I had seen.  It wasn’t a name brand pack but it’s decent quality and ds likes the way it looks and feels a lot.

Then I found someone selling two packs for $5 each – and unbelievable as that price was for any pack, it was even more remarkable that they were the Kelty brand, which are a top brand.  (Yesterday they did a dry run and the leader was exclaiming, “How did you manage to get a Kelty for $5?! He couldn’t believe it.)   These two packs were from teens who attended a backpacking camp for several weeks in the summer, but have since gone to college so their mother was cleaning out things they no longer need.  I traveled an hour to get them; I really only needed one more pack at that price, but at that price I felt it was crazy not to get another one.  There’s a good likelihood that with our size family, one day we’ll be happy to have all three.  So I spent $20 on three backpacks, which is cheaper than even one used backpack is usually  listed for (the least expensive I saw other than mine was one for $25, most were closer to $50).

I didn’t shop for hiking boots in advance – I was kind of figuring they’d wear sneakers and manage, so I didn’t put any time or effort into looking for good buys on these.  I did end up deciding to get them something more specific to their hiking needs, though I probably could found something less expensive with more advance notice. But probably not significantly less, since what we found was great footwear at a price I was quite happy to pay: Timberland hiking boots ($13) for ds11 and Nike sneakers with ankle support ($10) for ds17.  We didn’t get shoes for ds17 until this morning and it’s really amazing we could find such a great deal at the last minute.  Generally when you aren’t buying retail you can’t count on what you need being available right when you want it.  They both said the shoes are comfortable and hopefully they will continue to feel comfortable after hiking in them for hours.

The remaining expenses were for miscellaneous items: headlamps ($5 each), moleskin ($4 package), bug spray ($4 – not my typical kind of purchase), and a mess kit ($7).

There are a lot of things we could have bought that were on the list, but I told the boys to make do as much as possible by using what they already had.   That meant they didn’t go out and buy daypacks but used backpacks they already had.  I didn’t buy them hydration bladders; instead they are taking water bottles with them.  They are packing their usual cotton socks, even though wool is recommended – at over $8 a pair for use in the summer, I just couldn’t see it as worthwhile.

The main area my lack of advance planning showed up was the increased costs in food.  Some things I had on hand at the discounted prices I usually buy at, but at least half of the food was bought either today or last night at regular (ie non sale) prices.  Fortunately, my regular food budget had room to absorb it, and though it was bought for their trip, I don’t count it as a backpacking expense.  And it was a nice chance to make my boys feel splurged upon (when I bought them two boxes of granola bars at those outrageous prices, ds11 realized I was doing it because him having nice food was my priority, not shaving every possible penny down).  Here’s what they are taking, which is really pretty simple:

  • breakfast: oatmeal, grits, hot cocoa
  • lunch – eaten while hiking, no stopping – homemade trail mix (sliced almonds, raisins), fruit leathers, granola bars
  • dinner – the first night they’ll have food they bring in with a cooler – hot dogs, hamburgers, smores (graham crackers, marshmallows, chocolate); night #2 – ds11 made tuna casserole and dehydrated it (tuna, noodles, vegetables, sauce); night #3 – we didn’t think there would be a third night and didn’t plan for it; fortunately I bought a vacuum packed package of hard salami that they can use that night.  The boys think they have plenty of the food packed (eg 8 packages of instant oatmeal or grits per breakfast; 3.5 c. trail mix for each lunch) and that they’ll have enough leftover to use for the last night.  I think I have a package or two of foil packed salmon that I’ll encourage them to take along to supplement.

I’m not delighted at the lack of vegetables but otherwise I think it’s pretty much okay.  I think I’ll send them with a few pieces of fresh fruit (went peach picking today so we have lots of those) for the 3 hour drive there. That was they’ll have some roughage in their systems to help keep everything working well.  :)

Not including the food, it was about $70 for both of them to go backpacking for three days, and all of the items they bought can be used for future trips.  The generosity of the leader in taking them without a charge and supplying some items free of charge definitely simplified our shopping and kept costs in check!  I don’t think I would have spent significantly more, however; I would have borrowed the sleeping bags and tents, or used the camping pads and sleeping bags that we have (which aren’t as super compact but was fine for dd15 when she went backpacking for three days last year).

Getting ready for this trip could have been a big deal, but ds11 really got everything organized and taken care of.  I took him where he wanted to go and pretty much gave him free range of the pantry to take whatever food he wanted, and he was the one who got things done. That’s not to say ds17 didn’t do stuff because of course he did, but ds11 was really on top of everything that was needed and got it together in a timely way.  I was remembering just today that dd15 was also this age when she went on a week long dog sledding trip in Maine.  Hard to believe so much time has gone by….. Looking back, I’m so glad I encouraged her to take the opportunity when it came up – special experiences are memories that stay with your child forever.

I hope this will be a wonderful experience for the boys, and having them take so much responsibility for the preparations has certainly made it more wonderful for me!  :)  They’ll be off early in the morning, and I look forward to having them back in a few days.


8 thoughts on “Packing for backpacking trip

  1. Sounds like a great trip, and I hope they enjoy it. Will they/the leader be familiar enough with the local vegetation that they could supplement the fruit & veg with foraging?

    1. Avivah, the reason for the wool socks is their wicking ability, not warmth. Cotton will absorb water and cause blisters or worse if they hike through water; the boys could end up with considerable discomfort or pain from wearing wet socks for long hikes. If you have time to do mail order there are excellent discounts at and Just my $.o2. Hope they have a great time.

  2. I ditto Nicole on the wool socks. They breathe, not make your feet sweaty. You wouldn’t want their hike to be remembered for the massive blisters they got!

    1. kaet – I suggested that, but they felt they’ll have enough veg/fruit with the raisins in the trail mix, fruit leathers (organic, real fruit), and vegetables in the tuna casserole.

      Nicole and Yael – I obviously wasn’t clear when I made the comment about not getting wool socks in the summer. I know wool is preferred because of its wicking capacity (learned about that when we prepared dd for her dogsledding trip). What I meant about the summer was that they have the option to let their feet air out in the evenings, and socks can be washed and dried while they sleep thanks to the heat. When they take breaks mid day (which they will – they have some streams and waterfalls scheduled, I think), they’ll also have a chance to let their feet breath.

      It would have been better had I been able to get them wool socks, but dd managed fine with regular cotton socks on her backpacking trip last year with regular cotton socks (as did all of other girls on the trip with her), and I’m hopeful that the boys will do fine, too. For the worst case scenario, I bought them moleskin in case of blisters. :)

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