One of my favorite trips/workshops to lead is intro to backpacking. I love getting outside with women who are open to trying new things, including getting outside and having an adventure. One of the first questions women always ask is "what should I wear?"
That's a really good question, because bringing the wrong clothes can mean the difference between loving backpacking and hating it. So to save you a lot of misery, I'm hear to tell you exactly what to bring on your backpacking trip.
Rule #1: Cotton is your enemy
Whether it's socks, underwear or jeans, stay away from anything that's 100% cotton (except for maybe your bandana). It holds water (read: sweat) close to your skin, making you feel cold and clammy plus encouraging bacteria growth.
So that means bringing synthetic blends. For me, that usually means bringing one or more of the wicking shirts I've gathered over the years from various 5ks and adventure races. Another good place to look for good backpacking clothes is in your workout clothes drawer. Many yoga pants, capris and even sports shirts are made of good wicking material.
Rule #2: Don't overpack
This is one of the biggest mistakes I see newbies making — bringing way too much, and thus overloading their pack and making it too heavy to carry enjoyably. Check your list, make sure you have everything you need, then leave the extra clothes at home. No one cares if you stink on the trail (in fact, getting dirty is part of the fun).
So without further ado, here's a list of backpacking clothing to bring on your next trip:
Convertible pants — these are pants where you can zip off the bottom third of your pants when the weather gets hot (and zip them back on at night when it gets cool)
Hiking shorts — for those days when you know it's going to be nice and warm.
Wicking t-shirts — You'll be surprised at how quickly these shirts dry out after a rainstorm or even just lots of sweat.
Long-sleeve wicking shirt — This shirt is going to serve a dual purpose: it will keep you warm if the weather is cooler, and it will serve as your sleeping clothes at night.
Fleece — This will keep you warm around the campfire. The good news is there are lots of different kinds of fleeces, with varying degrees of warmth (and packability).
Puffy vest — If you're doing spring, fall or winter camping, bring your whole puffy jacket to make sure you don't get cold, but in the summer months, a puffy vest is perfect. It's generally worth it to pay a little bit more for vests that are more packable.
Synthetic underwear — Underwear is one of the few things that I will risk overpacking. Wearing dirty underwear is not only gross, it's unsanitary, so throw in 1-2 more pairs than what you think you'll need.
Sports bra — How long a woman wears the same bra is a matter of personal preference (and time of year), so I'll let you decide how many you want to bring. The fewer the hooks, the better.
Synthetic socks — Again, pay a little bit more for some good hiking socks to help you avoid blisters and keep your feet dry and warm. A good rule of thumb is to pack 1 pair of socks for every two days you'll be out, but I'll also say that, like underwear, having an extra pair of socks never killed anyone.
Fleece gloves — I like the convertible gloves that allow you to have access to your fingers when you're trying to set up your tent or start a fire. It might be worth paying a little extra for these as well, since it's likely you'll end up using your gloves when breaking down firewood or grabbing a hot pot.
Hiking boots or sturdy shoes — I read recently that most thru-hikers don't wear hiking boots anymore; a good pair of athletic shoes are lighter and dry out faster when they get wet. This probably depends more on what type of hiking you're doing: if you're going to be going uphill or over lots of rocky, ankle-turning terrain, you're probably going to want to go with a good hiking boot. Your local outdoors outfitter will have some good advice as to how to fit & buy hiking boots.
Flip flops — Most newbies don't realize the pure pleasure of peeling off your hiking boots and socks at the end of a long day backpacking, and slipping your toes into a pair of sandals while you prepare your dinner or just sit around relaxing. Your trip will be so much better if your feet get some time to breathe at the end of each day.
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Jill Hinton Wolfe