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Choosing the Right Backpacking Food & Clothing

Last updated by on January 27, 2016

In the last post on buying backpacking gear supplies, there were two noticeable things left out by design – food and clothing. Why? It’s hard to survive without either – but almost equally as challenging to find the proper balance between function, comfort, and the associated weight. Backpacking light is key to the overall enjoyment of your trip, but lightness usually comes at the sacrifice of comfort. So what is the happy medium between the two?

Backpacking Clothing

One general rule when piecing together your backpacking wardrobe is to avoid cotton. Cotton tends to be very heavy when wet and can take longer to dry than synthetic fibers.

  • Rain Jacket/Pants: A pair of lightweight, waterproof rain and wind-breaking jacket and pants are essential when backpacking, in just about any climate. Avoid heavy-weight rubber materials unless you plan on doing any hiking through rain forests. I prefer a ‘packable’ jacket and pants that stuff down into one of their own pockets and zip up, making them easy to transport.
  • Boots/Shoes: Footwear is extremely important. If you have a heavy load of 25+ pounds, you may want to consider boots. If below, a pair of sturdy tennis shoes may be find. There are even bearfoot backpackers, believe it or not.
  • Socks: Synthetic hiking socks with reinforced heels and toes are strongly recommended here. Many hikers like wool socks for their ability to wick away moisture, but they can get pretty itchy. I generally pack one or two pairs in addition to the one that I’m wearing. You always want to have at least one dry pair ready to go.
  • Sock liners: I don’t know exactly how these little miracles work, but they really do keep moisture away from your feet (even though you would intuitively think that an extra layer would make your feet hotter and sweatier). Sock liners have prevented many a certain blister.
  • Hat: Keeping your head warm when unexpected cold hits or at night when temperatures get lower than you thought they would is very important. Again, avoid cotton, and find a synthetic that is waterproof.
  • Long shirt/underwear: A wicking synthetic material here is what you want. It’s amazing what these in addition to a hat and rain jacket will do. If you’re hiking in the middle of winter you may need more layers, but I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve needed more warmth than what this combination provides.
  • Shirt/Undies/Shorts: Stick with the synthetic, lightweight materials here again.
  • Gloves: I bring a very lightweight pair of stretch gloves that easily fit in my pockets.

That’s really all the clothes you would ever need!

Backpacking Food:

backpacking-food-clothingI learned this lesson very well on my first hike – do not bring food that contains water. Water is very heavy and very unnecessary weight. I’ve mostly opted for the dry stuff since.

  1. Breakfast: I put together oatmeal packets and mix up some walnuts and dried fruit to mix in with them for breakfasts. Very light, filling, and a little warm food in the morning is always good for morale.
  2. Lunch/Dinners: Take your pick, but any dried meal packs, dried soups, or other dried food that is high in protein and carbs will do.
  3. Other Food Tips: I’m big on placing all meals in their own large ziplock bags. This is a great way to contain all of your trash and keep your bag relatively odor free. Also, nothing beats some good ole’ trail mix for in between meal snacks.

In the next post on backpacking, we’ll get into the fun stuff – training for your big hike!

Backpacking Food & Clothing Discussion:

  • What are your favorite backpacking meals?
  • What’s the heaviest/lightest meal you’ve ever packed?
  • Have you ever been in a situation where you packed too much or too little clothing? What lessons did you learn?

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  • Greg says:

    Definitely a good list. The one thing I’d add to the clothes (not a necessity, but I love them!) is a pair of zip off pants. They act as pants and if you get hot, you can just unzip them at your thighs and the leggings just drop to your ankles. You don’t even need to take the leggings off, you can let them sit atop your boots so they’re handy to pull right back up and zip on if the mosquitoes attack you.

    Another good piece of rain gear (maybe this belongs with the previous post rather than with the clothes) is a pack cover. I don’t actually own one, but take a big garbage bag that I can put arm holes in for the straps of my bag to come through.

    For the oatmeal, I just pour hot water straight into the instant oatmeal packets. They’ve got a plastic film inside them to keep moisture out, but it will also make your packet act like a bowl! Another favorite trail breakfast of mine is to put granola and powdered milk into zip-lock bags. Add a bit of water and it’s glorious.

    A good way to add protein to meals is the sealed packets of tuna. I love to pour a box of flavored cous-cous into a plastic bag so I don’t lug the box out there, cook it up over the stove, then add a packet of tuna.

  • Craig says:

    Protein bars are a great backpacking meal because they are small and easy to pack but can also be filling. Another tip is when hiking to maybe put a rubber band over the bottom of your pants so dirt or water doesn’t get into your socks.

  • Trevor says:

    Tip: never take a 1lb block of cheese thinking you would be able to add protein to any meal. It’s too heavy, but if eaten at one sitting, creates the benefit of not needing a shovel for digging a cat hole. 😉

  • Bang Del says:

    I often ride the mountain. This information is very useful with the practice that I do not think that equipment should be brought to ascend the mountain. Nice article, thank you.


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