Does any of this describe you?
You’re feeling an itch to sleep outside. You just need to get out for a night. All you have is one night anyway. One night is better than no nights. Your friend invites you on a spontaneous overnight backpacking trip. You want to go, but you hesitate for a moment at the thought of having to pack.
Well don’t let gear stop you next time. Here are some questions and tips to help you pack for a quick overnighter in the backcountry.
1. What’s the weather going to be like?
Do a quick weather check or call a ranger and find out what to expect with weather. The backcountry is usually pretty unpredictable so be prepared. How cold do you expect it to get at night? What’s the chance of rain showers?
2. Do you have your basics: backpack, sleeping bag, pad, shelter?
Yes to all three? Great! If not, is there someone you can call to borrow gear? Gather it up asap and make sure your bag is going to be warm enough and your shelter accommodating for the weather.
3. What’s the mileage and terrain you’re covering?
You want to understand how long you’ll be hiking and how strenuous it’ll be. Are you going to be hiking with 30lbs on your back for eight hours up and down a mountain or are you hiking three miles around a flat lake? It makes a big difference to get a sense of what you’ll be covering not just to mentally prepare, but also to determine how much food you should pack.
4. How many meals do you need?
I say keep food simple for an overnighter. Figure out exactly how many and which meals you need and check your fridge and pantry first. For example, make two quick PB&J sandwiches and eat one about 30 minutes before you hit the trail so you’re fueled and ready to go. On your drive to the trailhead, stop by a store and grab a few bars, a bag of your favorite candy, and a burrito. Bars and candy are for trail snacks and the burrito is for dinner. Yum! For breakfast, eat the other PB&J or a bar. Since you’re only going out for a night, forget about the stove, dishes and cleaning. Stick with no-cook easy meals.
5. What clothes do you need?
Depending on what you find out with question number one, you’ll need to address your clothing needs. It may be warm and dry at the trailhead but cold and snowy in the backcountry. Pack a puffy jacket, beanie and an extra pair of warm socks for camp. Did you find out there’s a chance of rain? Pack a rain jacket and pants. Thinking about a change of clothes for the hike back to your car? Don’t even think about it. Wear the same thing both days.
6. Don’t forget the usual suspects.
Since being unprepared is often what leads to unfortunate situations, I don’t leave home without my regulars, even if just for one night. This is the gear I have in a drawer ready to go: toiletries, a small first aid kit, basic survival gear, water purification system, bear-related gear (if necessary), headlamp (check the batteries to make sure it works!), and a poop kit.
7. If you forgot something, you’ll probably be okay. It’s just one night anyway.
Hopefully you didn’t forget something major like your sleeping bag, but otherwise, remember that you’ll be home in 24 hours or less. I say relax and soak in the experience.
I’m a curious explorer, through and through. My current passion project is to figure how to make wilderness backpacking simple for women who are starting out.
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.