Essential Items for Your First Backpacking Adventure

Written by Tony Scott

Backpacking is becoming more and more popular among the younger set of Americans. According to the latest Outdoor Participation Trends Report, 55% of Americans now participate in outdoor recreation. Backpacking showed one of the highest growth rates among newbie adventurers in 2022, and there were over 880,000 new hikers in that year alone. Given the increasing rates of new backpackers nationwide, many may be filling up their packs for the first time. Remember that when backpacking, the fewer items you have – and the more lightweight they are – the better, highlighting the importance of hardworking, versatile items so your belongings do not weigh you down. Here are just a few things you shouldn't go backpacking without:

A versatile hooded jacket

According to AllTrails, the most popular US hiking trails of 2023 were the Ice Lakes Trail, Angels Landing Trail, and Scarp Ridge Trail. These trails feature highly distinctive conditions, underscoring how crucial it is to have apparel that can withstand the unique challenges of nature. To protect against scratches, insect bites, and more, backpackers need adequate coverage without the stuffiness. In this case, a lightweight jacket with plenty of storage and alternative uses is vital. Our Barrage Technical Shell hooded jacket features weather-sealed zippers, six roomy storage pockets, and a special moisture-wicking weaving pattern. But it doesn't just protect the wearer; the jacket has an internal pocket that turns it into an on-the-go travel pillow. When not in use, the lightweight six-ounce jacket can be stuffed into its pocket to free up bag space. In our "8 Tips for Beginner Backpackers" post, we discussed the importance of strategic packing; keep this jacket at the top of your pack since you'll put it on and peel it off often.

A sturdy pair of shoes

From standard foot pain to plantar fasciitis, all backpackers and hikers experience foot issues at some point. While it's not 100% avoidable, first-timers can minimize their risk of foot problems by wearing well-fitting, trail-appropriate shoes. Lightweight trail running shoes can improve grip on dry and wet ground conditions while maintaining a higher durability level. Options like the Merrell MTL Skyfire 2 are engineered with FloatPro Foam™ to reduce fatigue during backpacking, plus plates that maintain the flexibility of your forefoot to provide stability and protection on all kinds of terrain. However, foot and heel stress fractures can still develop if you don't gradually introduce your body to backpacking conditions. Start training before hiking to prevent swelling, pain, and other issues. Most importantly, seek medical attention immediately once you suspect a stress fracture.

While backpacking can be incredibly rewarding, it does come with unique challenges. With the right gear in your pack, you'll conquer future trails with ease.

Protective, stylish sunglasses

Backpacking and hiking can take you thousands of feet above sea level, and the elevation gain poses various sun-related dangers. According to JAMA Dermatology, UV radiation increases by 5% for each thousand feet in elevation gain for backpackers. Secondly, trails with reflective surfaces like water, snow, or sand may cause intense glare that is uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. As such, to protect your eyes from sun damage while keeping your visuals glare-free, it's essential to invest in durable sunglasses made of high-quality materials and lenses that block 100% of UVA and UVB rays. Rectangular frames with a larger surface area, like the Oakley Sutro, come in lightweight, high-performance O Matter™ material, plus temples that curve inward to prevent them from slipping off on the trail. Because UV damage can occur regardless of weather conditions – fresh snow can reflect as much as 90% of UV radiation – backpackers should wear sunglasses at all times of the day.

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