See the previous entry in the series here.
Listed below are the items that make up a "base pack" for backpacking and are primarily comfort-related. You don't need a nice frame pack to carry heavy loads, but it makes life a lot more bearable. You don't need a cozy sleeping bag, but it is hard to get sleep on a cold night without one. You don't need a tent, but being dry is far better than being wet for days at a time. Being (somewhat) comfortable has an important affect on your state of mind, which translates directly into your ability to keep surviving. Remember, I'm a big fan of being light-weight, but some comforts outweigh the need for speed. These items are all matters of personal choice, but I do offer a few suggestions. These are also the most bulky items youíll have in your pack, and therefore the toughest and pack quickly should the need arise. That's why it is best to keep these packed and ready to go.
- Pack - Without a good pack, you can't keep yourself mobile, which may be the difference between surviving and not. I personally prefer a large internal-frame pack to hold all of my gear. If you keep your gear small, light and dual purpose, you can condense everything inside and not have crap hanging off everywhere, and stuffed in pockets. If everything is inside your pack, you will be quieter, more maneuverable, and moving through tight spaces will be easier.
The most important thing your pack should do, besides holding your gear of course, is to transfer the weight from your shoulders to your hips. That means your kid's school backpack isn't going to cut it. You need a pack with a good thick, padded belt suspension system. Believe me, if you have to walk even a few miles carrying 50+lbs of gear without a good pack, you'll kick yourself for it (and end up hurting your back even more in the process.) One of the few times I suggest going "bigger" is with your pack. Most good internal-frame packs can be compressed nicely with built-on straps. It is nearly impossible to make them get bigger though. Lowe Alpine and Kelty are two good places to start looking. My pack is a cheaper off-brand, and that is OK too. Just make sure the seams, zippers, and other hardware are all high quality if you want a less expensive pack.
- Pack rain cover - It doesn't matter how waterproof you think your pack is, your stuff will get wet if it rains. The best way to keep your gear dry is to have an easily accessible, and quickly-to-deploy rain cover. A lot of frame packs have special pockets for pack covers, and many packs even sell with covers. Most nice pack covers are nylon, but a plastic trash bag or an unused poncho does just fine in a pinch. Keep in mind that even if all of the gear you carry is water resistant, wet gear weighs more than dry gear. Keeping your stuff dry isnít only important in terms of function, but for mobility as well.
- Tent/rain fly/stakes* - A tent is optional depending on where/when you set up camp. Sometimes a simple tarp is more than adequate. However, I almost always bring a tent, because the places I like to backpack have notoriously unpredictable weather. Of course, if I get to where I intend to camp, and there is no chance of foul weather, I don't bother setting up my tent.
Solo tents and two-person tents are generally light enough to go in your pack. If you need to shelter more than 2 people at a time, a lightweight backpacking tent isn't even an option, so it doesn't hurt to learn how to set up tarps for shelter in various situations. If you are going to choose one tent for all situations, I recommend a free-standing two-person backpacking tent. Free-standing tents are the fastest to set up, and the easiest to tear down, and the sturdiest in really bad weather. I also like bivy-sacks, mostly because they are a really lightweight way to camp. The problem is in inclement weather, it is hard to actually do anything (like change out of wet clothes, for instance.)
- Sleeping bag/stuff sack - I generally recommend a multi-layer sleeping bag for backpacking so you can use it at different times of the year. The standard modern army bag is awesome, because it has a heavy layer, a light layer, a compression stuff sack, and a Gortex bivy. That's all you need for nearly any situation. The problem with those nice army sleeping bags is that they are really expensive (although you can often find them used/surplus on EBay for a decent price.) Many companies make good sleeping bags, and there is no actual reason to get fancy unless you are mountaineering. For most situations, a 3-season mummy-style nylon bag is your best bet. I've slept in the snow in a 3-season sleeping bag, in a 3-season tent, and it wasn't a big deal. I wouldn't do it regularly, but for survival, a 3-season setup is more than enough to keep you alive.
Your sleeping bag is the bulkiest item in your pack, so I heartily recommend you get a good compression sack. Most sleeping bags come with a little sack, but it will still take up too much room in your pack. Compression sacks are inexpensive, and make a huge difference when you are packing your gear.
- Sleeping pad* - I mark this as optional because sometimes you can get away with not having a sleeping pad. They are bulky and don't fit nicely on any pack. That being said, as a matter of comfort, I always bring one. It is almost always worth the weight for the comfort it provides. In winter settings a sleeping pad will make a huge difference in how warm you are at night. I recommend either a close-cell foam pad (really bulky) or an inflatable one (less bulky, but harder to deal with.)
- Camp chair* - I don't mean one of those cheap Wal-Mart folding chairs. I mean something along the lines of a canoe seat. This, of course, is also a matter of comfort. If you are going to spend a lot of time at camp, it is most definitely worth it. It wouldn't be the first thing I'd grab if I was evacuating during a hurricane, but if you keep it with your pack, you'll be happy later that you have it.
A product I'm particularly fond if is a camp chair made by Therm-a-Rest which basically just a sleeve that you slide your inflatable sleeping pad into. This is a lightweight and dual use solution, and is therefore awesome.
If you have ever spent time in the wilderness during a rainstorm, you know how hard it is to find a dry spot to sit. With a camp chair, you can carry a dry spot with you!
- Hip/chest pack* - It is nice to have something to keep snacks and small items in which can be accessed without removing your pack. It is also nice to have for side treks when you want to leave your main pack behind and move quickly, but still carry your basic necessities. I don't usually carry a hip pack, because I usually have lots of pockets, but I know a lot of people who swear by the concept. Many of my backpacking buddies have ones that hold water bottles. Makes sense.
- Tarp* - Even if you bring a tent, inclement weather makes having a tarp a good idea. With a properly set-up tarp, you can set up a porch for your tent to cook your meals or play cards while it is raining. A tarp can also shelter you from the mid-day sun, which is a life-and-death matter in some locations. Of course, in a survival situation, a tarp has dozens of other uses such as collecting water, building a stretcher, etc. There's no reason to buy an expensive custom camping tarp. The best tarps I've seen are those basic plastic/ripstop nylon tarps from your hardware store, or even a sheet of Tyvek with grommets installed along the edges.
Next up: Hydration.