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  • Michael S Whitt

How to Construct Your Backpack for Camping

Updated: Nov 27, 2019

Trekking the wilderness can be both fun & relaxing, or harsh & difficult depending on your preparation. Backpacking is a fun way to spend a weekend as long as you are completely ready. This guide is intended to spread the knowledge of this easy money saving type of adventure that allows you to take a trip in an area either close to home or far away. This type of vacation allows you to get to know the terrain or even the people depending on if you choose to go into the final frontier or into the city. The perk of backpacking is that it is useful in all sorts of travel. Hopefully these tips and procedures help you in your adventures.



Step 1: Determining your backpack

The backpack itself is the most important item of this entire list, and it will determine how much you will be able to bring and whether or not you will be able to move with ease and comfort. The size of the backpack is determined by how long the journey is. Backpacking can be a bit of a challenge, so you may want to start small and work your way up. I would recommend using the bigger backpacks for the colder climates, so you can hold more equipment and supplies. All the bulkier equipment should be carried on the outside of the backpack, so that you have more room on the inside. Examples of bulkier items would consist of: tent poles, tents, rain fly, sleeping mat, fishing pole, etc. The items that should be put into the backpack would be clothes, items that must stay dry, little items, food, etc. This method allows for you to extend the days your backpack will allow you to stay. The weight of your loaded backpack should not weigh more than 20% of your body weight and no more than 10% of your body weight for a day pack. For example my weight is approximately 150 pounds, so my pack should never exceed 30 pounds and no more than 15 pounds for a day pack. See the chart below for the sizes of each backpack and the number of days it calls for.


Size *Weight

Summer – Winter

Day Packs 20 Liters – 40 Liters *No more than 10% of your body weight

Weekend Getaways 40 Liters – 55 Liters *No more than 20% of your body weight

3 – 6 Nights 55 Liters – 70 Liters *No more than 20% of your body weight

1 Week + 75 Liters – 110 Liters *No more than 20% of your body weight



Step 2: Shelter

Shelter is often found in a tent. Tents are the way to go unless you feel like building a shelter every time. My pack consists of a hammock because it is lighter, easy to set up and serves the same purpose. I have a rain fly for my hammock to protect me from any rain. It also takes you off the ground, and it is much more comfortable. However, tents can hold multiple people, so if you have multiple people with you that may be a better choice. A multiple person tent should have its pieces distributed evenly amongst the users based on weight. For example, one person get the poles and rain fly while the other gets the tent in their pack. Make sure your tents is water proof before any journey. You may check this by setting your tent up and lightly misting it with the hose in your yard. If your tent has a water proofing issue, head to an outdoor store and do not go cheap on a fabric water repellent.


Then next item to ensure that your shelter is livable is bedding. The most common and recommended bedding technique is a common sleeping back. In this case for cold temperatures under 60 degrees, avoid sleeping in a hammock and have a sleeping pad in your tent because the ground will suck your body head out. Know the limitations of your sleeping bag and the temperatures your sleeping bag was designed for. Some were designed for warm temperature and are too thin for cold temperatures while some are too thick for warm weathers. Warm sleeping bags you can go cheap on while a warm one you do not want to go cheap on. A compression sack may be necessary for your sleeping bag to fit in your backpack. Personally, I skip a pillow because your clothes serve the same purpose and save a ton of space and weight. Although, I would recommend an air pillow if you do choose to have a pillow. If you get cold at night do not hesitate to use an emergency blanket. If that is not available, use some newspaper of something to insulate your body from the cold temperatures. If that is not working, build a fire and/or add logs.


Step 3: Essential Items

Do not be afraid to look at a map to navigate. A topography map is one of the most important tools that you will need on all of your journeys. Make sure you have a reliable compass that you can count on. If your have to question your compass, then you will most likely be walking circles lost. Those electronic Global Positioning Devices (or GPS) are nice until they don’t. In the deep woods, there is no signal. Please make sure you can read a map before entering the woods. You may want to practice a few times with the map before going into the woods. Know the declination of the magnetic north and the true north. The Declination is the difference between the true north and the magnetic north. The magnetic field is shifting and if you are not aware of this please do some research. Plan your hike well and a bit flexible. It takes time to navigate the woods and may take longer than you expect. Have a set plan with a starting point and an ending point. Do not leave trail.


Do not be afraid to look at a map to navigate. A topography map is one of the most important tools that you will need on all of you journeys. Make sure you have a reliable compass that you can count on. If your have to question your compass, then you will most likely be walking circles. Those electronic Global Positioning Devices (or GPS) are nice until they don’t work. In the deep woods, there is no signal. Please make sure you can read a map before entering the woods. You may want to practice a few times with the map before going into the woods. Know the declination of the magnetic north and the true north. The declination is the difference between the true north and the magnetic north. The magnetic field is shifting, and if you are not aware of this, please do some research. Plan your hike well and a bit flexible. It takes time to navigate the woods and may take longer than you expect. Have a set plan with a starting point and an ending point. Do not leave a marked trail.


Safety is another important step to a backpack. The most import piece to a safe backpack is not actually a medical kit, although, that is a great idea. It is actually telling someone your exact whereabouts and that you are heading into the woods and when you plan to leave. Do not just leave. It is highly recommended to go with someone else but having a solitude trip is also fantastic. A Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) is recommended for any trip into the woods. This is a system that needs to be registered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They work internationally and are a great investment. Another tip is that any thing of three is an international distress signal. That means three fires, three shots, three whistles, etc. Mirrors can also be used to get the attention of planes in the distance just in case. Now it is time to mention the first aid kit. Usually companies are good about putting together a medic kit for travelers so choose wisely and avoid going cheap, because you do not need it until you really do. Same goes for all your equipment. Emergency blankets are a must in emergency scenarios. Ponchos go on this list as well.


Lights are an absolute necessity in constructing your backpack. Solar powered lanterns or some sort of renewable source like wind up powered lights are recommended. Battery power may seem nice due to the instant charge, but its only nice until the batteries run out. Even a nice old-fashioned candle works well. A candle, unlike a modern electrical lantern, can get wet and be a reliable source of light. Lights help extend how much into the sun set you will be able to work before your fire is constructed. Do not leave without one. Especially if you are heading into the woods.

An air-tight box is another must have item because it can hold those necessary items that cannot get wet, and those small items that you do now want to lose. Matches are an item you don’t want wet, unless you have water proof matches. In some cases those are not in reach and putting them in a water proof box is smart. A lighter is a substitute to a match but just like a battery powered lantern, it is only nice until the gas runs out. At least with matches you are warned.


Tools are essential in the creation of your backpack. This is the growl of your backpack. I am talking about you knives, hatchet, fishing pole, lighters or matches, multi tool, etc. Tools are how men and women have made it this far; and of course the evolution of thumbs. Know your tools and the capabilities of them. Do not go into the woods without them. Do thorough research of the lands you will be entering before you take a pocket knife to a machete branch fight. You do not want to swing a pocket knife all day like a Kung Fu master to only make it 10 feet. Moral of the story, know your tools. I could sit here all day and mention all the tools and their purposes. Sadly, I will not... for now. I will stress the importance of a multi tool, Hatchet, and full staff knife. These are essential in all backpacks. The more tools you bring the heavier your pack will be, so be wise Young Grasshopper.


Food, Please do real research for that. But cooking utensils are important. I like to have a collapsible cup plate, fork, spoon, knife, and a bandanna to eat with. I also have a small pot and pan to boil water and cook anything small. You do not need much. Although, all of this can be hung on the outside of your backpack.


There are more essential items but these are the basics. Do more research based on the domain you shall be entering.


Step 4: Making it your Backpack


Some people love to backpack 'glamp'. These items will help allow your trip become more at ease and even allow you to sleep better. A great example of these items is a sleeping pad. A sleeping pad is not an essential item, in most cases, but it will make your trip a ton better. Any electronics for your own entertainment. A book is nice for reading but it will add weight to your pack. I like bringing a fishing pole because it has a double meaning in entertainment and could mean that fish is getting cooked that night. Luxurious items can be anything but they will add weight to your pack. But this is a great way to really make this pack yours. I have a tag on mine with my name, extra knives, a sling shot, bear spray (for self-defense), a survival book, etc. I encourage a bit of creativity and would love for you to share some great ideas and to pass on what works and what did not work for you. If you are backpacking and do not want to go alone - feel free to invite me.

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