Getting Ready For the Backpacking Season

When the call of the wild is hitting you hard, you need to start thinking about your camping gear and the supplies you need to make backpacking a great experience.

It is time to check your tent, pack, sleeping bag, and emergency supplies to make sure the key components for your camping comfort and safety are in order.

Your Tent

Camping Tent

Your tent serves more than a way to keep the rain off your head (or snow, if you are a winter camper).

If properly sealed, your tent will not only be waterproof, but will also help contain your body heat.

Tent Checklist

  • Make sure your vents, fly, and entry are all cleaned and tear-free.
  • Use a mild mix of bath soap (unscented) to wash off any dirt or debris on the fabric, and
  • Use clear water under mild pressure to clear any dirt, debris, or sand in your zippers.
  • Never use any harsh chemicals – the man-made fibers can be damaged by any chlorinated cleaners.

Anything in the zippers will cause them to wear out faster as a natural course of using them, so keeping them clean is critical.

Winter Camping

For winter camping, you want those zippers to close snugly to keep out the cold and blowing snow – and in the summer you want them to open all the way so the moisture and heat released from your body while you’re sleeping can escape.

Check the siding material of your tent to make sure they are free of tears or other openings. You can usually patch most man-made fibers with kits readily available from a variety of sources.

It is a good idea to apply a coat of sealant to the exterior of the seams of your tent and fly with the sealant appropriate for your tent’s material.

ONLY apply the sealant in a warm dry place, making sure you give it plenty of time to dry properly.

In order to apply the sealant, it is best to pitch your tent with all sides taut, which will help ensure the sealant gets into the nooks and crannies.

Lastly, check that all of your supplies – poles, straps, and stakes – are intact, then set up the tent completely one time before packing it and going out into the wild.

Your Sleeping Bag

Sleeping Bag Example

Your sleeping bag and ground pad should be relatively maintenance free, other than the same cleaning of the surfaces and zippers for the bag apply.

You need to clean your bag inside and out, but not get the insulation wet. You also want to make sure the skin of your bag is clean and free of any oils or greasy substances.

Check the insulation. If it is becoming bunched, or lumpy, it may be time to replace your sleeping bag.

Ground Pads

Ground pads come in a variety of materials and comfort levels.

Their primary function is to insulate, to keep your body heat from being radiated into the ground through your sleeping bag. Your ground pad is also your last defense from ground water getting to the skin of your sleeping bag, drenching you.

Both situations can lead to hypothermia, a dangerous condition in which your core body temperature drops below 93 degrees.

A self-inflating ground pad offers a great combination of comfort and protection.

These foam-core pads are a relatively new development, are very light-weight, and compress for easy attachment to your backpack.

Your Backpack

Taking Care of Your Backpack

Your backpack is your greatest asset for wilderness camping, and maintaining it so it will withstand several kinds of constant abuse is critical.

1. Check that there are no threads hanging or tears in the liner.

Snags and tears can quickly spread, dumping your supplies into a creek at an inopportune moment, or the entire bag coming undone if you are using it to suspend your food supplies for safekeeping during the night.

Clip any snagged threads, and patch any tears. You also need to make sure you keep your pack water-tight. Seal the seams, and if the material permits, coat the entire bag.

2. Check all the grommets and clips on the straps.

If you are using pack with an external frame, make sure the clips holding the bag to the frame are secure.

Make sure there are no rips or tears in any of the straps, and that the fastening clips that hold the shoulder straps and waist strap in place are free of chips or cracks.

Readjust the straps to fit your body as it is today.

Let’s face it, we all tend to gain a little weight over the winter, and an improperly balanced backpack can overbalance you, or chafe in very uncomfortable ways.

Your tent and bag came with stuff bags. Use them – but make sure the bags are clean and dry before stowing away your equipment.

TIP: Packing Your Tent

When loading your tent, put in the fly, then the poles, then the tent itself.

This is the reverse order in which you will need them, and the proper order when you unpack it.

You should never store the stakes with the tent, even if they are in their own ripstop bag, the edges could puncture the tent skin, forcing an emergency repair out in the field.

Emergency Supplies

Emergency Preparations

Duct Tape

One of the backpacker’s best friends is duct tape.

It is strong, water-proof, and multi-functional. You can use it to make temporary fixes to any torn material, and if you combine it with the extra tube sections that came with your tent, you can even temporarily fix the poles on your tent.

You can also use duct tape for emergency first aid, because it makes a great way to tightly secure bandaging material or splints.

Gallon Zipper Sealed Plastic Bags

Bring along a few gallon-sized zipper-sealed plastic bags.

You can use them for a variety of purposes, from collecting specimens to storing your wet socks until you can set up camp and get them dry.

Keeping your supplies (and feet!) dry is critical. In a pinch, you can use them to catch and store water.

First Aid Supplies

Check all of your first aid supplies, and make sure you still have a proper assortment of bandaging materials, disinfectants, scissors, and other supplies.

Toss out the antibiotic ointment you have in your first aid kit from last year and replace it. It has lost its efficacy. If you carry hydrogen peroxide as a disinfectant, it needs replaced as well.

You can find the components of a good “do it yourself” first aid kit by checking with the Boy Scouts or the Red Cross.

Water Purification System

Check your water purification supplies, and make sure the iodine and/or filters are ready for use.

Make sure that your purification kit’s components are free of cracks. Get your canteen, waterpack, bladder, or insulated water bottle cleaned and ready for use, too.

Signaling Devices – Mirror & Whistle

No backpack is complete without two signaling devices – a mirror and a whistle.

Obviously a mirror only works when there’s a light source, but if you become disabled and a search party is looking for you, the reflection from the mirror gives you better odds of being spotted from a great distance.

The whistle is a vital signaling device. You can only yell for help for a few minutes at a time, while you can blow a whistle for hours.

GPS Locator

Another signaling device becoming more common in our high-tech world are GPS emergency locators.

Many are solar-powered, some are coming with Farraday generators, or they come with batteries.

No matter how they are powered, they only work if there is a satellite overhead, and a means of triangulating on your position. When you intend on going into extreme wilderness, rugged terrain, or into mountainous areas, you may want to invest in one of these gadgets.

Do NOT rely on this as your sole signaling device. If you’re breathing, you can still use a whistle. If the batteries go dead on the GPS unit – you could be as well shortly after.

Miscellaneous

Other stuff

Matches

Always have at least two different means of starting a fire in your pack.

Waterproof matches and a “permanent match” are easy to stow away, and work in a wide variety of weather conditions.

Knife

Always have a knife. A good multi-tool with a knife blade and other gadgets, can be found in most hardware and sporting goods stores, and can be handy.

Patch Kit

An emergency patch kit for your tent and backpack could also prove handy – but keep in mind for every ounce you add, you are losing food!

You have duct tape (featured above), which is a great permanent patch.


There are a wide assortment of other supplies you might consider bringing along for your camping expedition, but these suggestions cover most contingencies, in lightweight materials suitable for backpacking.

The best preparation if you’re a novice is to pick up any of the various books available for backpacking in the type of environment you plan on trekking in, or to pick up a copy of the Boy Scout manual on camping.

More Backpacking Season Tips