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April 2016 Issue
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First-time packing guide

Aaron Whitehead’s carefully chosen gear for an upcoming trip. Photo: Aaron Whitehead

For those new to tramping, it can be tough to figure out what you need to pack – and what you don’t – on an overnight or multi-day trip. Meghan Walker finds out what the must haves are

If you’re setting out into the backcountry for the first time, packing for your trip can be intimidating. You might be asking yourself: How much food do I need? What kind of shoes should I wear?

To answer some of these burning questions, we’ve enlisted seasoned gear guru and packing expert Aaron Whitehead from Adventure Consultants.

First of all, “wear a pair of boots that won’t slaughter your feet,” Whitehead urged. A sturdy, well-fitting pair of boots is crucial, he said, but don’t forget to bring a pair of sneakers or sandals to wear when you get to camp. On that note, decent socks are vital. “They make a huge difference. I just bought some new ones recently and wondered why I hadn’t changed my old ones sooner.”

Make sure you have the right size pack. For first time trampers, he says it’s a good idea to go for a 55- to 65-litre pack, which could be used for both weekend trips and longer tramps. He strongly advises to get your pack fitted in store; it’s good to make sure it’s snug around the waist and not too loose on the shoulders.

With clothing, it’s all about layering. Whitehead said to start with a warm base layer, either merino or synthetic, and add from there. A warm fleece layer on top of that, a down jacket for cold weather and a good waterproof layer are ideal for pretty much any kind of trip, he said.

Down or synthetic sleeping bags are both great, but if you’re in wet conditions, you may want to go for a synthetic bag as it will stand up to a bit of moisture more effectively than its feathered counterpart. The smaller it can be packed away, the better. He recommends packing your bag in a waterproof stuff sack in case you encounter some weather while on the trail.

Food can be a big question mark for new trampers, especially if you want to avoid paying extra for freeze-dried food. For a shorter trip, it’s good to go for easy-to-make meals, like pasta or ready-made rice, accompanied by some veggies or dried meat like salami for dinner. For breakfasts, Whitehead recommended oats or muesli, and lunches and snacks are often on-the-go, so crackers and nuts are good options. If you’re planning to stay at a hut, make sure you check if there are cooking facilities. If not, a small gas stoves will come in handy.

Additional items that are good to have: sunglasses, sun hat and warm hat.

As you might have guessed, there is a trick to packing your bag efficiently. Whitehead recommends stuffing your sleeping back at the bottom of your pack. Heavy items should go close to your back, and items like snacks and sunscreen should be kept near the top for easy access.

Not only is it important to carry a compass and map of the area you’re in, it’s also crucial you know how to navigate using them. “Clue up on navigation,” Whitehead said, stressing the importance of becoming familiar with the region before you set out on a tramp.

Your First Aid Kit should be fully stocked, keeping the necessary items like plasters, pain relievers, blister tape and bandages in easily-accessed parts of your pack. Whitehead said a Personal Locator Beacon is desirable for quick evacuation should they get severely injured or hopelessly lost.

Even the most experienced trampers occasionally forget things. “I know people who have forgotten clothing for a trip, myself included,” he said. On the other end of the spectrum, he’s seen people take some curious items with them into the woods: he once carried road signs on a tramp in Milford Sound. “For photo opportunities, of course!” Whitehead joked.