Although casual observers may think all backpackers are the same, they are not. In fact, there are many different types of backpackers. Each type comes with their own unique needs in terms of backpacking equipment, supplies, and destinations. Whether you are looking to traverse the glacier-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains, blaze a trail through the jungles of Southeast Asia, or simply take a pleasant hike alongside a lowland river, this guide will educate you to the best backpacking gear for different types of backpackers. It will help you make sure you have the best outdoors experience.
The Beginner Backpacker
Sticking mainly to the well-beaten trails and rarely embarking on multi-day hikes, beginner backpackers often do not need the same level of hi-tech equipment that is essential for advanced backpackers. Despite this, there are still a number of key items that every beginner needs to ensure they have the most rewarding and stress-free backpacking experience.
While comfortable footwear is a good investment for any backpacker, those just starting off in the sport should look for a pair of low-rise hiking shoes rather than full-blown boots. Usually lower cut and less heavy than high-rise boots, hiking shoes offer greater flexibility for the foot and ankle. This makes them ideal for day hiking. For the best fit, make sure that the shoe fits snuggly but not uncomfortably tight around your entire foot. You have to remember that you should have room to move your toes.
If you are a beginner backpacker, it is unlikely you will be spending more than one or two nights on the trail. Also, it’s unlikely that you’ll be heading out in adverse weather conditions. While advanced backpackers may want a heavyweight four-season tent that can cope with just about any type of weather, beginners should look for a three-season tent. These are often lighter to carry and more affordable.
If you are just starting out backpacking, then your map and compass reading skills may be rudimentary. While this is definitely a skill that all beginners should learn, you should make sure to take a GPS watch with you, as these are lightweight and make finding your way a breeze with pre-determined waypoints.
The Thrill-Seeking Backpacker
At the opposite end of the backpacking spectrum from the beginner, is the thrill-seeker. A type of backpacker that will go to extreme lengths to get that all-important rush of adrenaline. Most likely to be seen scaling cliff-sides, scrambling up scree slopes, or ascending to the summits of breathtaking peaks, thrill-seekers are often the fittest backpackers in the national park.
When you are a thrill-seeking backpacker, you never know what you will encounter when you head for the wilderness. One of the key obstacles for this type of backpacker is the sheer rock faces that rise out of the landscape. This can be insurmountable for those with less experience. An essential item for overcoming rock faces is high quality climbing rope. For backpackers, the best type of rope to buy is half rope. It can be used for ascending and descending. Also, it’s useful for hauling backpacks up steep slopes. Remember to buy the thickest diameter rope available. This is because it makes it much safer to use. Also, it should be one that is fully rated by the UIAA (Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme).
A four-season tent may be unnecessary for a backpacking beginner. However, for more advanced enthusiasts, it is an absolutely essential piece of gear. Thrill-seeking backpackers can find themselves stuck out in some of the harshest conditions nature can produce, such as rainstorms, blizzards, or simply freezing temperatures. Four-season tents can withstand all of the above and more. For the best backpacking experience, make sure to get a double-walled tent. While these may be pricier, they also offer far greater insulation. It can make the difference between a good and a bad night’s sleep.
Similarly, while hiking shoes may be suitable for beginners, if you are an advanced thrill-seeking backpacker you’ll need sturdy mountaineering boots. The boots should be medium weight, stiff for extra support, and offer great protection from the weather. If you are looking to ascend glacial mountains, then it is best to look for mountaineering boots with heel welts that can be used to attach crampons.
The Intermediate Backpacker
The most common type of backpacker are the intermediates whose outdoors skills are somewhere between that of the thrill-seekers and the beginners. While intermediate backpackers may not embark on any serious mountaineering on their adventures, they still head deep into the wilderness. Here, they often make use of state of the art equipment to make their experience all the more rewarding. Although intermediates may not spend weeks in the wilderness like advanced backpackers, they still enjoy spending plenty of time amongst pristine nature.
While beginner backpackers may want to take a 15-20 liter backpack that will give them room for enough supplies for a night or two, intermediate backpackers may want to invest in something a little more substantial. The best option would be to opt for a 30-liter backpack. This will give you plenty of room for the extra clothing, food, and gear that will come in handy on the trail.
If you are planning on spending a few days on the trail, then it is advisable not to carry around all your water supplies on your back. While beginner backpackers may want to use dissolvable water purification tablets, which are cheap but often leave a chemical taste in the water, intermediates may want to purchase a water purifier; which often comes in pump form. The best of these are lightweight, non-bulky, and can easily be strapped to a backpack. What is more, they quickly purify water and can be used at any water source.
First Aid Kit
While all backpackers setting off should have first aid supplies with them, this is extra important for an intermediate backpacker. This is because you are likely going to be testing the limits of your abilities. It is best to pick up a complete first aid kit from an outdoors store before embarking on your journey and, if you have time, take part in first aid classes to familiarise yourself with these essential skills.
The Family Backpacker
One of the most rewarding family bonding experiences is a backpacking trip into a breathtaking national park. Whether you are taking a day hike along the banks of a scenic river or tackling a gentle summit, it can be a thrilling way for parents to teach their children about the wonders of the natural world. For the family backpacker, the best gear is that which will provide entertainment for the children during the evening and make the entire trip as stress-free as possible.
A key piece of backpacking gear for families that like to spend their weekends camping in the wilds is headlights. These hands-free alternatives to conventional torches allow you to multi-task in the dark. It is perfect to use when setting up camp during dusk or for gathering firewood during the night. What’s more, they are perfect for sitting around a campfire at night telling scary stories.
Gas Canister Stove
For the family backpacker, one of the best things about getting out into the wild is the social aspect of the trip. This means that one of the most rewarding aspects of backpacking is the communal meals around the stove. The best stoves and the easiest to use are gas canister based. These can be used to prepare basic but hearty stews.
One of the best aspects of family backpacking is that it lets you introduce the natural world to the next generation. To make this a fun experience, why not pick up some field guides from an outdoors store? It will help you identify the various flora and fauna you will come across during your family adventure.
The Hi-Tech Backpacker
Since the 2000s, there has been a new type of backpacker trekking through the world’s wilderness: the hi-tech backpacker. Usually but not always a highly experienced backpacker, this is someone who is willing to shell out their hard-earned cash on some of the most cutting-edge outdoors equipment available. Ranging from the now commonly used GPS devices to phone chargers powered by burning wood and inflatable tents, these backpackers are out to revolutionize the sport.
One of the most revolutionary technologies to come on the market is the rise of inflatable tents. They make setting up camp a breeze. For the hi-tech backpacker, these are an essential piece of gear. With the aid of a small portable pump, setting up camp takes less than one minute.
Portable Phone Chargers
Phones can come in incredibly handy when you are in the wilderness. However, their batteries are short and are prone to dying at the least opportune moment. That is where portable phone chargers come in. Of course, we all have heard of these devices but the hi-tech backpacker can make use of revolutionary wood-fired stoves from BioLite that use the heat you generate to cook to charge your phone as well.
Purifying Water Bottles
Most campers have to either use pumps or gravity to filter their water. However, the hi-tech backpacker is able to take advantage of new water bottle technology. It lets you filter water in a matter of seconds. The best of these new bottles are made by GRAYL. It works just like a French press all the while filtering out harmful substances in the water.