Getting into Backpacking for the first time?

Interested in preparing an overnight camp in the mountains but are a bit wary of the weight to be carried. This is to encourage you and give you a place to start the journey of what to bring and what to pack.

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Getting into Backpacking for the first time?

I wrote this for a friend of mine who is interested in preparing an overnight camp in the mountains but is a bit wary of the weight to be carried. This is to encourage her and give her a place to start the journey of what to bring and what to pack. I then thought I would share it with you here on my blog in case it assisted anybody else.


Mountain Camps and Bivouacs

Camping or bivouacing overnight in the mountains is a wonderful way to experience the beauty and tranquility of the mountains. In the summer here in Spain's Sierra Nevada there is nothing better than heading into the mountains one afternoon as everyone is leaving, seeing the sunset and sunrise from a beautiful lake, having breakfast and then leaving the mountains as everyone is arriving for the day. It feels like you are going against the grain and experiencing things normal people just don't get to do.

Here are a few tips for those of you who are looking at getting into multi-day mountain treks (backpacking) for the first time. I should add that there is a multitude of ideas and variations on the internet. There is no right or wrong answer, it is what works for you. The below is about what works for me, an experienced but ageing backpacker with a heart problem.

Carrying your house on your back

Obviously, to carry all the equipment needed for an overnight stay in the mountains means carrying a greater weight than would normally be carried on a simple day excursion. We need, at a bare minimum, to add shelter, sleep and cooking facilities. This normally means adding a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, stove, fuel, pans, utensils and food to the backpack.

This can add many kilos to your poor old shoulders and maybe the trudging up and down mountains under these sorts of weights will be less than fun? I have met many clients staggering under pack weights of over 15kg around the mountains of the Sierra Nevada. This is far too much. I can assure you, travelling in the mountains with a low base weight maintains the enjoyment you find in mountain travel.

What is Base Weight?

This is the weight carried in your pack excepting consumable items. Consumable items are items that reduce weight as the trip proceeds. This usually includes food, water and fuel etc.

As an introductory target, why not try to keep the base weight between 5-8kg? My personal target base weight is a maximum of 5kg for a multi-day trip. Additional nights out just means adding more fuel and food (consumables). I should add that I have spent many years lowering my personal base weight, it doesn't happen quickly. It's a form of mindset you have to develop that always attempts to cut weight as new products and ideas come to the fore.

Help is at hand too. These days there are many lightweight alternatives to the robust, heavy products of old. There are also many countless resources on the internet about lightweight backpacking tricks and tips.

How much does your existing gear weigh?

By choosing your equipment wisely and by accepting there necessarily has to be some sort of compromise involved is paramount. A compromise? Yes, every gram of additional weight has to be ruthlessly accepted or declined. Is that extra gram really necessary or a just a "luxury"?

This means that the first thing you should do is weigh all your current equipment you intend to take and mark it down somehow (see below). To weight my gear I use either Kitchen Scales or a Travel Bag/Case weighing gadget.

Recording your weights

Initially, in the old days, I used a list, then moved to a spreadsheet. Nowadays (June 2024) there are some great software alternatives for you to utilise.

This is not a fully inclusive list, just ones that I have come across, used and can recommend. The sites below all have the additional benefit of being able to be used as a packing list, a checklist as you pack away your backpack.

Android app ... Carryless €11 for full version - allows you to prepare an inventory of your gear and easily add to a pack list. Excellent and easy to use software and the app I use to evaluate my current mountain trips.

Desktop (web) ... Packstack (free) - a superb piece of software. Can be self hosted.

Desktop (web) ... Lighterpack (free) - a little bit outdated but still a useful resource.

There are others but the best ones are part of larger sites that offer links to equipment purchase (Amazon etc).

N.B If you find any of the free sites mentioned above useful then please consider a small donation to help support the developer.

Evaluating your gear list

Once you have an idea of what your existing mountain gear weighs you can start to evaluate and to make informed decisions. You will notice what items are missing from the list and also what items are making up the heaviest part of the load. Start with these items, trying to replace with lighter alternatives. Be warned, going lightweight is not cheap. You will pay much more for less material! This is a fact of life unfortunately. Being a gram counter costs.

There are many excellent resources about what is currently the best ultralightweight equipment for backpacking to be found on the internet. Just do a search. Personally, I like Ultra Light Outdoor which lists all the products that they have tested, in weight order with comments and reviews. You can buy from them too if you see something you like. Note, that I am not affiliated in any way with this company, I just enjoy browsing through their website for weight saving ideas.

Being ruthless!

Can you really not go for just one night without a change of clothes, a toothbrush, toothpaste, camp slippers, pajamas, a book etc? Can not sacrifices be made to make travel more enjoyable? Be absolutely ruthless. This whole lightweight backpacking thing is a compromise. A compromise between weight and comfort. My advice is, don't overstep the mark and veer too much in the direction of comfort.

I once had a group doing a multi-day trip into the Sierra Nevada. They were used to Himalayan travel so hired porters from me to carry all their sleeping and cooking gear for 5 days. During the trip I couldn't believe the weight that one client was carrying. When I looked inside his sack he had 5 hardback books and a large radio set! The guy, a mathematician, had calculated that he had 8 hours to fill in a day as he would walk for 8 hours and sleep for 8 hours. That was how he worked out how many books he needed to take. When I inquired about the radio he said he wanted to catch up periodically with the latest England cricket Test Match. True story.

Owning up. The only compromise I personally make is to add in my camera gear. Photography is a hobby, I have spent a lot of money on camera equipment and I enjoy taking images of the places I visit. It's my choice.


Of course if you can find a friendly friend to share things with then certain items can be "shared" items between you, thus reducing the overall individual weights carried.

A Few Personal Suggestions

My current gear list for an overnight in the Sierra Nevada


  1. This does include a certain amount of sharing with my wife of Tent/Sleeping Quilt/Food that balances the shared weight between us.
  2. The list is appropriate for my particular circumstances for a particular camp. It is meant as a guide not a definitive list or what you, yourself should take.
  3. Don't slam me if you spot what you consider to be an oversight. I'm still on this journey too.

Summary of Pack Contents by Category

Gear List

Gear List

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