by Diane Spicer
You're here for the best tips on planning an overnight hike.
Good for you!
It's folly to throw a few things into a backpack and hope for the best.
Going out on a limb here, but maybe this is your first foray into overnight hiking?
Let's mainly use REI Co-op as our source for overnight hike gear and other essentials, for two reasons:
REI treats its members right, with an annual rebate around 10% of all purchases.
Hiking For Her has been using REI gear since the mid 1970s, and appreciates the wide range of high performance gear and clothing they carry.
This article is part of a series of helpful hints in conjunction with REI on how to get over your "buts".
This page is all about "I want to learn how to backpack but I don't know how to get started".
And according to the email Hiking For Her receives, this "but" is very common, so you're in good company.
But wouldn't you rather be in great company on an overnight hike?
Let's get your plans started already!
So you've got a destination in mind, and the maps to get you there.
What's the next item on your overnight planning list?
Surprisingly, it's your attitude.
The transition from day hiker to overnight hikes can be daunting.
If you are a day hiker planning your first overnight trip, you're going to be carrying more weight than usual.
So your attitude has to enlarge, shall we say, to match your load.
Depending on your circumstances, you also might feel a bit burdened by the amount of planning, packing, and even the trail miles invested in an overnight hike.
I mention this not to throw a wet blanket on your overnight hiking dreams, but to prep you for the sadness that may accompany you as you hike out to the trail head.
Bring luscious trail treats to take the sting out of it.
Okay, still with me?
Your tenacity is about to be rewarded with great tips for getting fully equipped for a fantastic overnight hike.
An overnight hike combines two skill sets:
day hiking + lightweight camping.
It's a given that backpacking, even for one night, requires equipment that you may not have acquired yet - but will need for a comfortable and safe camping experience.
So let's look at some worthy options for shelter and a good night's sleep on your first overnight.
Whether or not it's just one night is up to you!
Be careful about this decision.
If you talk yourself into going fast and light, packing only a tarp, your first overnight experience might be a bit more than you bargained for.
While a tarp is lightweight, folds down small and can be easy to set up, if you're a beginner overnight hiker it can make you feel vulnerable.
You're at the mercy of moisture, contours, availability of anchor points, and (I hate to bring this up) ground dwelling creatures of various sizes and dispositions.
Hiking For Her's recommendation:
But a tent is a long term commitment, not unlike a relationship.
A wise choice will stay with you for years and years.
Here's the thing:
Avoid the temptation to overbuy on tent features you don't need yet, like extreme weather stability (four seasons and wind) or ultralight weight.
Look at tents with these features:
If you're going solo, take a look at this one person, compact tent: MSR Hubba.
If you have a trail buddy, the MSR Hubba Hubba (see what they did there?) is lightweight and durable enough to stand up to extended wear and tear, yet spacious.
If you can find someone to teach you the ropes of overnight hiking trips, let them bring a tent for you to share.
Or email me, and we can kick around the merits of the tent you're considering.
As I said, tents are an important piece of gear and you should spend the time to choose wisely.
Your sleeping bag becomes your cocoon for the night, or your haven during nasty weather or a medical emergency.
It needs to be as lightweight as possible, yet provide enough room for you to move around and not feel trapped (especially during deep sleep cycles).
Women's sleeping bags are tapered (mummy style), to eliminate weight yet give us room for our hips.
You want a bag that can stand up to cool temperatures, around the 15F range.
Here's the sleeping bag I bring along on every hiking trip, regardless of length: REI Joule.
You could also consider a backpacking quilt for a smooth transition from sleeping in your bed to your tent.
Benefits of a quilt:
Bring a set of clean clothes and socks for sleeping. You can wear them on the hike out the next day to avoid feeling (completely) grubby.
Beneath your sleeping bag or backpacking quilt, you'll need a pad.
Don't be brave and think you're tough enough to get by without one.
Here are the pads I use:
A woman can never have too many backpacks, that's the truth!
If you're dabbling in the overnight hiking realm, you'll need a backpack bigger than the one you carry on day hikes.
But no need to go crazy and get a huge backpack.
At least, not yet.
You'll determine whether or not you're a backpacker after you have a few overnight hiking trips under your belt!
The volume of an overnight backpack hovers (in liters) between 40 and 70.
Here's a good choice:Osprey Aura AG 50 Pack - Women's
As with your gear, an overnighter requires two skills sets for your food:
how to select the best lightweight meals + a camp kitchen.
There are at least 3 philosophies about overnight hike menus.
A quick explanation of each...
Bring prepared dry foods that don't require a stove.
Just be sure to bring enough to match your appetite. It's unpleasant to hike out on an empty stomach the next day.
Example of no cook backpacking foods for this approach:
Trail tip for overnight backpacking trips:
You're hiking with a thin margin of safety, calorie wise.
Keep your precious food out of the clutches of
marauding hungry critters with a Ratsack food storage bag (catchy name, don't you think?).
Their nasty little teeth won't make a dent!Armored Outdoor Gear Ratsack Cache Food Storage Bag
Your second option:
Bring food you've prepared and frozen prior to the hike, in well packaged, double bagged portions.
Allow it to thaw in your backpack as you hike into your campsite.
A minimalist way to boil modest amounts of water is a Jetboil. You can press this into service on cold day hikes as well.
A more versatile stove would be this MSR Whisperlite. But you'll need a cook pot as well.
Food suggestions for this approach:
Ah, easy street!
Select your dinner and next day breakfast entrées from a trusted backpacking food source, bring along your stove and a modest amount of fuel, boil water, stir, wait a few minutes, and enjoy.
Suggestions for overnight hike dinners:
Suggestions for breakfast the next morning:
If you're hiking a lot of miles to get to your campsite, or a few miles over rough terrain, be prepared for your huge appetite.
Sharing one dinner entree won't be a viable option if you want to stay friends with your tent mate.
So don't hold back with the amount of freeze dried food you're bringing.
You've already taken a look at a few ways to heat up your food.
Here is another option for food prep and clean up:
On day hikes, you can get by with water from the safe sources at home or at the trail head.
But you don't want to be lugging water down the trail for an overnight, especially if you're headed toward abundant surface water.
Unfortunately, surface water in the lower 48 states and elsewhere in the world is too contaminated with microbial life to drink without treating it first.
There are three ways you can go to ensure that your water is not going to make you sick.
If you're already bringing a stove and fuel, budget in enough fuel and time to boil the water you need for dinner, breakfast, and hiking out again.
Boiled water will taste flat.
You might be tempted to cut down your sip rate. Big mistake!
Shake it up (use your water bottle) to introduce air bubbles (oxygenating it), and the taste will improve somewhat.
An entire universe of water filters exists, and this is not the place to go into each and every one.
Hiking For Her water purification recommendations:
I also carry a Lifestraw like this one, when I want to go fast and light.
For an overnight, chemical water treatment is not a great way to go IMHO.
Carry a few tablets as a backup plan should technology fail you.
Let's double check your plan.
You've got the gear you need to hike and camp:
And you've got the right attitude, which is every bit as important as gear.
Cherish your memories of the things that went wrong.
They make great stories to share later.
An overnight hike is a benchmark in your hiking career.
As hikers, let's call it a major milestone.
Use all of these overnight hike planning tips to maximize your chances of a great trip, and be sure to celebrate your achievement.
Soon, an overnight hike won't be enough.
You'll be heading into backpacking territory before you know it.
Or ease into things, with these car camping for hikers tips!
Overnight Hike Planning Tips
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She's been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for 5+ decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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