Essentials for Multi Day Trips

The transition from day hiking to multi day trips, be it a planned adventure or a preparedness scenario, is somewhat daunting for folks for a number of reasons.  An honest assessment of one’s physical abilities, understanding of planning and soft skills should all factor into this next step – see here and here  for details. Another critical component in the bridging between a day hike and a longer trip is packing essentials; what you need to have when you get to where you want to go.

Selection of the equipment needed at a basic level can be costly, the choices are vast and the quality variable.  It can be intimidating for the casual day hiker or car camper looking to take the plunge into the backcountry and just the “basics” can appear to be a lot of gear.  One just needs to think of what their day looks like at home.  From eating to sleeping to sitting with their family and friends, each activity requires specially designed tools or equipment for the woods.  Many of these items can be acquired even on a tight budget, as we outlined in “Backpacking on a Budget”.

For ease, I will bulletize the list of “basics” and provide some of the more quality brands in each category:

  • Tent:
    • Function, weight, price and ease of use all factors in selection of a tent
    • Do you need a four season (weather / locale specific)?  Do you need two doors?  A vestibule (a little material above the door made from the tent fly to store gear/cook in bad weather)?  Multiple vestibules?
    • Weight is a factor, but if you have multiple members of your party willing, you can distribute the parts of the test (fly, tent, poles and stakes)
    • Be honest with your trip planning and don’t under/over estimate the tent requirements
    • Other shelter options include bivy (goretex overbag that you put your pad/sleeping bag in) or lean-to/poncho shelter (my choice for weight and ease for years)
    • Manufacturers to consider include REI, Big Agnes, The North Face, Sierra Design, & Tarptent
  • Sleeping Bags:
    • Sleeping bags come by height, so consider getting one that allows for 6 inches or more of “room” (allows you to store clothes/boots in your bag on cold/wet nights) – Ex. Melanie is 5’1 and her bag is 5’8 / Mine is 6’6
    • Features you look for include lightweight, compressibility and not overly sensitive to a little moisture
    • Remember testing bag temperature is determined by a sleeper in a tent on a pad so if you “sleep cold” you may want to consider the next level of temperature tolerance (we use 20 degree bags)
    • Synthetic vs Down – if you are in wetter climates, Synthetic bags are more tolerant; however, you will find down can be up to a pound lighter for the same size/degree rated bag.  Synthetic tend to be cheaper as well.  So evaluate your weather, weight and pocket book.  I personally used synthetic for over 20 years without issue, cutting weight in other areas.
    • Mummy vs rectangular – like synthetic vs down, weight and weather are factors in determining shape.  The mummy is warmer and lighter due to the cut being closer to the body, thus trapping and storing more heat and using less material.  The rectangular/standard shape is roomier and tends to weigh more overall due to more material use.
    • Some companies include Big Agnes, The North Face, Mountain Hardwear and Kelty. Like the tents, REI does a good job with their private label bags.
  • Sleeping Pads
    • Closed cell – polyethylene pad made of foam (egg carton style is popular)
      • Advantage – resilient, inexpensive and don’t absorb water (although on a cold night condensation builds between you and the pad and it acts as an ice tray). They are also very lightweight.
      • Disadvantage – not as comfortable as the air mattress and bulky to pack
    • Inflatable (self inflating) – the “air mattress” style pad that the user simply opens the valve and air fills the cells (very similar to its air pad cousin only self inflating)
      • Advantage – comfortable and insulates the hiker from the cold ground well; can determine firmness with level of inflation
      • Disadvantage – heavier than the closed cell foam pad and prone to puncture (take repair kit w/ you – i.e. duct tape)
    • Recommend Therm a Rest for either type.


  • Backpack:
    • Backpack size is one of the largest differentiating factor when looking at the day hike vs. a multi day trip
    • Determining the size needed really depends on length of time on the ground (food, water, etc.) and amount of gear required (weather dependent, specialized gear for your trip – i.e. ropes, harnesses, bear barrels, bear spray, etc.)
    • Sizes:
      • Day Pack:                               1,500-2,000 cubic inches or 25 to 35 liters
      • Multi-Day Summer:                 3,000 to 4,000 cubic inches or 50 to 65 liters
      • Multi-Day Winter:                    4,000-5,000 cubic inches or 65-80 liters plus
    • Now this is just a rule of thumb. Some prefer to streamline their gear (not recommended for beginners) and others prefer larger packs to allow for cross loading community gear, not requiring the need to “carefully” pack (larger, more cavernous bags allow more wiggle room to pack every day and access things more easily)
    • Functionality differs by size, style and make/model.
    • Recommended functionality in a multi-day pack:
      • Easily adjusted waist belt (helps to have small pockets, storage on belt for GPS, food, camera, binoculars, etc.)
      • Exterior pockets/lids – having access to some much needed items easily (med/trauma kit, warmer layer for breaks on the trail, snacks, etc.)
      • Beavertail / Mesh style storage area (exterior) – this feature varies in appearance but it is essentially a storage area on the back/exterior of the pack that is not closed by a zipper like a pocket – good for quick access for needed items and excellent to store wet items like tent flies, rain/wet weather gear, etc. so not to expose equipment with wet gear
      • Rain Fly – a pack cover with elastic (like a fitted sheet) to provide weather resistance on the move and at camp
    • Fit of a backpack – this is an article on to itself – Osprey does a good job outlining this here:
    • Reputable manufacturers for backpacks include Osprey, Gregory, Deuter, Mystery Ranch, Mountain Hardwear, Mountainsmith, Lowe and Marmot

NOTE: Buy Cheap, Buy Twice – do your research and don’t be afraid to spend a little more on a good backpack

  • Medical (recommended regardless of length of trip):
    • Trauma Kit – Tourniquets, shears, Israeli bandages, Occlusive dressings and QuikClot are all components of a basic trauma kit. A terrific example can be found here:
    •  Adventure Medical Kit – this boo boo pouch is good for dressing our torn up feet.  Basics include tape, bandages, tweezers, moleskin, creams, ibuprofen, etc. Great add to any activity and at $25 no excuse not to have multiple sets (cars, packs, gym bag)
    • North American Rescue and Fieldcraft LLC are firms that I recommend you

NOTE: Get training – EMT, WEMT, TCCC style courses with accredited professionals before you employ any trauma kit.

  • Food and Water:
    • Stove – Day hikers may use a stove, especially for the winter months, but the multi day requires it. Ensure you do your research and evaluate what you need. MSR and Jet Boil are favorites for good reason – ensure you pack the appropriate fuel for your stove (amount dependent on trip length)
    • Water Filter – you have a variety here as well – our blog on the subject tackles the pluses and minus of your options
    • Dehydrated meals – Mountain House, Backpacker Pantry, etc – all easily found online and in REI/Camping stores – experiment and find what you like
    • Utensils- You can pull this from your kitchen cupboard or try one of these backpacker specific options – titanium spork or lexan spoon
  • Clothing –
    • Proper footwear, socks, outer layers, base layers, etc is a subject tackled on our blog and a variety of others
      • Ensure that you have a broken in pair of hikers/boots appropriate for the loads you carry and the weather you will face
      • Socks – wool regardless of temperature (Darn Tough and Smart Wool are standbys)
      • Layering system – get a wicking base layer that goes against the skin (capilene, merino wool), an insulating, breathable layer like fleece or wool (both insulate when wet) and an outer shell that is breathable and water resistant (DWR finish, preferably Gore-tex)
      • Hat – for the sun and for inclement weather (wool hat/stocking cap)
      • As a day hiker/outdoor person you likely have many of these pieces (ski clothes are a good bridge if you have them)
      • Reputable companies for clothing and shoes include Arc Teryx, Asolo, Merrell, Vasque, Salomon, Black Diamond, Patagonia, Smart Wool and The North Face
  • Much of the gear below are “must haves” for any length of time you are out in the woods:
    • Knife – quality folder or fixed blade (no Rambo knives here – Ounces equals pounds, pounds equals pain) – Spyderco, Benchmade, Gerber and Buck are all good and have a diverse selection
    • Headlamp – Petzel is my preference here
    • Maps – always bring a map, compass and / or GPS
    • Nalgenes/Water Bladders
    • Emergency Kit – some of the essentials that you can easily carry in your pocket if all other gear is lost (Fieldcraft LLC has made this for you
    • Collapsible bowls
      • (tip: buy the ones made for dogs. They are the exact same as the ones you will pay twice as much for in the camping section).
  • Other Considerations
    • If you are planning on traveling with pets, you will need to take their needs into account as well. Hiking and camping with dogs means carrying additional water, their food, and even their sleeping pad/blanket during cold conditions.
    • If you are traveling with inexperienced humans you may find yourself in charge of carrying more than you wanted. Properly prepare your fellow adventurers so everyone can have an enjoyable experience!

Equipment is a critical component in your transition from “day hiker” to one able to complete multi-day trips, regardless of it being a planned trip or a preparedness scenario. Being familiar with your needs, having tested and evaluated the gear and knowing how to pack will easily make the difference in one’s trip. Though this is a gear centric article, the end user cannot abandon planning, preparation, fitness and soft skills because they have a grocery list of expensive equipment. Gear will never supplant a solid knowledge base on the basics of outdoor living. So seek training, practice and honestly evaluate what you know, what (and who!) you are taking with you and how both you and the equipment perform.

Stay safe.




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