National Park Essentials

Traveling Through the National Parks Essentials

The Basics

Day Bag/Backpacking Bag: 15L (half day) – 40L (full day)/65L (3 day) – 85L (7 day) – 120L (14+ days): Osprey, Gregory, L.L. Bean, DeuterHigh Sierra Frame Packs, Teton Sports, Arc’teryx

There are many day and backpacking bags on the market but I have to say that my experience with Osprey has been fabulous. I have been using Osprey bags for years and I have found that the bags are extremely durable, especially when it comes to rough weather and terrain. Some come with a well fit rain cover which I have found to be very useful when it downpours. Osprey has a large selection of bags to choose from. The waist/hip belt grips around around your hips which makes the bag super comfortable to carry for long periods of time. The waist/hip belts can shape the belt to your hips through custom molding. You can detach the waist belt for travel purposes. I also find that Osprey also has great customer service. They have a lifetime guarantee policy which I took advantage of. I once had my the waist/hip belt bend due to an airline stewardess shoving the bag into overhead bins. I sent my bag to Osprey and they said they could not fix it and sent me back the newest model free of charge. 

Although the bag features are important, it is more important that the bag fits properly, is durable, and has enough room to fit all of your gear. When looking for a bag, make sure to get a bag that holds extra days worth of equipment. Some stores have a measuring tool that allow you to measure your torso length and hip width.

1.5L – 3L Hydration Bladder/Reservoirs: Osprey, CamelbakGregory

By far, Osprey makes the best bladder/reservoirs. The bladder has a bendable plastic back which allows for the bladder to slide into the backpack smoothly and supports itself in an upright position. The bladder is super easy to fill and has a zip lock on the top which seals the bladder shut. Camelbak and Gregory have the dial/knob top which if not sealed properly will leak. Often times water will splash out as you try to hold the bag with one hand and turn the dial/knob to seal it. Without the perfect seal and you will notice your back getting wet from the water coming out when you walk.

Outdoor/UV ClothesNorth Face, Columbia, Cotopaxi, Arc’teryx, KÜHL, Patagonia, Kathmandu, L.L Bean, REI

Obviously there are a lot more outdoor clothing companies and stores than what is listed above. I don’t think there is an outdoor clothing company or store that is overall number one, or even number 2. It all depends on comfort, fit, and style. If you know you are going to pack a lot of clothes you will want to get clothes that are very light weight and thin. If you know you are going to sweat a lot get sweat resistant and coolant material type clothing. During the colder months you will want long underwear as a base layer. You can either bring more lightweight clothes or bring warm heavier clothes. If you are exposed to the sun a lot make sure to get Uvex specific clothing. Uvex will protect you from the sun. Overall, Comfort is the most important.

First Aid/Emergency kit: Red Cross

You can get a First Aid/Emergency kit in Walmart, on Amazon and at many outdoorsy store as well. There are so many types, if you are backpacking you will probably not be able to get one that has many duplicates of items that you often see in larger kits.

Sleeping Bags & Mattress: Big Agnes, ThermarestAlps Mountaineering

Comfort, size, and warmth will be your biggest factors when finding the right sleeping bag and mattress. If you’re willing to spend a little bit of extra money I would recommend getting an all season or winter only sleeping bag and an all season or winter only mattress. You can always take layers off but you can’t add layers you don’t have. 

If you often feel cold at night you will want a mummy sleeping bag. The shape contours your body and doesn’t allow for much airflow. The only downside to this is you can’t move your legs and feet very much. You are trapped in a pencil position the entire time. The rectangular sleeping bags are for those who like to stretch out a bit and need airflow within the bag. Some bags come with hoods which allow you to keep your head warm. A warmer head will lead to a warmer body. If you would like to get some airflow at the bottom of the bag you may want to get a bag with a double zipper. This way you can unzip the bottom to let some air through.

R -Value: The R-Value measures the pads capacity to resist heat flow. The higher the number the warmer you will be. An R value of 3 or higher is good for late Spring, all Summer, and early Fall.

There are 3 types of mattresses used for camping. The first one is the air mattress. The name of this mattress is self explanatory. The mattress must be filled with air. It also gives the most amount of cushion and you won’t feel the ground under you. The second type of mattress is a self-inflating mattress. This type is quite thin and feels more like a pad and holds very little air. Depending upon the design, you many feel the ground when sleeping on this type. It will be less bulky than the air mattress. The last type is the closed-cell foam mattress. This one is the thinest and lightest. It is great for backpacking but is not the most comfortable. You don’t have to worry about them popping and they are easy to clean. Some people will put the closed-cell foam mattress under the air mattress on an uneven/rocky surface to prevent the air mattress from popping.

Tent: EurekaColeman

There are many types of tents on the market to choose from. If you are backpacking you will want a light weight tent that only weights 0.75-4lbs. The only downside is these tents can easily blow away if they are not secured to the ground properly. There also isn’t much space to spread out in them. If you’re planning to take your car and stay at a campsite for more than a day you can invest in a heavier tent that will fit all of your gear. These tents tend to be  more stable. Some have multiple rooms.

Cookware: YetiGSI OutdoorsStanley Adventure

If you’re backpacking you won’t need to bring much cookware since you will not have room to carry any of it. In reality, most of the cookware is going to be either plastic, or steel. The steel is going to be heavier and the plastic will be easier to transfer due to less weight. Some cookware folds or collapses into itself so it takes up less room in the car or in a bag or bin.

Topographical, Geological, Trail Maps: Google Maps, All Trails,  Hiking ProjectTrail Links

Google Maps, Apple Maps or any map that comes from the internet is good but you should really pick up a physical map at the rangers station. A handheld map is ultimately the best for when you get lost and you have no signal.

Food: Mountain House, Wise Food Company

Dried fruits and berries are always handy. Some of the packs have all the nutrients to last you a day. Some require you to boil water to activate the food.

Would Be Good to Have

Hiking/Trekking Poles Black DiamondLeki

Unless you are planning on doing strenuous hikes or you have poor balance or don’t have the right kind of boots, you may not need hiking poles. If you do need hiking poles you will want light weight and durable. Carbon fiber poles are the lightest and aluminum poles are a little heavier and stronger. Some poles collapse so they fit into your bag/carry-on luggage but they aren’t going to be as strong and could potentially break.

Radio Garmin, Midland

It is always good to have a radio but you don’t need one unless you are planning on backpacking or attempting trails that are rigorous or doing overnight hikes. If you are taking the unknown and unmarked path then you probably should have.

Air-Mattress Pump Sea to SummitBig Agnes

If you don’t want to blow up your air mattress with your mouth an air-mattress pump is good to have. You don’t want the moisture from your breath to circulate inside the mattress, especially during cold nights since that moisture can freeze and crack your mattress.

Notebook MolskineRifle Paper Co.Sloane Stationary World Travels Pocket Notebook

Keep a travel journal with you to record your travels.

Waterproof Sacks/Bags REI, Big AgnesSea to Summit

Keep those electronics from getting wet. The waterproof containers prevent your electronics from breaking when dropped but they are also heavier. The bags are lightweight and some are see through. Some of the bags have belt clips so you can hang hang them from a line or from your backpack.

Watch Garmin WatchesTomTomSuunto, Casio

Don’t waste phone battery if possible. Some high tech watches have really a nice GPS, compass, and other useful tools.