Backpacking for Beginners


Labor Day weekend, we decided to try a family backpacking trip. There are many who can’t wait to share their backpacking skills with their children. My knowledge consisted of reading Wild a few years ago and perusing REI eblasts.

Earlier in the summer, a 19-year old relative who was living with us decided he was going to attempt the Timberline Trail alone.  Since it seemed like a terrible idea to let someone in my charge do this alone, my husband went with him and was hooked.  Mix that with my son’s desire to go camping and my desire to attend the Timberline Labor Day Music Festival and our plan was set in motion.

We cobbled together what we had for packs and supplies and borrowed the rest from friends.  Having never even car camped (which I have learned is not sleeping in your car) we were really starting from scratch for anything beyond our day hiking supplies.   Here is what we took for one night on the trail.

TentMountain Hardware Shifter 4.  We borrowed it this time but I’ve already scouted them out at the Columbia Employee Store and intend to get one the next time I’m lucky enough to score a pass.  Set up took minutes and the footprint and rain fly are included.  It weighs about 8 lbs. which was manageable to carry while being roomy enough for all of us.

Sleeping pads– We had one which I had scored at the REI Garage Sale. It was pretty bulky but definitely the most comfortable.  I bought simple foam pads for my kids as they were a low cost, low weight option.  At 1/2 lb. each they were fantastic.  We invested in a light weight, higher quality pad for my husband who seems to be sold on the backpacking life.

Sleeping bags– The night we went was only getting down to the high 50s so we were able to get by with the one warm bag we have, the kid’s sleepover bags and a legit backpacking one borrowed from a friend.

Trail snacks– We brought a few bars and dried bananas as well as nuts.  Our trek in was under 4 miles but I was really skeptical about how the trail food was going to taste and wanted backup.

Food–  Beyond snacks we needed dinner once we made camp and breakfast to get us back in the morning.  We found freeze dried food at both Freddie’s and REI.  REI has a much larger selection but Freddie’s definitely had the basics.  Most of the options contained meat but there were a few pescatarian and vegetarian options.  Here is what we tried:

Mountain House Spaghetti with meat sauce– This was the fan favorite

Mountain House Macaroni and Cheese– Very cheesy and rich but delicious.  Next time we would add slightly less water than recommended as it was a bit soupy.

Good To-Go Pad Thai– This one was pescatarian and delicious.

Alpine Air smoothies– My kid’s really wanted these at REI and being novices we wanted to try all manner of trail food so we grabbed a couple.  We used water bottles and shook it vs. the the recommended slow stirring.  The flavor was good but they ended up a bit thinner than expected and lumpy.

Backpacker’s Pantry Creme Brûlée– My husband and I are pretty big Creme Brûlée fans and it just seemed fun to have a fancy dessert in the woods.  It was more like pudding with burnt sugar topping but delicious nonetheless.

Oatmeal-  For breakfast we brought oatmeal in those little cups like I kept in my dorm room.  It worked perfectly and we were able to pack out our light weight paper cartons instead of washing out dishes in the morning.

Coffee- I can’t face morning without a hot cup of coffee.  We brought the Stanley coffee press and some Stumptown.  If you are willing to rough it some Via from Starbucks would be a smaller/lighter solution for backpacking but this was my first time out and I wasn’t ready to be that rugged.

Water–  We each brought 2 larger water bottles and our Steripen so we could refill from the river before heading back.  The Steripen has been in our day hiking bag for a few years in case of emergency.  It worked great but I would buy a filter to remove fine particulates if we find ourselves drinking backcountry water very often.

Camp Stove Set– This was the latest addition to our camping/emergency preparedness purchases.  The MSR stove kit was light and packed up small.

Backpacks– We cobbled together a larger backpacking pack I bought some years ago, one I scored from REI Garage recently when it looked like a family trip was inevitable, our day hiking pack for my daughter and an old school bag for my son.  Any backpack can become a hiking backpack with some mini bungee cords.

Clothes– Everyone but my husband packed sleepover style.  Bathing suits for the river, pjs and a change of clothes to hike out in.  We could probably pack the same amount of clothes for a 3 day trip and be fine but can you ever be too safe when peeing in the woods?  We skipped the water shoes because we were not going to be fording any rivers this trip but going any further they would’ve been necessary.

Paper– We packed bio-degradable toilet paper and some much needed small sheets of paper towel.

Food bag & rope– My research showed that although bears are not a huge concern on Mt. Hood it’s important to hang your food away from your tent to avoid rodents and squirrels bunking with you.

Zip-lock bags– I packed a handful of things like playing cards and toothbrushes in ziplock bags to keep them clean.  By the end of the trip we had repurposed a few for messy bits that needed to be packed out.

Poop shovel– Thank goodness we never had to use this but I was able to pick up a lightweight plastic one at Freddie’s for about $5.


We made it to camp!
You know you’re almost back when you can see the ski lifts!


Things I wish we would’ve brought:  Trekking poles

Things we didn’t need: Swim suits

Weight we could shed:  If we became more avid backpackers I would upgrade our sleeping bags to more compact, lighter ones like the one we borrowed.  I would also reduce the size and weight of my sleeping pad.