Primitive and modern outdoor skills

Car Camping to Backpacking: How to make the jump


I've been reading about bicycle touring and really wanting a page that tells me what additional knowledge I need to have to bike tour assuming I already know how to backpack. Thus the inspiration for this post. This article is for people who enjoy car camping and day hiking, but aren't quite sure how to take the plunge to backpacking. The truth is it isn't that different. The two big differences are:
1. You have to carry everything
2. You don't have a car right there to bail to

This article is written towards someone doing a one night trip to a campground similar in amenities to the type they usually drive to. Also right now this is mostly a stub article. I plan to add links in it as I write more companion articles. Also it's written for summer in a temperate climate.

You have to carry everything

The main effect of this is that suddenly weight and volume matter. For a single overnight trip you don't have to go too crazy though. It can be done easily just by leaving the things you don't need behind instead of buying light expensive versions of all of them. By the way, trying to backpack without spending a lot on specialized gear is often called dirt bagging. If you want to spend the money, then go for it, but know that you really don't have to. Especially not for your first trip.

Besides weight and volume you're now traveling. That means it's useful to know how to find water as well as how to pee in the woods. It's also handy to have food that doesn't take all day to cook.

You don't have a car right there to bail to

This means you probably want to have some trust in your tent and know how to set it up, as well as having a bit of extra warm clothing in case you fall into a river or some such. As with day hiking it's useful to have some sort of blister kit. Mine is some duct tape, but you should bring whatever you're comfortable with.

Possible problem gear

So you have your car camping stuff in a heap, are looking at your backpack (which doesn't have to be anything more that a normal school backpack if you aren't bringing much) and thinking "Oh goodness, this'll never fit. And when it does I won't be able to lift it!". Have no fear. There are some easy fixes.


If you generally carry a large Colman-style stove consider carrying all no-cook food, or consider making/buying a soda can stove.


Some car camping tents are truly behemoths. If that's the sort of shelter you have consider trying a tarp instead. Even if you decide it isn't for you in the long run, it's a nice jerry-rigging skill to have.


Cotton doesn't contribute to warmth when wet, so carrying a pile of sweatshirts works, but something that'll stay warm is better. Aside from warmth you really don't need much clothing. The fashion police are not waiting in the woods to arrest you if you wear the same clothing two days in a row. For a summer trip I'd tend to bring 1 pair of shorts, 1 shirt, 2 pairs of socks, a sweater, hat, and maybe a warm vest if I was feeling paranoid. Bring whatever you need to be happy, but anything more than that might make yah sad.

What's left?

Backpack, stove, shelter, clothing... Besides that I carry a mess set (pot, spork, and fire starter), water stuff(water treatment, 2-1 liter bottles), headlamp, whistle, map, rain coat, first aid(duct tape + ibuprofen), a pair of shoes, and often a tooth brush. And food. Lots of food. A knife, compass and emergency blanket are also nice to have, but not absolutely necessary. If there are other things you won't have fun without then go ahead and bring them, but you don't _need_ very much stuff.

Disclaimer: What you need obviously depends on the season and where you are. The article is targeted towards summer in friendly places like CA, PA, WA, and VA.