Complete guide to your first overnight hikeUpgrading from a day hike to an overnight hike seems like a big step. What do you take? Will you be able to carry it all? What do you eat? Where do you go? I’ve been there and felt that, so here’s a one-stop guide to help ease the worry and get you on your merry way.

What to pack

Plenty of people cite not having the right gear as their reason for not attempting an overnight hike. While it’s important to take the essentials, it’s also important to not get too bogged down in having the best-of-the-best.

Beg and borrow from friends and simply get out there with the best you’ve got. Just make sure you choose the location and time of year of your hike based on the equipment you have.

Basically, don’t be the one with the K-Mart tent and summer sleeping bag turning up to the Snowy Mountains when it’s -3 degrees.

If you’re hiking with others try sharing equipment such as tents and stove to cut down on what you need.

Equipment:

  • 45-65l backpack (I love Osprey Packs and use a 47L myself, after a few years of downsizing other kit to fit. The Osprey Womens Aura AG 65l Rucksack is an amazing bag (and currently on sale at $200 at the time of writing). Or if you want something smaller try the unisex Kestrel 58 Rucksack)
  • Tent (3 season is ideal, but it does depend on where and when you’re camping. I have an MSR Hubba Hubba NX which I LOVE. It’s so light and has so much headroom)
  • Sleeping bag (check the comfort rating for the conditions – a thermal liner is a good way to add warmth)
  • Roll mat (I have one from Sea to Summit which is super comfy and lightweight)
  • Stove (lots of options out there, personally I use the very trustworthy and lightweight PocketRocket 2 Micro Stove)
  • Cooking pots/utensils (I love my GSI Pinnacle Soloist Cook Set – super lightweight and it drains pasta – whoop!)
  • Fuel
  • Matches or lighter
  • Head torch
  • Spare batteries
  • Trowel (this one depends on if there are toilets at your campsite)
  • Multi-tool/Swiss Army Knife
  • Water bladder/Camelbak (2.5l is ideal)
  • Water purification (depends on where you’re hiking. I use a Lifestraw but it’s all down to personal preference)
  • Hiking poles (I swear by them but it’s personal preference again)

Clothing:

For a two day, one-night hike I take the following:

  • I wear one set of hiking clothes (sports bra, leggings, long sleeve base layer, t-shirt, good quality hiking socks)
  • Comfy hiking boots
  • Camp clothes (thermals or pj bottoms and a t-shirt depending on the temperature)
  • Camp shoes (flip flops/thongs/lightweight sandals/trainers etc)
  • Waterproof trousers
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Down jacket
  • Fleece (temperature dependent)
  • Hat (beanie or sunhat dependent on the weather)
  • Gloves/Buff/scarf (if needed)
  • Camp socks (trust me…nothing beats having a nice clean pair of socks to change into!)
  • Swimmers (if needed)

Toiletries:

It’s two days. And you’ll likely be sweating your arse off anyway, so don’t take the whole bathroom with you. Keep it basic, and think how good that shower will be at the other end.

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Baby wipes (travel pack)
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Toilet roll
  • Lightweight towel or sarong (if you intend to swim)
  • Sunglasses
  • Deodrant (if you fancy it)

Safety:

  • Emergency blanket
  • First aid kit (tummy tablets, strapping tape, blister plasters, compression bandages, anti-inflammatories etc)
  • Map
  • Compass
  • Whistle
  • Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

Good to have:

  • Portable charger for phone/camera
  • Camera
  • Phone
  • GPS device

What to eat

What to eat on an overnight hike

My friend Ed cooking up a storm on the Great Ocean Walk.

Food glorious food. Keeping yourself sustained on the trail is super important. Although there are plenty of options for food, I’d recommend keeping it simple on your first few hikes. Another bit of advice? Take some treats. After all, you’re going to earn them.

Breakfast ideas:

  • Individual sachets of oats/porridge
  • Muesli with powdered milk/water
  • Handful of mixed nuts/seeds (you can just use the trail mix from the snacks section below)
  • Wrap with peanut butter

Lunch:

  • Wraps or pita bread
  • Sachets of salmon or tuna (not tins – they’re heavy, bulky, and messy to carry out)
  • Salad like avocado/tomatoes (just remember you’ll need to carry the rubbish back out) again. These are also pretty weighty so depends on how heavy you want to go
  • Cheese and salami also keeps well

Dinner:

  • Dehydrated meals like these ones from Backcountry (super lightweight)
  • Dried pasta sachets/couscous/risotto like those by Continental (much cheaper than the dehydrated meals)

Drinks:

  • Individual sachets of coffee/tea/hot chocolate (or portion into a small ziplock)

Snacks:

  • Cereal bars
  • Beef jerky
  • Dried mango/other fruit
  • Trail mix

Treats (or should these be necessities?):

  • Dark chocolate
  • Marshmallows
  • Sweets/lollies
  • Wine/rum/port/tipple of choice (decant into a small plastic bottle to save weight)

Where to go

First overnight hike

The Razorback hike to Federation Hut in Victorian Alps is an ideal first overnighter.

Choosing where to go on your first overnight is tricky. For me, it was the Tarawera Trail in New Zealand which turned out to be pretty damn near perfect for my first self-sufficient overnighter.

Here are a few tips to choosing right:

  • Be truthful with your level of fitness and don’t underestimate the weight of the pack, and the time needed to get used to it. I’ve done days of up to 25k with full pack but would recommend trying to find something around 10-15k for your first time
  • Find a circuit route if you can, they tend to be a lot more engaging and they save you having to do the same trail twice
  • Pick a destination that has a campsite to aim for (wild camping is great, but for the first time it’s probably best to start with something more structured)
  • Make sure you leave plenty of time. It’s better to have a few hours spare to relax at camp than have to rush to get there and set up

Some helpful ideas

How to do an overnight hike

Taking a break in Morton National Park

People out on the trail tend to be some of the friendliest people you’ll come across, and everyone always wants to share their handy advice and ideas.

Here’s a few I swear by which I have picked up along the way.

  • Use the stuff sack from your sleeping bag or roll mat as a pillow – simply fill with spare clothes or your down jacket
  • Use packing cubes to keep your kit organised
  • Use giant zip lock bags for rubbish (they’re waterproof and break less easily than normal carrier bags. You can wash them out at the end and re-use as well)
  • Download podcasts, audiobooks (or even Netflix if you’re feeling it) to keep you occupied in the evening – especially if rain means 12 hours in your tent)
  • Use a waterproof dry bag to line your pack – trust me, you do not want a wet sleeping bag or damp camp clothes
  • Always check your kit before you leave home – especially batteries, lighters and first aid
  • Take some gaffer tape – it has myriad uses from mending broken tent poles to stopping shoes from rubbing
  • Take sachets/a tiny shaker of salt – good for dinner, and getting rid of leeches
  • Make sure you use the waist belt of your backpack, as this helps to take the pressure off your shoulders

Leave no trace

Leave no trace

We picked all of this up in one hike – from people who ignore the Leave No Trace rules – don’t be one of them!

The great outdoors is exactly that – great. Which is why we all have the responsibility to protect it and keep it that way. The leave no trace rules consist of seven principles that you should follow at all times. But the main thing to remember is: if you pack it in, you pack it out.

  • Plan ahead and prepare                                   
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces           
  • Dispose of waste properly                                                                 
  • Leave what you find                                      
  • Minimise campfire impacts (in fact, in Australia there are often Total Fire Bans – so check first before you start one!) 
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of other visitors

Safety

You’ll feel a lot more comfortable (and so will your family and friends) if you make sure that safety always comes first.

  • Leave your trip intentions with someone – let them know where you’re going, your planned route, and expected time home
  • Let them know who to contact if they don’t hear from you at that time
  • ALWAYS carry a first aid kit – and make sure you know how to use it
  • Be aware of the risks and how to deal with them (snakes, spiders, ticks, heat etc)
  • Buy or hire a PLB
  • Listen to the weather – if it’s too hot, too windy, too poor visibility – don’t go, or turn back if it gets dangerous

Be positive

Tasmania overland track

Be positive – it’s worth it in the end!

The most important thing when tackling your first overnighter is to remain positive. I guarantee you that something will go wrong. Embrace it!

On my first hike, I got bitten alive by sandflies, carried too much, caught my hair in my tent, and my campsite got hijacked by 50 teenagers. Keep calm, keep positive, and enjoy the experience.

If you get tired. Take a break. If you get hungry. Stop and eat. If you’re thirsty. Have a break and drink something.

It’s not a race and it’s so important to enjoy every step.

Do you have any other questions about overnight hiking? Let me know in the comments below or reach out on Facebook or Instagram.  

*This post includes a few affiliate links to gear that I trust and highly recommend. It means that if you buy anything then Give in to Adventure gets a small percentage of the sale. I have loads of exciting content planned so thank you for your support!

 

The ultimate guide to your first overnight hike