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Backpacking and Hiking for the Prepared Boy Scout

Packing List Guide   Food Ideas   Stoves   Water Safety   Additional Resources  

More than perhaps any other outdoor activity, backpacking rewards the efficient packer and punishes the over-packer. After all, you will have to live with and carry every decision you make. This list is focused on a three-season, three to five day outing, but when packing always plan against the highest high and the lowest low temperatures you'll encounter. It'll protect you from spending a miserably cold night out in the woods, give you a bit more of that oh-so-precious pack space, and save your back.

It's also good to compartmentalize when packing by putting similar items in individual bags. Keeping all your food in one place will save your from leaving an errant energy bar behind when prepping your bear bag (to say nothing of preventing a bear mauling), and putting things like flashlights, matches, and your multi-tool together will help you quickly locate what you need. Also, let things do double duty. For example, a sleeping bag stuff sack or tent sack can make the perfect bear bag.


Packing List

Basic Items

Food and Drink



Optional Items



This really could be a whole web site, but basically there are several popular options.  I'll list them below and a little about each one.  Here's @MyOutdoorLife YouTuber that explains and reviews the main styles.

In general, if you are new to backpacking, I'd suggest a canister style stove.

Canister (best for most)

Quick and easy, these include the popular Jetboil, MSR PocketRocket, MSR Windburner, and hundreds of low price "knock-off" brands.  It's basically a small stove that screws on to a canister of isobutane or propane gas.

PROS - Works well and easy to use.  Canisters of gas are usually easy to find at large box stores and outdoor stores.  Usually fast to boil water. Cheap and easy to find online versions.  JetBoil and MSR Windburner are heavier but optimized for quick and efficient water boiling.

CONS - Can be slow or hard to light in very cold weather, and require you to carry a metal canister after the gas is used up.  Can be heavier.

Alcohol (cheap but tricky)

Small, lightweight canisters that burn denatured alcohol, Yellow or Red HEET, or Isopropyl Alcohol (91% - 99%).  Many hikers make their own based on cola cans, cat food containers, and small light material.  A Google search will provide hundreds of ideas.

PROS - Super lightweight stove, easy to make, and SUPER cheap.  Fuel can be found almost anywhere, including big retail stores, outdoor stores, hardware stores, gas stations and near trails.  Most burn very clean and are super quiet.

CONS - Must carry fuel, and a lot of it.  Slow to boil water, and very susceptible to wind (must have a windscreen).  Not allowed in some areas, especially during dry seasons.


White Gas (old school)

A traditional backpacking stove, but not as common today.  This requires a separate fuel tank and stove, usually linked by a fuel hose.

PROS - Works in all climates, tried and true.  Can find fuel most anywhere.

CONS - Larger, more mess, a little more hazardous especially on start up.

Wood (nifty but a pain when wet)

Small metal drums that use wood as the fuel, usually with an inner ring that allows for reburning the hot gasses.  The concept is great, just use the "fuel" that's all around you… sticks and small dry tree limbs.

PROS - Lightweight, never have to carry fuel, stove is very minimal, works in many conditions.

CONS - Not great in wet areas or areas lacking trees.  Also covers all pots with black tar just like an open fire would.  Can't turn on and off as needed, must usually pour in fuel, and run until fuel is gone out of stove.

Tablets (solid and lost)

This is a hexamine fuel (solid fuel) in tablet form that can easily boil water in a pot using something like the Esbit Pocket Stove.  This is one of the nicest stoves but not as popular.  The fuel can be harder to find now, but can be mailed in the US without restrictions.

PROS - Tablets burn smokeless, have a high energy density, do not liquefy while burning and leave no ashes.  Much safer in a dry environment.

CONS - Harder to find tablets locally.  Slower to boil water than canister style stoves.




Food Ideas





Additional Items



Water Safety

Safe drinking water is vital, but boiling water for every drink is not feasible.  Here are the most common methods to purify water on the trail.  The CDC (if you trust them) has an excellent Water Treatment While Kiking, Camping, and Traveling PDF that compares the various methods to purify water.

These are ranked from my top to least choice.

  1. Sawyer Mini Filter is my FAVORITE method.  It's cheap (about $20), light, small and filters up to 1,000 gallons.  These will work with other popular backpacking items and comes with everything a backpacking person needs to start out.  I replace every few trips, even if I don't get to 1,000 galons.
  2. Runner up is the LifeStraw, much like the Sawyer but larger and sometimes cheaper; however, you many times need to use other items to add to it.
  3. Bleach - Just a  few drops per quart or liter of water, I have used this on numerious trips where I know the water will be fairly clear.  The EPA have a great Emergency Disinfection of Drinking Water page outlining the use of bleach.  DO NOT use bleach with 
    Volume of Water Amount of 6% Bleach to Add* Amount of 8.25% Bleach to Add*
    1 quart/liter 2 drops 2 drops
    1 gallon 8 drops 6 drops
    2 gallons 16 drops (1/4 tsp) 12 drops (1/8 teaspoon)
    4 gallons 1/3 teaspoon 1/4 teaspoon
    8 gallons 2/3 teaspoon 1/2 teaspoon

    *Bleach may contain 6 or 8.25% sodium hypochlorite.

  4. Water disinfection tablets - Like "Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets" are OK, but the time having to carry enough tablets makes this my last pick

  5. Iodine - I have not used this, but seems like a good idea in some settings.  I don't have much to share since I have not investigated this further... but it is an option.


Additional Resources

YouTube Channels

Suggestion: Search for backpacking, but compare what several people say.  In general there is great content, but I'd favor those that go on the trail and do it, over those that are just showcasing "stuff" in their showroom or office.  The following links are people that live what they talk about.

Search things like: ultralight backpacking, backpacking food, youth backpack.  Don't be trapped by "click bait" videos.  In general, stay away from the "Five things to Never Use" or "Top Ten Backpacking Gear" videos unless the author also has other videos on the subject.  Here are a few YouTubers I like watching and I think they have good insight:


General (not scout specific) Websites




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