Hitting the great outdoors, regardless of the season, can be an exhilarating vacation. But the sheer complexity of gear can leave you stumped -- and your suitcase overflowing. Your main concern will be staying dry and warm while keeping the amount of stuff to a minimum, especially if you're the one hauling it.
Overall Plan: If you're spending a significant amount of time outdoors, layers that fold up easily are key. Camping enthusiasts will want a backpack, preferably one that's ultra-light with an internal frame. But even if you just buy a daypack, make sure that you load it and road test before you go. What seems light at home will seem five times as heavy after you've been carrying it for eight hours.
What's Essential? While blue jeans may seem like the ultimate outdoor outfit, they can get wet and heavy. It's better to get pants that are water- or wind-proof, or can be converted into shorts. A pair of tights or long underwear add an extra layer. Look for T-shirts, long-sleeved shirts and hoodies in breathable, synthetic fabric that absorb sweat better than cotton. You'll want to pack an emergency poncho or some other form of rain gear to protect from sudden storms.
Your footwear will depend on what kind of activities you are doing. Lightweight hiking shoes or boots can handle many conditions, but you might need something sturdier for rockier trails. Kayaking or rafting trips could demand durable water shoes. Scarves, gloves and hats can make a big difference in comfort at higher altitudes, even in the summer. Insect repellent to prevent bites -- and anti-itch cream to soothe them -- are must-haves.
Secret Weapon: Pack multiple pairs of non-cotton hiking socks to keep your feet dry. Adhesive bandages and moleskin can go a long way toward keeping blisters from ruining your hike (make sure you expose them to the open air during the night). Bring some Neosporin to prevent infection.
Safety First: When you're heading into the back country, bring a whistle for bears or other unsavory creatures, especially if you're a woman traveling alone. Dehydration can be a problem on the trail; bring a reusable water bottle and refill it often. (You may need a water purification method to make sure your water is fit to drink; see Drinking Water Safety for specifics.) Bring a flashlight or headlamp for night hikes, along with plenty of batteries. And be sure to check in with rangers if you're going to a remote area.
Leave at Home: It goes without saying that this is one trip where you won't need heels or dress shoes. No one on the trail cares what you look like. And while I'm a big fan of using an e-reader to save space in your luggage, I wouldn't lug a Kindle, iPad or laptop into the wilderness. You should be unplugging anyway, right?
--written by Chris Gray Faust