Don't Feed the Animals Bears inhabit more than 40 states in the U.S. In bear country, keep food out of your tent. Some parks require that hikers use bear-resistant food canisters or lockers. For a list of approved containers, go to sierrawildbear.gov. Respect wildlife of all sizes by keeping your distance.
Sleep Warm Even in the desert, nighttime temperatures can fall below freezing. Carry the warmest sleeping bag you need to be comfortable. On chilly nights, wear your dry raingear, hat and gloves with your pajamas.
Clean Up Pack out all your trash (including toilet paper and hygiene products).
Gearing UpHere's what you'll need for an overnight camping trip. For good quality, durable equipment, check your local outdoor retailer or try one of these online resources: rei.com, ems.com or campmor.com. If you can't spring for all new gear, try wildyx.com, gearx.com or wildernessexchange.com for closeouts and used gear.
The most comfortable packs have internal frames and are women-specific with narrower shoulders, contoured hip belts and extra foam padding. Look for one that's light, yet beefy enough to carry all your gear comfortably, like the Granite Gear Vapor Ki (granitegear.com), Kelty Locus 40-W (kelty.com) or the Osprey Ariel series (ospreypacks.com). Buy a waterproof cover in case of rain.
There are two basic types: single- or double-wall. Single-wall tents are generally lighter, but condensation can accumulate on the inside. Heavier double-wall tents have two layers: a nylon net tent body covered by a separate, water-resistant, rain fly. To protect the bottom of your tent from abrasion, cut a piece of heavy-duty plastic to match the dimensions or buy a footprint. For a lightweight tent, check out the Lunar Duo at sixmoondesigns.com or the Velox 2 at sierradesigns.com.
Women-specific bags are narrower in the shoulders and have extra fill overall, especially in the foot area. Before buying, crawl inside the bag to see if it's roomy enough for stretching out and turning over. Many stores including Feathered Friends (featheredfriends.com), EMS and REI carry a selection of women-specific bags. Especially kind to the planet, Sierra Design's D?j? Vu uses 90 percent recycled materials.
The key to a good night's sleep is an insulating mattress between you and the ground. Closed-cell foam pads are light and versatile, but lack cushioning. Inflatable mattresses, which are heavier and can puncture, will better protect your body from protruding rocks and roots.
The lightest camp stoves are made from aluminum soda cans or commercial equivalents, burn denatured alcohol for fuel and have almost no parts that can malfunction. Gas stoves burn longer and allow you to adjust the flame for simmering. For a conventional gas stove, try msrgear.com; for a lightweight alcohol stove, try REI.
Flexible water reservoirs that slide into your pack and are siphoned by a straw-like tube allow you to drink continually while hiking with a pack. Wide-mouthed, 1-liter bottles work best for transporting water. Carry one of each.
Mary Lou Recor is a freelance writer in Colchester, Vermont. She has through-hiked the Long Trail, the Appalachian Trail and over 2,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.