Spoiler alert: You’re going to disagree with the next sentence. Stop worrying about the destination of your next backpacking trip. Backpackers spend a lot of time and energy contemplating the perfect destination for a few nights in the woods, but it doesn’t matter where you go. If you want to attain backpacking perfection, you’ll think more about who you go backpacking with and what you take with you. That’s right, the perfect backpacking trip isn’t so much about the destination as it is about the company and accoutrements involved in the trip. Sure, spending a few nights in a landscape as dramatic as Linville Gorge or Dolly Sods adds a certain cache` to the adventure, but the nuts and bolts of perfection lie in the often overlooked details. What you eat for breakfast. The personalities you bring with you. The distance of each daily hike. These “minor” details are what separates a truly great backpacking trip from a ho-hum jaunt in the woods.

The way I see it, a perfect backpacking trip can be broken down like a recipe for a fine meal. The destination is just one of many ingredients. Here’s my recipe for backpacking perfection.

3 Participants

You need an odd number of backpackers so allegiances can be formed and decisions can be put to a vote in case of dramatic circumstances. This is key. You have to have a tie-breaker vote in case you come to a fork in the trail with no obvious direction to take, or if you’ve found a batch of mushrooms and you’re feeling curious, but uncertain. Majority rules.

Ideally, the three participants will fall into one of the following personality types: Smug backpacker with way too much experience in the woods. One person needs to know how to do everything. His role is to tell you you’re setting up your tent wrong, starting the fire wrong, carrying your backpack wrong. Always. Novice backpacker. One person should know absolutely nothing. His job is to ask thought-provoking questions like, “Why are we hanging these bags in a tree?” You should lend him your most outdated, heaviest equipment, then chuckle as he complains about his sore back and leaky tent. Easy going guy: This person should refuse to make any decisions whatsoever. Ultimately, he contributes nothing to the trip other than occupying that key third vote when the shit hits the fan.

Allegiances should be formed on the shuttle ride to the trailhead. Ultimately, a backpacking trip should be a Survivor-like scenario where you discover who your true friends are, and who you wouldn’t lend your car to.

3 Pounds of beef jerky and 2 quarts of trail mix per person 

Remove the nuts and raisins from the trail mix so you’re left with a bunch of salty M&M’s. It’s important not to eat anything that you’d normally eat in civilization. It’s okay to plan to cook extravagant meals each night, but don’t actually follow through with your plans. Only consume food you can shove in your pocket and eat with your fingers.

2 Flasks of whiskey

The cheaper the better. And it has to be whiskey. And only two flasks. One for each night to be shared by the whole group. You only want three or four sips each. This is a backpacking trip, not a frat party.

1 Dangerously large fire

Obviously, you should follow Leave No Trace guidelines and only use the small fire rings at established campsites. But a liberal interpretation of Leave No Trace will reveal that these hippies say practically nothing about the height of the fire. So it’s in your best interest to build a Burning Man-esque tower of flame that can be seen by overhead commercial flights at 30,000 feet. It should burn so hot it will entice bears to come out of hibernation.

1 Musical instrument you don’t know how to play

Campsite entertainment is often overlooked. A person playing a guitar or harmonica poorly can offer hours of entertainment for the other two members of the group. See allegiances, above.

1 Great work of literature

Plan to use this time in the woods to catch up on your reading. Stuff the book in the bottom of your pack, then take it out every night with the intention of reading a chapter or two, but instead spend your time quoting lines from classic films such as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

1 Day time diversion

You might get tired and/or bored if all you do each day is hike from one campsite to the next. A lot of people bring fly rods to help fill the hours between campfires. It’s a fine diversion. So are lawn darts, naps (see great work of literature, above), and chinese throwing stars.

1 Insanely opulent item

This item should be so decadent, so out of place in the woods, that your two other backpacking compadres make fun of you incessantly throughout the day for bringing it, then ask to borrow it once camp is set up and they have nothing better to do with their time. A battery operated blender and some daquiri mix works here.

Take all these ingredients and combine them for 2 nights in the woods. Remember, the destination is of no consequence, but the amount of time you spend in the woods is very important. Two nights is the recommended cooking time. You want to come out of the woods looking rugged, not haggard. Aim for 5 miles of hiking each day. You want enough distance so you feel like you’ve accomplished something, but not so much that you have to worry about the hours of daylight ahead of you. The last thing you want to do on a backpacking trip is to have to get up early and hurry through your breakfast of beef jerky and M&M’s.

For the perfect soundtrack to your next trip, visit Trailmix!