Backpacking, regardless of where you go, requires some gear that is truly necessary. Of course, there are the 10 essentials that every hiker/backpacker should have. If you don’t know about this list of essentials, then check it out immediately, and make sure you have those items the next time you’re out on the trail.
But what else should you bring? And, perhaps more importantly, what shouldn’t you bring?
What to pack:
- Wool/wicking clothes — Always bring two pairs of wool or synthetic wicking clothing. That means two pairs of wool socks, two pairs of wicking shirts, two pairs of quick dry pants, etc. When you’re packing clothes, you want to make sure that they’re quick drying, a wicking material, or that it will keep you warm when it’s wet (like wool). Wet clothes are uncomfortable and frustrating, but on the trail, with the threat of hypothermia, they can be deadly.
- A bear bag— This item has the potential to be overlooked. You don’t put it on your
body, nor is it used to protect your person, so when you’re excitedly packing for that week-long backpacking trip you could easily forget it. To avoid this potentially hazardous mistake, simply keep this bag in your backpack at all times. A bear bag will help to prevent a loss of food items, which are necessary on the trail, and it could help save your life.
- Trekking Poles — Some may argue that this item isn’t “necessary.” It may not be technically necessary, but it is extremely helpful on those high-mileage days. Trekking poles not only help you keep your balance, but more importantly, they preserve joints, increase endurance, reduce swelling, and distribute weight.
- A sleeping pad— Many times sleeping bags are next to useless without their
companion, the sleeping pad. Because it just sits on the ground, hikers may not think about it helping maintain heat at night. However, even in the middle of summer the ground can get cold, and it’s necessary to keep something in between you and the ground. A sleeping bag just won’t cut it.
- A wallet — Wait, what? I know this isn’t the most conventional backpacking item, but it is, nevertheless, extremely important. Emergencies arise when you least expect them. They’re pretty good at that. You may be able to handle certain emergencies on the trail, but it’s a good idea to keep an ID, an insurance card, and a little bit of money on hand just in case.
You get all of that in your pack? Ok, now get ready to take a few things out.
What NOT to pack:
- Extra clothes — If you listened to my first tip about what to bring, then you shouldn’t need to bring an excessive amount of clothes. Two pairs of everything should suit you just fine. Extra clothes take up a large amount of precious space, and they add weight that could be redistributed to food or water. Don’t worry, you’re out in the woods with other gross, smelly people–no one will judge you. Plus, if you bring wicking gear, you can wash it and it will dry quickly overnight.
- Cotton — I can’t stress this enough: cotton could just be the death of you when
you’re out on the trail. I know that sounds melodramatic, but it’s not: there’s a reason that longtime backpackers cling to the saying, “Cotton Kills”. Once this material gets wet, be it through sweat or rain, it will take a very long time to dry. Not only will it take a long time to dry, but it will sap all of the warmth out of you while you’re wearing it. Unlike wool, which keeps you warm when it’s wet, cotton does not. Spend the extra couple bucks and buy some nice wicking gear–it will be the best thing you purchase for yourself.
- Random food — I once had a guy (who was just beginning his thru-hike on the AT) tell me that he was carrying a whole jar of peanut butter in his pack. Don’t do this, guys. It takes a little bit more preparation, but when you plan your meals out ahead of time you save yourself a lot of extra weight in your pack. If you’re a peanut butter junkie and are still convinced that you need the whole jar, pack it in a zip-lock bag. You get all the peanut-butter with a lot less weight.
Pack smart and pack light. It will make for a much more enjoyable hike, and a much happier hiker!
Your Turn: What is one thing that you always take with you on the trail, and what’s one thing that you think other people should leave at home?