So you are ready to go backpacking and you’re starting to gear up. Whether you’re a complete novice or an accomplished backpacker, the gear you choose will make the difference between having a wonderful experience and one you’d rather not repeat. So, if you’re going on a backpacking trip, what things are absolute musts to carry with you?
Consider the Backpacking Essentials First
Where you are backpacking and how long you plan to trek are certainly factors to consider when planning, but there are a few things every hiker should always have on hand. The basics include:
A source of water.
Water bottles are generally sufficient for a shorter hike but, if you’re planning on a longer trip, a filter or treatment system is also a must-have. Most hikes go rather smoothly, but others end up with hikers staying out longer than planned, so always assume problems may occur and you’ll need a source of drinking water.
Some Awesome Water Filters
The Sawyer Mini Water Filter – Light, compact, and SUPER simple to use and clean, the Sawyer “Mini” is a no-brainer. This amazing filter can also attach right to your water bottle, or be attached in-line to your hydration pack. It’s versatile and weighs close to nothing.
The MSR Hyperflow Water Filter – The hyperflow is also one of our favorites because of it’s simplicity as well. It also performs ridiculously fast, has a “Nalgene”/standard reservoir attachment, and a sediment filter to prevent clogging. It’s a bigger price tag than the “Mini” but the convenience, packability, and efficiency of the Hyperflow are hard to beat.
While you should definitely plan enough meals for your trip carefully with lightweight, packable ingredients. But ALWAYS bring an extra meal or two and snacks, just in case you have to stay out longer than expected or get hungrier than you may have thought.
Hikers can, and do, get lost even when using well-marked trail systems. Always carry a map and compass as basics. GPS systems are even better, but it’s important to use one that’s proven to be accurate and up to date.
Handheld GPS Device we recommend:
Garmin GPSMAP 64st– The Garmin GPSMAP is a beast when it comes to features and performance. It also comes preloaded with US OR Canada Maps, with other country maps available from Garmin.
Basic survival tools and fire-starting equipment.
Some type of first aid kit and fire-starting devices are must-haves for any hike. Multi-tools should always be automatics on any type of hike, as they have a wide variety of uses. You should also consider waterproof matches or waterproof lighter to ensure the ability to start a fire in any conditions.
Any first aid kit should include treatments for blisters, adhesive bandages of various sizes, several gauze pads, adhesive tape, disinfecting ointment, over-the-counter pain medication, pen and paper.
Adventure Medical Kits – Weekender First Aid Kit – This is the perfect size to manage injury and ailments for 1-6 people on short trips of up to a week.
Adventure Medical Kits – Ultralight .7 First Aid Kit – For a lighter version, you can’t go wrong with AMK’s Ultralight .7 FA Kit. I’ve been using this for solo and two-person trip for years. While not as well organized as the weekender (above) it has everything you should need to apply immediate first aid in the backcountry.
While daytime temperatures may be higher, be prepared for enduring colder weather if you are stranded and must deal with significantly lower night temperatures.
Conditions can abruptly turn wet, windy or chilly in the backcountry, so it’s smart to carry an additional layer of clothing in case something unexpected happens.
The authors of Mountaineering suggest this strategy: “Extra clothing should be selected according to the season. Ask this question: What is needed to survive the worst conditions that could be realistically encountered on this trip?”
Common options include a layer of long underwear or base layer (tops and bottoms), an insulating hat, extra socks and a synthetic jacket or vest.
Carry some type of emergency shelter.
Even a shorter day hike can be interrupted by a sudden storm. Having some type of tarp or other shelter is important for staying dry and warm.
There are other items that might be on a more localized list of must-haves, so pay attention to the advice of other hikers who are familiar with the area.
Protect yourself from sun and bugs.
Sunglasses, sunscreen, sun-protective clothing, and bug spray are crucial protective devices. Bring them with you every time.
Light your way.
Headlamps are the chosen source of illumination when backpacking because they provide hands-free operation. They also have a long battery life, offering ample amounts of light for little energy use.
Flashlights and packable lanterns also have value. Some flashlights cast very powerful beams and are useful for signaling during emergencies.
Always carry spare batteries. Every member of a backcountry party should carry his or her own light.
The Black Diamond Spot Headlamp – We love the Spot because of it’s versatility. It sports a dimmable lantern light with an emergency strobe capability as well as red light function to help your eyes see easier at night. I’ve had two spots in 18 years, and I only had to get a new one because I lost the old one.
Pay Close Attention to Footwear.
Experienced hikers frequently come across hikers who are not wearing footwear that’s appropriate for the terrain. While it may be possible to complete a short hike wearing athletic shoes designed for running, those shoes don’t provide the support and protection a proper pair of hiking boots offers. If you’re unsure of the type of footwear needed for a specific type of terrain, err on the side of caution and ask for advice from a hiking shoe or boot expert.
Don’t Forget to Have Fun
Hikes should be enjoyable, so take steps to ensure every trip is fun. Use guidebooks, cameras, and binoculars to take advantage of the scenery. While cell phone cameras are adequate for most hikers, helmet cameras and higher-end cameras may be necessities for more serious photography goals. While no one can control the weather, try to plan hikes during times when area weather patterns tend to be milder.
Check Twice, Pack Once.
Finally, double-check everything before you leave to make sure no essentials are left behind. Things like sunscreen or insect repellent are easy to forget but are essential for most hikes. Make sure everyone in your party has any medications or other specific needs covered before starting that special hike.