Backpacking Essentials

You’ve made the big commitment and will be embarking on your first multi-day backpacking adventure. You took care of the hardest step, deciding to go, now it is time to get your backpacking essentials in order. You may have a closet full of gear, but are lacking an understanding on the basics of backpacking—what is crucial to bring and what can be left behind.You’ve come to the right place as I cover eleven backpacking essentials to help make your extended trip into the wild an enjoyable and memorable experience that doesn’t weigh you down. Although you may not use all the essentials every day, they can be life savers in the case of an emergency.

1. Flashlight and Headlamp

Flashlights and headlamps are an essential even on day hikes. You never know when you might need to unexpectedly spend the night or have to finish that last mile in the dark. Ensure your headlamp is water resistant and functions reliably in all weather.

Look for rubberized bulb housing and battery compartments to store an extra set of batteries.In addition to a headlamp, bring a small lightweight hand-held light. Make sure your hand held light uses a regular bulb which requires less energy than bright-beam bulbs.

2. First-Aid Kit

Bring a first-aid kit for minor injuries. Perhaps the most important first-aid supply to keep on hand is plenty of adhesive band-aids and antiseptic wipes as these aren’t easy to make in the wild. There are several options for purchasing kits or you can make one on your own.

If you do purchase a kit, you will likely need to add items such as rubber gloves and a CPR mask since most commercially prepared kits are inadequate. Mountaineering first aid courses are also available to better prepare for your time in the backcountry.

3. Backpacking Knives

A good example of an ideal knife to take backpacking would be a Swiss Army Knife. This contains all the functionality and features necessary for all kinds of circumstances—it can even be used to open cans. A Swiss Army Knife is also lightweight, lessening your pack load. Some come with more and less features, however one that comes with a blade, pliers, can opener, and tweezers should suffice.

Keep in mind knives are useful for first aid purposes, food preparation, cutting rope, and making repairs. Assess your needs before you purchase something ridiculously large — some can weigh up to a 1/2 pound. If you don’t see yourself using a feature, it probably isn’t necessary to carry around.

4. Waterproof Matches

Carry matches which are waterproof and wind proof, or you can also carry extra strike-anywhere matches in a waterproof container. These are to be used in emergency situations.Some waterproof/windproof match options available include: “Hurricane” and “Cyclone” brands and Coghlan’s waterproof safety matches.

5. Water/Water Filter/Bottles

Carry plenty of fresh water with you. If you will be backpacking to an area where you are certain other water sources are available, carry enough water to get you there. If you will be drawing water from the backcountry, be sure to treat the water no matter what.

The last thing you’d want to experience is feeling sick for the entirety of your journey.Use a water filtration system, chemical tablets, or UV light. Use lightweight water bottles to transport inside your pack, such as Nalgene 16 oz and 32 oz lean polycarbonate or high-density polyethylene wide-mouth bottles.

6. Insect Repellant

Here’s a secret about me, I absolutely can not stand bugs buzzing in my ear and around my face while I’m hiking. Luckily, there are ways to eliminate these pesky insects. There are many different commercial repellents available. Most of them are DEET based. There are also many good creams but they need to be reapplied frequently. There are extended-duration DEET products averrable which do not soak into skin as fast and provide up to 12 hours of protection.

7. Map

Always carry a detailed map of the area you will be backpacking. More importantly, you must know how to use this map. Ensure your map stays safe with a protective case. Carrying a compass is also a backpacking essential—and more importantly, knowing how to use it! Tip: Look for a compass filled with liquid, which protects the magnetic needle and its jeweled bearing while minimizing fluctuation.

8. Food

Along with water, your body needs food for fuel. Whenever you go backpacking, or even out for a day hike, bring extra food in case you are delayed by emergencies, poor weather, or get lost. Expert mountaineers recommend a one-day supply of extra food. The food should be easy to prepare and require little or no cooking. If your extra food does require cooking, make sure you also carry extra fuel for your stove.

9. Firestarter

Fire starters come in handy for quickly starting a fire, especially in emergency situations. They are also useful for igniting wet wood. There are a number of commercial fire starters available including magnesium blocks with striking flint, chemically-treated fire sticks, and others. Home-made fire starters are also an option if you want to get crafty: small strips of waxed cardboard, small flammable containers, or compressed balls of dryer lint mixed with or covered with melted paraffin.

10. Whistle

Having a whistle on hand in the backcountry is needed for emergencies: when you’re lost, you’ve lost someone in your part, or you’re injured and need help. Depending on the conditions you will be hiking in, metal whistles with a pea can be problematic. Your “pea” can freeze up, and wrapping your lips around frozen metal is never a good idea.A better option would be a pea-less plastic whistle, sold by outdoor goods stores like REI.

11. Clothing

Aside from the basic clothing you’d normally wear during your trek, bring extra clothing which would get you through any unexpected conditions you might face. Extra clothing means a little beyond what you would normally carry, don’t go stuffing your entire backpack with sweaters. Instead, pack extra insulated wool socks, insulated unswear, thinsulate mittens, and light rain gear.Additionally, carry an emergency shelter such as a waterproofed tube tent or Mylar Space Bag. The Space Bag all keep you warm and drive and only weighs about 2.5 ounces.