What should I pack for a hike? This is one of the best questions any hiker could ask. Everyone has a different opinion, and there are probably a million lists online about which items should be essential pack items. I don’t claim to have THE definitive answer to the question posed, but I do believe there are a few pack essentials that every hiker should carry, regardless if it’s a long or short hike. Obviously, the season, terrain, distance of the trail, etc. will cause you to adjust the contents of your pack to fit the hike. But, here is my list of essentials that I carry in my pack at ALL times, and you should have them in yours, too.
A good backpack.
This goes without saying. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive or newest model, but starting out with a good pack is a given. I use the Osprey Kestrel 28 most of the time. It’s a smaller, lighter pack, but it’s very durable and has tons of room. The Kestrel 28 is good for a day hike, but it’s sufficient for a three day hike. It comfortably carries all that’s shown in the pic, plus more. Some of the things I suggest looking for in a good, serviceable pack is:
– Correct size. You need to get a pack that can adjust to fit your body size and type. Most outfitters can help you with this, and there are Youtube videos to show you how to properly size a pack. This is important both for personal comfort and to be able to get all you need in it for the hike you’re undertaking.
– Well-made. A durable pack will pay for itself over and over again. The last thing you want is a backpack strap breaking while you’re miles from anywhere, or a zipper breaking so you can’t zip up and protect your gear. Again, it doesn’t have to be the most expensive pack. But it does need to be durable and well-made. Read pack reviews online, or ask a seasoned hiker for his/her recommendations before making your choice. Then you’ll most likely make the right choice.
– Waterproof/resistant. Most good packs come with a rain cover included. Some backpacks are made of waterproof material. This is important if you get caught in a storm and need to keep your supplies dry. Or, you might fall into a stream. Some hikers treat their packs with a water-resistant spray. I know I was once caught coming down Mt. LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains when a sudden massive rainstorm blew in. I had a relatively cheap backpack that was not waterproof/resistant, and everything I had in it got soaked. Plus it made the pack heavier, which wasn’t fun, either.
A first-aid kit.
I carry a simple, small kit that’s in a hard case. The inside contents are in a zip-lock bag also to keep everything dry. Some of the things I have in my basic first-aid kit are: band-aids, burn/rash cream, gauze, Advil, iodine, alcohol wipes, and a needle/thread.
I have a wilderness knife and a multi-purpose knife. Both are relatively small. The wilderness knife is a Gerber, and its tang (handle) is wrapped in nylon paracord in case I need more rope. It can also be mounted to a stick and used as a spear. I also have a Victorinox “Swiss Army knife” multi-tool that I like to keep with me at all times on a hike. It stays in my pack, while the larger wilderness knife normally stays on my hip. Keep your blades sharp.
A small, waterproof flashlight is what I carry. I also have a small LED flashlight. If I knew for certain I’d be hiking at night, I’d take along a headlamp.
I pack a small ziplock bag containing toilet paper, lotion, wet wipes, waterproof matches, tinder, water purifying tablets, lighter, a couple of extra zip-lock bags, and an emergency blanket. Plus, I include an extra, cheapie poncho.
I have a waterproof poncho that packs into itself and becomes a pillow or floatation device. You should always have some type of rain gear, even when the weather forecast is clear. If you’re hiking at higher elevations, storms can form quickly. The last thing you want is to be drenched with miles to go.
It’s good to have extra rope in case you need to string up your pack, build a shelter, splint a broken bone, etc. I’ll carry about 4 feet of utility rope in my pack at all times.
I get laughed at about this. I never go on a hike without some kind of durable duct tape or packaging tape in my backpack. It’s amazing how it’ll repair gear, dress wounds, or help hold together a shelter in a pinch. I once saw a guy on the trail whose boot sole had ripped off, and he had secured it back on with duct tape!
This is another one I get laughed at. But, have you ever tried to complete a hike with wet socks? Blister city. Very uncomfortable. Walking in wet socks will blister your feet and incapacitate you, and I’m not carrying you out. I always keep a durable pair of Columbia weatherproof socks in my pack just in case. You should, too.
Extra water + food.
I don’t use a pack bladder because I don’t like the bulge it creates in my back. If you do, that’s fine. I carry an extra water bottle. My bottle is sturdy enough that water can be boiled or food can be heated in it if need be. You can never have too much water on a hike. And having a way to boil water if needed is an added bonus. I also keep a couple of calorie dense protein bars in my pack. I like the ProBar peanut butter and chocolate bars.
I realize many people don’t know how to read a compass and map, but it’s definitely something a hiker will want to learn to do before he or she begins longer, more challenging hikes. Knowing how to use a map and compass is a non-negotiable. Even if I’m going on a short hike, I will at least carry a photocopy of the trail route (in a ziplock bag) and a copy downloaded on my phone. My compass is built into a nifty bear whistle. That way I can scare off a bear, signal for help, or find my way out. I like items that serve more than one purpose.
This is a given. Have a charged phone with you. Granted, I’m usually somewhere with no signal, but even if I can’t make a call, my cellphone has a compass, extra copy of a map downloaded, and a homing device. The screen can also be used as a signal or a mirror to start a fire.
So, that was my non-exhaustive list of backpack packing essentials. Again, this is not a be-all/end-all list. But, in my experience, I won’t hike without them. I know some people might laugh and say it’s just a day hike, but too many day hikes have turned into cold nights alone in the wilderness when a hiker took a wrong turn or broke an ankle. You never know what the wilderness will throw at you. We must always remember that any time we’re in nature, we’re at a disadvantage. It’s best to try and even the odds as much as we can. I think you’d be surprised at how light these items turn out to be also. I can get them all in my backpack with room for extra clothes, hammock, etc.
What are some things you might add or subtract to your essential backpack gear?
Let me know. See you on the trail!