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Navigation (map and compass)
A map and compass, along with the ability to use them, are essential for any trip that is more than a short, impossible to get lost on trail. If the trail you are hiking on isn’t traveled frequently or there is a chance you may be traveling off trail a bit (through snow, boulder fields, rock scrambles, etc.) it’s a good idea to pack along a map and compass, no matter how short the trail is.
Even if you frequently use a GPS unit for your way finding, you should still pack along a map and compass. Electronics can fail and batteries can die, especially in the cold. A map and compass will never fail you and are so lightweight, you’d be silly not to carry them.
Pro Tip: Take a photocopy of only the portion of the map you need and keep it in a zip lock bag. This way you don’t have to carry, and fold, a larger map and its waterproof!
Here are some great videos on how to use a compass and read topographical maps:
Top Picks for Compasses:
Headlamps are a great, lightweight, choice for your illumination needs in the backcountry. They are small, compact, and allow for hands free operation. Being that most headlamps run LED lights, they also have an extremely long battery life. That said, you should always have extra batteries.
Pro Tip: In colder weather, keep your headlamp around your neck or in your inner most pocket. This will help keep the batteries warmer and help them operate more efficiently.
Many headlamps offer a strobe option which can be useful in emergency situations. As useful as headlamps are, many of them don’t produce a strong beam light which can also be useful in emergency situations.
It is important to mention that all parties in your trip should have their own light source.
Top Picks for Headlamps:
Nutrition (extra food)
In addition to what ever snacks or food you bring on your hike, you will want to have at least an extra days worth of food with you. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. In fact, its best if it doesn’t have to be prepared at all. Dehydrated meals may be more filling, but they require fire, water, and preparation.
Smaller food with high calorie counts and long shelf life are much better options. This includes things like power bars, trail mix, drink powders, dry fruits, jerky, etc.
Pro Tip: Eating food helps warm your body. Eating right before sleep will help keep your digestive system working which in turn will help warm your core.
Top Picks for Trail Food:
Hydration (extra water)
For both simple day hikes and longer backpacking trips, you always have a minimum of 1 water bottle and a means to carry additional water, i.e. some sort of bladder, larger waiter bottle, or collapsable reservoir.
This of course is all dependent on where you will be hiking. Hotter locations and more strenuous hikes may require you to carry more water. When hiking in these conditions, be sure to plan accordingly. This includes mapping out any additional water sources that may be found along the trail.
You will also needs a means to treat and purify the water. The lightest option would be to simply carry iodine tablets or a simple water filter like the Sawyer Filter.
Top Picks for Hydration:
Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
Sun protection is more than just throwing a tube of sunscreen in your backpack and calling it a day. Sun protection can actually be broken down into three categories. These categories include: sun glasses, sun screen, and sun clothing.
When it comes to choosing sunglasses, you will want a pair that block out both UVA and UVB rays as much as possible. If you will be doing extended travel on snow or ice, you will need extra dark glacier style glasses.
For sunscreen, a waterproof SPF 30 that blocks both UVA and UVB should be fine. Just be sure to reapply regularly so the sunscreen can do its job.
It is also possible to by certain outdoor clothing that is designed to offer protection from ultra-violet rays. Look for mainly synthetic clothing that offers a ultraviolet protection factor. Quite often this sun protection clothing is lightweight so that you can comfortably wear it, even in hot weather.
Top Picks for Sun Protection:
Insulation (extra clothing)
No matter where you are, weather can turn bad on a dime. As a result, you will want to have extra clothing at the ready.
What extra clothing you pack depends on climate and season you will be hiking in. A good rule of thumb is to ask your self what you would need to survive in the worst possible conditions in your area.
Some staple clothing to keep handy includes a set of thermal tops and bottoms, down/fleece jacket, warm hat, and extra socks.
Top Picks for Insulation:
Honestly, there are so many great pre-made first aid kits on the market that there is no need to make your own. All you need to do is choose a first aid kit that is appropriate for your location and party size. The larger the group, the larger the first aid kit needs to be.
In these larger groups and can be worthwhile to still carry your own smaller first-aid kit should something happen and you get spirited from the group.
Pro Tip: If you first aid kit doesn’t include some common best practices for wilderness first aid, make sure to print some out, put them in a zip-lock bag, and include them in your first aid kit.
Top Picks for First Aid:
Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
Even for day hikes, you should never head out into the wilderness without a means to start a fire. Your basic lighter is fine to pack, but you will want to bring matches as well. Lighters can get wet, break, or just stop working.
Ideally your matches should be waterproof, or at the very least, kept inside a waterproof container. Avoid taking kitchen matches or your basic book of matches. These are often unreliable and don’t do well for more than lighting a cigarette.
Along with a means to produce flame, you will want something to help get the fire going. This includes things like dry tinder in a bag, priming paste, dryer lint, and anything else that can catch on fire easily and stay lit for a few minutes.
Pro Tip: Take a fireplace starter log and crumble up about a cups worth of the material that makes up the log. You can then use a tablespoon or so to help get your fire started.
Top Picks for Fire:
Repair kit and tools
At a minimum, you should be carrying a pocket knife and some duct tape. If you are going on a longer backpacking trip, you should consider bringing a tent and sleeping pad repair kit.
Its one thing to sleep on the ground for a day or two of your sleeping pad leaks. Its another thing entirely to be without a sleeping pad for two week long hike.
Pro Tip: Wrap strips of duct tape around various gear as a means to store for use later. Water bottles and trekking poles work great for this.
Top Picks for Repair Kits:
Even if you are day hiking, you should have some form of emergency shelter to protect you from wind, rain, and exposure. What constitutes as shelter depends on where you will be hiking. A light weight shelter can be as simple as an emergency blanket or pocket poncho. A more extreme emergency shelter may include an emergency bivvy or lightweight tarp.
Pro Tip: If you are going to be doing a lot of day hikes and backpacking, spend the money and buy an emergency divvy. They are small, light, and worth the weight if something goes wrong.
Top Pics for Emergency Shelters: