The following is a post from our September Featured Guest Blogger, Dani Olds!
Wilderness backpacking is a daunting thing to try for the first time. Among other nerve-wracking elements, there is little room for error in one’s backpack. Not enough food? You’re hungry. Too much stuff? Your back hurts. Forgot your headlamp? Better be in bed before sunset!
There are few situations in which you will find yourself as vulnerable as in the middle of the forest with no quick escape, but the freedom and adventure of trekking are certainly worth the challenge. And the best part? It’s not as hard as you think! If you pack well and develop a couple key basic skills, backpacking can be as simple as regular camping.
I’ve compiled a list of things that I find in my backpack time and again:
1) Water filter. I have a Platypus water filter that is the most wonderfully efficient little tool I’ve ever purchased for backpacking. You simply scoop water into the “top” bag, hang, and let gravity do the work for you! No pumping, chlorinating, or hand-filtering. This device leaves you with clean, microorganism-free water.
2) Headlamp. Oh my goodness, I can’t even imagine life without my headlamp. I don’t even understand why they make flashlights anymore! Headlamps are incredibly versatile, often lightweight, and guess what? Whichever direction you choose to look, the light goes with you! Genious! I have a Petzl Tikka Plus that works like a charm. Trick: if you have a Nalgene water bottle, you can place your headlamp under an empty bottle to create an instant lantern!
3) Platypus collapsible water bottles. Space is precious on a trek, and these water bottles collapse when empty to take up virtually no space. I used to be a Nalgene fan, then I moved on to Klean Kanteens, but never will I stray from my trusty Platypus collapsible bottles. These puppies are ridiculously durable, too. I’ve put mine through a lot and I’ve never (knock on wood) had one break. I probably couldn’t run over them with a car or slash them with a knife like you could a Nalgene, but with normal to rough use, they hold up well. I usually bring four 34oz. bottles on a trip.
4) Bandana. A simple bandana does so much more than just holding your hair back. Bandanas serve myriad uses including: washcloth, dish towel, tie it on to hold pressure on a wound, makeshift pot holder, dip it in a cool stream for a cold compress, and makeshift wallet/purse for times away from camp.
5) Various sizes of ziplock bags. Again, these serve so many purposes I can’t even name them all. Here are a few: storage for items that shouldn’t get wet, packing out trash (including toilet paper and feminine hygiene products), mixing/storing food ingredients, and general organization of small items.
6) Leatherman multitool. Need I say more? This little gadget will help with typical knife-needing tasks such as chopping food, cutting rope, etc., but will also come in handy for tent repair, stove repair, shoe repair, and the list goes on!
7) Map and compass. Even though the chances of getting lost on a typical well-marked trail are small, it would really suck if you did. I mainly keep this for peace of mind or if I’m feeling adventurous, some bushwhacking. I would also recommend learning a bit of orienteering. If you live near an REI, they often offer free orienteering classes in the spring and summer.
8) Small canister with fire starter and matches. Just like the map and compass, you probably will not need this. But when you do, you really do. My favorite fire starter is simply cotton balls dipped in Vaseline stored in a film canister. This works like a charm. Make sure your matches are also either waterproof or in a waterproof container.
9) High quality rain gear. Nothing is as miserable as you/your sleeping bag/your stuff being soaked. I’m going to offer a tip that is very effective for testing the efficacy of your raingear, but will likely make you think I am crazy. After buying your rain jacket, pants, and backpack cover (preferably from a store like REI with a 100% satisfaction guarantee), put everything on over your clothes/backpack and do one of two things: walk back and forth through powerful sprinklers for 10 minutes. I’m serious.
If this isn’t available to you, stand in the shower without your backpack for 5-10 minutes. When you get out, if you are wet under the raingear or the jacket feels very moist on the inside, you might want to look elsewhere. This may seem extreme, but I’ve been in about five too many rainstorms with bad gear that left me wet and once, dangerously close to hypothermia.
>> Read about staying dry while traveling
10) Duct tape. If fixes almost anything. Hole in the rain jacket or tent? Patch it up. Short on bandaids? Slap some duct tape on your wound, maybe even with your bandana underneath! You will find myriad uses for duct tape. Tip: roll some duct tape around the outside of a hard-sided water bottle instead of lugging a roll around with you. Or if you use Platypus collapsible bottles, simply roll your duct tape onto a pen, mug, or onto itself
Again, this list is not intended to be comprehensive, nor is it meant to contain all items essential to survival. These are just a few things that I really like having and might not be as intuitive as, you know, food and shelter.
If you want information on backpacking, there are a ton of great resources on the interwebs, as well as several full books dedicated to the subject. Once you get over the initial hesitation to try trekking, you’ll fall in love!
Check out Dani’s other posts: