I hope you thoroughly enjoyed part one of this series and, more importantly, I hope you learned something new! Part two of the Backpacking Necessities series covers the items that aren’t truly considered “necessary,” but I wouldn’t go camping or backpacking without. If you want to do an ultralight trip, these are items that would probably stay at home. But, I’d rather carry an extra few pounds than go without these! These make life easier, more comfortable, and a lot more enjoyable on the trail. After all, we are here to have a good time, right? So, without further ado, here are our comfort items:
Helpful Backpacking Gear
Sleeping Pad – Let’s start off this post with a little comfort! Not only is a sleeping pad much more comfortable to sleep on than just the ground, but it also helps insulate you from the ground. I prefer the inflatable ones, so they pack down pretty small. Foam sleeping pads are also a good choice, but they take up more room.
Wet Wipes – I keep wet wipes with me on hikes for a great many reasons. We use them to wash our hands, wipe the dogs’ feet before the come in the tent, clean wounds, generally clean ourselves, etc. We use them for just about anything we could possibly need to wipe clean! Please do practice Leave No Trace and pack them out with you, though.
Repair Kit/Duct Tape – Our repair kit basically only includes duct tape. If duct tape won’t fix it, it’s not getting fixed on the trail. It is not necessary to bring a repair kit for every piece of equipment, as most things can truly wait (if they can’t be duct taped).
Hair Ties – Bringing a few additional hair ties with me has saved us more than once. Of course, they can and will be used for hair, but we have also used them to tie things closed (marshmallow bags, chips, etc), holding a bandage on an ankle when it was bleeding, keeping Sparta’s coat on him when it was too big, and many other random things. They are pretty versatile, so toss a few extras in your bag!
Ziplock Bags – While not a necessity, extra Ziplock bags are a great idea for several things. You can use them to store uneaten food, which helps reduce the smell; use them as a trash bag; use them to hold wet or dirty clothing that you don’t want touching your other clothes; and use them to keep your electronics dry if you experience rain or are going across a big water crossing. Again, just a versatile item that is always good to have with you.
Extra paracord – I’m sure you’ve all seen those paracord “survival” bracelets. Paracord is great to have, but you can just go to Lowe’s or any hardware store and grab 10 or 15 feet of it and wrap it around a carabiner. It’s way less expensive, albeit not as cool looking, and you have more of it! Paracord is good for several things for backpacking (have you noticed a trend in this post?!) and it is pretty lightweight. You can use it for tying up any additional food into a tree if it doesn’t fit in your bear box (not highly recommended, but it works in a pinch). Paracord is good for quickly tying things off, or stringing up a clothesline.
Carabiners – Yet another “generally versatile item,” we use carabiners for quite a bit of stuff. I put my water shoes on them and hook them to the outside of my pack in order to dry. I also put them on the outside of my back with anything that needs to dry (shirt, socks, hat, etc.). We use them to tie up our hammocks, and hang anything else in the campsite. Pretty versatile and quick to use.
Instant Coffee – Okay, this might need to be in the necessary category… Many hikers use a French press or a percolator, but we have found that it is much lighter and easier to carry instant coffee since you don’t need extra equipment. Just boil a pot of water in the morning, pour into your cup with a packet, and your coffee is served! I am a fan of Starbucks Via, as it is widely available and I know what I’m getting. There are some other good brands out there, but since we don’t always shop at the same store, Starbucks brand is the way to go since you can get them nearly anywhere.
Flask – Clearly not a necessity (okay, maybe it might be), but boy it’s nice to sit by the fire and sip a bit of rum after a long day of hiking! I’m a fan of rum and Coke and I will pack the extra weight with a small bottle of Coke just so we can enjoy a drink as we are watching the fire before bed. Some niceties are worth it 😉
Hammock – We will eventually do a full post on hammock camping (rather than tent camping), but for this list, a hammock is just a nice addition to your campsite. If you are pounding the trail hard and not staying at campsites other than to eat and sleep, don’t waste your bag space with a hammock. But, if you intend to hike to a site and stay a bit, it’s pretty nice to have a nap space swinging in the breeze!
Stuff Sacks – There is a lot of disagreement amongst hikers regarding stuff sacks. Personally, we are both a fan. Sure, it takes up a little bit of additional room in your bag and creates “pockets” of unused space, but truly we have never had an issue with that. We use stuff sacks to separate our items and provide easy access to certain items. Each of us packs a stuff sack full of clothes, then we pack another one with food, another with “kitchen utensils (like stove, dishes, etc.),” another with snacks that are easily accessible, and a final one that starts out empty but is for trash. You can get all kinds of stuff sacks, but we have just some basic water resistant ones that are of varying sizes. Plus, your stuff sack filled with your spare clothes can double as a pillow!
Solio Solar Charger – If you want any electronics available to you, you are going to need some form of charger. We have used the Solio Solar Charger, and that works wonders to charge up phones and cameras on the trail. We have also recently purchased a battery pack that charges to 7800 milliamp hours. Although we have used it on other adventures, we have yet to use it backpacking or hiking. I imagine it will be great, but it is a limited amount of charging available.
Otherwise, if you do not think you want to bring an extra item to charge a phone, I do suggest turning at least one phone completely OFF for the trip. That way, in case of an emergency, you can turn it back on and it won’t be fully dead (assuming you aren’t taking a multi-week trip). Even putting your phone on a battery saver mode uses up some battery just by being on, so it’s best to just turn it off if you don’t have a way of recharging it.
Trekking Poles – I discovered that trekking poles make all the difference for me on water crossings. Nate doesn’t use them, as he is much more sure-footed than I am, but for me, a little extra balance goes a long way. I have found that they are also really helpful going uphill. I suggest just grabbing a sturdy stick to see if you like the feeling before investing in them, as some people don’t like them at all. It’s personal preference!
Chapstick – Maybe this should be a necessity, but some people don’t need it as much. Chapstick is a great item to toss in your bag in case of sun or wind burns. Also, if you are hiking in a dry climate like Colorado, it is most definitely a necessity! The link is to my favorite: Chicken Poop! It’s the best chapstick!
Bivy Sack or Emergency Blanket – This could be in the necessary category depending on the type of backpacking trip, but I put it here because most hiking trips do not need them. An emergency bivy is used for day trips when you are in an area where the weather can change quickly (mountains especially, typically above tree line) and get dangerous. However, if you are hiking to a spot and staying at it, then you will have your full gear (tent, sleeping bags, etc.) and a bivy is not necessary.
OPTIONAL/DEPENDS ON CIRCUMSTANCES – The final item that we take with us on our hiking and backpacking trips are our handguns. This is a big one that depends totally on your own circumstances. Nate and I are both certified and hold Concealed Handgun Permits in the State of Colorado. Colorado law allows guns on the trail, and it is STRONGLY recommended that you always ensure your area’s laws allow it before taking a gun on the trail. I carry a Ruger LCR .38 Special revolver and Nate carries a Glock 19 (9mm). We take these with us solely for protection; we are not hunters. Hiking in any area subjects you to your surroundings, and we always like to be prepared for any animal encounter we may come across. We also hike with our dogs, and they can be seen as a meal or a threat to some animals. As we are not licensed to train others, we will not go into detail, but if you have any questions, please contact your local expert.
Heading to the Trail!
These items, combined with the basic backpacking necessities, complete our packs for a normal trip. With all of these items, Steph’s pack is approximately 32 pounds without water and Nate’s is 50 pounds without water. We plan to keep a log this backpacking season with detailed lists of everything we take for different trips, depending on location, elevation, weather, length, terrain, etc. Hopefully you will get a bit better of an idea what we take with us!
I hope you learned something from this post and are itching as much as I am to hit the trails this spring! Stay tuned next week for Part Three: What NOT to Bring!
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