Welcome back for another installment of backpacking gear for beginners. I want to apologize for how boring these lists have been. I can do better, and I will. So lets step up the entertainment game!
Last time, I talked about the sleep system and trekking poles. That pretty much finished up all the major gear items. There’s just a few small things that are pretty vital and will make your stay in the woodlands a bit more enjoyable, but not as enjoyable as that trailer bar in the picture. First lets make a handy list, and I’ll say a little something about each item. There won’t be any extensive gear reviews here, just a quick and dirty “what’s all the rest of this junk?” type blog post.
Here we go!
A medical kit
this is absolutely vital. Every member of a group should carry their own small med kit, and remember: if you don’t know how to use something in your medical kit, it’s just extra weight. Only carry things you are comfortable with using. I always add some extra vitamin I (ibuprofen) to mine. The end of a long sore day can usually be made infinitely more comfortable with some anti-inflammatory medication when beer is missing.
A map and compass
I know it seems a bit outdated in today’s GPS driven world, but I’ve been plenty of places where GPS signal was totally absent and a compass was the only way to find my destination. Buy one. It doesn’t need to be expensive, just reliable, and learn how to use it to take a bearing on a map. Which brings us to the map.
You should always carry a paper copy of a detailed topographical map of your backpacking area. It also helps to learn how to read it fully and well. Unfortunately, the laws of the universe say that you’ll always be trying to figure out where you are in the rain, or in the dark, when you’re tired and hungry. I also seal mine in aloksak brand ziplock bags which are waterproof down to 200ft and much sturdier than standard ziplocks.
No that’s not me, but it’s what you should do while backpacking (I’m joking). Preferably use SPF infinity, but SPF 30 will do in a pinch. This is especially important if you are going to be at higher altitude where the suns rays are much more damaging. A sunburn can sap your strength and make you irritable and uncomfortable at best, and put you in danger of heat/sunstroke at worst. Add some SPF lipbalm or chapstick while you’re at it, this is definitely a comfort thing that you’ll want.
the cheapest sunglasses in the world are better than none, but if you’ll be on snow you need side protection and dark or polarized lenses to prevent snow blindness. It’s very very very painful. Don’t risk it. Trust me.
It doesn’t actually work very well, but at least it reduces the number of mosquito bites somewhat. I tend to rely on my choice of campsites to reduce bugs, but that’s not always an option, so some bug spray is a necessary evil while anywhere near water.
Again, you don’t need to buy a floodlight, just buy something cheap and reliable. A decent headlamp can be purchased for less than $20. It’s usually a good idea to take some extra batteries, you know, just in case the bears’ tv remotes stop working. Nobody wants to deal with a grumpy bear.
I like to carry lighters because they are more reliable than matches in my opinion, but if you are a little old-school or feeling frisky, take whatever you like. Just make sure that it’s sealed in an aloksak bag! Wet matches or lighter makes for a grumpy night in the rain. I also like to carry a small amount of dry tinder like dried birch bark, or cotton dipped in wax. There’s lots of ideas for clever tinder ideas on Pintrest. Sometimes finding the small dry piece of something is the hardest part of starting a fire.
When backpacking I take a toothbrush, travel deodorant, a few antibacterial wet wipes, a small trowel, and a baggy of toilet paper. Each of these items will boost your comfort dramatically, especially if you have to go make a new “log” in the woods. Nobody likes pine cone TP. Ah the great outdoors, isn’t it glamorous?!
I don’t leave home without one unless I’m going straight to the airport, and even then I’ve had a few confiscated because I was wearing one out of sheer stubbornness (and I forgot). I usually take a Swiss Army knife, or a Leatherman multitool. You aren’t Bear Grylls, and if you were, you probably still only carry a combat machete and a tomahawk when the camera is rolling. Keep it small and simple, you aren’t being heli-dropped into Vietnam.
Keeping track of the time of day can actually be quite important, and it also helps you to determine your pace. Again, this doesn’t need to be the TimeGod 9000, just any waterproof digital watch with an alarm on it will do.
Usually my need to commune with nature starts to diminish after 8 hours of continuously staring at a tree. Carrying a deck of cards is not shameful or sacrilegious. If you take a full sized Monopoly game, you might have bigger issues.
Bear Spray (optional)
^ Not quite. Bear spray has been proven to be more effective in the event of a bear attack than carrying a gun. The main reason for this is that bears skulls are exceptionally thick. So thick, in fact, that a round from a .45 caliber handgun may not even penetrate, so then you have a very pissed off bleeding bear mauling you to death. Unless you’re an exceptionally good shot and can hit an eyeball when 1000 pounds of death is charging you, bear spray is much more likely to save your life, and it’s lighter anyway.
And on that cheery note, that’s it!
That’s everything I would take on a backpacking trip from 1 night to 1 month, the only difference is the amount of food. I hope this series has been helpful, and I hope I’ve taken some of the mystery out of backpacking gear for you. It’s not scary (well it can be, when there’s bears and whatnot, but that only happens sometimes) so enjoy your trip into the wild and remember that its a vacation, not survival. Stay comfortable!