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The Ten Backpacking Essentials

I really don't like to watch much TV. I really think it dumbs people down. Need proof?  Swamp People.  'Nuff said.

OTOH, I do use the tube to keep up on current events.  I don't like to read newspapers, because they take too much time; if I have some free time I would rather be playing in the kitchen, chatting up my Internet friends, or working on my blog.  So I listen to Headline News with Robin Meade in the mornings on my days off while I do housework or play on my computer.  She is just so perky.  And pretty. And I love how she walks on a treadmill while working at her desk.  I wish my job was that cool.

Anyways, I was listening to Robin discuss yet ANOTHER story of a day hiker getting rescued because they got lost in the woods without the proper equipment.  Really people, hiking in the woods is no joke! 

Some states are getting so frustrated with ill-prepared hikers that they are starting to charge the rescued individual for the cost of the rescue.  New Hampshire estimates the cost of Search and Rescue (SAR) missions exceeds $260,000 annually, and passed the "Negligent Hiker Law" in 2008 as a means of recouping the costs.  California is considering a similar "Reckless Victim" law, and recently billed one such rescued victim $55,000.  Although this guy was a total dipstick because he admitted to taking methamphetamine before and during the hike.  Since when do meth junkies think they should go for a hike in the woods?!

A quick review of the surplus of stories about someone getting lost, or hypothermic, or stuck in the woods in terrible conditions,  reveals one common denominator; these people were unprepared.  I am not talking about injury or illness, here, because we all know that stuff happens. I am talking about the people who need rescued because they have no map and don't know where they are, or get stuck out after dark without a flashlight, or getting hypothermia because they don't have the right clothes for conditions.

Backpackers and hikers don't often agree on specific gear, but there are ten things that 99% of people will agree on.  These ten things are called *Ta Da* the "Ten Backpacking Essentials."  Maybe they should be called the "ten hiking essentials," or the "ten things you should never be in the woods without." Then people wouldn't think they are just for backpacking. These should always be carried in any pack; whether you are out for a short stroll in the woods or a backcountry multi-day trip.

Garmin 62st
1. Navigation  Carrying a map, compass, a gps could save a lot of trouble.  I use a Garmin 62st GPS Delorme InReach whenever I go into the woods.  Some will say it's overkill, but it was [another] Christmas present from my hubby (the first was the Garmin), and I swore I will always carry it. Not only has it saved my bacon when I get a little "confused," but, being the plant nerd that I am, I use it to mark waypoints of cool plants that I find.  Not to mention, it is pretty cool to I always carry a paper map as well.  Redundancy in this area is never a bad thing.

2. Sun Protection  A hat, sunglasses, and sunblock are super important year round.  Even though the Appalachian Trail is called the "big, green tunnel,"  a lot of people start or end their hikes when there are not a lot of leaves on the trees. The balds of the southern AT, as well as the White Mountains, can leave you with a nasty burn.

3. Proper Clothing  Two important things about clothing; layering is absolutely necessary for staying warm, and an investment in performance wear will leave you much more comfortable in nasty weather. Multiple blog posts can be written about clothing, so I won't go crazy here. Always carry rain protection with you; it serves double duty as a layer of insulation. A Frogg Toggs jacket is 6 ounces and takes no room in a pack.  And at $17 for a complete rain outfit, there is no excuse not to buy one just to keep in your pack. Wool baselayers insulate when wet, dry quickly, and don't smell even after days of hiking without a bath. Expecting crummy, cold weather?  Pack an extra pair of socks and gloves.  

4.  Headlamp or Flashlight  Plus extra batteries

5.  First Aid Supplies  I am a nurse, so you think I would have a mack-daddy first aid kit. Not so.  I carry the basics;  alcohol wipes, band-aids, triple antibiotic ointment, mole-foam for blisters or hot spots, and telfa guaze (no stick).  I also carry medications such as ibuprofen, tylenol, immodium, and benadryl (for allergic reactions).  I keep duct tape wrapped around my hiking poles to use as all-purpose tape.  What about bandannas for slings? Or wrapping a fracture or sprain.  I hike with a group, and  even on a 30-40 mile weekend trip, we are usually never farther than 10 miles from a road. So my theory is that if someone gets seriously injured on the trail, we can stabilize the injury with clothing and sleeping pads and we will evacuate ASAP.  YMMV. Carry what you are comfortable with.

6.  Fire Starters  Carry a lighter and some heavy-duty waterproof matches in a ziplock.  Learn how to make a fire when it is cold and damp.  It is really hard, and it sucks when you are cold and wet.  Petroleum products like chapstick can work double duty as a firestarter.

7.  Tools and Repair a small Swiss Army knife has tweezers, scissors to cut the mole foam, and a small knife, and weighs less than one ounce.  And it comes in pink.  What more could a girl want?  Tear-Aid Type A comes in small sheets and can patch a mattress pad that springs a leak, or a ripped tent or tarp.  I keep my knife and Tear-Aid in a small waterproof pouch with my first aid supplies.

8.  Nutrition  Carry what you think you need, then add a little more. You can burn up some serious calories on the trail. My hubby used his heart rate monitor when we hiked Mt. Washington in NH once, it said he burned 6,000 calories, and that was a day hike with a day pack!  I always carry a variety of Lara Bars and my homemade energy gel with me.

9.  Hydration  Don't drink the water!! Unless it's filtered, that is. Giardia and nasty bugs can quickly dehydrate you from diarrhea and vomiting.  A filtration system like a Sawyer Squeeze weighs next to nothing and allows you to drink from any freshwater source.  I bought one for everyone in my family, and a spare for my car.  Don't let it freeze, though, or it will crack the filter inside. 

For cold weather, I have a SteriPEN Adventurer, but the batteries are $10 each and not readily available.  If my current SteriPEN bites the dust, I will probably replace it with one that uses AA's.

10.  Shelter  Now, I will be the first one to admit that I don't always carry all the recommended gear with me when I go into the woods, but that is only when I go to places that I know well.  The only item I don't always carry with me is shelter.  I do have a lightweight tarp that I have brought when the weather is extremely iffy.

Please feel free to comment on my suggestions, and share your "essential" gear favorites.

Happy Hiking!

p.s.  Okay, I do have a couple of guilty pleasures when it comes to TV; Game of Thrones, True Blood, and (shhhh) Naked and Afraid.

Please don't get angry over my overt attempts to direct you to Amazon.  I try to make a few cents off my blog posts, so I can justify the amount of time I spend working online to my husband!  My affiliate disclosure


  1. Try CR123 lithium ion rechargeable batteries for your Steripen. I have a set of 6 with charger that I bought on amazon a couple years ago for under 30$. Lithium ion batteries are supposed to hold their charge for up to a year with as little as 1% degradation. I tested a pair of mine 6 months after I last had charged them and they reported a full charge and ran the steripen fine for 5 minutes. I stopped 'testing' after that.

    No matter what preferred filter/purification method I bring with me, I always bring one of these( containers filled with bleach as a backup. I took one on a two week trip backpacking in hawaii and used it religiously due to the liposporosis in the water. I still had 1/2 the container when I came back and I even shared some with others. You can get those containers in the checkout line at Wegmans, 50 c each. Just don't lose it on the trail, it's tiny.

    1. Hmmm, I haven't tried the rechargeable batteries in the Steripen. Will have to do, as the disposable ones burn up so quickly! As far as purification goes, you always filter/treat your water and use the bleach as well?

  2. Oh yeah, and as far as fire starters go I stand by the old cotton ball and petroleum jelly method. Lights up quick with just a spark. Wrap each one in a hand sized piece wax paper and you're set.

    1. The wax paper is a good idea. I made a bunch by stuffing the cotton and pet jelly in a straw and sealing the ends, but wax paper is definitely easier. I use wax paper bags for my trail foods so that I can use them as fire starter.

  3. Try a 9 volt battery and steel wool for a firestarter. Unconventional but fun.

    1. Neal-O, while I know of that trick, I have personally never tried it; I'm afraid of blowing myself up. But I will try it!

  4. Hey Amy, one thing that I read, over, and over is swarm of flies, mosquitos, and other flying killjoys What do you recommend to slow them down. I read Vics Vapor rub helps, as does, 1,000 garlic daily, vitamin B, light clothing etc. Any help would be much appreciated! Thanks. David Miller

    1. As a matter of fact, I was attacked by black flies while in Seneca Creek this summer. No fun! I have started carrying a small bottle of "natural" spray with citronella oil, and other yummy smelling things, no sure what, and it works well. My husband is a confirmed deet guy, but I need what little nerve function I have left! The Vics rub sounds promising. I am already loaded up on garlic. Bugs love me, so maybe its the garlic :-)

  5. Has any of you tried to use bleach or aqua system to purify water, instead of the standard pump filters. Thanks. Someone told me or I read that 3 drops of bleach in I liter, shaken an wait 20 minutes will work. AND, have you ever tried the “Life Straw?” Thanks!

    David Valdosta, GA

    1. I have used bleach as sanitation frequently at home, but not on the trail. I prefer a gravity system in warmer months, and a steripen in winter. This was advice given me, on the trail, by a water quality expert several years ago, and it has worked well. Never tried the Life Straw...