Just like anything else – everyone has a different opinion on the “right way” to do something. The following is simply my opinion. If my opinion isn’t good enough and you’re packing advice from the experts, then check our REI’s “Ten Essentials” and award-winning outdoor writer and Outdoor Editor for the Spokesman Review, Rich Landers, with his recent article “What’s in your day pack? Three veteran hikers list time-tested items” – my parent’s and I actually referenced his checklist in preparations from attempt #4 of the Bridger Ridge.
You will understand my packing list better if you know that I was that kid on the playground in elementary school that rocked a fanny-pack filled with a whistle, band-aids, and whatever else I thought I could steal from my parent’s first aid kit without getting caught. I always wanted to be prepared.
I am still that way to this day! I always carry a day pack with my essentials regardless of the hike – do my friends make fun of me when I have a fully loaded day pack looking like I’m going on a multi-day expedition instead of a low-key 5-mile loop hike where you stumble over the crowds on the trail? You bet! But do I care? Not even a little! I carry a full day pack on every hike for two reasons. First, every time I prep my pack for the next adventure, I get a mental refresher on what supplies I have and where they’re at in my pack and if I need to replenish anything that may have been used on the previous hike. You don’t want to get caught in a situation where either you don’t have what you need or you can’t find it in a timely manner – i.e. getting caught with your pants down only to find that you don’t have any toilet paper. Yikes! I guess that new $20 Buff you just picked up at REI is going to have to do. Secondly, I see hiking with a 15-20 pound pack as physical training both to build strength and endurance, but also to get comfortable carrying some weight on my back. On a backpacking trip with a college friend, she had a pack that was too small for her on top of never hiking with a day pack. Needless to say, she was more than uncomfortable. That backpacking trip went south fast, but that’s a story for another time.
When it comes to day packs and especially heading out into the backcountry there are a few steadfast rules.
Hydrate or die – either carry the water you need or know your route and carry a filter or water treatment to refill along the trail – beware that water sources along the trail early in the season may be dried up and not available later in the season. Depending on the weather and length of the hike consider an electrolyte supplement.
Who doesn’t like snacks and pocket bacon (trust me it’s a thing)! I always try to bring a little extra food in the event of things taking longer than expected, and if you’ve read some of my other writing you would know that (1) I over pack and (2) my adventures tend to get a tad wild so I am always prepped with little extra food in case of an emergency.
I ALWAYS hike with a can of bear spray easily accessible on the hip belt of my pack. Please, whatever you do – DO NOT KEEP YOUR BEAR SPRAY IN YOUR PACK! IT IS CRITICAL IT IS EASILY ACCESSIBLE. Bear spray is also effective on moose, dogs with poor trail manners, hikers with poor trail manners, and anyone who tries to steal your pocket bacon.
Depending on where I am hiking and whether or not I am alone, I also have a bear bell. Be Bear Aware and remember to watch “for fresh bear activity, and be able to tell the difference between black bear feces and grizzly bear feces. Black bear feces is smaller and contains lots of berries and squirrel fur. Grizzly bear shit has bells in it and smells like pepper.”
“If I could offer you only one tip for the future – sunscreen would be it…” A flash back for your viewing pleasure – but trust me on the sunscreen! Hats, buffs, and UPF protective clothing are all good ideas too.
Like every other outdoor gear article – LAYERS, LAYERS, LAYERS. Over the past 2 years, I finally began investing in high-quality layers. Take it from me (and every other outdoor enthusiast), those high-priced layers that you’ve been resisting to spend the cash on are 100% worth it. They’ve saved my bacon (and pocket bacon) more than once. Be mindful with your layers because you don’t want to be Randy from A Christmas Story, but you also don’t want to be like a contestant from Naked and Afraid – find your happy medium.
I don’t know why or how it began, but a few years ago my dad began getting me headlamps and flashlights every Christmas. It has become a long running joke, but I am grateful to have ample headlamps and flashlights that I have stashed everywhere! When you get delayed by a storm and have to hike technical terrain in the dark you’ll be grateful for that headlamp.
Years ago, my bestie in Montana gave me a 20-piece survival canteen kit – it has been one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received! I always carry it in my pack and love that 90% of my emergency gear is one spot and waterproof. I have used the contents more than once and modified the contents over the years to better suit my needs. Here is a similar concept, but with a large water bottle. My canteen has waterproof matches, a lighter, flint & steel, fire starters, band-aids, hand warmers, flashlight, compass, pocket knife, paracord, poncho, whistle, and previously an emergency space blanket that I used and consequently ruined on Bridger Ridge attempt #3. I have since replaced my space blanket with a sturdier reusable emergency bivy by SOL which I used on Bridger Ridge attempt #4.
What I can’t fit into my canteen I have in a small bag. That’s where I keep my additional first aid supplies – ace wraps, gauze compress, a large sheet of gauze that can be used as a sling or to dress a wound, etc.
Also, it’s not a bad idea to carry a repair/tool kit as well – think knife/multi-tool, duct tape, sewing kit, etc.
Have a map. Have a plan. If you’re like me you depend on your fancy smartphone, then there’s a chance your compass knowledge consists of only knowing that compass points north, but wait is that grid north or magnetic north?! I would HIGHLY recommend a navigation and compass class to anyone who is considering expanding their hiking and backpacking repertoire. I recently took the REI course, and loved it! It truly was fascinating. The REI in Spokane is not currently offering the class, but here is a link to the REI Class Calendar, so please keep it on your radar. The class fills up quickly.
Since I watched 127 Hours, I have never gone on an adventure again without telling someone where I was going. There is a part where Aron Ralston is interviewing himself while still pinned under the boulder. He calls himself out saying “Is it true that despite, or maybe because you’re a big fucking hard hero… you didn’t tell anyone where you were going?” and he responds to himself “Yeah. That’s absolutely correct.” That stuck with me.
Don’t be the tough guy. Be the smart kickass adventurer that lives to adventure another day – let someone know where you are, I always give my parents and BFF a map of where I am going with the trail highlighted and possible Plan B and Plan C detours, and I tell them my tentative return time, with a buffer window, and a time to call Search and Rescue if they do not hear from me. I have established an emergency plan that not only makes me feel better but also my family and friends.
There’s a long running joke among from family and friends about going out in the woods and “mysteriously” losing a sock, bandana, shirt sleeve, or in really bad cases an entire shirt! If you don’t want to mysteriously lose one of your new fancy Smartwool socks or the sleeve to that new finely woven Merino wool base layer – BRING TOILET PAPER!
I am fully aware that I am not one of those savvy minimalists, but I personally feel more comfortable being prepared. Every time I go hiking I am prepared to stay the night if things go awry. I am also prepared to offer assistance to others in my party or on the trail.
Happy hiking my friends, I’ll see you on the trail!