I’d already done a few short hikes around Yellowstone with my parents before my mom asked, “So what do you keep in that backpack, anyway?”
She was referring to my little black daypack (the REI Flash 22 Pack), which comes along with me on any hike I take, from a couple miles to long day treks.
It was a good question. Before I started hiking in the mountains and the desert, I didn’t bring along much at all. Maybe some water or a snack, or an extra layer if we were going to be out for awhile.
But after moving to Utah, I learned that hiking in remote and rugged spaces was a bit different than the short walks I’d gone on through the woods in Wisconsin. Weather can change in an instant, with storms rolling in unannounced. Elevation change creates big enough temperature differences that I can start out hiking in a tank top and need a warm jacket an hour later.
Not to mention that many of these spaces are pretty remote, and getting off trail might mean not finding another trail, road, or person for quite some time. It most definitely pays to be prepared.
The Ten Essentials
Most outdoor organizations have some variation on The Ten Essentials, the things you need — at a minimum — to safely hike in the wilderness. REI has a great post explaining what each of these essentials are, why they’re important, and some examples from each category. I’ve definitely used lists like these in the past when deciding what to bring on my own hikes.
So what’s in my pack? These days, I keep my bag ready for a hike, so I only have to throw in a few extras any time I hit the trail. I’ve divided out what I bring under each of the “essential” categories, with a few extras that don’t really fall under any category.
Map or guidebook
Learn how to use a compass if you’re going to bring one! I took a REI class on how to use a compass, and while it was just an overview, it helped me feel confident in reading a map and getting myself back to civilization if needed.
Sun (and bug) protection
Chapstick (SPF 15)
Insect repellent (when necessary)
These things are essential at higher elevations! It’s easy to get burned when you’re hiking at 10,000 feet, so make sure to apply your sunscreen before hitting the trail.
Puffy coat or extra layer
Hat + gloves (depending on the temperature)
Rain coat (again, depending on weather)
Weather can change quickly, and there’s nothing worse than hiking in the cold without proper apparel. Make sure you have a warm layer available in case the temperature drops.
I also love my buff, which is so versatile. It can be used as a head covering or a neck gaiter in the cold, a headband when it’s warm, or it can be soaked in water and then worn to cool off on a hot day.
You never know when you’ll be finishing a hike in the dark and need to see the trail. Also, don’t forget the extra batteries! A dying headlamp is just as bad as not having one at all.
First Aid Supplies
First aid kit
Tissues or toilet paper
Ankle wrap and/or ACE bandage (optional)
I have a little pre-assembled first aid kit, but you can easily put one together yourself, too. I don’t always carry an ACE bandage, but I will throw one into my pack if I’m going on an extra long hike or hitting a remote trail. (Note: I wouldn’t have even thought of bringing this before I did my NOLS Wilderness First Aid course, which taught me how to properly tape an ankle.)
I recommend getting some windproof and waterproof matches. They’re pricey, but if you’ve ever tried to light a fire in windy conditions, they’re totally worth it.
Repair Kit and Tools
Admittedly this section is a bit lean, but a knife and duct tape can fix most problems, right?
I love trail snacks. I always pack way more than I eat, but I figure if I get lost and end up spending a night somewhere, I’d rather have extras than go hungry. I try to bring a combination of snack bars (Clif bars and Honeystinger waffles), energy chews, nuts, dried or fresh fruit, and jerky.
Water (bottle or Camelbak bladder)
For a long time I didn’t trust hydration bladders not to leak, but I’ve since been converted. There’s nothing like easy access to water to make sure you stay hydrated, and it’s so nice to not have to stop and take off your pack every time you need a drink. That said, my distrust lingers a bit, and on longer hikes I’ll usually bring a smaller bottle too, just in case.
Space blanket (sometimes)
I usually only bring this on longer hikes or in remote areas where it’s possible I might not see anyone if I have to spend the night. Hopefully it’ll never be used, but it’s small and light enough to carry along just in case.
DeLorme inReach SE+
YakTrax (or another traction device for winter trails)
After moving here, my boyfriend and I decided to purchase an InReach device. (It was made by DeLorme when we purchased it, but the company has since been acquired by Garmin.) We waited until it went on sale, as they are not cheap, but I feel so much better adventuring with it.
Aside from providing access to emergency services if needed, it’s also a two-way communication device that can text with anyone you’d like – even when there’s no cell service. Not only does it give my boyfriend piece of mind when I’m backpacking, it also makes me feel better knowing I can reach help if there’s a major problem while out of cell range.
So that’s it! Everything that’s in my bag. While the list looks quite long, I’m able to fit everything into my 22 liter pack, and it’s not too bad to carry around. While I may not win any awards for ultra-light hiking, I feel better knowing that I’m prepared for the worst and have the gear needed in case I run into problems on the trail.
What do you bring when you go out hiking? Has this post made you reconsider what you throw into your pack? Let me know in the comments!