What should you carry in your pack during a day, overnight, or multi-day journey?
This age old debate can often be over heard while gearing up at the trail head or even while already on the trail, I have even heard a meeting of the minds over a pint at the local tavern in certain mountain towns that shall remain unnamed. Everyone has a different view which generally derives from personal experience and knowledge. As for my own personal answer, this list is my bare bones answer to what I personally carry in my backpack during any given day. Although this list may be added to or subtracted from depending on the duration of the trip and the area of travel, these basic items will aid in response to an accident and prepare hikers to safely spend an unexpected night in the wilderness if the need arises.
Although we live in the age of advanced technology where GPS units can do just about everything except prepare a warm cup of coffee, it is still a good idea to carry a topographic map and compass as a backup. Adding very little extra weight to your pack, a map and compass do not rely on batteries and can provide a wealth of information from finding ideal camping areas to locating water sources along the trail.
It is easy to stay beyond your expected time when traveling across panoramic ridgelines. If you ever find yourself trekking out of the backcountry at twilight or attempting to set up camp as the sun sets behind the horizon, a headlamp is an invaluable piece of equipment. Lightweight, compact and offering a hands-free light source, newer headlamps with LEDs feature a longer battery life than now-ancient incandescent bulbs. Many headlamp models also offer a strobe light mode, which is a great option to have during an emergency situation.
Extra Food and Water
It is always a good idea to carry an extra day’s worth of food and water on any backpacking trip. Even day hikers should carry enough food to sustain them for at least a day. Simple items such as freeze-dried meals or even no-cook items packed with calories and the shelf life of a Twinkie are even better. Energy bars, nuts, dried fruits and jerky are all excellent trail foods.
If you will be traveling in areas that offer abundant sources, be sure to carry proper means of water treatment such as a water purifier or iodine tablets. The average hiker will use three quarts of water per day; this average will vary depending on the conditions and terrain in which you are traveling.
Inclement weather has a way of sneaking up on your when you are traveling in the backcountry. Carrying additional layers of clothing for protection from the elements if caught unexpectedly is a smart move and highly recommended. Consider the season and environment in which you are hiking to determine what type of extra clothing you should pack. Commonly carried items include an extra pair of socks, a synthetic jacket, and insulating hat.
First Aid Supplies
There are things in your first aid kit that you cannot easily replicate in nature. Backcountry travelers should make the first aid kit a piece of gear carried with every trip. Pre-assembled first-aid kits are a quick and easy way to get your basic supplies while still being able to personalize it to suit your specialized needs. Whether you buy a pre-made kit or make your own, the kit should include latex gloves, tweezers, blister treatments, adhesive bandages of various sizes, several gauze pads, athletic tape, disinfecting ointment, over-the-counter pain medication, a compact first aid guide, and pen and paper (for documenting treatments, vital signs and other necessary information).
Sun protection does not stop with sunscreen; it also includes sunglasses, lightweight skin shielding clothing and brimmed hats. Your activity level and the temperature are the factors that will determine if you choose to wear pants or shorts or longer or shorter sleeves while outdoors.