Hiking Basics: How to Outfit your Backpack
When hiking was but a twinkle in my eye and my kids were still quite little, I decided to start being more active. This led us to take what we thought would be a few-mile walk around a local man-made lake. It had paved trails and a couple of playground/picnic areas around it.
The idea was that we would spend the hour or so that we thought it would take to walk around the lake, then have a picnic when we returned to the car. Turns out, the path around the lake is 7 miles long and we didn't realize it until we were too far in to do anything other than to continue. We made it to one of the picnic areas and stopped to rest while we let the kids play on the playground equipment. My daughter fell off the jungle gym and got a nice bump on her forehead while my son cut his hand on a rock.
Here we were, without water, snacks, first aid supplies, or anything else that would've made this trek so much easier, bearable, and practical. I definitely learned my lesson on this trip, and when I got home, I found one of my son's old school backpacks and roughly outfitted it with some basic first aid supplies I had in my closet. Whenever we would go hiking after that, I'd fill it with some water bottles and whatever snacks I had around before we left, and we were somewhat prepared.
Over time, as my hiking prowess advanced and progressed, so too has my hiking pack. I am on my second actual hiking pack (school backpacks suck for real hiking) and I have it outfitted to my liking and for the level of hiking I do. Here's what I have and why:
- flashlight: for when you need more light or are on the trails after the sun goes down
- rain poncho: sometimes it rains without warning and this will keep you and your pack dry
- emergency tent: for dire emergencies when you need shelter and there is none around
- bug spray: no one likes to get bit on the trail
- pocket knife: useful for cutting but also for protection if needed
- utility tool: small and useful
- emergency whistle/compass combo: if you get injured on the trail and aren't where you can easily be found, blowing the whistle constantly will alert someone to your position while the compass can help you right yourself if you get disoriented
- waterproof matches: there are several inside this waterproof container and can light a fire under awful conditions. Fires are good for heat and cooking food in the case of an emergency.
- a few paper towels in a baggie: paper towels are so handy and can be used as napkins, to wipe off sweat, or a host of other things
- a travel pack of tissues: sometimes you need to blow your nose!
- a few feminine supplies in a baggie: as a woman, sometimes our periods aren't regular or we might forget to pack some on flow days, so I always carry two or three in my pack
- two carabiners: helpful for hanging your pack or items off your pack
- a travel-size hand sanitizer: after going to the bathroom, getting your hands covered in some unknown gunk, or if your hands get sticky after a trail snack, hand sanitizer is handy. I also use it for times when you get a small cut or scrape. Getting some sanitizer on and into the wound, while painful, will disinfect it right away.
- chapstick: lips get chapped, especially on hikes higher up or when it's dry or hot
- a few hair ties and bobby pins: I have long hair and sometimes I won't think I want my hair up...until I'm sweating on the trail. I often use these for my daughter who likes her hair down.
- a few q-tips in a baggie: an item I threw in my bag because sometimes you just need one and can also be good for cleaning up small wounds
- first aid kit with an emergency blanket: one of the most important items in a hiker's pack. This one has an emergency blanket and goes hand-in-hand with the emergency tent.
- a large baggie with trail maps of trails I hike often, a pencil, and a small pad of paper: trail maps are always useful as are pencil and paper for taking notes
- wipes: great for the bathroom breaks you hope you don't have to take
- a Clif bar: trail snacks help keep your energy up when you're burning calories