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A hiking pack list seems too organized and deliberate for free spirits like hikers, right?
A hiking pack list is a great starting point for new hikers.
But it is also useful for seasoned hikers.
And a list works for Santa Claus, right?
There exists a list of famous "hiking 10 essentials".
Maybe you've heard of them, and are tempted to roll your eyes and ignore them?
Hold that thought.
Then there is my personal "must haves" list, followed closely by my "consider these" items.
All of them combine into one powerful package for surviving a trail disaster, or spending an unplanned night in the woods.
So let's get the details of the 10 essentials out of the way first.
"Essential" implies you gotta have 'em.
Oh, so true!
In no particular order, here they are.
FOOD : Without cellular fuel, you're going to be hungry and weak.
So over pack the lunch sack just a tad.
It provides you a margin of safety you just might need if you don't make it back to the trail head on schedule.
Don't begrudge the weight of a few extra energy bars at the end of the hike.
2. CLOTHING : Flash forward in your mind, beyond the day's warm, sunny conditions.
What would nightfall in the forest feel like?
Today's fleece and microfiber clothing is so lightweight, there's no excuse for not having an extra layer along even in the height of summer.
3. SUNGLASSES: Your eyes are a critical navigational tool.
If you can't see, you're not going anywhere and will have to rely upon the people back home to find you (you did leave an itinerary or at least the name of the trail with someone you trust, didn't you?).
If there is snow travel involved in your plans, you must also shield your eyes from the UV rays bouncing merrily up from the snow surface into your eyeballs (snow blindness).
4. KNIFE: How "old school" - a knife, just like they taught us in Girl/Boy Scouts.
To fend off a bear?
Nope. How about these more likely scenarios?
Just add it to your hiking pack list, 'cuz you just never know when you'll need a sharp blade.
And if you're the kind of hiker who loves multi-purpose gear, here's the multi-tool for you!
It even has a sharp blade ;)
5. FIRESTARTER: Some people like to carry candle stubs, others carry some sort of flammable chemical.
I carry an old film canister filled with dryer lint or cotton balls coated with petroleum jelly.
I also carry a few tea light candles in case I have to start a fire using damp wood.
Staying warm and dry is Job #1 in an emergency situation, so be sure you can get a fire going if at all possible.
6. MATCHES: What good is your knife and fire starter if you can't start a fire??
I inherited an old metal pull-apart canister to carry my waterproof matches, but a ziplock bag and some wooden matches would do the trick.
Here's the whole kit: matches, striker and case!
Tip: Don't bring book matches, because they get damp and might not ignite in less-than-ideal conditions.
7. FIRST AID KIT: You can buy a very complete kit.
You can cobble one together on your own.
Or you can carry a lightweight, inexpensive minimalist kit.
What do you absolutely need in your kit?
It depends somewhat upon where you are hiking.
For instance, snakebite supplies are not needed in the Pacific Northwest area west of the Cascades, but make sense in Eastern Washington or the desert Southwest.
However, there are some universal essentials no hiker should be without:
I consider clean water as a medical necessity, so add water purification tablets to the list.
8. FLASHLIGHT: I carry a headlamp instead, because it's a good idea to leave both hands free to navigate in the dark.
But a lightweight flashlight, using LED illumination, would be a good idea on your hiking pack list for beginning day hikers.
9. TOPOGRAPHIC MAPS: I never used to include a map on my hiking pack list, back in my wild youthful days. It is embarrassing to admit that now, knowing how many ways I could have gotten lost.
In my own defense, I always stayed on well marked trails and I always had a good idea of how far away from the trail head I was at any one time (well, that's mostly true...).
But yeesh! no map??? Rookie mistake!
I consider it a game, and not an easy one for a spatially challenged person such as myself.
But this mental exercise really pays off when I'm hiking, because I can cast "as the crow flies" mental tendrils in any direction and know, really know, where I am.
But there's no way to reach that level of comfort with directions unless you carry maps with you, take them out during breaks, and study them.
It's a great form of entertainment at your lunch spot, too.
So promise me that you'll pull out the map and figure out what's in front of you, then behind you...
10. COMPASS: Goes along with the map on your hiking pack list, right?
Take a navigational course if compasses confound you.
I confess that I'm still building my skills, relying upon my hiking partner (a.k.a. husband) for navigation, when I really shouldn't.
It's one of my vows this hiking season: learn to navigate confidently using the aforementioned map and a compass.
And there's always a new GPS system to master!
To play it really safe, also carry a Personal Locator device.
OK, so there's the bare-bones essentials hiking pack list. Ho-hum, right?
Just common sense.
That's exactly right.
Common sense can get you through all sorts of scrapes.
Look over the list again.
Notice how there are "themes" embedded in the list.
Don't forget these: polarized sunglasses.
And if there's an injury, you need to deal with it efficiently by using your first aid kit, knife, extra food, shelter &
warmth until help arrives - or you can hike out safely.
Now for a peek at my own personal "MUST HAVES" which I add to my hiking pack list, and which change seasonally.
In my opinion, each of these deserve a spot on anyone's "essential" list, and I'll explain why.
1. EMERGENCY SHELTER: I carry an ancient blue "space blanket" purchased in Houghton, Michigan in 1976.
It has a few chunks of duct tape patching some tears, but will serve me well as a tarp or insulating layer on the ground should I need it.
You'll probably notice it in a few of the pictures on this website. (I have a red one, too, stored with my camping gear. If memory serves, the store was running a "2 for 1" sale that day...).
This worthy little tarp rides along in my pack through every season, having earned its place on my hiking pack list.
In winter, I spread it out on the snow, put my pack on it, then sit on my pack to keep from getting cold muscles.
In summer, it makes a fine picnic blanket on rough rocks or wet soil.
I've also sat out some rain squalls beneath it.
There are thinner "mylar" types of space blankets, and I do carry one of those in my pack, to be used as a reflective surface to signal my location from the air.
But I find that it's too thin to stand up to much wind or rain.
That's why I am never without my trusty tarps.
Get one just like my faithful blue one and tuck it away in your pack... just in case.
Tip: A red one might be a better choice if you're hiking in areas with lots of lakes. It can be seen better by planes or helicopters.
2. SUNSCREEN: This should probably be thrown in with sunglasses above. I am a firm believer in preventive medicine.
Why treat skin cancer when you can prevent it?
I always carry SPF30 or higher, and stop at least twice on a hike to reapply it.
Caution! Sunscreen stings like crazy when it gets into your eyes, so wear a bandanna or hat to prevent drips into your eyes.
And consider UPF hiking clothing like long sleeves and long pants as a sun deterrent, too.
3. EXTRA WATER: Some people complain about the weight of the water they carry during a hike.
So I'd caution you to think through the hike(s) you have planned, and know where your water sources are.
4. EMERGENCY REPAIR SUPPLIES: I have a nylon zippered bag in the bottom of my pack, filled with:
I've wound lots of duct tape around my larger water bottle (the one I use in every season), and use it for blister prevention, field repairs to equipment, and patching holes in my pants.
Is a huge gaping hole in your hiking pants an emergency?
5. PEN AND PAPER: If you get into a jam, chances are you will be rattled and perhaps mentally confused about what to do.
Have the mental discipline to sit yourself down, and write down the last time you knew where you were:
Next, pull out your topographic map.
Try to back track in your mind, keeping notes on the paper, to where you came from.
If you can't back track for some reason in your physical reality, at least you can get a mental grip and fight off the panicky feeling that always leads to bad decisions.
Gripping the pen gives your adrenaline rush something to focus on, and helps prevent (or control) panic.
Read more about trail journals here.
Another use for pen and paper?
I'm sure you can think of other uses for paper, too (such as adding to your hiking pack list on the fly, fire igniter, fly swatter...)
Just be sure it's weatherproof, like this!
6. BABY WIPES: Not just for babies! Be sure these make it onto your hiking pack list.
I use these as toilet paper, or to clean my hands prior to eating.
NOTE: I pack out used wipes in a plastic bag, for proper disposal at home. Hiding them under a rock (or blatantly leaving them on the trail) is not cool.And be sure they're unscented.
CONSIDER THESE additions for your hiking pack list:
I'm all about pack organization and lightweight hiking.
So I've developed two hiking kits that save space, weight, and panicky decisions.
If you're interested in reading about what's in them, here are the links:
Make a hiking pack list and check it twice.
Hey! If it works for Santa Claus, it will work for you.
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