Backpacking trips for new hikers can be very intimidating. There is so much different equipment on the market that narrowing down what you need to the essentials can be confusing. Some backpackers choose to go the ultralight route and pack as little as possible while other backpackers tend to take the opposite extreme and pack too much. Regardless of your intended packing style when hiking, these are the 10 must have essentials when backpacking.
Navigation (map and compass)
Even a simple day hike in a familiar part of the woods can get you lost. Many experienced backwoodsman get lost each year. It may be the weather, disorientation from lack of food and water, or any number of other reasons. Regardless of how short or long of a hike you are doing, you should always carry a map of the area and a compass.
You also need to ensure that you understand and know how to use the compass. A compass will not do you very much good if you are not familiar with how to use it.
Many new hikers plan on relying on a portable GPS system such as the one built into Smartphone’s. Electronic devices can lose signal, lose contact with the GPS satellites, fall in the water, and dead batteries. Using your smart phone as a navigation system is a great idea; however, you should never rely on it and always have a map and compass stowed away in your pack.
Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
There is nothing worse than getting a bad sunburn and having to hike 15 miles more back to your car with a bad sunburn. The weight of your pack, the branches on the trail rubbing against you, and the sweat pouring down you will cause you immense pain. Always carry an ample supply of sunblock and use it. Sunblock can also help keep you alive longer by helping to cut down on the risk of getting skin cancer later in life.
Sunglasses are a necessity when hiking, even in the wintertime. Many times people will leave their sunglasses at home when they go out hiking or snowshoeing in the wintertime but the glare of the sun reflecting of the snow can cause temporary blindness. If you are temporarily blinded then you cannot read your map and compass and you chance of death increases drastically.
Insulation (extra clothing)
Regardless of the temperature, you always want to take extra clothing. Packing a very heavy jacket in your backpack will add a few ounces of weight, but if the temperature drops drastically then you will be glad you have it. You always need to pack extra clothing. Make sure you organize your clothing and plan it out so you can dress in layers.
Lewis and Clark did not have the benefit of carrying a battery powered flashlight with them but you do. Always carry a reliable form of lighting. Make sure you pack some extra batteries also.
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First-aid supplies and Insect Repellant
Buy a small first aid kit and carry it with you. There are many first aid kits that are portable. You can also look at the inventory that comes with a typical first aid kit and then buy the stuff to build your own first aid kit. Either way, you need to ensure you are always carrying first a first aid kit. Pack extra bandages! In addition to the hiking first aid kit you also need to pack an ample supply of bug spray. Hiking in the beautiful woods becomes a torturous hell if you don’t have bug spray and the mosquitoes and horseflies are around
Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
Carry extra lighters and matches. Carry some candles. Keep the matches and lighters in a waterproof container. Don’t carry matches and lighters in the same container! Wet matches are no good. Wet lighters are no good. A source of fire could possible save your life. A reliable source of fire will also allow you to roast hotdogs and marshmallows.
Repair kit and tools
A simple sewing kit designed for heavy duty repairs on items such as canvas can be very hand to have. Carry some extra zippers and some other odds and ends you may need. What you need will vary depending on what you pack, but a simple heavy duty thread and needles can keep you hiking in case of a wardrobe malfunction.
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Nutrition (extra food)
Always carry more food then you think you may need. I always carry a mixture of food including bagged nuts, Jerky, granola bars, Ramen Noodles, Dehydrated foods, and more. You need food you can eat quickly such as jerky and Nuts to keep your energy up. You also will like hiking more if you can set-up your camp for the night and cook up a hot and delicious meal of your favorite trail foods. Never rely on yourself catching fish or snaring rabbits. You can always supplement your food by fishing, but if the fish aren’t biting and your hungry then you will be hating life.
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Hydration (extra water)
Always carry an ample supply of water. You can never have too much water. If you run out of water then you could perish. You must carry more water then you think you will need. I also highly recommend you carry an easy to use field water purifier. You never know when you may run out of water and be forced to use beaver pond water. With a portable water purifier you can drink that beaver water. Without it you will probably die or at least get extremely sick if you drink the Beaver pond water.