So, you’ve got your sleep system and shelter sorted out and you’ve got a pack to carry them in. Ready to go then? Sorry but no, there’s a few more things you need. I’ve blogged about a few of the items in the list below, the rest I will do soon.
- Hiking boots or shoes? Sore feet are sheer purgatory, can ruin a hike or finish it. It’s vital that your feet are kept comfortable and well-supported in footwear that doesn’t cause blisters. I’ve not blogged about this topic but my preference is for trail shoes. Lighter and more comfortable by far than boots.
- Clothes. These divide into two basic groups; what you wear to hike in and what you wear around camp. I normally just wear a pair of shorts and a synthetic tee shirt when walking, often supplemented by a pertex windshirt. If it’s cold I put on a light fleece. 99% of the time that’s good enough. For breaks and around camp I have a down sweater for extra insulation, dry base layers to change into and a pair of trousers. If it’s really cold I sleep in my clothes but usually I sleep in a tee shirt and boxers. Light layers of clothes are much warmer than big jackets so my clothing is selected on its weight and thermal properties. Avoid cotton at all costs- it absorbs water and makes you cold, takes ages to dry – potentially life threatening. A hat is very useful to keep off the sun and rain or your head warm at night.
- Waterproofs. Sadly, it will rain. I’ve blogged about different waterproofs earlier. My preference is for a poncho and leggings in heavy rain, pertex windshirt and a hiking umbrella the rest of the time.
- Cooking: I wrote a big piece in my blog about different stoves. Backpackers can get obsessive about stoves so all I will say is that it boils down to weight and what you want to cook. My cooking is mainly boiling water so my preferences are hexamine or meths (denatured alcohol) stoves. Esbit and the Caldera Cone being my favourites- these benefit from using a pot cosy. I rarely use gas but when I do I like the Jetboil Zip. Don’t forget you’ll need something to boil/cook in, maybe a cup of some sort and a Spork to eat with.
- Food. Everyone has different tastes, allergies and so forth. I prefer dehydrated food (weight), porridge, energy bars, GORP and so on. Plus lots of coffee! Whatever your choice, look for the best calories per gram. Hikers use up a lot of calories.
- First aid kit. The extra weight you carry and are glad if it’s never used. As a minimum, carry some plasters, steristrips, antiseptic, blister pads and a bandage. Aspirin or paracetamol plus antihistamine is good too. So is a tick remover. After that the contents depend on where you’re hiking. Sunscreen is usually needed.
- Water purifier. I use a Saywer Mini Filter which kills most nasties found in water. It allows me to carry less water (saves weight) and top up as needed. The Sawyer does not kill viruses however. Mercifully, these are rare in water but if you’re in a place where it’s likely to have virus-infected water use something like AquaMira tablets along with the filter.
- Knife. Backpackers don’t need huge Bowie knives or axes. They need something to open packets of food, cut guy lines and nails, slice cheese and so on. I swear by a LeatherMan Micra. I be reviewed this earlier in my blog but, for 1 oz, it has a good knife, scissors, nail file, tweezers and screwdrivers useful for fixing spectacles, etc.
- Navigation. GPS is superb, no doubt about it. Until you can’t get a fix, the unit breaks or the batteries die. Always, always, always carry a map and compass. Know how to use them for fixing your location and walking on a bearing.
- Torch. Essential around camp or if you get out of tent in the dark. LED headlamps are long lasting and lightweight. I always carry an emergency back up in case the main one fails. Petzl make a great emergency headlamp-the batteries can stay in the lamp for up to ten years, it’s very light and small, emits enough light to get safely off a hill at night.
- Hygiene. People vary in how much they can tolerate being unwashed and smelly but having clean hands to prepare food and eat it is a necessity. So is looking after your teeth. As bare minimum, carry antibacterial gel for your hands and a toothbrush and paste for your teeth. You’ll also need to carry some toilet paper and a trowel. Dr Bronners liquid soap is good for washing, shampoo, toothpaste and for dish washing but a word of warning about this- the teatree oil variety makes truly vile toothpaste. Peppermint is much better.
There are no rules or best kit. Select the kit you carry on what works for you while keeping you warm and dry. It’s possible to go out for an overnighter carrying a couple of pounds weight in gear while for a week (or longer) most people would carry more clothes and food. In winter, warmer (heavier) gear has to be carried. My preference is to carry the least weight possible provided I will be kept warm, dry, hydrated, fed properly and have a good night’s sleep for the duration of my trip. If my base weight is 4lbs for a summertime overnighter that’s good, if it’s 20lb for a winter hike then it’s also good.