If you are just getting into hiking, these are the 9 must-have and critical items that should be in your backpack to keep you prepared for the expected and the unexpected while you explore the backcountry. Although you may not use these items everyday-all-day, these can be life savers in times of emergencies. Have fun, but always remember to go for a safe hike.
However, the most important thing (but not included in this list) is having the right hiking gear. Considerations in choosing the appropriate hiking gears include the weather, the duration of the hike, nature of activity, and the location. Having the right gear is one thing, but knowing how to use it is another. Usually, it is experience that plays a major factor on deciding on how to use your gears the right way but for starters, reading instructional books and watching tutorial videos would be very helpful to kick start the backpacking learning curve.
Anyway, let’s get back to the must-haves that can keep you safe while you go hike, especially if it’s your first time to do so.
Always carry a detailed map of the area you‘re hiking. You should learn how to navigate your location by identifying landmarks and trail junctions. Learning how to use the compass follows. Basic compass reading will tell you to find the True North first so that you could orient your map properly. Bringing a GPS or a cellphone is okay but nothing is more reliable than a map and a compass (preferably one with a water-resistant pouch like this) while you are outdoors since these do not rely on battery life or cellular signal.
- GPS (optional)
- Cellphone (optional)
Staying hydrated during your hike keeps you more focused and active. You will generally feel better as long as you don’t quench yourself. So, it is important to bring a refillable water bottle. This collapsible water bottle is handy for hikes. You can incorporate a water filter into it so you can safely drink water that you gather along your router.
The size of your water bottle should be just the appropriate size. If it’s too large, it will be an extra weight on you and if it’s too little, it would be not enough. 1Liter to 1.5Liter should be the best size for a day trip. Also, carrying water filter or Chlorine Dioxide tablets to purify water would be helpful in case you need to refill from a lake or stream.
Hiking is a physical activity and you need to eat in order to keep your body going. If you the plan to hike all day, it is a good hiking practice to bring a good but only necessary amount food. You should bring food that requires little to no cooking like power bars, sandwiches, or canned meals.
Sun Protection and Insect Repellant
The Sun can be your worst enemy when hiking. The longer or higher you hike the more expose you are to the sun which may cause several skin issues and hasten dehydration and exhaustion. Similarly, when hiking you are also exposed to other elements in nature like insects.
It’s always a good idea to keep yourself lathered with sunscreen and insect repellant lotion. There are 2-in-1 products in the market that combine sun screens and insect repellants into one lotion like this Badger Sunscreen Repellent Resistant Anti-Bug. By the way, there is a proper way of applying sunscreen lotion depending on its SPF level. Aside from the lotion, wearing sunglasses and a hat as added protection is highly recommended.
- Sunscreen Lotion
- Insect Repellant Lotion
- Hats and sunglasses
Whether you are hiking for a day or for several days, carrying emergency shelter like emergency blankets, sleeping bag, or tent should be included in your backpack. Because no matter what the weather forecast is on that day, you should always be prepared for unexpected weather changes.
- Sleeping Bags
First Aid Kit
When you go hiking, always carry a small first aid kit for you and your company in case an accident happens. In particular, bring lots of sterilized bandages and adhesive Band-Aids to tender on small cuts and wounds. Also, bring a small amount of generic over-the-counter medicines for upset stomachs, body pain or fever. You can buy prepacked emergency online or you can assemble your own for a cheaper price.
- Pre-packed first aid kit
- Band-Aids and bandages
Even on day trips, you should always carry emergency lamp and extra power supply when going for a hike. You should always have enough light for you to navigate through the darkness in case you are delayed or you need to camp out for the night. It is nice to carry lightweight head lamps or flashlights that are water resistant and durable.
- Extra Battery/Power Supply
Fire is essential if you have to unexpectedly have to spend the night because of an emergency. Fire starters will be very useful to quickly ignite a fire in this situation. Magnesium blocks with flint and fire steels are the most practical way to use. You can also use cotton balls swabbed in Vaseline or melted paraffin. Emergency matches that are easily damped by water are not recommended for hiking.
- Fire steel or Magnesium Block
- Home-made cotton ball fire starters
Pocket Knife and Tools
Your basic backpacking tool kit should be a Swiss army knife. It is compact and composed of several useful tools rolled into one handy tool. At a minimum, you will also need a small knife of scissors to cut through things and a small roll of duct tape or safety pin to patch up broken gears.
- Swiss Knife
- Small Knife and Scissors
- Duct Tape
To carry these hiking essentials, you need to choose the right backpack. If you are planning for a day trip only a small Backpack will do but if you hike for a couple of days and hiking a more rugged terrain I recommend a bigger Backpack, around 30 to 40 Liters in size. Backpacks with lots of pockets is what I personally recommend so that you could organize your hiking essentials.
If you keep and follow this checklist of hiking essentials while packing, you will feel more prepared and safe on your next planned hike thus making your hike much more enjoyable and fulfilling. Always remember, SAFETY FIRST.