The Ten Essentials for Hiking
The premise behind taking essentials on hiking and backpacking trips is to be prepared for accidents and emergencies. While you may not need all of these items on every trip, they can make a big difference when they are needed. On backpacking trips, make sure to stash these essentials in your daypack for hikes away from camp.
Always carry a paper map! Maps are especially useful when you aren’t sure which trail to take at a junction or to know what type of terrain to expect. Even if you are familiar with the trail, a map will be important if you need to get off trail for any reason. Learn how to read the map and orient yourself to the landscape.
It can be easy to overlook the need for sun protection with so many grey, cloudy days in the Pacific Northwest. But clouds are much better at blocking visible light than damaging UV rays. At higher altitudes, sun protection is particularly important. The air is thinner and cleaner, which leads to higher UV exposure. Additionally, UV light bounces off surfaces such as sand, snow, and water. There are many hikers who have learned the hard way that they should have put sunscreen IN their nostrils after a day on snowpack! For the best protection, use sunglasses, hats, sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher that protects against both UVB and UBA rays, and lip balm with SPF. For areas with significant sun exposure, consider wearing long sleeve shirts and pants with UV protection.
Even on the sunniest of days, the weather can change abruptly in the backcountry, so bringing extra layers to deal with varying conditions is always a good idea. In the Pacific Northwest, a rain jacket should go on every trip, as well as a lightweight insulated jacket or puffy, a hat, and a light pair of gloves. If you end up needing to stay out longer than intended, extra insulation could provide a great deal of comfort.
Light is important in order to move around safely at night. It may also provide psychological comfort should you find yourself in a stressful and dark situation. Several companies make very good LED headlamps and flashlights that are affordable, water resistant, bright, and efficient. Like all gear, know how to use it before hitting the trail, and check the battery level and/or bring extra batteries.
The size of your first aid kit will depend upon the length of your journey and the size of the group that it is meant to treat. Ideally, each hiker will carry their own first aid kit with items specific to their needs.
The ability to start a fire can be a literal lifesaver in an emergency situation. But it’s not always the easiest task in the soggier areas of the Pacific Northwest. Essential gear for starting a fire includes a lighter or waterproof matches and dry tinder of some type. For economical and lightweight tinder options, bring lint from a clothes dryer; coat cotton balls in petroleum jelly; or add wood shavings to unscented candle wax.
Repair Kit & Tools
A multi-tool and/or pocketknife can be one of the most valuable items that you will bring with you. They can assist in cutting food, sawing wood, splitting a bandage, or fixing a zipper. Scissors are a particularly useful feature to have in a multi-tool. For a repair kit, duct tape works well for almost everything, at least temporarily. A needle and thread can help with repairing tears in shoes or boots, clothing, tents, and backpacks.
In addition to your planned snacks or meals, bring a small amount of extra food in case a hike or trip is unexpectedly extended. Items that don’t need cooking are best, including trail bars, nuts, and dried fruit. Pictured above is food for a five day backpacking trip.
Always bring plenty of water and a way to treat water from natural sources using filters, purifiers, or chemicals when you need more. In general, plan to drink a half liter of water for every hour of moderate exercise, increasing the amount in hot weather or during periods of intense exertion.
The purpose of an emergency shelter is to assist with keeping a lost or injured person relatively warm and dry. Emergency blankets made of a thin reflective mylar material are commonly provided in survival kits for this purpose. Additional options include bivy sacks, tarps, and large plastic bags.
One More Essential
Common Sense: Keeping a level head and making well thought out decisions during emergency situations is your best ally in getting home safely. When feeling stressed, remember to breathe and use skills that you have practiced such as navigation, fire-starting, and first aid.