Hiking, backpacking and adventure travel all require an array of gear. From the outdoor essentials to the luxury items, we all have a list that we check off every time we break out the pack or the duffel when preparing for our next adventure. I’ve traveled all over the world and have been backpacking for over thirty years (hiking for longer than that), and over the years, I’ve whittled down the list to include a few items that I take with me on every day hike, multi-day backcountry trip, or for roaming abroad.
Here are six outdoor essentials that I can’t live without for trail or travel.
1. Reusable water container
While it might be convenient to just stop at the nearest convenience store on the way to the trailhead, it’s not ideal as a long-term option. I choose my option based on my planned activity. For trail running and hiking, I often prefer the hydration bladder as it provides perpetual access to water and I’m more apt to drink regularly. For backpacking, I like the combination of a hydration bladder and stainless water bottle. The hydration bladder is ideal for trail use while the water bottle is perfect for lunch breaks and for use around camp. Another option is the collapsible water bottle. They can be rolled up when not in use and pack away easily.
Perhaps I was influenced by the iconic Swiss Army Knife that MacGyver wielded on his many adventures. Since the mid-1980s, I too have carried various models of the multi-tool knives. Today, an everyday carry (EDC) knife is still part of my daily wardrobe and I consider it as essential as my footwear or sunglasses. When traveling via airline, I stow my trusty EDC in a checked bag and retrieve it once I arrive at my destination.
3. First-Aid kit
Prepackaged kits come in all shapes and sizes. Most are designed to provide the necessary items for common ailments that might afflict one for a given activity. While it’s relatively easy to piece together items from home and place together in a sealable plastic bag, it can often cost more to purchase items individually to prepare a personal or group kit.
4. Rain jacket
This can be one of the most expensive items on this list but perhaps one of the most essential. While there are less expensive options on the market, I personally prefer products utilizing Gore-Tex or eVent. There are brands that have also created proprietary waterproof fabrics and may warrant further investigation. A good jacket is worth its weight in gold when caught in a downpour in the backcountry and they pack down really well for storing in daypack, backpack or carry-on.
Whether you carry a flashlight or a headlamp, this is a must-have for day-hiking and backpacking. Even if you don’t plan to be out after dark, accidents happen, schedules get altered and the sunset waits for no one. While a traditional-style flashlight serves the same purpose, a headlamp provides hands-free use and the light moves in the direction of your head. It’s ideal for setting up tents and preparing meals when arriving into camp after dark or changing a tire during an unexpected flat (I always keep one in the car). It became a habit that I always pack one when traveling abroad (and domestically) as power outages have, on occasion, proven worthwhile to have one nearby.
I started wearing contacts at an early age and found my eyes more sensitive to sunlight, so sunglasses are a must-have. Sunglasses protect our eyes from harmful ultraviolet light. This is especially true when hiking in alpine regions as there is no tree cover and this typically occurs at higher altitude.
I’ve already included one ‘80s reference in this story, but it was such a pivotal decade in my life. I started wearing sunglasses by choice as early as seventh grade. Was I inspired by Tom Cruise in Risky Business or again in Top Gun? Perhaps. To this day, I purchase quality sunglasses and always wear them regardless of the activity I’m pursuing.
In conclusion, the more time you spend in the great outdoors, the more dialed in you’ll become to your personal needs and what outdoor essentials you must have. A few of the items above can be eliminated based on your needs, but I would strongly advise to always carry a first-aid kit, headlamp and some article of rain protection.
What are some of your outdoor essentials in your pack right now? Share with us in the comments below.
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Photos by Deanna Curry and Laura Castro.