You never know what you'll run into on a backpacking trip; rain, snow, lightning, rockslides, dehydration, altitude sickness, and the aches and pains associated with hauling a 40-60 pound backpack along mountainous trails. Trekking into the wilderness should not be taken lightly because there are real dangers, but these can be mitigated with the following ten backpacking trip essentials.
1. Knowledge – Knowledge is power. Learn how to read a map and compass; make a fire in the rain or snow, with and without matches. Learn basic first aid. Take a survival course. The point is the more you know before you ever step foot on the trail the better your chances of dealing with any emergency situation that occurs.
2. Map / Compass – Getting lost is not an option. Learn to use a compass and read a map in tandem. These two items can get you out of unfamiliar territory.
3. Lighter, matches, and a fire starter – Water proof matches and a lighter can come in handy but what happens if these do not work. There are many sparkling fire starters available at any number of outdoor stores. Get one, learn how to use it, and keep it in a safe place in your pack.
4. First aid kit – Get one from your local outdoor store that is specific for backpackers. Make sure it contains pain relievers, bandages, anti-biotic ointment, anti-septic spray or ointment and some form of allergy medicine. An Epi-pen can also be a good investment because an allergic reaction to a bug bite 20 miles in the wilderness can be deadly.
5. Foot care – Blisters can quickly bring any backpacking trip to a painful halt if you do not have the necessary treatment options. Moleskin and a needle should both be included in your first aid kit to care for any blisters.
6. Water – Dehydration is not something you want to experience. Make sure your filter is in working order before you hit the trailhead. Even then it may break or quit working so have iodine tablets as a backup because while dehydration is not fun neither is giardia.
7. Rain gear – No matter where you are going always carry reliable rain gear. Hypothermia sets in fast if you get wet and is one of the big causes of wilderness deaths.
8. Shelter – Whether you use a tent, tarp, or bivy sack you need a way to get out of the elements. Learn how to use which ever shelter you do use so that you can set it up quickly.
9. Sleeping bag – Where you are going and what time of year will help determine what kind of bag you need. Down sleeping bags are the warmest for what they weigh but lose their insulating ability if they get wet. For camping in wet nasty conditions it may be best to have a synthetic bag.
10. Tailor your gear for where and when you are going – Quite simply this means take stock of where you are going, how long you will be gone, and the weather conditions you are likely to experience and customize your gear list to that.
Planning ahead will keep surprises on the trail to a minimum. You do not want to be 10 miles down the trail and find out you forgot something that you will really need.