Backpacking can be one of the most enjoyable ways to see the world, kill a weekend, get creative inspiration or exercise that you will ever undertake. Backpacking also has the potential to put your health or even your life in peril or just plain make you wish you had never made the decision to seize the opportunity when it arose. Guaranteeing a great time while backpacking is difficult, but planning ahead can most definitely reduce the risk of it becoming an activity you live to regret. Here are 14 things every backpacker should make sure they have before they set out for adventure.

1. The Right Backpack

First off, make sure you have the right backpack for the type of backpacking you plan on doing. A quick hike during the day across relatively tame terrain could mean you need nothing more than an appropriately sized fanny pack. A more intense day hike requires a shoulder pack with about twice the cubic capacity of a fanny pack. The more extreme your backpacking plans, the more likely you will need to equip yourself with full sized packs capable of holding the kind of overnight equipment that the lighter packs can’t handle. Regardless of the exact specs, your backpack needs to be durable and sturdy enough to handle the hike with webbing and straps that are adjustable and strong enough to withstand the effort placed upon them.

2. GPS

Some type of global positioning system is essential for reducing the chances of getting lost and for helping to identify your location just in case you do. GPS apps can be downloaded smartphones or tablets or you can buy a dedicated gadget. The ideal choice will depend on how far your hiking takes you from cell phone towers and electrical outlets.

3. Maps

With GPS technology, maps are no longer quite as essential for backpacking as they used to be. Nevertheless, batteries die, electrical outlets disappear and even satellite high above you can go a little wonky, so investing in detailed topographic maps indicating important elements like locations of streams and rivers and lakes, forests and woods and detailed areas of vital life-supporting vegetation is more than a really good idea. Those maps could save your life even in the event the entire grid goes down while you are backpacking on your own.

4. Ponchos

Waterproof ponchos can be essential for backpacking even the forecast for clear skies turns out to be right on target for a change. A poncho can be stretched out to provide temporary protective shelter if necessary as well as offer protection from the effects of too much sun just as efficiently as it protects against too much rain.

5. Two Socks

It should go without saying that you must have appropriate shoes or boots for backpacking, but just as important is the layer between the shoes and feet. The best recommendation is for a lightweight pair over your feet and a heavier material offering a layer of insulation over the inner sock. Your feet will thank you for taking this extra effort.

6. Flashlight

Ever watch “The X-Files” and been impressed by the powerful force that was Mulder and Scully’s FBI flashlights? Well, you don’t need to be a fed to get access to that kind of illuminating power. In fact, you can get very powerful illumination from flashlights of a very diminutive size these days. Don’t depend on your cell phone’s flashlight app in this case. Sturdy, dependable and powerful flashlights are inexpensive enough to get a quality model. Just don’t leave home without a set of backup batteries.


7. Change of Clothes

Even a simple day hike can create a backpacking nightmare if you are forced to head back in clothes that are soaking wet, ripped or torn or wound up on the wrong side of a run-in with a skunk. Always take at least one change of clothes from the inner pair of socks all the way to your hat.

8. Hat (and/or other means of sun protection)

The sun can be the backpacker’s enemy, but it need not necessarily become so. Bring along a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and any other items of solar ray protection you may deem necessary.

9. Toilet Paper

Doesn’t even have to be a full sized roll if the backpacking route you’ve planned out is short. But you do not want to get caught having to use the great big natural world as your restroom with no easy and hygienic way to clean yourself afterwards. Toilet paper not only cuts back on the need to use far less comfortable alternatives, it can also be a savior for the very act of backpacking. You DO NOT want to be hiking for miles with an uncontrollable itch in that area of the body that’s only there because you didn’t clean yourself well enough.

10. Insect Repellent

Nothing can ruin a great backpacking experience quite like becoming a walking buffet for mosquitoes and other biting bugs.

11. Water

How much water you will need to stay hydrated and keep from getting thirsty will vary from one hike to the next. Try to gauge as best you can the specifics requirements because weighing yourself down with too many water bottles is only going to increase your thirst. A vicious cycle to be avoided.

12. First Aid Kit

What should a backpacking first aid kit contain? Well, it will depend on the terrain, weather and geographical region, but definitely bring along a snakebite kit, Band-Aids, pain relievers, gauze pads and first-aid tape, hydrocortisone cream, tweezers for removing splinters, burrs or stingers. In addition, depending on the person, you might want to consider something for upset stomachs, bee stings and any regular medications you can’t afford to miss in the event of an emergency.

13. Snacks

Slip a few energy bars into the backpack alongside baggies of nuts, dried fruits, beef jerky and other lightweight finger foods.

14. Fire starter

Unless you just so happen to be equipped with the knowledge of how to build a fire from rubbing two sticks together, bring along something that can be used to quickly start a fire. Just in case. A lighter. Some matches. Doesn’t have to be fancy or capable of creating a conflagration. Just something to get a fire going quickly in case the backpacking experience takes a dark turn for the worst.

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