People are often asking me gear questions, probably because they know I’m a gear junkie and I spend a lot of time in the park. The most common questions are about my choice of pack and what I take with me for day trips. So I’d like to tell you my thoughts on this very dynamic and ever changing list.
First and foremost you need a good pack that fits well. A properly fitted pack will distribute the weight appropriately, prevent skin abrasions, prevent sore shoulders, and won’t make you off balance. I recommend trying on packs before buying. You should put weight or gear in the pack when you try it on. Have someone knowledgeable about proper fit (a friend or store salesman) inspect the pack while trying it on. Walk around with the weighted pack and make sure it feels comfortable. If it doesn’t fit well or you feel it pulling back on your shoulders right away…that’s not the pack for you.
Secondly you should select the size that most efficiently carries all you need without having to precariously strap things on to the outside. Most day trips into the park can be adequately supported with a 20-30 liter capacity backpack.
Hydration bladder versus water bottles? I’m a huge fan of bladder packs. Being able to sip-and-go saves a lot of time since you don’t have to stop, take off your pack and pull out a bottle periodically. And I think having quick access to water encourages you to drink more and thus you are less likely to get dehydrated. Many medical assist calls and evacuations from trails are largely due to dehydrated visitors.
Water, the most important thing in your pack. On a hot summer day you should plan to drink one liter per hour. THAT’s A LOT OF WATER! But yes, that’s the recommendation. If you do the calculation and determine you are unable to carry the necessary quantity of water, you have a couple options: 1. Pick a different hike or 2. Carry a filter. On a typical day that isn’t especially hot I will carry 3 liters of water if I plan to be active between 4 and 8 hours.
I have always followed some basic rules and it has served me well throughout my many adventures from simple hikes to nearly-catastrophic climbing accidents. The old cliche “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” is a good guideline. I ALWAYS plan that something will go wrong and I will have to spend the night in the woods or hike out in the dark. With that in mind I have compiled a list of things that routinely get put in my pack. No list can be all inclusive as there as so many variables to consider but if the basics are covered then you will at least be prepared enough to survive.
I have my own checklist at home so I am sure not to forget anything. Any good list should include the 10 essentials which you can find here: NPS Ten Essentials
Gear: Map, Compass, Knife, Matches, Fire Starter, 5mm accessory cord or paracord, Bivy (regular for summer, insulated for spring/fall), Headlamp, Water Filter, Binoculars, Camera, Multi-Tool, Scissors, and a rain cover for your pack if not built-in.
Personal: Chapstick, Insect Repellant, Toilet Paper, Wet Wipes, Trowel, Extra Ziplock Baggies, Sunscreen, Sunglasses
Clothing: Rain Shell, Rain Pant, Hat (Sun Cap or Beanie), Buff (very versatile item!), Gloves, Gaiters, Non-Cotton Layers, Puffy Coat, Extra Socks
Food: Clif Bars or equivalent, Electrolytes, Energy Gels, Fruit, Nuts, Sandwiches/Lunch Items
First Aid: Band aids, Antibiotic ointment, Mole Skin, Bandages, Tweezers, Safety Pins, Kling Wrap, SAM splint, Duct Tape, Personal Medications, General Meds such as: Ibuprofen, Tylenol, Benadryl, Zantac, Imodium. I include Sutures, Hemostat, Eye Drops, Epi-pen.
Trekking poles: Always a good choice. They can reduce wear and tear on your knees, prevent slips and falls, and may serve as a splint or stretcher in an emergency. Duct Tape: I wrap several layers around my trekking poles and water bottles. I also have a supply in my first aid kid. Try to have a total of 9 feet of duct tape on you at all times. Trust me, when you need it you will be very glad to have it.