Backpacking 10 Essentials

Expert Advice

Mountain Goat seen in the Olympic National Park

Most people will tell you that they know what to take on a backpacking trip, but in all honesty most lists are all based on the 10 essentials, which is good. However, most of the lists lack detail into specifics and do not factor in the amount of weight the gear will actually take. 

10 Essentials:

  • Navigation (Compass & Map)
  • Hydration (Water)
  • Weather Gear (Rain, Snow, Never Know)
  • First Aid Kit (Detail Below)
  • Tools (Knife / Fire Starter)
  • Light Source (Lamp and Flashlight)
  • Sun Protection
  • Shelter 
  • Extra Food
  • Communication (Radios)


Do not just have a compass and map that you do not know how to use. I have gone on multiple camping trips with people who get to the place, have a map and a compass and do not know how to use it. The importance of this is for people who get lost. Over 1600 people get lost in the United States National Parks a year and that is a rough estimate. The government does not actually keep track of people getting lost in the woods. In the end your life is your life and if you are unprepared when you are lost, death is a high probability. A map and compass if you mark where your car is, where your previous camps were, and where major areas are for help (Ranger Stations, Freeways, Lodges) and knowing how to track your milage on a map and location, you will be able to get out quickly and alive in the woods. 

Hydration (Water)

When I say hydration I mean water. Water provides more oxygen while your in high altitudes, hydrates you, and with dry packs of gatorades, you can turn some water with electrolytes, which is sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphate carry electrical charges that are responsible for stimulating muscles and nerves. They also regulate the amount of fluids throughout your body, which affects cellular function, blood volume and blood pressure (Healthy Eating- SF Gate). I have experience with people who bring soda, energy drinks, and 5 hour energy, which can cause major caffeine crashes, which are not good when hiking as well as the fact that the extra weight is unnecessary. Remember what you pack in has to be packed out.

Weather Gear (Rain, Snow, Never Know)

When your backpacking especially like places in the Pacific Northwest. You never know the types of gear you need. Most people assume when I say snow and rain gear you wear when you are hiking. However, the amount you sweat during hiking can make layers dangerous especially when you are in need of layers and your layers are wet. Hypothermia is a major injury during backpacking trips. Temperatures can drop way below freezing when the sun goes down. A simple fleece with a thin rain jacket will do if you do not wear the fleece while hiking. I might add that a good sleeping bag is a smart purchase, 30 below for the grade. I find that if you are serious about backpacking no cost is too high for you to be safe and comfortable while living with the minimum in the woods. You're there for the views and the experience not the luxury.

First Aid Kit

  • BZK-Based wipes Not alcohol based: Alcohol evaporates to quickly to help any real damage to you. Alcohol can be effective to fight bacteria, but in this case it is not effective.
  • Sterile Pads: Depending on your specific length and or destination. The amount of pads is up to you. However, I recommend at least three different types and at least three of each type. Sometimes the pads that we have had are to small or to big, which is a waste and if needed later the big one could have come in handy.
  • Blisters (Mole Skin): I highly recommend you take more of this then you think you need. For I guarantee that every single person for a three plus day journey will need at least some form of treatment for blisters. If its hot and you feel friction. Put some mole skin on it.
  • Adhesive Tape: Again, with this I recommend you take at least 2-3 rolls of tape depending on the length of your trip. Lots of people will act like they know how to apply this, which inevitably wastes a lot of the tape. This is not a hassle or heavy to carry so I would prep for the worst.
  • Allergy meds/Pain relievers/Topical Ointment: I have been on countless trips where we did not have advil/ibuprofen when in need of it, Allergy issues I have never seen. However, I have heard stories and one day this could be a life saver. Always good to be prepared. Anti-biotic ointment is a must even the smallest cut can get infected in the woods while traveling and cause major problems for you and your group later on.
  • Safety Pins/Paper clips (Gauze wrap): The only thing I have actually seen gauze be used successfully for is a sub for mole skin with ointment as well as sprains to minimize moment in a wounded area. I do not stress the importance of this. However, if the injury is bad then this would be good for extra protection around sterile pads and so on.

Tools (Tweezers, First Aid book, Splints):

Tweezers can be used for many things such as splinters, insect stings, and objects in wounds hard to grab with just a hand. I recommend carrying anything that can be used for other purposes for splints because in a rare case of someone breaking a bone, a broken bone needs stability so a hiking stick, ski poles, or anything that is straight and secure. A first aid book is useful for people who do not know how to handle certain injuries, but do not just have this in a bag, read it and refresh your knowledge for sometimes time is urgent.

Specifics: Your journey, depending on the terrain, will need different equipment such as frost bite protection or dehydration in a hotter climate.

Light Source

For a flashlight and headlamp I recommend a high powered light. 1000 Lumens plus for optimal vision during the night where it will most likely be completely dark if you are in the wilderness. Keep in mind fire does fall into this category but sometimes in the location you choose, fires are not allowed. However, you should still bring fire starters and equipment for safety just incase you get lost. The flashlight brand I use is Felix. Great flashlight with high powered lumens. As far as a headlamp goes I do not want to recommend a specific brand because I have found most brands are around the same. However, I do not recommend the ones sold at Smith's or Fred Meyer that are cheap. Do not be afraid to spend money on good equipment. It is for your safety and if taken care of it will last a long time.

Sun Protection

Dermatologists recommend SPF 15-30 sunscreen, which I highly recommend for any type of backpacking trips with a good pair of polarized sun glasses. Even in the snow due to the reflection of the ice and snow a person can get severely sunburned and have major damage caused to the eyes. Do not take these trips lightly you can always have fun, but precautions need to be set for the most value to be taken out of this trip. The extra weight will not kill you.


Solid tent. I recommend everest grade tents because of the way they are engineered to be light weight, wind resistant, and breathable to where it's not too hot and not too cold at night. Keep in mind the type of sleeping bag you have will change your experience at night entirely. Always remember weight overtime while backpacking is brutal if too heavy. What you think you can carry will change after 20 miles in.

Extra Food

Do not pack for luxury. That means mountain houses, protein bars, and water. Remember you are there for the experience and the views, not to drink soda, eat candy, and make veggie stews. Mountain house has all that and the extra weight will kill you through the journey. Spices are ok for the dehydrated foods because they are not that heavy. If you want tinfoil dinners and so on car camping at a campsite is what that is for.


Radios are important. I recommend also getting a HAM radio and using it for weather changes if your destination or time of year has major weather changes throughout the day. Always research before adventuring into the woods. Sometimes your crew might split up to find firewood or something and having a radio will be something that could prevent one of you from getting lost. It happens.

Have fun. Pack Light. Be Safe. Remember being prepared is how you stay alive, have fun, and enjoy the most of your adventures.

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