Early morning sunbeams are streaming through your curtains, illuminating the bedroom walls with morning’s soft glow and beckoning you to hop out of bed, take life by the reigns, and see something you’ve never seen before. Deciding that today is a good day to take a hike, you get ready to start checking off places on your must-see list. (Start with these breathtaking suggestions on the southern end of the Appalachian Trail.) Our world is a beautiful place offering opportunities for entertainment that cost little but provide much. Take a minute to learn how you can contribute to “Leave No Trace” in our national forests, starting by reading below to learn LNT principle #1, Plan and Prepare. What items will you need in your day pack? Plan for the unexpected. This doesn’t mean you have to pack your kitchen sink too, but consider these necessities when heading out on a hike for the day.
Ten Must-Pack Items
#1 Water and snacks – This one’s a no-brainer. Dehydration will carry you nowhere you want to be. Snacks give your body the fuel it needs to complete your hike. Consider snacks that are high in protein and lightweight. Good options are trail mix, power bars, peanut butter, or tuna packets. This link offers ideas for high calorie/low weight food that long distance hikers tend to carry. One liter of water weights 2.2 pounds. Rather than carrying a ton of water to get you through the day, consider purchasing a lightweight filter such as the Sawyer. This will free you up to safely drink water straight out of a mountain spring. Nothing tastes better!
#2 Raincoat – Is there a 0% chance of rain today? Take a rain jacket anyway. Not only can you never depend on city weather forecasts if you’re climbing a mountain, hell, even in the flatlands, meteorology (God love the science of guessing) is not anywhere near an exact science. A rain jacket can be used as a wind breaker if gusts pick up as they often do at high elevations. Try this example on for size. In November as I am nearing the end of an epic Appalachian Trail thru-hike, surrounded by the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains, I check the forecast for my daily destination. Lovely! It’s a sunny, 76 degree day in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Somehow, not even 10 linear miles away, I am walking south from an elevation of over 6,000 feet facing painful pricks of relentless sleet crystals, and being slapped around by 60 mph wind gusts, bundled up in all I have with 70 degree thoughts dancing in my head. After a miserably long, cold, wet hike, my dreams came true as I made it into the “lowlands” of Gatlinburg. Hypothermia is nothing to play with, and temperatures as mild as 50 degrees can elicit the condition if it begins raining. Take the jacket. It could save your life.
#3 Toilet paper – One of the most forgotten items is the one worth the most when it’s needed. Also known as “mountain money”, my TP of choice on my Appalachian Trail thru-hike was Viva paper towels. Folded neatly into a Ziploc bag as a waterproofing strategy, Vivas are soft enough to use as TP but strong enough to be used as a dish cleaner and for the pleasant experience of wiping your bum in a downpour. Its dual purpose makes it worth carrying a few sheets along, even on a short hike. Nature calls at the most unexpected times.
#4 Headlamp or flashlight – People often neglect to carry a light source and, for whatever unexpected reason, they become delayed as the sun begins its decent below the horizon…Trudging across the miles took longer than planned; the terrain was tougher than anticipated; that intended-to-be-brief catnap on the grassy summit morphed into a peacefully lengthy REM sleep; that sprained ankle forced you to sit down and wait helplessly until help arrives. Whatever the reason, your hike took longer than planned, and nighttime is creeping in. Headlamps are simpler than flashlights as they allow you to use your hands for more important things. Be sure you are using (or carrying) new batteries so you can count on the light to work with needed.
#4 Maps or trail guide – If you’re a map nerd, check out these National Geographic Topographical Map kits. If you’re more of a word geek like myself, a trail guide such as The A.T. Guide, is an essential item to have on hand. Providing convenience and local knowledge, both can work to make your experience safer and more enjoyable. Most state parks offer maps for free, so be sure to stop by the visitors center if there is one on site.
#5 Small first aid kit – No tourniquets needed, really. Stick to the bare basics in a small first aid kit and consider the most likely scenarios. Throw in a couple of Bandaids and some Neosporin. Benadryl is important because often times we don’t know our allergies until we encounter them. You may need sting relief as hiking greatly increases your chances of meeting a bee or two. An Aleve isn’t a bad idea to have on hand, and neither is Body Glide for any sore spots that develop on your feet (though chapstick or a small amount of Vaseline would work in a pinch). Take care of any sore foot spots immediately before they become a painful problem.
#6 Hat/sunscreen – On my entire 2,189 mile Appalachian Trail thru-hike, I never needed sunscreen because my hat provided enough protection through the dense forests. This does, however, depend largely on your destination and the time of year. Most of the A.T. is shaded, so direct sun exposure is limited. Being familiar with your route is extremely important for your enjoyment level.
#7 Trash bag – A gallon-sized Ziploc works well for this purpose. Whatever accompanies you into the forest comes out with you too, including your trash. To receive good trail karma, leave the world better than it was when you found it and pick up garbage left behind by others too.
#8 Emergency blanket – The cost is less than $2 and the weight a mere 2 ounces, and in an unexpected pinch, could absolutely save your life. This antiquated technology is perfect for holding in heat and providing a sense of security. Remember, expect the unexpected.
#9 Lighter – This one may be necessary in an emergency, but honestly it’s really only useful if you’ve played around with starting fires. Your homework assignment is to build a fire using a lighter and anything you can find outside in your environment. Practice a time or two before you hit the trail. You’ll either need the skill in an emergency one day, or you can use it to impress others at a campsite.
#10 Bounce dryer sheets – Interesting item to be on this list, huh? Though not a necessity, did you know Bounce dryer sheets are an easy, more Earth-friendly method to repel insects? Unless you’d rather wear smelly, greasy poison all day, consider testing out the Bounce sheets as your bug repellent. They weigh nothing, make you and your pack smell laundry fresh, and add no carcinogens to your life. Lord knows we’re surrounded enough by those in our day-to-day life.
There you have them, the goodies to throw in your pack before you spend a day out in the woods! With these 10 items, your pack weight should still be less than 10 manageable pounds. Play it smart and keep yourself safe. No one who gets into trouble ever plans to do so, so expect the unexpected. Cheers! ~Clarity