If you’ve been backpacking long enough, odds are you’ve been on trips where you’ve brought stuff you didn’t need. I’ve found it easier to locate checklists of things everyone should bring backpacking, but what about things you just don’t need to have with you?
Though essentials may not change from trip to trip, as I continue to refine my personal list of must-have gear, food, and apparel, I’ve also started keeping track of things I don’t need. When I put gear away after a trip, I take an inventory of things I didn’t use, then consider leaving them at home next time, including some of these things!
My first backpacking pack was a 60L North Face hand-me-down. It served me well over the years, but I found that on overnight trips, having a pack that size resulted in my trying my best to fill it, even if I didn’t need to. Now, if I’m just going for one or two nights in warm weather, a 35-40L pack is perfect.
As much fun as it might be to shop for a giant pack, one so big you could crawl into it, massive packs aren’t always necessary. For weekend trips, 30-50L packs are great, and if you’re out for three or four days, 50-75L packs should be plenty big enough. Consider 75L+ packs when you’re on an extended trip (5+ nights), carrying gear for young children, or out in winter weather.
On my first backpacking trip, I decided I needed a clean pair of pants, a fresh baselayer, and a fresh insulation layer for every single one of the five days we planned to be out. Not only did that choice add a ton of unnecessary weight to my pack, it also added volume to a pack that was already too full! I’ll still pack enough clean underwear and socks for each day, but that’s personal preference. Think about what you’re really, truly going to wear, and don’t bring any more than that.
Things like jewelry I always wear when I’m out and about at home come to mind in this case. Though it feels strange being without a ring I always have on, I wouldn’t dream of taking it with me on a backpacking trip because I’d be beyond devastated if I lost it. When you’re out in the woods, it’s easy to drop, forget, or misplace things while you’re moving. Don’t bring valuable, impossible-to-replace things with you.
On a recent trip to the Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia, my group and I had one of the best possible problems – we all had everything we needed to be self-sufficient. We each owned a stove, multiple group members owned water filters, and we all offered to bring all of our stuff.
We ended up with a few multiples of things we used, and things we didn’t. Having three water filters made water collection go faster, but had we traveled with one, it would’ve been fine. Though it’s good to think about and be prepared for what would happen if your stove doesn’t work, for example, that doesn’t mean it’s necessary to bring two of them. Don’t add extra weight to your pack unnecessarily.
Absolutely do not ever go on a backpacking trip without some sort of first aid kit, but unless you’re a guide responsible for a large number of people far from help for a long time, a basic first aid kit with the essentials is all you’ll really need. Bring a kit that’s appropriate for the size of your group, for your level of knowledge, and meets any personal medical needs you have.
I typically carry bandages of varying sizes, gauze, athletic tape, moleskin, tweezers, antibiotic ointment, a few iodine tablets, Benadryl, benzoin tincture (bandage adhesive), alcohol wipes, and my prescription migraine medication. If you have something you know you need, like an epi-pen or inhaler, add that to your kit. But bringing the kitchen sink, especially if that sink has things in it you’re not familiar with, isn’t worth it. I also highly recommend taking a Wilderness First Aid class; it helped me feel much more prepared in case of emergencies.
One backpacker’s non-essentials may be another backpacker’s must-haves; are there any items on this list you can’t imagine backpacking without? Or, conversely, things you’ve learned you should just leave at home? Sound off in the comments!
Written by Cairn Ambassador Katie Levy of Adventure-Inspired.com.