5 Things NOT to Bring Backpacking

August 24, 2016 | 7 comments

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!

1) A Massive Backpack

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.

2) Tons of Extra Clothes

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.

3) Anything You Can’t Afford to Lose

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.

4) Multiples of Too Many Things

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.

5) Large Quantities of Medical Supplies

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.

7 Responses


October 15, 2016

backpacking needs are as unique as the individuals backpacking. make sure you make a list ahead of time, lay out everything and pack everything a couple of times a few days before leaving for ur trip. you can never prepare for every issue that may come up but take a few small items that may help solve problems temporarily: twist ties, ziplock bags (waterproof, various sizes), whistle (to locate each other or if get lost), shinny cd( as a signal mirror), sunscreen, ibuprofen, tissue/toilet paper, flint & steel or some type of fire starter/spark maker, emergency blanket, multitool/knife, dental floss and duct tape. i carry all of these on every backpacking and/or camping trip. weight of everything combined is much less than a pound. take the duct tape off the roll and wrap about a empty toilet paper roll or a stick or a water bottle. duct tape can be used for wounds, blisters, repairs (boot, tent, sleeping bag, ect….) and to plug leaks. a small amount of aluminum foil can always come in handy.

Grant Buchan
Grant Buchan

September 05, 2016

I always take a few cable ties of various sizes. I have repaired the harness of a backpack and used them to hold a shoe together and they don’t weigh much or take up room. Essential for me.


September 04, 2016

I am happy to add 2kg by taking a bladder full of wine


August 29, 2016

Leave the books, magazines, & electronic gadgets (sans gps if needed) at home. Not only are they heavy, but most importantly they isolate you from the surrounding beauty. You went out to get away so really get away…facebook can wait.


August 27, 2016

A lightweight pair of shoes. I always bring Tevas or toms or something comforatable to wear when I actually get to my campsite. Hiking boots can be wet from sweat, stinky, and just plain uncomforatable after 10+ miles of hiking. Bringing light comfortable shoes to wear at camp just makes everything more pleasent…. Especially if you get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night!!


August 26, 2016

I agree with J.Krauss….duct tape has been a necessity for us. 5 wraps around a bottle wasn’t enough this last time. Three of us nearly used up a whole roll in 6 days. But some of that was due to a lot of off-trail and packs not fitted properly.

I added light weight water shoes to my pack. Stubbing/nicking my foot, just isn’t worth it imho. I actually enjoy the occasional cold water to cool me down. If there ARE lots of crossings…I simply take the extra time to find a way around. My kids tend to walk a little ways in their water shoes, to take a break from hot boots.

I no longer require a shovel, no matter how light weight they make them. I just don’t need them. Plenty of sticks, rocks, soft ground out there :)

No pillow. I use my jacket just fine.

We only boiled hot water in the morning and night, but we used 2 canisters of butane/propane and ran out on day 6. However, we are coffee/tea drinkers, so that is probably the biggest reason why, lol. Even though we calculated all this, we still ran short. Wind and altitude may have contributed. Think of this before hand.

Tiny fingernail clippers if 5+ days. Prevents nails from tearing, causing wounds, keeps down on grit under nails AND keeps those toenails down for steep downhill treks. Happy toes makes this hiker very happy.

I love using a pie pan for fires now (if open fires are allowed). I like the idea of not leaving a trace or scarring the ground for 10+ years. A plastic bag works just as well. Just cover with dirt, make your fire, remove after use, bury ashes after. Water on top. Rocks tossed in river if used.

Whatever you do, do not sacrifice leaving behind that extra day of food or water bag/bottles. I researched the last hike well, but there were no hiking updates on the current erosion and dry spell we experienced. We did NOT have enough water on one part of our trek and I learned a valuable lesson.

Also, always carry something small for sun, freezing and wet. It’s the exposure to the elements that can be fatal.

On that note, I leave this sad, sad article with you: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/01/14/air-force-veteran-and-his-2-sons-die-while-hiking-missouri-trail.html

Hike responsible and have fun!


john krauss
john krauss

August 26, 2016

on the medial side a small roll of duct tape will fix about anything that can wait till you get out

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