Backpacking 101: The Ten Essentials

People have been hiking and climbing since the beginning of time, adventurously seeking Earth's most remote and stunning landscapes. An age old tradition, backpacking is one of the most adventurous and economical ways to vacation. Whether you're a penniless student, a passionate outdoorsman, or a thrill-seeking daredevil, backpacking is an enchanting way to explore the magical nooks and crannies of our often unappreciated, majestic planet.

Unfortunately, too many people underestimate the power of Mother Nature and embark on their adventures unprepared, putting themselves, rescue teams, and the environment unnecessarily in danger. To safely finish a hike, you need to be comfortable with not only the basics of hiking, but equipped with the right gear and a meticulously researched plan, too.

If you're ready to take the plunge and embrace the breathtakingly beautiful outdoors, check out the following essential gear you won't want to leave without.

  1. Navigation

A topographic map and a compass should be at the top of your packing list. Ensure that your maps are up to date with current trail information and secured in a waterproof case (if not printed on waterproof paper). If you're planning to tackle overnight backpacking, consider packing a global satellite phone or satellite hotspot, which will allow you to send automatic GPS tracking reports to friends, and if necessary, send an emergency alert notification.

  1. Tools

Each member of your hiking party should carry their own knife or multi-tool. In addition to trimming tape, opening food packets, cutting rope, and cleaning fish, a good multi-tool in an emergency situation can easily mean the difference between life and death. Replacement kits for equipment, cable ties, and duct tape are also useful items that are smart to pack.

  1. Illumination

Not just any ole headlamp will do when you're heading into the great outdoors, you need ample lighting to safely navigate unknown terrain. Pack your bag with a flashlight or headlamp and extra batteries, even if your plan is to return to your vehicle before sunset.

  1. Sun Protection

Hat, sunscreen, lip balm, and sunglasses are a must whether you're hiking or climbing on snow, ice, water, or high altitudes. Keep in mind that even on an overcast day, you're still exposed to the sun's damaging UVA and UVB rays (as 40-50% of sun rays penetrate cloud cover), and that snow, water, sand, and even grass can also reflect sun rays upwards.

  1. First Aid Kit

Before heading into the wilderness, verify that your first-aid kit is well-stocked. You can save time by buying a prepackaged first aid kit suited to your adventure style. Check to ensure that pressure bandages, medications, moleskins, and an emergency blanket are included. Before you depart, familiarize yourself with some basic first aid knowledge. If you don't have time to take a course, check your first aid kit for a booklet with instructions, which will safeguard you against most minor incidents.

  1. Hydration

Hiking is physically demanding, especially when it's sunny, and in order to keep up your strength, you'll need to stay hydrated. A good rule of thumb is to drink a liter and carry one to two liters per person at all times, which will ensure you're well supplied in the event of an emergency. Of course, you can't drink straight from a steam, however tempting it may be, so be sure to pack a water bottle or hydration reservoir, as well a water filter or purification tablets. Before departing for the day's hike, examine your map for any nearby water sources so as not to carry more water than you need.

  1. Nutrition

You'll need food to fuel you on your laborious backpacking adventure. Ideally, you're looking for foods that are high in calorie, low in weight, easily digestible, and store for long periods of time. You can purchase prepackaged dehydrated foods or make your own in a standard dehydrator, which can then be reconstituted in camp.

  1. Fire

Before you hit the trail, make sure you're equipped with an emergency fire starter in addition to your trusty lighter/matches. Pack some age old flint, or opt for more modern solutions such as ferrocerium, magnesium striking rods, or waterproof matches. If you are likely to encounter high winds or wet conditions, look into waterproof and windproof fire starting kits, which will make starting a campfire easy in any weather.

  1. Extra Layers and Rain Gear

When it comes to hiking, it's all about layering: adding or peeling off clothing as needed. As cotton is a poor insulator when wet, looks for clothing made of synthetic or wool materials. Depending on the weather conditions you'll be facing, you may need a synthetic shirt, an insulating middle layer, a weatherproof outer layer, lightweight synthetic pants, long underwear, socks (at least 2 pair), gloves, a beanie, a sun-shielding hat, and sunglasses. Keep in mind that weather conditions can drastically change throughout the day; a blistering hot day can quickly turn into a cold, chilling night.

  1. Emergency Shelter

Choosing the right backpacking tent depends a lot on where you'll be going and how many people plan to use the tent. 3-season tents are by far the most popular, but aren't the best choice for harsh weather conditions such as violent winds or heavy snow. In addition to selecting a weather-appropriate tent, considering alternate emergency shelter such as a thermal bivy, an emergency all-weather blanket, or a plastic tube tent.

Bonus: The gear you want; the gear you need

Wherever your exotic travels may next take you, odds are you may be facing precarious terrain or potentially dangerous isolation. Whether you're planning to hit the open sea for an around-the-world sail, or embarking on a mountain climb of a lifetime, having a satellite phone is the easiest and smartest way to ensuring rescue is only a phone call (or even text!) away.

Stay connected on the open ocean with internet at sea, or rent a satellite phone, which offers global coverage even in mountainous terrain. Because however confident you are in your climbing or seafaring abilities, it's important to remember that when it comes to adventure, devastating danger lurks around every corner.