10 Essentials for the Newbie Backpacker

There are a ton of websites out there with lists of all the backpacking essentials. This is a supplement, not a replacement, for those lists. These are suggestions you may not find on the other lists, and things I feel need reiterating.  Being properly equipped is the first step to a successful and stress-free outdoor adventure.

  1. Baby Wipes: There’s not always a water source near your campsite. The simple act of washing your hands becomes a distant memory, but a baby wipe will go a long way. Also, staying “fresh” while trekking through the wilderness is, shall we say, challenging. Take baby wipes with you for your more sweat prone and intimate areas. Your tent mate will thank you.
  2. Hardcore First Aid Kit: Blisters, cuts, scrapes, splinters, insect bites, poison ivy, sunburn, sprains, broken bones; anything can happen out there. Make sure you’re prepared with a bitchin’ first aid kit that covers all your bases. Bandaids, gauze, tape, an ace wrap, a splint, waterproof bandages, tweezers, antiseptic, pain medication, antihistamine; don’t skimp. You won’t need it until you do, but you’ll be really glad you have it when the unexpected happens.IMG_3564
  3. Trekking Poles: When you’re first starting out as a backpacker, you may not want to invest in too much fancy gear. Trekking poles may seem like an unnecessary accessory, or you might not want something extra to carry. Get the trekking poles. For one thing, they add stability; they can help catch you when you stumble. They also absorb some of the impact that would otherwise be absorbed by your knees and hips. Take it from a medical secretary for a group of orthopedic surgeons, you want to protect your joints. Treat them kindly or they will give up on you sooner than you think. Business is booming, I’m tellin’ ya.
  4. Mole Skin: This kind of goes with your first aid kit, but I feel it needs to be emphasized. Blisters can ruin an otherwise amazing experience. Mole skin has saved both me and my friends on a number of occasions, preventing an uncomfortable situation from becoming an unbearable one. Friction burn is another common backpacking injury, and once again, mole skin for the win.IMG_3369
  5. A Good Water Filter: This is one of those “you get what you pay for” scenarios. Don’t buy the cheapest filter you can find on Amazon and expect it to last. Believe me, having a broken water filter sucks. Invest in a good filter, and always have a Plan B: either a repair kit and/or purifying tablets.
  6. Fire Starters: Regardless of whether you’re a fire starting MacGyver, or a city girl who’s being dragged into the woods by her one outdoorsy friend, you can’t control the elements. If you’re trying to start a fire after a couple days of rain, it’s not going to be easy. Pick up some kind of fire starter to help get your fire going. You can even make you own (save your dryer lint)! sitting on an emergency blanket
  7. Emergency Blanket: You know the ones. You see them draped on the shoulders of marathon runners when they cross the finish line. In addition to their obvious purpose, they come in handy when backpacking for a totally different reason: you’re going to want something dry to sit on. Although an emergency blanket doesn’t offer any comfort, it does provide a barrier between the earth and your butt. It keeps you clean and dry, is inexpensive, small and super lightweight; it’s an easy add-on to throw in your pack.
  8. Hand Warmers: The self heating hand warmers you can buy at any drug store saved me on a cold, windy night on Mt. Rainier; where fires weren’t allowed, and the temperature dipped down into the thirties. A couple of strategically placed hand warmers can be the difference between a good night’s sleep, and a night of uncontrollable shivering and misery. Stick one in your pocket to warm your hands, one in the waistband of your pants, a couple in your socks–I’m tellin’ ya, it’ll change your life, or at least your backpacking experience.
  9. Garbage Bags: This is something that can be easy to overlook (I always forget them at the grocery store, in part because I reject the idea of spending money on literal garbage, so I subconsciously avoid the aisle, I think), but you’ll need a way to pack out your trash. There are no garbage cans in the back country. Take a few small, plastic bags to contain all your garbage, and help eliminate animal-attracting odors. Also, bear in mind that you may not want others to see your garbage (ever gone camping on your period?). Consider lining the outside of the bags with a layer of duct tape.dirty socks after backpacking all day
  10. Extra Socks and Shoes: Your hiking boots will be your primary footwear, but take a pair of water shoes or sandals to wear around the campsite, and in any bodies of water you step into. Taking off your clunky boots, and sweaty, dirty socks, after hiking all day, feels so good. You’re not going to relish the idea of putting your boots back on once your feet are enjoying the fresh air. Bring an extra pair of shoes, and allow your feet to breathe when you’re not hiking. As previously stated, your socks will be filthy. Be sure to pack extra pairs of clean, dry, moisture wicking, socks to keep your feet protected.

Backpacking can be the most incredible experience of your life as long as you’re prepared. It’s become one of the great loves of my life, and I can’t recommend giving it a try enough. Even if you’re a girly-girl, step out of your comfort zone and give it a shot. You just might surprise yourself!

Be sure to check out my other blog posts for more helpful hints, and stories from my travels. Thanks for stopping by!!

~Steph

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