The 10 Essentials of Backpacking

So we have covered all the big items and all the clothing you normally bring on a backpacking trip. Now it is time to cover the 10 essentials of backpacking and all the other little items that you might bring on a camping trip.

The 10 essentials are mainly described as survival items. For reference I will simply list the 10 essentials here as they are listed on Wikipedia.

1. Map
2. Compass (optionally supplemented with a GPS receiver)
3. Sunglasses and sunscreen (Sun protection)
4. Extra food
5. Extra water
6. Extra clothes
7. Headlamp / flashlight
8. First aid kit
9. Fire starter (matches, chemical heat tabs, canned heat, or a magnesium stick)
10. Knife (Cutting Edge)

To these you can add even more things like water purification, insect protection, repair kits, and signaling devices. Instead of describing how each thing works and what it is for I will try to keep it brief and try to just list all the odds and ends that I have in my pack.

So map and compass are pretty self explanatory. But learning how to use them takes time. You want a simple lightweight compass that allows you to do declination using your map. Most good backpacking maps are topographic maps and you should have a map that provides enough detail for where you are going. I will also be carrying the Colorado Trail Databook which lists all the way points and water sources on the trail.

As far as sun protection goes I already mentioned in my previous post that I prefer to just use clothing to cover most of my body and sunglasses for my eyes. I just don’t use sunscreen at all but it is a personal preference.

There is a reason you should have extra of everything. You never know when you are gonna be stuck outside for longer than you expected. Remember the rule of 3’s. 3 minutes without oxygen, 3 hours of weather exposure, 3 days without water and you could die. Extra water is more important than food and extra clothes is more important than water. Always have an extra layer for whatever weather you expect to encounter.

It is always good to have an alternate source of light, just in case you need to navigate in dark or find an item in the dark. I personally love LED lights that use those flat small lithium batteries. The best one of the market as of this writing is the Photon Freedom Micro LED. These things are small and inexpensive. You could buy 2 or 3 and have them in different places (pocket, backpack, around neck, etc.) If you feel the need to have a hands free model you can always use a headlamp as well. I will be carrying two small LED lights.

The subject of a first aid kit could have its own blog post, but I figured I would talk a little about it here. Whether you are buying or making a first aid kit it is good to think about how each thing in it will function. You need something to clean wounds (high pressure syringe, antibiotic wipes, ointment, etc.), something to cover the wound (dressings, etc.), and something to hold it on (bandages, gauze, athletic tape, duct tape, etc.). If you break something a splint can be made out of wood or other things found in the wild. You simply need a decent amount of tape or an article of clothing to stabilize the effected area. You should also have some moleskin for blisters.

Lastly you need good medicine. Ibuprofen for pain. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) for allergic reactions. Loperamide (Imodium) as an anti-diarrheal (Diarrhea causes too much dehydration while you are in the backcountry and must be controlled). Hydrocortisone cream for burns, cuts, bruises, etc. Depending on your trip you may want to take some stronger prescription strength medicine, but you obviously need to consult your doctor first. Lastly, lastly you should always gain training in first aid before you try to use some of this stuff.

Now to talk about fire starter. I am a big believer in having multiple ways to start a fire. Matches, lighter, flint, firesteel, magnesium, camp stove, etc. I would say that matches are the cheapest, easiest way to start a fire. Specifically you should invest in waterproof and/or strike anywhere matches. You can be in trouble if you have matches that only strike on the box and you don’t have the box or it is ruined from water or something else.

I am just now getting good at using steel and magnesium to start a fire. Magnesium shavings burn really hot and fast and will light practically any tinder very easily. All you need is steel grinding on steel to get the sparks you need to start a fire. Like most things, practice makes perfect.

I don’t plan on starting any fires right now because of the open fire ban, but in an emergency situation I have what I need to get a fire going to warm myself up and dry out my clothes.

And the last of the essentials is a cutting edge, otherwise known as a knife. A knife can do so many things for you. It can help you build a shelter, it can help you get together tinder and fuel for a fire, it can help you produce sparks to get a fire started, it can be used to help you prepare food, and it can be used in self defense. One of the best survival knives out there is the Swedish Mora Knife. Many people swear by it, and the one I bought only costs $15. You won’t find an equivalent knife for the price, weight, sharpness, and durability as this one. I also have a pocket knife with scissors among other things, a paraframe blade, and a SOG Seal Pup. I am not sure which combination I will take but I will definitely be taking more than one.

Here is a quick list of the last few odds and ends I have.

Mosquito net to keep the bugs away from me. Whistle for signaling help. Cotton balls covered in petroleum jelly for tinder. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap (A backpacking classic). Camp towel that is small and like a shammy. Extra 550 paracord. Some extra plastic wrap and aluminium foil for various random uses. And a camp trowel for burying human waste. Feel free to use rocks and sticks for that purpose but having a trowel is much easier and better in my opinion. Oh, and don’t forget toilet paper. 🙂

Now that we have talked about what comes out of the body (oh, and all the other essential things a backpacker needs), we will talk about what we put in the body to fuel it on these long journeys. Until next time…

This is part of the “Through Hiking the Colorado Trail” series…

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