Monday, December 3, 2012

What are the Backpacking Essentials?

There are a lot of different takes as to what should go on a list of essential gear, and some strong opinions.  In my point of view, I do not focus on specific pieces of equipment that are essential to have in your pack; but rather, I have a list of components or kits that are always necessary on some level when you are adventuring in the outdoors.  I have a list of 10 essential needs that must be considered, whether it be a survival situation, provisioning your bug-out-bag, or packing for a backpacking trip.

I'll present my list in what I would consider the order of priority from a safety/survival perspective; but your view may be different, particularly in a non-survival mode (which let's hope is always the case).  I plan to write individual posts to describe what each of my personal kits is comprised of, for those who are interested.

So here is my list of 10 essentials (excluding the backpack itself, just what you should have in it):

1)   Shelter.
      In a foul weather survival situation (or even backpacking), providing shelter from the elements is of primary importance.  No one wants to suffer from exposure.  Shelter could be as simple as a tarp or bivvy, it could be a fancy 4 season tent, or anything in between.

2)   Hydration.
      After all, we are made up of 98% water - and we need to keep it replenished.  Your hydration kit should include not only a container for water (bottle and/or bladder), but also a filtration or purification system. 

3)   Food.
      Maybe the elite survivalist can live off the land through hunting and gathering; but the rest of us need to pack enough sustenance to supplement the occasional caught fish.  
      After satisfying the primary survival essentials of shelter, water and food, it's important to have a first aid kit - because accidents happen.  Better safe than sorry.  

5)   Survival Kit.
      This is more of a catch-all category for a number of basic survival gear beyond first aid.  This includes items such as firestarter, pocket-knife, signal mirror/whistle, penlight and compass.

6)   Cook Kit.
      Now, if you are outdoors for more than just a day-hike, then you are going to want to eat, and likely something more than just trail mix and candy bars.  Maybe your cook kit is nothing more than a cup and spork if you are eating ready-to-eat cold meals; or might include a soda-can stove and mug for rehydrating meals; or even a complete trail kitchen.  A mess kit might be a luxury in a survival situation; but, in all other situations this kit probably gets more thought than anything else in your pack (it certainly does in mine).

7)   Sleep System.
      While you can survive by just huddling in your bivvy sack or wrapped in a tarp, there's not much fun in that (unless you have a very different definition of fun than me).  After the shelter system, your choice of sleep system will have the next greatest impact on your comfort and ultimate enjoyment of primitive camping.  You can miss a warm meal and still have a great trip; but try keeping a smile on your face after a cold, damp, rocky and uncomfortable attempt to get a night's sleep.  This system includes your sleeping bag, pad, and/or hammock - whatever gets you through the night.  

8)   Clothing.
      My mother always said to make sure you had on clean underwear in case you get in an accident.  Well, I'm not so sure about that...the only thing that I can think of worse than wearing a pair of stinky, 3-day old underpants, is taking them off and storing them in my backpack with all my other gear.  Anyway, this category includes all the additional clothing that you need beyond what you have on your back.  This probably starts with rain gear; but also includes spare socks, gloves, hat, and various other items depending on the season and weather.

9)   Toiletries/Hygiene.
      In the short-term, you can probably get away with rubbing your finger across your teeth, and using a fistful of leaves when you do your business; but, eventually you are going to want some proper TP, and some niceties like toothbrush, and camp soap.  Also, don't forget items like sunscreen, bug spray, contact case and saline, or any prescription medications you need.  A well thought out toiletry kit can really make a long backpacking trip seem luxurious without over-encumbering your pack. 

10) Tool Kit & Illumination.
      The tool kit can take on a life of its own, and everyone will have their own idea of what really needs to be it it for their mode of camping; but you really should think about what is an essential tool and what is an extra.  The more often that you camp, the better a feel you will get for this kit - and you can remove things that you find that you don't typically use, or add things that you always need and never seem to have.  I include illumination (headlamp and lantern) in this category, along with spare batteries, mini-tool, and paracord - that's really about it.  I also typically carry a parang/machete; but, that is really not essential - more of a luxury. 

So, that's my list...I will link the above list to more detailed posts for each item as they are written (stay tuned).  In addition to these essential components, I'll also post an article giving my thoughts on that other big category - the Non-Essentials (I carry my fair share).

Feel free to provide your $0.02; I'd be glad to hear from you. 

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