Come September, I get to lead a group of students on a backpacking trip before the start of their semester. I’ve hiked both the rocky terrain of the Appalachian Trail through the Berkshire Mountains and the sandy dunes of the Ocala National Forest right outside of Orlando, Florida. As with any outdoors trip, “the economy of packing” is a balance between maximizing utility and avoiding extra bulk in my pack.
I’ve compiled below a short list of the items I never skip on when I fill my bag. Aside from the necessary food and gear that should always make your packing list, the following things are meant to make your camping experience that much more convenient when you’re in the backcountry. Not quite as superfluous as the disposable camera that accompanies every orientation group, and not quite as vital as, say, the water filtration systems that we carry with us, these items have still passed the test of time on the trail.
5. Sunglasses. Wearing a pair of UV-protectant shades means you don’t have to sacrifice style for protecting your eyes from the sun. In my opinion, backpackers shouldn’t shy away from the sunglasses-hat combo either; they are a good countermeasure against dehydration.
Leader’s tip: To avoid losing your sunglasses on the trail, pick up a sunglasses retainer strap for around $5.00 at a sporting goods store.
4. A Headlamp. When the sun goes down, switch on your headlamp and don’t lose any productivity! This hands-free alternative to a flashlight or lantern will leave you with two hands to set up camp, fix your dinner, and locate the perfect bear-bagging tree from which to hang your food a safe distance from any animal visitors.
Leader’s pick: A considerable investment at $39.95, my Princeton Tec Remix headlamp is reliable, has a comfortable elastic strap, and most importantly, gets a lot of use.
3. A Bandana. Bandanas make great headbands and head coverings for keeping sweat and hair out of your eyes. They can also function as nifty napkins come mealtime. Use them as a quick bandage, washcloth, or sling. I wear one and pack an extra with me for my weeklong trips.
Leader’s tip: Bandanas can be found “on the cheap” online or in dollar stores. You could even try making your own from a 22” square of light, woven cotton or natural fiber fabric.
2. A Watch. Before you set out, make sure you have a watch strapped around your wrist. It’s always smart to know where you are and how long it should take you to get to camp before sunset. Far from being a high-tech tool, a wristwatch is a good thing to have on hand (literally) during any outing.
1. A ‘Crazy Creek’ Chair. Probably my most indulgent and favorite piece of gear for backpacking trips, this foldable contraption serves as chair. Next time you settle down around a campfire, be kind to your behind and sit back in your adjustable camp chair. What’s more, strap your ‘Crazy Creek’ to the outside of your pack and it will act as another external pocket.
Leader’s pick: Aptly named, ‘The Chair‘ by Crazy Creek, this classic shape is well worth the $25.00 price tag.