Hiking is a thrilling and satisfying outdoor activity to refresh and keep yourself in shape. But if you are new to hiking, you must know what hikers need.
Although thrilling and satisfying experiences you get from backpacking across the wilderness and into nature are immensely rewarding, hikers need to stay cautious and prepared for contingencies and emergencies. It is the only way to make your experience a memorable one.
There are certain things you just cannot miss when hiking. These include your backpack, first aid kit, multi-tool knife, water container and filtration, tent, headlamp, phone, food bag, seat pad, and cloth bag. While there are other things a hiker should carry on a hike, these are the essentials.
If you are a vlogger and like to make videos of your adventure, you will need extra space for your camera equipment and tripod. Hikers can also carry equipment that is not necessary but important to have a better experience and fulfill your moral obligations, such as a garbage bag, cook set, sleeping bag, rain poncho, etc. Don’t worry about getting the best equipment if it’s out of your budget. Having the items on the checklist is more important than top-quality items.
We are hikers with vast experience on hikes all around the world. We have put together our knowledge to guide the hikers in starting their beautiful journey so they can have the best experiences and have a long-lasting relationship with this activity.
Hikers’ Must-Have Checklist
The big three is a common term you will hear in your backpacking journey, and the backpack is the first of the three. The other two are your sleeping bag and shelter. It is called the big three because backpacks are the most expensive and heaviest items on the backpacking item list.
The best backpacks include the Montane Trailblazer 44, Osprey Levity 45, Jack Wolfskin Kingston 30 Pack Recco, Gregory Katmai 55, etc. However, the best backpacks of well-known brands can be a bit expensive for newbies as they might not be willing to spend more money at their initial stages. But don’t worry. You don’t necessarily have to get the best backpack, but you need to have a good backpack with the right attributes.
When buying a backpack, you should look for sturdiness as it will be exposed to sun, rain, wind, snow, mud, dirt, debris, and whatnot. It will also be the only container for all the other things you will be carrying on the hike, so it should be able to bear the load. Besides that, it should be spacious and have more compartments, so it is easy to find your stuff quickly. On the other hand, your backpack should be lightweight.
Waterproof backpacks are the only ones you should look for. You will want to keep all the items within your backpack dry. Comfort is another thing that should also be on your checklist for buying a backpack. Items like hip belts and mesh provide the much-needed comfort on a hike.
There is a massive chance of something going wrong when you are on an adventure in the wilderness. You can trip over a stone, step on a thorn, get scuffed by rocks, fall sick, etc. - not keeping the first-aid kit a suicide mission. Don’t go ahead and buy a first-aid kit box from the store. The golden rule for backpacking is to keep all the items in as little space as possible.
Therefore, get a zipper bag and fill it with the first-aid items you will probably have at your home. These include band-aids, aspirin, pain killer spray, tape, allergy medicines, ibuprofen, cough drops, tweezers, etc.
Most hiking trails are well established and these basic items mentioned above are all you will need in case. You can find big and fancy first-aid kits if you do backpack shopping from the stores. However, they have a lot of things the hikers hardly ever need. Besides, if you don’t have proper training on using those items, you will only be carrying dead weight.
You can get a backpack with a hip-belt pocket attached to one or both sides. However, if you already have a backpack and do not want to spend money on another one, you can get a waist pouch separately. We use these to keep mini but essential items so they are easily accessible and you don’t have to swim in your backpack to find them. According to your hike, you can keep things like sunscreen, chapstick, hand sanitizer, bug wipes, gum, a multi-tool knife, or anything you identify as suitable for the hip-belt pocket.
As mentioned earlier, a multi-tool, also known as a Swiss knife, is one of the essential items you can carry in your hip-belt pocket. A multi-tool is an amazing and versatile tool that pays off on various occasions on a hike. A multi-tool is an all-in-one tool that fits right in your pocket and saves you a lot of space and the hassle and danger of carrying several tools in your backpack.
A multi-tool has a knife, screwdriver, scissors, nail-cutter, pliers, tweezers, and even a mini cork opener. Like the first-aid kit, you can find many fancy and big multi-tools or a bullroarer like the Crocodile Dundee swings, but you don’t need that unless you are planning to go on a wilder off-trail hike. A good-quality and moderate-sized multi-tool will work just fine.
Water Bottle and Filtration Equipment
Hiking is a tiring activity, and the fact that you will be doing most of it in the daytime is all the more reason to carry water bottles. Yes, bottles. Ideally, you should carry two water bottles of one liter each. Backpacks have side pockets for keeping bottles, but a one-liter bottle’s size might be larger than the pocket’s capacity. So you can carry two bottles of slightly less capacity, for instance, 750 ml.
However, even two liters of water might not be enough for your backpack trip, depending on the conditions and duration of your hike. Filtration straws are the cheapest option to refill water if there is a drinkable water source. However, those are not always effective. Instead, you can keep hydration packs available in different capacities if you are willing to carry the weight.
If not, another effective option is a mini water filter. Sawyer Mini is a popular filter with a fast water flow, and you can get it for only $20.74 from Amazon.
The tent is another vital and obvious thing a hiker needs and the second item from the Big Three list. But of course, only if you plan to go on a multi-day hike. Some trails have cabins and room accommodations. However, you should not risk not keeping and relying solely on the accommodation. You can get injured and not cover the distance, get lost, or have to take shelter due to rain or scorching conditions. Therefore, you must keep a tent as a backup.
When buying a tent, you should look for the same qualities that we talked about for getting a backpack. The tent should be sturdy and durable to bear extreme weather conditions for an extended period. On the other hand, sturdiness should not increase its weight. The ideal weight of a tent should be around three to four pounds. Any tent lighter than that will not be the most rigid.
Ventilation is another quality you should look for in a tent. Hot and humid weather can be excruciating and might make you sick. Ensure that the tent comes with a rain fly to provide extra protection from rain and winds. Top-of-the-line tents are available in a $100-150 price range. However, if you are on a tight budget, you can get good quality tents for $30-50.
Even though you have a tent, you need a sleeping bag as the tent floor is not cushioned, and it doesn’t bode well to sleep on rocks and uneven ground. A sleeping bag is usually made of nylon, plastic, fiber, and cotton. It helps you keep warm and comfortable.
A good-quality sleeping bag weighs around two to three pounds. However, the weight can increase if you buy a warmer sleeping bag for colder conditions. A sleeping bag usually comes with a compression bag that rolls and fits the sleeping bag into a small package, so it does not take up much space in the backpack.
You can avoid carrying the sleeping bag in warmer months by taking a sleeping pad. A sleeping pad is the lighter version of a sleeping bag but with a pillow. So, you don’t have to worry about carrying an extra pillow and worry about it slipping from under your head. The sleeping pad is inflated, allowing some room for comfort. However, you can keep it uninflated if the ground is level and soft.
On the other hand, you can use both a sleeping pad and a sleeping bag for the most comfortable sleep on a hike. But not many hikers are fans of keeping two items and adding more weight when they can do just fine with one thing.
One of the last essential things that hikers must keep for backpacking is a headlamp. You will need illumination at night to stay safe and see the way. A headlamp keeps your hands free and shows the light exactly where you are looking. However, don’t keep a headlamp only if you plan an overnight or multi-day hike. You can get lost during the day, injured, or trapped by the rain. Several hikers lose their lives due to not keeping the necessary equipment.
The Nitecore 30 is a popular headlamp that sells for about $30, and you can get it from Amazon. If you want something even cheaper, the Energizer LED headlamp is one of our many hikers’ favorites that you can get for only around $12 from Amazon.
A smartphone is an arguable item among the hikers. Old-school hikers believe that you can keep a smartphone, but it is unnecessary and kills the hike's natural and adventure part. On the other hand, modern-day and adapting hikers believe that a smartphone is a blessing for hikers. You can check the maps or even download them beforehand if there is a weak or no service. You can call for help in case of emergencies and also reap some of the luxuries like music, flashlight, etc.
Similar to the multi-tool, the smartphone is a versatile machine and highly beneficial for several purposes. We believe it is only wise to use it to our benefit. On the other hand, you will probably keep a smartphone if you vlog your hiking trips.
Well, some people like to keep it natural, and we don’t blame them. If you are not keeping a smartphone, you must keep maps even if you plan to stay on the trail. You might get lost or off-trail if you are a natural thrill-seeker. Keeping a map will ensure you know the way back to the trail or the destination.
The torch is the last essential item a hiker must have in an easily accessible position. Even when you are carrying a smartphone with a flashlight or a headlamp, you must keep a waterproof torch. The illumination of a high-quality torch usually has more range and sharpness than headlamps.
Quick Tip #1
Now that we have covered all the essential items hikers need, here is a quick tip for tackling one of the most irritating things on a trip.
Many backpacks have several straps hanging out, which is generally irritating for most hikers. These straps are usually to adjust the tightness of a specific buckle or an area. However, you won’t be using all of the straps on a given hike day. It would be much easier to roll and tie them with a zip tie. In comparison, you can also tie up the straps you think you would be adjusting from time to time with Velcro straps.
Next up, we will discuss some items that are not necessary for hiking but important to make your hiking experience better in various aspects.
An essentials bag contains all the items you will need more likely if you are going on a multi-day hike. These include:
- Repair patch for the sleeping pad
- Disposable Rain Poncho
Although you can keep these items in your hip belt or waist pouch, an essential bag like the one we discussed for the first-aid kit is a good storage bag to keep your essentials safe and secure in a single place and save other compartments for other items.
The emergency rain poncho we mentioned in the essential bag section is only for emergencies. Some people confuse it as the only protection from rain even if rain is forecasted. In reality, this rain poncho is disposable and only for emergencies, and you should keep it even if the weather forecast shows no chance of rain but only clouds. It is better to be safe than sorry. Besides, the emergency rain poncho is only plastic and barely weighs 50 grams.
On the other hand, you should keep a rain poncho at all costs if even the slightest chance of rain is forecasted. These ponchos are reusable and keep most of your body dry from the rain. Remember to get a lightweight poncho. A good-quality poncho can weigh between 250 to 350 grams.
Hikers usually prefer ponchos over raincoats because they are one-size-fits-all. Another benefit of a rain poncho is that it has enough room to cover your backpack. Although the backpack is already waterproof, the padding, hip belt, and shoulder straps can absorb water which might irritate you later.
Cold Weather Clothing
While it is not generally needed for hikers, you will surely need different and extra gear for colder temperatures. While not all of the gear, but especially your clothing, will depend heavily on the location and weather of your trail.
Depending on the severity of the cold weather, you should have several layers of clothing, a thicker rain poncho or a raincoat, an insulated blanket, a warm head cover (beanie), and a down jacket. You don’t necessarily need to have a down jacket, but it compresses and stores easily, so it is a better choice for hikers.
It is always vital to keep your food separated from other items so they don’t spoil accidentally. Therefore, a food bag will help you in dividing and conquering.
Note: Keep a Ziplock bag inside your food bag to pack all your waste to protect the environment when hiking.
If you plan to cook your food or make tea/coffee while backpacking, you should have a cook set that includes a small steel pot, a camping stove, a fork, and the food essentials.
Quick Tip #2
Carrying a seat pad will save you from hip aches and give you a comfortable space to sit to relax. A sit pad is basically a foam sheet that you can also use to spread your food essentials and cooking utensils on.
About THE AUTHOR
I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.Read More About Peter Brooks