Being outdoors and away from the comfort of home, you definitely need to consider what you need to pack before heading out. Everyone is going to recommend that you pack some hiking essentials when you go for a hike, plus a few pieces of gear and the list goes on. The first 10 mentioned below goes without saying and these constitute the essential and critical items that need to be there in your backpack as insurance against the unexpected. These might not be used everyday, but they are considered to be life savers in cases of emergency. These hiking essentials ensure that you are well equipped in the wild.
Let’s look at the top 20 hiking essentials you shouldn't forget:
To get around and get the best of what area has to offer, ensure that you carry a map of the location. Learn how to find your location based on the landmarks and trail junctions marked on it. Also, learning how to use a compass at a basic level is of umpteen importance. You’ll basically need to have these in a waterproof container.
The higher the elevation, the greater the intensity of the sun. Sunglasses, sunscreen for lips and skin, clothing for sun protection & hat. If you’re sensitive to sun, you may want to consider wearing special sun-proof clothing to protect against sun-burns.
The amount of insulation you need basically depends on where you’re hiking (cold or warm) and day and night temperature. It’ll be a good idea to pack gloves, jacket, hat and extra clothing for coldest possible weather during current season.
These are necessary to carry - a headlamp or a flashlight and some extra batteries. You’ll need enough light to walk when it gets dark or in the night for camping. These need to be water-resistant; lights which come with extra bulbs & have rotating head or body as the on/off mechanism. LED headlamps are great as they are bright, small, inexpensive, and last a long time.
Carry these for yourself and other fellow campers with you. You can buy one from the stores or you can also assemble your own for much less. Also, carry plenty of band-aids and sterilized bandages. Additionally, if you spend a lot of time in the backcountry, it will be a good idea to enroll in a mountaineering first aid course.
Pack butane lighter, matches in waterproof container. This also means you should practice making a fire. There are plenty of commercial fire starters available like chemically-treated fire sticks, magnesium blocks w/striking flint, etc. You can also use home-made fire starters which work just as fine - small strips of waxed cardboard; small flammable containers--individual egg-carton cups filled with mixtures of wood shavings, wax, & lint; plumber's candles (wax); compressed balls of dryer lint mixed with or covered with melted paraffin, etc.
Repair Kit & Tools
Scissors, small roll of duct tape, cable ties, a few safety pins, Swiss army knife or leatherman-style multi-tool, wire crimper/wire cutters. At a minimum, knives are useful for first aid, food preparation, cutting moleskin strips, cutting rope and making repairs. These are important, but not essential, so scrutinize your needs before packing this stuff.
You need to eat to keep your body going if you’re hiking for more than a few hours. Dry food is preferred to save weight. Bring along healthy snacks with a good balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat or a sandwich. Also, it’s a good idea to bring extra food in case you are delayed by emergencies, so bring one good meal more than what you need.
When hiking, drink water liberally. You should be well hydrated as the water will help you digest snacks or meals, and eliminate waste. It’s often a good idea to carry a water filter or Chlorine Dioxide tablets so you can purify water from a lake or stream when you run out. Use lightweight water bottles to carry water.
An emergency blanket, emergency bivy, or regular bivy/sleeping bag cover is useful to be carried if you get cold and wet or need to camp out unexpectedly. You can include some more to the list, but pick what best suits your need - tarp, jumbo trash bags, plastic tube tent, insulated sleeping pad, to name a few.
If you’re camping in the summer, you cannot imagine the kind of bugs that’ll be out there. There are numerous commercial repellents on the market. Always keep lotion or spray repellents containing DEET or picaridin, and/or clothing that has been treated with permethrin. Usually, having long sleeves and long pants to wear protects much more of your body so the problem is reduced, though not eliminated.
It’s a must-have for summoning help when you're lost, someone else is lost, or you're hurt and need help. Here’s a tip: avoid metal whistles with a “pea”, as the pea can freeze up and it’s a bad idea to put your lips on frozen metal. Try using a pea-less plastic whistle - Fox 40. It’s shrill and ultra-light.
Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
Helps the search-and-rescue workers to find you in an emergency.
To add a measure of safety in many situations, include a cell phone or a satellite telephone or two-way radios.
Trash Bag & Toilet Paper
A trash bag can be used for emergencies and has a lot of potential uses. It takes up very little space as well. Toilet paper needs to kept dry in a zip-lock bag. If you're going to use wipes, make sure to pack it out because it takes too much time to decay.
When you’re hiking in areas where there is avalanche danger, you’ll need a snow shovel and wands (trail markers).
A small pocket stove with a sheet of aluminum foil to make a small pot to heat water. This is hugely helpful in hypothermic situations. It’ll be a good idea to have a stove that burns denatured alcohol. These weigh light and take up little space.
Key, ID and Some Coins
Leave all pocket junk in the car except for your car keys and identification. Change can come handy if you want to use a payphone or buy something from a far away place. These are just extra precautionary stuff, not necessary, but can come handy.
Raingear & Clothes
Raingear can include a plastic poncho during good weather days. If its colder and extreme weather, you may need layering clothes. The extra clothes need to go in a zip lock to be kept dry. Avoid cotton clothes.
Common Sense and Knowledge
Last but definitely not the least! Having packed everything but having no knowledge of how to use them is useless. One search-and-rescue leader aptly pointed out “People talk about the essentials things, but the most important essential is between your ears.” Good judgment can save more people than any equipment!
The right equipment can be tweaked based on your personal usage, however don’t forget to head out without adequate gear, knowledge, and ability.