1. The first thing on the list would be common sense. Many backpackers wind up in trouble because of the lack of common sense. Everyone knows not to approach baby bears, even though they are cute and fuzzy. However, big bad mama bears maul and kill people every year. Use good old-fashioned common sense when backpacking and you will have a more enjoyable and safer trip. It is a good idea to let someone else know where you are going, when you are leaving and when you plan to return. That way, if something catastrophic happens and you don’t return on time, someone will be looking for you and hopefully you will be rescued quickly.
2. Another very important thing is a map for the area you will be traveling. Plot your beginning location and your destination and stop frequently to update your location on your map. Getting lost is serious business. Not everyone who has been lost can laugh about it in years to come. Lack of heat, shelter and water can lead to serious conditions that are life-threatening. Make sure you know where you are at all times.
3. A compass is invaluable when backpacking. During cloudy days, under a canopy of trees, or in an area without distinguishable and memorable landmarks can cause backpackers to get lost easily. Make certain that you test your compass before leaving on your trip to make certain that it is working properly. In fact, a backup compass is a good idea.
4. A flashlight and headlamp are essential. Ideally, one would have both. Use a heavy-duty waterproof headlamp or flashlight with twist on and off switches so that they do not get turned on accidentally while bumping around in your backpack. Extra batteries and bulbs are also handy to have.
5. Food is necessary. Make sure you have a supply of food that requires little or no cooking. Bringing energy bars and freeze dried food is a good idea just in case you are in an area where you can’t build a fire. If you plan on bringing canned foods, remember that they are rather heavy to haul and you will need to bring a can opener of some sort with you.
6. Extra clothing is important as well. By extra clothing, I mean clothing above and beyond what you would normally carry. A warm jacket and long pants, extra socks and gloves are always good ideas. It is also helpful to bring along a tarp or some other form of emergency shelter.
7. Bring along eye protection in the form of good sunglasses. Eyes can be damaged through exposure to UV rays that are in the atmosphere and reflect off snow and other bright surfaces. When shopping for glasses, make sure that they are 100% UV protection and that the fit is good with no slipping or binding. They should be comfortable because you might wind up wearing them all day.
8. Every savvy backpacker knows to have a first aid kit on hand. Antibacterial ointment, sterile bandages, burn cream and sunblock are important contents. Also, mosquito repellent and medication for bee or bug stings is helpful to have.
9. A knife, a firestarter and other tools come in handy. A Swiss Army Knife is a good investment, since it has a variety of miscellaneous tools attached. A sharp knife is useful for cutting bandages, cutting ropes and other things. Make sure the knife is sharpened and in a protective holder or case to avoid cutting yourself by accident. Firestarters can be purchased at any outdoor sporting goods shop. If you decide to bring matches, make certain you have plenty of the waterproof type.
10. Fresh water, bottles and filters. I cannot stress this enough. Plan for how many days you will need fresh water and make sure you carry enough. Be aware that exertion can cause sweating, which will lead to serious dehydration if you don’t drink enough water. Filters and extra bottles are critical if you run out of fresh water. You can filter water from local ponds and rivers for drinking if you need.
By planning ahead and making sure you have all the essentials that you need, you will have a great trip. And remember, common sense is the most important of all! Don’t forget there is plenty of gear that you don’t need too.