Updated: Oct 12, 2022
Exploring the beautiful nature of our American parks is one of our favorite activities. Although we are avid planners, you can never plan for what Mother Nature may throw your way while out on an adventure. There are 10 essential items that you should always carry when going out for a hike which we have outlined below in order to keep you safe and leave no trace. Compiled from research, personal experience, and help from our friends at NPS and REI .
Table of Contents
4. FIRST AID
Most of us like to use the map on our mobile device while hiking. However, that leaves battery, signal, and satellite as potential risks that could interfere with your directions. When exploring new territories, it makes sense to have a physical map in your pack in case of emergencies.
Most state and national parks provide trail maps, however, it is recommended that backpackers carry a topography map that can be paired with a baseplate compass to assist in navigation. For a great resource on how to read a topography map, click here. For those of you taking many road trip adventures, you may consider purchasing an atlas to have as backup to your mobile GPS. For tips on how to access GoogleMaps offline, even without any service, check out our Exclusive Content.
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A standard baseplate compass is a wonderful backup to your mobile device, GPS, or watch's electronic compass because a baseplate compass does not require batteries. When exploring the backcountry or an off-the-beaten-path trail, pairing a compass with a physical map can provide you the navigation you need to explore safely.
We recommend getting this Suunto MC-2 Compass which includes a sighting mirror. In addition to sighting bearings, this mirror can also be used to flash sunlight to a rescuer in case of emergencies. Not familiar on how to use a compass? That's okay, it takes practice. Check out this great video for some quick and easy tips for beginners.
Most of us use a mobile device for GPS as well. However, some may prefer a satellite GPS which can include an electronic compass, barometer/altimeter, geocaching, digital camera, and/or two-way radio depending on how fancy you get. Proven useful for our adventures is the Garmin eTrex 10. No matter which option you choose, because these GPS options are electronic, be sure to have backup battery sources and a physical map with compass.
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An altimeter is a barometric sensor that measures air pressure in order to provide your estimated elevation. This is not essential for most hiking adventures, however, if you are looking for another gadget to help track your elevation gain and identify your location on a map, this Suunto Core Altimeter Watch is for you.
Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
Beacon's are most commonly used for backcountry skiers and snowboarders. They work as a signaling device in case of emergencies to government and commercial satellites when there is no cell phone service. They can be used for anyone who fears a threat of needing rescued in the backcountry. If you are in the market for this product, a great value and all-around satellite messenger that lets you send and receive text messages, track and share your journey, and send SOS messaged when necessary is the Garmin inReach Handheld Satellite Communicator.
Also Read: Grand Teton's National Park Complete Guide
An essential item for your pack not only while hiking, but also camping. While a cell phone flashlight may suffice for finding your car keys when you dropped them in the dark, it will not suffice for a night out in nature. While illumination could be a flashlight, lantern, or headlamp, a headlamp is our illumination of choice as it allows you to setup camp, cook a meal, or hold trekking poles hands-free.
We recommend this Water Resistant Headlamp that has lasted us many years on all of our camping trips. Lightweight and water resistant, this headlamp is a trusty device that is an easy addition to your pack. With rechargeable batteries, be sure you have a portable power bank to recharge on the go.
Also Read: Glacier National Park Complete Guide
3. Sun Protection
When exploring the outdoors, it is important to always pack sunglasses, sunscreen, and sun-protective clothing. The sun's rays can cause harmful short-term and long-term effects on both your skin and eyes if not using the proper protection
It's time to throw away that free pair of sunglasses you got at college welcome-week freshman year and invest in a pair that will protect your eyes as they gaze upon EPIC VIEWS. Sunglasses that protect from UVA (ultraviolet) and UVB rays (burns your skin) are ideal especially when spending a long duration of time outdoors.
ou may think that if you survived a day in the sun without turning your skin red you have been successful, however, UVB rays can have harmful long-term effects on your eyes as well. Stay protected with a pair of sunglasses that block 100% UVA and UVB. Our recommendation is to grab a pair of Prive Revaux Sunglasses. Protective sunglasses, stylish, and at a price point that will not make your stomach drop when you accidentally lose them in the ocean. Who us? That never happened...
Your skin is the largest organ in your body. Would you let damaging rays have direct contact with your heart? your lungs? your brain? No reason to treat your skin any differently. Similar to your eyes, it is recommended to wear sunscreen that protects from both UVA and UBV rays and has a SPF rating of 15 or higher. UV rays can reflect off of snow and water as well. Do not be fooled into thinking that you do not need sunscreen just because it is winter or because you will be spending most of your time in water.
To further protect your skin from damaging rays, you may consider clothing that has a UPF rating (ultraviolet protection factor). Brands like Columbia PFG provide quality outdoor shirts to protect from the elements. Remember, that wherever your skin is still showing (face, neck, hands) you should have a layer of sunscreen. Another easy way to protect your face from the sun is by wearing a hat. Lather up!
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Also Read: Rocky Mountain Complete Guide
4. First Aid
With rough terrain, trails, rocks, branches, and uplifted roots, you could be practicing extreme caution on a hike and still manage to get injured. It is always a good idea to have a first aid kid handy in your pack to combat any and everything Mother Nature throws at you.
Your kit should include bandages of various sizes, treatments for blisters, gauze pads, disinfecting ointment, adhesive tape, over-the-counter pain medication, gloves, pen, and paper. Most people purchase a pre-made kit and then cater to their individual needs. Be sure to take note of expiration dates on items before setting off on a trip and consider including a medical guide if unfamiliar on how the contents of a First Aid kit can be utilized during emergency situations.
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Also Read: Great Smoky Mountains Complete Guide
5. Tool kit
Knives are an essential tool for wilderness survival. They can be used to make a fire, prepare food, repair gear, and aid in injury care. When hiking, camping, or exploring the woods, you should have a knife. A lot of knives have a single fold-out blade, however, there are also many options for multi-tools that include scissors, can openers, screw drivers, and saws. Additionally, duct tape can be a good addition to your pack that can aid in gear repair when backpacking for a longer duration.
Having a means to start a fire is crucial, especially in backpacking or wilderness survival circumstances. The last thing you want is for your butane lighter to run out of fuel or matches wet from transport. Although you can start a fire with just a knife and your surroundings in the woods, throwing a small package of Stormproof Matches in your pack will save a lot of time in starting a fire. For trips in territories that are wet, in snow, or above tree-line, bringing along a stove is recommended as a substitute for fire starters.
Shop: Stormproof Matches
Also Read: Camping Hacks
If you find yourself lost in the wilderness, your tent will not do you any good miles away at your campsite. If faced with the circumstance of having to spend the night outdoors, a tarp, bivvy, or space blanket may be the difference between survival and hypothermia. Minimally, a tarp properly built up with leaves for insulation can provide a proper shelter, however, we recommend hiking with this Emergency Survival Shelter that has reflective interior which reflects back 90% of your body heat and keeps you warm and protected in a survival situation.
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Also Read: 14 Outdoor Products for the Budget Traveler
Packing the right food is important. You do not want to pack large, bulky items that take up room in your pack. You also do not want to pack items that have strong scents, like jam or berries, which could attract animals. The best items to bring are non-perishable items such as granola, nuts, oats, crackers, energy bars, or dried fruits. It is also advised to pack an additional days worth of food in case of emergencies.
We cook all of our hot meals with this Camping Cookwear Kit which only costs $35 and comes with all of the lightweight equipment you need for backpacking. This little gadget is our favorite thing to take camping and hiking. Reliable, lightweight, and perfect for brewing some coffee at the summit of a hike.
Always carry water with you on a hike, and plenty of it. It is recommended to have a minimum of a half liter per hour in moderate temperatures. This amount should be augmented based on increased altitude, temperature, and exertion.
Since most of us do not have the pack space to be hauling around gallons of water, we would recommend using a LifeStraw Water Bottle. LifeStraws filter out bacteria, parasites, chemicals, and micro-plastics, making it safe to drink straight from rivers, streams, and other water sources you may come across out in nature.
Also Read: Yellowstone National Park Complete Guide
Although it may be moderate temperatures during your hike, mountainous regions and many of our national parks have varying ecosystems, leading to drastic temperature changes. Not only should you pack layers to utilize throughout your hikes, but also as an emergency precaution in case you would need to spend time in the elements overnight. Layering options we recommend to include in your pack are insulating hats, gloves, balaclava, extra socks, and a lightweight jacket.