It’s All in the Bag…Or Is It?


What is in my backpack? That is a loaded question. I still don’t have the answers.

Honestly, the contents of my pack are dependent on:

  • The purpose of my hike.
    • Is it family hike? Do I need to prepare and care for hikers other than myself? If I am responsible for my children, how can I minimize the weight of the proper hydration and energy (food) items needed for the round-trip plus emergency back-up provisions?
    • Am I photographing wildlife or landscape scenery? Which lenses do I need? Do I need my tripod? Will I need extra items (extra batteries are a must)? If my hike is going to be long and/or arduous, do I really need to lug that long lens?
  • The weather (at the lowest elevation and the highest elevation).
    • If it’s late fall to early spring, I run hot! It make be 25 degrees Fahrenheit with 20 mph wind gusts at the base of the trail, but as soon as I hit the treeline at a constantly increasing grade (uphill hike), with no wind, I’m going to start sweating. How many layers do I need? Is it going to be even colder and windier at the top? When I stop moving and my body stops generating heat from movement, am I going to add a layer over sweaty, wet clothes to maintain body heat OR am I going to need to change my wet clothes entirely and layer on top of that?
    • If it’s hot and humid, it’s a guaranteed sweat drenched day for me. How many layers can I get rid of and still bring a light-weight safety layer for warmth at higher altitudes? How naked can I get? Am I going to be able to dry out or do I have to haul my wet stinky clothes with me? God forbid it’s black fly season or there’s no air to break up the Jersey birds (mosquitoes)…
    • What time of day am I hiking and about what rate? Rate of temperature changes can be quick and unassuming. As soon as that sun goes down, you could be in trouble if you’re not prepared.
  • The anticipated length of the hike in time and distance.
    • Hydration will make you or break you. Did I mention I run hot? No matter what time of year it is, I’m sweating. We’re talking armpit, possible back-roll, under boob, butt-crack, crotchal region, shins and knees, bright-red face, soaked hair, runny-nose sweating. Forget modesty, embarrassing as it is, it’s life for me. (Yes, I’ve got some medical issues that do not help the situation, but those issues do not prevent me from safely pursuing a good hike). The longer the hike, the more water (regimented with electrolytes) and energy-packed food I’ll need. Fluids can get heavy after a mile uphill.
  • The terrain.
    • It’s winter, what are the trail conditions? Do I need to haul my snowshoes, trekking poles and microspikes?
    • It’s summer, am I going to a swamp or a wet region where I need to haul trekking poles? Do I need water shoes or something else that’s going to help me manage the hike?

Everything I’ve mentioned = weight in your bag. Heavier bag = more exertion = more sweat = possible back pain (although your pack should sit on your hips) = more supplies may be necessary.

THERE ARE NON-NEGOTIABLE ITEMS THAT SHOULD ALWAYS BE IN YOUR BAG (More items would be necessary for overnight or above treeline-arctic hikes):

  • First-aid kit
  • Waterproof matches/lighter (in a watertight, sealed baggie)/Magnesium firestarter
  • Map (Your electronic device may not have a signal unless you have true GPS)
  • Compass (Make sure you know how to use it) (Make sure at least 1-person in your group has one)
  • Extra Food and water
  • Flashlight or headlamp
  • Rain cover (even a 30-gallon trash bag for each person would work)
  • Pocketknife or multi-tool
  • Whistle
  • Extra socks
  • Insect repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • Para-cord
  • Personal medications (I always also have Tylenol or Advil)
  • Personal products (small toilet paper roll, tampons, small hand sanitizer, trash bag)
  • (Extra for winter)
    • Puffer (down jacket layer)
    • Extra mittens
    • instant heat toe and glove warmers

Overkill? Or could be killed? I would rather have the what-if supplies at a cost of 2 to 5 pounds than be left in an emergency situation with nothing.

The moral of the story; be responsible for your own safety, be prepared, stay alive.

Part two; whatever you take in, YOU bring out. Leave no trace. Mother Nature doesn’t wipe her ass with Cottonelle, Eat Kind Bars and smoke menthols. IF I SEE SEE YOU PURPOSELY CHUCK TRASH, LEAVE YOUR WATER BOTTLE, FLICK YOUR BUTT (not only are you littering, but you’re risking a forest fire), LEAVE A DIRTY DIAPER (even in the trailhead parking lot), I’M CAUSING A SCENE AND YOU WILL BE THE STAR OF THE DOPE SHOW.

No matter what you decide to put in your pack, just remember:

  • Increased risk taken by an inexperienced person = stupidity = you put yourself in danger = you put your group in danger.
  • You may not be MacGyver, but you can soak that emergency tampon in hand sanitizer, shove it into a notch in a sturdy stick and light that bad boy on fire…instant torch (please do not try this at home, synthetic materials may smolder and you do not want to risk inhalation or spontaneous combustion, resulting in personal injury).

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