Backpacking, especially overnight backpacking, is a pretty amazing thing.  I try to get out as often as I can, even if it’s a place close to home.  Sometimes those are the best ones, when you don’t need to travel far and getting out the door is quick and can happen on a moment’s notice.

Still, there are a few things that I always bring with me, no matter where or how far I am going. Some of these things are for safety, a few are for peace of mind, and a few are just things I like to have around regardless of where I am.

First Aid Kit

Let’s start with the important safety things first. I never leave home without making sure that I have some sort of first aid kit on me.  I like knowing that I can treat blisters, small cuts and scrapes, and insect stings and bites if they occur, and the things you need to do that can go into a medical kit and mostly be forgotten about until you need them.

Adventure Medical Kits

Mountain Series Medical Kit – Explorer

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Bear Grylls Scout Essential Kit

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vssl first aid kit


First Aid

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How comprehensive your kit becomes really depends on how long you’re going to be out for and how many people there will be in your group.  Small kits suitable for one or two people are lightweight, small, and can be purchased already filled, like the ones from Adventure Medical Kits,  with most of what you might need. They’ll probably come in a small waterproof bag, too.  If you decide to make your own kit, I find that putting everything in a one litre transparent water bottle makes it easy.

Water Purification

I always bring something to purify water.  If your water source is already pretty clean – moving, fresh water – something like a LifeStraw, or a chemical purifier from Pristine or Aquatabs will be fine.   If your water source is more grungy, you may want to think about bringing something like an MSR MiniWorks filter which will do an even better job.

steel water filter


Steel Water Filter

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water purification system


Water Purification System

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Hyperflow Microfilter

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hiking essentials

GPS, Maps or Compass

Except for hikes where I know exactly what the terrain is like, I always have some sort of map, compass, or GPS with me.  Even experienced hikers get lost sometimes, and it really only takes a few minutes of hiking off trail to find yourself in unfamiliar territory.

suunto compass


M-3 G Compass

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vssl compass


Compass End Cap

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InReach SE + Satellite Communicator

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If you bring a map and compass, practice using them beforehand. Most GPS units let you set waypoints so you can find your way back to where you were. And if you’re relying on a GPS, a spare set of batteries is pretty handy.

Headlamp or Flashlight

I always keep a headlamp in my pack.  Some LED models are so small and efficient now that they take up hardly any space and weigh next to nothing. The Black Diamond Iota weighs a measly 56 grams.   It will provide you with peace of mind should you decide to stay out later because you wanted to spend more time near the river or stick around until after sunset.

Black Diamond

Iota – 150 lumens

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Tactikka + 250 Lumens

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Tarp for Rain Protection

A small tarp can come in really handy.  If the weather turns bad and you’re trying to have a bite to eat or – let’s hope not – you get caught out and need to spend the night, a tarp can act as a shelter in a pinch.  With some trekking poles or a few straight sticks and a bit of rope, you can keep the rain or snow off and raise morale.  You can find tarps at pretty much any hardware store, or get something specifically designed for a camp shelter like the Rab Siltarp.

Those things are the must-haves for me.  After this, there are a few things that I usually bring because I find them incredibly handy.  I almost always have a good hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, bug repellent, a pocket knife, and an extra pair of socks with me, in case my feet get wet.  I hate having wet feet.  Wet feet suck.


Frogskins XS

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Outdoor Research 

Helios Sun Hat

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RangerWood 55

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Beyond that, I usually bring a waterproof notebook, like the Rite in the Rain notebooks, a pencil, and some reading material like an old paperback.  Oh and snacks.  You can never have too many snacks.  Snacks rule.