11 Things You Might Regret Not Having in Your Backpack

Glow sticks, duct tape, and whistles …

Collectively, we’ve been called a few things—planner, worrier, prepared savoir, and mule (for the heavy pack). But when it comes to backcountry travel, we’re constantly reminded that our safety, and that of others, often depends on our brains (hello, wilderness first aid) and the contents of our backpacks. We’re all taught to carry water, food, extra layers, and a headlamp. (Please say, yes.) But the rest is up to you.

photo of packing essentials hiking backpacking bacouncountry backpacksYou’ll find some interesting items in each of our packs that don’t make the normal packing lists.

While thankfully, we haven’t had to save ourselves with these things lately, we can say that many items (and our wilderness first responder skills) get a fair amount of use—bandages on the runner who split open her knee right down to the bone last summer, a down jacket for the young girl shivering during a winter backcountry rescue, and a glow stick for the demands of a two year old.

So, without further ado, here are a few of the things the four of us (Eric, Janna, Don, and Jenny) drop into our packs.

The List

1. Light sticks. I always have one or two light sticks with me no matter the season. Not only can they provide much-needed entertainment for my daughter, if needed (they’ve entertained a few adults as well), but they could provide a light source (say your headlamp batteries died) or even a way to notify rescuers in a worst-case-scenario. (A glow stick twirled on a string is one of the best ways to alert a pilot.) –Janna

picture of ways to carry duct tape in the backcountry

Don’t pack the whole roll of duct tape. Wrap a small supply around your ski pole, a pencil, or another often-carried item.

2. Duct tape. Maybe too obvious, but you can solve a lot of problems with this. –Eric

3. The puffy jacket. I almost never leave home without this layer, even in summer. I get cold, a lot, and even on a warm day, it keeps the chill off on a summit. Plus, it can double as a pillow, or stuff it into the bottom of your sleeping bag to keep your feet warm. In most situations, I use my Patagonia Down Sweater, but if a situation calls for one jacket and no rain shell, I often opt for a synthetic hooded puffy jacket that blocks the wind and can still get a little wet. –Jenny

4. Fire starter. No matter the season, I always have fire starter in my pack, and at least two means of lighting it (typically a lighter and matches). As Les Stroud would say, a fire in any survival situation can not only provide comfort and warmth, but it can lift your spirits and keep you alive. –Janna

5. Gold Bond powder. You’ll know when you need it! –Eric

picture of first aid kit and splint for backpack packing

A SAM splint and an Aerie Backcountry Medicine first-aid kit = essential gear

6. First-aid kit. It goes without saying, a small first-aid kit is essential. It’s especially important to have a bleed kit in there. As they say at Aerie, “No one should die a preventable death.” I also carry a SAM splint, which is small, light weight, and easily slides into the back of my pack, and it comes in handy with a lot of injuries. –Don

7a. Pocket knife. This one is probably more of a staple for most people than not. But I certainly wouldn’t want to get lost or stranded without one. – Janna
7b. Or … Leatherman. A jacked-up pocket knife. Can be used for all sorts of repairs. – Eric

8. Katadyn BaseCamp water filter. Anytime you have a group in the backcountry for an extended period, this makes water filtering super easy. Fill it up, then hang, and it filters as you use it. No pumping. –Eric

9. Rescue whistle. A small, lightweight way to alert rescuers if you ever need to be rescued. While some backpacks now have them incorporated into the chest strap now, a true rescue whistle is super loud. –Don

10. Notebook. Not exactly essential, unless you’re an aging writer and you need to record that perfect sentence you constructed in your head before it disappears forever. It sometimes comes in handy to leave a note for a companion in the backcountry. I prefer the Moleskine Volant X-Small (just 2.5 x 4 in.) and carry either a pencil (wrapped with some extra Duct tape) or a permanent pen. –Jenny

11. Condom. Um, just saying. In case the mood strikes, you (or your hottie) might be grateful.

Not all of this makes it into every backpack every time; we each have our own packing style and it varies by activity and season. But maybe this will help the next time you ask what to bring on a hike, or what to pack for an overnight.

Feel free to share your own ideas in the comments below.

4 responses to “11 Things You Might Regret Not Having in Your Backpack

  1. Great article up to the last point… otherwise could have been an excellent article to share with youth organizations like Scouts. Truly disappointed.

    • Lonnie,
      True. It’s not a G-rated list. Maybe we’ll have to make one. But sometimes adults need lists, too.

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