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Must have backpacking essentials

Author: Chris

The following is a list of things that you should have with you if you plan on heading out on the trails for a day hike or an over night excursion.

1. Map: Always carry a detailed map of the area you will be visiting. If alpine scrambling or otherwise navigating cross-country carry a map appropriate for the area you will be in and the activity you will be undertaking--and know how to use it! The compass responds to Magnetic North, whereas, maps are based upon True North.

2. Compass: Carry a compass, at all times, in the backcountry--and know how to use it! The compass responds to Magnetic North, whereas, maps are based upon True North.

3. Flashlight / Headlamp: Flashlights and/or Headlamps are important even on day trips. You never know when you might need to spend the night or make that last mile or so after sunset. Here are some features to look for: lights which are water resistant--they function reliably in all weather. Look for rubberized bulb housing and battery compartments, or at least adequate rubber gaskets.

Avoid lights with on/off switches which can accidentally be turned-on as it is jostled about in your pack. It's a good idea to carry a small lightweight hand-held light in addition to a headlamp. In the hand held light use a regular bulb which requires less battery juice than the bright-beam bulbs. Use this light for simple around the camp chores, to conserve batteries.

In the headlamp, use a halogen (or other bright-beam bulb) and use this light when you are path finding or otherwise require a bright beam.

4. Extra Food: Whenever you go out, even for a day trip, bring extra food in case you are delayed by emergencies, foul weather, or just get lost. The mountaineers suggest a one-day supply. At the very least, bring one good meal more than what you need. The food should require little or no cooking. If your extra food will require cooking, make sure you also carry extra fuel for your stove.

5. Extra Clothing: In addition to the basic layers you would normally take on an outing, bring extra clothing which would get you through an unplanned bivouac through the worst conditions you might come up against. Extra clothing means a little extra beyond what you would normally carry, just in case of emergencies. In addition to the extra clothes, carry an emergency shelter such as a waterproofed tube tent or mylar Space Bag (or blanket).

6. Sunglasses: Your eyes can experience damage from the intensity of mountain skies, ultraviolet rays, and light reflecting off of snow. As elevation increases so does the intensity of ultraviolet rays. Adequate eye protection is a must! Bolle' makes a lightweight pair of glasses with a virtually indestructible polycarbonate lens they are rated 100 % UV protection. Try to stay with reputable brand names. Your eyes will know damage, long before you feel discomfort.

7. First-Aid Kit: Carry first-aid supplies for minor injuries. In particular, carry plenty of adhesive band-aids and sterilized bandages, because they can't be easily improvised in the woods. What to carry? A good book to reference. Also, If you spend any time in the backcountry, it would be a good idea to enroll in a mountaineering first aid course.

8. Pocket Knife & Tools: Your basic backpacking tool kit. A good example of a single piece of gear which has multiple uses. At a minimum, knives are useful for first aid, food preparation, cutting moleskin strips, cutting rope and making repairs. Be careful when selecting a multi tool if you don't actually use a feature, then you probably don't need to be carrying it around.

9. Waterproof Matches: Carry matches which have been waterproofed or wind and waterproofed, or else carry extra strike-anywhere matches--along with something to strike them on-- in a waterproof container. Keep these matches separate from your regular match or butane lighter supply. Keep them available for emergency situations.

10. Firestarter: Fire starters are useful for quickly starting a fire, especially in emergency situations. They are also useful for igniting wet wood. There are several commercial fire starters available: magnesium blocks w/striking flint; chemically-treated fire sticks, etc.

11. Water / Filter / Bottles: Carry plenty of fresh water. If you are familiar with the area in which you are traveling, and can be sure that water sources are available, carry enough water to get you there. If you aren't bringing your water from home or a public source, treat the water you draw from the backcountry, regardless of the source. These days, everything is suspect. Use water filter, purifier, chemical tablets, or boiling to treat the water before consuming.

12. Whistle: For emergencies: when you're lost, someone else is lost, or you're hurt and need help, etc.

13. Insect clothing or repellents: Three ways to deal with the biting flies, mosquitoes, knats, etc. are to

(1) let them bite you

(2) use repellents or

(3) wear protective clothing.

Since the first option doesn't feel good, there are numerous commercial repellents on the market. Most of them are DEET based. There are many good creams but they need to be reapplied more frequently. There are extended duration DEET products which do not soak into the skin as fast and provide up to 12 hours of protection. Wearing an ultra-lightweight bug-netting jacket and pants has been successful. Many bugs have long stingers that easily penetrate tight fitting netting.

14. Sunburn preventatives: Remember, the higher the elevation, the greater the intensity of the sun. The penalty for underestimating your need for protection is severe. In sunny conditions, wear light-colored clothing and cover exposed skin, at least, with SPF rated sunscreen appropriate for you, at least

15. Wear coverings over the neck and ears. Carry an SPF-rated lip-balm, as well, and reapply frequently.

About the author: Avid backpacker and outdoor nut.

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