Your pack weighs as much as a small human and you’re dragging yourself up steep mountains, crossing freezing flooded rivers and slipping on muddy paths for up to 6 hours straight every day. This is NOT the place for that “oh-so-cute-just-in-case” $140 designer denim jacket. Read on for the ultimate list of backpack-essentials for your next hike and how to avoid OPS (Over-Packing Syndrome).
1. A kick-ass backpack
A good sturdy backpack should be at the top of your shopping list. If your trek is 3-5 days, opt for a 40L pack. It’s lightweight and will fit just the right amount of items for that period of time. If you’re planning to hike a little longer, anywhere between 6 and 12 days will require at least a 55L backpack.
2. A pair of non-slip, no-nonsense hiking boots
Fact: proper hiking boots will endure mud, sweat, and tears (literally!). Good ones are a worthwhile investment and will last you a lifetime. If you’re like me and have weak ankles, get a stiff pair for extra protection and ankle support. Oh, and did I mention to break them in before you leave? Don’t try them on for the first time on Day #1 of the hike (hel-lo blisters!). Buy them at least 14 days beforehand, and go for a short walk in them every day to help them mould to the shape of your feet.
3. A comfortable, cozy sleeping bag
As you trek further into the mountains a sleeping bag becomes a must-have. Quality/warmth is important and you do get what you pay for. The more compact the better, as it’ll be on your back the whole trek. Make sure it’s also warm, as you’ll be at high altitudes and in wet, cold and sometimes freezing conditions.
I repeat: a trek is no time for a fashion statement. I packed 4 cotton t-shirts, 4 pairs of leggings, 3 pairs of running shorts, 2 thermals, a down jacket and that fancy denim jacket (which I only wore ONCE btw). By Day #3 I realised I’d be living in the one pair of tights (my comfiest ones) and same black t-shirt for pretty much the entire trek. I didn’t even touch the rest of what I’d packed until I got home. You’ll learn to hand wash your clothes, let them dry overnight, and re-wear them: it’s convenient and necessary. The bare minimum should be 2 pairs of pants, 2 tops and, depending on the season, one fleece top. These can also double-up as PJ’s – that matching silky designer nightwear set won’t keep you warm in 5-degree weather. A pair of waterproof thongs/sandals are good for any downtime, including showering and walking to dinner. A waterproof light-weight jacket is versatile for layering – I found most of the time we were walking that I worked up such a sweat that I’d have to take it off but it does get cold too so it’s good to have the option.
5. A large, leak-proof water bottle
One word: HYDRATION. You want a large water bottle that can attach to your pack. You may be walking constantly for up to 4 hours at a time and will need to have enough water to keep going. Water purifying tablets can also be found in most chemists and you’ll want to bring some just in case.
6. Toilet paper (yes really)
Be prepared to learn to really love squat toilets, and if you don’t BYO loo roll you will regret it…
7. Hiking poles
No, a stick you find in the bush will NOT cut it… Having both weak ankles and knees, hiking poles were a lifesaver for me, especially walking downhill on slippery surfaces as they lessened the pressure. They may slightly slow you down, but I highly recommend them!
8. A gutsy portable charger
Much like drinking water, electricity may also be scarce or non-existent. I brought along a good quality portable charger and it saved my ass! It fully charged my camera, GoPro, Fitbit and phone, and only used 20% of it’s own battery life to do all of that.