Surprised as we are at what some hikers bring into the woods with them--the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink crowd--we're even more surprised at the essential accessories that beginner and expert hikers alike leave at home. Here are accessories you won't want to be caught without.
Water containers. A liter bottle or two (one to hold drinking water and one collapsible jug or sack for cooking-and-cleaning water will suffice for most trips.)
Water purifier. As romantic as it sounds to drink straight from a stream like Bambi, some water sources harbor nasty intestinal bugs like giardia. Consider carrying some method of water purification, such as a water filter, UV device, or chemical drops.
First-aid kit. Accidents happen. Pack a small waterproof kit with plastic bandages, antibiotic ointment, gauze tape, moleskin, a painkiller (aspirin), prescription medicines, and a first-aid guide.
Pocketknife. The Swiss Army had a great idea. Carry a knife with multiple blades and gadgets--including a can opener and tweezers, both of which come in handy in any number of situations.
Map, compass or GPS unit. You may not be bushwhacking
across the wilderness, but you should always know where you
are and how to get back. The best type of compass is a simple
orienteering compass, which combines a straight edge or base
plate with a standard needle compass.
Sun protection. This includes sunscreen and sunglasses, especially important at higher altitudes. Both should block UVA and UVB rays.
Insect repellent. A DEET-based repellent at approximately 35 percent DEET seems to work the best at holding off pesky mosquitoes, blackflies, and other no-see-ums. Apply it to your clothing, too (though not nylon, which melts in contact with the chemical), in especially infested areas.
Matches/fire starter. You can buy waterproof matches, but store them in a waterproof container anyway (such as a zipper-lock plastic bag) just in case. A chemical fire starter (solid or gel) is great insurance for soggy days.
Stove. While some folks don't mind munching granola, raisins, and crackers their entire trip, most people want at least one hot meal a day. And a stove is absolutely essential in cold weather. Campfires can be used to cook meals, but they are time-consuming and dirty, and they create an unfriendly impact on the backcountry environment.
Cooking supplies. A cup (plastic or metal), nesting cook pots, and a spoon are the bare essentials for cooking on the trail. If you're hiking with other people, add a bowl or plate per person, unless you're all comfortable dipping out of the same pot. Finally, carry a scouring pad in a zipper-lock plastic bag.
Toilet paper and trowel. When you gotta go, you gotta go. Remove the cardboard from the center of the roll so that the paper will flatten better, and carry it in a plastic bag. Use the trowel to dig yourself a cathole. You may want to carry the trowel in a separate plastic bag.
Headlamp. A small, battery-powered headlamp is ideal for hands-free hiking, reading, and camp chores. New LED models burn for many hours on one set of batteries; incandescent bulbs are much brighter, but burn through batteries faster.
Gear repair kit. Just as human injuries are bound to happen, so are injuries to your gear. A travel-size sewing kit (with several sturdy needles, heavy threads, and replacement buttons), a tent repair kit, a stove repair kit, and your Swiss Army knife will handle most repair emergencies.
Bandana and whistle. A bandana is a multi-use accessory for everything from straining water to keeping the sweat from dripping into your eyes to cooling your neck on a hot day. A whistle is especially good for children, who have a tendency to wander off the trail. Every child should carry one.
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