Hiking Essentials You Should Never Leave Behind
By JJ Yosh
As an adventurer, ultrarunner and backcountry chef – there are a couple hiking essentials I never want to leave the house without when I’m entering the great outdoors.
1. Fire Source
Waterproof matches, lighters, fire starters. It is always a great idea to include some source of fire in your kit. I actually prepare a fire starter kit by taking an empty Altoids box and stuffing it with vaseline and cotton balls. Cotton balls dipped in Vaseline are excellent do-it-yourself fire starters.
2. Cell Phone
Most of the time in the backcountry you are without cell phone service, but most smartphones come with built-in GPS. This is perfect for already downloaded topography map apps, compass and altitude apps, and a variety of other location service-related apps. Also if you go missing, authorities can track your cell phone GPS signal even if the phone is off.
No matter what time of the day I leave for the wilderness, I always make sure to bring some source of light whether that be a headlamp, small lantern, or flashlight. There have been plenty of times when a day trip turned into a night trip. Not having light can become a dangerous obstacle, especially if your trail running, climbing, or doing any other fast moving sport. Having a fully charged cell phone can be your emergency backup since most smartphones come with a built-in flashlight.
4. Portable Battery Back
I can’t tell you how many times my cell phone stopped working on nearly a full charge because it was too cold outside. Cell phones can die at any percentage level, so bringing a backup power source is essential. Battery packs allow you to charge any USB devices – including cameras, GPS devices, phones, etc. I always bring a battery pack with me even on trail runs. Depending on the trip duration I will bring two or three. You never want to run out of juice in the outdoors.
5. Energy Bars & Snacks
It is so important to keep yourself fueled up in the backcountry. Just as your cell phones need power, so do you. As an ultrarunner, eating properly is paramount to maintaining your peak energy and performance levels. But you don’t have to be an ultrarunner to benefit from eating healthy and smart outside. Typically when you’re outdoors moving around you burn calories, so you need to supplement those calories with dense nutritious foods. I always make sure to bring foods rich in proteins, salts, and vitamins. Dried nuts, dried fruits, olives, bananas, and hard boiled eggs are my snacks of choice.
This should be number one on my list of hiking essentials as staying properly hydrated is super important. I bring at least 2 liters with me on every excursion. On longer trips, I bring 3-4 liters at a minimum, and I also carry a portable water filter. The filter allows me to purify the water in streams along the way, so I can minimize my weight load.
7. Pocket Knife
Knives can be handy for many reasons in the backcountry – from cutting food to eat, to carving wood to start fires, to cutting rope to build shelters. A pocket knife is even better since it comes with other handy tools that can help you fix things on the spot. Also, if you ever have a wild animal attacking you, its always good to have a knife at the bare minimum to defend yourself.
8. Signal Device
Signal devices can vary from a whistle to an air horn. I usually bring an air horn and a whistle. I believe both serve two different functions. A whistle is good for making distress signals if you need help. Air horns are good for scaring away large animals like moose, mountain lions, and bears.
9. First Aid Kit
This has to be one of the most overlooked items to bring with you outdoors, mainly because people don’t plan on getting hurt. I always prepare for the worst and expect the best, so I bring along a well-stocked first aid kit just in case- supplied with band-aids, Ibuprofen, antiseptic cream, and blister pads.
This item always causes a stir as most people know it from its advertised usage, but condoms are actually a very versatile survival tool. Condoms can hold up to a liter of water, they can act as tourniquets if you get hurt, be used in slingshots, and even hold tinder for fire starting. They have so many uses that we could have created an essential list just with condoms.
JJ Yosh is an experienced international mountaineer, rock climbing coach, and outdoor trip organizer and leader.