Ten Things I Can't Go Camping or Backpacking Without

My snacks for summit day on Mount Rainier in 2010. Yum! We brought food
that would taste good no matter what; altitude tends to zap your appetite.
Aside from the ten essentials, I'd argue we all have things we refuse to leave at home when we're packing for overnight camping or backpacking trips. Even if I'm trying to save weight knowing I'm responsible for carrying everything I bring for miles and miles, there are a few things I'll always try to make extra room for. Some of them are things I truly need while others are comfort and convenience items I could just as easily go without. Regardless, they're my other ten essentials. Coupled with the ten essentials and other must-bring items, they're a recipe for a great trip.

A guilty pleasure snack or drink - When I'm planning meals for a trip, I usually focus on what will fuel me the most efficiently and take up the least amount of space, (the exception being the shot above). But even after chowing down on a filling meal after a day on the trail, it's great to have a reward snack or drink handy. I adore lime-flavored tortilla chips and by combining them with my other favorite food, Komforte Chockolates created the perfect dessert. Of course, if you're planning to bring an alcoholic beverage, be sure it's legal to drink where you're going. (For example, bozze is prohibited in Pennsylvania State Parks.)

One of my favorite lip balms.
Good lip balm with SPF - Sunscreen is on the ten essentials list, but when it comes to keeping my lips from chapping, I pack lip balm as well. I made the mistake of taking lip balm sans SPF with me on Mount Rainier and ended up with some seriously chapped lips. There's a big difference between the balm I use every day and the kind you'll need to protect yourself when you're outside 24/7, especially if there's glare from snow. I'm a huge fan of Dermatone products.

Some sort of time-telling device - Many of us seek isolation in the backcountry to escape technology, but I'll never go without a time-telling device of some kind. If you're on a long hike with a turnaround time, it's a challenge to figure out when that turnaround time hits if you don't have a watch. I'll turn the network signal on my cell phone off, but leave the phone on to use as a watch. I've also got an old Timex watch like this one and don't see a need for anything fancier. 

A pillow - I used to pretend stuffing leftover clothes in my compression sack was enough to keep my head and neck comfortable all night, but I'm done pretending. And if I'm backpacking, I'm usually wearing all the clothes I brought to bed anyway. Therm-a-Rest makes an amazing compressible pillow and it's well worth making space in my pack for it. There are a variety of other pillows available too.

Earplugs - Sleepless nights are the worst, especially if you're on the trail. I love the sound of birds singing in the morning, the pitter patter of rain and the breeze blowing through the trees as much as the next outdoor adventure addict, but when it comes to snoring tent mates or loud campgrounds, I need to be prepared. This set from REI or a similar set from any drugstore are great. 

A collection of my favorite pillows, floss and lip balm.
A ground sheet or tent footprint - Initially, I decided footprints were a waste of space. But I've learned they can be a great way to protect the floor of your tent, especially if longevity of the material is a concern. The floor might be waterproof, but an extra layer of protection from the ground can keep sticks and rocks from ripping tiny holes in the material. Most tent manufacturers make footprints specifically designed for individual tents, like these. I've also found a plain old tarp works well.

Dental floss - Though it almost seems indulgent, dental floss is a must for me. There's nothing worse than getting a piece of almond stuck between your teeth and not being able to do anything about it. Plus, you could make a hamster-sized stretcher or hammock with it if you needed to, because that happens all the time. (Confession: I used the string from a tea bag as floss on a trip once. It's definitely not ideal, but it had to happen.)

One of the things I seem to forget more often than not: toilet paper - I always make sure TP is on every checklist in existence for any trip I plan, ever, but somehow, at least half of the time, I end up leaving it at home. My latest solution has been to drop one of these cute little Charmin To Go rolls in every backpack I own. Plus, the rolls are super convenient and much easier to use than a small pack of tissues.

Camp shoes - On backpacking trips in particular, it feels absolutely amazing to get out of my boots after a long day on the trail. Even if I'm car camping, switching to sandals to let my feet breathe after a day hike is a must. I have an old pair of Merrell sandals I rarely backpack without, but if I'm really trying to save weight, I'll carry cheap flip flops with me.

Coffee - This item needs no explanation. It comes with me. Always.

What are some of the things that aren't necessarily essential, but that you won't leave behind on a trip? Leave a comment! I'm always interested to hear what others consider "essentials."


Tiffany said…
I have a very similar list, the most recent add being a tiny bit of Scotch for sipping at camp. :) The guilty food pleasure for me is my dinner. No more freeze-dried meals unless we're on a multi-day trip - I'll make quinoa or couscous mixed with chicken and sauteed veggies at home, then pack it in and bring along cheese and avocado to top it off. It's great in the spring/summer/fall when you don't necessarily need a hot meal (and i'm usually drinking tea with it) and unbelievably tasty at camp.
Katie said…
nice! yep, if taking a night cap is an option, I'll definitely indulge!
and good for you for prepping all of your meals in advance! do you have
any issues with storing food when you're on longer trips?