Five Things NOT to Bring on a Backpacking Trip

If you've been backpacking for a while, odds are you've been on more than one trip where you brought things you didn't need. I shared a list of things not to bring a few years ago, and as I started thinking about preparing for a trip in April, a few more things came to mind.

Every ounce counts when you're walking up a giant hill like this!

Basic essentials may not change from trip to trip, but every trip is an opportunity for to refine  personal must-haves in the food, gear, and apparel departments. It's so much about trial and error! And in my experience, it's much easier to find checklists covering everything you should bring backpacking, but what about things you should consider leaving at home? Based on my backpacking experience, here are some things I'd recommend avoiding bringing with you on your next trip.

Anything You Can't Lose

Things like jewelry I always wear when I’m out and about at home come to mind in this case. Though it feels strange being without a ring I always have on, I wouldn’t dream of taking it with me on a backpacking trip because I’d be beyond devastated if I lost it. When you’re out in the woods, it’s easy to drop, forget, or misplace things while you’re moving. Don’t bring valuable, impossible-to-replace things with you.

A Massive Backpack

My first backpacking pack was a hand-me-down 60L from the North Face, and it served me well over many years of adventures. But I found that on some trips, having a pack that size resulted in my trying to fill it, even if I didn’t need to. Sort of like having a basement in your house; somehow, it can just fill up, and you have no idea how!

I started using the smallest pack I could to make sure I physically can't overpack. So far, so good!

As much fun as it might be to shop for a giant pack, one so big you could crawl into it, massive packs aren’t always necessary. For weekend trips, 30-50L packs are great, and if you’re out for three or four days, 50-75L packs should be plenty big enough. Consider 75L+ packs when you’re on an extended trip (5+ nights), carrying gear for young children, or out in winter weather.

Tons of Extra Clothing

On my first backpacking trip, I decided I needed a clean pair of pants, a fresh baselayer, and a fresh insulation layer for every single one of the five days we planned to be out. Not only did that choice add a ton of unnecessary weight to my pack, it also added volume to a pack that was already too full.

One of the best parts about backpacking is you've got the right to be dirty, and wear the same clothes as long as you want!

I refuse to go without clean underwear and socks for each day, but that's my personal preference. Think about what you’re really, truly going to wear, and don’t bring any more than that. A good litmus test is to dump out your clothes when you get home, see what you wore, and see if you could've gone without some of what you brought.

Multiples of Too Many Things

On a  trip to the Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia, my group and I had one of the best possible problems – we all had everything we needed to be self-sufficient. We each own a stove, multiple group members owned water filters, tents, and we all offered to bring all of our stuff.

It's always helpful to have a list of group gear ahead of time to avoid bringing multiples of things!

We ended up with a few multiples of things we used, and things we didn’t. Having three water filters made water collection go faster, but had we traveled with one, it would’ve been fine. Though it’s good to think about and be prepared for what would happen if your stove doesn’t work, for example, that doesn’t mean it’s necessary to bring two of them. Don’t add extra weight to your pack unnecessarily, and it's best to get the group together to plan out group gear long before you leave. I've found Google spreadsheets very helpful for trip planning if you're not all in the same place.

Quantities of Items Inappropriate for Your Group Size

This goes both ways - bringing too much of something, or not enough of something - and is closely related to the tip above. As an example, absolutely do not ever go on a backpacking trip without some sort of first aid kit, but unless you’re a guide responsible for a large number of people far from help for a long time, or you're a medical professional with knowledge of a variety of supplies and how to use them, a basic first aid kit with the essentials can be all you’ll really need.

My husband is a paramedic, so there isn't much in the way of first aid he doesn't know how to use. Inevitably, we end up bringing a ton of first aid stuff on our trips, which isn't always a bad thing! But I don't bring everything he brings because I don't know how or why to use some of his equipment.

I typically carry bandages of varying sizes, gauze, athletic tape, moleskin, tweezers (hello tick season!), antibiotic ointment, iodine tablets, Benadryl, benzoin tincture (bandage adhesive), alcohol wipes, a sam splint, ace bandage, and my prescription medications. If you have something you know you need, like an epi-pen or inhaler, add that to your kit.

But bringing the kitchen sink, especially if that sink has things in it you’re not familiar with, isn’t worth it. Focus on putting a kit together that’s appropriate for the size of your group, for your level of knowledge, and meets any personal medical needs you have. I also highly recommend taking a Wilderness First Aid class; it helped me feel much more prepared in case of emergencies.

One backpacker’s non-essentials may be another backpacker’s must-haves; are there any items on this list you can’t imagine backpacking without? Or, conversely, things you’ve learned you should just leave at home? Sound off in the comments!

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