Pack Right and Hit the Trail!

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is “what should I pack?”  This is a very important question for beginning hikers, as it nags at the hiker’s eternal struggle: What is necessary vs. what is extraneous weight?  In almost every guidebook one can find a list of sometimes nearly 100 pieces of gear that you should own and pack.  How are you supposed to sift through to figure out what is the most important?  Don’t worry, The Goat is here to help!

Prioritizing gear is essentially the same as prioritizing life.  What does one need to absolutely survive?  Water, food, shelter.  Though hopefully you never run into a situation where something becomes life and death, this is the basic rule of thumb on the trail:  Pack things that will give you the greatest chance of staying safe.  This becomes more in-depth the longer and more remote the trip, but for the purposes of this article we will focus on a 7-mile day hike in our region of the Colorado Plateau.

The Colorado Plateau is hot in the summer, cold in the winter, generally arid, rugged, and remote country.  Route-finding can become difficult in places, and most hikes lack perennial water sources.  Cell phone service can be spotty, and the wildlife, even the plant life, can be dangerous.  Sounds like fun!

I will assume that you have a small (25-40L) daypack, that you are dressed appropriately for your adventure (hat, sunglasses, sturdy close-toed shoes/boots, light rain jacket), and that you will be bringing your camera.

1.  Map & Compass (And the knowledge to use them) — This may very well save you life.  It is difficult to stress the importance of knowing exactly where you are, and how to get from here to there.  Should you become lost or disoriented, your map and navigating skills will be the thing upon which you rely to stay alive and find your way home.  We advise taking a map-reading course (typically offered at most outdoor shops in 1-2 hour courses), and know how to use and understand how your compass can help you navigate on your map.

2.  Water Bladder— We recommend a 3.0L bladder, which you can pick up for $15-25 at most outdoor stores.  Your bladder should be puncture-resistant and provide easy drinking access in the form of an adjustable mouthpiece.  Bladders are much more effective in keeping you hydrated, as they do not require stopping and fetching from your pack like a water bottle, and typically fit easily and snugly in a pouch in your daypack.

3.  First-Aid Kit— This kit should include disinfectant, tweezers, blister relief, sutures, scissors, pain relief (Ibuprofen) and a few types of bandages (band-aids, gauze).  It will cover all basic backcountry injuries such as cuts, bruises, and soreness.

4.  Knife/Multi-tool— Either one is fine, but a multi-tool can be more useful as it may contain tweezers, scissors, a screwdriver, etc. all of which can be quite helpful in a pinch.  In either case, your knife should be sharp, and the tool should be free of rust and in good working condition with all parts.  This can be used for almost any backcountry task, including self-defense, fire-starting, cooking, first-aid, and gear-rigging.

5.  Small Flashlight or Headlamp— Lights are necessary for navigation in dark places, and at night (obviously!).  These are typically small and very lightweight, and you will be glad you have one if your adventure runs long, or if you are forced to spend a night out.  It is also a good idea to have extra batteries for your light.

6.  Water Purification— This can come in the form of iodine tablets, which are inexpensive and lightweight, or a full-blown apparatus, which can be more expensive but yields very safe, clean, and tasty water through filtered purification.  Once again, you will be happy to have this in the event that you run out of water or need to provide water for pets, companions, etc.

7.  Firestarting Materials— This can include almost anything that can start a fire.  A flint, lighter, matches, or a spark generator are handy, and some kind of dry matter that can be used as kindling such as cotton balls, old man’s beard (that dry, green, mossy stuff on pine trees), or basically any very dry material.  You can also pack a tube of fire paste.  This should be very lightweight and compact, and you should practice starting a fire from scratch if it is something you have never done.

8.  Cell Phone with a Location App— Any smartphone should be equipped with a way to track it should it become lost or stolen.  This can be very handy if you become lost with it, as people will be easily able to track you movements.  In the case you do not have a smartphone, a personal locator beacon, or simply telling people where you are going and when you will be back can be the difference between being found and not.

9.  Small Survival Kit— This should include a small, loud, whistle, an insulating bivy sack (typically those shiny jobs), and a signaling mirror.  This should be lightweight and compact.  If you do happen to be stuck outside overnight, remember that lying directly on the ground will suck all your warmth away.  It is a good idea to help your insulating apparatus with pine needles or some other way of staying off the ground.

10.  Food Stuff — This should be a good mix of proteins, carbohydrates, and tasty, tasty fats.  You will be burning plenty of calories on your adventure, so don’t be concerned with nutrition labels.  Nuts, chocolates, peanut butter, granola, protein bars, and lunchmeat sandwiches are great trail foods.

Other Gear Ideas

  • Doggie Bags for your pet waste (or your own) — Pack it in, pack it out people 🙂
  • Toilet paper and trowel — see above
  • Emergency contact info – Driver’s license or other photo ID, list of people to contact, medical info including allergies, blood type, etc.  I wear dog tags that have all this information.

Clothing Do’s and Don’ts 

Avoid cotton and denim on the trail.  They do not breathe well, do not dry well, do not insulate well, and can literally kill you if they become wet and the temperature turns cold.  If possible, wear synthetics and wool, as they do all the things that cotton and denim do not.  Be sure you dress appropriately for the season and forecast, and be aware that weather is unpredictable, and that rain on the Colorado Plateau is just a cloud away.

Have fun, and I’ll see you out there!

May The Goat be always with you

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