Essential Items to Pack For an Outdoor Adventure

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Packing the right items is an essential part of any outdoor adventure. Bringing the right items could be the deciding factor in whether a trip ends early or keeps going. Things usually don’t go perfectly to plan when you’re outdoors. However, packing a few of the basics will get you out of most pickles you’ll find yourself in.

We believe in sticking with the essentials and keeping things as cost-effective as possible. But we also don’t want gear to be the deciding factor in whether our day or trip ends early.

After all kinds of outdoor adventures, we’ve made plenty of mistakes. Packing unnecessary items is just as troublesome as too few. Extra items means extra weight, and every ounce counts when you’re carrying the weight on your back.

We put this guide together so you don’t make the same mistakes we have, and the only thing that limits you out there is yourself. These are the items that should be in every bag you pick, regardless of the activity or length of trip. Even if you’re just planning to hit a trail for a few hours, these items should be coming along with you.

Backpack

The first zippered backpack was invented in the 1930s and it’s still the most efficient way to carry things on the go. These days there are specialized styles of backpacks for any activity you may want to try.  Beginners can get away with one or two backpacks and level up from there.

Your basic considerations in a backpack should be size, comfort and features. Your choice will depend on your preferences, the activities you want to prepare for and a bit of personal preference.

Many outdoor backpacks now have hydration packs built in (more on hydration below). Look for this feature in whichever backpack you choose. Other than budget, the next factor to consider is size. Ultimately, you want the smallest backpack possible for each trip you take. When you’re out in the wild the last thing you want is to feel like you’re carrying a house on your back. Make sure to travel and pack as lean as you can while making sure you’re prepared for the unexpected (the outdoors will test you on this).

When packing for a day-trip, opt for something small with hydration built-in and enough space for your essentials. If you’re embarking on a backpacking trip for several days, your needs are much different. Generally, the rule of thumb is to start with a minimum of a 30-liter pack and add 10 liters for each day you plan to spend in the wild.

The other basic thing you should consider when choosing a pack is the type of activities you’ll be doing. If you’re primarily using it for fishing or other water activities, make sure it’s waterproof or even check out a dry bag. Long hikes and expeditions have packs that will keep you comfortable over the long haul. Backpacks for hunters have features like quiet zippers so you can remain stealthy and store hunting gear like your bow or rifle in a safe place.

Canteen

Even if you have a hydration pack on your bag, a canteen is a worthwhile consideration. Canteens keep your cold beverages colder for longer and also retain the temperature of a warm coffee. There’s few things more comforting than a coffee that stays warm for hours on a cold day. Canteens are relatively lightweight and can preserve more than drinks – it can keep foods warm or cold, too.

Hydration should be a top priority for you at all times. Proper hydration will keep your energy up, help you better tolerate elevation changes and cope with the heat. Hydration starts long before you get out, too. Start thinking about your hydration levels a few days before any big trip. Plan to consume about 16 oz. of water per hour. That number should increase in warm temperatures or when you’re sweating a fair amount. Over time, it also becomes important to replenish salt, minerals and electrolytes lost while sweating.

Knife

A knife is the most useful and wide-ranging utensil in your bag. A good knife has infinite uses. It can cut meat and other foods, prepare kindling for a fire, help with first-aid, gut and skin an animal, trim tree limbs and more.

You can find knives in all sizes, shapes and prices, but reliable knives with great functionality can be found for around $50. Look for a knife that has both a smooth and serrated edge. The smooth edge will help with precision tasks like shaving or skinning. The serrated edge will slice through things even when the smooth edge goes dull.

If you’re keeping your pack light, or want to get bang for your buck, check out multitool knives. Many of the multitools out there can be found in the $50-$100 range. These multitools will give you a number of other valuable tools like screwdriver heads, scissors and pliers.

Fire Source

If you’re camping a fire source is a no brainer. Even if you’re not planning to stay overnight you should always have a couple lighters in your pack. Lighters take up virtually zero room, weigh very little and can get you out of a serious bind when you’re outdoors and things don’t go to plan. Don’t risk it with matches. Matches get damaged when wet and deteriorate over time. Make sure to give your lighters a quick test before each trip and you’ll be in the clear.

We always carry two mini Bic lighters in our packs. If one fails or runs out of butane, we have a backup. If you’re an expedition backpacker, or just try to minimize your pack weight in every way possible, the mini Bics weigh 0.4 oz. compared to the normal Bics weighing in at 0.7 oz.

Food

No matter what activity you’re embarking on, food is your fuel to keep your energy up and your performance where it should be. Look for foods that are lightweight, have a long shelf life and are dense in both calories and nutrients. Calories are your fuel, so now’s not the time to be cutting calories. If your body gets depleted you’ll start losing motor function and cognitive thinking abilities.

Popular foods and snacks on outdoor trips are energy bars, nuts, beef jerky, Ramen noodles and tuna pouches. There are also boxed instant foods that only require warm water to prepare. If you don’t plan to stop to set up fire, opt for pre-packaged foods that are dense in calories and nutrients.

Flashlight

We always keep two kinds of light sources in our backpacks no matter what we’re doing – a traditional handheld flashlight, as well as a headlamp. These light sources have two distinct uses, and it also ensures we always have a backup. The newer light sources are also compact and light. We’re long past the days of a big, clunky Maglite as the best option.

Light sources should be in your bag even if the plan is just a day trip. Sometimes things don’t go to plan, and there’s nothing worse than being lost, trying to find the right trail with no light source.

When selecting a flashlight or headlamp, be considerate of the activities you’re doing. If you’re going to be fishing or on a boat, you may want something that is waterproof. If you’re the kind of person who puts their tools through some abuse, you’ll want some durability.

Beyond size, weight and durability, the main consideration when choosing a flashlight (and the main driver of cost) is the power output of the beam, which is measured in lumens. More power will not only drive up the cost of your flashlight, but it will also increase the power it requires. You’ll either pay for a high-powered flashlight in runtime or in weight and size. Higher powered flashlights require more battery power to stay running.

Below is a quick and easy breakdown of lumens:

  • 0-60 lumens – Your smartphone flashlight falls into this category, so you should be purchasing a separate flashlight with more power.
  • 60-150 lumens – This is a great range for indoor flashlight use, or for using close-range and conserving battery life. This is a great range for your headlamp. Most of the time we use our headlamps for close-range activities like gathering wood, fixing or strapping something down, or staying on a trail when the sun has fallen.
  • 150-1,000 lumens – This range will cover you for almost every kind of outdoor activity. The lower end of this scale will give you functional light and an efficient use of power. The high end of this scale will be ideal for spotting long distance items in total darkness. Remember, more lumens use more power.

Rain Gear

You never know when a set of rain clouds will come out of nowhere. Forecasts are often wrong, so we prepare for bad weather no matter what. Unless it’s a hot day,  you’ll be extremely uncomfortable while wet.

Wet clothing will cause you to be exponentially colder and you’ll start chafing from the heavy, wet clothing rubbing on your skin while you move.

In temperatures under 50 degrees fahrenheit, staying dry is an absolute must for keeping your body temperature up. When the body gets extremely cold, from either being underdressed or wet, it goes through a process called cold stress. This cold stress can lead to sickness of various kinds, as well as frostbite.

A cheap, light rain poncho is a must-have in any backpack – many rain ponchos weigh 1-2 oz., pack up very small and will save you from being wet, cold and miserable. Most of these cheap ponchos also have enough bagginess to them so it can drape over your backpack as well, keeping your items dry if you don’t have a rain cover.

If rain is in the forecast, it’s worth it to consider rain gear beyond the cheap poncho. A good set of rain gear will either come in a one-piece, or a two-piece (jacket and pants). Higher-end rain gear will allow for more comfortable movement, have better overall features and will be longer lasting.

Wrapping It Up

These items should be in every backpack you take with you outdoors, and you should consider adding items depending on activity, length of trip and your individual needs.

Packing the right items is an essential part of any outdoor adventure. Bringing the right items could be the deciding factor in whether a trip ends early or keeps going. Things usually don’t go perfectly to plan when you’re outdoors. However, packing a few of the basics will get you out of most pickles you’ll find yourself in.

We believe in sticking with the essentials and keeping things as cost-effective as possible. But we also don’t want gear to be the deciding factor in whether our day or trip ends early.

After all kinds of outdoor adventures, we’ve made plenty of mistakes. Packing unnecessary items is just as troublesome as too few. Extra items means extra weight, and every ounce counts when you’re carrying the weight on your back.

We put this guide together so you don’t make the same mistakes we have, and the only thing that limits you out there is yourself. These are the items that should be in every bag you pick, regardless of the activity or length of trip. Even if you’re just planning to hit a trail for a few hours, these items should be coming along with you.

 

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