Every year for the past 18 years, I’ve organized some sort of crazy backpacking trip with my good buddies—a macho mancation, if you will. For a week, we tear off the 9-to-5 duds, get out of our comfort zones, battle the outdoor elements and push our bodies to the limit.
This past August was no different. In five grueling days, we completed a 77-mile Appalachian Trail hike near the North Carolina border heading south to Mount Springer. Buckets of unending sweat poured from my body in the 99 percent humidity. My legs were deflated and my body strained. I lost about 12 pounds and a couple toenails, but I prevailed—and am currently planning next summer’s hike as I write this.
Look, I’ll be the first to admit that there are more experienced hikers out there who’ve tackled more extreme conditions, ranges and altitudes than myself. But as Bobby DeNiro said in This Boy’s Life, “I know a thing or two, about a thing or two.” And that thing I know one or two things about is how to pack light … and how to pack smart.
Rather than bore you with the essential items to bring on your first backpacking trip (you can Google that right now), I thought I’d highlight some rather unusual items to bring with you on your adventure—all based on my personal experience on the trails.
1. Portable cellphone charger
Whether you want to listen to some music, play a little Angry Birds, post a couple photos or send some texts; a second (or even third) charge on the trail is worth its weight in gold—especially if you’re lost in the woods with only 2% battery life.
2. Bungee cord
I carry at least one bungee cord on all my trips. It’s great to use as a faux backpack strap to wrap stuff down and tighten stuff up on my pack (tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, etc.) But, after a day’s hike, it’s also good for drying damp clothes and keeping stuff off the ground to prevent those pesky rodents from snacking on your food and clothes.
3. Ear plugs
Some people love the rustling of the animals in the bushes and the chirping of crickets at night. Not me. A pair of earplugs is essential to drown out all those sounds that go bump in the night, so you can get your much-needed shuteye for the next day’s hike.
4. Quick-dry towel
I used to be a sports reporter and once covered the state diving championships. After every jump, I noticed all of the divers would quickly dry themselves off with small towels. After talking with a couple coaches, I found out that they were quick-dry towels, which hold up to eight times their weight in water and could be easily wrung out to speed up drying time. It’s like a chamois for your body—and perfect for when you find a swimming hole along the trail.
It’s not a fork. It’s not a spoon. It’s not a knife. In some cases, it’s all three. Plus, it’s extra light, very convenient and saves tons of space in your pack. You can easily grab this plastic (or platinum depending on your budget) Swiss-Army-Knife-esque, morsel-eating device at almost any backpacking or outdoor store.
6. Cleansing wipes
Save the soap and the shampoo for after the hike. For a quick tinge of freshness anytime during your hike, take along a small pack of cleaning wipes. Yes, the ones that you use on a baby. Make sure they’re unscented, too. You don’t want to attract any amorous bugs.
7. Dental flossers
I’ll be the first to admit that I hate these things. My wife and kids use them, and then carelessly toss them around the house instead of in the garbage. But, out in the wilderness, I’ve changed my tune. You can eschew a whole box of dental floss and, instead, use one of these per day for a quick dental cleaning.
8. Duct tape
Comedian Tim Allen was right: Duct tape is awesome. One time I used it to wrap up my hiking shoes, which started falling apart on the trail. Also use it as a bandage to cover foot blisters as well as minor cuts and scratches, mend your tent, pack and hiking poles, make lanyards and more. But, don’t take the whole roll. Rather, roll up a small roll for the duration of your trip (see picture).
9. Coffee filters
Sure, they’re great to brew coffee, but you can use these absorbable paper linings for a number of things like starting fires, pre-filtering water, covering your food, making a bandage, holding small contents in your tent, creating a portable dog food bowl, and even using them for (ahem) toilet paper. Plus, they’re great for easy clean ups around the camp—even to clean your eyeglasses.
10. Homemade fire starters
Take the excess lint out of your dryer and cram it into an empty toilet paper roll for a quick and easy (and free) fire starter. Bring one for each night that you’re out in the wild. Wrap them in some newspaper for an extra fiery kick.
So, now it’s your turn. What are some unusual items that you take with you on your hiking trips? I’m always open to rethinking my backpack contents.