Backpacking: The 10 Non-Essentials

You have memorized the Ten Essentials. You know all your local peaks by heart and even some of their elevations. You certainly have a closet full of gear, and by now you understand the basics of backpacking. But here are some bonus tips for making that extended trip into the wild extra enjoyable. I learned many of these lessons the hard way on the Mount Rainier Wonderland trail, a nine-day, 93-mile trek around the most prominent mountain in the contiguous United States.

1. Bring a huge loaf of cheese. Ours stayed fresh and cool for nine days straight despite warm temperatures and a very dusty trail. Cheese predates refrigeration, so it keeps better than you might expect. Side effects may include continuous human off-gassing.

2. Pack lip balm. Unlike the pepperjack, our lips did not stay fresh or cool. Forgetting lip balm was my number one regret of the trip.

3. At camp, plant your trekking poles upright. There is something subconsciously fence-like about upright poles that really makes a campsite feel like home. I think of it as good feng shui. *Do not attempt if deer roam nearby. They’ll slobber on your wrist straps to get at the salt.

4. Biodegradable soap ONLY. If you plan to wash cookware or yourself, packing regular soap means you’ve opted out of Leave No Trace before even starting the trip. Don’t be one of those people.

5. Waterproof your pack. There is no sense in obsessing over a good rain jacket or pants if you’re going to let your extra clothes and gadgets get soaked. Pack covers and dry bags are critical if rain threatens, especially if you’re hanging your food up at night.

6. No novels. These were the heaviest items we never used. Hiking, eating, looking around and sleeping will more than occupy your time. If you get bored, just take a side trip. Guidebooks are an exception to this rule.

7. Carry extra trash bags. I’m talking about two-gallon, freezer-grade Ziplocs. An overflowing garbage bag is not worth the risk. One of these bags should last one person four days.

8. Four days’ worth of food per cache is ideal. We found four days’ worth of food to be the maximum we could schlep comfortably up 4,000 feet of steep trail in a day. Eight-day trip, one cache; twelve days, two caches. For ten days, well, how strong are your legs?

9. Water pump filtration is too slow for groups. We spent countless hours waiting as twelve Nalgenes filled with clean water, one measly ounce at a time. Get drops or a UV light.

10. Dinner is best held at a viewpoint. Okay, so this isn’t a physical object, but it is still the most important tip here. There’s no sense spending your evening in a forested campsite when there is a nearby mountainscape, waterfall or cliff face to ogle while you picnic. But remember to set up the tent if you plan on dining through sunset.