Backpacking: 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 lots 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. 24/7 chapped lips are truly horrible.
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 chew 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. Keep in mind that bio-degradle soap is still less than perfect and should be dumped out away from the water source.
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, garbage bags, or 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 my book rule.
7. Have a plan for your trash. I’m talking about Ziploc bags to deal with wrappers or uneaten food. An overflowing or spilled garbage bag is not worth the risk of smelly sticky stuff floating around your pack. You can often use the very bags you were storing non-pre-packaged food in.
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. One water filtration device is too slow for groups. Countless hours were wasted as twelve bottles were filled with clean water from a pump, one measly ounce at a time. Bring personal filtration devices, or drops so it gets done quicker.
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 beforehand if you plan on dining through sunset. Plus this helps prevent cooking smell-based bear invasions upon your campsite.