Most hiking and backpacking gear sits buried in your pack during the day, but some extremely handy items get used more frequently than others. Those items should be kept as easily accessbile as possible, while the remainder of your kit is stored in your pack. As you’re shopping for hiking pants, make absolutely sure to buy ones with good hand and/or thigh pockets!  Don’t settle for pants with lame pocket syndrome. If you’re shopping for a new pack, think of getting one with a pocket on the hip belt.

Here I’ve compiled a list of my top eight most-used knickknacks and suggest that you also keep them in your pants and hip belt pockets for the easiest possible access. The easier they are to reach, the more likely you are to use them when needed.

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1. Phone – No surprises here! Phones are used for tons of stuff, even in the backcountry. Most savvy hikers are now using GPS apps like Gaia as their primary form of navigation. And of course, you’ll need the camera ready at a moment’s notice to capture the next summit Insta banger. Also recommended: taking and storing pictures of guidebook pages.

2. Snacks – Hikers are fueled by munchables, and you should keep an assortment of them readily available to be eaten while you walk. I use my pack’s hip belt pockets for this, and suggest keeping at least one salty snack, one sweet snack, one hearty snack, and one energy bar loaded at all times. Refill the pockets from your main food bag at breaks throughout the day.

3. Sun Screen – Protect your dermis! Sun burns are the easiest way to ruin a trip (and your life, 40 years later), so make sure to use sun screen. I recommend keeping a travel sized tube of at least SPF 30 in your pocket and reapplying every 2-3 hours. If it’s handy, you’re less likely to forget or postpone application. Don’t put yourself in that position.

4. SPF Lip Balm – Whether panting or simply mouth breathing, hikers are constantly traveling through dry, dusty, sun-soaked environments that can very easily lead to dry, chapped, or sun burned lips. To protect this high-use area, I recommend applying lip balm at least every other hour, and the easiest way to do this is if its within arm’s reach at all times.

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5. Bug Protection – Bug protection isn’t necessary on every trip, but when it is, you’ll want it at the ready. If you’ve ever been stalked by a swarm of 10,000 Sierra mosquitos, you would understand. For optimal protection, I recommend keeping a head net and Picaradin spray or lotion ready to be put on at a moment’s notice.

6. Paper Maps – While Gaia GPS is my primary form of navigation, I like to keep a paper map available in my thigh pocket, in case I want a second source of information, need to conserve phone battery, or want to consult my group with a more zoomed out view. If my map is buried in my pack, chances are higher that I’ll get lazy and not use it when I should.

7. Compass – If you’re bringing a paper map, you should also bring a small compass and follow the same logic as above. If it’s buried, you’re less likely to use it when you should. Keep it handy.

8. Knife – To be honest, the real reason that a knife made the list is so that I could remind readers of how relatively useless they actually are to the modern hiker, compared with common perceptions. Trust me, you won’t use it to defend against a bear, whittle a tool, or cut your arm off to escape a slot canyon. In trekking thousands of miles, the only thing I’ve ever used a knife for is cutting salami or the occasional fresh vegetable. Now I pack it in pre-sliced, so really, why do I even bring a knife?

Like construction workers with tool belts, we want to have our most used equipment handy at the exact time we need to use it. By keeping things ready in our pockets, we save ourselves time, energy, and can easily prevent hunger, sun burns, bug bites, and getting lost. Happy hiking!


For all purpose hiking pants with good pockets, check out the Men's Equinox or Women's Voodoo (great thigh pocket). For desert environment pants with great pockets, check out the M's and W's Wadi Rum Collection

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