There’s a fine line between being prepared and over-packing in any situation. But when it comes to packing for a long-distance trek or even just a challenging day hike, coming down on the wrong side of that line could potentially mean severe discomfort or even injury. We learnt the hard way… so here’s a chance for you to learn from our mistakes and sort out your hiking essentials.
As convenient as it would be to have a single, comprehensive packing list that you could use to work out what to pack in any situation, there are many factors that should come into play. Some things you might want to consider include:
- The season (including realistic extremes)
- The altitude
- The duration
- Whether you’re hiring a guide and/or porter
- How fit or experienced you are
- Whether you’re camping or staying in huts/lodges
But, alongside all of this, there will be some essential items that you really wouldn’t be seen on a hike without. Here’s our breakdown of 15 complete hiking essentials, plus 20 more nice-to-haves.
So what are the hiking essentials?
Hiking essentials are items should be packed no matter what. Any self-respecting hiker wouldn’t be seen dead on the hills without them. Okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement, but you get the idea…
When it comes to clothing, it’s not necessary to pack an outfit for every day. Getting a little smelly is sort of the point of trekking, as long as you have enough in rotation that you don’t have to wear wet or heavily soiled clothes. Yum. If the weather’s good and you have some environmentally friendly laundry powder, there’s nothing stopping you from hand-washing a few items.
1. Well worn-in hiking boots or shoes – These are king of the hiking essentials list. Hiking-appropriate footwear comes in two main varieties: trekking boots or trekking shoes. You will always encounter some trekkers who claim that you only need a pair of running shoes, and while these may be more comfortable when things are going well, they are less likely to protect your feet and ankles from the strains of uneven terrain. Whatever your choice: wear them in and wear them in well. Blisters are nobody’s friend.
2. A light down jacket – Whatever the terrain or season, this will be useful. Layer with a heavier one if trekking in colder climates or higher altitudes, or wear alone at night in warmer climates. Down is preferable to other fabrics because it is very light and easy to carry.
3. Quick-dry trousers – The type of trousers you choose will largely depend on the season and weather conditions. But whatever these are, avoid jeans as they get heavy when wet, and take a long time to dry. Two or three pairs of cargo-style trousers in a neutral colour (that doesn’t show the dirt!) and made in a polyester-cotton blend are best for most kinds of treks.
4. A comfortable day pack – When travelling with a porter, a good day pack is necessary for carrying water, important documents, camera, a raincoat and other essentials that you don’t want to see trot off over the horizon in the early morning with your porter.
5. A light raincoat – Even if you’re not expecting rain, take a raincoat for random showers, which can occur anywhere.
6. Non-cotton tops – Cotton stays wet for a long time when you sweat into it, making it potentially dangerous in climates that can change rapidly, like in the mountains.
7. Personal first-aid kit – If trekking with a guide, they usually have an emergency kit for big problems. But you should be responsible for anything more unique to you, like prescription drugs or even an anti-diarrhoea medication. Extras like duct tape, tweezers, and blister dressings are also a good idea.
8. A head torch – Whether for navigating towards poorly lit toilets or stumbling your last half mile after the sun has set. Head torches allow the hands to stay free, so are more convenient than hand-held torches.
9. Water purification system and reusable bottles – These come in many types, from high-tech to simple drops that you add to tap water.
10. Flip-flops or waterproof sandals – Your feet are going to need a break from hiking boots by the end of the day, and flip-flops are also useful for less-than-hygienic common bathrooms.
11. A few pairs of thick socks – Proper trekking socks help prevent blisters and keep moisture away from the surface of the skin.
12. A merino wool base layer – Wool is best because it stays warm even when it’s wet, and merino is the best of all because it’s soft and tough.
13. A bandana or scarf – These can protect from the sun, dust, and wind.
14. A duffel bag or comfortable backpack – If you’re trekking with a guide that includes a porter service, check how they’d like you to pack your gear. In some places, overnight bags are wrapped in waterproof material and tied to a donkey, so a simple duffel bag is adequate. If a porter will be physically carrying your bag, your consideration for their comfort will be appreciated, so use the same type of bag that you would if carrying your gear yourself.
15. A dry bag and/or waterproof pack covers – Many backpacks – even daypacks – come with hidden waterproof covers that live in a secret pouch.
What else might be useful?
The following items are quite small and are suitable for most climates and situations, so should definitely be considered.
17. Long underwear
18. A peaked sun hat
19. A warm hat/beanie
22. A universal adaptor plug
23. A quick-dry towel
24. Toilet paper
25. A waterproof poncho – These are best in hot, tropical climates with short and heavy downpours, rather than sustained rain. They’re generally cooler and lighter than wearing a raincoat and are roomy enough to cover your day pack too.
26. Moisturiser and lip balm – This isn’t a cosmetic thing. In dry and high-altitude climates, failing to pack these can leave you with sore, cracked skin, especially on the hands, lips and face.
27. Walking poles – Anyone who scoffs at how silly these look has clearly never been on a steep uphill/downhill trek.
28. Swimming clothes (culturally appropriate ones)
29. Insect repellant
30. Maps, especially if hiking independently – Make sure they’re as up-to-date as possible. Be aware that errors can be serious, so don’t follow them blindly (such as the infamous case of the Nepali map that switched 3525 metres with 3252 metres, leading to more than one case of altitude sickness).
31. Local currency cash – Most businesses on trekking trails won’t have card facilities, and even in countries where Sterling, US dollars or Euros can easily be used or exchanged, you should carry small-denomination local currency while trekking.
And here’s a few things that you probably won’t need.
There are some items that you think you might need but usually end up squashed at the bottom of your bag. Although some people may swear by them as hiking essentials, you can probably leave most of these things behind. It certainly depends a lot on the kind of hiking trip you’ll be doing.
32. Playing cards – If you don’t play with them at home, are you really likely to play with them while trekking?
33. Books – Accommodation on treks is often poorly lit, so it may not be comfortable to sit around in the evening reading a book. While e-readers eliminate this problem, altitude and low temperatures can affect their performance.
34. Sleeping bag – Obviously, this depends on where the trek goes and whether you’re camping. But if you’re trekking with an agency, check whether it’s really necessary to take a sleeping bag. Warm blankets are often provided. If you’re worried about hygiene, a sleeping bag liner and pillowcase is a less bulky option.
35. Waterproof trousers – Unless you’re certain it will be cold and wet, you probably won’t get much use out of these. They can’t comfortably be worn when it’s hot and sunny, and are usually quite bulky. If the weather is warm and wet, getting wet legs won’t be a major discomfort, and if it’s cold and dry, there are better ways of keeping your legs warm.
Note: The previous tips assumed that you are not planning on camping independently. If you are, you will also need to carry tents, sleeping bags, all necessary cooking equipment and food. If you are going on a camping trek with a travel company, they will likely take care of these essentials for you (but it’s important to check).
Now that you know what (and what not) to pack, why not put your new found learning into practice and explore our hiking and trekking experiences with only best local guides and hosts.