I’m thrilled to introduce another great post by a guest blogger here on Trek Life. Some know Tara Anderson as the former Marketing Manager for Lijit, others know her as a practiced masseuse, a hilarious speaker and stand-up comedienne, or as a super-mom and accomplished blogger over on her own site TallTara.com. But what really gets Tara the Trek Life seal of approval, is that in the midst of all of that she still manages to find time to hike, train for marathons and explore Colorado (and beyond) with a pack on her back. Enjoy…
In my hiking career, I’ve done everything from over-nighters to 500+ mile trips. That time on the trail has given me lots of insights concerning what you actually need to pack for long-distance hikes. While everyone has their own idea of necessities and luxuries when it comes to carrying weight on your back, here are the eight things that I’ve discovered, in my experiences, to be worth their weight while on the trail.
- handkerchief: This valuable piece of cloth can be an emergency water filter, a wash cloth and a do-rag…all within the same water break. I never hike without one. There are also the medical uses for a handkerchief that I haven’t had to explore yet…to stop bleeding or to aid in the creation of splint.
- Gatorade/Koolaid: I highly suggest a water-disguiser of some sort. Water is great and thirst-quenching, but there are two situations that occur when you’re pumping your own water on the trail. First, the water may not always taste very good. It’s not all Rocky Mountain snowmelt and unicorns. Having another flavor to cover up the dirt can help in getting the water down. And secondly, you’re going to be drinking a lot of water. It’s pretty much all you’re drinking. So it’s nice to have something different…a new flavor to give you something to talk about while you’re hiking. Seriously. It’s the little things that keep you going.
- duct tape: I’m not the first to praise its virtues and it’s really no wonder. You can fix anything with this stuff. I’ve used duct tape on blisters, tent rips, holes in food bags, you name it. Plus you can carry it easily by wrapping some around your trekking pole.
- trekking pole: I saw thru-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail flying by on their poles but wasn’t fully convinced of their importance until I hiked with some. Trekking poles make uphills and downhills easier on your knees, in addition to proving helpful in river crossings and mucky swamp explorations. And now, there are tents that use the trekking pole as a center stake. This is one piece of equipment that fulfills a dual function of also easing my mind when I’m in the tent alone at night.
- spoon: Forget a fork. You don’t need it. Spoons are the way to go. Only slightly less important than the knife, but way more fun. And if you’re an ultra light-weight freak, cut the handle in half and save yourself 4 oz.
- hammock: I’m not just saying this because I’m writing for Trek Light Gear. A hammock can be used in a variety of ways on the trail…as a tarp, a sun shade, and backpack cover. Not to mention what a hammock does for a camp spot. Like I mentioned before, when you’re on the trail, small things make a world of difference. (I’ve heard stories of people sleeping in the hammock every night while out backpacking, but have yet to try this one myself.)
- skirt: I’ve hiked in skirts and been with men who’ve hiked in skirts. There is much to be said, once you get past the funny looks, for the skirt’s comfort and ease of use. If you don’t believe me, you should give hiking in a skirt a try. It allows for an increased sense of freedom (especially down yonder), makes it super easy to go to the bathroom and is an excellent conversation starter.
- running shoes: This is the hack I evangelize the most. It all started when talking with customers in the shoe department of a gear store where I used to work. I would lug heavy hiking boots around for them to try on and none of the customers ever seemed particularly happy or comfortable while wearing them. When I first started backpacking, I didn’t have money for an expensive pair of boots. So I brought my running shoes on a trip and was really happy with that decision. In addition to being lightweight and quick-drying, there were a joy to put on every day. Granted, I didn’t have the ankle support of those in proper hiking boots, but I was also strengthening my ankle in the process. I’ve never worn boots on any long-distance trip and have met very few other hikers who prefer boots.
These are just a few of my trail-worn hacks but definitely not a complete list. Sometimes backpacking circumstances force us to find a new use for something and sometimes, it’s simply a matter of trial-and-error. What’s worked for you? Share your backpacking hacks and we’ll all be better trekkers for it.