Hiking & Camping Gear Beyond the Bare Necessities.
I find that in my hiking life I stay in the awkward space between the need and want to strip down my gear, go ultralight, fly lightweight through the mountains, and the inability to get rid of stuff.
It's been easier to exchange the bulkier and heavier items for ultralight (and ultraexpensive) equivalents. But to get entirely rid of some things seems impossible. Not only that, I am not even sure I want to.
I find it pretty easy to come up with excuses and justifications for some of the not-must-haves I carry. They add comfort in sleep, provide entertainment, fulfill my passion of photography, help to deal with hygiene issues, make it easier to stop for a break without dirtying the pants, and so on...
Sometimes it's not so easy to distinguish between what is absolutely acceptable to take to prevent real concerns - like back pain or damage to a backpack and pure luxuries.
I want to share with you what are the things I can't stop myself from packing, that are not necessities. I divided them into groups: practical non-necessities, comfort-enhancers, and pure luxuries. I would love to hear from you how you stand in the battle between going lightweight and wanting your comforts. Let me know below!
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Practical, yet not-necessary hiking & camping gear
Not one, but two pillows!
In the beginning, I went with clothes stuffed into a dry bag for a pillow. But it just didn't work for me. It was too hard, uneven, and I'm a total princess on a pea bed. I got a pillow, and it changed a lot. I find it tremendously comfortable, and the size is so small, even ultralight hikers can find a place for it. After a while, because I misplaced my original Sea to Summit pillow (which I found later), I purchased a cheap pillow (much more cumbersome and bulkier) for one trip. I keep using it - for my knees. I'm not sure if you know, but it feels great for the back to sleep with something between your knees. At home, I sleep with a body pillow (recommended to me by a rheumatologist). I tried using a dry bag, but it just doesn't work as well as a pillow. It's also helpful to put it under your knees when you sleep on your back, legs seem to rest better in that position.
It's so much more than just entertainment! Hiking is the time when I read the most. I have the time, and quite often, I simply have nothing else to do. Paper books can not only be way too heavy, but they also can get damaged when stuffed into a backpack. Kindle is the perfect solution. But it's more than just books - I always send essential and useful documents to it. I have my insurance details on it, as well as trail descriptions, guides or bus schedules.
I admire thru-hikers who can go for weeks in just two sets of clothing - one for hiking, one for sleeping (and I've heard there are even those who sleep in the same). I just can't do that. Even with the modern technical fabrics (or merino), three days is generally the maximum I can hike in the same piece of clothing (woolen socks can do four or even five if needed, pants even longer). I take one or two pants, but three-five tops and underwear. Especially when I go where the weather doesn't help with drying clothing, I want to have more than a week before I run out of clean clothes. I love thin and light synthetic tops, which are crazy light.
Hygiene - deodorant, wet wipes, face cleanser, face moisturizer, soap, hand cream
I remember how I watched in shock a video of a guy showing his gear setup for a short (3-5 days) hiking trip. Of all possible toiletries, he had a toothbrush and tiny toothpaste, and hand sanitizer. That's it. No soap, no face moisturizer, no deodorant, no face cleanser or shampoo, nothing. I am not a crazy person who would take an enormous toiletries bag with all different kind of bottles and makeup thingies. But no soap? Is this a guy thing that they don't use face moisturizers of any kind? My face would peel off.
I also always carry hand moisturizer for extra-dry skin, as the skin on my arms dry fast. I use it for hands, legs, and everywhere at least once a week or the skin starts to itch and peel. Also, when it's rainy and windy, the skin on hands can get dry very fast.
A lot of thru-hikers don't use deodorants, and I get them. But I can't do that. I don't shower much when I hike (unless I stay at campsites or B&Bs), so I feel better when I use deodorant. It helps me feel cleaner and not to be anxious when I go through a village or a town.
Oh, and don't forget about sun protection and insect repellent. Although they are the essentials, really.
Extra stuff in my first aid
I have a bigger first-aid bag than is the bare minimum for a few reasons. One - I take a few pills daily for my chronic issues, so if I go for a month, that's a lot of meds. Then, as I hike alone, I want to be prepared to deal with the most probable injuries - I have plasters of many sizes, elastic bandage, disinfectants, burn solution, etc. Nothing big really. I hardly ever hike in remote areas, so no need for survival gear. I also carry pain killers and meds for cold and flu-like symptoms. Probably too much - I could always go and buy something in a pharmacy after a day or two. But it's a way for me also to save money. Medicine is cheaper in Poland than in Western Europe, so I don't want to buy anything of that kind there. I’ve heard somewhere that we “pack our fears”. With a few years of experience, I know how rarely I get sick (cold or such) when I hike. I think next time, I will try to be more skeptical about the meds I take “just in case”.
You could, in theory, just throw your backpack on the conveyor belt and hope all goes well. But there is a significant risk of the straps getting caught, ripped or the backpack's fabric damaged. Packs are expensive, so I prefer to take care of them, especially in a situation where I have no control over. So I always carry a backpack cover for flights (and sometimes bus rides). I used to have one made by Deuter, but I lost it somewhere in Portugal last winter. So this year I got a cheaper one from Decathlon, and it can fit over my smaller backpack. I would need to get another one for the big ones.
Some ultralight thru-hikers found they love doing no-cooking meals, soaking their food and eating it cold. They enjoy it and save on the weight of stove and gas canisters. Others use minimalistic gas stoves which can fit in a child's palm. I used to cook with the MSR pocketrocket, which is a remarkable piece of gear. But after a while, I went with Jetboil MiniMo. Not massive, but bulkier and more substantial than a setup of mini-stove and titanium pot would be. To me, it's just easier and faster to use Jetboil. It's all in one, it boils fast, and it has more of wind protection than regular stoves. It works for me.
Do you wonder what cooking choices are out there? You can check out some of your options below:
Comfort-enhancing hiking & camping gear
For a few years, I carried a foam pad that I bought almost by accident. I loved it, and never hiked without it. I didn't have to worry about wet grass or tree resin sticking to my pants. After four years of use, it was still alive but barely. For my last trip, I went all luxury glamour with glitter on top: I bought an inflating seat pad. I have to admit, I was actually thinking about buying a chair (might be considered the ultimate in hiking luxury, I guess), but the recommended ones were not available to me or way beyond my budget. So I got the seat pad. Expensive, luxurious, and so comfortable. I loved sitting on rocks or rocky trails as if in an armchair at home.
I found a picnic blanket and took it with me this year. It's not really a blanket, it's just called that way. It's more of a thin tarp, which I used in many ways. The most obvious was to sit on it, but also to create shade for my tent, or a more prominent "roof" for my tent's porch when it was raining, to have a clean patio in front of my tent, or to have a clean space for easy packing in the morning. Not ultralight, but lightweight, cheap and pretty useful. But if I had to get rid of anything to cut on weight - it would be probably one of the first to go.
I don't really need two-person shelter, and I could save on weight if I got a smaller one. But I'm a messy person who likes to have all her gear indoors. I can't imagine being stuck in a tiny coffin-like shelter in rainy weather. I want to be able to sit up, move around, read a map, pack, etc. As my tent is ultralight even as two-person, I decided the added comfort is worth the extra weight.
Closed cell foam sleeping pad
I have an ultralight sleeping mattress, so why on Earth would I want a less comfortable foam pad? Well, not instead but in addition to the NeoAir I have.
This year I took with me a cheap rolling mat, that wasn’t even sold as a sleeping pad, but rather for picnics and such. It was thin, light and provided the extra protection I wanted for my mattress. Although I’ve never had any issues, air mattresses are more delicate than other kinds of sleeping pads, and whenever I camped on rocky or thorns-infested ground, I worried about puncturing it. It was also fun to have it during lunch breaks, so I could spread my legs without any worry about ants, dirt or scratching plants. Combined with the blanket, I had a pretty large area for my food, JetBoil, my backpack, and myself.
I’ve just purchased the zigzag pad, as the rolling thing was constantly rolling up. I can also cut the pad shorter, so it stretches down to my knees or so. There is not much pressure around my feet, so I think the mattress should be safe.
I could just blow my brain out trying inflating my NeoAir, but I decided to buy a small pump. It’s basically the weight of two batteries and saves me from getting dizzy. And from breathing in too many of the mold spores that live inside of it. I turned it on while I unpack, then finish off with a few more blows and I’m done. I can’t imagine blowing the whole thing up every day! It’s a small gadget that’s really helpful. Definitely not a must-have, but I wouldn’t leave it at home.
Pure luxuries among the hiking & camping gear
Camera & related electronics
I was wondering if I should put my camera here. Photography has been my love, passion, and hobby for many years. I can't imagine going hiking without a camera. It's part of me, it's how I interact with Nature, how I create memories. It also eases my anxiety when I can "hide" behind the lenses.
But the fact that I carry that size of a camera makes it a luxury item. I used to have a compact Sony rx100 m3, and it was a fantastic little camera. But then I wanted to up my work and bought a mirrorless Sony a6300. Then I got a big new lens for it. There was no way I could hide it anywhere, I had to protect it and buy extra gear to carry it comfortably while hiking.
To make sure all my electronics work as needed, I started to carry a much more robust power bank. I want to make sure I can keep using my camera and my phone for up to 2 weeks. I now carry 20k mA brick, heavy as hell, to provide the power needed. As charging such a brick takes a long time, I updated the plug to a fast-charging one. I need extra cords to ensure it all works. I haven't checked, but if I weighted all the electronics (camera, lens, chargers, power bank, phone), it would come up to 2 kg or more.
At least I don’t carry a tripod - I just use rocks, tree trunks, and my own arm if needed.
I remember the times when I forced myself to drink instant coffee because it was lighter than a regular one. No more! I've decided life is too short to drink bad coffee, even when hiking and trying to limit the number of stuff I carry on my back over mountains. Don't worry, it's not any kind of USB charged espresso machine, but it is still much more than the bare minimum. Ground coffee takes more space and is more cumbersome than an instant, I also need paper filters and a dripper. And let's not forget about the dehydrated milk I always try to have with me. After, I need to carry the used filters with coffee grounds with me. Still, not too much of a price to pay for a delicious, freshly brewed coffee with a mountain view, right?
Yep, I do love my coffee! :D
What are your extras? What do you consider as a luxury item?
Or maybe you prefer to hike ultralight and don't mind the bare-bones setup? Let me know!
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