What NOT to Pack Hiking: 10 Things to Leave Behind
Gear is obviously on our mind when we are getting ready for a longer hike. We don’t want to carry too much but also don’t want to miss something essential. From every side, we are bombarded with tips and gear lists but also ads and store’s suggestions of “necessities”.
If you are anything like me, you try to lighten up your load to make you hiking easier and safer. If you don't - you either are lucky to start already with a pretty low load or you just don't know how much better your hiking gets once you cut a few pounds off your backpack.
But how can you determine which pieces of gear are really needed and which ones you can safely leave at home (or better yet – at the store)? Well, I have ten things you really don’t have to take with you to ease your load and help your wallet.
Disclaimer: This post, in addition to some awesome tips and advice, may contain affiliate links to respected retailers for your convenience. It means that if you buy anything through those links, I receive a tiny commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!
1. Too many pieces of cooking ware.
Depending on if you are going by yourself or with a group of friends, you might need just one pot or a few divided between all of you. As I am a solo hiker, I generally advise for solo hikers, too.
The same goes with utensils – no need to have a whole set of cutlery. One good spoon (or spork if that’s your preference) and one good pocket knife is enough. And ignore the temptation to grab weird gadgets like collapsible camping whisk or camping chopsticks.
If you are a gourmet camping chief, you might want to take a few more pieces - to ensure you enjoy your trip. But even in that case, don’t go crazy with fancy sets.
And when we are around the kitchen: buy the gas canister that suits the length of your trip. No need to carry a huge one for a week-long hike. If you travel by plane, it might be difficult to acquire one, because we can’t fly with it and sometimes we are stuck with whatever the only outdoor store had. If you start your trip in a hostel - check their “free to take” boxes, tourists often leave their hardly used canisters there because they can’t take them back home with them.
Take a look what my “kitchen” set up looks like below:
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2. Jewelry and Make-up
Obviously, there is nothing wrong with small and simple earrings, a ring or pendant. But anything bigger can be problematic. First of all, bigger pieces can catch on things and hurt you. It’s easy to lose them and finding something in woods is hard. Leave the nice things back home – losing them would take all the fun from your hike. No one would want to lose a family heirloom.
Another thing is make-up. I know we are flooded with photos of perfectly groomed models on top of the mountains… but believe me, no actual hikers look that way. It’s ok to be sweaty, a bit wild-looking and messy. Hiking is a great opportunity to rediscover yourself, see how beautiful you look without make-up. That way, when you are back home, you will put it on only when you want, and not because you think you should.
Thank you, Kakalotli, for your comment on wearing rings: as I don’t have any I didn’t even think about them. I copy here your important message:
“about the rings I think they are a danger in long walks, you will see I am a doctor and I have had to repeatedly break rings in the emergency room in people who went on a hiking trip: on long walks the constant pendulum movement of the hands causes that by gravity and centrifugal force the fingers increase their volume to contain more blood and lymph, and if you wear a ring it is likely that at this moment it becomes small for your finger, have intense pain and if not treated, you can lose your finger, we do not want something like that when we are going to enjoy.”
Recently, when I hiked in Portugal, I had this happen to me for the first time - my whole arms elbow down swelled, I was glad I didn’t have any rings!
It really adds to the charm and cuteness of your photos. I was actually surprised how much I liked my photos from hikes. Probably, because instead of the work-ready make-up my face was filled with joy and happiness of the moment. Much prettier than any make-up.
And seriously, leave the perfume/cologne at home.
If you only have your guide in paper form (or even worse: in the beautiful but heavy photo editions) - copy just the pages you need - guidebooks very often have a lot of useless information, so grab only what describes your hikes. Alternatively scan at home or take photos of the pages/information you need.
4. Too many extra clothes
You must have a set of extra dry clothes – but you don’t need a shirt for every day of the week. I am not an ultra-light hiker so I do have more than one hiking tee, but there really is no sense to take three pairs of pants, five pieces of a top layer, three fleeces… you get the point. Merino wool is awesome in that it can be worn for many days in a row without much of a funk. High-quality synthetics are also made with silver-ions or other technologies blocking the odor-causing bacteria from growing.
Consider how often you will have a chance to wash your things, the weather, etc. and pack only the bare minimum. In addition to the necessary one set of dry clothes to sleep in, two-three tops and pieces of underwear are enough for a backpacking trip. If you want to take more - compare the weight of the clothes: synthetics tend to weigh less.
5. Too many spare things
Yes, you need an extra set of batteries for your headlamp. But two sets are overkill. Two sources of fire are also good – but three? Excessive. You are probably not going for a wild trip cut off months at a time from any civilization.
Most of the time even during long-term hikes or thru-hikes we are no more than 3-4 days from civilization (and stores). The longest hike I had with no visit to a village or town was 9 days but typically it was max. 3 or 4. Plan for those periods – you can buy extra batteries or food in the bigger villages or towns you pass through.
If you have special dietary needs (like me - I’m on a gluten-free diet), you might need to carry more of your staple foods, as they might be more difficult to find in small grocery stores. I always have all the basic food (all my soups, for example) for the whole length of the trip. But I try to cut on things that I know are more likely to be available in regular stores.
Consider your individual situation, but be realistic in what you need.
6. Huge dSLR camera
I love taking photos so I really understand the wish to take your beloved and high-tech camera. But it’s huge, weighs a ton and is a nightmare to use while hiking.
Unless you take a day hike with the sole purpose of taking nature photos, leave it behind. Take photos with your phone or a small but high-quality compact camera you can keep in your hip belt’s pocket.
I have a dSLR but I leave it behind and instead take my Sony rx100 m3 that I really like. It fits perfectly in my hip belt’s pocket and is easy to take out no matter how difficult is the trail I hike on.
7. Serious survival tools
Unless you are going for month-long survival trip (but then you probably wouldn’t be reading my blog) you don’t need an ax, a complex multi-tool devices, shovels or pocket chainsaws. You are probably going to use well-prepared trails, cook with your camp stove and sleep in your tent or a hammock. You don't need to chop your own wood or make your own shelter out of fallen trees and branches.
You also don’t need the not-so-serious survival tools, that remind funny gadgets more than life-saving gear. Leave those cans of fishing strings or 284746-in-one “tools” behind (or better even - never buy them).
8. Folding chair
9. Winter-grade gear for a light hike
I know it’s hard to have separate pieces of gear for every season and sometimes we have no choice but grab the only sleeping bag we have which might be too warm for the conditions. But if you only go for summer hiking, why buy a really warm (and heavy) sleeping bag?
The best advice is to buy gear for most common way you might use them. For the rare occasions of going for an atypical hike (winter climb, for example), see if you can borrow or rent gear you need. If you decide you enjoy that kind of adventure and want to do it more often - then you can look to buy it.
Try to be prepared for the conditions you might encounter – take a rainproof jacket, a warmer layer and dry clothes for a change. But don’t take all that “just in case” stuff that’s really extremely improbable to be needed. Be prepared but don’t go crazy packing items for every possible (or impossible) situation. Quite often we learn to make do with whatever we packed. We can wear all the layers we have for the one night it got way colder than expected.
10. Camp shoes
I know there people out there, for whom camp shoes are a must, even on a bare-minimum thru-hikes. I’ve been hiking without any quite a lot and don’t miss them. The only time I took extra footwear in addition to my hiking boots was when I hiked in Iceland - you need sandals or water shoes for wading through streams and rivers.
My key to success? Have a comfortable pair of boots and you don’t feel the need to take them off the moment you arrived at your camp. I do all I need around the camp in the boots, then take them off when I enter the tent for the night. My feet have many hours to rest, as I usually arrive plenty early in the afternoon or evening.
I also hike in waterproof boots so it’s a rare situation that my feet are wet and cold, I don’t mind walking around the camp for a little longer. Decide by yourself if it’s something you can leave behind - even light sandals add weight and take space in your backpack!
What should I take instead?
I'm glad you asked :) I have some help for you here:
You can also take a look below at some of the gear I use:
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