10 Things I Always Keep in My Backpack

My favorite items fall into three categories: functional, fun and efficient. Some are all three.

by posted on May 9, 2022
Sitting By Lake With Backpack

When backpacking, camping, hiking or otherwise recreating outside, preparation is key. Everyone has different essentials, but these are some of my favorite items in my backpack that I bring on every trip. If you spend every spare second outside, you’ll appreciate these functional, fun and efficient additions to your pack.

1. Pocket Knife
The best knife is the one you have. While some are partial to high-end brand name blades, my $12 pocket knife off of Amazon.com has gotten me out of some sticky situations. From slicing open a bagel to cutting a tangled line or rope, you should not only always bring a pocket knife, but keep it handy. Mine lives in the waistband pockets of my daypack or backpack, which paid dividends just a few weeks ago while canyoneering in Utah. Canyoneering consists of securing a rope to a rock, tree or deadman anchor (tie a rope to a rock, bury it and pray it holds your weight) and rappelling into a canyon.

I was dangling in the middle of a 70-ft. drop into the second canyon of the day when I started slowly spinning as I looked for my landing point. I had one hand on a rope beneath my body that if I let go of, would send me crashing to the ground. As I looked downward and my body rotated, I continued to gently lower myself, until I noticed I was feeding one of my pigtail braids directly into the belay device. With all of my body weight on the rope in midair, there was no going back up to extract my hair from the metal gadget. So, I was forced to hack off half my braid one-handed with my pocket knife. It was the only way to continue, and it could have been a lot worse had I been stuck there with no way to detach myself from the device.

2. Camelbak
Of course, you should always bring water into the wilderness. Dehydration is a serious and lethal threat. I’m partial to keeping my main water source in a bladder tucked into the back of my pack with a conveniently placed tube resting on my chest all day long. I never forget to take a sip when I’m thirsty or skip a water break because I want to keep moving. While there are plenty of companies selling similar water setups to Camelbak, I’m brand loyal.

When I car camp or day hike, I have another favorite Camelbak product: the MultiBev. This truly ingenious product is a little heavy for backpacking, but ideal for all other scenarios. It holds 22 oz. of liquid and the bottom portion of the bottle unscrews to become an insulated cup, complete with a foldable silicone coffee lid hiding in the bottle’s cap. This 2-in-1 vessel is perfect for your caffeine fix or celebratory adult beverages. The lid keeps out insects and dirt as well as prevents spilling if you want to enjoy your drink on the move.

3. Headlamp and Extra Batteries
Some sort of light source is necessary when camping or backpacking, as the nature of these activities entails spending the night in the wilderness. Whatever you do, don’t rely on your phone flashlight; it doesn’t stand a chance against real darkness and will only drain your battery. A handheld flashlight or lantern are OK options, but in my opinion, nothing is as versatile or effective as a headlamp. You’re hands-free when preparing a fire, your tent or dinner. You can hang it inside your tent as an overhead light source when snuggling into your sleeping bag. There are rechargeable headlamps on the market that might work for some people, but instead of remembering to keep it charged or packing a power bank, I prefer the old-fashioned AAA’s always rolling around in one of my bag’s pockets.

4. Snacks
I pride myself on a sophisticated snack system. There are two items crucial to the integrity of this system and they are as follows: reward candy and nut butter packets. While some people partake in summit beers as their reward for getting to the peak of a hike, I say why wait? I always keep individually wrapped candies in my waistband pocket (usually floating around next to my pocket knife) to serve as rewards after some steep elevation or a long slog and for general encouragement. My only tips: Remember to bring enough for everyone as group morale is essential if you want to make it to the top for sunset and Leave No Trace. Don’t forget to pack away those pesky wrappers.

I never want to stop for a big lunch, so typically I pack a variety of high-protein snacks instead. Nut butter packets are my personal favorite and usually the highlight of my day. They’re a great mess-free snack that you’ll actually look forward to eating. Pair a peanut butter packet with some red wine from your MultiBev and I call that a deconstructed peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

5. Purple Spork
An ultralight spork is a completely unnecessary but wholly fulfilling addition to your outdoor gear. I finally bought one because it was purple, my favorite color. It is convenient to have both a spoon and fork in one vessel and the material is lighter and easier to clean than a fork from your kitchen drawer.

7. Floating Sunglasses
I have lost many a pair of sunglasses into bodies of water over the years. Discovering floating sunglasses was life changing. I recommend them for all water sports enthusiasts. The brand I’m currently rocking is Rheos.

8. Matches
I bring a lighter backpacking and camping. But I always bring matches too. Lighters can be finicky, struggle in high winds and run out. The small matchbooks they give away at steakhouses? The perfect lightweight backup fire starter for adventures.

9. Sunscreen
After years of trial and error, I’ve come up with my all-time favorite sunscreens and I bring them on all of my adventures. I might not be able to escape the hiking boot tan lines that I’ve already developed even though it’s only May, but I can protect my skin as much as possible!

10. Paper Map
I’ll be honest; this stays in the car. But it’s a recent and important addition to my camping supplies. Just last weekend I was solo car camping two hours from a paved road and my phone sustained water damage on a hike, rendering all of the maps I had downloaded useless. I took a wrong turn, got lost and had to ask for directions, but I finally found a gas station with a map that got me home: another lesson learned the hard way!

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