10 Essentials for Your Backcountry Adventure

Last Updated: February 2021

Preparedness goes a long way whether you're backpacking or day hiking. Although we never plan for "the worst" to happen, things can go wrong in an instant. 

No matter your experience level, these 10 backcountry essentials will bring you peace of mind, so you'll be prepared to tackle any outdoor adventure or emergency. 

Obviously you don't want to be lugging around 50lbs of equipment everywhere you go, so we've outlined the backcountry essentials for hiking adventure travel to ensure a safe and lightweight journey. All of these items can fit into a standard daypack, and won't weigh you down.

Items are in no particular rank and not listed according to importance.

girl hiking and wearing a backpack

#1. Backpack

The first item on our list of backcountry essentials is the backpack. For almost all day trips, you will not need more than a 10-30L backpack. The backpack you use will depend on the length of your trek and the season you're hiking.

If you're just packing these ten essentials, then 10-13L pack will work just fine. The only thing to remember is that the hotter it is and the longer the trek, the more water you'll need to carry. So, make sure your pack reflects the amount of water necessary to complete your activity safely. 

The number one factor should be the intended use. For example, if you're looking for a pack that you can use multi-pitch climbing, it may look different than a bag you bring for a day of kayaking.

Keep in mind that a $10 backpack from Wal-Mart may not cut it when planning to scale a mountain. Plan to use a pack that is durable, packable, and comfortable to wear.  Check out our guide to the Best Hiking Backpacks

#2. Water

Water is an essential item on the list. If you are on a multi-day backpacking trip, you're not going to carry all of your water from the start. So bringing a water filter or purification system is necessary. 

However, if you make a simple day trip somewhere, you should be able to bring enough water for the day. How you carry the water will be up to you. It is easier to use a water bladder with a hydration hose like Platypus Water Reservoir in your backpack for some activities. If you don't have one of these, a few water bottles will be sufficient. 

The standard for packing water on the trail for an average adult is 2-4 cups (½ - 1 L) of water per hour. Notice that it is not "per mile" but "per hour." This is because each person will hike, climb, bike, run, etc. at a different rate. You may need more water than that, depending on the intensity level or temperature. Also, you can supplement electrolytes in the water like Nuun to extend your energy. 

#3. Food

Nutrition during physical activity of any kind is imperative. Having a proper meal before and after an backcountry adventure can be a great way to make sure you get the nutrients and energy you need, but even if you're only out for a few hours, packing a small snack can be a lifesaver. 

A good rule of thumb is to plan to eat a bit of something once every hour. Now, this does not mean an entire meal. It could be a handful of trail mix or just half of a granola bar. When you're out in the heat and moving around, your body uses a lot of energy. Be warned that if you bog yourself down with too much food, it can be uncomfortable to continue. 

Small snacks like fruit leather, granola, fruits, or a pb&j sandwich are classic trail snacks. For more intense activities like trail running or long-distance biking, GU Energy Gels are a great option. 

#4. Navigation

Most backcountry navigation can be done on your phone these days. Still, phones are not the most reliable way to navigate in the backcountry. They can break, malfunction, lose service, or have the battery die, leaving you lost or stranded. Although many great navigation apps allow you to download maps offline, having a laminated paper backup is a must. 

In many genuinely remote areas, service will not be available, and it is easy to get lost. Having a laminated paper map is the best way to ensure that you can find your way, no matter the conditions. While having a map is vital, knowing how to read it correctly is too. 

Spend some time learning to read maps, and if you're unsure about it, consider enrolling in a navigation specific outdoor class at a place like REI.

#5. Headlamp

While you may plan to only be out during daylight hours, you never know what setbacks you'll hit along the way. There are many occasions where plans change, you take a wrong turn, or the hike ends up taking much longer than anticipated, bringing the backcountry adventure past sunset into night. 

Black Diamond Storm Headlamp takes up little to no space in a daypack and can prove to be one of the most valuable tools for outdoor adventures. Most of our smartphones have a small flashlight. These can work in a pinch, but it drains the battery fast, isn't as bright, and you have to hold it in your hand. 

#6. First Aid Kit

No backcountry adventure should begin without a first aid kit. If you already have one, always be sure that it is stocked and ready for use. If you don't have one, then you may need to put one together or buy one. Check out our article on how to make your own first aid kit

It may seem like overkill to bring even a small first-aid kit on a day hike, but anything can happen. You could get caught on a bush and cut your leg. You can brush up against a poisonous plant. Even worse, you could misstep, fall, and break a bone. 

We hope for the best but expect and prepare for the worst. This way, you'll be ready if necessary, but hopefully, you won't have to be. 

Just as we mentioned with maps, knowing some basic first aid is essential. If you bring a first aid kit, but no one knows how to use it, it serves no purpose. Most first aid kids come with a small manual. Also, there are phone apps resources like the American Red Cross, or consider taking a wilderness first aid course. 

#7. Weather Protective Clothing

Knowing how to dress for outdoor activity can make or break your experience. Trust one general rule: NO COTTON

Cotton absorbs moisture and takes a very long time to dry. This is important to note because if you are sweating, the cotton materials will absorb it, making you uncomfortable and possibly cause chaffing. If you sweat or get wet and are in a cold climate, cotton can also prove to be life-threatening. 

Beyond that, packing layers is essential. Even if the day starts warm and sunny, the weather can turn quickly, especially in mountainous areas. Having an option for a light hiking jacket, long sleeve, and pants can turn a cold, blustery day into an enjoyable one. 

Remember, you're in the backcountry. That means you're miles away from any emergency services, your car, and you may not even have cell service. You need to plan and pack all of the equipment you need for the day. Not only the clothing necessary to survive, but packing layers is the fastest and easiest way to make sure you are comfortable in the environment. 

#8. Proper Footwear

The type of footwear that you choose in the backcountry will come down to two critical things: personal preference and type of terrain. 

Shoes you wear for your outdoor adventures will vary from hiking sandals, trail running shoes, hiking boots, or approach shoes. All of your options for footwear should be sturdy, broken in, and fit your feet. Remember, your shoes provide you with support and a barrier between rocks, cacti, and other materials on the trail. 

#9. Emergency Shelter

The emergency shelter will seem like an unnecessary addition to this list in some people's minds, but it is a small item that can actually save your life. Most backcountry adventurers will keep one of these in their survival kit or first aid kit.

Emergency shelters will either be a standard A-frame tent style or a bivouac bag. They can also be as simple as a tarp or space blanket. Keep in mind that you want this only for emergencies, and will not be using it regularly. So, invest in something small and lightweight. A tarp can be an excellent last-minute budget option, but will also be the heaviest and hardest to set up. 

#10. Repair Kit (with Tools and Fire Starter)

To finalize a backcountry adventure survival guide, and our ten backcountry gear essentials, a repair kit that includes duct tape, a knife, a screwdriver, and scissors will be handy. We recommend adding a waterproof fire starter as well. 

Depending on the activity, you will have outdoor gear with you. So, having a small repair kit or some of the essential items included in your first aid kit will make your life much easier on the trail. 

Key Takeaways

When you're enjoying a backcountry adventure, preparedness goes a long way. 

Making sure you have the backcountry essentials will give you peace of mind that you are prepared to tackle any backcountry adventure or emergency. 

Happy & Safe Hiking!

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