Right Gear Makes Hiking Trips a Walk in the Park

A great shopping list goes beyond water, sunscreen and a compass.

All my life, I have been a planner. I was a Girl Scout and, therefore, someone who has a plan and then a backup plan if and when something goes wrong.

I always prepare for myself and anyone else who I travel with. This includes extra food like peanut butter crackers, trail mix, apples and grains. I’ve always got a first-aid kit, a sewing kit, sunscreen, glasses and an extra pair of clothes in my bookbag.

In my late 20s, I find that I have more of an ability to decipher which items are necessary and which are not. However, there are times – such as now, as I am planning my hiking trip out west – when I tend to pack too much for the “just in case” moments. So, as I did research to prepare for my trip, I decided to share with you all the types of things that are absolutely necessary for long- and short-term hiking and backpacking adventures.

When I lived out west a few years ago, I hardly ever felt truly prepared. I lived in a tent along the Colorado Plateau for three months, working and only coming down the mountain once the jobs were through. We only had with us what we absolutely needed: food, water, clothes and tools. Because we lived out there and had specific tasks to accomplish for the Bureau of Land Management, we just seemed to focus on working, eating, staying hydrated and learning about the environment around us.

I loved every moment of that part of my life and, now that I am returning for pure adventure, I am going to take the lessons that I have learned and apply them to this trip. This time around, however, I wil be exploring the backcountry with my good friend of 22 years.

He and I enjoy exploring nature and have always appreciated adventure. We fly in to Phoenix and will drive through the Four Corners area, which wil include a stop in Durango, CO, a hike into the Grand Canyon, a visit to the ancient dwellings in Arizona and a hike in Canyonlands National Park in Utah.

Although the terrain is different from Florida, it is always important to have the most essential items and to pack light. So, if you plan to go backpacking in Florida, out west or in a mountain range, follow this easy list of items that are a must for your next adventure.

Essentials for Backpacking

In addition to comfortable clotheshiking shoes and a backpack, here's what to take along on your next trip:

  • Water and hydration is extremely important. Bring two water bottles, and be sure that they are BPA free. Most Nalgene bottles are free of those chemicals and are typically easier to clip onto your pack. It would also be wise to bring water treatment drops, which can be found at your local outdoors store.
  • Navigation (map and compass) is essential, especially when back-country hiking. Grab a map from the park ranger station  if one is not available, print one from Google Earth – and try not to get lost. A compass and even better, a GPS, are very important so that you can orientate yourself in and out of the woods. It is also a good idea to program the nearest hospital, just in case, into the GPS.
  • It is always a good idea to bring insulation, extra clothing or at least one warm jacket. If you are in a colder climate, it helps to sleep with your clothes for the next day in the sleeping bag with you. When you wake up in the morning, you simply change in the comforts of your warm sleeping bag (thanks, Dad, for that tip)!
  • Sun protection is also important. By wearing a long-sleeve shirt (an airy one) and a hat you can minimize the amount of sunscreen needed and then apply it only to the remaining exposed areas. When you are camping for several days, being sunburned can be miserable. Do yourself a favor and protect your skin, and don't forget sunglasses to protect your eyes.
  • First-aid kits are absolutely essential. Be sure to bring a lot of gauze and tapeNeosporin and natural antiseptics. Eucalyptus oil is great for throat infections and wounds, relieves sinus pressure, aids in healing with its antibacterial properties and is a bug repellent. Tea tree oil is a natural antibiotic and is a nice thing to add to the kit, as well.
  • Flashlights are good, as well as fire starters. Be sure to check whether fire is allowed and whether you can gather the wood or not. Flint sticks and matches in a waterproof container will help bring light to darkness.
  • Shelter, such as a tent and a folded-up tarp, are essential for hiding away from the elements and getting a good night's sleep. A sleeping bag for 30 degrees below zero will do just fine.
  • Repair kits such as duct tape and a needle and thread for your tent and gear bags is also important.
  • Extra food, especially food high in nutrition and calories, is also a good idea. Trek over to BackpackingChef.com for a look at the different types of hiking foods. The best types of food, especially in the desert, are things that give you natural energy and nutrition and are high in good fat and calories.

It could also be beneficial to review what to do if you encounter a bear. Follow the link above for a helpful video on how to live and camp peacefully in bear country. 

And voila! The most important part of backpacking is to take time for the sky. Look up to the stars, and celebrate each and every moment. Be sure to plan for your trip, but plan to break those plans. Live in the moment, and take a lot of pictures. Hiking and backpacking trips make for the greatest memories.

And in the great and respected words of John Muir, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.”

Ready to hit the trails? Here are some hiking spots and camping areas in and around the Tampa Bay area:


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