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Packing for Your Next Hike!

I've packed many a backpack over the years for our adventure races and ultra runs, which means I've uttered many a curse word while lamenting the fact that I put something important at the bottom of my pack, in an inconvenient spot, or exposed it to loss/damage.  So to keep you from having to wash your own mouth out with soap on the trail, here is the good, the bad and the not so pretty about how to pack, what to bring, and where to put it for your next big hike!

The Pack

For a day hike, you will rarely need anything bigger than a 20 liter pack.  For multiple day hikes, a 30 to 60 liter will be the call.   The most important factors for me when choosing a pack are: lightweight, durable material, LOTS of mesh pockets on the outside of the pack (back, sides, top), big pockets on the waist belt on both sides, pockets on the shoulder straps (can you tell I'm a fan of outside pockets? Easy access, baby!), a solid enough waist belt to carry the bulk of the weight, the ability to easily dry and drain, and last but not least, how it fits on my body.

The Must Haves

For a Day Hike:
*Balaclava (it’s that funny hood that makes you look like you're robbing a bank :) --for temperature control. My FAVORITE piece of gear.  I also cover my mouth and breathe through it to control cold/dry/dusty-air-induced bronchitis and asthma.  I usually wear one around my neck for the duration of the adventure.
*Lightweight cycling type gloves--quick temperature control and hand protection
*Bivvy space blanket (sleeping bag style).  My favorite is the Adventure Medical Kit Thermo-lite--90% chance you won’t need this on a day hike, but it's worth it for that 10% chance that you or a friend will need it!
*Blister kit--duct tape, sportslick (or Vaseline) to prevent friction, mini scissors, and “Glacier Gel" blister dressing
*100 Oz water bladder AND water bottles.  When it comes to hydration, “one is none".  It's too much of a risk to only have one container.  Stuff happens.
*Headlamp (always. no matter how long you plan to be gone).  Even well-planned day hikes often become post sunset "adventures".
*Cell phone (and/or SPOT device) with waterproof bag/case. 
*Waterproof bags in 2 sizes (for food, clothes, cell phone).  I like Alosaks for general use.  They're tougher than a Ziploc but lighter and less bulky than a 'dry bag'. 
*Waterproof (at least windproof) jacket.  Some great ones:  the Merrell Mariposa or Pangea Shell
*Wet Wipes
*Pocket knife

Add for overnight hikes/camping
*3 season lightweight tent
*Small stove and pot to boil water
*Lightweight sleeping bag (I love the tiny ones by Macpac for summer)
*Alpine Aire dehydrated meals
*Waterproof 'Dry Bags' (with roll down top) to keep your food, extra socks, and warm clothes dry if it rains. 
*Medical kit with antihistamines, anti-inflammatory, bandages, Imodium, aspirin, etc
* Lightweight fleece top (Merrell Fractal) and dry bottoms (light pants or tights).  It's important to be able to get warm and dry, especially for sleeping and recovery.

Pack It UP!

The inside of the pack should be filled with items you will not need until you have a planned stop to eat or camp.  The heavier items should go at the bottom so that you bear more weight on your hips than on your shoulders.  Build from the bottom of the pack to the top based on the weight of each item as well as the likelihood you will need access to that particular item while you are hiking.  For example:

*At the bottom (heavier items you don't need immediate access to)
--Sleeping bag and mat
--Lunch/dinner/evening meals (not your snack food)
--Cooking gear

* In the middle
--Medical kit
--Dry socks, fleece layer, and additional dry clothes--all inside a waterproof bag
--Waterproof shell jacket
--Water bladder in its vertical sleeve along your back (if your pack has a sleeve.  I like sleeves because they hold your water in the best gravity-fed position)

*At the top (lighter things you may need access to while hiking)
--Additional snack food (that won’t fit on the outside of your pack)
--Warm hat/balaclava and warm gloves
--Additional maps
--Cell phone and/or GPS (in a waterproof bag)

The outside of a pack is the most important part! That's because you are going to pack it with everything you may need access to while hiking.  If you have chosen the right pack and packed it correctly, you should be able to continue to eat, drink, get warm, get cool, fix your feet, protect your head/hands/skin/lips and go to the little girl and boy's room without ever having to stop to dig into your pack! Your hiking mates will be happy you're organized so that the forward momentum of the group isn't slowed down every time someone has to pee, eat, drink, find their headlamp, fix their feet, find their warm hat, etc.  Can you imagine all of the individual stops? You'd never get "there"!   The other beautiful thing about lots of outside pockets is that your hiking buddies can come right up next to you and hand you the food you can't reach without even skipping a beat. And they can stash THEIR food in the rear mesh of your pack too, so their little mini bar of snacks is always within arm’s reach without having to contort themselves into some kind of yoga maneuver to reach into their own side mesh pockets.  In races, I often ate more food out of my teammates' packs than my own. ;) Plus, OPF (Other People's Food) is far more interesting than yours by about halfway through any adventure. So share the food, share the love. 

Here's how I like to organize my outside pockets:
*Rear mesh pocket
--Helmet (if riding, climbing, or potential rock fall is on the agenda)
--Resupply stash of my chips, trail mix, Cheetos, etc.  These move from the rear mesh to the side pockets during any short stops on the trail as I deplete my easily accessible supply
--Tow line made of mini bungee cord and a carabineer so you can share your strength with a teammate by attaching it to the front of their pack

*Side mesh pockets
--Right side mesh: salty/fatty snacks
--Left side mesh: sweet snacks
Then you can choose what you crave at the moment and know where it is without looking!   In the beginning of a hike, I reach for sweets.  By halfway through, I'm much more attracted to salty/fatty snacks

*Waist belt pockets
--Hard Candy (spearmint, ginger, cough drops, jawbreakers, gummy bears) for quick energy and for helping out your pals when they don't feel great.  No matter how funky you feel, you can always suck on candy to get you home!
--Wet Wipes in a baggie
--Blister Kit--make this accessible so you can quickly fix your feet or your friend's feet before the blisters get worse! If this is deep in your pack, you'll be much less inclined to use it.
--Pill bottle with electrolyte caps (I like Sustain by Zee Medical), ibuprofen, Excedrin
--Lip balm and mini sunscreen

*Shoulder strap pockets
--Money, ID and/or credit card
--Dental floss--yes, I know this sounds crazy.  But I had a teammate who always brought a piece of floss, and not only did he get the jerky out of his teeth with it, we used it to fix many a broken bike or piece of gear!

Have the best time out there, my friends!  And remember that a happy camper is a prepared and efficiently-packed camper--who also has lots of friends to cover their butts when they're not.  :) 'Together' is the best way to make sure we stay safe, stay healthy, and all come home in one can't-wait-for-the-next-adventure piece!

Adventure Always,
~ XO Robyn