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10 Items We Always Bring On Trail But Can Leave At Home

Use these 10 tips to make your pack lighter and your hike more enjoyable.

Every time I start planning a trip, whether it is only for one night or a week long adventure, I find myself trying to take everything, but the kitchen sink. I lay out tons of items, read over maps, check the weather, and then try to justify to myself why I need 3 Nalgenes' in the Sierras when 1 is plenty, and water is endless. Or I try to convenience myself that I should pack two pairs of sunglasses in Death Valley, in case I lose a pair. 

Or swearing that I still need a beanie in Louisiana, in the middle of summer. I then slowly narrow my list down to the bare essentials. Once, I'm on trail I still end up with a few items I never use, but I brought because I watched 127 hours, the night before hiking in Utah. Who does that? Its like watching Jaws before you go surfing. Anyway, I try to minimize my pack and reevaluate my list every trip. 

Some items in our packs, like a flask of whiskey will never get tossed out and other items seem impossible to hike without. Well, with a little ingenuity and bravery, I'm positive we can pretty much leave the trail head with only the shirt on our back. I put together a list a of 10 essential items everyone brings on trail, but based on weather forecasts, hiking skills, and thirst for adventure, we can leave at home. Here are 10 Items We Always Bring On Trail, But Can Leave At Home.

1-Leave the Water Behind

Water is essential to all life, but just one gallon weighs 8 pounds. If we plan to head out into the great outdoors, we don't have to bring that store bought, bottled water with us. Where do you think that clean crisp bottled water comes from? It comes from wild springs and those clean mountain creeks we love to hike near. If we are in an area with plenty of fresh water, we can ditch that bottled water and save several pounds. Maybe you aren't sure if the water is drinkable in the area you're hiking, but you know there is water in the area. 

Bring a water pump or water purifier, like a Steripen. You can easily pick one up at REI for around 60 bucks, and it weighs much less than a gallon of water. If you are hiking in during winter, then melting snow for water is another easy technique. You can collect snow in your cooking stove and melt it to make drinkable water. If you are going to use this technique, you need to make sure you have a small amount of water to coat the bottom of your cooking stove or it will burn the snow and the stove.

2-Leave the Food Behind

Another essential to life is food! Once again, a good understanding of the area we are camping in will make all the difference. Every time I go out, I pack in a few meals and plan to catch or harvest a few on trail. Packing in Mountain House meals can add up very quickly. One mountain house can weigh nearly 6 ounces. If you eat three meals a day over a weekend camping trip, that can add up to almost 3 pounds of food! 

Catching fish, hunting wildlife, or harvesting berries, nuts and mushrooms can go a long way. Study your map for good fishing locations. A simple $30 rod and reel can catch more than enough fish to sustain your appetite. Study the local plants in the area and determine which ones are edible and which ones are in season. Eating what mother nature provides, makes us feel amazing, and one with nature.

3- Leave the Shelter Behind

The last of the BIG 3 essentials for sustaining life is shelter. Depending on the quality and material of the tent you own, it could weigh as much as 5 pounds! I've personally seen people hike in 8, 6, or 4 person tents, just for 1 or 2 people. All that extra tent is just pounds for you to carry. Maybe you have some 600 dollar, state of the art, one person tent that weighs two pounds right? Start thinking of some options to ditch that expensive tent. 

An item like a Bivy Sack, is a good alternate to a tent, but still gives us a shelter with almost no weight. If we are really getting adventurous, bring a tarp or hammock to string up from tree to tree. If we want to harness our inner Mick Dodge, and the area permits, we can make our own forest shelter. This can be really fun if you have kids, they will really get into making a fort/shelter for the night. But remember to rip it down after, in order to Leave No Trace.

4-Leave the Cooking Stove Behind

A cooking stove is one item I love to bring, but it can be completely obsolete if we are permitted to have fires. First we need to check the area in which we are camping. We may need a stove to cook our fish or boil water, if camp fires aren't permitted. Some people don't care about a hot meal before bed, and living off trail mix and beef jerky for a weekend should be an easy alternative. For most of us the camping stove is a major part of making the outdoors comfortable. If you're like me, and you need that warm meal before the lights go out, then start practicing cooking over an open flame. 

Making an adequate cooking fire, and hiking in with a simple cooking pan can make the difference. The pan you bring may not weigh much less than a camp stove, but it will be lighter than multiple fuel cans. Place your items on a scale and see what works best for you. Since I don't mind packing in a little extra weight, my camping stove always comes along. Most of the time I cook my main meal (fish/meat) over the fire and cook a side dish (rice/veggies) in my stove at the same time. Decide and practice whatever works best for you.

5-Leave the Sleeping Bag Behind

Unless its consistently hot, day and night where we're camping, I'm probably not going to leave the sleeping bag at home. Sleeping bags can weigh from 3-5 pounds depending on the design of the bag. You can buy a very light sleeping bag adequate for the area in which you're camping. If you're in the desert, where its 90 degrees during the day and 40 at night, a good ground pad, goose down pants and jacket might be good enough to act as a sleeping bag. Taking a thin sheet could also be plenty enough to keep us warm and very easy to fold up and pack. I highly recommend studying the night time temperatures religiously before you leave your sleeping bag at home.

6-Leave the Ground Pad Behind

The ground pad keeps us warm, clean and comfortable on those long camp nights, but it also isn't necessary. Gathering leaves and moss or finding soft ground can be more comfortable than the most expensive ground pad on the market. Every time I set my tent or ground pad up, I add some cushion underneath my ground pad. Remember to get off the bare ground. Simply laying down or the ground will sap the heat right out of you.

7-Leave the Trekking Poles Behind

I don't recommend leaving trekking poles if the hike is long, gains extreme elevation, or you're not a very skilled hiker. Trekking poles can prevent injury and allow a hiker to maintain stamina on trial. They are great for river crossings and a great backup when a tent pole breaks. If it is a short weekend hike or you feel strong enough, leave the poles behind.

8-Leave the Bear Canister Behind

Some areas may require you to have a bear canister, and in that case we are out of luck if we want to leave it behind. Other areas may allow you to set up a counter balance. In most cases, just carrying in a bear canister is easier than trying to set up a counter balance 15 feet high and 10 feet from the tree. This item isn't at the top of my list of items I would leave behind, but if you don't have any food with you on the start of your hike then ditch the bear canister.

9- Leave the Batteries Behind

We may not have to leave all of our batteries behind, but most of them. Too many times I've watched someone pull a fresh, unopened pack of ten batteries out of their bag. It is just unnecessary and useless weight. Why not just bring 2-4 extra batteries for the trip. If it is a long trip, using a solar panel will also help get rid of battery weight. 

Usually spending a little more on a good headlamp will save you from having to carry more batteries. If that weekend trip is during a full moon with a clear sky, you won't even need a headlamp. Also buy products that use the same batteries. For example, My headlamp and my Steripen for purifying water use the same batteries, so if one goes out, I can just switch the others over.

10- Leave the Clothes Behind

I'm not saying to become a nudist and hike off into the wild butt naked, but I am trying to make you think about what unnecessary clothes and boots you may pack into camp. Most places in the summer months don't require heavy jackets or pants. Study the weather conditions, and elevation to determine what you need to bring. 

Get rid of those old heavy hiking boots and try hiking in lighter more agile trail running shoes. You're legs and back will thank you later. On any week-long hike I only pack one set of clothes. I'm not going to win any contests for the best smelling person on trail but it does save me a lot of weight. In the summer, just jump in a lake and dry off in the sun.

Conclusion

Now, some of you may disagree with my list of essential items, but that is good. Remember this is only a guideline to help us get outside more often with a lighter pack. If our pack is lighter and the hike is more enjoyable, then we are more likely to go back. Take this guideline, and make one of your own. No one but yourself, can tell you what you can and can't bring comfortably. We can bring it all if it makes us happy!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Alex EExplorer

I try to spend every free moment skiing, backpacking, fishing or finding an adrenaline rush!