Whether you are planning a two day walk or a six month hike, good hiking checklists are mandatory in order to experience a successful outing. It's difficult enough to remember all of the items you'll need for both comfort and survival, but that difficulty is compounded by the fact that when you are backpacking, every single ounce you carry translates into additional energy required during your hike. Hiking checklists help you reduce unnecessary items even before you hit the trail.
Using Hiking Checklists to Lighten Your Load
At the start of the Appalachian Trail, at Springer Mountain, Georgia, you'll find thru-hikers weighing their backpacks on a hook hanging from a scale. Thru-hikers do this because they are seeking to reduce their load over the next 2175 miles to at least 50 pounds. Even if you are only heading out for a day hike, the weight of your backpack can make the difference between a successful hike and one ending with an injury.
The Basics: Shelter, Sleeping, and Cooking
The first of your hiking checklists should include the items that you literally can't live without.
- Backpack: This is one of the most critical purchases, so when you're at the outfitter, ask for assistance. You want to make sure that the frame is made of ultra lightweight material, with a very durable outer shell, and that it contours well to the shape of your back. Typical hiking packs range from 5 to 7 pounds and can include a water bladder, compartments on the outside for water bottles, and lots of space to strap items. Pick the size according to your body size, not what you'd like to carry.
- Tent: A tent is your largest item, so you want to choose the smallest and lightest one available. Most tent manufacturers, such as North Face or Sierra Designs, offer ultra-light backpacking tents that can fit up to two people. When shopping for a tent, make sure it is rated for the temperatures that you're expecting. Also, make sure the setup is simple.
- Sleeping Pad: A sleeping pad will make the difference between an enjoyable trip, and one ending with a sore back or frozen backside. Choose an ultra light foam pad that rolls up very small.
- Sleeping Bag: A sleeping bag is going to be your best friend during longer hikes. It provides the nighttime comfort you need to recover from daily hikes. Don't skimp on the sleeping bag - opt for ultra-lightweight goose down or synthetic, as long as it's rated for the temps you are expecting. If you are hiking the Appalachian Trail, expect temps to drop close to zero and conditions to get wet at times, so buy a sleeping bag accordingly.
- Cooking Stove: Cook stoves can get fairly heavy, so be careful. One of the most popular stoves is the MSR Superfly, which is a very lightweight and fuel efficient canister stove. If you're planning cold weather hikes, however, go with a fuel canister stove rated well for cold weather. Coleman offers several excellent lightweight backpacking stoves. If you'll be hiking for longer than three days, consider bringing an extra fuel canister. Don't forget small waterproof matches and a lighter as backup.
Food and Drink
Now that you've got the first basic aspect of survival covered, the next of your hiking checklists to consider is food and water. Some people worry needlessly about having enough food, but water is far more important. The following items will ensure that you have plenty of both in order to hike for up to three or four days.
- Dehydrated foods: Most of the weight of food comes from liquids. Once you remove liquids by dehydrating, you can easily carry enough food for weeks. Mountain House creates deluxe freeze dried dinners, but they can get expensive. Consider investing in a dehydrator and dehydrate fruits and other foods before you hike. Other lightweight food options include packaged meals (like mac and cheese or ramen noodles), oatmeal, and dried meats. Bring along some sugar, instant milk and instant eggs if you want variety.
- Water Filter: Water is heavy. Carry no more than two full water bottles on the outside of your pack, and a water bladder if your pack has one. Most importantly, bring along a water filter. It isn't reasonable to carry all of the water you'd need, so a good water filter is an important investment. This item will remove the Guardia, Cryptosporidium, and E-Coli Bacteria from any water source.
- Iodine Tablets: Always bring along a small supply of tiny iodine tablets in case your water filter fails. Always be prepared.
The items above will provide you with basic survival supplies. Other items on your hiking checklists that are important include the following.
- Clothing: Always carefully choose clothes that are appropriate to the climate where you're hiking. If you're hiking the mountains, always bring along winter gear.
- Protection and Utility: Other essentials include a swiss army knife and high-potency bear pepper spray.
- Navigation: Bring along a GPS unit and a compass for backup, and an LED flashlight and headlamp backup with spare batteries. Remember to pack printed maps for the area you're hiking as well.
- Miscellaneous: A compression sack for clothes to save space, a small first aid kit, collapsible utensils and small pans for cooking. Remember to keep all permits, licenses, and other papers in a small, waterproof wallet tucked into a safe backpack compartment.