10 Totally Non-Essential Items Hikers Bring

Hiker sitting with an oversized backpack and guitar on the beach

People love to over-prepare… Especially when they don’t have to. While it’s often better to “have and not need” than “need and not have,” there’s got to be a breaking point somewhere.

If we really wanted to have every last thing with us on the trail, we’d never take a single step – we’d have way too much weight to carry!

Even outside the “everything and the kitchen sink” approach to packing (which some people are certainly guilty of), plenty of experienced hikers still bring unnecessary items… And it’s time to set things straight.

Here’s a list of ten non-essentials that eat up pack space, add weight, and really don’t do you much good at all:

1. Entire Guide Books

People reading guide books outdoors

Do you really need the WHOLE thing? Wouldn’t it be much more reasonable to photocopy the relevant pages and have a few sheets of paper instead of a heavy book?

If you’re brining your smartphone for emergencies, a music player, a camera, etc., you could probably also find and save digital copies of any information you might need. Just conserve the battery!


2. An Extra Set of Clothes

Pile of clothes

Layers are great on the trail, and being prepared for inclement weather is definitely a good idea. That does not mean, however, that you need to pack an entire extra set of clothes that you probably won’t wear.

Think about the extra pack space a second pair of pants, extra shirts, and all of those useless clothes take up?

If you’re going to bring extras, make sure they can serve another purpose as well – a t-shirt can double as a bandana, extra socks can double as mittens if they have to… The whole point is to cut down on duplicates.

3. Sock Liners

Hiking boots with liners in the mountains

For some reason, people keep buying sock liners instead of better socks. Instead of just going with some wool or synthetic socks that will help wick moisture and keep your feet warm, people get liners that do that, and still wear other socks over the top of them…

Why not just get a pair of socks that serves the same function and cut another item out of the packing list?


4. Brand New Hiking Boots

Hiking boots on the rocks

It seems like common knowledge that broken-in shoes and boots are more comfortable and less likely to cause blisters or other injuries, yet many people (especially novice hikers) head out to the trail with shiny new boots – and end up regretting it.

Going hiking doesn’t require brand new boots. Half the time it doesn’t require boots at all – as most modern walking shoes and sneakers offer some fantastic support and decent grip.

If you’ve got new ones, wear them around the house, to the store, etc. – let them break in a little before you’re stuck in them out in the woods. Depending on your destination and the time of year, you might be better off opting for lightweight shoes instead.

5. A Full First Aid Kit

Teddy bear with bandages and first aid kit

Sometimes things happen out on the trail, and having some first aid supplies is a good idea…

But how much of the kit do you actually need? It’s unlikely you’ll have to perform EMT services or use twenty-five feet of bandage. You probably don’t need a liter of antiseptic or five pairs of latex gloves either.

Instead, go through your kit and evaluate each item. Do you (and whoever you’re hiking with) know how to use each piece? What amount of each particular supply seems reasonable? Are there parts of your first aid kit that you know you can do without?

Preparedness is valuable, but over-preparedness can very quickly cross over into the territory of a burden.

6. A Book

Hiker reading a book in the mountains

It seems like a good idea before you set out – you’ll get out into the wilderness, kick your feet up, and get in some long overdue reading time…

Except most of the time, the book stays crumpled down in your pack, adding weight and taking up extra space, and you never even take a glance at it. Most hikers are preoccupied with, well, hiking… And even if you do stop, you’re in the great outdoors!

Reading outside is nice and all, but let the landscape be your story. Read the terrain, enjoy the view, and leave the paperback at home for another time.

7. Expensive Camera Gear

Hiker taking pictures outdoors next to a stream

Unless you’re a professional on assignment, or an enthusiastic hobbyist who’s hitting the trail specifically for the photo opportunities, there’s really no reason at all to lug tripods and remote flashes out into the woods.

Why carry three lenses and two battery packs, a separate camera bag, and all of that other nonsense when most smartphones and simple point and shoots take pretty fantastic pictures already?

Natural light only means that phone photos will be even better!

8. Pack Covers

This falls into the same category as the sock liners – a good idea on paper, but impractical when compared to the other things you could (and should) be carrying. Think about it – a tarp works as a pack cover, but does a pack cover work as a tarp? Can you build a shelter with a pack cover?

Nope.

Carry one thing that serves multiple purposes, not the other way around.

9. Mugs

Stainless steel thermos and coffee mug sitting on a rock

Speaking of extraneous items, some people bring extra mugs/cups/drinking containers with them – empty – to fill from their thermos or water bottle. What?

Do you really need to pour your fluids from one container to another before putting them in your body?

Like so many of the other items on this list, an extra mug (especially the popular, stainless steel variety) is only going to add weight and take up space… Without serving much of a purpose. Leave it behind and drink straight from the container your liquids are already in.

10. Extra Underwear

Playful underwear hanging to dry

Last but not least, a slightly strange item that many hikers nevertheless bring along – extra undies. For some reason, people are sensitive about having a spare pair, even if they’ve never run into a situation that required them.

Maybe it’s a case of “better safe than sorry,” but just like everything else listed here, ask yourself if you really need it. If the answer isn’t an almost immediate yes, you probably don’t. Leave the spare skivvies at home if you can muster the courage.

For all of these items, you can ask yourself the same basic questions:

1: Do I really need this?
2: What are the odds that I’ll use this?
3: In a pinch, could another item I’m bringing serve the same purpose?

All we’re asking is that you be mindful of what you pack – you have to carry it, after all. You may end up lightening your load, worrying a little less, and having more fun on your hike in the process.
(c) 2015

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