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  • Writer's pictureEmily Duane

beginner tip: the bare minimum of what to bring on a hike

I was assembling the various things I'd need for a day of leaf peeping in Nederland, Colorado and thought: "It's time to tell the newbies what they need to put in their pack for a hike." So, here we are.

I could cut to the chase and just include a link to the Ten Essentials, but I think there's a little bit of critical thinking that can happen here. I personally am a fan of packing light. I get tired really easily, and honestly... I'm always shocked by heavy water is, so I try to go light to accommodate that.

Pack volume is measured in liters. This one is an 18L, and I use it for most of my day hikes because it's super light and roomy enough for most of the things I want to carry.

When you're just starting out hiking, I hope you're not setting off on a 10-mile death march through remote woods with crazy terrain... that would be insane (and you'd probably never want to hike again).

Instead, it makes sooooo much more sense to start with easier, local trails. Why?... well... walking on uneven terrain takes a little getting used to. You might notice your muscles get tired quicker and take longer to bounce back.

That's totally normal.

Anyway, back to packing your backpack. You don't want to go completely empty handed. Bring the things that will make your hike comfortable. Weather can change, so layers to help you warm up and stay dry are awesome. Bring water... even if it's cold outside, you'll get thirsty! Bring snacks... or lunch! One of my favorite things to do is plan a hike around lunch time so I can hike to a neat spot and enjoy a meal there.

Woman sitting on a pile of rocks holding a bag of chili cheese Fritos

One of my favorite hiking snacks is chili cheese Fritos.

Important note: Fruit peels and nut/seed shells might seem like something you can drop on the ground in the woods. They'll decompose, right? Yes... but don't do it. If you're going to bring stuff like that into the woods, please be conscious of the ecosystem and pack that stuff out with you to the nearest garbage can.

TL;DR: Don't be trashy.

Back to what made me think about this post... my hike in Nederland.

This particular day's itinerary includes an easy (for me) 4-mile hike. I've done this trail before, and while it is in an area with poor service, I'm comfortable navigating it without maps or a GPS device. I'm also comfortable taking a little less with me. It's pretty flat and includes both footpaths and dirt roads. It's a well-trafficked trail, so I'm likely to bump into other people. Plus, I'm going with a friend. There's a 30% chance of rain, but otherwise it will probably just be cloudy.

Here's my packing list for an easy 4-mile hike:

  1. Rain jacket

  2. Insulated jacket

  3. Knit gloves

  4. Baseball cap

  5. Sun screen

  6. Small first aid kit

  7. Water

  8. A snack

  9. Pee funnel + Kula Cloth (ask me about my pee cloth!)

Aaaand here's the Ten Essentials list:

  1. Navigation

  2. Headlamp

  3. Sun protection

  4. First aid

  5. Knife

  6. Fire

  7. Shelter

  8. Extra food

  9. Extra water

You've probably spotted a couple differences, huh? Well, the Ten Essentials is "system based," meaning that something like "sun protection" will include sun screen, sunglasses, and sun-protective clothing. These categories are inclusive of everything you could ever possibly need... and that can be a LOT of stuff.

I'm not advocating that you don't pack all of the things within those categories. You probably should, especially when you're just starting out! It never hurts to be over prepared, but it can hurt to be under prepared.

For a hike to Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs, Colorado, I added trekking poles to my pack in case I wanted them to give my knees a break on the way down.

I'm just saying, if you're going to make the decision to hit the trails, it's important to be aware of the area you're hiking, the weather, the trail conditions, and how long you'll be out there. Knowledge is power, and knowing these things will help you make a decision on what your personal bare minimum is.

So, go pick a trail you're interested in, do some research, and pack the bag that is going to support you having an excellent time AND being prepared for things to change while you're out there.

Have fun!

PS: As expected, we had rain. But we also had freezing rain and snow, all in the span of an hour and a half. I wore a fleece hoodie and a Buff, and ended up throwing on the baseball cap from my bag to keep water out of my eyes, pulled the Buff on over my ears for warmth, and I added the rain jacket for wind/water protection. The insulated jacket was lent to my friend who didn't come with anything. :)

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