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5 uncommon backpacking essentials I always put in my pack

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Backpacking in Big Bend National Park
Backpacking in Big Bend National Park

At Terradrift, we like backpacking. Both kinds of backpacking. But especially when we get to escape to the wilderness and rough it for a weekend. There’s nothing like carrying everything you need to survive on your back and sleeping in a tent with no electricity to make you feel strong and alive and loving life! However, there are a few creature “comforts” I like to take along. I use the word comforts lightly, because these items are hardly keeping me comfortable in the desert landscape of the Grand Canyon or in the woods on the Appalachian Trail. They are simply nice things to have that make the arduous task of hiking with 30 lbs. on your shoulders that much more enjoyable. So the next time you gear up for a backpacking trip, don’t forget to pack these 5 backpacking essentials:

Camp shoes are a backpacking essential. I love my fake Birks made out of foam.
Camp shoes are a backpacking essential. I love my fake Birks made out of foam.

1. Camp Shoes

This may seem like an unnecessary item, especially if you’re packing ultra-light, but trust me: a pair of flip-flops (I like these ultra-light vegan Birkenstocks) will be worth the extra 3 ounces when you get to camp at the end of a long day. There’s nothing better than taking off those heavy, hot hiking boots and not having to put them back on again until you set out the next morning. Believe me when I tell you, my feet have never been very happy with me when I’ve forgotten said flip-flops and had to shove them back into cramped boots I’ve been wearing for 8 miles and 6 hours. You’re just insulting your feet at that point. Just don’t do it. Don’t insult your feet like that. Just pack the dang flip-flops. They’re a backpacking essential.

A bandana when it's warm, a bandana when it's cold. It's a backpacking essential either way.
A bandana when it’s warm, a bandana when it’s cold. It’s a backpacking essential either way.

2. Bandana or Scarf

I’ve wanted one of those fancy Buff multi-purpose headwraps/face warmers/headbands/neck protectors for a while now, but I can’t bring myself to pay $20 for something a large bandana does just as well. A regular bandana will do, but I prefer my extra large headscarf for many reasons. It’s longer so I can wrap it around my neck to protect it from the desert sun. If it’s chilly in the mornings, I can tie it around my head or neck to keep me warm. It also works to keep hair out of my eyes if I’m not wearing a hat, say in the evenings when I’m relaxing at base camp. And if I come across a cool stream, there’s nothing better than soaking a bandana in it and draping it over your head or neck to cool you down.

3. Book

I know, the weight issue again. But I just can’t backpack without a book. I sometimes find it hard to fall asleep at night on the trail (see #5 for more on that) and reading a few pages helps. Plus, when I reach base camp at 4 pm and still have 4-6 hours to kill before sleepytime, I gotsta have something to do! So I break out a book and Josh and I usually take turns reading aloud to each other. It’s made for some very pleasant memories (plus it gets Josh to read the same books I want to read). I suggest small, lightweight paperbacks that don’t take up much space or weigh more than a few ounces.

A lightweight book, some tiny dice and a golf pencil make for some entertaining evenings on the trail.
A lightweight book, some tiny dice and a golf pencil make for some entertaining evenings on the trail.

4. Tiny Games

And I do mean tiny. Like, really small. Sure, you can take full-size playing cards and dice, but the weight adds up after a while and I’m a tiny person, so I want to carry as little as possible. And let’s be honest: food is more important than entertainment. But we found these itty bitty little dice at our local toy store and bought a bunch of them. Mostly because we knew it wouldn’t take long to lose them. We stash them in a teeny tiny zip-top bag with a teeny tiny golf pencil and a few scraps of paper and we have ourselves a game of Farkle or Yahtzee! You can also buy small travel-size versions of these games, as well as Pass the Pigs, which is a good small game, but we like to prove we can DIY, so there ya go. It helps pass the inactive hours between dinner and bedtime (or the miserably hot hours mid-day when you’d rather sit in the shade than hike).

A sleep mask, ear plugs and some Tylenol PM go a long way toward getting some sleep on the trail.
A sleep mask, earplugs and some Tylenol PM go a long way toward getting some sleep on the trail.

5. Nighttime painkillers (AKA Tylenol PM)

Remember when I said earlier that sometimes I have trouble falling asleep on the trail? Well, this helps. I personally pass on things like Benadryl because they make you hella groggy, but my aunt introduced me to the idea of nighttime painkillers while backpacking because they’re a twofer: they ease those aches you developed during a long day trudging up or down a mountain and help ease you into sleep, both of which I found beneficial the last time we backpacked in Big Bend National Park. And since they’re non-habit-forming, I didn’t worry about taking them for a few nights in a row. These guys, paired with earplugs and a sleep mask (depending on how bright the moon is or how many other backpackers might wander past your tent with a headlamp in the wee hours), do wonders for helping you catch some quality shut-eye.

Is there a backpacking essential you just can’t live without when you hit the trail? You know, other than the basics? Share it below! Wander on!

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