Hendrik Morkel wrote an interesting post on his blog about the essential items in your pack. If you don't follow Hendrik's blog I recommend it highly. My approach to gear organization & packing has changed recently so I thought it might be fun and possibly interesting to write a follow-up post to Hendrik's original question.
If you asked me 2 years ago what was in my day pack I would have chuckled. I typically pulled my gear together just prior to the trip. The process wasn't a particularly efficient solution but it worked for me. Occasionally, I'd find myself with too much gear or worse than that I'd forget something. Ultimately, day hikes are just not that critical so it was never really a problem. Now that we have a 2 year old and a 2 month old around the house, I have significantly less free time. I've noticed that this keeps me from getting ready for my longer trips until the dead last minute which can be a little stressful. I'm an analytical guy so after noticing that getting ready for trips was beginning to be no fun I changed the process. The biggest improvement? Keeping my base gear in a pack and ready to go. Simple & effective. So now the big question... What's in there, Don?
I keep the day pack loaded with the essentials to get through an unintended overnight.That strategy is more of an outcome of having the core prepared for packing for bigger trips but its a nice benefit. In short, there's minimal shelter, limited food, water treatment, first aid, fire starting capabilities and a few personal conveniences.
This is what I carry - revel in the brilliance
Food - In this case, ramen with the spice pack replaced by miso, a block of dark chocolate, a pack of instant grits and some Starbucks instant coffee.
Wet Wipes - Becoming a dad has taught me the wonders of these.
Cook kit - My go-to kit is the Trapper mug paired with a Caldera Cone system (more detail on that below) & a few ounces of Heet fuel.
Utensils - Ti spoon & free chopsticks because its just not proper to eat ramen with a spoon. ;) They're resting on a neoprene sunglasses case I use to protect my phone when its in the pack.
Shelter - MLD tarp packs small and light. Perfect shelter from unexpected rain showers.
Essentials - Mini compass, mini whistle & eLite headlamp.
Stakes - To stake things.
Water treatment - Aquamira Frontier Pro & rolled up 1L Platypus.
Miscellaneous - MSR towel & 50ft of reflective line stored in my rock bag.
First Aid - more detail on that below.
Miscellaneous conveniences - more detail on that below
So first a little detail on the cook kit. I've spent a LOT of time over the past few years testing gear in the lab (read: kitchen) and out in the field. Jenny has discovered me on more than a few occasions to find me with alcohol stoves, fans, thermometers and spreadhseets taking over the kitchen. I used to default to my Snowpeak canister stove but I prefer my Trail Designs Caldera Cone system paired with the Trapper mug now. Its small, light, quiet & efficient. Who could ask for more? I keep a few ounces of Heet (yellow bottle) in an old contact solution bottle. (reduce, re-use, recycle, right?)
Trail Designs Caldera Cone & Trapper mug
My first aid kit is pretty simple and I assembled it myself. I keep it in a snack sized ziplock bag. Most commercially available systems are expensive and seem to have either too much or too little. Example: blister treatment. Most of the items in the photo are self explanatory. Let me know if you are interested in a little more detail.
I keep a few conveniences / essentials in a Granite Gear silnyl envelope. From left to right: firestarter packets, Rite In The Rain notebook, pencil (because pens always seem to dry up), mirror, suntan lotion & Dr. Bronners in mini-droppers, the greatest knife on earth & toothbrush / toothpaste.
Most important of all is to remember that there's no right or wrong answer. I had a lot of help putting the photos for this post together from Kate. When I asked her what her essential gear list looked like I got a radically different answer (see photo below). Ultimately, its all about priorities and experience.
So now the question is... What do you carry in your pack?
Kate and her essentials - Its a very princess themed pack but I'm still proud. She's chosing UL princesses at least!
There are a few commercially available bear bag systems out there for mind boggling prices. Please don't pay $80 for a bear bag system. You can pull together a simple system for a fraction of the price.
I normally bring an 8L Sea To Summit Ultra-Sil dry bag, 50ft of reflective line, a rock bag and a small carabiner. I'll add a LokSak bag if I really feel the need to hide the food odor. Typically I'm only trying to keep my food dry and out of reach of racoons and other curious critters. You should be able to pull this together for about $40 at full retail. You can easily cut the price down even further by using a simple stuff sack already in your closet and run of the mill rope. Reflective rope and a fully waterproof bag are both nice but not necessary.
The 8L bag keeps my meals organized in my pack as well. Its larger than I need for food storage but I like to throw my mug, toothbrush, towel, etc in there when I call it a night. The less inviting I make my camp site the better. Keeping the aromatic pieces of gear that invite the critters in for a closer look out of reach just makes sense.
My rock bag was lovingly sewn my my mom who is my inspiration for all of my MYOG projects. Its a nice element to have when you're out in the woods. Every time I use my bag to huck a rock over a limb I smile because I know that my mom made this for me. By the way, my rocks go over the limb perfectly the first time - EVERY time.
I keep the rope packed in the rock bag so its contained and easy to find. Having 50ft of line for bagging food is overkill but I frequently use a length of the line for this or that while out on the trail - usually to help someone else that is less prepared. I really like the line that Lawson has over on LawsonEquipment.com. Remember, support the cottage guys when you can. REI is great but nothing beats doing business with a guy that is actually out in the woods doing the same thing as you. Good stuff.
One of the things I really enjoy about mountain biking and backpacking is the community. I've made friends all over the world simply because of a shared passion for getting out and enjoying what the wilderness offers. One of those friends sent me this image earlier today so I thought I'd share it... proper. (Thanks, Dave - you get it)