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You’re about to head out for your first long hike of the year. You pull out all of your gear and you want to take it all. Because why not, right?
Actually, taking excess gear is a quick and easy way to have an underwhelming hike.
You do not want to carry around a lot of heavy gear that you don’t end up using. That is enough to demoralize even an experienced hiker.
It is easier to focus on what not to bring on a hike versus everything that you could bring.
Things you should leave at home for your next hiking trip
It is easy to talk yourself into needing something while out on a hike. You pull out all of your hiking gear when packing for your hike that weekend, and you think of a bunch of “what ifs…” and “this would be nice to have.”
In my experience, the majority of those items don’t get used. I went through years of hiking before really dialing in my essential gear list for hiking. All experienced hikers have gone through similar processes. We start out with way too much, then overcorrect by trying to go as minimal as possible, and then settle into a nice medium.
From my years of hiking, there are some items that really should be left at home, unless in specific circumstances.
You will lighten your pack, making your day hike more enjoyable. Plus, you won’t have to stress about making sure you have all 20+ items packed.
I always say you want to have enough gear to feel confident, but not too much as to make it uncomfortable.
From my experience, here are the items you should be leaving at home next time:
Extra clothing (more than likely needed)
Full-sized first aid kit
Extra water bottle
This is a big one that I see people bring that is just not needed. Unless you are a professional photographer, the camera on your phone is more than sufficient.
I have met many hikers who want to bring out their full-sized cameras and big lenses to get nature pictures. More times than not, they end up lugging this heavy equipment on the trail and only end up using it from time to time.
The camera technology in phones has gotten incredibly good in recent years, and for the vast majority of hikers, they are plenty good enough for your Instagram posts.
Whether it be an external battery to charge your phone or Bluetooth speakers to blast music. There is little sense for you to bring along an expensive electronic that could be lost or damaged.
Your hiking experience will be more meaningful if you are not worried about your phone needing to stay charged.
Leave the extra electronics at home and fully embrace the amazing bubble of reality that hiking sends you into.
Extra clothing (more than likely needed)
This one comes with a little bit of nuance. You want to make sure that you have adequate clothing for your hike and the weather forecast.
But you do not need to account for every possible scenario you can imagine.
For example, I have done a lot of hiking in the deserts of Arizona and Southern California, and the chance of a surprise rain shower is effectively 0% most of the year. So packing a rain jacket “just in case” makes no sense.
Though, if you are hiking in a mountainous area, the weather can change unexpectedly, so extra base layers and a rain jacket make more sense.
If you are hiking in an area where the weather can change quickly, err on the side of bringing a jacket and an extra set of clothes. But if the weather is predictable and stable, you will end up carrying around extra weight and volume for no good reason.
I recommend going with trail running shoes versus traditional hiking boots. Trail runners are more comfortable than hiking boots and are plenty durable enough for almost any terrain.
You do not want to bring an extra pair of shoes, regardless if you go with boots, hiking shoes, or trail runners. If you expect to have a water crossing, either take your shoes off while crossing or bring a pair of light sandals/flip-flops.
Like cameras, people often envision themselves stopping for a rest and like the idea of having a book or something to read.
More times than not, you will feel tired and have trouble focusing on your book. Meaning you take up space in your pack only to get a few pages read.
An exception is if your plan is specifically to get to a spot to relax and unwind for a few hours. I have planned hikes specifically for this purpose, and they can be some of the most relaxing and recharging days.
But, unless that is your specific plan, your book is better off staying at home for you to come home to after your hike.
Full-sized first aid kit
This is not an endorsement to not bring a first aid kit. Rather, do not bring a big kit only for you to know how to properly use 25% of the equipment.
If you have wilderness first aid experience and have the confidence to effectively use everything, feel free to bring a large kit if you desire.
But, in my experience, you are best served to bring only what you know how to use and could realistically be expected to need.
A lot of places sell hiking/backpacking first aid kits, and that is what I hike with all the time.
Extra water bottle
Yes, you want to bring enough water to last your entire hike, plus a little bit more.
But, I often see people hauling around empty Nalgene bottles to collect water in. This will only take up space in your pack and add extra weight.
If you have a water filter, most come with a collection bag that is much lighter and more compact than an empty bottle. Just bring this and leave the heavy, bulky empty water bottles at home.
Carrying around a full-sized Rambo knife may feel awesome (and provide for some comical photos), but the truth is you do not need one while hiking.
A simple pocket knife or multi-tool that has a knife on it will suffice.
They provide more versatility at a much lower weight. Plus, unless you are a hardcore survivalist, what is the need for a big knife other than for the photo ops?
Similar to the knife above, you just do not need to carry one.
You won’t be chopping firewood on your day hike, so why add the weight and take up space in your backpack?
If you are going to set up to read or do some art at a scenic spot on a hike, there are backpacking chairs that are lighter and don’t take up much space. Even a hammock makes more sense than a full-on folding chair.
Even then, there are more times than not a tree stump or rock you can set up on.
Leave the full chair in the car or for a car camping trip.
If you want to wear jewelry and look your best on your hike, then so be it. But there is just no sense in risking losing it or getting it dirty.
Hiking is meant to be an enjoyable time where you can let the stress of day-to-day life fade and the peaceful bliss of nature envelop you. Why dampen that by constantly worrying about losing or damaging something valuable?
Why you don’t need to carry as much as you think you do
When planning a hiking trip, we tend to think of everything that we might want or need to carry.
Camera gear? Sure! Extra batteries? You never know! Giant fixed-blade knife? Why not!?
It isn’t hard to see how a few pounds of essential gear can turn into 10+ pounds of equipment for “just in case” situations.
This is not me saying that you should leave everything at home in the name of a light pack. Rather, as you gain more experience, consider the items that you don’t tend to use.
You will end up having a better experience hiking by packing light compared to having “luxury items” that you only use 25% of the time.
Why you won’t regret leaving some things at home
On my first backpacking trip, I packed camp shoes, a camp/folding chair, and other gear that I did not need.
I remember thinking that I enjoyed being out in the wild for a few days, but that carrying all the gear was such a hassle. I was determined to do another backpacking trip, but I wanted to focus on making my pack lighter and more enjoyable to carry.
In hindsight, this is a totally normal experience. I have talked with dozens of hikers and backpackers who have similar stories. From carrying too much food to 2-3 pairs of extra clothes, we all seem to start out by packing for the worst possible situation we can imagine.
Start by making your base packing list, the things that you will need on every hike. Then think about the things that would be nice to have on your hike. And finally, think about gear items that would be nice in specific circumstances.
For example, I have an essential gear list that always is in my pack. Then, I dial the rest of the gear in for the specific hike that I am doing.
Maybe I want to push for a mountain summit, or maybe I just want to hike out to a lake and read a book for a few hours.
The gear lists for those trips would look different.
Like a vacation, it is easy to overpack for a hiking trip.
There are a ton of items you probably want to bring or feel that you need to bring, but the reality is that most of these items are heavy, take up too much space, and you will not end up using them anyway.
Start with the essentials, add in anything else that you will likely need based on your specific hike (terrain, location, weather, etc.), and leave the rest at home.
If you find yourself wishing you had something while you are out on the trail, you can also add it in for your next trip!