The Five Essential Backcountry Items

October 21, 2015 Liam Harrap

First, it’s worth mentioning that nothing is essential in the backcountry. You could head into the woods in your underwear and flip flops, relying on perseverance and stubbornness. It will be uncomfortable, but “doable” (unless it’s winter). Nevertheless, most “normal” people go into the bush for enjoyment, not suffering. The following 5 items will make your next adventure a little more agreeable:

1. Buy a Quality Backpack

Your pack carries your home. If it’s not well suited for you, you’ll feel it. I’ve had my waist and shoulders rubbed raw by ill-fitting packs, being led astray by their cheapness. Look for one that’s light, but tough and will distribute weight well to your shoulders and waist. It’s important to know what you want to do with your pack. Daytrips? Weekend? An expedition? Knowing the length of the trip will give you a better idea of the size you need (the longer the trip, the bigger the bag). Generally larger volume packs come in different frame lengths, which is why you probably shouldn’t borrow your sister’s bag. Get one that fits.

This Isn't Just My Backpack. It's An Organizer, A Memory And An Old Friend. Unfortunately My Friend Is Morbidly Obese. | Photo David Harrap
This isn’t just a pack. It’s an organizer, a memory and an old friend. Unfortunately he’s morbidly obese. | Photo David Harrap

2.   Footwear

When I walked to Mexico from Canada, I learned that appropriate footwear was of the utmost importance. One pair of shoes was slightly too tight, but I thought nothing of it. Weeks later when my feet turned black, I knew better. One suggestion is if you plan to just hike on trails without a heavy backpack, buy running shoes. Avoid hiking boots. They’re stiffer, less comfortable, less breathable, and heavy. Be kind to your feet, get runners. 

Always Make Sure You Have Comfortable Boots For Skiing, Esp If You Have To Go Up Hill. Or You May Need A Tin Of Diaper Rash Cream... | Photo Liam Harrap
Make sure you have comfortable boots for skiing, esp for up hill. Or you may need a tin of diaper rash cream… | Photo Liam Harrap

3. Shelter

If you’re wet at night, you won’t be happy. Invest in a tent that’ll keep you dry, bug-free, and is strong. The last thing you want to worry about in a storm is the tent collapsing. Look for one that’s light, but spacious. There’s no reason to sleep in a sardine can. I prefer a larger vestibule to keep my gear nearby and out-of-the-weather. A happy night, leads to a happy morning.

Home Is Where The Tent Is. | Photo Liam Harrap
Home is where the tent is. | Photo Liam Harrap

4. Flashlight

While it isn’t as important as the other three, it ‘s still vital. If you’re late setting out, you can hike in the dark, stargaze, and later play cards in the tent. It will prove to be invaluable in the case of an emergency and can help search and rescue locate you. Don’t leave it behind.

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In Svalbard, the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon from October to February. You need a good flashlight, or you may wonder off a cliff or bump into a polar bear by accident. | Photo Andreas Westgård Rinvoll
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If you’re lucky you won’t need a flashlight. Northern Lights in Banff National Park. | Photo Jon Dickson

5. The Means to Entertain

Remember, most of us go into the bushes on our spare time. I consider it a holiday, not a how-much-pain-can-I-possibly-fit-in-before-Monday. It’s important to bring along some well earned comforts.

Playing The Card Game Cribbage On The Summit Of Mt. Mclaren. | Photo Liam Harrap
Bring games. Here we’re playing cribbage on the summit of Mt. Mclaren. | Photo Liam Harrap
Entertain Yourself And Others With Food. Such As Bringing Trays Of Sushi And Ginger Beer To A Summit. It Is A Holiday After All. | Photo Ben Nearingburg
Entertain yourself and others with food. Such as bringing trays of sushi and ginger beer to a summit like Mount Outram. | Photo Ben Nearingburg
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Hiking and knitting in the Red Desert, Wyoming. You become so absorbed that you knit your way through intersections and become lost. Could be embarrassing explaining that one… | Photo Jacob Alleyne

The backcountry is meant to be enjoyed – so do it in style.