Most every hiker worth their granola bars knows about the “10 essentials” — those must-have items that ought to be in your pack for every trail outing. Whether you’re going out for a short hike of a few hours or an all-day mountain ramble, emergencies happen, and you may just need to rely on this stuff. It’s peace of mind that weighs next to nothing.
The list varies a little depending on the information source, but generally includes a map and compass, sun protection, extra clothing, light source, first aid kit, repair kit, fire starter, extra food and water, and temporary shelter.
In addition to the above, I’ve got a list of 10 or so “non-essentials” that I like to carry along — a few not-necessary-but-nice items that make time on the trail that much more enjoyable. I might pack most or all of these goods on a leisurely hike along the coast, for example, or maybe just a few if it’s going to be a 15-miler over multiple peaks.
Either way, the extra measure of comfort is always welcome. After all, as old Nessmuk (George Washington Sears) wrote in his classic book, Woodcraft and Camping, “We do not go to the green woods and crystal waters to rough it, we go to smooth it. We get it rough enough at home.”
• Beer. Oh, the joy of a cold beer while enjoying lunch on sunny ledge! Friends might think you daft, until you offer them one on a hot and sweaty hike. A couple cans and a mini-icepack fit nicely in an insulated lunch bag. In bad weather, substitute a Thermos full of hot tea or soup to ward off the mountain chills.
• Fresh fruit. Apples, oranges and bananas are great, but there’s nothing like a few slices of a big, juicy melon. Slice up a whole cantaloupe, honeydew, or a small watermelon and pass it around your group for an incredible, sloppy and fun summer trail treat.
• Spare socks. While you’re relaxing with lunch and a beer, pull off your boots and socks and let your feet get some fresh air. Then when it’s time to hit the trail for the afternoon, don a clean pair of socks and revel in the luxury. Baby pin your stinky morning socks to the outside of your pack and carry on.
• Smartphone. I sometimes use mine to play music to suit the mood of the moment, especially when hiking alone. The phone also serves as a camera that takes high resolution snapshots. And with a cell signal, I can post those photos immediately to social media sites like Facebook, as well as check the pages of other hiking pals to see what they’re up to. And the GPS app (there are a number of good ones) allows me to map my hike.
• Binoculars and field guides. How many times have you wished you had binoculars to get a better look out from a cliff-top vantage point, or to more closely examine a moose or eagle across the pond? Mini-binoculars with decent optics weigh just a few ounces and are affordable. Add a field guide to birds or trees or plants to learn about our trailside friends and neighbors.
• Swimsuit and towel. Skinny dipping is fun, but not always possible on frequented trails, and sometimes not really acceptable among members of your hiking party. Yes, you can always jump in wearing what you have on, but it’s no fun having to hike out in wet shorts. Better to bring along a swimsuit and a towel.
• Notebook and book. Time on the trail is great for creative thinking, so I always carry a notebook and pen to record my musings on life. And sometimes, there’s nothing like relaxing in a scenic spot in the woods with a good book, which usually leads to a refreshing nap.
Carey Kish of Bowdoin is editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Send comments and hike suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org,