It’s always important to be well prepared for whatever you might face, but you do not want to be weighed down with excessive items you will likely never use. Whether you’re putting together a pack for a backcountry hunt, a tough hike, or even just maintaining a bug-out bag, here are a few essentials that deliver high value without adding too much weight.
Adventure Medical Universal Purifier Water Bottle Adapter
Whether your travels put you in the boonies for a day or a week, having a redundant system for creating clean drinking water is a must. Years ago, on my first trip to the Frank Church Wilderness, our guide forbade the use of bladder-style water systems.
“This is brutal country and the last thing I want is to have you go over backward onto your pack and pop that bladder, soaking your pack, everything in it, and you as well. I’ve seen it happen and it sucks. In the cold, it can be deadly. Nothing beats a Nalgene out here – they don’t weigh much, you can run them over with a truck and it’s as simple as can be,” outfitter Brooks Murphy explained.
Since that day, my collection of wide-mouth Nalgene bottles has continued to grow. Some show the wear and tear of having been frozen, thawed, and refrozen repeatedly — never has one failed me.
Adding the Adventure Medical purifier lid to a Nalgene means you can scoop your water from any source, slap the filter lid on, and you’re good to go. With a life cycle of 25 gallons to filter viruses and 200 gallons to filter bacteria, cyst, protozoa, and giardia, that means you can fill and drink your 32-ounce Nalgene 100 times before swapping the filter.
Another feather in its cap, this system is much more freeze-resistant than other styles of purification, allowing it to go through a freeze/thaw cycle and still be effective.
Having only one way to purify water isn’t a great idea, so consider adding another method to your pack. One of my favorites is the Aquamira system which can purify 30 gallons of tepid, muddy water, has an incredibly long shelf life, and only adds a few ounces to your kit.
Atwood Micro Cord
Though many folks feel that the end-all, be-all cordage is 550 Paracord, my pack is never without a small spool of this lighter, albeit weaker, rope. With a tensile strength of 100 pounds, it may not have the strength or ultimate versatility of proper paracord, but it can accomplish a surprising variety of lashing and securing tasks. Whether you need to repair part of a pack, create a guy wire for a tent, or suspend a food bag in bear country, this versatile rope is more than capable.
What it gives up in strength, it delivers in unobtrusiveness. At less than one-fourth the weight of the same length of 550 cord, 125 feet will only add two ounces to your load and far less bulk than the same length of a heavier rope.
There are few things more frustrating than finding yourself in the pitch black without a light. You can have all the gear to get you through a situation, but if you can’t function once the sun drops behind the hill, your trip will become infinitely more difficult.
Headlamps are great when in use, but it seems that they require and chew through a surprising number of batteries, have an inconvenient tendency to get turned on in a pack, and — in my experience — are generally less reliable than anticipated. If I had to choose one light to stick in a bag and know it will be there and ready when I reach for it, my choice is a Streamlight Microstream.
At just 1.1 ounces and with a simple push-button endcap, the Microstream has no frills. The only notable feature is its two-way clip, which can secure it in place on a pocket or slide backward over the brim of a hat to serve as a hands-free headlamp.
It’s not as bright as many headlamps, delivering just 45 lumens. It doesn’t have a selection of modes or a red-light option. However, it shines in a combination-style beam pattern with a center spotlight and a weaker flood to the edges.
Features are nice. However, when it comes down to it, I’d rather know my tried-and-true Microstream will be there in a pinch and won’t let me down.
Years of backcountry hunting have taught me the importance of taking care of my feet. First and foremost is having a quality set of boots that fit your foot properly and are broken in. Even then, you can have issues pop up that make every step painful. Here’s the bare minimum I keep on hand in my boot/foot kit:
Moisture and friction are the big killers when it comes to feet. The use of gaiters, and swapping socks regularly, helps with the moisture. However, for me, it’s been friction that I’ve always battled, even in boots that are broken-in to the point of needing retired. Nowadays, I buy moleskin by the econo-sized 25-foot roll. Depending on the terrain, I’ll likely be applying a big stripe to the back of my heel and might be padding to the bottom of the ball of my foot as well. Once that friction starts building a blister, it’s all downhill from there.
In 2016, motorcyclist Kevin Diepenbrock and his riding buddy collided in a corner and lost control of their bikes while pushing their limits on the infamous Tail of the Dragon — a twisty motorcycling mecca. Critically injured and unable to move without excruciating pain, Kevin lay there in agony just yards from the road, listening to a cacophony of cars and motorcycles passing by but unaware of his need. After hours of yelling for help and with no cell signal to call out, he recorded a series of heart-wrenching messages to his loved ones, fully expecting to leave this mortal coil as his friend had. Watching the raw video, I was absolutely gutted by the sense of helplessness it gave me.
After 30 long hours, passing motorcyclists noticed the debris from his accident and then heard him yell for help — resulting in his rescue.
As brutal as it was to watch, it made me think of the things that might make all the difference in a situation like that. At the time, I started looking into the SPOT tracker and nowadays most of the folks I hunt with use a Garmin inReach, but both were well beyond what my budget could allow.
What I could afford was simple and cheap, but it could make all the difference if I were to find myself in a similar situation – a whistle.
I bought a handful of cheap, loud whistles and zipped them into the pockets of my motorcycling jackets and into the stash pouches of some of my backpacks with the hope that they’d never be needed. I thought back to Kevin, of his multiple broken ribs, broken back and punctured lungs, and how a whistle would have been infinitely easier for him to use compared to yelling for help for so many hours.
Visual signals are also easy to add to a pack. A hand-held mirror and orange safety vest are light and don’t take up much space, but either would aid greatly in getting attention in the case of being stranded or injured.
So, there they are – five pack essentials that can be added to provide plenty of utility without weighing you down. Some will get used all the time and will need regular replenishing, while others will hopefully never be needed. While this list is only a start to the many things I pack on an adventure, it is full of useful items to get the job done.
What are some of the lightweight pack essentials you make sure to always have on hand? Share your answers in the comments.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in September of 2022. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.