After 9,000 Miles of Thru-Hiking, These Are the 10 Items I Never Leave Home Without

You won’t find any of The Big Three items on this list. Instead, these are the things that no one really tells you about, but that can 100% make or break a thru-hike in my humble opinion. I could have saved myself miles of pain and uncomfortableness had I known these little hacks from Day 1 on my first thru-hike.

10 Little Items I Keep in My Pack for Every Thru-Hike

1. Leukotape

Would not have finished my first thru-hike without this stuff.

It’s like a mix between duct tape and KT tape. Flexible, yet invincible. I literally would not have finished any of my thru-hikes without this stuff. Use it like sports tape for injuries and strained muscles. KT tape just doesn’t stick when you are sweating and moving all day and possibly crossing creeks and walking through thunderstorms.

Leukotape will basically stay on until you rip it off, even when it gets wet. Like up a week most of the time. I’ve used it to patch holes in my tent and backpack. When the bottom of my food bag completely fell out, this held the bag together for hundreds of miles. Use it as a band-aid. Don’t even bother bringing moleskin. Pop your blister and throw this stuff on it in the morning and your pain will be gone and you won’t have to worry about reapplying Band-Aids all day when your feet get too sweaty for the adhesive to stick. It’s literally gold. Just get some. Trust me.

Disclaimer: it does hurt like hell when you rip it off, but those two seconds of pain are 100% worth all the pain-free miles you will gain by using this stuff.

2. Peanut Butter

A spoonful a day keeps the hunger pains away

Or whatever nut butter you prefer. Goes great on everything. In a tortilla, check. In your ramen… instant Pad Thai. Eating it by the spoonful, duh. It’s literally the only thing that can satisfy my hiker hunger. High in calories, fat, and protein and just plain yummy. And pretty damn cheap for the weight. You can even find it at most dollar stores.

3. Vaseline

Cause chaffing ain’t no joke. Grab one of those travel-size ones and throw it in the bottom of your pack. At best you won’t need it. At worst, you will be sooooo glad to have it when you can’t sleep at night because your buttcheeks are burning so bad. Slap some of this stuff on a rash before you go to bed and you will feel 8 million times better in the morning. I never had a chaffing issue until I hiked the AT and when you just don’t dry out for multiple days in a row, it’s basically impossible not to chafe.

4. Ear Plugs

I can’t sleep without them. Granted, when you are sleeping in the middle of the woods, every little bird, rabbit, lizard, moth that you hear in the bushes will sound like a bear. Sleeping in shelters with 11 other hikers snoring and farting all night is just plain torture, but earplugs do help to turn the racket into more of a white noise. And honestly, if a bear is going to eat me in the middle of the night I would rather not know ahead of time.

5. Safety Pin

It’s lightweight and will be your best friend when it comes to popping blisters. Nothing is more satisfying than poking a sharp hole in one of those meaty buggers and watching the pus ooze out. Always pop your blisters right when you find them. It will help them heal faster if you catch them while they are small and before you rip all the skin off from rubbing inside your shoe. You should probably sterilize your safety pin with a lighter too before shoving it in your skin.

6. Tortillas

Everything tastes better in a tortilla

Because calories are your best friend. And Everything tastes better in a tortilla. Literally everything. And it makes the perfect plate. When you haven’t smelled real food in days, one whiff of this grainy friend and it’s impossible not to smile and pretend you are laying on the beach in Mexico. They’re cheap. Even the dollar store carries them. They’re better carbs than candy. Stick with flour though. Corn tortillas will turn into corn dust after a day in your pack.

7. Electrolytes

You have to replenish all those nutrients somehow and when you are sweating gallons of water out of your body every day, water just doesn’t cut it sometimes. Plus they make that cow pond water a little more chuggable.

The only way to make cow-pond water drinkable… add electrolytes!

Believe me, you don’t want to get caught in a hot, dry section of trail without these bad boys. It’s crazy how fast you can get dehydrated and how long it can take to recover from dehydration. Also, it’s crazy how much faster electrolytes can rehydrate a body compared to water. After a four-day stretch of being dog-sick in the desert on the PCT with constant diarrhea, upset stomach, and zero energy and appetite, all it took was a zero day and a lot of Gatorade and I was good as new. You can usually find either individual powdered packets or the small concentrated liquid containers at most grocery or gear stores.

Nothing makes you smile like going on Day 3 of diarrhea in the desert ’cause you forgot your electrolytes.

8. Large Trash Bag

No matter how waterproof your backpack or rain cover claim they are… they’re not, I don’t even bother carrying a rain cover anymore. Just throw a trash bag in your pack and if there is the slightest chance of rain, use it as an inner liner and toss all your stuff inside and tie it tight and you won’t have to be sleeping in a soaking wet sleeping bag at night.

9. Extra Socks

A good time to have a spare pair of socks

Besides your base layer, rain jacket, puffy, and maybe a beanie and gloves for cold weather, you don’t need any extra clothes. Everyone wears the same one outfit every day. Save the weight of a change of clothes for extra food. But always bring an extra pair of socks. Socks wear out faster than any other article of clothing and walking miles in holey socks is a sure way to end up with blisters. And you’re gonna want to have dry socks to put on at night after walking through a freezing cold downpour all day.

10. Vitamin I

Ibuprofen. Ditch your med kit. As long as you have your leukotape, a safety pin, and a few ibuprofen, you will be fine. I don’t advocate getting into the habit of popping these every day like you will hear some hikers do, but on the rare chance you roll an ankle or develop a nasty migraine, these babies will be your best friend to reduce swelling and be able to get you what you body needs most- a good night’s sleep.

What have we learned?

Like everything in life, especially thru-hiking, there is no right or wrong answer. Bring the gear that works best for you and remember that less is usually better! If you don’t need it, don’t bring it! Having a lighter pack-weight will make your trips more enjoyable and easier on your body compared to bringing every little thing you might possibly need. But finding those small things that really do make a big difference in the long run is worth a few extra ounces, in my opinion. These 10 items have significantly improved my thru-hiking experiences and ability to complete my treks. So try bringing these things along on your next backpacking trip and see if it helps you out too!

Featured image: Graphic design by Jillian Verner (@yourstrulyjillian).

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Comments 22

  • Harry Poppins : Jun 22nd

    I might substitute neosporin for vaseline. Both work for fire starting in an emergency. Double duty. A small tube of super glue and one or two zip ties are not much extra weight. Since I work with scouts I always include a compass.

    Reply
    • Esther : Jun 24th

      Great suggestions- thanks! I also love leukotape.

      Reply
    • Ralph B. Mahon : Jun 24th

      vaseline can also be used as a firestarter. roll a cotton ball, lint from your navel and it will get going very nicely

      Reply
  • NJGB : Jun 22nd

    ❤️ the safety pins! I put them daisy-chain on my zippers’ diaper pins. Use them for everything!

    Reply
  • Josh Johnson : Jun 23rd

    I am digging this list for sure 🤙

    Reply
  • Chris aka Han Slolo : Jun 23rd

    A couple tabs of imodium AD in the bottom of your pill bottle doesn’t weight much. I also
    second the neosporin.

    Reply
  • Hiking momma : Jun 23rd

    Since you have the Vaseline, wrap a few cotton balls with a couple of matches. If you are ever in a situation where nothing lights for a fire, dip cotton balls in Vaseline and light. Vaseline is petroleum jelly, highly flammable.

    Reply
  • Cornfed : Jun 24th

    Great list Jen! I usually don’t take Vaseline for skin repair. My substitute is a travel sized tube of bag balm for any chafing issues or dry skin. And it too lights fires pretty well…as it probably has loads of petroleum jelly in it as well.

    Reply
  • Jo Anne Reinhard : Jun 24th

    Great list – and I love your sense of humor while compiling it!

    Reply
  • Eric H : Jun 24th

    Easily one of the better articles on this site. Great tips!

    Reply
    • Ben "Paladin" : Jun 24th

      Outstanding advice and can’t agree more…… especially the about the socks! Not only do they wear out, but had a bear chew-up my hat and a pair of good Darn Tough socks while drying on the line hiking the AT (SOBO).

      Reply
  • Ben "Paladin" : Jun 24th

    Outstanding advice and can’t agree more…… especially the about the socks! Not only do they wear out, but had a bear chew-up my hat and a pair of good Darn Tough socks while drying on the line hiking the AT (SOBO).

    Reply
  • Ben "Paladin" Cox : Jun 24th

    Outstanding advice and can’t agree more…… especially the about the socks! Not only do they wear out, but had a bear chew-up my hat and a pair of good Darn Tough socks while drying on the line hiking the AT (SOBO).

    Reply
  • Captain Woody : Jun 24th

    Brilliant 10 essentials. I already had 7 of these and will be adding the other 3.

    Reply
  • Navster : Jun 26th

    Solid. My go to for chafe is Desiten. It has staying power even while hiking.

    Reply
  • Mad Max : Jun 28th

    Hello Zebra! Useful info. clear & concise writing, great job!

    Reply
  • PaulL : Jun 28th

    Never even heard of leukotape. Going to add it to pack out supplies!

    Reply
  • Robert : Jul 1st

    I agree with or carry every item except the earplugs. They don’t weigh anything but I find them uncomfortable for more than 5-10 minutes and ambient noise doesn’t keep me awake after a full day of walking. Of course, I may be the reason other people carry earplugs. I may need to add the vaseline/petroleum jelly though I always figure there is plenty of fire starter around even when it is wet.

    Reply
  • Hawkeye : Jul 1st

    Bag balm and Maryjane salve

    Reply
  • Jess Wall : Jul 5th

    Your writing style… Feels like we’re kindred spirits. Maybe we’re related. Ha. Good article. Going to try leukotape next trip for my wonky knees.

    Reply
  • Lisa : Jul 5th

    I’m a beginner so triple thanks! Can you suggest similar multi- purpose bare bones advice on multi purpose food and clothing? Thanks’ —Lisa from South Carolina

    Reply
  • Tamera A : Jul 8th

    Thank you for the excellent list and advice. One of the best backpacking articles. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and putting together your list of must haves. Happy trails

    Reply

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