Thru-Hiker Favorites: The Essential Non-Essentials

Aside from the Big Three (and important things like shoes and socks), there are some items that just make a thru-hike more comfortable. We polled thru-hikers on the non-essential items that became essential as the hike progressed. Sure, they might have survived without ibuprofen and camp shoes, but it wouldn’t have been as fun.


Most Useful Small Items

1) Camp Shoes: There is nothing better than taking off reeking, sodden, fraying hiking shoes at the end of a long day and slipping into some high-fashion foam clogs.

2) Headphones: Essential to to drowning out shelter snorers, or keeping the mood up on miserably hard ascents.

3) Portable Charger: Those headphones are used for playing music, which is probably on your phone, which is probably also being used to take panoramic shots of your hiking partner’s receding rear. Gotta keep it juiced.

4) Ibuprofen: Ever passed a slumped-over hiker reaching out a shaking palm as you pass by? They’ve probably run out of ibuprofen. Running out of Vitamin I is rough, especially on a day with blisters, aching knees, shin splints, or a headache. Or all of the above. Thru-hiking is fun!

5) Hand Sanitizer: We don’t expect you to wash your hands after every cat hole (and actually please don’t, because that stream is probably a high-use water source) but a small bottle of hand sanitizer can make the difference between contracting norovirus and escaping its clutches.

6) Blister Tape / Band-Aids: You can hike 500 miles without a blister, and then lose the entire back of your heel in one day. It’s a thru-hiking mystery, and an important reason to pack blister tape and patches around with you. Our hikers used a combination of athletic tape, moleskin, bandaids, and Leukotape. Find the combination that sticks the best and keeps you protected and you’ll have some happy toes.

7) Lip Balm: This might seem unnecessary until you hit a rare patch of open sun or a particularly windy day. We promise your chapped lips will be all you can think about. We recommend an all-natural, super basic lip balm that won’t smell like a rose garden or dry your lips out more.

The five items that ranked the lowest in usefulness:

That means our surveyed hikers either didn’t carry them, or started out with them and ditched them.

1) Solar Charger: It’s called the green tunnel for a reason. Most solar chargers are sent home from Neels Gap and never thought about again.

2) Deodorant: Just give up.

3) Vaseline: Redundant with lip balm / chafe sticks /monkey butt powder

4) Sleeping Aids (ie Z-Quil): You’re tired enough. You’ll fall asleep

5) Foot-rolling ball: Some people like them to help ease the foot pain, most people in our survey did not.

As for the rest of the items, many were voted were right down the middle. You know what that means: hike your own hike! Here’s the rest of them in case you were curious.


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Comments 8

  • ~KC : Mar 21st

    I like this (now I won’t buy that solar charger) but…I cannot read the information with the bars, even with the cheats.

    • sdf : Mar 24th

      they are the same as in the first graphic, just with bars instead of mountains.

  • J-bird : Mar 23rd

    Didn’t see it on the list, but duck tape is a more versatile blister treatment. Get it on when you feel a hot spot and you’ll be good to go. Also, you have a handy repair tool for any other random thing that breaks along the way.

  • Kate : Mar 24th

    Great article! Good to know the non essentials that don’t need to take up room in your pack

  • Trillium 2014 : Mar 26th

    Laughing! I carried 15 of these items, and never considered most of them “luxuries!” Lip balm, ear plugs, camp shoes? TOTALLY necessary!

  • Paul Nehlson : Apr 7th

    My favorite non-essential when backpacking with my kids: a 1/2-size deck of cards. Aside from that–and after an ill-fated attempt to go without hot food (never again…)–we found our best backpacking stove yet:

  • Doctari : Jul 29th

    I have a solar charger With built-in battery. (Or vice versa) I have yet to use it but as it has the same capacity as my back up battery at 3 grams less AND self charges at least a little, it’s the one I’ll carry. Even have a way to attach it to the top of my pack while keeping it dry.

    • Mastery : Aug 30th

      What is the brand/model name?


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