Essential Backpacking Accessories for 2020
It’s the little things. Beyond your backpack, tent, and sleeping bag, what else should you carry? What are other things to pack that you will actually need and use? We polled backpackers with a collective 100,000 miles of backpacking to get the answers.
Note that not everything on this list is carried on every trip. Our actual packing list varies based on the length of the trip, the terrain, the season, and overall climate.
If you’re wearing low hiking shoes or trail runners, you might know the frustration of getting rocks and grit in your shoes. It can be frustrating to stop and remove rocks, not to mention that fine grit can contribute to blister formation. Enter the lightweight gaiter. These aren’t the gaiters that come up to your knees. These just cover the tops of your shoes and come up to just above the ankle. Bonus - they keep your shoelaces tied as well. For more fun patterns and colors, try Dirty Girl Gaiters.
Dirty Girl Gaiters
Hiking shoe and boot failure happens in the wilderness...more often than we’d like to remember. Soles separate, toe caps delaminate, you name it. Aquaseal SR (the product formerly known as Freesole) has saved us many, many times and we’d never be without it. Many hikers will pre-treat their shoes if they know where problems happen regularly with their shoes.
krazy glue singles
Got a hole in your down jacket from a campfire ember? Use Tenacious Tape. Did your sewing kit needle poke a hole in your dry bag? Use Tenacious Tape. Did a rock put a hole in the bottom of your tent? Use Tenacious Tape.
We’ve had down jackets with Tenacious Tape on them that hasn’t come off in years. Multiple washings and heavy use too. This stuff works.
Inflatable Sleeping Pad Repair Kit
There’s nothing worse than laying on your sleeping pad and hearing the sound pshhhhhhh as it deflates (ask us how we know). Unless you’re carrying a foam pad, carry a patch kit. It’s light and the kind of thing you’ll be so happy to have when you need it. Super glue and Aquaseal can also help in a pinch. We recommend carrying the patch kit specific to the manufacturer of your sleeping pad. Many pads now come with the kit; replacement kits are also available.
Inflatable Sleeping Pad Repair Kit
Mosquitoes can ruin a trip. That’s why most hikers carry some kind of insect repellent. We like picaridin rather than DEET. Studies have found no significant differences in performance between the two but picaridin does not have the same neurotoxicity concerns. Like DEET, picaridin repels both mosquitoes and ticks. But unlike DEET, picaridin does NOT destroy your gear.
The 4-ounce bottle is probably too much to carry on a trip so we recommend buying a smaller container and repackaging.
Sawyer Picaridin Lotion
Ticks are the animals we fear most in the backcountry. They are found in all the US lower 48 states, and one species even in Hawaii. Non-native ticks are making their way to Alaska as well. And the diseases they carry...well, you really don’t want to catch one. [The Lone Star tick bite can make you allergic to red meat.]
Permethrin is an insecticide that can be sprayed onto clothing and gear to kill ticks. Studies have shown that it is more effective than repellents for ticks, but less effective for mosquitoes. Sawyer makes it easy to treat your clothes AND gear with permethrin with a pump spray. Most packs and tents can be treated with permethrin (check manufacturer’s information).
You can also buy factory treated permethrin clothing that lasts for 70 washes.
Sawyer Permethrin Pump Spray
When hiking in tick country, it’s essential to check yourself for ticks every day. If you do get a tick, remove it quickly and easily with a tick key. Weighing in at 9 grams, there’s no reason not to carry one.
Just slide the tick into the slot on the Tick Key and pull the key away from your skin. Easy!
Leave No Trace Principle 3: Dispose of Waste Properly. For human waste, we need to dig catholes 6-8” deep (4-6” in the desert) and 4-6” in diameter. This can’t be done with a hiking pole or a random stick, trust us on this. The Deuce of Spades potty trowel comes in 3 different weights (0.45, 0.60, and 1.0 ounce versions) and 8 different colors. You can use them handle up or handle down for even more digging power.
Deuce of Spades
For toilet paper, we recommend packing it out. The easiest, cleanest, cheapest way we’ve found is to use dog waste bags. Drop your used TP on the ground, put the dog waste bag over your hand and wrist, and pick up the TP. With your clean hand, pull the bag over the other hand and tie off the bag...just like you would with dog waste. We recommend unscented bags.
Dog Waste Bags
On the trail, one of my rituals every night in the tent is to massage my feet. Even if it’s only for 30 seconds, it makes a huge difference. I was positively DE-lighted when I found this massage ball that’s light enough to carry on a backpacking trip. Designed by hikers for self-massage, it only weighs 1.4 ounces (and the mini version only weighs 0.7 ounces!). And they’re made from recycled wine corks so they’re grippy even when wet.
Rawlogy cork massage ball
Long handled spoon:
Don’t like getting food all over your hands (or your dirty hands all over your food) eating out of those freeze-dried meal pouches? Neither do we. A long handled spoon is an absolute must. We like the Toaks titanium version with the polished bowl. It’s easier to clean with a polished bowl, while the matte handle gives more grip. It comes with an orange nylon storage sack which makes it easy to see in your food bag (and keeps the spoon clean). The long handle is also great for stirring your rice or pasta in your cook pot because it keeps your hand a nice distance away from the heat. You can also use it to unlock your bear can!
TOaks Titanium Long handled spoon
Some gear you really, really want to make sure stays dry. Top of that list is your sleeping bag - down or synthetic. Even if we have a “waterproof” pack, and even if we use a trash compactor bag in our “waterproof” pack, we recommend using a dry bag for your sleeping bag. The Sea to Summit 4L version only weighs 1.7 ounces, and we think it’s worth the weight.
Sea to Summit Dry Bag
Battery pack & charging cables:
So. Many. Electronics. Phone, headphones, satellite messenger, camera, headlamp may all need to be recharged on a longer trip. Battery packs are now fairly cheap, light, small, and powerful. We’ve had great success with the Anker PowerCore 10000 PD Redux. It has three charging modes: 18W power-delivery USB-C port, powered-enabled USB-A port, and trickle-charging mode for low-power devices like Bluetooth headphones. It has dual USB ports to charge two devices at the same time. And with a USB-C wall charger it can be fully charged in just 3.5 hours.
Anker PowerCore 10000 PD Redux
Most hikers agree: the best way to keep your gear dry is to line the inside of your pack with a trash compactor bag. They’re thicker than regular trash bags and much more puncture resistant. They’re extremely light. If the weather forecast looks good, you can leave it folded up in the bottom of your pack. And in our experience, they work better than any external pack cover we’ve ever used. True trash compactor bags can be hard to find, so we recommend buying online or at an Ace Hardware store.
Hefty Trash Compactor Bags
It’s UPF 50, moisture wicking, quick drying, and can be worn 12 different ways. So. Many. Uses. Here’s a non-exhaustive list:
- Sun protection
- Cold protection
- Dust protection
- Wind protection
- Bug protection
- Keeps your beanie on your head when you sleep
- Keeps your hair out of your face when you hike
- Dish rag
- Personal flair
Synthetic quick dry buff
If there’s one lesson we’ve heard repeatedly from backpackers it’s that preventing blisters is wayyyy better than treating them. Leukotape is in our backpacking kit for this very reason. Leukotape is a sticky but breathable and flexible sports tape. It’s also tearable by hand which makes it convenient to use. At the first sign of a hot spot, we stop, clean the area well, and apply a piece of Leukotape. It stays on for days (even with wet feet) but is easy to remove once you get to town.
To help protect the feet and body from the ABCs (abrasions, blisters, and chafing) of outdoor adventures, we highly recommend carrying some kind of anti-friction cream. Our favorite: Trail Toes. We’ve used for thousands of miles for blisters, back and hip chafing, and even on the days when we knew our feet would be wet all day as a protective barrier. It comes with a small container to repackage.
Trail Toes Anti-Friction Cream
The best way to keep your phone safe from water, dust, and shock is to use a phone case specific for your phone model. Many hikers have had great success with the OtterBox Defender. Waterproof bags also work for protection against water and dust, although we don’t recommend Zip Locks. Better: LOKSAK waterproof bags. They’re much thicker and protect against sand, humidity, and water.
LOKSAK Waterproof Bags
Odor proof food bags:
Sleep better at night knowing your food is protected from bears and rodents with an odor proof food bag. We recommend the tried and true LOKSAK OPSAK. They’re thick, they’re durable, and they only weigh 0.8 ounces.
LOKSAK OPSAK Odor proof food bags
You never know when you might need to do emergency repairs on your clothes or shoes. You can swipe one from your next hotel stay, assemble one at home, or buy a lightweight kit from Gear Aid. Make sure it has 2 needles - small and large. The large needle can be used with dental floss as thread for heavy duty repairs, such as shoes or boots.
Gear Aid Sewing Kit
Water treatment back up:
No matter what water treatment you’re carrying, we recommend carrying a lightweight backup method. Our choice: bleach. It’s the recommended method during emergency situations and a little goes a long way. Buy some black mini dropper bottles (bleach is light sensitive) and fill one with bleach. Just make sure it is unscented bleach!
Litesmith Mini Dropper bottles
Fingernails and toenails break easily and often in the backcountry and nail clippers make the situation much easier to deal with. Even if you’re going out for a short overnight, we’d still recommend carrying nail clippers. The So iLL nail clippers come in two sizes and the green color make them easier to see in your bag.
So iLL Nail Clippers
No, we’re not carrying diapers. We use diaper pins to pin our wet socks to our pack to dry out during the day. They’re much sturdier than regular safety pins and can handle the weight of wet socks. We put one on each side of our pack on the daisy chain, not the actual pack material itself (you really don’t want to puncture that).
These days you likely only need extra batteries for your headlamp (although rechargeable headlamps are getting really good these days). The batteries always seem to run out when you need them most. We recommend carrying one set of whatever size you need and keep them in a place that’s easily accessible.
Whether you’re hiking in your home or in a foreign country, it’s always smart to carry cash.
Many, many times my credit card has been canceled on trail due to fraud and cash is my only backup. Not all small towns have ATMs so bring some with you. We’ve also known hikers who had to resort to waiving cash trying to get a hitchhike.