Today I thought I'd do a short post on a simple tip to help make your hiking adventures a little easier. It's nothing complicated and is in fact pretty much explained in the title. I did say it was simple 🙂 In the image below I have my rain gear at the top of my pack as coming into autumn, it makes sense to have it handy!
The tip is just that, to always pack the items you need, your essentials, at the top of your pack. Now, many folks would read that and say, ‘huh, of course, that's stating the obvious!' But not everyone is an experienced hiker.
I recall when I first started out on the hills, there were times when I was struggling through items in my pack in a torrential downpour trying to get to my rain jacket or rain pants. Add to that near gale force winds I did have a bit of a problem on my hands. It's not like I could just take stuff out and leave it to the side while I hoked around my pack looking for what I needed. It would have been blown away or soaked in a second!
It wasn't lost on me that some of the more experienced hikers seemed to have themselves covered up and protected in record time and they were standing with a look of ‘will you please hurry up!' on their faces while myself and other newbies fumbled about with rain jackets and pants flapping away in the wind lol 🙂
Anyway, I've already stated the basic tip, pack your hiking essentials at the top of your pack, but what does that mean in real terms? Let's expand on this a bit more.
What are ‘Essentials'?
You can't really state what the ‘Essentials' are in any 100% specific way as it's a moving target depending on the time of year you're hiking in, the environment as well as a whole range of other factors.
As an example though, if it's autumn and you're hiking in the Highlands in Scotland, you could be blessed with a fine dry day or a very windy and wet one. In all likelihood it will be a mix of the two and then some 🙂 So, assuming the morning is pleasant but rain and wind is expected you probably set out with enough gear on to keep you warm and comfortable. However, at the top of your day pack, you will have your rain gear.
Why? Well common sense tells you that given the location, environment, climate and forecast, rain and wind is more or less a foregone conclusion and it will make an appearance at some point. Therefore, you want to have your rain gear close at hand so when the sky does open up, you just have one quick open of a zip and you have your rain gear ready to grab and put on.
Similarly, this also applies in really hot weather and humid environments. Say that it's a very humid day in the Amazon. If you're heading into an area that can be prone to a lot of bugs at that time of year in a tropical rain forest environment, you probably want to have things like your bug repellent, a mosquito head net within easy access to wear for protection.
In short, you're looking ahead at your day's hiking and assessing all of your gear on your checklist. You're thinking about what items you're going to probably need sooner rather than others you may or may not need later. When you know the things you're going to need, that's the main reason why you decide to give them pride of place at the top of your pack or within easy access so you can quickly get to them when you need them most.
It's worth noting that although I am mainly referring to day hiking so far, the same thing applies to backpacking. If you're sleeping out in the wilderness, it makes sense to put items like your sleeping bag in a dry bag at the bottom of your pack.
Why? Again, you're not going to use your sleeping bag till you have decided to camp for the night. You will need to get your tent up first and / or probably get some food into you at some point. The last thing you will need to do is get your sleeping bag out until you're ready to make your bed for the evening.
If you did that in reverse, and had your sleeping bag at the top of your pack, you would have to take your sleeping out every time you wanted to get at anything else in your pack and that's just a pain in the you know what 🙂
This Applies Across the Board
In terms of hiking and all outdoor activities, this same principle of good organization and easy access applies in more or less all instances. For example, have you noticed that on many hiking rain jackets there is a Napoleon Chest pocket? See the rain jacket image above for an example. Do you know why? OK, many folks of course do but many won't so bear with me here.
That pocket is there because it is easily accessible while wearing a pack. The straps of a pack when closed over your chest won't interfere with access to that pocket on your chest. What's the advantage of that? Well, when you're hiking it's a good idea to have a map and compass easily accessible.
Those pockets are designed for just that type of thing. You can slide a map and compass in there and when you need to consult it, you can easily access it with no fuss. If it was packed away inside your pack, guess what? Yep, you gotta take your pack off to get at it. Again, a pain to have to do. I often also stick a granola bar and chocolate bar in a chest or easy access pocket too. Again, easy access to a quick bit of energy should I need some while on the move without having to stop and fiddle around in a pack.
I mention these items only to illustrate the essential same point of easy access and organization.
OK, so you're heading out on your first day hike or your first few nights on a short backpacking trip. Have you:
a. Created a check list with everything you will need on it for your day hike or your backpacking trip?
b. Put everything out in front of you and reviewed every item and rated it in terms of how likely you need to access it sooner rather than later?
c. Decided how best to pack your gear up based on a. and b.
I know this post may sound kind of obvious to some but I have seen this so many times on the trail, especially on backpacking trips. People had their stuff packed in an inefficient way and when we needed to make camp in heavy wind and rain, they had to root about trying to get at things they needed.
What's even worse about this is that stuff also tends to get left out in the elements longer than it should. Someone takes out one thing and puts it to the side to get at other stuff. In the meantime, if it hasn't blown away, it has got a good soaking. All easily avoidable with a bit of forethought, preparation and organization.
As I mentioned at the start of this post, I wasn't perfect myself, I had to learn the hard way a few times too. In truth, it does take a bit of experience to get used to knowing what you need. You learn a lot by doing too.
I remember when I went to Mont Blanc, the Guides had their gear really well organized. They could be packed up and ready to move in a few minutes. They have been doing it so long now, it was just second nature to them.
The moral of the story there? Don't worry if you make a mistake or two when you first start out, you'll learn by doing. Now, that doesn't mean you should ignore it completely and just do it as you go. No, no! If you have made some effort at this kind of organization of your hiking kit, you might make a few minor mistakes at most and that's where you'll learn from experience. I'm talking small stuff here.
I hope you found this post on packing your hiking essentials at the top of your pack useful. This is of course a very easy thing to do and will save you a heap of hassle and could even have a big impact on your comfort levels. For example, if your clothes got really soaked on a cold wet and windy day while you were trying to find your rain gear, you will not be a happy camper!
It's worth reiterating that the bigger your trip, the more thought you need to put into this. For example, if you're day hiking you logically have less gear with you and so it's easier to organize. If you're backpacking for a week you have more gear and so need to think that bit more on how best to pack it. It's also worth keeping in mind that on a day hike, worst case and you did get a soaking on a miserable day, you'll still probably make it back to your car or base alive and well, probably just very wet and a tad grumpy 🙂
If however, you get really wet and vital parts of your gear get soaked through on a backpacking trip 3 days from civilization and the forecast isn't set to get any better, you of course have a more serious problem on your hands and you could be bunking down for a cold and miserable night or two. Simple things like being organized in this fashion help prevent that type of thing from happening.
Whatever you do, stay safe and enjoy 😉