When it comes to travel, we tend to over worry about things we don’t have convenient access to. It’s no wonder that hiking takes us further down the worries list. Thinking we’d rather be safe than sorry, we end up packing more than we need; often things that we don’t use at all.
First-time hikers in particular end up packing what seems like their entire house: a full kitchen set, survival tools, the newest entertainment gadgets, yet still manage to forget some really helpful items.
This article is to help you shave down your to-bring list so that you only carry essentials. So here is a list of things you shouldn’t bring when hiking. If you haven’t yet, you should be checking out our complete backpacking list to know exactly what to bring as well.
This includes: GPS trackers, portable chargers, music players, laptops and more. Not only are these electronics weighty, you might not even be able to use them when deep in the outdoors. If you’re not going completely off-the-grid, one communication device with sufficient coverage will suffice (usually your phone). While portable chargers may be great in some cases, and GPS trackers can be important for safety, there are use cases where each are excessive. An emergency beacon can be small, and there is no need for a large portable battery. If you must, get something meant for backpackers.
It also goes without saying – you’re out in nature! Try to engage with what’s around you instead of plugging into technology at all times.
Never fully rely on your phone however, always bring a map, compass, and the knowledge to use it.
Extra Cooking / Kitchen Gear
With limited space in your backpack, a full set of cook ware is not practical. Whether you’re hiking solo or with a group of friends, having to unpack the whole set just to fish out what you will use is a hassle. You probably won’t use them all either.
Instead, just bring one versatile 750ml – 1l pot; there’s no need for additional crockery when you can eat out of it as well. Complete the set with a small stove, spork and a solid pocket knife. If you are cooking, get a backpacking stove.
Full-Sized First-Aid Kit
It definitely pays to be prepared but be smart about it! Unless you’re travelling across dangerous terrain or will be unreachable, a full-sized surgical kit is unnecessary.
Pack only the most essential items such as: allergy meds or an Epi-pen (especially if you have known allergies), paracetamol, roll of bandages, alcohol wipes and antiseptic cream. If you’re injured to the point of needing splints or stitches, you’re better off contacting emergency services. Duct tape wrapped around your bottle can come in handy, take up no space, and be a great first aid backup.
Definitely have a first aid kit, but get a backpacking one!
Serious Survival Tools
It’s tempting to pack like an adventurer and bring along survival tools like an axe, multi-tool devices or even a shovel – but how likely are you to actually use them? Unless you’re building your own shelter and exploring no-man’s land, leave those complex gadgets behind. Instead, pack a single Swiss army knife; that alone has more functions that you’ll need.
We know that a backpacking shovel might be necessary in some cases. Especially if you are in avalanche terrain, or need to dig for a quality shelter. So, in those cases, it is essential, but other than that, probably not.
Torch / Flashlight (Other Than A Headlamp)
Torches, while not exactly useless, can be unwieldy. There’s no need for one if you’re doing a day hike; nor would you want to carry an extra few pounds of weight due to its batteries and weighted body.
A better, more compact option is carrying a headlamp. Clasped around your belt, kept on your head or dangling from the middle of your tent, headlamps free up your hands while acting as flexible attachable lighting. If you must, you can get small portable lights that can light up your tent as well. Carrying a heavy flashlight just isn’t a useful or good idea.
See our article on choosing the best hiking headlamps.
If your trail is short and easy, or you’re planning on camping for a few days, folding chairs aren’t too demanding an addition. That said; they can be on the expensive side and are honestly unnecessary. Make do with soft ground or flat rock, a log, or unroll your sleeping mat to use as a cushion.
Hiking chairs are basically unnecessary even though millions use them. So many people use them, that we even made a list and guide to choosing the best hiking chairs. If you must bring one, at least bring one that is extremely light, and packs small.
In theory, packing bags keep your items well-organized and compressed. In reality, they’re extra layers of fabric to squeeze into your hiking pack.
We’d recommend getting a hiking bag with smartly-designed compartments to separate clothing, handy-tools and loose items.
You can also opt for one with waterproof lining to keep your belongings nice and dry regardless of spillage or wet weather. You can look for waterproof hiking bags, backpacks with a rainfly, buy a separate rainfly, or get a waterproof compression sack.
Regular Shower Towels
Cotton shower towels are a luxury in the woods. They simply take up too much space and too much time to dry. Hikers should bring microfiber towels instead; not only are they thin and extremely light, they also dry quickly. They’re also versatile to use, whether you’re mopping up sweat, drying off after a rinse or as a dishwashing cloth.
Jewelry And Other Valuables
Don’t bring anything you can’t afford to lose. For instance, one of the most useless things to bring on a hiking trip is jewelry. Not only can they pose health risks (wearing constricting items like rings during altitude changes can result in cut-off blood flow) but it is simply way to easy to lose something valuable.
They also add unnecessary weight.
This one really should be obvious. Not many people should be seeing you, nor should you care unless your an influencer that relies on this for income in the woods (separare problem).
Don’t waste the space, time, and weight necessary for makeup in the backcountry.
A Big Camera
Well this one is debatable. If you love photography, or it is part of your living or income, it may be essential. But for most, cameras take up huge amounts of space and are heavy. Especially if you haul multiple lenses and a tripod. As someone who carries a camera at all times, even I wouldn’t recommend it for most.
Hiking Boots? Sounds Crazy Right?
Hiking boots are heavy. Trail runners are not. Many people can do tons of miles in trail runners and they love it. Many people swear by hiking boots too. The choice is yours, but in many cases, the added weight of hiking boots isn’t necessary or even preferred. In certain terrains and conditions, trail runners may be better suited. Consider what is best for you! Wondering about ankle stability? Check out our article on it.
Sleeping well is essential, but you don’t really need a pillow. You can use your jacket, your backpack, or other items as a pillow. If you must, take an inexpensive backpacking pillow that folds into almost nothing and weighs almost nothing. But to say this is an essential item isn’t true. Know your sleeping preferences, and bring a pillow based on that.
Water weighs a ton. You need it. So don’t skimp out. But if you are hiking in an area with tons of water access, just bring a backpacking water filter. Do not bring a ton of water. Bring a filter, and you’ll save many pounds on your trek. This is not the case if you are in an area where water access is limited.
Yes, every hiker wants to be prepared for shifts in temperature and the elements. But how many pieces of clothing can you spare space for? Bring the essential clothing items, and don’t forget those, but don’t go overboard. It is always important to have a waterproof and windproof layer, but extra shirts, sweatshirts and underwear may take up extra space and weight.
Instead of packing an outfit per day, pick quality and functional pieces. Basic pieces made from Merino wool with anti-bacterial properties, or high-quality synthetics with anti-odor technology will last a few days without wash while weighing less. You’ll want a moisture wicking material for your base layers.
Of course, every hiker’s needs are different! Every individual hikes for a different purpose. Depending on whether you’re a bird watcher, photographer or casual trekker, you’ll need an appropriate subset of gear.
At the end of the day, our advice is simple: bring what will actually be used.
Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued his frequent adventures in the mountains, always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about