Every hiking tour needs to be planned and prepared carefully! You need to check the weather forecast, decide on a tour and plan the amount of time needed, maybe make a reservation in a hut… and pack your backpack!
How to pack
Here, the same rules apply as with traveling: pack as light as possible. A backpack should weigh maximum 25% of your own weight, rather less than that.
Depending on the length of the tour you will need a daypack or a slightly bigger one for a two or three-day tour. For day tours I recommend the Berghaus Octans 25 backpack. It is super light and practical with zipped hip belt pockets – ideal for keeping sunscreen, money and tissues. It is also hydration system compatible – there is a compartment that can accommodate your hydration pack.
Keep the heavy things closest to your spine in the upper part of the backpack (food, water, toiletries). This helps to keep your center of gravity. Place the lighter items like your sleeping bag and clothes in the lower and the outer parts.
Make sure to arrange the belongings evenly. Pack the bag in the order you will use your things. Evening items like sleeping bag and toiletries go towards the bottom of the bag. Food and fresh clothes go to the top. High priority items like cell phone, map and head lamp go to side or top pockets. Don’t attach things to the outside of the bag if not necessary – you might lose or damage them. I always have one or two carabiner attached to the front of my backpack if I have to dry a woolen/ headband on the outside.
Make sure you carry a rain cover for the backpack. Additionally, it is a good idea to use smaller, different coloured bags for your items. This helps organizing and gives extra protection of rain if the bags are waterproof.
Let’s get started and pack your backpack for the next hiking tour!
Check list day hiking
There is a list of essentials that should constantly be in your backpack (I actually never remove them, only if I change to a bigger or smaller backpack). You might not always need them, but they should always be at your side in case of an emergency or a change of weather.
So let’s start with those basic outdoor survival items:
- map. Even if you have a print out of the tour you want to do, always bring a detailed map of the area. In case there are not enough signs and you get lost it will help you to find your way back.
- compass. And know how to use it! In combination with a map of the region you are hiking through.
- army knife
- bivouac sac. In an emergency situation it will keep you warm and safe from rain.
- emergency kit. The size depends on the number of persons that go hiking together. I always carry a prepackaged kit by Tatonka for two persons.
- gloves. The weather can change super fast in the mountains. If rain/ snow or a thunderstorm come up while you are outdoors, you will be very pleased you brought some (soft shell) gloves.
- hat. Same reasons as above.
- head lamp. In case of an emergency or delay you might have to descend in the dark. The head lamp will help you getting home safely!
- sunscreen/ lip balm. Remember that the sun becomes more aggressive the higher you hike – always protect your skin with minimum SPF 30! Take a refillable silicone tube to save waste and weight!
- energy bars. Imperishable and perfect as a backup energy provider.
- membership cards for mountain clubs
Other important items
- money/credit card. ALWAYS carry money, even if you are only planning a short tour. You never know what happens. And if you find a nice hut with good food or fresh beer, you’ll be happy you have some.
- cell phone. You will want to take pictures of the beautiful mountainside and – more importantly – if you have an emergency situation, you need to place a call!! If you hike in a foreign country, safe the emergency number beforehand. So never forget your phone and make sure it is fully charged!
- food. Take some fruits like apples and bananas and nuts which are rich in energy and protein. If you want to carry some chocolate (as an addict I always pack some;) go for peanut M&M’s. Those little guys were invented as a method to allow soldiers to carry chocolate without having it melt. As a hiker who is exposed to hot weather you should act strategically smart to not spoil your backpack.
- water. Never forget to carry water! For a normal day trip I carry three litres in a hydro drinking system. I prefer those to bottles as you do not have to stop, take off your backpack, open it, etc. When you do mountain biking/ ski touring it is even more beneficial. The downside is that so far I had to buy a new one every 1 to 2 years – after a while they look kind of gross. Don’t fill anything but water, it will spoil your drinking system. Take whatever chance you get to refill it! You never know if there will be another river or source on your way. If the weather is cold you should carry a thermos bottle with herbal tea and honey.
- sun glasses
- wet wipes
- additional clothes for changing: take an extra pair of socks (they tend to smell after a while), an additional shirt and long-sleeved shirt (merino is light and dries fast). I love the kidney tubes that always keep your organs warm! I also carry an extra woolen/ tube in case the one I’m wearing is wet after an exhausting hike. Merino and poly blends dry faster than cotton and wick moisture away from your skin. I always carry my beloved NORRØNA down jacket that is super light and super warm – remember that the temperatures become cooler with altitude. Also take a light rain coat. Depending on the time of year, shorts or pants.
- trekking poles. I refused to use them for years, but, believe me, they make descending much easier and are good for your joints.
Overnight hiking trips
- sleeping bag. In Europe, a light one made of silk is enough, as the huts provide blankets. In other countries check beforehand if you need to bring a proper sleeping bag. Mine is by LaFuma and ever since I’ve bought it I’m head over heels in love with it!
- extra underwear
- toiletries: You can save a lot of weight by buying small and light versions of your toiletries. You should go for little (refillable) silicon bottles. Those are available in different sizes and you can fill them with your shampoo or liquid soap. That way you also avoid to buy little throw away plastic tubes which is obviously better for the environment. In order to save more weight, go for a soap bar that also serves as a shampoo.
- quick dry towel
- ear plugs!! Those are basically the only chance to get some sleep in the packed dorms of mountain huts.
Besides the items you carry in your backpack, you naturally have to wear proper shoes and clothing! If you go on easy hiking tours on smooth, level paths, normal running shoes will do.
While you are advancing onto rough terrain and trails with rocks, you should definitely wear proper hiking boots. Make sure you wear them for a short period of time to break them in and then step by step longer periods so they adjust to your feet and feel comfortable. Wearing brand new hiking boots for the first time on a long tour is not a good idea! The socks you are wearing are probably just as important as good shoes. Either get special hiking socks or wear two layers of thin socks – this minimises the risk of blisters.
Dress in layers. That way you can easily remove and add clothes depending on the temperature. Avoid cotton – it dries slowly and traps water against your skin.
Find a printable version of the hiking check list here.