Blyde River Canyon

Packing for hiking trips can be a bit overwhelming. What do I bring? How do I pack my bag the right way? What is essential? What is a luxury? What food do I bring? How much water must I carry?

All of these questions I will answer here, so that you don’t get boggled down with the logistics of what to pack and how to pack so you can instead focus on other things like route planning. Go through this hiking checklist and make sure you tick all the boxes so that you always have the right gear for the job.

If you are a hiking beginner and looking for some additional tips and tricks for hiking or if you would just like a refresher on the basics, check out Hiking For First Timers: Tips and Tricks

How to Pack Your Bag

Your hiking pack should be well-balanced and positioned close to your body’s center of gravity, in other words, close to your back. If the pack is not full, use the compression straps to hold the load tightly and prevent the backpack from swaying. This could cause fatigue.

How to Organise Your Pack
An easy way to organise your packing is to divide your bag into five sections:

Bottom – Midweight items + sleeping system

Outer middle – lightest items

Inner middle – heaviest items

Top- lighter items you may need to access quickly

Outer pack – items you’d like on hand

*Make sure your packs compression straps are as loose as possible before you start packing

Day Hiking

When day hiking you can get by on the bare minimum. This being: a rainjacket, a map and compass, a warm layer, good hiking shoes (trail-running shoes also work great), lunch, plenty of water (about 2L is adequate), a lightweight first aid kit and of course plenty of snacks to keep you going. I headtorch and camera couldn’t hurt either.

Navigation

Essentials

  • Map of your route 
  • Compass – For making any sense of direction on your map and to determine direction of travel
  • Headtorch – Try as best you can to do all your hiking in the daytime, but sometimes it’s inevitable that you underestimate distance or sunlight hours and you will be marching into camp for the night in darkness. When it gets dark this will be your lifeline. Avoid handheld torches as they are heavy and can easily be dropped.
  • 2x Spare Batteries for your Headtorch – Last thing you want is for your headtorch to die on you in the middle of night in the middle of nowhere. Most headtorches use AAA batteries and a lot of them are rechargable so make sure to stock up. Always have backups!
  • Cellphone – Phones have become an essential part of our modern lives. It serves a multitued of uses while hiking including giving us maps, telling the time, taking photos and videos, reading the weather and even helping us identify different fauna and flora in the area.                                                                                                                                                                      A lot of hiking trails are far removed from any cellphone towers so signal is never a guarantee. To combat this, download all maps, checklists or blogposts (like this one) to your phone the night before you are to set out on your adventure. Also make sure to charge the cellphone fully before departure and bring a charged powerbank if you are going to be away for 2 or more days. Turn off your phone when not in use to prolong battery life. Keep it and all electronics in plastic, waterproof, sealable packets to protect them from water.

Nice to Have

  • Guide Book of the area – It is extra weight but it could have some useful tips about hiking in the area such as best campsites, best trails and best time of year to visit the trails.
  • GPS – Again, its heavy but if you can manage the extra kg or two, it could be a great navigitional tool. GPS’s generally have better signal and reach much farther than your cellphone can.

Shelter

Essentials

  • Sleeping Bag – Choosing the right sleeping bag for the job is essential. Not every sleeping bag is the same. On each sleeping bag cover there should be various numbers including temperature range, comfortable sleeping temperature, weight and dimensions of the sleeping bag. These numbers are very important to know. They provide the ideal conditions that the sleeping bag is suited for. The colder the region you are planning to go, the lower your temperature rating needs to be. But, the lower the temperature rating, the heavier the sleeping bag gets. It’s extra weight, sure, but it can save your life. Keep that in mind. Or if you prefer, you can get a lighter sleeping bag and layer your clothes on your body for that extra warmth in the bag. My personal sleeping bag is rated for -6 degrees Celsius and the comfortable range is 10 degress Celsius, perfect for my Drakensberg expeditions around three seasons of the year.
  • Ground Sheet – Sleeping directly on the ground is guaranteed to leave you with backaches galore and will have you cursing ever going hiking in the first place. To keep our love of the outdoors alive and our bones intact, use a ground sheet. You’ll thank me later. The cheap ones are essentially just little more than yoga mats but if you want the best sleep, there are self inflating air mats that are just pure luxury in the bush. They are pricey though and tend to take up a lot of precise bag space. Pros and Cons.
  • Tent – This one is only essential if you are going to be camping on a open air campsite. In the Drakensberg there are numerous caves you can shelter in for the night, making carrying a tent an unnecessary burden. Check the campsite before you go, to know if you need one or not. If you wish to do some high altitude camping make sure your tent is suited for heavy wind and rain (and maybe even snowfall). Don’t forget your tent pegs!
  • Emergency Space Blanket – If things get extreme, you’ll be glad you have this. It’s basically a worst case scenario piece of gear. If you or someone in your party gets hypothermia or frostbite, this is essential to bring them back to homeostasis. It’s basically a blanket of foil that contains bodyheat really, really well. Used under normal circumstances you would be sweating buckets but when it comes down to hypothermia or frostbite it could save lives.

Nice to Have

  • Tarp – Can be used for a makeshift tent in extreme conditions or as a floor mat to keep all your belonging clean and well organized

Fire/Cooking

Essentials

  • Portable Gas Canister and Cooker – Fire is nice for warmth and great conversations but for cooking, a gas canister is the way to go. It’s easy, it’s efficient and it’s instant heat. You can also use it to make coffee in the morning, a commodity that is very welcome in the bush. Bonus points if you get those no gas wastage ones.
  • Fire Starters – If you are allowed to start a fire (always check with the local authorities beforehand), clear the surrounding ground of all leaves, branches and anything else that could be flammable of about 2 metres around the fire pit. Keep it small! Keep it in control! If it starts to have a mind of it’s own use sand to smother the fire. Don’t leave the fire burning while you Sleep!!
  • 2x Fire Lighters – Flint and Steel is far to oldschool and matches run out far to quickly, especially in windy conditions. Bring 2x fire lighters, one for backup, to get your fire going in no time.
  • Aluminum Pot – It’s lightweight and heat resistant. Can be used as a bowel as well.
  • Chopping Knife – I’ve found a designated knife for cooking and chopping vegatables very necessary in the bush. It gives you less washup expeditions and it helps you cut up those harder foods where your regular table knife just won’t cut it. (See what I did there…)
  • Mug/Cup – For that sweet, sweet morning coffee…
  • Eating Knife – Eat up
  • Fork – Can also be used to stir food in pot
  • Biodegradeable Dishsoap – A lot of hikers unkowningly pollute local water sources by using regular dishsoap. The same strong chemicals that ensure that your plates are squeaky clean back home are also killing local wildlife. Please invest in some biodegradable soap with natural ingredients for your next trip.
  • Dishcloth – For cleaning up

Nice to Have

  • Plate 
  • Bowel
  • Small Lightweight Chopping Board – A flat surface in the bush is hard to come by, even on the floor, so having a place to prepare food on a straight horizontal plain is a very nice way to make the wild a tad bit more comfortable.
  • Pot Scrubber – Sometimes the dishcloth just can’t cut it and you need some intensive scrubbing to get those stubborn stains out.

 

Clothing

What you bring clothes-wise is largely dependent on where you are going and the time of year you will be going. You will be carrying the most weight in winter months because warm clothes weigh more. The key to keeping warm while hiking at high altitudes is layers. If you are getting cold, add more layers. Alternatively if your feeling to warm take some layers off. Here’s how you layer. Start with a layer of thermals on the skin, then add a base layer, your shirts and pants. Then it’s your warm layer, normally made up of fleece or wool. After that it’s your weatherproof layer. This will be a rainjacket that keeps you dry from the wind, snow and rain. In terms of how much clothes to bring on a hike I would recommend to bring no more than 3 days worth of clothes regardless of the length of the hike. Reason being, that 3 days is plenty of time to allow wet clothes to dry if you fall in a river or give them a rinse. Anything more than that is just extra weight and space in your backpack.

  • Raincoat – Ideally you want it both warm and waterproof
  • Hiking Boots – Look for shoes with great ankle support, waterproof if availiable and resistant to snakes. Trail-Running Shoes also work great I’ve found.
  • Sandals/Crocs – For walking around your campsite, keeping your tent clean and can be used as a backup shoe if your hiking boots break. I learnt this the hard way one time. My hiking boots gave out on me like 4km into a hike. I had to hike the remaining 6km of mountain trails barefoot. Not fun!
  • Jersey – Or any fleece or wool layer. This is the warm layer mentioned above.
  • Long Breathable Pants – Protects against tall grass, insect bites and sunburn.
  • Swimming Costume – You never know when a beautiful natural swimming pool will shoulder the path. A guys swimming costume can also serve as shorts while hiking.
  • Underwear 
  • Woolen Socks – When socks are involved always bring more than you think you need. Like 2 extra pairs. Socks get wet. Socks get dirty. Hiking in wet socks is not a fun experience. It can cause blisters and terrible smells as well as foot infections.
  • Gloves 
  • Beanie 
  • Shirts – Lightweight and breathable
  • Shorts – Bring 1 or 2 pairs for walking around camp on hot days.
  • Towel – Ideally small and quickdrying
  • Thermals – Gives you a snug skintight layer for those colder nights. Get both for the upper and lower body.

Nice To Have

  • Bandana
  • Snake Gaiters

Food

Food weight will obviously vary by length of hike and how willing you are to rough it on the meals department. You can get by on really little and get most of your daily calorie intact from gorging on snacks, but its nice to have a hot, steamy well cooked meal to celebrate your long slog that day. Generally you can go lighter on breakfast and lunch and pack the meaty meals into dinner. One tip I have for saving space and weight of food is to remove foods from their orginal packaging and pack them in airtight plastic bags in smaller portions. Also you may have to drink powder milk for a few days.

 

For some amazing hiking meals check out Fresh Off The Grids Hiking Recipe List that have meals are Lightweight and Calorie Dense.

 

Essentials

  • Water Bottle – 2L worth
  • Water Filtration or Purification
  • Snacks

Hygiene

Essentials

  • Travel Size Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Biodigrable soap
  • 2x Dishtowels – One for washing dishes and one for washing yourself
  • Menstraul Products
  • Insect Repellent
  • Toilet Paper
  • Small Shovel – Go at least 20metres from camp when doing your business deals

Nice To Have

  • Biodegradeable Shampoo and Conditioner
  • Razor
  • Toothpicks
  • Dental Floss
  • Tissues
  • Wet Wipes

First Aid/Emergency Supplies

Essentials

  • First Aid Kit
  • Prescription Meds
  • Whistle
  • Pain Meds
  • Antibacterial Wipes

Full List of Items that should be in your First Aid Kit

  • Antiseptic wipes (BZK-based wipes preferred; alcohol-based OK)
  • Antibacterial ointment (e.g., bacitracin)
  • Compound tincture of benzoin (bandage adhesive)
  • Assorted adhesive bandages (fabric preferred)
  • Butterfly bandages / adhesive wound-closure strips
  • Gauze pads (various sizes)
  • Nonstick sterile pads
  • Medical adhesive tape (10 yd. roll, min. 1″ width)
  • Blister treatment
  • Ibuprofen / other pain-relief medication
  • Insect sting / anti-itch treatment
  • Antihistamine to treat allergic reactions
  • Splinter (fine-point) tweezers
  • Safety pins
  • First-aid manual or information cards
  • Elastic wrap
  • Triangular cravat bandage
  • Finger splint(s)
  • SAM splint(s)
  • Rolled gauze
  • Rolled, stretch-to-conform bandages
  • Hydrogel-based pads
  • First-aid cleansing pads with topical anesthetic
  • Hemostatic (blood-stopping) gauze
  • Liquid bandage
  • Prescription medications (e.g., antibiotics)
  • Sunburn relief gel or spray
  • Throat lozenges
  • Lubricating eye drops
  • Diarrhea medication
  • Antacid tablets
  • Oral rehydration salts
  • Glucose or other sugar (to treat hypoglycemia)
  • Injectable epinephrine (for severe allergic reactions)
  • Aspirin (primarily for response to a heart attack)
  • Knife (or multi-tool with knife)
  • Paramedic shears (blunt-tip scissors)
  • Safety razor blade (or scalpel w/ #15 or #12 blade)
  • Cotton-tipped swabs
  • Standard oral thermometer
  • Irrigation syringe with 18-gauge catheter
  • Medical / surgical gloves (nitrile preferred; avoid latex)
  • CPR mask
  • Small notepad with waterproof pencil or pen
  • Medical waste bag (plus box for sharp items)
  • Waterproof container to hold supplies and meds
  • Emergency heat-reflecting blanket
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Biodegradable soap

Personal Items

  • I.D
  • Wallet
  • Phone
  • Power Bank
  • Cash Money
  • Driver’s Licence
  • Car Keys
  • Passport
  • Campsite Documents – Documents to show where you are going to camp/hike, for which period and for how long

Misc

  • Journal
  • Pen and Paper
  • Sun Lip Balm
  • Camera
  • Spare Camera Batteries
  • Binoculars
  • 2 Way Radio
  • Multi Tool
  • Gear Repair Kit
  • Duct Tape
  • Knife
  • Sun Hat or Baseball Cap
  • Sunglasses
  • 3x Garbage Black Bags – 1 for wet clothes, 1 for trash and 1 for dirty clothes.
  • Plastic Resealable bags
  • Trekking Poles
  • Backpack
  • Sunscreen

Thanks for the read. I hope this post was helpful to you in planning your next hike. Tell me, did I miss any important items on this list? Whether Essentials or Nice To Haves tell me in the comments…

– Chase the Adventure Folks –

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