Emergency Supplies to Take Backpacking

One of the best reasons to go backpacking,  is to get away from society.  To me, there is no other feeling that is greater than the peace and tranquility achieved in the wilderness.  The down side of this nirvana is that if you need something in the wilderness, it had better be in your backpack.  You have to plan to have every possible supply that you need, because there are no retail stores in the wilderness.  This is why the planning stage of a hike is the most important- you have to plan ahead for your needs and supplies.  As an example of some of the supplies you should carry in your backpack, let’s take a look at what I carry in mine:

First Aid Kit

My backpack always has a first aid kit in it.  I don’t care if this is my day pack, or my pack that I bring for long trips- somewhere in that pack is a first aid kit.  Nothing sucks more than being hurt out in the wilderness, and not having essential first aid supplies.  This kit should contain lots of pain medications, too.  Headaches and muscle aches  in the morning are a common occurrence, in the wilderness.  Check out this article, if you don’t know how to build a backpacking first aid kit.

Spare Clothes

I’ll be the first to admit it- I’ve accidentally fallen into every major drainage with 150 miles of my house.  It’s not necessarily that I’m accident prone, but I always take chances when I fish around water (you have to get into that perfect casting spot- like the boulder in the middle of the lake or river).  I’ve experienced how miserable it is to be absolutely soaking wet, and not have a spare change of clothes.  Spare socks, underwear, shirts, and shorts are all required.  However, you don’t want to go overboard with the spare clothes.  What I like to pack are a lightweight pair of pants, a long sleeved shirt, and a pair of socks.  This covers two different types of emergencies- unexpected cold weather, and wet/soiled clothes.

Spare Critical Supplies

Thermodynamics teaches us that no matter what, things break over time.  It’s an un-stoppable fact of life- over time, everything will eventually break.  Because of this, you need to plan for your most critical equipment to break.  This includes your water filter, fire source, meal preparation source, and shelter source.  Pack an extra bottle of iodine tablets, an extra lighter, extra parachute cord, and extra granola bars.  This stuff is all lightweight- the heaviest thing in this list are the granola bars.  I know that I have always used my spare parachute cord at least once a year, and the same goes for my iodine tablets (I like to use them for my day hikes).   There’s no excuse here- pack the extra weight (less than a pound), or you’ll regret it later.


Cold Weather Clothes

Here in Montana, our weather is known to be crazy.  One day, it will be a nice summer day.  The next day, a cold weather system may move in, and drop the temperature by thirty degrees.  Add in rain to the picture, and you’re got a great recipe for hypothermia.  One thing that most hikers don’t realize is that the majority of hypothermia victims die in temperatures that are above freezing, not below.  The best way to be prepared for cold  weather is simply to pack a lightweight jacket, thermals, a long sleeved shirt, and pants.  I know that this sounds like a lot of weight, but the pants/shirts can easily be repurposed in the event of water submersion, and you’ll probably want to wear the thermals at night anyway.  Lastly, I like to keep a lightweight blanket in my pack.  This is a point of comfort for me, since I usually camp at high altitudes.  I roll a small blanket in my pack, and take it out every night for extra warmth at night.  To me, that little blanket is worth it’s weight in gold for just that purpose.  I would imagine that blanket would be even more valuable in a life or death situation.

Spare Sunscreen and Bug Spray

One of the worst experiences that I can recall while backpacking was camping at Rainbow Lake, in the Beartooth Mountains.  On that hike, I hiked 7 miles up to Rainbow Lake, where I then setup camp.  Little did I know, that while the trailhead was relatively bug free, Rainbow Lake just had a large hatch of biting flies.  I did not remember my bug spray on that trip, and the biting flies were horrible!  At the end of the stay (just 1 night), my legs were bloody from the biting flies.  Ever since then, I grab a bottle of multi-purpose bug spray/sunscreen, and it goes into my pack.  Just make sure either your backup bug spray, or your main bug spray, is DEET 80 or higher.  Here in Montana, the early summer mosquito hatches are epic!


That’s it for the emergency supplies that you should take backpacking- everything else can be as minimal as you want.  Even in a worst-case scenario, you’ll still have the bare essentials to survive (and enjoy) your backpacking trip.  Although these extra backpacking supplies might seem bothersome, they just might save your life one day.