Backpacking can sometimes be about the big things: big backpacks, big boots, big mountains, big rivers, big bears, etc. It can be a dramatic pastime, one that requires a big physical effort and provides a big visual payoff. But when it comes to backpacking gear, it’s not always about the big things. Some people say, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” but there are times when the small stuff counts. When preparing for a backpacking trip, there are plenty of small items you need to make sure you have; because if you don’t have them, your trip may end up being very uncomfortable indeed.
Blisters take all the fun out of hiking. Hopefully, if you’ve gone and made the financial investment in a good pair of hiking boots, you’ve made sure that they are a good fit. However, even the most perfectly fitting boots can give you blisters under certain conditions; pebble in your shoe, a sock that has become bunched or perhaps boots that just aren’t broken in yet. If you hike on a regular basis, at some point you are going to get a blister. And when that happens, you are going to want to have moleskin. Moleskin is an adhesive pad that can be stuck to the skin to protect a blister, keeping it from popping and allowing it time to heal. Moleskin pads come in small sheets that can be cut the necessary size. To use moleskin, cut a piece larger than the blister and cut a hole in the center. The outer ring well help cushion the blister, but the blister itself will not be covered.
Insect repellent is another small item that can have a huge influence on the success of a hiking trip. Although no one seems to know why bugs like some humans more than other, some people are just lucky enough to be less attractive to insects. However, if you’re not one of those people, then you’re going to want to keep a bottle of insect repellent handy. Insect repellent is a substance, usually a liquid that can be applied to skin and clothing to discourage insects from landing on those surfaces. Not only will insect repellent help protect you from itchy little bites, it will also decrease your chances of becoming infected with insect-borne diseases, which can include malaria, Lyme disease, West Nile virus and other illnesses.
Iodine tablets are another little hiking asset with a big potential impact. When you’ve been working hard, sweating and scrambling over rocks, nothing looks more refreshing than a cool mountain stream. Of course, if you were to drink the water without first treating it, you could easily end up infected with giardiasis, popularly known as beaver fever. Boiling water kills the bacteria that cause this disease, as do filters, but those methods take time, effort and bulky equipment. Iodine tablets are an easy and low-maintenance way to create safe drinking water.
Finally, flashlights are one of the most essential pieces of small hiking gear you can have. Yes, I realize this seems pretty basic, but have you ever considered just how important these little metal tubes really are? If you can’t see (and once you get away from the fire, you won’t be able to), how are you going to find anything in your backpack? Or go to the bathroom? Or find the zipper to your tent? I once went on an overnight camping trip on which we forgot a flashlight; suffice it to say, I don’t recommend it.