5 Small Items that Made a Big Difference on My Backpacking Trip

Preparing for a backpacking trip involves spending a lot of time and money on gear. The research and cash that goes into all those lightweight items in your backpack can become overwhelming. But not everything has to be as complex and pricey as buying the perfect tent. Some of the tiniest items can make a big difference on your backpacking trip.

These 5 pieces of backpacking gear were some of my most-used items on the John Muir Trail. And they’re all small enough to fit in the palm of my hand.

1. Rite in the Rain Journal

backpacking journal

Backpacking solo gave me a lot of time to sit with my thoughts. I also had a lot of time to write my thoughts down, and the means to do so with the journal I packed. I chose a specific type of journal with waterproof pages so my entries wouldn’t get lost if my gear got soaked. The brand I used is Rite in the Rain, and it was the perfect choice since I found myself writing in the rain quite often on the trail. If you plan to document your journey, I highly recommend this journal.

2. Hygienna Portable Bidet

portable bidet

This is a piece of gear I didn’t even know existed until I joined a few backpacking forums. Thru-hikers swear by their bathroom hygiene methods, and a word I surprisingly stumbled upon again and again was bidet. I had always associated bidets with high-end toilets in fancy European hotels. But backpacking? At $10, the Hygienna Portable Bidet was something I decided was worth a try. All I had to do was connect it to a plastic bottle and I was in business. It was fantastic. I ended up packing less toilet paper in and out of the trail and felt cleaner in that region than I ever had on a backpacking trip. Everyone can benefit from such an invention, but I’d especially suggest it to my fellow female hikers.

3. Pack Rain Cover

Backpack rain cover

Some backpacks come with rain flies, but mine didn’t. Since I was carrying my life on my back for two weeks I thought it might be nice to keep it dry. So I purchased a rain cover for my backpack. My time on the trail in late August was particularly rainy and I was glad to have that ball of protection with me, ready to cover my pack at a moment’s notice. I started hoping for rain during my hike rather than at camp since my pack rain cover was better at keeping gear dry than my tent. On cloudy nights I kept the cover on my pack and shoved my boots and other gear I wanted to stay dry inside. Few things are as unpleasant on the trail as wet gear, so I’d recommend a cover to anyone hiking where there’s even a chance of rain.

4. SPOT GPS Device

Backcountry GPS

As a solo backpacker, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned for my safety on the trail. One misstep could lead to disaster without a partner. Many backpackers recommended a GPS device, and I chose the SPOT for its simplicity and affordable price point. With this device I was able to send pre-written check-in messages to my friends and family from the trail. I also had the option of pressing S.O.S., which would send my coordinates to the nearest Search and Rescue facility. This was really all that I needed: a check-in message and S.O.S. just in case.

The major downfall of this device is that its signal isn’t always reliable. For the most part the SPOT worked for me, but there was one instance in which my daily check-in message didn’t go through to my family. You might consider a heartier device (such as the Garmin inReach) if you plan to do a lot of backcountry travel. The SPOT turned out to be a decent solution for my safety worries, giving me and my family some peace of mind.

5. Portable Charger

charging bank

Many backpackers opt to bring a solar charger on extended trips, but adding a portable charger to the mix makes for an ideal charging situation. On sunny days I strapped my solar charger to the outside of my pack and hooked it up to my Anker power bank. This way I still had easy access to my phone for taking photos and consulting trail maps. And when I felt like the sun did all it could with my solar charger, I simply disconnected the power bank and hooked it up to my phone, GPS watch or whatever needed some extra juice. This allowed me to cozy up in my tent with my small, portable charging bank and leave my big solar charger packed away. 10/10 would recommend.

These are just a few of the many (maybe too many?) items that went into my pack for my two week hike along the John Muir Trail. What are your go-to items for long backpacking trips?

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