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Trekking Poles

Backpacking’s Top 5 Most Useful Gear

Backpacks, tents, and sleeping bags. This is the gear most people want to talk about. But all of those things are highly specialized. Your tent, sleeping pad and bag are good for sleeping in … and not much else. Your backpack carries everything. But other than that, there’s not much you can use it for. Of course, all this stuff is important – we wouldn’t be able to hike without them. But what is backpacking’s most useful gear?

The full list is below complete with helpful links, but be sure to watch this video where I go into even greater detail.

Trekking Poles

The piece of gear most people probably think of when talking about useful gear is trekking poles. We are used to using are trekking poles for hiking, crossing streams, testing snow depth … things like that. But then we are also used to trekking pole tents. It’s pretty standard to use your poles to hike during the day then hold up your tent at night, which is pretty useful.

Trekking Poles

But what you may not have realized is that a trekking pole can also be used as a splint if you accidentally break a limb. They can be used to scare off animals either by making you look bigger to a mountain lion when you wave them over your head, or by banging them together to scare off a bear. Or you can even use them to signal for help in an emergency.

All of these reasons make trekking poles one of backpacking’s most useful pieces of gear.


Socks not only keep your feet cushioned inside your shoe, wick sweat from your foot and keep your toes warm in colder weather, but an extra pair of socks can double as mittens on a cold night, they can keep cell phone and camera batteries warm, or protect a water filter you are worried might freeze. And if you are using a quilt with a drawstring foot box, a sock is perfect to stuff in there to prevent drafts on a cold night.

Ziploc Bags

Ziploc bag

One inexpensive but very useful piece of gear is a basic Ziploc bag. You can use a Ziploc bag to keep things dry, store food in, or store trash in that you have to hike out. You can put wet clothes in a Ziploc bag to keep them from getting other clothes wet. You can use Ziploc bags to help organize gear, keep liquids like sunscreen or bug spray from leaking on everything else you are carrying. And you can even use them to cook freeze-dried meals in by simply adding boiling water. And that’s only the stuff I can think of off the top of my head.

One complaint people have is that they are disposable and that this bad for the environment. But Ziploc bags hold up pretty well. I have Ziploc bags that I have been using for years. So as long as you use the freezer bags and don’t throw them away, Ziplocs are some of backpacking’s most useful gear.

Drop me a comment below if you have found a use for Ziploc I didn’t mention.



One piece of gear you may not even consider backpacking gear, but is very useful on the trail, is your smartphone. Think about it. We use our phones as a camera, a gps, movie player, music player, etc. You can pair it to a device like Zoleo and text your family and friends. The only down side about cell phones is the battery doesn’t last long.

But if you pair it with a charging block, you not only keep your phone alive, but you can charge things like headlamps, camera batteries, air pumps and more.


Probably the most useful piece of gear I can think of is a plain bandana. Think about it a bandana can be used as a towel, a water pre-filter, neck protection, pot cleaner, pot holder, tent drier, nose tissue or a wash cloth. You can use it to mark a hard-to-find section of the trail for another hiker who might be lagging behind. You can collect wild edibles, or tie it like a blindfold to use as a sleep mask when it is bright outside. You can use it as a tournaquette in an emergency. And if you don’t want to use it for anything else ever again, the last thing you can use it for is emergency toilet paper.

The bandana could quite possibly be the most useful piece of backpacking gear.

What else do you use a bandanna for?

Are there other pieces of gear that could go on this list that I’m simply not thinking of? Drop me a comment or check out what others have to say.

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