If Oprah can do it, so can I. Here are some things that I really like on the trail:
1. Freeze Dried Shredded Cheese
I never set foot on a trail without some form of cheese, but freeze dried shredded cheese is a nice luxury. Besides being light, it is easy to send yourself a little bit in all of your mail drops and in that it doesn’t get all greasy on hot days. BePrepared.com has a huge selection of bulk freeze dried cheese (and meats!) that you can throw in any meal to spruce it up and add some protein, fat, and calories. It re-hydrates nicely, and even gets melty! They sell it in sharp cheddar, mozzarella, colby, and Monterey jack. Mmmmm, cheese.
2. Polychro Pack Liners
Gossamer Gear makes these super light weight (1.2 oz.) pack liners. I prefer pack liners to pack covers any day because they are 100% waterproof, super light weight, and inexpensive. In 2006, while fording the very swollen Evolution Creek in the Sierras, I fell into the water over my head. Everything inside my pack remained bone dry thanks to one of these. I always carry an extra hair tie or two, and when it starts raining (or I have to ford a deep stream), I use one to close the top.
I take really good care of my pack liners, but they are disposable. I try to send myself a new one every 3-4 weeks on trail when possible (they also repair easily with duct tape). Luckily they are cheap! A fair alternative is the trash compactor bag, though it is heavier (and more durable).
Gossamer Gear also makes a polychro ground sheet that I really like.
3. Single Serving Condiment Packets
I am in the minority of long distance hikers that actually struggle with enjoying trail food all of the time. Because of that, I love to carry a few hot sauce packets to add flavor to my meals. Minimus.biz has Tapatio and Cholula, as well as olive oil, peanut butter, honey, ranch dressing, seasonings, snacks, and breakfast items in small, shelf-stable packets perfect for backpacking.
4. Ziplock Pint Freezer Bags
Some people make fun of me for this one, but I am really picky about my plastic bags on the trail. I really like the Ziplock freezer bags with the double zipper (versus the slider). I have been burned by inferior plastic bags, bu these never let me down. I particularly like the pint size, which are really hard to find, but, they are the perfect size for repackaging meals into. Yes, I know, quart sized bags are only slightly bigger and also great. But this is my favorites list!
5. Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite
I was very skeptical when I first saw the sleeping pad that sounded like a potato chip bag, but I was willing to try it because I never slept really comfortably on the trail. My first night on it, I didn’t set an alarm–I never had to because I would just get up when my shoulder was too numb to sleep anymore. When I awoke, the sun was high on the horizon. It was 9am!
Since that day, I have found more reasons to love my NeoAir. 1) I can sleep comfortably on many uneven surfaces now, making campsites easier to find. 2) I can use my 30F sleeping bag in the spring and fall, in addition to the summer. With an R-Value of 3.9, this pad is 3 times warmer than my old foam sleeping pad. 3) I can sleep on my side.
Although I know people who have hiked many miles in the desert with their NeoAir, I must mention that a potential short coming is its durability in pokey environs. That said, my dog has definitely given it reason to pop, and it has held up. It can be patched (short term) with duct tape.
6. Packit Gourmet Anything
When you get that strong cheeseburger craving, these guys have you covered with a freeze dried burger wrap that tastes like the real thing! Actually, anything from Packit Gourmet is awesome. I really like their mango margaritas, their lemon cheese cake with gingersnap crust, and their Italian pesto dipping sauce. They also have a really good bulk section with a huge selection of dried fruits, vegetable, meats, and cheeses.
7. Toothpaste Tablets
I don’t know why these things make me as happy as they do. You just pop one tiny tablet into your mouth, chew it up, and then you have toothpaste. Obviously, they are super light weight, take up no space, and you need only bring as many as you need for your trip or section out (I carry them in a tiny ziplock). But really, how much does a little tube of toothpaste really weigh? I don’t care. I like ’em enough to put them on this list.
8. Hand Sanitizing Wipes
My inner gear nerd is going to show through on this, but oh well. Somehow I figured out that unless you are going out for over 20 days at a time, the packets end up being much lighter than the gel. Additionally, they get my hands a lot cleaner, because the dirt comes off on the towelette. Also, there is a small part of me that likes things that are less likely to leak out in my pack (which is why I also like toothpaste tablets and solid fuel). I have had the little gel bottles erupt in my pack–that doesn’t happen with the little packets.
9. Smart Phone
I know a lot of my hiking friends will hate this, but it is true. I love my smart phone on the trail. I use it as my calendar, camera, journal, contacts list, weather forecast, mp3 player, and the Yellow Pages when in town. There are some apps that can be really handy on the trail (especially the PCT),too, such as such as Guthook, Half Mile, Kindle, and MotionX GPS.
10. ZPacks Cuben Fiber Stuff Sacks
Have you picked up cuben fiber? It is the newest material in ultralight backpacking. It is silly light, very strong, and fairly water resistent. Zpacks makes all different sizes of stuff sacks. I have one custom sized for my cook pot, one of all of my little items, one for my tarp, and one with a roll top enclosure for my food. If you haven’t checked out ZPacks, they also make some really nice shelters. When I hike alone, I use a ZPacks Hexamid.
11. Carbon Fiber Stakes
Ten was a nice round number, but I can’t leave out my Ruta Locura carbon fiber tent stakes. Yes, they are impossibly light (each stake weighs only 6 grams), but they also work really well. The rough texture of carbon fiber grips the soil nicely.
Bonus: This Thing