Generally speaking, everyone carries the same items in their backpack. But here are three items I’ve found essential in hiking long trails like The Colorado Trail that I often find missing in some people’s packs. In aggregate, these items weigh just a couple of ounces, but they make a tremendous difference to me in the way I enjoy the trail.
The first essential item is a pair of lightweight gloves. Yes, you are hiking in summer, and yes, it will be hot much of the time. But this is Colorado at elevation. Mornings will be chilly and you can expect the temperature on at least one or two nights to dip near freezing no matter when you are hiking the trail. I’m partial to wool liner gloves I buy at the local Army/Navy store for about $5. I start early on the trail, and it is a rare morning I don’t start with my gloves on. Once I get to the San Juan mountains there are entire days when the gloves stay on, even in the warmest part of the summer. The wind there can be biting and cold. On wet days, I wear a pair of waterproof Event mittens over my wool gloves to keep my hands from getting wet and freezing. I find it is much easier to walk in shorts and tolerate cold legs than it is to tolerate cold hands.
The second essential item is a small rectangle (perhaps 16×24 inches) of closed-cell foam insulation that you can probably find out in the garage with all your other obsolete camping equipment. This, honestly, is probably the most used item in my entire backpack. I use it to protect my old knees from the ground when I am pitching my tarp, cooking my dinner, and gathering water. It protects my butt from wet rocks and trees, and is a door mat that keeps me out of the mud and muck when I get into and out of my shelter. It makes leaning my back against trees more comfortable, It keeps my food and drink hot when I have to set them on the ground. It is a dry place to set my phone and other gear when I am setting up camp. If I write “Colorado Trail Hiker” on it in black magic marker, it is a sign that helps me get rides into and out of town. In short, it has a lot of useful features!
The third essential item is perhaps the most easily overlooked. I carry a small bar of soap in a plastic baggy. This is strictly for staying in hiker hostels, which are generally fantastic places to rest and recuperate and enjoy the company of other travelers. But when I first started hiking the trail, I would be in the shower getting wet before I realized there wasn’t any soap in there with me. People, you need soap to get clean in a hiker hostel shower! You could throw a bar of hotel soap into your resupply box, or you can carry a small bar of soap from home. I always have a small bar with me now because I’ve occasionally found uses for it outside the shower. I let a bar evaporate down to 1/3 or 1/4 of its original size before I set it aside as my “hiking soap.” This generally last me the entire trail, or about five or six showers. It is wonderful to feel clean, if only for a few minutes on the trail!