What to Pack: How to Prepare for a Great Outdoor Adventure

What to Pack: How to Prepare for a Great Outdoor Adventure

The key to making any outdoor excursion enjoyable is to be prepared before you head outside.

In our last article, we shared how to best dress for your next great outdoor adventure.  Today, we’re sharing how to pack for your next trip in the wide outdoors.

Here are the 10 Essentials You Should Have on Nearly Every Outdoor Excursion.

Preparedness can be the difference between a wonderful winter hike or a miserable experience and can mean the difference between life and death if your outdoor adventure goes awry.  

Ensure that you are prepared for whatever comes by packing these 10 essential items in your daypack: 

  1. Headlamp: One or two of these, plus spare batteries.
  2. Navigation: Physical map of the area you are exploring, and a compass. While using your phone for directions using AllTrails or other apps is very helpful, you shouldn’t rely solely on it.  Your battery may drain quickly in cold weather, leaving you with no map or idea of your location and how to return to your starting point. Carrying a rechargeable phone battery is always a recommended item to have in your bag.
  3. Fire Source: Waterproof matches, lighter, and outdoor portable fire igniter. It is always better to have two sources than one in the event that one may not work due to excess moisture.  
  4. Water: Carry 2-3 liters in a wide-mouth Nalgene bottle or insulated wide-mouth bottle depending on your outdoor activity’s length and activity level. 
    1. You can bring a mini lightweight outdoor water filtration system such as Sawyer’s, Grayl, or another brand to help you gather more potable water should you run out. Water can freeze quickly, however, in freezing temperatures, so a water filtration system may not be helpful if the water sources are frozen. 
    2. To prevent your water from freezing, you can create a wool or fleece insulator covering to place around your bottle. Ensure the lid is tight, then pack your water bottle upside down in your bag since water freezes from the top.
  5. Knife/Multi-Tool: The knife/multi-tool is vital as you never know when you may need to use it for first-aid, gear repair, or for cutting.  
  6. Food: Carry a variety of food options and more than you need, as you never know what circumstances may require you to need it. Some snack ideas to consider are protein bars, fruit, nuts, cheese, sardines, crackers, peanut butter-banana tortilla roll-ups, soppressata or pepperoni rolls, and pickles. 
  7. Extra Clothing: One or two pairs of merino wool socks, sock liners, an extra moisture-wicking base layer, bandana, neck gaiter, and gloves or mittens.  These are all essential if you are out longer than anticipated and are cold from sweat.
  8. First Aid Kit: Know how to use this before it is required, and ensure your first aid kit is fully stocked in the event of an emergency.  There are several types of first aid kits with variable pricing depending on the kind of adventure you are pursuing.  
  9. Shelter: An emergency blanket should be a part of your essential items as it helps with hypothermia should the weather become inclement. An emergency blanket can also provide protection from the elements if needed.
  10. Sun Protection: Sunscreen is a must even on a cloudy day, as the sun’s rays could come through the clouds causing your skin to burn. Sunscreen also helps to keep your skin moisturized during dry cold weather and helps with windburn. Sunglasses and lip balm are also requirements for your sun protection kit.
While the following list is not required, it is highly encouraged that you consider bringing the following, depending on the type of adventure you are embarking on:

  • A set of binoculars or a monocular, to help you view wildlife up close without disturbing them. 
  • Trekking poles, which help take weight off knees and assist with stability and balance over hills, rocks, and uneven terrain.
  • YakTrax or crampons, if you are hiking on uneven terrain with packed snow and icy conditions.  YakTrax and crampons are invaluable and help you grip as you are ascending/descending a hill or walking on level trails. 
  • A small bag for any trash and garbage collected on the trail.
  • Journal and pen, to keep notes.
  • A camera, to help you capture beautiful scenery and wildlife.
  • Portable battery pack and charging cord, or solar charger for charging electronic equipment.
  • Bandana
  • Whistle, used for distressed emergency situations.
There are many resources available to help make your winter outdoor activity a memorable and enjoyable experience. 

Be prepared by checking out regional recreational outfitters, outdoor retail shops, and YouTube, to name a few. Better yet, join an outdoor adventure group and get involved with an organization to help conserve, preserve, and protect our great natural resources. We promise you will receive so many joyful benefits in return!

Lastly, and most importantly, always leave a message or note with your loved one or neighbor to let them know where you are going, including the trailhead or route you plan to hike and your approximate return time. 

Have fun out there!

Written by Yvonne Dwyer

Written by Yvonne Dwyer

Master Naturalist and OPL Content Contributor

“It is truly an honor for me to be a contributor to One Planet Life. By sharing my experiences and lifetime of learning, I hope to inspire conservation, sustainability, stewardship, and awareness of enjoying the natural wonders of the world for the wellbeing of people and the planet.”

What to Wear: How to Prepare For a Winter Outdoor Adventure

What to Wear: How to Prepare For a Winter Outdoor Adventure

Wear proper attire to get the most enjoyment out of your winter outdoor adventure!

Winter can seem long and bleak, especially if you live in a cold climate. Getting outside in the refreshing cold air – no matter the weather or temperature – is good exercise and a great way to mentally recenter and practice mindfulness in a new setting. Your winter outdoor adventure requires the right clothing, sturdy waterproof boots, a daypack filled with essentials, and a positive attitude. 

Proper clothing is essential for your winter (or any!) outdoor activity.

To ensure you are comfortable on your adventure, you should first understand what fabrics are best for your activity, as well as how to layer your clothes effectively.

Your body heats up during physical activity, and while sweating is good, overheating is not.  Excessive sweating in a cold climate can lead to hypothermia, which occurs when the body’s temperature cools to 95 degrees Fahrenheit or less.  While hypothermia is typically associated with very cold climates, it is possible to get hypothermia in temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit if the body remains wet due to rain, excessive sweating, or submersion in cold water.  To avoid this health emergency, layer your clothing so you can release heat and minimize sweating while on your adventure.

Choose the right base Layer.

The base layer of your clothing should be form-fitting and moisture-wicking, which will help trap heat but still release moisture.  Synthetic fabrics or, better yet, natural merino wool are excellent choices for layering, as they excel at keeping you dry, warm, and comfortable.

Base layers come in three optional weights:

  1. Lightweight: for moderate to cooler temperatures
  2. Midweight: for cold temperatures
  3. Heavyweight: best for below-freezing temperatures
Base layer of clothing
Understand the pros and cons of clothing fibers.

Synthetic materials are usually less expensive and are made from a host of chemically-based synthetics, such as polyester, nylon, polypropylene, and rayon. Synthetics are water-resistant and will keep you warm and dry as the heat and moisture from your body are captured in the fabric.  While more economical, the downside to choosing synthetic fabrics is that their production exacts a heavier toll on the environment.

Wool is a naturally grown fiber and is 100% biodegradable and renewable.  While it is a more expensive option, it is well worth the price, as it can absorb a significant amount of moisture before feeling wet.  Wool can keep you warm in cool, damp weather, especially when paired with a waterproof, windproof, breathable outer shell. The only downside to wool is that, once wet, it takes longer to dry than synthetic fabrics.  

Another natural alternative is merino wool, a microfiber material created from merino sheep wool that is wonderfully insulating and comfortable to wear with little to no itchiness. Like other wools, this material absorbs moisture without feeling wet and is biodegradable, naturally fire-resistant, and resistant to body odor, thanks to its antimicrobial properties.  As with other wools, merino wool takes longer to dry when washed.

Cotton should never be worn as a base layer for winter weather activities, as it holds onto moisture and does not dry quickly. Wearing wet cotton apparel can lead to hypothermia even in above-freezing temperatures, so avoid this fabric for your outdoor adventures.

Choose the mid-layer.

The mid-layer is your insulating layer, which is the primary protector of your body heat. It is nice to have a mix of synthetic and down mid-layers (sweaters/jackets), as both have their advantages and disadvantages depending on the weather conditions you may face while on your excursion. Packable mid-layers are a great choice, as they can be compressed in a pocket and easily stowed away in a day/backpack.

Synthetic mid-layers are good insulators and will keep you warm and dry even in wet weather.  Synthetic jackets combine layered sheets of woven polyester fibers to mimic the insulating qualities of down materials. While synthetic jackets are bulkier than down jackets, they are the material of choice if you will be out in wet conditions.

Mid-layer of clothing

Down is a natural insulator that is lightweight, compressible, and breathable, making this fabric a great choice for low-intensity excursions.  Down originates not from feathers but from the soft layer of feathers known as plumage found under the exterior feathers of ducks and geese.  There are varying fills for down jackets that range from 600-850; the higher the fill, the warmer and higher quality the jacket.  Down insulates best when it is dry and is not recommended for use in wet weather, as it loses its loft and insulating warmth.  

Choose the right outer layer.

You should choose a soft, hybrid, or hard shell outer layer that will retain heat and protect you (and your mid-layer) from rain, wind, sleet, and snow.

A Gortex shell is ideal.  There are many different types of Gortex products and materials that you can select. Look for an outer layer that has durable water-repellent properties (also referred to as DWR), as it will keep you insulated and dry.

Depending on your activity level and comfort, you may need to remove or add extra outerwear for your journey, such as a base layer, a merino wool or fleece sweater, and an extra pair of wool socks. It is always better to err on having more than less. 

Outer layer of clothing
Choose the right footwear.

Footwear is essential to any outdoor activity, which is why it’s important to make the right choice for you.  While you can start your footwear search with others’ recommendations, you should always take the time to try shoes on and ensure that the fit is good before you go on an excursion.  If you feel any rubbing or hot spots, try a different brand or style, as small fit concerns can magnify into larger issues once you’re on the trails.  Also, ensure that you are selecting boots, trail shoes, or other athletic footwear that is appropriate for the terrain you will be traversing.  An experienced outdoor sales representative from a reputable, quality retailer can offer advice on choosing the best waterproof or water-repellent footwear, insoles, socks, hats and gloves for your needs.

Winter Footwear

If purchasing outdoor apparel is cost-prohibitive, or if you’d prefer to make a more sustainable purchase, you can check out your local Goodwill or thrift stores for gently-used gear.  You can find many name brands such as Patagonia, The North Face, REI, Arc’Teryx, Marmot, and EMS for a fraction of the cost.  

You’ve got the gear…but you’re still not ready for your adventure yet!  Stay tuned for our next article, in which we’ll share how to prepare a daypack like a pro – and which ten essentials you should always have with you on any outdoor adventure.

Written by Yvonne Dwyer

Written by Yvonne Dwyer

Master Naturalist and OPL Content Contributor

“It is truly an honor for me to be a contributor to One Planet Life. By sharing my experiences and lifetime of learning, I hope to inspire conservation, sustainability, stewardship, and awareness of enjoying the natural wonders of the world for the wellbeing of people and the planet.”

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