Ultra-Long Day Hike: What’s in the Pack

There are day hikes, and then there are ultra-long day hikes. What’s the difference you ask? Well, a lot of things vary from one to the other, and a lot depends on the environment in which you are hiking, but some common characteristics of the ultra-long day hike include 15+ miles, a large amount of elevation gain, and the use of every second of daylight available to complete your journey. And while they are similar, the bag you pack for an ultra-long might vary from your Sunday afternoon hikes in the park. Just remember when packing though, consider the elements you’ll be facing, adjust accordingly, and follow this basic guide for packing the ultra-long day hike pack:

Water + Water Filter
Of course you’ll want to bring water, but instead of weighing yourself down with enough water weight to last you the whole day, throw in some sort of water filtration device as well. Assuming you have water opportunities on the trail, something like Portable Aqua is perfect because it’s light and easy to use. But if you don’t really like the taste of iodine, you can also check out some of the light weight filter options like the Sawyer Mini Water Filter or the built in water filter Lifestraw Go.

Food—And Plenty of It
This is usually where the pack goes from being a day pack to something else. That’s because to have the energy to do an ultra-long day hike, you have to replenish your body with plenty of carbs, and that can be a heavy task. Look for carb-dense nutrition bars, dried fruit, peanut-butter, cheeses, and trail mix. Try to only pack what you’ll eat, and more importantly, pack enough to eat. Consider throwing some Gatorade or electrolyte mix in with your food bag to prevent any sodium-deficient cramping that could come down the trail.

Basic First-Aid Kit
Try not to bring the whole doctor’s office, but instead pack only the things that you have a history of using, that you know how to use, and anything else particular to the environment you’ll be hiking in. A good starting point is band-aids, athletic tape (for wrapping), mole-skin (for blisters), and an emergency space blanket to use in case you get stranded overnight. Great, lightweight first-aid kits can be found at Adventure Medical Kits.com; just be sure to open it and familiarize yourself with its contents before heading out on the trail.

GPS / GPS App / Map
Although ideally you won’t need to use it, you’ll want some resource to be able to pinpoint your exact location. Whether you are choosing a path at a fork in the road, or trying to let someone know where you are at, it’s always a good idea to have a strong point of reference. Garmin has great portable GPS units with long battery life (bring extra batteries though), and if you have a smartphone, Trimble’s Outdoor Navigator app is easy to use but less reliable than an actual GPS unit. Consider packing a portable charger if you are using your phone for navigation.

Perhaps the best way to know where you are at though is to not only bring a map, but know how to use it. Maps don’t run out of batteries, they aren’t confused by satellites, and maps can help you avoid any electronic interruptions as you reconnect with nature. A great place to start looking for the right map for you adventure is Green Trails Maps.com

Headlamp / Flashlight
In case your trip turns into an “epic” (going much longer than you originally predicted) it is always a good idea to bring some source of light. If you are hiking along, and suddenly the sun goes down, you’ll be glad to have brought it. Consider changing the batteries before you go out if you haven’t done so in a while.

Extra Clothes
Again, keep it light. But depending on the environment you will be hiking into, you’ll want to bring a few pairs of extra clothes to keep you dry and warm. A rain jacket usually can do both, but consider bringing an extra outer layer as well. Also, two great things to pack that could seriously change your day is an extra pair of wool socks and an extra set of shoelace for each shoe.

Trekking Poles
Although sometimes a nice stick will do, trekking poles can go a long way to saving your muscles and joints as you trek along for miles and miles. Black Diamond has good sets, as well as MSR, and although these items aren’t required of the day pack, they go a long way in helping you get to where you want to be.

Exit Strategy
And as one of the last things, and most likely the lightest, you’ll want to be sure to have some sort of exit or “what-if” strategy in place. A lot of times with ultra-long day hikes, you’ll get pretty far into the wilderness. Let someone know where you are at, look into getting a SPOT device, prepare for the worst, and stay safe as you travel on you wayward sailor.

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