Every backpacker has his/her own reasons for participating in the exhausting, dirty, and sometimes dangerous sport. Some say it brings them closer to nature, while others purport it opens up opportunities to inaccessible lands. For me, backpacking is the ultimate freedom from superfluous stuff. Because I can only bring with me what I can carry on my back, I can slim down my possessions to the bare necessities and forget about accumulating purposeless junk.
However, there are still some gadgets designed for backpackers that push all my consumer buttons and convince me to buy. Unfortunately, not every purchase is worthwhile. To save you the heartbreak and disappointment of a new, exciting gadget, here are the ones you haven’t tried but absolutely need — and the ones you can just forget about.
Need: UV Sterilizer
Whether you are backpacking through wilderness or city streets, you will always need water, but you won’t always be able to trust the water you find straight out of streams or spouts. A UV sterilizing device — whether it is in pen form or built into your water bottle — is the most lightweight and most time-saving and cost-effective solution to your water purification needs. The UV rays kill off any bacteria that may be floating in the water, and in just a minute or two, you have drinking water you can trust.
One of the most common reason people avoid backpacking, and camping in general, is the inability to fully wash off in the way modern society has become accustomed to. In response, a handful of recreational sports retailers peddle high-pressure shower systems that work on-the-go. However, showers waste weight in your precious backpack, and a little dirt never hurt anyone. In fact, I find my backpacking experience much improved by the grime I accumulate.
E-cigarettes are much friendlier to nature than their traditional tobacco counterparts because they lack flame (which could accidentally start a wildfire) and wasteful butts (which create unattractive litter in wilderness areas). I also prefer to carry my e-cig instead of a pack of cigarettes because it lasts longer, isn’t likely to be crushed, and is customized to my taste and intensity preferences. Plus, many countries are much more welcoming of vaporizers than cigarettes, which makes smoking and traveling much easier.
Don’t: Caffeine Tools
There are all sorts of recreational supplies designed to satisfy caffeine cravings: camp stove percolators, hand-pressed espresso pulls, lightweight drip systems, and more. Yet, even as an admitted coffee addict, I find that I don’t need caffeine when I’m waking up to the natural sunlight and chirping birds while on a backpacking trip.
Need: Travel Watch
There is a certain status associated with a fine wristwatch from a noteworthy designer — but that matters little when you are on the road. However, a watch does come in handy for monitoring the time, especially when you have different time zones to contend with. The more durable your watch the better — I usually opt for a military-style made of rugged materials — and style should only factor in later.
Don’t: Earbuds and Speakers
There is a reason to go trekking, and usually that reason is to get closer to nature. Yet, some people want to cover up the beautiful sounds of nature (the rushing water, the rustling leaves, the twittering birds) with piped music from their phones or iPods. Trust me: You’ll have a much more fulfilling natural experience if you leave your speakers at home.
However, this stipulation relates particularly to wilderness backpacking; if you expect to spend long hours on a bus or train, lugging your pack from city to city, you might benefit from some personal tunes.
Need: Solar Charger
More than a few must-have backpacking gadgets are rechargeable, but generally, outlets are few and far between when you are on the road. A solar charger allows you to charge all your devices whenever the sun is out. That means you can be certain that your phone, camera, e-cig, and anything else is ready to use whenever you need it. If you aren’t headed to a particularly sunny region, a viable alternative to the solar charger is an extended battery pack; however, these must be recharged fully before use, and they tend to be finicky in hot and cold climates.