Struggling to efficiently pack your backpack and decide what essentials to bring along for your hillside treks? In this insightful blog post, we've teamed up with our knowledgeable friends at TrekNI to provide you with expert guidance. Join Kelly Hargie from TrekNI as she shares her invaluable tips for optimising your hiking backpack.


Whether hiking in the mountains, forests or around the coast either solo or with my husband and three children, there are some things I simply do not leave the house without packing in my backpack. It can vary slightly depending on the season but generally speaking it's pretty much the same all year round. Knowing you have all that you need safely stashed in your backpack means you can concentrate on enjoying your wild time outdoors with the peace of mind that you’re well prepared for all eventualities.

Calling all adventure lovers! Here are my top 10 'never leave the house without' items for exploring the great outdoors.

1. Spares

There’s only one way to dress for life in the outdoors here in the UK and that is in layers. Wear lots of them on you and have spares stashed in your backpack just in case you get wet or cold. Think base layer, mid layer, fleece/hoodie, gilet, warm jacket and a waterproof too and you’re on the right path. It is way easier to cool down than it is to warm up in my experience and being caught out not having enough clothing on or with me is a totally miserable experience.

Shivering on a mountaintop in blizzard weather is no-one’s idea of fun and can quickly lead to a very dangerous situation so my advice is to wear more than you think you will need and you can easily shed a layer if necessary. Also, don’t forget to add-in a couple of spare pairs of socks in case feet get cold or damp. A change of socks when you’re feeling weary and grimed to the eyeballs can surprisingly lift your mood and help you carry on. Socks also double-up well as mittens if hands get really cold – top tip!

2. Proper food, plenty of water, and a hot drink

It is really important to pack food that’s going to give you the energy you need for your adventure and that also isn’t too heavy to carry. I usually have porridge for breakfast and tend to bring boiled eggs, hot soup, mixed nuts or trail mix, bananas, some dark chocolate and some mixed veg with me in lightweight containers.

Good, nutritious food can be all the difference between an enjoyable hike in the hills and a trek that makes you want to cry the whole time. Be sure to bring enough water to see you through the duration of your hike but not so much that you can’t pick your backpack up off the floor! I usually leave a bottle of water in the car for rehydrating on my journey home too.

Tip: A few treats go a long way! 

A handful of jellybeans has kept my kids going along many a trail when their legs wanted to give up and I do think a couple of sweets in your pocket can be just the little energy boost any of us need when the going gets a bit tough!

3. First aid kit

Hiking and outdoor adventuring is a whole lot of fun but also comes with its own risks so best to be prepared for any trips and scrapes by making sure to always have at least a basic First Aid Kit with you – plasters, bandages, sterile wipes, blister plasters are a good starting point for minor injuries but you might want to invest in a decent first aid kit for longer or more challenging expeditions.

Know what’s in your first aid kit, know how to use the stuff in it and remember to replenish it when you do use anything from it. Bumps and bruises are part and parcel of navigating any wild terrain so having some medical supplies handy at all times gives you peace of mind that you can deal with a minor incident should it arise. Additionally: ensure your mobile phone is fully charged in case you need to make a call to the Emergency Services should a more serious accident occur.

4. Headtorch

Early morning hikes and winter trekking can involve walking in the dark sometimes so it’s useful to keep a torch or headtorch in your backpack at all times. Bear in mind, there are no streetlights in the mountains or off the beaten track so when darkness falls it is pitch dark and even the most experienced walkers can lose their bearings when visibility is diminished.

Check your batteries before each trip too and bring spares in a dry bag so that you can hike assured that your pathway will be well illuminated if you’re setting out early or returning in darkness.

5. Map

A really good quality waterproof map is a worthwhile investment for mountain hikes. I’ve had the same one for years and we use it all the time even when walking over familiar terrain. It’s good to know how to read a map and show others in your party where they are located. 

I also use my map at home to plot my routes well in advance and fold it so the that the trail I plan to follow is at hand easily and I’m not battling with a huge map flapping around in the wind when out and about!

6. Whistle

Whether hiking in a large group or solo a whistle is a cheap and handy gadget to have with you. If members of your party walk on ahead and you need to get their attention, a whistle carries way better in windy conditions than you hollering at the top of your lungs!

It’s also useful as an emergency call should you get into a situation where you personally need help.

7. Sunscreen, lip balm, and sunglasses

Yep, even in winter! It’s amazing how quickly your skin can burn in the hills even in cooler weather and it often goes unnoticed if it’s breezy. It’s only when you look in the mirror later that night that your red face tells the story and by then it’s too late!

A quick layer of sunscreen protects you from harmful UV rays and helps keep your skin moisturised and sunglasses also help to protect the eyes. I always keep a little pot of lip-balm in my pocket also to stop my lips drying out and cracking in the harsher conditions.

8. Hat, snood, and gloves

They’ll be on, they’ll be off, multiple times! But, it’s better to have them with you and have the option at least than to not have them at all. The conditions at the base of a mountain are often very different from summit conditions and in more cases than not I am usually very grateful to have a hat with me, even in the summer months.

Snoods are great for keeping your neck warm and from stopping the wind blowing down your back and often double up as a headband/ear warmer. Trying to do anything with cold hands is nearly impossible – simple things like unclipping your backpack, opening your flask for a hot drink or zipping up your coat quickly become challenging when your hands are chilly, so keep them warm and you’ll be able to look after yourself and your group members.

9. Waterproofs

A waterproof jacket and a pair of waterproof trousers make all the difference if you get caught in a downpour that’s for sure! Getting soaked to the skin is horrid at the best of times but half-way up a mountainside is 10 times worse!

You will cool down really quickly if you are drenched and that can escalate into a serious situation pretty rapidly. Keeping a light set of waterproofs at the top of your rucksack means they will be handy to reach if the weather suddenly changes.

10. Tissues, wipes, rubbish bags and hand sanitiser

Always adhere to the Leave No Trace Principles when out and about, taking all your rubbish home with you. When going to the loo alfresco be sure to take your tissues/ wipes away with you in a bag for proper disposal.

Keeping our wild spaces clean and litter-free is really important for wildlife and looking after our natural environments means they’re attractive for everyone to enjoy, this includes taking away all rubbish, including fruit peelings. Aim to leave the place you’re visiting as you found it, or better.

And one for luck…

11. Towel

A small microfibre towel really doesn’t weigh a lot or take up much space in a backpack but is really useful to have for impromptu paddles in a mountain stream or pool.

This is such a refreshing thing to do towards the end of a lengthy hike and something my own three children are quite partial to so I like to pack a little towel so that I can say ‘yes’ to these moments rather than ‘no’ and feeling like I’ve missed out!

Before leaving the house

I check the weather forecast the night before and again on the morning of a planned hike and will always reassess that information in real-time once I get to my starting point. It’s easier to call off a hike and return another day if conditions aren’t suitable than it is to have to deal with an emergency situation.

If trekking solo I make sure someone knows of my planned route and expected return time and make sure I contact them as soon as I am safely off the mountain.

And finally, a word or two about how to pack your backpack…

The heaviest and least used items are best placed at the bottom of your backpack, for example, if you’re planning an overnight adventure, your tent would go in the bottom.

Keep the things you are most likely to use or need close to the top, i.e.: waterproofs and snacks and make sure your first aid kit is easily accessible. Side pouches are really handy for water and hot drinks also.

All that’s left to say really is…happy adventuring!

P.S. Need a new backpack? Check out the Madlug Outdoor Backpack here

June 04, 2021 — Dave Linton

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