Packing for outdoor trips can easily turn into a difficult game of weight—what items you should keep and leave. These five items are the splurge items we think you should consider packing.
Have you ever headed into the backcountry, whether for a day hike or a multi-day excursion and realized that half the stuff you’re carrying you don’t actually use? Did you really need that heavy-duty multitool, a cribbage board or a full roll of toilet paper? Packing for your outdoor trips can turn into a game of deciding how to pack light, but not too light, and be properly prepared, but not overly.
A rule of thumb while gearing up for your outdoor trip is to pack only what you need and nothing more. But following that hard and fast rule doesn’t leave much room for creativity. For every individual there’s that sweet spot: a gear list that fits you and your adventure-style just right so that your enjoyment of the outdoors can reach its full potential.
Everyone’s list of outdoor essentials is different. Sure, the survival stuff is crucial, like a sleeping bag and water purifier, but what about those luxury items that you could technically live without, but don’t want to?
I spoke to a handful of friends of mine, all of whom currently or recently worked for Outward Bound, and compiled a list of their top splurge items. Turns out, these folks have their luxury item lists at the ready, so I compiled them and boiled them down to a top five. Take notes.
1. Bluetooth Speaker
My friend Leland, a once Outward Bound Instructor and now full-time mountain guide in Washington and Colorado, never climbs alone without music playing from his pack. His biggest luxury item is a Bluetooth speaker.
“The one I have isn’t even lightweight or small, it’s about 1.5 pounds,” he added, but even so he says his speaker always comes with him, even if he’s doing a multi-day excursion where cutting every ounce of unneeded weight is important.
“A playlist can change my whole mood, make the daunting moments joyous and the grand moments that much more epic. It honestly helps me climb and perform better in the mountains I think, and also staves off the creepiness of a forest after the end of a long day when my eyes play tricks on me in the dark.”
When Christina isn’t being a coordinator for Virginia Commonwealth University’s outdoor adventure program, she’s probably out paddling a river, biking all terrains, nordic skiing or fishing. Her top splurge items on trips are none other than fun party decorations. String lights, pins, sashes, banners – you name it, all stashed away in her pack for the perfect moment to make a holiday or someone’s birthday extra festive.
“I led a trip to Chile and we were backpacking over New Year’s, so we added New Year’s glasses to our grocery list… I love to bring something to liven the mood. Really helps if the weather is crappy.”
Christina also always brings with her a Luci light. It’s a small solar lantern that brings life to a campsite and makes it cozy at night. “It’s not even heavy,” she adds, “It’s a bit bulky, but it makes campsites much more inviting. Fun fact is that I got it from Leave No Trace – and, it’s a great substitute for a fire when you don’t want to build one for LNT concerns.”
3. Extra Warmth
Jordan is an assistant rock guide through American Mountain Guides Association and a senior guide at New River Mountain Guides in West Virginia. When he’s not climbing for work, he’s climbing for fun and pushing himself on new and harder routes. His go-to luxury item is a rechargeable hand warmer that he puts inside his chalk bag when he climbs.
“My fingers numb out fast when it’s cold, and this means you can make the best of low temps without numbing out!”
He also is a big proponent for extra warmth in layers. His belay parka, though not necessarily crucial per se, is much appreciated when he’s out belaying all day in 35-degree weather.
emily* is an educator, naturalist and avid outdoorswoman who currently works for Outward Bound in California and doesn’t go anywhere without her binoculars. With bird watching as her favorite outdoor activity, emily finds that the size and weight of binoculars are 110% worth carrying when she heads outside by foot, bike or boat. Studying and observing birds is her way of connecting to the natural world.
Similarly, carrying along with a small field guide for birds, plants, geology, history – you name it, allows space to learn about and connect with your place of recreation. Sometimes excursions can be so jam-packed with plans that there isn’t time to stop and appreciate the richness and beauty around you. Binoculars and guides offer those opportunities.
5. Some Light (or Heavy) Reading
Lastly, Bri, a former Instructor, logistics coordinator and course director at Outward Bound in Colorado, brings us home with her favorite luxury item: a book. “As a former English major, occasional writer and always reader, I find it vital to stretch my brain and explore different perspectives through literature. I value the aspects of being fully present with the outdoor experience and also value how words on a page bring connection, whether in my own brain with the realities that, despite opinions to the contrary, cannot be “escaped” in nature, or with others read aloud under the stars. After loved ones watched me carry everything from slim books of poetry to 500-page novels into the woods for years, I was gifted a small eReader which is now a fixture of my pack.”
There you have it. It’s important to zero in on what items can help make your experience outdoors uniquely yours. Bringing the essentials is important, but what about that extra flair that’s catered just for you? When it comes to packing for your outdoor trips, choosing a luxury item to bring along is one of the more important decisions. Whether it’s having your favorite music that motivates you up a mountain, party decorations that increase morale, extra warm layers for coziness, binoculars or field guides to spark learning or a good story that enhances your perspective—what’s your splurge?
About the Author
Eva (she/they) currently lives in the foggy landscape of the Bay Area. Originally from Colorado, Eva practically grew up with hiking boots on her feet and climbing chalk on her hands. After graduating with a degree in environmental studies, Eva went on to work for Outward Bound in both Colorado and California as a field intern, trip logistics coordinator and blog writer. This past year she thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail to raise scholarship money for Outward Bound California’s LGBTQ+ course. Visit her fundraiser page to follow her journey and support the cause!
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