By Jasreet Chawla:
There is a first for everything; you do a task over and over again and get better at it with each passing attempt until, one day, you realise that you have devised your own algorithm to go about accomplishing it—that too, in the best possible manner. Packing for a hike or a backpacking adventure is one such task. On first thought, it may not seem much of a challenge, but out in the wilderness, bereft of that hand sanitiser or that aspirin, you would realise how much more careful you ought to have been in packing your haversack for the hike. As a passionate trekker who has been on a deluge of treks, I have managed to jot down a list of 10 must-haves for any backpacker over the course of my numerous trips spanning several places across the Himalayas. Here’s how it goes:
A first aid kit complete in every respect is the first thing I place in my rucksack. An essential travel first aid box is incomplete without analgesics, antipyretics, sterile gauzes, bandage rolls, a pair of scissors and gauze pads. On one my treks, I managed to lose balance even on steady ground just out of sheer recklessness and ended up with an awfully bad wound across my shin. If it were not for all the medical paraphernalia in my first aid box, I would have had to back out and return home!
Oh, all the places I’ve been! Oh, all the remote places I’ve been! I swear by my portable power bank, especially because it has helped me charge my phone on the go—even in the most secluded of destinations with no electricity at all! In my opinion, it is very important to get the perfect power bank; a power bank with a high charging capacity can charge a phone multiple times or charge multiple phones at the same time. However, for fortnight-long jungle treks, I usually prefer a solar mobile charger to a power bank. The former allows me to charge not just my phone but also quite a few other compatible electronic devices, however, many times, without my having to worry about running out of charge.
I like the best of both worlds—listening to the sound of birds, the dawn chorus, in the quiet of the jungle as well as singing along to the tunes of my favourite rock band. For this reason, I always remember to keep a portable Bluetooth speaker on every single one of my hiking expeditions.
Even though I’m of the opinion that my eyes are better than any DSLR out there, with my mind being the non-volatile memory the captured pictures are stored in, I do get bouts of capturing nature at its best in a two-dimensional frame on every single one of my trips. For this reason, I always carry an explicit camera bag on my shoulders to make clicking of impromptu pictures easier.
Having to take a dump in the wilderness takes a lot of getting used to! My hand sanitiser and toilet paper are always there to get me out of the woods—at least metaphorically, if not literally—whenever it’s time to answer the nature’s call!
In the latter half of the evening, the visibility tends to go from bad to worse, with each passing second. Treacherous trekking trails can be really risky in the evening, let alone at night—so much so, that a single bad step can prove to be fatal. This is where solar torches come in handy. While on a trek, I always make it a point to charge my solar torch all through the day under the rays of the sun so as to stay in well-lit surroundings all night!
There’s more to why I keep my solar torch so imperatively. Once, it so happened, that a wild animal brushed past me in the dark reaches of the forest and I got so petrified with fear that I couldn’t even open my mouth to let out a shriek as an expression of my horror. Much to my luck, a fellow trekker who was closing in behind me witnessed the situation and started yelling and flashing his solar torch at the animal, causing him to retract into the darkness of the night. If it were not for the dazing light of my friend’s solar torch, I might not have survived to tell the tale.
Prolonged exposure to the rays of the sun is anything but good. On top of that, there is an increased risk of getting afflicted with ultraviolet-induced damage whilst trekking at higher altitudes. For this reason, I recommend keeping a high-SPF moisturising cream as well as lip balm to keep the wrath of the sun at bay!
For me, it is next to impossible to sleep in the clothes I’ve trekked in all through the day, traversing different landscapes—from mountain passes to muddy streams. I always pack my rucksack with a pair of extra clothing and a couple of easy-dry towels to spare myself the horror of having to sleep or move about in wet clothes in extreme weather.
In the age of Google Maps, the use of the good old compass seems ludicrous! However, the magnetic device has come to my rescue in many a trek, especially at places where the mobile connectivity decided to leave me stranded!
A walking stick can work wonders for the gait when walking on tricky snow! I keep one with me on all snow treks in particular.
In the middle of a 10-km long trek, my friend was bereaved of the sole of his left shoe, a cheap purchase from the local store. Having limped all his way to the mountain top in a make-shift arrangement that entailed holding together the shoe and its sole with ropes, he swore he would buy proper hiking boots the next time around!
What I’ve learned after all these years of trekking is that gate crashing is second nature to the rain gods. I love rains, but only from under the comfort of a shelter. Owing to the magnanimity of the rain gods, I don’t leave without a waterproof jacket ever! Carrying an umbrella on a trek is not feasible for me because I find it really hard to balance myself with all the trekking gear I’m usually already loaded with!
For all the times I’ve had to walk through streams or entire rivers, I’ve always changed into my flip flops to keep my shoes from getting drenched in the bone-chilling water.
I am in the habit of stopping by every single source of fresh, running water so as to re-fill my water bottle up to the brim for the journey ahead.
A Swiss knife needs no introduction! The multi-blade tool can take care of cutting, scraping, driving screws, et al almost effortlessly. As for earplugs, I’ve used my earplugs and fallen off to sleep in the middle of a forest full of hooting owls and night animals, unaffected even by the garrulous chatter of my fellow trekkers!
Also read: ‘10 Reasons Why I Travel Alone, And Why You Should Too‘.