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How to Pre-Pack

Pre-packing allows you to get out the door with all the gear you need — and with your good mood still intact.

by Lindsey Leffelman

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning. After a long week of working and taking care of chores, you’re ready to hit the trail and unwind. But first, you must dig through the closet to unearth your pack, hunt down your first-aid kit (which is still out of Band-Aids after that run-in with a thorny bush), and scramble to scrape together a lunch from what’s in the fridge. What was supposed to be a relaxing day is off to a rocky start.

If this scenario sounds at all familiar to you, then pre-packing for your hike is exactly what you need. Pre-packing allows you to get out the door with all the gear you need — and with your good mood still intact. Following the tips below will help you become a pre-packing all-star so you can make the most of the limited time you have to get outdoors.

A layout of the 10 essentials on trail. Photo by Erika Haugen-Goodman.

Pre-pack for the entire hiking season, not just one trip

When the opportunity to go hiking arises, you don’t want to waste precious time gathering your gear. Rather than waiting until the last minute, spend some time in advance to prepare the basics.

  • Choose a versatile day pack and stick with it. Packs come in so many shapes and sizes, that it can be easy to amass quite a collection. Pick an all-around high-quality pack that will suit the majority of your hiking needs, and only switch it out when necessary.
  • Consider the items that always end up in your pack and keep them there all the time. You probably have some items, like matches, a compass and a pocketknife, that you already store in your pack. Other essentials, like a rain jacket or sunscreen, can be kept in your pack all the time too. Designate a warm fleece, a hat and a pair of sunglasses as your “hiking-only gear,” and be sure they’re always in your pack and ready to go.
  • Stow your gear in an easily accessible location. Don’t relegate your hiking gear to the messy attic, the jam-packed garage or the farthest reaches of your closet. Choose an easy-to-reach spot, like a coat closet near the front door or a hook in the laundry room, to store your pack between hikes. When it’s time to hit the trail, you can easily grab your gear, load in your food and water and be out the door in no time.

Photo by John Marshall.

A little time spent now can save a lot of hassle later

When you return home from a hike, you may just want to sit back, relax and have a cold drink. However, if you can find the energy to tackle a few simple tasks, you’ll be setting yourself up well for future hiking adventures.

  • Clean out trash right away. As soon as you get home, empty any trash that has accumulated in your pack. No one likes finding (or smelling) moldy food remnants 2 weeks later.
  • Wash and repack as soon as you can. If your fleece got dirty or your extra pair of socks got wet, get them in the laundry as soon as possible. Once they’re dried, put them right back into your pack.
  • Repair and replenish gear right away. While hiking, you might trip on a talus slope and use up all the gauze in your first-aid kit. Or the zipper on your rain jacket may break. Sometimes things just happen to our gear. The sooner you can fix broken items or replenish lost and depleted supplies, the better.
  • Add new items to your pack now. Is there something you wish you had brought with you on this hike? Put it in your pack now, so you won’t forget it later.

Food can be pre-packed too!

Pre-packing food for the upcoming hiking season may not seem like a great idea, but there are ways to plan ahead to make packing your trail lunch a bit easier and more efficient.

  • Stock up on nonperishable hiking foods. Trail mix, energy bars and jerky can be purchased in bulk at the start of hiking season and stored until you need them. Right before your hike, just toss what you need in your pack. You might even stash a few extra bars in the bottom of your pack to serve as an emergency backup.
  • Keep your food choices simple and repetitive. Plan to make simple trail meals (think sandwiches, chips and carrot sticks) with ingredients you typically have on hand at home, so you won’t need to stop at the grocery store before your hike. Packing the same basic food every time means you won’t have to spend time deciding what to pack.

Expand the concept of pre-packing to backpacking

Most of the tips and tricks above work just as well for overnight trips as they do for day hikes. Of course, backpacking excursions require some different gear, so pre-packing can be handled a bit differently.

  • Plastic storage bins keep gear organized and close at hand. Storing overnight gear, such as tents, sleeping pads and camp stoves, in large storage containers ensures that your equipment stays protected, coordinated and easy to access. It takes almost no time to transfer your gear from the storage bin to your overnight pack.
  • Lists ensure nothing is left behind. A list of necessary backpacking gear, either self-created or printed from an online source, taped to the lid of the plastic storage bin, will enable you to quickly gather everything you need without the fear of leaving a critical piece of equipment behind.

With some forethought and preparations, precious moments can be saved so your time outside is maximized.

This article originally appeared in the Mar+Apr 2019 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.