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Worth the Weight: WTA Staff Add to the 10 Essentials

Posted by cwakenshaw at Aug 30, 2021 03:51 PM |
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The little luxuries we like to add to our backpacks.

Packing is one of the most important parts of preparing for a hike. Regardless of the terrain, length and difficulty there are certain things every hiker should pack with them. Equipped with the 10 essentials, every hiker will be prepared to stay hydrated and nourished, able to find their way and stay protected from the elements.

But some hikers bring an 11th essential, an item that enhances their trip by providing entertainment or a deeper way to connect with their surroundings. 

We asked WTA staff about the little something extra they make sure to toss in their pack before heading out. Here's what we found out. 


Taking in the scenery is what hiking is all about, and binoculars bring far away wonders up-close and can give hikers a new perspective on a familiar landscape. Whether you want to spot birds or other wildlife, want to study the cracks and crags on a distant rock wall or peer down on a valley floor, packing binoculars can bring the scenery to life. 

A hiker looking through binoculars.
A hiker takes a closer look at Mount Rainier. Photo by Alexander Mesick. 

"My only regret in life is that one hike where I forgot my binoculars! I love taking a break and then using my bino's to peer up into trees, across the valley and even to the tippy-tops of glaciers. With a pair of binoculars, you can sit quietly in one spot all day and still experience worlds upon worlds unfolding around you."
— Clarissa Allen (they/them), youth trail program manager 


With a small set of paints, a few choice brushes and a small pad of paper, painting with watercolors is totally doable in the backcountry. During some downtime you can find a comfy seat with a view, break out your kit and capture the scene before your eyes. 

A set of watercolor paints, paintbrush and a painting of a mountain.
Watercolors can make those colors on the landscape pop on paper. Photo by Beatriz Vazquez. 

"My not-so-essential-essential item is my watercolor kit. I feel grounded when I play with watercolors in nature. Water coloring in nature is my way of grounding the chaos. It brings me peace to sit and focus on the world around me. I’m far from a Bob Ross protégé, but it feels good to draw a happy tree or two."
— Beatriz Rojas Vazquez, Central Puget Sound field coordinator 

Camp Chair 

It's all about the little things, and ending a long day of hiking by sitting in a comfy chair and soaking in your surroundings can make all the difference. And with a compact design and lightweight material, a camp chair can easily fit in your pack without adding much weight. 

Four empty camp chairs in a row.
With a lightweight camp chair you can make a stunning sitting area just about anywhere. Photo by Kathy Harris

"I bring a chair as my "11" essential while backpacking because it is light, affordable and easy to pack."
— Brandon Tigner, North Puget Sound field coordinator 

A Good Book 

When all the action dies down, it can be a great comfort to get lost in a book. Some books are heavy as a brick and others a light leaflet of paper. If it's a real page-turner the weight may not matter. Becoming immersed in a story before bed can be the perfect way to wind down the day. 

 A hiker lays in a hammock reading a book.
A good book can be a true joy. Lounging in a hammock while reading it—that's luxury. Photo by Lauren Brady. 

"I like to bring a journal and book, preferably somehow related to the area I'm in. Together they weigh so much, but I'm never sad about it. Having a book about the area helps me better appreciate where I am and what I'm seeing. My favorites are natural histories because I'm a plant and ecosystem nerd, but really anything that gives me a better lens into the place is alright by me."
— Stasia Honnold, Southwest regional trails coordinator

Playing Cards 

With a deck of cards handy, hikers can play their favorite game in camp and have a good time with their fellow hikers. They won't take up too much space in your pack and they're relatively lightweight. If you're hiking with a group, playing cards can be a great activity. You might even get the chance to teach or learn a new game. 

Playing cards spread out on a wooden picnic table.
One deck of cards, so many possibilities. Photo by Kyle Shaull. 

"There is usually a deck of cards floating around in my pack for those moments when my hiking partners and I are looking for something to do together in camp. They are pretty dirty now, but that just adds to the charm."
— Charlie Wakenshaw, WCC IP-communications and trails specialist 


A blank page and a pen can be a great way to capture the experience of a hike. Whether you want to jot down notes about the trail, reflect on the day or write a poem, a journal can provide an outlet to express yourself and endure as a memento of past trips. If you like recording trail conditions, consider sharing your notes with fellow hikers by filing a trip report when you get home. 

A hiker sits on a rock and writes in a journal.
A hiker records their thoughts in a journal during a hike. Photo by Wendi Lindquist. 

"I keep a journal in my pack. It's not heavy. I use it to capture moments from the day in the form of a haiku."
-Krista Dooley, community partnerships and leadership development director 


Knitting falls in the perfect intersection between hiking and crafting. All it takes is a ball of yarn and a couple knitting needles (and some skill) and you're off. Stitch away during the ride to the trailhead or occupy your time counting stitches in camp. And if you time it right, you may even end up with a cozy hat or pair of socks to keep you warm on a cool night. 

A knitting project held up with a tent in the background.
What a better way to end the day than with some knitting. Photo by Janée Romesberg. 

"I don't always bring a knitting project with me, but when I do it's something relatively lightweight like a sock or a hat. I love knitting because it doesn't take my attention fully away from the moment -- I can still chat with hiking companions or gawk at the landscape while my hands knit away. Now I just need to find a cure for my SSS (second sock syndrome) so I can also wear my socks while backpacking instead of just knitting a solo sock over and over again."
— Janée Romesberg, trail program senior manager


In the backcountry, coffee can become so much more than a routine beverage. Making a cup of coffee can be a comforting morning ritual or an excuse for a break in the afternoon. Clutching a warm mug while wisps of steam mingle with the mist of a cool morning is a great way to ease into the day and get energized for a hike. And with so many different coffee gadgets out there, the options are endless. 

A cup of coffee held up to a sunset.
A cup of coffee adding to the sunrise. Photo by Richard Sampson. 

"I love taking my coffee making kit (backpacking stove and pour over set up) whenever I’m hiking or backpacking. Sitting at the summit, or next to a waterfall, or enjoying the lake view is always better with a fresh hot cup of coffee. Or when I’m fast packing in the summer, a Starbucks Italian Via with some cold filtered creek water makes the perfect cold brew!"
— Emily Snyder, WTA crew leader