And then something starts to itch.
Or you are bored.
Or cold, or smelly, or whatever, and the discomfort is all you can think about. On some level, the challenge of living in the mountains is about overcoming your baseline zone of comfort and trying something new. Without stretching our boundaries, we won't grow. No one, however, said we should be miserable.
After spending considerable time this summer training for and summiting the Grand Teton in Wyoming, I looked through my gear and pulled out a few not so standard items that were life savers. These tiny things don't add much weight and made a huge difference in the quality of my trips.
So here are: The top 10 essential (or not) pack items.
Often overlooked, effective undies are absolutely essential. The key is to have non-bunching, quick drying, close fitting knickers that wick away moisture and don't immediately start to smell. I am a HUGE fan of the Exofficio Give-n-go brief. I took along one pair (do NOT make a face) on my Teton trip and I felt amazing. I didn't even think about them.
Reminiscent of the Sham-WOW, camp towels are ultra absorbant and super compact. I used mine to bail out my tent after a particularly vehement storm. I've used it for bathing, cleaning, maintinatce, insulation and as an ultra cool bandana. MSR makes camp towels in a variety of sizes. I never head to the hills without one.
3. Base Layers
Investing in a good base layer is almost as important as choosing good undies. Try on a few types and decide if you like natural or synthetic fibers. Make sure the fit allows movement, and that you can comfortably layer over the top. This layer is the closest to your skin, and if you choose wisely, can be worn when it's warm or when it's cold outside. Mountain Hardwear makes a badass “zoned” top with mesh in all the right places. And EMS's tech wick line is comfy on the skin.
*I've been told to mention that wool is the shiz, and that it doesn't stink. I concur.
After making sure it's BPA free, the water bottle may be as versatile an item as I've ever seen. It can be used as a hot water bottle to keep your toes toasty at night, holder of a tasty beverage besides water (crystal light packets anyone?), soup container, and an aid to dry out your damp layers (again, when filled with hot water). Try these Nalgenes on for size...
There is nothing like laying in your dark tent, contemplating the morning's summit, and noshing on a tiny piece of heaven. Ok, maybe chocolate isn't your thing, but the few ounces that a taste of home adds to your pack are so worth it as a motivational tool. So ditch some “light and fast” mountain food in favor of something you WANT to eat. Living in Boulder, my affinity is for Chocolove.
6. Paper and Pen
Not on your typical list of mountain gear, the paper and pen are small luxuries that I forget all the time. When I want to make note of an event, a formation, a route, an emergency scenario, document the day, or just give a new friend my contact info, I never can. A tiny notebook and pen in a plastic bag should be on everyone's “always pack” list.
I am a delicate flower and things like the sun, wind, rain, rough rocks, and extended time in the field affect me. Skin care is one of those things you don't think you need until you do. In Joshua Tree, my skin was uncomfortably dry and cracked, not to mention I did a number on my hands while climbing. I suggest Strong Skin, a healing balm that can be used just about anywhere – lips, hands, elbows, face, knees, etc. It comes in a tiny tin and works miracles on scrapes and bruises.
8. Action Wipes
Brilliant pre-moistened wipes perfect for in-tent sponge baths. The cloth is reusable and oh so awesome after three days of hiking/climbing. The instructions say to start with your face and limbs, then move on to other... more stinky parts. Please follow the instructions. Disaster may follow if you don't.
9. Tiny Tooth Brushes
So I wasn't too keen on bringing my tooth brush and a thing of paste with me, but I wasn't thrilled about 4 days with nasty fuzz building up on and in between my chompers. Then I found Colgate Wisp, the perfect travel sized, disposable brush/floss combo. Small, light weight, and made my breath kissably fresh. Cause that's a priority in the mountains.
This item depends on the type of trip you are going on, but I would have killed for a summit pack on my Teton adventure. At any point, if you are stashing gear and running to the top of your objective, consider a small pack to carry your water, essential gear and some snacks. Right now EMS has a ton on sale. Keep in mind your torso size, and things like a waist/sternum strap.