What’s in a Daypack?

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

The hike up the snow covered mountain wasn’t by any means easy. Each step crunched as our boots sank in the snow, and the steepness of the terrain made our leg muscles burn with each step. I turned to my hunter to see how he was doing, and he was absolutely winded.

“Are you all right?” I asked as we stopped for a break.

“Yeah,” he responded, slightly out of breath. “This pack is just sorta heavy.”

I looked at his daypack and quickly realized just how much he’d overpacked. The entire pack was bulging from all the gear that was crammed into it, and it was so full that the zipper actually popped off its track. Even the kitchen sink was threatening to fall out and slide back down the mountain to the truck.

I checked myself and realized I was completely comfortable. Recently I consolidated my daypack and lightened it up quite a bit. And it was at this moment that I was extremely thankful for doing so. Optimizing weight and taking only what’s absolutely necessary is vital when out in the field. It’s definitely important to take the essentials, but by catering what’s in your pack to the activity you’re participating in can really cut down on weight and make the whole day much more enjoyable. The following are a few tips to help you optimize exactly what goes into your pack every day.

The Essentials

There are a few items that always go into my daypack regardless of what activity I’m doing. These things practically never come out. One of the most important items is your standard compass.

Hand holding a compass from his day pack

Image: Alex Vail

If you’re as good at getting lost as I am, having a compass on you at all times is a must. It’s one of those things that you’d rather have and not need than need and not have. 

Inside my pack I also always carry a small kit with basic survival items in it, such as matches, a fire starting kit, a small extra pocket knife, fishing line/hooks, and an emergency blanket. There’s also a tiny basic first aid kit that’s secured inside as well. It fits neatly in a pouch on the pack and never really leaves unless I need something inside of it.

Man's hand holding a camo first aid kit from day pack

Image: Alex Vail

Water definitely makes the essentials list as well. I don’t care how cold it is or how short the walk is every day, water is a must. It’s necessary to try and plan out about how much water you might need over the course of the day since water is quite heavy, but it’s a good idea to carry a little more water into the field than you think you might need.

Finally I consider a good knife to be the last piece of essential gear. There are so many uses for a knife that the list could go on for ages, everything from starting a fire to cleaning an animal. A knife is another must.

All the Rest

green day pack on the floor

Image: Alex Vail

Everything else that is carried in your daypack can be considered “extra” or nonessential. These things might be essential for exactly what you’re doing each day, but they aren’t things you’d necessarily need each time you went outside. It’s important to make sure you’re taking exactly what you need each day, so you must consider what activity you’re doing. Look at binoculars, for example. Are you hunting pigs in the Georgia swamps where you can’t see beyond 50 yards? Then the binoculars aren’t necessary—leave them at home. Or are you hunting mule deer in the high desert in Colorado where you can see upwards of three miles? Bring them along.

The same thing holds true for clothing, food, etc. Are you going to be walking far in chilly weather? Then put that sweater in the daypack so you don’t get sweaty while you walk. Are you only going to be out until around lunchtime? You can probably leave the cook stove and food in the truck. I’ve had some hunters insist on carrying an entire extra box of ammunition, which of course adds weight, and I didn’t stop them. But there are alternative methods to cramming that entire box into the pack. Not everything needs to go inside of it. Use an ammo sleeve for the stock of your gun, for instance. Or rather than cramming that multitool inside, slip it onto your belt and help alleviate not only the weight in your pack but also the amount of time you spend rummaging through the pack in search of one item. 

So the next time you’re getting ready to head out into the field, ask yourself, “Will I really need this today?” Do this with each item, and you may be able to lighten up your daypack considerably and make it a much more efficient, better-suited pack for the day. Your back with thank you later.

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