Should You Carry Backup Gear?

Sleeping pads close upOutdoor enthusiasts with a gear addiction know what it’s like to have excessive amounts of outdoor equipment. If you’re able to fully equip two or three of your buddies for a backpacking trip with the extra gear that you own, it’s probably time to dial back the spending. You can try to justify it all day long, but no one really needs three tents, ten jackets, and seven backpacks.

There are certain items that you just don’t need to own extras of. It would be pretty silly for someone to bring a “backup” tent, or a “backup” pack, on a backpacking trip. There are exceptions, however. Some items are so important that it makes sense to carry backup.

But how do you decide whether or not to carry backup when hiking? You, of course, don’t want to be lacking when you’re out on the trail, but you also don’t want to carry a lot of equipment that you don’t end up using. Deciding whether or not your should carry extra gear ultimately boils down to preference.

There are reasons to carry backup, and reasons not to carry backup. Some people are confident in their equipment and their ability to keep up with that equipment. Others prefer the comfort of knowing that if something were to go awry, they would be prepared to handle it. It’s an argument between carrying dead weight and being prepared for, “what if?”.

You should take a few things into consideration when deciding on whether or not to carry backup:

  • How easy would it be to lose or damage that item?
  • How disadvantaged would you be if you were to go without that item?
  • How easy is it to carry that item?
  • How expensive is that item?

The answers to these questions will probably vary from person to person. If you have the skill to start a fire with a couple of sticks and you know how to forage for food, a backup fire source and extra rations might not be necessary. But thinking about these questions can give you a sense of how practical it would be to carry extra equipment.

Keep in mind that if you’re going to carry backup gear with you, it makes sense to carry lesser gear. You don’t want to bring a big honking survival knife, and then another big honking survival knife in case you lose the first one. If you want a backup knife, you could bring a small key chain knife that is lightweight and doesn’t take up much room. Same thing with a shelter. It’s not practical to bring an extra tent, but you could bring an emergency blanket, emergency bivy, or a tarp.

Here are a few backup items that you might consider adding to your packing list.

  • Light source – Some people like having an extra headlamp, while others can make do with a key chain light.
  • Insulation – This can be an extra base layer for added warmth or a space blanket in case of an emergency.
  • Food – Maybe you’re going at a slower pace than you anticipated, or maybe you get lost. Either way, carrying an extra day’s worth of food isn’t a bad idea.
  • Hydration – Water purification tablets weigh next to nothing and can easily fit into a pack pocket. There’s no reason not to carry backup water purification.
  • Fire source – Lighters can get lost or wet. Waterproof matches are a good way to ensure you can start a fire or light your stove.
  • Comfort -Your mood can greatly affect your experience. An extra pair of dry socks can make a huge difference in your comfort and happiness on the trail.

Again, not everyone needs to carry backup gear. Some people prefer the added peace of mind and security, while others prefer not to carry anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. Figure out which type of person you are, and which things you can’t go without. If you’re going to lose sleep while you’re on the trail because you’re having nightmares about not carrying an extra compass, by all means, bring backup.

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