What's in My Pack? 9 Essentials for Any U.S. National Park Trip

20 June 2016

This year marks the U.S. National Park Service's Centennial, celebrating 100 years of championing a community of preservation, conservation and recreation across some of America's greatest and most cherished lands. This momentous occasion has served as a great reminder to me that sometimes the most spectacular places can be found right in my own backyard, so I've been making it a point to embark upon more U.S. trips this year.

So far, I've had the pleasure of visiting four National ParksZion and Bryce Canyon in Utah and Grand Teton and Yellowstone in Wyomingand have plans to visit Acadia in Maine this September. Needless to say, I've gotten stuffing my hiking backpack down to a science. Here are the 9 things I am sure to carry every time.

What's in My Pack? 9 Essentials for Any U.S. National Park Trip | Brave Little Cheesehead
Getting ready to explore Grand Teton National Park!
1 | A PEN
We recommend carrying a pen or a permanent marker on every trip you takeyou never know when it's going to come in handybut in the case of our National Parks, this little guy will be most helpful when jotting down the tremendous recommendations your park ranger is firing at you during your stop at the visitor's center. From the best hikes and picnic spots to areas to avoid due to construction or congestion, you'll be glad you have your pen to record all of these recommendations on your park map.

2 | SUNSCREEN + SPF LIP BALM
I have a high sensitivity to the sun, including a very unfortunate allergy, so this one is non-negotiable for me. I always have a tube of Badger Sunscreen in my pack, which has a high concentration of zinc. It's a little thicker to apply and certainly requires some elbow grease, but it wards off burns better than any other brand I've used. So, naturally, I also carry their face stickbecause it's quicker and easier to applyas well as SPF lip balm. Best of all, these are certified all natural products, meaning they're safe for me as well as the environment to which I might be exposing them.
What's in My Pack? 9 Essentials for Any U.S. National Park Trip | Brave Little Cheesehead
Bryce Canyon National Park
3 | BRIMMED HAT
I used to avoid baseball caps because I thought I looked ridiculous in them, but I've come to appreciate them for their sun blocking abilities. Another must!

4 | HIKING BOOTS + EXTRA SHOES
There are plenty of activities to engage in at our beloved National Parks, but my favorite by far is hiking! I'll always bring my hiking boots and stash an extra set of footwear in the car. Be it camp sandals or some gym shoes, you'll thank me later when your tootsies are inevitably begging for a break from those boots.
What's in My Pack? 9 Essentials for Any U.S. National Park Trip | Brave Little Cheesehead
Zion National Park

5 | LAYERS
Depending on where I'm traveling, my hiking attire typically includes a set or two of layers. We like to stretch our days as long as possible, which means we're likely facing a spectrum of temperatures. On my recent trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone, we awoke to temps in the 30s, which rose to high 60s during the day, and dropped down again in the early evening. I was glad to have both a half-zip long-sleeve and my Patagonia Better Sweater fleece jacket in addition to a knit beanie.

6 | FIRST-AID KIT + OTHER SAFETY ITEMS
Although you may not anticipate any injuries if you're planning on taking just a few short day-hikes, it's always good to be prepared. Before hiking the Inca Trail in Peru last summer, I picked up this ultralight, water-tight, packable first-aid kit from REI, which is perfect for one person for a 1-2 day trip. Then, I just replenish the supplies after each time of use.

We also recommend paying attention to any advisories on the National Park's website, which may be a good indication of other safety supplies you'll need. Due to bear warnings, while hiking around the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, we always carried a canister of bear spray, as the Teton Region is home to both black bears and grizzly bears that are active in the springtime after hibernating. More on bear safety here.

One final note about safety while visiting National Parks: please, be mindful of caution signs and warnings from rangers. These exist for the safety of you and other visitors as well as of the creatures you may encounter during your trip. With the uptick in visitors due to the centennial celebration, there have been many unfortunate incidents to both travelers and wildlife. Please, take care to be a conscientious visitor, and heed the park's warnings.
What's in My Pack? 9 Essentials for Any U.S. National Park Trip | Brave Little Cheesehead
Grand Teton National Park
7 | EMERGENCY WHISTLE AND COMPASS
You may consider these items to be unecessary if your plan is to stick to the well-traveled, short trails, but I believe it's better to be safe than sorry. Some of the trails we hiked at Grand Teton were a bit confusingly marked, so it's not impossible to accidentally head in the wrong direction and get lost. That's where these items will come in handy.

8 | SNACKS
I love enjoying a snack at the summit or midpoint of any trail I hike, so I usually stash a few in my bag. Some of my favorites include Trader Joe's organic beef jerky, Nick's grass-fed beef sticks, homemade trail mix with some sort of chocolate component, Justin's nut butter squeeze packs, and dried mango slices from Trader Joe's. It's a nice little treat for all of your hard work! Just make sure to pack out any garbage you may accumulate.
What's in My Pack? 9 Essentials for Any U.S. National Park Trip | Brave Little Cheesehead
Zion National Park
9 | ZIPLOC BAGS
This is another item we always recommend having on hand, no matter where you're traveling. These will come especially in handy if it happens to rain and you don't have a dry sack on you, or if you need to contain trash from band-aids, snacks or anything else.

Anything missing from this list? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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