Saturday, July 22, 2017

What We Pack For Outdoor Day Trips

Let's give it up for Kirby being my Vanna White for the day!

I mentioned possibly writing a post about what Kirby and I take on our outdoor day trips, and I received a surprising amount of "That'd be awesome!"-type comments. So here it is: a quick overview of what we like to pack! This is the stuff that keeps us fed, dry, and safe from ticks while we take long walks through the forest or faff about on a canoe.

An important note: this is what we pack for a casual day trip in a safe, well-populated, well-maintained state park. It is not enough for more intense outdoor activities, like a weekend hike through the mountains. Always read up on the necessary equipment for a longer or more intense trip.

If you're hiking in the Appalachians for a week or completing a 70 mile bike ride across Pennsylvania's more rugged terrain, you probably have some of the best equipment on the market, including a top-of-the-line backpack. I do not. I have a backpack that I bought for $5 at my local Goodwill. I give zero shits about the fact that it's pink or a "Polo" product; I care that it has tons of pockets, is lightweight, and is super easy to clean. (I scrub mine down with lukewarm water and Dr. Bronner's soap.)

Most thrift stores I've visited have an entire box full of cheap backpacks for you to sift through, many of them in like new condition. If that's not an option, stalk the stores shortly after the school year begins and see if any of the backpacks go on sale, or check in at an army surplus store. Last, but not least, you can give a shout on social media and see if anybody has a spare backpack they'd give you. A few of my older friends with high school aged children say that their kids change backpacks every year, so they've often got an extra bag stuffed in a corner.

Now for the goods in the bag!
  • A tarp. Most public parks have picnic tables, but sometimes, we just want to sit out on the grass. Yeah, a picnic blanket is prettier and more romantic, but it won't keep your butt dry if the ground is still wet from a recent rainstorm. Tarps are also easy to clean and cheap to buy; this 5'x7' blue one cost me about $10.
  • A map. All of the public parks in my area provide free maps. You can also print one out before you leave the house.
  • Extra socks. It doesn't matter if you plan on going in or even near the water: there's the possibility your feet will get sopping wet, and few things are more uncomfortable than wet socks. I always pack an extra pair for each of us. If we're actually going swimming (which almost never happens, since Kirby isn't a fan), I bring an entire change of clothes, my swimsuit, and a towel.
  • Sandals, if we're canoeing (not pictured). You often have to step in to the water a bit to get in and out of your canoe, and my graceful self always manages to splash water in to the boat.
  • A poncho. We avoid rain like the plague, but you never know in Western Pennsylvania. A poncho is easier than an umbrella, since it leaves your hands free. 
  • Plastic freezer bags. We keep a few of these in the backpack so we can keep a few essentials in the canoe without worrying about them getting wet. And by "essentials," I mean "my phone," since I keep forgetting to buy a cheap-o watch so we can return our rented canoe on time. I really need to get an actual water-resistant case when I have the chance, I know.
  • Bug repellent. I draw mosquitoes like no other and Kirby is terrified of ticks, so we always coat ourselves in bug spray. We've been using Off! Deep Woods VIII for a while now and are relatively impressed with it. It reeks to high Heaven, but it does a pretty good job of keeping most bugs away from us and it doesn't feel heavy or greasy on our skin and clothes.

While we don't usually go on longer hikes, and we're generally good about staying on the designated walking paths outlined by the parks department, I'm still in the habit of bringing a little extra safety equipment. Pictured above: an LED headlamp, a compass, a lighter, and a safety knife. Altogether, this equipment cost me less than $20 and was totally worth it to ease my paranoid mind.

Not pictured is the small-but-powerful LED flashlight, chemical mace, and safety whistle I have on my key chain. If you're going to bring a whistle in case you get lost or hurt, make sure you bring an actual safety whistle; mine is a Shoreline Marine whistle that cost me a couple of bucks and can be heard for several miles. The basic whistle code is one whistle to announce your location, two as a call back, three to call for help.

There's also an assortment of first aid stuff that we keep in a Glossier pouch. Yes, you read that right: we use a Glossier pouch. It has nothing to do with them being "cute" or "hip;" they're just the right size, lightly padded, and easily replaced if they get damaged.

Inside the pouch:
  • Tampons, because I have a uterus and whatnot.
  • Bandaids and Neosporin. Despite being supremely clumsy, I almost never get cuts when we're in the woods, but better safe than sorry. Hilariously, I actually use Neosporin more on my cat's popped chin pimples than on myself.
  • Benadryl Cream. We pack this for two reasons. One, lakes are full of bugs, and even with an extreme amount of bug spray on our personages, we can still get bit. Two, I have trouble with chronic hives that can appear out of nowhere. Both are horribly itchy situations that can ruin a trip, so we nip the itch in the bud with this ointment.
  • A hairbrush. This cheap, plastic brush was given to my partner by the airport when they misplaced his luggage. Stylish? No. Comfortable? Not really. Effective? Eh, it works well enough if I topple out of the canoe and have to brush out my wet hair to prevent tangles.
  • Body Glide. I've written an entire post about this stuff, I love it so much, so definitely check that out for more details. I'll just add this: I won't go on any sort of walk, vacation, or day trip without Body Glide these days, and my chubby thighs are eternally grateful. 
  • Moleskin. Getting in to hiking and boating exposed me to moleskin, and holy shit, how did I not know about this stuff before? Basically, it's soft cotton padding, usually sold with an adhesive back so you can adhere it to your skin. What do you use it for? Blisters. Guys, this stuff is fucking mana in the wilderness if you have a blister and you want to stop the rubbing. Maybe I'm being a bit intense, but trust me, it's essential if you're spending time outdoors. You can sometimes buy moleskin that comes in pre-cut little circles, but we usually buy the full pads and cut it to size.
  • A nail kit, primarily for the tweezers and the scissors. These are useful for splinters and cutting moleskin, respectively.
  • Ibuprofen 800mgs. We rarely use these on the trip itself, since we stay home if one of us gets a bad headache, but again, better safe than sorry. I actually had to pop one on a trip last month because my period snuck up on me, and I started having back pain on the way to the lake. 20 minutes after popping one of these, I was pain-free and ready to row.
  • Extra sunscreen. We always slather on a thick layer of Blue Lizard Sensitive before leaving the house, and that will hold us for our walk and our picnic. If we're going to be outside for more than a couple of hours, though, we obviously have to touch-up, and that's easiest with a travel-size spray. We're currently using Banana Boat Sun Comfort, since it was one of the few sprays to get an "excellent" rating from the most recent Consumer Report. (NOTE: Again, Kirby and I usually don't go swimming; if you do, you may want to make sure your sunscreen has marine life-friendly filters.) I'm also carrying the Sun Bum SPF30 lip balm. I don't love it, but it's cheap, so, I mean...I won't weep if it gets ruined. In the bag it goes.

Kirby and I are also the picnicking sort...and even if you aren't, you should probably bring some food if you plan on being out for more than an hour or two. You should also eat a filling, but not too heavy, breakfast. My personal favorite? Oatmeal. It's so damn easy to make, very filling, and provides plenty of energy.

The basic oatmeal recipe is one part rolled oats to two parts liquid, but you can of course add extras to spice it up. My pre-hike oatmeal for the two of is 2/3 cup of oats, 1 1/3 cups of unsweetened vanilla almond milk, 2 tablespoons of chia seeds, and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. Pour it all in to a pot and stir it regularly over medium-low heat until the oats soften and the liquid thickens. I like to top that with a cup of fresh blueberries and chopped strawberries for each of us.

For lunch, I try to once again focus on "filling, but not heavy." I drop some reusable ice packs in to the cooler, then add sandwiches (a half for me, a whole for Kirby), a beverage for each of us, some raw vegetables with ranch or hummus for dipping, small containers of nuts, and a yogurt for each of us. I also throw in a fiber bar for each of us on the long car ride home. I fill a plastic freezer bag with ice, then put our water bottles on top. (The bonus with this method? You can steal some ice cubes out of the bag and drop them in your bottles if the water starts to heat up throughout the day.) These Brita bottles are nice if you plan on refilling them at the park and the water fountains are a bit suspect, but honestly, I just like them because they're soft and easy to squeeze.

I should note that we almost never eat everything I pack. On this trip, for instance, I didn't eat my yogurt and Kirby didn't touch his cashews, so we just took them home. Always dispose of your trash properly!

Last, washable hats! I highly recommend a hat with a brim that goes all the way around, like mine, so you can get some extra protection on your ears and the back of your neck as well. Kirby is addicted to his baseball hat, though, and that's better than nothing. "Washable" is key, because these get covered in sweat and sunscreen throughout the day, and we purposely blast them with bug spray to keep the gnats and flies off of our faces. It works, but at the end of the day, they are beyond smelly. All we have to day is toss them in the washer on a delicate cycle and hang them to dry.

So that's what a couple of filthy casuals like us takes on a day trip outdoors. If you think we're missing something incredibly important, or you have a few favorites of your own for outdoor adventures, please let us know! We're considering saving up for prescription sunglasses, for instance--any thoughts on that investment?


  1. I pack pretty much the same as you, though I always always always bring a sweater and my Kindle. Actually, I bring those no matter where I go.

    I don't have prescription sunglasses (my prescription is -17 and I wear contacts all the time anyway so I can buy cheaper sunglasses with no prescription), though I've been considering asking my optometrist what he would recommend for me, since I'm highly photosensitive. I think they're a good investment and would consider them myself if my situation was different. Protecting your eyes from the sun is only a good thing!

    1. I don't usually take a book on outdoor trips, since I'm usually with a friend, but I do love bringing one or my Kindle when I'm on the bus. :)

  2. I'm not an outdoorsy person at all but I can definitely vouch for prescription sunglasses! I got my first pair a few months ago and they're great. Very handy for driving at sunset, too. I got mine from Eyebuydirect and they weren't too expensive at all!

  3. You guys are cuties!!! I love "equipment & supplies" almost as much as I love beauty products. Our camping/beach/travel supplies are getting a little boost in recent. I am definitely eyeing this leak-proof AO canvas cooler bag to replace our basic hard Igloo cooler for easier beach mobility. We like to walk far from the crowds(makes for good topless tanning!), and having the hard cooler bash against your leg for a mile in the sand isn't pleasant.

    Also, so cool that you are in PA! I live in NYC but we have started exploring your lovely state and marveling at all the waterfalls. We go to this camping spot called Stokes, and there is an amazing swimmable (or sit-on-a-big-rock-and-relaxable) waterfall a few miles away. Also Stokes is home to one of the best natural roadside spring in the nation. We fill up large glass jugs and I am in pure heaven drinking that perfect water for a week or so after at home.

    1. Swimmable waterfall?! I'm putting that on my list.