National park trip packing essentials
Every one of the national parks offers its own unique experience. From forests to mountains to deserts to historic monuments, there is truly something for everyone to enjoy. The breathtaking natural beauty and opportunity to immerse yourself in dramatic landscapes make a national park trip a great vacation idea for families, friends, tour groups and solo travelers.
Still, it is important to remember you’ll likely be spending prolonged periods in nature, making it vital that you include some essential items when organizing your outdoor packing list.
Tips for visiting national parks
- Time of day matters. Setting out to see some of the main attractions in the early morning or evening means you’re more likely to avoid the large crowds. If your schedule allows, visiting on weekdays can also help reduce crowd numbers.
- Explore off the beaten path. An overwhelming majority of visitors never venture off the main roads. Even if you aren’t up for a strenuous hike, taking shorter walks or drives to lesser-known parts of the park can offer increased solitude and a new perspective.
- Invest in a pass. Do you plan on visiting multiple national parks on your vacation or throughout the year? If so, investing in an annual pass will help save you money in the long run.
- Be prepared. Though a few national park visitor centers do have food and snacks available, chances are you’ll be far from the nearest restaurant or grocery store for most of the day. Be sure to pack extra water and food to keep yourself energized and properly hydrated.
What to include on your national park packing list
Whether you intend to explore the backcountry on foot or plan on taking more leisurely nature walks, a sturdy pair of hiking shoes is vital. The Merrell Moab 2 Vent hiking shoes have a breathable lining, so your feet stay cool and dry, while an air-cushioned heel keeps you comfortable mile after mile. Available in men’s and women’s sizes.
Serious hikers and backpackers may want to consider ultra-lightweight trekking poles, like the Black Diamond Carbon Z Poles, for their adventure packing list. However, like this set from Trail Buddy, less expensive models can still help improve balance and make hiking up hills or over rocks noticeably easier.
A small daypack will help keep all of your essential items safe and secure while exploring. The Osprey Daylite Plus 20L pack has several easy-to-access zip pockets, side water bottle pouches and is even compatible with a hydration bladder.
Proper sun protection is critical when spending any length of time outdoors. Like the Seattle Sombrero, waterproof full-brimmed hats offer UPF 50+ protection for bright sunny days and a cinch band to keep the hat secure when the wind picks up.
To avoid a painful burn, always apply sunscreen before heading out on any outdoor adventure, especially at higher altitudes where the sun’s rays are stronger. This broad-spectrum hypoallergenic sunscreen has an SPF 50 rating and comes in a convenient spray bottle.
Polarized lenses will be your best friend when navigating winding park roads or hiking around a mountain lake, as they help reduce the amount of glare reflected off nearby surfaces. If you’re looking for a more stylish pair, these Sunski Dipsea glasses block 100 percent of harmful UV rays.
Though you might be safe in your vehicle, once you venture out into nature, you’re bound to run into the occasional swarm of mosquitoes, flies or other annoying insects. Keeping a small travel-size bug spray in your pack is sure to come in handy.
Staying hydrated is imperative to your safety, which is why you should always keep extra water in your car or your pack. Any reusable water bottle will do the trick, but if you’re someone who enjoys their water ice-cold, you should consider a reusable vacuum insulated bottle designed to keep drinks cool for hours.
Along with extra water, keeping a few energy bars handy is also a smart idea. This Clif Bar variety pack keeps your energy levels up while on a long hike or guided tour.
Map or guide
You can usually find a detailed park map and trail guide at the visitor center or entrance booth. Still, a detailed guidebook can help you learn more about the area’s history and provide recommendations about the most popular activities and must-see sights.
First aid kit
Not all areas of the national parks will have cell service, meaning that you must have some standard first aid supplies in the case of an emergency. The Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series has the essential bandages, medications and tools needed to treat minor injuries.
Wildlife viewing is a favorite pastime for national park visitors. To view wildlife up close while still remaining at a safe distance, add a pair of binoculars to your packing list. These Occer Compact Binoculars won’t take up much space in your pack and offer up to 12-times magnification.
Other than the clothes you plan to wear while hiking or exploring, a waterproof rain jacket or windbreaker might be necessary, depending on which national parks you’ll be visiting. Not only will it keep you dry during an unexpected shower, but it can also act as an insulating layer if the temperature drops. It’s available in men’s and women’s sizes.
Aside from professional photographers, most of us are content with taking pictures on our smartphone cameras. For those who want to capture the beautiful scenery in slightly higher quality, or don’t want to drain their phone battery, an inexpensive digital camera is a good alternative. The Canon PowerShot ELPH features 20 megapixels and 8x optical zoom.
When you’re far from a power outlet, the only way to ensure that your phone doesn’t die is to pack a portable charger. Models like the Anker PowerCore are small, lightweight and allow you to fully charge your phone multiple times, letting you continuously photograph or track your progress on a hike.
Matthew Young writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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