If you’re into gear the internet of full of gear reviews, big 3 lists and dog gear lists. Any piece of gear you’re into you can probably find a list telling you it’s the best one for you. That’s not what this list is about. 

Today I want to share with you 5 items that are generally considered to be non-essential but I wouldn’t go without. As someone who backpacks with a dog I view gear a little differently and these items helps us both have a safer and more enjoyable time. Most of these items I’ve carried for more than 3000miles 

Earth Runners – Circadian 

When looking for a camp shoe I spent a lot of time searching options and ended up going with Earth Runners because they not only made a product that met my desired specifications but also aligned with my own values. I wanted something light, secure and would allow a natural gait. Most nights when I get to camp I’m honestly too tired to need camp shoes because I just go to bed but they continue to come with me on every trip for other reasons.

Hiking the PCT with Frank during peak snow melt in Washington meant some intimidating river crossings. Not wanting to get my shoes soaked and risk blisters I would always switch to these for crossings. They are extremely secure, had excellent grip on the river rocks and allowed me to be very stable and confident in my footing when assisting Frank across rivers. Before having a dog I always went barefoot but with Franks safety in my hands (literally) I needed to take a more responsible approach and protect myself from pokey or slippery rocks so I could focus entirely on getting him across. 

I also really enjoy having another footwear option when my shoes are soaked. These allow my feet to get lots of air flow and dry out which reduced damage and pain from blisters and fungal infections. 

Aside from being a great addition to my backpacking kit I also wear them in day to day life to keep my feet healthy and strong, connect me to the earth and help with a sweet looking sandal tan. 

My EarthRunners coming in super hand after my foot and ankle swelled up from stepping on a yellow jacket nest when barefoot

Garmin inReach

For many years I held this ridiculous mentality that technology didn’t belong in the backcountry and that safety beacons and satellite devices allowed people to be more irresponsible. All that changed when I was preparing to hike the PCT with Frank. We would not only be walking into unfamiliar territory in remote wilderness, and would face many unknown variables. For his safety I decided to bite the bullet and get a inReach with a unlimited texting plan. Now I am a huge advocate. 

When wildfires broke out ahead of us on the PCT friends were able to reach us right away and warn us to go into the next town. When we reached the desert and I had to carry tons of water friends ahead could communicate direct from inReach to inReach and give us real time water updates saving me unnecessary weight. In Oregon when the extreme heat result in several really challenging weeks I was able to communicate with family giving me the strength to keep going. 

Then this spring when Frank developed a mysterious and aggressive infection we were able to message a local friend for extraction which saved Franks life. We weren’t on a huge adventure or in dangerous terrain, and there was nothing I could have done to avoid it. It was a completely unexpected situation and I was so thankful to past me for spending the money to be fully prepared to help Frank in case of emergency. 

We’ve never had to use the SOS button, and I hope we never do. Having the ability of two-way communication has allowed us to avoid sever disasters and push through hard times. We spend so much time out of cell range that I no longer have a cell phone and instead use the satellite texting feature as my only form of communication when I can’t access wifi. 

Aside from communication I’ve found the ability to get localized weather predictions helpful in day to day planning and the map and tracking features have been a great tool in exploration and foraging endeavours. 

Straight from the trail to the vet made possible by a text sent out from my inReach to a friend. I wish I had a pic of me carrying him on my shoulders but there was no time for that and the vet said that had we been out another night he probably wouldn’t have survived.
It was a freak infection and he is alive because I have the inReach <3

SOG Knives – Vulcan 

Before you come at me for calling a knife nonessential hear me out. It’s not my opinion, I believe carrying a knife is a essential but a lot of people would argue against carrying one. I’ve always been a knife carrying person and can’t imagine that ever changing. I choose SOG Knives because dependability is important to me and this one in particular for it’s quality steel, secure locking mechanism and ascetically pleasing design. 

Whether in the backcountry or not life’s full of unknowns and for me the versatile nature of a quality knife is worth it’s weight 100%. Several times Frank and I have ended drenched and freezing seeking shelter in cabins with pellet stoves. The only reason I could ever get a fire going was because my knife allowed me to make wood shavings that would light easily and eventually get the pellets going. The same is true for starting fires with damp wood. I can use my knife to get in to the dry stuff and get a fire started. In these situations we would both have been really uncomfortable or at risk of hypothermia without a knife. 

On the PCT I had a maniac come after Frank with a large stick and then track us down with mace threatening us. It’s a long story but my knife gave me a lot of comfort and having it visible  surely deterred him from becoming more aggressive. I could see his eyes going between my knife and us as he tried to calculate whether or not we were actually a risk, which we weren’t. The man clearly had mental health issues and while it was a freak situation it’s a good example of how you never know what will happen. 

Aside from emergencies I find having a knife handy in a more day to day setting when it comes to food. After a week on trail all I want when I get to town is fruit and veggies and who wants to open their avacado with a spoon or stick? Not me. I’ve also used my knife for foraging, to remove slivers, open stubborn food packages and repair gear. 

My favourite knife with a fresh harvest of morel mushrooms found along the side of the trail

Massage Ball

Backpacking with Frank means my load is usually heavier than it otherwise would be and this definitely takes it’s toll on my body. Most of our PCT thru-hike I was in moderate to severe pain from plantar fasciitis and picking up a small, lightweight massage ball was a game changer. Being able to roll out my feet and calves helped immensely and over time I began to prioritize self care on trail. Now I carry my massage ball with me on all backpacking trips and enjoy a rolling session each morning with coffee while Frank enjoys sleeping in a bit longer. 

Frank enjoying sleeping in while I prepare my feet and calves for another day.
I considered posting a pic of the ball but this is so much cuter!

Piece of Tarp

This is a fairly new addition to my kit and I only have about 500 miles experience carrying a piece of Sil-Nylon material, but the longer it’s been with me the more useful I’ve managed to make it. Initially I brought a piece of tarp material to use as a rain skirt but found it to be useful in so many other ways. In face I never once used it as a skirt because I found keeping my foam mat dry for when we reached camp was more important. When it’s cold, wet or windy I use it to cover my legs and Frank during breaks which he really enjoys and keeps him from getting too cold. If it’s raining and we really need a decent length break I will rig it up as a little shelter for us to huddle under. I can also use it to create shade if we need to get out of the sun before reaching the trees. The piece I carry isn’t big enough to actually sleep under so it’s very light and compact. It’s really just a rectangular scrap from a larger tarp that got shredded but I keep finding new uses and don’t plan on leaving it behind any time soon. 

A quick shelter set up to get out of the rain only to have the sun appear
Frank retaining heat thanks to the tarp during a chilly break on the PCT

I hope by sharing my gear preferences it shows that just because an item isn’t generally considered to be necessary it doesn’t mean it can’t be valuable. Yes, keeping your load as light as possible is a really go idea but sometimes a few ‘extra’ items can really improve your experience and safety. For me the weight of these items is absolutely worth it and I won’t let anyone shame me out of carrying them. My top priority is Franks safety and having a great time together.

If you’re looking for more advice or stories about thru-hiking and backpacking with a dog check out my podcast WALK9 Radio and follow us on instagram @walk9radio and @tidelinetoalpine. I am also on Facebook where I share post that are unique to the platform.

Thank you for reading and have fun out there!