If you do any backpacking at all, you are probably familiar with the kitbag. The kitbag is that sack of odds and ends that contains those essential items like bandaids, buttons and matches. You may call it a repair kit or even a survival kit, the kitbag is the backpacking equivelent to the “junk drawer”.
The kitbag is a very personal collection of stuff. It is not something you buy at REI or EMS, even though they sell their own version of one. The kitbag represents all the “little” stuff you feel is important enough to carry on your back and into the woods. Most of the contents will reflect your personal experiences. For instance, I carried a frame pin in my kitbag for many years because I broke one on the trail long ago and didn’t have a replacement. I also carry a bit more moleskin than most because of a serious case of blisters. The kitbag is a perpetually upgraded list of items that usually changes a bit with every hike.
A 1987 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail had a profound impact on my kitbag. Carrying a backpack for six months is one of the best ways I know for determining what is essential in a kitbag. Weight becomes the primary issue and most long distance hikers will chuck anything that will cut heft. We’re talking grams, here, folks! The definition of ‘essential’ changes the longer that ‘pack is on your back.
My kitbag was stuffed into a 3″ by 6″ by 8″ nylon zippered pouch for years. This style pouch sits upright even when its open, making it easy to access the myriad of items inside. I’ve had mine now for 10 years and it still performs like new. You’ll be opening it often, so make sure it has good zipper. Recently I’ve swapped out the smaller pouch for a larger bag (see above). After seeing Vincentoli’s kitbag, I had to upgrade. The new kitbag pouch is made from a transparent plastic covered with mesh. This allows the light to penetrate the pouch and makes it easy to sort through the “bits ‘n bobs” that define the kitbag. The larger size keeps me from having to remove items in order to get at stuff inside.
The contents of my kitbag fall into 3 catagories: first aid kit, repair kit, and everything else. The first aid kit is contained in a quart Zip Lock and has only the basics. I change most of the contents and the Zip Lock once a year. As well as an assortment of bandages, it also contains aspirin, antihistamine tablets, chapstick, antacid, moleskin, and Neosporin. If you have dangerous allergies, you may want to add an antihistamine and an emergency “epi-pen” injection. If you are traveling with a group, you may want to consider a larger first aid kit among you.
I have my repair kit stuffed into a small, light weight and waterproof aluminum box. I like this box because it allows me to carry all the tiny bits together without worrying about the bag breaking or puncturing and it is really easy to get at all that miniscule stuff. My repair box currently contains: storm matches, Bic lighter, 5 asst needles, hooks, 15 feet of fishing line, tweezers, tiny sewing awl with waxed thread, 2 ‘cards’ of thread, asst safety pins, extra cord lock, 2″ nail, adhesive backed nylon for patching, roll of dental floss (without the box), asst buttons, tiny folding scissors, tiny razor-sharp folding knife, micro LED flashlight, 6V battery for primary flashlight, MSR replacement stove parts and a stove tool. All that junk fits neatly into the box, believe it or not!
Everything else fills the up rest of the pouch. These are usually the larger, waterproof items. There is my primary flashlight, parachute cord, extra eyeglasses, some toilet paper in a Zip Lock bag, and my tooth brush. Sometimes I add a lightweight polypro hat and gloves. There is usually a Blisters Game stuffed in there for emergency entertainment. The contents are arranged like a file folder for easy access and minimal fumbling.
No doubt my kitbag will continue to evolve as I gain experience. I’m sure there will be cool new gadgets and neato technology to stuff in there from the future but I bet most of the stuff from the past will always have a place in my kitbag. No matter what goes into your kitbag, you’ll appreciate its usefulness during your own expeditions.