You've packed your food. You've weighed your pack. You've mapped out the route. You're ready to hit the trail for a weekend backpacking trip.
Well, you're almost ready.
Before leaving civilization behind, take a few minutes to make sure you have what you need in your wallet. You don't want to get caught unprepared and without money, but you also don't want to risk losing too much on the trails.
Here's what your wallet should hold on a backpacking trip and how you should store it while you're hiking.
On an average hike, the biggest threat to your wallet is the elements.
What to Keep in Your Wallet While Backpacking
Many of the basic rules for what to keep in your wallet while backpacking line up with what you should keep in your wallet all the time. Make sure to always have at least two credit cards on hand, for instance. That'll give you some cushion in case an unforeseen expense eats up more of your line of credit. You also never know when a glitch is going to crash a banking system or when a scammer is going to learn your card info and trigger a bank's fraud protection. Hopefully neither happens to you, but just in case it does, make sure to keep a couple credit cards on you.
One difference about loading up your wallet for a backpacking trip is that you'll want to stash more cash in there than usual. On an average day, many of us never have the need for cash; credit and debit cards do the trick, and smartphone-based apps are rapidly becoming another common form of payment around the world. But backpacking trips take us to the outskirts of rural towns. Stores there may not have upgraded their cash register system. When you've lived off granola and canned food for three days and finally find a diner, that's not a chance you'll want to take. Make sure to keep a debit card in there, too. Cash-only businesses will likely have an ATM for your debit card, as well.
Write out your emergency contact information, and keep it in your wallet. This should include your name and number, in case you drop your wallet on the trail and a friendly hiker picks it up. It should also include the name and number of an emergency contact. No one wants to dwell on the worst-case scenario, but if you get hurt on the trail and someone finds you, the emergency contact info will help that good samaritan get in touch with your loved ones. This should go without saying, but keep an ID with your current address in your wallet, as well.
Keeping Your Wallet Secure
On an average hike, the biggest threat to your wallet is the elements. Just as you should keep rain gear on hand for yourself, you should prepare to protect your wallet in case of a sudden downpour. Use a thick, resealable plastic bag to keep your wallet safe from water.
Popular trails present the added danger of other hikers. Hikers and campers make easy targets for thieves and pickpockets, since they're usually preoccupied with the natural beauty around them. You can minimize your exposure by keeping your money close to your body. Money belts and neck pouches are a classic way to discreetly keep your cash and cards close to your body, beneath your outer layers. You can also look into special bras, long johns and undershirts that are designed with secret money compartments to thwart thieves.
On long backpacking trips, weight distribution becomes crucial to battling fatigue. It may feel wonky to keep a wallet in your pocket, or a money bag might rub up against your body the wrong way. You might end up stashing the wallet in your backpack in that situation, which is fine, but make sure to take that wallet back out as soon as you stop. You may also want to take it out if your hike involves any canoeing or kayaking. Keep your wallet on your person in the boat, so if it flips and you lose your bag, you'll still have your wallet (the waterproof plastic bag will also come in handy here).
Best Ways to Carry Money (or Cards)
Don't leave money, cards or anything valuable in your car at the trailhead. Cars parked at trailheads make extremely easy targets for thieves. You'll be gone for hours, maybe even days, and it only takes a few seconds to smash a window and rifle through your car.
Don't keep all your money in the same place. This will insure you against any bags you lose to the river or any quick snatches from a pickpocket. Keep small bills in the most tempting spots, like in your pocket or an outside pocket of your backpack. That way you won't have to unpack half your camping gear to pull out a $5 bill, but you won't lose too much if something happens to the money. Larger bills, credit cards, debit cards, and ID can go deeper into your backpack or in a money belt beneath all your outer clothes.
Anti-theft bags. If you're seriously concerned about theft or planning on exploring a nearby city after the hike, anti-theft bags might be a worthwhile investment. These bags are specially made with slash-resistant material, hidden pockets, and locking straps and zippers. Short of keeping your money at home, anti-theft bags are about as safe as it gets.
Last but not least, don't carry stuff in your wallet if you don't need it in there. Use the hiking trip as an opportunity to clear the clutter from your wallet. Take out any punch cards from local coffee shops and ask yourself whether you'll ever actually order enough breakfast sandwiches to earn the free one. You also want to limit the sensitive documents in your wallet. You shouldn't have your social security card in your wallet on an average day, and it's even more unnecessary and dangerous to carry on a backpacking trip.