I took a 5-day trip to the Great Smoky Mountains with just a backpack. Here are 9 things I'm glad I packed, and 1 thing I wish I left behind.

  • I recently traveled to the Great Smoky Mountains and packed just a backpack.

  • I was glad I brought layers, my camera, and a physical copy of a good book.

  • But I wish I left my iPad behind.

I usually travel with just a backpack.

From short trips to two-week adventures, I find it's easiest to get around and keep track of my belongings when I pack light. But my five-day trip to the Great Smoky Mountains in April was my first time backpacking in a natural environment, so I called in an expert's help.

I worked with capsule-wardrobe stylist Millie Bentley to pack as efficiently as possible. Bentley has been working as a designer and product developer for the last eight years at Aday, a capsule-wardrobe company that she says creates "minimalist wardrobes for maximal benefits."

Bentley helped me select the ideal attire for hiking, camping, and exploring nearby towns on foot with a rainy forecast, all while taking photos.

Looking back on it, I had everything I needed for this trip, thanks to my previous experiences and Bentley's suggestions. But there's one thing I barely used that I wish I left behind for this nature getaway: my iPad.

In April, I took a five-day trip to the Great Smoky Mountains with just a backpack.

The author in a green hat, glasses, and a raincoat with a black backpack on in front of road in the woods lined with cabins
The author spent four nights in the Great Smoky Mountains.Joey Hadden/Insider

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From toiletries to camera gear, I had everything I needed for my trip's activities, from hiking to camping. But looking back on it, I could have packed even lighter.

A white sheet behind everything the author packed, The top row shows toiletries, books, and tech gear. The bottom row has A vertical line of folded blue and black clothing
Everything the author packed for her five-day trip.Joey Hadden/Insider

One of the most important things I packed was a raincoat because, for the majority of my trip, it was pouring outside.

The author braces the rain.
The author braces the rain.Joey Hadden/Insider

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With rain and cool temperatures in the mornings and evenings, I was glad I brought layers that I could take off when it got warmer.

From left to right:  and a row of two rolled-up shirts and two fold-up long sleeve layers that are gray, black, navy blue folded teal pants, folded black pants, a folded blue and yellow t shirt, folded gray leggings, and a stack of four pairs of blue and black socks, a light blue tank top, and five pairs of dark-colored underwear, all on a white sheet
The author brought two jackets and a handful of other clothing items that could be layered.Joey Hadden/Insider

Read more: I worked with a capsule-wardrobe stylist to pack sustainably with just a backpack for a 5-day trip to the Great Smoky Mountains. Here's what I brought.

Since it was raining most of the time, packing layers made of thin, moisture-wicking materials that dried quickly made my trip easier.

The author's quick-dry shirts
The author's quick-dry shirts.Joey Hadden/Insider

When it came to toiletries, body wipes and a rag were essential for cleaning dirt off of my face and body after spending time outside. This especially came in handy when I went out to lunch directly after hiking or camping.

A white background with (left to right) a black packagee of body wipes, a white scrunchy, a white electric toothbrush, a pink rag, a black and white striped sweatband, and a white package of laundry sheets. Red arrows point at the wipes and rag.
Wipes and a rag with the rest of the author's toiletries.Joey Hadden/Insider

Read more: I stayed in a luxury tent near a national park that costs $520 per night. It felt more like a hotel room and made me feel connected to nature.

To keep myself hydrated, I brought a reusable water bottle. From campsites to surrounding towns, I had plenty of opportunities to refill it. Plus, I was able to keep track of how much water I was drinking.

Two photos of a person with a blue-collared shirt behind a black Patagonia backpack. In the left image, the author's hand slides an orange bottle into thee left pocket of the backpack. In the right image, she holds a thumbs up.
The author's packed bag with a water bottle in the side pocket.Joey Hadden/Insider

Source: Gatlinburg Sustainability

For shoes, I was glad I only packed one pair of water-resistant trainers. Since they were a neutral color, they matched every outfit.

Left image: the author's hand at the top of the image holds a black pair of shoes facing the camera head-on in front of a bed with a white sheet and clothes on top. Right image: Left image: the author's hand at the top of the image holds a black pair of shoes turned sideways in front of a bed with a white sheet and clothes on top.
The author brought neutral water-resistant trainers.Joey Hadden/Insider

The Great Smoky Mountains are unsurprisingly full of dramatic landscapes, so I thought my camera was worth making room for.

Arial view of a black camera and a detached black lens on a white sheet.
The author brought her camera and two lenses.Joey Hadden/Insider

Read more: 15 photos that will transport you to the Great Smoky Mountains, from cozy cabin views to jaw-dropping landscapes

I also found the natural scenes to be inspiring and thought-provoking, so bringing a journal was a smart move. By the end of the trip, it was nearly full.

An open notebook with written words, a red book mark, and a red pen on top sits on top of a yellow and gray rug with a geometric pattern
The author's full journal after her trip.Joey Hadden/Insider

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A really good paperback helped me unplug and avoid looking at screens during my trip. Getting lost in a physical copy of a book always helped me relax.

The author in bed with a window above her wears a navy cardigan and a red book opened in front of her face
The author reads "Overland" by Richard Kaufmann in a tent while camping on her trip.Joey Hadden/Insider

But with nature all around me, I should have left my iPad behind. While it came in handy on the plane, I hardly used it otherwise.

Left image: a white iPad with Procreate open and a tile of artwork made in the app. Right image: A grassy meadow with a circle of dark green chairs around a fire pit with trees in the backgound.
The author was so immersed in nature that she barely used her iPad.Joey Hadden/Insider

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During my trip, I was impressed with myself for having everything I needed. And next time I'm on a nature getaway, I'll leave the extra electronics behind.

The author in a blue polo standing on the patio with the black fence and mountains and trees in the background. There's a wooden pillar on the left side at the fence's corner. The sky is gray and hazy.
The author stands in front of a smoky, mountain view on her trip.Joey Hadden/Insider

Read more: I traveled to Europe for 13 days with just one backpack. Here are the best things I packed and 4 items I wished I left at home.

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