Hiking is a phenomenal activity that offers a vast array of health benefits, both physical and psychological. Entering nature, breathing the fresh air, and exploring the trails safely is one of the best things you can do for yourself, with friends, and with family. As the country slowly but surely shifts its mindset to more fully embrace our natural resources as the fragile treasures that they are, hiking as a pastime is becoming increasingly popular. In its simplest form, it might seem as simple as just walking out your front door, finding a mountain, park, or other kind of trail that speaks to your interests, and just putting one foot in front of the other. The good news is that in many ways, you are absolutely right! However, there are definitely a few best practices every beginning hiker should adopt to improve the quality of their experience. Be sure to pack these items, especially as the duration of your hikes gets longer and longer over time. With this assortment of gear, you will be in a much better position to have a safer, more comfortable, and more fulfilling hiking experience.
The Right Footwear
Short day hikes can often be completed with something as simple as sufficiently supportive sneakers, although you should always take into account the quality of the trail on which you will be traveling. The best option, if possible, is to purchase a nice pair of trail shoes for shorter term hiking adventures. However, when you will be hiking for a longer period of time, with a pack, or on technical terrain, a fantastic pair of hiking boots is a must-have. They offer more support than shoes and are specifically designed to keep your feet feeling good and moving forward.
Tools To Find Your Way Home
One of the most important things against which you need to protect yourself on the trail is the possibility of getting lost. Even on shorter trips or trails with which you feel very familiar, inclement weather or simply one wrong turn can be enough to totally throw off your sense of direction. Packing both a map and a compass is absolutely nonnegotiable when it comes to safe hiking habits. Just as importantly – be sure you know who to use them both! Learning how to read a map and use the compass cannot be overstated in terms of importance. In a bad situation, you will have everything you need to find a campsite, water, or an emergency exit route. Preparing for a hiking trip by brushing up on these skills could possibly save your life. GPS units have also become more popular over time, but, as with nearly all technology, it is never 100% guaranteed to get the job done. Therefore, even if you do hike with a GPS, keep a map and compass on your person as well.
Help For Hydration
When your body begins to run too low on water, its muscles and organs begin a slow and painful degradation process that, in the absolute worst scenarios, will result in internal failures. Dehydration, especially when hiking, is a dangerous threat to your wellbeing. Brining more than enough water (and, ideally, a way to purify water) defends against that danger. Although hiking may not always feel especially arduous, newcomers to the activity often find themselves surprised at how rapidly the steady exertion of energy depletes your body’s stores of water. Not drinking enough water can do much more than just leave you parched. It increases your susceptibility to altitude sickness and hypothermia. Make sure you consume plenty of water out on the trail!
Don’t Hike On An Empty Stomach
When you are out on the trail, and especially if your hiking trip is going to span multiple days, it is important to acknowledge that anything can happen. A great plan is always important, but always strive to be prepared for the unexpected. Difficult terrain, an injury, or simply losing your way for any number of reasons could extend the duration of your time out exposed to the elements considerably. Packing extra food is a critical safety measure to ensure that even if challenging scenarios do arise, you will be able to keep your energy and your morale high.
Layers Are King
Rain gear and extra clothing are also fantastic to remember on hiking trips. Weather is notoriously fickle, and clear skies can become torrential downpours with little to no warning. Again, planning is always crucial, but some things are just impossible to anticipate. Your trip preparation needs to reflect this reality. Should you find yourself subject to unkind changes in the weather like rain or sudden drops in temperature, you need to be sure you can remain dry and comfortable. Dressing in layers allows you to adjust what you wear to best suit current conditions. Rain gear is necessary to keep you dry, even if you did not expect to get wet. Just be sure to avoid cotton which traps moisture close to your skin. Do not forget a hat!
Safety Gear Saves The Day
Three major tools to always be sure to bring along are a light source, a whistle, and something to help you make a fire. If you find yourself out and evening is falling, you need to be sure you can still navigate safely. A flashlight or headlamp will help you remain aware of your surroundings, keep moving, and even allow you to read your map. Should disaster strike, a whistle works way better than yelling to call for help. Remember the pattern for an emergency to call for help – three short bursts at a time. Similarly, fires can help signal that you are in need of help. Beyond that, if you find yourself waiting for rescue or staying out even when the temperature has dropped significantly, fire will stave off hypothermia and keep you warm.
Don’t Forget First-Aid
First-aid kits are such a staple of a hiker’s lifestyle that you are certain to find prepackaged kits available for purchase at just about any outfitter. Just as important as to having access to the tools in a first-aid kit, however, is having the knowledge of how to use them. Take a first-aid class. Whether it be the kind of simple instructional offered by the American Red Cross or something more intensive like a Wilderness First Aid course, knowledge is certainly power – in this case, potentially the power to save a life.
Stop The Sun
When spending an extended amount of time outdoors, particularly once your hikes take you above the treelike, you could experience scorching exposure to sunlight. If it is snowing, the glare of the light will only intensify its effect. Sun glasses and sun screen will protect your eyes and your skin from harm. Snow blindness and sunburn are both threats that may be simple to overlook but could serious damage your experience outdoors and your body. Do not underestimate the importance of protecting yourself against too much sunlight.
Find A Knife
A knife has a large number of helpful applications out on the trail. Some may be obvious like cutting foliage as needed for fire. However, you may also find yourself doing things like cutting cloth into strips for bandages. A multipurpose tool brings knives to the next level by giving you what you need to do such specialized tasks as fixing eyeglasses or making any other number of repairs on damaged gear.
Pack It Up
This is certainly a lot of things! Purchase a daypack or backpack to hold all these critical tools comfortably. The best packs are designed specifically to do this comfortably and smartly. Always remember a rain cover to protect your gear from water damage. Once you find the right pack for you, load it up with all these helpful resources and have the time of your life hitting the great outdoors!