A question that I hear often from people that are new to hiking or backpacking is, “What do I need to know? Do I just head out to the trail and start walking?” While this may sound like a good idea, it’s not a safe idea. The number of rescues or recoveries from lost or ill-prepared hikers is staggering. So, as you enter the New Year with aspirations to get in touch with nature and your inner-self, please don’t just walk into the woods without understanding that, while walking is easy as you just put one foot in front of the other, hiking can be dangerous if you’re not prepared. Becoming a statistic is probably not how you want to start out the New Year.
Whether you’re planning a multiple day backpacking adventure or just a day hike, it’s important to be prepared for an emergency, as well as being aware of the weather. You should pack wisely for every trip, and always be prepared for the possibility to spend a night or two out in the woods, and potentially in bad weather. This is especially important if you’re hiking alone, mountaineering, traversing low traffic areas, or even in a state park during the off season or during the week. Though, even if you may be hiking with others, and in high traffic areas, you should still pack some core essential food and safety items.
One thing that is often overlooked by day hikers are things like situational medications and even preventative prescription medications which you might need in the case of an emergency. Such as medications for temporary pain & fever relief, allergies, bee stings, poison ivy, and your own specific health condition medications for things like seizures, high blood pressure, low blood sugar, ect., that you may need to have just in case you unintentionally have to spend a few nights waiting for rescue. Remember to pack these items in a waterproof container or a Ziploc bag. If your life depends on a medication don’t leave home or hike without it.
Another thing that is really important, and that I always see day hikers without, is water. Of course, when packing for an overnight or longer backpacking trip, this is a must. Backpackers should always be knowledgeable of the availability and the condition of any water sources along your journey and plan for water drops if needed. However, for any hike, long or short, you should always bring plenty of water. Avoid soda, sports drinks, dairy, juice, coffee, or alcohol, and also use a reusable bottle, please. Dehydration is sneaky fast, and can lead to cramping, overheating, fatigue, hypothermia, unclear thinking, and even death.
There are many good hiking websites, Blogs, and Vlog sites that you can to refer to for what you should pack for every type of hiking experience. However, I prefer to reference the professionals from REI or Backpacker.com for best practices. And remember to please pack out what you pack in. The woods or shelters are not your personal garbage dump. If you’re new to hiking, or even an experienced hiker, there are many free opportunities by your local hiking clubs, REI, or local Outfitter that you can take advantage of to get familiarized or refreshed on the best hiking practices for yourself and the environment.
Most importantly, always let someone know your hike location, route, and expected itinerary. If you’re hiking in an area with little to no cell reception, you’ll want to let your contact know that you won’t be checking in every day, and more likely, not until the end of your trip or when you can reach cell service. Then, don’t forget to check in when you’re done with your hike. Let’s not waste the service of any rescue team because you decided to stop for ice cream and forgot to call mom, who’s been sitting at home worrying about you getting eaten by a bear. Just remember, it’s really hard to find someone if the rescue team doesn’t even know where to start looking for you.
Here is a link to my current gear list that I have for various levels of hiking. Which backpack and gear that I take is dependent on many variables of the trip. Disclaimer: I’m not a hiking expert so my list or advice is by far not a call to action; Pack your own pack and take a hiking class first, before you just step into the woods. Be_smart…Be_again.