WHAT TO BRING ON A HIKE
When you enter nature’s domain you leave behind the warmth and shelter of the home and hearth. You can’t pull over for food or water if you are tired or thirsty. You can’t call for help if you get hurt. You can’t go inside if it starts to rain or snow. You can’t ask for directions if you get lost. You are on your own.
Backpacking is the art and science of self sufficiency in the backcountry. Backpacking is carrying ponderous loads of fifty to seventy pounds at a slow but inexorable pace to get to the next campsite. Backpacking is mobile camping. It is a subset of hiking. The backpacker’s primary concerns are shelter and food preparation. These are of no concern to hikers. Hiking is about moving through nature. Backpacking is about stopping in nature.
As a novice hiker, it is best to start out under the most favorable environmental conditions. A long summer day with temperatures in the 70’s and no rain in the forecast constitute the ideal. The absolute minimum equipment baseline is predicated on these conditions. The need for other equipment items becomes manifest when hiking under other than ideal conditions.
Hiking Boots should be ankle high with thick, slip resistant soles. If you have sensitive feet prone to injury, a pair on the more expensive side may be warranted. They should be broken in to mitigate chafing induced blisters. Many hiking boots claim to be waterproof. While they may stand up to intermittent rain or to an inadvertent step into a stream, they will not keep your feet dry in a deluge or in wet snow. Only rubber boots will do that.
Hiking Socks consist of an inner set of liners and an outer set of thick wool. The sock liners are synthetic. Their function is to wick the sweat away from your feet so it can be absorbed in the outer wool layer. This is important. Wet socks contribute to the generation of “hot spots” which are incipient blisters. Thick wool outer socks are durable, warm and absorbent.
Hiking Clothing is to an extent a matter of choice. One can hike in anything. A few points are important, however. Long pants cover the legs, protecting them from all of the things with thorns that line the trail. They also reduce the amount of exposed skin that attracts stinging and biting insects, such as mosquitoes and ticks. Synthetic pants are better than cotton or denim pants, since they rapidly dry after getting wet from either sweat or rain. A long sleeved shirt has advantages similar to long pants in mitigating bramble and insect damage to the skin. The sleeves can be rolled up in hot weather or while going up hill, and rolled down when needed to afford some protection.
A Hat with a broad brim is best, as it protects the face and neck from the sun. The effect of the sun’s rays is insidious. Higher altitude results in less atmospheric absorption of ultraviolet rays. The duration of the hike contributes as well, as one can spend well over six hours on the trail and not think about the potential effects of the sun. You wouldn’t sit on the beach that long.
A Bandanna is an article of apparel with multiple uses. It can be tied around the head as a sweat band (often needed on the uphill climbs), it can be tied around the neck to keep the sun off, and, of course, it can be used to blow your nose. As these functions are somewhat mutually exclusive, two bandannas may be appropriate.
Backpacks are articles of apparel for hikers. There are things that you absolutely must have and that are difficult if not impossible to carry otherwise. Backpacks come in myriad sizes, colors and qualities. The fundamental rule is that it has to be big enough to carry everything you could use while hiking. For clement weather, a small daypack will do. Those with drawstrings are best, as zippers tend to get jammed. They also leak.
Water is mandatory for hiking. If you fail to stay adequately hydrated, you will suffer from a variety of symptoms, among which are dizziness and disorientation, not very auspicious attributes for hiking over rocky, uneven trails. Two liters of water are adequate for most people on most hikes.
Food is the second only to water, as hiking involves burning calories. Unless you have adequate fat stored up, you will eventually run out of energy. As most hikers are or eventually become lean, energy must be ingested on a fairly regular basis. Foods high in carbohydrates such as bread and starchy vegetables are good. Fruits are excellent sugar sources. Meats are not good. Their digestion requires too much energy which is needed for the muscles of the legs, not the stomach. Commercial, energy products such as power bars and their ilk are okay, but unnecessary. “Trail food” such as GORP (Good old raisins and peanuts) and other similar concoctions are good sources of quick energy that will not slow you down.
A Trail Map is always advisable. You can do without it as long as you know where you are and nothing goes wrong. But Murphy’s Law applies. If it can go wrong, it will.
A Poncho is a mobile tent. Even on days when the weather report calls for clear skies, rain in the mountains is always a possibility. Invest in a good poncho, you won’t regret it. A cheap plastic poncho will keep the rain out, but you will suffocate under it. A cheap Gore-Tex® poncho won’t suffocate you, but it won’t keep the rain out. Most outfitters have good quality ponchos that keep the ran out and breathe.
A Flashlight with Spare Batteries should always be carried as an insurance policy. Although it is almost always intended to finish the hike in daylight, the exigencies of the trail may result in unanticipated delays. Staying on the trail in the dark is almost impossible.
Sunglasses and Sunscreen protect the eyes and skin from the ravages of the bright sun. The joys of a perfect day of hiking are mitigated by the discomfiture of a night of sunburn.
Toilet Paper may seem an extravagance, but dry leaves don’t work very well. When nature calls, pine needles may be the only material available.
A Compass works much better than looking for moss on the side of a tree and assuming that it marks north. It doesn’t. Knowing the direction you are going in can become vitally important if you get disoriented. This often happens, as trails follow contours and not straight lines.
A First Aid Kit should have bandages, disinfectant, and first aid cream for cuts and bruises. Aspirin, Tylenol or ibuprofen are good for aches and pains that even veteran hikers are subject to. Mole skin is the panacea for blistered feet. It is in essence a thick bandage with excellent adhesive that is cut to fit over the ridges of the feet and toes. It provides a second skin to insulate the feet from hot spots. Band-Aids don’t work at all, as they trap heat and exacerbate a blister. Lip balm is frequently needed for chapped lips.
A Pocket Knife with several blades including scissors is an invaluable tool. Among other things, it is an adjunct to the first aid kit for cutting bandages. It is also useful in food preparation should the need arise.
A Whistle is a warning and an alarm device. If you get hurt and need help, three blasts is the universal signal for distress.
Water Purification Tablets are an insurance policy for running out of water. Most trails eventually cross or parallel water sources.
Gaiters are zip up leggings that protect the boot tops and shins. They are invaluable in thorny or wet underbrush to protect the lower legs. They can also be sprayed with insect repellent to deter ticks.
Spare Socks are a must. If your feet get wet, as often happens at stream crossings, the only remedy is dry socks. If you start to get a hot spot, the most effective palliative is to change socks. (It should be noted that blisters are caused by heat and heat is caused by friction. Hiking is in the simplest engineering sense a friction process. The more repetitive the motion, the more friction and heat. Flat terrain is more repetitive than hilly terrain. This means that you are much more likely to get blisters while road walking than while mountain hiking.)
Matches or a Lighter can be used to light a fire as a last resort if all else fails and you end up lost in the woods at night. It can get cold, even in summer.
Insect Repellant is sometimes the only way to keep flying insects from turning a pleasant hike into an ordeal. Hikes through areas with stagnant water in the spring and summer can be thick with gnats drawn inexorably to the moisture on the eyes and nose.