I’ve been enjoying working my ass off on my dissertation (not really) and getting my ass kicked on the trail (really). Hiking, as I have come to learn, is really fun, nearly free, and a challenge for both mind and body. Last week I had my first challenging local hike up to the peak of the local mountains in my city. We climbed nearly 2,500 feet in a fast paced 4.5 hours and enjoyed a breathtaking view of the city. Sitting at the top I realized that beginners need to know a few things before heading to the trail. Fortunately, the American Hiking Society has a great list you should review before you hit the trails.
1. Appropriate footwear. For a short day hike that doesn’t involve a heavy pack or technical terrain, basic low-cut trail shoes are great. For longer hikes, carrying heavier loads, or more technical terrain, hiking boots offer more support. Always wear good-quality wool or synthetic socks that wick the moisture away from your feet.
2. Map and compass/GPS. A map and compass not only tell you where you are and how far you have to go, they can help you find campsites, water, and an emergency exit route in case of an accident. While GPS units are very useful, always carry a map and compass as a backup.
3. Extra water and a way to purify it. Without enough water, your body’s muscles and organs simply can’t perform as well. Consuming too little water will not only make you thirsty, but susceptible to hypothermia and altitude sickness.
4. Extra food. Any number of things could keep you out longer than expected: getting lost, enjoying time by a stream, an injury, or difficult terrain. Extra food with high nutritional value will help keep up energy and morale.
5. Rain gear and extra clothing. Because the weatherman is not always right. Dressing in layers allows you to adjust to changing weather and activity levels. Two rules: avoid cotton (it keeps moisture close to your skin) and always carry a hat.
6. Safety items: fire, light, and a whistle. The warmth of a fire and a hot drink can help prevent hypothermia. Fires are also a great way to signal for help if you get lost. If lost, you’ll also want the whistle, because it is more effective than using your voice to call for help. (Use 3 short bursts.) And just in case you’re out later than planned, a flashlight/headlamp is a must-have item to see your map and where you’re walking.
7. First aid kit. Pre-packaged first aid kits for hikers are available at any outfitter. Double your effectiveness with knowledge: take a first aid class with the American Red Cross or a Wilderness First Aid class.
8. Knife or multi-purpose tool. These enable you to cut strips of cloth into bandages, remove splinters, fix broken eyeglasses, and perform a whole host of repairs on malfunctioning gear.
9. Sun screen and sun glasses. Especially above treeline, where there is a skin-scorching combination of sun and snow, you’ll need sunglasses to prevent snow blindness and sunscreen to prevent sunburn.
10. Daypack/backpack. You’ll want a well-fitted pack that you can carry comfortably. It should be outfitted with handy pockets and other features designed to keep you hiking smartly. Don’t forget the rain cover; some packs come with one built-in. Keep the other 10 Essentials of Hiking in the pack and you’ll always be ready to hit the trail safely.