Hiking is a great way to get away from the routine of normal life and the hustle and bustle of urban areas. It allows you the ability to experience what life was like before skyscrapers sprouted and interstates were laid out, when the wilderness ruled. Taking a walk through a dense forest or scaling a mountain is an activity not often rivaled by something we do everyday. It’s fresh, enjoyable and it’s a way to reset.
Miles away from the nearest road and even more miles away from civilization, there’s a lot that can go wrong. Issues can range anywhere from injuring yourself to meeting a momma bear all the way to getting utterly lost. So how can you explore the great outdoors while mitigating the risks that go along with it?
First step is to plan your hike. Chances are you already researched good trails in your area and decided on one, that’s a good start. You know where you will be and can let your friends and family know where you will be in case of an emergency. Next step is to research the local wildlife and potentially dangerous plants/animals. Is the destination roamed by cougars and bears or is there widespread poison ivy and other harmful flora? Know the risks before you even pack your bags, this way you can pack with those risks in mind. At this point, if you have a map of the trail you will be hiking, print it out and store it in a Ziploc bag for safe keeping. If you do not have the trail mapped, find a topographical map of that region online and take that with you in a bag.
If you plan on hiking, you should have a pack to carry. I will write up an article on how to choose a pack in the future but what kind of pack you choose is up to your personal preferences. My best recommendation for now would be about a 20 liter pack. That’s a good size for a day hike, yet it can fit enough gear to support you for a night or two. Do your research and maybe try on a couple to decide what is the most comfortable for your body. Everyone is different so you’ll have to figure this one out without me. Just ensure that you could feasibly carry up to 25 pounds for 3 days (this is to plan for the worst case scenario while day-hiking). If you feel the pack would get unbearable under those circumstances, keep looking.
So you found your pack and it’s amazing. Now to fulfill it’s destiny and carry your gear! What I do before each trip is I lay out my supplies on the floor and ensure that I’m not forgetting anything. Once again, what you pack is dependent on your environment. You wouldn’t carry a ice axe while hiking in Florida. I will list out some general supplies you should bring everywhere and I will try to keep it down to just the essentials to cut weight as much as possible.
The 3 necessities for life are shelter, water and food, in that order. Yes shelter is more important than water because hypothermia can kill quicker than thirst. Just as there’s 3 basic necessities, these necessities go by the rules of 3 also. The average human can go 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. Easy to remember and accurate enough to keep you alive. So based on the above, what is the first thing you should ensure you have? Yes, shelter. This can be anything from tools to make a shelter to a tarp or basha, as long as you have a plan to build some shelter to protect you from the elements, you have that necessity covered. That would make a great article so I will try and post about making shelter in the future as well. A quick type of shelter is rain gear. I carry a gore-tex jacket with me on every hike, just in case it rains. Wet clothing can be deadly, even in 60 degree weather. While it cannot be your shelter on it’s own, a rain jacket can be very helpful while you prepare your real shelter.
Next necessity is water. A Nalgene bottle can be bought for around 6 or 7 dollars and will hold 32 ounces of water or one quart. The hard plastic is renown for it’s durability and it’s wide mouth can easily scoop up clean creek water. These are what I would recommend because a Nalgene is just so simple and inexpensive yet so indispensible. I would carry two at all times when out hiking. That would give you a possible half gallon of water at any given moment, plus a half gallon only weighs around 4 pounds. If you want to carry more, that’s also good but be advised that each full Nalgene will add about 2 pounds to your pack. What Charlene and I do is we will fill a Camelback bladder, 100 ounces or 28 ounces less than a gallon, and carry that along with 2 empty Nalgene bottles. We normally hike around water so we purchased an MSR Sweetwater pump filter for acquiring water on the hike. It has an adapter for the Nalgene’s wide mouth and takes about 90 seconds to fill a Nalgene up. In North America, waterborne viruses are not much of a threat but bacteria or protozoa (cryptosporidia, e. coli) are. It’s important to purify any water you find, whether by iodine tablets/drops or by a water filter. Research water purification methods and choose one to carry along with you on any hike you take.
Next is food. Most of us can make it through a dayhike without eating but we are planning for the worst case scenario here. At the very minimum, bring a few protein bars. A protein bar is very light and small yet packs a nutritious punch when you need it. I carry Mountain House freeze dried meals. One package can weigh a couple ounces yet can yield a full meal after adding water. It would be best practice to toss one or two of these in your pack, and don’t worry, they actually are very tasty and have a lot of options to choose from. Now how do you cook this meal? The MSR pocket rocket is one of the smallest isobutane stoves available and weighs a few ounces while packing into a plastic case smaller than a bottle of water. Pair this with a small canister of isopropanol and a single-walled steel or titanium cup and you will have a hot meal wherever you are. The last resort for food would be hunting the local wildlife; rabbits, squirrels, fish and the like. One method of hunting would be to whittle down the tip of a long stick to create a spear that can be used for stabbing or throwing. To do this, you would need to bring along a good solid knife, preferably a sturdy fixed blade. I carry a Gerber LMF-II.
So now that you have the necessities, now we move to the supplementary items. You should have a first aid kit (FAK) of one sort. This really is a necessary item concerning none of the above would matter if you cut yourself and bleed out. I will post about my FAK in a later post so you can see what I carry. In the meantime, I would recommend looking up FAK contents online and building one to fit your needs and environment. You should ideally have one FAK for each person so not to come up short when you need medical supplies. A fire can have so many uses beyond keeping one warm. A flint or firesteel, I use this one, is a lightweight keychain attachment. There should be no reason to not carry one. Next is a flashlight. I carry a pocket Streamlight and a headlamp. I would recommend a handheld light and a headborne light with 2 extra sets of batteries for each. A compass and the map you printed off before should be packed too. Learn basic land navigation skills too. If you need them, you’ll be glad you learned.
The following is purely just for comfort so decide what you wouldn’t mind carrying along. A hammock is nice for lounging along the hike or for sleeping off the ground. Might be worth carrying if you find yourself in a situation where you have to sleep through the night. Lightweight hammocks can easily be found. You could bring along more snacks or drinks if you would prefer to eat more. A change of underwear or socks couldn’t hurt either if you have the room. It’s amazing what fresh clothes can do for morale. A small pack towel, like the ones from McNett, would come in handy should you find yourself soaked from a river or rain. While not a necessity and not even legal in some areas, a firearm can be very helpful against man or beast. Not only can it be used in self defense, you can also hunt with it if need be. Would strongly recommend checking your local laws and see if carrying a firearm is allowed where you will be hiking. Also, ammunition is heavy so don’t bring the armory, just two magazines or so. The newer phones today use GPS separate from cellular towers so you can get a bearing on your smartphone even if you have no service. For this reason, I would recommend a simple power bank and charging cord so you can recharge your phone’s battery if needed. Your phone could show you the way out so ensure you have enough battery should you find yourself in that situation.
If you have space left in your pack after all this, good, don’t try and fill it! The less you can carry and be self sufficient, the easier it will be on your body. Pounds equal pain when out hiking so don’t overload yourself. This is by no means an exhaustive list. It is purely just to get you thinking about what you may need if you find yourself in the worst case scenario. As I’ve stated before, tailor what you pack to your environment and activity. Just ensure you are ready for anything that may arise. By preparing for everything possible, nothing will be surprising.
I will be building off this article in the future so sign up for our email list to be notified when the next article is posted. As always, let us know what you think and what you pack down in the comments and share this with your friends! Have fun out there and hope for the best but prepare for the worst!