When hiking, there are certain basics to cover. Most of this I had to learn the hard way! To save you from a similar fate let’s look at essentials for short, basic hikes close to civilization and longer, advanced treks in more remote vicinities.
Essentials for a Hiking Trip
Before Your Trip
- Plan Your Route
Do you want to hike across flat grassland, through a forest or in a mountainous area? Is there perhaps a specific site you would like to see such as a waterfall, lake or summit? Once you’ve where you want to go, get some maps and guidebooks to plot your route and look for trails. Be realistic, consider the terrain and look at hiking trails that you can handle.
Mark out where you want to stop to rest and if you are camping where that will be. In the case of the latter, you should try and camp as close as possible to a viable water source to prevent extra trekking to and fro for refills.
Calculate the amount of time your hike will take. Remember that if you need to climb that this will slow you down. Don’t fret if this sounds daunting because there is a handy calculator that can assist you in figuring this all out.
- Tell A Friend
Once your itinerary is planned, give it to a friend or family member that is not going with you on the hike. This is a backup plan so that if you don’t show up where you should at a certain time that someone knows something might be wrong and search for you.
Snow, rain, lightning, the wind, and temperature will all affect the quality of your hiking experience. Make sure to check out the forecast prior to your expedition to determine if conditions are optimal. Remember that even if it has rained recently and not on the day of your trip that mud will also impact your hiking capabilities.
Find out if a permit is required in the area that you are planning on hiking. This is often the case with most national parks and areas of wilderness.
Remember that you will be carrying all your equipment on your back for the duration of your hike. Your backpack needs to be comfortable, balanced and strong.
Below you will find a list of essential items you need to pack. Although you may not use them all, it’s better to be prepared rather than sorry. The great thing is that you only need to pack this once and just top up the used items the next time you go out on adventure.
These two go hand-in-hand to determine where you are and where you are going.
- A Compass
Never leave without a compass. Your trusty compass has various safety features including a sighting mirror which can flash sunlight to rescuers.
- A Map of the Area
Visit the tourism office or the Park Ranger’s to get maps for free or at a really good price. This is particularly vital if there are no clear hiking paths. Even if there are, there’s always the possibility of getting lost. Changes in the weather or a blocked trail could result in detours. Store your map in a Ziploc bag.
- A Compass
A traditional compass works best as no batteries are required. If you want to trek your progress, choose an orienteering compass or survival compass.
- A Map of the Area
This is imperative for long treks into largely unknown areas. Maps should indicate landmarks to help determine your location.
These are a great for navigation. Remember extra batteries or a huge power bank.
For some this could be a portable coffee maker or a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. In this article, we are covering communication devices only.
- Communication: Mobiles run flat. There’s also the possibility that there isn’t cellular coverage. Two-way radios are an option if you are travelling as a pair or in a group. It’s not advisable to go hiking alone in the US particularly if you are an inexperienced. However, you can safely go solo in the Alps as it is more populated.
- Carry change as many trails have public call boxes en route.
- Communication: Consider high-tech communication devices for remote areas such as satellite phones and personal locator beams.
Many hikers neglect to take enough water. There are options like the Camelbak which let you carry water more comfortably. Drink a lot of water before you leave. Check whether there are any water sources on the way to refill. If there are only natural supplies consider a lightweight filtration system.
Don’t be lazy to take your water bottle out of your backpack and drink regularly even if you don’t feel like it. Trust me dehydration causes headaches and dizziness that will ruin your experience entirely.
Hiking burns energy. Regular snacking on high-calorie foods that you can store for extended periods of time is advised. Think dried fruits, energy bars, nuts, and jerky. If you are planning on having lunch at a mountain hut restaurant, make sure that they will be open. In addition, carry cash as not every establishment accepts credit cards.
Protect skin with high UV sunscreen. This goes for even when you are in the Alps! A really exhilarating hike was completely spoilt after I got the worse tan ever at high altitude. I was in complete misery for a week and looked like a reptile with my peeling skin. Pack in lip balm, sunglasses (for snow glare) and a wide-brimmed hat too.
Opt for lightweight containers for minimal excess weight as water is heavy. Collapsible containers allow for easy storage once empty.
If you are camping, you may be preparing some meals over a camp fire. Remember eating utensils and cooking ware. Consider whether a cooler bag/box is required. You should consider placing your food in a bag that you can keep it out of reach of rodents, bears and the like. This also applies to fragranced items.
Make sure to pack nutritious, lightweight snacks to keep energy levels up.
As the song goes If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.”
Pack a tent and sleeping bag. Taking an inflatable sleeping pad? Don’t forget a patching kit.
- Toilet Paper
After you find yourself clumsily scrounging around for some grass or leaves in the bitter cold you will appreciate why it is called ‘white gold’. Keep toilet paper in resealable plastic bags.
- Insect and Animal Repellents Combat bothersome insect bites and the more scary ones from bears, snow leopards, moose, elk or other creatures in the area.
Layering your clothes is the ideal way to ensure that you are prepared for any unexpected and drastic changes in the temperature and weather particularly in the mountains. Pack in shorts, pants, several shirts with different sleeve lengths, gloves, neck warmer, lots and lots of extra socks, undies, and a water resistant coat with a hood.
- Good Comfy Shoes
As you will be literally walking for miles you want to keep your feet in tip-top shape and comfort. Sturdy waterproof hiking boots work best but certain terrains will allow you to wear tennis shoes with ease. Pick garments that are made from wool, down, fleece or synthetic fabrics to keep warm
In the event that there is a sudden downpour, you need to be able to keep yourself dry.
- Knife/All-In-One Tool
Both tools are irreplaceable.
- Nylon Cord
Cord has numerous functions like replacing a broken shoelace, tying up tinder or improvised shelter assembly.
- Duct Tape
This can fix almost anything. If you don’t pack a roll, wrap the duct tape around your water bottle or trekking pole.
- Heavy Duty Plastic Bags
Besides being able to carry things, these double up as makeshift tarps or ponchos.
- Safety Pins
If your bag, clothes or tent breaks, these are a quick fix.
A flashlight and extra batteries are required for illumination. Another smart option is a headlamp. which will keep your hands free
- First-Aid Kit
A basic hiking kit with tweezers, antiseptic wipes/lotions, adhesive tapes, pain medications, Band-aids, blister treatments, and gauze will do.
Keep matches dry in a waterproof container. Alternatively, pack fire starters, sparkers and a lighter.
Whistles draw attention should you injure yourself and cannot move or if you accidentally wonder away from the group.
- Emergency Shelter
If you haven’t a tent, an emergency shelter is important. This could be a space blanket, bivy sack or tarp.
- Emergency Stove
A nifty device is a pocket stove.Bring along a sheet of aluminum foil to craft a little pot for heating water.
- Fauna Knowledge
Know which animals you may encounter. Take note of predators like coyotes, snow leopards and bears. In the case of the latter, pack in bear spray. Even moose could pose a threat if you behave in the incorrect manner, and they are often bigger as a bear. A basic knowledge of animal spoor would not go amiss.
- Flora Knowledge
Familiarize yourself with the area’s plant life. Although there are berries and wild veggies that are safe for human consumption, others are poisonous. If you are unsure, don’t eat it. There are also flora that can cause irritation and illness through contact. Learn what they are so you can avoid them.
- Medical & First Aid Knowledge
Having a first aid kit and not knowing what to do if someone gets hurt is useless. Brush up on your first aid knowledge enough so that you can handle most situations. A short course is advisable.
- Emergency/Hiking Rules
Understand the emergency rules during a hike. Obey signs and follow the Leave No Trace Principles. They are posted there for your safety and protection. Make a list of all emergency numbers that you may need.
- Recommended Short Courses
Beginner and specialized hiking courses are available online, in a group class or one-on-one format.
Additionally, should you see that the weather is about to turn, it is better to head back and plan for another day.