Hiking: What do I need to bring and what do I wear?

Now that you know where you’re going, you’ve got the logistics covered, and you know your route and conditions, what goes into your pack? What do you bring to be sure you are safe, comfortable, and confident in your hike?

The length and conditions of your hike will determine a large part of what you bring with you. For short hikes that are more on the ‘Adventure Walk Lite’ side of an outing, you can minimize your gear and planning. Once you start planning bigger outings, exploring new places, or in times of seasonal or daylight change, that is when you want to start bringing a little extra. 

For the purposes of these posts, we’ll work with the Long Hike plans, and assume you’re on the trail for an hour or more.

So, what goes into your day pack?

First, we start with the basics, what every hiker needs in their pack when they hit the trail:

  • Water: Humans need water to survive, and taking enough water to support our activities – and a little extra in case of detours, warm weather, or other needs – is critical to any outing. A good general guideline is to take about a half litre of water for every hour you plan to be out, so, if you’re out for a two hour hike, you’ll need at least 1L water. Keep in mind that warmer temperatures, more challenging terrain, and your physical condition likely mean you will need more water with you.
  • Food: Or, on the trail, better known as “fuel.”  You need calories to fuel your activities, and while you have some of that fuel built-in, you’ll want to keep your energy stores high with good quality fuel. In general, you want to consider taking 200-300 calories per hour spent hiking with you, and be ready to up that amount seriously for the faster you hike, the heavier your pack, the more uneven the terrain, and the bigger you are (giant men need more fuel to stay upright than tiny women). For all-day hikes, consider taking an extra days “emergency rations.” 
  • Navigation: New trail or old, knowing where you are going and your surrounding area is important! The basic tool is the topo map. We can talk about how to read a topo in another post, but the basics are that the brown lines show changes in elevation: the closer the lines are together, the steeper the terrain; the farther apart, the flatter. This lets you know where you are, and what the landscape around you looks like. 

    You can get a lot fancier, and with a smartphone in your pocket, you have access to many GPS digital map navigation tools. GPS stands for ‘Global Positioning System,’ so your location is calculated using satellites. ’Trail apps with maps that track your position are awesome, and Google Maps will also do a decent job of locating you in real time. The downside of these is that they require being able to connect to multiple satellites, so if you’re in a narrow canyon, you may not get accurate locations.

    Personal locator devices are super helpful in the case of an emergency. They also can be used to confirm your safe location to people you left at home, letting them know you are safe. These work even in places where you lack cell phone coverage.
  • Sun Protection: Sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat, and sun-protective clothing are all ways to keep damaging rays off your body. Sun protection is needed even on cloudy days, or on snowy/icy terrain or when your on the water: UVA and UVB rays penetrate clouds and light reflects off these bright surfaces. Sunglasses are key for preventing things like snowblindness and cataracts. Sunscreen should be at least SPF 30, and should be applied to any exposed skin; don’t forget to reapply: every two hours, or more frequently if you are sweating or swimming it off! Clothing can be used as a physical ray barrier; many outdoor shops sell clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) label, though even your regular t-shirt and pants offer some basic protection. Don’t forget a hat, optimally one with a wide wrap-around brim to shade your eyes and neck during your Indiana-Jones-adventures.
  • First Aid: Basic first aid is key to a happy hiking experience. Even if you don’t use it the first time or two, eventually every hiker runs into a blister, splinter, scrape or other misadventure. You can buy a pre-made kit or assemble your own (here’s a handy checklist). Don’t forget some tylenol/ibuprofen and feminine hygiene products; nothing can kill a hike for you or your girlfriends faster than not being prepared for your period or it’s aches.
  • Headlamp/flashlight: You may plan on being gone only during the daytime, but sometimes hikes can last a bit longer than anticipated. Being able to see where you are going helps you finish with confidence and safety. Hands-free headlamps are amazing, and handheld flashlights are great as well. Don’t rely on the flashlight on your phone: using it for too long and it will suck the battery dry!
  • Fire: Emergencies happen, and being able to start a fire for warmth is important. A compact butane lighter is often the easiest to toss in your pack (check its fuel level before leaving), but matches are the basic standard. You can get fancy with chemical firestarters from outdoor stores, but generally, matches or a lighter will do the trick. You will also want to bring some basic tinder: once you have the flame, you want it to be able to catch onto something and grow as you feed it leaves, needles, or twigs. Some easy-to-come by tinders you can pack in a baggie include dryer lint, candles, or wood chips.
  • Knife/Multi-tool: These are useful for first aid, food preparation, and fun. Basic knives have a single or few blades, multitools can get fancy with screw drivers, files, can openers and more. Know how to open and safely close your knife, and how to safely hold it.

Now that we have all this gear, how do we pack our pack so it’s comfortable, goods are accessible when needed, and you have room for extra goodies? Stay tuned for next post!

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