As technology has become a large part of our everyday life, more and more people are re-discovering their desire connect with nature. The invigoration of stepping into the great outdoors is only accentuated after a week of working indoors. There is no better way to experience fresh air and spectacular sights than on a hike. Whether you are hiking through wooded trails at your local park, or scaling a mountain in a National Park, safety and preparation are necessary for an enjoyable time. Even if you are an experienced, hiking expert, for venturing out for your first time – take a moment to consider these tips and advice.
Let’s start with some basics
Prior to any hike, make sure to bring along the following items:
- Appropriate footwear – If you are going to be on flat terrain or a paved surface for the entirety of your hike, then running shoes are the way to go. However, if you are navigating difficult trails or rocky terrain, hiking boots are advised. Open-toed shoes should never be worn on a hike. Footwear that provides stability for uneven pathways and foot protection is a must.
- Proper clothing – Understand that the temperature will likely fluctuate throughout your hike, especially if your elevation is changing. Should you find yourself in a heavily wooded area, the foliage shade may cause a drop in temperatures– especially in winter months. In contrast, wearing heavy clothing in open areas or during strenuous hikes can often lead to overexertion or overheating. Make sure to wear layers so you can adjust as needed, and opt for fabrics other than cotton. Also consider bringing sunglasses and a hat to protect your vision and against possible sunburn.
- Water – Proper hydration is possibly the most important of all, as you should drink water before, during, and after your hike. Experts recommend drinking small amounts of water frequently as opposed to stopping every hour for a longer drink. It is advised to drink 4 to 6 ounces of water every 20 minutes to maintain hydration, but if you are hiking in extreme heat make sure to keep track of your water intake. You’ll also want to keep your drink cold for as long as possible, that’s where a thermos flask comes in handy.
- Lifestraw – For emergencies, this relatively unknown product can be a life saver. Small and lightweight, the 2 oz. tube allows you to drink water directly from lakes, rivers, or streams – purifying the water for safe consumption. Avoid dehydration at all costs by making any water on your hike instantly potable.
- Trail map- If you are planning a short hike, or hiking a familiar trail, you may be tempted to pass on a trail map. However, emergencies are always unpredictable and it’s always better to be over prepared.
- Backpack – Even on short hikes, consider bringing along a bag. Make sure to pack food, water, and a small first-aid kit. Your kit should include things like anti-bacterial ointment, bandages, a flashlight, compass, whistle, knife, and medicine such as ibuprofen.
Have a Plan
Prior to hiking with a group, consider how far each person can go and plan accordingly. Especially if you have children in your group, make sure to account for the additional time they may need or how much they can handle at once. When in doubt, chose an easier trail that can be completed by all members of your group.
Don’t forget that it takes significantly longer to hike uphill than downhill. Expert hikers recommend planning a third of your time for the descent, with the remaining two thirds allocated to ascend. If you find yourself hiking downhill on narrow paths, you may encounter others hiking uphill – take a moment to step off to the side and offer those ascending the right of way. This is a common courtesy and hiking etiquette that you will appreciate while hiking uphill yourself.
Have a plan for your time, but make sure to enjoy your hike as well. Allow your group time to stop and smell the roses, the fresh mountain air, or the mist from the lake. Take occasional breaks to bask in the scenic views you may be encountering. This may be your one opportunity!
Walk at a Comfortable Pace
Don’t overexert yourself on a hike, and remember this cardinal rule: make sure you are able to talk while you walk. If you are working so hard that you are gasping for breath, you’ll be unable to talk – a sign you are doing too much. When you are able to hold a conversation as you walk you are allowing proper oxygen into your lungs. This ensures your legs and body are getting what they need for continued endurance.
At this pace, you may feel you are not walking fast enough or getting much exercise. However if you keep an aerobic pace that allows you to maintain your energy, your endurance and distance will increase. As you do this, your body will produce less metabolic waste allowing you to feel better throughout your hike. With lesser dispersion in energy levels you’ll be able to finish your hike strong.
Familiarize Yourself with Poison Ivy and Poison Oak
There are many things that can be fun to bring back from your hike, but poison ivy or poison oak is not one of them. Before you leave home, learn how to identify these dangerous plants. Be cautious around any and all three-leafed plants you may encounter. In order to identify poison ivy, notice how the two leaves on the left and right resemble mittens. The middle leaf may appear to have a mitten thumb on both sides. Lastly, take note of the stem leading to the middle leaf; it will be much longer than the two side stems.
If you believe your skin has made direct contact with poison ivy or poison oak make sure to take a cold shower or rinse thoroughly, whichever is available. The cold water will help to close your skin pores and limit the spreading.
More Things to Bring
In addition to a backpack complete with food, snacks, water, and a small first-aid kit – there are many other items you should consider bringing along. Depending on the length of your hike, forecasted weather, and personal preferences, these items can greatly improve the enjoyment of your hike:
- Hand Sanitizer – The great outdoors nearly always means no access to a bathroom or bathroom sink, yet you should always clean your hands prior to eating or cooking. Especially true if your hands have become visibly dirty during your hike. Bringing a small hand sanitizer bottle in your hiking bag can make all the difference, helping to remove unwanted bacteria, dirt, sap, and more for clean hands.
- Alcohol-based hand sanitizers – If starting a fire is on your agenda but the weather or conditions are not cooperating, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can come in handy. Not only can you clean your hands, but the sanitizer can be used as a fire-starter in desperate times. Packing light is the name of the game so always seek out dual-purpose items.
- Newspaper – If your hiking boots have become wet along your hike, stuffing newspaper into the boots can help absorb moisture in the tough to reach spots. You can also use it as a fire-starter, as newspaper is easy to light and incredibly flammable.
- Petroleum Jelly – Are you surprised by this one? You can use petroleum jelly to prevent your feet from developing blisters. However new shoes are always prone to new blisters, so make sure to only wear shoes that you have broken in before your hike. Lastly, petroleum jelly can be used traditionally as lip-protectant and lip-sunscreen.
- Sunscreen – Choose a travel size container and look for a sunscreen that has the following ingredients: zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, and photo-stabilized avobenzone. You’ll want to be protected against UVA and UVB rays. Make sure you apply sunscreen before your hike, and also reapply while hiking.
- Wide-Mouthed Water Bottle – In addition to simply drinking water, wide-mouthed bottles such as Nalgene are great for carrying items you want to remain dry. The wide opening allows you to store matches, cell phones, batteries, and other items inside, while still being able to access them easily. The hard shell of the bottle prevents punctures and has increased durability, both important on a hike.
- Energy Tabs – For those venturing out on lengthy hikes, your stamina and energy may drag at unwanted times. As a solution, energy tabs such as Voke Tabs are great to bring along as a quick pick-me-up. These specific tabs combine the natural energy from green tea, guarana berry, and acerola cherry for a revitalizing boost.
Food and Fuel
Maintaining your strength while hiking is crucial. Given this, the heaviest items in your bag should be food and water. As you burn calories it is important to replace them to ensure you are able to finish the hike strong. Consider keeping your food inside Ziplock bags. This will keep your food dry, make it easier to open and close, reduce the smell of food attracting unwanted visitors, all while reducing the weight of containers or boxes.
Prior to your hike, start with a healthy breakfast and don’t forget to have snacks along the way. For any hike over half an hour, experts recommend consuming salty snacks and sports drinks along with your water. Doing so will greatly combat exhaustion or sickness during your hike.
There is no time like the present to start enjoying the outdoors. Keep these tips in mind as you plan your next hike. Get out and have an adventure today!
Article Written By; Bryan Koontz
Author Bio: Bryan Koontz is CEO and Founder of Guidefitter, a platform for consumers to research hunting & fishing adventures and connect with outfitters and professional guides. The online community allows users to share their experiences and serves as a hub for sportspeople and outdoor adventurists. In his free time, Bryan enjoys fly fishing, hunting, and spending time outdoors with his Labrador retriever.