I was asked recently about how to gear up for day hiking from a new hiker. Here is a list of things you need to get into hiking and enjoy the experience.
Your Backpack — Find a good backpack that fits on your body well, has comfortable shoulder straps, and easy-to-get-to pockets. Many packs these days have hydration unit sleeves, and “lids” over the top of the pack with an outer zip pocket. I like the top lid and pocket feature in a pack because it’s a great place to stow stuff like your phone, wallet, and car keys. Day packs are easy to find almost anywhere these days, so go to your local gear store and try one on. If you don’t use a hydration bladder, make sure the pack has outside pockets for quick access to water bottles. ALWAYS keep a headlamp or flashlight and matches or a lighter in your pack. Check batteries before you head out on any hike. Hopefully you won’t need these things on a day hike, but anything can happen, so these things should always stay in your pack. I also carried a nice, larger pocket knife to use for eating activities, but once again, this could be an invaluable tool in a survival situation. Multi-tools are also great. Along with the headlamp, lighter, a bandana, and an old CD, the knife was always kept in my pack.
Socks and Shoes — I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to keep your feet happy. Wear shoes you’ve worn before so you aren’t dealing with areas that can form blisters from new shoe stiffness. Wear wool hiking socks–look for a merino wool if you are unsure of what kind of sock to buy. Wool is a great fabric for wicking moisture away from your foot, which will lessen the chance of blisters forming. I shop for hiking shoes with a pair of these socks. When you try on the shoe with a sock, it should feel like a house slipper with a firm fit, but very cozy. You will know when you feel it. Don’t feel like you have to have a big hiking boot for day hikes if you are just hitting trails around a city. Tennis shoes will do just fine.
Water and Food — If you are hiking for half a day, take two or three liters of water with you. Some people like bottles, some people like hydration bladders. I prefer the hydration bladder because I drink water more frequently as the hose is right next to my mouth. And staying hydrated, no matter the temperature outside, is very important for staying healthy and energetic on a hike. Drink water as often as possible, because if you are thirsty on a hike, you are already dehydrated. I like to pack prepackaged, non-refrigerated food for snacks, like summer sausage, crackers, cheese, pita chips, fruit cups, energy bars, etc. For day hiking, you can also take fresh veggies or fruit and they shouldn’t suffer too much if you are only going to be out for three to six hours. It’s a good idea to eat a meal before you get out, but always take snacks–you never know if you are going to want them or (in dire circumstances) need them.
Protection from the Elements and Clothing — Use sunblock, wear long sleeves, wear a hat, and always bring along a rain jacket. Of course, if it’s buggy, use the insect repellent of your choice. There are so many clothing items now available for outdoor activities; find the right things and wear them in layers that you can remove as you get warmer during the hike. Cotton doesn’t work very well, as it can get damp and stay that way next to your body. Polyester blends, fleece, and fine wool is the better choice for hiking clothing.
First Aid Kit and Personal Hygiene – Even if you are hiking just minutes from your home, there is always the possibility that you may need a bandage. Branches can catch you and scratch you, blisters can form, and on and on. Take a small first aid kit with at least triple antibiotic ointment and a variety of bandage sizes, along with a clean bandana–it can come in handy for larger boo-boos or just wiping up whatever. Take a package of wet wipes, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer as well, because you never know if those things will be needed. Take some duct tape and wrap a few yards around a small stick or dowell. Keep it with the first aid kit. If you get a blister, duct tape works really well to protect the blister for the duration of the hike. Removing it can be tricky, but it is the best thing I’ve used for blisters on long hikes. Also, it can be used to keep the bandana in place if needed for a larger boo boo. Let’s hope that won’t be the case! Pack your meds if you need them: an epi pen for allergies to insect stings and bites, glucose tablets for diabetics, an inhaler for asthma, or anything else you need that would avert a health crisis if you were out on a hike.
Hiking Extras — These are things that may or may not be used, but I do have a few items here that may come in handy.
- A personal GPS unit is a nice thing to have. If you are going on a local trail that loops back to the parking lot and you are clear on what the map is showing, then GPS would be a bit over the top. However, if you are going on a longer hike, on a trail that has many spurs coming off of it, and does not necessarily loop back, then use a GPS unit and learn the “waypoint” and “go to” functions. “Waypoint” the parking area, then when you are ready to turn around, hit the “go to” function and a map and arrow should show you right back to the parking lot. I’m not condoning substituting technology for common sense, but if it’s available and you are still new to the whole hiking thing, of all the items to own and learn to use I would recommend a GPS unit. Cell phones with map apps that need cell signals may be problematic. Either download a map onto your phone before the hike, or use a GPS unit.
- Hiking poles are also very helpful. Your hips, knees, and ankles take a lot of pressure over the course of a hike. Using hiking poles while walking shifts some of that burden to your arms and upper body, along with helping to keep your balance on the trail. If you have lower joint issues, hiking poles can add comfort and enhance the enjoyment of a hike–and lessen the soreness after the hike is over.
- You know those little emergency blankets that are available that are in a tiny box and look metallic? It isn’t a bad idea to carry one of those either. Let’s hope you don’t have to use it, but you never know.
- I used to carry an old compact disc in my pack when I hiked in Escalante. What was pretty much a throwaway object became my emergency signaling mirror. I never had to use it, but it was always there just in case.
Wildlife Encounters — This will be different for everyone depending on where you hike, but a good rule of thumb is keep your distance. Generally, wild animals want to stay away from people. If you are closer than 50 yards to a large animal, turn around and walk away, or back away slowly. If it is a bear or a cougar, there are rules for dealing with those animals and I would recommend you heed signs and information at the trail head concerning an encounter with an apex predator. There are also lots of videos out on the internet to watch with good information on dealing with animal encounters, so go search a few out and get informed before hitting the trail.
This seems like a lot of information to share with a first-time hiker, but after getting out on a few hikes, this will all be very routine and just part of the prep for a great day outside. And remember, always leave a note or tell someone where you are hiking. It could save your life.
Questions? Comments? Please leave them in the comments below so we can share the answers with everyone!