You are a skilled hiker. You are pretty well-read when it comes to hiking safety. You know how to have a great day out on the trail or on an overland ramble. But are you ready for the unknown, that “black swan” event on the trail that could leave you out all night, unprepared? Don’t get caught out on the trail without these simple items–they can save you, your hiking partner, or maybe that hiker in bad shape you stumble upon in the back country.
Water. Overestimate how much water you think you might need. You’ll need at least a liter for every two hours of hiking time, and for a full day plan on drinking at least a gallon. Never leave on even the shortest hike with less than two liters of water. Hydrate early and often. If you get thirsty, you’ve fallen behind the hydration curve.
Food. In addition to water, you need fuel. Sports bars, trail mix, candy bars, jerky, or anything that will keep you stoked for that three mile push back to the car is good to have handy. Peanut butter is a high-energy food, as is chocolate.
Proper clothing. Rain jackets always can be good multi-tasking items, whether you need it for protection from the weather or for first aid use as a sling. Plan for the worst and always take a hat.
Map/Compass/GPS. Finding your way to or from a trail head in open country requires a map, compass, and the skills to use them. Many of the landmarks look the same; distinctive landmarks can look completely different depending on the time of day or the direction from which you approach. A GPS can be helpful if you know how to apply the data to a map and the surrounding topography. Just use it around the neighborhood the first few times you try a GPS unit so you know exactly how to apply its information in the back country.
First Aid Kit. Look. This particular item is worthy enough to have its own article, so read about building a good, lightweight first aid kit here. Some adhesive bandages, topical antibiotic, moleskin for blisters, and ibuprofen or aspirin are must-haves. I also have a tiny key chain LED flashlight for nighttime first aid. You may never have to use any of it, but when you need it, it could mean the difference between getting out at sunset or spending the night in the back country.
Lighter. Never venture into the back country without the ability to make fire. Every person should have a working lighter in their pack. Many simple afternoon hikes have turned into overnight ordeals because of bad judgment or injury. Nights are cold, even in the summer, and a fire can keep you warm and help you get found.
Knife. A small pocket knife or multi-tool can be useful in first aid applications, fire making, making a shelter, or fashioning other tools.
Whistle. It is common for hikers to get separated by several hundred yards–in rugged country, it can seem like a mile! An emergency whistle lets others know where you are; it’s a simple and effective short range communications tool.
Common Sense. You can’t buy this one in stores. The best way to stay safe in the back country is to use your head. Recognize problems before they get out of hand. The biggest mistake made by hikers is underestimating the length and ruggedness of their route and overestimating their ability to perform in harsh conditions. If things get dicey or the hour grows late, turn around and get out. It’s better to get out safely and live to try again. Don’t hike at night–stay put and continue in the morning.
These five items–a small compass, a simple first aid kit, a lighter, a small multi-tool or pocket knife, and a whistle can all be placed in a small zippered stuff sack and should be carried with you at all times in the back country.
Hike safely, my friend.