Hiking has a tendency to bring friends closer, expand your outlook on life, and challenge you in fun and unique ways. There are hikes for novices and hikes for the more advanced. There are day hikes and then there are multi-month backpacking trips.
Whatever your level or desire of adventure, hiking has a way of providing a rewarding view along the way. But, no matter what level you are at, there are some common principles that you need to live by.
Nature has beauty, but also has danger. So, what are the “rules”, if you will, about hiking? Are there guidelines for preparing for the worst or is it a free for all? What about best practices?
By following these 10 essentials for hiking, you will be able to stay safe and well while you face nature in a stunning way.
- Know your direction: When branching off into wilderness, one of the most important rules to live by is to always know where you are, where you have been, and where you are going. There are hundreds of stories where people get lost and end up being stranded out in nature for multiple days, or worse, not surviving. This couple lost their way on a first date – talk about a story to remember! It is crucial that you bring a map, compass, and/or fully charged phone that will be able to provide you guidance. Additionally, if you only bring a phone (not advised), make sure to bring a portable phone charger that is able to charge your phone multiple times.
- Prepare for the worst: Planning for the worst and expecting the best is a great principle to live by when you approach hiking. Knowing that no one “plans” to get lost or hurt, but planning for it just in case is a great way to relieve some unneeded stress when hiking. Understand the risks that each hike brings and prep for it by researching the weather, packing the appropriate gear, and knowing what to do if the worst case happens.
- Bring nourishment: By bringing extra food and water, you not only prepare for if you end up getting lost and staying on the mountain for a few days, but you will also have the proper energy to enjoy the hike. If you hike with a dog, bring extra water for you pup because they will for sure be hungry and thirsty too. This is an easy solution that can be solved by bring dry meals or even protein bars. These will not take up much space or weight a lot, but will give you large amounts of nutrients.
- Clothe yourself properly: Know how to layer properly. There are different thoughts on how to best dress for hiking, but a common principle to follow is the “3 layer rule”. If you do not feel comfortable choosing the appropriate layers, visit your local outdoor shop and have them help you. This step could prevent you from freezing in hikes, melting in the sun, or getting burned by staying outside too long. Additionally, focus on bright clothes – this helped these hikers when they got lost.
- Shelter yourself: Whether it is in the form of a bivy sack, tent, or simply a tarp over a tree branch, know the basics to forming emergency shelter. No one wants to be forced to sleep in the woods, but when the worst-case-scenario happens, it is better to be prepared than not. By knowing simple tips to stay warm and protect against the wind and animals, you will be able to adequately protect yourself.
- Protect your skin and eyes: Sunscreen and sunglasses might be an easy step to look over, but you will appreciate them when your eyes are in good health and you are not sore from a bad sunburn. Focus on getting glasses that actually block out the rays, instead of just grabbing cheap stylish ones from a gas station.
- Light the way: Pack a flashlight or headlamp to light your hike. Hikes have a funny way of lasting longer than you expect and you do not want to be on the mountain, attempting to find your way home, in the dark. It is a easy solution to pack a light and it will not weigh your bag down. By having this light, it will also double as a beacon if you were to get lost.
- Be your own first-aid: When injuries happen on the mountain, there is no ambulance that can quickly drive up the mountain to help you and, chances are, there is no doctor or nurse right next to you. So, plan to be your first responder. Carry a small first-aid kit that covers the bare necessities of injuries. This small step could end up saying a life if, for example, you are bleeding and need to apply a tourniquet or just using gauze strips to help slow the bleeding.
- Start the spark: One of the landmarks of hiking is having a nice fire to end the day. Fires are great ways to dry clothes, warm you, and provide a spot to have great conversation. When thinking about getting lost, they are also a great way to make a signal for a crew that is searching for you. By packing a small pack of matches or fire starter, you will not be stuck trying to rub two sticks together.
- Communication: Looping family and friends in on the hike might seem like a very “mother” thing to do, but it’s extremely important to keep you safe especially if solo hiking. By telling them where you are going, the route you plan to take, and when you will be back, they will be able to not only tell the police about you being lost, but also help the search crew pinpoint your location.
In conclusion, hiking can provide some of the best sights to see. It can be a great way to get to know friends (or dates?), but must be done responsibly. Understand yourself and your limits when hiking and do not push yourself beyond those.
By abiding by the 10 essentials, you can rest assured that your hiking days will be enjoyable and successful. No one wants the worst to happen, but it is those who plan for it that can continue to explore nature in a way they love.