The first thing is to be prepared. The Boy Scouts have taught this for decades, and it is the first of the Leave No Trace principles. Hiking requires that you take certain essentials with you in your back. It requires that you plan your route, including places and times. You must take into account such things as the distance and elevation changes on your proposed route, as well as weather and times. Seasonal weather variations and length of day can have a dramatic impact on your outcomes. You also have to know yourself, what your abilities are, and what your weaknesses are.
In this guide, we will talk about equipment. Planning will be covered in the next section.
For a long time hikers have had a fixed list of essential items. This list has been called The 10 Essentials, because it was easy to count to 10, and have all your bases covered. Over time, the list has grown and shrunk due to technology and innovation. It now has become a list of categories, mostly, rather than individual items.
The list of 10 essentials is:
2. Sun Protection
5. First-aid Supplies
7. Repair Kit and Tools
8. Nutrition (extra food)
9. Hydration (extra water)
10. Emergency Shelter
The very first item of the 10 Essentials was the map and compass. It is now in the category of Navigation, as a means to know where you are, and how to get to where you need to be. Nowadays, people use the GPS in their cell phone for navigation. This is good in some places but not in all places. A cell phone relies on being connected to the Internet for navigation, except when using certain special applications. These applications are available for both iOS and Android, and allow your phone to store maps offline, thus freeing you from the network connection. This does require you to buy the app and to download the proper maps for your expedition, prior to starting.
A dedicated GPS is the next step up, because it doesn’t rely on any phone networks and it stores its maps on board. It also doesn’t do all the things a smart phone can do, so its battery will last longer. Most handheld GPS devices have exchangeable batteries, and use standard types like AA which you can buy at almost any store. This makes it easy to carry a spare set of batteries, compared to most smart phones. A dedicated GPS also has better accuracy in woods and mountains.
Sun protection is key, as direct sunlight can cause sunburn. Although heat can cause you to sweat out your fluids, sun protection is more focused on preventing damage from solar radiation than on heat. You should always wear a hat and carry a good sunscreen. When hiking in snow, bring sunglasses. Also, have shirts with long sleeves and pants with long legs.
Insulation comes from proper clothing. When hiking in cold climates, wear your clothing in layers. The clothing closest to your skin is called the base layer. Choose wicking fabrics like polyester or wool. Then, wear one or more loose-fitting shirts or jackets over that. Carry an insulating jacket for being out late, and possibly a rain layer that you can put on if the weather turns wet. In high elevations, rain can come at any time.
Illumination used to be called a flashlight, but LED technology has made it possible to have light in a lot of different forms. The handheld flashlight that runs on D batteries and runs down in a few hours is a hing of the past. Now, small handheld flashlights and headlamps running on AAA batteries can last 30 hours or longer. A headlamp is a good addition to your essential equipment.
First aid supplies, for when you or someone else gets hurt, should be part of every prepared hiker’s pack. A first aid kit should have an elastic bandage for sprains, a blister kit, some surgical tape, gauze pads, adhesive bandage strips, and ibuprofen for pain relief and diphenhydramine for allergic reactions.
Fire can be matches, magnesium rods, or a lighter. If you want to start a fire using matches, that is up to you, but even waterproof matches can get blown out by wind. Matches do not give you a second chance. A good lighter might be the best choice for fire starting.
A repair kit could include things like safety pins, patching kits for clothing or tents, rope, and duct tape. A good multitool with a knife blade would be very handy. There are hundreds of configurations of multitools, which can be quite confusing. A strong sharp knife is probably all you need.
The next items on the list are Nutrition and Hydration, or Food and Water. You should always carry some food. A good place to start is at about 3 ounces of food for every two hours. Good snack foods for hiking include beef jerky, trail mix, cashews and dried fruits. Any time you are going out for more than a couple of hours, you should have at least two liters of water with you. Take a good long drink before leaving your water source. A small water filter or some water treatment tablets can help you replenish your water supplies later. If water is not available in the environment , it will be very important to know ahead of time, and plan accordingly.
Emergency shelter can be as simple as a tarp and a rope, a rain poncho or a space blanket. This is something you may never use, but if you need it, it will be most welcome. Hypothermia is a killer, and when night falls, it can get cold out in a short time.
Study the essentials, and make sure you understand what they are and why you might need them. Then, choose for yourself which things you think you will need. Take into consideration the weights of the items, and the likelihood of your using them. Just remember that you can never be too safe, and the right amount of preparation can make the difference between surviving and being merely uncomfortable.