Hiking and backpacking are great ways to enjoy the great outdoors and get excellent exercise at the same time. They allow you to get away from the rat race and cast off the stress and pressures that come with it. The peace, solitude and fresh air are great for relaxing the body and the mind.…
Hiking and backpacking are great ways to enjoy the great outdoors and get excellent exercise at the same time. They allow you to get away from the rat race and cast off the stress and pressures that come with it. The peace, solitude and fresh air are great for relaxing the body and the mind.
Unfortunately, the peace and solitude hide the fact that the great outdoors can also be a cruel and unforgiving place for the unprepared. Every year the news reports of hikers and backpackers who met with disaster because they either underestimated nature or overestimated their abilities. Whether it's a short day hike or an extended backpacking expedition there are a number of things you need to do to ensure your outing is safe and enjoyable.
Research and select a route that matches your condition. If you can not determine how difficult the trail is, ask! This is critical if you are new to the outdoors or returning after a long layoff. It is easy to underestimate the difficulty of a trail especially if it is new to you. Alternately, we all have a tendency to overestimate our physical abilities. This is especially true as we get older. Be totally honest with yourself. A dark, cold mountainside is not the place to admit you are in over your head.
Make sure you have enough time to reach your destination while it is still light. Even an easy trail can become treacherous once darkness falls. The difficulty of the trail, your physical condition and the physical condition of everyone in your group is all part of the equation. If hiking in a group, remember to plan for the lowest common denominator. The slow person in the group will determine your pace.
Acquire a topographic map or a hiking guidebook that covers your route and know how to read it. There are books, software and classes that will teach you how to read and navigate using them. Practice map navigating on short hikes so you will know how to on longer trips. Also, check the weather forecast before you head out and be prepared for any kind of weather.
Always let someone know your trip plans. This can not be emphasized enough. How many times have you heard of the lost hiker who took off on their without letting anyone know where there were going or when they would be back. They were asking for trouble.
Let someone know in writing where you are going, when you will be gone and when you plan to return. Be specific. Provide dates, the name of the trailhead and trail, the specifics of the route and when you expect to return. The more detailed you can be the better. Once you have your plan stick to it. Varying from your itinerary can be dangerous should something go wrong and you need to be rescued.
The first rule for hikers and backpackers should be “Never go out alone”. I know there are a large number of solo hikers and backpackers out there and, I am sorry if this offends you, but solo hiking and backpacking is stupid. We've all heard the horror stories of solo hikers and packers suffering injury or dying in the wilds alone. The famous story of Aron Ralston alone should be enough to dissuade you from going it solo.
Line up a hiking partner, if possible. While it is best to avoid hiking alone, if you must go it solo, be smart and choose well-traveled trails where you will likely encounter someone should you run into trouble.
On The Trail
First, make sure you are properly dressed. Dress in layers and always be prepared for changing weather especially in mountains or canyons where bad weather can come upon you with little or no notice. Make sure you have some form of rain gear and cold-weather gear, if appropriate. Avoid cotton clothing, which when wet insulates poorly and dries slowly. Wetness and hypothermia go hand in hand and can be a deadly combination.
Wear proper hiking footwear and that fit properly. This is not an area to scramp on. Quality, well-fitting boots can make the difference between a great hike and a miserable one. Never wear a new pair of boots on a long hike as sores and blisters are kindly. Break them in slowly by testing boots on shorter hikes or walking around your neighborhood.
Always carry a compass and a topographic map of the area and know how to use both. Pay attention to flags on the trail, and check your map often even on an obvious trail. Mark landmarks on the map as you pass them. It is a good idea to turn around periodically to see how the trail looks when you are heading in the other direction. This will help make finding your way back easier.
Do not get separated from your partner or group. Never lose sight of them and wait for stragglers at any trail junction. Never change directions without the entire group being together. Carry a whistle within easy reach. Three blasts of a whistle is the universal signal for help. Do not keep it in an out of the way place in your backpack. Should you be injured you may not be able to reach it.
Carry plenty of water and drink often to avoid dehydration. Dehydration is a prime enemy of hikers and backpackers. Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink. If you do, you are already becoming dehydrated. Also, do not drink water from ponds or streams unless you have rated it first by boiling, filtering or using purification tablets.
Always have a fire starter and matches. If you get lost and need to spend the night outside a fire can help prevent hypothermia and signal for help.
Be sure to carry a first aid kit and know how to use it. It is a good idea to take a first aid course. Read up on common trail injuries especially and how to treat them. Be sure to carry moleskin or band-aids to help with blisters.
Bring along a knife or other multi-purpose tool. Make sure it is of good quality and that the blades have sharp edges. Something along the line of a Swiss Army knife or a Leatherman tool are great for emergency repairs of all sorts.
Be sure to pack a flashlight or other form of hiking torch. It will be invaluable to you do not make it to your destination before it gets dark.
Use a hiking pole or walking stick. Using hiking poles and walking sticks will help steady your balance on uneven terrain. Additionally, they help ease the stress on your legs, feet, and, especially, knees. They also can be used as emergency Shelter supports, to carry things and as defensive weapons should it be necessary.
Take along sunglasses and sunscreen. This is especially true if you will be hiking above the tree line where a thinner atmosphere blocks fewer UV rays and where snow glare can cause snow blindness.
Should you get lost, do not panic. If you're not in a dangerous situation, sit down and take a break. Have a snack, take a drink and then assess the situation. Take a look around for any landmarks near known locations. If you can navigate safely back to it, then do so. If not, stay put. It will be easier for rescuers to find you than if you wander further off the trail into the wilderness. The closer you are to your original route the better.
Taking the time to plan your trip and prepare properly can help ensure your trek is safe and fun. Should something go wrong, God forbid, your advance planning and preparation could just save your life or the life of someone else. Take the time not become a statistical.