Before you hit the trail: packing do's and don'ts for hiking
Carrying everything that you need to survive on your own back is gratifying and humbling. It can also be painful if your pack weighs more than a toddler. You can't enjoy the sights and sounds of nature when you're hunched over, so bring only what you need and leave behind what you don't. Whether you're trekking through the Rockies outside of Boulder or taking a short stroll on a paved trail, these are the things that all hikers should pack.
1. Plenty of water
Just what constitutes "plenty" of water? It depends on your planned hike, the weather and your destination. If you're taking a one-hour stroll on a paved trail in a popular park, you may be comfortable with just a single bottle of water – or even none at all, if the day is cool and the trail has water fountains.
But for most hikes, you'll need more water than that. You have two options: bring a portable filtration system with you so you can make stream and lake water safe to drink, or bring enough water to last you the whole trip. If you're going to carry your own water, you may want to bring as much as 2 liters per day which will weigh around four pounds. To avoid the weight, bring less if you're taking a half-day hike.
Drink a bottle of water right before you head off on your hike, to start out well hydrated. If you're bringing your dog hiking with you, bring a portable water bowl and some extra H2O for her.
2. Plenty of food
Again, how much food you bring depends on the length and strenuousness of your hike. A good rule of thumb is to bring twice as much food as you think you'll need. Pack fruit, energy bars, pretzels, nuts, cheese and other foods that will give you energy and won't fall apart in your pack. The same rule applies if you're hiking with a furry friend. Bring plenty of food for your dog, if he is coming along for the day.
Check that you have the right footwear before setting out on a hike. Lightweight hiking boots that are water-resistant and provide ankle support are the safest choice, but sneakers are suitable for a short hike on even terrain.
3. Navigation assistants
In the days of smartphones, most of us have forgotten how to read maps and compasses. But phones break and batteries run out, and you can't know in advance whether you'll have enough reception to use your phone for navigational help if you need it. Bring a map of the area and a compass. (Watch a few informational online videos about using these tools first, if you're unfamiliar.)
4. Sun protection
A sunny day makes for a beautiful hike, and for a brutal sunburn the next day if you're not prepared. Bring sport sunscreen, which is designed to last through sweating. Apply a thorough layer of the stuff before you set off from the trailhead, and bring it in your pack to reapply later. A brimmed sun hat and sunglasses will help too – not only will they keep you from getting burned, but they'll help you maintain good visibility, even when the sun is blindingly bright.
5. First aid
In all likelihood, your hike will go just swimmingly, but it never hurts to be prepared. Bring a basic first-aid kit at the very least, stocked with bandages, antibacterial ointment, gauze, tape, tweezers and pain relievers. If you or anyone in your group has serious medical conditions that could flare up out on the trail, like an allergy to bee stings, bring extra doses of any necessary medications.
6. Extra clothes
If you get caught in a rainstorm, you'll be grateful for a dry pair of socks. And if you're not starting the day off wearing a rain jacket or other breathable, water-resistant jacket, stuff one into your pack for later. A dry long-sleeved shirt and pants may also come in handy if the weather turns colder or wetter than you anticipate.
If you're planning a long hike in an isolated area, bring safety equipment like matches, fire starters and a reflective blanket and flares, just in case you get hurt or stranded overnight.
Don't bother with ... a camera
Unless you're a pro photographer, leave your fancy camera behind. It will take up space in your backpack, and you risk it getting broken. Most smartphones take impressive photos, so you'll have plenty of proof of your big adventure.
Don't bother with ... anything extra
That book you think you might read when you stop for lunch? You'll probably want to look at the scenery instead, but you'll still have to carry that book on your back all day. The same goes for towels, extra gadgets and makeup or other toiletries. Unless you're planning a multi-day hike, you probably don't need to bring shampoo or a toothbrush. Ask yourself, "Will I really use this?" and "Could this save my life?" before adding each item to your pack. If you answer no to both questions, leave it behind.