Happy trails and trekking through the great outdoors
A sense of solitude, an escape from the modern world, an opportunity to test yourself in the unforgiving wilderness – everybody gets something different out of a hiking adventure. Whatever your reason for striding off into the unknown may be, you won't get very far if you're not prepared. These tips and tricks will not only help you get your hiking trip off to a good start, but also make sure you get back in one piece.
1) Stay hydrated
It's impossible to overstate the importance of drinking plenty of water while you're on the trail. Your precise water needs are unique to you, and depend on everything from the temperature to the strenuousness of your hike, but plan on drinking at least 2 liters each day while you're hiking. It's better to drink small amounts often, as opposed to chugging water every few hours.
If you're hiking for longer than one day, you will need some method of treating your water, from a filtration system to Chlorine dioxide tablets, so that you can purify water from natural sources. Even on a day hike, it's a good idea to pack a water treatment option in case of an emergency.
2) Don't push your limits
It's never a good idea to push your body to the brink, but this becomes even more dangerous when you're way out in the woods miles away from help. Fatigue, heat exhaustion and injuries have sidelined many an otherwise-healthy hiker. Listen to your body, and rest when it tells you to rest.
If you're going on a longer backpacking trip, it's especially important to pace yourself when you're just starting out. You might meet some other backpackers who like to talk about the big miles they're doing, but don't let it get to you – you'll be able to tackle 20-mile days if you work up to it gradually.
3) Treat your feet
Your feet have a tough job to do, so be kind to them. That starts with choosing a pair of hiking shoes that are lightweight, durable, comfortable and, most importantly, fit well. The choice between hiking boots and lighter footwear like trail runners depends on a variety of factors (boots tend to be more water-resistant, trail runners are often more comfortable in hot conditions) so go with whatever feels more comfortable to you. A few additional tips when it comes to footwear:
- Break in your shoes with a few shorter treks before you tackle a long hike.
- Socks are important, too. Wear socks that are comfortable, dry quickly and provide some cushioning. Bring at least one extra pair in case the first pair gets wet.
- When you take a break for lunch or a snack, take off your shoes and socks to let them cool off and air out.
- On a long hike, take a minute to soak your feet in a cool, clean stream to relieve heat and swelling.
4) Don't overpack
A heavy pack takes its toll as the miles roll by, so keep it as light as possible. Eliminate anything from your pack that isn't absolutely essential. You might want a book to read, but do you need one? It might be nice to have lots of extra clothes, but is that really necessary? Also consider weight when you buy essential items like tents and sleeping bags; lightweight models are often more costly, but it's a worthwhile expense.
The longer your hiking trip, the more important it becomes to pack wisely. If you overpack for an afternoon stroll, it's no big deal – you learn your lesson and pack smarter next time – but if you start a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail with a ton of unnecessary gear, you could be in trouble.
5) Eat well
You can't really prepare gourmet meals on the trail, but you shouldn't starve yourself either. Pack foods that are easy to prepare and offer plenty of protein and carbs for energy. It's also important to pack foods you actually like. Good choices include granola bars, trail mixes, nuts, dried fruit, jerky and maybe a candy bar or two. Avoid things that are heavy and perishable, like canned goods, meat and fresh produce.
If you're going on a multi-day backpacking trip, you'll probably want to add some hot food to the mix, like rice, oatmeal and pasta. A wide variety of freeze-dried meals are available at most hiking supply stores and outfitters. These have the advantage of being lightweight and easy to prepare. Remember that hot food means you will need a way to boil water, along with an assortment of utensils.