Hiking is truly a beautiful experience that will really make you appreciate the fact that you’re alive and breathing in this wonderful world, but only if you’re well prepared for it. I’ve been hiking for well over fifteen years now, and I’ve seen my share of accidents and mishaps, almost always through the fault and ignorance of the hikers themselves. It’s not the surprise bear attack that gets you in the wild, it’s overestimating your abilities and underestimating your needs when you’re in the wilderness.
(Side note: Bear attacks are actually quite rare and easy to avoid if you know what you’re doing. For more info on avoiding and surviving bear attacks, or just hiking in bear country, check out this bear safety guide by Survivalmag.)
Today, I want to make sure that doesn’t happen to you by talking about some of the essential items you should always bring with you when you go hiking.
A lot of people tend to forget this one, and it’s primarily because they have no idea how dark it can actually get in the forest. You see, in an urban environment, there’s always some kind of illumination – a distant street light, a TV set shining through a window, and so on. When you’re out in the woods, it’s a different story altogether, because unless there’s a full moon out, your only source of illumination will be your fire and the stars themselves. Always make sure that you have a flashlight with fresh batteries in case you need to find your way at night or things can get really complicated, really fast.
The same goes for heat. What many people don’t realize is that even during a hot summer’s day, the temperature can often drop an additional 10 to 15 degrees compared to an urban environment. This is because when you’re back home, you’re surrounded by concrete all around, and concrete is an excellent thermal absorbent. This means that it’s great at absorbing heatwaves and radiating them back at you at night, keeping you warm and letting you sleep without the covers. There’s no concrete in the woods, however, so don’t even think that you should attempt to make it through the night without starting a fire. Bring some waterproof matches, some old newspapers, and anything else you need to be able to light a campfire, and you should be fine.
One of the worst things you can do to yourself when hiking is not bringing enough water. Hiking is really good exercise, which means that it will dehydrate you faster than you might think, and you’ll need to replenish that water in order to keep going. This goes double if it’s actually hot outside, but you shouldn’t be without water even during winter. Apart from bringing all the water you need, it’s also a good idea to get your hands on a good water filter, in the case of an emergency, so you can purify your water on the go.
It’s a rule of thumb to pack more food than you need when you’re out hiking. However, you also need to make sure that you do not pack anything that spoils easily because no matter how much you bring it will be for nothing if it all goes bad the first day. Go for food with a long shelf life, like nuts, canned food and stuff like that.
Like I said, your number one enemy in the wild isn’t that big, evil lurking black bear – it’s getting lost and having no idea how to find your way back. Make sure your phone is charged so you can use its GPS, but also bring a good compass and map that you can use to navigate in case your phone dies. It’s very easy to get lost in an unfamiliar environment if you aren’t careful, so this is something you should definitely pay attention to.
The first premise you should accept when going out to spend a few days in the wilderness is that the weather is always unpredictable, even when it isn’t. Pack some spare clothes that you can change into if you happen to be caught in a flash shower because the last thing you want to do is have to sleep on the ground in wet clothes, or in no clothes at all.
A good Swiss army knife is always good to have when you’re out in the woods. You can use it to kill and skin an animal, cut up paracord to make a clothesline, and even prep a campfire. A good one will run you for about $60, but rest assured that it will last you a lifetime if you take good care of it.
Don’t even think about spending a night in the woods just in a sleeping bag. Although it’s a romantic notion to fall asleep under the stars, in reality, it is almost never warm enough to warrant this. Get a good tent, or learn how to find or make a shelter for yourself, because you really are going to need it.
As I said, accidents happen in the wild, and the worst thing about this is that you’re too far away from civilization to get immediate assistance in case something does happen. So, until you can get back, you’re on your own and you need to find a way to treat the injury until you can get professional help. A first aid kit is an absolute necessity for this kind of situation, and it should be filled with stuff like sterile gauze, elastic bandages, band-aids, antibiotics, pain killers, and the like.
Bugs can be a real nuisance when you’re out in the woods, and some can actually cause serious irritations and allergies if you’re susceptible. Bring along some bug repellant and apply it often to make sure you aren’t bitten. Additionally, you should probably protect yourself from sunburns and UV radiation by packing some high SPF sunscreen, as there are few things more annoying than having to carry around a huge backpack when your shoulders are all burned and sore.