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21 Things Not To Forget On A Day Hike...And Why

by Norm Zurawski

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Hiking is an adventure. Anyone who's gone on a 5 or 10 hour day hike knows as much. While on these day long excursions, you can expect any number of things to happen. In order to better prepare for the various things that one might encounter on the trail, I have composed a list of 21 things that I always consider bringing when I go on a day hike. While I may not use very many of them, I'm usually glad I brought what I did.

No, I was never a boy scout as a youth. One thing I've learned over the years is that there's an easy way to learn things and a hard way. Since I have pretty much gone for the "hard way" approach in nearly every one of these cases, I hope that I can pass some of these lessons on to you the easy way.

1. Backpack and rain cover. Well, this one is obvious. At least the backpack part of it is. It's fairly unlikely that you'd go hiking without a backpack. But a rain cover? Most people think that if it's raining, there's no sense in ever leaving the house. But one thing that I've found is that rainy days are the best way get accustomed to the inevitable rain you will encounter on longer hikes. Thus, you might just want to get a rain coat for that day hiking pack as well.

2. Food. In general, it's a good idea to have some food on hand when you go day hiking. Even if you only plan on going for a 2 hour hike, you never know when you're going to become interested in some side trail and end up tooling around in the woods for 5 hours. It happens. So you should always have food on hand for when your stomach begins to go on strike. I always bring along a sandwich for my lunch and some fruit for a quick energy burst, with oranges being the best candidate for that job. Also, I like to have 3 powerbars with me when I start as well as having eaten one before I began the hike. They are an invaluable source of calories and are good to have if you run across another hungry hiker on the trail with no food. And let's not forget gorp. 9 out of 10 hikers agree….

3. Boots. Well, this one is a gimmie, right? One rule of thumb to remember when choosing those boots, however, is that every pound of boot is like adding 5 pounds to your back. It's funny how the body works like that. You put too much stress on one part of it and another complains. Books could be written on choosing your boots. Read some of them before you proceed. Of course, after having said that, there are many trails that can be hiked with a pair of sneakers. Don't go out and spend the money on boots if you don't need to.

4. Gaiters. Again, this goes along with the rain cover for your day pack. If you want to get used to the rain, well, this goes without saying. What these accomplish for you is they prevent water from running down your legs and into the tops of your boots. After you spend all that time waterproofing your boots, you don't want to be foiled by forgetting to seal that big hole where your legs go in. Many hikers use these even on sunny summer days to prevent sweat and morning dew from getting into their boots.

5. Socks (2 pair). Socks are obvious. What isn't so obvious is what kinds of socks. Having an outer wool sock and an inner polypropylene sock combination to drain the moisture from your feet is a valuable practice that every hiker should get in the habit of doing. Your local hiking store will be able to tell you what socks are available to do the trick. My preference is a fitted sock liner as opposed to a loose fitting one and any of several types of wool socks with reinforced padding on the heel and ball of the foot for the outer shell. Bringing an additional pair of each is also something that is more than cautious, but one of those better safe than sorry situations.

6. Liquids. Now let's assume you use the "We don't need no stinking backpack" method of hiking. Well that's fine. But if you do, do yourself and the park rangers a favor and bring liquids. Water is the most common to bring, but anything that "replenishes" the body will do just fine. And I'm not talking about coffee here. One of my favorite drinks is to mix about one part water with one part orange juice. This way, you have a nice constant sugar supply with each drink of water.

7. Foot repair. Ankle brace. Foot repair. Moleskin is the best for this. If you have Moleskin, bring it. If not, buy it. Moleskin is the best friend to the feet of the hiker. Learning to use it the right way also helps. Read the directions carefully as to understand that you have to cut a hole if a blister has already formed. This way, it allows the blister to breathe and your foot to heal better. Other foot repair items that you might want to bring along include gauze, tape, Band-Aids, Neosporin, and ace bandages, or at least something to wrap your ankle in if you happen to twist it. A million people have said it a million times, what's one more? Feet are the most important things to hiking. Once the feet go, so does the hike.

8. An extra few pack straps. Now this little tidbit is one that I classify as "being a friendly hiker" territory. There's really no reason to have extra straps when going on a day hike with just a small pack. But having a few of these may save someone else's back in a pinch. More than once have I been able to help a fellow hiker by having an extra one on me. Not a necessary piece of equipment, but what's a few more ounces among friends?

9. Rain jacket. The rain jacket is only necessary if you know it's going to rain, right? Well sure. This is one thing I've learned from hiking over the years. Another thing I've learned is that you never know when it's going to rain. Period. So bring it if you'll be out for a full day. Chances are, if it's sunny when you start, it'll be sunny when it rains. But you never do know.

10. Fleece jacket. A fleece jacket is a nice thing to have when you begin your hike in the wee hours of the nascent sunlight or you hike into the colder hours of dusk. For as much as you sweat out on a hike, there will almost always be a place and time for a jacket. Especially when it gets rainy out.

11. Watch. It's nice to know what time it is. Keeping an eye on how long it took to get somewhere is a good way to know how long it will take to get back. Seems pretty obvious, right? Well take it from me, things seem to slip your mind when you hike sometimes. Remember what I said about learning the hard way?

12. Maps and compass. Having maps is a good way to get to know the terrain you're on in addition to giving you an indication of what is to come and what you've accomplished. Planning your day hike can be the most important way to guarantee a good day. Neglecting to do so can have adverse effects. Trust me on this one. Let's just say that 15 mile hikes shouldn't be started at 4:00 in the afternoon. But as they say, what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. Another nice little tidbit to have is a compass to go along with your map. While not absolutely necessary if you're following a well marked trail, it never hurts to have.

13. Knife. A knife is a valuable thing for three reasons. First, it's a great thing to have, period. A knife is an essential piece of any hiker's assembly of gear. Secondly, if you pick up one of nature's own hiking sticks, a knife gives you a way to better shape it to your hands while you take a breather on the side of the trail. Finally, you never know when you're going to run into Crocodile Dundee on the trail. So having a knife can benefit you in many ways.

14. Pen and paper. Very few aspiring poets and writers have begun writing in nature without paper and something to write with. Don't make that mistake.

15. String. String is one of those things that you will always have a use for. String is the equivalent of having duct tape at home. If you don't have duct tape at home, go buy some. And while you're there, you might as well pick up some string as well. Several years ago, when the sole of my boot fell off in the middle of a field in Pennsylvania, it was a chord of string that got me through it.

16. Garbage bag. This one's easy. Pack it in, pack it out. And while you're there pick up any trash that other's have left behind. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

17. Rubber bands. Rubber bands seem to be distant cousins to string in the fact that they come in handy so damn often. There's always the need to be bundling things together when you hike and there is no replacement for rubber bands. Keeping a handful strewn about the bottom of your backpack is a good way to ensure that you have some.

18. Reading material. This is one thing that I feel that I should mention because so many people like to prop themselves up against a tree in the middle of their hike and read. Having said that, very rarely do I bring something to read with me when I go hiking. Several years ago, when I hiked the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, I brought 3 books with me. I may have read half of one. I was so immersed with the maps and the trail guides that I brought along, I had no desire to pick up a work of fiction. The same can be said for day hikes. Whenever I have the desire to read, I open up my map or trail guide and read the little tidbits that it has to offer. Failing this, I just look at the trees.

19. Aspirin. This is a no brainer. While it may be noble to "grin and bear it," the fact remains that when your knee starts to hurt every time you step on a rock, you want aspirin.

20. Flashlight. Yes indeed. No matter how much you plan, no matter how well you know your local hiking trail, or no matter how closely you keep track of time, once in a while things will sidetrack you and the sun will do it's daily disappearing act sooner than you intended. In the event that this happens, a small flashlight will come in more handy than you could have imagined. While a flashlight is no excuse for staying out later than you should, if the problem does arise, you will be prepared.

21. Clothes to wear back home. Once the day is over and you stumble back to your car after 6 hours of hiking and sweating up a storm, it's always a good idea to have a fresh change of clothes with you so you don't go stinking up your car for the next 2 weeks. Another option is to cover your seat with a big towel. While the former is preferable, if all you have is a towel, then so be it.

One question you might ask is, "Why bother with so much crap?" Well, aside from being quite prepared while on the trail, it's never going to hurt to get used to having a pack on your back while you hike. After all, the more you like hiking, the more you're going to want to do it for extended periods of time. And then, all those times you walked for hours with smaller weights on your back might prepare you just a little bit for what's to come when you pack your bags to the gills for that week long trip. Besides, the feeling you do get when something you have helps another hiker is one that carries with you for an entire day.

Thinking before you go is the best way to ensure you'll have a nice hike. As in life, it's always the little things that make or break your time spent in the woods. Hopefully, I've been able to help with a few of the little things. Happy hiking.

About the Author

Hailing from the wonderful locale of New Jersey, Norm Zurawski (normZurawski@yahoo.com) is a part time hiker, biker, walker, writer, and lover of things


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