So you want to start hiking. Either solo, with a loved one or with a little one, like I do. That‘s great! I am very excited for your new adventures and hopefully new lifetime hobby. But before you hit the trails, I wanted to share with you 10 Hiking essentials you should probably have on you at all times when you hike. Preparation is key to ensure a safe experience. Get ready to take a hike, yeah, go take a hike.
First Hiking Experience
The first hike I did with Gregory was the Stawamus Chief to the first pump. It was a killer hike to tackle with a toddler on my back, but I packed enough water and food to last us the trip and all went well. But what if it didn‘t go well?
Something could have gone wrong. What if we got lost, got cold, ended up in the dark… these things happen. It’s happened to me more times than I thought it would over the years. And so far I have not had any major issues with getting lost, hiking back through a forest in the dark and the weather taking a turn, making me cold.
All because I have learned so much since my first hike with Gregory. A lot of trial and error, packing too much, packing too little and some other random life lessons along the way. I wanted to share with you the 10 hiking essentials you should carry in your pack so that you are prepared and if by chance you end up like me, sometimes getting lost in the dark while forest bathing, you can survive and make it home in one piece.
10 Hiking Essentials
1.Navigation. Be it a map on paper, words written, your phone, a compass or a GPS hiking watch that tracks your route. Have some sort of navigation tool with you in case you get lost. Always pay attention to the trail so you know how to return the way you came.
2.Food and Water. Hydration is key. After talking with Search and Rescue at a workshop, I learned that most people who need rescuing while hiking had not prepared food or water. And proper footwear, but that is another issue. Have extra water than you think you will need to drink, maybe invest in some water purification tablets or a LifeStraw that will allow you to drink water you find on the trail. Food… is just delicious and gives you energy, so never leave home without it. Not just a hiking essential, it’s a life essential.
3.Communication. Phones are great, but what if it dies on the trail? I recommend having a whistle and/or another loud device that doesn’t require you to use your vocal chords to draw attention to yourself. You can blow a whistle all day if you slipped down the mountainside and got stuck somewhere, injured. But you won’t be able to continue yelling after just a few short hours. Our vocal chords will give out faster than we’d expect.
4.Insulation. Layer up! Its easier to take layers off than find layers that you don’t have. Wear appropriate clothing for layers too. Breathable clothing, lightweight and comfortable. Extra socks are a nice touch, as well as ensuring you have proper footwear for the climate you are hiking. i.e. Snowshoes, waterproof boots, proper hiking shoes, trail running shoes, or perhaps water shoes if you’re hiking through the water.
5.Illumination. A flashlight is always important to have on you. The last hike I went on ended up turning into a sunset hike and I was the only person with a light that wasn’t from my phone. Sure, phones are great, but what if it dies? I have a headlamp I keep tucked away in my backpack which has come in so much use. I found mine at Walmart for about $25, they are a great investment. Also, have spare batteries, just in case.
6.First Aid Kit. Injuries happen. Either to yourself or to someone else on the trail. Have a few band-aids, gauze, cleaning wipes, antibacterial, maybe a tensor bandage. A simple first aid kit will do the trick. You can buy them ready-made for fairly cheap at most drugstores and, of course, Walmart. Also, I recommend packing some toilet paper.
7.Emergency Shelter. Some people hike with hammocks and a tarp in their pack. Mostly for recreational use, but it has a great emergency shelter usage too. If you are like me and haven’t acquired your hiking hammock yet, a silver emergency blanket will do. They are light, very small and really useful if you need some protection from the elements. I also have a plastic raincoat that I could double as a tarp if needed.
8.Sun Protection. Even on a cloudy day, you can get sun damage. Sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and different clothing options will help protect you from the sun.
9.Fire Starter. Flint, matches, a lighter… whichever works for you. I have matches and flint in my pack. Matches are useless when wet, ensure you have them in a sealed dry space. Mine slip into my whistle/compass here. The flint is wrapped in the whistle string, attached to the whistle. A perfect multipurpose essential that saves space and is lightweight.
10.Tools or repair kit. Going for a big hike? Maybe bring a shovel to bury your poop. Have a hammock or tarp with you? Maybe bring a small sewing kit in case it gets a tear. I definitely make sure I bring a pocket knife or another small multi-purpose tool that can help me in a jiffy when I’m in a tight spot. Some people bring hatchets, but I’m not one to destroy mother nature and go bushwacking. I stick to the trails.
Buying Your Essentials
There is no need to rush out and buy the most lavish, expensive and best-reviewed products out there. Take it easy when accumulating your new hiking gear and make sure it’s a good fit for you. Sure, you can go to Cabellas or Mountain Equipment Co-op, but as I said before, you can get some of this stuff at Walmart, drug stores, even the dollar store. Although, you get what you pay for.
Some of these things you may already have in your home. Extra band-aids, matches, a lighter, a flashlight, a pocket knife, a hat, sunblock… shop your own home. I also highly recommend asking family and friends if they have items that you can have or even borrow for a short time until you get some stuff of your own.
If you know someone who is an avid outdoorsy person, ask if they have recommendations and if you can borrow some of their gear so you can get a feel of what may or may not work for you. As long as you aren’t going to trash their stuff, people are usually more than willing to lend out their gear if they aren’t currently using it when you’re requesting it.
Lastly, buy used. Go to thrift stores, shop online, Varagesale, Craigslist, sometimes you can find a local facebook group that focuses on hiking and people are often buying, selling and trading if it doesn’t clash with admin rules for the group.
There are many people out there who go out and buy the best of the best before their first attempt at whatever it is they are doing in life. They use it once and realize that it isn’t for them and need to get rid of their new, high quality, only used once, acquired goods. This is the perfect opportunity to pick up items that are practically new at discount prices.
Before You Go
You don’t really have to go out on the trail with these 10 essential hiking items but it’s a good idea to be prepared. Hiking is great fun, and more often than not, nothing goes array. But for those hikes that have an unexpected challenge, it is awfully nice to be prepared and be able to tackle the challenge with confidence knowing you have what it takes.
Out of the entire list, my top 5 items to bring are; food/water, illumination, insulation, first aid, and communication. Technically you could build a shelter, otherwise, that would be on the list. Even for a short in&out hike, I don’t leave home without these 5 things in my pack.
Now go out and start gathering your hiking essentials so you can hit the trails with confidence. Well, having these won’t give you confidence, but it may give you a feeling of safety and security. Have fun, be safe, and take a hike, would ya?