How to prepare for a hike

Vayda hiking
Vayda hiking Old Man's Cave in Hocking Hills. (Sara Welch photo)

One of my favorite things to do is hike. I wouldn’t say I’m incredibly serious about it, but I like to get out and see what I can see whether it’s somewhere close by or a destination I’ve always wanted to visit.

Since my hikes have been getting longer and I’ve branched out, I’ve thought a lot more about planning ahead and making sure I have all the essentials before a day hike. I’ve always packed things like water bottles, bandaids, sunscreen and maybe a granola bar. But because I have stuck to shorter, familiar hikes, I didn’t give much thought to preparation.

No matter where you hike or for how long things can go wrong, unexpected injuries can happen and unanticipated dangers can crop up. That’s why you should always be prepared for potential risks.

Things to pack

You should always research where you’re hiking and take into consideration the weather, time of day and time of year to plan out what to bring with you. Below is a basic list of essentials:

Life-saving medications/prescriptions. I’m a little ashamed to say I almost forgot my Epipen recently. I always have it on me — at home, at work, at the grocery store. However, it slipped my mind on a recent kayak outing and hike. I remembered before I left it behind and threw it in my backpack, but I probably should have taken it out of my purse and packed it in my backpack beforehand. If you rely on an Epipen, inhaler or other life-saving medication don’t forget to pack it. Hiking takes you away from easily accessible areas and out of cell phone service.

First-aid kit. In addition to any life-saving medications you may need, you should bring a first aid kit with you. Additionally, if you’re hiking above an elevation of 6,000 feet you should be aware of the signs and symptoms of high-altitude illness.

Water. Bring plenty of water to drink while hiking. If you’re concerned with how much you have to carry to have enough for your hike use collapsible water bags instead of water bottles.

Tools. At the very least you should pack a pocket knife or multitool, a whistle, a flashlight, fire starters and strike-anywhere matches. Make sure you keep your tools in, especially your fire-starting equipment in a waterproof bag.

Map and compass. No matter where you hike it’s a good idea to have a map and compass. Even if it is a trail you know, it can help to know what resources are around you and how to get to them in the event of an emergency.

Backpack. Make sure you have a backpack that fits comfortably for hiking. You should position it high on your back and wear both shoulder straps so it is snug against you.

Sun protection. You should apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher before starting your hike and keep some in your backpack to reapply periodically. Hats, breathable long-sleeve shirts, sunglasses and lip balm with SPF also help protect you from the sun.

Insect deterrent. You’re likely to come into contact with some unwelcome guests like ticks, spiders, mosquitoes and flies while you’re out on a hike. Use insect repellent to deter them. My daughter is allergic to most bug sprays, so we use OFF botanical lotion instead. It works well.

Rain gear. Ponchos are not only good for unexpected rain while hiking, but can also block wind to help keep you warm.

Change of socks. It’s always a good idea to bring a spare pair of socks, so you can change them if they get sweaty, wet, worn or torn. Making sure your feet are comfortable and protected is essential.

Trash bag. I typically bring a plastic grocery bag to pick up trash that’s been left behind as we go. It helps keep trails and the wildlife we share them with clean and healthy.

Toiletries. If you’re hiking far from public restrooms, you should pack toilet paper, hand sanitizer and waste bags just in case.

Snacks. It’s a good idea to bring small snacks, even on a short hike. Some ideas are granola, dried fruit and trail bars.

Bring a buddy. Hiking alone is more dangerous than hiking with a buddy or in a group. Even hiking in a group, make sure you use the buddy system so no one gets lost. If you plan on hiking alone, make sure someone knows where you’re hiking and when you plan on being back.

What to wear

Always wear the appropriate clothing for the weather you expect, but be prepared for the unexpected. Weather can change quickly.

Below is a basic list of clothing items to wear hiking:

Shoes. The right hiking shoes are vital. The wrong shoes can lead to sore feet, blisters and other injuries. You need to consider where you’ll be hiking to determine what kind of shoes are most suitable. Light-weigh, low-cut hiking shoes made from breathable materials are suitable for well-maintained trails. Mid-cut boots with a mix of leather and synthetic material offer more ankle support and protection and are suitable for more scenic trails. High-cut leather boots are the most durable and provide the most balance and support for hikers planning to tackle challenging terrain. Also, remember to always break in your shoes and waterproof them before you hike in them.

Shirt and pants. Long-sleeve shirts and pants offer the most protection when hiking. Choose synthetic materials that are breathable to keep you cool in warm temperatures Choose heavier materials with moisture-wicking technology that will keep you warm and dry in colder temperatures. It’s also recommended to dress in layers when it is cold. Avoid cotton clothes because it holds in moisture. Wear light-colored clothing to identify ticks and other insects more easily.

Socks. Choose tall, durable socks made of wool or synthetic material to protect against blisters and insects.

Choosing a hiking spot

Above all, always stick to trails you can handle. If you have a goal of hiking more difficult trails or there are natural features you want to see off the beaten path, work your way up to that more challenging hike first.


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