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Eight Day Hiking Essentials
Don’t Hit the Trail without These Hiking Must-Haves
The hiking trail around St. Mary’s Lake in southern Maryland isn’t an easy one. Substantial portions of the 7.5-mile trail are rutted, steep or overgrown with thick briars.
My friend and I began our hike at about 9 AM, little realizing that the temperature that day would skyrocket into the upper nineties well before noon. Not only was it hot, but it was also extremely humid, and there was no breeze.
The high temperatures would have been even more miserable—dangerous, in fact—if we hadn’t been prepared for almost any weather event. We stopped several times to rest and reapply sun block. Both of us ate energy bars and drank from our camelbacks often to ward off heat exhaustion.
Imagine our surprise when, almost halfway through the hike, we encountered another "hiker," a young girl dressed all in black—long black pants and a long-sleeved, black t-shirt. She was smoking a cigarette as she walked and, more incredibly still, wore flip-flops.
The girl asked us for water, which we gave her without hesitation, and then she continued on her way. I don’t know how she felt later, but I imagine she experienced one or more of the symptoms associated with heat-related illness: body aches, fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting, etc.
Hiking is more than a walk. Be prepared!
What had she been thinking? Didn’t she know that hiking, whether in hot weather, cold weather or the best weather imaginable, is not the same as simply taking a walk? To be comfortable and safe, hikers must be prepared for any eventuality when they’re on the hiking trail—from extreme weather and rough terrain to losing their way.
Wearing the right shoes is essential to a hiker’s comfort, safety and wellbeing. For those hiking long distances over rough terrain, leather hiking boots are best. Most leather boots have steel shanks between their soles and leather uppers that provide stability. Leather hiking boots also shed water, and they keep feet warm. The boots shouldn’t, however, be too heavy. (Conventional wisdom equates a pound of weight on a hiker’s foot to about five pounds in his backpack.)
For shorter day hikes, inexpensive nylon trail shoes are more appropriate than leather boots. Ordinarily, they weigh considerably less, and they have rugged soles that provide stability, making them perfect for hikers carrying a light backpack.
Hikers should also dress in layers so that they can easily add or remove clothing to suit the weather. In case of a downpour, they should also carry raingear, such as a lightweight rain poncho or water-shedding rain jacket.
No matter what the temperature, hikers need to take filled water bottles, canteens or camelbacks with them. To stay hydrated, frequently drinking water or drinks like Gatorade when on the trail is a necessity.
Soda, coffee and other caffeinated drinks should be avoided. They are diuretics and cause the body to lose fluid.
Snacks are also essentials. Nuts, trail mix, protein bars—all of these are perfect for a short day hike. They are light to carry and easy to eat on the move or during rest breaks. In case of delays, detours or miscalculations, day hikers should carry a few extra snacks.
A first-aid kit that includes sunscreen, as well as basics like bandages and antiseptic, is also a day hike necessity. Either purchase a small, pre-packed kit or create your own by placing items in a re- sealable plastic bag to keep them dry and undamaged.
Even for a short hike, some sort of flashlight (with extra batteries) is essential, as is a means of making a fire (a fire-starting kit). A detour, an accident, a wrong turn—all sorts of events could lengthen a hiking trip into the night. Also, when the weather is hot, hikers may opt to hike in the evening when it’s cooler.
Compass, map and/or GPS
Day hikers should also take along an up-to-date map of the trail area. A compass is another essential and much more reliable than a GPS, which (although fun to operate) needs batteries and satellite signals in order to work.