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Preparing for a Long Hike: Food & Other Essentials

Going backpacking? Then be sure to prepare beforehand. Whether you intend to spend one day or several hiking the great outdoors, if you plan ahead, you will have a more enjoyable experience. And you’ll definitely have a safer one.

One of the major ways you can prepare for your hike is by carefully assembling the food and other items that you will need to take with you.

How much can you carry?
If you’re like most backpackers, you will only be able to carry enough food for five or six days.
And that’s just food for you, not the entire group with which you are hiking. If the weather is cold, subtract at least a day’s worth of food items, as you will also need to take along extra gear to keep you warm.

What should you pack?
In addition to food, you should also take eight other essentials with you on your hike.

1. Pocketknife
A pocketknife with can opener and screwdriver blades is an all-purpose necessity for a backpacker. Whether you’re setting up a tent or preparing a meal, you’ll find a sharp, clean knife invaluable.

2. First-aid kits
Each member of your party should create a small first-aid kit by placing basic first-aid items in a sealable plastic bag. Articles such as antiseptic wipes, Band-Aids and antibiotic cream for treating minor injuries should be included. Items needed in case of a more serious emergency, such as bandages and gauze, should also be placed in the kits.

A member of your group should also carry a larger, more comprehensive first-aid kit.

3. Extra clothes, including raingear
In order to backpack safely and comfortably, you need to be prepared for changes in the weather. A sudden cloudburst, a cold front or a heat wave could leave you sodden, shivering and/or miserable if you don’t have an appropriate change of clothes with you. Also pack loose, breathable raingear. It won’t chafe, and it will dry quickly.

4. Water bottle
Whether the weather is hot or cold, you need to keep your body hydrated as you hike, so take along a water bottle. Wide-mouthed plastic water bottles are easy to clean and easy to fill, but you could also use an old soda bottle in order to save money. Camelbacks, backpacks with built-in water bags, are great for short hikes. Most, however, don’t have enough storage space to make them appropriate for longer backpacking trips.

5. Flashlight
A regular flashlight, penlight or headlamp is essential, even if you are not planning an overnight trip. Even if your trip is well-planned, it could extend into nightfall, leaving you and your fellow backpackers in the dark.

Along with your flashlight, pack extra batteries and bulbs.

6. Matches and fire starters
Like your personal first-aid kit, matches, butane lighters and fire starting kits comprised of candle stubs, lint and pitch pine should be kept in sealable plastic bags. All sorts of emergencies can happen on the trail, and you never know when you may have to build a fire.

7. Sunscreen
Sunburn is a common hiker injury. Not only is it painful, but repeated overexposure to the sun can cause permanent skin damage—even skin cancer. Take along sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Since it will come off as you sweat (or if you get caught in the rain) reapply it throughout your hike.

8. Map and compass
Be sure to pack an up-to-date map and a compass before you set out, even if you think that you know the terrain well. As previously stated, when backpacking in the wilderness, all sorts of events can occur. Poor visibility, human error—whatever the reason, you could lose your trail. A map and compass will help you find your way again.

If you have room, a GPS is also fun to take; however, because they rely on satellite signals and battery power, they are not as reliable as a simple compass and map.

Tagged in: backpacking hiking


  • Igor
    Igor Thursday, 12 April 2012

    I recall a few years back, my friends and I went for a hike in California. We planned to be back before sunset, and guess what ... we couldn't be back down in time. None of us had a flashlight, we ended up using whatever light our cell phones could provide. Lesson learned ... always carry a flash light!

  • Maggie
    Maggie Thursday, 12 April 2012

    Yes definitely, a torch is a must :) !

  • Scott
    Scott Friday, 13 April 2012

    This article reminds me of the movie 127 hours, I don't know why. I would also advice against hiking the great outdoors alone. Anything can happen!

  • David L Forrest
    David L Forrest Wednesday, 20 June 2012

    I agree with Scott about hiking alone. However, I have found it difficult to find someone that is able and willing to go with me on some of my longer hikes. I took my dog (a black shepherd) with me which is better than going alone. I also have a SPOT Messenger (PLB) that gave my family some comfort knowing that I could call for help in an emergency!

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