5 Simple Preparation Lessons I’ve Learned About Hiking
1) Comfort. This may seem like it should rank low in importance, especially if you fancy yourself a no frills adventurer who can overcome obstacles with teeth gritting. Unfortunately, that little strap rubbing against your shoulder and that tiny pebble in your shoe are enough to bring down Paul Bunyan himself after a couple of hours. Quadruple the degree of discomfort you feel when you start off on a hike and you’ll have an idea of what it’s going to feel like further down the trail. When you stop for your first break you will be surprised how small discomforts have suddenly morphed into handicapping pain. Before you begin, it’s a good idea to have everything adjusted. Even if it means holding up your companions, spending time getting everything adjusted at the outset always pays off by not getting held up making repeated gear adjustments further down the trail. Make sure your socks don’t have an annoying wrinkle in them, tighten up your laces and double knot them, perfectly adjust your backpack, and eliminate anything that may cause blisters and chafing.
2) Less is more. Bringing that massive beach cooler seems like a great idea when you picture yourself living the good life at your camping/resting spot, but the mental and physical battle endured getting it there can quickly outweigh any benefits. A heavy pack is never worth a twisted ankle which can turn things into a survival situation in a hurry. When you pack for your excursion, always start with the most important items and work your way down (First Aid >Compass >Water >Food >…Bottle of wine). Every ounce counts when it comes to hiking, so even the smallest item that you really don’t need should be left behind.
3) Layers. It doesn’t matter what season it is, layering is extremely important. Knowing the basic fundamentals of layering is essential, and must be considered for every part of your body. Being soaked with sweat is always your enemy, and being too hot or too cold can be life threatening. The same basics apply to each body part. The base layer should be thin, light and moisture wicking, followed by a thicker insulating layer such as wool, and topped by a wind breaking/water repelling shell layer (choosing light colours for your outer layers can help you identify and remove dark coloured ticks). The reason layering is so important is because it allows you to adjust to your changing body temperature and environmental conditions by dawning or shedding layers as you go. Whatever the conditions are when you start out, it’s no guarantee that they will stay that way. Dense forest can shield the wind, rain and sun, so that when you get to a more open area you are exposed to a massive change in conditions. Coastal versus inland areas can also cause dramatic condition changes. Temperatures can rise and fall one season’s worth depending on your activity level. Stopping can make summer feel like winter, and going at a good pace can make winter feel like summer. If you aren’t careful to adjust your layers accordingly, you can quickly encounter dangerous hypothermia or hyperthermia situations.
4) One foot at a time. The most important part of your body in the outdoors is your feet. Taking proper care of your feet should be your #1 priority. If your feet hurt, you can’t move, and if you can’t move you’re in trouble. Most important of all is having dry feet. Wearing a sock liner is a good way of keeping your feet dry and blister free. Make sure your footwear is comfortable and will not cause any blisters or other discomforts which can hobble you after a few hours of hiking. Waterproof and breathable are two key words in looking for footwear or almost every other type of clothing for hiking. Top things off with a set of gaiters, and you can have lightweight protection for your shins, while keeping water out of your feet. Warmth is really only a concern in winter. Thick wool socks over top of your sock liner, combined with insulated waterproof boots are usually enough to do the job. During other seasons you don’t want to insulate too much. Foot sweating and wetness is more often a problem than warmth is.
5) Anticipate to hydrate. You can survive weeks without food but only a couple of days or hours without water. You should never overlook bringing water even on a short outing. Water is always #1 on my packing list for any excursion. Many hiking backpacks now have built space for a hydration pack which is often the most convenient way of carrying water. On longer trips where bringing a large supply of heavy cumbersome water jugs just isn’t practical, consider water filtration devices, purifying tablets, or good old fashioned boiling to make use of available water sources. You should also be attuned to recognizing the symptoms of dehydration and try not to reach even the earliest stages.