A walk in the woods should always warrant a need for certain gear in your bag. You may never need to use any of these items but it is always better to have and not use than to not have and need. With the number of people, realizing the benefits of immersing yourself in nature steadily rising there is more of a need to find accurate information on becoming an informed and safe hiker. Not all of us were lucky enough to grow up with boy/girl scout troops or 4H that put on regular classes and trips to the wilderness to learn necessary outdoor skills. It’s ok to be a newbie! We all start somewhere. So do not be upset if you make a few blunders along the way. As a 46er (#10728), fire tower challenge 30/30 as well as single season winter FTC 25/30, aspiring Saranac 6er (4/6), and Lake George 12ster (10/12- all as sunset hikes) I’ve had my fair share of perfect trips and a few horrendous days as well. Just roll with it, learn from your mistakes, and you will make the transition to serious backpacker in no time.
There’s a golden list of basic things to pack that will have you prepared for anything yet still only carrying around 20 lbs. of gear. Your list begins with proper footwear, a comfortable pack, food, water, sun protection, extra clothing (layers), a light source, a knife, and repair kit, fire starting kit, first aid kit, emergency shelter, and lastly a map with compass. Keep in mind you do not need to spend hundreds of dollars on this list to enjoy your outings in the woods comfortably. Hand-me downs from your hiking friends can make some of the best starter gear out there and eventually through trial and error you will find your favorite pieces.
Another important piece to being prepared is to research the local weather for the area you plan to hike. Knowing the conditions for the area you are hiking through will help keep you safer by knowing what clothing layers you will need to pack and or if you need to change plans. Things to stay away from are heavy rain/snow, thunderstorms, dense fog, extreme heat/cold, and high winds. All of these conditions have taken the lives of extreme mountaineers. We all know the weather can be unpredictable but some quick research ahead of time could save you from a miserable day in the woods.
Food and water are two of the more important things to bring with you on any adventure to stay hydrated and strong during your hike. Short day trips (sleeping beauty, Cat/Thomas Mountains, and Rondaxe (bald) mountain) are great lunch type meal planning hikes for people of all fitness levels. Plan on some trail mix, a sandwich, protein bar, and a beverage of choice for each member of your group. A good rule of thumb is to plan for enough food to have an extra meal if an emergency were to come up. I have found that any days that I’ve traveled under 10 miles round trip I had plenty of water with a 2-liter hydration pack with extra to spare.
Dress in layers, based on the time of year you plan on hiking. Weather can turn quickly so having the extra raincoat, windbreaker, down jacket, dry socks, fresh t-shirt/shorts, or an insulated base layer is essential for a successful trip. Pack for whatever Mother Nature might throw at you. When selecting clothing for your adventures try to stick with synthetic breathable items like polyester, nylon, smart wool or blended materials. Footwear and a good comfortable pack are really the workhorses of your gear. Feet are in constant contact with the terrain and supporting your weight throughout the journey, so comfort and functionality are important. Waterproof and breathable materials with a durable tread are key to keeping you going for miles and miles so be choosy with your fit. You will want a bag with compartments to separate your gear and to keep things organized. Getting to your snacks quickly is important!
A fire starting kit, first aid kit, and emergency shelter (Mylar blanket/ waterproof bivy sack) are available at your local gear shop. If you need to spend an unexpected night in the woods these can take some of the panic out of the situation and take up very little space in your bag. The repair kit should include shoestring/Para cord, needle with thread, extra buttons, and replacement clips for your bags straps.
The headlamp, knife, and sun protection are staples that should always be along for a day in the woods that keep you prepared for any of the normal things hikers might encounter. A knife is a great versatile tool that you can use for anything from eating to repairs of your gear and takes up almost no space on your belt. A headlamp removes the worry of hiking in the dark. We have all had those days that we misjudge the time a hike would take or the view was just too nice to leave so soon. Sunblock is something not everyone would think to bring along but over exposure to the sun can put a rather unenjoyable stop to a hike. Heat stroke is no joke and can be fatal if untreated. Adding a lightweight long sleeve shirt to keep the sun off you is very beneficial and will not take long. Avoid getting burned.
Perhaps the most important tools you should bring along are a map and compass. A guide map will show you distances from trailheads to summit and if your trail will intersect any others along the way. At any lookout or summit, some basic compass reading skills can help you identify your surrounding landmarks. As you start hiking more and more using these maps to determine distance and elevation gain (topographical lines) will help you dial in how long a hike will take you. GPS apps on your phone or stand- alone units are OK to have and use but can be unreliable. Batteries can freeze up and cell service can be very spotty in the mountains so having a hard copy in your pack is a perfect fail safe. Sorry folks. Sometimes old school is best!
Now that we have gone over the basics, get out there and enjoy the trails. Most trailheads have a listing of the phone number to call for the local forest ranger should you need help. Be sure to tell someone where you are going, when you expect to return, and practice the leave no trace principles while out on an adventure. If we leave the trails in a better condition than we found them, we will all be able to enjoy the trails for generations to come.
Written by Jake Wilde