With summer just around the bend comes many an outdoor fanatics favorite pastimes: hiking and camping. Whether to explore the outdoors as a way to keep out of the office and home, or as a way to have an enjoyable bit of exercise, or even as a bonding adventure with family and friends, both options offer a chance for us to get more in touch with our more natural selves. That being said, we shouldn’t go out there without any preparation or with nothing but the clothes on our backs and our wits. Here, we go over the top 10 tips for hikers and campers.
10. The Ten Essentials
Like with many things, when it comes to success in it, preparation is absolutely needed for a good time camping and hiking. Here, we are going to cover what is considered the 10 essentials with current technology. Do keep in mind that some places may require a slightly different version but this is a good catchall and minimum.
1. Navigation. While your phone can act as a GPS, a good old map and compass works well as a backup, if you know how to use it. If you do carry your phone, an external battery or charger is a good idea.
2. First Aid and Medical Supplies. Always carry a decent first aid kit with all the essentials, and anything you think you might need. For me as an example, given previous back injuries, I carry a standard kit, a small bottle of NSAIDs, and a back brace in case things take a turn for the worse. Whatever you carry though, make sure you know how to use it; Otherwise it’s not only a waste of space but a false sense of security.
3. Lights. Even on a day hike, there’s a chance of being stuck out in the dark. And the only thing worse than being out in the dark is blindly fumbling about in the dark. A headlamp or high power flashlight can be used for sight or to signal for help if needed, and thus should be packed every time, with batteries tested before heading out.
4. A Repair Kit, including a multi-tool. There’s not many sounds out in the woods as bad as the sound of your pants, tent, or boots ripping with no needle and thread in sight and no way to repair them.
5. Water and portable water filter. Both are needed even for short hikes, especially if you are new to the hiking and camping scene. I carry at least 2 liters per person on a day hike, though you might want more If you have trouble selecting one, check out our article on them!
6. Sun Protection, even in cold climates. Sun screen, sunglasses (or clip ons / transitions) and sunproof headwear as well as shirt and pants make for a good combination.
7. Extra Food, usually 24 hours worth at least. As an aside, don’t test new foods out on the trail. Be sure to test them out in your own kitchen first so if something isn’t to your liking, you’re not stuck with it for an entire trip.
8. Extra Clothing. hiking shirts and jackets are often moisture wicking and can regulate temperature well. When paired with a good pair of boots, it can make all the difference between a great adventure and a miserable time. As a personal note, do not make my mistake of wearing jeans on an 8 mile hike. Trail pants, while they may feel a little flimsy in store are immensely comfortable and keep you well regulated in terms of both heat and moisture.
9. Fire making materials. Water proof matches, a lighter, or a flint can do the job, depending on how to prefer to start a fire. Laundry lint can also be collected and used as a very effective starter for kindling. Be sure to practice safe fire making procedures to ensure other people have a forest to enjoy as well.
10. Shelter. Even for day hikes, a small lean-to kit is suggested, as circumstances can turn sour quickly and sometimes moving out simply isn’t an option for an extended period of time.
9. Determine Your Camping Style
On most accounts, there are several camping and hiking styles. First of all is the easiest to prep for and do, the day hiker. Beyond the ten essentials above, a good pair of hiking poles is a great idea if you are hiking hilly terrain (this coming from personal experience. It makes a world of difference when either climbing or descending hills around my current home region). Be sure to research trails ahead of time to check if they are open, elevation, and level of challenge. Otherwise, have a blast. Most day hikes should be around 10 miles (17km) at maximum, but you know your limits better than the internet, so don’t feel bad about turning back before that limit.
Next up is the car camper. Car campers can carry heavy duty gear, grills, and all the equipment one can expect with the classic “camping” trip, but are usually restricted to well-worn and easily accessible camp sites. This can allow for a taste of the wild without giving up many modern amenities. Be sure to check on rules for drinking alcohol and barbequing before heading out though; The only thing that can go bad with a brat and a beer is a $250 fine.
Finally there are the backpackers, which can go into three sub groups: standard, light and ultralight. Depending on what style you are going for, you are going to have different priorities and tradeoffs. While the ultralight will have an easier time hauling gear over miles, they may trade it off with a thin sleep mat or sleeping bag that is either expensive, or doesn’t work quite as well as others on the market that are bulky. “Ultralighters” are usually the most experienced and weight savvy of the group, but most can do just fine with light weight or standard backpacking equipment for multi-day hikes.
8. Know How to Pack, and Pack What You Use
In hiking one has to constantly balance being prepared and not overpacking. To this end, it is always a great idea to review your pack between trips and see what you need to augment, what you need to learn how to use, and what you should remove as it is never needed. Keep in mind that the last point need not pertain to the 10 essentials, especially spare food, water and medical gear.
7. Research Your Routes
This one is particularly important for hikers, back packers and essentially anyone other than car campers (though it’s a good idea for them to check out this idea too). Researching routes through parks and forests, mapping them, and keeping updated on the trail condition can easily mean the difference between having a great time and either A. Getting lost or B. Getting injured. Most campsites offer maps of the region, and most states carry websites for their trail associations. One such is the Washington Trails Association, which shows best routes, reviews, and what to expect. This sort of research can also give you a warning ahead of time if there is an entry fee to the parks, and what sort of passes they allow. Lastly, if parts of the trails are out, it is a good thing to know about this and plan ahead of encountering such an issue, as staying on the trails can keep both you and the environment safe.
6. Keep in Contact with Park Staff
If possible during the first few bits of your hiking or camping, drop by a ranger station for any information regarding trails, wildlife spotting, or advice. Park rangers in general are happy to help with any questions as well as provide tips on how to keep safe and enjoy the best that the trails have to offer.
5. Keep Hydrated
This should go without saying, but many people simply forget this easy tip. Make a point of hydrating as often as needed, and carrying enough water to do so. As mentioned earlier, I typically carry at minimum 2 liters of water per person as a team, as well as a spare filter in case water runs low.
4. Leave Contact Information and Route
It’s hard to rescue someone when you don’t know where they are. When leaving for a day hike, backpacking trip, or even on an expedition outside your camp site, tell someone where you are headed with as much information as possible, as well as what you are wearing. My hiking partners and I often leave a sticky note with our appearance, when we left, and where we aim to be going. Likewise, texting a few people with similar information can be a great idea, as well as estimated return times and dates.
3. Keep Reserves
Whether it’s a spare filter, water bottle, shelter or medical kit, keeping spares is absolutely needed if camping either alone or with others. While one should keep to the old D&D adage “never split the party”, if people do get separated, it’s better everyone has some supplies to keep them alright until such time as reunion or evacuation.
2. Pace Yourself
This one can be a bit of a hurt to the ego. While I wish I could say that I feel confident tackling the Pacific Crest Trail next month, I know the shape I am in simply wouldn’t allow for it. Likewise as campers and hikers, we have to check in on ourselves in terms of fitness. Starting out with a 10 mile trail may be a bad idea for your very first time hiking, but a 2 mile hike could be great. In a similar vein, a trail that gains 1200 feet in 0.3 miles can absolutely kill, while a 300 to 400 gain isn’t the worst thing to experience. Constantly challenge yourself, but don’t take too big a risk on the trail chosen.
1. Take Nothing, Leave Nothing
Topping our list of tips for hikers and campers is one that’s drilled into most people with an environmental lean: Take nothing, and leave nothing. It should go without saying that littering is a bad idea, especially if you want the trails and camps to be kept well enough to encourage a new generation of campers and hikers. Likewise, taking “souvenirs” can be detrimental. Instead, consider taking photos of interesting features so you can show others without disturbing the natural trail.