Hiking is a passion of mine. I don’t pretend to be an expert- I’m just an average girl who hates to be inside on a pretty day. But I would like to share some of my observations and suggestions for those just starting their hiking adventures.
1.) Always take a water bottle. It’s best if you can get one with a loop you can stick a finger or two through. My Camelback 24oz bottle has seen me through so many trails and kept me hydrated very well, as has my Coleman pack with its 2L waterpouch. It’s always best to have a bigger bottle than you need, since you’ll more than likely be sweating a lot of liquid that you’ll need to replace with more fluids. I don’t like to take Gatorade, sodas, or a sodium-filled drink like that on a trail, since they just make you thirstier as you drink them. Those are good for when you’re done hiking.
2.) Wear supportive shoes. DO NOT WEAR FLIP FLOPS. Nothing makes me roll my eyes harder while out on a trail than seeing some goofballs wearing flip flops and griping about getting gravel in their toes! You’re not out on a trail to show off your pedicure. And wearing open sandals like that is asking to get your feet and ankles hurt and twisted from lack of proper support. Plus, if you’re hiking a trail that runs by or across a stream, or if it’s been rainy, you run the risk of losing a shoe or slipping from not having a good tread. Flips aren’t exactly known for their good deep treads.
3.) Sort of going along with #2 above, it never, ever hurts to have waterproof shoes on. A good number of trails go through streams, and squishing up a trail in wet socks and feet is no fun. It’s absolutely worth the money to invest in a good, sturdy pair of waterproof boots that encompass your ankle.
4.) A good hiking stick is your best friend on a steep trail. My hiking stick was handmade by a close friend of mine and it has kept my behind from hitting dirt more times than I care to think about. It’s especially useful when you’re going through a patch of mud or even ice- you can stick the pole into the ground and use it for support. Many local retailers carry sturdy hiking poles, both wooden carved ones and metal ones with a spiked tip.
5.) Dress in layers if you’re out in cooler months. You can always peel off as you go. The temperature can vary pretty dramatically if you’re on a trail that goes from open sunny spaces to dark woods. I get warmer as my blood gets pumping anyway, so my athletic jacket usually gets tied around my waist.
6.) Don’t carry a bunch of unnecessary stuff with you. If I’m on a short trail, I stuff my pockets. One pocket holds my car key, the other has my phone (with GPS turned ON at all times, just in case the worst should happen), camera goes around my neck, and there we go. If I’ll be out for a few hours, I’ll strap on a mini backpack with the above plus a few more essentials, like a small first aid kit, emergency blanket, glo-stik, flashlight, energy bars, and a Ziploc baggie with a pack of Charmin To Go. That’s it. No need to tote your purse (yes, I’ve seen women doing that!) or anything else. It’s almost as dumb as wearing flip flops on a trail. Now backpacking is an entirely different story….for another time.
7.) If you’re going to be out for more than a couple hours, it never hurts to have an energy bar or two on hand. If your blood sugar is known to drop unexpectedly, this is especially wise. Candy bars do not count as energy bars, either. Granola bars are good. They make some with chocolate chips and stuff- close enough to a candy bar, right? Basically, look for a high protein content. Jerky is a great choice if you don’t care for granola.
8.) Ladies, pee before you leave. As a girl, I don’t like even the thought of using one of those pee-in-a-cup things they sell at hiking outfitting stores. Boys have it easy- girls, not so much. I’m not wiping with a leaf. I did find some Charmin to Go that I keep in a Ziploc because hey, life happens, you know?
9.) You’ll miss out on so much if you have earbuds in. Part of the whole hiking experience is the sounds of the woods and the wildlife. So unplug for a change! Immerse yourself in the outdoors. You won’t regret it.
10.) Leaves of Three, Let Them Be. Poison ivy, folks. If you see shiny tri-leaved low-growing plants, for the love of everything good don’t touch it.
11.) Do not antagonize wild animals. You’re in their home, not yours- you wouldn’t like it if some strange creature barged in your door and started yelling at you. Of course, if the animal is dangerous, remove yourself from the situation as quietly and quickly as possible. Sometimes raccoons can be rabid, and there are poisonous snakes out there, so be careful yet respectful out there.
12.) As of spring 2011, it is now legal for anyone with a concealed weapon permit to carry in a Federal park. Currently the State of North Carolina has not passed the same law, so if you are on Federal land you can carry legally; but you cannot legally carry on State property. Remember to obey posted laws and regulations, and bear in mind that the law of the state is higher than the federal in this case. If you are carrying, make sure that your piece is out of sight of other hikers so as not to alarm them, and that your safety is on at all times (if your piece has a safety.) I carry concealed for my own protection, since I often hike alone, and have never had a problem with another person or animal.
13.) Remember to clothe yourself in bright colors during hunting season (fall and winter.) Every year there are accidents caused by someone blending in too well to the woods. For your own safety, please wear something bright!
14.) Perhaps the most important hiking tip of all is LEAVE NO TRACE! You wouldn’t like it if someone came into your home and left trash and took things, would you? Think about the woods as an eco-support system for the animals and plantlife. Remove ALL trash, do not leave food, and don’t pick flowers, take rocks, or try to pet the animals.
The biggest thing is just to enjoy the outdoors responsibly and smartly. Have fun and be safe out there!