Tuesday, August 17, 2010

5 Essentials for Dayhiking Worry Free

Go ahead and leave the Flare Gun, Emergency Blanket, and Elephant Gun at home, while you're at it, leave the survival knife and fire-starting supplies there too. The list we typically think of as "the 10 essentials" is fairly antiquated, especially when it comes to simple dayhiking. There are only 5 big ticket items that should come on every single hike. Supplement these items as conditions warrant.

1. Map

A map is good for a number of things, but actual route finding isn't high on the list. On most hikes you will simply walk until you hit the next trail junction or landmark to find where you are rather than actually triangulate your position on the trail. More commonly a map will show you the lay of the land and help you modify your hike as you go, let you know a lake is half a mile down a little barely marked trail, or convince you to walk a little longer to get up a ridge. It's going to help you pick your route as well as find your place on it. I don't consider a compass to be essential but they are cheap and light so it might be smart to carry one just in case. If you plan to go off trail though it does move into the essentials category, but if your confidently cruising around off trail, you don't need me to tell you that.

2. Food & Water

There is no need to carry three days of food on a dayhike, or 10 gallons of water for that matter. A little bit of trail mix is good for most hikes. I usually pack a lunch if I plan to be out for more than 3-4 hours. Water is more important, it's almost always the heaviest item in your pack but well worth the weight (also keep in mind that weight will lessen as you drink). Hiking with a dry throat and mouth and dehydration is not only dangerous but truly, truly miserable. Having extra water also means peace of mind. You can take it to the next level by adding electrolytes to the water to help replace what you loose sweating but that's hardly a necessity, a simple 32oz Nalgene is sufficient for most hikes, I'll bring 2 if its going to be over 80 degrees.

3. Basic First Aid Kit

The emphasis is on basic, in fact really just blister pads and Advil are the real keys. Advil will take down muscle swelling as you beat the living bejesus out of your body on a long hike. It's also going to take down swelling if you twist an ankle or severely bruise yourself. Because twisting an ankle is not uncommon on rough terrain it's also a good idea to bring sports tape in the kit along with the first aid basics like bandages, gauss, and antibacterial gel. I also take Tylenol to help with altitude headaches.

4. Headlamp

Until you push yourself that extra couple miles and get caught hiking a mile or two in the pitch black after sunset you probably won't see the wisdom in carrying a headlamp. Beylah laughed at me before a 12 mile hike up to Murietta Falls once because I was carrying my headlamp along. She thought I was a big dork. We got caught hiking 2 miles in the dark and now most trips begin with her asking me "did you remember the headlamps?" (she has one now too). Since a cheap one only costs about $15, and weighs a few ounces it's hard not to imagine a reason not to carry one. Even with a headlamp hiking in the dark is always dangerous but without a lamp minutes feel like hours. Headlamps also let you get a head start and for that matter when it's safe to do so, give you the confidence to hike a little longer knowing your headlamp will help guide you back. I personally don't believe flashlights are a replacement for a headlamp.

5. Rain Gear

A light waterproof layer sits jammed in a ball at the bottom of my pack on every trip. Even when the weather looks good it can change in a hurry, especially in the mountains. Even a light sprinkle without a light rain jacket can be a big downer on a hike, but with proper gear the pitter patter of rain on the hood often just makes a nice hike even more exciting. Any waterproof shell is fine in a pinch but a breathable rain jacket is ideal or you get the "sauna treatment" (warm sweat accumulates inside the jacket building up heat and causing more sweat, it's pretty gross). The most important thing is to get a light jacket so you don't think twice about just leaving it stuffed in the bottom of the bag.

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