Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Take shakedown walk before first hike

Before hitting the trail, always give your backpack a shakedown walk.
Photo courtesy of David Niblack,
If you’re new to day hiking – or even if a seasoned backpacker ready to take the season’s first hike – one of the biggest problems you’ll face is getting your backpack to feel comfortable. You may bring too much gear, sharp points may poke into your back, or the straps may dig into your shoulders. Taking a shakedown walk is a great way to avoid problems.

Before heading out on your first hiking trip, pack your gear about three days before leaving on the outing. The next night, do your shakedown walk, maybe at a local urban park with a walking path.

During the shakedown walk, evaluate your pack to determine if:
g It’s too heavy – You may either have overpacked or are simply not used to carrying that much. Since you’re taking a day hike, you can probably safely reduce your load.
g Straps are properly adjusted – If they’re cutting into your skin, you probably have them too tight. Likewise, don’t leave the straps loose or the backpack will shift uncomfortably when hiking.
g Anything digs into your back – This probably means gear isn’t well packed. Place softer materials such as blankets and tarps close to your back for padding and sharp objects away from your body.
g Your leg muscles are sore – You likely are carrying too much or simply aren’t used to walking very far. To remedy, reduce your load, cut the length of your planned day hike or do a little of both.

If you have problems during the shakedown walk, the urban path you’re on probably is short enough and your vehicle so close by that you can stop, take everything home, and make adjustments.

Read more about day hiking with children in my guidebook Hikes with Tykes.