Day hiking usually isn’t as simple as throwing on one’s tennis shoes and hitting the trail. While that may be fine at a small city park, doing so in a state or national park or a wilderness area invites disaster.
Though day hiking – defined as a walk you can complete within a day, and often in only a few hours – hardly requires as much gear or planning as a backpacking, you still need to bring some equipment and to think ahead.
Following these 10 simple guidelines should ensure your day hike is problem-free:
• Know where you’re going – Look at a map of the trail before going out on it. Bring a paper map and compass with you on the trail and check both frequently as you walk.
• Get the right footwear – If your feet hurt, the hike is over. Good-fitting hiking boots almost always are a must on wilderness trails while cross-trainers probably are fine for paved surfaces; sandals almost always are a no-no.
• Bring water – You’ll need about two pints of water per person for every hour of hiking and even more if in hot or dry climates. Leave soda and sugary fruit drinks at home; they are no replacement for water.
• Layer your clothing – Doing so allows you to remove and put back on clothing as needed to suit the weather. Make sure the layer next to the body wicks moisture away from the skin while the outer layer protects against wind and rain.
• Carry a first-aid kit – A small kit that allows you to bandage cuts and that contains some emergency equipment such as matches and a whistle will suffice for short hikes.
• Don’t overpack – A lighter backpack always is better than one full of stuff you don’t need. At the same time, don’t skimp on the essentials so that you can safely complete the hike.
• Use a trekking pole – Unless the surface you’re on is absolutely level, you’ll find a walking stick helps reduce fatigue. This is especially true if you’re carrying a backpack.
• Follow the rules of the trail – Leave no trace by not littering (“Pack out what you pack in.”) and by staying on the trail. Don’t deface rocks or destroy signage.
• Don’t forget a snack – Trail mix as well as jerky can help you maintain energy on the trail. It’s also a good motivator for any children with you.
• Enjoy the journey – Reaching the destination is never as important as having a good time on the way there. If with children, play games, pause when something grabs their attention, and never turn the hike into a death march.
Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.