The level of preparation required to be safe on a wilderness hike varies based on location, weather and type of outing, but here are the essential items that all hikers should consider taking while hiking or backpacking.
THE 10 ESSENTIALS
1. Navigation: Always hike with a map indicating the trail you’ll be on, preferably a topographic map that indicates changes in elevation and shows streams and landmarks. Learn how to read the map and orient yourself. Also recommended is the use of a compass and the skill to use it. In foggy, cloudy or snowy conditions, a compass can be the only way to navigate back to a trailhead or road for assistance. GPS units and smartphones are not substitutes for either item since both rely on battery power and/or coverage areas in order to function. Map and compass classes are available from outdoor recreation organizations, hiking clubs and retail stores like REI.
2. Sun protection: Sunscreen is essential for protecting your skin from sunburns. Use sunglasses to protect your eyesand to prevent sun blindness in snow conditions. I like to add a hat and lip balm for sun protection.
3. Insulation: Take extra layers of clothing in case the conditions change, or in case of a need to stay out overnight. Avoid cotton which when wet can remove body heat and lead to hypothermia. Wool and synthetic materials that wick moisture away from the body while retaining body heat are much better. Hiking in the Pacific Northwest means always being prepared for wet conditions, so rain gear is an essential item to take along. In colder conditions, wearing several lightweight layers that can be adjusted is better than wearing bulky coats.
4. Illumination: A headlamp or flashlight is important to have in case you end up needing to hike in the dark. Always take extra batteries.
5. First aid supplies: Take along a basic first aid kit, or assemble your own. Essential supplies include items such as bandages, tape, pain relievers, antihistamines, antibiotic ointment, and a space blanket.
6. Fire: If a need to stay overnight becomes necessary, being able to start a fire with waterproof matches is important. Lighters may not work in wet or windy conditions, or at higher elevations, so matches are a better choice. A candle can be handy for helping to get a fire going, or lighting up a small area. For fire starter, I like to take cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly.
7. Repair kit and tools: a knife or multi-use tool and duct tape to repair a day pack, hiking boots, etc. can be very handy.
8. Nutrition: Always take along snacks and food to cover the duration of the hike, and a bit extra in case of an emergency.
9. Hydration: Take plenty of water, generally 1-2 liters for a short day hike, plus some type of filtration system for filtering water.
10. Emergency shelter: Include a reflective blanket, bivvy, garbage bags, foam pads, or anything that can be used to provide protection from the elements and retain body heat.
Additional items that are essential
1. Waterproof hiking boots: These are important for stability on varied terrain, and keeping dry in wet and muddy conditions.
2. Trekking poles: used to increase stability in steep sections of trail and while crossing streams. Many people also use trekking poles to help ease pressure on their knees.