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Hiking is the ultimate form of mind-body exercise. Hitting the trail gets your heart pumping, but you hardly notice the strain as you lose yourself in nature’s glory.
However, heading into the wild without the right gear can be a miserable time. Even tiny excursions can cause big-time headaches. Here are eight essentials you should bring on a short hike.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of water. You can’t count on finding it in the wild, especially if you dwell in places like the desert southwest. Generally, one liter for every two hours works, but use your judgment. Rough terrain, steep inclines, high temperatures or excess body weight all increase your hydration needs.
You can often judge your hydration levels by observing your urine. If it’s clear and copious, you’re doing hydration right. However, pay attention if it turns yellow — and brownish tints indicate a serious need for water and perhaps a medical checkup. One caveat: this trick won’t work as well soon after taking a multivitamin. Riboflavin, a water-soluble B vitamin, turns your urine bright yellow but isn’t cause for concern.
2. Sturdy Shoes and Cozy Socks
Your second most important thing to bring is sturdy footwear. The right shoes minimize your chances of a sprained ankle as you traverse rocky terrain and can protect you from thorns, even snakebite.
Socks nearly match shoes in utility, depending on where you live. Ticks thrive in just about every U.S. state and carry various diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The lone star variety can even make you allergic to meat, so wear tall socks when walking through long grasses to preserve your love of barbecue.
You might think that you don’t need sunscreen if you aren’t prone to burning. However, today’s UV rays are brighter than ever thanks to climate change — and no skin type is immune from cancer.
What’s your best bet? Many people prefer mineral-based sunscreens over their sketchy chemical counterparts. Whichever you choose, you should reapply the stuff every two hours, so bring some along in your back or fanny pack if you want the option of a longer excursion.
4. A Hat or Sunglasses
Your skin isn’t the only body part susceptible to the sun’s damaging rays. UV light exposure makes you more prone to age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Plus, squinting gives you crow’s feet, and Botox is expensive.
Therefore, you should don a big, floppy hat, quality UVA and UVB-blocking sunglasses or both. You’ll increase your enjoyment, avoiding the headache that can accompany standing in bright light for too long. More importantly, you’ll protect your precious peepers.
5. Your Phone
Part of getting out in nature entails leaving the constantly connected electronic world behind. However, it’s handy to take your device with you, if only for photographic purposes. Pro-tip: Throw that puppy in airplane mode as soon as you head out to avoid interruptions and preserve your battery life.
Your phone is also your first line of defense if you get lost. It’s worth bringing if only for the increased security and enjoyment you’ll feel. What’s down that side trail you spotted? You won’t feel as uncomfortable about possibly getting turned around if you have a way to phone a friend — or first responders.
6. First Aid Essentials
You might not want to bring a hefty first aid kit on a short hike, but you should take a few basics. You can find miniature packs that fit into your pocket, taking up barely any room in a backpack.
What should you include? Add a few bandages for minor cuts and scrapes, a thin tube of antibiotic ointment, tweezers for pulling out stingers, tissues and certain prescriptions. For example, folks with migraine disease may want to include an Imitrex in their pack since such medications only work if taken at the first sign of an attack and those with allergies should carry an Epi-pen.
7. A Compass
Your phone or even your smartwatch might contain a compass app, but it’s best to carry a traditional model. Technology can malfunction, taking you miles off course if you get lost.
Ensure you know how to use your device if you skipped that class back in your Scouting days. You can use it with a map or alone. When flying solo like you will on most short hikes, point your device in the direction you want to head, adjust the azimuth ring until it points north and follow that course in as straight a line as possible.
8. A Fire Starter
You probably don’t want to think about getting stuck in the woods overnight when you head out for a short hike. However, having some tools — even if you never need them — is better than wishing you did as you shiver through the midnight chill in pitch darkness.
Your best bet might be to invest in a paracord bracelet that contains both tools, sometimes more, in one handy gadget you wear on your wrist. It takes a bit of practice to coax the spark your flint and blade produce into a blaze, but it’s far better than going without fire protection if you get lost.
What to Bring on a Short Hike
Hiking offers the ultimate in exercise, and mental relaxation all rolled into one fun activity. It’s nearly always the right season to hit the trail.
Increase your enjoyment of your trip by knowing what to bring on a short hike. The eight essentials above will keep you safe in rugged conditions.