COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Being safe while hiking means proper preparation. According to the American Hiking Society, there are 10 essential items that every hiker should keep on their person or in their bag if they plan on hitting trail.
Here’s a breakdown of the essentials you should bring along for a safer hike, along with a few bonus tips and recommendations:
1. Appropriate footwear
Having the right shoes on can make or break a hike. There’s nothing worse than traveling halfway through a route only to realize you’re developing a painful blister.
There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to picking the best shoe for a specific hike, including traction, breathability, waterproofing, foot support, protection from rocks, and more. It’s difficult to make a general recommendation when everyone’s feet are so different and no two trails are quite alike. When it comes to shoes, I’ve found that the best strategy is to test different options over time, eventually landing on the best option for you.
Here are a few recommendations based on what I’ve got in my closet:
- Trail runners: Altra’s Lone Peak 5 — If you’re on a trail where you don’t need much ankle support and you’d rather go light, these are a great all-around option. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it now, and I know I’ll say it again — I love Altras and have yet to be let down by this brand. They have a lot of unique models, but the Lone Peak seems to be the most standard all-around option.
- Rocky terrain: Salewa Wildfire 2 — I recently put these to the test on the Arapahoe Basin Via Ferrata and absolutely loved them. They’re grippy and offer quite a bit of outer-sole protection while also not feeling as clunky as some other options. Be warned — like the trail runner recommendation, these don’t have the same ankle support and ankle protection that a larger boot might. That’s totally fine with me, but it comes down to the specific route and personal preference.
- All-around hiking boot: Oboz Sawtooth X Mid — I’ll be honest, I’m usually in trail runners instead of full-blown boots these days, but a favorite standard hiking boot option of mine is the Oboz Sawtooth X Mid. Oboz makes a solid product and it shows in this model.
- Winter boots: Danner, all day — I have several pairs of Danner boots for winter weather and I love them all. They’re great at staying warm and dry. My favorite model is from several years ago so I can’t really make a current recommendation here, but give a few a try and find one that fits your specific needs. As an added bonus, waterproof and insulated Danners tend to be great for snowshoeing.
2. Navigational equipment
Nowadays, a lot of hikers will rely on their cellphone to navigate a trail. This can work, but it tends to be a bit unreliable. While a GPS unit might be a step up from a cellphone, that’s also an electronic piece of gear that can fail.
In addition to having some sort of digital GPS option that might be more convenient to use, bringing a paper map and a compass (and knowing how to use them) is an essential back-up.
- GPS Recommendation: The Garmin inReach. There is a monthly fee associated with this device, but it’s worth it.
3. Water and purifier
Obviously, it’s a good idea to bring water on a hike. However, it’s also a good idea to bring it in something that can be easily refilled. In addition to having something that can be refilled, bring something along that can purify the water, too.
When it comes to purifying water, a number of options exist. One option I like is the QuickDraw Microfilter System that’s made by Platypus. It’s super-compact and even if it’s not the main water bottle you’re drinking out of during the hike, it offers quick and easy filtering when needed.
The food you bring on a hike can tend to vary wildly depending on how long or strenuous a route is. Calorie-dense foods are typically a good option. Bring a little extra, just in case.
Food might range from full-blown backpacking meals to something lighter, like a Honey Stinger waffle.
5. Proper layers
Much like shoes, the clothing layers you pack will tend to be specific to a certain route and season.
In general, it’s better to have more options than not enough, especially if you’re hiking somewhere where weather can seem to change at the drop of a dime. It’s also important to keep in mind that elevation changes can mean wildly varied temperatures.
In terms of layering essentials, bringing along something that’s waterproof is key — even if it’s just a cheap and packable poncho. It’s also good to bring along a thicker jacket, something that can block the wind, extra socks, and gloves.
In terms of leg coverage, shorts can be nice on hot days, but sometimes it’s a better idea to wear breathable pants instead. Something like the Salewa Hemp Pant is a good option there, known for being naturally tough and breathable. The Eddie Bauer First Ascent pant line is another great option. During seasons where cold weather is a possibility, bringing along some sort of base layer for beneath the pants can also be a good idea. Generally when I’m on a winter hike, I’m wearing a wool base layer made by Dahlie.
6. Safety items
The American Hiking Society says that three key safety items that should be packed are a light, a fire starter of some sort, and a whistle.
One great option is to simply buy a bunch of whistles and clip them to your various packs so that you don’t have to worry about switching them out. In terms of a light and a fire starter, the SlideBelt Survival Belt is a pretty unique option that I’ve used for years. It’s got a flashlight, a fire starter, and a cutting tool all tucked away in the belt buckle — and yes, I’ve actually used the compact fire starter before, it works.
Have more room in the pack? Buy a flashlight and fire-starting kit like the UCO Titan Stormproof Match Kit.
Other safety items to consider would be animal and predator deterrents. Bear spray and pepper spray are two options, though I’ve also found a handheld Taser to be helpful, as well (I’m not Tasing the animal, I’m using the noise and flash to scare it away).
In terms of firearms on the hiking trail, some people opt to bring them along. As might be expected, this tends to be a controversial topic. If you are making the decision to bring a firearm on the trail for the sake of safety, be a smart gun owner and make sure you’re familiar with the weapon. Follow best practices to reduce the likelihood of an accident and be sure to know and follow local rules and regulations related to carrying a firearm.
7. First aid
When it comes to packing a first aid kit, the options can be daunting. Some kits might have a few basics while others can come with hundreds of pieces. Obviously, you want to be as prepared as possible, but size and weight are also two factors to consider when hitting the trail.
The basics when it comes to first aid include antiseptic wipes, antibacterial ointment, some sort of reliable bandage, gauze pads, medical adhesive tape, blister treatment, pain-relief medication, sting relief, anti-itch ointment, some sort of antihistamine to treat allergic reactions, tweezers, and some sort of small scissor device. Some sort of first-aid manual or guidebook can also be helpful if not well-versed in first-aid training.
Many kits that include all or most of these items exist, with one highly-rated option being the Adventure Medical Kits’ Mountain Series Hiker Medical Kit, which can be found at REI. Most adventure stores will have something like this for sale.
One more thing — while not really “first aid,” you’ll also want to make sure you have the right toiletries to use in the wilderness for comfort and for the sake of leaving no trace. Bring toilet paper or wet wipes and don’t forget some sort of bag to pack it out in. They make bags for this purpose, but a zip-lock works and can be easily tossed after.
Whether you’re repairing gear or trying to cut your arm free as it’s being crushed by a massive rock, a multitool can come in handy while on the trail. You’ll want to make sure you get one with pliers and a knife, along with a condensed version of many other tools. But, be warned — too many tools can be a bad thing, as this can result in a clunky device and extra weight. Pick the right multi-ool for you based on the tools you’ll actually need.
9. Sun protection
Sun exposure can get problematic fast, contributing to dehydration and rapid loss of energy, not to mention skin damage.
Make sure you have good sunglasses that offer a wide lens of protection — that might even mean goggles in snowy conditions.
In addition to that, sunblock, sun shirts and sun hats can all be beneficial when it comes to keeping your skin and body protected from powerful rays.
In general, I go relatively cheap when it comes to sunglasses. That way I don’t have to worry about losing or damaging them. Goodrs are polarized and range in price from $25 to $35.
An essential that’s often overlooked or skipped because people don’t plan on needing it, having adequate shelter can be lifesaving when things go bad. Aside from an injury or health problem, nothing tends to kill quicker than exposure.
Bringing along a full-blown tent is one option, but most people probably want a lighter shelter that takes up less space. That’s when turning to a Bivvy sack and emergency tent might be the best option. These items can help keep you out of the elements, giving you a better chance to survive if you must stop moving.