10 Things to Take On a Spring Hike


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
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Last Sunday, I reveled in the first day of spring by going for a hike at a nearby park. It was sunny and 60 degrees—perfect hiking weather! I'm always a little nervous when I hit the trail by myself because you never know what could happen. That's why it's best to come prepared. Here are 10 essentials for any hike, whether you're heading out for a few hours or a few days.

1. Hiking Boots
When you're hiking on a trail, a good pair of hiking boots is essential. Not only will they keep your feet dry and warm, but they are designed for maximum support and traction. You'll encounter a lot of different surfaces on a trail: grass, mud, water, rocks, gravel, puddles, downed trees, and more. And unlike a paved sidewalk or road, the uneven terrain can make your footwork a little iffy. To help protect your ankles and feet in these conditions, good hiking boots rise higher on the leg than a standard shoe does, helping reduce injury risk and make your trek more comfortable. My hiking boots are actually the most expensive pair of shoes I have ever bought ($250!), and I cringed when I handed over my credit card to buy them. But I am so glad I made the investment. These babies got me to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up, and still have plenty of hikes left in them.

2. Good Socks
For hiking, a good pair of socks should be breathable, yet insulating, and water repelling. I've said it before and I'll say it 100 more times, but wool socks are my go-to for all kinds of workouts because of these properties. Get a taller pair of socks than your shoes, hopefully ones with a little extra cushioning for your foot. My favorites are SmartWool hiking socks, which run about $10-$20 per pair. Less costly socks with similar properties are made out of synthetic materials (instead of wool), and are still better than cotton, which can hold moisture and result in blisters.

3. A Hat
I'm not one for exercising in hats, but I do love a good sun hat when I'm going to be hiking for a while. A wider brim will keep sun off your face, and also be good in a pinch if it starts to rain. Check your local outdoor sports store for a good selection.

4. Waterbottle / Snack
If I know my route and know that I shouldn't be gone for longer than an hour, I usually bring a pre-filled water bottle. I use a reusable Sigg bottle ($25) that I fill up at home before I go. Some trails have water pumps that provide safe and clean drinking water, but you can never be too careful; sometimes these pumps don't work or aren't available. Most mainstream water bottles with water filters are made for tap water, not untreated spring water. If you want to drink water on a trail, you'll need something different entirely: a fancy water purifier and/or water purifying tablets. If you're going to be out for a few hours, bring a snack like a small energy bar, apple, homemade trail mix or some nuts. I'm a big fan of the CLIF Mojo bars since they're not as sweet as many other energy bars. If you're hiking for exercising or trying to manage your weight, however, consider whether you'll really need a snack. Yes, hiking is a little more intense than casual walking, but most people don’t' stop to refuel when they work out. Take snacks only if you'll be gone for several hours, or bring a snack as a backup plan in case you end up being gone longer than you planned.

5. Navigation
I have no sense of direction. I get lost in the mall! So I make it a point to look for maps of any trail I'm going to take and bring them with me if possible. If you're headed to a new trail, bringing some form of navigation (whether a portable GPS device, a Smartphone app, a compass, and/or a map) and knowing how to use it is a must. Many public trails are well marked, but it's easy to get turned around in the woods. Safety first!

6. Convertible (Zip Away) Pants
Even in warmer weather, long pants are a good idea for hikes to help protect your legs from twigs, brush and other things you might run into as you go. But if you're taking a well-maintained trail, shorts can work just as well. My preference is a pair of convertible pants in a lightweight and breathable material. You can wear them long, roll them up (many have buttons to hold them up in that case), or zip off the pant leg to convert them to shorts.

7. Cell Phone
This is simply a safety measure, but you should always have a backup plan. Depending on where you hike, you may or may not always have cell phone service. But when you do, it can be especially useful if you get lost, stay away longer than anticipated, get injured, or run into trouble. Don't leave it in your car; bring it with you!

8. Trekking Poles
Trekking poles are not a must-have, but if you plan to do a lot of hiking, they sure are nice! I used trekking poles on my Grand Canyon hike last spring, and they were a lifesaver—more like a leg saver! Not only are these good for balance and traction—great on rocky or dusty trails with inclines and declines or for anyone whose balance is a little off—but they also relieve your legs. By shifting some of your body weight into the poles, you take A LOT of pressure off of your lower body joints. If you go for long hikes, or hike multiple days in a row, these can make all the difference in your ability to stick it out and stay comfortable. No fancy poles? You could also try a simple walking stick (or two) to get many of the same benefits. However, poles are much more ergonomic and easier to hold.

9. Backpack
OK so you have all this stuff to bring. Where do you put it all? The answer is: your backpack! If you're just bringing a few lightweight items, take any pack that is comfortable for you. Only when you're carting a lot of weight (more than a dozen pounds) would you need a specially designed backpack for hiking. These packs better distribute the weight your carrying over your hips to relieve your shoulders, and they're also completely adjustable for the most comfortable fit for you.

10. A Friend
Why? The buddy system of course! There's safety in numbers. But hiking with a friend can also be more fun. In a pinch, if I don't have a friend to bring, I bring my four-legged buddy with me. Ginger loves to hike, and she makes me feel a little safer than if I were out on my own. The exercises and outdoor time is good for both of us!

For more tips to start hiking, from finding a hiking trail to staying safe, check out this article: Hike Yourself Fit.

How many of these 10 things do you bring when you hike? What other items would you add to the list?

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    After taking a seven mile impromptu hike with a couple of my friends, I strongly recommend the bug repellant, a first aid kit that includes benadryl, inhalers for anyone with asthma, and a sense of humor! - 3/25/2011   7:42:28 PM
  • 18
    I have hiking shoes and hiking boots. Boots can get heavy and if you're willing to muscle through some areas, hiking shoes work great.
    The biggest thing I've found is a combination of shoes and socks that prevent rubbing on your skin. Once you're ten miles in, it's no fun to walk out ten miles with your shoes rubbing on an open blister. - 3/25/2011   3:15:40 PM
  • 17
    Some of these are already mentioned in the comments but I also always take a first aid kit, sunscreen, lip balm with sun screen, whistle, multitool, knife, backpacking tarp and rope (for emergency shelter), camera, and extra layers in cooler weather. Bare minimum as I just keep these item stored in my pack the whole thing weighs around 15lbs. I take it even on short hikes with the kiddos, not so much out of need but to keep myself used to (conditioned) carrying the pack. I work under the philosophy that I would rather have an item and not need it, than to need it and not have it. Happy Trails!

    JR - 3/25/2011   3:14:16 PM
  • 16
    Water bottles are nice if it's just a short hike, but I prefer a water bladder in my backpack for longer day trips. I find it's a hassle to keep reaching into the backpack for a water bottle, and if it's a steep hike I may need my hands to climb, so carrying a bottle by hand is also a hassle. Water bladders are easy to carry on your back, and the drinking tube lets you take a sip whenever you need it. I also find that on a hot day, I tend to gulp too much water from a water bottle and go through the water quickly, whereas the drinking tubes don't let me drink so much at once and help me ration my water better so I don't run out. - 3/25/2011   1:35:47 PM
  • 15
    What a good list. I'd bring a small blanket and of course my bible. If I am out in God's amazing creation why not stop and spend time with him. - 3/25/2011   1:31:34 PM
    Sunscreen! And SPF 30 lip balm. Especially out here at high elevations in the Rockies, sunscreen is a must. For warm-weather hiking I also bring a small knife or multi-tool, bandana, whistle, lightweight rain/wind jacket, head lamp, a couple plastic bags, iodine tablets (in case I get stuck and need to purify water), a few ibuprofen tablets, about 30 feet of parachute cord (lightweight and strong!), and about 2 feet of duct tape, (in a pinch it covers hot spots to help prevent blisters and is useful for a million other things). - 3/25/2011   11:55:00 AM
  • 13
    I love camping and walking. i have apent 18 months camping on the east coast from Maine to Florida. Needless to say I have a backpack I call my survival pack. My collaspable water botter, space blanket, matches, snacks, hand cranked flashlight/radio, sample sewing kit, 25' rope, first aid kit, socks, telescoping fishing rod and tackle, magnifying glass, rain poncho, plastic bags, and since I smoke, an ashtray. the plastic bags are for specimen or gargage. In my pocket I carry contour map and compass. Ready for anything, including unexpected over night visit. All this weighs less than 10 pounds including the waterproof backpack that floats. I bought a swiss army surplus pack on line for less than $10. Am I allowed to mention an online site where I get my sports supplies very cheap. For instance Timberline boots for $40, or my steel toed sneakers for $14.??? If so I will let you know. - 3/25/2011   11:50:24 AM
  • 12
    I bring my dog, who carries his own backpack of supplies! - 3/25/2011   11:47:51 AM
    I don't have the funds for fancy equiptment or $250. hiking boots. I wish i did. But I don't let that stop me! I live near the Shenandoah & George Washington National Forests where there are a variety of hiking trails .
    One thing I always take with me is a bandana, It can be used for many things including shielding your neck from sunburn; wet it with water & tie it (wet) back around your neck,head or laid under your hat to keep you cool; mopping sweat from your eyes & brow: emergency bandage or tourniquet; ...ETC. - 3/25/2011   10:55:15 AM
  • 10
    I did a lot of hiking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park last fall, and would take all of the above (except a friend, not available at the time) including a backpack with a water reservoir. Also camera, rain/windbreaker, toilet tissue and a plastic bag to carry it out. Thank goodness I always managed without the latter items, but at least I was prepared! - 3/25/2011   10:31:56 AM
  • 9
    a friend of mine always carried one of them tiny glass bottles of perfume or scented oil...she said to keep it in a pocket not a bag so its right there within easy reach so if ya ever come upon a bear, throw the bottle up against a tree or something that will break it... the bear will be more interested in the checking out the smell then checking out you =} - 3/25/2011   10:12:21 AM
    I will a camera and maybe rain gear. Don't if it going to rain or not! - 3/25/2011   9:40:06 AM
  • 7
    I bring my lip balm with sunscreen in it, bug repellant and a camera. - 3/25/2011   9:29:55 AM
  • 6
    I enjoy hiking, although I admit I am a beginner. I hope to do more of it as the weather warms up. This article is a great help in knowing what gear I'll be needing. Thanks! - 3/25/2011   9:14:58 AM
  • 5
    Great timing - I'm heading to the White Mountains in 3 weeks! I second the camera - and our guide has suggested plastic bags that can be worn between shoes and socks when the trails are really wet. - 3/25/2011   8:54:25 AM
  • 4
    I always bring my lip balm with sunscreen in it. - 3/25/2011   8:19:54 AM
  • 3
    A Whistle!! Probably will never need it. but if you do, YOU DO!!! - 3/25/2011   8:07:38 AM
  • 2
    bug repellant and a camera - 3/25/2011   7:25:52 AM
  • 1
    Great article - reminds me why, after such a looong winter, that i love love love hiking! Thank you! - 3/25/2011   6:16:23 AM

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