Key Takeaways

  • Preparation is Key: Having the right gear, including navigation tools, extra food and water, and a first aid kit, can make your hike safer and more enjoyable, reducing the chances of injury or getting lost.
  • Think Ahead: Always have a detailed hiking plan and share it with someone you trust. Check the weather forecast and pack accordingly to ensure you’re ready for any conditions.
  • The 10 Essentials: Make sure to pack the 10 essential items
  • Stay Safe and Comfortable:  choose gear that suits the weather and terrain you’ll encounter.
  • Boost Brain Function: When you’re confident in your gear and plan, you can fully enjoy the hike, reduce stress, and stay mentally sharp.

Do You Have a Plan?

How many of you have gone out & hiked Billy Goat A trail off the C&O canal?  Or had friends convince you to hike Old Rag in Shenandoah?

Did you know what you were getting into?  Both of these hikes require a bit of rock scramble, one more than the other.

When I have hiked Billy Goat A, I have seen people doing that trail in flip-flops!  That is not a trail for flip-flops.  It is a good way to get yourself injured.

Do you know that there are 400 search & rescue events each year at Billy Goat A & even more at Old Rag? They have seen broken ankles, broken jaws, and heat stroke issues.

Do you have a plan or the gear to help yourself if you get injured & have to be out longer than expected?

Do you realize that even if you are able to activate Search & Rescue teams, it may be hours before they can reach you?  Are you prepared for extra time outside?

Well, this is to help you be more prepared. I realize that you may not put all of these things in your pack, but it is to get you thinking & have more options.

The more of the gear you keep with you, the better your chances of rescue if something adverse does happen.

Help Your Brain, Decrease Stress

Packing like a pro also gives your brain the best shot at a fun, stress-free adventure.

When you’re prepared, those little worries about “what if?” fade away, letting your mind fully dive into the experience. This means your brain isn’t bogged down by stress and can stay sharp, alert, and ready to soak in the beauty around you.

Plus, being well-prepared gives you that peace of mind which not only makes the trek more enjoyable but also leaves room for your brain to think creatively and solve problems effortlessly.

So, being prepared isn’t just practical—it’s a way to keep your brain happy and humming along as you explore the great outdoors.

Essential Gear

The 10 Essentials

There are 10 Essentials that you should have on your hike. Even if it is a short day hike.

Key tips before you start:

Hiking plan: Share your plan with someone you trust. It should be detailed enough to tell them the trail, where you are parking, start time, and end time.

Check the Weather:  Look at the weather forecast in the area you will be hiking for the next 24-48 hours.  Take the appropriate clothing based on conditions for 48 hours.

The “10 Essentials” are:

Navigation: map, compass, altimeter, GPS device, personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger (Garmin In Reach Mini)
Headlamp: plus extra batteries, reflective clothing a plus
Sun protection: sunglasses, sun-protective clothes and sunscreen
First aid kit: including any personal medication
Knife/Multiuse tool: plus a gear repair kit
Fire  Starter Kit: matches, lighter, tinder
Shelter:  carried at all times (can be a light emergency bivy, space blanket)
Extra food: Beyond the minimum expectation
Extra water: Beyond the minimum expectation
Extra clothes: Beyond the minimum expectation

Bonus 11: A Whistle

Let’s get into the 10 Essentials a little more:

1. Navigation

  • Paper map & compass: Know how to use them. Serves as a backup for when your cellphone fails.
  • Cellphone Apps:  AllTrails or Gaia.  Download the maps ahead of time for your hike.
  • Personal Beacon Locator/Satellite Messenger: I use the Garmin In Reach mini.  You can send text messages with it.  Make sure you know how to use it & it is charged before your trip.

Note: While the cellphone is useful, questions to ask yourself. Do you have a backup portable phone charger (that is charged)?  Do you have a plan if you drop your phone, or it breaks?

2. Headlamp

With extra batteries.  If something happens & delays your return on your hike, now it’s getting dark and you need light.

The headlamp keeps your hands free, helps rescuers find you in the dark, and saves the battery on your phone for other uses (instead of relying on your phone for the flashlight).

3. Sun Protection

A good hat, sunscreen and sunglasses. If you get stranded in the sun, you will be happy you brought these items.

4. First Aid Kit

The easiest way to do this is to buy a pre-made day hiking first aid kit. You can tailor it to your specific needs (ie: inhaler, eye drops).

Below are the items I have in my first aid kit at the moment.

1.First Aid Pouch 2. Sports Tape 3. Nuuns  4.Chapstick 5. DudeWipes 6. NonStick Pads 7. Burn Cream 8. Misc. BandAids 9. GauzePads 10.Space Blankets 11. Sports Tape 12. Nsaids 14. Wound Stop 15. Gauze Rolls 16. Alcohol/Misc Wipes 17. Antiobiotic Cream 18. Antihistamine 19. Blister Care 20. LeukoPad 21. Lifestraw 22. Neoprene Gloves 23. Waste Bag 24. Ace Wrap 25. Tape 26. Cotton Swabs 27. Swiss Army Knife 28. Nail Clippers 29. Bandana 30. Pealess Whistles

5. Knife/Multiuse tool/Repair Kit

I carry a Swiss army knife.  It has the knife, scissors, and tweezers, all in one. A repair kit could be as simple as wrapping a few pieces of duct tape on your hiking poles.

6. Fire Starter Kit

You can buy a mini fire-starting kit for your pack.  REI has good choices. Minimally keep matches in a waterproof container and a lighter

7. Shelter

Space Blankets or a bivy.  I carry space blankets in my first aid kit.  I like them because they are light weight. Plus they double as reflective material if you need to be noticed for rescue & can be used as a tarp for shelter.

8. Extra Food

Always carry more than you think you will need. Put in extra protein bars or trail mix.

9. Extra Water

Carry more than you think you will need. Especially if you are on a hike with no natural water sources around (think White Sands National Park).

I also carry a SteriPen & a Lifestraw.  Steripen uses UV light to disinfect the water & LIfestraw uses a filter system.  Both are super lightweight.

10. Extra Clothes

  • Rain gear: a poncho, light rain jacket or even a large garbage bag could work.
  • Top & Bottom Base layer
  • Extra socks (in case feet get wet), gloves & a hat.

11. Bonus- Pealess Whistle

It’s crucial to carry a whistle, especially if you run into trouble and need rescue. If you try yelling for help for hours, your voice will likely give out.

A whistle, however, can be heard more clearly by rescuers than a human voice. To signal for help, use three short blasts periodically.

Opt for a pealess whistle because models with a pea are more prone to freezing or jamming.

Other Gear to Consider

Hiking Poles:

Poles are great, especially on hikes with more technical rock climbing/descent & water crossings.  Other reasons that poles can be useful:

  • Can be used as a crutch/cane if you roll an ankle or injure your lower body
  • Can be used as a splint if you break something
  • Can be used to defend against wildlife in case of attack (mountain lion/black bear)

Hiking Boots:

The hiking boots you pick are important. Make sure you buy them ahead of your hiking trip & break them in with walks.

I always tell people when they are trying on shoes of any kind- if you feel an uncomfortable spot within a few minutes of trying them on, don’t buy that pair.

Keep trying on boots until you find a comfortable pair.  The hot spots never improve with time, they just get worse.  There are a lot of options out there now.

Key tip: if you tend to roll your ankles, buy boots that have higher ankle support.

I have different types of hiking boots.  For summer/fall I tend to wear my HOKA Anacapas (see pic).  I like them because they are lightweight & allow normal motion of my foot mechanics.

For winter, I have a heavier pair of hiking boots with a higher ankle support.

Day Backpacks:

This comes to individual choice. Again, pick one that feels comfortable on your body & is organized in a way that works for you.  I tend to like Osprey backpacks, they work for me.

Keep in mind your torso length & hip size for fit.  Check out the picture of the 2 backpacks below.  The smaller one is mine & the larger one is my spouse.  I’m 5’5” & he is 6’4”.  His pack would not work well for me as a daypack.

 A few other miscellaneous items:

Contacts/glasses:  I keep an extra pair of contacts & distance glasses in my pack.

Eye re-wetting drops: Helpful in more arid climates, especially if you wear contacts.

Electrolytes:  I talked about this in the last post, but keep some Nuuns or something similar in your pack

So, how does your pack and preparation compare to this list? Do you have any additions? Perhaps you’ve found something useful that I haven’t mentioned—feel free to share.

We hope you’ll never need Search & Rescue, but if you do, being well-prepared can significantly improve your situation. Hopefully, this information inspires you to confidently embrace whatever comes your way.

Happy Trails!