Let's be real. Most of us, including myself, are weekend warriors and take immense pride in being the badass section hikers we are - as we should. Even if you know you're not intending to spend a night out on the trail or thru-hiking the CDT or John Muir, always arrive amply prepared and ready to hunker down for the night if worst comes to worst. Play it safe, Galavanter.
Here are seven day-hike essentials you should always carry with you:
Hiking is a hell of a workout. Do not use this time to fast or practice a restrictive diet. You will need all of the calories you can get.
Healthy trail snack suggestions: Raw almonds, dried fruit, trail mix, beef jerky, apples, peanut butter, or, my personal favorite, lemon zest Luna Bars.
The number of people I see on trails who are only toting a 16 oz. Poland Springs water bottle is TOO. DAMN. HIGH. Seriously, do these people want to pass out?
Rule of thumb when packing water for your day-hike: 1 liter (32 oz.) of water for every two hours of hiking - more or less depending on temperature, humidity, body weight, etc. I usually bring a 32 oz. water bottle with me on the trail and keep an additional bottle in my pack for emergencies.
Exhausted your water supply? Life Straw is here to save the day.
I've seen too many outdoor bloggers strongly advise their readers NOT to use a smartphone as their primary method of navigation, but I'm going to play Devil's Advocate for a hot sec. Sure, while cell service in some areas may be spotty at best or non-existent at worst, there's a corny, late-2000's meme applicable to this scenario: "There's an app for that."
All Trails Pro - $29.99/year - Allows you to download offline trail maps so you won't need to rely on cell reception to keep you on the right path. Additionally, Pro users get exclusive access to real-time map overlays including satellite weather, air quality, and fire history, as well as five additional map layers for even more insight.
Gaia GPS - $39.99/year - Ideal for the more seasoned and hardcore backpacker. Gaia boasts over 250 maps for America's favorite outdoor destinations. Each map contains detailed topographic information, clearly marked trails, recreational points of interest, and navigational aids.
I digress. Of course, backup navigation is a must.
The most common medical maladies you may encounter on the trail include minor/moderate cuts or abrasions, burn wounds, knee/ankle injuries, blisters, rashes caused by coming in contact with poison ivy/oak, and dehydration.
Learn how to treat these injuries with this useful article on basic wilderness first aid.
5. Light Source
Always have a proper light source on hand. Most hikers prefer to tote headlamps with them because they're lightweight, cost-effective, and their light usually covers a solid distance and diameter.
Conditions in the backcountry can change at the drop of a hat. Think about it, it's a balmy, 80-degree afternoon and you're trotting along through the wild in your shorts and tee when suddenly a wicked cold front catches you off guard. The temperature has dropped by over 20-degrees, the wind has picked up, it's getting colder, and now it's starting to rain. Hypothermia has now become a very real threat. A prepared hiker would use this opportunity to layer up and take shelter under a small tarp until conditions improve.
The point is, always expect the unexpected. Pack a sweatshirt or rain jacket to keep yourself insulated and your core body temperature stable in scenarios like these. Additionally, space blankets are cheap, take up the space of a smartphone, and do a wonderful job of keeping you insulated in colder conditions.
7. Sun Protection
Even on a cloudy day, that pesky UV index can pose a real risk to that marvelous skin of yours. Sunglasses, a hat, and a generous coating of SPF 30+ sunscreen to any exposed skin should do the trick.
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