Hiking is an extremely rewarding pastime for many people. Not only is it a great form of physical exercise, it’s an opportunity to escape noisy modern day life for a spell of peaceful relaxation in some unspoilt wilderness surrounded solely by the sights and sounds of nature.
Like any adventure off the beaten track, it’s always important to be well prepared and there are certain essential items a well prepared hiker should always have on their person.
Always carry a detailed map of the area you will be visiting (an Ordnance Survey map is best) and, just as important – know how to use it.
A compass is also a tool of necessity to help you keep your bearings and in times when you’re lost or not sure of where you are. They come in all shapes and sizes ranging from the simple to the more high-tech, but whichever you choose, make sure you know how to read a compass accurately. It can not only save you time, it might even save your life.
Torches and/or headlamps are essential items even if you’re only planning to be hiking during the daytime. You might end up lost and it may end up going dark before you’re able to re-establish your position so a good light source is crucial. Torches should be water resistant and remember to carry spare batteries and bulbs. A torch that is only turned off and on using a rotating head or body mechanism on them is better than one with a simple flick on/off switch as the latter can be turned on inadvertently with the jostling movements in your rucksack.
Even if you are only planning a hike for a few hours, always carry extra food just in case you get lost, there is an accident or emergency or sudden bad weather develops. Experts recommend you pack one meal more than what you’d normally take on the trip and bars of chocolate are a great source of energy and can be stowed away lightly. Remember, if your extra food requires cooking, to take some extra fuel to compensate for that.
In addition to the clothing you would plan to take on a trip, plan for the worse case scenario for situations that might arise. You may end up falling in a stream or river and your clothing gets soaked. Tents have even been known to blow away so if you plan for the possibility that you may get stranded overnight without shelter, take the appropriate extra amount of warm and dry clothing that you think would help get you through that scenario.
No matter what the weather, if you are hiking mountains or at high altitude, the levels of ultraviolet rays intensify greatly so it’s important to carry a pair of protective sunglasses.
Unexpected accidents can occur at any time so it’s essential to carry at least the basic provisions of a first-aid kit should you encounter such misfortune. In particular, make sure you carry plasters and sterilised bandages as these cannot be easily improvised out in the wilds.
Penknife and Tools
A penknife is useful for first aid, food preparation, cutting rope and making minor repairs. The good-old trusty Swiss Army knife is multi-functional and might be the best basic option as it also contains scissors, tweezers, corkscrews and a whole host of other useful purposes.
There are many different types of waterproof and windproof matches available and these should be kept separate from your usual lighting equipment. They could literally be life saving in terms of providing heat and light for food, warmth and to signal you need help.
Always carry as plentiful supply of water as you’re able to. Even if you are hiking in an area where you know there is an available natural water source, carry enough bottled water to get you there. Also, if you are using a natural water supply on your trip from perhaps a stream, take water purifying tablets with you as you can never be guaranteed that the natural water supply is always completely uncontaminated, even if you have drunk from it many times before.
A whistle is essential in an emergency. It can be used to summon help for when you’re lost or need help. The metal ones without a pea are best as the pea variety can become unusable when damp or wet. If you’re going to be hiking in particularly remote terrain, you should also consider carrying flares which can be used to summon help over a greater distance.
Sunburn Prevention and Insect Repellent
If you’re hiking in the summer, you should also consider packing your rucksack with protective sun lotion, lip balm and insect repellent.
Although many traditional walkers and hikers would frown on using any kind of modern technology when exploring nature, a mobile phone is obviously very useful if you run into difficulty and need to summon help. It’s worth remembering, however, that you may not always be able to get a signal, especially if hiking in more remote places so a mobile phone should not be considered a fail safe substitute for skills such as map reading or compass navigation or a replacement for a whistle or flares. It can, at times and in certain locations, however have its place.