For most of my life, I have practiced the art of “sauntering”. I first discovered this term when studying Thoreau’s essay, “Walking”. It is essentially being present with yourself in nature and allowing the nature to guide you. As a child, I just did that, and as I grew up I learned to follow the trail. I am not asserting that one is better than the other, but today I am talking about hiking. Hiking is unique because it most usually follows a trail. For the sake of keeping the surrounding ecosystem pristine, it is not recommended that you leave a trail unless it is actually necessary. This is one of the many things you should know as you begin to add miles to your hiking experiences.
I have created this list to assist you in starting to hike. So often, I am asked questions about hiking, and the following list contains these answers. Now, these answers are my opinion, and there will always be people that disagree. I will say that I learn from talking to people and asking questions all the time. So start here, and this brings us to our first item:
Never stop learning: The only way to get good at anything is to learn. If you read this and think you will be ready to lead a 4 day hike in difficult terrain, you maybe mistaken. As hikers, we need to be in connection with each other. Ask questions. I find myself asking people questions in each interaction I have on the trails. I have found that for the most part, people love to talk about their own knowledge. The best learners are able to listen to and reflect on the knowledge of themselves and others. I also recommend following people who hike on Instagram. I have built connections with local and distant hikers using hashtags like the following: #WomenWhoHike, #WomenWhoExplore, #HikingAdventures, #WildernessCulture, etc… Oh, and of course we cannot forget our’s: #TWLHikingClub. 😉
Find some good boots: Though I often wear Chacos, I will say the smartest choice for long hikes really is a great pair of hiking boots. That also means you need to wear good socks. Four years ago, I bought a pretty spendy pair of Keen boots at a Sports/Outdoors store. I wear them all the time an in all climates. It was worth spending the money for waterproofing and ankle support because more often than not, I come across giant patches of mud, or I have to climb steep, rocky terrain. If you are not looking to spend a lot, at least make sure there is a good grip on the bottom. Just remember, you hike with your feet. They need to be supported. *Also, if you get a blister, duct tape works a lot like mole skin patches. If a store doesn’t have one, they probably have the other.
Backpacks are important: I don’t consider it a hike if it is less than a mile. I just don’t. That means you will be out for a while. I always, always, always bring my backpack. I don’t even have a fancy hiking backpack. I just use my backpack from college, and it is just fine. I would recommend a larger one only for trips that are longer than two days. That being said, have a backpack. You will not have free hands at some points. Carrying things with your hands is not fun. Even I all you have is a water bottle, I really recommend just putting it in a backpack and wearing it.
Only buy/bring what’s necessary: Do not overpack. When I walk through the hiking and camping sections at stores, I find it laughable when I see all of the unitaskers, a term coined by Alton Brown for utensils that only have one use. For a day-hike I always bring the following:
Water bottle filled with water: Fill it up ahead of time, so you have less work to do
First aid stuff: I’ll explain this later.
Camera and phone: Trust me, every time you do not have a camera, you see beautiful wildlife. The only times that I have seen wolves and owls are when I did not have a camera with me. Phone cameras are getting really awesome, but the one bummer is that they do not have zoom lenses that are necessary to give space to animals. I do not recommend approaching an animal.
Actually, soap box time, do not get mad if you are attacked by an animal if you are the one who approached it. You are in their home. They have every right to feel threatened if you purposely get too close. To avoid this problem, get a zoom lens.
Field guide: While this is not necessary if you have a phone and are in an area with data, make sure you have one if not. You can then tell what kid of plant you just rubbed against and so on. It is also pretty fun to ID birds.
Nuts for snacking on: Eat something packed with calories and fat if you can. You expel a lot of energy when you hike. Good fats are your best friend. If you have a nut allergy, I recommend banana chips, avocados (yes, just eat them raw), and protein bars.
Bug spray: Buy it with Deet in it. If you have never studied what Lyme Disease is like, open a new tab and read about it for a while. My husband was bitten by a deer tick his very first Summer in MN eight years ago. Thankfully, he knew what kind of tick it was and went to the doctor to get treated right away. Even so, he has effects from Lyme disease to this day. His joints hurt on a daily basis, almost like he has arthritis, and he is overly tired constantly. He has learned to live with it, but it is not something you want to learn to live with. Sure, there is a risk of cancer, as there is with many chemicals we have in our lives and food, but if you choose to go in the deep woods and not to use bug spray with Deet, you are taking an unnecessary risk.
Sunscreen: SPF 30+ is what you will need. Just reapply it to exposed skin every couple hours.
Hat: I always wear a hat. It is easier than sunglasses for hiking in my opinion. If you prefer sunglasses, do that. Just wear something to block some sun from your eyes.
Pocket knife: I feel like I always end up needing one. You can make kindling for fires, cut rope, pull out a sliver, fix a shoe lace., etc.
If you have knee issues, I would also bring walking sticks. But other than that, you don’t need the other things. For overnight hiking, I would add the following:
Tent: Make it a lightweight tent because this is a lot of weight to carry all day. Some people sleep in hammocks. I have not tried this, so I can’t say much about it.
Sleeping bag: Again make it lightweight. It also helps to have a mat under it if you are hiking rocky terrain, like around Lake Superior. I personally prefer to put my tent and sleeping bag over mossy areas when I can, or I just deal with it because I’m too lazy to go buy a mat.
Toothbrush and toothpaste: I have not found a replacement in nature.
Spork: They actually have these in the camping sections at outdoors stores!
Lighter: For obvious reasons, you need this to cook food and make your fires. Just make sure it is full, so you don’t have to try as hard to fight the wind.
Dehydrated meal: I love eating oatmeal constantly when I camp and hike, but if you like a little change, you can buy dehydrated foods and just cook and add water. My toddler’s personal favorite it dehydrated ice cream. 😉
Iodine tablets: Don’t drink water that has not been treated. You cannot complete your hike if you get explosive poops. You will dehydrate, and trust me, the people you’re hiking with will not appreciate it. You may also try a life straw. They are just pretty spendy.
Cooking pan: Currently, we have a giant cast iron pan. I have no idea why we don’t have one that is lightweight. That will likely change. Get a light weight one. We also use our pan as a plate that we all eat from.
I don’t recommend bringing things to shower and whatnot. It is just extra weight, and frankly, if none of you shower, none of you smell each other. Also, ladies, if you are menstruating, look into a sponge or a diva cup. Please don’t litter tampons and pads. You also don’t want to have to carry a bag of used feminine products while you hike.
Find a hiking club: Find a group or program that will motivate you to keep hiking. Many state parks have hiking clubs and groups. We are currently working on the Hiking Club book in Minnesota. Each state park has a trail that has a password about half of the way through that you write down in a book and eventually turn in for badges, camping nights, and a plaque. The Wild Life is growing and will eventually lead hikes in person, but for now we just have an online presence. Use the hashtag #TWLHiking club on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with how many miles you hiked, and we will add to our total.
Know how to read a map: It is easy to take the wrong trail in less visited areas. Be sure you understand the map you are using on your hike. There was for real one time I hiked the same loop four times before realizing I was taking the wrong turn.
Be okay with getting wet and muddy: You will have so much more fun when you realize that it is okay to get dirty. Do not avoid a trail because of mud. Once, we were on a trail that actually required us to wade through a shallow river. Literally, that was the coolest trail we have ever been on.
Have a first aid kit: I know. I know. I’m being geeky and talking first aid, but this is serious. You will likely be away from immediate medical care when hiking, so you do need a first aid kit. The following should be in your kit:
Anti-histamines: I have an epi-pen and Benadryl with me when I hike. You need to be prescribed the first, but it is still good to have the second because you might accidentally brush up on a plant you’re allergic to or find you are allergic to a bee sting.
Disinfectant of some sort and band aids: If you get a cut, you do want to keep it clean.
Mole skin or duct tape: It is completely normal to get blisters while hiking. Just make sure you protect them to be sure they do not pop and become painful.
Whatever else you need: We are all different and know what we need. Some need stuff for diabetes; some need aspirin. Just know thyself and bring what you need to be safe.
Traveling to parks can easily be affordable: So often, I am asked, “How can you afford to go on trips every weekend,” to which I always say that it is not as expensive as one would think. A trip in state only costs us like $30-70 depending on distance. Save money by doing the following:
Sleep in a tent: It is like 1/3 of the price to reserve camping locations than it is to reserve a cabin or hotel room. Also, on larger hiking trails, like the Superior Hiking Trail, you do not need to pay to reserve a space. But there are also rules, so know them before going.
Eat what you make: Do not go to restaurants. $30+ a meal is common, but to me even $10+ a meal is too much. We just eat by our fire the food we bring along.
As I said before, do not bring unnecessary gear.
Buy yearly passes instead of one-day passes: Your first trip will cost more, but the rest will feel free. If you plan to go a lot, it saves you money in the end.
(For Parents 0-3 years old) Baby carriers are lifesavers: I wear my toddler on my back for most of the hike. He loves it. You may think it is too heavy, but your back muscles really do get used to it. He has been in my carrier since he was able to strongly hold his head up. And I always preach that the best thing for little kids beside play in general is time outside.
While I could continue to give advice, I will stop here, because again, I believe it is most important to talk to other hikers on and off the trails. If you have questions for me, you can always message The Wild Life on Facebook or on this website itself. Otherwise, I will see you on the trails!