Trail Talk: More Simple Gear Ideas for a More Enjoyable Hike
Trail Talk: More Simple Gear Ideas for a More Enjoyable Hike
by Russ Winkler
With the holiday of Independence Day approaching next Wednesday, many will have the opportunity to use the day off to hit the trails and enjoy one the endless hikes in this ‘land of the free and home of the brave’. To prepare for your outdoor outing, I am continuing my series on safe and comfortable hiking advice. In the last two posts we focused on gear for safety and survival readiness. Now we turn our attention to other items that, although not essential, could add to the comfort and enjoyment of your big day on the trails.
More Simple Gear Ideas for a More Enjoyable Hike
- Spare Pair of Socks: Did your socks get soaked during an ungraceful stream crossing? Maybe your feet are sweating and your socks are getting quite damp? Or you don’t want to get blisters and would like to change into a dry pair of socks mid-day. If any of the above applies you will be glad that you carried along an almost weightless luxury- an extra pair of socks. While we are on the topic of socks I’d like to point out the hikers avoid cotton socks (and cotton everything for that matter) and opt for wool, synthetic, or wool/synthetic blends for their socks. Another option is synthetic liner “socks” under regular cotton sports socks. Either way, having an extra set could be the difference between comfort and discomfort and could also be the savior from blisters by keeping your feet dry.
- Small Hand Towel: Whether you get wet intentionally (washing your hands before handling food, for example) or unintentionally (your niece thinks its cute to squirt you with her water bladder hose) having a small towel handy is another almost weightless luxury that can make your wilderness experience a bit more civilized, clean, and comfortable. It can also be used as a handkerchief to wipe sweat from your forehead and all the other places it starts to accumulate during your workout.
- Energy Drinks & Energy Bars: My beverage of choice on the trails is water. To replace sugars, salts, and electrolytes lost in the exertion of a hike some prefer to drink energy drinks. If you choose to, you may want to consider diluting the drink into half water and half energy drink. This will give you a modest amount of sugar/salt replacement and a high dose of water replacement. An alternate way to replace salt and sugar is to eat snacks such as pretzels, trail mix, and dried fruit along the trail. Energy bars are a good lightweight way to get a high-protein snack in between meals on the trail. Choose those that have some fats, a modest amount of carbohydrates, and a high dose of protein. The carbs will give you quick energy, the fats energy reserves, and the proteins will produce steady energy to keep your muscles going like the energizer bunny. Carry a few extra energy bars as an emergency ration as well.
- Tissues: Another almost weightless creature comfort that has many benefits. Clean a wound, blow your nose, use as toilet paper (make sure to pack it out or bury it if it is biodegradable), or dry washed fruit. Bring along a small amount in a zip top bag and share with your hiking buddies.
- Extra Plastics Bags: Grab a big bunch of simple grocery bags, put the rest of them into one of them, and store at the bottom of your backpack. This weightless cushion will come in handy in countless ways. Pack out trash and food leftovers, store wet clothing or gear, use as a lunch bag, a rain bonnet, or even as a barrier between your socks and your hiking boots to prevent rain from getting your feet soaked in an unexpected rain storm.
- Gaiters: Speaking of keeping your feet dry, have you considered investing in gaiters? These are a lightweight, synthetic protector of boots. They slip over your socks and tops of your boots to prevent water from reaching your feet. There are summer gaiters (just until your ankles) and winter gaiters (reach all the way until your knees to deal with deep snow). They come in handy during rain, snow, passes through marshy areas, stream crossings, and especially during the wet seasons after the winter and in the late fall when snow melt and/or rain collect on the trail and turn it into a watercourse or mud path. Inquire at your local gear shop about which design matches your locale and season.
- Trekking Poles: Although more necessary for backpacking, some find that trekking poles (similar to skiing poles but designed for hiking) make their hikes more comfortable by adding stability and taking some of the pressure off of their knees and back, especially during climbing and descending and/or on rocky terrain. They are especially helpful for those who have minor knee, ankle, or back problems and need the extra support. Some use two poles, others prefer just one (like a cane), while others just find a lengthy walking stick in the woods. Many dislike using anything preferring to have their hands free at all times to navigate the terrain with and self-arrest when climbing and descending. Trekking poles are more necessary as the weight of your pack increases so if you are planning on carrying a watermelon up the mountain for your picnic you may want to consider using trekking poles or you may want to reevaluate your mental health!
- Binoculars & Camera: If you’d like to see wildlife without disturbing them or endangering yourself considering bringing binoculars or a monocular (also known as a hawk-eye scope). A camera, whether a souped-up, expensive digital gadget, a setting on your mobile device, or even a disposable film camera from the drug store can help even the most inexperienced photographer capture a bit of the grandeur of the wild and some of the highlights and views from the hike. Before you get too trigger-happy remember to enjoy the scenes in real time first and be selective about photo ops. Don’t get too carried away with recording your trip to enjoy it as it is happening! But used judiciously a camera can be used to create memories for yourself and entertainment for your loved ones for years to come. Beginner photographers should consider researching the ‘Rule of Threes’ which advises not placing your subject directly in the center of your shots when taking scenic photographs but off-center about a third of the way from the center from both the side and the bottom of the shot to get a better sense of the distance, terrain, and environment surrounding your subject. Soon you too will be shooting professional scenic photography.
- Small First Aid Manual & Personal Medications: Besides bringing a first aid kit you may want to consider bringing a small first aid manual, especially if you are not a health care professional or otherwise trained in its use. Whether it is the pamphlet that came with your first aid kit or an illustrated paperback guide to wilderness first aid purchased at your local camping store, having a step-by-step guide available (also stored in a zip top bag) could be critical if you need to apply first aid techniques on the trail that you haven’t mastered completely. These guides can walk you through mild to moderate first aid scenarios and tell you how to respond and treat to unexpected illness, injuries, or bites. Of course it is always best to get training in advance, especially for how to respond to critical health emergencies, but carrying a guide to be a crutch when a mishap strikes. Additionally, make sure to bring any personal medications you and your companions are taking for, or may need due to, individual conditions. Bring enough for one day plus an additional dose in case of an extended stay. If your party includes somebody with allergies to insect stings it makes sense to invest in an EpiPen. Don’t rely on the first aid kit to cover all your personal needs. Make sure to bring the appropriate medications and allergy relief items that are relevant for the members of your group.
- Local Trail Guide Book: If you are hiking in a well-trodden area most likely there is a guide book written about the area and its trails. You may want to bring one along. Although you have a map and compass for navigation, the guide book will have a wealth of information about the area such as its history, geology, wildlife, important statistics (mileage, elevation gain, weather patterns, etc.), and/or details about the park (parking, fees, regulations, seasonal changes, contact information, driving directions, etc.). The book may also have many other tips about hiking safely, comfortably, and wisely and ideas for future hikes that you can explore once you get addicted to hiking and are drawn by the call of the wild!
There are always more items that can be recommended but they must be balanced with the goal of keeping your pack light- a most important strategy for keeping comfortable throughout the day on the trails. I’ll leave off with a few seasonal recommendations that can add to the comfort and enjoyment of hiking in cooler and warmer temperatures. A fleece (synthetic) hat, gloves, & scarf, and base layers for spring and fall; shorts (could be part of a pair of zip-off hiking pants), a bathing suit (if there is a swimming hole on your route), and an extra t-shirt for summer.
Happy 236th birthday America and happy trails to all the readers.
Russ Winkler is a NYS DEC licensed hiking guide. He has been hiking since 1997 and leading and co-leading day hikes and multi-day backpacking treks for Boy Scout troops and other community organizations since 2007. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Public Administration with a concentration in Nonprofit Management at the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College. He can be contacted at RussWinkler@hotmail.com regarding guided hikes and all things hiking.