Obviously, backpackers on major treks need to pack more gear, but what about day hikers? If you’re just out for a little walk in the woods, do you even need a backpack full of stuff?
Anything can happen on a hike, even a short one. You just need to consider the four essentials to survival: shelter, water/nutrition, warmth, and medical. Here are some items for a “lite” pack that may help you have a safe and fun day hike.
– Top of the list is a good rain poncho. Consider this your “turtle shell” for shelter. It’s light-weight, can cover you and your pack, and even serve as a tent-like shelter if you need to rest out of the rain or sun. It traps body warmth, too, and makes a good windbreak that will shield you from the cold.
– Don’t have a poncho, but it’s too hot to carry a jacket? Stuff a couple of large garbage bags in your pocket. If you need a bit of shelter or it starts raining suddenly, slit a hole in the bottom big enough to poke your head through and you’ve got an instant raincoat. Cut it along one side and the bottom, open it out and tie the corners to branches. Voila! A tent. Or put your legs in it and stuff it with leaves for an insulating “sleeping bag.”
– How much water you take depends on how far you’re going and weather conditions. Ranger lore tells of a German hiker in Death Valley who died only an hour after starting a hike in the middle of July with only a litre of water.
There are plenty of container options. For light packing, Vapur makes a great little one-litre bottle of non-toxic plastic that is freezeable and microwaveable. It comes with a small carabiner to hook it to your beltloop.
– If you need to refill your bottles, but you must rely on streams or other natural sources, take a water purification straw. This will take up little space in your pack, practically weigh nothing, and removes 99.9 percent of giardia and cryptosporidium.
– That bandana you’re wearing will serve as a good water filter. Fold it to at least eight layers and put it over the opening of your bottle. It will filter out nearly everything. This little trick has been used in countries such as India, where it was shown that eight layers of sari cloth will filter water clean enough to drink.
– Don’t forget the GORP or energy bars and cookies to pick up your energy for the hike. Keep food to a minimum, though. Put your weight allowance into water.
Remember, you can survive for nearly three weeks without food, but three days without water, you’re dead. Camel up on water before your hike and drink what you have in your bottles. Dead hikers have been found with water still in their bottles. Conservation isn’t always the best plan as water doesn’t do you any good if it’s in your bottle and not your body.
– A pocket knife with a magnesium firestarter will come in handy if you’re caught in an unplanned over-night situation. Practice with it before you start your hike so you understand how to use it.
– Increase your fire-starting capabilities by dribbling some hand sanitizer over your tinder. The alcohol in the sanitizer is quite flamable. Also, Vaseline is a flamable petrolium product. Both of these items come in pocket-sized containers.
– Chemical heat packs are light, small and will make a huge difference in safety and comfort. Cold hands can’t function very well, especially in an emergency situation.
– There are lots of pre-assembled first-aid kits out there, but think about what situations may require medical attention on your hike. Then assemble your own efficient, light-weight kit. Blisters. Insect bite/sting. Cuts and scrapes. Broken bones. Pain/heart attack/allergic reactions.
a. Moleskins are great, but if you wrap several yards of duct tape around a pencil, you can use that for a wide variety of things. Remember, McGiver just carried duct tape and a pocket knife with him and managed to save the world on many occasions. Cover blisters, bind a splint, or close a gaping wound with duct tape. Duct tape is also good for securing that plastic bag for a tent.
b. Hand sanitizer and towelettes.
c. Pocketknife, one with twizzers is handy, for cutting tape, twigs for splints or fire, cleaning out a wound, you name it.
d. Aspirin. Not only does this work for pain, but if someone is having chest pains, give them a tablet, quick!
e. Neosporin comes in pocket-sized containers and will prevent infection.
f. Bandages: One of each size. Include a roll of gauze. Also, vet wrap doesn’t stick to your skin like adhesive tape or even duct tape does. OUCH!
g. Panty liners. Yup! Those little “women’s do-dads” soak up blood really well. And they come in neat little wrappers to tuck away in small, discreet places.
h. Don’t forget to carry your own specific medications to deal with allergies and other issues. Include a dose of Benadryl in your pack for allergic reactions to bug bites or stings.
Important Little Extras:
– Don’t forget the sunblock. If you did, aloe vera gel is soothing and effective.
– A combination whistle-compass-matchbox that hangs around your neck may save your life. While the compass is simple, it will show you magnetic north on a cloudy day. Whistle in bursts of three to get attention if you’re in trouble. And, of course, the matches will be useful. Add an old CD to this necklace to use as a signaling mirror.
– A headlamp or light stick will help you function as well as scare away those heeby-jeebies that will come to haunt you in the dark. The fifth essential is about keeping your sanity if you get stuck in the woods beyond your planned excursion. Light will keep your spirits up and panic under control.
– Trekking poles. One is good, two are better. These will help you maintain balance over tricky trail obstacles. Also, if someone needs to be carried out, rig a “gurney” with your poles, poncho and duct tape and even a few bungie cords.
– And finally, not every trail provides toilet facilities. Take a wad of toilet paper with you. Or, the folks at Charmin have packaged a light-weight roll to throw in your backpack.
This all seems like a lot of stuff to carry, but small containers will fit in a fanny pack.
Have a great day out in the woods. Be safe. Be comfortable. Be happy.