I love exploring the great outdoors with my children, and I tend to worry that if something were to go wrong, I might be unable to help myself, or worse, my children.
Nature is full of incredible beauty, but you have to prepare for some curveballs. Sudden weather changes, an accident, or a few steps down the wrong trail can change your fun day out in the woods into a nightmare. Although you can’t anticipate every problem, you can certainly prepare yourself by packing along a few hiking essentials that will help you overcome obstacles seamlessly and make the most out of a bad situation.
Nobody wants to carry anything extra with them since nothing can drag you down like an unnecessarily crammed backpack. Walking the line between packing the essentials that you need, and overpacking can be tricky. These eleven must-have items won’t take up very much space in your backpack, and they will come in handy in a pinch.
The Eleven Hiking Essentials You Must Have
Don’t hit the trail without these critical items. I always bring them with me whenever my family and I are out for short or long hikes. They have come in handy more times than I can count!
Always Bring A Map
If you bring one item with you on your journey, make it a map. There’s a good chance that you won’t get a phone signal or cell data out in the wilderness, so don’t rely on connectivity to get you out of a jam. Like a good Girl Scout, I always carry an old fashioned paper map with me, as well as use a phone app.
Paper maps fold up nicely in your pack and take up hardly any room. They are really a no-brainer. You should also download a phone app that works offline. I like Maps.me. Simply download the map ahead of time, and you will be able to access it from your phone. The reason that you really should bring a paper map along with your cell phone is that a paper map can’t lose battery along the trail. When you are out in nature, it always pays to have a plan B!
Maps.me is a free application, and many paper maps are either free or very inexpensive. There is no reason why you should not bring both along on your hike through the wilderness.
Your First Aid Kit Could Save Your Life
When you’re out in the woods, Murphy’s Law always applies. Whatever can go wrong usually does, which is why you need to pack a first aid kit with you on every single hike. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, and you can get smaller kits that won’t weigh down your bag. The important thing is to make sure that you have something with you in case you or one of your family members runs afoul of some bad luck.
Common problems along the trail include sprains and cuts. A tightly wrapped Ace bandage can keep a sprained ankle propped up until you can reach medical help. Similarly, cuts and blisters are very common on the trail. Bring bandaids, Neosporin and gauze with you.
Always wash out cuts with clean water and apply Neosporin to disinfect. You don’t want to have to deal with any type of infection, especially if you are camping for several days. When it comes to wilderness accidents, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Your first aid kit should also contain aspirin. Asprin takes the edge off minor cuts, sprains and helps with headaches. Although you might feel better after taking the aspirin, it’s always important to seek medical help for severe injuries like bone breaks, deep cuts, or bad sprains.
Bring Plenty Of Water
One thing that quickly leads to blinding headaches, fatigue, and cramps on the trail is lack of water. It’ essential to drink plenty of water regularly, but even more critical to keep your hydration levels up when you’re hiking. Our bodies get dehydrated quicker when we are exerting them, so ample hydration is a must.
Water will take up a lot of room in your pack, but it’s worth it. You need roughly half a liter of water every hour. If you’re hiking for several days and you want to be on the safe side, invest in a Life Straw, which purifies water on the fly.
Never drink untreated water out of creeks or rivers. There could be parasites lurking below the surface, and some of them are deadly. Remember, it is always better to err on the side of safety when you are out in the wilderness, so pack along your life straw and use it if you need to drink outdoor water.
Have A Flashlight Even For A Dayhike
Don’t travel into the woods without a light source, even if you are just planning on being out there for a few hours. You never know what could happen. The last thing that you want is to deal with the nightmare scenario of being trapped in the woods at night without a flashlight.
Forget the big, bulky flashlights of years past. Today’s flashlights are sleek, small, and can be easily packed. I like to bring a strong, small LED one with me when I go hiking. Another great idea is to use your cell phone as a flashlight. All modern cell phones have a flashlight function built right into them. The only problem is that cell phone flashlights tend to drain batteries fairly quickly. If you are relying on your cell phone, bring along a fully charged power bank and a cord. This will allow you to charge up your phone on the go. Many deluxe power banks can charge a standard cell phone at least two times.
Don’t Forget Sunscreen
Don’t be fooled into thinking that you don’t need sunscreen if you are walking through the woods. That intense sun can penetrate the leaves and wreak havoc on you if you’re not protected. This is especially true if you’re hiking in higher altitudes where the sun is stronger. Applying sunscreen before you hit the trail is a simple and effective way to protect yourself while you are out in nature. Frankly, there is no logical reason why you should not do it.
Sunscreen shields you from sunburn, which causes discomfort, fatigue, and can seriously damage your skin. It also protects you from sun poisoning; a very dangerous medical condition that could be life-threatening. Although the warm sun might feel nice on your shoulders, it is better to err on the side of caution. Use at least a 30 proof SPF on your body and a 50 proof SPF on your face.
Bring Snacks You’ll Actually Want To Eat
You will undoubtedly get the munchies out on the trail, so remember to bring some snacks along with you. The ideal hiking snacks are portable, full of protein, and nutritious. Pack more snacks than you think that you will need. As with water, it’s better to overprepare than to have to hike the rest of your trail with a growling stomach.
My favorite hiking snacks are as follows:
- Jolly Rancher candies
- Protein bars
- Granola mix with nuts
- String cheese
Protein bars are portable and tasty. Granola, with nuts, is an excellent mix of protein and carbohydrates. Bananas have plenty of potassium, which you need to fend off cramps, and string cheese is portable and very high in protein. Plus, my kids love to snack on them all. I’m sure that your family will enjoy them too.
A Multi-Tool Is Multi-Cool
You don’t need a massive hunting knife if you’re heading out in the woods for a few hours, but you should bring along a multi-tool. Multi-tools consist of everything that you could need in one compact item. They have tweezers, scissors, files, and small knives attached to them.
They are also easy to carry along with you. Swiss Army Knives are the most popular type of multi-tool, and you can even get miniature ones that fit easily onto your keychain. It’s possible that you won’t ever need to use your multi-tool, but since it’s so compact, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t err on the side of caution. There’s no reason not to bring it along with you, and it could get you out of a tricky situation.
Keep Insect Repellent With You
Surprise, surprise! The woods are full of plenty of insects. Although most of these creepy crawlers won’t bother you, there are still many that can sting or bite. Keep them at bay with a good insect repellant.
Find one that does double duty fending off mosquitos and horseflies. Mosquito bites can be nasty and uncomfortable, but horseflies can really hurt you and leave horrible welts. If you are heading into the deep woods, you will want to find a repellant that wards off ticks. Lyme Disease is no joke, and contracting it could have lifelong consequences. If you hike with a furry friend, make sure that they are up to date on their flea and tick medication, and check their fur for any errant ticks once you return from the woods.
Spray yourself and your family members before leaving for the hike, and make sure that you carry along a little extra with you so that you can refresh while you are out in the woods. There are plenty of travel-sized bottles of insect repellent, so you should have no trouble slipping it into a small corner of your bag.
A LOUD Hiking Whistle, Just In Case
Nobody wants to think about terrible things happening on their hike, but unfortunately, they sometimes do. You could get lost, seriously fall, or even encounter a hostile person on the trail. Although these things are unlikely, you don’t want to be caught off-guard if one of them happens. Carry a hiking whistle, and you will be able to call for help if you need to.
Hiking whistles will help a search party find you if you are lost or injured. They are also a powerful deterrent when it comes to fending off unsavory people. One of the key objectives on the trail is to make yourself a hard target, and hiking whistles accomplish just that.
An Easy, Lightweight Shelter
Bring a lightweight tent and space blanket with you when you head out for your hikes. You never know if you’ll need to spend the night somewhere, and you don’t want to be exposed to the elements in the unlikely event that you’ll be trapped or lost overnight. Tents don’t need to be big, bulky items. You can get streamlined tents made out of lightweight fabrics. You will barely know that you’re carrying them along, and you will be extremely grateful if you need to hunker down in the woods for the night.
Space blankets are lightweight and portable coverings that keep you super snug. Bring one along for every person in your group. It might be annoying to have to think about carrying a tent, but you will be happy that you did if you need to make an emergency stop. Remember, it’s always better to prepare in advance. With today’s camping options, you will hardly feel the tent on your back.
Extra Clothes With Thin Layers
Bring lots of layers when you go hiking. The weather can change in the blink of an eye, so it helps to have a lightweight waterproof outer covering, as well as a microfiber shirt and plenty of changes of socks.
You will need to change your socks if your feet get wet, or if you get injured while on the trail. Your feet are one of the most vulnerable parts of your body on the road, so pay particular attention to their needs. Socks should fully cover the ankle and be lightweight enough to let your feet breathe, but warm enough to keep your toes nice and toasty inside of your hiking boots. Of course, the type of clothing that you’ll need will vary by season.
Don’t ever be caught off-guard on the trail again. Pack the hiking essentials above, and you will be sure to have a fun hike that is memorable for all of the right reasons!