Hiking is good for your heart (and not just in the literal sense). When done regularly, it will lower your risk of heart disease, improve your blood pressure and glucose levels, strengthen your core, and help you reach your target BMI goals. But research has also shown that being in nature can help to soothe symptoms of stress and anxiety and can be a wonderful part of any self-care regimen.
By immersing the senses in the sights, sounds, and smells of the trail, you can take a much needed break from the stressors of everyday life. But many of us don’t have the time for an all-day escape into the woods, or even the desire to spend longer than a few hours away from indoor plumbing. For us, there are short day hikes that won’t require toting around a full suite of camping gear. However, even if you’re planning to spend only a couple hours on the trail, there are certain things you should carry with you at all times.
Pack the 10 Essentials
In the 1930s, a Seattle-based group for outdoor enthusiasts called The Mountaineers prepared the Ten Essentials list as a guide for anyone venturing outside of city limits for a trek into nature, however short. This list is a lineup of important survival “systems” to cover as you fill your pack before hitting the trail.
- Sun Protection
For every system, there are basic items that should be included in every essentials kit, and the extras. Extras should be included as they are available, feasible, and help you to feel more at ease.
Basics: Map and compass. A topographic map should be a staple on any trail that is not highly trafficked or clearly marked off by rangers. Pairing your map with even the tiniest compass will save you from getting disoriented by the absence of your usual landmarks. A compass with a sighting mirror will also aid you in communicating distress to helicopters or emergency crews should the need arise.
Extras: GPS receiver and altimeter.
Basics: Sunglasses, sunscreen, and lip balm. Protect the present and future health of your eyes and skin by taking the proper precautions. Also, you want your excursion to be enjoyable and ending a day outdoors with a sunburn is no fun.
Extras: UPF-rated sun-protection clothing.
Basics: Additional layer of clothing according to the season. This can mean tying a light sweater around your waist, wearing pants over your shorts, or packing a complete spare outfit in the event that the weather turns wet and chilly. Remember that cotton clothing is not recommended as it takes a long time to dry.
Basics: Headlamp and extra batteries. Headlamps are a cheap, convenient way to ensure you don’t get lost in the dark.
Extras: Flashlights and packable lanterns.
Basics: Your kit should include treatments for blisters, multi-sized adhesive bandages, gauze pads, medical tape, disinfecting ointment, pain medication, pen and paper, and medical gloves.
Extras: Splint, slings, bug spray, Benadryl, hydrocortisone creams and sprays for stinging nettle, etc.
Basics: Lighter or matches and firestarter, kept in a waterproof container. Firestarters include dry kindling, candles, priming paste, heat nuggets, and even dryer lint.
Basics: Duct tape and a multitool with a foldout blade, screwdrivers, can opener, and scissors.
Basics: At least 200 calories worth of highly portable food for every hour on the trail. Suggestions: energy bars, nuts, dried fruit, jerky, etc.
Extras: If you have extra room in your pack, opt to fill it with food and water before anything else.
Basics: A half-liter of water for every hour, depending on the intensity of the hike and the temperature. Also, a means for treating water: filter, purifier, or chemical treatment.
Extras: Consulting your map, identify and mark off possible water sources in your path.
Basics: If you’re heading off the “beaten” path, meaning you’re following lower-trafficked trails, it’s recommended that you prepare for the possibility of injury or getting lost by packing an ultralight tarp, a bivy sack, space blanket, or even a large plastic trash bag to keep you dry and warm during the night.