What you need for a dayhike with the Piedmont Hiking and Outing Club
Each participant must decide for him/herself what equipment and supplies are necessary for a safe and fun hike. And in fact, what equipment you consider necessary may change over time as you get more experienced and go on longer and/or more difficult hikes.
Russ Kozerski, a former and very active member of the club, published an article in the Trailmarker some time ago outlining his recommended dayhike essentials. We have condensed and updated Russ's article and we think you may find it useful.
This one's easy-don't go on any hike without water. Ever. Period. You'd be surprised at just how many beginning hikers show up at one of our events without water. After just a couple of miles of easy hiking, your body will lose enough fluid that brain activity will be measurably decreased. Fluids that protect joints and muscles from injury also decrease markedly.
After only five to six miles, symptoms of dehydration can include headache, increased pain in the leg, knee, and foot, stumbling, blurred vision, and "fuzzy" thinking. lf you're not sure how much water you need, two liters is the minimum to carry on short cool-weather hikes. On longer high-temperature hikes, three or more liters are recommended. It's important to drink regularly.
An LED headlamp is lightweight, compact, and lasts over l00 hours on a single pair of AAA batteries. Handheld flashlights are less convenient, and regular filament bulbs will only bum 30-45 minutes on a set of heavier AA batteries. I check the batteries regularly, and change them about once a year. Basic three-LED models weigh only a couple of ounces, and generally sell for under $30. After water, a flashlight of some sort is the most important thing to carry in your pack. You may not need it for years. But when you finally do need it, it might be a lifesaver.
Carry a few small snacks for a short hike, or a lunch and additional snacks for a longer hike. I'm not a cook, so my food generally consists of nutrition bars, bagels, apples, and trail mix. Since our club adheres to the "Leave No Trace" policy, you should pack out any leftovers and packaging.
Hikers universally share one superstition: If you leave your raincoat in the car, it will rain. So if the weatherman says that there's a decent chance of rain, say more than 20%, or if it "looks like rain" when I get to the trailhead, then I definitely pack my waterproof/breathable raincoat. But for those times when I don't carry a raincoat, I always have a trash bag in my emergency kit. Mine's large, green, and made especially for yard waste, which means it's more durable than a normal trash bag. Cut a head hole in it to wear as an emergency parka. Cut it into strips to bind a splint. Sit on it at lunchtime when the ground's wet. It's big enough that I can even use it as an emergency sleeping bag if I'm ever caught out overnight. You could use an emergency poncho instead, but they're more expensive, not as durable, and not as flexible in their various uses.
There's no way around it. Someday, sometime, you'll be on a hike and...well...it's not as difficult or unpleasant as some imagine. Stand facing a small tree, grab the tree for balance, and squat down. I carry a roll of about 20 squares, protected in its own watertight Ziploc bag. Nowadays you can find small, convenient packages of toilet paper in Target or Wal-mart where they sell travel-size toiletries. And what do you do with the paper when you're done? Put it in a Ziploc bag and pack it out.
Part first aid kit, part repair kit. It's better than moleskin for protecting and preventing blisters. Add a little bit of toilet paper and you have an adhesive bandage. I've used it to mend hiking poles, sunglasses, broken pack straps, and torn clothing. Waterproof duct tape is best, if you can find it. I buy a big roll, then wrap about 5 yards of it around a small piece of cardboard. Some people wrap a few yards of tape around their hiking poles or water bottles.
Ibuprofen or Aleve
Besides duct tape, these are the only other items in my "first aid kit." l carry about ten of each of these pills in a small, plastic, waterproof bottle. They both alleviate pain and fight any inflammation that might result from a sprained ankle or blunt trauma, like whacking your head on a log. Aspirin can cause stomach upset, and Tylenol isn't an anti-inflammatory, so they're not as useful. If you have allergies, especially to bee and wasp stings, or if you regularly take medicine for any kind of medical condition, then you should carry two full days' worth of those medicines at all times.
Boy Scouts might carry both waterproof matches and specially made fire starters. l just carry a small Bic lighter. I've never had to use it on a dayhike. But if something happened and I unexpectedly needed to spend the night in the woods, the lighter would be one of my most cherished possessions...along with my toilet paper!
Map and Compass
For the most part, before our trip leaders offer to lead hikes for the club, they have already familiarized themselves with the trail. Others in the group probably know the way too. And many of the trails we hike are well marked. So as a new member, you don't need to concern yourself with route finding. However as you become more experienced and begin to lead hikes or explore wilderness areas, a map, compass, and perhaps gps are important items you should carry and know how to use.
Most of your hiking companions probably have a pocketknife in their pack. So if you're new to the club, you don't really need to carry one. But as you start going farther afield, you might consider purchasing a multi-tool. With about a dozen implements, knife blades, screwdrivers, pliers, and more--a multi-tool is much more useful than a common pocketknife.
A whistle is a good idea in case you or another member of your group becomes lost; sunscreen, a rain or sun hat, band-aids, and insect repellant can also make your day more pleasant. Oh, and that one other thing that I do always try to take with me ....
As a new hiker, you should carefully choose the hikes you plan to do. Start with the easy ones and work your way up to the more difficult. It ruins the day for everyone if the group has to constantly wait for you because your pace is too slow. If you are unfamiliar with the hike, tell the hike leader in advance about your capabilities, and ask if the hike is suitable for you. And most importantly, heed the leader's advice.
Clothing and Footwear
Issues of clothing and footwear are complex enough that we could easily cover each of these subjects in their own topics. We mention them here because they're so essential to a safe and enjoyable hike. Hikers and mountaineers have a famous saying: cotton kills. Even in the middle of summer, hypothermia-the dangerous loss of body heat-is a real and constant danger in the mountains. A sudden afternoon thunderstorm and accompanying winds can quickly drop perceived temperatures into the 50's, 40's, and below. Without proper clothing, the inevitable loss of body heat can be fatal. In general, when you're shopping for hiking clothing, it's best to choose garments made from man-made fibers such as polypropylene, capilene, nylon, Polartec, and the like. All of these materials will help to retain body heat, even when wet.
The only natural fiber exception is wool, which is also a good insulator when wet. Some of the non-itch wools used by companies such as Smartwool have gained great popularity in items such as socks and shirts. You should also practice layering, using many items in different combinations to maximize comfort in changing conditions. It's more useful to have three or four thinner layers than it is to have a single heavier layer. As conditions change, you'll be able to add or remove layers for optimum comfort.
When trying on clothing, be sure that each item is loose enough not only to be comfortable, but also to allow one item to fit over others when layering. Weather in the mountains is always unpredictable. It doesn't matter what the weatherman says. Temperatures can be 10-20 degrees or more lower than anticipated. An afternoon thunderstorm can suddenly develop at nearly any time of the year. I have a small duffel bag that I take with me on almost every hike. It contains an extra Polartec jacket, a raincoat and rain pants, fleece hat, gloves, and spare "city" clothes. When I get to the trailhead, I determine what I need that day, and put it in my pack. The rest stays in the duffel bag in the car. A lightweight, breathable raincoat is particularly useful year round. It provides some insulation from the cold, it blocks the wind, and it's indispensable in the rain or snow.
Besides not having enough water, ill-fitting hiking boots probably account for more discomfort on the trail than any other item. Nothing will ruin a hike faster than a blister. The good news is that advancements in materials and designs have made hiking boots that require little break-in, little maintenance, and are nearly as comfortable as sneakers. The bad news is that remarkably few salespeople in outdoor stores know how to fit boots properly. Before you go shopping, ask others to recommend a salesperson or a knowledgeable club member to help you with your purchase.
Find a store that will allow you to return boots, even if you've already worn them on the trail. Guard against buying boots that are too small, your hiking boots will be at least one size bigger than your daily footwear. Your toes should never be able to touch the front of the boot. Never! Try on boots in the afternoon or evening, when your feet are swollen from using them all day. Always try on boots using whatever socks, inserts, and orthotics you'll use while on the trail. And never, ever rely on special lacing patterns or other tricks to make an ill-fitting pair of boots feel more comfortable in the store.
Socks should be of the wicking-type, never those made with cotton. Cotton socks get wet, stay wet, and cause blisters. Some hikers also prefer wearing thin liner socks under their hiking socks.
Hikers should also carry clean clothes and shoes to wear after the hike since we often experience wet and muddy conditions. These help keep the driver's car clean and also make us more presentable when we stop for dinner on the way home.
Part of planning for a safe hike is being prepared for rare, but foreseeable, events. lf you're not sure what you need for a hike, feel free to ask the trip leader or other experienced club members for advice before you show up at the trailhead. After all, we want you to have many years full of wonderful dayhikes with the Piedmont Hiking and Outing Club.
2. Headlamp or Flashlight
4. Raingear or Trash Bag
5. Toilet Paper
6. Duct Tape
7. Pain Reliever & Medications
9. Map & Compass
10. Multi-tool or Pocketknife
11. Extra Clothing
12. Common Sense