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10 Essentials for Day Hikers

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It was 5:00 AM at Platte River Campground, a mosquito buzzed in my ear, and I still had sand between my toes from walking along the beach the night before. Darkness lingered when I emerge from my tent. It was my first full day to explore Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. But shortly after I began packing up my gear, my plans took a turn for the worst. I fell to my knees, scraped my legs and hands and I instantly felt light headed. 

What just happened? One wrong step and I sprained my ankle.

Fortunately, I knew what to do. A quick visit to my first aid kit, proper lacing of my boots, and a physical assessment, and I realized I would be fine and could continue my solo trip.

If you were in my situation would you know what to do? I hope that each time you lace up your boots and step onto the trails you ask yourself these two very important questions first, “Can I positively respond to an emergency?” and “Could I safely spend a night outdoors if something goes wrong?” 

Every hiker needs to come prepared on each trip, even if it’s just a short hike on a well-marked trail. Here are the ten essentials I always bring with me:

  • A topographic map and compass. Topo maps provide great detail to the terrain and where water sources are. With a compass and good map reading skills you can quickly find your way back on route if you become disoriented. Pro tip: add an altimeter to your gear. It will help determine your elevation and better find yourself on a map.
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses and sun-protective clothing. All of which should block UVA and UVB rays. Wearing a hat can help keep the sun off your face as well.
  • Awareness of weather forecast and extra layers. Bring extra clothing for insulation. Select what you may need based on the season.
  • Headlamp or flashlight and extra batteries. A headlamp is my preferred choice because it’s hands-free, lightweight and takes up less space in my pack.
  • First-aid kit. You can purchase a pre-made kit or make your own. My advice if you purchase a pre-made kit is to empty the entire kit out and get to know what’s in it before you have to use it. Take things out that aren’t necessary and add any additional items you might need. I also would recommend taking a wilderness first-aid class to help better your knowledge on how to respond to any accident that may occur.
  • Three fire sources. My survival kit has a lighter, waterproof matches and a steel striker. Pro tip: also bring fire starters. Candles, dryer lint or cotton balls are excellent fire starters.
  • Tools and repair kit. I have both a knife and a multi-tool in my pack. Duct tape is the well-known fix-it product for all outdoorsmen. Wrap it around water bottles or trekking poles versus taking an entire role. Check your gear over and decide what you may need to fix anything before you go.
  • Always. Bring. Extra. Food. At least an extra day’s worth.
  • Water. I always fill up my 3L hydration pack before I head out and most of the time I bring an extra water bottle. You should also carry a water filtration system such as a LifeStraw or Katadyn water filter.
  • Emergency shelter. Bring something that can help protect you from the elements. I have an emergency space blanket and a large plastic trash bag in my pack.
    Kaci Daypack WindRiverIIIs

A few items beyond the ten essentials you should consider are: bug repellent, a whistle -it will outlast your voice any day, bandanas –can be used to filter water, rope or Paracord, signaling device such as a small mirror. On top of all of this, your general knowledge is what is best. Take a wilderness survival class, act out scenarios. It doesn’t do anyone good to have all these items if you do not know how to use them.

Ambassador Kaci Stringer is an adventure enthusiast seeking to positively promote the outdoors by sharing my experiences and creating inspiration. My mission is to find new ideas, theories, different views, perspectives and inspire others through outdoor adventures.

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