Hiking poles are one of the most underrated hiking aids, and as such, they deserve a spot on the hiking checklist. A lot of people think poles are for old people or people who aren’t in shape, when in actuality poles have a lot of benefits even for fit young people. First off, they improve your balance – you have your weight distributed through four points of contact instead of two making you more stable. Secondly, they take some weight off of your feet – the pads of your feet can become inflamed and aggravated with the repeated pounding of a hike, so taking some weight off them will help your feet feel better for longer. Thirdly, you are actually improving your circulation by using the muscles in your arms when you plant your poles. With better circulation, you are able to get pooling blood out of your feet and out to your arms and the rest of your body, again reducing inflammation, and helping your feet last longer. And finally, you get more of a complete workout – using poles can engage a lot of your triceps and back muscles if you want them to, giving your whole body a decent workout instead of just your legs. Oh and, the Osprey bags have nice little pole holders on either side of them, making these two items fit together like peas in a pod.
Bear spray could be the difference between life and death on a hike. Seriously, get some. It’s not the cheapest (I think it retails for $70-100), but it could save your life, and if you think your life is worth more than $100, the investment makes sense. Bear activity is somewhat volatile depending on your region, and the time of year. In the later summer months, the bears are out in full force packing on as much weight as they can for the winter, and if you cross a bear on a bad day, or a mother with cubs, you will most likely not live to tell the tale. Unless of course, you had bear spray. The bear spray has an effective range of 20 ft or so, and the further you get the less likely it will be to deter a bear. This means that the only time you would use it, is if a bear is bearing (get it?) down on top of you. So in summary, in the highly unlikely event you get attacked by a bear, you will be killed or seriously mauled unless you have bear spray. Make sense? Good, then go get some – this item is a must have on your hiking checklist.
First Aid Kit
When I say first aid kit I’m not talking full blown AED, scalpel and bone drill; I mean band-aids, antiseptics, maybe some gauze compresses, Tylenol or Advil – that type of thing. On a hike, the two most common medical requirements are for blisters and scraped knees/hands. Blisters first off, can be avoided almost entirely by wearing wool socks, but if you forgot your wool socks on this particular hike, band-aids will help. Don’t wait until you have a full-blown blister either, put a bandaid on as soon as you feel irritation and friction – it won’t be long after the irritation begins that it becomes a full-fledged blister which will ruin the rest of your hike. Scraped knees and hands can be dealt with using band-aids as well, but you should probably apply an antiseptic to make sure you clean out the cuts first preventing any sort of bacterial infection. All of which, should come standard in a first aid kit that meets the hiking checklist criteria.
A good pair of sturdy, yet lightweight sunglasses is a must for any hiking not in the cover of trees. Even just a short hike, if exposed on the side of a mountain or without tree cover, will really start to wear you down. As you get more and more dehydrated, the heat will take its toll, and the water loss in combination with the bright sun will bring along a headache and just overall fatigue. Not to mention the amount of UV your eyes will be exposed to if not protected by a good set of sunglasses. I definitely prefer polarized lenses for hiking, to reduce glare from the snow, and to help bring out the contrast in rocks and undulations in the ground. They are definitely more expensive, but in my opinion, they are worth the extra cost. My go to sunglasses right now are a lightweight, super durable, acetate framed pair of sunglasses made by EPICSTOKE. They are not your typical plastic frame, and can be bent and manipulated to fit your face. They come with interchangeable, polarized lenses, and are super lightweight helping them stay on your face when you start getting sweaty. Check them out here.
Again, the sun will beat you up if you let it. Bring a hat, or a buff, or something to shelter your face and neck. I really like using my Buff for hiking, as they are so versatile and can be worn in so many different ways that you are bound to find one that works for you. My preferred method for wearing my buff is dunking it in a stream, and then just wearing it around my neck. The water helps keep you cool, and the buff provides some protection for the back of your neck. And then it can be used as a sweat wipe in the front for when things really heat up. Or at the bare minimum, bring a damn hat to cover your face and neck.
While water will keep you alive, food will keep you walking. Depending on the length of the hike, I will sometimes pack a full blown lunch with sandwiches, fruit, vegetables, dessert; or on the shorter less extreme hikes a couple of granola bars usually does the trick – granola bars are king on hikes. Granola bars are small, lightweight, usually packed with carbs – basically, they are the perfect on-the-go energy food. And you will need food. No matter how short the hike, food will make it that much more enjoyable. There is nothing worse than being physically exhausted, while being hungry, and forcing yourself to continue on a godforsaken hike. At least you can control the hunger part (not so much the physical exhaustion), by making sure you have enough (granola bars) to eat.
And there you have it – the complete hiking checklist to get you started experiencing nature and conquering mother earth in the most comfortable, enjoyable, and safest way possible. This hiking checklist is by no means everything you could ever want to bring with you on a hike, but it has all the basics to make your day trips that much more enjoyable. If you are looking at getting into the overnight hiking trip, that is definitely where safety and survival become paramount, and you will need a lot more than this list can offer to supplement your hiking experience. But for those of us who like to get out and experience nature, get your heart rate up, and just climb something, the gear on this hiking checklist is all you need! Now go enjoy the great outdoors!