First the major common ones that everybody should know:
-Start slow. Work your way up to difficult hikes.
-Let the slowest person in the party set the pace.
-Hike in a group or if you can’t let people know where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
-Plan ahead. Plan for any eventuality.
-Stay on trails. Only bushwhack where it’s allowed and if you’re a good navigator (without resorting to using GPS)
-Drink lots of water.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind that may not be commonly known:
-In addition to drinking lots of water keep in mind that water only helps you if it’s IN you. If you “save” it in your canteen it’s doing no good. Try to keep sipping a small amount of water at regular intervals so you don’t get too much and have to pee it out, but you don’t have too little and start suffering from it.
-Drink a lot of water to pre-hydrate before you hike. Better to have to pee when you get to the trailhead than to drain your canteen in the first 100 yards because you were dehydrated before you started.
-When hiking a strenuous trail try to keep your heart rate at a steady rate as if you were jogging. When it’s flat walk fast, when it’s steep or rocky slow your pace.
-Step over logs and rocks rather then up them and back down. There is no use lifting your body mass up 2 feet only to drop down one stride later. Hiking is all about using your energy in the most efficient way, usually slow and steadily.
-Stop in the shade if you can. Pretty obvious but you’ll cool down much better if you hike just a little further and rest where it will do some good.
-KEEP YOUR FEET DRY! Moisture invites friction, friction causes blisters. I put a ton of baby powder on my feet before a hike, the talcum soaks up sweat and keeps your feet dry and blister free. Keep a pair of clean dry socks and a small bottle of baby powder in your pack incase you step in a puddle or ford a stream.
-Hiking poles help more than you think. A lot of muscles are used just to keep balance, poles allow them to relax a bit and save some energy for the hike. And going downhill with poles is a dream that your knees and shins will thank you for.
-Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Better to be ready for anything and have nothing happen than to not be ready and have everything happen.
In regards to the last one I’m a bit of a fanatic to when it comes to being prepared, for me half the fun of hiking and camping is preparing your gear and knowing that you’re prepared for any eventuality. In fact even though I always hope for a safe enjoyable trip a part of me is hoping that the weather will turn to a torrential downpour, or I’ll be stranded and have to live 3 days in the mountains till rescuers can get to me. I have the gear to make it, but I’ve never had to test how well prepared I am.
Maybe one of these days I’ll purposefully spend a couple nights in the mountains living off my daypack contents, just to see if I can.
Here’s my pack. I got it for free for test driving a Nissan Xterra back in 2000. I already knew I wanted to buy one, but some friends on an internet message board pointed me to a deal where you print out a flyer, test drive the Xterra, then get your choice between the day pack or a pair of FRS radios.
To this day it’s still the best daypack I’ve ever seen. Although I had to add the Velcro loop to keep the hiking poles strapped in.
It even has this cool rain proof cover that zips up into the bottom of the pack. It keeps the shoulder straps free when its on so Cover+Ponco = dry hiker and gear.
Here’s all the gear I carry. In reality all you need to survive is shelter and water (you can go 3 weeks without food*), the rest of the gear is really just enough to keep you comfortable and make the hike pleasant. Obviously the more you carry the more weight you have on your shoulders, all this is 15 pounds; but I carry it on every hiking trip so my body is conditioned to feel that this is a normal amount.
-Spare Pair of dry socks
-Solid Fuel Stove
-Space Blanket (Mylar blanket)
-MRE, one of the best additions I’ve made. Nothing is better than getting a warm meal at the end of your hike. It’s also very good to keep your strength up, see below.
-First-Aid Kit (with extra moleskin)
-Commercial survival kit
-20ft of parachute cord.
-Map and compass
-Aerial Flares (got them at a boat store)
-Flower ID book (My parents know them from memory, I want to learn too)
-headlamp style flashlight
-antihistamine (I get bad allergies)
-Candy for snacking along the way.
The solid fuel stove I got is pretty cool, it all folds up to the size of a deck of cards but I can’t remember where I got it; all the printing on it is in German. The survival kit is the metal tin for boiling or cooking water, remember that you can’t use a stove without a water holding metal cooking container. Canteen cups from the Army/Navy Surplus store would also work well.
The survival kit is pretty cool too, but again I can’t remember where I got it. But I do remember making my own in a wilderness survival class I took in High School.
One very important thing I’m currently missing is iodine tablets to purify water. I usually fill the 1 liter CamelBak up and carry an extra 1 liter bottle for backup. But if you’re isolated from civilization for more than a day you’ll likely use that amount up and will need to purify water from a stream.
More pics here: Flickr
I want to say a word about MREs. When I was in the Army I lived off them for about 3 months, it wasn’t the best of meals but it was still better than some shitty food I’ve had in the US too.
Real military MRE’s are balanced in their nutrition content. They’re designed so that one MRE a day can keep a man alive indefinitely, and 2-3 a day will provide enough energy for an active soldier that is expected to hike 10+ miles a day. I’m proof that you can live off 2 a day for months, and we had problems where we were actually gaining weight eating more than 2 a day.
The reason why is because the food in the MRE is fortified with vitamins and nutrients. Ironically the main meal isn’t much more than filler carbs for energy, the crackers and peanut butter are like a vitamin pill, the beverage powder has electrolytes like Gatorade. With the Military MREs they recommend that if you can’t eat a full meal that you eat a little bit of everything to get all the vitamins that different parts of the meal are fortified with.
And in the last decade the military has done a good job of making them palatable now; they’re not just emergency rations, they’re shelf stable meals that are actually more balanced an healthy than your standard fast-food fare. Plus the fact that they’re designed to energize highly active soldiers makes them ideal for hiking and camping (the Army word for it is “Force-Multiplier).
I definitely recommend having one in your pack for when you reach the end of your hike or when you get up to the peak and are taking a break before heading down. You’ll find you recover a lot better when you’re properly nourished throughout your trip. The trick is finding them, the government doesn’t allow sale of them since 1997, the survival stores have civilian versions that are put together using the same components. Luckily they’re common on Ebay if you want the real thing. If not just get the civilian kind, they’re basically the same and for one meal it won’t matter if it’s not as well balanced as the menus for the real ones.
And BTW. Yes the “chicklet gum” is a laxative. And yes you should chew and swallow it.
With the way an MRE diet will back you up you need mild laxatives just to return to normal. Being backed up for a week then finally dropping an MRE brick is one of the most unpleasant experiences you’ll have.
*The rule of threes for survival:
-You can go 3 minutes without air.
-You can go 3 hours without shelter (in extreme conditions).
-You can go 3 days without water.
-You can go 3 weeks without food.
This can help you get your priorities straight.