How to Be Prepared for Absolutely Anything On Your Next Hike

The most seasoned hikers know that mother nature is unpredictable. Even if you tend to stick to your region’s heavily trafficked trails, the reality is that hiking still puts you face-to-face with the harsh certainties of the wilderness, including wild animals, inclement weather, treacherous terrain and challenging routes. But the number one rule of wilderness survival is to expect the unexpected, and doing so comes down to thinking long and hard about three important things: what you pack, what you wear and how you respond to emergencies. 

Here’s how to be prepared for absolutely anything the trail throws your way.

Pack like a Pro: Bring the Right Gear

If you’re going for a longer hike, a comfortable, lightweight backpack is a requirement on the trail. Though you may never have to open it along your journey, there is comfort and security in knowing that you’ve got everything you need if something goes wrong. Here’s what you need for a day of hiking so you’re prepared for anything. It may seem like a lot, but you should be able to fit all of these things in a regular-sized backpack or hiking pack.

  • Your phone (GPS system optional).
  • A backup battery or solar-powered charger.
  • A paper area map or trail map (you can often find these at the trailhead).
  • A hydration pack or water bottle (pack a portable water filter or treatment drops for overnight hikes and longer backpacking trips).
  • Sunglasses, a hat, a bandana or a sun visor to protect from damaging UV rays.
  • A bottle of sunblock so you can reapply as necessary throughout the day.
  • A packable raincoat and a disposable poncho for protection in the rain.
  • A packable shell or top layer if temps get low.
  • An extra pair of warm, dry socks in case yours get wet.
  • A rechargeable flashlight for dark and low-lit conditions.
  • An LED headlamp in case you discover any caves or caverns to explore.
  • A compact first-aid kit with bandages, antiseptic wipes, insect sting treatment, gauze, medical tape, tweezers, safety pins, pain relievers, blister treatment, etc.
  • A multitool (Swiss Army or Leatherman) with scissors, a knife, emergency whistle, etc.
  • A small, sealed fire kit containing waterproof matches and fire starter.
  • A wilderness survival manual addressing what to do in the event of a trail emergency.
  • High-protein trail-friendly snacks or a full lunch if you plan to be out for more than a couple of hours.

Dress for Protection: Wear the Right Apparel

As you’re getting dressed, you should be thinking about what you expect to encounter on the trail. In wilderness scenarios, the clothes you’re wearing are the first line of defense against sunburn, hypothermia, insect bites and rain. You need to be sure you’re properly dressed. Weather is the main consideration here, so always factor in the weather report and your region’s specific climate. Luckily, a highly protective, sensible hiking outfit only involves a few crucial components. 

  • All-Weather Hiking Boots — A quality pair of hiking boots should go from intense, icy winter hikes to the peak of summer with ease. In the cold season, you need a high-traction, waterproof pair that keeps your feet stable, warm and dry. As long as they’re not especially bulky or hot, you should be able to wear the same boots through the dry summer hiking season. Just make sure to swap your socks for a lighter pair.
  • Moisture-Wicking Top and Pants — Sweat, rain, mist and snow are all to be expected on your trek, so make sure your top and pants can handle it. Breathable, wicking materials — look for technical, synthetic fabrics with special treatments — will help you maintain a comfortable body temperature regardless of the weather, so you’ll make it through your hike free of discomfort. Opt for UPF sun protective apparel to keep your skin shielded from harmful UV rays.
  • Warm Synthetic or Wool Socks — It could be argued that your socks are more important than your hiking boots, since they come in direct contact with your skin and help provide some extra cushioning. Wool and synthetic fabrics (such as lycra, spandex and nylon) tend to be the preferred materials for hikers because they’re the best at wicking away moisture while keeping the feet warm. 
  • Sun Protection — Don’t forget to be extra careful about sun damage when you’re on non-shaded trails! A neck gaiter, sun visor, sunglasses and UPF 50+ clothing will help ensure that you are not sunburned during your hike.

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